Overdosed on Hamilton

Students in my Challenge III class wouldn’t stop talking about Hamilton; something said in discussion would trigger them and they would start chanting and moving in syncopated rhythm while the rest of us looked on in bewilderment. After a couple of weeks of school I had had enough and I bought the soundtrack on Amazon. I listened to it through earplugs while I scrubbed a particularly not nice bathroom (not in my house), and rejoiced when I was left alone so I could remain rudely plugged in. In the empty house I wept during the second act.

The songs from the first act have been running through my mind for an entire month and I have finally reached saturation. This week when I woke to find myself rhyming in verses, various characters stepping forward to continue the story, I knew it was time to feed my imagination on other food.

It’s not that I mind a rhyme or find that I’m writing lines in my mind all the time.

It’s that Hamilton inspires me to get to work on music compositions I started a few years ago and have neglected since. I opened my notation program (Finale) and listened to a few. Some of them are actually pretty good, I think, and need attention! One made me laugh. All of it appeals to me the way I imagine oil painting did Winston Churchill. He wrote a book once recommending painting as a pastime, especially for those who work with words and ideas. I am really, really ready for a mental break.

Challenge III has me reading a US History book, Chemistry, Philosophy, five Shakespeare plays, poetry, and working my mental muscle in Advanced Math and Latin III. I don’t write the papers or memorize 30 lines, nor do I prepare for debate. I don’t teach; we discuss. The students facilitate some of the conversation. Still. It is a lot.

A used copy of Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville came in the mail this week and I want to read that too, especially since we’re about to read the about those years in A Patriot’s Guide to US History.

So, instead of Hamilton I play one of my unfinished pieces on repeat until it cuts a deep groove in my mind. I’m looking for a good text to fit.

Thanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, for capturing that quintessential American restlessness that keeps pressing on. You have me going!

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The Mediterranean Diet

I came across this image today as I was following up on my recent post about fresh olive oil. The older I get, the more my Mediterranean genes are expressing; on my mother’s side I am all Sicilian, while my father gave me strictly northern European ancestry. I crave fresh vegetables, salmon, and Greek yogurt. My Viking/Irish husband can’t get by without potatoes, which bore me. I am becoming Epicurean in my menu planning, making sure I have a variety of colors, textures, flavors, and herbs. I try to have flowers on the table and candle light. A small glass of wine if we have it.

Did you ever wonder what the Mediterranean diet is? It is more than a list of foods.

manifesto

Published with permission from www.olivetomato.com.

 

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Leaves in a Bottle

Once upon a time, a few years ago, Robbo came home with a bottle of olive oil. A client had given it to him. It was a used wine bottle with a homemade label, announcing the family olive grove in Greece where it had recently been harvested. I poured a little on my brussels sprouts and…my world rocked. Real olive oil is amazing! It tasted like fresh leaves. It was green and grassy, not. at. all. like the generic olive oil from a grocery store. I have always hated that stuff.

Since that day, I have discovered dedicated olive oil stores, such as InfuseMe at the Powerhouse Mall in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. There I get to sample the olive oils, fresh from their harvests around the globe. Some are grassy with sharp, peppery polyphenols (anti-oxidants); others are smooth, mild, and buttery. I like strong flavor for cooking, but mild for the family dinner vegetables. (The family does not share my enthusiasm so I am serving the buttery ones for now.) I love breakfast eggs cooked in fresh olive oil. For my salads I never look for a bottled salad dressing; whatever fresh olive oil I have on hand is the perfect finish.

However, as much as I value the good olive oil from InfuseMe, I have a hard time keeping a good supply. It is very dear; a 750ml bottle costs something like $40 and I feel guilty paying for such a luxury out of my groceries budget.

Every time I see olive oil on the shelves, I handle the bottles and turn it over for a harvest date. I will not buy olive oil if it only has an expiration date. What I am looking for is the date of the harvest. Ideally, we want to catch olive oil within 3-6 months of its harvest.

And I have just made an amazing discovery in a place I never expected!

Walmart, of all places, carries good olive oil at a price I can afford!

This brand:

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The 750mL bottle is, I think, no more than $10. The 500 mL is around $8. Notice they carry three kinds.

This is what a harvest date looks like; notice it also has the “Best by” date, two and a half years after harvest.

