The Least Memorable Day of the Year: Leap Day.

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There are few holidays less memorable than Leap Year.

We certainly can’t miss the major holidays like Christmas or Easter. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day are pretty easy to recall. But President’s Day? Maybe. Martin Luther King Jr. Day? Hopefully.

4th of July at least let’s us know what day it is…

But these guys are every year, and we’ll find out they’re coming up at some point.

Like, when you show up to school on President’s Day, and no one is there. Because it is a national holiday.

I’m not saying this happened.

How do you remember it’s Leap Year, though? There aren’t Macy’s sales to celebrate Leap Year. It isn’t a national holiday. We don’t have a traditional meal for Leap Year. There isn’t a dessert to share with our loved ones to remember when we all celebrated Leap Year together…

So, besides having one extra day of laundry in the year, what exactly do you do every 4 years on February 29th?? Here’s a few options…

 

I can’t find a better way of celebrating Leap Year than with a good old fashioned, traditional Leap Year movie. It’s like “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray, except you only have to watch this every 4 years!

This is a good question. Why not an extra day at the end of December? Why not slowly add a few hours to the end of each week? Who invented this day in the first place?

Listen, I could explain it, but it’s kind of precise.

Long story short, the Gregorian calendar replaced the previous Julian calendar in order to correct the placement of the vernal equinox, and thus the position of Easter and further religious holidays following.

Did you know there was no October 5th in 1582 due to the calendar switch?

Anyone else geeking out over this?? …Just me?

 

On the other hand, there are star charts, equinox phases, solar cycles and lunar charts that actually determine how our calendar has been arranged.

It’s like, sciencey and stuff, and very interesting for those of you…I mean us…who really loved charts in school. Did you know that Century years are NOT leap years unless they can be evenly divided by 400? That is so weird.

 

You definitely need to write these down. I can’t remember where I put the notebook that I kind-of-really-need…much less that there even are leap year traditions in another 4 years.

I have never known anyone born on February 29th…but you have to admit: you’re kind of curious whether they are actually 28, or 7.
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I Upgraded My Electric Pressure Cooker, And I Am Kind Of Geeking Out.

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Within this box is my new pressure cooker.

My old one was a little old, and I certainly used it until it’s dying breath.  The green LED display was half working, and the timer was shoddy.  Sometimes it counted down, sometimes it got up to pressure…but there were too many times when I put in a chicken for 25 minutes, and came back to partially cooked chicken.

And that just ain’t flying on my kitchen turf.

So, one of the things to leave behind was my beloved pressure cooker.  I didn’t know what I was going to replace it with, and I wasn’t sure what other models were out there.  The last model I had was the cheapest I could find, and it did the job pretty well for the number of years I had it.

But times have changed, and I have a better understanding of what electric pressure cookers can do now.

And, baby: I’m driving a Ferrari this time.

 

Before we get too far into this, I have a bunch of recipes for electric pressure cookers over at Tamarah.org!

Here is one of my favorites, Down Home Chili.

Okay, let’s go!

 

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Check this out.

This is the Elite…Platinum…Multi-Function Digital Pressure Cooker.

HooDoggy is this nice.

Specifically, I got the

MaxiMatic EPC-808 Elite Platinum 8-Quart Pressure Cooker

and I ordered it on Amazon. (*linky!)

 

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This baby has so many more buttons and features than my last one.

The last pressure cooker I had only had “high” and “low” and “time.”  This sucker has “hours” and “minutes” and a whole bunch more stuff.  Looky!

 

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So this is the inside.  The pot is removable, which is nice for cleaning.  Also dishwasher safe.

 

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This is the release valve, which is super swank.  The last one I had was just a jiggle top.  This one has a whole labeled dial, and it doesn’t look like it will fall apart!  Bonus!!

 

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This monster is huge.  But it has to be, because it is 8 Quarts.  The last one I had was 6 quarts, and I could fit a whole chicken in there, if I squished the legs down.  This one is HUGE, and I LOVE it.

I have been thinking for a while now that I needed to get another pressure cooker, because the one pot was kind of covering a meal for all of us…but the little people are getting bigger and starting to eat more.   One pressure cooker meal for 7 people was not really cutting it, entirely, anymore.  But with this one, I think I can do one meal again!  Bigger is definitely better for us.

 

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This is starting to warm up, and it just looks like “The Future.”

What I want to point out is how many features there are on this futuristic machine:

Reheat. Beans. Brown Rice. White Rice. Ancient Grains. Stew. Poultry. Pork/Ribs. Soups. Beef. Potatoes. Desserts. Veg/Fish.

