Butter Toffee Recipe

This toffee has chocolate and almonds only on ONE side. My husband says that's enough... I'm not so sure.

This toffee has chocolate and almonds only on ONE side. My husband says that’s enough… I’m not so sure.

I clipped the original recipe for this toffee from the Arizona Republic in 2002;  it’s attributed to Lee Ann DeGrassi. However, I use more almonds in the toffee than she called for, and she had no temperatures listed, and some of the instructions were really unclear. So, I’ve altered it a bit.

I know this recipe seems LLLOOONGGGGGG. There are two reasons for that: Firstly, it takes a long time. If you’re pressed for time, don’t make toffee. The second reason is I’ve included a lot of parenthetical information — stuff I’ve learned the hard way, and I’m trying to spare you from ruining your expensive ingredients and wasting your time by ruining the toffee!!

I typically make a triple recipe of this. For a pan, I use heavy duty aluminum foil and fold long ends together, crimping them and folding them twice, kind of like rolling them. Smooth out very flat, especially the middle area where you’ve folded the two pieces together. Then, I fold up the edges triple-thick, about 1 1/2″ high, to form a giant pan. If you want, you can get all mathy with it. I get out my measuring tape and figure out the square inches… The recipe calls for two 9″ x 13″ pans, which is 234 square inches. My giant aluminum foil pan is 24″ x 30.5″, so 732 square inches. So, I knew a triple recipe would fit just fine.

The toffee just after pouring.  You can get a good idea of the aluminum foil pan construction from this picture.

The toffee just after pouring. You can get a good idea of the aluminum foil pan construction from this picture.

Butter Toffee

  • 5 cups C&H (or other white cane) sugar — no raw or unwashed sugar;  it needs to be free of all molasses and totally white
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/2 lbs (10 sticks — yes, that much) SALTED butter
  • 3 cups raw almonds, whole shelled
  • 36 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (typically, three bags)
  • 3 cups raw almonds, rough-ground (I use a Cuisinart Mini-Prep)
  • Shortening to grease your pans (I use Spectrum organic non-hydrogenated palm oil shortening)

Necessary tools:
Large pan (6-8 quart)
Long-handled, sturdy wooden spoon or wooden or metal spatula
A candy thermometer
A silicone basting brush (please, you don’t want to risk the thick melted chocolate pulling hairs out of your standard basting brush, believe me!!)
Parchment paper
2 – 9×13″ baking pans with a lip on the edge OR heavy duty aluminum foil
Several bath towels with which to line your counter top

Smooth out 3-5 bath towels on a wide counter top or table. Grease two 9 x 13 inch baking sheets and line with parchment paper (or fold heavy-duty foil, as mentioned above, to make a big pan, grease and line with parchment paper). Place pan(s) on the towel-lined counter top. I cracked our quartz counter top one year because it wasn’t insulated. So, please! Use those towels!!

Cut each stick of butter into 3-4 chunks and set aside.

Combine sugar and water in a 6-8 quart pan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring gently but constantly, until the mixture reaches 231° on a candy thermometer. Add butter slowly, stirring gently while you add, until all the butter is melted. (I kind of slide each chunk of butter down the spatula I use for stirring so I don’t get splashed by boiling sugar-butter!)

Turn heat down to medium and continue to cook, stirring every five minutes or so, until the temperature reaches 260° degrees. This will take 30-60 minutes. Then, stir constantly until the temp reaches 270°. (I use a long-handled metal spatula to stir — so my hand is far away from the boiling mixture, and so that I can thoroughly scrape the bottom of the pan so no sugar burns on the bottom.)

When the temperature reaches 270°, add the 3 cups of whole, raw, shelled almonds, about 1/3 of them at a time, stirring with each addition. Continue to stir constantly until the thermometer reads 290°. (Note: Toffee must reach a minimum of 285° to set. It can go up to 300° degrees and still be toffee, however, the hotter it gets, the more you risk burning the whole batch. So, I cook it to 290°, to ensure a good set, but to not risk burning.)

Take out the candy thermometer and quickly but carefully pour the toffee into the waiting pan(s). Do not spread it; the toffee will level itself. (If you try spreading it as it cools, the butter can separate from the toffee and it will ruin the whole batch.) Use a silicone scraper to get all of the toffee out of the hot pan, scraping the bottom of the pan first (it burns there the fastest — you want to get the toffee out before it burns).

Cool for about 20-30 minutes. (You want the toffee to have cooled to a non-liquid state but still be hot enough to melt the chocolate.) Sprinkle half of the chocolate chips on the slightly cooled toffee. Wait five minutes for the chocolate to soften and melt. With a silicone basting brush, brush the chocolate over the surface of the toffee to coat. Then, evenly sprinkle half of the ground almonds over the surface. With gentle pressure, press the ground almonds into the chocolate. (Otherwise, when you turn the toffee over, half of the almonds will fall off.)

Let cool thoroughly — 3-5 hours or overnight. When the toffee is completely cooled and the chocolate has rehardened, break into very large pieces and turn over, putting the toffee back together like a puzzle. Melt the remaining chocolate in the microwave or over a double broiler until JUST melted — do not overheat. Then, pour the chocolate over the toffee and spread around with the silicone basting brush. Sprinkle the remaining ground almonds on top and press in.

