Monday, July 31, 2006

It's Raining!

We are getting rain - a real rain that has lasted for more than two hours. No, two hours of rain will not get us anywhere close to our average rainfall nor will it bring my toasty garden back to life, but at this point I will take what I get. The slight cool breeze wafting through the dog trot, the gentle rhythms tapping on the tin roof, and the light scent of rain and damp earth are heavenly. I want nothing more than to sit on the porch and fully experience the slow rain. May I declare a holiday from all activity for rain?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

I have a confession

I have never thought of myself as a grammar or punctuation stickler. In fact, I have been adamant in telling others I don't obsess about it. I, frequently, experiment with punctuation, especially commas, dashes, and parentheses, to tweak the meanings of sentences and alter the flow of words. I, sometimes, begin sentences with a conjunction to make a point. Typical paragraph construction often seems restrictive to me. And (see), I frequently toy with sentences that are way too long to be standard. I like language and the structure the rules provide, but I have never thought of myself as fussy. In fact, I thought of myself as adventurous and tolerant.

My first clue that I wasn't being completely honest with myself should have been my habit of editing my own blog. I read, spell check, and publish. Then, the insanity begins. I view my blog and start editing and I can't help myself. I tweak and reword so often that I am embarrassed, but not as embarrassed as when I realize someone may have noticed a mistake. Another hint should have been the many grammar and language loving books like Woe Is I by Patricia T. O'Conner, Et Cetera, Et Cetera by Lewis Thomas, and most recently Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss that line my library shelves. Most of these books were gifts, which should have been another clue, because if the people I love have noticed that I would enjoy books such as these, I must have a problem. All that being said, my epiphany occurred last night.

I got in the bed early with my most recent book purchase, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. I bought it because Becky recommended it. I began reading with amusement, chuckling quietly to myself at someone else's obsessive compulsive behavior. Then, I was accosted by the British use of quotation marks. Though I knew using a comma or period outside of the quotation marks in certain situations was acceptable, albeit British, I flinched. Each and every time a punctuation mark fell outside the ending quotation, I felt uncomfortable. I twitched, squirmed, reached for the white-out. I could barely enjoy my new book because of the punctuation. I, in fact, skipped into another section of the book to get away from the offensive punctuation. All this discomfort coming from the person who staunchly proclaims tolerance seemed a bit hypocritical.

So, I admit it. I am an adventurous, tolerant grammar and punctuation stickler. I have a physical reaction to poor usage, including my own, while still enjoying subtle usage variance. So there!

Yellow Dog Update #2

Yellow Dog is bouncing again. My husband heard some noise this morning and went out to investigate. Yellow Dog had a cat by the head and was swinging it in circles. I suppose the cats were lulled into a false sense of safety by their three day reprieve from bouncing and forgot to be cautious.

The image is Yellow Dog recuperating on the pull out sofa in the living room. The children took thirty similar images - mostly head shots, including a few down the throat views. I found the evidence of the photo shoot this morning when the farm image I have been wanting to capture presented itself to me and I raised my camera to click and nothing happened. I looked at the camera befuddled, then realized there was a big zero in the available picture window. I didn't remember taking any pictures, so I scanned through and found image after image of Yellow Dog. Once I got a clear card for the camera, the moment was gone.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Grammar Study

Our homeschool has been floundering with the study of grammar for a couple of years. Why, you ask, would a trained English teacher let her children flounder in the formal study of grammar? Well . . . I don't have an excuse except an inability to commit to a method and my false belief that I didn't know enough about teaching young children. When my son was 6 we started with First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind by Jesse Wise. I really liked the gentle method grammar was introduced while still imprinting the basic, yet important, lists and definitions. I enjoyed the program so well, that, my then, 3 year old daughter learned all the poetry, prepositions and helping verbs, among other things, along with her older brother because it looked so fun to march and dance around the house. Herein lies the problem. I found something I liked, that fit our family, and was successful using it. I have children who, at a young age, have retained much grammatical information. Now, I have high expectations without a next logical step. I looked at grammar program after grammar program. I never found a next level program that was just perfect. I tried to use many programs and investigated many others.

I tried G.U.M. by Zaner Bloser, the free online KISS grammar program, Shurley Grammar, and the free online Daily Grammar. I looked at several others, but didn't purchase or try to use them. Here is what I found:
  • G.U.M. - The grammar rules are presented in a straightforward manner. I liked that the child was not required to write out sentence after sentence to complete the exercises. The negative is that each sentence in the exercises is so similar to the others that once the first sentence is completed, the child isn't required to think. The patterns are fixed so that without even reading the sentence you could find subject and verb according to position in sentence. There is little to question or discuss. While saying this, I know that combined with other language activities this workbook could work. We completed most of these activities.
  • Shurley Grammar - I know this is the favorite program of many people, but I found it unwieldy. There were just too many components to pull together for each lesson - jingle, study time, test time, scripted grammar time, reference grammar section, practice sentences, improved sentences, vocabulary. I would have liked the grammar songs and chants if we had not already mastered this information earlier. We liked the preposition and helping verb chants we created, not because they are better, but because we already knew them. Grammar concepts were not over practiced and the question and answer flows are helpful in analyzing sentences. Again, I found nothing wrong with the program, it was just not the right one for us. Shurley Grammar was just too comprehensive to work with the other things we were doing.
  • KISS - I really like what is going on at this site. KISS is a work in progress, but could be unbelievable. Ed Vavra has taken excerpts from real books and has created grammar teaching tools. I chose not to use the program for a full year, not because it didn't match my grammar philosophy, but because I found that I spent too much time looking for the next section on the web site. Using excerpts challenges the student because the sentences do not follow an identifiable pattern. Ed has worked to get an organized printable workbook ready. I believe the 3rd grade level is ready now. This is a free resource so if it doesn't work no money is wasted.
  • Daily Grammar - DG is a straightforward program of grammar teaching exercises. You, now, have several choices of how to receive your daily dose of grammar - email, archives, an ebook, or a workbook. The material is the same regardless of your choice. The email and archive versions are free. Daily Grammar gives you a rule and a couple of sentences for practice. We used most of the archive last year, yet I never felt like it was truly integrated into our other language arts activities. Overkill is not a problem, though.
After using or trying each of these methods I still felt that something was missing or off-kilter. I want a program that is gentle, yet rigorous; comprehensive, yet not repetitive; and demanding, yet fun. I want the activities to make sense with the rest of our curriculum, not be haphazard. I want to build on what the children already know. Grammar rules don't change from year to year. Once you learn the definitions and rules they are yours. The reasons you study and teach grammar each year are:
  • New concepts are added as the older ones are mastered.
  • Students (older than 6 or 7) are able to take the memorized definitions and apply their knowledge to understand how sentences work.
  • The ability to analyze sentences increases as reading proficiency increases.
  • Sentence structure patterns become recognizable because more sentences have been viewed.
  • Communicating in writing becomes more important and the ideas communicated become more complex, increasing the need for grammar and usage mechanisms.
I have given up my search for the perfect pre-packaged language arts program for children. I am instead creating my own using an assortment of tools. I am giving each child a copy of the beautiful, illustrated Elements of Style by E.B. White and William Strunk. I have an old copy (non-illustrated) that I feel is almost as sacred as my hard cover, dictionary my mother gave me when I went to college. My copy is dog-eared because the example laden format of Elements of Style creates a clear image of elementary grammar and usage elements while taking into consideration exceptions to rules and common practice. Of course, there are many favorite grammar and usage books. I have submitted to the whims of many professors and teachers, but have returned to the slim Elements of Style again and again. I bought the hard cover, illustrated edition for the children because it is beautiful and useful and I want them to feel the long term value of this specific book, like the dictionary my mother gave me.

