What they ate (or didn’t) this week and some thoughts about keeping Fridays


One of my favorite bloggers, Simcha Fisher, started a recurring — or not — feature on her blog I have to Sit Down called “What’s for Supper?”. Because I also feed a crowd every day and because I’m not one to miss a good link-up (I like having a topic picked for me, I’m that kind of lazy), here is my contribution.

The ground rules as far as our family of 11 is concerned are simple:

  • The meals must be simple and contain easily identifiable ingredients. Casseroles rarely fly here, unless they are a simple gratin.
  • My husband and I try to avoid grains during weekdays. Fresh corn doesn’t count as grain.
  • We don’t eat dessert on weekdays.
  • Normally I make a meal plan on Saturday, shop for food on Sunday and will often need another produce run midweek. For the last 9 months, I’ve been out of meal planning and our grocery budget is running amok.
  • Supper needs to be figured out and started by 3:30pm if we want to eat by 5:30pm, clean-up the supper dishes and have the five younger kids in bed between 7:00 and 8:00 pm. Lately — because of absentee planning — supper gets going around 5:30pm, we eat at 7:00 and we’re lucky if the kids are in bed by 9:00pm. We are still in “summer mode” but we’re fraying at the edges. Chaos and exhaustion are threatening our entire livelihood and we hope to return to normal as soon as we can find the energy to turn this boat around.
  • My husband is often gone from home from 7 am until close to 7 pm. We live in a rural community so we avoid evening engagements such as extracurricular activities as much as possible: driving into town at supper/bedtime was in fashion in 2010-2012, now we’re traumatized.

MONDAY

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Eye of round roast (this one has to be started in the afternoon)

Roasted potatoes: I just quarter a whole bag of baby potatoes from Costco, lay them on parchment paper, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper, and bake at 415F for about 20 mn.

Red cabbage slaw. Or as we are expected to call it “red-but-should-be-purple-cabbage”, with vinaigrette (1/3 red vinegar, 2/3 olive oil and a splotch of Dijon proportional to what you used as a basic measurement. I do 1 cup red vinegar, 2 cups of oil and a heaping tablespoon of Dijon. There’s leftovers.)

Broccoli . Because everyone here eats broccoli but red cabbage slaw is touch and go. I like giving the kids a chance to win.

TUESDAY

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Tuesday, we received our school books. Yay?

Fish and fries. That’s what I make when I forget to take meat out of the freezer. I don’t consider cucumbers to be a real vegetable, it’s mostly water and seeds, but I just can’t sleep unless there is something green on offer. And cucumber is green.

WEDNESDAY

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Roasted chickens and fresh corn on the cob. I use the organic chickens from Costco, throw them on a roasting sheet with salt, pepper, onion flakes and smoked paprika and roast them at 415F for 45mn or something. Two chickens and 12 corns fed my “small” family: the three oldest were out of the house.

When I cut the chickens, I throw the carcasses and drippings straight into a large Dutch oven. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar, fill with water and make broth right away. I used to keep the bones in a ziploc bag in the fridge until I had the optimal broth ingredients, also known as “until the carcasses turned moldy and my husband threw them out.” Water, bones, vinegar, boil forever.

THURSDAY

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We had friends for lunch and I made quesadillas with the leftover chicken and corn.

For dinner, I roasted sweet peppers, carrots, garlic and a Lego wheel — just kidding! I removed the wheel before roasting. Then I had afterthoughts and checked the oven again. Phew! I did remove the wheel… — and made some orange soup with the chicken broth.

I also made a tomato salad with cherry tomatoes from my sister’s garden and basil from our garden. I used the same dressing as earlier this week.

