Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I HEART...Lemon Poundcake!




 
Everybody loves Wednesday, right?
The week's half over.  The weekend is on the way.
What's not to love?
Each Wednesday, I want to share something with you
that I absolutely love and can't live without!  
I've mentioned before that my sour cream pound cake is my go-to dessert.  It's easy, delicious, and serves an army.  I made it for my mother and brother's birthday dinner a couple of weeks ago (which you can read about here), so I wanted to do something a little different for our Easter Party.  I still needed to feed a lot of people, so I choose to make my Lemon Lover's Pound Cake.  Yum, yum.  What's better than an old fashioned pound cake?  One flavored with lemon and slathered with lemon icing. 
  
Lemon Lover's Pound Cake
(Yes, please!  Don't mind if I do!)
Cake
1 cup butter at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
6 eggs at room temperature
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sour cream
Icing
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons butter at room temp
3 cups confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
Preheat oven to 350.  In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar and mix until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  Add lemon juice, zest and extract.  Combine flour, baking soda and salt.  Add to creamed mixture, alternating with sour cream.  Begin and end with flour mixture.  Mix until just combined.
Grease a bundt pan with Crisco and then flour it.  Pour in batter, smooth top and hit it on the counter a couple of times to release any air bubbles.   Bake at 350 for about an hour or until toothpick comes out clean.  Do not over cook.
Cool for 10 minutes in pan, then remove it to a cooling rack and cool completely.  Be sure to cool it with the "crunchy" side up so it does not get soggy.
When ready to ice cake, beat butter and sour cream until well blended.  Gradually add confectioners sugar.  Beat in lemon juice and zest.  (Adjust sugar to get desired consistency.  I like it medium...not too think that it doesn't spread and not so thin that it runs right off!)  Drizzle over cake.  Store cake and left-over icing in refrigerator.  There will be plenty of extra icing for dressing individual slices. Serves 12-18.
This is a great dessert for Spring.  Delicious and beautiful.  Enjoy!
  
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Thursday, April 24, 2014

How We "Do" History...Part 2 (TruthQuest History Review)

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of TruthQuest's American History for Young Students I in return for my unbiased review.

Earlier this week, I told you a little about my personal take on the study of history.  You can read more about that here.  (I got a little nervous when the one comment I got on the post came from my high school history and government teacher.  However, I'm glad to say she agreed with me!) 

Instead of reading a textbook, I'd rather go on a field trip.  Instead of writing a research paper, I'd rather get lost in learning about history through working on my family tree.   There are lots of interesting ways to "do" history.  Finding the right one for your child can make the difference between a love of history and just a general tolerance.
 
We started the year with a more traditional history curriculum, and while it was well written and succinct in summary, it just wasn't something that we were looking forward to.  My kids were just not excited about history.  And to be honest, neither was I.  I needed to figure out what was going on. 
 
One day, Brack told me he wanted to go back to Williamsburg, VA.  (We had stopped for two days on our way home from Washington, D.C., and the kids had loved it.)  Why were they so excited about that, but couldn't get happy about Egyptian hieroglyphics?  I think the difference was that we had been there.  We had walked in the steps of those who had lived there centuries ago.  It was real to my kids.  So how could I make all history real and relevant to my children?  We couldn't take a trip every time we studied a new person or place.  Or could we?

Before we go any further, I have to tell you that my approach to history is different than my approach to math.  Or Grammar.  In those areas, I want a very methodical approach.  Just the facts.  Learn them and give them back to me.  But in history, I want to expose my children to as much as I can.  Brack may be fascinated by the westward expansion in the early-1800's while Jewell is more interested in the European monarchy.  By surveying people and periods without getting bogged down in dates and places, my children can discover the history that they love.

I was recently given the opportunity to review TruthQuest history curriculum.  I chose American History for Young Students I since my kids seem (at the moment) to be more interested in American history than ancient civilizations.  We have been using the guide for several weeks now, and I want to share with you my thoughts on this curriculum.

First, I must say that I do not consider myself a Charlotte Mason educator.  Perhaps if we had started homeschooling when my children were younger...maybe if I had not been a junior high school teacher...or if my kids had not experienced traditional schooling...  However, I enjoy reading, so I like the idea of living books.  But I also like structure.  Enter TruthQuest history.

