Thursday, November 17, 2011

No butter? No problem....

A few hours away from home seemed to be at odds with my desire for a chili dinner, until I pulled out the old crock pot. Gotta love'em. Really, you do....

I weaned myself from spaghetti sauce in a jar a while ago (more on that later), so after browning the beef, I tossed the sauce fixin's, spices and veggies into the pot, put a few taters in the oven and left to run errands.

You're probably thinking 'why didn't she just pop the taters in the microwave when she returned?' Well, we don't own one. Haven't for years- five, maybe six, I honestly can't recall. When the one we owned stopped working, the fact that I didn't mind using the stove for warm-overs coupled with the instant elimination of microwave popcorn, pizza and other foodstuffs that are clearly not the healthiest fare resulted in a microwave-free home. We get the occassional 'what?!' from visitors, but they usually get over it. Usually.

Back to our story. Our return was perfectly time: the crockpout chili and the baked taters were done and our stomachs were ready.

Then it happened: no butter. When it comes to butter, I'm the African American Paula Dean. That's right, y'all. The only reason I can explain the absence of butter in the house is that is had to be the day or two before shopping day. You know how that is. Anyhoo, we were ready to eat with no butter for the taters when I got an absolutely genius idea.

*cue singing*

That's right. A dab (or two) of parmesan ranch dressing along with the prerequesite salt and pepper did the trick. Hubby loved it, the girls didn't complain. This is a stop-gap we may use on purpose next time. I know someone else has surely used this, it just excited me. I'll share my chili and homemade spaghetti sauce recipes in a later post. Bye, y'all.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Our homeschool year - What works for us (Part 1)

We've just completed the first quarter of our 2011-2012 homeschool and things are going very well. We're pretty much on track, haven't suffered any (teacher or student) meltdowns and intellectual, emotional and spiritual progress has been noted both in and out of our homeschool classroom, important to us as we believe true education encompasses all three.

Education is the knowledge of how to
 use the whole of oneself.
Many men use but one or two faculties out
 of the score with which they are endowed. A man
 is educated who knows how to make a tool of
every faculty--how to open it, how to keep it sharp, and
 how to apply it to all practical purposes.
Henry Ward Beecher

We've been teaching at home for more than a decade yet every school term offers a new lesson. It seems this year's theme is FLEXIBILITY. School started in September, but we've already made three major changes to our school.

The first change involves the hours we homeschool. The typical 'begin at 9/end at 3' (or similar) schedule just doesn't work for our family. For starters, my hubby works from 3pm to midnight.  Spending the time he's home with school work just didn't sit right as the chance to enjoy and enhance our family life is one of the (many) reasons we chose to educate the girls at home in the first place.

 I work from home as a weekly columnist for our local paper and have regular freelance gigs in addition,  so it's imperative that I have fixed time to focus on those assignments. My editors, kind as they are, won't suffer a missed deadline because my ninth grader's interest in history resulted in an extra hour of work or because my ten year old came up with a cool game to help prepare for our local spelling bee. Not gonna happen....

In addition to our work schedules, our family is one that volunteers for causes in which we believe. Hubby serves on our church's visitation ministry on Mondays. We join him alternating weeks. Gracie and I help out at the library every other Saturday afternoon. A local church operates a thrift store to raise funds for its outreach programs and I give them a few hours on Thursday mornings. 

We're currently a one-car family, and that car is hubby's 5 speed, which I don't know how to drive. Please, no emails telling me how easy it is; I've tried and it ain't. Two hands + three pedals + 1 gear shift = hubby is my driver until we can afford another car next year (more on that in another post. Shout out to Dave 

This means shopping, errands, and anything accomplished away from the home happens during the hours before hubby leaves for work. We've changed our weekday schedule so that it supports our lifestyle without detracting from our educational goals.

Our homeschool day runs from 1pm - 6pm, though it occassionally starts later and/or runs longer. It's odd but it works for us. Mornings are spent either volunteering, running errands, reading or relaxing. The girls have learned that if their morning chores are done (their bedrooms, their bathroom and the upstairs den), they basically have all morning to themselves on the days when appointments or volunteering isn't on the schedule. My teen uses this time to complete homework from the once-a-week co-op she attends. Our state requires 4 hours of weekly class time per subject for high schoolers and this downtime allows her to get this work done without affecting our homeschool schedule.