It also has a Delay Timer!

I am so in love with this.

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This is what it looks like when it is closed and warming up.

Very quiet, very safe.  The outside isn’t warm to the touch, and the lid is locked.  This means I don’t have to worry about the kids being around it, or knocking it off or getting hurt.

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It is now up to pressure and that is when the timer starts!  I set it for 10 minutes just to get it going.

I was very impressed with how quickly it came to pressure, and how accurate the timer was.  Both were spot on.

 

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Okay, so after I played around with it enough, I went ahead and made dinner with it.

And if you thought I was messing around, then you just don’t know how I work.

First meal: Corned Beef!

Now, normally Corned Beef takes around 8-9 hours on low for a Crock Pot.  But that isn’t how electric pressure cookers work…we work in minutes, not hours.

So I put the Corned Beef in, added 6 cups of water and the seasonings, and set the timer for 55 minutes.

And walked away.

It came up to pressure very quickly, sealed and cooked for exactly 55 minutes.  When it was done, it beeped a few times and I came back to let the pressure release.

And what came out…?

 

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This lovely dish!  Perfectly cooked.  Not soggy, not raw, not mushy.  Just a perfectly cooked roast of Corned Beef.

 

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We enjoyed this meal thoroughly  🙂

 

Now, just to finish this off…here are some of the cooking times for different foods.

This will give you a better idea of how long it takes to cook meals.  Not in hours.  In minutes.

And then you can go buy one on Amazon and change how you ever cooked food  🙂

 

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*I wish I was getting paid for these reviews, but I’m not.  I just sincerely believe that good, wholesome food, from scratch, can be an awesome and uncomplicated experience for everybody.  

Guardians of the Kitchen Galaxy: Mini Cast Iron Pans

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I spend a good amount of time during the day making meals for the family.

I also have, like, other stuff to do during the day.

So if you think I want to spend hours prepping, cooking, baking, and cleaning up afterward…you got the wrong gal.

My kitchen was revolutionized a few years ago when I discovered the electric pressure cooker (link to my article on that!!), and our meals have been ridiculously amazing ever since.

But that was a few years ago!

What else could I do to make meals a little easier, a little more down home, and a little more exciting?

WELL: a few months ago we went out for the night.  We stopped by the pool for a little bit of family swimming after work, and by the time we were done it was too late to get dinner started at home. So, we dropped into a nearby pub for an easy dinner.

I can’t say pub food is the most gluten free food on earth, for what it’s worth. #salads

Nevertheless, I particularly noticed the dish one of the kids had. They had ordered shepherd’s pie, and it came out in an individual baking dish.

And that got me thinking…

What if I had individual baking dishes at home??

Unfortunately, the ramekins (which is what these dishes are called) I could find were all way too small for what I wanted. I didn’t want a side dish sized ramekin; I wanted a one portion sized ramekin.  So, I was striking out on that search…

You know what I did find, though? MINI-CAST IRON PANS!

I cannot even tell you how awesome these things are.

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I got 7 pans, which are 6.25 inches across, so everyone had one pan, and, indeed, I could fit one portion into each pan! This is a dinner of baked chicken with garlic tomato and chickpeas.

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So beautiful 🙂 But what I really wanted to make was shepherd’s pie!

(here is my shepherd’s pie recipe!)

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Which turned out amazing!! 

The problem with making shepherd’s pie for the family our size is that I don’t have a casserole dish big enough to feed everyone. I could make two shepherd’s pie dishes, but then I would have too much. Consequently, I haven’t made it, or any other casserole-dish, for a long time. Either it is a size/portion issue, or the baking is uneven for larger dishes and the middle is squishy. Plus, when you are dishing it out it gets all messed up and the presentation isn’t nice.

And even though presentation doesn’t affect the quality of taste, it significantly affects the quality of life (yes it does).

Which is why these mini-cast iron pans solve a multitude of issues!

But…are they deep enough for shepherd’s pie? Because no one wants a thin shepherd’s pie. That’s just sad.

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Awwww yeaaahhhh!!

Cooking for large families doesn’t have to consist of boxed rice and cream of bland soup.

Once you start thinking outside the box, you’ll find yourself in pre-seasoned cast iron heaven 🙂

 

You Don’t Need To Write A Hit Song, To Write A Song.

The other day, I came to the realization that I am a perfectionist.

I know, it shocked me too.

