Monthly Archives: November 2007

Are we under-achievers? If so, I guess I’m really happy with it.

As I’m reading about colleges and scholarships, I’m struck by how stellar other people’s children are! It seems just about “everyone’s” children feed the hungry on Monday, give advice to NASA on Tuesday, swim in the Olympic trials on Wednesday (but only if it doesn’t compete with church, where they teach 4 classes and sign interpretively for the pastor!), contribute as a guest columnist for the city paper on Thursday, and perform off-Broadway on Fridays. All that, of course, is only after all of their school work is done by 10am, including the “extra” college courses they are taking and the scale model of ancient Cairo they built out of all organic materials, just for fun. Now…let’s talk about the weekends!


Maybe this isn’t funny to you if you’re not a homeschooler… although, come to think of it, I guess it could just as easily apply to very motivated regular-schoolers.

It was written by a mom on a homeschooling forum I sporadically visit.  The topic was actually about prep for college, or at least, life after school, if one’s child isn’t a SuperHomeschooler who will likely get tons of academic scholarships.  (I’d post the link here, but it’s a private forum.)

That particular subject isn’t one that I’m highly concerned with, at this point, but what she describes has made me roll my eyes (and shy from homeschooling groups) on many an occasion.  We have some things in which we’re involved, but for the most part, we just spend our time, uh, learning and being a family.  We’re not super-achievers, we don’t even try to keep up with the Joneses, let alone best them. 

Our neighbors across the street are way-super-mega high energy high achievers, yet manage to do it without that stinky whiff of better-than-thou-ness that so often accompanies that sort of folk.  So, I know that it is possible to be extremely active and involved, travelling the world, collecting accolades, and marrying doctors whilst keeping your head straight on your shoulders… but most of the families I have met like the ones described in the above quote are ones that I’d really rather not spend any of my time with.  I’m not sure why that is.  I guess I just don’t relate with the drive required for, and the motivation behind, that which produces such stellar results.

193f06d5.jpg picture by Karen-Joy193f06d5.jpg picture by Karen-JoyI guess, now that I think about it, for me, it’s the same reasoning behind why I don’t get a job.  Too many women who work do so to support a nice wardrobe, a new car, pricey furniture, and a pool in the backyard.  Now, I’d like all those things, I must admit.  But, I’m not so motivated to have them that I’ll leave my kids 40+ hours a week to get them.  I’ll keep my clearance-rack clothes, 8yo vehicle, couches from Craigslist, and a Slip’N’Slide.  Know what I mean?  Some things — to me — just aren’t worth the loss of an intimate family life:  playing catch in the (poolless) backyard, flying kites at the park, homecooked dinners, and events like tonight, where the three boys (and Daddy) sat around our family room coffee table, sharing colored pencils, excitedly planning their vision of what our family’s gingerbread house will look like.

Those aren’t the sort of “extracurricular activities” that can fill a scholarship application, but it makes the years at home rich.

 193f06d5.jpg picture by Karen-Joy193f06d5.jpg picture by Karen-Joy       

The perfect Christmas

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to our Christmas celebration.  I always do give a lot of thought to it, and it’s always my highest aim to keep Jesus as the center this time of year, and of that day in particular. 

However, I’m at odds with myself over that desire for simplicity.  

I grew up dirt poor.  Really, honestly poor.  And our Christmases were always a disappointment and an embarrassment.  I always hoped that no friends would call on the 26th, and that when Christmas break was up that most of my school friends’ excitement would have worn off and nobody would be talking about Christmas, because I dreaded having it asked of me, “So what did you get for Christmas?”  Because, invariably, it was next to nothing.  And, it’s not like I could fall back on the richness of cozy memories, either, because I had a very tumultuous, strife-filled childhood, and there was little joy, little celebration, little tradition, and no peace.

So, I find myself loathe to have our Christmas bare-bones minimalist, especially when we can afford to give our children nice gifts.  Now, it’s not a glutted orgy of wild gift-giving with multiple thousands of dollars spent.  But, we’ve always been generous, and it pleases something deep in my heart that I can give my children gifts that they’ve “always” wanted, when — not once — in my childhood did I dare to “always want” a gift, because I would never, ever, ever have gotten it.

Still, though, there’s something wistful that arises in me when I read of family Christmas celebrations that are extremely low-budget, but warm and filled with Jesus and tradition, with nary a spendy gift in sight.  This story, written by Daja, is, I think, just about perfect a description of a thoughful, cozy, inexpensive, loving Christmas, and will perhaps make you wish that you didn’t have two dimes to rub together so that you could have a Christmas like her family’s.   

