Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Supreme Camp-Out

Luke got home today from a 2 night camping trip to the Supreme Court building!  A friend of his, who was on last year's mock trial team, let him know about this opportunity.  There are only limited seats in the Supreme Court building to listen to the cases being argued.  No recording of any kind is allowed, so if you want to know how the arguments went, then you have to physically be there.  But there are many people who really don't want to stand in line themselves to wait, so they hire people to stand in line for them--for as many days as is needed.  Luke and 10 other people got the call Monday morning for a case that was being argued today (Wednesday).  It is the religious freedom case of the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Obamacare abortion mandate, so this was a very popular one to want tickets to.  Luke's group was holding spaces for big donors of the ADF, the group that is arguing the case for the Little Sisters.  
Luke and Leo rode the metro down together and arrived mid-afternoon.  They set up camp in line with their group on the side of the Supreme Court building, in between it and the Library of Congress.  Luke didn't go on our field trip to the LoC back in November, but he ended up spending a lot of time right beside it anyway!

The first night was really cold, so it was not easy to sleep.  Luke ended up putting his sweats on under his jeans, and he brought a hat and gloves, which helped.  They were able to go to Union Station to get food and use the restroom in shifts.  They could also use the restrooms in the Supreme Court building when it was open, but Luke never did that.  Leo's mom was so kind to bring them breakfast Tuesday morning!

The boys said they got a lot of questions from people who were wondering what they were doing.  Many people thought they were homeless.  In fact, the group ahead of them were homeless people who had been recruited to stay in line for someone else.  One little boy asked his mom something, and she responded with a big discourse on how they were doing a "silent protest", which is what people did when they disagreed with something.  We were laughing because it must have been a *very* silent protest, with no signs or anything to remotely suggest they were protesting anything!  Funny that she wouldn't just ask them, but instead made huge (wrong and unsupported) assumptions.
The second night was better because it wasn't so cold.  Before night, the whole line got moved to the front of the building, so they had a different view.  This morning, the guys came whose places were being held, and our group packed up and left.  Each person was paid $400 in cash.  I hope the homeless people got as good a reward, if not better.  Luke and Leo rode the metro home together, and I picked them up at the station.  After we dropped Leo off and went home ourselves, Luke took a shower and washed his clothes!  I think his own bed will feel very good tonight!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Irish Dinner

As I finished up leftovers from Thursday's St. Patrick's Day meal for lunch today, I thought I should document what I made so that when I search around a year from now, I'll have it written down somewhere!

Usually I am on top of celebrating Pi Day, which is of course on March 14, but this year, since it fell on a Monday, I didn't get any pies made, and neither did anyone else in the fmaily.  The day before Rivendell is not a good day for anything extra or special!  So I really wanted to make something for St. Patrick's Day, which was Thursday.  Last year we celebrated Pi Day but not St Patrick's Day, so maybe that will be our plan from here on out--one or the other!  It seems more reasonable to celebrate Pi Day since we are all pretty math-minded, and we are Polish/Slovak/German, with not really even a hint of Irish.  But hey, cooking new things is fun!

I went searching around for a new Irish recipe to try, and I found Irish Coddle.  Even better, I read in the comments that I could make it in the crockpot, and that is what I did.  I needed something in the crockpot because I had to pick up the kids from Jonathan's math class, as well as have biology lab, so I didn't have a lot of extra time in the afternoon. It was super easy and delicious!  I fried up the thick bacon, and then I cooked the sliced onions in the bacon grease for a few minutes.  After removing the onions, I cooked the sausage breakfast links for a few minutes too, just to give them a little brownness.  Then I layered the potatoes, carrots, onion, salt, pepper, bacon, and sausage links, and poured 2 cups of chicken broth (not beef, like the original recipe said, but chicken, like the crockpot comment said) over it all.  I cooked it all day, and I didn't bother making the white sauce with cream and stout.  It was an easy crockpot meal, which I am always searching for, so this might actually make the rotation more frequently than once a year.  I was going to make Irish soda bread to go with it, but I completely forgot (because I got wrapped up making the dessert).  I did make a cabbage salad, which went really well with it.