Wait until the chocolate is completely cooled and firm, then break into serving-sized pieces. You may need to drop the toffee on the counter top from a few inches’ height to break it. Then, eat all the crumbs and give the big, beautiful, tasty pieces to friends and family and they will love you forever and drop hints like, “I hope you’re making toffee this year!”

Spreading the melted chocolate with a very interested eight-year-old watching.

Spreading the melted chocolate with a very interested eight-year-old watching.

Soothed and stirred by Elizabeth Gaskell

Fiction.  Who has time for it?  I wonder, sometimes, if, as a homeschooling mom of six, I should be snipping moments out of my day, allowing myself the leisure of a good read.

I just finished my new favorite novel, and am glad I made the time.  It captivated me, encouraged me, challenged me, ministered to me.  Honestly, God spoke to me through it.  The book, and my time invested in it, was so very worthwhile.

I found the book in such an odd way:  I was reading Jacqueline Winspear’s The Care and Management of Lies, which was a fine book — about 3 stars out of 5.  In it, a character I liked mentioned that her favorite author was Elizabeth Gaskell, of whom I’d never heard.  I did a little search and found that many a BBC series or special have been made from her books, but I hadn’t seen any of them.  I put several of her books on hold and started — rather at random — with North and South.

I described the book to a friend like this:

It really is like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens had a baby and that baby was inspired by deep doctrinal issues within (and without) the Church of England and then wrote a book. Perhaps that doesn’t sound all that enchanting, but it’s right up my alley. Very engaging on every level.

It also helps that the heroine, Margaret, is struggling some heart issues similar to ones through which I am wading.  The only difference is that she is quite a bit braver and much younger.  :)

Gaskell is particularly apt in selecting quotes to begin each chapter.  This one brought me to tears:

I see my way as birds their trackless way–
I shall arrive! what time, what circuit first,
I ask not: but unless God send his hail
Or blinding fire-balls, sleet, or stifling snow,
In some time–his good time–I shall arrive;
He guides me and the bird. In His good time!’
–Robert Browning (from ‘Paracelsus’)

I keep encouraging my own heart, “I shall arrive… In His good time!”

In another scene, Margaret is visiting a beach in the wintertime.

She used to sit long hours upon the beach, gazing intently on the waves as they chafed with perpetual motion against the pebbly shore, — or she looked out upon the more distant heaving, and sparkle against the sky, and heard, without being conscious of hearing, the eternal psalm, which went up continually. She was soothed without knowing how or why.

I have felt the same about the ocean;  it is singing an eternal psalm, and compels me to sing along with it.

Shortly after the beach scene, I cried fresh tears at this:

But she had learnt, in those solemn hours of thought, that she herself must one day answer for her own life, and what she had done with it;  and she tried to settle that most difficult problem for women, how much was to be utterly merged in obedience to authority and how much might be set apart for freedom in working.

I am weighing the same issues right now — it is ever a challenge to me, balancing the pursuit of personal interests and goals and hopes with present reality and the unknown future.  Where does God want me to invest my time, energy, talents, and thoughts?  And to what end?  What’s ahead of me?  Have I missed something?  Too much dwelling on what might have been leads me to regret a very lovely present.  I typically don’t go to “what might have been” at ALL.  However, at age 41, and having very recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of marriage to such a fine man as my precious husband, I find myself a bit more retrospective lately, reflecting over my life in these last two decades.

I don’t want to ignore hopes for the future and just plod along; yet, too much time spent in wistful expectation of dreams becoming fulfilled leads me to dissatisfaction;  who can know what is in the future, anyway?  My life is truly submitted to the greater good of my whole family.  In many ways, my dreams are not my own.  I can’t just serve myself and make my dreams happen.  There are seven other people — at a minimum — whom my life greatly impacts.  To that end, I don’t believe in “follow your dreams”;  I think that’s tremendously selfish.  It’s in the American culture to serve one’s own self.  It’s not in the culture of true Christianity, though, and Mrs. Gaskell reminded me of that, frequently in how her character served others, with constant attentiveness, joy, and self-sacrifice, and profound self-control.  She didn’t pursue her own interests, or, at very least, she subjected her own interests to the needs of those around her.  Again, very un-American.  I knew, though, that what Gaskell is adducing through the life of Margaret Hale in North and South is upright… good… Godly…  Trustful in His plan for my future.  Margaret’s life both challenged and inspired me.

YET, has God called me to live a hopeless life?  By no means!  May it never be!  He is the God of hope.

Romans 15:13 (NIV) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I am reminded that my hope needs to be entirely in Him.  Not in my talents.  Not in my gone youth.  Not in my plans.  Not in my abilities…  Not in those around me.  Not in circumstances.  Only in Him.  My future is unknown to me, but He is not. 

So, I continue to do what, for the most part, I have done in the last 20-ish years:  Prayerfully consider my life as a whole and my day-to-day decisions.  Do the best I can with what I have.  Hear the voice of the Father in my own spirit, through His Word, and through others. Learn and grow mentally and spiritually.  Love and worship my dear God.  Love and serve my dear family, and my local church.

In other words, I must live predominantly in the present.  This is actually a big challenge for me, because a huge part of me would LIKE to plan everything out — work toward a clear goal and just make it happen.  But… that’s not what God has had for me in the past, and it’s not what He has for me right now.  I don’t know about the future.

