Amanda Hopper Writes

A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 21)

My Favorite Thing

Bruschetta made with fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden?

Number thirty-six on my favorite-of-all-things list.

Hearing people laugh at all the right parts when they read my writing?

Number seventeen.

Swimming under the stars on a warm summer night?

Five.

My favorite thing of all?

Searching the house for one of my boys, assuming they are off playing video games, only to find them curled up somewhere reading. Then, upon telling them that they have work to do, hear the reply, “But I’m at a good part.”

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This is what everyone sees when they walk into a library, right?

Over the years, I’ve had many people ask me how I get my boys to read for fun. The honest answer is … I don’t know. Maybe it’s the fact that they always see me reading, or that I talk about books all the time.

Or maybe it’s the fact that the Internet doesn’t turn on until 4 pm ….

computer-problem-152211_1280Research shows that a child’s reading level and their auditory comprehension level don’t match until eight grade, so I still read books out-loud to my kids before bed. Even at fourteen, twelve, and almost-nine, they still run in the room to listen.

How do I find books? I research book lists and reviews on Goodreads to discover what other young readers like. I peruse the middle grade and young adult new arrivals at our local library. But most importantly, I take home stacks of different books from the library just for them to try out. The rule is that they have to read the first chapter. If they aren’t interested in the novel after that, they can pick a different one.

For those of you who want to benefit from my years of trial and error when it comes to getting boys to read, here is a list of my boys’ all-time favorites:

Kindergarten through Second Grade

author Mo Willems

author Julie Danneberg

The Buddy Files series by Dori Hillestad Butler

Bad Kitty series by Nick Bruel

Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole

Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne

A to Z Mysteries series by Ron Roy

Frankin series by Paulette Bourgeois

Berenstein Bears series by Stan Berenstain

Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park

Munford series by Jamie Aramini

Middle Grade

Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

Big Nate series by Lincoln Pierce

39 Clues series

Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger

Timmy Failure series by Stephan Pastis

Genius Files by Dan Gutman

Timebenders by Jim Denney

Sherlock, Lupin and Me series by Irene Adler

Jedi Academy series by Jeffery Brown

Young Adult

Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz

Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld

Chains and Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

 

 

 

 

The Wormery

“Okay boys, time for your final project for Zoology.”

“Awesome, what are we doing?”

I clapped my hands together in excitement. “We’re making a worm farm!”

Silence.

More silence.

Youngest looked at me with horror in his eyes. “I’m outta here.”

“Me too!” Middle Son took off after Youngest.

I’m not sure where I went wrong. Don’t boys love dirt and creepy crawly things?

You’re thinking I felt sorry for them and gave up, right?

 

Wormery Instructions

First, we drilled holes in the bottom of an 18 gallon plastic tub.

wormery1

Youngest boarded the wormery train when I told him he could use the drill.

Next, we put a couple of miniature terracotta pots in the bottom of another 18 gallon plastic tub to act as risers. Then we put a thin layer of dirt in the tub and added the worms.

wormery3

We placed the drilled tub inside of the bottom tub and added a thin layer of vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and used tea bags.

wormery4

wormery5

We will add more food and newspaper weekly.

Finally, we added a layer of shredded newspaper on top of the food scraps and locked the lid on the top tub.

wormery6

wormery7

Now we wait for the worms to travel between the two tubs, via the holes, and turn it all into glorious castings to use in the garden. As the top tub fills, we can add another tub on top. We can also add another tub on the bottom to catch water run-off to use as fertilizer.

The possibilities are endless!

Maybe I’m a little too excited about the worm farm. Maybe I’ve been around boys too long …

 

 

Searching for a Rock in a Hay Field

Have you ever been so lost that the sweet lady inside your GPS goes eerily silent? And no matter how far you zoom out on the display, there are only unmarked roads?

While camping over Easter weekend at Fort Griffin, Hubs decided that we needed to take the off-road tour.

With only a quarter-tank of gas.

We spent hours on dirt roads in search of a stone marking Daws Crossing near the historical Camp Cooper. A remote area, once home to the Penateka Comanche village, on the banks of the Clear fork of the Brazos River, where Robert E. Lee and Chief Catumseh signed a peace treaty.

Resigned that the map was written by a crazy person, I was surprised to see the granite marker standing among the weeds and cacti as we took yet another turn in the winding road. The silent messenger stood guard over a now-abandoned piece of earth, once traveled by U.S. soldiers, Comanche Indians, and cattle traversing the Western Cattle Trail.

Using the rivers as guides, the men and women of history took much different paths than we use today in our air-conditioned vehicles. Their worn trails now lay mostly unnoticed except to the lone coyote or passing hawk.

Or the giant blue conversion van, covered in red dirt, with five loud Texans hanging out of the windows yelling, “We found it!”

dawscrossing2

dawscrossing

Second-Hand Stage Fright

“I can’t look.” Hubs squeezes his eyes shut and hunkers down in his seat.

I peer over the first row of seats and stare at Oldest as he prepares his trumpet and music stand at the front of small performance room. Behind us, fifteen rows of chairs are occupied by parents and students.

