Saturday
Dec302006

CIA Night

I'm big on traditions and routines for our family. Family Prayer, weekly Family Home Evening on Mondays and weekday Morning Scripture Study: these are the foundation of our religious life at home. But we have many other rituals that are just as important. In the past, we've had Family Movie Night on Saturdays or Sundays, always accompanied by popcorn and chocolate milk. Then there are the pancakes we have for lunch almost every Sunday after church (yes, many of our traditions feature food as the central component). Patrick and I have Date Night on Thursdays; this time is a priority for us both, and the kids respect this commitment.

We're flexible enough to drop an activity when it no longer serves the family's greater good, and we're always on the lookout for something new that will help keep us learning, growing, and enjoying each other's company. Recently, I had a brainstorm for the new year and shared it with the rest of the crew.

Christian, at age 13, needs to be honing serious cooking skills in preparation for adult life. He and all the other kids love time with me in the kitchen, so much so that the bickering over who gets to 'help' can be a problem.

Here's my new solution: Friday night will now become CIA Night, named for the famous Culinary Institute of America just an hour upriver from our house. Each of the four bigger kids will have a Friday night tutorial with Iron Chef Mom (their appellation, not mine) per month, in which we will make a dinner of their choice, then serve it and do the clean-up.

Once in a while we'll have a Guest Chef. Our good friend Mike, who has been to culinary school and whose smoked spare ribs are the best I've ever had, has already agreed to several appearances in Perkins Kitchen Stadium.

The plan was met with great enthusiasm--everyone has already decided what they want to make for January (Christian: Cowboy Stew; James: Jambalaya; Hope: Scratch Mac & Cheese; Tess: Quesadillas). I haven't yet figured out what to do about the occasional fifth Friday night of the month; maybe we'll have a Family Restaurant Review. I'm open to other ideas, though.

I'm excited! Of course, the kids will still be pulling up a chair to watch what I'm doing in the kitchen, probably on a daily basis. But somehow even the prospect of scheduled one-on-one time with Patrick or me can cut a lot of arguing out of the kid mix.

My goal with all of our traditions (and of most of my other parenting strategies) is this: I want our home environment to be so fun, warm, and attractive that it is always everyone's favorite place to be. Of course, family members will always enjoy outside activities, as balanced and healthy individuals should. But I want Home to be first in their hearts. That can't come through compulsion; it only comes through the powerful attractive forces of unconditional love, clear expectations and communication, and absolute safety. Plus good food, of course.

Saturday
Dec302006

Domestic Artists





Cooking, knitting, sewing (and all the cleaning up afterwards)--not only are these activities satisfying and productive, but they are also great for building confidence and strengthening family bonds.

Tess got the Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook for Christmas. It's perfectly suited to her temperament; if Dr. Seuss had known Tess, he certainly would have written a book about her. We've made several of the recipes so far, including the title recipe (guacamole makes the eggs green; a parsley coating colors the ham). Tess is now planning our menus for the next several days.

Santa brought Hope a swell sewing machine. It's from the Discovery Channel Store (I had to explain Santa's outsourcing strategies to the girls), and it's a great value. Limited in scope and options, it nonetheless sews much more effectively than you would expect from a toy. Hope made a little handbag yesterday and is anxious to try her hand at a skirt for herself next. Ever inspired by accessories (whose daughter is she?), she has special affection for the wee pincushion that came with the sewing kit.

We're having a luncheon after church on Sunday; the men are in charge of the food. For some reason, the pot luck has turned into a testosterone-fueled lasagna bake-off with many motivated entrants. Patrick made his offerings last night. I'm sure he'll win with this particular judge; Patrick taught me everything I know about pasta sauce, a fact I freely admit whenever someone compliments my Bolognese.

Mom was here over Christmas. We couldn't resist a trip to the fabulous Knittingsmith together. Mom got some chunky yellow alpaca for a cute sweater by Pure and Simple Designs; I got some gorgeous sock yarn. My bulky plum pullover is coming along well, but I felt the need for a quick-gratification project after the success of the girls' hats. The sock does not disappoint in this regard.

And the boys? Christian and James have been prowling the yard with metal detector and large magnet, cleaning up all the screws, nails, and other metal scraps that have been scattered about with abandon throughout the renovation. It's great when cleaning up can be an entertaining adventure. If only I could figure out a way to make dishes and laundry as exciting...

Daniel has been our snuggly muse, happy to consume the fruits of Tess's labors, always available for hugs and positive reinforcement for all. It's been a terrific vacation; I'll be very sorry to see it end next Tuesday.

Friday
Dec222006

Merry Christmas!


Christmas Eve 1975--Here I am (the tallest one) with several siblings. Note the identical huge smiles--Baby Matthew in particular cracks me up! I hope your holidays are filled with peace and joy. I'm not sure whether I'll be blogging for the next several days; we've got a lot going on here, and I'm sure you do, too. But I'll be back very soon; I hope you will join me then.

Wednesday
Dec202006

...the past three months, Part 4



Even living in sheet rock dust with a plywood kitchen, I was able to be somewhat creative in October. We shopped early for the pattern and material for Tess's mermaid costume; it came together pretty well (don't tell her that I sewed the cockleshell purse upside down). I also bottled some pickled spiced crabapples--mmm--can't wait to have them at dinner on Christmas Eve!

Way back in January, I agreed to create a Christmas card for sale through MAG. I'm glad I committed early, because the card was due in the fall, and without the commitment, it probably would not have happened. What an honor it was to be included in a catalog featuring talented artists like Ultra Violet, Valerie Atkisson, and others. I love being associated with this terrific group.

Wednesday
Dec202006

...the past three months, Part 3


Patrick, aka His Majesty, surprised me with a trip to Rome to celebrate my 40th birthday. Yes, indeed, his stock is very high (as if it were ever low). Here's the Quirinale in the light of the setting sun on my birthday. The art, the light, the food, the company--it was a dream of a trip.

Patrick had also arranged for Carmen to meet us there; we love to celebrate our birthdays together (we plan to go to Antarctica for my 5oth/her 49th), and this was definitely one to remember. On our way to the catacombs of San Callisto, we encountered a shepherd and his flock of sheep! This, of course, made our pilgrimage perfect.

Other travel: In October I went to a conference in Utah. While there, I was able to spend a goodly amount of time with my fab sister Stephanie and my adorable grandmother. I also visited an amazing doctor who specializes in stress management. Amazing results: I haven't had a tension headache or muscle spasms in my shoulders since.

Blog learning curve issue: why won't the photos load where I want them? Must research this.