Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's what's for dinner

I bet you thought I wasn't really doing the Pin of the Week anymore. But, that's just because I haven't done one in, like, a month. (Really, it's only been three weeks, so there!) So, without further ado (and snark), I give you the Pin of the Week:

Rotisserie-like chicken in the crockpot solves the what-to-have-for-dinner dilemma.
Season it however you want. Throw it in completely frozen if you need to.
So very delicious. And, easy. And a huge hit with even the pickiest among us. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It's just a season

Tonight, when Weston came out of church, he was talking about one of his buddies there who plays football for Marble Falls, "just like me, but for the varsity." (In this case "varsity" refers to an older team of pre-junior high aged kids. Weston's age group is called "Freshmen," so you can get an idea of what he meant.)  In the course of the story about his friend, Weston told me he "just couldn't wait for that level that's right after that, what do you call it?"

"Junior High?" I answered, unsure of exactly what he meant.

"Yes. That's it. I'm excited about that."

So, then I found myself right smack in the middle of a conversation I have known was coming, and I put on my kid gloves in order to broach the subject as gently as possible. I explained to him that if we continued to homeschool ("which we might not do") there weren't really too many opportunities to play football after about sixth grade, but, for sure, once he got into high school. I told him that if football was important to him that we should definitely talk about this some more and explore our options; that Dad and I weren't saying he had to do homeschool indefinitely, if he wasn't happy with it or if he wanted to play sports; that other sports were a bit easier for homeschoolers to play longer term, etc.

He let me go on for a little while before he stopped me and said, "Well, if I had to choose between football and homeschool, I'd definitely choose homeschool." I could not have been more shocked if he had sprouted a horn on his head and wings on his back, or made his next statement: "I mean, football is just a season, but homeschool is forever."

I just about fell over from the eloquence and thoughtfulness of this statement, coming from my all-ball, sports-loving boy, who I will admit sometimes seems oblivious to a deeper meaning to life than who won the game. They were words this weary homeschool mama needed at the end of a hard day at the schoolhouse.

Then, he followed that statement up with another: "Besides, I'd like to give soccer a try."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why are girls mean? And other hard questions.

Sweet Ruth,

Today you cried through Math class. And, finally, I figured out that it had to be more than not understanding scientific notation or trying to figure out how to solve for x, so I asked what was really going on. You then preceded to break my heart in a way I didn't think was possible now that my own pre-teen days are over.

"Why are girls mean?" you asked.

And, this is the part that broke my heart: "I don't know, " I replied, "but I know they are."

"Well, why all of a sudden do boys and girls seem to have to be totally separate? Why is it not cool to hang out with boys I've been friends with forever?"

Again, "I don't know."

Sweet girl, I wish with all my heart that I could hide you and protect you from all the hurts, both real and imagined, self-inflicted and outwardly imposed, that are likely to afflict you in the next few years. I remember all too well the real pain and heartbreak of mean girls and awkward relationships with boys. It's a very hard time of life. Maybe the hardest.

This is a time when boys and girls are trying to become men and women. You are all trying on different personalities and ideas to see what you like, to see what fits, and to determine which ones you want to take on for good. And, you're trying to do that through the filter of fluctuating hormones and a host of insecurities. Like I said, it's extremely difficult.

I wish I had clear, easy answers for you, but I don't. What I can promise you is that I'm here. And, I love you. And, more than likely, you will survive this time in your life and be better for it. You just keep being amazing, perfect you (as if you could do otherwise)!

All my love,
Mom

Monday, January 27, 2014

A day at the dentist

Five of us went to the dentist today. This is always a super-fun time. Oh, and this was the family's first visit to this particular dentist office.

We started at 8:30, with Clay's first-ever visit. He was thrilled to sit in that funky chair with all the interesting maneuvers, and the hygienist showed him every possible tool, and even let him handle all of them. His favorite was "Mr. Thirsty," the water sucking straw. He did fantastic with the cleaning and really had a good time.


