Planning Plans and The Crazy

I just returned from a trip to the West coast, and I’ve had to hit the ground running.  I’m way behind on planning the coming homeschool year because life got epic The Crazy these last few months.  And since the start of school (and dance classes and piano lessons) is only two weeks away (yeeks!), I’ve been scrambling to prepare menus and freezer meals, and plan out now all of the lesson plans for the coming year.

But it’s gonna be awesome.  I’ll be teaching 8th and 5th grades, and I won’t lie:  8th grade has me sooooo excited!

Here’s what’s on the docket for 8th grade curriculum:

  • Apologia Exploring Creation With Physical Science
  • A Beka America, Land I Love
  • Teaching Textbooks Algebra I
  • reading the book of Genesis with Quest: In the Beginning, Genesis
  • For Such a Time As This Skills for Rhetoric

And literature for my 8th graders (this where I go a little bit drool-y in the mouth — because I’ll at-long-last be teaching some titles I’ve been chomping at the bit to teach since before the birth of my twin daughters):

  • As You Like It by Shakespeare
  • Indian Captive by Lois Lensky
  • Boston Jane: an adventure by Jennifer Holm
  • George Washington’s Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade
  • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • a collection of the best short stories by Edgar Allen Poe
  • Streams to the River, River to the Sea by Scott O’Dell
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Code Talkers by Joseph Bruchac
  • Anne Frank: the diary of a young girl
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I’ve always been very purposeful in planning school lessons for my daughters.  I’ve stuck to the philosophy that history is also herstory, so at least half of the titles I choose for my girls’ literature have to (more or less) meet two criteria: they must reveal and reinforce the continuity of the human condition and the complex webwork of our lives throughout time (so they’re most often “classic” works of literature);  and they have to have strong female leads, girls and women who demonstrate the best and worst and fullness of what a woman is and can be and should be.  So this year, I’m so supremely excited to (finally!) be sharing with my older girls some of my favorite works: Edgar Allen Poe, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone With the Wind, Shakespeare, and The Screwtape Letters.

Here’s the lineup for my 5th grader:

  • Exploring Creation with Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day
  • Abeka Enjoying Good Health
  • Abeka Grade 5 Old World History and Geography
  • Teaching Textbooks 5
  • reading the book of Genesis with Quest: In the Beginning, Genesis
  • FREE Treasures language arts lessons from McGraw Hill Education (spelling, grammar, and vocabulary)

And the literature for my 5th grader (again, squee!):

  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
  • The Light Princess by George MacDonald
  • Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen
  • Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher
  • Habibi by Shihab Nye
  • Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins
  • Daughter of the Mountains by Louise Rankin
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
  • Homesick by Jean Fritz
  • The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  • Listening For Lions by Gloria Whelan
  • Mary Slessor: forward into Calabar by Janet Benge
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
  • Teresa of Calcutta by Jeanene Watson
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
  • Red Sand, Blue Sky by Cathy Applegate
  • Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
  • The Canning Season by Polly Horvath

I’m super excited about digging into the ancient, non-Western part of history, and really focusing on the role of women in those cultures so unlike our own Western reality.

Lastly, because my husband and I are trying to save up for a trip with our girls to Disney World, and since the grocery budget for our family of five is humongous, and since round two of The Crazy will hit hard and heavy in two weeks time, I decided for the first time ever to create a rotating four-week menu schedule.  I don’t exaggerate (much) when I say I typically don’t make the same dinner twice in a year — I seriously enjoy trying new food with my family, and new recipes with exotic ingredients are to blame for the aforementioned humongous-ness of our grocery bill — but no more!  I reserve Friday nights for “Flex Nights”, for when my husband and I go out on a date or when we as a family just have to break down and eat at that favorite Indian restaurant of ours.  Beyond that one Flex Night a week, I declare we shall be hardcore disciplined  — we can afford fine, exotic dining when we get to Disney World.  Until then, this is what our menu will consist of (and seriously, there’s no deprivation, even with the hardcore nature of screaming pennies):

