Orion is a-Risin’

Tonight, on a cold February night, Peezer had to work on part of his multi-day assignment on a president of his choice. For reasons too numerous to list here, I just was not up to helping him. Fortunately, his Dad was. And in exchange, I happily donned coat and hat and gloves to walk Mac – usually Curt's job, typically something I avoid, but I was eager for the trade tonight.

So the dog and I are walking up the road to the clearing where the power lines run through. I looked up and I saw A SHOOTING STAR! – and also Orion. And I can never see Orion in the winter sky without remembering 5th/6th grade in Mrs. Cameron's class in "the Annex" at Millerstown Elementary School – we had what seemed like lots and lots of time (which I anticipated and loved) devoted to music education – and when she would take requests, the song "Orion" was in heavy rotation. (And so were "Lemon Tree" and "There's a Hole In My Bucket" – both of which make me want to gouge out my eardrums to this day. But ORION!) She was an excellent pianist (I'm sure she still is), and we gathered 'round the piano a couple times a week and sang: 

        Orion is a-Risin' 

You can see his stars a-blazin' in the middle of the clear-eyed country sky

And it's never too surprisin'

That the sky is still amazin' way out here where nothin' hides it from my eyes


Sleepin' outside in a bag as a kid seems like the best thing that I ever did


Chasin' the shadows and the tracks in the snow, don't ya know…..

The day is gettin' colder

And I really start to wonder why they're cloudin' all the country skies to gray

The world is gettin' older

You can hear it in the thunder and the rain might come and chase us all away



The moon is on the wane

And it looks like it might rain or maybe snow

How are we to stay here

If there's no room left to play here or to grow

Don't ya know, don't ya know

I didn't appreciate the lyrics then, though they have stuck in my brain as a perpetual earworm since the early 1980s, but I see now that they were about growing up in the country, which I did, and appreciating the wide open spaces we were fortunate to have – spaces that enabled us to see the night sky in all its expansive vibrance.

God, I was so blessed.

So I'm here in the suburbs and I'm walking the dog, looking up at the stars and humming my 35+ year earworm, relishing in the shooting star that was surely placed there JUST FOR ME, and I start thinking about Peezer, at home working on some poster about President Kennedy, and how last night he was tooting his clarinet at his school's winter concert:

  Band concert 2-9-15
And you know what? That group of fourth graders, who began playing those instruments just four months ago, who get about 30 minutes A WEEK in instrumental music instruction (seriously, how can anyone possibly think that's enough??) – they played several recognizable melodies. As a group. TOGETHER. And whenever a group of ANY AGE HUMANS performs any kind of music together – even if it's a bunch of out-of-tune woodwinds – IT'S MAGICAL.

MUSIC. What a blessing. 

Whether it's "Hot Cross Buns" on the (flat) Clarinet (I guess they tune in middle school?), or "Orion" in my head by a bunch of farm kids in the 1980s, or The Steel Wheels in 2015 (Roots / bluegrass by this band of guys that just has my heart lately), music is a universal language… and so are the stars, and maybe presidential homework isn't, or maybe it is, but February, which I really have come to dread in the past decade – maybe February is not actually the worst month after all. All things considered.


Family-Life Apprenticeship Now Available

UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY for high school junior or senior, male or female! Gain invaluable first-hand insight and learn about basic life skills as you observe one family’s experience through their “A Day In The Life” Program. Applicants for this unpaid, 17-hour-a-day apprenticeship must be mentally acute, physically strong, tenacious, persistent, patient, cool under pressure, articulate, unselfish, and masters at multi-tasking. Examples of what you’ll experience in this rigorous position:

TIME MANAGEMENT (6:45 – 8:45 am). Start the day off by allowing yourself one 9-minute snooze cycle (optional) while you listen to make sure both high-school kids have woken up and showered. Drink one cup of coffee, pour a second, shower, pack a healthy lunch for a kid, make your bed, badger that kid to wake up, create and blend a fruit smoothie, coax the kid out of bed to drink the smoothie, place the packed lunch into the kid’s backpack, along with his agenda and homework folder (remember to sign off on the agenda), put that smoothie in a to-go cup for the kid, return to your coffee but realize it’s cold now, make sure the kid is wearing shoes (matching), apply makeup (females only), make sure you’re wearing shoes (matching), inventory contents of your work briefcase to ensure it’s properly stocked with today’s client files and office keys, laptop and power supply, device chargers, feminine supplies, and an umbrella. Given time constraints, you will have to decide whether to pack yourself a lunch. Now put some smoothie into a to-go cup for yourself, and weigh how much it matters if the kid brushes his teeth and/or wears a sweatshirt today as you rush out the house (remember to lock the door!) to make the school bus. Make sure you have your glasses, car keys, iPhone, and Metro card with you. Check the weather.

