Friday, May 22, 2015

The secret to getting your kids to eat new foods and like them, too (or why Alton Brown deserves my thanks)

Here's a really family-oriented, non-writerly post for Friday...but it's all about the blending of life and art, so I hope it's not too out of place here!

A few days ago, one of the farmers at our local farmers' market was selling the most gorgeous, luscious-looking leeks. Instantly our imaginations started going wild with the possibilities: leek and potato soup (or, heck, a million other soups that are better with leeks)...grilled leeks...who knew what? The minor snag, of course, was that we would expect our culinary endeavors to be appreciated by four little girls ages eight and under whose greatest skill may be artfully turning up their noses. (Okay, no, talking is their greatest skill. But nose-turning is close.)

Luckily, I learned this lesson a few years ago: the more children understand and appreciate a food, the more likely they are to eat it.

So we turned to our good friend Alton Brown. My girls have never heard of Justin Beiber or whoever the new kid star might be, but they do have crushes on chefs Alton Brown, Bobby Flay, Michael Symon....but mostly Alton Brown. His show "Good Eats" is by far their favorite thing to watch on our weekly "movie" night, as it approaches a single ingredient or dish artistically, scientifically, historically and gastronomically. Occasionally I'll put on an extra episode during the week in cases of dire necessity. Like getting the girls to want to eat leeks.

I pulled out the laptop and the "Sprung a Leek" episode of Good Eats yesterday afternoon, and by the end of the half hour, two girls were arguing over whether we should make grilled leeks over a fresh green salad with bacon and feta cheese on top, or deep fried leek rings. We decided on the former, and then came the important (and often trickier part):

I let them be my sous chefs.

They instructed me on how to cut the leeks; they washed them; they gathered the lettuce from our garden; they crumbled the cheese and bacon. As we went along, we talked about what each component of the dish was adding to the whole. We tasted little bites, alone or with another ingredient. They helped me plate the dish to be sure it looked beautiful.

By the time those salads were on the table, the girls owned the whole experience and couldn't wait to dig in.

And my three-year-old, who last week told me that scrambled eggs were the "most yuckiest, terrible food ever," proclaimed that leeks were her new favorite food and cleaned  her plate.

Thanks, Alton Brown.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dear Library: It's not you, it's me.

I'm not going to be getting any books for myself from the library this summer.

I've always had a bit of a library addiction, and--trust me--that hasn't changed. I still get that tingly feeling in my fingers just driving by the building, and giddy elation when I walk out with an armload of books to be devoured.

But I'm forswearing those pleasures for the next few months. Not because the library has disillusioned me in any way. Rather, my own shelves have been chiding me for weeks and weeks. I have so many delicious-looking books in my own home just waiting for me. Last week I counted over a dozen unread books just on one bookshelf. So until I catch up on those a bit, I'll try turning a blind eye every time I drive by Main Street's chief attraction.

Maybe you can help me decide what to read first.

Should I tackle the YA shelf and delve into Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races? (I've heard so many great things about her writing style...) Or Elizabeth C. Bunce's Starcrossed?


Should I hit the adult shelf and read Rebecca, by Daphne  du Maurier, which my little sister lent me forever ago, and I still haven't returned? (I know...I'm a bad sister.) Or actually fulfill my decade-old goal to read Don Quixote? Or stay light-hearted and read a P. G. Wodehouse novel? (There're still a few on my shelf I haven't read, unbelievably.)


Or should I turn to the non-fiction and academic, with Josef Pieper's Liesure, the Basis of Culture? (Though it somehow sounds less than leisurely--but cool.) Or John Paul II apostolic exhortation on the family, Familiaris Consortio? 


Or one of those dozen middle grade titles: The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian, Fever 1793, Iron Hearted Violet, Rodzina, Pilgrim Kate, Sea of the Dead, The Wonder of Charlie Ann, Boston Jane, The Canning Season, The Friendship Doll, Meet the Austins, The Golden Name Day...? (Can you tell I have a MG book-buying addiction? Library books sales are just sooooo tempting.)


One thing's for sure...I'll have no lack of books to keep me company while wait these next 2 1/2 months for Baby to come, and you'll be sure to hear about a great many of them.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Family Friday

I've always struggled with the challenge of balance in blogging; I want this to be a space about writing and myself as a writer, but I also don't want it to be dull and impersonal. As an introvert, I'm never going to be able to spout facts and photos of my family every post, but as my family grows and matures, I do find that I'd like to say a little about this most prominent part of my life.

So, for now, Fridays are family day. I'll be posting about raising my family, homeschooling, and life in our home. If you're here for the writing blog, feel free to pass on by.

For today, why don't I catch you up on what's going on in the Hough household?

