Sunday, November 06, 2016

Finding the Light Side

Written Sunday, October 30, 2016

Here we are back in the States and once again on the verge of Halloween. Buckets of candy are looming, costumes, and today--carving pumpkins. Two years ago, our first fall in Guadalajara, we had to think through their Día de los Muertos and while we heard that trick-or-treating happened, we had no where to go for it. We ended up skipping costumes (which was fine by me) and per a friend's suggestion we gave each kid some money to choose their own candy from the store.

Last Halloween, our second year in Guadalajara, our friends the Smiths lived in a gated community where trick-or-treating happened. The kids cobbled together costumes and we went out with the Smith's son, Luke. It was Luke's first time ever trick-or-treating and it took us a house or two before we realized there was a song we were supposed to sing in order to get candy. Mexico is happy to take on other countries' traditions, but they're going to put their own twist on them. Whatever the case, great enjoyment was had by all.

This year's crew: Sapphire Girl, Obiwan Kenobi, & Owl Girl
Some folks are able to track down pumpkins to carve, but we never got that far. Because of this the kids were thrilled to get pumpkins this year, and this afternoon we had a carving party. The kids are definitely growing up because I didn't have to do much beyond cutting off the top of the pumpkins and digging out the final bits of the innards. I did end up helping Jon, but most because the concept of negative space was new to him and he almost cut his pumpkin's giant mouth in reverse.

Once the kids found their groove, I wandered the yard picking up pecans. They planned and worked and eventually songs broke out, and ballads were sung to the "brains" of the pumpkins, the stringy orange strange lined with seeds. Ev eventually lapsed into Spanish and sang, "Me gusta tus naranjas, con mi amor"* in convincing tones. It certainly moved me to tears of laughter.

Three jack o' lanterns now grace our porch waiting for their darkness to be turned to light tomorrow night. As Clare aptly put it, "The only way to make the pumpkins truly bright is to take out their brains." We have succeeded.

* "I like your oranges, with my love."

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Pulling It All Together

Written Saturday, October 29, 2016

We've done certain things to make this house homey. The kitchen is in order and functioning, the dining table accessible. The family room and library are inviting. All of the books are at hand--this is extremely important.

Decorations are, on the other hand, a little random. Of course, I suppose they always have been. My mom likes to say she decorates in "Early Eclectic" and I've taken after her in that. Our couch is a hand-me-down originally from my mom's mom. The dining table was a wedding gift from my grandmother and actually new (when we got married, twenty-one years ago), but the chairs were from my dad's side and are probably going on 100 years old. We have paintings painted by Kriag's grandmother, kids' art projects, garage sale finds, and lots and lots of trinkets from around the world.

Right now the trinkets are a complete hodgepodge. They are primarily the items I came across first when unpacking and actually had a place for. Since a lot of the house isn't organized yet, and even the core isn't completely put together. Many things are still packed away. So right now our fireplace mantle has a set of shi she dogs from China, an angel figurine which was a gift from our neighbors in Michigan, a candle holder from Guadalajara, a pot Ev made from clay at Guachimontones in Mexico, a china plate from Kraig's grandparents (I think), a mini pumpkin Clare got at a fall festival last week, and a carved turtle--probably from Kenya. Don't even get me started on what's in our China cabinet.

Sometimes I look at the hodge lodge and wonder if it will ever come together in a harmonious whole. I see those home design programs and wish I could have a room or two with that kind of unity. But then I look at the things we have and all the history, places, and memories attached to them and I wouldn't trade them for anything.

Now...if we could just get a few pictures up. There's always room for improvement.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Zoo Trip

Animals found!
Today we visited Caldwell Zoo which is in Tyler, Texas, a little less than an hour from us. We met up there with my new friend Jenn and her two kids and spent a productive few hours socializing and discovering certain animals from different parts of the world. Jenn's kids have just finished a biology unit on animals and she'd made up a animal scavenger hunt which my kids were able to join in on. Great excitement on all sides.