Psalm 31:15-17a (NASB)

15 My times are in Your hand;
Deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me.
16 Make Your face to shine upon Your servant;
Save me in Your lovingkindness.
17 Let me not be put to shame, O Lord, for I call upon You…

——————–

P.S.  For a taste of Gaskell’s North and South, head to Goodreads to peruse some reader-contributed quotes.  Gaskell’s prose is just lovely and insightful.

Successful homemade gluten-free pie crust — a pic tutorial

I almost did it.

Something I’ve never done before, and I almost pulled the trigger.

Yesterday, I went on a whirlwind three-store shopping trip, purchasing everything in one go so I could just stay at home and bake and cook today and tomorrow in preparation for Thanksgiving.  Knowing I had four pies to make, and knowing what a PITA* it is to make g.f. pie crusts, I sought out the freezer case of Sprouts, my local natural-foods grocery store.  I stood there, looking at the empty section where the gluten-free pie crusts should have been, and glanced at the price tag — $4.99.  I’m not sure if that was for a single crust or a double-pack.  In any case, they were out.  Cheap-o that I am, the price tag dissuaded me, anyway.  I just couldn’t spend $10-20 on something that I knew I could do, myself.

Four pie crusts are now made and in the fridge, waiting for filling tomorrow.

I thought I’d share how I am able to successfully roll out and transfer gluten-free pie crust into the pie pan without it breaking into a dozen pieces.

(This is NOT a recipe — use any g.f. pie crust recipe or mix.)

1.  First, plan on 1 1/2 cups of gluten-free flour per crust.  “Normal” recipes for a 9″ crust will use only 1 cup of flour.  However, it is helpful to roll your crust just a LITTLE thicker than wheat-based crusts.  Also, it is often useful to have just a little extra dough to work with.  Gluten-free dough dough doesn’t adhere to itself as well as wheat-based dough, so your edges (before you trim — see below) will be more raggedy.  Rather than fret about not having enough dough, just allow for extra on the outset.  (Also, below, I’ll tell you what you can do with the left-over dough.)  I use six cups of mix for four crusts.

2.  Secondly, but most importantly, you need parchment paper, the kind used for baking.  I have tried this with wax paper and with plastic wrap, as well, but it is really only successful with parchment paper.

3.  Gather your lump of dough — mine is speckled because I put some unblanched almond meal in with my mix of flours — in the middle of a square of parchment paper.  A pastry mat with guidelines is helpful, but not necessary.

IMG_20141125_123424

4.  Gently, with even pressure, roll the dough into a roundish shape, aiming for a circle 12-13″ in circumference — the size of dough needed for a 10″ pie.  (The parchment paper I have is 13″ wide.  So, my circle nearly touches the edges of my square of parchment.)

5.  Turn your pie pan over upside-down, and center it on top of the circle of dough.  IMG_20141125_1236216.  Slide your hand under the parchment, keeping your hand as flat against the counter top as possible, gently lifting paper, crust, and pie pan.  Place your other hand on top of the pie pan (which is, again, upside-down, so the palm of your hand is against the bottom of the pie pan).  So now, your hands are sandwiching the paper, crust, and pan.  Spread the fingers of your hand that is underneath as wide as possible to support the dough, and quickly flip your hands over.

IMG_20141125_124346

7.  Leaving the parchment in place, gently press the dough into place, snugly against the sides and bottom of the pan.  Then, gently remove the parchment paper.  The beauty of parchment is that the dough adheres just enough to keep the crust intact while you flip, but not TOO much, so that the parchment peels cleanly away.

IMG_20141125_124645

Yes, I have bitten my nails. That alone was almost enough to NOT want to do this tutorial, so y’all couldn’t see my hands. But, I’ve heard enough groans about homemade g.f. pie crust from the gluten-free community that I thought I’d cast my pride aside and give you all a (nail-bitten) hand.

9.  Next, using a clean pair of kitchen shears, trim the dough so that it is even with the edge of the pie pan.IMG_20141125_124904

10.  Fold the outer 1/2″ or so of the pie crust against itself, pinching gently, so that you have a double-thick top edge of your unbaked pie crust.  Gluten-free dough WILL be more crumbly than wheat-based crust, so smooth the top edge of the crust as you go, until you have a sort of blunted top edge.IMG_20141125_125107

11.  Next, using your thumbs and forefingers (or a fork), pinch the edge of the crust into a decorative pattern.  IMG_20141125_125238

And, voila!  You’re done with your unbaked pie crust with an edge that is standing up high enough to support most deep-dish pie recipes.  And if your recipe isn’t for a deep dish pie, you’ll probably just have the edge of the crust standing tall, surveying your beautiful homemade pie.

You can pre-bake — also called blind baking — your crust as directed by a recipe (like for lemon meringue pie), or use it as is for pumpkin or pecan, or any other pie that starts with an unbaked crust.  Or, you may refrigerate or freeze the crust until you’re ready to use it (make sure it is nicely sealed in plastic wrap so that the crust doesn’t dry out).

One note about pre-baking:  Definitely use pie weights (or beans or rice) when pre-baking a gluten-free pie crust.  Depending on the flours used, many g.f. flours (especially the whiter ones — starches and rice flours) can shrink during baking.  Using a weight helps minimize this.

12.  Lastly, you can give any leftover trimmings of dough to the aspiring baker(s) in your home, and set her free with a rolling pin and cookie cutters.  Place the shapes on an ungreased cooked sheet, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake at 375 degrees F until lightly browned, about 16 minutes (depending on your pan, and how thick the crust-cookies are).

