Friday, February 27, 2009

Springing Spring

On the way home from a fore' to find some fresh fruit this morning, I noticed that there was something different about the world in the last two days. It took me a few minutes to figure out what it was; buds. All along the highway in Hartselle we have Bartlet Pear trees planted and each one is covered in tiny white buds that will erupt into a full snowy blossom in April. Smaller trees all have the little citron green dots on the branches that show where leaves will break free. Any area lucky enough to have daffodils is covered in beautiful flowers. It is a great feeling to know that spring is just around the corner, but I know it isn't that close! LOL! The bigger trees seem to be shaking their heads at the smaller ones and whispering "Too soon." As much as I was enjoying my coat being a little too warm today, I know that this weekend has a freeze in store and that the little buds and flowers will all drop off and try again in a few weeks. I am feeling a tug to green things though. I've been looking into terrariums and seeds for this spring. Dad and I have plans for a big garden at their house - corn, tomatoes, green beans and zucchini. Today I even bought the material to make a vintage floral quilt for my bed. Soon enough the flowers will be real and I will be complaining it's too hot again, but for now it is nice to enjoy the early signs of spring.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Great Expectations

It's amazing the number of things I don't get done in a day. When supper is over and the evening has come, I sit back and think, "What did I do again?" An entire day gone and I am lucky if I can find three things I finished.

To be honest, I know this is partly due to fast internet connection. My friends and I do not call each other, we email. It is so much easier to just type out a response and hit send, than to try to talk to someone over the sudden onslaught of needs that a phone call induces in children. I also use my connection to fill out the boys' school curriculum. We are free-schoolers so there is quite a bit of search and print going on in the late afternoons for tomorrow's school.

Part of the problem is that once a chore is done, it seldom stays that way more than an hour. Case in point, the living room floor. The living room is a full 25% of the house, so having it clean is a big deal to me. (That and I have a thing about clean carpets.) Each day I start off and end the day, picking up toys, socks, shoes, blankets, school books and various snack items that have been left out. I vacuum at least once a day, usually more like 2-3 times, and yell at the boys to help me with the pick up at least once a day. Within two hours of my morning cleaning today the boys had put out a picnic blanket and cracked hard boiled eggs for lunch leaving little shells and pieces of egg all over the floor again. All this while I swept and mopped the kitchen. Sigh.

Somewhere in my head I have this never ending list of all the things I think I should be able to do in a day. I'm not sure where this list came from, but I have NEVER finished it. I think it may have been made in China. A while back I tried having a lists of three to five things that I wanted to finish for the day. Those worked pretty well, until I was done. After that I made another list, and another, and another, and always ended up mad that I couldn't finish that LAST list. Maybe it isn't that I am not getting much done. Maybe it is more about getting used to the idea that some things, like chore lists for homeschooling moms, are never ending and finding a way to say, "I did good" for the things I do get done, whether they stay done or not.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

Confession time: I love to celebrate my birthday. It's not that I want other people to celebrate it so much as I want a REASON to celebrate with other people. Birthdays work quiet well. Mine, yours, your dogs... Mom and I were planning on going shopping and out to eat for my birthday on Friday since that is her day off. We don't usually torture the boys with actual clothes shopping, but for my b-day they could deal. Our plans changed with the onset of my 7th illness in 6 weeks. We went to the doctor instead leaving the kids home with Lou.

There was SOME birthday celebrating going on this weekend. Lou got me tickets to see Spamalot at the VBCC on Saturday night. That is probably one of the top ten birthday gifts I've ever gotten, so when I felt too bad to go, I didn't let that stop me. Lou was sick by then too. We trudged on and within 20 minutes of arrival I knew I should not have come. I could hardly walk a strait line and walking took extreme concentration. I spent the first act fanning myself and trying to stay vertical in my seat. After an arduous trip to the ladies room, I was sure I was going to die in the theater holding my "I'm not dead yet" t-shirt. Oh, the irony. I managed to make it through the second act and even hacked a wheezing laugh a few times. The play was hilarious and was glad I had made it. I spent the entire day Sunday with a fever and chills and told Lou that if I did die he had to bury me in my new shirt.

