Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lake Punch-a-train

Hummingbird is doing a school project on Louisiana, and she was asking me how to spell Lake Ponchartrain.  Bumble Bee piped up, "Mom whenever I see a train, I'm going to punch it like the lake... Lake. Punch. A. Train.  Hahahaha!  I could punch the train in the lake." 

This had both of them roaring with laughter...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

American-Style Gyros

Anyway, I had some leftover sour cream a couple of weeks ago, and no idea what to do with it.  So, I did a search for entrees with sour cream.  Of those I found I decided to try a recipe for "gyro burgers"  with a sour cream based sauce (I can't find my source now!).  

Well, DH, who is always honest about what he likes and doesn't like, informed me that this was a miss, but could be a hit with some tweaks.  The first step was to break up the burger patty and simply use ground beef (we're not really big lamb eaters).  So, I searched all over the internet for recipes to make an American-style Gyro with ground beef and a truly Greek sauce.

Here's what I came up with by pulling ingredient ideas from several sources.  I've linked the main ones I used for the base.

For the meat combine & brown:
  • 1 lb ground meat
  • 2 tsp. oregano (dried)
  • 2 cloves of crushed fresh garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 T lemon juice

For the sauce combine:
  • 8 oz Greek yogurt
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp oregano (dried)
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
  • dash of salt
  • t/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 T lemon juice

  • Slice onions and cucumbers
  • Grill pitas & fill with meat, sauce, veggies

The meat, pita, and onions were a hit with DH (the girls preferred cucumbers over onions).  The sauce was okay, but still seemed to be lacking.  I had run out of time to try pureeing and juicing a cucumber to add to the sauce.  This may be my only failing it, but I wouldn't doubt if there are more things lacking.  So, does anyone have suggestions for an authentic sauce to add to my gyro burgers?  We definitely want to try this again.

I realize that most of my links are actually to souvlaki recipes because until I started typing this I didn't have a clear distinction in my mind of the difference between souvlaki and gyros, which I guess is basically the shape of the meat...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Children's Book Controversy

When I wrote Josiah and Julia Go to Church, I had NO idea I was writing a scandalous book.  I certainly had no intention of doing so.  However, it has come to my attention over the last couple of weeks that there is a campaign against it.  The prickly point is Josiah squirming at Communion.  It is the opinion of those who are upset by it that I am giving children bad ideas and being disrespectful of the Eucharist.

However, I did not think up this idea.  No, this is behavior that I have seen -- that my daughters have seen -- on several occasions over the years.  Largely, the children whom we've seen squirming, flailing, and indeed, spitting out Communion have been visitors or infrequent attendees.  So, early on my girls questioned why those children were acting that way.  I had to explain to them that some children don't attend church often enough to be accustomed to receiving Communion, and perhaps some don't like the taste of wine.  I also explained to them what Communion is and why it is important to be calm when receiving it and not only not to spit it out, but not to put fingers in their mouth or chew on teddy bears right after Communion.  Having had this conversation with my own children, I thought it might just be one that other parents were having, too, and that J&J might be a tool to broaching the topic.

Since respect for the Eucharist was a large factor in my conversion to Orthodoxy (After months of fighting to defend Catholic doctrine, I knew I couldn't keep up the fight when I saw a Catholic priest tell parishioners at a midday Mass to let those who had to return to work receive communion first, so they could leave right away.), I am hurt that people think my book is disrespectful.  The entire purpose of this book is to show children how to behave respectfully in church.  I have seen children doing all of the "bad" behaviors in church, and I find it hard to believe that others haven't seen them all, too.

Of course, I've read this book hundreds of times to my own children and neither of them has ever tried to squirm or spit out Communion after reading it.  So, unless a child is just deliberately trying to be bad, I don't think my book is going to have them spitting out the Eucharist.

Deep breath!  I guess I'll have to learn to ignore all reviews like celebrities say they do if I'm going to keep writing for public consumption.

In other news... if you're a fan (or if you're not but want to give me a second chance), I started a Facebook page not so long ago.  Check it out for a special offer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September 19, 2002 - September 19, 2012

Back in college, I think I told every guy on whom I had a crush that I wanted to be married on September 19.  When my now husband called me late in the night on September 9, 2001 and asked if we could really "do it in a year"?  I said, "Of course."  And after a few more minutes, called my mother to tell her the good news.  Not until after the wedding -- a year and ten days later -- did he tell me that he was really proposing when he asked that question...

