Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's Like I Never Stopped

Yesterday was my first day of classes for fall semester. What a rush it is to be on a college campus! Thousands of students, of every age, race, and walk of life. Lines of people everywhere (that part isn't my favorite.) At the end of last semester I was so burned out, having taken an entire year of Anatomy and Physiology, and some other classes. My brain was fried and the thought of going back was so depressing to me. It takes so much mental energy for me, and every time I thought about the semester being almost here, I wanted to cry and run. But, it turns out, I just needed a break. And now, after having the summer off, I feel ready to do it again. I'm even excited because I have interesting classes in new areas. No more cells, tissues, muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels, AAAAAAGH!

This semester I'm taking Microbiology (with lab), Political Science, and Lifespan Psychology. I've never taken three classes at once before, usually just two, but this semester marks an important milestone for me: I finish up the prerequisites for application into the Nursing program. In January I can apply! It's exhilarating to realize that the first step in this journey is within reach!

Yesterday I sat in the Micro lab and the professor handed out the syllabi. I should get used to this part, but I haven't yet. Reading the syllabus always gives me anxiety. Several pages, stapled together, detailing course objectives, assignment schedules, and exam dates. Unfamiliar vocabulary that I will be expected to understand and "demonstrate mastery of." In every class, I think to myself, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to die. I can never do this." And yet, somehow I get through. In several weeks, I'm sure, gram staining bacteria will be old hat. At least, let's hope so.

As a preview to our studies, yesterday we started bacterial cultures on any two items of our choosing, with the point being to become aware of just how covered in bacteria every single thing in life really is. We took a test tube containing nutrient broth and swabbed whatever we wanted and inserted the swab into the broth to see what grows. I swabbed my cell phone, as if I really want to know. Then we took a petri dish with nutrient agar and again, wiped whatever we wanted to test on the agar to see what grows. I swirled a penny around. We'll see in a few days, and then we'll learn to identify whatever colonies appear.

(Don't look now, Jenna, but you just used "nutrient broth" and "nutrient agar" in sentences!)

Here we go!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Parenting Teens

I'm giving up.

Control, that is. Or, at least a lot of it. With my teenagers. I'm not letting go of them--no way! They are still children in the sense that they are not quite ready to take on life all by themselves and need my care and supervision, but I am learning (painfully!) to give more of their life decisions over to them. And then, I am watching, fascinated, by what happens before my eyes.

This was a summer of learning for me. I was being schooled by my Heavenly Father, the best teacher, and the best parent that I know of. The learning began, as most true education does, with a question. A longing, yearning question in my soul about one of my children, whom I have felt deep concern over. And because I had asked, and because I was ready to learn, I was given the answer.

And then I wished I hadn't been. Sometimes the truth is so painful, and so convicting. But mercifully, I was given the information that I needed to help understand the heart of this beloved child. This child of mine, who has my eyes and my freckles, but who also has a completely different way of looking at the world. This child of mine who was making decisions that were dangerous and detrimental, all in an attempt to break free and stand alone.

But who really wants to be alone, right? We all want the same thing: to be heard, understood, and validated. Easier said than done. There is a certain level of fear involved when a mother raises a child and then witnesses the child choosing differently than what she had chosen for her child. Kind of hard to not say, "that's wrong"--even with a tone of voice or look of the eye. Unfortunately for mothers, kids are real keen on tones of voice and looks of the eye. It's even like they have supersonic powers of observation for those very things and once they catch them, they grab onto them like trophies and run straight ahead, smack dab into the wall of her will and wishes.

The good thing is, they still get bruised with the impact, and bruises come faster from a full-bodied, full speed ahead collision, than they do with Mom in between them and the wall while they just kick against it around her. Does that make any sense?

Here's what I have learned this summer:

1. What control I can give away, I should. Teens like to feel empowered. For example, I did away with bedtimes for my teens. They still have curfews for being out, talking on the phone, and being on the computer, but they can choose when they go to sleep. The conditions are, they still have to be up and ready for Seminary on school days and church on Sundays. If they want to stay up till midnight, more power to them in getting through the next day. The thing is, when they have the option, they end up choosing going to bed at a reasonable hour, since they're the ones that have to pay the next morning.

