The Family

The Family

Monday, December 30, 2013

Cooking with A Dutch Oven

I'm on something of a cooking kick.

They comes in spurts.

And this Christmas I got something I'd wanted for a while. Never mind that I bought it myself. It's still a gift.

A dutch oven, or a Le Creuset, from Williams-Sonoma.

I had to make sure it arrived before Christmas so I could use it Christmas Day.  I was eager to try a Barefoot Contessa recipe for beef stew.

Beef stew on Christmas Day?

I know, nowhere is that a traditional Christmas meal. It just sounded good, homey and warm on a cold day.

While I loved cooking in my new pot for the first time, I'm not sure that's a recipe I'll be repeating. The meat, soaked in red wine for a full 24 hours, was too sweet for me. I prefer a stronger salty taste to my meat.

I didn't want the let-down of the stew to throw me off, so I decided to turn to Le Creuset again three days later. I cooked a Paula Deen goulash, and it's a keeper. I'm looking forward to eating the leftovers again tonight

One of the things I'm most impressed about is how quickly the meat cooks. I used more than 2 pounds of beef in the goulash, something that would have taken the equivalent of forever in a normal pot or pan, and it took a mere 20 minutes. 

My next attempt will be another goulash. This one is a pork and apple dish by Rachel Ray.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Days Before Christmas

We've spent the past few days leading up to Christmas with family enjoying some festive activities.

Like decorating gingerbread houses:

And decorating Christmas cookies in the shapes of trees, reindeer and snowflakes that my talented sister-in-law made:

Half the fun of Christmas is eating all the goodies.

And speaking of goodies and a talented sister-in-law, she also made me a red velvet cake all because it's not Christmas to me without one!!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

To Finish A Book

I haven't written about what I've been reading lately because I'm trying to finish a book.

Three to be exact.

For the past few months I've been slowly making my way through the collection of "The Short Stories" of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I get the most reading done when Mattie goes down for a nap. Something about these stories put her right to sleep. I'll often linger for a few minutes after she falls asleep to get in a page or two more. I can't go beyond that because her nap times are when I work one-on-one with Jack and/or try to catch up on e-mail.

About a hundred pages into that book I also started reading Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts."

The book isn't an easy read. It's deeply personal and full of many questions and doubts, which makes the reader trek slowly and carefully over the words and through the passages.

Voskamp's quest for joy in a life filled with strife and suffering resonates loud and clear.

With the children I've been reading the usual: poems, the Bible and story books. Additionally, we started Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" last month.

Anyone familiar with the Disney version of Kipling's story will be surprised to find that the book goes beyond the story of Mowgli and his hunt for Shere Khan into other interesting tales.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Getting in the Spirit

It doesn't feel like Christmas to me. Not the I'm no longer a child so it hasn't felt like Christmas for years kind of thing. I mean the comple lackluster feeling I have in relation to it being 10 days away from my favorite holiday.

I change the channel when a Christmas song comes on while driving. Years past always found me scanning for nothing but Christmas music.

We have our tree decorated with lights and ornaments, and the train that moves around it was put together yesterday. Still nothing.

Jack watching "Home Alone" countless times hasn't even done it.

Santa has most of the children's gifts, and I spent a good bit of time online yesterday doing my other Christmas shopping. That, along with finally addressing this year's Christmas cards, helped somewhat.

I'm hoping that the songs this morning in church - can I get some "O' Holy Night" please - and the pulling out of Christmas books to read this week with the children will get the Scrooge right out of me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Destiny is a strong word. If you are a college football fan you may have found yourself tired of hearing how casually the word was thrown around come mid-season. If I had to listen to one more announcer talk about how a team controlled its own destiny - well I don't know what I was going to do. All I know is that it got old.

I mean, come on. It's a game. Someone has to win. What does destiny have to do with it?

I guess part of that for me was related to how I feel about the notion of God in sports. I can't adequately explain my reluctance, maybe confusion is a better word, at seeing athletes point up to heaven after a touchdown. Even worse are the post-game interviews in which a person credits his catch or his throw or his run down the field to God.

Doesn't God have more important things to do?

It's not that I don't believe God isn't capable of being visible in every area of life. I don't fault athletes for expressing their faith or belief in God's divine help. In many ways it is encouraging to hear young men talk so openly about their love for God.

