Saturday, May 30, 2009

School gatherings...don't you love them???

Did you sense the sarcasm in my voice in the title?? No. Well, it was there.

When school programs last so long your butt goes to sleep, reawakens, and sends shooting pains through your legs you've been sitting TOO long! We began sitting at 8:55am and were FINALLY released shortly after 12pm Friday. Ugh!

My daughters high school was having their annual Senior Class Day, which is basically awards & scholarship announcements for the graduating Senior class. I've never attended in the past but gladly went today, as my baby girl is scheduled to graduate two weeks from this Saturday!!! Hooray!

Now back to reality. Notice that I said "scheduled to graduate" and not "graduating"? Yeah. Well, we won't know for sure if she'll receive the diploma until NEXT Friday. Am I worried? YES! Why you ask? Short story.

My precious baby girl is sharp as a tack. She's one of those annoying kids that really doesn't even half to crack a book & will still get a "C". When she applies herself, she is one of the smartest kids in the class. When she doesn't, she REALLY doesn't... And since 7th grade she hasn't made very many efforts to apply herself.

I'm not sure exactly what happened to cause this change, but it happened. As a family, we've fought & supported her constantly to achieve her potential. Toward the end of 8th grade she seemed to be buckling down a little. 9th grade, 3rd quarter had us back in the same spot. She'd do just enough to get by, but just barely.

That tactic has finally come to bite her in the butt. She's had supplemental classes twice this year for failed classes and there is a possibility that she'll have summer school. Not according to her, mind you, but I'm fairly certain according to the input I've witnessed.

What did she really want to do at school? Play & socialize. I tell you, if she could've majored in socialization and being a class clown she would've been the class Valedictorian. I'm not kidding. They even voted her "Most likely to be recognized" in the Yearbook!

If she graduates with her class I'll be surprised, to say the least. Extremely happy, but surprised!

When I heard "Pomp and Circumstance" and witnessed her walking toward me in her cap & gown, I just cried. Now if we get positive news next Friday, I can cry a river of tears of joy & relief!

I pray that she'll go to college. Realistically, I know that unless she chooses to buckle down & take school seriously, it will be a waste of her time, the school's time, and everyone's money. (She received two small scholarships based on her participation in a community program.)

As my mom says - "One day at a time. Let her get out of high school first. Then, we can worry about the rest."

Friday, May 29, 2009

How will you keep those kids occupied this summer?

This is a big question to tackle for most new to raising children (and some of us old hats!) If you're a stay-at-home, the endless days of summer can be a daunting time. You rise to meet each day filled with endless hours of how to entertain the kids.

That being said, let me remind you that it is NOT your job to entertain your children! Oooops, did I offend someone? Well, it's true. You are not a paid entertainer, nor should you be. That's what Disney World gets the big bucks for!

Your "job" is to give your kids a healthy environment in which to flourish. I believe it actually hinders a childs mental and, possibly, physical growth when we, as parents, interfere too much with the natural process.

No, I am not saying it's okay to plop your kids down in front of the TV or Wii for hours a day. What I'm recommending is time to allow them to explore their world on their own, in their own time with healthy, safe guidance. Children are fully capable of entertaining themselves with their own learning processes, without too much interference on the parents part.

Have you ever handed a one-year-old a piece of newspaper? a two-year-old some pots & pans? a three-year old an empty box? If so, you've surely witnessed them spending large blocks of time amusing themselves while exploring the possibilities of this "new" introduction. This process doesn't stop as they mature; it matures with them!

Okay, I'm off that soap box...

Now on to some tips on how to spend quality time together, as a family.

1. A few years back I ran upon this neat site called Kids off the Couch. You may have guessed - they encourage just what the name implies, getting those kids up of the couch to explore their world.

How do they tackle this feat? Through the back door, of course! They give you a family movie idea and then tie it into tangible events or activities that your family can do after the movie. Fantastic way to learn!

If your family is couch/TV oriented, this is a great place to start. It's almost like a sneak attack on their senses! They'll be learning and won't even realize it...shoot, you could even sneak this one in on your significant other...and take all of the credit for the ideas. Aren't you sneaky???