I have often imagined similarly

It was on the nights I didn’t sleep at all and I didn’t feel like reading that I’d walk through town at one or two o’clock.  In the old days I could walk down every single street, past every house, in about an hour.  I’d try to remember the people who lived in each one, and whatever I knew about them, which was often quite a lot…  And I’d pray for them.  And I’d imagine peace they didn’t expect and couldn’t account for descending on their illness or their quarreling or their dreams.

from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I have stopped trying to figure out how or why prayer works.  Since I’ve given up that pondering, I’ve prayed a lot more;  it doesn’t have to have as much… figuring behind it anymore;  I just pray.  I have a lot more enjoyment in prayer, now, too, since I’ve stopped angsting about it.

Gilead is the slowest-to-read novel that I’ve ever enjoyed.  I find it very interesting, but as of yet, not very compelling.  “Compelling” in the “hard to put down” sense.  On the contrary, it’s easy to put down;  it has a lot of natural stopping places.  Yet, when I pick it up again, I always enjoy what I read, so it’s not as if I don’t like it.  Reading the book has almost been an excercise in slow thoughtfulness, in the enjoyment of quiet things, and easily-missed details..  It’s not a book one can skim, not a book to read quickly at all.  Still.  I’ve been reading it for about two and a half weeks, and am only on page 73, and I read from it virtually every day.  That’s pretty darn slow. 

When I started reading it, I didn’t realize it had won the Pulitzer Prize for 2005;  I just learned that a week ago or so. 

I’m hard to please.

Musically, that is.

I just spent a lot of time listening to the music of a new-to-me musician named Sufjan Stevens.  I mostly like his stuff, but not entirely.  I mean, I like it, but it doesn’t cause the joy of perfect music to rise up in ne and fill my heart with delight.  If I were to buy a CD of his, I think it would be Seven Swans.  But, I’m probably not going to buy it any time soon, and since I do not hint, that’s not any kind of hint for any of you who know me IRL, and who might be thinking that I’m hinting, since it’s close to Christmas.

My problem with music is that I tend to like things that are not really mainstream.  There is something that grates against me when I hear slick, polished, hyper-produced, smooth-yet-characterless popular music.  Yet, I get annoyed by musicians whose music screams, “Listen to how weird I am!!!!  Aren’t I simply UNIQUE????  Listen to my dischordant bits and my lyrics that purposefully make no sense!!  I am SUCH an ARTIST!!!!!”

I also tend to like guitar-driven stuff.  But, I must be getting to be an old fogie because too much of the punkish music that I’ve liked forever sounds like a bunch of 22yo guys whining immaturely about something that’s happened to every other guy on the planet, and probably said better by 1000 other bands before them, of whom they’ve never heard, because they’re unaware of their own music’s roots.

We saw a guy on Austin City Limits on Saturday night;  I almost really liked him.  His name sounds decidedly Italian (Paolo Nutini), but his website’s bio insists that his family has been in Paisley, Scotland for “at least” four generations.  I have some dissatisfaction with ACL’s decision to forego its American Roots Music focus, and now featuring non-American, non-“rootsy” music, but I guess that’s not Paolo’s fault.  Also not his fault is that I also have an immediate distrust of musicians who are young and cute.  Why is that?  I’m not sure.  I guess it’s because, as hubby and I were talking last night, after seeing a commercial featuring Beyonce, too many musicians exploit their physical attributes, which end up getting more attention than their music…    

As I was pouting about my Thanksgiving…

… I realized that I didn’t even think to invite my Dad.  He lives in Texas, and historically, our family has barely even travelled for Christmas, let alone Thanksgiving.  But, I called him, and apologized for my assumption that he wouldn’t want to travel, and invited him out for Christmas.

He was pleased with the invite, and will likely come, though no plans are finalized.  He’s also going to extend the invitation to my little brother, who also lives in Austin.  That’d be great.  Of my three sibs, I’m least close to my little brother.  I really enjoy any time we spend together, but the times are far-between.  I haven’t seen him in nearly three years.  I haven’t seen my Dad since Audrey was born, which is nearly 20 months ago now…

It’ll make celebrations sort of awkward, I think, since we’re also planning on spending time with my Mom and Stepdad;  to my recollection, we’ve never been all together in one place:  Mom, Stepdad and real Dad.  Well, maybe once.  I remember going to dinner all together when Ethan was a baby, so that’s a good 10 years ago.  I don’t know how that would fly.  But, I thought that, at least for this Christmas, we should prioritize my Dad, since we hardly ever see him, and we see my Mom and/or Stepdad nearly every week, sometimes more than once a week.

I was just talking to my sister (who, regrettably, won’t be able to come…  her husband is a chef, and getting time off at Christmas is nigh impossible), and she agreed that though our family doesn’t see eachother as often as many other families do, when we do get together, it’s always very pleasant and peaceful, a good 98% free of the drama and arguments and bitterness seen in too many families…

Here’s to a family-filled, peaceful Christmas.