It's just that I have trouble believing that a holy God could be concerned about what happens in a ballgame where a lot of money is thrown around, showboating and pride take center stage and every kind of language known to man is used by fans and coaches alike when in the same world starvation exists, children's bodies are ravaged by cancer, people struggle with their sanity, tyrannical leaders gas their own people etc., etc, etc.

A New Yorker cartoon once illustrated this point. An angel was approaching God with a list of the world's problems, and God told the angel to hold on while he helped a player sink his shot.

Then something indescribable happened in a game a few weeks ago. It shook me up and left me with the notion that what happened was nothing less than divine. A last second catch, that seemed to be nothing more than a fluke, literally made me fall to my knees and cry. I've never cried about a game in my life. The only thing that's ever made me tear up in relation to sports is the national anthem, especially the first few times after 9/11, but here I was on my knees weeping with joy and disbelief.

Many around here were calling it a miracle. I don't know if I was ready to go that far, but there was something mystical in it. It wasn't just the catch. It was the implications for what was to come because it set up what many were referring to as the most epic ballgame in the history of this well-known rivalry.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. There was no way this next game was going to live up to the hype and expectations.

Well, if you know anything about football, you know that next game turned out to be one for the history books.

My husband and I were at that game when he grabbed my shoulders and shook me at the end declaring that something was going on. I rolled my eyes like he was some kook because he sounded like a nutcase.

But I knew what he meant. I felt it too; I just didn't want to say it.

And then this past Saturday night sealed the deal. So many ifs had fallen into place already, and it seemed too much to really believe even more could happen. As the night wound to a close, at one point all my husband and I could do was look at each other with mouths agape and shake our heads.

Now our team is off to play in the mother of all college football games come Jan. 6.

All the sportscasters are still throwing around that word destiny. At this point, I don't know any better term because what has happened these past few weeks is too eerie to refer to as anything less.

It's wonder and joy and a sense that God does get our attention in the mystery of something as trivial and inconsequential as sports. Even as I type this, it feels so trite to express these feelings about it.

Yet there is joy in any number of things. And if you are an Auburn Tiger, after a humiliating and humbling football season past, you can't help but walk around with a giddy feeling and a spring in your step and a belief that God is in ALL the details.

As writer Andy Staples said in his Sports Illustrated article, "COLLEGE FOOTBALL makes us believe in miracles."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Trip To Disney

Ever wondered about trying to go to Walt Disney World when it's not crowded?

I can say from experience that the week after Thanksgiving is not it. So much for Disney being dead then. Word must have gotten out

We spent our three days at the Magic Kingdom.

We took Jack when he was 2, and I wanted to have the same experience with Mattie. Is she going to remember anything about it?  No. But Matt and I will.

Her joy was worth every penny.

Jack, however, was not so excited this time around. He is old enough to remember this trip, which could prove problematic if we return. I had a feeling he wasn't going to be one for the rides, and boy was I right.  He rode them, but he didn't enjoy them. He's definitely not an amusement park kind of kid.

He wasn't all frowns. We got some smiles from time to time.

His favorite thing by far was the Lego store inside Downtown Disney. Talk about little boy heaven!

The best thing about Downtown Disney is that there is plenty to do (no rides though) without an entrance fee.

A lot of people have asked me about the children being big enough for the rides. At Magic Kingdom there are maybe only three rides that have a height limit. Everything else is open to kids of all ages and sizes. I can't tell you how many parents were boarding Dumbo or Aladdin's Magic Carpets with infants.

Speaking of the magic carpet ride, this was one that both of my children loved.

Ignore the enormous sunglasses. I lost mine and had to pick up some in one of the shops at our hotel.
Mattie liked the rides as long as they were outdoors. As soon as we boarded a ride that moved inside, she got scared.

There are so many different ways to enjoy Disney and tons of hotels and plans to choose from that there is no one way, or right way, to go about planning a trip.

I would, however, want to avoid Disney in late summer. It was warm enough when we were there. I can't imagine how stifling hot it would be in July or August. You never know, though. That might be what it takes to keep the crowd at bay.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Where You Been?

It's been a busy few weeks.

