Thursday, June 25, 2015

Grilled Summer Vegetable Medley


I've been known to fire up the gas grill even in frigid temperatures and falling snow, but when summer weather is in full swing, you better believe I'm all for outdoor cooking!

I especially love the meals I can do almost entirely on the grill, like steaks or chops or even hamburgers, with grilled baked potatoes and maybe a salad with lettuce fresh from our container garden.

And this little grilled vegetable medley is my FAVORITE.  I can actually make a meal of it alone, and yet it is so quick and simple to throw together.

You'll need a disposable metal pan.



You can use a vegetable grill pan of course, but every one I've ever owned was a pain in the neck to clean, so I usually opt for the pans you can toss when you're done.  Lining your grill grate with a couple layers of aluminum foil will work, too, though if you're clumsy like me, the pan does a better job containing the veggies so you aren't hurling them all over your deck when you try to stir.

You can really use whatever mix of fresh vegetables you prefer.  I will use whatever I have on hand, but my favorites are broccoli, red bell pepper, carrots, onion, radishes, and sugar snap peas.

Cut your vegetables into nice, bite-sized pieces and place them in a disposable metal pan.


Are those colors gorgeous or what?

I piled more in this pan than I actually recommend.  I think it's easier to get the vegetables to the perfect crisp-tender, lightly-charred stage when they're in a single layer, but I wanted MORE.  I probably should have used two pans for this many.  The recipe below makes enough for a thick single layer in a 9 x 13 pan.

Stir in about 2 Tablespoons minced garlic.




Yes, you can use garlic powder, but don't stoop to that level.  Please.  And I realize some people will quibble with me using jarred garlic rather than fresh.  Sorry about that, but I have yet to find a garlic press I didn't hate cleaning.  I'm lazy that way.  So I buy the MASSIVE jar of minced garlic.  Because we use A LOT of garlic in this house.

Which probably explains why don't have any vampires around here.  Or friends either, now that I think about it...

Just kidding.

Drizzle your vegetables with 2 Tablespoons olive oil, then dot with 2 Tablespoons butter.  You can do olive oil OR butter and not both, of course, but there is something fabulous in the blending of butter and olive oil flavor, so I really recommend using both.  You can even use coconut oil if you're one of those coconut-oil-is-the-secret-to-total-health people.  I'm more of a bleh-it-tastes-like-coconut person myself.  But whatever.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Stir your vegetables until the garlic and olive oil are mixed in well.  The butter will melt and be distributed as you cook.

Grill your vegetables with the lid closed for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender and showing a light char.




Sprinkle with grated parmesan.  


Adding the parmesan is entirely optional, but why wouldn't you want to?  A hefty sprinkling of cracked black pepper makes it all the better.  But, then again, I put parmesan and cracked black pepper on EVERYTHING.  I even carry it in my purse.  No kidding.  My family thinks I'm weird.  


We generally eat this as a side dish, but add sliced grilled chicken or steak, and you have a fabulous meal.  

Especially this time of year, when good and fresh vegetables are so readily available, this dish is one of my absolute favorites.  And it's pretty guilt-free, too; a side dish filled with vitamins and healthy fats, yet hearty and tasty enough for a meal all by itself!  

So fire up the grill and ENJOY!  






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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Distinctly Kentucky: A Trip to My Old Kentucky Home


Poet Jesse Stuart said, "If these United States can be called a body, then Kentucky can be called its heart."

Geographically speaking, Kansans may have a little something to say about that, but Stuart was a man in love with Kentucky.

And I understand his sentiment.  I love it here, too, though our commonwealth certainly has its issues and don't even get me started on the political system here.

But Kentucky is unique in that it has had to create its own identity in many ways.  The south thinks we're too northern and the north thinks we're too southern, and so Kentucky sits tightly wedged between the two, sometimes a little unsure where it fits itself.

Some Kentuckians, mostly more hip Louisvillians, will try to tell you we're midwestern, which certainly separates us from the northeast, (because no true Kentuckian wants to claim that,) and yet it doesn't clearly identify us as northerners either, which they know would be terribly offensive to most of their fellow Kentuckians.  Because the overwhelming majority in Kentucky will tell you we're southern, which should be obvious considering we're south of the Mason-Dixon line.  Not to mention Kentucky was once a part of Virginia, and of course no one ever questions the 'southernness" of the Old Dominion.

But then there was our wishy-washedness during that little event called the Civil War, where Kentucky tried to stay neutral, which did nothing but divide it from within and earn it the distrust and dislike of both sides.