For dessert, Anna and I made an Irish apple cake with custard sauce, and it was also very good!  It was hard to tell when it was done in the middle , though.  Luke suggested cooking it in a 9x13 pan next time (instead of a 9 in. springform), and I think I will try that.  The custard sauce was delicious.  It was gobbled up quickly!  Someone in the comments had a caramel sauce with it instead, and I imagine that would also be very yummy.  Next time!

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Rescue Operation

We had a crazy week last week.  Nathan was home for spring break, but since we weren't on break ourselves, we didn't get to spend tons of relaxing time with him.  We did get to go ice skating with him on Wednesday, which was super fun for the little kids.

One of the main things we were doing was getting Luke ready for the state mock trial championship.  His team left last Thursday, and they didn't start back home until Sunday evening (exciting news:  they won!).  Bob and I went off to bed, figuring they would be back here around 12:45.  They drove our big van.  Their coach drove it down to Williamsburg and back into the area, but her car was at another teammate's house, so Luke, Isaac, and another boy had to drive back here.  Although Luke has had lots of experience driving the big van, he can't drive more than one unrelated person, since he hasn't had his license for more than a year, and he isn't 18 (VA rule, not ours).  So they 3 boys were toodling on back this way around 12:30 to drop off the other boy first.  It was raining, and Isaac was driving when Luke said to slow down because there was debris in the road.  It turned out to be car parts, and they were from a terrible accident.  Someone driving east had crossed the median and hit another car head-on.  The driver of the east-bound car had been ejected and was lying on the road, seriously injured.  The other driver was lying by his car, in shock.  Although 911 had been called, no one was on the scene yet, as the accident had really just happened.  The boys stopped, and the big van was able to block traffic, since the one guy was lying in the road.  Isaac is an Eagle Scout, so he hopped out and was helpful.  I have this travel pillow in the van that I use in the small of my back when driving (because the seats are SO uncomfortable, especially on long trips), and at some point that pillow was used for something.

Anyhow, eventually ambulances and police showed up, and the boys were able to go their way, albeit shaken up.  Luke finally got home around 1:35.  He had tried to call a few times, but we were sound asleep, blissfully unaware he was an hour later than I had projected.  He came in and woke us up to tell us about the accident.  I think the whole thing was pretty surreal!  One of the first things he said was, "You're going to have to buy another pillow for the van!"  Well, of course that was fine!  It was nothing special, and I was glad it could be used!

But on Tuesday as the younger kids and I set off for their morning co-op, I was driving on the same road, and I was trying to figure out exactly where the accident had happened.  I saw a bunch of debris on both sides of the road, and I was sure that was where it was.  Traffic was stopped at a light, and I was pretty far back from the light, but as I stopped, I saw a forlorn white something in the median.  It was my pillow!  It was just lying there, looking pathetic, in the grass!  Now that bothered me.

I drive that stretch of road almost daily, so I kept driving past my poor pillow, all neglected in the elements.  I really wanted to pick it up so I didn't have to watch it decompose over years as I drove by.  The problem was, I couldn't figure out exactly how to go about getting it.  It was in the center median, with 3 lanes of traffic on each side.  The median actually was a ditch at that point, and there wasn't enough room to pull off to the left there without going into the ditch.  There wasn't really anyplace to pull off to the right either, and it wasn't that close to the turn lane or anything, and besides, I wasn't crazy about darting across 3 lanes of traffic and back!  I puzzled about it pretty much every day this past week, trying to figure out how to scoop the poor thing up.  It really bothered me!  (Spiritual application:  like the good shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep and goes after the one lost one to bring it home.  Thank you, Dayton Christian, for instilling in me the need to find spaps everywhere, lol.)