Not only is the semester winding down at the university where I teach (which means I am busy grading, grading, grading, and when I'm not doing that I'm answering e-mails from panicked students), but we've been away on a trip to Disney World.

I can't wait to share all about it sometime this weekend when I have a few moments to catch my breath.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cardboard Turkeys

Want a fun, festive, fast craft to do with the kiddos this week?

Check out this great idea posted on the blog Cupcakes and Commentary.

We did it today and ours looks nowhere near as good as the one posted there. The author of the blog is a friend and one of the craftiest people I know!

Our glitter didn't cover completely and we used real leaves for tail feathers because that's all we had on hand. The children loved it!

Check it out because her post is much more detailed and shows just how cute this craft can be!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fireside Chats

I love a frigidly cold night. One that enables us to put the logs on the fire and nestle close together on the couch.

And to enjoy the burnt taste of a sweet treat.

And with joy in our hearts and a happiness that comes only with the simplest of things, we know that winter is on its way!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CSA Wednesday

On Wednesday we head to a local farm to pick up produce as part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Here's what we got today:

Farm-fresh eggs


Turnip roots (The greens were damaged; no matter, the root is my favorite part)


Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Wind in Our Hair

The first stanza in Christina Rossetti's poem "Who Has Seen the Wind" goes:
"Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through."
On Tuesday the wind blew the reeds in the bog at the arboretum as we sat nearby and read our favorite stories.

We walked and observed the large yellow leafs hanging from the trees and the clusters of brown ones fallen to the depths below.

We followed the path that led us to where the water falls and then wound our way back to where we started.

You never know what you'll spot as you take your learning outdoors.

 Which made it all the more fitting when trying to finish a book like this.

And lest you think it was all a picture-perfect morning, I should report that one child, who had a runny nose that morning that today has turned into a wheezing cough that sent us to the doctor who promptly sent us to the pharmacy for meds, whined incessantly almost the entire time. The other one screamed and cried the entire way home. Both of which made me wonder why on earth I ever leave the house.

Then I looked at our pictures and remembered the wind and the sun and the brief moments of feeling at home that morning in nature and realized days like that, as well as most of life, is about taking the good right along with the bad..

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

CSA Wednesday

On Wednesday we head to a local farm as part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Here's what we got today:

More Kohlrabi

More sweet potatoes

More eggs

More lettuce

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Work of Art

I'm a believer in encouraging my children to follow their interests.

As a parent that often means paying extra close attention to what they say and do. Even more importantly, especially at this young stage of life, I find it means not pushing them into things I would like for them to do but for which they have expressed no desire to be a part of.

Jack loves to draw and do art at home. The challenge can sometimes be finding a quality outlet in which to help him express himself artistically.

Lucky for us we live in a community that places a high premium on both education and a commitment to artistic endeavors. This has translated well for many homeschooling families because the local arts association offers an art class for homeschoolers every quarter.

Jack's teacher homeschooled her children, both of whom are in college now, and is familiar with the style of education so many of us parents are seeking for our own children. I am constantly amazed at the true artistic nature of the class.

Ms. Amy, the teacher, breaks the two-hour class into a variety of learning objectives which include a book that illustrates elements of the lesson she is trying to teach that day, a story about an artist whose work correlates with what was learned during the reading of the story and then the children, or young artists as she often refers to them, replicate a specific piece, painting, drawing, etc. of the artist.

Last week, for the final day of the class, she hosted an art show where all of the works were on display. Beside each collection was a description of the lesson and how the children went about creating their art work.The description also included an art concept , a list of techniques/mediums, art vocabulary and a literature connection.

Here's just a snippet from the explanation of each week's lesson that she sent to all the parents the day of the show:
 "Our theme this quarter was “Trees, Leaves, and Branching Out.” During the eight weeks we studied the work of several individual artists and explored fun techniques like tearing newspaper, burnishing foil, masking with painter’s tape, and using spray paint. Paying attention to texture and utilizing texture in art is a natural way of exploring leaves, so texture was one of the art elements developed in most of the projects this quarter."
And without further ado, here are the masterpieces:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

CSA Wednesday

On Wednesday we head to a local farm to pick up produce as part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Here's what we got today:





Kohlrabi - This is my favorite. It is delicious, even though it looks like it could be one of the stepmother's sculptures from the movie Beetlejuice