Thursday, January 31, 2013

Weekly Recap: January 28-February 1, 2013

We are checking in early this week because tomorrow is a field trip.  Rob starts his new job tomorrow. His corporate headquarters is in Columbus.  That's too good to pass by so we are going to go with him.  Here is the recap of our Columbus field trip, in case you were interested.

At home this week we got a lot done and enjoyed some fun activities on the way.  The weather was gorgeous (60-70 F) at the beginning of the week.  Yesterday it rained all day.  Today it snowed.

Our read aloud this week was Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. It was a hit with all of us.  We loved Bud's Rules for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.  We predicted the ending and were all pleased with the way things worked out for Sleepy LeBone. 

And, what you've all been waiting for, our highs and lows:

Highs - Math.  It's still her favorite subject.
Lows - Grammar because it confuses me.

S10 is unavailable for comment so I'm going to make my best guess here.
Highs - A on his math test.  His birthday is coming soon so that's a high too.
Lows - He wasn't feeling well on Tuesday and missed swimming.

Highs - Grammar because I love grammar.
Lows - Finishing Bud, Not Buddy.  It's over.  I really liked it.

Highs - Watching Gandhi with the kids.  Also, all my students are currently reading books they enjoy that are linked to our history content.  I really don't want to torture my children with reading.  I want them to be life long readers.
Lows - Latin and science are still on the back burner.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday Munchies: Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake

Valentine's Day is coming up and I'm giving you the perfect Valentine's gift for anyone that loves chocolate.  Or you can make it for yourself and pretend it's for your special someone.  Or you can just make it for yourself and forget about pretending.

This Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake is my go to for impressive, decadent desserts.  It's not difficult to make.  It tastes just as amazing without the topping as it does with, so you don't need to get all fancy.  I use whatever chocolate I can pick up at my local grocery store.  Good quality always makes a better cheesecake but I've used store brands and no one minded.

Chocolate Cheesecake

Yield: 12 servings
Difficulty: Easy
Preparation: 1 hour plus baking, cooling and chilling time

Chocolate Wafer Crust
1 1/4 cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs - That's about 12 cookies.  I use oreos or the store brand equivalent.
5 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Tightly wrap bottom of 9-inch springform pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil.
2. Mix together cookie crumbs and melted butter in bowl until combined. Press mixture into bottom of prepared pan. Refrigerate crust while preparing filling.

8 bars (1.5 ounces each) GODIVA Dark Chocolate, coarsely chopped - That's 12 oz. for the math phobes out there.  I've used dark chocolate chips and they work beautifully.  In fact, I recommend them and skip the chopping.
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup brewed hot coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Place chocolate in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium (50% power) for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave 30 seconds more or until chocolate is softened. Stir until smooth and let cool.

2. Beat cream cheese in mixing bowl until creamy, using electric mixer at low speed. Gradually add sugar and beat until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. At low speed, slowly beat in the coffee. Beat in vanilla and melted chocolate until blended. Pour mixture over crust. Place cheesecake in roasting pan. Pour boiling water into roasting pan so that the water comes halfway up the side of the springform pan. Do NOT skip this.  It's part one to a perfect cheesecake. 

3. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until center is firm. Leave cheesecake in the oven and turn off the oven. Prop oven door open and allow cheesecake to cool in the oven for 1 hour. This is part two to a perfect cheesecake.
4. Remove cheesecake from roasting pan. Cool cheesecake in the pan on wire rack. When cheesecake is cooled, cover pan with aluminum foil and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

As I said, you don't have to garnish.  This cheesecake is more than good enough to stand alone.  However, if you are going to garnish, DO IT RIGHT!  DO NOT PUT COOL WHIP or any kind of WHIPPED TOPPING or CANNED WHIPPED CREAM ON THIS CHEESECAKE!!!!!  It is so worth the minimal effort to make real whipped cream because, no matter what it says on the packaging, that premade/fake stuff is NOT as good as the real thing.

Whipped Cream Topping
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Loosen edge of cheesecake with a knife. Remove side of springform pan.

2. Beat cream, sugar and vanilla in mixing bowl until stiff peaks form, using electric mixer at medium speed. Reserve 1 cup whipped cream for garnish. Spread remaining cream over top of cheesecake. Sprinkle with grated chocolate.

3. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large closed star tip (such as Ateco #5) with reserved whipped cream. Pipe a border of rosettes around edge of cheesecake. Decorate with chocolate coffee beans.