For the last five years Esther and I have celebrated my birthday (the first time by chance) with a trip to Cherokee Rock Village and High Falls Park near Weiss Lake. The first two years it was 75*, the third I was in Florida on a business trip with Lou (the girls all went without me - ha!) and last year we all got hypothermia. This year wasn't much better. I was 6 hours out from a week long fever and cough, so I had to bail. Plus the weather was looking like 40* again. Ugh. When it is 40* at the bottom of a mountain it is FREAKIN' COLD at the top. So much for traditions. We have rescheduled the hike for next Monday.

I got several calls from family that were wishing me a happy birthday. I have promises of several belated birthday lunches or days out in the next two weeks. I feel so loved. :o) The best thing about the whole weekend is realizing how many people really care about us. Has there ever been a better gift than that?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I've been working on our house to sell this summer. We keep going back and forth between investing in some changes so it will sell and just staying here on a refinance. I'm having a hard time doing what is likely the wisest move - refinancing. The country is calling me!

For now I'm trying to get things looking the way I want so that I will be happier here. New paint isn't going to rid me of funky neighbors, but maybe I'll like being stuck inside the house more? Maybe. One of my top priorities is getting a new couch. Not the wisest investment with three little boys, but my hand-me-down couch from Mom and Dad is older than Austin and the fabric is literally shredding out from underneath us, piping has been pulled out from the middle seat and the back cushions are in desperate need of some sort of lifting. Lou has been working extra hours and a second side job to make some extra money for a new couch. Now comes the hard part. Figuring out what to get.

While we were out yesterday we looked at Furniture Row in Madison. We have had good luck there in the past and thought that would be the place to start. My favorite couch is there, but Lou and I agree that it would be risky.

I like this one in a tan color. Yes, it's leather. Soft Italian leather. The leather is better for the boys' allergies since dust collects in fabric. I really like this one. I would have to have two arm chairs for extra seating (I'm not getting all leather!) and that would be as much as the couch again.

I did see another that I really felling love with. It is fun and interesting and will manage to fit in my tiny living room while still providing seating for everyone.

The trouble is that it is very trendy and I worry that I'll tire of the print. Of course the print is on the throw pillow so I could just replace those when I get tired of it. The back is leather and the seats are denim. Very me. I thought with this one I could still fit ONE arm chair for extra seating and have enough for a nice arrangement.

Coming this summer: New Kitchen.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Freezing Our Butts Off at Burritt Museum

Long weekends should never be marred by illness, but that is just what happened to me this week. I had a HORRIBLE head cold from Thursday night until this morning. I am still coughing from the chest cold last Tuesday, but at least I can now breath and smell things! My Camry has been giving me problems (hesitating badly) and we had decided that it wasn't really safe to drive at this point, however this is Tuesday. Tuesday is errand day. Plus today was Dr Burritt's birthday so the Burritt on the mountain museum was free. I just couldn't stay home! Not after being stuck at home all through Valentine's Day and Lou's day off Monday! Lou stepped in and saved the day. He took a vacation day and we headed out - late - to the mountain.

The view from the top is great this time of year. See the rocket from the Space and Rocket Center?
There are several log cabin houses that have been moved to the property to display different times in Alabama history. This house was two separate areas with a breeze way through the middle. I'm sure it was great in the summer, but it made a wind tunnel on the top of the already cold mountain! As you can see the boys were COLD. LOL! I think the day's high of 57 was at 9 am and it had just continued to drop from there. The cold front that was coming in tomorrow was early!

One of the boys favorite thing there is the animals.

The "mansion" on the property is more like 3000 sq ft, but built with stone and beautiful deco detailing. It is an unusual house in that it is X shaped with a small second story in the middle.

Lou and I both really liked the fireplaces. Natural stone was cut in half to form an ink-blot effect above the first one. The boys were thrilled about it as well. LOL!

The second used one HUGE piece of rock to form the hearth stone. The coloring was just beautiful.

There was a large rock collection including these great florescent rocks. I couldn't believe my camera actually took this shot! LOL!

And, yes, I know this carpet on stairs, but this was the strangest carpet I have ever seen... I really liked it.

