Thursday, September 5, 2013

Why Homeschool for One Year? Another reason...

In the next few posts, I am highlighting my best reasons to invest one year of your family's life in homeschooling.  Everyone may not be cut out for the full commitment of all school years, but taking a leap of faith for one year changed everything for my family.

Reason- You understand your child's strengths and weaknesses- in school and out.

Discover Individual Talents in Your Kids
American public schools are institutions of education created during the Industrial Revolution modeling the factory method of turning out many identical products.  Well done, nineteenth century!  The twentieth century folks were so busy inventing, warring and communicating they saw no reason to change the educational status quo. More masses came in and churned out with little room for variation.  "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" was the mantra. However, bureaucracy created a No Child Left Behind and a no child gets ahead atmosphere.  Over and over again, schools taught to the middle- hoping the lower students could jump in and hang on while the higher students fend for themselves (without getting too far ahead, of course.) The twenty-first century kids have inherited a broken system - still some good parts in there, but how can you mend the fissures?  

Parents must step in and fill in the cracks left by public education, and a fantastic way to detect the WEAKNESSES of your children's learning is to spend a whole year being their teacher.

Turn Weaknesses into Strengths
When our oldest struggled in math, I assumed she wasn't paying attention in class so I asked, "Who are you sitting by in class?  Did you ask the teacher questions?  Why are you so behind?  Are you just talking the whole class instead of listening?"  As our homeschool year progressed, I realized ALL of these were the wrong questions.  Had I asked her MATH questions, I might of discovered her true weaknesses sooner.  She struggled in 6th grade math because she never understood 2nd grade math.  Over the years, her gaps in basic calculation and concepts grew wider.  By the start of 7th grade, she had no hope of understanding geometric formulas when she still didn't grasp place value.  

Our one year of home school enabled me to see that my daughter's problem in math was not socializing- it was a true inability to think mathematically.  Instead of degrading her self-esteem with accusations and assignments beyond her mind's grasp, we took the time to step back and review/reteach basic concepts.  We returned to multiplication facts, money concepts and basic computation.  I created concrete examples for everything from place value to algebraic expressions.  As the year progressed, her confidence in math grew along with her deeper understanding of complex math skills.  We had the TIME to back up and then catch up with her grade level.  She finished our home school year ahead of her grade.  When she reentered public school the next year, her trust in her math abilities continued and she received her first "Exceeds Expectations" in math on the end of 8th grade test.  Her weakness turned into a strength thanks to our one year of home school.  (Math wasn't the only deficiency we discovered in our children's education: see my posts Home School Opening Day and Mommy Dearest?.)

Home schooling or rather ROAD schooling allowed us to uncover STRENGTHS in our children not measured in school.  

Uncover Hidden Talents:
Wyatt navigated our family from the start of
Route 66 in Santa Monica, CA to the
Route 66 Cafe in Inverness, Scotland.
After traveling the United States for nine months, we landed in the United Kingdom for a final family adventure.  Eschewing automobiles, we traversed England and Scotland using their amazing railway system.  After only a few days, we exited with luggage in hand for another train transfer.  Greg and I counted bags and looked up to discover we were following our son to the necessary platform.  Wyatt navigated our family through tunnels, up stairs and over tracks to arrive on time for our connecting train.  Regular school would never have taught him this skill.

Bring Out New Passions for Your Children
My husband is a chef and loves to cook for his family, but usually did so alone in the kitchen while the kids completed homework, played with friends or careened from sporting engagement to music or dance lesson.  Home school allowed us to decide on our children's curriculum so along with math and reading, cooking class was a part of our home school. Each child embraced their father's careful instruction on knife skills and mise en place, but our youngest developed a passion for baking.  At eight years old, she graduated from the Easy Bake Oven to full range and oven rights.  She baked cakes of all shapes and sizes and became accomplished at decorating her confections.  Now a ten-year-old regular education fifth grader, she baked, frosted and labeled a plant cell for her science project.  (Wow! And she didn't see it on Pinterest, either!)  Cooking was another strength that would never have been discovered in elementary school.
Yum! Plant Cell!

I am grateful for our one year home school with our children for many reasons, but I think bringing to light our children's strengths and weaknesses at such a young age is enough.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Why Homeschool for One Year? Reason...