2. I can express my feelings or opinion, but ultimately leave the decision up to the child, as long as it doesn't put the child at risk or go against a clearly set boundary. For example, "I'm surprised you enjoy hanging around with that person. Usually you've always chosen friends with better standards." Funny how when they know how I feel, without the element of control, ("You may not hang out with him.") they actually consider my perspective.

3. Listen, listen, listen. And then validate. Even if you don't agree. Sometimes all I can muster is, "That's too bad," or "I see." Other times, when my hot buttons are being pushed (as they frequently are) I can say, "Well, everyone has his agency."

4. Get into your child's life. Get into his/her face. And then sit and wait for what they let you in on. In other words, show interest and be available, be present. Don't interrogate them, just offer your attention and concern. You'll be surprised what they'll open up to you about when they feel you genuinely interested in them.

5. Set clear boundaries for your home. A child can have lots of individuality and freedom of thought and choice, but certain rules cannot be broken, and if they are, you better be prepared to be all up in their faces with the consequences, without emotion. Except love, of course. In all things, love. This has been a tough one this summer. Some very difficult consequences had to be executed, but because they were given in a spirit of complete love and compassion, bridges were built instead of burned.

6. God makes the best parenting partner. He knows and loves our children even more than we do, because they are His children first. There is an incredible power given to a praying parent for her child, enlightenment that would otherwise not come. I have witnessed that in a powerful way. Pray, pray, pray for your children. It works.

7. Get out of the way of God working in the lives of your children. Sometimes what I see before my eyes in my children's attitudes or behavior brings sorrow to my heart, but the more I try to guilt or manipulate, the more they push against me. I can have great faith in the promises of God concerning my children because I have done my part as a parent. I have taught my children right from wrong, and I will keep on teaching them. I will set a proper example before them, and I will not let fear of this moment destroy my faith in His plan for each of them. If I focus on love and acceptance, I can back off the details and trust that God is working on their hearts and will make himself known to them in His way, and in His time.

8. Teach your children your family's values over and over and over. If they don't know how you feel deep in their bones, they will follow what everyone else is doing. They may anyway, but when they have a solid foundation of family values that has been instilled in them, their "rebellion" will usually be short-lived. Never assume that your kids just "know" right from wrong. Especially in the teen years "right" gets confused with "the norm", and if everyone else is doing something, it doesn't seem as wrong anymore---unless you keep telling them that it is. We have many, many Family Home Evening lessons about sex, pornography, drinking and drugs, more sex, and this last week, "Sexting". They need to hear everything from you first. (By the way, for an excellent post about sexting---I even read the entire thing to my kids---go here.) You better believe that even the most horrifying things are happening all around your kids.

9. Kids care about how you feel, and how you feel about them. They really do want to please us, they just want to do it on their terms. This one is my latest case study. I have one child who loves to say shocking, rude, and completely inappropriate things just to get a reaction out of me. Sometimes he pushes the limit way too far and I have to cut him off sternly right then and there. Other times, I am so disgusted and disappointed by the things that go through his mind and that come out of his mouth that I just look him in the eye, so that he knows I see him, and then I turn and walk away, rather than lecture him (which really never makes a difference anyway.) It's always curious to me how when I do that, when I walk away, he'll never come and apologize or address the issue, but he'll find a gazillion other ways or excuses to come see me or talk to me or be around me to try to regain my good graces. And when he is around me, even in those circumstances, I always give him positive feedback for whatever positive thing he is doing. He could have just been the biggest jerk, but if I walk away, within 5 minutes he's knocking at my door to show me a picture he drew, or to ask my opinion about something, or to share some news with me. And though I can see right through it, I always welcome his positive efforts.