 
American History for Young Students I is more a reading list than a textbook.  But don't let that turn you off.  The author has carefully and thoughtfully outlined the people and events to be studied (beginning with Leif Erikson and ending around 1800 with the westward movement of the pioneers) and then collected an extensive suggested reading list to accompany each topic.  It is more a study of people than events, allowing history to unfold through their personal experiences.  While a number of books (primarily biographies) are suggested for each historical character, it is not the author's intention that each and every title be read.  The ability to choose titles that are a) available to you and b) interesting to your children, is what makes the curriculum appealing. 
 
The material is multi-leveled, so it offers great flexibility for families with several children.  Titles at varying levels of difficulty are suggested for each topic and the parent is left to choose what will work best for their family.  Jewell and Brack are three years apart grade wise, but only a little more than two years chronologically.  I have picked biographies that will appeal to both children so that we can do the readings together.  But families could also choose to have students read different books about the same people and then come together to share what they have learned.
 
In order for the program to be really successful, you must 1) have access to a good library, or better yet, a great librarian who can order titles for you.  My husband is a professor at Faulkner University.  Mrs. Lila Broadway has been an incredible resource to me this year ordering titles that I need.  I can go online to Faulkner's website and enter the book info, and she has it ready for pick up, usually in a matter of three or four days.  Some items she has been able to pull from the university's own collection while others have come from around the state and as far away as Wyoming.  I realize not everyone has access to a college library, but if you are not using your public library's interlibrary loan program, you are really missing out.  (Be sure to develop a good relationship with your local librarian.  It can make the difference in how diligent she is in finding your titles and how quickly she can get them for you!)  Plus, Lila says she has to do annual reports on interlibrary loans and that my family single-handedly makes her look good!  Glad to help, Lila!
 
2) You must be organized and plan ahead in order to have the books when you need them.  I sat down with the TruthQuest guide one evening after the kids were in bed and took the suggested titles and looked them up on line to see which ones I thought we would like.  I tend to lean toward older books.  The language is more interesting, the pictures are more beautiful, and the viewpoints less political.
 
In order for us to move through the study at a nice rate, I am choosing one title per character (or topic) and find myself choosing books written at about a 4th grade level.  Most of these are 50-60 pages long, so we can usually get through one a day.  As this is a survey course, this seems to cover the subject well.  The books are easy to understand, and since many were written more than 50 years ago, they are short but still meaty.  Not a lot of fluff. 
 
Our first chapter of study about early American explorers looks like this:
 
 
The author, Michelle Miller, writes with a definite Christian worldview, and prefaces each topic or character study with a paragraph or two of historical perspective.  She also suggests a few classic children's history textbooks to accompany her text to offer a little more background.  She also has a list of suggested reading for parents.  A little background research, if you will.  While it is obvious that she believes in the Almighty Creator of the universe and that the Bible is inerrant and inspired, she does not inject doctrine into her writing.  Parents can be comfortable that the material is Christian-based but has no doctrinal slant.
 
Other products like unit studies and lap books are available to accompany the texts, but what appeals to me is the simplicity of simply reading about history.  Well-written stories can stand alone.  And with all the other curriculums we use during the day for math, grammar, science, etc., it's nice to have a more laid-back, but still challenging study.  I recommend this curriculum to anyone who is looking to make history come alive.
 
You can learn more about the other studies available at www.truthquesthistory.com
 

I regret that my children do not read as much as I wish they did.  They prefer being read to rather than reading themselves.  (We're working on that.)  But while they are willing to still be read to, I will take them up on it.  I enjoy this time together each day as we sit and read.  (OK - I sit, Jewell lies on the couch and Brack hangs up-side down over a chair.  Or lays under the coffee table.  Seriously.)  I hope that the reading we do together now will translate to a personal love of reading that will follow them their entire lives.  By reading good quality literature about people who made a real difference in the world, I hope to spark their curiosity.  I hope they will one day wonder who a bridge is named after and why...and then go look it up.  And learn.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How We "Do" History...Part 1

I love history.  I love the adventure, the romance, and the mystery of what happened long, long ago.  I remember devouring every historical biography I could find in our elementary library, starting with women like Betsy Ross and Martha Washington, and then moving on to the men like Patrick Henry and George Washington Carver.  I would rather watch a good History Channel documentary than a new Hollywood blockbuster.  (Have you seen AMC's new series, Turn?  Three episodes in and I'm hooked.)