In the next few posts, I am highlighting my best reasons to invest one year of your family's life in homeschooling.  Everyone may not be cut out for the full commitment of all school years, but taking a leap of faith for one year changed everything for my family.

Your kids will talk to you about school.

Before our one year homeschool adventure, it was like pulling teeth to get a detailed answer to: "What did you do at school today?".  Shuffling in the door, dropping book bags and heading straight for food, they answered, "Nothing much."

Nothing, but the world.  Nothing, but algebraic equations and the essay format.  Nothing, but the laws of gravity and the Declaration of Independence. Saying "nothing" implied: "Nothing you would understand, Mom.  What's for dinner?"

Today, after one year of my husband and I teaching our children everything from photosynthesis to the Pythagorean theorem, the kids spill everything.

"How was school today?"

"Mom, you're not going to believe what we did with Newton's laws of motion.  We performed two experiments, and oh! I need your help to make a balloon car that demonstrates Newton's law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."

Our fourteen-year-old shares activities and classwork never before surfaced in conversation.  She asks questions about math and listens to our answers (most of the time.)
Our twelve-year-old asks me to take him to the library to check out the next book in his current literary obsession and explains the plot to me in detail as I drive.
Our ten-year-old wants me to practice division facts while she enjoys her after school snack.  When she misses one, she listens as I explain different ways of getting the right answer.

So WHY does one year of homeschool get your kids talking about school?

1-They know you know about school.  Simple answer, but before we home schooled, our kids clearly understood that their parents went to school and even knew that we did quite well while we were there. But that was a long time ago.  What could possibly apply to their school world today?  After working day after day with the kids on everything from handwriting to marine biology, they have a deeper understanding of our knowledge.  They know we know and respect us more as a result.

2-They know you care about their education.  When we quit our jobs to dedicate one year of our lives to teaching and traveling the world, our kids registered the significance we placed on their education.  I'm not saying the only way children will feel you care about their education is through home schooling.  Obviously, many parents stress this importance daily in overseeing homework and attending open houses, conferences and PTA meetings. I simply mean that I discovered the quantity of time spent with my child over specific lessons in math or history created a bond between us that I never expected.  Their doubts or questions about what we expected of their learning disappeared.  They know we are willing to go to any lengths to prepare them for life on planet Earth.

Talking about school may seem a banal or trite reason to home school.  Some may say a whole year is an enormous sacrifice for such a minute accomplishment.  I know that one year helped me discover the joy in little things... like talking about school with my kids.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reasons to Homeschool for (at least) One Year

My Two Cents
If you've read my blog, you know my husband and I quit our jobs and took our kids out of public education to homeschool and travel for one year.  Would we have liked to live this fantasy life longer? Of Course!  But life goes on... We must feed and clothe the children, as well as, educate them so back home we went- back to jobs, back to school, back to reality.

As our reality progressed, I realized we continue to reap the benefits of our one-year homeschool experience with our kids.  Our family's dynamics changed forever from that year of constant companionship.  Although our kids are back to the grindstone of public education and we experience the frustration of putting our kids development in the hands of others, I know we created a bond with them that will enrich our relationships for the rest of our lives.

Many parents have spoken with me about our experience.  The homeschool parents are interested in our travel curriculum, but can't believe I only home schooled for a year. (Their manners dictate they thinly veil their horror of us returning our kids to public school so they aren't rude- just a bit incredulous.)  Other parents are envious of our time off from work- wishing they had the funds to enable their family to take a year off with their kids.  I understand both points of view.  To the homeschool parents I say, "We wish we could continue, but we have to feed the kids."  To the public school parents I say, "We sacrificed a lot to enable our one year family sabbatical, but it was worth it."

Both sides ask me, "What's the point of home schooling for only one year?"  

The answer to this question is my platform for societal reform (Yes, I believe some parents need a wake-up call!)  I want to share with the world how our home school travels have shaped our family life.  

Stay tuned to read about reasons to homeschool for only one year.  Perhaps, your family life could benefit, too. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Canada

I can laugh about it now... sort of.  If I think about it too deeply, I get pissed all over again.

Here's our side of the story...