IMG_20141125_125428

Note: Check finished cookies for hair. Eek.

————-

*This is as close as I will come to cussing on this blog.  Or in real life, for that matter.

The plan of God

I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I think this might be the plan of God.

I have a reset button.

chub-chubWhen one of my teens (I have three, now!) is causing me grief — it does happen, to tears…

When my eight year old is crying that she didn’t get enough chocolate chips, and I’m thinking, “You have WAY more chocolate chips than you had a few minutes ago when you had NONE.  Get a grip!”…

When the the five year old is crying that she didn’t get all her spelling words right, and is inconsolable, even when I tell her that she spells amazingly and is doing better at spelling than any five year old I know…

When the tasks before me for the week seem impossible, and stress is at my doorstep, even on a Monday morning…

When I just can’t seem to learn the things that God has for me to learn, even when the things He wants me to learn are “simple” things like how to be at peace and trust Him…

I go upstairs for a few minutes before Jean’s nap time.  I nurse her and snuggle her chubby self;  she is a very satisfying baby.  I dig my face gently into her chest and belly and she howls with delighted giggles.  Her face lights up and she loves me completely.  The oxytocin is flowing, and peace returns to my heart, however briefly.

I am certain that this is God’s plan.  He has provided a bit of calm in my everyday thunderstorm.  He who created the ends of the universe even provided for a mama’s endocrine system.  Perhaps that sounds weird, but knowing how intricately I’m created, and how even “just” hormones work for my benefit is a balm to my battered emotions and sleep-deprived strength.  I feel cared-for by my almighty God, that He would create such a plan to reset my soul.

And, I’m just happy to be the mother to a chubby 15-month-old named Jean Marjorie Joy.

—————

On a semi-related, please do read this wonderfully-written piece on extended breastfeeding by a mom I knew when she was just a girl.  It is honest and lovely and real.  Even if you think you have zero interest in the topic, you’d be blessed, I think, to read it.

Why I’m still homeschooling.

“Are we going to do school today?”

This question, combined with me not knowing the answer, was one of the things that very nearly led to the end of my homeschooling career after my oldest’s Kindergarten year.  I just couldn’t seem to pull it together well enough to get a full day of school done each day. 

I had registered my son for a traditional charter school for his first grade year, but a few things happened that summer that caused me to reconsider:

  1. In spite of my many flaws and inconsistencies in our school year, not only did my five-year-old learn to read more than adequately, my three-year-old did, too. 
  2. I felt like the Holy Spirit told me that, instead of running from my flaws — lack of organization near the top of the list — I needed to find a way through them.
  3. A friend introduced me to Sonlight. 

Addressing each item above, I determined that….

  1. I didn’t need to be perfect to be a successful homeschooling teacher.
  2. I needed new organizational tools to help me, as my floundering around, unscheduled, wasn’t cutting it.  And, I had a revelation in that moment:  GOD CAN USE ANYTHING to grow me, to shape me, to mature me, to teach me, to refine my mothering.  I thought I was the teacher, but it dawned on me, that post-K summer, that I was going to learn as much — or more — than my kids would. 
  3. I had never previously heard of Sonlight, but it was exactly what I was looking for:  literature-based, Christian without being dogmatic, NOT “Amerocentric”, and, best of all, it was all scheduled out for me, in the instructor’s guides.

(I’m not saying that Sonlight is the answer to all your homeschooling prayers.  It’s just what worked FOR ME.  For our family.  Their 27 Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight absolutely spoke to me, though…  It’s still appropriate for my goals, lo these many years later.)  

I have learned, though, that I needed more than just an instructor’s guide with check-boxes for that day’s assignments.  I needed order in our day.  

Normally, I resist the mold.  ANY mold.  I don’t want to be predictable.  One of my greatest fears when I was younger was that I would get stuck in a rut.  That seemed like the death to end all deaths, the worst possible fate.  

I still slightly rebel at schedules…  But, I have slowly learned to embrace them.

Below is a video I posted in a homeschooling group;  we were sharing about our days in short video clips.  It was a lot of fun, watching and hearing everyone talk.  I don’t recall myself EVER being videoed, that I have watched*.  To this day, I’ve never even watched my wedding video!  However, I thought it might be fun to post it here, too.

So…. my NEXT post will be on the specifics of our family’s schedule.

————-

*Wait.  That’s not quite true.  I was in about a three second clip that featured various high school seniors around my city, you know, when I was a senior in high school.  And, some clips of me grocery shopping with my then-one-year-old was featured in a grocery store’s commercials for about five years. 

 

So, after our family’s WORST year of homeschooling, ever, what do we do now?

So.  Last year was our WORST year of homeschooling ever.  The worst.  I can blame that on a number of things:  trying to implement new curriculum, having a baby in June 2013, not adjusting well to schooling five children…  But, when it comes down to it, it’s just that:  I bombed in many ways.  I dropped the ball.  And, when a homeschooling mom drops the ball, her kids lose out.  I think I’ve learned a lot from last year, and though we’re only one week into the new school year, things are running much more smoothly.  I am devoted to returning to the ways that work best for our family, rather than trying (unsuccessfully) to implement new, “easier” ways of doing things.  In short, I tried to be more laid back about school last year, and was not highly scheduled.  Even though I am NOT naturally a highly-scheduled person, I’ve had to learn to embrace the schedule, as that is the only way that I stay on top of things, my kids learn all they should, and nothing falls through the cracks.