I drive Gerald crazy when we travel.  I want to know who Edmund Pettus is and why he has a bridge named after him.  (Look it up. You might be surprised at the irony.)  I do most of the driving, including driving Gerald crazy asking him to Google names on his phone as we ride along.  He complains, but his options are Google or drive.  I can't do both!  What did I do before cell phones with wifi?  Learned a lot less on the fly, I'll assure you.
 
As much as I love history, I remember a World Civilization class my sophomore year of college that absolutely made my eyes glaze over.  It's not that I didn't find ancient civilizations interesting, it's just that trying to remember names and dates that span several thousand years can be, well, overwhelming.  OK - it can be downright aggravating.  And unnecessary.  (And this is from a former junior high history teacher.)

I want less of this...

 
I think this is why so many people dislike the study of history.  And let's be honest, when was the last time a mother lode of historical names and dates saved your bacon?  "OK, Mrs. Jones - name the first three major Chinese dynasties and we'll waive your copay for this visit."  What I have gained from my love of history is a contextual understanding of world events.  I may not be able to tell you exactly when he was born, but I do know enough to tell you that Leif Erikson was a Viking and was known for exploring North America 500 years prior to Columbus (and not for the 1970's hit song "I Was Made For Dancing"). 

My point is, I think that requiring children (and adults) to remember thousands of names and dates is unrealistic.  Instead, I want my children to be introduced to people whose adventures and accomplishments will make an impression on them.  I want them to read and imagine and be inspired by those who paved the way.  Those who explored.  Those who dared to stand up.  Those whose very existence changed the world (for better or worse), not because their names are in a history book, but because they lived history.  If they can just meet these characters in an exciting and non-exasperating manner, then, hopefully, they will discover their own love for history.

And more of this!



I know this is really outside the comfort zone of a lot of people.  Can kids possibly make it into college if they can't regurgitate the names of each and every U.S. president?  Can they be successful adults if they can't recite the Declaration of Independence?  (Hello.  Those of us who grew up in the 70's and 80's can actually sing the Preamble to the Constitution, but I bet that's due to Schoolhouse Rock and not a high school civics class!)  And, yes, your child can become a functioning adult, even without the ability to recite (in order) the conquests of Alexander the Great.  Don't get me wrong.  I want my kids to know about old Alex, but I don't want to bog them down with the unnecessary memorization of dates and places.  That's what the internet is for.  Seriously.   

Think about this.  I would much rather spend my time exploring people and places, events and ideas.  Not memorizing.  We can cover so much more ground when we let go of the "drill and kill" idea.  I realize I'm preaching to the choir as there are many, many, homeschoolers out there who are to the "left" of me, so to speak.  I'll admit it, I am usually a rather scheduled and traditional-minded schoolmarm.  However, I think there is a big difference between math and grammar (which are both necessary to real-world success!) vs. history. 

My over-all plan is this.  I want my children to have a broad introduction to world history, a deeper understanding of American History, a great pride and hands-on experience with Alabama History, and a working knowledge of American Civics in order to exercise their rights and execute their responsibilities.

So, all that being said, how do we "do" history?  Well, later this week, I'll tell you about a history curriculum I have added and how I plan to schedule our history studies.  Don't worry...there won't be a pop-quiz, so be sure to come on back!
 
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I HEART...Squash and Corn Casserole


Everybody loves Wednesday, right?
The week's half over.  The weekend is on the way.
What's not to love?
Each Wednesday, I want to share something with you
that I absolutely love and can't live without! 
  
Fresh squash is one of my favorite vegetables.  I love it stewed with onions.  I love it battered and deep fried.  I love it pan fried with onions.  One recipe that I love (but Gerald doesn't) is squash dressing.  Most of all, I love squash casserole.  I have tried lots of different recipes for it.  With eggs and without. With mayo or with cream of chicken soup.  With breadcrumbs or with a saltine cracker topping.  There are lots of ways to make it, and I'm pretty sure I've tried them all.    
 
I was looking through a Southern Living magazine from last summer (I'm a little behind on my reading), and found a new recipe for Squash and Corn Casserole.  It looked so yummy, I decided to try it while my in-laws were here last weekend.  (My mother-in-law loves squash casserole, too, and has asked several times for my recipe.  Problem is, I have done it so many different ways, I don't remember which one she liked!)  
 