These kinds of revelations tend to hide themselves when you are too busy making sure you have crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s.

Okay, maybe I am not a perfectionist with all areas in my life. Goodness knows I am not going to win an award for the cleanest kitchen (not with 3 loads of dishes to do every day), or the most frequently folded laundry. I can’t say I will ever enjoy folding laundry, even though I get a deep satisfaction when all the laundry is done and everyone is able to actually find clothes in a neat and orderly fashion.

Yet, there are so many things that I honestly do enjoy in life. Like writing, or teaching, or exercising. I honestly love doing these things more than doing anything else in life.

So, why am I not writing more? Why haven’t I finished the book I have been working on for ages? Why am I not getting on the rowing machine more often?

I have found that when I consider taking on a task which I would not only enjoy, but I believe it would enrich my life…I freeze.

c1e3ac55d5959d8c90f8cb86d50956e3One does not simply let paralyzing fear go.

The paralyzing fear of failure runs deep into a perfectionist’s soul.

The hounding questions of whether or not you actually know what you are doing, maybe someone else knows this subject better, what will people say when they see it? I can think of one person who should never be allowed to ever read any of my work, because I have words he has said before just hanging in the air, like suspended quotes of fail. Artistically destructive people should be banned from sharing their opinions with artists, I am absolutely certain.

The thing is, I am not writing for him (no one should ever write for him). I am writing for me.

I am not teaching for the approval of anyone else other than my family.

My need to attain perfection is not a facade, but a crippling symptom of my need to be accepted and, if I was completely honest, admired.

Tomorrow morning I have phase two of homeschooling anxiety: The first was the meeting with the principal, which was a little out of the blue. The next phase is the monthly teacher meeting. This has always gone well, and I just bring in work samples, show progress in each subject and submit a monthly report of what we have accomplished in the previous month.

This is a fairly straightforward meeting, since I have progress logs, status updates and work samples readily available from my own records. I just hate, hate, feeling like I am justifying our homeschooling to someone.

And I know for a fact that my irritation and annoyance is not based out of any fear or insecurity, but solely on my standard of perfection.

In my perfect world, I would walk in to the meeting and be praised for the enormous amount of hard work we are doing every day. My children would be commended for being so studious, and encouraged to continue on their prosperous journey.

The reality is that the meeting is mandatory for our group, and it lasts an hour.

And that’s it.

There is no earth-shaking revelations which come out of it. We merely fulfill the state’s requirements, and we are done with what we are obligated to.

What I come to realize, if you will follow me on this metaphorical journey, is that what I think I need to do is to write a hit song every day.

And that is not only absurd, but impossible.

You don’t need to write a hit song, to write a song.

So, that’s what I am working on.

I am just going to really enjoy being a songwriter for right now.

 

 

I Bought Shiny Gold Leggings On Amazon. I’m Not Sure Where I Can Wear Them.

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It has been a long, studious, laborious, devoted week to school over here…

and I am exhausted.

We have doubled up on math, math worksheets, reading, reading worksheets, essay prep, and standardized practice testing, to start with.

It has been a lot of hard work on everyone’s part…

BUT , we have made a lot of progress and I am really happy with where we are at! So, all in all: great week.

Unfortunately, I may have made an impulse buy on Amazon during my stressing out that I am failing my children as a teacher (see: drama queen):

I may have purchased shiny gold leggings to incentivize myself into working out.

Or, I might have just boldly thought I would look amazing in them right now.

Either way,  there are a few problems with this purchase.

  1. I don’t have long, thin athletic legs that can slide into tights. I have Scottish, strong-like-an-ox legs that have trouble fitting into ski boots, skinny jeans (I don’t think you can have size 12 skinny jeans, for the record), and “one size fits all” tights.
  2. They are shiny gold leggings.
  3. I have never worn leggings in my life.
  4. What on earth was I thinking. Where can you wear shiny gold leggings??
  5. What on earth was I thinking…I have never worn leggings in my life!!

 

Well, the fact is that I bought them. And now I have them. And I can fit in them.

So now what, hot shot?

First, I have to get used to wearing leggings at all. I am easing into this new era.

We’ll see how this goes 😉

 

Good. Bad. I’m The One With The Book.

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A little recap: we are in a part-time homeschool program out of a public school, which is pretty awesome. It’s free and the kids have classrooms and a locker and are learning through an enrichment set of subjects (art, music, science, history, english, etc), and it’s just for a few hours a week. But, since it’s through public school, we are asked to take standardized tests, which I’m fine with.