10. Have enough going on in your own life that you don't have to be swept along by the tide of teenage volatility. Sometimes they make you so proud, sometimes they make you want to drive off a cliff. Sometimes you feel like the best parent around, other times a dismal failure. Let them ride the wave, under the foundation you've provided for them. Be available for them, but have your own life too, even for your sanity's sake. It's all going to work out in the end. Some things that are going on in their lives, or the lives of their friends you don't really need to know. (Sometimes my kids open up way too much for me. Nice, I guess, but do I really need to worry about that too?) Knowing will only add to your anxiety and worry--and maybe even tempt you to jump in and start controlling again.

And we're trying to give that up, right?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Something My Mom Can Eat

My mom is feeling short of options. She's diabetic and has gotten so good at watching and managing her sugars, but now she's got a new kink in her chain: gluten intolerance. This has made finding suitable meals quite tricky for her. I think about her often, as I'm planning dinners for my family, going through recipes. "Nope, Mom couldn't eat this. Nope, not this either." And then, on the cover of my Cooking Light magazine I saw these deliciously fresh Chicken and Guacamole Tostadas and thought to myself, "Hey! Mom could eat this!"

First I made some fresh guacamole. Mash one ripe, peeled avocado in a small bowl. (I put mine in the food processor though.) Stir in 2 TBS. of tomato, 1 TBS. onion, minced, 1 TBS. lime juice, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1 small garlic clove, minced.

Then, I made some fresh pico. Combine 1 cup of diced tomato (I used a green tomato and a red tomato, so there's extra green in mine, but it's all tomato.), 2 TBS. diced onion, 1 TBS. lime juice, 1/4 tsp. slat, 1 TBS. chopped fresh cilantro, and 1 TBS. minced seeded jalapeno. Toss well.

For the chicken, I just bought a rotisserie chicken and took all the meat off. You need about 2 cups of shredded chicken. To the chicken, add 1 TBS. lime juice and 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika and toss well to combine.

You can use premade tostada shells, but I just fried my own corn tortillas. Spread about 1 TBS. of guacamole on each shell, top each with 1/4 cup shredded chicken mixture, and add 2 TBS. of the salsa. I sprinkled just a touch of Monterey Jack cheese on the top and served black beans on the side. A serving is two tostadas. (You'll notice Dylan has three.)

So very, very yummy.

Recipe list, all together:

1 ripe peeled avocado
1 cup plus 2 TBS. finely chopped tomato, divided
3 TBS. minced fresh onion, divided
3 TBS. fresh lime juice, divided
1/2 tsp. salt, divided
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 TBS. chopped fresh cilantro
1 TBS. minced seeded jalapeno pepper
2 cups shredded, skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
8 (6 inch) corn tostada shells

Friday, August 20, 2010

Little Rat

Conor will never work for the C.I.A., that's for sure.

Yesterday was Adam's birthday. I was late getting his gifts together, and had only done part of the shopping. Yesterday morning I assembled a huge gift bag full of all his favorite junk foods. (Adam loves junk food.) Sun Chips, Pop Tarts. Starburst, Skittles, on and on. Conor was watching a movie and only barely aware that I was doing anything. Or so I thought.

When Adam woke up and came into the room, we regaled him with a fairly decent rendition of "Happy Birthday," and then Conor said, "We got you chips! In the blue bag!" There went the Cool Ranch Doritos. Adam loved the inside knowledge and pried for more, but I jumped in with warnings to be silent.

When I had to take the boys to Ross, because Adam needed some new pants, Aiden and I lectured Conor the entire way:

"We never tell people what their presents are. It's fun to be surprised. We want them to open their presents and be so happy when they see what they got. Didn't you like it last week when you got to open up your presents and be surprised?"

"Yeah, I thought I was not getting a robot man mask but then I did get a robot man mask."

"See? That was fun!"

Over and over we explained it, pressing upon his young mind from every angle the importance of birthday secrecy.

We went into Ross and found two pairs of perfect pants, and on the way home, knowing full well that Adam would try to take advantage of Conor's weakness, we role-played. "If Daddy asks you what we got him, you just say, 'I don't know.' Let's practice. What did you guys buy for me?"

"I don't know."

"Perfect. What if he says, 'Did you buy me clothes?' What do you say?"

"I don't know."

"Yes! How about if he says, 'Did you buy me pants?'"