Rotating Monthly Menu

I’ll include some recipes here (from the above menu), in case you’d like to try some of them.  Several are crockpot meals (for those evenings when I’ll be at the dance studio and have no time to whip up a meal for my family), but several are casseroles that can be prepared in advance and stored in the freezer.  I spent all day yesterday cooking these double batches;  it not only saves time later, but also allows me to buy and cook in bulk, (saving money).  Here are the recipes included in the menu:

Creamy Chicken Caesar Wraps

Sausage-Potato-Kale Soup (I use lighter — and cheaper — turkey Kielbasa)

Crockpot Pinto Beans (I make a double batch of this with 2 lbs of dry beans, freezing 2/3 of the finished product for 2 future meals.  Super cheap food, and a Southern staple.)

Zucchini Fritters

Chili Dawg Casserole

Chickpea-Potato Curry (The instructions on this one don’t mention a crockpot, but you can totally cook this on low in your slow-cooker for 4-6 hours.)

Raita (I don’t like cilantro, so I don’t add it.)

Best Ever Black Bean Soup

Ramen Broccoli Slaw (I use sliced almonds in lieu of the peanuts.)

Crockpot Red Beans and Sausage (This is one of those meals that so simple and a total crowd pleaser.  One of my family’s favorites!)

Heavenly Hummus Wraps

Mexican Lasagna (I actually just buy a bottle of hot salsa in place of all spices and tomatoes in this recipe;  and I replace the black beans with chili beans.)

Hawaiian Ham ‘n Swiss Sliders

Curried Sweet Potatoes & Lentils (This one can actually be a pricy dish if you don’t already have the spices on hand like I do.)

Cowboy Casserole (I actually replace half of the meat in this with sliced portabello mushrooms;  I also use frozen corn, not canned.  And homemade cream of mushroom soup.)

Homemade Tuna Helper

Straight Up Egg Salad (I’m a huge fan of 50/50 mayo and sour cream or Greek yogurt)

Crockpot Hawaiian Chicken

Vegetable Soup (Our faaaaaavorite — the leeks throw it outta the ballpark!)

Mashed Chickpea Salad Sandwiches

Crockpot Corn and Potato Chowder (I just skip the bacon on this;  it’s just extra expense and I avoid pork as much as possible anyway.)

One Pot Alfredo

Best Broccoli (Toss in some walnuts and have this with the One Pot Alfredo — you won’t even miss the meat!)

Shepherd’s Pie (Instead of lamb, I’ll use 50/50 turkey and lean beef.  Lamb is hard to find in my neck of the woods, unless it’s Easter time.)

Creamy Chicken & Rice

And now that I’ve written all of this down, I have to go, ya know, further prepare for impending The Crazy . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Subject of Loss (and Faith)

I lost something last week.  Nope, not my car keys — though I can totally see why you went there as it’s been known to happen on more than just a few occasions (one time I even “lost” them in my locked car … in the ignition … while the car was running). Nope, last week I lost something way more important than car keys:  I lost a dream.

It’s nothing new to me.  I’ve lost dreams before.  I reckon we all do in our lifetimes.  We have them, tiny little fledgling things in our open, accepting hands;   we feed them, tentatively at first, then whole hog after a while, once we begin to watch them grow — and then just like that, we lose them.  They shrivel up or outright die on us.

Stupid dreams.

I once dreamed I’d grow up and be a published writer, but twenty-five years and several rejections later, I had to throw that dream in the trash.  At one point I dreamed of singing and performing on Broadway;  that dream didn’t last very long (and was probably a silly dream to have anyway as I’m actually quite shy and pretty insecure about my singing ability).  I dreamed once that I would be a world traveler;  that dream wasn’t so much squashed as it was put on the back burner (or maybe in the pantry on the lower shelf in that forgotten, darkened corner, the one that collects an inch of dust and gets excluded when ingredients or tasty snacks are being rummaged for).  Those are all some pretty difficult dreams to let go of, but not as difficult as losing my father and my dream of having a good relationship with him again;  that was probably the hardest dream I’ve yet had to let go of.