4. Cut cheesecake into wedges.

GODIVA Dark Chocolate, grated
Chocolate Coffee Beans

Sunday, January 27, 2013


You wonder
Why I don't love
A brisk walk
Straight uphill
As fast as my legs
Will carry me.
Could it be
Because of
The argument
At the

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Checklist of Love

The last day or so I have been thinking about love.  Not the romantic version of love but the love that Christ called us to when he said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I hate to say it but all too often I hang on these commandments, too.  It's tempting to pretend that the love Christ is talking about here is that warm, gooey love that makes people equal to chocolate chip cookies or a favorite t.v. show.  Cookies and t.v. are much easier to love than people.  Cookie love I can manage.  Unfortunately, that's not exactly what Christ had in mind, and Paul felt the need to make sure we didn't get confused. Paul is such a great guy that he provided us with a complete checklist of exactly what love means to a follower of Christ.  Thanks, Paul.  Thanks a lot.

1.  Love is patient
2.  love is kind.
3.  It does not envy
4.  it does not boast
5.  it is not proud.
6.  It does not dishonor others
7.  it is not self-seeking
8.  it is not easily angered
9.  it keeps no record of wrongs
10. Love does not delight in evil
11. rejoices with the truth
12. It always protects
13. always trusts
14. always hopes
15. always perseveres

I am quick to pull out these verses and use them as a score card when tallying the loving behavior of others toward me.  Then I get to #9.  It gets me every time.  When I become truly brave and use this list as a rule for my own (un)loving behavior reality gets a whole lot more serious.  It's no wonder Christ didn't feel the need to give us more than two commandments.  Two commandments are really more than enough for one lifetime.

Weekly Recap: January 21-25, 2012

This week was full of the unexpected.  We spent last weekend in Indiana visiting friends and family.  Our original plan was to come home on Monday, but after a day with my sister's family we decided we needed another.  We got home Tuesday evening in time for M8 and S10 to attend their first KajuKenpo class. M8 and S10 loved the class and eagerly returned for a second session on Thursday evening.  H13 and I are looking forward to starting our class next Monday.  

Our week progressed with a series of late starts and snow days.  Throw a new pair of braces for H13 into the mix and you have a good picture of what this stop and go week was like.   

H13 with her new jewelry.
The tough question on a snow day (or two) is do we or don't we do school?  We did school.  Admittedly, we did less school.  We covered the basics and had some fun.  It was a good mix.
After so much time off school, K16 felt the need to make herself useful.  I love having a daughter that organizes things for fun.
Our highs and lows this week:

High - Math because it's my favorite subject. 
Low - No low.

High - Math.  The lessons on number comparison were short and easy.
Low - Grammar.  I can't rhyme.

High - The chapter on equations with one variable is done.  I understood it and I did well. 
Low - That I had to do math as all.

High - Straight As and less than a single day of school this week.
Low - Being sick at the beginning of the week.

High - Pushing through the basics despite the distracting schedules and weather.
Low - Being tired from travel.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Weekly Recap: January 14-18, 2013

We were clicking on all cylinders this week until Thursday when everyone woke up with head colds.  Thursday was a quiet, sickish day, and everyone went to bed early.  Today, we are heading to Indiana.  Everyone seems to be feeling better.  We are still sporting runny noses and drainage coughs but no fevers, green snot, or vomitting.  I will take what I can get.

Here are the highs and lows of our week.

High - Finishing Analytical Grammar.  I really enjoyed it, and I feel like I learned something.

Low - Getting spacers in preparation for braces.  My teeth are killing me.  I can't eat anything solid.

S10 High - Grammar.  I wrote a poem I really liked. (It's included below.)
Low - Math, even though I did well on my fractions test.  What kids like math?  (M8 wants to let you know that a lot of kids like math.)

High - Finishing Betsy-Tacy and Tib.  Math! It's my favorite subject.  I love my grammar test.  I got an A++.

Low - History.  I don't like the lessons.

Me High - Roller skating with co-op.  Finishing the entire Analytical Grammar curriculum with H13.
Low - Latin and science.  I have got to get a grip on these subjects! I could also add art and music to the list, but we won't even go there.

A Winter Friend
by Shane Johnson

One day, as I played in the snow,
I met a strange little fellow.
I took him home.
I woke up alone,
And in my bed there was yellow.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What If You Lost 10 Years?

I just finished reading a book called What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.  Among other topics the book explores the idea of what would happen to a person in they forgot ten years of their life.  What would change?  What would stay the same?  What person would you be if you didn't have the experiences you have to shape your thoughts and behavior?