Though it may seem a bit unorthodox, this schedule is a total win/win for our family: Dad gets quality time with the girls before work, I have time carved out for my writing and the girls have the benefit of easing into their homeschool day (they are not- I repeat, are not- morning people).

In my next homeschool post, I'll share the curriculum changes we've made thus far.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Shirley Plantation

On Fridays, my ten year old (Gracie) and I join our friends the Firestones (Mom Tiffany and kids Madeline and Will) for Friday Fun Days. An informal mix of education and fun, it's a great way to end our homeschooling week. Already, we've studied Italy- its geography, its customs and a little of the language. We finished that day with homemade pizza and 'kid's wine', i.e. sparkling apple cider.

We recently visited Shirley Plantation, located in Charles City, VA and founded in 1613, six years after the establishment of Jamestown. Still operated by an 11th generation descendant of the first owner and listed on the National register of historic places, it's an artful blending of the old and new. How was our trip? 'Awesome sauce', as my 14 year old would say. In middle-aged speak: It was very nice.  

This is what middle-aged looks like to a 14 year old...

Here's the welcome sign just off the visitor's parking lot, before heading into the compound. A descendant of the original owner lives on the second floor of the house. The first floor contains the original furnishings and artifacts dating back centuries.

Here's our Friday Fun Day (hereafter known as "FFD") crew: my Gracie, with Will and Madeline. Tiff was probably in the van giving the GPS a stern talking to after the crappy directions it gave. Seriously. Shirley Plantation offers homeschool days twice a year. Drizzles and the forecast of later showers must've changed the plans of some. I expected throngs (you know how we homeschoolers roll...;P), but there was a manageable crowd. Crowd is probably too strong a word. Group is more accurate. Anyhoo, on with our tour.....

Shirley Plantation's great house. Beautiful. Situated on the James River, the house has survived the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Great Depression. I  LOVE,LOVE,LOVE, old houses and history and this one combines both admirably. Photo-taking isn't allowed inside. Great stories told by a knowledgeable, engaging guide. Three of my fave: the engagement ring and window custom, the Robert E. Lee connection and an artist's rendering of the deceased son of  the plantation's first owners. 

The plantation contains a storehouse, ice house, laundry, kitchen, gardens, root cellar and pump house. While I was disappointed that there wasn't a slave quarters (recreated or original), I was more disappointed at our guide's answer to the query. Gracie really wanted to see that. (I'll share a post on the whole "ashamed of history/let's rewrite it" phenomenon later.)  To be fair, there was  a lecture on slave life at the plantation, but it wasn't recommended for those under 12. I spoke very briefly with the gentleman giving the talk (in between sessions, with the kids in tow) and I'm certain it was an informative session as he was very engaging, but still.....

The day included great activities that stimulated the kids' interest while teaching about the period: take-home art, 18th and 19th century games, history detectives, a comparison of long-ago courtesies and today's social customs and more.  Here, Maddie and Will learn to write with a quill. Mom Tiffany is in the blue shirt.

We also got a primer on picking cotton (not in the field, thank heavens.) It's harder than it looks. After picking away the debris, one had to remove the kernel inside so that it could be planted for the next season. We visited Shirley the beginning of September- usually too early for cotton to be picked- but the mile or so of private road leading to the house contained a field brimming with cotton. The same gentleman who lectured on slave life at the plantation explained that the increase in rain was the culprit, as cotton in that amount usually doesn't show up until October. It's also harvested by machine nowadays.

My Gracie standing in front of the history wall, which tracks plantation events at the top of the wall with national news from the same time period just below. It starts with the original land grant and continues to a few years ago. Fascinating.