In addition to reviewing and learning the grammar according to The Elements of Style, I will teach the children to deconstruct and analyze sentences through diagramming, edit writing, increase spelling efficiency, increase vocabulary, and write. Honestly, there is nothing new here. What is different, for us, is that with these flexible segments I can work with each child where he is, while letting them see the beauty and flexibility of our language, and giving them tools for effective communication. I am trusting myself, rather than a packaged plan. I will post more specifics when we begin using the plan.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Yellow Dog Update

This morning I was able to get the yellow dog up and out of the house to use the bathroom. He was not his normal "Tigger" bouncy self, but he walked. He wasn't interested in staying out, though. He took care of his business and wanted to come back inside to his blanket. He drank water, but hasn't shown interest in food (except that 1/2 a piece of bacon I snuck him). Other than his super-sized foot and leg he seems alright, though slow. The medicine is doing its job. I guess the only other concern is infection. We will keep watching and waiting.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Yellow Dog Meets a Snake

Today, The Yellow Dog took a walk with The Pink Panther and one of his friends. They went to the spring fed stream and The Yellow Dog found a snake and, unfortunately, played with it. The snake, doing what snakes do, bit his back leg. Luckily, my husband was doing a reconnaissance mission to check on the boys and was able to transport the dog and boys back to the house. We, then, spent what seemed like a tremendous amount of time trying to find a doctor, any doctor. We called the dog's regular vet, we called the vets in the next 3 closest towns, and we called our cattle vet who lives way to far for a transport. None were to be found. Meanwhile, the children were freaking out and the dog was getting more and more still. Finally, the dog's regular doctor checks his messages and calls back. He said there was absolutely nothing to be done except to make the dog comfortable. He thought he would be fine, but it would take a few very painful days. He prescribed a 1/2 cc of banomin (an aspirin like drug). My husband had some at the sale barn and went to get it.

Right now, I can hear The Yellow Dog whimpering. He doesn't know what happened. I'm not sure he even saw the snake. His back foot and leg are swelling.

Hurry up with that medicine.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Flower of the okra plant is blooming profusely in my garden. I think they are beautiful - very much like hibiscus. Below the flower you can see a small okra. Okra is a summer garden staple here. Southerners eat it cut, dredged in cornmeal, and fried; stewed whole with tomatoes; boiled plain; pickled; or in stew or gumbo. When cut, okra has a sticky resin like substance that is used as a thickener. The sticky stuff is also what gives boiled okra that slimy texture. The fruit is difficult to pick, in fact you have to cut it. The plants are as hairy and sharp as the fruit.

Okra was originally brought over by slaves (You should check my information because I didn't). The heat and humidity of the South were the perfect home for this African transplant. In fact, I did not plant okra this year. My okra volunteered.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tagged Again!

Here it is, Frankie!
What were you doing 10 years ago?

I just had a baby. We were living outside of Chicago, in Batavia, though we were still working in the city. We were deciding whether we would move back to Mississippi. I was preparing for another semester of teaching, though I knew it would be my last.

What were you doing a year ago?
Being a Momma, wife, farmer, homeschooler, web designer, and Girl Friday.

5 snacks that you enjoy:
  • Tab - though I really am going to quit
  • Guacamole and corn chips
  • Coffee ice cream
  • Apples sometimes with peanut butter and sometimes plain
  • The salsa we only have this time of the year when the tomatoes are perfect and the peppers hot
  • Chocolate - I'm not choosy
5 Songs you know all the words to: I know a lot of song lyrics. Here is a sampling. Don't judge. You can't always control what sticks with you.
  • Shave Yo Legs - Keb Mo
  • Up On the Housetop - The question is does my sister still remember the words?
  • Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding
  • Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd including the requisite "Turn It Up" at the beginning of the song
  • Amazing Grace and the rest of the hymns I learned growing up
  • John Henry and the other folk songs we used to sing with Momma

5 Things you would do or get if you had a Million dollars I can't think of anything I would rather be doing and I really need to get rid of about half of what I have but . .
  • I suppose I could buy a new fuel conscience car, maybe electric, but even with that I would like to wait until the technology moves forward just a bit and the children quit making a mess
  • The barn could use some work
  • Something to make my husband happy - maybe a new tractor and hay baler or a new truck
  • A camping/hiking trip in Alaska - I would have to wait a while for the children to get stronger legs. I can't carry them

