Happy Valentines Day (belated)

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The day of love has come and gone.  I’m classically late and the queen of untimely, but I truly do have a valid excuse for not posting my Valentine’s Day post on Valentine’s Day. I spent my Valentine’s Day curled up on the couch with some sort of immobilizing flu. Fun times!

Anyway, prior to becoming ill, we did prepare for Valentine’s Day and the traditional exchange of cards between friends. I remember the paper mailboxes taped to the front of desks, the classroom parties, and the pre-made packages of mini-cards themed with the current exploits of popular culture.

My children don’t go to school. Contrary to the myth of the asocial homeschooler, my children have lots of friends and spend time with many other children in a variety of settings. This year, they were to celebrate Valentine’s Day at their babysitter’s house with all the other children she watches. She hosts parties for all the holidays and the kids’ birthdays. She adores her charges, and they love her. My children were looking forward to yet another one of her fabulous parties, so we planned on bringing handmade Valentine’s Day cards. I love to do anything I can to circumvent mainstream consumer culture. So this year, instead of buying packages of branded character Valentine’s Day cards for my kids to exchange, I thought it would be fun to make our own. I let them do as much as they could on their own, and I helped when needed.

Making things yourself can grant a feeling of accomplishment and pride. It makes your gift unique and personal. It adds meaning. It might not seem like much, but these are concepts that are very important to me and valuable qualities with which I want my children to grow up. Making these cards gave us the opportunity to spend time together and have fun.

My six-year-old son made these for his friends.

My six-year-old son made these for his friends.

My two-year-old made these for her friends.

My two-year-old made these for her friends.

Do Not Be Appeased!

I don’t know about you, but I am beyond outraged with the latest long-winded, vacant, meaningless, insubstantial, preposterous declaration by the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department. Yet again, they exhibit the propensity to NOT listen to the parents and educators of this great state when it comes to our grave concerns about over-testing, inappropriate curriculum, joyless learning experiences for our children, and unfair expectations in the name of the MYTH of failing schools. Go ahead NYSED, let’s put another bandaid on this gushing mortal wound you call the Common Core.

http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2014/February2014/214p12hea3.pdf

Thirty-seven pages to acknowledge topics of concern such as state assessments, teacher evaluations, and curriculum. But most of this summary is just a rewrite of the same old Common Core rhetoric that goes something like this: Despite the bumps in the road, which we assure you we’re working on, the Common Core is exactly what we need to fix our failing schools and prepare our students for college as they were previously unprepared, and we know best, so let us throw you a bone while we blame schools for not properly implementing the Common Core and by the way it’s up to schools to eliminate unnecessary and redundant testing because it’s not our fault after all, and let us blame parents for not truly understanding how they can help their own children succeed, but rest assured we’re here to help and we will succeed, in fact we’ve got a plan that if we spend more money on getting parents involved, they’ll roll over with sincere thanks for us lending a hand at getting them involved in their children’s education, which is what they truly want so all that complaining they’re now doing will ultimately disappear once we, the truly magnificent declarers of educational needs, provide them with the proper resources to be good parents and good aids at home while their children become college and career ready, and nobody can say we didn’t ……. That had to be a run-on sentence because that’s how I imagine these people talking to one another while they’re perched over tables, breath sour from dehydration as they each in turn make important declarations, brows intently scrunched, listening to the wind being forced from their colleagues’ upper orifices, a forced air of gravitas in the room, ostensibly caring but with a real and not-so-hidden contempt for parents and teachers who they silently (and perhaps openly) curse for forcing them to this moment and forcing their hand to actually “do” something, their faces drawn into permanent frowns as they produce this meaningless paper that we’re just supposed to accept. And then what, possibly thank them for it.

This, coupled with Governor Cuomo’s ineffectual cherry-picked panel to review the Common Core, should be an insult to anyone out there who cares about education. Do not be appeased by these false offerings of salvation. It seems that someone is vying for our favor this election year. Someone wants to be viewed as education’s savior.

It’s all a farce, these panels, these committees, these official reviews. Perhaps the Governor, the Board of Regents, and the State Ed. Dept. are now pretending to respond to our concerns in light of the New York State Assembly Republican’s APPLE Plan, where this legislative body also offers it’s show of hearing parents and educators (which I believe to be sincere), and a collective of remedies to make things better. Perhaps they are responding to the valiant calls by legislators who claim, if the Regents don’t fix it, we will. Who will win? Who will we select as our savior?

If all this jargon isn’t a clear indication that this political and bureacratic rigamarole isn’t even coming close to addressing the concerns of parents, educators, and students, I don’t know what is. We’ve been patient, we’ve followed all polite channels with our grievances. And now it’s time to call “bullshit” loud and clear.

It is complete bullshit. These forums, committees, panels, and measures do nothing to improve education under RttT and Common Core. Do NOT accept these forms of “appeasement” from these jokers. Rebel and refuse. Opt out of ALL testing aligned with Common Core. Parental rebellion is the only way to break this down.  They are still blaming local districts for the additional testing by saying the state doesn’t require it. They put the burden on districts to “review their local measures of assessment and reduce any unnecessary or duplicative assessments.” WTF does that even mean? I’ll tell you how we can reduce assessments–REFUSE to participate in any of them. Opt out of the state tests! Opt out of ANY and ALL assessments, even progress-monitoring computer-based nonsense assessments if they are at all aligned with Common Core and are not used solely for the individual classroom teacher’s benefit in tailoring instruction to your child’s INDIVIDUAL learning needs. This NYSED and bureaucratic rigamarole has to stop. Parents, you have the power. Go all out and cause chaos in this nonsensical system that does NOTHING to foster engagement and authentic learning for your children. The time for hesitation is past. It’s clear that waiting for something else to fix this is not going to work. Exercise your parental rights and refuse ALL common core aligned testing. Resist.