Finally I came up with a plan.  The ditch leveled out some as you get closer to the stop light, so I could pull off behind the turn lane, and it was pretty flat.  So after I picked up Jonathan from his math class Thursday, I told him I was going to attempt to rescue the pillow.  I even had to make a u-turn to get there, but I was able to pull off, hike back, snatch up my pillow, and return to the minivan, studiously avoiding the curious eyes of everyone stopped at the light who must be wondering why I would ever pick up anything at all from the side of the road.  I threw the pillow right into the washer as soon as we got home, but it really wasn't too bad.  No blood or anything gross, just a bit of dirt that had been kicked up onto it.  After washing, it looks good as new!  I was so relieved to not have it lying there by the side of the road.  It wasn't that it was irreplaceable; it was just that it was mine, and I hated seeing it out there abandoned!  I wonder why no one cleaned it up?  Something like that would take forever to break down.  It would have been an eyesore for years!

So now you know what consumed my thoughts this past week, LOL.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

A Medieval Morning


Today was the "5th week activity" for the medieval unit of our co-op.  Our co-op has a 7 year rotation of unit themes, so we last did this unit in November, 2008, and I happened to be the head of that unit.  I blogged about our medieval feast here and here.  It turned out great, but it was a TON of work.

This year, however, one of the moms found a company called Medieval Fantasies, based here in VA, that puts on programs for schools, as well as other events.  They spent the morning with us, from 9:30-12:30, and it was really great! MUCH less work for the moms of the unit!
The company is a husband and wife, as well as their daughter and dog.  "Sir Blackwolf" is a Welsh knight who actually speaks Welsh and sounds very convincingly like he was from the Middle Ages.  His wife, "Lady Dagryning", is explaining medieval clothes and all her accessories here.  "Rhiannon" is their homeschooled daughter, who performs with them.  She said when I asked her that the Middle Ages is definitely her specialty--imagine that!

The day started off cloudy, but the sun burned away the clouds by midmorning, and then it was roasting!  There were quite a few kids who dressed up--and several newer kids who wished they had dressed up, but didn't realize so many others would be doing it.  Grace once again didn't wear her dress.  She felt too self-conscious, plus I think she may be coming down with a UTI, so she was already fragile enough without pushing that this morning.  I was just glad she got through the day, since I had to help there this morning!
After talking about clothing and travel, they talked about their Welsh Corgi dog, Luna, and gave a little demonstration with her.  We were all in a circle, and then they tossed a beach ball at Luna.  She would bop it up in the air with her nose, and herd it along when it was on the ground.  If the ball came to one of the kids, they kicked it back into the circle so she could chase it around.  Such a cute dog, but very high energy!  Also, they said not a dog for toddlers, since they are herding dogs, LOL.

Next we were divided up into 5 groups to go around to different games.  I was with Micah's group, which made him very happy, since I hadn't been in his classroom all year long. Our first activity was "rhyming games", and here Elena McC is the farmer in "Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley".  At the end of her acting out the little rhyme, she spins around ("surveys her land") and picks another farmer for the next verse, which is what she is doing here.  You may have noticed that she is wearing the exact same dress as Faith, which made them both very happy!  Twins!
Next was bocce, and then "skittles", which is a little bowling, except with carved wooden cylinders.  They don't roll the way you might expect, so it was trickier than expected to knock down the logs!  Anna is showing her form here.
Next was a rope ring toss, which was surprisingly difficult.  Micah had fun doing it though!  Behind them is the last activity, a relay race about doing medieval chores, in which you had to run back and forth carrying a basket of (plastic) vegetables, hay, a (plush) pig, and "poop" (2 big hard foam shapes), in the right order.  Everyone was getting hot by now!
Next we all went back to the tents, and they talked about customs and courtesies at a medieval feast.  They the kids sampled bread, cheese, cabbage, salami, blueberries, and juice.  They were tiny samples though--just a bite!  Everyone was starved when they got back here, and those who remembered the medieval feast 7 years ago were enviously talking about the giant turkey legs the 6th graders had, and all the food that we had for that feast!
Last was dancing!  We did 2 circle dances, and then for the last dance, the ladies were in a small circle, with the gentlemen on the outside.  They danced in opposite directions, mirroring the movements, although it was kind of controlled chaos by that point, LOL.  Everyone was hot, tired, and hungry, so no one was paying as careful attention as they had been at the beginning of the morning, and mainly I think you could say the boys and the girls were just circling in opposite directions, without really doing many of the steps!