No trip would be complete without portraits!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day

I've always found Valentine's Day a bit, well, disturbing. As a child I remember how, during my two years at school, the popular kids would snub the kids that they didn't like by hiding their valentines in their own pockets so that person would KNOW they weren't cool enough. I was horrified! Now, I didn't really want Stanley to think I liked him like that because he did eat his boogers in class, but I would carefully select cards that said "You're a great friend" or "Have a happy day". The idea of all of our parents sending all 18 cards and these kids getting snubbed anyway just hurt MY feelings. As a teenager I hated Valentine's Day even more. It seemed to be the day when every guy that had a candle burning for me would publicly bestow me with gifts or attention. Ug. I have a shy streak and publicly receiving anything was disturbing enough, let alone a rose with a dozen garish balloons from a guy who I didn't want hurt in front of everyone. Also, WHOSE idea was it to celebrate the beheading of a priest as a romantic holiday anyway?

On our first Valentine's Day as a couple, Lou gave me a large bear with a heart declaring I Love You - hey, he was 18! I let him know pronto that, while I liked what the bear represented, I was NOT into theme gifts. I just wanted to spend time with HIM. We really didn't have to do anything special. The next year he surprised me with a single red rose in the back window of my car. The biggest part of this gift was knowing that he had woke up EARLY to accomplish this surprise before I left for my 8am class.

When the crap hit the fan at work this week, Lou was the only one that could re-work the system for the guys on location in New Mexico. He was gone most of the night Friday and all day Saturday, so, since I sound like Brad Garrett right now anyway, I hadn't planned on much. In recent years he has bought me beautiful, potted Tulips from the botanical gardens that I re-plant in my back yard after they have flowered. This year he surprised me with a second gift: Monty Python and the Holy Grail 2 DVD set. He even stopped after work to bring me home some Big Bob's. We had the best time watching MP and eating our yummy supper followed up with chocolate chip cookie dough I had managed to made for him. Oh, yeah. My guy is the best.

I'm still not a fan of Valentine's Day, but at least I don't dread it anymore - I know it's because of MY valentine. I even made cards for the boys and bought them garish looking doughnuts for breakfast. Maybe the day will grow on me...

Friday, February 13, 2009

No Child Left Indoors - seriously

When my friend Karen sent me to this writer's site I thought this one was a joke. Sadly no. As if the upper establishment hasn't made it nearly impossible on school teachers already, now this? When will we realize that the school is NOT the answer to all societies problems?

“No Child Left Inside”: An Example of The Wrong Way to Solve a National Problem
By Peter Gray on October 08, 2008 in Freedom to Learn

On Sept. 18, the US House of Representatives passed, by a landslide vote of 293 to 109, its version of the "No Child Left Inside" act. The Senate version has yet to been voted on. This legislation has been pushed by a coalition of environmentalists, educators, public health specialists, and business groups called the No Child Left Inside Coalition.

I share all of the concerns of the Coalition, at least as they are expressed on the Coalition's website. I am an ardent environmentalist, much concerned about the rape of our planet and its potential future inhabitability. I am concerned about the great ignorance on the part of so many of our citizens about the outdoors. I am concerned that we see very few children playing outdoors today. I am concerned that what passes for outdoor "play," all too often today, is highly structured, adult-supervised sports, which have little or nothing to do with discoveries about the outdoors. I am concerned about the epidemic rates, today, of childhood obesity and depression, and I agree with the Coalition that these rates are at least partly the results of the absence of outdoor adventure in children's lives.

Since I agree with the Coalition on all of this, you might think that I would support the No Child Left Inside legislation, which the Coalition has been working so hard to pass. But I do not.

Schools suck the fun out of everything they teach. Do we want schools now to suck the fun out of outdoor adventure?

This legislation, in my mind, is a perfect example of the kind of thinking that has caused many of the problems that the Coalition is concerned about, not the kind of thinking that can solve them. Every time we see a national problem, and especially if that problem has anything to do with children, a hue and cry goes out to solve that problem through the school system. The attitude seems to be that every problem can be solved by piliing yet another set of required courses and examinations onto the backs of schoolchildren. Don't you see, you members of the Coalition, that the school system and our reliance on it to babysit our children and to force onto them an ever growing list of "educational" demands is the problem? And don't you see that the more we attempt to regulate school activities through government mandates, the more restrictive and antithetical to the spirit of discovery school becomes?