As usual, I used the recipe as a guide only, and substituted what I had on hand.  However, it turned out to be a huge hit!  The recipe below reflects the changes I made.  I know it's early in the season, but the grocery store is already starting to get pretty squash, and soon we'll start to see it at the roadside produce stands.  Perhaps you're even planning to plant it yourself.  However you procure it, be sure to have this recipe handy.  I think you'll love it!
 
 
Squash and Corn Casserole
 
1 1/2 pounds yellow squash
1 1/2 pounds zucchini squash
3 cups of fresh corn
1 medium yellow onion
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons EVOO
2 large eggs
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups sharp cheddar
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, divided
1 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
salt and pepper to taste
 
Preheat oven to 375.  Wash squash and zucchini and cut about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick.  (Not too thin. We want texture here!)  Slice onion in half and then cut in long strips from pole to pole (not in rings).  Put squash, zucchini and onions in a large pot and just cover with water.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes to a crisp tender state.  Do not overcook.  Drain and rinse lightly to stop cooking.
 
Meanwhile, shuck your corn and carefully cut it off the cob.  Then get your broom and sweep up all the kernels that bounced everywhere.  Melt butter in a nonstick pan and add EVOO.  Saute corn over medium for about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat.
 
In a large bowl, beat eggs and then add mayo, sour cream, cheddar, half of breadcrumbs and half of Parmesan.  (Be sure to use a good Parm here, not just the green canister of powdered snow.  You want a really nutty, rich flavor so you need the good stuff.)  Add squash/onion mixture and corn and mix thoroughly.  Try not to tear up your squash.  If you didn't overcook it, it should be fine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Be sure to season well.  I ended up having to salt mine again at the table.
 
Pour into a greased 9x13 baking dish.  This makes a lot!  Mix remaining breadcrumbs and Parm and sprinkle on top.  Bake at 375 for 35-45 minutes or until bubbly and brown on top.  Let it sit for about 5-10 minutes before serving so it will firm up a little.  Enjoy!
 
Notes - I really think fresh corn is necessary.  They already have it on sale at Winn Dixie for .33 cents an ear.  The crisp bite it adds is probably my favorite part of this casserole.  Don't use canned!  As for the Parmesan, I have the green can, too, for spaghetti and pizza, but I always keep some "real" parm on hand for cooking.  I like Costco's Parmigiano-Reggiano mix.  It's already grated for you, it keeps for a long time in the fridge and it's pretty affordable as good cheese goes.  For bread crumbs, I took a fresh deli roll from Winn Dixie (they had their Portuguese rolls B1G1 last week) and stuck it in my food processor.  The fresh breadcrumbs were light and airy and got beautifully crispy on top!
 
As most casseroles are, this was even better the next day.  I made it on Friday night, and guess what I had for lunch on Saturday?  I zapped me a little in the microwave and it was delicious! 
 
 
It made so much that there was still a little left on Sunday, so I refreshed it with a little splash of milk and put the leftovers in a small 8x8 brownie dish and put a little more cheese on top.  I covered it with foil to keep it from drying out and baked it for about 15 minutes at 300 just to re-warm it.  There wasn't much, but there was enough for people to try it at my mother and brother's birthday dinner I hosted on Sunday night.
 
This casserole is so good, it almost makes me want to plant another garden this year.  If someone will volunteer to take my kids to the pool twice a day for swim team practice this summer, I'll stay home, tend the garden and cook squash casserole for all of us! 
  
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Monday, April 14, 2014

Happy Birthday to you AND you!

We have a tradition in our family that on your birthday, we all get together and my Mama cooks your favorite meal.  Since it was Mama's birthday this month, I decided to host the party at our house.  My brother, Jon, has a birthday two days before her's, so I planned the gathering in honor of them both.

I set the dining room table for the adults.  I pulled out my always appropriate white tablecloth, and then dug around in my sewing closet until I found some spring colored fabric remnants, leftover from past home decorating projects.  I used these to add some color to the table setting.  I had actually already hemmed the pink gingham square and used it several years ago for something, and the green Greek key-styled pattern was bought for throw pillows in Brack's room.  (I ended up using a vintage tractor pattern instead, so this piece was perfect for last night.)  I simply trimmed the edges with my pinking shears.  It still may become pillows one day, or I may use it somewhere else.  You never know!  Simple white-on-white striped napkins complemented the other textiles I used.