Max was up next. He got to wear cool shades and got a wonderful report. He has twenty-one teeth, but we could see from the x-rays that it won't be long before some of them start to come out.



By the end of Max's appointment, Clay was restless and ready to go, so it worked out well that we had a break before the next round of appointments. The three of us came home for a brief period before returning to the office, this time with the two oldest kids in tow.

The two littles stayed in the van, watching a DVD, while I took the two older kids inside for their simultaneous appointments. The next hour found me running from exam room to van to other exam room. And, on one of my visits to the van, I found that Clay had released himself from his seat and was giddily rolling the windows up and down. Upon opening the door to lock the windows, I noticed the overpowering stench wafting up from the backseat. Sure enough, Clay had pooped in his pants (on an underwear day). And, AND, I had neglected to relocate the diaper bag back to the van after taking it out over the weekend. I was utterly unequipped to take care of the situation. My own dental appointment was coming up, so I called in reinforcements. Jeff came and saved the day, and took the two little boys home for safekeeping.

Meanwhile back in the office, Weston also donned the shades and got an excellent report. He had to have his spacer removed and replaced, which was a little painful, but he was a trooper and did great.



Ruth had a couple of problem areas and will have to go back in for sealants and a filling. (Ruth was more on her own than the others, so I didn't get a picture of her. I suspect she wouldn't have allowed that anyway, though.)

By the end of my appointment, I was a bit cranky from having been there all day, from having had my mouth messed with, and from having received a little bit of bad news about some crumbly old fillings, which will have to be replaced (at a significant cost). So, I was super-thrilled when I handed our Health Savings debit card to the business manager and she told me it wasn't working. This required me to call the bank, and to be placed on hold, and to talk to the always-helpful bank people--from the comfort of the dentist office. The first person I spoke to at the bank confirmed that the card wasn't working, as well it shouldn't, because there was a zero balance in the account. It's a brand new account that we just opened a couple of weeks ago, so I was a bit shocked. After explaining this to the unhelpful lady on the phone, I was transferred to someone slightly more helpful, who was able to determine that we do have money in the account, we just can't use it (for another few days). Awesome.

The good news is we all survived and (most of us) don't have to do it again for another six months. Another positive was that we are all very happy with our new dentists and their staff. This was a good change for us.

Thankfully, the big kids and I were able to end the day by seeing the Tarzan musical Marble Falls High School was putting on. What an amazing show! It provided plenty of opportunities to show off our very clean smiles.








Sunday, January 26, 2014

Trying New Things

Jeff and I had the opportunity, thanks to Mimi and Grandpa, to slip over to Austin last night for a little overnight date. We wanted to try some new things, so we used our Starwood points to book a $530/night room at The W hotel downtown. Let me be clear that we did not and would not pay for the room with money! But, we had a ton of points saved up, and this room wasn't much more expensive point-wise than some "lesser" rooms in town. And, frankly, the hotel was nice, but we didn't really think the room was worth the price tag.

For entertainment last night, we went to see Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which we both really enjoyed. After the movie, we tried out a new-to-us restaurant called Corazon at Castle Hill. Every single thing we put in our mouths was absolutely delicious! From there, we headed over to the hotel, and after weaving our way through the rockin' labyrinth bar area, we found ourselves in the hotel's restaurant, Trace, where we enjoyed coffee and dessert. (The W is right next to the Moody Theater, which is the main venue for Austin City Limits, and the hotel has a very rockstar atmosphere).

This morning, we enjoyed breakfast at Trace, but without having to maneuver through the raucous bar crowd. After breakfast, we simply parked ourselves in front of one of the cozy lobby fireplaces and just whiled away the morning in kid-free conversation. Later, we walked over to Second Bar and Kitchen for some very delicious lunch.