I’d detail all my failures to you;  I’m not proud.  But, as many of my failures are shared with my children… and I don’t think they’d appreciate me blogging about all the ways that they failed, I’ll leave it vague. 

Today’s post, I’m going to share what we’re using for curriculum.  If you find discussion of curriculum tedious, you might want to stop reading right now, or just scroll through and admire our pictures.  The next post, I’m going to share how our scheduled day works, and what we do when — six children (five in school, one a nursing not-quite-toddler);  a marriage;  a part-time job;  a home remodel;  plus additional responsibilities…  Add into that at least SOME time for rest and recharging, time with friends…  It’s a tight squeeze.  Ironically, though, a tighter schedule leads to more free time.  More on that, later, though.

If you’re curious about what curriculum each child is doing, here you go:

Ethan, in July, with my Uncle Kevin and my husband, Martin, at Kevin's home outside of Marshall, Illinois.  Ethan is sporting a new, sleeker, much-shorter haircut these days...

Ethan, in July, with my Uncle Kevin and my husband, Martin, at Kevin’s home outside of Marshall, Illinois. Ethan is sporting a new, sleeker, much-shorter haircut these days…

Ethan, my oldest, is a 17 year-old senior.  He also works part time (usually three days per week) at a local natural grocery store.  He is doing a “writing intensive” semester, pretty much all the writing projects — 12 of them — from Sonlight’s Core 300, which he did not do last year. I mean, he did do Core 300, but he didn’t do the writing projects.  He is an excellent writer, but he hates writing and he is really slow.  So, we’re working on finding the hurdles and conquering them, so he won’t be afraid of writing.  He is also doing Chemistry, Apologia, at a 2-day co-op.  This is the first time I have EVER outsourced a part of our homeschooling day that isn’t extra-curricular.  He is also doing French with Rosetta Stone. So, writing, Chem, French.  He’ll be taking guitar back up in a couple of weeks, continuing lessons which he took all of last year. Second semester will be the second half of Core 300, as I didn’t realize that Sonlight’s high school government and civics course really couldn’t be done concurrently with a Core — too much work.  In other words, last school year, he did the first half of Core 300, and American Government and Civics.  So, this year, he is spending the first half of the year on a writing intensive, and the second half of the year finishing Core 300.  In addition to writing, Chemistry, French, and guitar, he is also doing daily Bible memory, and will be studying 30 minutes daily for retaking his SAT.  Lastly, we need to figure out something for driver’s ed, which he has not yet done.

Grant took a selfie, high above Winnebago, IL, as the passenger in my Uncle Gerry's single-engine plane.

Grant took a selfie, high above Winnebago, IL, as the passenger in my Uncle Gerry’s single-engine plane.

Grant is my 15 year-old sophomore.  He had a rough year last year, which is probably my biggest regret.  He is a brilliant student, but without proper guidance, he just tanks.  So, the second half of his year was pretty much a bust.  Grant is doing Sonlight’s Core 200 (which is called “History of the Church”, but really reaches beyond that, into Western Civilization).  Grant is also re-doing Geometry, though this time with Teaching Textbooks, and re-doing Biology (Apologia, here at home), and Rosetta Stone French.  We may add more into his school day, but for now, we’re going to see how he handles just Core (which is Bible, History, Literature, and grammar/writing).

Wes holding a week-old kid, Quincy, IL.  July 2014.

Wes holding a week-old kid, Quincy, IL. July 2014.

 


Wesley is my nearly-13-year-old 8th grader.  Wes is doing a Core that is new to our family, Core W — a one-year world history course.  With Ethan and Grant, it took me eight years to complete five Cores, not uncommon in families who choose Sonlight.  But, it only took Wes seven years…  So, here he is in his eighth grade year and I didn’t have any curriculum to teach him.  So, he’s doing a new one.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had to purchase an elementary/junior high curric!!  He is doing the second half of Teaching Textbooks’ Algebra 1 and doing French, as well. We are doing Easy Grammar in addition to Sonlight’s language arts. He is also doing Sonlight Science G. And Spelling Power.

Audrey, holding a baby pheasant at my Uncle Peter and Aunt Candy's home, outside of Hudson, Illinois.  July 2014.

Audrey, holding a baby pheasant at my Uncle Peter and Aunt Candy’s home, outside of Hudson, Illinois. July 2014.

Then, I have a 3rd grader (Audrey, age 8) and 1st grader (Fiala, who will be six in October). Both are doing the second half of old Core 1, which I never completed with my 3rd grader.  Yes, it took me her first grade year AND her second grade year to complete 16 WEEKS of Sonlight’s old Core 1 (which is basically equivalent to current Core B).  They are also both doing Explode the Code, and Sonlight Science 1.  Audrey is doing Reason for Handwriting Cursive (which we started last year — she loves it). They also both use Mead Primary Journals (which has a blank spot on top for a picture, then about six lines for journaling/story — I have only found these at Walmart.  I cannot recommend them highly enough.). Both use Singapore Math — 3A and 1A, respectively. Both also do Spelling Power. 

Fiala with my dear cousin Anna, in Lexington, KY.  July 2014.

Fiala with my dear cousin Anna, in Lexington, KY. July 2014.

