Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Weekend Past

What a weekend that was. It started Thursday night when Garrett, our oldest friend, flew in from Tampa to get away from his work turf for a while and relax. Harry and I have known Garrett since High School, and the girls called him "Uncle Garrett" until they were 12 or so. At that time they realized he was a big (although really, really smart)kid himself, and he became their friend, too.

So, he works with computers for a living - and he plays with computers for fun. The list of computer related hijinks this weekend was quite long, but the hi-lights include: wiping and reconfiguring a lap-top that had been corrupted by excessive neglect - and then getting rid of all the factory installed crap ware and adding some 'cute, useful little programs', attempting one more software rehab on an elderly Gateway lap-top, shredding two other dead lap-tops for fun and parts, attempting to get Harry's phone and lap-top to talk over blue-tooth, finding a way to make a reluctant computer print over our house wireless, decrapulating Hannah's desk-top box, and finally attempting to burn through 2 old hard drives with molten iron slag - from a thermite reaction. There was some other stuff going on requiring several external hard drives, "Acronis", and overnight downloads - but I lost track. Since I'm not the computer person here, I concentrated on feeding geeks, fetching stuff, and keeping out of the way.

Saturday, we had a cook out at Inner-City mission with our Sunday School group. We fed grilled chicken and unlistable amounts of other good stuff to about 45 or so residents and staffers, and about 15 of us. It was a lot of work, but very satisfying once done. Everyone there was so enthusiastic about the 'party' - even though we didn't really do any entertaining. (The guys at the grills were fun to watch, so you might count that...) we packed in enough left-overs to feed them for lunch the next day, and some of the little kids asked if we would be back 'next week?" If I head up a project like this again, I'm going to insist on a more equitable division of labor. Harry and I worked all day Saturday and spent quite a lot of money to make this class project work. I'd like to see more people better invested in the project - actually for their own good.

Sent Garrett off to FL this morning, so it's time to get this week started. It's the last full week of Hannah's regular school year, so we're finishing up a two year American History study, and getting Chemistry and Advanced Writing to stopping points. She will continue Advanced Math (Trig and advanced geometry), and Spanish on a lighter schedule for the summer, and work on a test prep program for the PSAT which she has to take in the fall.

Cheers! ~M.E.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Homeschoolers: A Total Rant

You don't have to read this if you don't wish to.

No, really you don't.

It's an old rant, and you have better things to do.

It happened again today. I was contacted by another 'just moved into the area' homeschool mom. The moving van arrived three weeks ago from a state where the public schools suck, the private schools are expensive, and the homeschool community is big, vibrant, excellent, conservative, and constantly covered with sunshine and rainbows. I learned all of this after I told her about the pitiful by homeschoolers -for homeschoolers offerings we have here in the Springfield area. I immediately sensed the frown followed by the predictable "Well, when we lived in Utopia, there were hundreds of options...." blah, blah, blah.

Lady, that was then. This is now. You telling me how wonderful you had it does neither one of us any good. The answer to your dilemma is either 1) pack up your kids and move back to Utopia 2) drop-kick Junior, Sally, Mitch, Conway, Lucretia, and every ankle biter you have in the future into the Government School System, 3) win the lottery and put the whole crew into a private school, or 4) get used to it, and start becoming part of the solution around here instead of one of the people I have to listen to whining.

"Well, I don't have time to help start (fill in the blank of the program she misses most here...) I have three little ones at home!" So did the people that started the program you came from.

Yup. I'm tired of it. Time to find a new career.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Next on Cooking with Cranky....

I have two hints: one old and one new.

1) To cook wild rice, or one of those lovely wild rice/brown rice blends you find from Lundburg or Chieftain in your grocery, without hassle or scorching: place the desired amount of rice, and water as called for on the box in a dutch oven/covered deep casserole dish in the oven for about one hour instead of trying to cook it on the stove (where you must stir every 27 seconds to stop it from sticking to the bottom) or rice cooker ( where the heat is just too high, and it will never cook right).