"I don't know."

We practiced every imaginable variation, and I felt reasonably sure we'd secured our witness.

I tossed a few more reminders out there throughout the afternoon, and I even heard him give his practiced line. "I don't know." The presents were wrapped. Dinner was eaten. Time for the unveiling. Conor brought the first gift to his dad, and stood close by. When the Cool Ranch Doritos came out, Conor jumped up and down. "See? I told you we got you blue chips!"

Adam unwrapped everything and was very grateful.

After I'd put Conor to bed for the night, Adam revealed that he hadn't really been surprised. (He is an actor, after all.) That afternoon, while I was teaching piano lessons downstairs and Conor was in his dad's office watching a movie, twiddling his blanket and sucking his thumb, suddenly he pulled his thumb out and blurted out in one breath, "We got you pants. Two pairs. One brown and one black." And back in went the thumb. He just couldn't take it. The secret was too much for him.

The little rat.

Ah, but little does he know. They weren't black, they were olive green. So that explains why Adam opened the second pair and said, "Oh, black pants! No, wait, they're green!"

Must. Increase. Birthday. Security.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Bloom is in There

I watched an excellent talk the other night given by Brad Wilcox about building self-esteem in children. He said something really interesting and I wrote it down to remind myself. He said that we would never complain that seeds are not flowers. We would never take the packet of seeds back to the store and point to the beautiful image on the seed packet and complain to the manager that these ugly brown things look nothing like the picture on the front.

We wouldn't do that because we recognize the potential that lies within each seed to become a beautiful flower. Instead, we would plant the seed in faith and we would nurture it until it blooms.

When we hold that seed inside our hand, we know the bloom is in there somewhere.

Studies show that one of the leading factors in a lot of self-destructive decisions that teens make is low self-esteem. I have found this to be true as I watch my children and the choices they make: the ones with healthy self-esteem have no problem going against the flow of their peers to make good choices, while the ones that struggle with self-esteem also struggle with peer pressure. Brad Wilcox gave some keys that we can do as parents to help our children increase their self-esteem. And you'll notice he never mentions buying certain clothes or shoes.

P raise (especially in private. Public praise tends to embarrass kids.)
A ccept
R espect
E ncourage
N otice
T ime
S ay (as in, give them a say about some decisions, and let them know that their say matters.)

These are things we can do, I can do. Sometimes we get discouraged with what we see before us in our children, and we think it's nothing like what we were hoping for. But think of that little tiny brown seed. If we gave up on it, not understanding how what we see before us could ever turn into a beautiful bloom, we'd miss the best part.

I'm definitely nurturing the bloom.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Some Family Movies

We have Family Movie Night most Friday nights. Choosing movies is often tricky because we have such a wide age-range of children, and the older kids crave something other than "kid movies" from time to time. We very, very rarely ever make it to the theater, but through the convenience and affordability of Netflix, we have still found some movies worth recommending for family viewing.

I didn't put The Blind Side on this list, but only because I'm sure most people have seen it. But if you haven't, don't rent it, buy it. It's that good.

Duma. Rated PG. This movie, by the director of Fly Away Home (another of my absolute favorites) takes place in South Africa and is about a boy named Xan and his parents, who find an abandoned cheetah cub and take it home to raise. They name him Duma, which is the Swahili word for 'cheetah'. An illness forces the family to move to an area where Duma and Xan don't fare well, and the decision is made to return Duma to the wild. It is a journey that Xan must make himself. Adventure for the boys, emotion for the girls. Feel-good all around.

Facing the Giants. Rated PG. I loved this movie so much I bought it, and I bought one for a friend as well. My boys loved it, which thrills me since it has such a great message. It is a movie with definite Christian themes. It is done by the same team that did Fireproof (a must-buy as well) and Flywheel (loved this one as well). Grant Taylor has been the high school football coach for six years, but has never led his team to the championship. After learning that he and his wife are facing infertility, he also discovers that a group of fathers are plotting to have him dismissed as head coach. He cries out to God in desperation and after receiving a message from an unexpected visitor, Grant tries to find a stronger purpose for his football team. So, so inspiring.