The south has never fully forgiven us.

The north never wanted to claim us anyway.

And so we sit between the two.  Southern, but not deep south.  One tributary away from Ohio and Indiana and all other things northern.

Just...Kentucky.

My roots run deep here, extending into the mountains and hollows of southeastern Kentucky, where apparently I've had family since this nation was in its infancy.  My parents moved from there to the big city, then later just south to the knobs region, where it's not mountainous and not flat, but somewhere in between.  But they never left Kentucky, except for a time courtesy the U.S. Army.  I left for a while, but came back as quickly as I could.  And I love calling Kentucky home.

Obviously the name of my blog reflects my love for this place and its people, but I will confess I've second-guessed the name selection at least a dozen times and seriously considered changing it more often than that.  But it's been my Hawaii-born, Texas-raised husband who has encouraged me again and again to keep the name.

And I've followed his advice, even as I write about faith and homeschooling and homemaking and lots of other things that don't necessarily have much to do with Kentucky.

But from time to time I have to share something or someplace that is distinct to our beautiful commonwealth.  Because I love it here.  And I love sharing some of the things I love.

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My mother-in-law came in from Texas for a few days last month.  (Actually, they now live just barely over the line in Louisiana.  And I mean barely.  So barely, in fact, that they still tell everyone they're from Texas.  Although that has as much to do with Texas pride as it has to do with the fact they live right at the state line, but I digress.)

We were still hard at work finishing up our school year during her visit, but I wanted to be sure we included at least one field trip while she was in.  It might have been nice to go strawberry picking, but the strawberries weren't in yet.  I really wanted to go somewhere within an hour's drive, someplace distinctly Kentucky.


My Old Kentucky Home State Park was the obvious choice.

It's in Bardstown, Kentucky, which honestly has to be one of the prettiest little towns in all of America.  And it's not just me who thinks so.  Bardstown has been named multiple times among the prettiest small towns in the country by various magazines and travel sites.  It is truly lovely, about 40 miles south of Louisville, and just 15-20 minutes off I-65 if you're ever passing through Kentucky and decide to stop.


Federal Hill was the plantation home of Judge John Rowan, one of Kentucky's earliest Secretaries of State, member of both houses of the U.S. Congress, and representative in the Kentucky assembly.  He was also a distant cousin of songwriter Stephen Foster, who wrote some of the most recognizable American music ever composed, like "Camptown Races", "Oh! Susanna," and "Beautiful Dreamer". Tradition says he wrote the song, "My Old Kentucky Home",  after a visit to Federal Hill in 1852.  It became Kentucky's state song in 1928.

We bought tickets for the home tour.  I've been on the tour several times and I still learn something new every time I go.



Is that not an amazing house?

They don't allow photography inside the house, but it is beautiful inside with a large central hallway and staircase, period decor, and 13-foot ceilings.  Most of the furnishings inside are actual possessions of the Rowan family and original to the house, which is pretty rare for a historic home like this.  There's a gorgeous bookcase with the original rippled glass panes in the doors filled with Judge Rowan's law books and other very old volumes.  There's also a gorgeous pianoforte with mother-of-pearl keys, and a rare baby bed built for the Rowan's twins.  The family's white china and silver set grace the table in the dining room.

My son nearly threw himself down on a lovely settee, a favorite napping spot of President Andrew Jackson on his visits to Federal Hill.  Thank heavens I caught him in time, (my son, not President Jackson,) before he plopped down like it was his couch at home and promptly caused our poor tour guide a heart attack.  The Rowans were pretty important people in commonwealth business and politics, so they entertained other presidents like John Quincy Adams, James Monroe, and Martin Van Buren, as well as men like Henry Clay, Aaron Burr, and one of my kids' favorite revolutionary heroes, the Marquis de Lafayette.

And let me add that I've been for the Christmas tour as well and it was lovely, too.  They decorate the house for Christmas and in the evenings give candlelight tours of the home.  We went during the day, but after the tour they served cookies and hot cider in the kitchen behind the house, which of course was one of my children's favorite parts of the visit.

After this tour we walked down to Judge Rowan's law office.  (Or at least a reproduction of it.)



I forced the kids to sit for a pic.



There's no escaping mom and the camera.

They had fun cranking the old well.




There was a well on each side of the house.  One of them was the source of a cholera outbreak that took place in the midst of a family get-together there at Federal Hill in the summer of 1833.  Eight family members died within a 24-hour period.

And you thought some of your family get-togethers were stressful!