If this new act becomes law, then each state will be asked to submit, to the US Department of Education, a plan for "environmental literacy." Here is what the House act says about that plan (quoted from the Coalition's website):

"State plans must include: relevant content standards, content areas, and courses or subjects where instruction will take place; a description of the relationship of the plan to state graduation requirements; a description of programs for professional development of teachers to improve their environmental content knowledge, skill in teaching about environmental issues, and field-based pedagogical skills; a description of how the state educational agency will measure the environmental literacy of students; and a description of how the state educational agency will implement the plan, including securing funding and other necessary support."

Passage of this legislation would, no doubt, be a coup for the educational industry (see my August 27 post). It would result in a new set of courses, tests, textbooks, educational specialists, program administrators, grant writers, and so on and so on. What would it do for children? It would give them yet another set of school requirements, yet another set of tests to pass. Is this the way to get children to love and explore the outdoors? Has the school system been so successful in getting children to love all the other things it teaches--like math, history, and physics--that we now want to entrust it with teaching our kids to love the outdoors?

Take a look, for example, at what our school system already does in the realm of "physical education." Because people think that the body as well as the mind needs training, most schools require students to take a physical education class each year. What this class does is to take something that should be joyful play and turn it into something that, for many if not most kids, is tedious, sometimes odious, and often embarrassing. By forcing everyone to do the same activities, at the same time, in accordance with the school's schedule, and by testing and grading kids on everything and publicly comparing their performances, the school system effectively turns everything that should be play into work.

If you care about children's love for the outdoors, write to your US senators and ask them to vote against "No Child Left Inside."

How Can We Increase Children's Outdoor Play and Adventure?

To solve a problem, it is often valuable to start by thinking about what caused the problem in the first place. When I was a child (longer ago than I'll say), most kids spent enormous amounts of time outdoors. We went everywhere on our own, by foot and on bikes. We played games in vacant lots, and in rural areas outside of town, as well as in parks. We discovered things like butterflies, frogs, and snakes. We went fishing and swimming on our own. We took ice skating adventures across frozen lakes and hiking adventures in the woods, on our own, with no adults. What has happened to change all that?

One thing that has happened is that school and adults outside of school have taken over children's lives. When I was a child, school performance was much less emphasized than it is today. There was very little if any homework. On school days we had all day after 3:00 to play, plus an hour at lunchtime (during which we were not confined to school). The school year was shorter then than now, and we had three months of summer to play. Most communities did not have adult-organized sports leagues, and if they did have them we were never made to feel that we must participate for the sake of our résumés. Our parents did not feel that it was their responsibility to drive us places, or to watch us do everything we did so they could cheer us on or protect us from dangers. They trusted us. They trusted that, given freedom, we would enjoy ourselves and would for the most part do things that were good for us.

Many parents will argue that it is not their kids that they distrust, but the neighborhood. I'm to a considerable degree sympathetic with that fear. Partly because fewer kids are outdoors playing, many neighborhoods may in fact be less safe now than then. It used to be that if anyone harassed someone outdoors, there would be many kids around, of all ages, as witnesses and deterrents. It is also the case that today, with both parents in most families away at work, there are fewer adults at home in any given neighborhood, fewer adults who could spot potential problems. People (adults as well as children) are also less likely to know their neighbors today than in the past, and that too makes neighborhoods less safe. And, of course, there are more cars on the streets than there used to be, and communities no longer feel that it is their duty to construct and maintain sidewalks, parks, and playgrounds.

So, if these are the causes of the decline in outdoor play and adventure, then these are the issues we should work on. Lets stop trying to solve problems through increased schooling, which only makes the problems worse, and start trying to solve them through steps that will give our children more real freedom, including freedom to play outdoors. Here are some things you might do:

Speak out against increased school hours, homework, and testing. Let your school board, your school superintendent, and others in your community know that you, as a parent, resent the amount of busywork that is being forced on your children and resent the ever-increasing intrusion of school into your child's time and your family's time. Initiate local legislation to decrease the school day and school year. Fight against state-mandated testing.

Work outside of the school system to develop safe places for children to play. Let the legislators in your community know that they should start spending less money on schools and more money on sidewalks, parks, and police protection in areas where children can play. Urge your community to develop and maintain parks that are safe yet provide opportunities for adventure--parks that have woods to explore, trees to climb, ponds and streams to fish in. Develop and support programs that allow children to engage with the outdoors in their own playful ways, on their own time, with others of their own choosing, without adult supervision and certainly without testing.