“School,” Christmas-style

I think that, sometimes, I am so bent on the school-part of school that I forget the fun part.  It’s personality, I think.  I adore learning.  I adore learning about interesting, in-danger-of-being-forgotten things.  I adore reading good books, and having good conversation about them.  I love science experiments, and reading about — and doing — exploration.  I love hikes where we are immersed in discovery and surrounded by beauty.  I love that my stepdad, the mostly-retired music teacher, comes weekly to teach my boys about beats and notes and old folk songs.

In addition to the above loves, I also tend to be a list-completer.  If something’s on the list, be it chores or school assignments, and it doesn’t get done, I get a tightness in my chest, and feel rather grumpy.

Conflicting with that,  I have a creative side.  BUT, it’s usually not enough creativity to override my sense of Needing to be Responsible, so you’re more likely to find me washing the cushions of the dining room chairs instead of sitting down for a good, gooey craft.

I also tend to do Real School stuff, right up until the last day before a break… and I tend not to study/explore things based on a seasonal or holiday nature.  KWIM?  We’re doing that math and English right up until the last day before Christmas break.  I think I feel the pressure of the expectations of others, as to what school is supposed to be, that same sort of expectation that gives me a sick feeling when I get The Disapproving Eye from others when I take my kids out for some event or even just for errands during the midst of a “normal” school day.  “Oh, your kids don’t have school today?” is usually the kindest question we receive in situations like that.

So, I tend to overcompensate, based on my personality and tendencies, and to keep ourselves free from the possibility of reproachfulness that homeschooling-skeptics might want to dish out.  We school, man!  My kids are learning.  So there!  No fluffy, fun seasonal projects, no sirree!  We’re doing the Three Rs, plus history and Bible and music!  That’s it, that’s all! 

I’m trying, though, to be more flexible and fun in our schooling, and to how others might judge our family.  (Anyways, I remember doing things like making Christmas ornaments and the like each year of school!  “Real” schools do projects.)  I have decided — or at least, I think I’ve decided — to give my tendencies a rest this year.  I think that next week, we are going to make an allergen-free gingerbread house and enter it into our city’s yearly competition.  It’s a pretty low-key competition, and we’re not going to be going for the big win or anything;  I just want to be involved.

Also, I think we’re going to make Christmas cards next week, too… 

My “need” to do things “right” often conflicts with the true need of involving my kids in things where they will likely not do a perfect job — like chores and gingerbread houses and Christmas cards.  So, it’s my goal to plan and facilitate and teach… but also let them have freedom and fun and not make it a job

We’ll see if I can do that right.   

Our first GFCF Thanksgiving

Well, yesterday was, of course, Thanksgiving.  As previously mentioned, I was only cooking for the six of us.  But I decided to still go all-out and and make it a huge meal so that we’d have leftovers all weekend and I wouldn’t have to cook. 

Actually, I really, really like to cook.  I don’t like the cleaning-up part.  I tried my best to clean as I went, but still ended up with a PILE o’ dishes, which my hubby surprised me by washing, as I went on an after-dinner walk with my toddler, Audrey.  When I got home, he wasn’t quite done, but he shooed off my offers of help, saying, “Go sit down!”  Martin only does dishes once a month or so, but it’s always at just the right time.  🙂

Today is the 23rd, which is my hubby’s 41st birthday.  We are doing absolutely nothing for his birthday, which I feel rotten about.  I’m really not great at planning special surprises.  He asked me not to get him anything (and really meant it), but I wish I could think of more than one thing at a time;  my mental efforts this week were on cleaning and preparing for Thanksgiving, and I feel awful that I couldn’t get something special figured out for him.

Anyways.  It wasn’t until after the meal that I realized, “This was our first gluten-free, casein-free Thanksgiving.”  It didn’t feel like we were missing anything.  We really had a bounty.

I baked pies on Wednesday night (GFCF pumpin, “regular” gluten-free pumpkin, and GFCF lemon meringue), but everything else, I made at a fairly leisurely pace on Thursday morning and early afternoon.

We had:

  • Turkey (I found fresh, free-range turkey for only $1.29 a pound!  Smokin’ deal.)
  • Stuffing (made with red & “regular” quinoa, and GFCF bread)
  • Fresh cranberry sauce
  • Baked yams (I make mine not-so-sweet)
  • Mashed potatoes with roasted garlic
  • Gravy
  • Fresh spinach salad
  • Garlic-braised broccoli
  • Corn with red bell pepper
  • Fruit salad
  • Pies

The only thing that’s really conspicuously missing is dinner rolls, which I just didn’t have time to make.