It was fun, and the best part of it was, everyone just went home, and the company cleaned it all up!  Medieval Fantasies did a great job, and I would not hesitate to recommend them.  Very interesting, and they spent 3 hours with our group!

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Exciting Weekend

The most exciting thing is that Nathan came home Friday night for spring break!  The dad of another cadet drove them home, and he very kindly dropped Nathan off at the L's house, where we were at Bible study, since it seemed wrong to let him come home to an empty house.  When the kids came upstairs for dessert, Faith came tearing up the stairs, heading straight for the dessert table--until she saw Nathan, and then she ran shouting, "NATHAN!!!" into his arms to give him a big hug.  It's nice to be missed!  It was also so sweet this morning to see Drew sitting in his lap all during church until Drew went off to children's church.  We're all enjoying having him back, even if it is just for a week!

Luke wasn't at Bible study because he was at rugby practice.  He got to see Nathan for a few hours, but then he had to leave at 4:45 Saturday morning to go south of Richmond for some CAP training for encampment. He got back this afternoon at 3:30, changed and headed over to the McC's house for mock trial practice, came home again briefly before heading to the gym to play in the league all-star basketball game.  Busy day for him!  He leaves Thursday for a mock trial tournament, so he's not going to see all that much of Nathan.  Bummer!

Caleb had an exciting weekend.  Yesterday his basketball team had a playoff game that went into triple overtime.  With 13 seconds left in the 3rd overtime, Caleb sank a 3 point shot!  In the remaining 13 seconds, a teammate was fouled and made one foul shot, so his team ended up winning by 4 points.  Yay!  Then this afternoon they played the second playoff game, which they also won!  So they'll be heading to the championship game in their division next weekend.  He had such a good coach this year, and I think she has really encouraged him to be more aggressive, be more comfortable on the court, and just be a better player overall.  I don't think he would have even tried a 3 pointer in previous seasons!  The team all went out for pizza after the big win yesterday, and they had a great time.  It's so nice when a team really gels!

Tomorrow it's back to the life and school . . . well, not for Nathan.  He is enjoying the fact that when you are in college, breaks really are breaks!

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Bookshelves

I was reading through the January issue of the Costco Connection (because that's how far behind I am, apparently) when I came upon this helpful article called "How to Style a Bookcase".  Here are some of their suggestions:

  • For a cohesive look, choose a color tone for the accessories and stick with it.
  • Leave at least a third of the shelves empty, if not half.
  • Think of each shelf as a complete arrangement.  Your eye should move form shelf to shelf smoothly; if one item dominates the other items, remove it.
  • Create dimension within each compartment by stacking small books like a pyramid, topped with a smaller artifact.
  • Group similar objects together in threes or fives.
  • Put larger baskets or attractive bins on bottom shelves for kids' toys and games.
  • For a vintage look, remove the paper jackets from all the books.
  • For a casual feel, mix up colors and add family photoes in nice frames.
  • Lean framed art against the back and layer accessories in front of it for dimension.
  • Don't be afraid to remove shelves, especially if you have a lot of them.  Less may be more in this case.

Well, all I can say is--I think we've nailed it!  We may have to remove the baby powder, though, as it seems to dominate the other items on that shelf.

Silly me for thinking that bookcases were actually for storing as many books as humanly possible.  Maybe one year we'll be able to have "cohesive" bookshelves, with up to half the space empty, and the other half filled with accessories, photos, bins, and oh!  a book or two.   Not any time soon, by the looks of it.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Baking Weekend

Last weekend we had to do a ton of baking for various events.  We tried some new recipes and had some successes, as well as some failures.