Our last event before leaving Austin was an Improv class we have signed up for at The Hideout Theatre. We will attend a three-hour class once a week for six weeks. We have always loved Improv comedy, but the class isn't really so much about learning to be funny as it is learning how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and learning to roll with whatever is thrown at you. We heard about the class from a couple of Jeff's employees and thought it sounded like a good way to force ourselves out of our comfort zones and pull ourselves out of our shells. The class was fun, but exhausting. We're hoping that by the end of six weeks, we will be able to drop the exhausting part and just think of it as fun.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Icepocalypse 2014

As you know, it's been a brutal winter. We've had literally millimeters of ice and frost. And, even with Max's and my combined efforts in wrapping the pipes yesterday, they still froze over. So, another day without water. Yay! But in addition to the frozen pipes, we also had one break. So, when the water finally came back on because of my superior plumbing skills (I whacked the main pipe coming out of the well twice in frustration, after seeing that the piles of ice on the roof were melting off, and inadvertently dislodged a chunk of ice, which freed up the water supply!), we had to turn it right back off due to the geyser shooting out of the back of our house. I'm not going to lie, I was a bit of a bear today. It's just that I'm really, really bad at winter. (And, I seriously NEED my morning shower!) But thanks to my hubby and a Shark Bite coupling, we now have water flowing only in the appropriate places. And, fortunately, it will be full-blown spring on Sunday!

If you look closely, you can see what serious danger we're in.
I mean, people are killed by icicles all the time.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Frosty

Every couple of years or so, we have a MAJOR winter storm, which leaves the ground and other solid surfaces sparsely covered in the thinnest possible layer of white for a few minutes (or hours, if it's really severe). It's really grisly. We always feel so lucky if we survive (or remember to cover our pipes, which, thankfully, we did this time around!) Even the thinnest layer of frost demands that Texan children of all ages drop what they are doing and go make snowballs. After all, it's not likely to happen again for another couple of years.










Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Something Different

Let me preface this by saying I really hate pictures of myself!  And, I hate selfies even more. But, sometimes, for posterity's sake, a person has to document the changes. So, before I change my mind, here you go:


Aug. 2013 (a la naturale)

Nov. 2013 (a particularly good hair day)

Jan. 2014 (the new 'do)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Big Day

The big kids had their first basketball games of the season today. They also got to do some Quarter Midget Racing at a track in Austin. And, we had dinner at Chuck E. Cheese's. If that's not a big day, I don't know what is!

Playing a little defense

Taking a few practice shots
(which paid off big time, as he made 6 baskets during the game!)

Going in for a rebound

Photo Op after her 20 laps around the track

Getting wheeled out onto the track

The flagger trying to get out of wild-man Weston's way

Clay wasn't big enough for basketball or racing,
but he was just right for taking a ride with Bob at Chuck E. Cheese's

Thursday, January 16, 2014

As. You. Wish.

We pulled into the lube place for an oil change at a quarter 'til 5:00, not realizing they closed at 5:00. The attendant sweetly told me that they'd be happy to go ahead and get my oil changed and I could go ahead and pull forward. Once in the bay, I was greeted by Andy, a man who bore a striking resemblance to Wesley (Carey Elwes) from The Princess Bride, which happens to be my favorite movie of all time. Mercifully, he did not require me to unload the four children (the youngest of whom was sound asleep) and corral them in the waiting room, but told us we could stay put. The boys had a million questions about the process of changing the oil, and they were glued to the window to try to catch a peek at what was going on down in the pit. Meanwhile, Andy was going about his merry way, doing all the topside things. After a few minutes he came to check with me about something and noticed the boys' rapt attention. And then, he became a hero. He invited them to go down in the pit and see what was going on down there. I've never seen them move so quickly when exiting a vehicle! But, Andy (who I prefer to think of as Wesley) was almost as giddy as the boys. He was telling all his buddies that he was conducting a field trip. (And, remember this is all happening at closing time!) The boys (and Wesley/Andy) came back beaming. And, all I could think was "As. Yoooou. Wish."  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Souper-Duper

In the last week and a half, we have been on a major soup kick. We have had some delicious and very nutritious soups, which have mostly just been fresh ingredients chopped up or pureed and combined to make all kinds of fabulousness. In case anyone else out there is looking for something tasty and nutritious (not to mention easy) for these winter nights, here you go:

Tortilla Soup--This one didn't involve fresh ingredients, but it was tasty and super easy. It was really more of a pantry dump, which we had set out for the day we arrived home from our holiday travels, when we knew we wouldn't have a lot of time or inclination to do any major cooking projects. It contained canned chicken, canned corn, canned mushrooms, Rotel, canned black beans, tomato paste, canned tomatoes, chicken broth, salt and pepper. Top with cheese, sour cream, cilantro and crumbled tortilla chips, as desired.

Broccoli Soup--Cooked broccoli with salt and pepper, blended* up with some skim milk to make it creamier. 

Butternut Squash Soup--Roasted butternut squash, blended up with some skim milk and nutmeg.

Chicken and Dumplings--Get the recipe here. I used rotisserie chicken and frozen mixed veggies, rather than just carrots and peas. (Ok, this one doesn't really have fresh ingredients, either, but it was very yummy).

French Onion Soup--Sautéed onions and beef broth. That's it! Top with mozzarella cheese and croutons, if desired. 

Corn and Squash Soup-- 1 #10 can corn, 1 jar roasted red peppers, 4 medium onions, 12 small to medium yellow squash, 1 small can Rotel. Dice onion and squash into 8 qt. stockpot. Pour liquid from all cans into pot. Steam veggies until tender. Add remaining ingredients except 1 cup corn. Blend with stick blender. Add remaining corn and salt to taste. Approximately 32 one cup servings.

Turkey and Carrot Stew--Brown 4 lbs. turkey. Sauté 4 pounds diced carrots, 2 diced onions, 2 diced green bell peppers, 1 package mushrooms, and ½ c. minced garlic. Add 2 quarts of chicken broth to veggies. Add turkey and chopped cilantro and simmer on low for a couple of hours in a 8 qt. stock pot.

*Our preferred method for blending up soups is our KitchenAid immersion blender.  Another choice would be to transfer everything in small batches to your blender or food processor.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Party Pics

Remember these guys from a previous Angry Birds party?
They were a big hit at Max's party, as well. 

Angry Birds castle cake

Protectors of the fruit

Pigs reveal their treasure

Pinata time

Blowing out the candles

Party favors

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Six trips around the sun

Max, you turned six today! And, you were so excited to have your party on your actual birthday! It was an Angry Birds party and so much fun!

I'm not really sure how you came to be six, since you were just two not so very long ago. But, six you are. It's been an amazing year, and I've had fun being a part of it!

You got to go on two really big vacations this year, as well as several small weekend trips. The first big trip was a Caribbean cruise, which we left on the day after you turned five. You loved the water park and the towel animals, but you weren't crazy about the deep water snorkeling. Our other big trip was a visit to Disney World. You loved it (aside from being lost for a few very long minutes on one of the days), and you insisted on having a picture taken that looked like you were holding the Epcot Center on your shoulders. You are always up for an adventure, and you make all of ours more fun!

You got to play flag football in the fall. Your favorite part was the running! You aren't sure if you want to play again next year, as you want to keep your options open for other sports you might like to try. The basketball season just started, and you are excited about playing that. You also worked hard on swimming this year and were finally able to swim the width of a pool by yourself last month at a hotel. And, you got to run in a one-mile race for kids, which you did very well at. You have a turbo speed you can turn on when you choose that is a whole other level of fast!

In school, you've finished your first (of two) 1st grade Math book and completed many reading posters. You have particularly enjoyed reading the Amelia Bedelia books. And, you have excelled in memorizing much of the memory work for CC. You are fascinated with the presidents and are anxious to learn them all, in order. There is absolutely nothing you can't do, when you put your mind to it. (This last part is important, since you can be a wee bit stubborn occasionally and like to operate according to your own rules.)