We walked around the back portion of the house which includes the kitchen and smokehouse and is the oldest part of the home there at Federal Hill.  The lovely white doors there open into the carriage house.


The home is actually 2 1/2 stories high and I remember when the tour included a visit to the top floor.  Fire code now limits the tour to the first two stories.  Originally the house was three stories tall with a ballroom on the third floor, but a lightning strike and subsequent fire damaged the house in 1839 and the third story was redesigned and later served as storage and a children's playroom. 

I guess it's okay for kids to be hit by lightning, but not ball guests.

But I digress again.




We strolled through the garden...



And due to a temporary lapse of reason...


I didn't take nearly as many pictures of it as I should have.



But isn't this carriage house the prettiest spot EVER?  This is where I want to do all my writing.  And reading.  But on a nice, comfortable sofa and not that metal bench.  Maybe something like the one Andrew Jackson liked to nap on.  Except less old.  And less expensive.  And less lumpy.

Check out the sundial in the garden.  And, no, it wasn't original to the house.


Can you read that?  Obviously the sun was shining bright on My Old Kentucky Home.

And...wow...the odor of corn mash was STRONG the day we visited.  If you've never smelled it before, prepare yourself, because Bardstown sits in the midst of multiple bourbon distilleries and sometimes that distinct odor, a mix of sour and sweet, wafts through the air with the breeze.  The time of year, the weather, and whichever way the wind is blowing will all affect it, but it was pretty intense that day.  I hadn't smelled it that strong since I was a kid and we used to go fishing in a creek that ran alongside a Jim Beam rackhouse.  Yow!  It'll curl your nose hairs.  I can only imagine what that stuff does to the human liver.

Stephen Foster could probably tell you.  There's a statue of him on the property, near the family cemetery.  And, no, Stephen Foster isn't buried there.


And I don't really know that bourbon was his poison of choice, though apparently he did have problems with alcohol.  His life was pretty tragic actually.  Though many of the songs he wrote were very popular even during his lifetime, he saw little financial gain from their success and, abandoned by his wife and daughter, he died in poverty when he was just 37.  

Doesn't sound like a happy story, huh?

But Bardstown plays host to an amazing outdoor musical, The Stephen Foster Story, which I highly recommend if you're in the area.  We didn't get to go on this trip, (it was May and the show only runs June-August,) but we took our daughter and a friend for her 13th birthday and LOVED it.  It is filled with tunes written by Stephen Foster and you might be surprised how many of them you recognize.  Rain moves the show indoors to a local high school theater, which wound up being the case the night we went, but the venue amplified the singing of the cast in such an amazing way I didn't feel like we missed out on anything, though I had looked forward to seeing it in an outdoor amphitheater.  We hope to see the show again this summer.

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So there you go; A perfect day at My Old Kentucky Home, and a delightful visit to a place that is distinctly Kentucky.  




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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bound by a Homeschooling Curriculum

Bound by a Homeschooling Curriculum



I'm not sure if there's anything that will lead to burn-out and all-around homeschooling misery faster than trying to use a curriculum you just don't like.

There were a lot of mistakes I made early on in our homeschooling journey that nearly derailed our efforts, (actually did derail them for a while,) but one of the biggest blunders I made was forcing myself to use a curriculum that wasn't working and was boring me to tears.

So why did I do it?  Why did I continue to use a curriculum that wasn't the right fit for our family?

For the same reasons I see so many other homeschooling moms doing the same thing.

It was all I knew.  When I first began homeschooling, I was only familiar with two homeschooling curriculum companies.  Two.  There might have been another one or two I had heard of--maybe--but I had never seen them or personally heard of anyone using them.  I should have done more research, of course, but at the time I was only intending to homeschool temporarily anyway, so there seemed little point in trying to learn about other curricula, especially when...

The curriculum I was using was supposedly the be-all, end-all.  Time and time again I had been told that this curriculum was all I needed to see my child excel.  It was thorough.  It was rigorous.  It was tried and proven.

Yeah, and it was also dull.  And tedious.  And cram-packed with busywork.  And not at all designed for one-on-one instruction with a dyslexic/LPD child.

And yet having been assured so many times that this curriculum was the key to learning success, I felt like I was the problem, that the failure was with me, or even with my daughter.  Because it couldn't be the curriculum, right?  Everybody insisted it was the best out there!

But I quickly learned that many of the people who touted it so devotedly also knew next to nothing about any alternatives.  Most of them knew about the same two curriculum companies I knew about, and so they chose what they considered the better of the two, meaning of course that...