Choosing a clean white pattern ('White Satin" by Nikko) for my everyday dishes was the best decision I ever made.  These are appropriate for any occasion, and over the years, I have collected lots of bright colored and patterned salad plates to mix and match.  For this dinner party, I pulled out my gold chargers that I usually use during Christmas and a brass pot for the plant I used as a centerpiece. Gold candleholders and gold-tipped flatware rounded out my place settings.  I've already confessed my weakness for colored stemware, and here you can see another one of my treasures - a pretty pink pattern called "Heritage" by Fostoria. 

I picked up a pretty little cyclamen at Lowe's to use as a centerpiece.  Cut flowers are pretty and I really like to gather seasonal cuttings from my yard when I can, but often I will choose a house plant or annuals that I can use again in another place.  This little plant now resides in our bathroom window, where it gets the perfect amount of filtered light!


Together, my brothers and I have six growing kids who are picky, but hearty eaters, so I spent all of Sunday afternoon preparing lots of food to suit every taste.  I slow-cooked a beef brisket which was really good.  I also had a smoked Boston butt, which the kids all enjoyed smothered in barbeque sauce.  Jon loves hashbrown casserole, so it made an appearance, as did green beans, a baked mac and cheese and kale coleslaw with garlic rolls on the side.  I tried a new recipe for squash and corn casserole on Friday night while my in-laws were visiting, and it was a tremendous hit!  It serves an army, so I added a little more cheese on top and reheated the leftovers.  We finished it off last night. I will share this recipe with you very soon!

For dessert, I made my go-to sour cream pound cake.  Always a hit, I served it with strawberries and Breyer's vanilla bean ice cream.  Gerald's mother had made him his favorite cake over the weekend - a yellow cake with poured chocolate icing (the kind that hardens when it cools).  He had tried to hide the leftovers, but the kids discovered it and polished that off, too!
After dinner, the kids led us in a devotional where they read several of their favorite passages. Copeland gave us a little talk about "not giving up and not giving in".  They also led us in several devotional songs.
Brack read from Genesis chapter 1 about the creation of man.
He ended with, "Cool story, huh?!"
Anne Welch did a great job leading singing!
After the devo, Jewell read a little tribute she wrote about Uncle Jon.
And Mary Reagan shared her "Ode to Mimi".


The birthday girl with three of her grandkids.
  

Copeland ended the evening with a prayer and thanked God for our family and for all the memories we were making.  Amen to that!

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I HEART...An unexpected super hero!

 

Everybody loves Wednesday, right?
The week's half over.  The weekend is on the way.
What's not to love?
Each Wednesday, I want to share something with you
that I absolutely love and can't live without! 
 
For those who love genealogy, few things are more frustrating than a lack of focus.  Rabbit trails are everywhere.  It's easy to get lost chasing one, but much harder to find your way back to the main road.  I struggle with my research strategy.  Some days, I determine to stay on path and follow a surname: child to father to child to father, etc.  Other times, I decide to research in what I call a "generational wave pattern", where I focus on my four sets of grandparents or eight sets of great-grandparents or 16 sets of great-great-grandparents.  Which can be really overwhelming.  Frustrated, I will go back to direct lines.  Which is where I was yesterday, when I made a neat historical discovery.  My 8th ggf saved the colony of Connecticut!  Single-handedly!  Well, sort of.  Here's the story...


Joseph Wadsworth was born March 17, 1650, in Hartford, Connecticut.  (I know, a Yankee.  But we had to start somewhere, right?  Stay with me...)  He was the son of William Wadsworth (1594-1675) and Elizabeth Stone (1621-1682). 

In 1662, King Charles II of England granted a charter to those who lived in the Connecticut Colony.  It basically assured the citizens the right to self government, including a governor, deputy governor, twelve assistants and other officials elected as needed by the colony "freeman".  They were to meet twice a year.  The charter also guaranteed the full rights and privileges of the British citizenry to all those born is said colony.  Full rights and self-government.  Sounds great, doesn't it?  It was.  Until a new king came into power.

James II, grandson of King James I (of KJV Bible fame), didn't think so.  He appointed Sir Edmond Andrus as governor of ALL of New England, and instructed him to pull Connecticut's charter.  Happy to oblige, Andrus marched into Hartford on October 31, 1687, with his plastic pumpkin-shaped basket on his arm, planning to snatch the charter from Connecticut as if he were taking candy from a baby, thus making him the first Trick or Treater in U.S. history.  OK - so I made that up.  Some of it.  He did arrive on October 31st, and he did mean business, but, boy, did he have another thing coming.