5 Bad Habits
  • Tab
  • Inability to say No to Things I know I don't want to do
  • Letting the laundry pile up
  • Obsessive focus on projects
  • Being selfish

5 things you like doing
  • Playing scrabble
  • Reading
  • Walking/hiking
  • gardening
  • making jelly

5 things you would never wear again
  • Heels on the city sidewalks
  • mini mini skirts
  • pig tails
  • any of those bridesmaid dresses mull-berry encouraged me to find
5 favorite toys
  • my iPod
  • Scrabble
  • Set
  • Quiddler
  • Continuo

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Bad Dream

A few days ago we noticed a few yellow jackets in the dog trot. I swooshed a few out the back door. An hour or so later my husband swooshed a few out the front door. The next morning I heard squeals and screams. The children had discovered more. A lot more. I did what any well armed woman would do. I sucked about 25 into the vacuum cleaner and deposited them outside. Then, hubby and I realized we each had swooshed a few earlier. We knew we had a problem, but did not know where to begin looking. There were no nests in the dog trot, no entry holes that we could see. A few could have come in when the children hold the screen doors open for way too long, but 30 or 40 couldn't come in that way.

We kept checking and one or two appeared throughout the day. That night at about 1:30 the Princess started screaming when she turned over and heard buzzing in her hair. She panicked and started pulling at her hair. When I got there and turned on the light. I saw the culprit - one of the yellow jackets from the hall. I killed it, but she was already stung twice on her fingers and once on her neck. The stings weren't bad because I think the yellow jacket had been trapped in her hair for a while (she just has so much of it) and was almost dead and in her panic she didn't keep her fingers anywhere for long. I still gave her some Benedryl and stayed with her while she went to sleep. What a nightmare? Unfortunately, it was real.

Now, she doesn't want to sleep in her bed and she starts squealing every time she hears any buzzing - including flies and honey bees. I can't blame her so she is sleeping in my bed tonight.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Neshoba County Fair

Today, we finally made it to the fair. Every time I walk through the entry I am bombarded by memories of fairs past. I remember trying to act tough on the scary rides, spying on a boy I liked, trying to look great to impress said boy when it was 98 degrees and had sweat making rivers in the dust on my face, holding hands, and begging Daddy to let me stay out later than ten o'clock. The band started at nine and one hour of dancing was just not enough.

Many things are exactly as I left them - Founder's Square with the pavilion where the bands played, the midway, the garish assortment of fair cabins, traditions and reunions. There are some upscale cabins now, complete with air conditioning and separate bedrooms and baths, but there are some of the old, too. The old cabins don't have windows or screens. The inhabitants, usually multi-generation families, sleep in one big second floor room, or on the porches. Today, I saw a great grandfather teaching fiddle to a little one. They were in front of one of the less modern cabins. I think that eating, sleeping, and living in such close quarters without amenities would make you know someone better, faster.

Though sitting on one of the hundreds of porches reminiscing is the main activity of the week for the older crowds, the younger entertain themselves racing mules. You read correctly. Mules! There are races for adults, children, and small children. Today, a tiny girl was plopped atop a mule and the race started. A couple of steps in the mule revolted and jerked around. The little girl fell, but a man who realized trouble was brewing ran up and grabbed the reins and the little girl. Once I saw that the little girl was safe, I couldn't help laughing. The man grabbed the little girl by the back of her jeans and was hanging her upside down while dancing around with a very disobedient mule. What were the parents thinking, letting a four year old race a mule.

We have horses in Neshoba County, too. Trotters dominate the grandstand fair week. Excitement, grace, danger - a place to sit down in the shade to eat your hand dipped corndog and drink your super sweet lemonade. What more could a person ask? We didn't stop at the corndog and lemonade. I remember a funnel cake, chicken on a stick, popcorn, and several bottles of water. I am sure more food was purchased because both of the children are complaining now that we are back home.

Of course, great tasting but not so healthy food combined with fair rides and the thrill of competition against the not so even odds of the fair midway vendors is not soothing. Both the children broke balloons with darts to win prizes. They each went three for three. My children aren't daring so we didn't have to endure any of the scary rides only enough of the mid range rides to make anyone sick. Next on the list of things to do was a visit to the exhibition halls to compare our produce and jars to others. Then, we went to the livestock barns to see the beef cattle show.

We had a wonderful time. I'm not ready to be a cabin family. Living a few miles away and visiting when I get ready, then coming home to a quieter place is certainly a more peaceful option. I stayed a few nights at the fair when I was younger and sleeping is not a real possibility until the band has finished, the midway is closed, and the daily fair goers have gone home. As a trade off for a peaceful night sleep, you get to make connections with people, experience the rhythms of fair life, or have the ultimate people watching porch perch.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I Feel Better!

Maybe it was the barometric pressure, hormones, who knows, but I woke this morning my normal happy self. My husband let the chickens out and came and got back in bed. We slept late, then we made breakfast together. I began working on another big graphics project and he began working on the additional laying boxes. The Princess tied on her roller skates and began skating around the house. The Pink Panther decided to finish the movie we started last night, but were too tired to finish.

My parents are out of town, so I feed their cats and take care of other things. I don't mind. Look what I got to take care of today. Figs! Do you see the rain drops. We got a small shower - not enough but better than nothing. I absolutely love figs. I like them raw, in preserves, in tarts, on ice cream, in cream. I just consumed 20 or 30 figs right off the tree. I like the ones that are almost too ripe. They are so sweet.