My exact method is: Get out a small dutch oven, and put on the filled tea pot, turn on the oven. Brown a small onion, a bit of celery, and 1/4 of a green pepper (all at very small dice) in 3-4 tablespoons of Olive Oil. Add a few small sprigs fresh herbs if you have them, clipped small. Add two cups wild rice blend and stir to coat with oil, pour 4 cups of boiling water over the mix, add a tablespoon or so of concentrated chicken stock and some black pepper and stir. cover, put in oven on 325, check in 45 minutes, and add more water if needed. It comes out nutty and chewy without that teeth-sticking, odd raw centered problem that stove top methods can have.

If you make a double batch it can be refrigerated for several days and used in soups or casseroles.

2) Hamburger Bricks: For years I have browned hamburger before I freeze it to save prep time. As follows: in a large stock pot add 2-3 cups tap water, 5-6 pounds of burger, 1 TBS salt, 1 TBS pepper, 1 TBS onion powder. ( I find the smell of plain hamburger cooking gross, I season it so that it smells better while cooking, and no dish I make doesn't need this stuff anyhow.) cook covered over low/medium heat, stirring every 10 minutes or so until done. Mash with a potato masher to break up if needed (don't sweat mashing during cooking. it crumbles easily when it is done) Turn off and cool for 1/2 hour or so. Spoon into a colander over a big bowl to drain and use either 1 QT ziploc bags for single meal portions, or gallon bags for the "Break off a hunk" option. Smash them into flat squares filling the whole bag no more than 3/4 of an inch thick, pushing out all of the air with a cutting board just before sealing. freeze.
To use, thaw a bag or part of a bag in the microwave or add frozen to soups, pasta sauces, or stews.

Some people call these 'time savers" I call them things I've discovered since I'm lazy.


Side note: While typing this note I forgot about the pan of oatmeal on the stove in the kitchen, and burned it to a crisp. (to get scorched food out of the bottom of a pan, fill with water, add baking soda generously, heat to boiling then turn off, let sit for a few hours, pry crap off bottom of pan, repeat if necessary. )

Monday, May 18, 2009

Poodle N' Noodles

This recipe is in response to a fan request. No, I don't have fans, but Poodle N' Noodles does.

Poodle N’ Noodles Casserole

About two cups cooked chicken, cut into small, bite-sized pieces
(this would be two boneless, skinless, breasts or three large thighs. Be sure to cook before you dice and add to dish, it makes a BIG difference in texture. Also good use for leftovers)
Two cups bite-sized cooked veggies – your choice.
( I use mostly frozen ones I zap in the microwave before mixing in. ordinary “Mixed veggies” are the standard.
1 can cream of Chicken soup
½ cup sour cream
1 cup chicken stock
About 10oz (my way of saying ‘most of a 12 oz bag, but not all of it’) wide ‘no yolk’ noodles cooked as on the bag to the not-quite-done stage(not the broad ones, they are too fat and break up too much)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Season to taste – I use a few grinds of black pepper and a couple of tablespoons of Penzeys Fox Point or Parisian Bonne Herbes Seasoning. You can either go to www.penzeys.com and get some, or use any sweet herb blend for Chicken that you like.

How To:
Mix chicken, noodles, and veggies in a large mixing bowl. Mix soup, sour cream, cheese, chicken stock and seasonings in another bowl until well blended. Pour soup mixture over chicken/noodle mixture and gently mix. This should be slightly soupy and well covered with the soup mixture, if it isn’t you can add some milk – or more sour cream. I usually have to add some, a glug or two. Turn the casserole out into a baking dish and top with the cracker crumb topping. Bake for about 45 minutes (if the chicken and noodles were already hot) or about an hour (if your ingredients are cold) at 350*

In a quart zip-loc crush together a three inch stack of crackers, or the same amount of cheezits or anything like that you have around that has gone a bit stale, ½ cup of cheddar cheese, 1 tsp of onion powder, and a bit more of the seasoning used in the dish – use more of everything if you like lots of crunchy stuff on top.


