My friend Kathy told me I need to write more. So, I comply.
Though I struggle with feeling irrelevant in this age of blogs that are perfectly photographed, engagingly-written by self-assured experts in every imaginable topic, she tells me that I do have a niche, and I fill a role… I’m still not 100% certain what that role is, nine and a half years after I started blogging.
I’m also going to — at Kathy’s urging — start to journal more on the things about which I cannot write publicly. I find that, as my children grow toward adulthood, I can’t really disclose to the faceless masses — or even friends I know and trust in real life — many of the things that truly weigh down my heart, as they are often not my secrets to divulge.
Then, when all of these thoughts and feelings and words are teeming in my mind, considered but unwritten, everything else seems like fluff — truly irrelevant and not worth the time invested in writing a blog post.
This, however: Worthwhile. To me, at least.
I did something this past weekend that I’ve never done before: gone on a girlfriends’ weekend with no kids and no husband. Well, I haven’t done anything like that since I’ve been married. For Mother’s Day, my husband surprised me with a trip to the Portland area, to see some dear friends. I had been semi-planning this trip for, oh, about a year… But, with my oldest son’s high school graduation, my second son going to Civil Air Patrol Encampment in June, a house that sucks up our remodeling budget and most of our discretionary income, a family camping trip to plan, and more — always more — I was certain that it wouldn’t work out. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had been scheming with my friends. He’s a good man.
So, while my headcold-ridden husband stayed home with our six children, I flew to PDX, and went criss-crossing southern Washington and northern Oregon with three friends for four days. Mountains! The beach! Gardens! Farmer’s market! City! Country! We packed a great deal into a short period of time.
One friend, Dee Dee, traveled up from the desert — though not the same flight as me — and we met our two friends who used to live here, but who now live in the Portland area.
This time is a treasure to me. I have no great love for the Phoenix area… Yet, as my husband says, it is the land of our anointing. It’s where God has us, and where He has blessed us. We have not plans — not any hopes, even — of ever living elsewhere. There are far too many attachments here in the desert: our beloved church, my husband’s job of 24 years, nearby family (though no one remaining who actually lives in the Phoenix area)…. So, it’s a hard balance, something I’ve struggled with — with varying degrees of success: I long for green, for water in creeks, for rain, for tolerable weather… Yet, I cannot give in to discontentment. It wants to eat my heart, and I can’t let it. I won’t.
So, any trip outside the desert is a delight, and this one was particularly so.
In my absence, my husband bought me a second-hand rototiller, so all things considered, it might have been the Best Weekend Ever.
My other favorite times:
- Hanging out in Allison’s home, with her hubby and their two sons. The living room is on the second level, and it is like being in a tree house, with massive windows on two walls, tall trees surrounding the property. We curled up, kicked back, scritched the ears of her two Westies, and chatted for hours.
- Eating. Every restaurant in the Pacific Northwest has a gluten-free menu, and even the gelato at the grocery store (Chuck’s, I think it was called) was labeled as g.f. We also ate at an Iraqi restaurant, which I wish I could transplant here.
- Kathy made a delicious dinner for all of us, which we ate in her back yard. As we waited for the meal, we had hors d’oeuvres of fresh blueberries, plucked from the bushes in Kathy’s yard. Blueberry bushes. In her back yard.
- Just the friendship of other women who know and love each other and have similar values… I feel rich in the blessings of friendship. And we laughed a lot. And exclaimed over the same things. We’re all alike enough to enjoy most of the same things, but different enough that conversation is enlightening and lively, and we learn from each other.
- On Sunday morning, as we drove to the Oregon Garden, Allison — the driver — made an executive decision that we would worship and pray aloud. We did, for about an hour — praying for each other, our families, our churches — three represented by the four of us… And we listened to the Housefires. Time flew. And then right at the end, as we were drenched in the Spirit, someone up the way started backing a 60-foot Winnebago into a driveway, and a lady strode purposefully onto the two-lane blacktop highway and held up her 5″ palm, telling us to stop. This struck all of us as hilarious, because, really… we couldn’t see the Winnebago, and we would have been lost without her direction. We were so grateful. (Much laughter.)
I must return. We’re already making plans, the four of us, to do so.
I truly still love writing. I’ve just been insanely busy. My load right now is somewhat lighter, which allows me the luxury of reflecting, here in my neglected blog. (Note: I have no idea why the sizes of fonts change throughout this post. Rather than taking the time to figure it out, I’m leaving it. Sorry-not-sorry.) Edited to add a few more things about Fiala, and to note that you may click on each picture to enlarge it, if you care to.