I will pick the rest of them tomorrow to make preserves and to put in the freezer for a winter treat. I was not the only one enjoying the figs today. Here is a June Bug. There were also wasps and other beetles. The birds had also pecked a few. There should be enough for everyone and everything to have a little treat thanks to Mother's liberal use of the sprinkler.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I am in such a bad mood

That I have warned everyone to keep their distance. Yesterday, I blamed my foul mood on the weather and perhaps it does have something to do with barometric pressure, the heat, or the humidity. Today, I am no better. I have been checking things off the proverbial unending To Do List and, usually, that makes me happy. Today even check marks can't lighten the load. I have even been outside with my camera to look for something happy to blog. I couldn't find it.

The cats are all stretched out in the shade, on the patio touching as little as possible leaching every ounce of cool in the concrete. The horse is sweating in the shade of the barn. The chickens are walking around with their mouths open, panting. The yellow dog's tongue is lolling so far out of his mouth that it may drag the ground. The children are in the house hanging on my back while I sweat in my hot office. AND I feel like I am about to EXPLODE!!!

I refuse to feel this blah! I have checked off two larger projects and a couple of smaller ones in an attempt to lift my spirits. I did a couple of nice things for other people thinking that would help. It didn't. I have exercised, though I have to admit that it was a short session - way too hot for optional exertive activities. I read the news and though I feel lucky that I don't live in Queens, NY where they will have high temperatures and a blackout or in Lebanon, Israel or Iraq where violence is so close that it has to be a constant concern, I felt more depressed because the news has reached a level of volatility and violence that it is movie-like in its unreal reality. The news is certainly not uplifting.

Maybe a bit of online shopping would help. Or losing myself in a cry buckets movie.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Summer Waning

Even though July has not yet come to an end, I feel the summer slipping away. We have been so hot and dry that in terms of garden, hay, and outside activity, the summer has almost incinerated itself. The Neshoba County Fair, Mississippi's Giant House Party, begins tomorrow only a few miles from our house, but with the dust, heat, and humidity I can't say I am excited.

I feel almost sad - like we didn't do enough, have enough fun, or get the freezer packed enough. I suppose I have that gloomy feeling because the grasses, plants, and even trees are browning - mourning for the Summer that could have lasted just a bit longer and been just a bit more nurturing.

We will begin school as soon as the Fair closes. We bought school supplies today when I had to make an emergency trip to the nearest seller of toner cartridges. I, of course, ran out of black ink halfway through the payroll. I'm glad I didn't wait until the last minute (tomorrow) to print. I love buying office supplies. I think I have a problem. I was more excited than the children. I even perused the supply lists of area public and private schools. I wanted to make sure there wasn't some cool new thing we didn't have.

Even though I love supplies and looked at every option, we didn't really need a lot of stuff since, unlike the public and private schools, we don't have to purchase new things every year. We already own plenty of pencils, crayons, paper, and other typical beginning of the year supplies. I usually wait to buy crayons, pens, or pencils during the winter when we need a school pick-me-up. Our only purchases were plastic pocket filers and planners for each child. This year they had so many selections that the children had a difficult time choosing even though neither child strayed far from his normal color.

Now that the supplies have been purchased, I just need to get motivated and get the children motivated and focused on more organized learning. I, usually, feel more excitement. In fact, I have been known to get so excited about the new school year that I would want to start it as soon as I knew what we would be doing. My children have even accused me of cornering them with school stuff and trying to start school a week after we finished. This year, I'm not sure what is wrong, I can't get excited about The Fair or School. Maybe it's the weather. Maybe if it would rain a long slow rain for a week. Maybe.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


The party is over and I think everyone had fun. The food was great, yet simple and child friendly. We had hamburgers, tomato salad, cucumber salad, corn chips, watermelon wedges, molded peppermint ice cream, vanilla ice cream and petit fours.

The first guests to arrive were the girl friends who were shy. To get them away from scary adults, I let them go to Princess' room to open their groovy gift purses. Inside the purse was an assortment of cool girl stuff like stick on body jewelry, lip gloss, bracelets, etc. Everyone decorated themselves and the party was on a roll. Once everyone showed up, we ate, opened presents, and broke the pinata. My husband cleaned while I visited. Now, I am sitting, exhausted, in a heap.

I vow never to save so much cleaning and preparation for the day of the party. I vow never to save so much cleaning and preparation for the day of the party. I vow never to save so much cleaning and preparation for the day of the party.

But, we were a success!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Gearing Up for the Birthday Party

Princess is turning 7 tomorrow. She has decided on a Groovy Girl motif party. We usually have just family, but this year she has invited a couple of friends, as well. With just family there are 20 people, so there is much preparation to be done. I was able to get a really cool platform sandal pinata. The Pink Panther and I got some candy and toys and filled it this morning. We got some favors and we will package them in a few minutes.

Princess wants petit fours and molded peppermint ice cream because Samantha of American Girl fame had these delicious treats at her birthday, so I am making petit fours and peppermint ice cream tonight. I have never had peppermint ice cream before, but I think I will use my mother's recipe, which she has finally agreed to let me share, and substitute a few drops of peppermint flavoring for the vanilla. Once it is frozen, I will put it in flower shaped molds. Here is that recipe:
Mother's Ice Cream
Adjust recipe according to freezer size. These proportions are correct for a 4 quart freezer.
Beat 3 eggs until very frothy
Add 2 1/2 cups sugar and 2 rounded TBLS cornstarch. Mix well so it will not lump.
Add about a quart of milk or a little more and mix again. Put in heavy boiler and cook on low stirring constantly until thickened. When thickened, pour in more milk and stir to thin so it will pour more easily. Put in ice cream freezer. Add more milk to fill container to fill line. Add 1/2 tsp. vanilla. Freeze.

I know ya'll are tired of hearing about all this food and entertaining, but this is life and relatives visit in the Summer and birthdays happen and sometimes it all piles up on itself. Now, off to make those petit fours.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


My mother-in-law visited for lunch today. Below is the menu I used:

Grilled lemon/garlic chicken
Tiny tomato salad with feta
Couscous with Summer Squash from Bay Tables
Ice Cream

For the Grilled Chicken my husband marinated the chicken in lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and pressed garlic then threw it on the grill.