Henry Poole is Here. Rated PG. This is a kind of strange movie, and maybe not for young kids (because of Henry's drinking and they may just not be entertained as much), but my children (ages 10, 14, 16) really liked it. Henry Poole has purchased an old house that he doesn't intend to live in for very long because he's been told he only has six weeks left to live. He lives as a loner who binges on junk food and booze. But his neighbor, Esperanza, thinks that she sees the face of Jesus Christ in a water stain on the side of Henry's old house and it sets in motion a chain of unlikely miracles. It's a touching film, and the message is subtle.

The Young Victoria. Rated PG. There are so many things working for this film. It is beautiful, for one thing, and Emily Blunt is a magnificent Victoria. This film tells the story of Victoria, who has been raised as a lonely child growing up under strict rule, and then becomes a young queen who seeks to establish her authority over those who have been ruling in her stead while she is still young and inexperienced. She seeks counsel and friendship in Prince Albert, played by Rupurt Friend, and their romance blossoms. Victoria becomes the longest reigning queen in all of British history. This story will pull you in. I wanted it to never end.

Forever Strong. Rated PG-13. I know this one is rated PG-13, but I still let my 10 year old see it. I think the rating is because of the subject matter that fuels this true story. Rick is a star player on his dad's rugby team, but gets himself in trouble with his bad-boy partying which includes alcohol and drug use--and also the consequences of that behavior, like a drunk driving accident that lands him in reformatory. He is given the choice of going to jail or playing rugby for a man who is known not just for his championship teams, but for the men he makes of the boys who play for him. This is a great, great story.

Faith Like Potatoes. Rated PG. Not my favorite title, and it doesn't even make sense until the end, but the movie is really great and also based on a true story. This is a Christian-themed film again, but such an inspiring story that it's worth watching no matter what you believe. Real-life farmer, Angus Buchan, accepts Jesus Christ after a series of trials and then begins to experience miracles like putting out a raging wildfire and raising a woman who has been struck by lightning. The transformation in Angus from a man who is short-tempered with his Zulu farm workers and his wife, to a lay minister who ends up preaching peace in a huge stadium is a testament to the power of God in anyone's life.

The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry. Rated PG. My kids chose this one, and we all loved it. It is a Christian film about a 12 year old boy in 1970 who befriends an old man named Jonathan Sperry. Mr. Sperry, who has recently lost his wife in an automobile accident, asks if the boy will mow his lawn for him, and over time they develop a friendship. He has his friends meet Mr. Sperry, who soon has the boys bring their Bibles to his house so that he can teach them about his faith. The effect that has is remarkable and it shapes the lives of many who live in the neighborhood. This is also a true story, and the lesson of faith and forgiveness is very touching. It got me right up until the very end. Tears!

So, go watch a film, and let me know how you like it! And pass on any other recommendations you might have for me!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Harvest Monday

The beans are finally producing something worthwhile again! This zucchini is ginormous, but it was hidden under some zuke leaves and somehow it evaded my harvesting eye. The flavor is probably not the best since it's so large, but I will grate it up and freeze it for cake/muffins/pancakes. I got some more Black Krim tomatoes, which are large--they just look small next to that zucchini. And the first Amish Paste tomatoes are ready!

They are really large. I took a (terrible washed-out) shot of the Amish Paste (top) in comparison to the largest of the Romas (bottom) so you can see the size difference. I think I'll plant several more Amish Paste plants next year because they're so beefy. A lot more sauce for the buck.

And then, as I was blindly reaching around in the Roma plants for stragglers, I move a branch to see this: eyes looking at me. Not my favorite.