They aren’t my cup of tea, but we’re homeschoolers. But I’m trying to be a team player with the administration, so I haven’t opted out yet.

The tests are done on a computer, and the kids click the answers until they’re done. That’s how they’re tested. The sooner they finish, the sooner they get to play.

Evidently, my kids haven’t done well on the reading testing.

Sooo, I had to go to a meeting with the testing lady and the principal to discuss the academic performance of my kids.

Which…I said it before, but I didn’t go into homeschooling so I could get called in to the office.

But…team player.

So, I went and they just want to have a morning reading group for a few weeks, and then retake the test and see if there is improvement. And I’m fine with that. The kids will have fun, and I’ve offered to help in the class.

But here is my deal:

The kids just read MacBeth in the fall. They are finishing “Wrinkle in Time” this month. They read “Jane Eyre” and “Pride and Prejudice” last year. We do unit lesson studies on each book studying plot synopsis, character development, themes and imagery. They read books from the library every week and we have a number of writing/reading workbooks we do every day.

So, I know their reading is fine. But I can’t really tell the principal this since he has his tests.

Anyway.

We’re going to do the reading class, because that is a good opportunity anyway, and I am drilling them on practice standardized tests, so hopefully when they take the test again they’ll have significant improvement. The entire point of education is to find opportunities to progress with studies, so this can only end well.

It’s just frustrating, and maybe a little confusing, because of the judgement lines.

For instance, I met an unschooler the other day whose 9 year old can’t read or write. He wasn’t “inspired” to read, and his mom was really proud of that because it just shows how “out of the box” they were.

Yet, my kids are reading literature constantly and are doing 5 paragraph essays on Utopia/Dystopia societal systems, and they are considered bad readers.

Sometimes life is funny.

 

Being Sent To The Principal’s Office: As A Homeschooler.

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Life is good when you’re a free spirit. Until someone invites you into the box.

 

The concept of going to the principal is daunting for anyone.

Well, maybe not anyone. I remember friends in school (way back when) who enjoyed talking with the principal in their office, and were on good terms with them. All buddy-buddy with school officials.

I, on the other hand, did everything in my meager power to stay out of their overreaching eyesight. Anyone want to run Student Council? Nope, not me. Hall Monitors?  Non, my freund. Break the rules and get in trouble? Nein, frauline!

My entire purpose in school was school. I wasn’t in Drama club, I wasn’t involved with Art class, I was kinda on the swim team for a year but I also wasn’t in a rush…so that was just a thing. I just wanted to get in, and get out, and move on with life. That’s about it.

Life is organic, man.

You just gotta go with it, and let it go with you, and life can be super chill if you let it.

Life can be amazing, if you notice the little flags of opportunity surrounding you.

That’s my philosophy on the matter.

This is why homeschooling is the best opportunity I ever took up. I really thought I was going to go into teaching after college; and I did, in the beginning. There were state tests to get credentialed that I passed with no problem. I took advantage of the substitute teaching opportunities to get experience in different environments, and I loved that season.

I just love teaching. I love the passing of information, and discovering new ideas with people all over. You want a good time discussing the similarities and differences of philosophies, successes and losses between the French, Russian and American Revolutions? I am so your gal. I am all over that conversation.

Homeschooling has raised the bar of my teaching career by leagues: when you are teaching your own kids, the stakes are high. These aren’t students who have a future ahead of them that doesn’t involve you. Your classroom is your blood. Your sweat. Your soul.

This all being said, when I saw an opportunity to get involved with a public school homeschooling program, I was ecstatic! What could this mean?? Something new, blended with something old school…who came up with this idea? This is crazy exciting!

So I signed us up, and we have been loving ever second of it.

Well, until today.

Today, my worst fear called me on the phone. My phone. In my house. And this worst fear spoke the words I have desperately tried to avoid throughout my entire life:

“The Principal wants to have a meeting with you at 2.”

*insert hyperventilating here*

I am sure it has something to do with the testing that I haven’t Opted-Out of, because I would like to be a team player…and tests won’t kill anybody. It doesn’t identify my kids, and I am not intimidated by them. Testing days? That’s cool. No biggie on our end.

However, I know that since we are moving on a different streamline than public schools, and I am not drilling the kids on how to take tests properly or what is on the tests, there are going to be academic discrepencies.

Still, nothing I’m worried about.

I am not worried about my kids’ academic performaces because I take our schooling very seriously, and very personally. It is my goal and purpose to teach my kids to a high standard, and to make sure they are proficient in their grade levels; according to state guidelines.