I think this may have been the kid's favorite. Known as the chicken whisperer, Shirley's animal expert gave an interactive lecture on animals and nutrition. Yep, that's a real chicken she's holding; her pet. It wasn't part of the lecture, but when asked if she were a vegetarian, she answered 'yes' and gave the reasons she felt compelled to adopt that lifestyle in a way that didn't shame those who don't share the same view. She really made an impact on Tiffany, as she's considering removing meat from her diet. I'm not far behind her, I must say.

The kids (ours and others) enjoyed the stables. Here they look in on the goats.

Five minutes after this photo, the sky opened up. No bother, though. We'd finished our tour and all that remained was lunch in the van. 

If you're in or close to Hampton Roads or the Peninsula, schedule a visit. Homeschool days are held in September and May. Those tickets are $7.50 each, free for kids under six.  Regular prices are $11 for adults, $10 for seniors over 60, $7.50 for kids 6-18 and free for those five and under. Discounts available for AAA members, active duty military and their dependants, retired military and U.S. veterans.

Visit the website for more info.  Enjoy the trip. It's awesome sauce!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Frugal Friday- Wall Hanging

I love wall-hangings. They're a great way to add color to a room, to centralize the room's focus or the blend the varying hues used in decorating. There's something so French Country/Meditteranean about them, and perhaps because these are the two decorating styles I enjoy most, it just speaks to me. Isn't this stunning?
Hmmmm, at a cost of nearly 200 beans (and thats without the rod, finials and tassels), I think I'll pass.....

Another beauty. But even the sale price of $160 (again, that's for the tapestry alone) is more than I'd like to pay....

Cobalt Mosaic I Tapestry Wall Hanging

I was certain my friends at Kirkland's would have a tapestry that wouldn't break the bank, but I didn't see one on their website. Their closest store is a city away and I didn't feel like making that drive. Besides, by that time, I was kinda thinking I could make one myself....

 I was thrift-store shopping sometime later and came across a reversable cloth wall hanging. (Has that ever happened to you?  You're looking for something and it shows up..:) She was a beaut. Price? $3.99. One of the two tabs for the rod was missing, but I wasn't put-off at all by that. I brought a $5.00 rod from Big Lots, a package of cafe curtain rings from Wal-Mart, and threw her on the wall that leads to the second floor.  Here's how she looks when you step through the front door.

The view from the top of the stairs....

The sign over the hanging displays Homer's assertion: "The journey is its own reward". 
Read more about that here

A close-up of the rod and rings:

Cost breakdown:
Wall-hanging    $ 4.00
Rod                    5.00
Clips  (approx)    3.50

          Total:      $12.50

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A walk thru Olde Towne

My work as a freelance reporter for our local newspaper occassionally takes me into the Olde Towne  section of Portsmouth, VA.  It's beautiful, people. Dating back to the 1600's, the neighborhood has original homes and churches from the era- several listed on the National Historic Registry, ecletic shops, and great restaurants, all framed by the Elizabeth River. {heavy, happy sigh}.  Join me for an (online) walking tour.

I was there to cover a tree-planting honoring the memory of Adelaide Eberly, known throughout our city as 'The Tree Lady' for her work in planting 3000+ trees in Portsmouth over a 38 year span. It was a ftting tribute to a remarkable woman. Here, garden club members join our vice mayor at the ceremony.

See that arch in the background? That's The Lafayette Arch, built during our country's bicentnnial to honor the Marquis de Lafayette's service during the Revolutionary War and his trip to the city in 1824.  Spoiler alert: I am obsessed with enjoy history and P-town is chock full of history from the Revolutionary War to WWII and all points between.  That's Olde Towne in the background. Let's begin our tour....
How beautiful is this? This house was built circa 1880 and sits at the end of a beautiful, tree lined street. Steps away from a park (meaning there are kids in the neighborhood). Is it just me or does it look both regal and inviting?
Shut.up.  Can you imagine a nap on that top porch? Heaven.
Filming a commercial or documentary. The gentleman in the period costume is explaining that the building behind him was converted from a hotel into a jail during the war. Interesting....
If  I ask nicely, do you think they'd let me live here?

This picture really doesn't do this justice. The colors (including the plants) were amazing. While I prefer something different architecturally, I'm tellin' ya, I stood in the street for a few seconds with my mouth hanging open. Bea.u.ti.ful.