Just a note about Fiala….  One thing I love about homeschooling is that you can tailor a child’s work to his needs.  Her needs, in this case.  If she were attending a public school, she would be only STARTING Kindergarten this year, as she has a late-October birthday.  However, she flew through Kindergarten curriculum last year, and is doing beautifully as a 1st grader.  She tested in Spelling Power at level 2.2 — 2nd grade, 2nd month.  She’s five.  And, though she is bright, she isn’t brilliant.  She isn’t a genius.  I just think our public school system is so awfully inefficient and tries to mold children to the curriculum, rather than finding what works for each child, and unsurprisingly, the child “fails”.  If you find work that is well-suited to a child’s personality, attention span, intelligence, and learning style, you may be surprised at how smart and how able your child actually is. 

Our whole family, in July.  Wes is in the white polo.  I have the fewest pics of Wes of any of my children...  Must remedy that!!

Go ahead: Bite off more than you can chew.

Note the slab-slices of summer squash I'm using as bun here.  I'm enormously pleased with this burger-hack.  Most people with whom I share the idea?  Not so much.  But, seriously, you should try it!!  Raw summer squash is super-mild, lightly crunchy, and holds up WAY better than a lettuce wrap.

Note the slab-slices of summer squash I’m using as bun here. I’m enormously pleased with this burger-hack. Most people with whom I share the idea? Not so much. But, seriously, you should try it!! Raw summer squash is super-mild, lightly crunchy, and holds up WAY better than a lettuce wrap.

I am still — STILL!! – working on converting an area approximately 21′ x 45′ from invasive, hard-to-kill Bermuda grass lawn into a vegetable garden.  It has occurred to me, time and again, why raised beds are so popular.  They’re a heckuva lot easier!  However, I’m looking for long-term sustainability as well as decreasing water use, and to those ends, a sunken bed is the way to go in the desert.  I already know that water drains off our property toward the to-be-garden corner.  It takes less water to hydrate sunken beds, water doesn’t evaporate as quickly, and the soil temp stays cooler when the top of the garden bed is at or below ground-level.

But, Lordy! is it ever hard work.

A couple of weeks ago, on my blog Facebook page, I posted:

Crap. I have just discovered that a giant section of our yard (about 15′ x 40′) is actually a stinkin’ CONCRETE SLAB, which was covered by about 4″ layer of dirt mixed with -1/4″ (“quarter minus”) granite gravel, which was topped with another 4″ or so of sod. A section of this takes up about a THIRD of my planned garden, right in the middle. This is going to take a jack hammer or a backhoe to remedy. Can you feel my disappointment? Ugh. Such a setback.

My friend Erin commented:

I love that you say “jackhammer or backhoe” instead of “smaller garden.” That’s the Karen I know and love!

This gave me much pause for thought.

She is totally right:  Downsizing due to difficulty was not an option.  This is mostly because, if I’m going to do this, it’s probably my ONE chance!  At least, it’s my one chance right now.  And, I want to do it right, if I’m going to do it at all — a maxim that was repeated ad nauseum during my childhood.  Secondly, if there is a giant chunk of concrete just below the surface of our yard, it probably shouldn’t just stay there;  it would only cause further difficulty down the line, and eventually need to be removed, anyway.  So, why not remove it now?

Note:  The bad news is, it’s still not removed.  The good news is that it is only a footer — about 18″ wide, a good, solid two feet deep, and about eight feet long.  More good news:  My husband has taken on removal of the concrete footer as his own personal mission.  More bad news:  this mission is subject to myriad other missions, currently being tackled by my husband.

But, back to my “pause for thought”:

It occurs to me that I typically bite off more than I can chew.  As a matter of course, I take on projects that are too big for myself.  I dream and plan into existence opportunities that end up being WAY more complex and time-consuming than I had envisioned.

At first, I started to chastise myself for this.

But, upon further reflection, I’ve decided that I like this God-given part of my personality, and here’s why:

I get loads more accomplished by biting off more than I can chew, than I would if I took life in reasonable mouthfuls.

I find that, as I’m in the throes of panic, feeling overwhelmed at all that’s on my plate, any number of things happen:

  1. I am compelled to study, research, and learn, to fill in the gaps of my knowledge.
  2. I am compelled to the feet of Jesus for His comfort, wisdom, and guidance.
  3. I am compelled to lean on my husband (and in increasing measure, my sons who are young men).
  4. I am compelled to ask the Body of Christ —  my local church — for help.

I don’t think that anyone would see a problem with the first item on my list.  For items #2-4, I must note that this is a good thing for me, as I tend to too much independence.  I believe that God created us to function interdependently, within our families, our communities, our churches…  We need each other.  I contribute my strength and abilities, you contribute yours, and we both end up further down the road, than had we been alone.

I could add a number of other benefits to the list above:

  • Hard work is good for you — body and soul.
  • Being productive is good for everyone around you.
  • Being able to genuinely and completely rest after a job well-done is a glorious feeling.

I’m sure there are more.  Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments, if you’d like!!

So, go ahead:  Bite off more than you can chew.  Sure, you’ll have moments of feeling overwhelmed, moments of panic.  But you’ll do more, go further, and just plain ol’ bear more fruit than if you live a more reasonable life.

Making yogurt, making a garden, and raising a son into the workplace

  • Eurocuisine YM80 — I also purchased an expansion tray and a set of eight more glass jars, but Amazon sent TWO expansion trays and no extra glass jars. Humph.