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The oil from the greenest, least mature olives, which yield a grassy, peppery flavor, also has a longer shelf life. The polyphenols act as a preservative, making stable olive oil. This oil is still pretty fresh, all things considered.

Having looked at countless olive oil bottles on grocery store shelves, I can say this is pretty amazing, and quite a find. That tip is my gift to you.

Now that school has begun, I drive near InfuseMe regularly. This winter, when flavor is so important in fighting winter blues, I’ll explore the fresh harvested oils from around the world with the knowledgeable staff and walk out with my guilty pleasure. But for now I’ll enjoy the fall California harvest olive oil carried by Walmart.

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My Latest Bent

Thanks to my friend Glenna, who is working her way through the recipes in Effortless Bento, I have a new interest: bento box lunches. Here is what lunch looks like today:

For Robbo:

Bento box 2

The bento box has two layers, with an ice pack that doubles as a shelf between layers.

bento 6

The bottom layer has mesclun green topped with broiled chicken, freshly blanched broccoli, Caesar dressing, and cole slaw and potato salad, both leftovers. I blanched the broccoli this morning; the chicken was broiled a couple of days ago and set aside. Tomato and parsley from my garden.

Bento 3

Top layer: berries, sushi I picked up yesterday on a whim, and rice I had cooked two days ago and frozen. I touched it this morning with soy sauce and roasted sesame oil, a combo we really like.

For my 16 yo son who studies with me at home:

bento 10

Salad with chicken, Caesar dressing, one sushi, blanched broccoli. His bento box is different that Dad’s; it has small containers on the top layer:

bento 9

Berries, potato salad, flavored rice with nasturtium flower for color and peppery flavor.

Mine lacks the rice because I am low carb. I have olive oil and vinegar in one container. Cole slaw is my white salad. And to fill a space so things wouldn’t slide around, I added pickled ginger. Yummm:

bento 12

Why bento? Because food had become a real source of stress for me. Can’t have wheat so no fresh baked bread, no cookies, scones, biscuits, cereal; have to closely watch my blood sugar so no sugar, gluten free flour mix, rice, crackers, sweet fruit, starchy vegetables. I walk around the house looking for something to eat, and feel cheated when others are eating delicious things I can’t enjoy.

The antidote to restriction is to explore all that remains. Turns out there is much more pleasure available in the things I can have than in what I can’t. Bento magnifies this by encouraging a variety of foods in one lunch. Not only this, but this art focuses on presentation: our natural creative gifts come into play as we attend to color, texture, composition, line, and sweet and salt, flavors and aromas.

It reminds me of the children’s book Bread and Jam for Frances.Remember how fussy she was at first, and what her meal looked like in the end? Image result for bread and jam for frances text

My next steps will be to prep a variety of make-ahead dishes to have in the freezer and the fridge for the coming week and month. As I get used to cooking for only three (five kids are out in the world!) I will plan for leftovers that I can save for lunch. As part of my morning routine I hope to be able to put together three lunches in no more than 20 minutes. And when my garden dies in the frost, I’ll keep certain produce in the refrigerator in order to add color and nutrition.

Right now, everything I read has a Japanese slant on this, and for obvious reasons. Thanks to the Japanese who share their expertise and love for bento. (Our two Japanese Labo children will be tickled to know we have become bento fans.) But my goal is to make this work within an American framework. What will American bentos look like?

More specifically, what will Low Carb High Fat, low glycemic, gluten free, sugar free, Trim Healthy Mama bento boxes look like?

Stay tuned.

 

 

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And now for something completely different…

I am coming out of the closet.

I here confess a great weakness: I don’t like to stay focused on one new interest very long. I reach a point where I feel I have learned the steps and I move on to learn another. I retain my love for it but look forward to something else to tackle.

This bothers me because I have never found the One Thing to focus on in my blog. I tell stories of home; I ponder in poetry. (This is why I called my blog “Letters from Heart’s Content”, as it includes both stories that happen here at home, but also some posts that could be considered a faint, distant echo of belles lettres, “literature that is an end in itself and not merely informative; specifically:  light, entertaining, and often sophisticated literature.” [Meriam-Webster Dictionary] Well. One can aspire.)