The Caldwell Zoo isn't a big city zoo, but it's pretty and well-kept and the right size for a few hours. I that a good selection of animals, especially birds. Their macaws are magnificent as well as chatty.

Sadly, the elephant exhibit was under construction so we didn't get to enjoy those pachyderms, but their two black bears and white tiger were impressive. I loved the Texas Longhorns, but the kids' favorite place was an enclosure filled with small birds, primarily parakeets and cockatoos, where you're given a little stick coated in bird seed and the birds flock to you to get some.

There's something so refreshing about a nice zoo. Animals are always interesting and great for conversation. Even alligators lounging in the shallows and a rat snake muscling its way up a wall are worth taking the time to watch. And, I don't know, but maybe a parakeet is the pet we should get...or maybe a squirrel monkey :) . Think Kraig might go for it?

Friday, October 28, 2016

International Flavor

I think I'd go a little stir crazy if I lived in a completely monocultural community. Having grown up in a missionary family, and being married to a fellow missionary kid has certainly formed my viewpoint, but there it is. Throughout our lives our homes have had people in and out who come from different countries, or have worked in other parts of the world, or who are from other parts of the country. In our home the world is never small...and yet you never know when you'll run into someone who knows someone you know.

Of course, sometimes one needs to search a little for the multicultural. Canton, Michigan, is incredibly diverse culturally, but even there there are pockets of folks who were born and raised in Southeast Michigan, and so were their parents and grandparents. In Guadalajara we were the unusual ones. Naturally we met a lot of others not from Guadalajara, but the overall culture is not diverse. Here in Longview there are generations of folks who have lived here, like one of the librarians who told me she thought Longview was one of the beautiful places in the world though she's never actually lived anywhere else.

For us, though, Longview is multicultural. For one thing there's the large Hispanic contingent which often make me feel I haven't really left Mexico. And then at LeTourneau there are staff and students from all over the globe. The prof wives I met hail from all over, which makes for a great mix. And then one of the moms I've connected with through the homeschool group is Russian. She and her son who's Jon's age were over this afternoon and it was so fun to talk food and culture and world with her.   And of course, Longview itself is a new culture for our family, so we can be the strange newbies for a while...or forever!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Taste for the Quiet Life

The problem with events that happen in the evening is that we aren't at home. And home in the evening is a haven. We had nighttime events for all of us Monday and Tuesday this week, and this evening Clare had practice for a Christmas musical. Evie came with me to drop Clare off, and then the two of us ran some errands...and then it was time to pick up Clare. And now it's past bedtime for the kids. So much for the evening. I'm looking forward to tomorrow night since we'll be home.

Perhaps it's my introvert side, and Kraig's too, that we prefer home to going out and about. The two events this week were great, but I wouldn't want to make a habit of it. hen we were house-hunting last summer we met a lively rental manager who originally hailed from Venezuela. She gave us all sorts of tips about things to do and see in and around Longview. "But," she said with a sigh, "there's not much night life here." Kraig and I gave our condolences but made sure we didn't look at each other or we'd have burst out laughing. An active night life is that last thing we've ever pined for.

We also hold dear the kids' bedtime which happens a couple hours before ours. We're hanging on to that for as long as we can. Even when we're doing nothing, or Kraig is swamped with grading and class prep so I'm left to my own devices--even then the kids are sent to bed because we want to be alone. Selfish, aren't we?

So, yeah, quiet nights are our preference. But the last few nights haven't been, and tonight has been later, too, because of Clare's event. As a result I'm writing with kids milling around getting ready for bed. Evie, who's done, is cuddled beside me and pointing out words she can't read because I'm writing too fast and messily. "What's that word?" she wants to know. And then she comments on my editing process.

But the others are done now and it's time to herd them into bed. Then, hopefully, I won't stay up too late relishing the silence.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Shakespeare Under the Stars

(I wrote this out last night, but it was to late to type it up and post it.)