Big girls fishing at the river across the street
We're finishing up a really fun and productive year of homeschooling grades 3, 1 and preschool. A lot of people think that you have to be really smart to homeschool your children. In reality, while you should have a good dose of common sense, the most important attribute is that you should love learning. Because you will never be limited by what you know already. I've learned so much this year along with my girls, but I think the biggest surprise for me was discovering that, as I struggled to clarify the names of generals and battles, my husband Mark was already totally an expert on the Civil War. He took over a lot of history lessons, and I marveled that I still have so much to learn about him after being married for 9 years. Not that I didn't love him completely before, but I have to admit I love him even more now. He knows how historical tidbits and good grammar go straight to my heart. :)

I'm currently 26 weeks pregnant with Little Hough #5, and getting really excited about (fairly) soon giving birth and meeting the baby. We don't know if it's a boy or a girl, so while we've had a boy's name picked out since my first pregnancy, girls' names are getting hard to choose. We've sort of got a French name theme going--unfortunately, lots of their cousins have French names, too, so some of our favorites already belong to lovely young ladies who are bearing them beautifully. Any  ideas?

Lu stole the camera to take this one.
That troublemaker expression is on Maddie's face a LOT.
Our old, old house is full of almost-finished and waiting-to-be-started projects; our garden is full of carrots and peas and lettuce, and soon we'll put in the tomato and pepper plants that my dad started for us. Mint and comfrey are hanging to dry from our kitchen beams. The chickens are each giving us an egg a day, and I'm making lots of quiche and custard and angel food cake. My sister-in-law shared a "quick" sourdough bread recipe with me that takes about 1/10 of the effort of my standard recipe, so I'm once again relaxing by mixing together a loaf in the evening and baking it in the morning.

Ginny's first haircut!
Not to give you the impression that I'm not napping during the day and collapsing into bed at night and shaking my fist at the chickens when they break free of the fence and banging my head against the table when someone just can't understand the math lesson and occasionally messing up a batch of bread so badly that we have to either feed it to the chickens or watch our 3 1/2-year-old practice her face contortions while she tries to chew. But, hey, sometimes the faces she makes are totally worth it.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Mark's newest painting is on display until May 30 at the Scranton Memorial Library as part of the annual Madison Art Society's Juried Show. It won a prize. :)

She's pretty proud of her Papa. :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

5 Ways to Write Every Day

Writing every day. We all know how important that is to maintain consistent quality in our work.

We also all know that when life hits, writing even a few paragraphs on our current works in progress seems all but impossible.

Luckily, lots of things qualify as writing, and all of them will keep your skills sharp. Here are five ideas for your perusal for days when "regular writing" just isn't going to work:

1. Write a letter. By the mere fact that they tend to be written paragraph by paragraph, they can be easier to get out on the hard days in between everything else you have going on--especially if they're hand-written. Bonus: you'll make someone's day.

2. Write something totally outside of your normal genre. If you, like me, write novels, working for a half hour or so on a picture book or magazine article can feel like relaxation instead of more work.

3. Write a blog post. Obviously (considering my recent lack of posts) this isn't my favorite method. But for some, getting words onto the screen, especially in this method which allows others to chime in and encourage, can keep creative juices flowing.

4. Make up a song or a poem on the spot. Yes, this is easier if you have kids around. But it's actually a really great way to stretch your word-smithing muscles.

5. Tell a child a story. Personally, I find this one the most effective. My comfort zone is in following an outline and putting words onto paper or a screen so I can fix them as I go along. Making up a story and telling it aloud forces me to think outside my own boxes and just keep going--a good skill to have the next time I sit down at the computer.

What are your tips for writing on the hard days? Please share in the comments!

Now to be totally random, and because all posts should have a picture, look what I found on a walk the other day! Proof that we need to keep our eyes open.

Half-and-half Periwinkle, which somebody should totally cultivate.
Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, May 11, 2015

What We're Reading: Book about Big Families (and a list!)

Since we're expecting Little Hough #5 in August, we've been starting to adjust to life as a "big family." Mark and I were both the middles of five children families, so calling that "big" seems rather silly to us...but there's no contesting the looks in the grocery store, the comments at the playground, and the fact that when one of us catches a cold, it takes two weeks to make it through everybody.

Luckily, we've spent our lives surrounded by beautiful large families, so we know that the joys and conveniences and just plain fun that having lots of children/siblings (depending on one's perspective) brings will always far outweigh the annoyance of telling another cashier that yes, they are all ours; and yes, we will be thrilled if it's another girl; and yes, we've heard of television but frankly it doesn't even compare, but it's funny that you think it does.