Kids off the Couch offers a weekly newsletter, delivered right to your e-mail for FREE. (And they're on Twitter, too!)

2. Check out your local PBS station for tips and ideas. Sometimes there are local gatherings or shows that tell about upcoming "things to do".

My local station has a showing each Thursday night for weekend day trips. Many can be done during the week, as well!

3. Now is a great time to try out your local YMCA or city pools. Many offer summer discounts. What better way can you think of to occupy all of that free time than to get healthy?

4. What about a week at summer camp? Many facilities offer sleep-away or day camps. This will give your children a vacation from you, which often strengthens your relationship! Also a great option for those of you planning on a "stay-cation" this year...

Check with your local museums for science, arts, and history for some amazing learning opportunities that the kids will remember for a lifetime! My son took a cooking class 4 years ago that he still talks about.

5. Check with your local and state visitors centers for FREE ideas, hints, and tips on things to do in your area. I've got a Historical Marker quest on schedule for this summer!

6. Most importantly - don't be afraid to explore and discover with your kids. Many of us get so involved in being an adult, we forget that it is okay to relax and laugh with them. I missed out on many fun times by remaining stressed and rigid while my kids were small!

Stay tuned for more hints & tips for summer activities...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thursday's with Erma

So this week I've decided to begin a regular, weekly posting of snippets from one of my favorite author's from the 70's. No confusion now - I'm a child of the late 70's, and the only reason I know of this funny lady's work is due purely to thrift shop finds... Ya'll know that I LOVE the thrift shop!

Her writings are generally short & to the point. Although a few are more wordy. All I find humorous, mostly because I know the feeling!

When you're reading these notions, try to read through the eyes of someone that lived in the 60's & 70's as an adult; that will add even more humor to the subjects!

Take it away, Erma!

"I have always said if the Good Lord had meant for me to speak in the mornings,

He'd have put a recording in my chest & a string in the back of my neck."

Erma Bombeck

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fascinating things you see on TV...

So I was listening to the TV the other day and heard all of this miraculous chit chat going on. Finally tearing myself away from Twitter to give my full attention to the TV, I realize that it's an Infomercial about learning to read. No big deal right?

WRONG! This commercial showed babies under 3 learning how to read with their program. Uh-huh, under 3!

The program is called Your Baby Can Read. It appears to combine repetition of song videos that have words written on the bottom of the screen with flash cards. I suppose the idea is to repeat the songs and words enough that the child recognizes the word shape along with the picture, eventually learning to read the word.

Does it work? I don't know. I haven't tried it and don't know any children under that age to try it with. Would it be worth a try? Certainly, especially if you are a stay-at-home mom or dad with time to engage the child in a routine. Even if you don't have a baby, this commercial is amazing.

Do I believe everything I see on TV? NO, but I do know from experience that my dear son learned Spanish numbers and letters before English because he heard me studying out loud. He was 6 months into Spanish before he learned the same in English.

Children are amazing creatures and capable of feats unknown!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Strawberries for everyone!

Upon my return home I retrieved a message from a sweet lady that we go to church with. She called early Friday morning with an offer I couldn't refuse...tons of fresh, free strawberries! Yippee!

A neighbor was going to be out of town and had asked her family if they'd like some berries. The stipulation - they could have whatever they wanted so long as they picked two rows. Julia ended up with 7 GALLONS! She generously gifted us with 2.

What to do with 2 gallons of ripe berries? Did I tell you that Mom and I made preserves the Saturday before Mother's Day? If not, I should've. Here's the story -

Saturday night about 9:30pm - I'm ready to leave Mom's house (where I've been for the better portion of the day, hanging out). Mom jumps up and says

"Hey, do you want to make some Strawberry Jam with me?"

"Mom, it's 9:30."

"Yuh-huh. I know. So, do you want to?"

"Sure." I say looking wistfully at the clock, mentally dreaming of my comfy bed.

At 12:30am I made it home with a jar of Strawberry preserves (just in case my dear hubby didn't believe my story!)


While on the phone with Julia, my mind was racing with possibilities...jam, fruit leather, freeze a few, a few handfuls of fresh, etc... Strawberries were literally dancing in my head!