One of my favorite things about being a reader is how it allows me to think, feel, experience the world from a different point of view.  This book has me thinking about my life and what would be different if I woke up believing that I was only 35 years old.  How is the person I am today different from the person I was in 2003?  How is my life different?  How are the people I surround myself with different?

In 2003 I had three children, not four.  My oldest was in public school.  The middle was in preschool.  The youngest at home. We were living in a three bedroom, two and a half bath house in Marietta, Ohio.  Rob worked regular 9 to 5 hours, give or take, at a nearby chemical plant. He was home every night. We had a strong, happy marriage.  I had my own direct sales business and was building a strong team.  I was very active in my church and mom groups. I participated in a book club.  I had a group of close friends.  We  had several couples that we saw regularly.  I was close to my parents.  I had relationships with all my sisters though none of them had children and only one was married. 

Now I have four children; 16, 13, 10, and 8.  My oldest daughter has her driver's license.  We've been to court with her.  Our relationship has grown and changed.  I believe it's strong.  My three younger children are homeschooled.  The path from public school to homeschool has been a total surprise.  I never would have predicted that choice.  We live about 15 miles from where we lived ten years ago, but during that time we moved about five hours away and lived for five years before moving back.  Even though we live so close to our previous residence life is nothing like it use to be.  We now own a 37 acre farm.   Rob is getting ready to take a job that will have him working from home and traveling.  His hours are anything but regular.  We still have a strong, happy marriage.  It's different.  I'm more independent.  We both take more care of our relationship than we did.  We are able spend more time alone together than we did then.  I've given up my direct sales business.  I volunteer on a limited basis and am a member of a very small church.  I have no close friends.  We don't have any couple friends that we see regularly.  My parents and I are still close.  I have much closer relationships with my sisters.  Most of them are now married with children but I think the difference is that we have made mutual efforts and getting to know each other.

In the book, Alice discovers that a balance between her younger (introverted, relaxed, optimistic) self and her older (organized, assertive, controlling) self is key for happiness.  By losing and finding her memory, she realizes that she lost more than that. 

If I compare my younger self with my older, I'd say that there are positives and negatives with both. I took better care of my younger self, physically.  My younger self definitely had more energy and in a way she was more organized.  However, my older self has learned the value of saying no and letting things go.  My older self has learned that setting priorities and sticking to them is worthwhile.  My older self spends more time with family and less time with friends and acquaintances.  I miss close friends but have enough people who are important to me to make my life full, most of the time.  My older self is angry more often than my young self but my older self is also more content and peaceful.  My younger self talked more, told more, shared more.  My younger self almost always knew the best way to get a job done and wasn't afraid to jump in and do it.  My older self still often knows the best way to get a job done but is a lot less likely to jump in or share that way. 

It's interesting to think about how I've grown and changed in ten years.  The biggest surprise in my look back is that I haven't grown and changed all in one direction.  Growth doesn't always mean up or out.  Growth can happen in a lot of ways and can look very different in different situations.  All change isn't necessarily change for the best, but it may be the best change for the time.  Older self or younger, I'm so thankful that I have the ability to look back and be pleased at what I see, both past and present.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday Munchies: Butternut Squash Soup

One of the things that I enjoy about my cooking is my ability to re-purpose leftovers in a way that my family will eat them.  My family is not a family that enjoys leftovers.  Other than pizza, they would all be happy never to have a second helping of a meal, especially if it is served a day or two later.  Dealing with that pickiness requires patience and creativity on my part. 

Right now, my refrigerator is full to overflowing.  My goal with dinner tonight is to use what I have on hand to create a meal that is new and appealing to the majority of my family.  I have half a loaf of multi-grain bread in the pantry.  I also have a variety of antipasto treats; pepperocini, salami, olives, roasted red peppers.  That makes a good starter. 

I don't have enough meat of one kind to reserve but I do have six cups of chicken broth that I made from last week's beer butt chicken.  I also have about 8 dozen eggs.  We had quiche yesterday for breakfast so no one is really interested in more eggs for dinner tonight.  I also have six cups of roasted butternut squash from dinner last week.

A quick search on and I have this recipe for Butternut Squash Soup.