Meet with other parents in your neighborhood to talk about the problem of providing safe places and opportunities to play. Maybe you can set up a neighborhood watch, which will help assure people that the neighborhood is safe for children's play. Maybe you can find ways to take weekend trips with other families, to campgrounds or other places where the kids can play safely, with one another in new and exciting settings, while the adults ignore them and socialize among themselves in their own chosen ways.

I know that these steps may not be easy. They require initiative. They run counter to the spoken agenda in most communities, which is always for more school and more direct adult supervision of children. Yet, if you scratch the surface of thinking of the adults in your community, you will find that many of them, in their hearts, recognize that children are more constrained, more imprisoned, today than they themselves were when they were children. If you ask them to say why, they are likely to come up, on their own, with lists not unlike what I have suggested here. What we need to do now is to transfer that heartfelt understanding into the head, to organize our efforts, and to take rational action to give our children real freedom to play outdoors.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Animal School

I posted this story a few years ago on another blog. It is a favorite of mine and I wanted to have it here as well.

The story has been reproduced from Preparing Our Children for Success, by Rabbi Z. Greenwald
Once upon a time the animals had a school. They had to create a curriculum that would satisfy everyone, so they chose four subjects: running, climbing, flying, and swimming. All the animals, of course, studied all the subjects.

The duck was very good at swimming, better than the teacher, in fact. He received passing grades in running and flying, but was hopeless in climbing, so they made him drop swimming so that he could practice climbing. After a while he was only average at swimming, but average is still acceptable, at least in school, and nobody worried much about it except the duck.

The eagle was considered a troublemaker. In his climbing class he beat everybody to the top of the tree, but he had his own way of getting there that was against the rules. He always had to stay after school and write, "Cheating is wrong," five hundred times. This kept him from soaring, which he loved, but schoolwork comes first.

The bear flunked because they said he was lazy, especially in the winter. His best time was summer, but school wasn't open then.

The zebra played hooky a lot because the ponies made fun of his stripes, and this made him very sad.

The kangaroo started out at the top of the racing class, but became discouraged when was told to move swiftly on all four legs the way his classmates did.

The fish quit school because he was bored. To him, all four subjects were the same, but nobody understood that because they had never seen a fish.

The squirrel got an A in climbing, but his flying teacher made him start from the ground up, instead of from the treetop down. His legs got so sore practicing takeoffs that he began getting Cs in climbing and Ds in running.

The bee was the biggest problem of all, so the teacher sent him to Doctor Owl for testing. Doctor Owl said that the bee's wings were too small for flying and they were in the wrong place. The bee never saw Doctor Owl's report, so he just went ahead and flew anyway.


The duck is the child who does well in math and poorly in English and is given tutorials by the English teacher while his classmates are doing math. He loses his edge in math, and only does passably well in English.

The eagle is the child who is turned into a troublemaker because he has his "own style" of doing things. While he is not doing anything "wrong," his non-conforming is perceived as trouble making, for which he is punished.

Who does not recognize the bear? The kid who is great in camp, thrives on extra-curricular, but really just goes flat in the academics.

The zebra is the heavy, tall, or short, self-conscious kid whose failure in school few realize is due to a sense of social inadequacy.

The kangaroo is the one who instead of persevering gives up and becomes that discouraged child whose future disappears because he was not appreciated.

The fish is a child who really requires full special education and should not be in the regular classroom.

The squirrel, unlike the duck who "manages," becomes a failure.

The bee, oh the bee, is the child who the school just feels it cannot deal with, yet, against all odds, with the backing of his parents, has enough self-motivation to do well even though everyone thought he couldn't. I had the pleasure of knowing many bees.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Love makes kids smarter"

I was taking a break from the never ending laundry, when I came across an article in the Health area of Yahoo News entitled "Love makes kids smarter."

In a recent study of 46 baby chimpanzee orphans, Kim Bard of the University of Portsmouth in England and her colleagues demonstrated that primate babies that have tight relationships with mother figures do much better on cognitive tests than babies who receive only the basics of food, shelter, and friendship with peers.

While my kids are not monkeys - most of the time - there is a strong message in that science. I am so thankful to have real relationships with my kids all day every day. School friends are nice and some teachers are great, but it's just not the same. Teachers can't raise my kids the same way I will. They can't love them the same way I do. It reminded me of a blog post that the president of our homeschool group read this month for the moms.