Mark and I also grew up getting acquainted with wonderful and fun families in the world of literature, which made being one of five something exciting rather than something strange. As a theme of sorts for this pregnancy, we've been pulling some of our favorites off the shelf and reading aloud to the girls--as well as exploring new (to us) titles that have been recommended by the really smart people who read this blog.

Here are some recent reads, and below them is a list of some of our favorite books about families with five or more children.

All-of-a-kind Family, by Sydney Taylor. Many, many thanks to Jess Lawson for recommending this to me, as an example of a book with a great oldest sibling character. (Lucy loved that the oldest sister was kind and spunky!) We all enjoyed the peek into the life of a turn-of-the-century Jewish family with five daughters. Obviously, the similarities to our own life were striking. Just replace the Yom Kippur celebrations with Easter Triduum, perhaps...

Spencer's Mountain, by Earl Hamner, Jr. This one also came up in the discussion of good oldest siblings, and I will say that Clay-Boy Spencer is an exemplary older brother. I was rather surprised that this book, which inspired The Waltons, was so, um...well, there was a lot of drinking and sex in it. Rather, there was a lot of talk about drinking and sex. (Needless to say, this was not a read-aloud.) But I loved the emphasis on how living a simpler life brought so much joy to a family who simply enjoyed being together. The parents obviously loved each other, loved having children, and loved spending time with them.


Cheaper by the Dozen, by Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Ahhhhhhh. I love this book so much. I've read it precisely a gajillion times, and like it more each reading. We decided to read it at this particular moment in time because both Mark and I were getting really tired of the general inefficiency that comes every single Sunday morning when we're getting ready for church. Specifically, WHY are the two church shoes never together, and WHERE do they go, and HOW COME no one sees the relation between flopping them off any which way one night and the general misery five minutes before we're supposed to get in the car? So. A little motion study in our life is going a long way (everyone knew where her shoes were yesterday!) and the entertaining and poignant story of the Gilbreth family is keeping us all laughing. If you haven't read just have to.


The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria Augusta Trapp. To stick to Modern Mrs. Darcy's reading challenge theme, I decided to read this in May (to myself, not aloud) as it's "A Book My Mom Loves." What I love the most is Maria's unwavering faith that following the will of God will always bring joy. I got choked up when she gushed about how lucky her family was to lose everything in a bank crash, because I'm no stranger to tight times and I've often considered them one of the greatest blessings of my life. Most people don't get that...but Maria certainly did. And she also knew that financial difficulties are transient, whereas the time you spend as a family and the work you do out of love for God and each other is eternal. Finally, I just loved the way she talked about the births of her children. Her argument for home births is surprisingly modern, especially considering how totally "against the tide" they were in the 1930's and 40's. I may quote it here one of these days.

And now, my favorite thing ever: a list! These are some of the best books about large families that I've read, with a very general age appropriateness "rating" next to each (you know your own children, and I'm assuming some help with reading when I list them as appropriate for the pre-second grade crowd). I'll definitely be coming back and adding to this list as I discover or remember more, so be sure to share your favorites in the comments!

The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman (age 2/3+)
The Rattlebang Picnic, by Steven Kellogg (age 2/3+)
The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew (and series), by Margaret Sidney (age 5+)
All-of-a-kind Family (and series), by Sydney Taylor (age 5/6+)
The Mitchells: Five for Victory (and series), by Hilda Van Stockum (age 7/8+)
Rainbow Valley, by L. M. Montgomery (age 8+) (This is the second to last of the Anne series, so if somehow your child doesn't know that Anne and Gilbert end up together, you may want to hold off on it to avoid spoilers!)
Cheaper by the Dozen, by Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey (age 8+ or younger if read aloud and explained a little.)
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria Augusta Trapp (age 11+)
The Family Nobody Wanted, by Helen Doss (age 11+) (This is a beautiful story about an adoptive family with 12 "unplaceable" mixed-race children.)
Spencer’s Mountain, by Earl Hamner, Jr. (age 15+)
Just as a bonus, here are some of our very favorite books about "almost big families," with 4 children:

The Moffats (series), by Eleanor Estes (age 5/6+)
The Saturdays (series), by Elizabeth Enright (age 5/6+)
The Bobbsey Twins (series), by Laura Lee Hope (age 5/6+)
The Boxcar Children (series--we prefer the old ones), by Gertrude Chandler Warner (age 5/6+)
Half Magic, by Edward Eager (age 6+)
The Penderwicks (series), by Jeanne Birdsall (age 7/8+)
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (age 8+)

Even though it's not Wednesday, I'm linking up with Jessica for What We're Reading Wednesday, as she's kindly keeping the link list open all month. (This was supposed to go up last Wednesday, but spring colds/flus interfered.)