I liked the way everything turned out except, sort of, the GFCF pumpkin pie.  It was my first time trying one w/o condensed or evaporated milk, substituting coconut milk for the dairy.  The taste was great, and the texture was perfect, but it was oddly dark-colored.  I used a recipe that called for both dark brown sugar and turbinado sugar.  I think next time, I’ll tinker with the recipe and try to get that classic creamy-orange color so that it doesn’t look weird.  It just feels wrong eating brown pumpkin pie.

After we had the kids in bed, Martin and I grew weary of watching ASU getting heartbreakingly pounced by USC, so we popped in a movie.

It was a good day. 

This year, I’m sad at Thanksgiving because…

Just kidding.  Sort of.

I thought I’d toy with the title of just about every American blogger’s Wednesday post.  Sort of.

Actually, I am very sad about something, but in a way, it has led me to realize how very blessed our family is, with… family.

This is the FIRST year, in the 13 years of our marriage, that my husband and I will be having –NO– family over for dinner.  Perhaps that’s not quite true.  I think there have been a couple years where we’ve gone elsewhere.  Maybe one year.  All the other years, we have hosted Thanksgiving for both sides of the family, whoever was available, and we’ve had anywhere from 3 to 15 added around the table (and spilling out into the backyard, and crowded around the kitchen counters, and asking, “What time is dinner?” etc.). 

This year, everyone has other plans, or commitments, or is out of state, or whatever.  All of them are legitimate reasons;  I don’t feel like anyone is, uh, dissing us.  But, some of the things that are keeping other family members from coming over have come up at the very last minute, or we would have invited other friends, like small families or singles who don’t have anyone else with whom to spend the holiday.  There’s just not enough notice;  everyone already has commitments for their big meal on Thursday.  So, it’ll just be the six of us.

So, I’m delighted that we have such a wealth of family and friends.  I’m certainly thankful that we have such a richness in them, and so many good Thanksgiving memories.  But, it seems somewhat barren to celebrate Thanksgiving with only our immediate family.  The house should be busting at the seams, and it just won’t be.  😦

How to meet other gluten-free moms IRL

Lurk in the gluten-free section of your grocery store!!  😀

Just kidding.  Sort of. 

I wasn’t lurking, but at the grocery store, late last night, I was passing by the g.f. section, and saw the telltale signs of a mom with a package of Bob’s Red Mill g.f. Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix in one hand, another g.f. product in the other hand, and a pensive look on her face, slowly considering what was on the shelf in front of her, reading labels.  My thought: “Bet that’s a new g.f. mom.”  And, I was right!

I had a fantastic conversation with the lady, named Kari Beth.  We literally shared a couple of tears and a hug over the stories of our sons.  Her 3yo son was only diagnosed a month ago, but she’s already read tons of books (“I think I know more than my pediatrician, now!” and she’s probably right!), investigated online resources, found local resources, called companies for g.f. lists, found g.f. restaurants, and more.  In short, she’s done what sounds like a great job of making the switch.

Very cool.  But, very sad. 

I SO SO SO wish that the U.S. had a mandatory screening program for celiac disease.  There are tests done for much more rare disorders;  it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to test for one more — much more common — disorder.  It would so greatly reduce the number of heartwrenching stories and guilt-laden reflections by mothers who realize that their child was so sick, and that she was unintentionally doing things that made it worse.  It would so greatly reduce the number of children who go through months or years of terribly ill health, only to find out that the fix — though difficult, at times, in its implementation — is shockingly simple. 

Images Meme

I got this from my Uncle Steve at Careful Thought.  He didn’t tag me, but I’m going to participate anyway.

Here’s the deal: type the answer to each question into a Google image search, and you pick an image from the first page of results.  (I clicked on my favorite, then clicked on “see full-size image” and copied the result, sizing them down when necessary.  Also, I am usually very careful to link back to any picture/image source, but due to the randomness of this meme, I’m not. ETA:  02/26/10 — links added)

1.  Age at next birthday:

2.  A place you’d like to travel:

3.  Your favorite place:

4. Your favorite objects:  (with special thanks to Quilting Adventures)

5.  Your favorite food:

6.  Your favorite animals:

7.  Your favorite color:

8.  Town where you were born:

Champaign postcard post card - University of Illinois, Champaign, IL

9.  Town where you live:

10.  Name of a past pet:

11.  First name of a part love (I’m not sure what that means, so I’m just putting the first name of my true love):

12.  Best friend’s nickname:

13.  Your screen/nickname:

(The only pics provided were from my blog.  Hm.)

14.  Your first name:

15.  Your middle name:

16.  Your last name:  (With thanks to

17.  Bad habit of yours:

18.  First job:

19.  Grandmother’s name:

20.  College major:

Whew!  That was a lot of work.  Fun, though.  I tag anyone who has the time to do this meme.

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