Use fresh mushrooms and a can of cream of Celery soup in place of the Veggies and the sour cream.
Replace sour cream with a can of cream of cheddar, or left-over Alfredo sauce for a very cheesy casserole
Add white wine instead of chicken stock
Dish also works with Turkey, and different cheeses. (also works without cheese.)
a can of finely chopped water chestnuts adds a nice crunchy texture

This is all guessing as to how much of stuff. I never measure anything unless I'm baking - breads and cakes let you know if you've screwed up, casseroles are very forgiving. ~M.E.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

M.E. is....

.... I find it interesting and a little pathetic when people put up their every emotional change up as a facebook status. Don't they realize that "Forever in love and livin' the dream!!!!!" can turn into " single again - liars should burn in hell!!!" so quickly the keyboard on the cell phone won't even have time to get cold? I suppose they don't or they wouldn't bother.

Besides, is all that the business of every single one of your 287 BFF's? A person I know announced their intent to move several hours away "in three weeks, if all goes well" on FB not long ago. This person is employed, and has not resigned their position. So, now you can bet your employer knows, and you can expect to get fired. What if not all goes well? How does it feel to be standing on a bridge as you burn it?

M.E. is.... .... frustrated, sleepless, stressed, and cautioning you all about how you use these 21st century communication tools.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A selfish little trip

I'm going to New York City. I've put a sticky note on the calendar, and have started planning. The dates are still not nailed down - but it will be sometime in the fall between the time DJ and Ken leave after their two week rest, and Hannah's birthday. I think I can afford to stay about five days - depending on how much I have to pay for a hotel. I may go alone, but Hannah will likely go along.

The Museums of New York City have been on my short list of things to do for about five years. Last Christmas I was given a 'travel savings account' and for each gift giving occasion since I've asked for money to be deposited. When I received that list I knew that the first expenditures would be New York, or a return to London. This is a totally selfish thing - this trip is all about what I want to do and see. (That's why I considered going alone, but Hannah enjoys most of the things I do, so will put up with my complete and utter selfishness to be part of the adventure.)

The first money has already been spent: $31.00 on two NYC guides, and $79.00 on a lecture series titled "Museum Masterpieces: The New York Metropolitan Museum" Anyone who has traveled with me in the past knows that the first word on pre-travel is not simple planning, but elbow-deep research. No sense spending half an hour trying to figure out where in the vast echoing MoMa the particular works I want to see are housed, when I can simply download the museum map before I leave and already have the lay-out in my head. (Turn left, up escalators to the 5th floor, first gallery on the right: Hello Matisse!)

I'm sure I'll do a few of the most obvious things one must do to say you've been to New York. I'll go up to the observation deck of either the Empire State Building or the one at the top of Rockefeller Center. I'll take a harbor boat cruise to see Lady Liberty, I'll east some, shop a *very* little, and perhaps take in a show - but this trip is about museums, and I'm not going to apologize for that. There are 8 works by Johannes Vermeer in NYC: three in the Frick Collection and five at the Met. I won't miss them by accident like I did the ones in the Louvre. If it takes two days to get my fill of the Met, another for MoMa, and a third for the Cloisters and the Frick - well, it's my trip, isn't it?

this will be very cool. Can't hardly wait!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Darla, my new sister.

Last night I drove 90 minutes south to attend Nathan's program. He's traveling with a missionary group from Jews for Jesus called The Liberated Wailing Wall. They sing and do drama and raise money and awareness for their evangelistic efforts among the Jewish population. My thoughts about the organization aside, it was a good program, and it was really good to see Nathan again.

I arrived at this little church in Granite City, Illinois about 20 minutes before the advertised start of the program. There were about 40 people already in the fan-shaped sanctuary, and the average age of the attenders was someplace on the high side of 65. Sitting off to the by herself left was a lady that was closer to my age, and also was wearing jeans. I walked over and introduced myself and had a seat in the pew in front of her, and catty-corner so we could talk. The second thing out of her mouth after her name was: "I was baptized three weeks ago!". She radiated excitement about that. Sometimes I wish I could whip up that much excitement. "I was baptized 33 years ago!". Her face was care warn and she was obviously quite mid-lower class - but as she told me about how joyful just coming to church made her, she included me in her happy glow. The minister of the church walked up to us.