Keep in mind, I'd never put up anything by myself before outside of basic freezing. Mom made it look so simple a few weeks ago, I was sure I could handle it.

The recipe:

Quick & Easy Freezer Jam w/ Strawberries
Courtesy of Sure Jell (comes inside each box!)

2 qt of ripe, whole, cleaned strawberries
4 cups of refined sugar
1 package of Sure Jell (found in canning supplies or near Jell-o)
3/4 cup water

Wash and ready the canning jars. (I used jelly or half-pint sized glass jelly jars, but you can use plastic storage containers with a good seal.) Crush the berries in a large bowl with a potato masher - it's jam so you want some chunks. Mix in the 4 cups of sugar. Set aside to stand for 10 minutes.

In a saucepan, empty the contents of one package of Sure Jell. Add the water and stir to dissolve. Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil one full minute. Remove this mixture from the heat and add it quickly to the berry/sugar mix.

Stir this new mixture until all or most of the sugar crystals have dissolved (about 3 minutes). Then begin pouring the mixture into your containers. Leave about 1/4 to 1/2" space at the top of the container to avoid the container bursting in the freezer. Be sure to wipe the rims of the containers before attempting to seal, otherwise freezer burn is a risk. Leave the containers to sit on the counter for 24 hours before storing in the freezer for up to one year or refrigerator for 3 weeks.

I averaged about 6 jars per batch.

**DON'T make more than one batch at a time, otherwise the jam will begin to gel before you can get it into the proper container! **

I put up 23 jars of preserves (for the freezer), two bags of 4 cups each, whole berries for later in the season, and attempted a recipe for fruit leather. The preserves turned out perfect, the fruit leather - UUUGGGG! It's a hot mess... (as my girlfriend says!)

I pureed about 8 cups of whole berries, then added 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce (to help with the sweetness & consistency.) The directions I'd read online two weeks ago said to line some pans with wax paper and pour the mixture over top to dry.

The directions also mentioned drying the "fruit leather" (also known as Fruit Roll-Ups, in the store) in the oven on low. I placed them in the oven on 170 degrees overnight. That's the lowest temperature that my oven offers. This morning they looked great...

until I tried to remove them from the pan...

They were stuck to the wax paper and the wax paper had allowed the juices from the berries to stick to the pan. I now have a mixture of sticky, fruit juice glue adhering this wax paper glob to my good baking sheets! This is a BIG OLE mess...

See the little part I was able to get up? If I smooshed it hard enough in two places it would roll up on itself into a gooey paste. This is NOT what I was attempting!

The worst part - I wasted 8 cups of perfectly good berries...DARN IT!


UPDATE on the Fruit Leather -

After another 24 hours of drying (because I had to let it go otherwise I was going to cuss...) the wax paper released from the pans AND the fruit leather released from the wax paper!

HOORAY! Almost all of it was usable. I threw away the center of each pan, due to the fact that it wasn't setting up. It was about 4 inches square...not bad considering nothing was coming off of that pan a day earlier!

Continued concern - I couldn't pull it off in sheets to relocate it to new, non-sticky wax paper, so I chopped up the sticky stuff and rolled it up individually...serves the purpose, but I think it's too sticky to eat anywhere but home. (Boy, the bees would love this on a picnic!)

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Beach Trip

I'm back from vacation, well-rested, and ready to take on the world! Don't ya just love vacation???

We went to Myrtle Beach, SC, which is about 4 hours from home. When I booked the room a few weeks ago there was nothing available on the beach so we stayed about 5 miles back on the Intercoastal Waterway. (What can I say? When you have a timeshare & time about to expire you take what you can get.)

My favorite thing about the beach is to lie in bed listening to the waves roll in, followed by a long stroll on the beach. Can you believe that we barely saw the ocean while we were there? It's true. We didn't even go to the ocean! But, we had a view of a lovely little pond from our room. (It had a screened in porch. Isn't that nice?)

We hung out in the room reading, playing cards and board games, made a few day trips and went shopping one day. (Mom and my son shopped...I watched.) This is the table that saw so much action while I we were in SC.