- My oldest son, Ethan, did receive the scholarship he was hoping for, to attend Arizona State University. I am part of a couple different groups where homeschooling parents support each other, especially where prep-for-college is concerned. I’m struck again and again how, as a homeschooling mom of a senior, it seems like the college admissions process is WAY more about how prepared and organized **I** have been as my child’s mother/teacher, and much less about how well-educated my son is. I’m happy to report that, even though I have discovered, in retrospect, that there are a hundred things I could have done better or differently, what Ethan and I did, together, was exactly right for what he needed. I’m feeling the mercy of God on that one, because truly, I’m not kidding about those “hundred things”. Ethan turns 18 this month. He isn’t altogether eager to transition to adulthood; it’s challenging for all of us, to be frank. I have told him, “We’ve never parented an adult before, please bear with us.” We’re all learning. It’s funny, because I have often urged him to DO HIS OWN RESEARCH AND MAKE HIS OWN DECISIONS, because, even though I’m complimented by the fact that he still likes the things I choose for him — it makes me feel like I really know him — it’s healthier for him to be at least a little more independent than where he’s comfortable. So, in light of this, I turned over to him the plans for his birthday party. And, whaddya know? He has planned it for a day when I’m going to be out of town. Not purposefully; that’s just the date that works best with his friends, who are hosting. However, it’s kind of good news/bad news, “You took charge? GREAT! But you left me out of it completely?? Sad face.” LOL!
Grant is my son who will be 16 later this summer. I don’t think I’ve blogged about this, but what I’m going to write about here, about Grant, is kind of a big deal to me. Grant is the opposite of Ethan; he has known for YEARS where he’d like his future to be, what he’d like to do, where he’d like to go to university… He really can’t wait to get on with his adult life. A big part of that includes his plans to attend the United States Air Force Academy. To be completely honest, up until nine months ago or so, I kind of blew that off. It’s hard to get into the USAFA. Really hard. It’s even harder for homeschoolers. And, they don’t just look at academics; they look at the whole person. I had decided, in my own mind, that the chances of Grant getting into the AFA were incredibly slim. However, early last fall, I started to feel convicted. I remember having dreams while in high school, and feeling like no one wanted to help me achieve them. I remember what it felt like to be blown off. So, I started checking things out, what I could do to help Grant gain ground on his goals. I decided that I didn’t want to be an impediment to his hopes; I wanted to assist him in every way possible. So, I signed him up for the Future Falcons at the USAFA website — which is kind of a Big Deal, as it is super-official; you need the child’s Social Security number, even! I downloaded the 21-page “Instructions to Precandidates” pdf and we mapped out his sophomore to senior years of high school accordingly. And, I looked into getting Grant involved in an Air Force-related program. I first thought of Junior ROTC… But, then, I heard about Civil Air Patrol Cadets from some other homeschooling moms. Long story short, Grant has only been in CAP Cadets for a little over six months, but he is excelling. He’s actually at a week-long semi-boot-camp experience called “Encampment” at Fort Huachuca as I type this. Grant still has a long way to go, and many smaller goals to achieve before we can even apply to the Academy. But, all of us feel pretty good about his chances, which is 180° from where we were, about a year ago. In this coming school year, Grant’s junior year, he will be taking two classes at KEYS — a two-day homeschool co-op — and the rest at home. Grant will be taking Honors Chemistry and College Lit and Composition. Frankly, these are two teaching-intensive classes, and I was looking to outsource the most mom-dependent classes for Grant. Additionally, we’re looking at having Grant take all of his classes for his senior year at a local community college, and we wanted to ease his transition. Other than American History, Grant won’t need much from me in the coming school year; his other subjects — French, Economics, Algebra II, and a couple of others, won’t need a lot of input from me. I’m totally OK with that.