The tomato salad is composed of assorted cherry tomatoes (red, orange, and yellow or you could use larger tomatoes and cut them smaller), feta cheese and julienned basil drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and finished with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

While the couscous rested in boiling stock (for 5 minutes), I diced and sauteed one small zucchini and one small yellow squash in olive oil and toasted a handful of almonds. I, then, tossed the couscous with the squash, added some of the basil from the tomato salad and garnished with chopped, toasted almonds.

I scooped coffee ice cream from the freezer for dessert.

Yes, my husband had to light the grill and turn the chicken once or twice and I had to pick the squash, tomatoes, and basil. but for the most part the meal was prepped, assembled and cooked in less than an hour. The presentation was colorful, the flavors complemented one another, and the textures were varied. The best thing was the low stress and grand and delicious finished product.

We enjoyed visiting and Princess left to go to the Delta for a couple of days.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Progress has been made and time has stood still

Today, I worked tirelessly to get my house spic and span in preparations for visits from my cousin and my mother-in-law. I shelved all books that someone is not actively reading, I got the floors dusted, and I cleaned my office including detangling and sorting the umpteen million cords behind my desk. I even came up with a solution to make the cords invisible to anyone casually walking into the office. I helped my mother with dinner by making the slaw, a cucumber salad, and the ice cream.

I had not seen my cousin for a few years, not since my aunt died, and the funeral was not a great time to visit. We had a few hours to visit and amazingly enough time does not change some people. My cousin is six or seven years older than I and when we were young I idolized him and his brother. They were so nice, so handsome, and oh so cool! They included us in games and tolerated us following them around. Today, he looked unchanged by time. His mannerisms are the same and he is the same truly nice self. I don't idolize him today, but I was not disappointed. I think of all the times I have built images of my past, then revisited them as an adult. I think of all the times my image has been better than the real thing. This is one time I remembered correctly.

My mother-in-law is coming tomorrow for lunch. I have just finished my plan and I feel so in control. I may bake, for lunch, an early birthday cake for the Princess to celebrate being ahead.

Another Steamy Day!

At 7:22 a.m. the temperature is already 78 degrees. We are expecting another humidity laden 98 today without a trace of rain. I will be watering the orchard and garden as usual. I will also be cleaning the house until noon, at which time the sweltering temperatures will make cleaning unpleasant so I will move into the air conditioned kitchen. A cousin and his family are coming into town from Arizona. Since my house is teeming with family history and so many are curious how a modern family can live in less than modern way, I expect that I will have visitors though no one has mentioned it yet. My mother in law is coming tomorrow to have dinner and take the Princess to the Delta for a short visit.

I have much cleaning to do. I haven't finished the book reorganization so the books are a mess in the living room. In fact, most of the stacks in the house are books. If I get the books off the kitchen counters, off the piano, off the floor, off the bedside tables, and off the other miscellaneous stacks all over the house things would look pretty good.

Anyway, off to move the water hoses and books!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Cucumbers and Pickles

Today, I picked an enormous basket of cucumbers, enough to start pickles - sweet, of course, since this is the South. I will make dill pickles, too, but the sweets always are first. I use my husband's grandmother's recipe. It is one of those obscure non-recipe recipes that begin "Use 2 cups of pickling or kosher salt to every gallon of water." I understand the beauty of the flexible recipe, but this one is so flexible that it took a few years before I actually got to taste a pickle - the woes of trial and error. If I had been able to watch her make them even once, I could have guesstimated her handfuls and pinches but when I first started making pickles we were still in Chicago and she was in Mississippi. We talked on the phone a lot during the month it took for the pickles to become perfect or get dumped.

Success is more predictable if you use the right cucumber. Smallish, freshly picked, and blemish free are the best. These mega cucumbers are no good for pickles. I always have a few of these each time I pick. Cucumbers are much like green beans - you pick every one, turn your head and more reappear. They are never wasted. We either eat them sliced with onions and a vinegar marinade, throw them to the chickens who love them, or give them to the cows who also, remarkably enough, love them.

A few years ago, before we moved into this house, we had a garden on the place with a temporary fence around it. I couldn't watch the garden very well since we lived in town and the cows would push the fence to reach over and snack. One day, I arrived for my daily dose of picking and hoeing and there stood Milk Cream, a calf we bottle fed, in my garden with an enormous cucumber hanging from his mouth. We laughed and laughed, but once he got his first taste of cucumber he wouldn't leave the fence alone. It didn't take long for all the cows to get involved and the fence couldn't stand the pressure. Everything was eaten except a lone habanero pepper plant.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

We Don't Have TV

In the regular sense. We have never gotten around to installing a satellite or antenna. We haven't missed it because we've been busy and we have a good many movies that we have collected over the years. We started buying movies about 10 years ago because the nearest theater is 20 miles away (the nearest first run theater is 70 miles away). Once you buy popcorn and admission and drive 20 miles each way we can buy a tape or DVD and watch it as many times as we want.

A few weeks ago my husband, children and I were in the city and decided to get a new movie. We never agree, but while we were looking, we thought about a few older movies but we couldn't remember the names. I, finally, found the names and purchased the movies. In fact, we started watching one of them a little while ago because everyone is so stressed from the sale today. I walked out! The movie my husband and I thought was so funny years and years ago is just plain stupid. How can that be? Have I changed so much? What is different?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Reverse Sister Day

Today, I went into the city for a meeting and birthday shopping (pink skates). I deposited my children with my sister and headed out for an unencumbered meeting. After the meeting, I went to retrieve my children from one sister and then walked next door to my other sister's to help her with plans for an addition to her house. We didn't get to spend much time together but it was indeed a reverse sister day and I needed it so much today.