SHIFTING FOCUS / CALENDAR MANAGEMENT (8:48 am – 5:00 pm) After lovingly waving goodbye to the school bus, it’s time to shift to Work Mode. Take a moment to remember what day it is and where you’re supposed to be: Must you be at a client’s office today? If so, in which city? Or is it a telecommuting day? If the former, commute. On the subway, you have a choice of doing work or a crossword. If it’s a telecommuting day, go back home, unpack your roller bag, and subtract points because you spent time doing unnecessary things earlier. Set up your laptop in the home office and get to work immediately. Regardless of work site, you will hone your ability to focus as you concentrate on work for today’s client while constantly being interrupted by other client requests and/or resisting the temptation to check Facebook and/or nap do laundry or vacuum the stairs. Try to remember to eat some lunch and don’t forget to stay hydrated! Hope that you don’t see the school nurse’s office phone come up on your caller ID. Remember to schedule little breaks throughout the day so you don’t strain your eyes or develop carpal tunnel syndrome and/or a DVT. At 3:45 pm, check in with the older brother to make sure he met his younger brother at the school bus (if telecommuting, meet the kid yourself at the school bus). Females only: If it’s “that time of the month” you’ll also need to remember to change your tampon. (Consider setting alerts on your phone so you don’t forget.) If it’s a commuting day, you must drop everything, whether you’re done or not, by 5pm so you can pack up your bag and head home. Use the commute time to gradually shift focus away from work and back to the family. Enjoy this brief respite before your second shift begins.

PRIORITIZATION, PERSISTENCE, SELFLESSNESS (6:15pm – 11pm) Upon arrival at home, you will be bombarded with requests from three kids, a dog and two cats. Remain calm. Don’t change clothes; make dinner for the humans. Interrupt dinner prep to shuttle one teenager to Taekwondo, while you send texts to the other teenager to determine where he is and when he’ll be home. During the Taekwondo hour, drop a prescription at the pharmacy, then go home, open your laptop and schedule the youngest kid for 7 weeks of summer camp (including logistics, forms, and coming up with payments) and one session of spring rec-league baseball clinic. Load the dishwasher, wash out the coffee maker, then go pick up the Taekwondo kid. Come back home; feed the pets. Then realize the grocery list has reached critical mass, so get the youngest kid started on his homework, then leave the Taekwondo kid in charge (have you heard from the oldest one yet? Where IS HE?) while you make a third trip out for groceries, then hit the drive through pharmacy window to pick up those prescriptions. Return home, put groceries away, and make sure the youngest kid is in bed by 9:30. Decide how much it matters if he brushes his teeth (answer: IT ALWAYS MATTERS, but he will always fight it). Try to recall when his last shower was; if you can’t remember, he needs a shower. Negotiate. If there is laundry in process, keep it going so it doesn’t start to stink. (Extra points for folding.) Scoop out the cat’s litter box and ask a kid to walk the dog. Did you ever eat dinner? Eat now if you forgot to earlier. After one bite, the oldest teenager will appear and ask if it’s too late for a haircut, so instead of finally spending 30 minutes on a yoga video, agree that he really does look shaggy, break out the home barber kit and buzz him with a #3 and take advantage of having him seated in one place to talk about graduation activities, whether he needs a tux for prom, and has he completed his college registration. Midway through the haircut, the other teenager will need instructions on how the new vacuum cleaner works because it's 10pm and a perfect time to vacuum his room (but hey, he's vacuuming his room). Throughout the evening you will use caller ID to screen multiple incoming calls, most of which will be telemarketers. Realize it’s going on 11; brush and floss, wash your face (optional), and roll into bed. Don’t forget to set your alarm so you can do it all again tomorrow.

DISCLAIMER: This is only a sample description. Actual activities may vary depending upon the needs of others. It assumes there are no unexpected events, including but not limited to illness (human or animal), compound fractures, teenage crises, liquid spills, pet vomit, broken vehicles, broken appliances, tax filing deadlines, business travel, severe weather, or power outages. It also assumes you are the sole adult in charge (activities are easier when there are two adults). Imagine your spouse is out for the evening for whatever reason, or maybe you’re a single parent. Regardless, the Apprentice will shadow one adult as they adeptly manage the needs and activities associated with working full-time and raising three kids.

FINAL EXAM: In order to receive full credit for the apprenticeship, the successful candidate will be able to repeatedly put others’ needs before his/her own and use tools such as spreadsheets, extensive checklists and calendar reminders to track and prioritize hundreds of tasks daily, gaining experience in both short-term tactics and big-picture strategy. The Apprentice will have gained sufficient insight into a typical suburban family’s life that he/she will both look forward to this for themselves, but not be in any rush to get there.