I've wanted to write at some point specifically about our homeschool experience--the good, the bad, the uncertainty and insanity :) . There are so many pros and cons and so much we're still figuring out that I haven't been quite brave enough to attempt the topic. So I'm not going to yet.

But tonight we got to do something incredibly fun that we really couldn't have done if we weren't homeschooling. We let the kids stay up late on a school night to go see a play. And it wasn't just any play. It was Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, put on by a theater troop from East Texas Baptist University, a university in a neighboring town They performed it outside of the student center at LeTourneau this evening...for free! And it was terrific.

Not only did Kraig and I like it, but the kids--all three--thoroughly enjoyed it, and not just because there were free snacks :) . I took the plunge this fall, decided to go completely nerdy, and introduce the kids to Shakespeare's plays before they are old enough to think they are boring and impossible to understand. I've heard a lot in the past few years about using picture book versions and other retellings as a jump off point to the real text. Read-Aloud Revival hostess, Sarah Mackenzie, has interviews some folks about it, as has Pam Barnhill of ED Snapshots. The clincher, for me, was when Read-Aloud Revival introduced Ken Ludwig and his book How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. He not only hits on some of the stories, but he helps guide memorizing some passages. And the first play he tackles is A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The kids have responded varyingly. All three like hearing the stories, but while Ev and Jon have dug into the fun of memorizing some of the poetry, Clare has balked and groaned. But she always does that regarding anything she deems pointless, and you can talk to her till you're blue in the face about the beauty of language and how great it all is for stretching your brain. It's no use because she knows better. It's amazing how knowledgeable an 11-year-old can be....

But tonight all three were enthralled. Jon got the actors to sign his program, and was excited to see some kids he knew from church. Ev decided she wants to act out a scene with Puck (as long as she can play Puck). Clare chatted with the girl who played Hermia and was challenged to try acting something sometime, and she didn't toss her head in scorn! All in all it was one of those experiences where I see a glimmer of progress and a reason to keep on the path we're currently taking.

P.S.~ Sarah Mackenzie's site is currently down for maintenance, but be sure to save it to check out later. It's lovely.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


I know I've mentioned our pecan trees, but I haven't shown them to you up close and personal. They probably would have only been a passing mention if this month of posts hadn't fallen at the peak of their harvest. 

When we moved in, we knew they were pecan trees, but not much else. One neighbor mentioned back at the end of August that the nuts would be ripe "in a month or two" and we'd have to fight the squirrels for them. Both statements have proven true, though considering how many nuts we're getting, I'm not going to begrudge the squirrels their share. Another neighbor gently informed us of the proper pronunciation around here: Be sure to pronounce "pecan" with a long "e" in the first syllable, and make the "a" and "ah" (not the sharp Michigan "a" as in "can"). The stress is still on the second syllable, which shortens the first "e" a bit, but not enough to make it an "eh" sound. There's your linguistic lesson for the day.

Google was our friend for other insights and details.

1) How do we know the nuts are ripe?
The outer husk darkens from green to blackish-brown and the end starts to split.

2) How do we get them off the trees?
Wait till they fall (for the most part). Then pick them up as quickly as possible and get the outer hull off so they don't get buggy or bitter.

3) How do we know if a nut is good?
Well, the final test is to crack it open and look at it. However if you shake it and there's no noise, and if the hard shell is an even color (ours are brown with black stripes and speckles), there's a good chance it's fine. 
4) What is the best way to store them, and how long do they last?
I don't have a complete answer on this one yet. We need to do a little more research. They're definitely easier to store than the peaches we used to get from a tree at our first home back in Michigan!

I'm quite sure we don't have all our answers yet (and probably don't even know half the questions to ask), but we certainly have some good nuts. Thank goodness we have some old nutcrackers on hand. 

Now I just need more recipes.