The windshield wipers slapped in time to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald as our family approached the Canadian Border.  Our history lesson was finished for the day thanks to Gordon Lightfoot.  
Greg rolled down his window as we pulled up to the border’s drive-through window.  Sliding our five passports into the extended metal drawer, he greeted the guard with a smile.
 The guard recited as she flipped through our passports, “Do you have any alcohol, tobacco or weapons in your car?” 

We had driven eighteen hundred miles up the east coast from South Carolina to Maine with three kids.  Of course, we had alcohol in our car. A cigarette might have helped, but I didn’t smoke.  Weapons?  Last week, Wyatt fashioned a slingshot out of two pencils and his sisters’ ponytail holders. Did that count?  Just yesterday, Emma beat Anabel into submission with her Teddy. Should we declare her stuffed animal as a lethal weapon? Whenever an authority figure asked me a question, I panicked regardless of guilt.  I assumed they could read my mind to uncover some past indiscretion.

Sharing my thoughts, Greg responded to the French-Canadian border guard with his best poker face, “We have some blueberry beer from Maine and a bottle of gin. No tobacco or weapons.”

Frowning at the overflowing rear compartment of our Ford Excursion we affectionately called, the family truckster, she said, “Pull over just ahead.” 
No photos of our story after this one... I was afraid of confiscation. 

Two guards, armed to the teeth, approached our vehicle with clipboards in hand and said, “Please vacate your automobile leaving everything inside.”  A family of five Americans entering Canada on an October morning seemed to be subversive stuff. Unfazed, the kids bickered as they scrambled over notebooks and travel games exiting the car.  Greg winced as two cans hit the ground and rolled toward the guards’ feet.  He was more embarrassed by our mess than fearful of possible contraband.

Smiling as the chilly northern wind hit my face, I turned on the Southern charm. “How are y’all?” No response.  “We’re so excited to be in Canada!  We’re on a family sabbatical…traveling America to teach our kids first hand about history and geography and different cultures…” I rattled on about our one-year radical lifestyle change while one Francophone guard- a man wearing ladies’ glasses- wrote down our make, model, tag number and passport information and the other began searching our car.  They spoke to each other in French, so I moved closer to put my twenty-year-old college French into practice.  

Threatened by a woman in mom jeans and a knotted scarf, the armed guard stopped my progress with a brisk flash of his clipboard in my face. “Step away from zee vehicle!” 

I prepared to push aside the papers of the rude officer and teach him some manners- fifteen years in public education taught me how to deal with impertinence-  when the other guard (a man sans glasses – see, I know some French) unfolded himself from our car holding a carton of bullets in his hand; So much for my indignation. Our kids, silent for the first time in eight hundred miles, huddled against the cold as their father was frisked on top of the family truckster.  The guard in little girl glasses demanded to know where the gun was. He yelled loudly to be heard over the swooshing sound of other cars smoothly crossing the border. 

“At home, locked in a gun safe in Georgia,” Greg answered to the hood of the car.

“Sir, we don’t have a gun with us; we are traveling with children.” I reminded him little eyes were watching with a glance towards our traumatized kids. The other guard gestured for Greg to stand. Seeing the look in Greg's eyes as he put his wallet and change back in his pockets, I began to explain. “We have used the bullet box for years to keep the glove compartment’s light off.  It is heavy and just the right size.” They ignored me and began stripping our ten-year-old car.

Lost something in your car?  Cross the US/Canada border from Maine to Quebec, and the Canadian Gestapo will find it for you.  After pulling out three weeks’ worth of luggage and laundry, home school projects and portfolios, along with Skittles and empty Coke cans, they gleefully discovered a three-inch butterfly knife covered in sticky-kid-crumb debris under the backseat in the crack between the loose carpet and the rusty seat frame.  Greg owned the knife when I met him 24 years ago.  It was like the one Emilio Estevez flipped out in a flash of light in the movie, The Outsiders- you know the knife was cool if it made Emilio Estevez look tough. We had not seen the knife in years, but because they dug it out of our car twenty-feet past the border’s drive-through window, and we had “not declared that we were carrying weapons,” that once cool, now Fruit Loop-encrusted knife was costing us five hundred bucks. 
Southern graces gone, I pleaded, “How do we declare something we didn’t know was there?” I tried to appeal to their sympathy by sharing how we quit our jobs to take a life break and travel with our rapidly growing kids.  After inspecting every inch of our car, they should have surmised that we were not the Rockefellers. “We don’t have five hundred dollars to give you.” 

Without a hint of irony, the guard in pink, bedazzled glasses said, “We take Veeza and MasterCard.” 

Greg said I blacked out at this point.  He feared my arrest as I began speaking in tongue from the darkness of my anger and quickly returned me to our car with the kids before he followed the guards inside the building. I couldn’t believe how calm he was. 

Signing the receipt, Greg couldn’t resist asking, “What? No line for a tip?”  The French Canadians stared.  He left before they arrested him for having a sense of humor.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Joy of Food in Maine

Greg grinned like Emma in a candy store as we stood in the enormous warehouse of lobsters at Young’s Lobster Pound.  Water circulated through the giant tanks each holding grosses of lobsters of varying sizes.  
“How do we chose?” I asked.
“I don’t think you can make a wrong choice here.  The only decision we have to make is: how many?” Greg said.
“One’s enough for me.”  I ate frugally when we traveled.  (I’d be thin if we stayed on the road.  I blame a house full of inexpensive meals for my fat.)
“Are you kidding? At five dollars a pound, I could eat a hundred dollars worth, but I’ll settle for fifty.”
We ordered five lobsters and a bag of mussels.  We strolled out on the deck while the guys behind the counter caught and steamed our meal.  Twenty miles north of Camden lay the tiny town of Belfast, Maine.  The moon rose above the surrounding mountains and reflected gently on the water of the cove.  Sailboats, dinghies and lobster boats lined the water’s edge.  All fishermen were anchored for the night.  I wondered about the men and women who lived in this remote town.  The ragged coast of Maine had a charm separate from the languid allure of South Carolina’s low country.  Locals dotted the tables on the deck.  It was Friday night and they had brought their own bottles for enjoying with the fresh seafood by the water.  May through October were heavenly months here, but you had hell to pay in the winter.  We spotted several family snow plows already out and ready for winter on our drive up the Maine coast.

My first bite of sweet lobster meat dripping in melted butter was too good to swallow.  I determined to invent a buttered lobster candy as soon as we returned to South Carolina so I could hold this flavor in my mouth as long as possible.  The crisp, light wine washed the taste from my mouth too soon, but complemented the seafood sublimely.  Conversation came to a standstill as Greg and I cracked claws and tails in unison.  The perfection of each bite had me matching Greg’s pace, but I couldn’t match his culinary skill.  He popped the tail off the body with one twist and delighted as he licked up the delicate tomalley before digging into the dense meat of the tail.  Who cares about Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning?  When in Rome…and Maine, the FDA be damned!
Camden’s harbor housed several restaurants tucked along the waterfront.  We chose Fresh hoping to taste fresh, locally sourced food.  The parents ordered lobster rolls while Wyatt and Emma went for the grass-fed hamburgers.  Anabel surprised us all when she chose the catch of the day with a side of brussel sprouts.  Has any parent ever heard a child order brussel sprouts?  I noted the date and the time in case this was a news worthy event.  
Our waitress was curious about our family. “Are you on vacation?”
“Sort of.  We’re homeschooling our kids and teaching them about America from the road,” I said.  People wondered why our kids weren’t in school in October.  It made me uncomfortable at first, but the more we traveled, the more I began to open up about our adventure.  It seemed every time I shared our story we made a connection with someone.

“You’re from Georgia?  Ten years ago, I lived in Alpharetta, Georgia,” said the waitress.
“Our home is just ten miles from Alpharetta.”
“What a coincidence! I think taking a year off to spend with your kids is terrific.  What a great experience for you and your kids!  I have six children myself and would love to spend a year traveling with them.”
“You should do it.  We’re living proof of: if there’s a will, there’s a way.  We sold our car and rented out our home in Georgia to help pay for our travels,” I said.
She surprised me when she said, “Oh, it’s not the money that would stop me. I’d love to do it, but I learned a long time ago that I need to miss my kids.”
I smiled, but thought, “How awful.  I hate to miss my kids.  That’s why we’re doing this- we were missing their childhoods.”
The waitress returned with our food and our discussion ended.  We enjoyed all the food, but the best thing served were the brussel sprouts.  They were blanched and then roasted with garlic, onions and butter.  Anabel got mad at us picking them off her plate.  Who would have thought we’d have a family squabble over eating too many brussel sprouts?
After lunch, we discovered Maine’s Round Top ice cream at Camden Cone.  We tasted samples of each ice cream way too long since I could have ordered each person’s flavor without asking.  We were all drawn to one selection for a personality reason.  I will try the one that is regional thinking it will help me learn more about the area; Greg will go for the most unusual thinking different is better and who knows when he’ll be able to try it again, right?; Anabel will chose the most old-fashioned flavor thinking it may have been eaten in days gone by; Wyatt goes for the messiest because that’s what ten year old boys do; and Emma will choose the one that looks healthy, but really contains the most sugar because she wants to make good choices, but is still just a kid.  Our final flavor decisions were: Vanilla, Strawberry, Ginger, Blueberry and Chocolate. (Can you match who got which?  Submit your answer to The Joy of Food Show 555 Burbank Studios, Los Angeles, California.)
Just when Greg thought there was nothing better than Maine lobster, he discovered the fried clam belly boat in Bar Harbor.  Crisp on the outside yet juicy in the middle, the clams warmed our bellies during our foggy day touring Fisherman’s Bay. We didn’t let a little drizzle stop us from seeing this Christmas Card town.
That evening, with the kids tucked in the room with another pizza, Greg and I explored Bar Harbor’s nightlife. Let the party begin! The town looked ghostly as we walked from restaurant to restaurant sampling local delicacies. One ingredient began to stand out: not lobster… blueberries.  From fried chicken with blueberry sauce and roasted pork with a blueberry wine reduction to wild blueberry beer and fried blueberry pie, I was in blueberry heaven.  At each bar, Greg asked for a blueberry brandy, but no local moonshine was available in town.  If he could sample homemade peach brandy in Georgia, he was sure a Mainer made the blueberry form somewhere…  
Before leaving for Canada, we enjoyed Maine’s famous lobster rolls at Lunt’s Lobster Pound just outside of Acadia National Forest.  Hunks of tail meat covering a fresh roll dotted with spicy mayonnaise satisfied Greg and the kids, but I thought the roll took away from the subtle sweetness of the lobster.  (Please note: this is the first time I have ever preferred a meal without the bread.)
We fell in love with the people and food of this northern state and looked forward to returning when we had more time to get to know it better.  Maybe someone we meet will hook Greg up with some blueberry brandy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Road Scholars- Fear of Boredom in Salem, Massachusetts

Kierkegaard said, “Boredom is the root of all evil.”  In the case of the Salem Witch Trials, he was correct.  Historians have debated the cause of the fanatical witch hunt for ages, but after one visit to Salem, Massachusetts I knew boredom started it all.

  Our morning leaving Boston began in the most irksome way: a dead battery.  The family truckster died of boredom sitting in a hotel parking garage for two days.  We joined Triple A auto club for this supposition, so Greg made the call and a mechanic was duly dispatched.  Greg stood by our vehicle while the kids and I sat on the curb waiting.  
Triple A called. “Traffic on I-90 is shutdown.  The mechanic is looking for side streets to your location.  It may be another thirty minutes.”
Wyatt leaned his head on my shoulder.  Emma sprawled over the curb with her head in my lap.  Anabel paced with her dad.  We waited.
The mechanic called. “Wheh is youh cah pahked?  I can’t find the entrance.”  Greg explained the back alley/underground entrance to the Hyatt Hotel.  We waited. 
(Are you bored yet? I fell asleep while writing this.)
Finally, the mechanic found our vehicle and assessed that we needed two new batteries to the tune of $350.  
“Aw, you’re kidding me!  I had those replaced last year.  They can’t be dead yet!” Greg said knowing three hundred and fifty dollars was not in our budget.
“Wheh’d you get ‘em?  You can return ‘em fa a refund.  If you got’em at a Triple A affiliate, I won’t chahge you.”
Greg couldn’t remember, but called our hometown mechanic to find out. Suddenly, Greg’s ennui was relieved by the slowest Southern drawl in one ear and a Southie’s   rapid dropping of Rs in the other.  I kept the kids out of the way while Greg’s brain tried to translate. 
Georgia mechanic: 
“Hey, Greg.  How’re you?  Yeah.  Heard y’all were traveling.  Where’re y’all at?  Boston, you say.  Well, how bout that. What’s that bout your car? Yeah. We replaced them batteries for you… let me see… seems like it was last year.  Where’d we get the batteries?  Let’s see… seems like it was that place down the road…”
Boston mechanic:
“Wheh’d he get ‘em? Wheh’d he get ‘em? We got a Auto Zone ‘round the corneh can deliveh them a sap.”
Georgia mechanic:
“Well, Greg.  I’m trying to think.  Most times we get our parts from that Auto Zone up the road in Macedonia. You know the one just past the church there.  Yeah.  Down by the Ace Hardware.  But now I’ma thinking we might of got‘em at that other place.”
Greg to the Boston mechanic while still listening to our old mechanic:
“Order them.  I’ll take the dead batteries with me and sort it out later.”  Boredom cost us $350 bucks; evil, indeed.
Two hours later, we arrived at the village of Salem in time for the noon tour at Salem’s Witch Museum.  Walking up to the door I pointed to a statue in the street.  “Look kids! They have a statue of a witch.”
“Mom, that’s a pilgrim man.” 
“Oh. Yeah. I see that now. Roger Conant- first settler of Salem, 1626.  Never mind.”
The Salem Witch Museum tour began with a interactive show that took us through the entire witch trial drama.  We were led into a church/court-like room and sat around the edges of the stage on benches. The lights were dimmed and only a circle of names glowed in the middle of the room. I had goosebumps.  Then, a curtain opened and an animatronic pilgrim came out to tell the story.  My goosebumps receded. 
Seventeenth Century New England’s Puritan culture demanded that children be seen and not heard- and I thought waiting for a mechanic was boring.  In January of 1692, Salem Village wanted to get rid of their new minister, Reverend Samuel Parris, having become disenchanted by his greed.  Parris’s nine-year-old daughter, Betty, felt the stress in the household and sought release.  It was the dead of winter with the entire village covered in snow.  What can a girl do to fight stress and boredom? Gather your girlfriends for some fortune telling with the family’s Barbados slave, of course.  Betty and her friends, Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam delighted in the devilish entertainment of Tibuta’s tales.  What could make this more fun?  Pretending to be afflicted and possessed, obviously.  Soon Betty began writhing on the floor and speaking gibberish.  When Ann and Abigail saw the great diversion Betty was having, they joined in.  Each cowered under chairs, frightened of unseen specters.  They convulsed in fits and flung themselves against walls and furniture.  The honorable Reverend Cotton Mather said upon witnessing their afflictions, “The girls’ agonies could not possibly be dissembled.” Without natural causes, the Puritans declared the girls to be under supernatural control… bewitched. 
In March, the girls pointed their undulating fingers toward three of the town’s lowest folks: a beggar- Sarah Good, an infirm- Sarah Osburn, and Tibuta- the slave whose tales first broke the boredom.  Osburn declared her innocence, as did Good, but Good declared Osburn to be a witch.  Tibuta, thanks to the lashes of her master- the good Reverend Parris, sang like a bird.  She confessed to being a witch and enchanted the entire village with her stories of Satan’s army of black dogs, red cats, yellow birds and a white haired man who made her sign the devil’s book.  She claimed there were several undiscovered witches living in Salem whose primary goal was to destroy Puritanism.  Ironically, the Salem Witch Hunt almost did just that.
Within six months, hundreds were arrested and twenty-two were tried and convicted of witchcraft. The bored girls put on an entertaining show at each trial:  Ann suddenly goes limp.  Abigail and Betty shriek in response.  Ann jerks awake and begins flying about the room flapping her arms as wings and screeching an ungodly sound. The overwrought judges implore her to name her tormentors.  She silently points another finger. Puritans from near and far came to witness the nineteen innocent villagers hung till their deaths at Gallows Hill. Five more- including one infant- died in prison awaiting their trials.  One man, Giles Cory, refused to enter a plea of innocence or guilt and was pressed to death with massive stones added atop him- one at a time- by his neighbors hoping to make him confess.  
At this point in the multimedia show, Emma climbed in my lap.  The mannequin Giles Cory grimaced in great pain as the stones lowered onto his body.  This was not part of her elementary school’s reenactment of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.  It was our children’s first exposure to the dour side of Puritan life.   Between the stone pressing and the grotesque statue of Satan, I hoped Emma didn’t have nightmares due to this history lesson. But reservations aside, what a way to learn about history!  We had witnessed the positive effects of the pilgrim spirit with the American Revolution, and we were seeing what happened when that Puritanical work ethic turned into fanaticism. 
After reading the names of the twenty-five people who died in the Salem Witch Hunt, we were guided into the second phase of the tour: the history of witches and the devastating results of witch hunts around the world from the Middle Ages to present day.  From midwifery to the Wizard of Oz, the transformation of women healers to wicked witches with green skin and pointy hats would have been comical if it wasn’t so disturbing.  Then, the museum’s attempts to promote an understanding of the Wicca religion today would have been moving if it wasn’t for the comical pandering of Bewitched items for sale in the museum gift shop.  I loved Samantha, but the old episode- the one where she was chased around Salem by an enchanted bed warmer from Nathaniel Hawthorn’s House of Seven Gables- playing in the background as we shopped for a Christmas tree ornament of a witch made the whole thing feel silly.  But at least, I wasn’t bored.
Before leaving Salem, we discussed hysteria and false accusations over a delicious lunch of comfort food at the Scratch Kitchen.  
“I think teenagers blow everything out of proportion,” said the girl who would be turning thirteen in six months.  Anabel gleaned another reason not to grow up from our tour of Salem.
Downplaying age as a factor, I said, “I think the lesson is: beware of bored people.  Now finish your grilled cheese and let’s head to Maine!”