You are the sweetest big brother to Clay! You are always inviting him to play with you, and you take very good care of him. I have also seen you be very sweet to other kids that are younger than you, even when it costs you getting your own way. And, you very often come up to me and give me a hug for no particular reason. You do adore your older siblings, but from time to time, your desire to be the one in charge puts you a little at odds with them. You are a leader, and it will serve you well in life. Mimi and Grandpa have a mug at their ranch house that says "Best Boss," which you make sure to choose for yourself every time you have an opportunity. When we saw how much you liked it, Dad and I got you one for the New Year that says, "World's Best Boss." You seem to be quite thrilled with it and seem to intuitively know that it's appropriate for you.

You are full of passion and life, and you are a joy to know! You are smart, and kind, and funny, and creative, and intense. You have a very unique fashion sense, and you're comfortable in your own skin. I feel so fortunate to get to share my days with you, because you are truly an amazing little boy! Thanks for choosing me to be your mom! Dad and I are very proud of you, and we look forward to seeing what the next year has in store for you!

I love you so much!

Love,
Mom


Thursday, January 09, 2014

(Almost) Perfectly Clean

In the Watts' home, everyone is expected to contribute. We have gone through several methods of chore distribution, including this one from 2012. The thing that actually seems to work best for us is to switch things up every so often, so that the chore schedule always kind of feels fresh. We've been through several methods since that post in 2012. The chores themselves don't really change too much, but the way in which they are displayed and distributed do, and it really seems to make all the difference in the level of enthusiasm the kids have for the chores. For 2014, we have adopted another new method, which I'll just go ahead and count as my Pin of the Week, since it's not likely anything more creative is going to happen around here this week. Assigning specific chores on specific days really gives the kids more focus and keeps them from being overwhelmed, and thus, the chores get done in a more timely manner, with less whining. (Or maybe that's just due to it being a new system, and everyone loves a new system at first.) Perhaps you all already knew and have implemented that in your homes, but I'm a little slow, so I'm just now having that lightbulb moment.

Anyway, what I really want to tell you is this: One of Weston's chores for this week is to clean the kitchen counters. He set to work on it yesterday and very quickly announced that he was all done. One peek at the kitchen told me the counters definitely weren't clean, so I asked him if he really thought it was clean and what he saw when he looked at it. He proceeded to tell me that, to him, it looked "perfectly clean." This seemed like a teachable moment, so I put my arm around his shoulders and began to walk around the kitchen pointing to obvious milk spots and sticky areas and crumbs. Each time, I would point and ask, "Does this look perfectly clean?" To which, he always replied, "No." There were quite a few of these areas, and by the time we were done, he was in tears. Finally, through sobs, he declared, "But you only picked out the dirty spots! The rest is perfectly clean!" 

A couple of things the classical model of education (which we employ in our homeschool) emphasizes are the over-learning of the grammar of any subject and the defining of terms to make communication more effective. Clearly, I need to be better at defining my terms, and Weston needs a bit more practice with the "grammar" of kitchen cleaning. Thankfully, we will both have plenty of opportunities over the next few years to improve in these respective areas. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Favorite Quotes of 2013

In no particular order, here is a list of my favorite quotes from various books I read in 2013 (many of which were school assignments for Ruth, in case you're wondering why so many juvenile stories. They are beautiful stories, though, and I'm so glad I had the opportunity to read or reread them. I also read plenty of books that just weren't all that quotable. And, I read The Book Thief, which was my favorite book of the year, filled with so many beautiful words and passages that I couldn't pick just one for this list):

"…he who knows a bit of everything, knows nothing. But he who knows a little bit well, knows much of all." --Crispin: The Cross of Lead, Avi

"I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us." --And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini

"Being happy takes a lot of practice, don't you think?" --Carry On Mr. Bowditch, Jean Lee Latham

"There is one plan which no one has yet suggested and which is well worth trying…We might all try minding our own business." --The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis

"Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed." --The Magician's Nephew, C. S. Lewis

"It is better to have crooked legs than a crooked spirit. We can only do the best we can with what we have. That, after all, is the measure of success: what we do with what we have." --The Door in the Wall, Marguerite de Angeli