And, this is my son - running from the camera! I take so many photos now, my family threatens me when I get it out of the case... ;-)

The days trips were to........Tony's Pizza, of course! Tony's was about an hour ride from where we were, and is in NC. My mother cannot go anywhere near the beach without hitting Tony's - for more details on another Tony's visit click here!

I had a yummy, baby House Special pizza. Delicious!

Mom still wouldn't agree to a photo of her infamous Steak & Cheese sub. Oh well, I tried!

And, we also went to Charleston. It was our first time and a two hour ride down the coast from Myrtle Beach. What a lovely town! We will definitely go back. We even found my timeshare hotel while there...

This is the bridge leading into Charleston. Beautiful, even for a bridge!

The houses were amazing! There were so many of these old structures littering the downtown area. You could almost envision what life was like 300 years ago...well, without the electric lines and cars...

This is the museum of the Daughters of the Confederacy, which also serves as the entrance to the city market. I must confess that I was hoping for a farmer's market set-up, and found something more like an upscale flea market.

Of course, there were MANY opportunities to buy sweetgrass baskets and creations. Too many, I think. Eventually I didn't look at the wares anymore. They seemed very repetitious and overpriced to be so plentiful. (My opinion, I know.)

I'll leave you with a cozy, tree-lined street. It was breezy and in the 70's that day. Perfect weather for a stroll...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Life's too short, Live like a Greek!

Okay. Sorry it's been so long since my last post. I snuck off to the beach with my mom for a week. I took the computer but my ISP didn't pick up at the hotel, "so there you go!" (One of my favorite quotes from "My Big, Fat Greek Wedding" - if you haven't watched it, you should and if you did and didn't enjoy it, expand your horizons! It's dead on for almost every Greek family I've ever known. What a hoot!)

Two weeks ago I reported on the recent Celtic Festival here in Winston. Last weekend was the Greek Festival! Opa!

Both have become an annual event for our family. (We had an Indian (the country) Festival, too, but I can't find a schedule...too bad. The Hispanic Festival is too big and loud. Even my Latino hubby doesn't enjoy it!) I guess we're just one big culture loving family!

My hubby chowed down on a Souvlaki plate while I indulged in Moussaka. It's the Greek National dish, traditionally made with eggplant and cinnamon spiced meat. It's similar to lasagna except there are no noodles or heavy tomato sauce. The plates came with Spanakopita, tomato seasoned Italian Green Beans, and a small Greek salad with Feta Cheese chunks and a light vinaigrette dressing. Can you say foodie heaven????

While you're eating you can watch the Greek schools dancing troupes. They have a Kindergarten and 1st Grade class, then 2nd & 3rd Grades, 4th & 5th Grades, Middle School, and High School. Each troupe has a variety of dances they've learned, each being progressively harder than the last. In 4th grade, they begin adding flips in various parts of the show - highly entertaining!

Each troupe has a costume set. These photos show the K-1, and 2-3 grade costumes. Aren't they precious?

Along with the outdoor activities, the Greek School is turned into a Marketplace. You can find books, ethnic food stores, jewelry, clothing, and other Middle Eastern & Mediterranean merchandise there. (Along with narrow hallways, teaming with, no photos from the main area, only the book shop.)

Their church sanctuary is also open for tours. It's breathtaking!

If you've never experienced the inside of a Greek Orthodox church, GO. The details and thought that is put into each and every trinket is astounding. My favorite in this church is the large chandelier suspended from the fresco of Jesus. Notice that the light dangles from the neck of Jesus representing that Jesus is the light of the world and reminding each parishioner to carry this light out into the world...

Makes me tear up each time I see it...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thought for the day...

"Why is the word 'abbreviation' so long?"
- Jerry Seinfeld

Don't ya miss Seinfeld on TV?? Sniffle...sniffle... It always made me smile in that simplistic way.

Hmmmm...wonder why it is so long? The world may never know...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Job Search update

So, the interview last week has turned up nothing, thus far. Unofficially, I've been told that it was offered to the lady that came just before me. I'm still hoping that she refuses...

She's a pastor's wife, of the same denomination, searching for something part-time. They live in a small village about 30-45 min. from our neighborhood (depending on traffic). She has one child in a "Mother's Morning Out" program and another that she'd have to find daycare for.