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Joy of Food- Julia Child's Boston

A slight breeze touched my face as I peered into the grocer’s window.   A pyramid of giant, orange pumpkins surrounded by their apple minions in red, green and yellow happily greeted passers-by, inviting them to stop, look and come inside.  I opened the door and stepped into the world of Julia Child. (Okay, for those readers who know the Savenor’s that Julia shopped is not on Charles Street I confess: exhaustion made me settle. I wanted to step inside the original shop, but time and energy prevented me from walking the extra two and a half miles across the Charles River to Kirkland Street in Cambridge.)
In 1963, Savenor’s door opened daily to Julia and her insatiable excitement for food.  She said, “You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients.”  Savenor’s supplied her fresh ingredients and she shopped their store near her Cambridge, Massachusetts home each day before filming her cooking show, The French Chef.
The original Kirkland Street location opened in 1939 by Lithuanian immigrant, Ibrahim Savenor.  When Julia Child and her husband, Paul, moved to Cambridge in 1961, Julia made fast friends with Savenor’s son, Jack, while discussing their common passion, food.  Julia believed friends were the most important ingredient to a happy life and loved entertaining.  She wrote in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “Just like becoming an expert in wine–you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford–you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simple or luxurious. Then, you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.”  Food was always meant to be shared and discussed with friends.

Alone, I stalked the rows of Savenor’s simple and luxurious food.  Fresh fruits and veggies encased in wooden bins.  Signature sauces and rubs lined three shelves.  The back wall contained the meats.  Beef bones, beef cheeks, beef ribs- every beef imaginable was lovingly placed in the case by the butcher giving understanding to Child’s quote about her friend, Jack Savenor, “Every woman should kiss their butcher.”  Lamb chops, pork belly, and chicken legs were ready for all the servant-less cooks of Boston.  They just needed the courage of their convictions to choose.  I was drawn to one cooler door by its sign: fats and lards.  Duck fat, goose fat, rendered lard.  Oh, my!  And I thought my sweet southern grandmother backward for insisting on cooking with lard rather than Crisco.  Savenor’s sold lard by each perfected ounce.  Greg swore by it stating simply, “Fat equals flavor.”  I smiled as I closed the cooler door; Julia Child would have loved my Greg.
The Manchester
After ogling the game and specialty meats- they sold kangaroo, ostrich, python, and a variety of others- I made my way to the sandwich counter for dinner. Our first night in Boston had been spent paying homage to history at America’s oldest restaurant,  The Union Oyster House, which has been in continuous operation as a restaurant since 1826.  We sat in the Kennedy booth, JFK’s favorite spot, and enjoyed some “wicked-good chowda,” but we dined on straight forward seafood.  I was hoping to experiment with some take-out from Julia’s gourmet purveyor.  Twenty minutes later, I walked back up Charles Street with cheese, grapes, olives and three sandwiches for our family to share: the Arricia- house-made porketta and house pickled fennel drizzled with  local honey on an Iggy’s farmhouse roll, the Manchester- double smoked bacon, fresh avocado, vine-ripened tomato, fresh mixed greens, and spicy aioli on Iggy’s cibatta roll, and the Toulouse- crisped duck confit, pickled root vegetables, sautéed savoy cabbage with pancetta, and spicy aioli on an Iggy’s torta roll.  Julia would have been pleased, especially since I discovered through Savenor’s an unknown source: Iggy’s Bread of the World.  