My son Wesley will be in 9th grade in the fall, which hardly seems possible. He’s the youngest of our three sons, and it is a challenge for me to not think of him as “little”. He has had a massive growth spurt this past year, and his voice has dramatically deepened. Whether I’m ready or not, Wesley is no longer little. He is an excellent big brother to our toddler, Jeanie. He’s in the teen youth group at church. It just feels odd to me, still. Through much thought and research and prayer, we have decided to try Wesley at an “brick and mortar” school for this coming fall. None of our kids have ever gone to a “real” school before. But… I have long felt that I just don’t quite speak Wesley’s educational language. He hasn’t suffered under my instruction, and testing shows he is on course or ahead for his grade level. However, I don’t feel like I’m best-suited to maximize his potential, since his potential is in areas where I’m not strong. There is a charter school (publicly funded, privately run) less than a mile from us; I have checked them out before, and I like their literature-based, liberal arts approach. It’s a small school: this coming year, they’ll very likely have less than 150 students, only 9th – 11th graders. Most kids bring their own lunches (which seems trivial, but with Wesley’s celiac disease, dairy allergy, and peanut allergy, I didn’t want him to feel like he’s the odd man out, bringing his own lunch every day). And then, a good friend of ours took a job as the English teacher there. This man is everything you’d hope for in a teacher: brilliant, kind, patient, thoughtful, a good leader…. I do believe he’d be an excellent teacher for Wesley for English, which has long been Wes’ poorest subject. The daughter of that teacher, as well as another friend of Wesley’s, will also be attending the school. My husband Martin and I have discussed, toured the school together, talked on the phone with the principal, e-mailed back and forth with staff, read every click on the school’s website, and PRAYED. However, neither of us have felt any strong inclination or direction from God. We both feel like He’s saying, “All right. It’s up to you. You can give it a shot.” I’d feel a thousand times better if I had heard something more specific than that. But… It’ll do, for now. This next week, I’ll be enrolling Wes.
This past year was our busiest ever, for school. With Ethan as a senior, Grant as a sophomore, and Wes in 8th grade, there were far too many days when Audrey (who just finished 3rd grade) and Fiala (who just finished 1st) would just do seat work — phonics, math, journal, and a couple of other subjects where they can work largely independently, with little help from me. In other words: the bare minimum. I have no doubt that the girls’ educational skills are up to par, or perhaps beyond their typical peers. However, I want a richer, more robust school experience for them. With Ethan at college, Grant working mostly-independently, and Wesley enrolled in a charter school, I’m VERY MUCH looking forward to a hands-on school year for the two “big” girls: art projects, science experiments, field trips, actually READING THE READ-ALOUDS in our curriculum! It should be a wonderful year. As stated in the caption of the pic at left, Audrey — who turned nine years old a couple of months ago — is artsy, funky, fun, and LOUD. All the boys did Rosetta Stone French this year, and Audrey joined in, as well. I am tickled to hear her lovely little French accent. It’s charming. Fiala, who is six years old, is loving, thoughtful, intense, unique, and can be petulant and impulsive. She loves swimming, loves playing dress up and changing her clothes in general — her clean, folded laundry stack is ALWAYS taller than anyone else’s. She loves waking up earlier than any of the other children and coming into my bed to “snug” with me. It doesn’t usually happen like that, but it’s a good day for Fi when it does. All in all, she is a delight of a child, my little green-eyes-freckle-nose, as I often call her. If Fiala was in a public school, she would have been in Kindergarten this last year, as she has a late-fall birthday. That seems crazy to me, as she was well-ready for first grade work.
Jean will be two years old next week, which also seems crazy. I tell her that if it wasn’t for her screeching in restaurants and playing with her poop, she’d be a perfect child. Seriously: up until now, my sixth child, I have had NO children interested in their poop. Jean, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to understand what “gross” means. So, when she takes a nap, I have to put this ONE outfit on her, every time — it’s a BabyGap long-legged, button-up, one-piece, short-sleeved cotton romper. It’s the only thing that doesn’t allow access to her diaper area. Actually, “Pull-Up area”, as she is nearly completely potty-trained. We went from cloth diapers to early potty training in December, and I rejoiced, but it has taken her A Very Long Time to be serious about it. She just isn’t serious. She is a joyous little bundle of… everything. She’s still chubby and overall large for her age. She has a passion for Bubble Guppies, swimming, and dancing. She is bossy. Charmingly bossy. “Hum!” she will demand, which is Jeanie-speak for, “Come!” She will pull on your hand and do everything she can to make you comply. Or, “Hi! Hi!” she will insist, patting the seat next to her. For unknown reasons, “Hi! Hi!” means, “You sit HERE, NOW!” Or, “Tiss!!” meaing, “Kiss!” Then, “O’er side!!” Meaning, “I want a kiss on the other cheek, as well!” We all adore Jean.