I didn't know anyone who did things differently.  Every homeschooler I had ever known up to that point used a homeschooling curriculum with a very traditional approach.  I had never known anything but public school myself, so a traditional-type curriculum seemed safe and easy.

And even as I came to learn about other methods, it was still traditional homeschooling that seemed most acceptable to others.  Charlotte Mason?  Who is that?  Narration?  What are you talking about?  Interest-led learning?  Are you serious?  You mean your kids don't read and answer questions on worksheets?  Isn't that what school's supposed to be?  How do you really know they're learning anything?  

But I never felt more satisfied in my homeschool than when I ditched a strictly traditional approach and began exploring other methods and forms of curricula.  I had become bound to what we were using--to its methods and its structure and to the sense of acceptance it offered.  Breaking free of it liberated our homeschool and my children's learning in some amazing ways.

(And I realize I sound very anti-traditional homeschooling.  In our home, I am, except for those areas and subjects where I can't seem to get around it.  I'm very biased against traditional methods and I can't keep it from bleeding through in my writing.  I don't mean to imply, however, that a traditional approach can't work exceptionally well for some people.)

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I will be the first to tell you that a poor curriculum choice is not at the core of every homeschooling problem.  In fact, I would say attitude, (more often ours than our children's,) is the biggest culprit when it comes to dissatisfaction in our homeschooling.

But sometimes a well-intentioned, but misguided devotion to a certain curriculum is at the heart of our problems, and an unwillingness to change only drives the hopelessness of it deeper.  On multiple occasions I've talked to moms who weren't happy in their homeschooling and when it wasn't an issue of attitude, it almost always came down to a curriculum they just didn't like.


Making a poor curriculum choice doesn't doom your homeschool, but refusing to make a change when a change might be needed very well could.


So here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself if you fear you've become a slave to your homeschooling curriculum.


Do my children and I enjoy this curriculum?

Now hold on!  I'm not trying to imply you should be giddy with excitement every day as you pull out your homeschooling curriculum, but you shouldn't be groaning in misery every time either.  If it's horribly boring or the workload seems extreme or the assignments are nonsensical, and this is the case all the time, then maybe a change would be refreshing.  And, remember, sometimes a curriculum change in just one subject can make a world of difference!  


Am I using this curriculum because it's a good fit for my family, or for other reasons?

Think about it.  Did you pick this curriculum because you're scared to try any other?  Not a good reason.  Are you using it because you thought it would require the least effort on your part?  Also probably not a good reason.  Because it looked the most like public school materials?  Bad reason.  Because you're afraid your former-public-school-teacher mother-in-law will disapprove of any other?  Really bad reason.

Your curriculum choices should be based on what works best for you and your children and what seems best suited to their individual learning styles, not necessarily on what's most familiar, what's easiest, or what will be most acceptable to others.


Are there ways I can tweak this curriculum to make it work better for us? 

You don't understand, Tanya!  I spent $300 on this curriculum!  I can't just pitch it!

Okay, okay, I understand.  Sometimes it can be hard to let go of a curriculum that has required a hefty investment.  Or sometimes you know what you have isn't working, but you need more time to research and find something that will.

It's often possible to make changes to a curriculum you have already, to make it more user-friendly, whether that means adding in or taking out assignments, doing more things orally, on or off the computer, or in a different order or at a different pace.


Am I controlling this curriculum, or is it controlling me?  

Some curricula allow for little or no wiggle room where preference or personal learning style is concerned:  You have to do it all and you have to do it all a certain way.  Period.  The inflexibility of that can be overwhelming.

There are other curricula than can be tweaked easily, but yet getting past that feeling you're somehow breaking the rules by making changes can be a big challenge to overcome, even when you feel the changes you're making are better for yourself and for your children.

But keep in mind that one of the greatest beauties of homeschooling is the ability to custom design your kids' education, to tailor it to meet their needs and to inspire and challenge further learning.  While most homeschooling curriculum companies are interested in doing that as well, they also lack the specific knowledge to do it with your child individually.  That's up to YOU, which means always laboring to control your curriculum for the good of your child, rather than controlling your child, your routine, and your own preferences for the sake of a curriculum.

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My home isn't like yours.  Your kids aren't like mine.  We all have our own preferences and our own unique circumstances and needs when it comes to homeschooling, which is why freedom and flexibility in the whole process is so important.  And it's also why becoming a slave to a particular curriculum can be so detrimental.  

Most homeschoolers are wrapping up their homeschool year.  Have you felt enslaved by a curriculum that wasn't working for your family?  What did you do?  Ditch the curriculum, or tweak it to work better for your family?