So, my blog doesn’t have a focus, and I have strained my brain in vain to figure out my thing. I follow bloggers who have expertise in their area of interest and become my teachers. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have something to offer, I think to myself. But here I am, ten years wide and five minutes deep. About many things I know more than a little, but less than a lot. And what is the offering in that?

And now we come to the closet.

The spiders have convinced me to leave the brooms and brush off the cobwebs; I itch to write something, anything! So, having explained that I am making no pretensions of being a guide to anyone, I am going to just tell you what new trouble I am into. With pictures.

Breakfast with Sproul

This was my breakfast one day last week, which I enjoyed in the garden along with my reading assignment for Philosophy class.

Breakfast in the garden

My low carb “high fat” meal had scrambled eggs and cheese, blanched broccoli from the garden, tomatoes off the vine with fresh olive oil, steamed chard, blackberries and cream, orange slices, and a low carb stevia-sweetened blueberry scone. The scone’s base in almond meal and coconut flour, and the stevia sweetener is a mix of erythritol and pure stevia.

The colors and variety make food exciting to me again, but I threw out the scone. I tried to like it, I really did; it is just not enough like a real one. Erythritol gives me cramps, too. It helped me break my addiction to sugar but I think I can go forward without the sugar alcohol.

Out of curiosity one day last week I wrote a list of all those things that have captured my interest in recent years:

  • Low Carb High Fat way of living to manage diabetes
  • the bullet journal
  • Bento box lunches
  • hygge (esp in the winter)
  • the Meyers-Briggs personalities
  • creating a homeschool graduation yearbook with Shutterfly
  • retelling the stories of our lives
  • the Trim Healthy Mama way of feeding our bodies
  • gluten free baking
  • English cottage gardening
  • fire cooking
  • Dutch oven cooking
  • rhetorical devices: schemes and tropes for delight and understanding
  • poetry
  • local history
  • New England culture
  • making my own kombucha
  • playing Celtic tunes on my Mountain ocarina
  • writing arrangements for the family to sing
  • time management/productivity systems
  • Classical Conversations

So, dropping the idea of becoming the go-to blog for any one thing, I write instead about a variety of topics. The world is full of such wonder! Let me show you what I have discovered.

Posted in Stories of Home, Writing about writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

I Think I Am on to Something

Well. That was pretty amazing.

Because of my recently diagnosed Type 2 diabetes, I have been exploring a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) way of eating. It takes me a while to adjust to a new way of living and I have been bored and frustrated by my limited choices. No gluten, no sugar, no toast with my eggs, no ice cream–no, I scream in desperation!

The authors of Trim Healthy Mama have developed a generous portion of recipes that fit the bill. Since their research led them to understand our bodies cannot burn both carbs and fat fuel at the same time (one gets stored, apparently), they propose a simple way of eating. The plan offers three kinds of meals: protein and good fats, protein and good carbs, protein with low carbs and low fat. They are called Satisfying (S), Energizing (E), and Fuel Pull (FP). No calorie counting. Keep S and E meals at least three hours apart. Have around seven E meals per week. Get used to stevia. Eat lots of good vegetables. Make good quality chocolate snacks.

So, that’s what I did. Having had two really decent meals today, for my evening meal I baked Trim Healthy Mama (THM) chocolate muffins. They use a flour made of almond meal, coconut flour, and flaxmeal. They had some butter, and eggs, and were sweetened with a good quality mix of pure stevia, xylitol, and erythritol. The frosting was made of some heavy cream, vanilla, sweetener, and cocoa.

It was really very good.

In general, I have moved away from sweet things, but this made for a pleasant change. I served it to the family and it received good reviews.

I do recommend the Trim Healthy Mamas book and cookbook. I have the old version which is a remarkably disorganized presentation of some pretty remarkable recommendations. The recipes were scattered throughout the book. Some of the stevia concoctions were hard to take.

Now they have come out with two books: the plan and the cookbook. They have also made an improvement to their stevia blend. They have two: Super Sweet Blend (erythritol and a small amount of pure stevia) and Gentle Sweet (equal parts erythritol and xylitol, again with a small amount of pure stevia.) The xylitol makes a smoother blend.

That’s all I wanted to say. If my reader is looking for a way to kick the sugar and carbs habit, I warmly suggest looking into the Trim Healthy Mama way of doing things.