My hands start to shake. I feel lightheaded. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten Mexican before the recital.

I’ve never had stage fright as bad as I have it right now … and I’m not even the one performing. This was never mentioned in any of those parenting books. The ones you read religiously before the first kid is born? Nope, not even one warned me that second-hand stage fright registers on the cardiac arrest scale.

The piano accompaniment starts playing and I freeze. My eyes start watering but I seem to have forgotten how to blink …. or breathe. Oldest begins playing his solo trumpet piece and I wonder if the people around me can hear my heart pounding.

Halfway through the piece I regain some of the feeling in my toes and fingers. Oldest is doing great. My painfully shy little boy seems to have morphed into a confident young man. A year ago, he wouldn’t have agreed to perform a solo in a recital even if I promised to pay him $1,000.

I forget to start clapping when he finishes, I’m too busy gulping down air like a drowning woman. When the oxygen reaches my brain, I join everyone in the room, amazed that my baby just took his first steps into adulthood.

He spent months preparing a level one piece of music of his own choosing. He worked like a dog without being reminded to practice.  He nursed swollen lips without complaint and just performed in front of a room full of strangers.

I’m not even frustrated that he forgot to take the trash out before we left home.

second hand stage fright

Purgatory

“This is gonna hurt me more than you.”

Did your parents ever say that to you when you were little?

I don’t know about you, but I never believed them.

With three tech-savy boys running amok on our farm, we’ve been living with daily windows of electronics-freedom for the past two school years.  But even the time limits aren’t always enough. I don’t know about other kids, but mine aren’t going to go pick up a book to read instead of playing a video game if given the choice.

Shocking right?

So a couple of months ago, Hubs and I instituted Tuesday-blackouts.  Hubs actually blocks all the devices (except for the school laptop) from the home network and the Internet.

You are probably picturing our Tuesdays as quiet, peaceful evenings spent by the fire with books in hands.

You would be wrong.

Oh, so wrong.

My 14, 12, and 8-year-olds regress into toddlers every Tuesday. There is a lot of whining. A lot of inventive trickery. A ton of bugging me Every. Single. Second. of the day.  I can’t get anything done.

I have to keep them busy just to keep my limited sanity intact.

I plan their entire day even after their normal studies are done. Art lessons, music composer studies, science experiments, and when desperation threatens to overtake me, I have been known to pull out the dreaded ancient history documentaries.

I can only hope that all my time in purgatory will lead to productive, creative young men who go to college, move out, and get real jobs as adults.

Hubs loves Tuesdays and wants to add another weekday blackout. The responsible part of me cheers this idea, but the rest of me just wonders what I did to deserve it.

emergency exit

 

Make Ahead to Make Life Easier

There is only one thing that makes country life difficult.

No pizza delivery.

Gasp

I know. It’s like we live on the moon.

No pizza delivery means making dinner every night, or running back into town to pick something up … which will be Oldest’s job as soon as he gets his driver’s license.

But for now the job falls to me, and I don’t like to stress the SUV since she’s at almost 300,000 miles, so I cook.

Two weeks ago, I ran across a great make-ahead tip and I wanted to hug the blogger. She almost didn’t post the recipe since it was so simple, something she does without thinking. Something that rocked my world.

Shredded chicken in the Crockpot.

The chicken really does shred with the paddle attachment on your mixer. I was skeptical, but it worked. I put 2 cups of shredded chicken (that’s what most of my recipes call for) in each freezer sandwich bag, then store all the individual bags in one gallon-sized freezer bag. Obviously, in pure cheapskate country style, I wash and refill the freezer bags with more cooked chicken once they are empty.

shred chicken

Oh no, only three left!

I will never again neglect to store plastic bags of pre-cooked, pre-shredded chicken in my freezer. Just imagine pot pies, pesto sandwiches, casseroles, quesadillas, and soup at your frazzled fingertips!

It has changed my existence. You may think that’s sad, but I waved goodbye to pride with the birth of my third child. Life’s all yoga pants and shredded chicken for me, folks.

A Letter to my Homeschooled Child

No, I don’t know when you’ll use quadratic equations in real life, but I know you’ll use them in college.

Yes, I had to look up what a dangling participle was before I taught you how to identify one yesterday.

No, I don’t think you’ll become an artist. That’s pretty obvious by looking at your watercolor painting. But all those art lessons will help you understand how difficult it is to create beauty and maybe, just maybe, you’ll appreciate the talents of others.

Yes, I think you should know where the country of Azerbaijan is, what if you need to go there someday?

No, I don’t believe that you will perform with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but when you play, no matter how rough it is, it is still the most beautiful sound in the world.

Yes, you have to learn cursive. Because I said so.

No, I don’t think you will major in music history, but Mozart wrote over 600 pieces of amazing music in half a lifetime. What will you do before you’re forty?

Yes, you have to learn world history. How else will you choose differently than those who failed before you?

No, I don’t know if you’ll become an astronomer, but learning about the universe will help you understand how incredibly small and undeniably important you are.