So, when I showed up to the principal’s office this afternoon, I had a binder filled with work samples, state guidelines, standardized tests my kids have finished, reading samples, charts, printouts and a video of my son reading fluently.

Listen. I don’t know what this meeting was going to be about, but damned if I am not coming in fully stocked and prepared to own this meeting with everything I got.

It’s funny when public school and homeschool circles meet. There is a virtual Venn Diagram in the room, where we meet in the middle with shared love of our profession and genuine concern for the kids’ well being.

I know it feels a little intimidating talking with professional homeschoolers, since we’re all free spirits. A little wily, a little rambunctious, maybe a little opinionated. We have the authority to pull the plug on this program whenever we want, which also means it is in everyone’s best interest to remember what we all learned way back in school:

Be a Good Listener.

And that’s what I did. I listened to what they had to say first, and was able to pull out my handouts, worksheets, and tests and ask where the discrepancies were, and, most importantly, what did they have in mind to fill in the gaps?

Turns out, they just wanted to have a reading group for a few weeks.

Who is fine with a reading group? This Girl Is.

The only thing I was worried about was whether or not she needed help with the class, since she would be fielding such a range of grades in one hour. I don’t mind helping in the classroom before school to make sure the kids are great readers! Are you kidding?? This is my zone.

And that was when she realized we were on the same side.

It’s funny how life, being the organic being that it is, can sometimes float us into uncharted currents that take us way outside our familiar comfort zones.

But the best thing to do is to hoist the sails and own that current.

Fears can’t keep us back. We got things to do.

 

 

 

 

I’ll Tell You What’s Going On…

I am up to my ears in teaching and making sure the kids are up to speed with standards, which they are. It is helpful that the standards tests are available online and I can print them out for diagnostic checks.

But there is a standards evaluation person in school who wants to have a meeting with me and the principal tomorrow to discuss how my 6 year old is doing, because she wants him to be in an intervention class.

  1. I’m not homeschooling to have meetings with the principal (even though he’s a really nice guy).
  2. My 6 year old is a pretty stellar reader. So I don’t know why he got red-flagged for needing an intervention class.  This is him reading a Common Core, 1st grade level reading lesson.

I am very proud of him, and he is a very cheerful and fluent reader. I am pleased with not only his fluency, but also his ability to break apart big words into phonetics in order to sound it out.

So, I’ll have a meeting tomorrow to just review how great he’s doing, I guess.

Anyway, I actually have a TON of posts that are just WAITING to be posted…a ton. And I miss writing, desperately…

But I need some spare time to do it. And right now, that’s a rare commodity.

School comes first.

 

So, You Homeschool and You’re Sick. Now What, HotShot.

If you think we’re taking time off just because Mom has a head cold, you don’t know how we work.

I swear, this month has just had me by the tail.

First I had a monster hormonal avalanche.  Thankfully, although that didn’t send me into the river Styx of mood swings (I would like to think I am far too logical for that. No, you cannot ask Ben to verify this.), it did give me a false positive for a pregnancy test. Then after that whole mess, my head and chest bailed on me and invited some nefarious bug to AirBnB for a while. And I am running out of Motrin to take care of the headaches/stuffiness/cough/oh yeah, and I’m not pregnant so I have that going too.

So. NOW I’m moody.

Well, I don’t know about moody, exactly, I’m just physically worn out. The headaches, the coughing, the body aches, etc., etc., etc. Definitely crabby.

And I lost my voice, so I have this little Pomeranian whimper of a sound.

This totally fits my personality. Tired. Sore. No voice. Still busy.

CBnZ1uC.jpg     I’m cheering myself on with the whole stick and carrot.

But we’re homeschooling, and that ship never stops. And I have a newsletter to finish, and my brain dump in my moleskin yesterday yielded 35 items I am mentally juggling, some of which include taking the presidency of our PTO which naturally yielded a whole list of ideas for that…

So now what, hotshot?

I’ll tell you what: we’re doing it anyway!

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I will say that one of the dumbest things I have ever heard in regards to cold-management is “You don’t call in, you crawl in.

If you are down for the count, and you keep going in to work/school/anywhere…thanks for getting everyone else sick, buddy! We also love to hear you hack up a lung and look like death rolled over. It makes everyone else’s day so much better because you showed up. (Don’t show up)

However, at this point I am at the tail end of all this nonsense and I have just enough energy to be, while not absolutely fabulous, definitely mildly fabulous.

So, that is how I am starting off February.