Some of you may remember me enthusing over Isagenix. While I enjoyed using that healthy product line for over a year, I had to stop when a low carb lifestyle became necessary. Too many carbs in a shake for my waistline. And too many dollars for our bottom line when we have three children in college. Thankfully I have other choices.

Note: to honor the authors’ intellectual property I refer you to the book. There are many versions of similar cakes out there. Here is one from a reliable blogger. She has created a recipe of her own that is not entirely unlike the THM cake. I baked mine as a dozen muffins and froze some for the future.
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A Practicum in Grace

Dear Reader,

I am sitting at a table before a soot-stained fireplace at a wee wood-shingled library in coastal Rhode Island. Just coming off my final practicum for Classical Conversations, I am resting with friends in their tiny cottage two miles away in Jerusalem. My husband and two of our teens make up the party of eight. We lounge by the ocean; we eat; we sing. Tomorrow the Hollerans head home after four days of rest.

Each practicum at which I spoke came in a different color. Two of my groups had many veteran classical homeschoolers, while two others had lots of babies and mothers new to Classical Conversations. In any case, when licensed tutors went for their training in the afternoon, the remaining attendees had lots of questions about how homeschooling would work in their situation. We had good times, talking about both the vision and the details. Throughout all of it we explored rest, beauty, and poetry.

Sarah MacKenzie’s Teaching from Rest formed the backbone of my message. Throughout the standard practicum offering of lessons on the Trivium and on how to apply it to History, I wove the message that we need to teach from a place of rest. We can and must rest in the grace of God. How we need to hear this! Over the three days of sessions I watched as faces softened from anxiety into peace.

Another message I felt strongly about was our need for beauty. As often as I could, as attendees came off break they were greeted with lovely music, a painting, and a poem. (Have you ever heard O Magnum Mysterium by Lauridsen? I discovered it this spring and I am a bit miffed I missed it during my career as a music teacher. Seven minutes of hauntingly beautiful music that will reverberate for weeks. $.99 on Amazon.) We used an article by Sarah MacKenzie in CiRCE Institute’s free CiRCE Magazine 2016, “The Flower We Have Not Yet Found: Beauty as a Gateway to God” for exercises in writing and in practice with the highlighting system. Very few of us can afford the time for a creative hobby, so we talked more about how we can grace ordinary days: playing classical music, lighting a candle for meals and study hours, putting garden flowers on the table.

I inflicted poetry on the group at regular intervals, noticing a common reaction of discomfort. I learned to precede the reading with definitions of key words, such as ‘lanyard’ and the thin plastic strips I grew up calling ‘gimp’ so they could enjoy Billy Collins’ “The Lanyard”.  But not even the help I gave them was enough to dispel the tension around poetry. Not until the afternoon session on Day 3 when I led my few remaining attendees into an activity with Socratic Circles did we crack the mystery of poetry.

This past week I gave the first group of parents “Introduction to Poetry” and asked only, “What do you notice?” The five slightly nervous “volunteers” discovered that as they spoke of what they individually noticed, the group developed a sense of the meaning. One would offer an observation that would lead to a second persons’ insight and a third person’s thoughtful question.

Not only that, but I saw them get excited. I know more than one expressed how frustrating poetry has been to them but if, as this poem suggests, the reader is meant to enjoy the music of the poetry rather than labor in analysis, from now on they will feel more relaxed about exploring on their own. I know for myself that as I read poetry I become more comfortable with it, accepting that I like some and not others, that to me some poetry works like sun through crystal, while other poems are like a dark solid rock. 

Through all, there is the message of grace. Grace teaches us to trade in our anxiety for rest in God; grace urges us to make Beauty a guest in our home; grace welcomes us to explore poetry like tasting a little of every dish at the potluck.

My summer as practicum speaker taught me I am unavoidably a veteran homeschooler who cannot escape the task of encouraging young mothers. They want assurance that classical education will enrich their souls and that of their children, and I say emphatically, “Yes! Yes, it will!”

 

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These two words

I find “lovingkindness” and “truth” paired all over the Old Testament. This morning I googled the words to see if anyone else noticed what I had seen.

This is just perfect.

https://gracelifeblog.wordpress.com/2008/01/31/hesed-and-emet/

 

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What Now?