I think after a decade he's happy that I thought he was, though.  On our first anniversary he put on a tuxedo and met me at the door after work with a red rose and a bottle of champagne.  I think we may have gone out to dinner a little later.  He would remember better than I.  My best memory of the evening was my first sight of him as I came home, though.

We spent the day together today.  Nothing big... kids off to school (thank you teachers for returning to work for my anniversary!). The first was early and easy; the second one was more difficult -- lots of "I don't want to go to school."  Then, we had a couple of hours to ourselves, including a walk to pick up Thai food for dinner (love that tofu!).  We spent the evening at home, but after 10 years it was time to try the wedding clothes.  I'm sad to say I don't quite fit in my dress anymore... Pregnancy caused me to lose some much needed fat in certain places.
American Gothic-esque

September 19, 2012
September 19, 2002

The lighting is bad in the current one, but we may try again in the daylight tomorrow.  The shrug I wore at the wedding began to yellow a few years ago, so I had to throw it out to protect the dress.  Hummingbird has asked to wear it at her wedding, so I definitely need to keep it nice.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Quick Thought on Mitt Romney's Latest Shocking Remarks

I'm sure you've all heard Republican candidate Mitt Romney's remarks that "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.  There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."

More shocking than the fact that he apparently doesn't believe that all people are entitled to food and housing, is the fact that he thinks his remarks are offensive simply because he didn't phrase it well.  He actually said, "It's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I was speaking off the cuff in response to a question." I pay income taxes, unlike the people Mr. Romney disdains, but I still think everyone is entitled to food and housing.  Our Lord commanded us to care for the poor, the sick, those in prisons.  The Lord cares for all Americans.  Mr. Romney professes to, but he clearly doesn't.  The rich man in the Bible was unwilling to give up his possessions to help those less fortunate and follow the Lord, and it seems Mr. Romney is the same type of rich man.  If those who have more are not going to help those less fortunate as the Lord commanded, then government has to fill that need.  Should 47% of Americans live on the streets? Starve?

I can't even begin to express how disgusted I am with this man, and how scared I am that he just may get elected.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Strike Continues...

...and I am most annoyed with the CTU.  They have a contract that seems quite reasonable, and in some cases more than reasonable.  I understand wanting to "mull it over" before signing it, but at this point get the kids back into class while you mull it over.  I spent last night and this morning reading the Summary of Terms sheet posted on CTU's website.  They summarize the things they like and don't like.

Two things they don't like is the longer day and longer school year.  It seems to me if schools around the nation have days longer than 5.45 hours and 180 day school years, then CPS can and should, too.  Not to mention, of the now 7 hour day, teachers will only about 6.25 hours working.  They will be getting a 45 minute duty-free lunch.  That's a shorter day than most professionals work.  I do recognize they teachers are spending some time at home doing things like grading, so I think this is perfectly fair, but it's certainly not unreasonable as CTU seems to think.

Anyway, I've marked up the Terms sheet with my opinions on the big issues.  I'm neutral about many things in it, so those parts are simply unmarked.  I've underlined in green things I like and struck out in red things I don't like, and I've added a few comments along the way.  The evaluation process seems more than fair, and overall this contract seems quite reasonable. 

My last little point to note is that I'm happy to see that CTU agrees to make up the days that have been lost to their strike.  Now, I want to make my opinion known that those days should be made up on single day holidays (Columbus day, Presidents day, etc) throughout the year, and not with an extra 1.5 weeks at the end of school.  Without our Labor Day start to school the kids already get out 2-3 weeks later than all of the school districts I know (suburban and Louisiana).  Adding time at the end will keep them in school pretty much until July, which really isn't fair to them or parents!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Teachers' Strike Day 4

Well, homeschooling crumbled today.  We're hearing rumors that this will be resolved in time for students to return to school on Monday.  Three quarters of our household will be thrilled if that happens.   Bumble Bee is the only one who still wants the teachers to strike so she doesn't have go to school.  I told her teacher last week it would set her back if they went on strike, and it will.