- This past spring just about did me in. I always felt like families who couldn’t eat dinner together were doing something wrong. Well, guess what? We became that family in 2015. Sunday nights, Martin often has events at church to attend. Monday nights, I take Grant to CAP Cadets and usually sit in a nearby coffee shop, grading papers for the 2.5 hrs of CAP. Tuesday nights, Martin led worship at a weekly small group. I was leading worship just on Wednesday nights, until a group got too big and needed to multiply, but didn’t have a worship leader. I agreed — just for the spring — to lead worship in that group, as well. So, from the end of February to the beginning of June, I was gone both Wednesday and Thursday nights. Additionally, I started hosting a CSA/farm share again for a local organic farmer, every Wednesday. I had kind of taken an six-month hiatus, but started up again in April. And, Ethan works three nights a week at Sprouts. Martin has a fairly long commute, and often isn’t home until 6:00 or so… It became like passing the baton, and the 30 minutes we’d have together before one of us needed to head back out the door was usually not at the dinner table. When you have a family of eight, dinner is loud and usually fun, but it really isn’t the place for Martin and I to connect. I’d have dinner made, but we usually didn’t sit down together. Homeschooling, church, CAP Cadets, three weekly small groups, the CSA, Martin’s commute, Ethan’s work… Lordy, I was stretched. But, small groups take a break for the summer and school is DONE, so my load is infinitely lighter. I feel much freer!!
- My other big things for the spring are: my garden — which is a scaled-down version of my original vision. I have one 8′ x 12′ bed in, and it’s growing wonderfully. I’m working daily (or nearly so) to put in a walk around the bed, and hope to have a second bed ready for mid-August planting. It is so hot here (yesterday hit 115°!!!!) that there is little that will grow in the heat of mid-summer. The bed that is growing, I planted in late April. I can’t really sow anything else until there is hope for cooler temperatures. I have sunflowers, two kinds of melon, Armenian cucumbers, okra, two kinds of heat-tolerant green beans, summer squash, and a winter squash growing, plus a variety of flowers. I also have way too many volunteer tomato plants, whose seed came from my compost, I suppose. I have transplanted as many as possible, replanting and giving away about 20 tomato plants. There are still far too many tomato plants growing in the garden — growing too closely with the other plants. It’s not really the right time to grow tomatoes here — ideally, I would have had them in by January or February. But, I can’t bear to yank them. We’ll see what happens. My garden gives me joy, exercise, and a sense of fulfillment. It keeps me sane. To me, gardening really is a kind of therapy.Of course, all of this is barely scratching the surface. There is much more happening in our home… An upcoming camping trip, me traveling to the Portland area for a girlfriends’ weekend, sewing projects, lots of canning, Bible studies, small and large challenges and triumphs, a continuing home remodel, birthdays — including my own, baseball, me going low-carb again to lose weight, books to read, and more. But, I will call it a day and go swimming with my kids.Blessings to you and yours.
For the last year or so, I’ve been discouraged and possibly even depressed over the state of a number of challenges in my life. Part of it is, we have too many needs in this home and not enough resources to make them happen. One of the things that I don’t have that I miss terribly is a garden — a real garden. I live in the Phoenix area, and it takes a LOT of effort to get a garden going. In July, it will be three years since we moved to this house, from our previous house where I had an amazing, large-ish garden that was the source of joy, provision for our family, and exercise.
Last June, impatient for a garden, and trying to take matters into my own hands, I rented a sod cutter to remove the awful, frickin’ frackin’ Bermudagrass that grows in our clay “soil” to start my new, giant garden – about 21′ x 45′. I had the garden plan all down on paper. On that paper, and in my dreams, the garden was so lovely. Well, my resources ran out: time, energy (I hurt my back badly), and money. And then, my idealism kicked in: “I want the garden that I want! A real garden! Big, with a real, Pinterest-worthy fence around it, with plumbed irrigation!” And since I couldn’t have that — that perfect plan — I pretty much gave up.
(I have 15-20 pots in which I grow quite a few veggies year ’round. Currently, I have green onions, red bell pepper, red Swiss chard, tomatillo, asparagus, and a variety of herbs: Italian parsley, thyme, basil, and rosemary. But, to me, pots are not a real garden.)
It’s creeping up on a year since I gave up my grand plans.
I decided last week that I needed to abandon my idealism and just work with what was available to me, and scale down my expectations…
We have caliche clay – really compacted, sticky, hard dirt. That picture at the top? It has taken me seven days, working 90-120 minutes per day — to dig that much. The final size of this bed will be about 8′ x 12′. That is much more modest than my hopes… But, it’s SOMETHING.
All my efforts last summer didn’t actually remove the Bermudagrass. It has grown back. If you have to good fortune to be unfamiliar, it propagates by seed, by runners, and by roots (which are technically rhizomes). It is so invasive. I’m breaking up literally every cubic inch of dirt, about 8″ deep, removing as much Bermudagrass blades and roots as possible. When I have all the border blocks in and all the dirt worked, I’ll be adding: gypsum, soil sulfur, vermiculite, Ironite, homemade compost, composted steer manure, and some organic granular garden-start food. I have a fabulous planting calendar made by a local university ag program, and from that, bought all the seed I need for planting. I hope to have all the seed in the ground by Friday.