FRIDAY

Here comes Friday. I follow a few Catholic bloggers from the United States and was curious as to why they seemed to universally abstain from meat on Friday. It picked my curiosity because I know some very legit Canadian Catholics who do not abstain from meat on Friday. Recently, I spoke about it with my spiritual director, as I was really struggling with the concept of abstaining from meat on Friday. The problem seemed to be twofold. First, meatless dishes in my family are mostly party food. They are also really easy to make for me. I felt like pancakes were too much fun for a Friday observance of the death of Jesus, fish is too good, soup and bread are comfort foods, sandwiches are a get-out-of-jail-free card for me, and so on. I came to the conclusion that the only sort of meal that would look like a universal family sacrifice would be a dish that is really complicated to make for me and that the kids don’t like, like vegan moussaka or lasagna. But making food that everyone hates is wasteful. Back to square one. Making an elaborated, suitably mortifying, vegan dish also prevented me from going to Mass and Adoration on Friday evening, the only weekday Mass offered in my Parish at a time later than 8:00 am. My spiritual adviser wisely noted that in Canada, the Conference of Catholic Bishops did not require the faithful to abstain from meat on Fridays outside of Lent but encouraged us to keep Friday through some kind of penance, prayer or act of charity. Maybe, she added, organizing your day and your evening meal so that you are able and ready to leave home at 6:00pm to go to Mass and Adoration is all the penance you need to keep Friday? Well… Now that you mention it yes, having supper ready, served, eaten and cleaned-up by 6:00 pm requires my entire day to shift 2h early.

So we had hamburgers. And Mass was cancelled that night. Oh well.

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I make hamburgers using an entire pallet of ground beef from Costco. That’s in the vicinity of 3-4 lbs I think. I season the meat with my usual suspects (onion flakes, salt, sage and smoked paprika) and beat it into large but thin patties. As you can see from the picture above, they fluff-up as they cook. If you make them small and thick, you’ll end-up with a meatball on your bun. Know what I mean?

SATURDAY

Collage_Saturday picnic Kingston

On Saturday, we traveled to Kingston, Ontario to attend our son’s entrance ceremony to the Royal Military College. We called-up some old and dear friends and asked if we could stop at their house with our burgers and sausages for a last minute BBQ. We left home with a cooler full of meat and ice packs for the supper and a picnic lunch. When picnicking with van full of little kids, simple is key. I bought a big bag of round buns from Costco, some ham, celery sticks, apples and go-go-squeeze tool of the devil and a big jug of lemonade. The picnic by Lake Ontario quickly degenerated into underage skinny dipping and we made it to the ceremony well-fed, bathed and relatively dry.

Collage_RMC Arch Ceremony

For the history buffs amongst you, the middle picture in the collage above is the parade square at Royal Military College. In the very background on the left hand side of the picture is Fort Henry, a National Historic Site of Canada. The building immediately behind the parade square is HMCS Stone Frigate. Yes! The building is a boat! It’s Colin’s dorm and it’s called affectionately “the boat”. It’s the oldest building at RMC and it even has its own Wikipedia page. Can your dorm say as much??

After the ceremony, we headed to our friends’ house for an impromptu BBQ. There are a few things I enjoy more than seeing old friends, especially when our children get along well. Feeding 4 adults, their 9 children and the 6 children we had with us in one sitting was impossible so we took turns. First thing children, then the teenagers and eventually the moms and dads got to have a seat. Their 4 year-old twins Binh and Phuoc ate through all three sittings, a wonderful sight when you think of everything these girls have been through. ← (The article linked there is excellent. You should really read it.)

Collage_Supper at the Wagners

And there you have it my friends, what we ate last week. Now I must hang-up and run make supper. Another week awaits.

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Homeschooling Questions: To plan or not to plan?


To plan or not to plan, that is the question…
In a recent Facebook post, I asked friends to send me their homeschooling questions, as if I could answer any of them as I emerge from a very difficult first year and enter the second. I meant to write a Q&A type of post but the questions were too far ranging to fit on one page, each one deserving a full post to itself. The first question came from Jenna. She asked (edited for length):

“I always love hearing about how/when homeschoolers fit in planning….and getting a glimpse of what a typical day looks like. I am constantly battling with the idea that we need to have a structured routine, but fail to have one every single day. Sometimes I feel great about our go-with-the-flow approach, and sometimes I feel like my kids need more consistency and I should work harder at that.”

