30 April 2009

Spring Rhubarb Goodness + Culture

For those of you that don't know, my dad's family are Russian Mennonites from Manitoba, Canada. I have many fond memories of visiting my grandparents outside Winnipeg (aka "Winter"peg) as I was growing up. It was a long trip, and we saved up to go once every 4 years. My Grandma Reimer's cooking was so delicious!! Her bread puddings and rice puddings were especially memorable to my childhood taste buds.

It's Spring, though, and I've been doing some work in the garden. I'm being adventurous this year, and am planning artichoke, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, and finally taking care of my rhubarb. I'm ashamed to admit that I bought 2 lovely rhubarb plants 2 years ago, and they've been sitting in the shade (still in their original pots) under a tree in the backyard ever since. Thought for sure they'd be dead, but I'm pleased to report they're not! In building an official veggie garden in the back yard, I pried the pots loose from the grassy area, and found that one of them had stuck roots down through the pot and into the ground! I broke the roots as I was pulling it out. The corresponding stalks and leaves started to droop the next day, so I cut them and we had Fresh Rhubarb Mooss last night! :)

Oh, and by the way, I'm vegan. So here's what I did to make a traditional Russian Mennonite dish into something I could still have (and share with the kids):

Fresh Rhubarb Mooss (aka Ruboabamooss; a type of Pl├╝memooss)
4 c. diced rhubarb
4 c. water
1 c. sugar (I used evaporated cane juice)
3 Tbsp. flour (I use unbleached flour)
1 c. cream (I used hempmilk -- you could substitute your favourite non-dairy "milk")
~~~ Clean and dice rhubarb. Combine with water in a large pot. Cook until rhubarb is tender. In a separate pan combine sugar, flour, and cream, stirring until smooth. Bring to a boil and cook until bubbly. Add rhubarb mixture to cream mixture. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Cool.
(I poured it out into little dessert dishes and let it cool in the fridge 'til we were ready to eat.)

It's funny -- Ralph (age 16) loved it and was gobbling it up. Paddy (age 11) wasn't so sure of the tangyness of rhubarb. Asked him to have "3 more bites" -- and by then, he decided it was good after all and finished up. :)

For those that don't know, pl├╝memooss is a traditional cold fruit soup. As the name might suggest, it's often made with plums, but it is still the generic term we call any cold fruit soup. According to "Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia, vol. I" by Norma Jost Voth, "This fruit soup, made with fresh or dried fruits, has been part of the Mennonite cuisine since the Dutch Mennonites lived in the Vistula Delta (Polish Prussia) in the sixteenth century."

25 April 2009

New to Homeschooling

Well, the adventure officially started off two weeks ago, but it's been awhile coming. The last straw put that poor proverbial camel in traction. Fed up with the inability of the public school to teach my son, and thoroughly sickened by their emotional/psychological abuse towards him... I pulled my younger son out of Grade 5 and started to "homeschool".

We've been working on finding a good groove that works for us. I'm still doing a gov't. contract job plus running a brick-and-mortar business in the historic downtown district. Luckily my boys' dad is very involved and he supports the homeschool idea. He works odd hours, and so works with our younger boy ("Paddy") while I'm doing the contract job.

One of the first things that he found in working with Paddy is that Paddy is thoroughly bored with Grade 5 math. In printing out math problems from websites, Paddy breezes through them in minutes. To challenge him enough that 24 problems take an hour, it was 3-digit by 3-digit multiplication... and 2-digit into 4-digit long division. No wonder he was hanging upside down out of his chair in the regular classroom!!

Something that I observed this week is that he has been avoiding writing at all costs. Paddy is thrilled with homeschool and is happy to work on anything... but then is changing the subject and wiggling out of writing. In Grade 1, his teacher went on and on about what a wonderful, creative writer he was proving himself to be. Now, teachers are threatening him with time in the Principal's office because he's refusing to write. After coming at the problem from a variety of angles, I finally had an innovative idea.

Yesterday morning, right after his older brother set out for the high school, we grabbed our fruit and went for a walk in the lovely sunshine. I brought a notepad and pencil with me so that we could brainstorm together as we walked. He claims that he doesn't know why he doesn't write anymore; he says he can't think of anything. This is the boy that will talk your ear off for hours if you let him -- we just need to get it on paper!

After hearing him out, I suggested that we start him a private blog -- one that only his dad and I can read. He asked what a blog was, so I explained. We talked about the importance of writing and the legacy it can create. A brilliant mind is wonderful, but if it's not written down (recorded), then it's lost to others when you're gone. We discussed that once he gets comfortable with writing his blog, he could open it up to more readers. He was intrigued, and agreed to give it a try.

When we arrived home after the walk, we sat down and set it up for him. Lucky guy -- the user name and URL name he wanted was available on the first try! He still said he couldn't think of anything to write, but I rattled off about ten different ideas. He decided on one of them -- writing about our week in Newfoundland last month. I'm pleased to report that he worked really hard on it, and he published his first blog post yesterday. It covers Days 1 and 2 of the trip. More entries to come! :)

In my mind, it's most important for him to get his thoughts out onto paper (or screen). We'll work on handwriting later. He already has very nice handwriting, but he still writes a bit big and slow -- he feels it has to be perfect on the first try.

In watching him compose his post yesterday, I got to thinking that maybe I should start my own blog, too. It's something that we can do in common, as well as to encourage myself to reflect on what we're doing and where we're going. Although I've toyed with the idea of homeschool since before his older brother started Kindergarten, actually making the commitment to stand up and do this is a little scary -- uncharted waters.

As far as curriculum goes, we've been making it up as we go for the past 2 weeks -- but it's good as we're finding where some of his strengths and weaknesses lay. In looking at different programs available, it's difficult to decide -- everyone seems to have their own favourites, but I have yet to see a concrete comparison between packages. In the meantime, I've ordered what appears to be a generic curriculum that covers the basics for Grades 6-8. It was rather inexpensive, so I'm not holding my breath that it be the most flushed-out program available. ...but if the basics are covered, I'll have no problem embellishing from there! :)

I've always joked that both my mum and grandma were elementary school teachers, and that they never stopped being teachers (whether at home, retired, etc.) throughout their life. I've picked up some of those same habits -- that everything is a learning experience, and there is always more information to share with those willing to learn.

My dad was a self-taught man -- was made to leave school midway through Grade 7. As a child during the Great Depression in Manitoba (and being the oldest of 5 at that time), he was hired out to a local farmer. He worked for his board and room; any wages he earned were sent home to his parents. Dad hated that he didn't ever finish a formal education, but as an adult he taught himself all sorts of subjects, especially in the winters when laid-off from construction. One winter, he taught himself to touch-type; another winter, calculus! He said that whether you knew it or not, everyone learns something new every day -- the day you don't is the day you die.

I'll stop rambling here for now. Wish us luck on this new journey. Never a dull moment! :)