Iggy’s was the dream child of Igor and Ludmilla Ivanovic (yes, those are their real names) after the couple met while working at Eli’s Bakery in New York.  They fell in love with bread and each other, moved to Massachusetts and created their family business. For eighteen years, they have been baking breads for restaurants, farmer’s markets and kitchen tables out of their Cambridge store.  The Savenor’s folks shared the couple’s love of bread story with me while they layered, spiced and sliced our sandwiches.  Simple and luxurious ingredients on fresh bread.  Who could ask for more?

Greg could.  “You only got three sandwiches? I’m starving.”

“I thought that would be enough for us.  We had those huge Boston Barkers for lunch.”

“Hey, we toured all of Fenway Park and walked from the harbor to the hotel and half the Freedom Trail today.  Your two meals of brunch and lupper are not cutting it for me,” Greg said before taking a huge bite of the Manchester.

The kids devoured the other two sandwiches while I nibbled the grapes and cheese. I nicked one bite from Wyatt and almost lost a finger.  Greg begrudgingly handed over the other half of his sandwich to Anabel and said, “Let’s check out Chinatown for dinner.  Kids, do y’all want to come?”

Anabel was the first to pipe up. “We’re good.” Their little legs could only take so much, but their mouths were still going.  They finished the cheese and grapes while waiting on the shower.

I tucked each into bed with a book before Greg and I headed across the street to Boston’s Chinatown.  I knew nothing about this area having researched American history and Julia Child for this trip, but Greg had clearly done his homework as he marched us passed several delightful looking restaurants to a basement establishment called The Best Little Restaurant.  

With high hopes for the food, I noted they were not named the Best Little Decorated Restaurant.  Clean, white table cloths were as far as their decor went.  We were seated in the back near a table of six Chinese businessmen.  I entertained Greg with each man’s role in the Chinese mafia while he chose our dishes.  I had no idea what was coming, but the waiter smiled as Greg ordered.

When the platter of chicken feet arrived at our table, I understood the waiter’s amusement. “Did you mean to order this?” I asked.  I wanted to try new foods, but this was crossing the line.

“Yes! This looks awesome!” Greg dived in.

“Are you kidding me?  It’s jellied chicken feet!” Then, I thought, “What would Julia do? If Paul had ordered her a plate of chicken feet, she would have eaten it with  pleasure.”  I stared at the platter.  The feet glistened in the romantic glow of florescent lights.  They jiggled on their journey from the platter to Greg’s plate.  He forked one and brought it to his lips.  I could hear it squish between his teeth.  Screw Julia.  I was not trying the chicken feet.

I sated my hunger with Greg’s other choices: lobster with ginger and scallions and spareribs with garlic sauce. The delicate lobster melted in my mouth without squishing. The crisp, caramelized coating on the outside of ribs punctuated our discussion of the Cantonese food with crunches and smacks. We declared it wasn’t the best little Chinese food we’d ever eaten, but it was damn good.
With tummies full, we walked back to our hotel tying up our many threads of conversation before returning to the kids.  From the Green Monster to the toiling at MIT, from Savenor’s shelves to the fictitious machinations of Boston’s Chinese mafia, we talked without interruption. It was bliss.

Stealing a line from Julia and Paul Child, I said, “You are the bread to my butter; the breath to my life.” 

“And you are the cheese to this conversation.”

“Ah!  Thanks, Honey.”

 Julia was right. Everything- except chicken feet- tasted better when shared with your best friend.