Back-to-School Eve

Bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils. Tidy desks lining the walls. Fresh reams of paper neatly stacked, wondering what life as a tree was like.

This is how school lies in wait for us this late summer night. Mere yards from my bed where I write this. I feel a great many emotions. Joy because the start of a new year is flush with possibilities. Peace because we’ve done all we could do to set up success. Disbelief (is that an emotion?) because I never imagined 8 months ago that we’d be here doing this.

A family of five, living, working, and schooling all in the same square feet.

Early in the pandemic I encouraged my kids to do life the way it is. Not the way we want or think it must be but the way reality has unfolded it at our feet. It’s more true now than even then.

Yet for the first time on the eve of school I don’t fear a school shooting. I suppose you’ve got to gild whatever is available for the gilding.

I do still fear. Mostly my inadequacy as a go-between for my children in their education. Our elbow-to-elbow schedules. Our spending several hours together in one room on various conference calls and video meetings. Chemistry problems. Math I no longer remember. Lack of everyday friendship. The list grows longer the longer I ruminate.

We are not in a terrible position. Our kids are old enough to use a computer adeptly, make their own lunches, and read (which, honestly, is the only reason this could possibly work). My sympathies pour out to parents of lesser means, younger ages, and essential jobs.

I couldn’t send my children to brick-and-mortar school right now even if it were an option. Why? Because I’m privileged enough not to and willing enough to not add strain to the education system.

If anyone didn’t already know, this pandemic should have taught them by now that schools are heavily relied upon to make the world go ’round. Child care. Meals. Health care services. Front line combat of home violence. Socialization. Motor skills. And book learning to boot.

Teachers, administrators, and support staff are in an untenable situation. They know the needs. Many of them experience these needs. Many want to be where they long to be.

I cannot fix education. Or the social systems that entrench Americans in patterns that elevate few and shove down many. I cannot of my own will create a new way wherein people have plenty and can care for their children easily and have simple equity (were that a thing) and all the rest.

I cannot blame any parent for sending a healthy child to school when that is the best of too few options. I cannot blame any teacher for teaching through the risk to provide for themselves. And I cannot blame a teacher who refrains from teaching in an unsafe environment.

I can withhold judgment. I can do the best I can with what I have. I can reduce the educational strain by three students. I can demonstrate for my boys that a thing can be hard and done out of necessity and still be worthwhile, beneficial, and have at least spots of genuine fun.

So tomorrow’s supper sits in the fridge. And new notebooks sleep on fresh desks. Log-ins buzz with restraint, and the house settles into quietude. But the quiet doesn’t always herald a storm. Sometimes it’s just what it is, a slice of contentment exhaling softly. I’m living it as it is.

I hope you have quiet when you need it, fun when you want it, and the best possible, most successful school year ever!

Lights out.

To Feed a Cold, Do-Over

Over at Indelible Words, I posted a similar post with a lamb soup recipe. Tonight, I’m suggesting chicken soup with a bit of a twist. Enjoy!

Our first fall semester in a physical school since 2012 has been rocky. Day One, Middling fell on bars – that are something totally NOT monkey bars, according to him – and knocked out one baby tooth, knocked loose one baby tooth, and ‘added mobility’ to a permanent tooth. Day 3, Third had a cold and Middling slept so poorly overnight because his dad was on a trip that he was a sick little raccoon in the morning. Middling had a half day. Third is still out with the cold – on Day 4.

I want to text my kids’ teachers and be like: We aren’t that¬†family; I promise!

But I guess we are that family. Not the one who makes up stuff and pays no attention or respect to the school. But we are the family that has learned some pretty difficult lessons in balance. We’re the family who knows that school isn’t everything but is a thing. We’re the family that may skip homework a night to rebalance, or might take a half day rather than send a raccoon to school – no matter how clean the little creature may be, or might have frank conversations about the school handbook.

We are the family who virtual schooled for nearly four years even though the primary educator in the home also taught three 20-hour semesters a year and published two books. We are the family who has been through an abusive caregiver, the deaths of people we love, a grandpa’s heart bypass, a grandmother’s liver transplant, and a mother’s depression and anxiety. We won’t be cowed by handbook threats anymore than by colds. We’re here to partner with professionals to raise these kids within the context of their village. We’re the family raising boys to be okay without us while praying we never face that test.

We are that family.

And I suspect all the other families are, too. Each family has its past and its pressing present, its beliefs, its fears and dreams. Each family has a set of circumstances, and all are less than ideal. And teachers are part of families, too! Know what family you are and embrace it – there’s only one of you in the glorious mess that is all of us. And have a bit of patience with those families whenever you forget you are that family.

Meal Math: Chicken Soup with Stars

Part 1: Pre-Seasoning

  • 4 Tablespoons solid fat – butter, ghee, coconut oil, lard – whatever you like that is high-heat-able
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic – or one garlic clove per eater [you’ll need more for part 5]

Heat the fat, salt, and pepper in a deep pot over high heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook over high heat until onion is nearly transparent, about 3-5 minutes.

Part 2: The Soup Base

  • 2 pounds raw chicken, diced with fat removed
  • 6 cups chicken bone broth
  • 2 teaspoons fresh parsley, off the stem [you’ll need more for part 5]
  • 1 fresh bay leaf, off the stem, chopped [you’ll need more for part 5]
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, off the stem [you’ll need more for part 5]
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, off the stem [you’ll need more for part 5]
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns

Add the chicken to Part 1 and cook until the chicken appears white on the outside. Add the remaining ingredients and cook over high heat until chicken is done through and breaks apart easily. If you like a bit more clear soup, place the herbs and peppercorns into a tea straining ball or tied up in a bit of cheesecloth.

StarPasta
Stelline Pasta – tiny!

Part 3: The Grain

  • 8 ounces pasta, the smaller the better
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • water

Boil according to package instructions. Drain, retaining a scant 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Do NOT rinse. Cover pasta with the retained water and two cups of chicken broth.

Part 4: Add Veggies

  • 10 ounces sweet potatoes, peeled and diced, frozen
  • 12 ounces peas, frozen

Add the frozen veggies to the soup base and heat to a bouncing simmer for at least 15 minutes. If using fresh vegetables, cook until done to the taste.

Part 5: Boost Nutrition

  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley, off the stem, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, off the stem, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, off the stem, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut oil
  • salt

Three to five minutes prior to serving, add the herbs and oil. Unlike the longer-cooked seasonings, these barely-cooked herbs will retain more nutritional benefits. These herbs should be placed directly into the soup to be eaten if at all possible, meaning I get it if you have a toddler who will not eat leaves in soup.

Add salt to taste.

ChickenSoup

Part 6: Serve

Divide the pasta into bowls for the diners. Ladle 1 cup soup over pasta. Serve.

Tips

  • Buy fresh herbs on sale, strip them from the packaging and any dirt/roots, wash, dry, and freeze. Keep these in a crate or box in the freezer for quick access.
  • Frozen vegetables can be more cost-efficient than fresh vegetables, especially when buying organic and pesticide-free. Even at a store like WholeFoods, you can buy packs of multi-colored carrots, sweet potatoes, and corn relatively inexpensively. These save time, too, because they cook faster and require little preparation.
  • Cook your meat in advance and freeze for faster meals.
  • Look for sales on meats that are already trimmed and diced.
  • Make your own broth. It’s good for you, good for the environment, and SO delicious!