But last week I had a dream come roaring out of no where and take me by surprise.  Actually, it started several months ago when my husband dropped a tidbit of information in my lap.  See, there was this job that was available, and my husband fit the job description rather nicely.  It wasn’t a job that was even on our collective radar, but then there it was, a tiny blip on the blackened screen of life, and sometimes all it takes is a tiny blip for a dream to be born.  This particular job was so incredibly enticing I almost dared not want it for us — but I did want it.  And so did my husband.  And so he applied.  And he was called in for an interview.  And we did that private, subtle inward jig that people do when they really want something but dare not count their chickens before they’re hatched.

The interview process was kind of incredible because it entailed roundtrip airfare, and dinners out, and a rental car, and a really nice hotel — all on the company’s dime.  It felt very posh.  And when a company spends that kind of money on you, you begin to believe it’s a sure thing — most especially when you step foot on that foreign soil, and meet and talk to people you really like, and eat food that tastes better than anything you think you’ve ever tasted, and find shops you can imagine yourself spending money at, and go to the beach and feel sand and salt water lapping between your toes and clinging to your naked calves.  You begin to imagine what it would be like to live in a place like that, and your imaginings have that ring of truth that only the deepest wants can have.  And before you know it, the imaginings become a reality (or the same as) because it all feels so real, so perfectly the version of you you’d always wanted:  carefree, a wardrobe consisting of shorts and tank tops, freckled by the sun (this Irish girl doesn’t tan), relaxed and full.  You want it so bad, that you even convince yourself it’s what God wants for you — maybe you even imagine you hear God speaking to you in promise-filled honey tones, whispering to you

yes . . . yes . . .

But what happens to you when a dream that good, a life that longed for, that needed, is abruptly snatched away and given to another person, another family, another job candidate?  Well, I’m here to tell you what happens, and I speak from fresh experience:  you kinda lose your mind.  At least for a few days.

You begin to look back at all that transpired over the last week, the last month, and you see where you’d made the mistake of actually believing in something that (you see now — ah, that 20/20 vision) never had a stone’s throw chance of happening.  Then you begin re-evaluating your entire life and every decision you’d ever made that led you to the formation of that dream — of all the dreams and hopes that now lay mangled in a heap at the feet of your existence.  And you start to question everything — because when you dream something that hard, live so deeply in that imagined “reality”, everything starts to look kinda suspicious to you.  And — this is the real kicker — because you’d so thoroughly imagined this dream is what God wanted for you all along, but you didn’t get it, you begin to doubt God’s ability to deliver — nay, you begin to doubt God himself.  And it’s this last thing that pretty much does you in.

And here’s the part where we find out what I really truly lost last week.  It wasn’t a dream and it wasn’t the hoped-for (believed-in) possibility (assurance) of living out the rest of my days on a beach.  It was this:

faith

I realized last week that everything I’d ever believed about God was untrue.  I realized, after ten years of striving so hard to not put God in a box, I’d done exactly that: put him in a box.  I realized I’d believed God was simple and easy to understand, and that everything I believed about him was true and honest.  And every bit of that came crashing down on me when I realized all this time I’d been believing I was “hearing him speak to me” and “felt him guiding me” — none of which had anything at all to do with God and everything to do with my whims and fickle human wants.  I’d put my faith in my dreams, in my human beliefs about God — not in God himself.

Lemme tell ya, something that huge slapping a girl in the face, it smarts.  It smarts real bad.