Yes, you have to correct your mistakes. Learning from mistakes is the most important lesson you will ever learn.

No, texting does not count toward your writing grade. Give me five pages, single-spaced, discussing the works of C.S. Lewis just for asking that question.

Yes, I would do it again. Every gray hair. Each laugh. Every tear.

No, I didn’t imagine my life filled with papers to grade, lessons to plan, or animals prepped for dissection in my refrigerator.

Yes, my beautiful, curious, innovative child, you are worth it.

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I am not that boring!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Country Style

Ever wondered what makes country people so hardy?

My current theory is that the high levels of calcium in well water can harden a person’s character as well as their bones.

Country folk don’t need fancy-pants bureaucrats from the E(cough)P(choke)A(gag) tellin’ us that we need to conserve and reuse. That’s just how we roll.

Free a mighty pecan tree from the grips of wild grape vines? Reuse the grape vines to smoke BBQ.

recycled grapevine smoke

Or, better yet, trellis that baby for easy harvesting when the Mustang grapes ripen.

recycled grapevine

Need to clear a patch of land with ten trees blocking your path? Reuse the wood as firewood, then turn cold fireplace ash into garden fertilizer.

recycled ashes

My boys used to believe heat came from the thermostat. Now trained as proper country boys, they go get firewood when they’re cold.

Or save the straight tree trunks and build yourself a barn.

recycled trees

Future barn site.

Need a container to hold all the basketballs and bats rolling around in the garage? Recycle the blue plastic protein tub that your cows just emptied (be sure bleach it first…cows drool ya know).

recycled tubs

You will not find any crystal in our cupboards, instead you will find mason jars. They are cheap, hard to break, and can be used to store things if needed. Apparently, this is what has always been done out here as evidenced by a glass jar a recent visitor found in our woods. A 1947 vacuum-packed coffee jar to be exact. Probably dropped by an old rancher reusing the jar as a drinking glass while working the land. Still in great condition, we could turn around and use it again.

recycled glass

We find them all the time when we clear land. These were probably left lying around in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s.

We try to lessen our footprint, not to make some kind of statement, but because we find satisfaction in being creatively resilient. Country folk are usually cheap sons of guns too, ahem, not us of course, but others.

Farm Fun at 4 A.M.

Every country boy from here to Montana knows that if anything bad happens on their land, it’s gonna happen in the middle of the night.

Heifer having trouble birthing her first calf?

1 am.

Coyotes break through the fence to the chicken pen?

2 am.

Feral pigs dig up your garden?

3 am.

Burn pile relights in sudden 30 mph wind gusts?

4 am.

The last one I know from experience.

In our vast experience of burning brush piles,(five is vast right?) we know the perfect weather will only hold until it’s time to go to sleep. Then all bets are off.

Recently, after a perfect burning day, we packed up our truck bed with the camping chairs and the remains of a devastated marshmallow bag, around 8 pm, and headed for the house. We checked the smoldering pile every hour until midnight, when a quick double check of the forecast revealed the dreaded announcement.

Freezing temperatures and a wind warning.

The freezing temperatures meant we had to drain the water lines that run down the back pasture. The very same water that would put out a fire.  A fire kicked up by wind gusts.

A great day turned into a very long night.

I drove out and checked the fire every hour and all was fine until 4 am. I could see the flames kicking up from the pile when I reached the first gate to the pasture. Not good. I checked that it was still okay, then drove back up to the house to wake Hubs.

A very groggy Hubs pulled on his jeans and canvas coat before starting the long process of getting the water turned back on to the pasture. After finally getting the hoses hooked up, Hubs bravely sprayed the fire for about thirty minutes, having to take short breaks to thaw the sprayer head which kept freezing.

Me? I looked on very supportively from the heated truck cab. I really would have stood out there with him, but he sweetly told me to wait in the truck. I think my chattering teeth were distracting him.

After disconnecting the hoses and draining the lines, again, we bolted back up to the house.

I did learn something new from the experience.  It turns out to be nearly impossible to go to sleep, even if exhausted, after rushing around in a pitch black pasture during freezing temperatures at 4 am. Who knew?

Oh well, at least we got to eat s’mores.

burn pile 1

burn pile 2

I Am For The Child

Ususally when I go to court, I have knots in my stomach, dreading what crazy twist my current case will present while I wait for hours on an extremely hard bench. But yesterday?

I had the best seat in the world.

I am a CASA.  Never heard of it? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. Fancy words for a simple idea: I am for the child.

I represent a child involved in a CPS case. I give them a voice in front of a judge. No one pays me, no one sways me.

And I frequently swim against the stream. Not because the small army of people involved in a CPS case work against the child, but because everyone else has a  job to do, adults to serve. I only think about one person- the child.

Yesterday I sat in a courtroom for a little girl who has been involved with CPS for 20 months, her whole life. Yesterday she was given a second chance, a new life. She was adopted by her amazing foster family.

Yesterday, the bang of the gavel on the block was like a door being closed. A promise being fulfilled.

Love wins.

casa

 

 

 

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