Whatever you do, get involved  and stay involved, even if we are presented with a plausible “solution.”

If parents, educators and their communities were involved from the beginning in determining what was needed for public schools, would we be in the current situation? Would we see developmentally inappropriate standards, narrow, unreliable and invalid tests for students and teachers, violations of privacy rights and the overall cheapening of public education? I doubt it.

The point is this: it’s not about the standards, it’s about who controls them, who makes them, who enforces them. Fights over standards are really fights over who decides. That is the question any moratorium worthy of the public interest must consider. Because if the Core is defeated, yet the public remains excluded, you can bet Bill Gate’s tax exceptions another hair brained reform will soon follow in its wake, imposed more vigorously than the Core.

–Mark Garrison, from his recent blog post, “Failed Implementation, or Failed Governance? On the Possibility of a Common Core Moratorium”

Homemade Gouda

one of my first homemade Gouda cheeses.

one of my first homemade Gouda cheeses.

It’s Saturday morning.  Five gallons of fresh raw milk are almost done ripening, and I’m getting ready to add rennet to coagulate this batch of milk as part of the process of making my fourth wheel of Gouda style cheese. I have two wheels aging in my basement right now (wheels #1 and #3). There’s just one wedge left of wheel #2 in my refrigerator. Cheese doesn’t last long in this house!

coagulated milk, before cutting the curds

coagulated milk, before cutting the curds

Those of you who follow my blog might know a little about me by now. My husband is Dutch. We met in Leiden while I was in my junior year of college, participating in a study abroad semester. He was pursuing his degree at Leiden University. Perhaps it wasn’t love at first sight…. I’d say the sighting was the third. Anyway, to make a long story short and to save you the details of a long distance relationship, I’ll summarize by saying everything worked out just fine and when I graduated from college, I moved directly to Leiden and lived there for two years while my soon-to-be husband finished his studies.

filling the mold with curd.

filling the mold with curd.

If you know anything at all about the Netherlands, you know that cheese is a big part of their culture. You would be hard pressed to find a Dutch refrigerator that did not contain a large wedge (or two or three) of delicious cheese. The culture of cheese there is very different from here in the United States. There is much in our country that exists in one of two extremes–politics, good vs. evil, weather (at least in NY!), the haves vs. the have nots– and cheese.  Cheese can be a cheap processed additive, disgusting and void of nutritious value–think Velveeta, powered cheese in your box of mac n’ cheese, or that yellowish molten substance dripping over your fast food. In the opposite extreme, cheese is a specialty item, an expensive and often pretentious luxury, purchased in tiny wedges, a proudly proclaimed food import.  Of course, you always have your middle ground–the ubiquitous cheddar–those unnatural-looking blocks of cheese in the dairy section of the supermarket.

stock image of a Dutch cheese store.

stock image of a Dutch cheese store.

I miss the realness of cheese in Holland. I miss the variety, the flavors, the humongous wheels stacked high in the supermarket, the independent cheese stores, or at the street market each week. I miss placing my order and watching them cut the wedge with precision, the skillful rocking of a giant double-handle cheese knife. Most of all, I miss the taste. The imported Gouda in our supermarkets, waxed in red, is just not the same.

molded cheese after the second press.

molded cheese after the second press.

Making cheese has been on my to-do list for quite some time. Occasionally, over the years, we treated ourselves to a large wheel of yellow-waxed Dutch cheese, direct from an importer. We would share with friends and family; I would sell packages of homemade bread paired with a wedge of freshly cut cheese; and naturally we would indulge ourselves, devoting a full refrigerator shelf to cheese.

My husband gave me a cheese making starter kit for Christmas last year, with everything I would need to make a Gouda style cheese. I am adapting New England Cheesemaking Supply’s 5 lb. Gouda recipe, and so far I am quite pleased with myself. I followed the recipe exactly and was as giddy as a child on Christmas morning when I took my perfectly shaped cheese out of the final press. The minimum aging requirement is two months, and let me tell you that I counted down every single day until we could cut in and sample my creation.

molded cheese after the final press.

molded cheese after the final press.

applying hot wax with a brush.

applying hot wax with a brush.

Cheese making is quite a process and there are many steps involved in turning milk into a formed wheel ready for brining, then aging. There’s a lot of doing, and even more waiting.  I’ve been typing here during the periods of waiting.  Right now, my fourth cheese ever is undergoing its second press at 9 lbs. for 30 minutes.  There will be three more presses at different pressures.

At first glance, it seems that many cheese recipes are the same. Many different kids of cheeses use the same culture that I’m using to make Gouda.  For many, the process doesn’t differ all that much. Yet, when we think of the wide array of cheeses with vast differences in texture and flavor, the mystery of cheese making becomes very interesting. Even a slight variation at each phase of the process can yield different end results.  Couple that with a range of aging times and the possibility of adding flavors to each cheese, and the concept of turning milk into cheese becomes exciting. I love many different kinds of cheeses, but my favorite is a plain young-medium aged Gouda cheese, what the Dutch call jong belegen. With a semi-hard texture, buttery and smooth, and a mild flavor, this cheese is perfect for slicing and eating on bread for breakfast or lunch. That’s my goal in cheese making.

Waxed and ready for aging!

Waxed and ready for aging!

My first three cheeses are good. I’m pleased with my results. But they’re not what I’m going for. They’re drier than my intended result, and their flavor for a cheese that’s only been aged 2-3 months is quite intense for that age. I’m working on modifying each step in the cheese making process to create a truer Gouda style cheese. Now I just need to wait 2-3 months longer before I can taste my achievement.

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Fresh baked bread (homemade) and imported (not homemade) Beemster cheese.