    I bought a yogurt maker and I must say, the first batch??  NOT a success.  There are lots of conflicting instructions out there for making yogurt.  Next time, I will SCALD the raw milk (not boil it, per the instructions I followed), use already-made plain yogurt as a starter (not acidophilus caps that so many places said you could use), and keep better track of the temperature.  I’ll also just make plain, rather than the honey-sweetened blueberry yogurt I attempted.  The results separated into yogurty curds and whey.  The flavor was good, but the texture was horrible.  We half-froze ours to make it palatable, and that worked all right.  But the next go-round needs to be much more successful!!

  • My oldest son now has a job:  He’s a bagger at Sprouts, a local, natural grocer.  It was really the only job he wanted, and though it took a few months of trying, he got the job!  The day he was hired, he had to read 100+ pages of various employee handbooks (which he truly read, because he is thorough, like his father).  I also took him to open a checking account, which had about 20 pages of various information and things to sign.  As we were leaving the bank, his brow was furrowed, and I could tell he was on information overload.  “So, Ethan, now that you have a job and a checking account, do you feel like an adult?” I asked.  He replied, “Well, if adults regularly feel confused, then, yes, I feel like an adult.”  Ha!  Welcome to adulthood, my son.  We are having him tithe 10%, save 50%, and the rest is his for spending and short-term savings.  He looked at his first paycheck, which was for just one week, and proclaimed that the paper he was holding amounted to more than he had made doing odd jobs in the entire previous year.  I had really wanted him to get a job for his own benefit — for learning how to be responsible with money; for learning how to be part of a team within a work environment; and to just take a step up in transition to adulthood…  But, unexpectedly, I feel very blessed.  He’s not a fully grown adult, but it blesses me, knowing that my husband and I have raised a young man who is an asset to a good company, and to the workforce in general.  It feels very right.
  • IMG_20140516_110157_393 - Copy

    I know. It doesn’t look all that exciting. And you can’t really tell the scope of the project from this pic. But I have gotten to know this little cart and a pair of shovels very well in the last week.

    Last Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, and today, I have worked HARD in my yard for 2-3+ hours daily. I am trying to transform a section about 21′ x 42′ into my real, true garden. It’s difficult to explain to people unfamiliar with caliche JUST HOW ROCK-HARD our “soil” is. Technically, it’s not soil; it’s dirt. The Bermuda grass — the only kind that will grow in the desert’s heat and lack of water — needs to be removed, so I rented a sod-cutter last Thursday.  Man-oh-man, that was SO punishing. So difficult.  I put it at the deepest setting — 2½” — to dig up as much of the Bermuda as possible.  Now, I am digging and toting the cut dirt/sod to other areas of our yard, making berms around trees. I’m only about 1/3 done with it being cleared. And here, it has mostly been in the mid-90°s. So, add “hot and sweaty” to physically challenging.  I am keeping my eyes on the prize of having a productive, inviting, rewarding garden, some months from now.  Once I finish clearing the area, I still need to soak the dirt, Rototill it, rake out as many Bermuda grass roots as possible, then cover the area with clear plastic to solarize — and thus kill — it.  All of that is BEFORE I get to plant anything.  I also need to put up a fence with a footer, not just to keep out the dogs, but to keep the Bermuda grass from creeping back in.  I’m collecting interesting garden fence ideas on Pinterest.

  • I was going to post about our new dog (a third Staffordshire Bull Terrier)… And about me going low-carb almost-Paleo again.  But my baby Jean is waking!  So, here are a couple more pics:
    Baby Jean giving a hug and a sloppy kiss to Fiala.  I absolutely love the fact that baby Jean grabs both sides of someone's face and smashes her chubby, drooly mouth onto the kiss-recipient.

    Baby Jean giving a hug and a sloppy kiss to Fiala. I absolutely love the fact that baby Jean grabs both sides of someone’s face and smashes her chubby, drooly mouth onto the kiss-recipient.

    This is me, in an absolutely horrid shirt of my husband's (he's never worn it;  it was a gift).  It has long sleeves to protect my sunburn from a couple of days ago when I thought, "Oh, I won't be working THAT long," and worked for two hours with no sunblock.  Anyway, this is how you get yardwork done with a baby:  Work as much as you can while she naps.  Then, have your kids take 30 minute play/watch sessions, punctuated by 15 minute sessions of baby with Mama.  It works.  :)

    This is me, in an absolutely horrid shirt of my husband’s (he’s never worn it; it was a gift). It has long sleeves to protect my sunburn from a couple of days ago when I thought, “Oh, I won’t be working THAT long,” and worked for two hours with no sunblock. Anyway, this is how you get yardwork done with a baby: Work as much as you can while she naps. Then, have your kids take 30 minute play/watch sessions, punctuated by 15 minute sessions of baby with Mama. It works. :)

Imperfect. Still blessed.

Six kids doesn’t feel like a lot.

And our home feels empty when anyone is missing, even just for the afternoon.

I’m not a super-mom; it helps tremendously that my oldest two are so responsible and helpful.

I get all sorts of comments – not usually negative ones – from folks who wonder “how do you do it?” and it must just be the grace of God, because although there are certainly challenges, they feel no more challenging than back when I had only Ethan. In fact, mentally and emotionally, I feel/am much more capable than I was when I was 24 years old and the mother of one child.