My friends,

Aren’t personal letters a rare and precious gift to find in your mailbox? Here’s my letter to you, and in it I will catch you up to date with news of this and that.

Having come to grips with the fact that I have a personality that latches on to a new interest, focuses on it as long as it takes to become adequately proficient, and moves on–having realized this, I am not embarrassed to say my new interest is bullet journals. Another “talent” I have is to identify a problem with home management and recognize a solution when I see it. Bullet journals put the principles of Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done in a simple, elegant paper-and-pen system. Here is its originator, Ryder Carroll, explaining it in a four minute video (you can ignore the pitch for the book; a fancy book isn’t necessary, and it is sold out anyway; June 2016).

Want a summary? Others have explained it better, but here it is: Bullet journalling works on four principles:

  • The Index. Keep an Index at the front of the book so you can use the next blank sheet as you go, keeping track of where your lists reside.
  • Rapid-Logging. THis is about getting your tasks and thoughts into collections so your mind stays clear. Brief, simple notes using bullets (for tasks, events, and notes) and signifiers (symbols that give more information to the bullet, such as Priority, Call, Email; you create your own.)
  • Collections. You work with two kinds:
    • Logs: Future, Month, Week (opt), Daily
    • Lists: Anything that needs a page such as Goals 2016, Bucket List, Writing Ideas, Gratitude Log, Gift Ideas, Movies to Watch, and Books I have Read. My bujo includes “Birthday Perpetual Calendar”, “Upcoming Big Scary Irregular Bills”, “Perpetual Calendar for Recurring Monthly Bills”.
  • Migration. This is the process of moving uncompleted tasks into the next log.

Ryder’s approach is clean–just black on white–and has no frills or curlicues. Just the way I like it. However, when the women got a hold of it they opened a wide world of creativity, exploring all kinds of layouts, stencils, techniques, calligraphy, and color. Some of this appeals to me. I am still using a fine point Cross pen with black ink on my Leuchtturm1917 lined notebook–rarely fiddling with color–but have made this bullet journal really work for me.

For example, years ago I learned from FlyLady how to clean my house in Zones. It worked for me but I have neglected the simple technique for years. Now I have two-page spreads for each zone with the tasks listed on each room for that week’s work. When I plan my daily log it is simple to consult it and delegate chores. When the zone list is in my computer files, it does me no good.

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Zone 2 spread

I like the following spread.20160619_221401This is fancier than most of my pages. It is the menu plan for a month. Each day has a theme (such as seafood, pasta, poultry, pizza.) I list three or four meals for each category. When I plan the week, I pull from this if I have no other ideas or directives from the chief vegetable gardener. On the second page I list grocery items we’ll need and the cooking schedule for my teens and twenty-somethings.

The bullet journal becomes highly personalized, reflecting the soul of the one who creates it, just like our laptops are customized to the way we think.For those who find apps and computer programs too cumbersome or intrusive to adequately handle all the things buzzing in the brain, this is perfect.

I keep it with me wherever I go, and leave it open to my daily log when I am at my computer.

I’d like to tell you about my garden–how the $19 bistro table from ACE hardware allows me to bring a tea tray out to go along with my devotions in the morning, when I am wrapped in a quilt against the chill of the low 50s. Hummingbirds drink from my feeders and if I am wearing my red jacket they hover near me, threatening me with beady eyes because I am not a flower. Strangely unnerving.

But I shall close here. Do you bujo? If so, I’d love to see your favorite page in the comments below.

 

 

 

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The Invitation of the Bench in the Garden

garden bench and birdbath

The luxury of two benches in my garden
gives me a seat to contemplate the other,
nestled between astilbe and hosta,
empty in the shade-dappled sun.
It faces the jade-green birdbath
tall among geraniums,
sun glinting on the rippling water,
framing leaves backlighted in the rising sun.

The flagstone path travelling
between bath and bench
widens into a nook,
inviting the one who visits to linger

to pause

to rest

to soak the warm sunlight on bare arms
and feel the sturdy security of the garden bench,
away from the news
the bills,
the floor in need of a broom,
the meals in need of a cook.

Cotton clouds scudding in the blue sky above,
golden sun on foxglove and columbine, and green, green
froth of fresh foliage–
such rare jewel-days
join so few on the necklace of memory.

 

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