Love that cottage look, and it faces the water. Cool beans....

Isn't that house with the awning just about perfect?!  I was so preoccupied with getting this shot that I didn't see the older gentleman sitting on the porch. I'm sure he was thinking, "Now, what goes on here? And why is that young filly fighting with her camera?"  He didn't say anything though. Hey, he lives in an historic district; he's probably used to folks snapping pics of his house.
Really?  Must you be beautiful, well landscaped AND patriotic?  And why tempt ye me with the rockers?

That's all I have today. I've got a few other tours in mind. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sneak Peek

Psst...come closer....

Here's a peak at my current project.

I'll share more later.....

Friday, May 27, 2011

Frugal Friday

Every Friday, I like to share my free or frugal finds (trying saying that three times fast). Here is this week's offering:

When we moved into this house 14 years ago, kitchen cabinets flanked the window. I hated them. They were old and made the already-small room dark and cave-like. When we eventually replaced the cabinets, I decided to buy only the lowers, and used open shelving instead of upper cabinets. It made the space a lot nicer.

Face-forward two summers ago. With the kitchen painted a burnt orange, a french country/cottage theme started evolving and the shelves seemed out of place. I believe that rooms will tell you what they want if you listen closely. That's what happened here: before long artwork, mirrors and items not typically found in kitchens found their way into mine. The walls beside the window screamed for something different.

I found these shutters on the side of the road. At the time, I'd intended them for the front of the house but they were too small. Surprisingly, they fit the kitchen windows perfectly. After a good cleaning and a coat of paint from my teen-ager, we were good to go.

Did I say perfect fit? As you can see, they're off by a touch, but I can live with it. Free is free (happy face). I can't tell you how easy they were to put up. Honestly, it took me longer to snap the pics and upload to this blog than to hang the shutters. (another happy face).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What is your home saying?

 It happened quite innocently.....

SUCCESS is measured not so much by the position that one has reached as by the obstacles that have been overcome

I was pondering what should be my first post when I looked up and read the frame over my laptop.  Then I read the frame above and to the left of that one.....
GOALS...Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals
......and the frame above and to the right of that one....
Believe that Love is forever and forever you will be in Love
Hmmm. Let's peak at the rest of my office, shall we?
Mom of many hats
Dream about tomorrow but live for today
Wall hanging: Follow your heart. Embrace your dreams. Cherish your life

Tile: A mother gives her child two things- roots and wings
Pillow: Peace.Wisdom.Joy

I'm a big believer that our homes say alot about who we are, how we view the world and what we believe. I know you feel the same or you wouldn't spend hours  time drooling over  reviewing decorating blogs. I can see we're alot alike (wink,wink).

 When I realized that my office spoke volumes about how I feel about love and the people I love, I took a lil tour of the house and lookie what else I found (disclaimer: yes, I'm aware that I sound as if I didn't in fact purchase said items, but work with me- I'll be arriving at a point shortly....)

Here's my aforementioned point: I didn't wake up one day and decide to purchase sayings for (nearly) all of the walls in my home. As I've been out and about these (and other) signs called out to me because they reflect the things that are so very near and dear to me. I couldn't walk away from them; I had to bring them home.

For example, I found that "Love Begins at Home" sign above my dining room window at Cato's. It cost a whopping $5.00, marked down from $7.99, and was $3 bucks that day only. I had two dollars to my name,  and I literally sat my purse on the floor so I could comb the bottom for loose change. I thought I was going to have to resort to hiding it until I could run home and hit my 10 year up for a loan, but the change fairies were moving that day. Plus, my teen-ager hates when I hide loot so I try not to do that anymore (when she's around...) 

 Anyhoo, I'm usually a calm, cool and collected shopping machine, but I about lost it that day becuz that frame said EXACTLY  what I would say if I were a picture. I know you understand.

I've been stalking reading AMAZING decorating blogs for a while now and I'm excited to finally jump into the DIY pool. Thanks for your patience with some of the technical glitches in this post. Blogger and I are off to a good start and I expect it will only get better.