I also bought an Ein Shemer apple tree I’m really excited about. It is a variety developed in Israel, needs very few chill hours, and is an excellent eating and baking apple. (Apple Anna and Golden Dorset are the most common varieties grown here, but both are essentially a Golden Delicious, too soft for my preference and not a good baking apple.)
That’s it. That really is all I have to report. Seven days of work, and a changed outlook. Doesn’t sound like much, but the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step… Cliche, yes, but I’ve been clinging to that. I had been intimidated by the journey.
Now, I feel a billion times better for just DOING something, instead of being upset that my “ideal” isn’t happening.
In case you’re burning with curiosity about what all is going on in our home — three sons, three daughters, two parents, two dogs, in a house in the desert — here you go!
(Well, actually, my plan was to do ONE post with ALL of us on it, but that’s going to take too long. So, I’ll just start with Ethan.*)
My son Ethan will be 18 in June, which hardly seems possible. He has a full beard, and I guess he looks like a connoisseur of ales, as folks frequently ask his opinion on craft beers at the grocery store where he works, Sprouts.
It took a while for us to work through what E would be doing in the fall. He’s such a bright young man, and has never done poor work at anything; he always produces excellent, high-quality work. But, he doesn’t love school, and wasn’t looking forward to four more years…. But, when my husband said that, if he wasn’t in college in the fall, he would be working full time, even if that meant Ethan would need to get a 2nd or even a 3rd job, suddenly E was much more participatory in the process to get him in a school, come August.
Ethan is so very different from Grant, our second-born. Grant has his future plans all mapped out. Ethan just doesn’t know. We keep waiting for inspiration or direction from God or some big audacious dream or SOMETHING that we can encourage in him, something we can help him pursue. But, no. Nothing definite.
He thinks he would like to possibly become a pastor some day… Which is not necessarily an undeniable call by the Spirit to the ministry. But, we’re running with that plan for now. He’ll be pursuing a BA in Communications at Arizona State University West campus. That is, if the scholarship estimator tool on the ASU website is accurate and that most of his tuition will truly be paid by whomever pays for such things — Board of Regents? Taxpayers? I truly don’t know. But, I thank them in advance.
It was funny — well, not FUNNY — but as I was considering what a good major would be for Ethan, which would serve him well in ministry but also be something that he could parlay into a paying job that is not ministry-related (because who is going to hire a 22-year-old, fresh out of college, to be a full-time pastor? No one. He’ll likely have part-time, entry-level, or even volunteer posts, perhaps while he works on a Master’s in pastoral ministry or something like that….). Anyway, I ran into an old youth pastor of Ethan’s, and we were chatting about him, and she mentioned that her old pastor had done that exact same thing. And it dawned on me that I knew her old pastor, as I went to high school with him. I sent him a private message about the idea — prepping for the ministry with a degree in Communications — and he was SO VERY encouraging. That is, actually, exactly what he did — a BA in Communications from Arizona State. So, that was confirmation enough.
There are a few extra hoops for homeschoolers to jump through, to gain entry into Arizona State, but it’s nothing too challenging. Everything should be sent out in the mail either today or tomorrow. And the main portion of his application, which is online, is already done. So now, we wait.
If the scholarship doesn’t come through, we’ll reassess at that point.
I’m immensely proud of Ethan. In spite of my failings, my omissions, my misdirections, my inexperience, God is faithful, and Ethan is a fine young man.
I’m also really pleased that Ethan wants to stay at home in the fall. It’s not a “failure to launch” kind of thing; he just loves us, and isn’t ready to leave home. He’d rather stay at home while being at school. We are 100% fine with that. It’s touching, actually. Both my husband and I had poor situations at home, when we were seniors, and we COULD NOT WAIT to leave home, to get outta there. Ethan is solid in his relationships with us, with his friends, at our church… He’s healthy. That, to me, is nothing short of amazing.
*In case you’re curious: I cleared this whole post with Ethan. It has his stamp of approval, or at least, there’s nothing mortifying enough to omit.
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.
makes 7-8 lbs
- 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)
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!!)
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!”
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.
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.
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. 6. 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.
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.
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.
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).
*This is as close as I will come to cussing on this blog. Or in real life, for that matter.
I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I think this might be the plan of God.
I have a reset button.
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.
“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- A friend introduced me to Sonlight.
Addressing each item above, I determined that….
- I didn’t need to be perfect to be a successful homeschooling teacher.
- 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.
- 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. 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, 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 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).
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.
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.
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.