I think that personal style and what works for your family are key. For us, planning is a must. Like you, I tend to fall on the go-with-the-flow end of the spectrum but it is a complete fail with my children. In fact, nothing guarantees a bad day like not having a plan. As a result, I need to walk roughshod over my personal preference and manage to work with what works best for my children. And that’s a lesson plan, attached to a schedule. My children need to know what to expect or their brains short-circuit. On the positive side, when they have a lesson plan clearly laid-out, they work well and thoroughly.

user-experience-vs-design
Last year, I planned our work using Laura Berquist’s Designing you Own Classical Curriculum and Jesse Wise’s The Well-Trained Mind . While I really liked the classical approach, it required a lot of work and advanced planning on my part, especially since my children were something-less-than-enthusiastic. Their school experience had not prepared them for the type of work and inquiry that the classical curriculum demanded.
Mid-year I started using spiral bound notebooks to prepare the children’s workweek.  If I had a chunk of time on Sunday I would plan the entire week day-by-day. That rarely happened so I was normally planning one day at a time, after the kids’ bedtime. When the children got up in the morning, they knew right away what they had to do and would often power through most of their school day in a few hours. Whenever we didn’t get to the end of the list, the work got reported to the next day. I never scheduled Fridays and used it as a bumper day to finish the week’s work.

Using the spiral notebooks really made things easier for everyone but I was still struggling to keep on top of the highschoolers: making sure that their work was completed properly and corrected, that areas of concern were addressed, etc. As former school students, they both had a tendency to stop working whenever they encountered a problem they couldn’t solve.
As a result, this year I registered the highschoolers with Mother of Divine Grace School. They are taking online classes in math and religion, have tutors for the other subjects (science, English, history, latin) and I teach French using these resources. The Mother of Divine Grace syllabi are very clearly (and expertly) broken down in assignments by days and by weeks. The curriculum is demanding, clocking-in at 5 to 6 hours per day for the highschoolers. In other words, it will suck back a lot of our homeschooling flexibility. But the reality is that my teens don’t know how to use their time wisely. I was hoping that homeschooling flexibility would allow them to delve into new interests and develop their talents but it hasn’t. Unless Tumblr, Netflix and Starbucks count as talents.
Another dimension of planning are your needs as a parent. As usual, a little bit of critical self-examination can go a long way. I find that there is a very predictable arc to my day depending on where my butt sits around 7:30 am. If I am on the couch with my phone, in my pajamas, having my coffee, chances are I’m still there at 10am (or more likely I got up in a panic as the twins dumped a bucket of outside gravel into the couch and I am now cleaning it up as they flush dominoes down the septic tank and Damien is drinking toilet water from the dog’s water dish. I wish I was making this up.) If I have gotten-up before the kids, stretched a bit, said my morning prayers, eaten and dressed, I’m less likely to get caught-up in the wave of chaos that represents my family. Because my brain is impervious to routines – no matter how long I stick to a routine it never becomes second nature – a plan help me remember where I’m supposed to be at a certain time and what I’m supposed to do.
Finally, one last dimension of planning is that it really clears hours off my day. I know because I’ve been operating plan-less for most of the last 9 months and the insanity of doing all the cooking, all the cleaning and all the homeschooling for a family of 11 is really catching-up with me now. A plan allows me to assign tasks to the children and keep them accountable. It’s easier to keep them doing their chores if there is a predictable list of work I can pin to their foreheads. Left to my own devise, I tend to rely heavily on the most naturally helpful children, which of course breeds resentment on one end and unrealistic expectations of being left alone at the other end. I purchased Managers of their homes  in a fit of despair last year but it’s still shrink-wrapped and glaring at me. I’m scared witless of this thing but I’m afraid we’re at that point of disorganization.Many friends have also recommended Holly Pierlot A Mother’s Rule of Life  but I can’t buy another book until I have read all those I ordered last year so it may have to wait until I’m in a nursing home.
My thoughts on planning, in a nutshell: If you think you need it, give it a try. If you are happy and healthy, why fix what is not broken? I would much prefer following my children’s learning cues and enquiries, if the cues weren’t always about Paw Patrol.