When I saw how long his back was, I thought it was a snake, but it's just a very large alligator lizard living in there. Probably feasting on all the spiders that live in the plants, which I allow to happily take up residence so that they can keep up on the insects and I never have to use insecticides. A whole cycle of life right in the Romas. But still, he makes me a little uncomfortable, so I sent my other pest control out on the job:

And maybe just for safety's sake, I'll turn the Roma harvesting over to the kids permanently.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Week in Review

For all intents and purposes, this was our last week of summer. Next week, the big kids start high school and Seminary. We tried to make the most of our waning summer days. On Monday, Lyndsay started Driver's Education. In California, Driver's Ed is not taught in schools, but it is required (along with 6 hours of Behind the Wheel Training) by law in order to obtain a driver's permit, and then license. The classes are quite expensive, so though she was technically old enough 6 months ago to get her permit, we only just now got to it. Rather than attend class for 3 hours every day after school for two weeks, we opted for the crash-and-burn alternative. (My term.) All day long for three days straight, though technically at your own pace.

On Monday night, after her first long day of class (boring!) we took all the kids (minus Caitlin who couldn't come) to a friend's house to swim for Family Home Evening. I brought cookies for a treat, which I couldn't eat until Thursday because I was finishing up a self-imposed week without sugar.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Lyns went back to Driver's Ed. But she ended up finishing the 30 hour class in just under 15 hours, passed the test and got her certificate. I took her immediately to the DMV and dropped her off there to wait in the infamous lines to take her CA written exam to get her permit. I dropped her off because I had piano lessons to teach back at home, and knew this might be our only window of time to get this done. She successfully passed her written test and now is the proud owner of a CA driver's permit. We went out on our first drive that afternoon, to run an errand, and she did great.

On Thursday we did Back-to-School shopping. And on Friday, we celebrated Conor's 4th birthday. The cake makes it an all-day affair, with Mom kind of grumpy till it's finished, but thank goodness for Lyndsay, who pulls me through.

Conor wanted a farm cake for his birthday. Behold, the Farm Cake:

When Adam's kids got here, we took everyone to the park at Hansen Dam for a picnic dinner (which Lyndsay prepared most of while I finished sculpting chubby animals out of fondant.) Chicken pasta salad, watermelon, grapes, and rolls.

Then it was kite flying time. I'd bought kites for the kids for Easter, which ended up not fitting in their baskets, so I'd just left them put away. I figured this was a great time to get them out and try them out, and the wind was perfect!

Here's Conor, running with his kite flying high in the air.

See it way up there? See his little legs? So cute!

Here's Aiden flying his owl kite.

Then the bigger boys had a baseball catch.

And Conor took a small break. Conor without a nap makes for a very tired Conor around 6pm.

Then the kids walked down to the lake to see the ducks and herons while Adam and I played SkipBo and battled ants. Every picnic has to have ants!

Then we packed back into the van and headed for home for cake and presents. Aiden is squished over there next to Sean.

A picture with my birthday boy.

And he blows out the candles.

Genuine excitement over receiving all things Batman. And a coveted Iron Man mask.

And an "Oh, thank you, Mommy!"

The kids played till bedtime, and then Mommy hit the sack. I took in the events of the day, thinking about my baby being 4. I remembered how I used to weep every time Lyndsay or Dylan had a birthday, looking back nostalgically at old pictures of them growing up before my eyes. And I realized that I still feel all that nostalgia and bittersweet Mommy pain.

But now, I'm just too tired to cry.

It's been a good week.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Taking His Bite out of Life

*photos courtesy of Savant Studios

Members of my my family might swear that the above picture is my youngest brother, Jonah, as a child. It took me by surprise to see it. But no, that's Conor, on the 4th of July, tackling his celebratory cheeseburger with a little help from his dad. Doin' it like a big boy, something that lately, he's decided he wants to be very much. For the last month, I've asked him if he wants to turn four and he says "yes!" with all the energy of his little heart. (which is a lot.) I would tell him, "Well, if you want to have a birthday and turn 4, then you need to be a good listening boy, because 4 is big, and Big Boys are good listening boys." He's been trying his hardest. And hoping that if he makes it, there will be presents, preferably Batman presents and an Iron Man mask waiting for him. (I think he'll be pleasantly surprised.)

