When conference time rolls around and the PTO is looking for volunteers to help provide meals for the teachers on their longest days, I tend to be among the first to sign up. I like cooking for others. And when I do, thoughts of Grandma often come to mind. Grandma was from an era when home cooking was the only way, and she had so many years of experience to her credit. I can’t claim to even be in her league, but I do find myself with a similar urge to share home-cooked food with others.
When my oldest started school, I bought a 6-quart slow cooker to hold big batches, and I am often looking for new ideas for how to fill it. This year I compared several slow cooker pasta recipes and came with a simple version that uses fairly common ingredients. The recipe is too big to make for just my family, but it’s great for a potluck or similar event. Judging by the few remaining bits on the bottom of our slow cooker, it was a big hit with the teachers last week.
Slow Cooker Ravioli
2 packages frozen cheese ravioli (25 oz each)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion diced
28 oz crushed tomatoes
8 oz tomato sauce
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Saute onion in olive oil till translucent. Add cooked onion to a large mixing bowl with crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, garlic, spices, salt, and pepper. Mix well and stir in the frozen ravioli, making sure each piece is coated in red sauce. Transfer to a 6-quart slow cooker. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese and cook on high for two and a half to three hours, till bubbly and cooked through. Serve with additional grated cheese, if desired.
This year, establishing a school routine has been about as pleasant as strolling through a garden riddled with noxious weeds. Tempers have been short and disappointment great. The younger boy gets on the bus at 6:53 a.m. and the older one at 8:31 a.m. so I have been doing the get-ready-for-school coaching twice a day.
The elementary-aged boy missed the bus once already. You’d think a middle schooler could get all his books, soccer gear, iPad, and a packed lunch into his backpack independently by now. So perhaps it’s mostly my fault that he needs so many reminders and that the number of his near misses is far greater than the number of times he’s been out there the recommended five minutes before the bus arrives.
Then there’s the school work. “There’s no gym and no recess” in middle school, he reported the first day. He’s got one class that’s “chill” but the rest have homework expectations that fourth and fifth grade never prepared him for. I can’t believe how many overdue assignments he’s had already.
By mid-September, our garden had started looking pretty bedraggled. A few weeds had grown rather tall. The tomatoes were mostly done, with cages tipping precariously in several directions. One cage had fallen on its side completely from the weight of the plant. The cilantro had gone to seed. But there were still a few treasures in there, if you looked closely – or dug below the surface. One day I came home with a few juicy yellow tomatoes, ruby carrots and the prettiest purple potatoes. All produce you wouldn’t necessarily have seen in our sorry looking plot at first glance.
The blessings of our fall schedule are similar – things I wouldn’t necessarily have seen at first glance. For example, now I have one-on-one time with each boy – time to help with homework, listen to anecdotes they want to share, and just hang out. The younger one has been helping me with projects after school, like assembling some new shelving, and spending more time cooking with me.
After about a month and a half, I’ve finally embraced our current reality and have gotten better about appreciating the small gifts, which are sometimes found under a tangle of weeds.
My kids don’t believe me when I say it’s good to get bored, but they’re improving at their ability to transform a blank page or an empty afternoon into something interesting. This month, they’ve been using their creativity and resourcefulness to find their way out of boredom, which I’d posit is an important life lesson. Below are some of the fruits of their unstructured days.
For the library’s summer reading program, my eight-year-old collected leaves from nearby trees and looked up the name of each one. He documented it in the following manner:
We can now tell you the difference between a sugar maple and a silver maple. After he finished this, we have found and looked up the names of four other leaves as well. The learning continues.
Word has spread that we have some Lego artists in this household, and so my two sons were enlisted to help finish up a Lego mural. They ended up reworking the whole thing. Don’t you like that eagle?
Then there was the chalk dinosaur, ready to gobble up all cars coming toward our home on Cumberland Street. He’s wearing away little by little, but the remnants still give us something to talk about.
Our 11-year-old has been working on creating his latest game, “Battle of the Fort.” He sometimes complains about the limitations of Tynker and how he can’t code all the things he’d like to. Most of the time I don’t fully grasp what he’s talking about – coding is a language all its own – but I’m glad he’s been developing his abstract reasoning and problem solving skills. With animation, the picture below occasionally has some lightning in the background.
We’re also making memories, with many of the typical activities of summer like pick up soccer games at Lexington Park, swimming at Como Pool, and weekly visits to the library. They make me smile when they can’t even wait till we leave the library before they start in on their new book selections (though also a bit concerned about their safety due to an apparent lack of awareness of their surroundings when walking while reading).
“I honestly like being read to more than reading,” our 11-year-old said after I put down the Michael Vey book that I’ve been reading aloud to him and his brother. He’s a quick and capable reader, so it’s not because it’s difficult to read a book like this himself. But I think he means there’s something very compelling about a shared story, a story that we can analyze together, make predictions about, and keep talking about, long after the book is done. It’s especially gratifying when you’ve found a book with strong, likable characters, a good plot, and themes like loyalty and courage.
brightening our afternoon
just by being there
“Good-bye is always hello to something else. Good-bye/hello, good-bye/hello, like the sound of a rocking chair.” – George Ella Lyon
This month we said good-bye to store-bought lettuce and hello to garden-fresh lettuce. The leaf lettuce volunteered in our plot this year, getting established in the cool spring before I got around to working the ground. I couldn’t bear to hoe it all up, so I left seven plants that were sort of clustered together. Since then, the sunshine and rain have tended them well.
Also in June, our oldest said good bye to his elementary school. “Earlier in the week, I thought I would be happy when school’s done. But now, I’m not so sure,” our fifth grader said in the car on the way home from school on his last Friday at Chelsea Heights Elementary. This fall, it’s hello middle school, but he’s going to put that thought off for a while. (Me too.)
We said good-bye to the school year routine. Hello, free time. The boys have enjoyed extended Lego-building sessions and have some great creations to show for it. Plus we’ve done a few of the things on our “someday” list, like a birding walk at the Bell Museum and a road trip to the Caddie Woodlawn House with my sister. The best part of that day turned out to be the visit to Devil’s Punchbowl and the “secret” waterfalls a bit farther down the road that we’d never have known about if we hadn’t stopped to ask for directions.
pink apple blossoms
so fragrant and so fragile
grace our yard each May
delicate spheres wait
for a breeze to send them forth
to unknown environs
Tender rhubarb stalks
grow in these cool, sunny days
as we dream of pie.
Hosta leaves unfurl,
A spring treat for browsing deer.
We could eat them too.