I do network maintenance for a few businesses. One is my husband's Livestock Auction. He is having a sale tomorrow. He asked me to go check his ancient (and I do mean ancient) system. He said a monitor had a line through it and nothing else. I thought no problem. I have salvaged every piece of obsolete computer equipment I have taken out of every business I have ever helped to step into computer bliss so I could have spare parts to keep my husband's system going. His auction software is functional for the limited business he does so why spend money? Anyway, when I replaced the monochrome monitor with another monochrome monitor (does that date the computer for you?) I realized that the problem was not just a monitor it was the server. The hard drive for the server had collapsed without any warning. The server is so old and so oddly configured that I am not able to substitute, at least not before tomorrow when I had this meeting in the city today. I did not sleep a wink last night and had that chest tightening defeated, I may throw up feeling all day. True panic.

But . . . I did what any "Let nothing get in my way" computer geek would do. I wrote a database program for tomorrow's sale. I have only a little left. The only problem is that the computer will not be able to issue the seller checks. I suppose people will still accept hand-written checks. I feel better. I may be able sleep tonight unless I start worrying that the program will not work when the calves start selling.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I've been tagged!! 5 things

How exciting! People have noticed I exist!! Thanks Frankie!

5 things . . .

In my fridge:
  • butter - always
  • eggs - I can't do without my daily egg sandwich no matter what I serve to others
  • homemade balsamic vinaigrette that my husband requires for everything including tacos, tomato sandwiches, and the more ordinary salad
  • a jar of some beverage that a friend of mine gave me that appears to have a brain floating in it. It is supposed to enhance digestion.
  • a TAB that I have hidden because I am hopelessly addicted to this vile substance though I want my children to eat only whole foods. At least I only sneak one or two a week instead of 6 to 8 a day as in past years. Total freedom is on the horizon!
In my purse: I own a purse, but don't use it often so I don't clean it often. Don't judge.
  • My iPod
  • a wisteria seed
  • a notebook
  • computer cable
  • receipts from the co-op from two years ago (We are that behind on our taxes. Ouch!)
In my closet:
  • a computer
  • books
  • a pair of boots I haven't worn in 15 years
  • wrapping paper in two or three designs
  • a filing cabinet
In my car: A junk heap
  • an ice chest
  • a case of computer paper
  • a lead rope and halter
  • bean seeds in the glove compartment
  • an emergency tool my mother gave me that will break the windshield and deflate the air bag, cut the seat belt, and a flashlight for signaling for help.
  • A few TAB cans
I tag:

Sister Visit Update

My sister and her son left a little while ago. We had a blast. We made pesto for the freezer (lots of it). We made THE SAUCE. She rescued a chicken from The Yellow Dog's mouth. We re-queened a bee hive (I injured the queen accidently a couple of weeks ago and she obviously didn't recover). We chatted. She cleaned my kitchen. She cleaned my kitchen. I shared half of the pesto, sauce, cucumbers, tomatoes, zinnias, and anything else she wanted. Did I mention she cleaned my kitchen. Do I have a great sister or what?

Sister visits are one of the best things about Summer. Maybe she'll come back in a week or two when the peas are ready.

Sister Visit

One of my sisters is in town. We will make sauce this morning when everyone is awake and fed, but the official sister visit started last night at Mother's house. I had been wanting to try a new recipe that I knew my husband and children would not fully appreciate so I made the Zucchini Tart with Feta for my sister and mother. The recipe appeared in the May 2006 Saveur Magazine.
Zucchini Tart with Feta

1 pc Puff Pastry, Frozen -- thawed and chilled
12 sm Zucchini -- about 2 1/2 pounds trimmed
3 tbsp Butter, Unsalted
1 sm Onion -- finely chopped
10 ea Tomatoes, Cherry -- finely chopped strained in a sieve
1 cup Cheese, Feta -- crumbled
1/2 cup Cheese, Ricotta
2 tbspp Basil -- chopped
Pepper, Black -- to taste
1 Egg -- lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350. Fit pastry into a 9" x 12" baking sheet, pressing it against sides. Score around bottom inner edge of pastry (beside crease where bottom meets sides), being careful to not cut all the way through, with a paring knife. Prick bottom of pastry all over with a fork, line with a sheet of parchment paper that fits in bottom only, and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Bake until edge of crust begins to puff and color, about 25 minutes. Remove weights and paper. Bake until bottom is golden, 6 - 8 minutes more. Let crust cool.

Grate 4 of the zucchini on large holes of a box grater into a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of salt, toss well, and set aside to let weep for 30 minutes. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel and wringthoroughlyy to remove moisture.

Meanwhile, slice remaining zucchini into 1/4" thick rounds. Working in batches, blanch rounds in a large pot of boiling salted water for 1 minutes. Drain and spread out on a paper towel lined sheet pan; set aside.

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Spoon out and reserve part of the butter. Add onions and cook until soft, 5-6 minutes. Add grated zucchini and cook, stirring often, until just beginning to brown, 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; let cool.

Stir tomatoes, half of the feta, ricotta, basil, and salt and pepper to taste into zucchini mixture. Stir in egg and spread mixture evenly in crust. Arrange zucchini rounds, slightly overlapping in rows, like tiles, on top. Bake for 15 minutes, then brush top with reserved butter. Continue to bake until crust is deep golden, 10 minutes more. Let cool to room temperature, then sprinkle remaining feta over top. Cut tart into 6 squares.

This recipe is not a 30 minute quick meal, but the princess and I got it done within an hour. Much of the prep work can be done while the puff pastry is baking the first time. The tart was worth the extra steps and prep, though doubling the recipe (if you have the zucchini) is the way to go since puff pastry is usually packaged with 2 sheets. During this time of the year having a few zucchini recipes that don't taste like the same old thing is an achievement.

After we ate, we Scrabbled. Scrabble has become a sister visit tradition, especially when my older sister visits. We play friendly games with no penalties for coined words or questionable spellings. The dictionary is there to keep the game fair and the English language intact, but never for ripping points away from a player. Last night the etiquette police was called out in an attempt to dislodge a possibly off color word from a triple word score. Even at the risk of offending good taste, I stood my ground and collected my points.