I realized in the last week how very small I am.  And I realized how very big God is.  I realized how very little I can be trusted.  I also realized how begrudging I am to give God my trust — and as much as I loathe it, I admit that even now I am still holding out.  Pride does that.  Even when you’re aware of it, pride is still a stubborn jackass, smirking at you from its corner yet still way more enticing than the thought of being wrong — and I am wrong … but I still refuse to accept it.  I realized how very little I know — heck, that I really know nothing at all.  I realized how unknowable and mysterious God truly is, and how the enormity of him is so shockingly overwhelming it’s no wonder we frail, finite humanoids refuse to grapple with ourselves and instead attempt to “get” God, because it’s more than just a little mind-blowing to realize how truly Awesome God is and stand in the shadow of That.  It’s scary, really.  Really and truly terrifying.

I won’t lie, atheism and agnosticism certainly voiced their appeal to me this week.  Until I realized atheism would never work because I do believe in God, and agnosticism wouldn’t work either because I do care.  Besides, I couldn’t escape those snippets of scripture that have pretty much pulled me out of the depths of despair in the last few days — even as I fought them off with my stubborn pride, fought  to not believe in them ever again:

“God is love.” (1 John 4:16)

“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)

“The Lord will fight for you;  you need only be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

“Be still and know that I Am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

It appears that God — as scary as he is when we really open up our minds to the truth of experience with him (careful now, if you’re really honest, it’ll blow your mind and most probably break you)  — is actually quite good.

I don’t know what to do with that goodness.  I don’t know how to wrangle with it.  A month ago I was full to brimming with confidant, self-assured answers, but today I have none.  Not a single one.  Because God doesn’t answer to me or my evaluations of him.  God’s ways are not our ways, neither are his thoughts our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8) — and the second we think we’ve got him all figured out, his plans for us, for the cosmos, that’s when we find ourselves gasping from the most painful sort of whiplash at realizing our willful ignorance.

You can’t put your faith in dreams.  But you can put them in God — whatever and whoever he is.  That’s the one thing — the only thing — I know to be true.

I’m humbled today.  It’s not pretty.  It doesn’t feel good.  But God is good, and I reckon that’s gonna have to be good enough for me right now.

Some Days

Some days you dream big dreams, and you dream them like a ten-year-old because you are a ten-year-old, and experience hasn’t yet taught you anything about dreaming save that you can and you should.  So you do.

Some days your heart gets broken by a best friend who promised to always be your best friend.  But, because people change (especially the very young ones), it turns out she didn’t know what “always” meant any more than you did.  So she lets go and you let go and your march forward turns into other days in which you find other people to laugh with.  At least for a little while.

Some days you marry your best friend — who, as it turns out, was actually a boy, and not a girl.  And some days you give birth to his daughters and change poopy diapers mere hours (it seems) before they become teenagers.  And some days you yell at each other, maybe even swear a little, but most days you love each other enough to blot out the infrequent anger and the even more infrequent disappointment.  Because family is important except when it isn’t — and that’s because on those days it’s The Most Important.

Some days you concoct really good casseroles, and you pull them from hot ovens just as they are, filled to overloading with vegetables and ham and full-carb pasta and smothered with melty cheese that could third-degree burn you, but you don’t care because it looks so good and tastes even better than it looks, even if you do wind up with searing hot blisters on the roof of your mouth because you were too impatient to wait for cooling.

Some days you sit beside windows and watch the rain dancing on the street outside and in the grass.  And on those days you think how nice it would be to be a raindrop with little more care in the world than to fall and splish and be re-absorbed by the earth, sucked down into the mud, slithering over rocks, to find your way to a stream and then to a river, out to sea, and defying gravity upward into a cloud to be reincarnated once again into a rain drop.

Some days are filled with certainty.

Some days aren’t.

Some days find you crying on your bed, begging God to give you just one more year with your dad, so you can make things right.  And the next day comes and your dad is dead and you find yourself planning a funeral you thought was years away.  But it’s not.  It’s today.

Some days you think you’ve recovered from the trauma of death — because it’s been 2,007 days since the first infliction of that trauma — but you realize the passage of days can’t hold a candle to the sound of your dad’s voice on a video recording or the smell of him as a stranger brushes past you wearing his cologne.

