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.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Grocery Shopping

The kids have Awana Clubs on Sunday evening and it's the perfect time to do our serious grocery shopping. I got to Sam's Club and Walmart tonight, as well as Harbor Freight to pick up a couple things for Kraig. Getting to stores here is certainly easier than in Guadalajara.

It's nice to be in a town with such a large Hispanic population, though, because the stores carry just about all of the favorites we got used to in Guad. There are a couple things we haven't tracked down yet. We got hooked on Fritos con Limón (Fritos with Lime) while in Mexico, and unfortunately they don't seem to have crossed the border. But there are some more authentic Mexican groceries I haven't gotten to yet, so I'm holding out hope.

I also am reminded I'm in the South when I go to groceries here, that and we're near Louisiana. There are shelves full of Cajun fixings, and Sam's Club has an aisle devoted to various kids of fry oil--peanut, vegetable, coconut, you name it. Big vats of it. And fish fry seasonings and bread crumbs. These are delicacies we are still too new to Texas to fully appreciate. No worries there, though. There's time.

Now...if I can find the Middle Eastern spices and sauces I could get in Canton, Michigan, we'll really be cooking.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

One man's trash and all that....

Of course, moves mean one has to restock some essentials. For example, when we moved to Guadalajara Kraig and I sold our bedroom set. It made more sense than storing it, and considering that it had been a free hand-me-down we had no deep attachments to it. And then there were things that weren't worth hauling across the country because it was--presumably--cheaper to buy a new or used thing here.

But moves mean a lot of expenses, and suddenly all that extra cash we thought we had (well, not really, but the thought was nice) wasn't there. So "essentials" get prioritized and garage sales become the new pastime, and the new bedroom set is on the wait list. At least we have a bed! Last weekend an acquaintance put us on to an annual flea market that runs along miles of a highway that cuts through Longview and a few of the other towns east and west of us. Kraig headed out to see what he could see and not only found an old lawn mower, but also a hedge trimmer, air compressor, and functional bikes for the kids. I've mentioned the mattress/boxspring set we stumbled on, and yesterday we hit a sale where we found an amazing skill saw for just the price Kraig was looking for.

One of the new-to-us chairs
Today, though, I succumbed to the beauty of a table with four straight back chairs. The chairs were something I've been wanting and felt were high on the essentials list, and I figured we could make use of the table. I thought the price was great, and Kraig reluctantly agreed.... It wasn't as high on his essentials list. Unfortunately the base of the table needs some work to get shipshape, and I've felt a bit guilty as Kraig has pointed out the various and sundries he'll have to fix now (adding to the many other fix-its). But I don't feel that guilty, because now when we have more than two people over for a meal we can put them in real chairs that are similar to our beloved straight-backs, the hand-me-downs from my grandmother and great-grandmother. Real chairs rather than folding chairs. I'll take that over an air-compressor any day.

I guess treasure is all about perspective.

Our table and chairs, waiting for guests :)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Kindred Spirits

The kids and I have been listening to a lot of audio books as we take Kraig to and from work, or when we run around town. We've gotten a bit addicted :) . Anyway, the latest has been Anne of Green Gables, the first time for Ev and Jon. It's as lovely as it's always been.

This time through I've been struck by Anne's gift for friendship. After she befriends Diana's fearsome great-aunt, Miss Josephine Barry, she remarks to Marilla, "Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world." And on her first day at Queen's College, away from home, Avonlea, and her BFF Diana Barry she grieves, but she also speculates who will be new friends in this new phase of her life. After all, she thinks, she has "lots of second-best affections to bestow." According to Anne there is always room for new friends.

I wholeheartedly agree with this philosophy, and also with Anne's opinion that there are so many kindred spirits in the world. I don't have one best friend who I've left behind in one of the many places I've lived; I have numerous friends across space and time who are very dear to me. I can't tell you how thankful I am for this, and for the new friends that I'm making.

This afternoon Jenn and her two kids came over to our house. We've gotten to know each other a bit on the Wednesday park days, and our kids get along nicely, so we took the next step of a playdate at home. It went off beautifully. The kids had fun, and Jenn and I were able to delve into deeper conversation than an hour in a park with multiple other people allows. It was the deep, strong draught of communion that restores the heart and encourages. The kind of conversation where you know that this is the beginning of something lovely. Each time I meet one of these kindred spirits I am humbled that God has given me another one.

It doesn't hurt the thrill at all that Jenn has red hair.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Time to Cook

A few days after moving in, amidst the chaos that brings, I threw up my hands and declared to Kraig and the kids not to expect homemade meals for a while. Life was too nuts, and the family was just going to have to put up with freezer meals and take-out.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on stress levels), my family likes home cooked meals, Kraig being the chief of these lovers. That evening of my explosion he wisely didn't argue. But a day later (when I was calmer) he said, "Why don't you take a few days and concentrate on getting the kitchen in order. Forget the rest of the house. I think you'll feel better about cooking and everything else once the kitchen is done."

I probably bared my teeth and growled at him. Even in a calmer mood there seemed too much to do to think about kitchens and meals. But after grumbling I cracked down on the kitchen and got it in decent working order.

And the truth is, it did help immensely. I enjoy cooking, and in a lot of ways it's therapy for me. It's a creative outlet in the midst of a life stage that doesn't permit a lot of personal creativity. An ordered kitchen and home cooked meals are part of the core of our home. Kraig was right. Everything else could be taken care of once there was a kitchen and meals on the table.

So despite the fact that one child groaned when she discovered what was for dinner tonight, I know we'll get a decent meal. The majority of the family will be happy with it, and even the grumpy child will be nourished. And if the rooms don't all get painted when I'd like, at least we'll have something to eat.