In an hour or so, we will continue to garner memories, when my sister arrives to help me with my vegetables.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Weekend Reading

While I was at the beach, I read two books. I first picked up another Mary Kay Andrews beach read called Hissy Fit because I enjoyed Savannah Blues and Itty Bitty Lies on past trips. I didn't enjoy this light reading as much as the others because you can only read so many of this type of book before it becomes a senseless exercise. She has a successful recipe - super wealthy characters, deceit in the country club, a splash of good food and furniture -and keeps churning out the same book with various characters - amusing at first, boring now. Truth . . . If I see another one lying around next time I vacation I will read it because at the beach you don't really want to struggle with a book.

Blue Diary
by Alice Hoffman was a bit less predictable and much darker. Hoffman weaves a story of past deceit, secrets, forgiveness, and unwillingness to forgive. She asks the question, is past behavior more important? Or present behavior? Even if the past is particularly damning? This book really made me think about trust and how easy it is to remake yourself if you so choose.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I'm back!

Thursday morning storms rolled in coloring the water and sky varying shades of blue and green. Every time I looked up the colors mutated a bit creating a thrilling show of color and light. On this particular day, it took a long time for the storm to arrive creating an angry Gulf and sky. The children and I stayed in most of Thursday and enjoyed the view, books, Scrabble (my favorite game), and the company of my mother - a true vacation day. My mother is a weather buff and she showed the children clouds that might form a water spout. We watched for hours and finally, the rain and lightening moved inland.

Early the next morning we saw a shrimp boat in the fog trawling for our dinner. The fog burned off and the children and I played on the beach most of the day. We caught a few crabs and bait fish. The fun was in the hunt. We let them go and caught some more. Princess kept trying to "rescue" me. In other words, she kept pushing me under in her attempts at life saving. I think I drank a gallon of salt water as I laughed in the waves. My son has a new self assuredness that draws him further from the shore. I watch, ever cautious, but let him explore his new strength and bravery.

The wind and the waves escalate. When my husband takes the children fishing and swimming the next morning they can barely stand in the surf. The wind destroys the beach tent and the flag, but provides a wonderful opportunity for us to watch something new. A couple of young adults had huge kites that they used to pull themselves across the surf and across the sand - way cool! They didn't last long. I can imagine wrestling those big kites in such a wind would be exhausting.

Last time I visited the beach, I lamented the lack of sea oats and sea turtle nests. Both were seen this visit. There are no sea oats on the beach, but behind the house and on some of the remaining dunes toward the wildlife refuge beach the oats look normal. There were a few sea turtle nests. I didn't take a picture because once they are marked they look just awful cloaked in neon orange plastic tape. I know that the neon tape is a necessary evil. The tape helps keep unsuspecting visitors from stepping in the wrong place and helps the Save-the-Turtle group check the nests and keep incubation counts. One of my mom's friends helped a distressed Mama turtle this year. I will see if I can get permission to print the story.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Short Break

I should be ZILLAing my bathroom floors, but I've got my corn, tomatoes, and plums done for a few days so the children and I are going to take a short break. I am not even taking a computer, so I won't be able to post. I'll update when we get back if I am not drowning in tomatoes and cucumbers.

In the Pink

We only got a few sprinkles though people just down the road got a short shower and Natalie and my sisters got a decent rain. The sprinkles freshened my pink!

Even though I know that I planted assorted color zinnia seeds I am having a very pink year. I'm not complaining. I like pink and my daughter is beside herself with delight. She thinks I planted pink just for her. There were a few yellow and orange early in the season, but now I have a completely pink bed - maybe the pink ones prefer hot dry weather.

The zinnias are not the only pink! Look at the old crepe myrtle on the back patio. The blooms are a garish display. I am reminded of a particular 50ish woman in town - platinum blonde huge hair, sparkle high heel slides, generous shadow and liner for the eyes, clothes just a bit too fitted for daylight hours, the killer walk and talk. Like the woman, my crepe myrtle is just a bit too dressed for her patio party, but oh so perfect!

Who said the South was demure?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th!

We enjoyed our 4th. My son, aka The Pink Panther, went to a fireworks show and spent the night with a friend, another first for him. I retrieved him right before lunch. My husband took them swimming and to get fireworks late in the afternoon. We have watched the show. Now I am going to sit on my festively decorated porch (we leave the lights up year round and turn them on around Christmas, the 4th, during The Fair, and any other time we feel colorful) and wait for the rain. Natalie said it was coming! I hope she's right. Now, that would be a wonderful present.

The Air Conditioner

My husband installed the air conditioner, a window unit, a few weeks ago. When we were rehabbing the house we considered installing central air and heat, but decided that it would detract more than it would add. There would have been too many visible changes to the house. We would have had to have two separate systems with two separate boxes outside since we have the dog trot running through the middle of the house. We decided to give it a try without even though July and August temperatures are typically in the 90's and many times hovering around 100. We believed in our dog trot house.

Last year we made it until July without the air conditioner. This year it was installed earlier. Some days we need it, especially if I am cooking or canning for long periods of time, but mostly it gets turned on because it is there. Though I,too, am guilty of turning that switch, I like the feel of the house better without the air conditioner. When the air is on the doors and windows are closed. The hum and rattle of the unit is the only thing you can hear. I miss listening to the bird songs change with the progression of the day. I miss the temperature change in the night. I miss the night sounds. And I miss the breeze blowing through the dog trot. I feel isolated from the things that make living in this house so special. OK, I don't miss the skunk.

As the temperatures rise this July and August, the air conditioner will hum and rattle each afternoon and night giving my family a needed haven from the sweltering heat and humidity. I, too, will come in from the garden and go right to the vent and capture as much of the cold air as I can. But, I will miss my house.

Monday, July 03, 2006

He got me AGAIN!

I should not have laughed when my son laced my play lists with the Bee Gees. Since I thought the Bee Gees were so amusing, every playlist I have created now includes the Pink Panther theme song. He was so proud of himself. Where will these pranks stop?!