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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Our Last Day of School and a Trip to the Farm

Our Last Day of School and a Trip to the Farm--Gallrein Farms


The end of another homeschooling year calls for a celebration, right?  Well, I can't think of a better way to celebrate than with a field trip!

Actually, I learned a long ago that field trips are a great way both to begin AND end our homeschooling year.  For our first day of school every year, a field trip makes a great so-long-summer, this-is-the-last-hurrah kind of day before the regular routine of school begins.  For our last day of school, a field trip is a reward for hard work and a perfect way to celebrate all we've accomplished throughout the year.

Our destinations vary, but this year we decided to spend our last day of school strawberry picking at Gallrein Farms in Shelbyville.  It's a place we try to visit at least once every year, if not for the strawberries in the spring, then for the sweet corn in the summer.

But last year we didn't get to go AT ALL, which had me distraught!  Fortunately a friend came to my rescue and gave me some strawberries, so at least there could be a little homemade jam.  But I missed the visit to Gallrein's so much and the kids and I were anxious to go back this year, so for our last day of school we made the 50-minute drive to lovely Shelbyville.


One of my kids' favorites spots at Gallrein's is the petting zoo, which had seen some MAJOR upgrades since our last visit.  This beautiful barn wasn't here before, and neither was a bunny barn and pig house.  




The birds were a new addition.


There were chickens, too, and ducks.  Of course our kids are pretty ho-hum about ducks, so no pictures there.

The miniature donkeys have been Little Man's favorite since we first started coming to Gallrein Farms.  


And this was the first camel I've ever run into in Shelby County!  



I'm not sure why, but he loved Peanut.  I'm wondering if he felt some sort of kinship with my son...you know, stinky camel feels drawn to stinky little boy.  All I know is he spit at the people in front of us and then nuzzled up to Peanut like he was a long-lost pal!  Go figure! 



As for the photo below, there was once a time when all four of my kids were eager to line up for a picture here, but now all I get from 3/4 of them is, "Aw, Mom.  Do we have to?"

Sniff.  Sniff.  


At least Peanut was willing to cooperate for his sappy mama.  


There's a little pond with a dock within walking distance and my kids always insist on feeding the fish.  I try to bring along an old pack of crackers or a bag of stale cereal for that purpose.  


Catfish.  Can you see them?  Oodles and oodles of catfish, some of them big enough to swallow a small child.  


Okay, maybe not, but I am really creeped out by catfish.  I have flashbacks to a fishing trip with my dad and watching him bleed profusely as he tried to get a hook out of a catfish's mouth.  I still remember those evil little whiskers squirming around my dad's fingers while he tried to dig that hook out and me thinking to myself that if I ever caught one of those again I was cuttin' the line and lettin' her go.  I would never, ever touch one of those things again.  Ever.  

And, yes, I realize it isn't the whiskers that cut, but the fins, and, no, my dad wasn't permanently scarred.  In fact, he acted like it wasn't a big deal.  Meanwhile, I was traumatized. 

Anyway, moving on from that little blast from the past for which I obviously need counselling.....

I love wondering through the greenhouses and the market.


There's a deli inside, and there are lots of Kentucky-grown food products for sale, but before long this market will be FILLED with fresh homegrown goodies.  Their sweet corn is fabulous.  I'm making a mental note to visit again in late July or early August.


My kids always head for this observation beehive.  It's amazing, (and a little scary!) to be so close to so many honeybees.  They like to search for the queen.  (She's the one with the blue dot on her back, though how in the world they tagged her, I'll never know!)   


And of course the kids love hanging out on the front porch...




Wish we had a porch like this at home!  Actually, I wish we had a FARM like this at home, but, then again, I'm not sure where we'd put it.  

My children were SO ready to bring this dog home. 


But of course it loved ME best.  Dogs are always drawn to non-dog people.  Always.  



After that, it was time for my favorite part:  The strawberry picking!!  Gallrein Farms provide the buckets; we provide the picking-power.







Of course Peanut did more eating than picking.




Can you see that?  He's still eating.  Kind of glad they didn't weigh my kids before and after picking and make me pay for the difference.  I might be bankrupt.


Hey, don't be fooled by all the strawberries in Peanut's bucket!  Those were put there by ME, not by the kid with the red-stained lips.  

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Gallrein Farms was a perfect place to end our homeschool year.  It's a beautiful farm and I always enjoy our visits.



And I also enjoy a sweet bounty of red gold for months afterwards!


School is out and the freezer is full of strawberry jam.  Ah, sweet summer's bliss!






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