Everyone knew why Andrus was there, including Joseph Wadsworth, who was a captain in the train-band (local militia).  Andrus met with colony officials at Moses Butler's tavern.  It was night and the room was lit with candles.  Andrus demanded the charter amidst pleas from officials, including Governor Treat.  At some point in the argument and confusion, the candles were extinguished.  When they were relit, the charter, which had been placed on a table, was missing!  Joseph had grabbed the charter in the chaos and fled the building.  He went directly to the home of Samuel Wyllys, a colony magistrate, and hid the charter in the hollow of a large oak tree.

 

Some believe that the charter used that night was just a copy, because the colonists didn't dare lose the original to Andrus.  Regardless, Andrus asserted his power, even without the charter, but his government was overthrown a couple of years later in Boston.

The tree was believed to have been several hundred years old, and unfortunately, fell during a storm in 1856.  However, the wood was salvaged and used to make the desk used by Connecticut's governors, as well as chairs for the state's speaker of the house and senate president.

 
The charter oak even made it to the back of the Connecticut quarter in 1999.
 
 
In doing more research on this event, I came across a book called Wadsworth, or The Charter Oak by William Henry Gocher.  It was published in 1904 and is now in the public domain, so I was able to download it for free! 
 
(Side note here - since we have started homeschooling, I have become familiar with a number of American History texts that were written in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Far from being outdated, these books are fascinating.  Most are written in narrative style, and all of them are replete with wonderful stories of patriots.  They are written from the perspective that America was established with God in mind and by men and women who fiercely believed in the will and providence of the Almighty.  And the most exciting thing is, many of these books can be found online for free!)

Here is my ancestral line from Joseph Wadsworth.

Captain Joseph Wadsworth (1650-1729)
Jonathan Wadsworth (1687-1739)
Captain Samuel Wadsworth (1716-1799)
Hannah Wadsworth (1750-1801)
James W. Hilyer (1797-1870)
Franklin Carter Hilyer (1821-1864)
William Alvin Hilyer (1859-1937)
James Edmond Hilyer (1881-1961)
Lucien Hilyer (1909-1998)
Billy Dwight Hilyer (1944- )
Melissa LaKay Hilyer (1969- )

On it's own, this is a wonderful example of America's determination to self-govern.  The fact that my ancestor was involved is just gravy.  Yummy, historical, genealogical gravy.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

How to Tie a Knot (Around Your Husband’s Neck)

Gerald is not easy to buy for.  He loves to read, but he’s pretty particular.  He’d rather re-read a book he likes for the fifth time rather than take a chance on a new author.  He’s an avid hunter, but he has everything he could possibly need to bag the big one.  Believe me.  I’ve seen it.  All of it.  Spread out on the floor of our bedroom the night before hunting season begins.  He likes to spend time outside, but I’ll leave it to him to pick out his own hiking boots.  Or all-weather hat.  Or four-wheeler.
 
He’s hard to buy for, so after thirteen years together, I’d pretty much used up all my good ideas.  But one day as I dug through the basket of reading material in the bathroom (come on, admit it – you have one too!), I found it!  I knew exactly what I would get him.  I came across a folded mess of torn-out pages from a magazine.  It appears that Field and Stream has set out to educate our men about everything from gutting a deer to choosing the best fishing hole to tying the perfect knot.  That’s right.  He had torn out pages about how to tie knots.  Clove hitch, bowline, trucker’s hitch.  Then I remembered how excited he got when his brother gave him a kit containing a little blue plastic thing-y and a short length of rope you could use to perfect your rope tying skills.  (You see, his brother, Lonnie, is a rappeller, so it is very important that his knots stay tied.  Even though Gerald has never come backward off the side of a bank building in downtown Huntsville, held only by a rope around his waist, I guess I can understand that he, too, wants good, strong knots.)
 

 
Anyway – I had my idea.  I would find him a nice little how-to book on tying knots.  You know - something for the hunter or fisherman.  I began to look online.  My simple Google search of “knot tying book” led me to several websites and magazine articles, but one book kept popping up – The Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford W. Ashley.  It seems Mr. Ashley literally wrote the book on tying knots.  It was a great idea.  Brilliant!  I would buy him the definitive book on knots and then he could tie to his heart’s content.
 