First, Wednesday night we tried a lemon cookie recipe--"lemon crinkle cookies".  I had seen some reference to them on facebook, and Anna LOVES anything lemon, so we thought we'd give them a go.  The weird thing about the recipe was that it only listed powdered sugar, but I just thought huh, that's different, and I never really gave it much more thought . . . until the dough just didn't really come together, and it certainly didn't taste sweet enough.  We looked back over the recipe to make sure we hadn't missed anything, but we hadn't.  That's when it really jumped out at me that since we were supposed to roll the balls of dough in powdered sugar (which was specified in the recipe), then there must be other sugar earlier that somehow didn't make it into the ingredient list that was supposed to be creamed with the butter.  I googled other "lemon crinkle cookies" recipes, and indeed they all list 1 cup of granulated sugar, as well as the 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, which was clearly just for rolling the dough balls in.  I did look up the conversion factor, and you're supposed to add 2 cups of powdered sugar for every 1 cup of granulated sugar, so I had dough with 1/4 the right amount of sugar.  No wonder the dough had such issues!  We baked up one batch.  They tasted vaguely scone-y, and certainly not worthy of being brought to Bible study on Friday night, which was when we had signed up to bring dessert!  I told Anna we could bake them and put a lemon glaze on them, but you know, that just hasn't been at the top of my priority list, so the poor neglected bowl of too-sticky not-sweet dough is still sitting in the outside fridge, likely on its way to the trash can.  Ah well.  You'll note I did NOT link to the recipe, lol.  I still can't believe I managed to find the one wrong recipe out there, and then I didn't even pay enough attention to figure out it was in fact wrong!  So for Bible study we ended up making my old stand-by of cookie dough brownies, which are really yummy, and a banana snack cake, thereby using up the 4 brown bananas on the counter.

Saturday was Luke's birthday, and he asked for chicken packets, which Anna actually suggested, and which we haven't had in a long while because they are somewhat time-intensive.  Luke asked for just a regular cake plus ice cream for his birthday dessert.  He's been reffing several basketball games each Saturday (and pulling in $35/game as a highest-rated referee, so well-worth the time!), so I made the cake and decorated it while he wasn't home.  I made a poorly constructed cake in the shape of a car that was definitely not fit for public viewing, lol.  My original cake that I was shaping didn't rise as high as I thought it would, so I didn't really have enough material to work with.  I almost just threw it all away, but then I thought that would be a real waste, so I made it work.  I don't know if you've ever read the comic strip "Baby Blues", but this car had sort of the same lines, at least in the front, as Darryl and Wanda's minivan.  But hey, it tasted great, and there was none left by the next day, so none was wasted.  You'll note I did NOT post a picture of the cake.  Ha!

After feeling like I had been bathing in sugar for the past few days, what I wanted to do Saturday night did NOT involve baking.  But I had signed up to bring a main dish and a dessert for our church's fellowship dinner Sunday after church.  Back when we first started attending, in late 2006 (that long ago?!?), we used to have fellowship meals every first Sunday of the month, after Communion.  I loved it!  They were really wonderful times to just visit and get to know other people in the church.  But eventually we moved into places where we couldn't use a kitchen, so the meals just sort of went away.  I'm so happy that they have started up again, although only quarterly.  We're a much bigger church now, so the logistics are much trickier!  The Lord blessed us with AMAZING weather last Sunday, especially for the end of February, so many people could eat outside.  Of course the downside was that it was really muddy out there where all the kids were playing, and so they got super dirty.  Verity in particular looked like we sent her off to work in the coal mines, as she shamelessly stole food from plates that people left within her reach.  I had to give Micah, Drew, and Verity baths as soon as we got home, which made me glad I had never bothered to give them baths Saturday night, when I usually do.  No wasted effort!

Okay, that was a big rabbit trail.  Where was I going with all that?  Oh yes, food for the potluck.  So the theme was "southern cooking".  I decided that meant for me a nice, comforting, can-make-a-lot-at-once chicken casserole, so I tried a new recipe which was very creatively called "chicken noodle casserole".  It was actually pretty good, so I DID link to that, lol.  I made it up Saturday night and then cooked it Sunday morning.  I also made my dessert Saturday night.  I decided to try "salted caramel chocolate chip cookies".  I took the advice of one of the reviewers and just baked them in a pan, since I was pretty tired and really sick of baking sweet things.  They were yummy though!  I'll definitely make them again.  So all that cooking and baking at least ended on a high note!

Next week will be another cooking/baking-intensive week, because Nathan is coming home for spring break tomorrow, Lord willing!  We all can't wait to see him!!