I tried not to laugh this time. In fact, I tried to pretend that the Pink Panther theme song belongs on the same play list as BeauSoleil Cajunization, but he caught me laughing. I, then, tried to be stern, but my twitching mouth corners and smiling eyes were a give away.

Any guesses when the Pink Panther will strike again? Leave no playlist unguarded.

Slinging in the Kitchen

Here is a picture of my memorial Julia and Martha kitchen. This wasn't taken today, but you can visualize me toiling away when I tell my story. Today, I have been super productive. I took another afternoon for myself yesterday. I just needed it. This morning I woke feeling like a million dollars and started working in the kitchen with amazing efficiency. If I ever get started, I am a multi-tasking maniac. My sister says I start slinging, which doesn't necessarily sound positive, but in reality means I am getting much accomplished quickly, though not necessarily neatly.

I started with the bread, so it could be rising while I did other things. Then I began sterilizing jars. I took down the jelly bag and measured the plum juice and started simmering it. With the jelly bag down, I was able to start the water boiling so I could dip the tomatoes to easily remove the skin. I, then, kneaded the bread and put it in a pan for the second rising. By this time the jelly was ready to jar. After getting the jelly in the jars, I preheated the oven, then chopped five cups of onion, went to the garden to gather basil and oregano, changed a load of clothes, and checked email and blogs. Next, I put the bread in the oven and set the timer. I always set the timer when I am slinging in the kitchen. This way, I don't forget important things like taking the bread out of the oven before I smell smoke. I blanched, peeled and seeded the tomatoes while sauteing the onions for the sauce. Once the onions were ready I threw the 10 pounds of tomatoes into the pot along with the basil, oregano, garlic and other things. I took the bread from the oven. Then, I had a few hours of waiting time in which I folded clothes, answered more email, moved the water hose, picked some more tomatoes, cleaned the kitchen including scraping the tomato sauce and jelly off the floor, and made breakfast for the children.

Now, THE SAUCE is finished. My mother, my sisters and my family call this tomato sauce, THE SAUCE (with voice inflection) because I, usually with the help of my sisters, "put up" lots of it and then use it all winter long for emergency meals. It makes everything taste like you spent hours in the kitchen. I use it as a pizza sauce, pasta sauce, on stuffed peppers, on meatloaf, etc. I also give it to family who have emergencies so it has established quite the reputation - the ultimate 30 minute meal.

Since I am on a roll, I think I will clean that wax I have been storing in bowls all over my kitchen. I would love to have clean kitchen counters. In fact, I would love to see my counter tops and table - always difficult for me, but nearly impossible during harvest season.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Kite Runner

Yesterday, I was finally able to read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This novel was published three years ago to much acclaim and became a NYT Best Seller. Unfortunately, there were other books that also received the same accolades and I chose to read them. Then, my niece who is a fashionable college student recommended the book at Easter, so I put it back on my list because I want to be hip and literate. Last week, I saw the book at Mother's house. My sister loaned it to her. Since Momma was reading something else, I took it home for a few days.

After finally getting my hands on the book, I opened it yesterday afternoon and finished it at 1:40 a.m. I am weird that way. With a first reading, I have to consume the entire book in one sitting or as close to one sitting as possible with children, work, and farm.

While a good read, much of the plot of The Kite Runner was incredibly predictable. I do like the imagery and symbolism of the kites - the fragile friendship between a wealthy boy and his servant - that floats, dives, and cuts through the book. The language is simple - some critics say stark - and while I enjoy straightforward prose sometimes it is not enough to capture the essence of the truth. The Kite Runner tries to accomplish too much in one short novel leaving some areas sparse. In this one novel, Hosseini tries to create:
  • A bildungsroman
  • A history of the strife in Afghanistan and the atrocities of invasion
  • A expose on the struggles of immigrant families living below their social and educational status in a new country.
  • An explanation of why the Afghan people initially embraced the Taliban.
  • A story of prejudice, jealousy, honor, tradition, and religion
I do not believe he succeeds. The book is too predictable to be a powerful bildungrsoman or a great story. The history is patchy at best. I know I am going against popular and paid critics, but I just don't think the novel would have been popular if Americans were not curious about the Middle Eastern culture that so recently intruded into the relative comfort of everyday life here. I honestly believe Hosseini or his editors worked in the Taliban bit as an afterthought to cash in on post 9/11 curiosity of the organization. It wasn't necessary in the literary sense. Amir and his father fled to America, Afghanistan was devastated, and children were orphaned long before the Taliban arrived.

I enjoyed the struggle of Amir to find his place within the household of his father. His struggle with jealousy, his desire to please his father, and search for his father's traits within himself are a universal story. I was also moved by the insights into immigrant life - the sacrifices made.

All that being said, if you are curious about Middle Eastern life - the importance of religion, tradition, and day to day struggles - The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz is a better choice. Palace Walk, the first book in the trilogy is especially good. The language and details are richer providing a clearer picture of a family cloistered behind religious law. These books were published in English in 1990, so are not as recent a publication as The Kite Runner but they provide detail of life behind a veil.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Saturday Harvest!

I love Saturdays. I feel a freedom from work obligations that allows me to enjoy, without guilt, the bounty of my garden, reading to my children, taking a leisurely walk, and my special reading time. My husband is fishing in the Gulf so today won't be as free as other Saturdays, but the Saturday sense of calm reigns. There are no phones ringing and no deadlines.

I get to celebrate the contents of my garden basket - loads of tomatoes, one Italian zucchini so flavorful you forget all of the bad zucchini jokes, and the first two pickling cucumbers. Obviously, I have had a personal relationship with the water hose since our weather has not aided in this bounty.

I get to enjoy the zinnias I picked while they were still fresh. I took a walk in the cool of the morning, making tracks in the grass my feet and pants legs soaked from the heavy dew. I got to hear the waking bird songs and watch the sun peep over the hill. I snuggled and read to the children, then made biscuits for breakfast.

This afternoon I will read to myself and rest - and I won't feel guilty at all. Saturdays are a much needed respite in my frantic week - a much needed harvest of time to be my best self.