 
Amazon had reprints, but they were nearly $100.  You could get an e-book copy for just a few bucks, but how much fun was that?  You couldn’t hold it in your lap as you tried your knots, or take it with you to the woods to work with while you waited for a big deer to cross in front of the tree stand.  No – I was going to get the real thing.  But you know me – I was going to get a good deal on it at the same time.  So I turned to my old friend, eBay.
I found several listings, but one stood out.  It was a first edition.  1944.  Apparently, the first owner (a Mr. Edward E. Martin, according to the name on the inside cover) had mastered every knot possible (or died trying) and was ready to part with his beloved copy.  Or more likely, Ole’ Ed’s granddaughter was cleaning out the attic after Ed passed on and figured that there was a sucker out there somewhere that would pay good money for an old, dusty tome.  Enter me.
 
I ended up paying about $75 for it.  Close to what they wanted for a newer edition, but can you really put a price on a good idea?  I mean it was about tying knots, for Pete’s sake.  And it was a first edition.  Enough said.  I PayPal-ed it and it was mine.  It arrived and it was a little dusty.  A tad bit musty, but not to worry.  Just last week I had seen Martha Stewart showing how to restore mildewed books.  All it takes it a wood box, some sand, charcoal and…  Well, surely my trash bag and dryer sheet would do the trick.
 
It was nice and clean come Christmas when I wrapped it up and stuck it under the tree.  He’d never guess what it was.  Best idea ever!  What would I do next year to top it?  Christmas morning came and the kids were finished opening their gifts and Gerald had opened the requisite shirts, wallet and cologne.  Ah – the piece de resistance.  He opened it and studied it.  “Oh!  A book about tying knots,” he said.  He flipped through the pages and smiled and then put it down.  “Open your gifts,” he said.  “Don’t you like it?”  I asked.  He assured me he did, but with much prodding, he finally admitted it was primarily about nautical knots.  But knots are knots, I told him.  I thought you just liked to learn to tie them, I said.  (Kinda like me and the Food Network.  I mean does he really think that I ever intend to make my own pâté?)  But apparently, if you can’t use it to tie on a fishing hook, secure a deer to the back of a rack or somehow save yourself from plunging off a mountain to your certain and painful death, it isn’t interesting to him.  Well, who knew?  Obviously, I didn’t.
Did you know a noose is a knot, too?  Just sayin'...
 
The book is now sitting on the bookshelf.  I think often about listing it to see how much I can get for it on eBay, but I just can’t.  It was such a good idea.  Or so it seemed.  Maybe one day, he’ll take up sailing.  Or maybe he won’t.  (Right now a simple square knot is sufficient to tie the boat to the dock at the lake.)  Maybe it’ll sit there until I’ve made all the homemade pâté we can stomach and I decide that I’ll take up knot tying.  Who knows.  But it’s there.  Just in case any of your husbands want to borrow it.


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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pillow cases and rope swings!

As promised, I'm back this week to show you the rest of the "Pancakes and Pajamas" party I hosted for the older Miss Manners girls about two weeks ago.  I've already shared the details for the table scape below.
 
 
At each party we try to have a short lesson in etiquette.  We usually do this right after we eat, while the girls are still seated at the table.  We have covered subjects like RSVPing to a party, how to introduce people and being on our best behavior.  This time, I talked to the girls about how to behave at slumber parties.  We stressed things like keeping all our things together and not making messes and also respecting our friends' privacy when it comes to their personal belongings.  I also stressed to the girls that it was not usually a good idea to bring phones, ipads, etc., unless told to do so.  It is important to be part of the party and engaged in what the hostess has planned, not what someone has posted on Facebook.  We also addressed what you should do it you got sick (or homesick) while at a friend's house.
 
 
Each young lady received a notebook at our first meeting, and they get handouts at each party to add to their book.  This way, they can share with their mother what they learned as well as build their own etiquette handbook!
 
As I mentioned, the theme for this party was "sleepover etiquette".  While there is usually not a lot of sleeping taking place at slumber parties, pillows do see a lot of action when it comes to curling up to watch movies or epic pillow fights!  So, I thought a fun craft would be to decorate pillow cases.  I set up my kitchen table for our craft area.
 