Being realistic, I've weighed this out for her, along with my "inside" source...

  • She'd be accepting a job working 9am-12pm, 3 days a week. This is roughly 9 hours, not including any overage that may occasionally occur...
  • She'll be using 1 tank of gas a week, due to distance.
  • She'll have to find and pay for daycare for another child with this salary. On average, in this area that'll cost about $150 a week, whether you show up or not.
  • Her "Mother's Morning Out" program runs from 9am-12pm...she's either going to be late arriving and early leaving work each day or irritating the programs staff by causing them to do the reverse.

Will this be worth her time? No.

It's a small congregation that is not rich by any means. I find it hard to believe that she'd be paid enough to cover her child care costs, much less wear & tear on the car or gas.

Her selling point -

She's going to help them grow the church... Not sure how. The pastor doesn't keep regular hours, so she'll have little contact with her and little with members of the congregation... However, the pastor jumped on this offer!

So, here I am, still hoping that she says "No" and leaves it to me, since I was the congregations choice.


The day before the interview another opening in the same denomination came up for a church about 15 minutes from her home. It offered 20-30 hours a week, immediately. It's double the time and probably double the money...

I'm sure she would apply. I did! I'm praying she'll take that one and leave this neighborhood one to me...


Don't ya just love having an insider when you're applying for a job... ;-)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Weekend Family Time...

Guiltily, I admit that I have spent very little dedicated family time with my family over the past few weeks. I've allowed my free time to be eaten up the "advertising and social connections" monster. Yes...Twitter, Facebook, Etsy forums, and my blogs (sorry, but it's true) have been given the reins...terrible, I know.

One of my sons favorite events was happening this past Saturday, outdoors. It was a given that we would go. Thank goodness we had good weather. The past several weeks have been rainy and nasty here in NC.

Welcome to the Celtic Festival -

It's held annually here in Winston-Salem at a local historic park, Bethabara. Bethabara was established in 1753 as the first Moravian settlement in NC. The park is home to several restored buildings, an old Palisade Fort (pre-French and Indian war), and beautiful grounds. It is also home to some more "modern" houses.

This festival is fairly small in comparison to the Highland games in Grandfather Mountain, but we like that. Smaller crowds = ease of movement for us, fewer lines, and better views of activities.

This year we attended the Men's Highland games activities, which included a Clachneart (small boulder toss), 22lb Hammer Throw, 28 & 56 lb weight throw, Caber toss (limbless tree), and Sheaf tossing. My son didn't find this as entertaining as I did, so we didn't stay for the entire display. What can I say?? Men playing games in skirts is entertaining!

Additionally, they had Highland games for Children and Lassies (Women)! I briefly debated in joining in on the Haggis toss, but didn't want to take away from the family time... (I'll do this one for you... Yeah, right!)

The palisade is home to the music for the day. Lilting harps, fiddles, and haunting voices floated across the valley. There were also tents for various clans where you could trace your ancestral name, herding demonstrations, clogging and country dance demonstrations, food, and other vendors.

My favorite vendors are the sweet lady that demonstrates tatting and bobbin weaving. I found out that she has a series of classes at two local libraries that I fully intend to join...hmmm, something else to put on my list of things to learn! (When we walked up she was giving a teen girl a hands-on demonstration. How nice!)

The second is a vendor of handmade iron works. They have hanging baskets, hooks, ornamental fencing, etc... Lovely items, with lovely price tags!

Of course, there was a drum and bagpipe corp...

There was plenty of warm sunshine that day. It was hot and humid. After a few hours we searched for a shady spot to take a break. Shaved Ice in hand, we found one under a grand old tree, close to the action.

It was the perfect spot to wiggle my toes...

After a few minutes, we were treated to a sighting of the costumed park staff on there way to an event behind us. This form of dress was traditional in the 17 & 1800's and the park uses them for large events to add to the ambiance. Aren't they cute??

Cost for the day -
$4.00, spent on the two Shaved Ice treats
(the event and parking were FREE!)

Time spent with family - Priceless...

Next weekend - the Greek Festival. Opa!