John and I were going over the year last night, as one begins to do come Thanksgiving. Our assessment: nothing horrible happened. The roof is still over our heads. John got a small raise. My surgery went very well. Jo's college experience is tough but good--and boy has she grown as a person. And Lou is coming out of the turbulent years into something mellower. We'll call it good.

I hope your year has gone at least as well. I'm thankful for everyone who visits here. :)

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It's dinner time, and once again I discover myself a little unprepared. No worries. I have a pot of stock on the stove and some leftover chicken; I'll just make soup. I always have vegetables around for soup.

Except when I open up the fridge I remember I forgot to order groceries at our co-op last week. The only thing I have in the fridge besides the chicken is two-thirds of a head of celery and a single stalk of broccoli. I don't even have frozens or leftovers I can throw in. Oops.

Going out for dinner is not an option. What am I going to do?

As I was growing up, my mom was the mistress of making "something" out of "nothing"--pulling together meals seemingly out of thin air. I've inherited her uncanny ability, which comes down to an intelligently stocked larder and a good understanding of tastes.

I had broth, celery, broccoli and leftover chicken. With such a limited ingredient list, what could I cook?

One of my favorites is clear Asian soup; there are hundreds of different varieties, from Vietnamese pho to Japanese dashi. When I was pregnant with Josie, one of my cravings was for Chinese chicken noodle soup at a particular dim sum place in Old Town: clear golden broth, chunks of chicken, thin, firm egg noodles and a variety of barely-cooked Chinese greens. A little garlicky, very gingery, entirely soul-satisfying.

I can't eat there any more; those noodles are wheat, and the soy sauce has wheat, too, but I recreate that soup gluten free all the time. That's the taste profile I decided to go for, and the broth made it easier--when I'd chucked everything in the pot with the chicken carcass I'd thrown in a big piece of ginger that was about to go bad.

After a quick reconnoiter, I found Asian rice noodles (not pasta) in the back pantry and yellow onions in the potato drawer. I strained the broth and put it back in the pot with the chopped celery and broccoli, thin-sliced half-rounds of onion and the diced chicken.

While the veggies were heating through, I boiled some water in the tea kettle; when it was ready, I put the rice noodles in a big bowl and poured the hot water over them. In about ten minutes they were soft and it was time to eat. I put the noodles in soup bowls and ladled the broth, chicken and vegetables over the top.

It was delicious, as good as if I'd planned the whole thing! And in a way, I had. I'd paid attention to my mom and put her method to work. I didn't learn how to make this particular set of ingredients work from her, but knowing what flavors work together and keeping a variety of unperishables at the ready just in case? That's what I learned from her. She'll be pleased to know I was paying attention. :)

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Every day I read at least one item that reminds me why we chose to homeschool our girls. Here's today's: A teacher’s troubling account of giving a 106-question standardized test to 11 year olds:

Question No. 12 put me over the top. But I continued my outward calm, even as I watched the kids squirm, and as some began to lose their focus and their positive demeanor.

The mumbling had begun. The sentence I read to the class said something like “she realized she could store her belongings in the bureau.” “Bureau.” There were four pictures to choose from. One was a building that looked like a public “bureau” of the government to me, but I doubted my students would think of that. One was of a tractor. Scratch that. But I looked at my students whose families speak Spanish at home. And I looked at the burro in picture “C.”

Then I looked at the picture of what my family calls a chest-of-drawers. And I thought about how we have never used that word, “bureau,” for a piece of furniture. And I have never heard that word in the homes of my students’ families. And I thought, how crude, how cruel, how ignorant, how disrespectful of these children. What a set-up. Who would do that to kids?...

By the end of the Vocabulary section these children had been through 57 of the 106 questions. They were more than half way done. But the double period was almost over. They were about to go home, having entered the classroom feeling strong and ready to learn, about to leave feeling, in their words, “stupid.” They had lost two full periods of real teaching/learning. What had they gained? Really, what?…

Like them, I left for the weekend feeling defeated. What happens when our beautiful children face this kind of situation over, and over, and over again. The phrase, “first do no harm,” consumed me. I was leaving school for the weekend on the wrong side of that admonition.

What had they gained? A better question: what had they lost? One person didn't lose, and that's for sure: somewhere out in Educationland a testing company is pocketing a nice chunk of change.

The fetishization of standardized testing must end. You want to know why kids don't like to read? Read that whole article. And then think back on your own schooling. The younger you are, the more likely you are to relate to the kids in that teacher's classroom. We're taking this country's kids down the wrong track, and profit is a big reason why.

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