 
Since we were going to be using permanent fabric markers, I bought a white plastic tablecloth at The Dollar Tree for - you guessed it! - a buck.  While I was there, I found this beautiful wrapping paper.  It was a multi-colored chevron pattern on craft paper, and it was perfect for a table runner.  And yep, it was a dolla'!  Holla'!  I also found the pillowcases there.  I purchased the fabric pens from Hobby Lobby (and used my 40% off coupon!).  Since the pillow cases were a little thin, I gave each girl a file folder to open up and put inside to keep the pens from bleeding through.   

 
The girls had a ball decorating their pillow cases.  Some wrote "Miss Manners" and the date and just had the other girls sign it.  Others really got into the process.  Some girls spent 30 minutes decorating their pillowcases!
 
 
Some of the more serious artists decided to get comfortable while they worked!
 
 
I think they turned out great and will be a wonderful memento of the party as well as of their friendships with the other girls.
 
 
As they finished their craft, they began to wander outside.  Where two or more tweens are gathered, you know there's gonna be a cheerleading stunt.  (That's my kid on top.  I begged her not to fall until I snapped the shot!)
 
 
Then they headed down the hill to the rope swing.  Yes, in their pajamas.  And no, most of them didn't wear their shoes.  And, yes, we live in the country, so absolutely...they were filthy!  But they had fun!   
 
 
Before they started leaving, we posed for a group picture.  Usually I'm behind the camera, so it's not often I get to be in a picture!  That's my side-kick, Nancy Itson, on the other side. 
 
 
Again, I want to say a special thank you to my sweet friend, Melissa Lester, who was the second shooter for this party.  I have used several of her photos in the these two posts (obviously including the shots I was in!).  Please take a moment to visit her blog, A Little Loveliness.  It is absolutely beautiful and you will be inspired by her creativity and gracious style.
  
This is such a wonderful group of young ladies!  I'm honored to be able to work with them.  Until next time, be sure to mind your manners, y'all!
 
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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I HEART...a good talking squirrel story!

 
 
Everybody loves Wednesday, right?
The week's half over.  The weekend is on the way.
What's not to love?
Each Wednesday, I want to share something with you
that I absolutely love and can't live without!  
  
Brack and I have been reading the best little book, and I wanted to share it with you!  It's a children's classic called The Adventures of Happy Jack by Thornton W. Burgess.
 
 
Gerald read many of the books by this author when he was a young child (thus making it a classic!), and he is the one who actually bought a collection of these books for our kids.  I think he read one to Jewell when she was really little and then it got put back on the shelf.  Brack and I were looking for something to read last week, and pulled this one out because, well, it's about a squirrel.  And Brack is a squirrel hunter.  I know, crazy connection, right?  But he's a squirrel hunter with a heart!  Anyway, we started reading this book each day during literature, and we love it.  Jewell is working on math while we read, but she often wanders in to see what we are laughing about.  She intends to read the series herself.
 
I did a little research about the author, Thornton Burgess, and learned he was born (1874) and raised in Massachusetts.  He was a naturalist and a conservationist and during his 50 year career, he wrote over 170 books and 15,000 short stories for daily newspaper columns.  His first book, Mother West Wind, was published in 1910.  He died in 1965.
 
Kids love stories with talking animals.  That's a given.  But what I like about these stories is the commentary Burgess gives on human nature through the adventures of  his animal heroes.  Each chapter begins with a saying attributed to the main character.  It's usually a summary on the action to come, but more than that, it's a little gem.  A pearl of wisdom.  Here are some of my favorites from the hero of this book, Happy Jack Squirrel.
 
Never say a thing is so
Unless you absolutely know.
Just remember every day
To be quite sure of what you say.
 
and...
 
As grows the might elm tree,
From just a tiny seed,
So often great things happen
From just a kindly deed.
 
This particular book was written in 1918 on the heels of WW1.  Much emphasis is put on "thrift" and reflects the national mindset of the day.
 
It's up to you and up to me
To see how thrifty we can be.
To do our bit like soldiers true
It's up to me and up to you.
 
And probably my favorite...
 
I prefer big acorns, but I never refuse little ones.
They fit in between. - Happy Jack 
 
I highly recommend that you look into this series.  It is beautifully written.  The stories are interesting and the characters engaging.  Brack begs to read one more chapter.  And then one more chapter.  You get the idea.  And isn't that the idea behind a good book?  To keep kids wanting more?  This series does!  We can't wait to start the next one...
 
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I wouldn't want you to miss one crazy thing...
 
 
 
 
 


 
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