I certainly don’t want to whitewash anything and make it sound like EVERYTHING is FABULOUS ALL of the time! It’s not, and I cry just like any other mom, over hurts or disappointments.  My bedroom is a wreck, there are mountains of laundry to be done, I made my 8-year-old cry yesterday by confessing that I didn’t get the plans in order for her birthday party and we’d have to delay it for two weeks… In other words, not perfect.  But, overall, I feel very blessed and very thankful that God has appointed me to be the mother of six. Not many have that opportunity (though I probably have a higher-than-average count of friends who are ‘moms of many’).

But I guess what my revelation has been is this: Things don’t have to be PERFECT for me to feel and be BLESSED.

Imperfect. Downright blemished in places. But still, overwhelmingly and beautifully blessed.

From this morning.  Wesley was holding baby Jean and said, "Take a picture, Mom!" then Audrey and Fiala appeared to be a part of the picture-taking.

From this morning. Wesley was holding baby Jean and said, “Take a picture, Mom!” then Audrey and Fiala appeared to be a part of the picture-taking.

Gardeny things! — “Wilson”, barrel potatoes, and a native desert flower garden

1.  I am happy to have a neighbor with whom I can chat about gardeny things.  Our interests and our knowledge overlap enough to give us things about which to talk, but we have enough difference that we can learn from each other.  Me from him, mostly.  I get flashbacks to Home Improvement, with Tim ever talking with his neighbor, over the fence.  We chatted this afternoon about starts vs. seeds, squash bugs, beet tops vs. rhubarb chard, and asparagus.  It made me happy.

2.

You can buy Red La Soda potatoes from the link; I got mine from Crooked Sky Farms as part of the CSA I host.

It rained on Saturday, the first time since mid-December.  To the southwest of my home, an official weather station recorded about 1 1/3″.  To my northeast, one recorded 1.81″.  So, we likely received somewhere in there.  Between outbursts, I was turning my (sadly neglected) compost.  Just as I returned my pitchfork to the shed, an all-out downpour let loose.  In a metal-roofed shed, that storm was LOUD!!!!!  I had my ears covered, and looked up to see my husband, standing under the eaves, holding baby Jean, who had awoken while I was outside.  I couldn’t believe he was there, holding her!  He was about 15 feet away, yet I couldn’t year a word he was shouting.  He disappeared and then reappeared, sans baby, holding a mostly-broken Hello Kitty umbrella, which he tossed to me.  You know you’re a desert-dweller if the best umbrella in the house (actually, the ONLY umbrella!) is a nominally functional undersized one, owned by your seven-year-old daughter.  After most of the storms had passed, I followed a simple tutorial to plant my first barrel of potatoes.  It seems that folks have varying success with growing potatoes in a barrel, but I figured I had little to lose.  I had purchased a $17.99 half-barrel planter from Costco and used an organic potato (Red La Soda) that had already sprouted eyes — which, I learned this weekend, is referred to as having been “chitted“.  I used homemade compost.  The whole project took me about 15 minutes, and that includes wheeling the compost over to the barrel.  All I have to do is keep adding compost as the plant grows.  Next time, though, I think I’ll add vermiculite to the compost, to make it lighter…

3.  I’m trying to purge my inner Perfectionist Gardener, and just PLANT THINGS.  Of course, planting in the right month, with the right seeds for one’s climate, purchased from the right place, with the right soil and amendments, at the right orientation to receive optimal sunlight — all are good.  However, I am finding that the more I learn about gardening, the LESS bold I am, the less risky.  I rediscovered some old seed packs that I had purchased locally from an organization called Wild Seed which, charmingly and frustratingly, doesn’t have a website.  (You can call them for a catalog, though — (602) 276-3536.)  The packets are years old — four or five, at least.  However, I figured that even if only a few germinate, it would be worth the effort of actually putting them in the ground, rather than have them languish for another couple of years in a drawer.  So, with the ground soft — soggy, even — from Saturday’s rain, I hoed and weeded a bed created by a former owner of this house.  The bed is NOT in the optimal location;  it’s against a south fence, facing north.  It hardly gets any sun, except in the middle of summer.  But, it’s a bed, a garden bed, already created, yet not in use.  I scattered the seeds in a rough drift pattern and raked them in.  We’ll see what happens!  I saved a couple of packets for bare places, given the haphazard planting and the age of the seeds…  One thing I do have going for me:  they’re all native desert flowers — some native to California, but most native to the Sonoran Desert.  By nature — literally — many seeds are dormant for YEARS until there is enough rain at the right time.  I’m hoping to a) put to use seeds I’ve been saving for who-knows-what;  b) beautify an ugly wall;  c) attract butterflies, birds, and honeybees.  Here’s hopin’!!  I planted:

Desert Chia – Salvia columbariae

Summer Poppy – Kallstroemia grandiflora

 

Purple Owl’s Clover — Castilleja exserta

 

Cream Cups — Platystemon californicus (I’m most excited about this one. I’ve seen it only a few times in real life and it is so very lovely.)

 

Desert Verbena — Abronia villosa

 

Purple Desert Sand Verbena — Abronia angustifolia Greene

 

Scarlet Sage — Salvia coccinea Gorgeous flower… I’m not certain it will grow in the Phoenix area, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 437 other followers

%d bloggers like this: