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.
“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.
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.
Spring in Minnesota includes all kinds of weather. On Monday it was sunny and 66 degrees. In contrast, here is a view of our yard this afternoon:
We aren’t surprised by snow days in April. We just roll with ’em – and remind ourselves that in a little over a month this tree will be filled with fragrant pink blossoms.
And we savor the memories from exactly a week ago, memories of hiking among the red rocks in Sedona, Arizona.
More than one family member noted it was a pity that our trip hadn’t been for two weeks instead of one, but we fill this day off with reading, shoveling snow, playing the Lego game, vacuuming, baking, washing dishes, and finishing taxes. These things too can be extraordinary when we make them so.
The first hand is eight years old.
The second is 11 years.
The exact age of the third hand? Only God knows.
No one bothered to write down the date that hand was brought into the world.
“A lot of kids in my class say bad things about Somalis. I don’t tell them that I’m half Somali,” my 11-year-old said this evening. He mentioned the same thing last week.
I suggested he might considering pointing out to these kids that there’s a lot of variety among Somalis, that they no more deserve to be lumped into one category than any other group. His dad, who is Somali, advised him to let the topic pass without saying a word.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about living with a minority, it’s that many of them don’t buy into this idea of sticking up for yourself, of calling out the unfair treatment. It’s all about not making waves, about not upsetting people who have the upper hand – and just may use it against you if pressed. I have a feeling my boys are going to take their cues from their daddy on this one. Perhaps that’s best. Blessed are the meek.
The great polar vortex has descended on the Midwest and you’re hunkered down at home with the kiddos for yet another day so cold that school’s cancelled and outdoor play isn’t a real option. Make a list of all the household chores you’ve been procrastinating on and allow everyone to choose a task or two that they’d most like to do. This is how we got snow shoveling done right quick – my boys clearly prefer outdoor work to the indoor stuff. (Of course, they also took the opportunity to roll around in the snow before coming back inside.) Once you’ve got the work done – or at least made good progress on your list – go ahead and enjoy the rest of the day.
1. Make some aqua rocks. Just add a few drops of food coloring to a balloon, fill it with water, and set it outside. Once frozen, remove the balloon and enjoy the pretty shapes and colors (from the window).
2. Write a good old-fashioned letter, and have your kiddos write one too. My boys wrote their one out-standing thank you note, and I filled up the rest of the space in the card. A letter a day is a good goal.
3. Use this as an opportunity to bake. Choose one of those baking projects you never seem to have time for in a typical week. For example, make some soft buttered pretzels. (Ours were tasty, though not as photogenic as the ones on the King Arthur website.) Then, pull out those canned cherries that have been neglected in the back of the cupboard. Mix in some cornstarch and sugar and place them in a pie crust. Bake until your home smells wonderful.
4. Play board games for as long as you like. Then make up your own games. If you’re so inclined, use your Lego bricks to inspire some intense role plays. Or just admire your kids’ Lego creations.
5. Read. Finish up all those library books that are in your to-read stack. Then check out your library’s online resources. If you’re blessed with a library like ours, you may have even gotten an email touting their “Top Five Resources for Snow Days.” Read it in its entirety and choose one option to explore in depth.
6. Put on some fun music and move to the beat. Everyone needs to get their wiggles out somehow.
7. Put everyone to bed early and let them sleep late. Wake up, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and repeat.