Some days you look back on all the other days and you start to question the meaning of any of them.  And you start to question your beliefs that led you to the Why of doing certain things — everything.  You start to question God.  Then you wonder if there even is a god because you realize years worth of days have been filled with more questions than answers.  And some days are filled with the realization that maybe there never were any answers to begin with, only questions.  And on those days you begin to doubt.

Some days are longer than most.  Or at least they seem to be even though you logically know days are only 24-hours in length but it doesn’t matter because you find the pain of dashed hopes is ever so much larger than a 24-hour-sized box.

Some days you want a really good reason to smile but you find yourself instead crying as you stand in the shower, hot water running down your body, gurgling down the drain — and that feels poetic because you think maybe the shower water is mirroring all the days of your life and amounting to pretty much the same thing.

Some days you feel the weight of your experience, knowing full-well there are days and days more of such experience to come (and cringing a little at the daunting task of that), and you look back at the dreams you made at age ten and realize how silly they were in light of reality, in light of the rain and the heartache, the ticking of time’s clock.

Some days you write all of it down — the hurt, the joy, the lightness and the sheer weight of it all — and you put it in a blog post, wondering if you should even admit to feeling any of it, but you do it anyway because you don’t much care (except you kinda do) and hope someone else will come along and understand completely how you’re feeling, nod their head and feel a little less misunderstood themselves, even for just one day.

Design Dreaming

My husband and I are considering buying a new house  (not “new” new, but new to us — you get the idea).  Of course I’ve been pouring over my Pinterest boards and culling pins for design preferences and leanings.  I’m a lover of color — wacky prints and eclectic textures in a rainbow of fruit flavors! — but here lately I’ve been craving clean, white simplicity (with splashes of vibrance throughout).  Here’s some of my visual (P)inspiration.  Walk with me, if you will, through my dream house.

First up, the living room (photo from House of Turquoise):

LR1

Isn’t the wall color dreamy?  It’s Benjamin Moore, “Tranquility”.  I’m not nuts about the rug though.  How about something a little more . . .

rugAh yes, that’s better, the Bohemian Quilt (rug) from Nouveau Bohemian.

pillowsAnd of course I’ll need some accent pillows, just a splash of fresh, funky color (from Shapes & Colors Textiles).

Now let’s pass my tidy little working nook (where I edit photos and things) . . .

nook  (photo from Whimages)

And into the kitchen.  You’ll note my current obsessions: a farmhouse sink and subway tiles amid a sea of white, white, and more white.

kitchen1

Sing it Bing:  “I’m dreaming . . . of a white . . . kitchen . . .”

kitchen2

kitchen3

I’m not nuts about the royal blue here.  I’d be more thrilled with a deep kelly green . . .

kitchen4

Shall we continue on to the dining room?  You’ll love it.  It’s a little bit farmhouse classic, a whole lotta eclectic mod– perfect for relaxed family dinners and game nights.

dining1(photo from Dominique Decoratrice)

Let us mosey on upstairs . . .

stairs (pretty little pictures from Decorology)

stairs2

(découpage fabuleux from Serendipity)

What’s that you said?  Oh yes, why that is indeed my bedroom.

bedroom1

Except it’s got a little of that wild, bohemian vibe goin’ on . . .

bedroom2

bedroom3Yes that (from Lee Caroline – A World of Inspiration)

And since we’re already here,  might as well have a look-see into the bathroom.

bath1

bath2

Before you leave, let’s head back downstairs and step out into the back garden.  It’s one magical place with a touch of wonderland and quite a few whimsical enhancements to entice a person — such as yourself — to sit and stay awhile, nibble on some fresh edibles (one side will make you grow taller while the other side will make you smaller).

yard1

yard2(photo from Flourish Design + Style)

yard3

yard4 (signage from Two Men and a Little Farm)

yard5

Smoke Bush

That concludes our house tour.  Hope you enjoyed yourself.  Thanks for dreaming with me.