As you know, I can't leave well-enough alone so I am changing a few things.  Here is my recipe for Butternut Squash Soup:

1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons margarine
6 cups peeled and cubed, roasted butternut squash
4 cups chicken broth, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 (8 ounce) packages light cream cheese or Neufchatel

In a large saucepan, saute onions in margarine until tender.
Using a blender puree squash with 1/2 to 1 c of chicken broth and cubed Neufchatel.  This took me two batches.
Add remaining chicken broth to sauted onion.  Stir in blended squash and cheese mixture.
Add marjoram, black pepper and cayenne pepper to soup and heat through. Do not allow to boil.

I have been warming my soup for about an hour on the stovetop to allow the flavors time to meld and Rob time to get home from the gym.  I am pretty sure dinner will be a hit tonight.  The best part is that I've gotten three plastic containers out of my refrigerator.  It's nice to be able to open and close the door without fear of an avalanche.

Follow up:  The soup was a hit with six out of seven diners.  I doubt it will be a regular feature on our menu but it was a delicious way to use the butternut squash and an easy, different recipe to pull out every now and then.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Year's Eve 2012

We were so blessed to bring in the New Year with the Clarke family.  We shared time, conversation, movies, laughter, delicious food, and lots of chocolate.

Maymont, Richmond, VA

On the last sunny Sunday afternoon in December, we decided to stretch our legs and explore the grounds at Maymont, a 100-acre American estate, donated by James and Sallie Dooley who lived here from 1893 to 1925. I am sure that this park is even more worth a visit during the spring, summer and fall.

A Visit with T.J.

On our way to visit my sister and her family in Richmond, VA we made a stop at Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.  As an interesting learning experience we all gave this trip a thumbs up.  The house and grounds are beautiful.  Thomas Jefferson, or T.J. as we came to call him, is fascinating.  The exhibits and museum, especially the discovery center for children, are focused on hands and minds on interaction.  The gift shop sells root beer.  What more can you ask for?

We highly recommend that you take the Family Fun tour and take time to stroll from the mansion back to the visitor center.  We also recommend a clear day in December as the perfect time for a visit.  It was chilly but there were no crowds and the views were amazing.

Weekly Recap: January 7-11, 2013

School is back in sesslon and the new year is off to a fabulous start. In history we are winding down World War I.  Our reading has gradually transitioned from Civil War to the Great War.  As a read aloud, we are listening to Caddie Woodlawn.  I think we will be looking for a strong male lead in our next read aloud.  Any suggestions?  I do plan to read The Diary of Anne Frank in a few weeks so it would be nice to have something lighter before we jump into that.  Currently H12 is reading All Quiet on the Western Front, S10 is reading Will's War and M8 is reading Betsy-Tacey-Tib.

Math is continuing at a brisk pace.  M8 is beginning multiplication. S10 is working on dividing fractions.  H12 is feeling comfortable with Algebra.  I might even say successful.  I am so thankful that we decided last year to stop slogging through basic math and move forward slowly.  It is the right choice for us.

Our co-op for the next 6 weeks is activity focused.  This week we'll be roller skating.  Next week we'll be bowling.  Movies, swimming, and community service are on the schedule, as well.

I spent some money on classes from The Great Courses in writing, math, and physics.  I am planning to get going with physics and writing in the next few weeks.  I'm expecting that these will be as educational for me as they are for the kids.

Finally, we've been enjoying some unseasonably warm weather.  It's good to get outside and move.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Monday Munchies: The Perfect Pot Roast

There are several things you need to understand about this post right from the start.  First, I hate pot roast.  Second, we grow our own cows.  When you grow your own cows you don't really get a supermarket selection of meat.  We eat what we grow and so we eat pot roast.  Third, I hate pot roast.

That being said, I am going to introduce you to a woman that loves pot roast and has, in my opinion, created a pot roast that is as close to perfect as anything made with a pot roast can be.  I still don't love it but I don't hate serving it and I've even been known to take a bite or two.

Without further delay, click right here and join Ree and her perfect pot roast.  Even if you don't cook, the pictures are enough to make you wish that you did.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Looking Forward to 2013

Again, if you haven't checked out Simple Mom yet, be sure to go there.  She has a great list of goal-setting questions that you might find really helpful.