If you are married…your husband and his needs are number one. God created you to be your husband’s help meet. HE IS YOUR TOP MINISTRY. It is the most blessed ministry you will ever be a part of. It may also be the most challenging. Helping to make your husband strong, confident and successful…encouraging him to be the leader of your home…working beside him in what God has called him to do. This is your most important work as a Christian woman/wife.

If you have children, your mission is to take care of them, train them, love them, and help them to grow in the way of Jesus. They need you more than any other child or adult or charity or organization outside your home needs you.

Because your family is your number one mission, you really are “doing your ministry” everytime you do a load of laundry, wipe a nose, cook a meal, wash the dishes, clean up a mess or shop for food. Everytime you smile at your husband or read a book to your kids…you are ministering to them.

I say all of this to reassure you of two different but specific things:

1. If you feel like all you do all day is run from one chore to the next or from one dirty diaper to the other…and because of that you don’t feel like you are being productive for God…think again. The things you are doing for your family is your ministry to them and for God. (”Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:31-40…)

2. If you are doing all sorts of good things for the community, for the church and for the needy families next door…but you keep telling your own kids “just a minute” and are so busy running from one “outside need” to another that you don’t have any smiles left to give to your husband at the end of the day…you need to re-evaluate your ministry priorities.

Above all…focus on your family’s needs first…their physical, emotional and spiritual needs."

Now, back to the laundry - I mean - my ministry. ;o)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Valentines at the libray

While Austin and Carson went to classes at the Creative Learning Connection today with Mr Sharman, Griffin and I had a Mommy and Me day. We started out at the Decatur Library Story Time where they were having a Valentine's Day party for the kids. Griffin had picked out these blank geometric, 60's looking note cards that we put rocket balloons in with a note saying "Being your friend makes my spirit soar!" He was so excited to give them out today! Here he is toward the back of the group listening to the story. He has a hang up about sitting on the G circle. That is why he was clear across the room from me.

Ms Kim, who does the story hour with them, had brought fruit, chips, cheese, cookies and fruit boxes for snacks. Griffin was really shy about opening his cards. He just peeked in to see what character there was on the card. He has been wanting to get his library card for about two years now and this week he read his first words (Yea, G!) so we got him his car as well. He got Kung Fu Panda and Bee Movie. LOL! Oh, well. He is really happy.

After the library, he wanted to go out to eat - just me and him. He picked Red Lobster (he knows that is my favorite) and after we ordered he leaned across the table to me and said "This is kind of like a date, isn't it?" LOL! I told him it was, but it was more like taking your mother out to eat. We spent a long time at Books-A-Million where I got some great deals on the clearance stuff and then came home and played a couple races of Speed Racer on the Wii. It was a nice day with my sweety-boo.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lunch and Hiking at Esther's

This morning dawned fresh and warm. School day? Nah! I told the boys to get dressed because we were going somewhere today. I didn't know WHERE yet, but I was working on it. Esther was nice enough to let us come crash at her place so we went by WalMart and stocked up on sandwiches, chips, cookies and drinks.

This was Griffin's lunch.

I guess you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make a four year old eat.

After Suzette arrived with her two kids we were ready for action! So we sat around eating Oreos and planning on hiking and camping at a later date. After the Oreos were gone we thought, well, it's warm so we may as well hike. The kids were out side building the "civilization". This is an ongoing social studies program involving city planning, construction and a hierarchy of elected officials. We also call it go out and play, but they have moved the city three times so I think it should count as school.

This is the bakery. I didn't ask. Just go with it.

The girls in the kitchen/guest area.

Zachary demonstrated the correct way to crash and roll shortly after this shot. We learned not to ride the wagon in the trees.

It was such a beautiful day. Even the daffodils were out.

Carson was out feeling the goats. They are so cute.

He was the only kid that wanted to come with us. Guess who is my favorite today? LOL! Just kidding!

We hiked out into the woods from the back pasture area and headed south toward a bluff. Winter can be a tough time of the year to hike since it can seem that there is not much to see, but if you look carefully there are fun things all around you. Carson found these neat vines, one white and one black, perfectly intertwined on the forest floor.

I noticed this tree with a perfect hidey hole. No one was home, but we guessed who might live there.