"…what was the meaning of a man's life if it did not make the way better for those that came after him?" --Amos Fortune: free man, Elizabeth Yates

"Learning many different things in different ways allows the brain to make comparisons, with the result that we learn even more." --The Core, Leigh Bortins

"Simplicity is eloquent; it speaks loud and clear without insulting the intelligence of the listener." --Be a People Person: Effective Leadership Through Effective Relationships, John C. Maxwell

"When new beautiful thoughts began to push out the old hideous ones, life began to come back to him, his blood ran healthily through his veins and strength poured into him like a flood." --The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett


Monday, January 06, 2014

Texas Winter

I never cease to be thankful I live in the South. But I am all the more thankful during the winter months. In Texas, we don't think about things like snowplowing our driveways, or putting snow chains on our vehicles, or bundling up in 15 layers to leave the house for 20 minutes. Or, wrapping our pipes. Even when the weatherman declares the arrival of below-freezing temps, we kind of shrug and figure it's not that big a deal, as it will only be below freezing for a couple of hours, at the most. And, then in two days it'll be 70 again. Oh, we'll usually bring our plants and pets inside. And, then we'll think about how we'll have to wear our heavy coats for two days. And, then we'll probably make sure all the extra blankets are clean and accessible and that the coffee pot doesn't run out of water. Which, brings me back to that point about wrapping the pipes. It always seems like such a gigantic headache to wrap pipes for the possibility of a couple of hours of freezing temps. But, this morning, when I rolled out of bed to the sound of my alarm for the first time in weeks, and stumbled into the bathroom and blindly spun the shower faucet, only to be met with complete silence and an over abundance of dryness, I realized that it might have been a good idea for us to wrap our pipes. And, then I looked at my phone and saw that the temperature was 21 degrees with a "feels like" temperature of 12. For a moment, I thought there was a problem with the app. Like when Facebook reports that you are posting from Fargo, ND, when you've never even been there. But, no, the temperature reading was correct and we were absolutely, positively without water. Knowing what a bear I am if I don't get my morning shower, my sweet hubby hopped out of the toasty bed, donned his heavy coat and went outside to address the problem. He built a fire near the pressure tank, stole water from the hot tub to drench the pipes and poured boiling water snatched from wherever we could find it on the pipes. He did this for hours. And, the water in the pipes was literally freezing as fast as we could thaw it. So, we called a plumber. He got the pipes all thawed out, wrote me a receipt, gave me his card and then stopped by to check on his handiwork, only to find (at the exact same moment that we discovered we still didn't have water in the house), that the pipes were frozen up again. He thawed them out again (for no extra charge) and instructed me to get everything wrapped up as tightly and as quickly as I could possible manage. Which brings me back to the need to have a steady stream of water in the coffee pot, as I will likely never be warm again. Until Friday, when the temperature is expected to creep back up to near 70. My hat's off to all my friends who live, say, north of Dallas and have actual winter to deal with. I have absolutely no idea how you do it!

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Clean Slate

I just love a new year. A clean slate. A chance to start over and get everything right this time. It feels so great to be on the verge of something new and potentially wonderful. And, I know the new year officially started almost a week ago for everyone else. But, not for me and my family. We were gone for three weeks during the holidays and just got home last night. So, the new year really starts for me tomorrow. Which is why today was all about letting go of the the old. I told the kids I would not allow them to take possession of their new Christmas gifts (which were all still packed up, due to the traveling) until they went through every toy box, closet, drawer and shelf to see what they could 1). throw away or 2). donate. I'm appalled to tell you that we filled up a very large section of our garage with all the things that fit into these two categories. Why on earth do I let it get so out of hand before I take action?! Anyway, I feel (and I think several of my family members also feel) relived to be letting go of the excess. To be removing the clutter and making room for new and better things. May we all remain mindful of that principal throughout this new year, whether our clutter is physical, emotional, or spiritual.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014