Last night, after his bath, after we brushed his teeth, after jammies and combed hair, after reading (again) his latest issue of National Geographic Little Kids, and saying his bedtime prayer, he climbed into his bed and I tucked him in just the way he likes. Under his "cozy blanket", the one with the worn out corner that the twiddles while he sucks his thumb, with his feet burritoed and tucked in at the other end. I laid my head on his tummy and told him the good news (or bad, depending on which side of the coin you're on. Mothers understand the pain of little ones growing up.)

"This is the last night that you'll be 3," I said nostalgically.

"It is?" he wondered.

"Yep. Tomorrow you will be 4."

"Then I will be a big boy!"

"That's right," I said. "You were a really good three-year-old, Conor. I'll miss you being three. Thank you for being three."

"You're welcome," he said, even with his thumb in his mouth. And then, "Wait, wait. How old are babies?"


And that caught him off-guard. "But zero is nothing!" He countered. "Babies aren't nothing!"
I giggled at his logic.

"Thank you for being my baby."

"You're welcome," again through his thumb.

"You're going to be a great four-year-old."

"Yep. I suuuuuure am!"

"You're a very important boy, Conor," I whispered in his ear, as I do every night. "A very important boy."

And then I turned on his music, turned off his light, and closed the door for the night.

Today my boy is 4. The real Big Boy leagues. Happy birthday, Conor James!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Harvest Monday

The tomatoes are really doing their thing out back and it's about to be overwhelming. I just made tomato sauce last week with all of the ripe Romas, and this morning I harvested many, many more pounds. Guess what I'll be doing this week?

Also, the first Black Krims are coming ripe, and my first Spear's Tennessee Greens, which are a lovely neon green color. We have a few zucchini, which I'll probably grate and freeze, and a few straggly green beans, which I'll blanch and add to the freezer bag. No waste!

We've had two Ambrosia cantaloupes so far, and if they are not the most divine thing I've ever tasted! There are several more just about ripe, and others in smaller stages. I only planted four plants, so I'm interested to see how many total melons that will bring us.

And surprise, surprise! Today I spied the first baby watermelon! This is my first year ever planting melons, so I'm very excited. The pumpkins are taking off too!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

From Garden to Plate

This week the bigger kids are away. Dylan is hiking Havasupai at the Grand Canyon and Lyndsay is at Girls Camp. This gives me some wonderful and rare time to spend with just Aiden and Conor. It's a treat to spend one-on-one time with Aiden especially, and I wanted to include him in some of the projects I did so that we could have time just to be together. He had asked if we could have spaghetti for dinner, and so I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn how to make homemade spaghetti sauce together. Now, I always make my own sauce, but I usually do that with canned crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, so this time I wanted us to really make homemade sauce, starting with about six pounds of Roma tomatoes that we'd harvested from the garden. Making sauce was the goal when I planted these Romas, but I'd never done it before. However, taking inspiration from my sister Hannah, Aiden and I took the plunge.

First things first. I washed the tomatoes in batches. Then I plunged them in boiling water for 30 seconds or so, and then put them directly into a bowl of ice water. Aiden took them from the ice water and peeled their skins off.

He was a great tomato skinner. But he hated the smell. The smell? I didn't notice.

Once all the tomatoes were peeled, we cored and seeded them, removing as much of the water as possible from within.

Then all the tomato flesh went into the blender. It was very pink.

Meanwhile, I diced half and onion and about 4 cloves of garlic and sauteed them in olive oil.

We poured in our tomato sauce/puree. It was much lighter pink at this stage than the picture reveals, and it was very thin. Way too watery for sauce.

But after several hours on low heat (uncovered) it cooked down and became deep red and thick. And let me tell you how amazing the house smelled.

Lo and behold, I didn't have spaghetti noodles in the cupboard, so we cooked penne noodles instead and decided to turn it into goulash. I browned some ground turkey and added that to the sauce with some sharp cheddar and the cooked noodles. So yummy.

So, I can't be completely sure, but I think that's how it's done. It was wonderful to have nothing to do that day but make sauce for dinner that night, and it felt so satisfying to turn part of our harvest into dinner. Now we know just how to do it so that we can make lots of sauce and freeze it for homegrown tomato goodness throughout the winter months!

And that Aiden, what a capable boy he is turning out to be!