"Welcome to our Church, God loves Ya!" He said to me. How could I help but smile back? He turned to my new friend. "Sister Darla, how are things with you and your family?" She chatted a bit about some issues obviously known to this man. "God loves that boy of yours, too!" He said with one of those Big Televangelist Grins, "Just keep praying, Just keep Praying!". Soon we were surrounded by other happily chatting people, and then the program started.

A church where the minister intones "Raise your HANDS to the LORD and pray with Me!" would set me giggling on a regular basis, but it is obviously the perfect place for my new sister Darla, who I'll not likely see again this side of heaven.

You Go, Darla. Mister Minister with the swoopy hair and booming voice, You Go.

God Loves Ya!


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What Is Poetry?

My chore today is compiling and typing an end of semester poetry booklet for my co-op class. I'm sure that this little book will be treasured for years by the loving parents of my students. Someplace, 8 years from now when high school graduation is upon the youngest of them there it will be on the brag table - the book where their poems were published back when they were in the 4th grade. Their own poems will have been lovingly highlighted and their grandmothers will comment on how their budding genius was detectable even back then.


In my dreams.

Truthfully, most of the poetry that my students turned in for the booklet is childish and ordinary. Some of those I revved up a little in the editing process with slightly better punctuation and spacing, and nice fonts. Some of it is so deliciously hideous that I very carefully typed it exactly as it was turned in to me, and fondly set the name of the offending author at the bottom in slightly larger type. What I don't get is that I heard better poetry from some of them during the semester, but when I let them choose what they wanted printed what they gave me - well - some of it was hard to type.

I spoke endlessly about imagery, metaphor, blank verse, word pictures, cadence, style. We read dozens of great poems of lots of types and styles. They brought in examples of poetry they liked, read it, and we talked about what made it enjoyable. We talked about what makes a poem work. We talked about why some poetry and poets are great. I knew that I would not receive any great poetry - I never expected it. What I received from their creative little pens were horrid rhyme schemes, banal story lines, and ickydisjointedgraceless meter. I had hoped for a little better.

Maybe the lesson wherein I proclaimed that the words were their own, and they could use them as they pleased sunk just a little too deep.

Nevertheless, I'm certain that this booklet will surface in a few households many years from now. It'll make great black mail material.

Cheers! ~M.E.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Oops, where'd that week go...

Teenpact week passed quickly past with me mostly driving to and from Springfield x4 daily. I am mightily tired of that twelve mile stretch of road. It might be our last year unless H Girl can get over the embarrassment of being yanked out of class and told she had to wear someone's spare skirt because she had gotten bad gouge on what the dress code was for the last day, and had thought it was ok to wear a blouse and dress PANTS. EVIL, EVIL pants. Several girls had worn dress pants to the last day last year. They are required to wear long skirts on the days they are out and about in the Capitol meeting with people - but the last day is a closed door public speaking class. I've always told my girls to take the good and gracefully move by the bad in the program (that tends to take their Christianity a leetle bit on the legalistic, patriarchal, fundamentalist side.) But a program where kids get by with 'business clothes' that include duct tape ties and skirts from hallowe'en costumes, castigating a girl for dress pants is drawing the line in the wrong place IMHO. I think the best thing is for us to exhibit the grace they didn't - so I don't plan to make a fuss, but I will be requesting a refund on that part of the tuition. I doubt they will be forthcoming with that.

I have a veggie garden! Thanks to a very timely tilling courtesy of our friend Ed, I was able to plant tomatoes, beans, green peppers, egg plant, snap peas, cabbage, squash, onions, and carrots last Sunday - just before it rained all week. If we hadn't been able to squeeze it in on Sunday, I'm not sure when it would have been able to get done. The ground is way too wet to till again - but the little plants are doing great! I also have basil, oregano, cilantro and parsley in pots on the deck. Tomorrow I need to get it mulched in before the weeds take over.

Oh, it's 2:18 am, and a Barred Owl is hooting away outside the window keeping me company. Sounds like he's in a tree in the ravine.

Hope you had a good week, too. ~M.E.