Suzette found some acorns in various stages of sprouting that we took back for the city workers that didn't come on the hike.

Carson and I stopped a lot to check out the tracks in the moist ground.



Big birds (either crows or small turkey?)

Some of the deer tracks were followed by smallish paw prints. Esther's dogs are HUGE so I knew it wasn't them. Esther suggested fox and shortly there after we can across some scat (animal poo for my non-nature friends) that was either fox or skunk. We also saw scat for rabbits and coyotes.

Some of the forest had been selective cut this year. A few of the big trucks were still there and Carson was really excited. Ha! Take that kids who didn't come!

By the time we got back to the house it was 5:00 and we were due home. The kids were chasing the goat kids back into the pen and rolling the bails of hay, but we managed to herd our kids back to the car. I can never resist a good sunset so I took a picture in the car on the way home.

What, a ham?

This morning I am attempting to completely ignore the fact that on this 70* day in North Alabama, my children are all sick. The chest crud has moved on to the rest of the boys and my throat is really sore. Sigh. SOOOO, I am going to blog about something I am pretty good at that has nothing to do with germs: meal planning. Our subject today? The north American precooked Ham.

Several moms have balked at the idea of spending $20 on a good size, quality ham. That is so much money for one meal they say. ONE meal? I don't think I could stuff that much ham in my stomach. Here is a sample menu of how I use a ham:

Day One - Bake the ham in the oven with or without glaze to warm. I prefer without. Fewer calories this way and it makes it more versatile later. Serve it sliced with side veggies and dinner rolls for a complete meal.

Day Two - Slice the ham and use to make incredible sandwiches for lunch. Add lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles - whatever floats your sandwich boat.

As prep for tomorrow, soak half a pound of pinto and half a pound of northern beans in water overnight.

Day Three - Use cubed ham for a breakfast casserole. Scramble eggs, cheese, milk and ham over a crescent roll crust to make an awesome casserole breakfast one morning. There are a million varieties of this idea. A favorite here is baking the crescents into little cups with a muffin tin and filling them with toppings later.

Hopefully by now, you have used about 80% of your ham. Drain the beans in the morning and dump them in a crock pot. (Do not recycle the soaking water unless you want a musical supper the next night.) Throw in the ham bone with any extra ham picked off into the beans and one chopped medium onion. Add about 6-10 cups of water depending on how much liquid you like in your beans. Toss in six whole peppercorns and a bay leaf. You can add salt now if you want, but I usually add it before serving. Bake on low 8 hours or so. No ham and beans would be complete without corn bread either beside or crumbled in the beans. My boys like it with some maple syrup on top to sweeten the deal.

There you have it. You have just made four meals with one $20 ham.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Hiking in Bankhead

Since the weather was almost 70* today, we took a family trip to Bankhead to enjoy the sunshine. We met Kim and Wes at Wren's "trading post" to lead the way to Caney Falls. It isn't my favorite hike for a first time out, but it is by far the prettiest. I was really surprised by all the cars when we got there. Imagine how much MORE surprised I was when one belonged to our friends the Chappell's! Turns out there was a Wild South hike this morning that I had forgotten about. Too bad, I have always wanted to see lower Caney falls... Anyway, when we got to the falls there was a lot of ice hanging off the rocks and overhangs which was really cool.

Kim and Wes were great and pushed though the steep hike back, but opted to call it a day. Since it was almost two o'clock and we still hadn't eaten any lunch, we went around to the Sipsey River Park to eat on actual picnic tables. Packed sandwiches, oranges, corn chips, Oreos and bottled water filled us up enough to take to the trail again. Since the Sipsey site is a pay site, we thought we'd get out money's worth and hike the trail there. We took off on the south trail headed to a couple of falls. The ice, by now, was starting to fall from the canyon walls with lots of crashing drama that the boys loved. They spent a lot of time "skating" on the ice that was all over the floors of the trail.

We saw a dead deer in the creek. It was odd. There were no signs of it having been shot or having a broken leg. It was like it just lay down in the creek and died. We saw tracks that were either deer or pig at Caney Falls. More likely pig. There was a blue tailed skink on the trail as well. At least I think it was, but it had dropped it's tail so it was more of a no-tailed skink. Lots of nature and lots of exercise. The perfect Saturday.