Making it up as I go along

HI! Remember me? I used to blog here until I stopped making time. I miss it. But you didn't come here to read my whining about how I'm just so so so busy with work and the kids and the pets and the house (beating back the squalor!) and whatever else. So instead of that, I wanted to share a post about some stuff I've made lately. some pretty awesome stuff, actually.

LAUNDRY DETERGENT. A cousin of mine swears by making her own – not only for its cleaning ability but also because it's super frugal, costing just pennies per load. And because milk is $4/gallon and a head of iceberg lettuce is $2.69 (?!), we have to pinch pennies wherever we can. So I tried her recipe. OMG. I LOVE IT! It's easy to make and it really works. It's low-sudsing which makes it safe for use in HE machines, and you know exactly what's in it. And did I mention how inexpensive it is?  There are lots of recipes on the internet, some for liquid and some for powder, but I make the liquid.

Be sure you have a CLEAN bucket (buy one new and dedicate it for exclusive use) and something to transfer your finished product into – plastic pitchers, or re-use laundry detergent bottles or milk jugs (a funnel makes transfer easier). Also, after you let it sit overnight, it's kind of like runny Jell-O, so give it a good stir or, even better, jam an immersion blender in there to reliquify it before you transfer it into storage containers. Bonus points if you make clever labels such as "Caroline Ingalls's Pioneer Laundry Soap".

DISHWASHER DETERGENT. I got to thinking, if I can whip up my own laundry detergent, why couldn't I concoct, say, some dishwasher detergent? Turns out, the two main ingredients you need make the laundry detergent  - Borax Powder and Washing Soda – are also the main ingredients in dishwasher soap! So if you're making one, you might as well make the other. Again there are many versions of this posted on the internet, but  check out this recipe. I used FruitFresh for the citric acid. I also saw one recipe that suggested you add a squirt of Dawn liquid, then mix it in, so I did. It smells great, but of course the liquid makes the mixture want to clump up. You can bust the clumps with a fork before adding to the detergent compartment. (I probably won't add the Dawn next time.) So far it seems to work great. And again – it's so… cheap!  Have you priced dishwasher detergent? Especially those pods or tablets? Crazy expensive.

BREAD. I've been making my own bread for ages… people go crazy for homemade bread but really, it's so easy to make. (It's like that commercial from a few years ago, where the mom makes Rice Krispies treats, then splashes flour onto her face so everyone thinks she slaved for hours in the kitchen when in fact she never broke a sweat.)

I came upon this no-knead recipe a few years ago and it's my favorite when I want a crispy crust. Only drawback is, you need to plan ahead so there's plenty of rising time. Also, I would suggest that you not use a Pyrex bowl in that hot of an oven. Have you ever had one of those babies shatter? BAD NEWS. Instead, invest in a cast-iron dutch oven with a lid… watch the department store sales, or try off-price stores such as TJ Maxx or Ross. It's worth having one just for the bread, but you can make all kinds of other things in it too.

A few weeks ago, I discovered this recipe for peasant bread. It's another no-knead recipe, and it can be made in just a couple of hours. Instead of a crisp crust, it comes out softer. It tastes great! This recipe also calls for Pyrex bowls, but the oven isn't as hot for as long as it is for the Rocket Bread recipe. Don't be scared by how long the blog post recipe appears to be; it's super-easy to make.

I don't have the exact cost figures but you can make rolls or bread at home for a fraction of the cost of what you pay retail. And if you ask me, homemade bread is just better.

YOGURT. Seriously. I saw this making the rounds and wondered, could I really make my own yogurt? Turns out you can, in a crock pot. It's ridiculously easy and it tastes really good! And it's got to be less expensive than buying all those little cups of it… and if you aren't buying those, you aren't throwing them away, which is good for the Earth.  You can even strain it to separate out the whey, and you end up with a thick, Greek-style yogurt. YUM.

If, like me, you are intrigued about whether to buy something or try to make it yourself, you might want to check out these blog posts, written by Amy Keyishian (who happens to be a Facebook friend of mine), wherein she tackles not only making yogurt (cheaper than buying!), but also whether or not to buy or make your own candy corn (buy!) or pie crust (make; duh!). 

I'm not sure what I'll tackle next. I don't see myself making my own wine – though when I was a kid, a guy used to come collect pears that had dropped from our trees so he could make his own pear wine. And I have friends who brew their own beer, so I can just go drink theirs. I'd love your suggestions – leave 'em in the comments!