Now that I spent some time looking back I figured it was time to face forward.  It's easier to move forward if you are actually looking that direction.  So, here we go, in 2013 I want to:
1. continue to spend daily, personal time with God.
2.  read at least 52 books.
3. develop a community relations team for Operation Christmas Child by adding one member and one event from each of my target counties.
4.  participate in sustained physical activity/exercise at least three times each week.
5.  maintain a healthy diet, heavy in fruits, veggies, and healthy choices. 
6.  continue to provide my family with meals that are healthy and, as much as possible, home made.
7. date my husband and nurture a relationship that will last for another 25+ years.
8. pray with Rob and for Rob daily.
9. create a planned family night each week.
10.  enjoy family meals as often as possible.
11.  go on a Disney Cruise with my family.
12.  SHOOPA!
13.  paint the kitchen, laundry room, half bath, and upstairs bath.
14.  provide opportunities and encouragement for family time that is physically active.
15.  continue to pray for and with my children each day.
16.  nurture closer relationships within our family by providing quality time, activities, and opportunity for interaction.
17.  provide quality, personally matched education for each of my children.
18.  continue to look for the best curriculum and educational opportunities for my children.
19.  encourage reading, writing, independent learning, and personal growth in my children.
20.  develop a plan for chores, jobs, compensation and cooperation that works for our family.
21.  maintain a debt free lifestyle.
22.  increase retirement contributions to 15%.
23.  continue at current level of charitable giving.
24.  increase college savings.
25.  nurture one new friendship.
26.  complete one family act of service each month.
27.  harvest honey.
28.  can enough food for winter use.
29.  sew to express creativity and bring joy to myself and others.
30.  begin to turn our farm into a business.

Wow!  It looks like 2013 is going to be an exciting year!

Reflections on 2012

I just found a wonderful site for two things near and dear to my heart, intentional living and simplifying.  When you have a minute go check out Simple Mom.  What led me to Simple Mom was the idea of reflecting and looking forward.  On the site are lists of questions for looking back at 2012 and setting goals for 2013.  In the spirit of the list and without making any copyright infringement I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on 2012.
How do you pick one thing in any of twenty categories that cover twelve months of best, challenge, unexpected obstacles/joys/challenges/relationships/change?  I suppose I could go with writing down the first thing that pops in my mind.  I think I'd better just stick to some easier questions and categories.  Here's what I accomplished this year:
Personally, I learned to sew and can food using a pressure cooker.  I read more than 50 books, some of them excellent, some not so great.  I survived my husband's open heart surgery.  (So did he, in case you were just tuning in and wondered.)

Professionally, I taught 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th grades.  I raised and harvested 100 chickens, a turkey and a steer. (Yes, I had some help with this but it's a valid accomplishment.)  I became a volunteer for Operation Christmas Child in a year round leadership role.

Spiritually, I learned more about God and who I am in this world and in the next.  I shared my faith in various ways with my children, husband, family and friends.  I worked to develop a heart full of gratitude and joy.

Emotionally, I continued to nurture relationships with my husband, children, sisters and parents.  I consistently took part in several groups outside my family including a book club, homeschool co-op, and church groups.

Physically, I began a routine of regular aerobic exercise and built strength by all the daily tasks that a farm and motherhood requires.

I probably have overlooked something or left out a really important event but in a brief reflective glance I think I covered the majors.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Things I Learned (or Relearned) in 2012

1.  Sewing is the perfect hobby for me right now.
2.  The people I love are really the most important thing.
3.  Quality time rocks my world.
4.  Bidding is more fun than growing.
5.  Being needed and needing others are both important.
6.  Time moves quickly and staying in the moment is essential.
8.  Having a camera makes moments easier to remember.
9.  Surprises are fun, whether you are giving them or getting them.
10. A thankful heart makes all the difference.
11.  God is good, all the time.
12.  Asking for what I need is difficult but worthwhile.

An Absurd Gift

We attended church this past Sunday at Crestwood Presbyterian Church near Richmond, VA.  My sister attended services there a few times in the past and she was excited about going to church with family.  We all enjoyed the service and especially liked the message about how the gift of Christ is absurd.  I wish I could remember the name of the gentleman who shared the message.  All I know is that he runs an inner city ministry in Richmond and frequently fills the pulpit at the Crestwood churches.

In typcial preacher style, he had three reasons for why the gift of Christ is absurd.  First, absurd gifts are often incredibly practical.  Second, absurd gifts often require action on our part.  The absurd gift, finally, is a gift that only becomes fully useful and understood over time.  There were numerous pertinent examples of absurd gifts and how Christ fits.  Gallons of milk, super size underwear, and garden benches were among the examples given. The sermon was well presented and enjoyed by everyone in our party, including S10 and M8.  Quite an accomplishment!

We left the service thanking God for the absurd gift we all received and the sermon that reminded us of it.  What a blessing to spend one of the days of Christmas celebrating with family!