The city has 145 schools open and staffed by principals and other non-CTU staff.  One of those is within 2 seconds of us.  So, we may send Hummingbird tomorrow, and perhaps, Bumble Bee.  They won't be holding classes, but it will be like a day camp with including independent reading and writing, arts and journaling, sports activities, and computer-based programming.

Even though today didn't work out the week certainly wasn't a total loss.  Hummingbird did complete a nice project on the history of the American Flag. She also learned some new grammar and practice a bunch of math.  And we've done two cool science projects, one of which I recorded and used to practice video editing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Teachers' Strike Day 3

One thing I do like about this strike is that we can all sleep until 7:00 AM. We usually have to be up by about 6:30 to get Hummingbird on the school bus. So, we've just had breakfast, and I'll be printing out worksheets in a minute. I just did an email check before we get going. There was an "update" from Hummingbird's principal. The update was there's no news on when this will be settled. Mr. Netterstrom is a pretty high profile principal in the city because his school is a new classical school with accelerated learning, and he is taking it to the forefront of many of the changes the mayor wants. They did a longer school day last year, which was even longer than this year. He has had full choice in hiring teachers with no requirements to draw from a laid off pool. The staff at the school are fabulous, and I really think it is a great model for others to imitate. Here's a what Mr. Netterstrom thinks about principals' right to choose their own teachers without restrictions.
“It’s just like holding a coach accountable for a team’s results. They create the team. They create the culture. They create who’s the best fit,” the mayor said. Ethan Netterstrom, principal at Skinner North, couldn’t agree more. “I was very blessed to open up the school four years ago and I got to hire every single staff member who works for me. And that’s really made all the difference in our school in building a climate and a culture that’s been very positive and has had really good academic and social results,” Netterstrom said.  Read more...
 Here's to a good day of learning and hoping for a return to school!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Teachers' Strike Day 2

Today went pretty well for us, but we all wish the teachers would go back to work.  I'm definitely on the fence about the strike.  I think it's terrible because it impedes the education of our children.  I understand that they want a fair contract, but I also think that they need to make some concessions, too.  I am generally pro-union; I've even belonged to a union in the past.  However, everything I'm reading reports that CPS has conceded on this point or that, but nowhere has the CTU given an inch.

As a parent it is even more frustrating when union president Karin Lewis says things like "I've got to go back to the silly part of my day [referring to the negotiations]. . .Y'all continue to have fun. Show each other some love." (Read more on today's happenings)  Never mind, that kids are missing out on their rights to an education, or that parents are having to find and pay for ways to take care of their kids while they're not in school; y'all just have fun! (I do like that the Tribune reporter spelled "y'all" correctly).

Okay, I'm done ranting.  We actually had a pretty good day, and if I lived somewhere where my girls weren't going to a really good school, I think I could get the hang of homeschooling.  We were a little more laid back today, but we still did some good work.

I let them start the day with playtime because I need some time to prepare tutoring lessons for this evening.  Best to get that out of the way first.  Next, we took a walk to the library where everyone picked out chapter books, and we had an impromptu photography class along the way (pictures below).  Then, we had a brief lunch and started the real work.

I found some grammar sheets for Hummingbird to do, and I helped Bumble Bee practice writing her name (she's great at tracing, not so much at freehand).  Her goal is to be able to write her name and get a library card of her own, so this may not take too long.

Next came math, Hummingbird worked on the computer with Math Trainer.  She answered 100 of 102 multiplication facts (from 1x1 to 5x5) correctly!  Tomorrow we push her up a notch...  Bumble Bee and I worked on a pre-K workbook -- counting & circling objects, tracing numbers, and determining sets.

After math came social studies.  Hummingbird suggested on our way home from the library that she would like to learn more about the Star-Spangled Banner. So, I found some color sheets and informational sheets online that she worked on.  I also wrote down 7 questions for her to research online with Daddy while I was out this evening.  They completed all but one of those.  Tomorrow she'll finish that, and we'll add some state flags (Illinois, Georgia, Louisiana, & Indiana).

We didn't get to the science experiment today, so tomorrow we'll learn about air pressure and crush a can.  I'll probably post a video of that one.

Karen Lewis says the union is in this strike "for the long haul." I worry that with their utter refusal to compromise, like the Tea Party, we may indeed miss a large chunk of school time.

As we started out we met a striking teacher and her daughter.
As it happens they are neighbors to Hummingbird's best friend from school.

By Hummingbird
By Bumble Bee

By Bumble Bee
By Hummingbird
By Bumble Bee

Despite my frustrations with the current day, I am reminded each time I look at the calendar that things could be so much worse. As I go to sleep tonight, I will be praying for those whose lives were so devastated eleven years ago.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Strike Day 1

I'm exhausted.  Summer vacation is over, so we're not really willing to let the girls sit idly wasting brain cells while the teachers strike.  So, we had our first day of homeschooling today.  It actually went well, but I managed to catch a severe cold, so I am now wiped out.

 So, here's what we did today...

We started the day with breakfast and cleaning the bedroom, especially the desk area.  I knew we would need a good spot for Hummingbird to work.  Then around 8:30 we did an hour long French immersion lesson.  I've started teaching part-time with Multilingual Chicago, so the kids are good practice for my classes.  We read La Chenille Qui Fait des Trous, and sang a song about the days of the week & ducks.  We also talked about the weather and numbers, ending the hour with a game of Bingo in French.

Next, we had a short art class.  First, we made sun catchers.  The girls came back from their summer adventures with this craft, but we never got around to it.  The paint was dried out, so we improvised with sharpies and glitter glue.  Upon finishing that, we took a walk for a photography lesson.  The girls each took pictures of the strike in progress.  We had to see it for ourselves, as the teachers were shouting outside our windows by 6:30 this morning.

By Hummingbird
By Hummingbird
By Hummingbird
By Hummingbird, only blurry one...
By Bumble Bee (she spotted the striking kids)
By Bumble Bee

By Bumble Bee
By Bumble Bee (her teacher)
Hummingbird was interested in practicing the zoom feature.  Thus, most of her photographs were from behind the teachers, and half a block away. 

Bumble Bee, on the other hand was up close and personal.  She spotted the kids and was curious to know why they were striking.  The teachers started marching to another nearby school while she was taking pictures, and we even saw her teacher.  I was worried they wouldn't like us taking pictures, but most of them smiled at us.  Her teacher even paused to say hello, and let Bumble Bee snap a quick shot.  We do like Bumble Bee's teacher, and I can't wait for her to return to class & relieve me.

Back to our schedule, we had P.E. & recess at the school playground after art class.   Then, we came home for lunch followed by spelling work for Hummingbird and puzzles for Bumble Bee and Grace (she's 2 and she's with us two days a week).  After puzzles, we put Grace down for a nap, and Bumble Bee took a bath and learned about what floats & sinks in water.  She really like this, and was very quick to grasp why the different objects floated or sank.  Math work followed spelling for Hummingbird while Bumble Bee finished her bath.

Next came reading time.  After 6 books, I was ready to collapse, so Bumble Bee got about 40 minutes of TV time, while Hummingbird continued her reading of Socks by Beverly Cleary.  Our day was almost to the end.  Hummingbird had to do a little social studies.  She played games on the Little Passports website and read up on the various countries visited by Sam & Sophia.  I made her name each country and its capital.  I even learned something new.  I never knew the capital of Australia is Canberra.  I guess I always assumed it was Sidney.  Bumble Bee had free play with Grace.

By this time it was late afternoon, and we had a science lesson.  Daddy made it rain in the kitchen!  He questioned Hummingbird about the water cycle & why it rains.  Then, he heated water in a tea kettle to steaming.  He held a pan of ice over it, and as the steam hit the pan, the water condensed.  The girls loved this and wanted it to rain on them.  Daddy was obliging and moved the pan over their heads so little bits of "rain" could fall on them.  This brought many giggles and squeals.

So, we got through one day.  I don't quite know what to do tomorrow.  Daddy has agreed to do another late day science experiment.  He's going to crush a can under atmospheric pressure...  I'll let you know how it goes.

The girls had fun today, but after years of wishing she could be homeschooled, Hummingbird decided today that she'd rather leave for school.  I know many of you out there homeschool, so if you have any suggestions, I'm all ears. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

CPS Teachers on Strike

I'm am a very disappointed parent right now.  I am especially disappointed in the Chicago Teachers' Union. 

CPS offered many concessions giving the CTU what it wanted on some big issues.  School board President David Vitale said the district changed its proposal 20 times over the course of talks and didn't have much more to offer.  Here's a link to the current CPS offer.  This includes a 16% pay increase over 4 years.  Chicago teachers' salaries are nothing to sneeze at.  According to a CPS spokesperson, the average pay for teachers, without benefits, is currently $76,000/year (the highest in the nation).  And these increases will occur at a time when CPS really doesn't have the money for them.

Despite major concessions on the big issues, which apparently were agreed upon, CTU has decided to strike. Some of the factors stated for the decision to strike include job security, dissatisfaction with Health Benefits, and a new evaluation process.

What doesn't CTU like about the Health benefits? They reject a wellness program, which seems to me a great option to improve health and lower overall health care costs. The wellness program even includes an option for opting out of it.  They also dislike a slight premium increase for families (as opposed to single and couple teachers).  

Another "big" thing CTU mentioned in the strike announcement was the new evaluation proposal which would mean that approximately 30% of their members would be discharged in 1 to 2 years.  I don't know exactly what the new evaluation process would look like, but it seems to me that if 30% of your members can't pass evaluation, they probably shouldn't be teaching our children.  I certainly want my children's teachers to be good enough to pass their evaluations.  And as they spoke out against this new process, I couldn't help but notice that one CTU representative (or teacher) couldn't even speak properly.  Speaking of the evaluation process, he said, "Us educators have a real stake in that."  If you don't know when to use a direct object pronoun versus a subject pronoun, what are you teaching our children?!  Don't get me wrong, my girls have had some great teachers over the past few years. However, let's keep good teachers and compensate them fairly, while getting rid of teachers who can't do their job effectively.  

Even if teachers get what they want, the only thing this strike will really do is hurt students.  It will hurt them as they miss out on classroom time this week (and in the weeks to come?).  It will hurt them if 6,000 unqualified teachers remain on the job.  I'd rather see more teachers like those at Skinner North, who are qualified, enthusiastic, and take a real interest in teaching our children.  Those teachers worked an extra 1.5 hours a day for our children last year against the wishes of the CTU leadership because they care about our children. I'm proud of the 10% of CTU teachers who voted against a strike.  I only hope that the rest find a way to compromise quickly so that our children can get back to school.  In the meantime, we'll be running a homeschool here...

Friday, September 7, 2012

First Week of School & Teacher Strike?!

 The girls started school this week.  Hummingbird has always liked getting away from Mommy since the first day of preschool.  This year she didn't even want me to drive her on the first day.  She was adamant that she wanted to ride the bus.  She's already reaching the point of being embarrassed by Mom...  Dad waited for the bus with her, and got her off to school successfully.  Her biggest disappointment was being late for what we call "second breakfast."

Bumble Bee's first day of preschool was a mixture of excitement, tears, and fun.  She woke up excited about school, probably sensing some of Hummingbird's excitement.  When it was time to go, though, she got nervous.  I think the crowds of kids and parents started the nerves.  By the time we got into her classroom, she was clinging and begging to go home.  When I finally extricated myself, half of the kids in her class were in tears.  The teacher, her aide, and another staffer were trying to calm them.  And eventually they did.  She had fun reading, playing, and singing.

The second day, she was moved to the afternoon with a new teacher.  The PM schedule was much more manageable.  That first day we had to get Hummingbird to the bus at the same time that Bumble Bee was supposed to be dropped off at school.  Well, the second day was rough at first, too.  And so was the third.  Today was the worst of all.  She started crying to stay home before we even go out the door.  Again, as all week, she had fun at school once she calmed down.  And she has made friends with the other little girl in class who cries, Solilie.  This class has fewer children (about 6 boys and 4 girls from what I can tell), and they're not as nervous about school.

All that effort to get her accustomed to going to school may be wasted... The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is considering a strike.  That is just what Bumble Bee doesn't need.  More on that later if it materializes; for now, I'm just hoping it doesn't.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

And the Winner Is...

...Janelle thegeekywife

Thank you to both of you who participated.

First day of school pictures to follow...