Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gator Bites and Frog Legs

After our adventure in the Everglades, we were famished. I was trying to be frugal and wait till we get home - after all, we were only about 40 minutes away, I reasoned - but Husband and kids won out. Even Explorer was shouting from her car seat and smacking her lips. I surrender. We stopped at a joint with a multitude of ATVs in camo parked in front of it. We knew were still in gator country, as matter of fact, the eatery was called Gator Grill. Husband, who's recently been caught watching Duck Dynasty episodes more than once, had a mischievous grin on his face. "Wanna get some gator bites and frog legs?" he asked, drawing out the vowels in the latter word. Matching his grin, I replied with a smile of my own, "Sure!" He looked a bit taken aback, but then again, he didn't know that I had been wanting to try frog legs since I had read that it was a French delicacy. After all, I had tried snails in Disney's Epcot France. Frogs should be easier.

He went in with Builder and Ballerina, both excited at the prospect of eating, but not so sure about the frog legs. After what seemed to be half an hour, but perhaps closer to 15 minutes, they stepped out with the bounty. Husband looked pleased, and whispered in a conspiratorial way, "Do you see how many people are here? It must be a good place." I had to agree. We were in the proverbial middle of nowhere and the place was packed. He opened the box and showed me the frog legs, which looked like this:

It has some kind of light creamy sauce on it and a side of what looked like saffron-colored rice. The legs looked nice and well cooked. An A for presentation. Now onto the gator bites. We had had gator bites before, I have had it twice. They normally come deep fried and are quite tough, though pretty good tasting. These gator bites were different, and the kids were so hungry they didn't mind trying the gator bites. Builder was apprehensive of trying the frog legs, though. Here's what these gator bites looked like:

They were grilled, in a creamy salmon-colored sauce, served with fries. Builder had given up fries for Lent, and as he was hungry, he quickly dove in and tried the bites. He said they were all right, but a bit spicy. He kept eating, though. Ballerina had a few but thought they were too spicy. She went the safe route with the ketchup and fries.

As for us grownups? We also had some gator bites, but left those largely to Builder. They were surprisingly tender, and indeed, the sauce had a kick to it. Those were the best gator bites I have ever had. Husband agreed.

Now onto the frog legs - are they as succulent as Jase from Duck Dynasty claims they are? Hmm.. I have to admit, they fall off the bone and the meat melts in your mouth. As for taste, both Husband and I were surprised at how tasty they are. Phil, the patriarch and my favorite from the duck show, calls them a delicacy. I have a feeling we have arrived very late at the party. There are hundreds of thousands who already know this "secret".

Even the kids had to admit the frog legs were tasty. They ceased to touch it after thinking about what they were eating. It's so much easier to let go of the hen and cow image as our food doesn't look like the living animals anymore, but these legs are a clear reminder.

I also found googled nutrition and frog legs are apparently low in fat and provides a decent amount of protein.

I asked Husband if he would have given frog legs a try had he not watched Duck Dynasty. Nope, he replied. Just another way this show is breaking ground.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

St. Patrick's Day Everglades National Park Hike

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I have no shred of Irish in me, but my husband and kids do. Every year I prepare Corned Beef and Cabbage in the pressure cooker splashed with a healthy dose of Guinness (Extra) Stout. Not beer-drinkers, we buy and save the stuff just for this yearly occasion.

This year we decided to do something different. We headed out for two trails at the Everglades National Park. Even though the entrance to the park is only about 45 minutes away from our home, the kids and I have never set foot in this place. Intimidated by stories of a teenaged Daddy stepping into the brackish waters to consort with alligators and oh yeah, also test for substances, I had decided it was best to avoid the area until we didn't have any more young ones who looked like bait.

However, we need practice. We're planning a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, in the late Spring, which involves plenty of hiking opportunities. We've only hiked some small trails in Pennekamp State Park and other local areas in our neck of the woods. We needed practice, but there was nothing much around here. At least I didn't think so until Husband piped in with, "We can go to the Everglades." The land of gators? With a two-year-old in tow? I really don't want to go back to a four-person family, honey.

He reassured us and regaled us with the promise of practice trails, varied wildlife, no mosquitoes, and cooler weather than usual. Certainly, winter was the time to explore this treasured national park.

As soon as we drove into the park, we were sure we had made the right decision. All of us clad in Irish green, the five of us must have appeared like a five-leaf clover. The visitor center was pleasant, and did a good job of evoking the spirit of the park and its natural resources. The children enjoyed the exhibits, especially the video showing an alligator chomping on a raccoon.

The friendly volunteer at the desk handed me a map and told me that the Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo trails were just the right thing for kids. I felt much better. If he knew that kids had had fun on that trail, they must have been alive, and intact. This is sounding better and better.

He was right. The Anhinga trail was loaded with wildlife - anhingas perched on top of low-lying branches, turtles basking on rocks, cormorants flying about, black vultures eyeing us suspiciously, and the alligators, oh my.

They were everywhere. Sun-bathing on the side of the river of grass, on rocks, a multitude of them on a muddy bank further down the trail. Besides the perpetually motionless dark gray mass that passed as an alligator at the zoo, I had never seen so many active, open-mouthed, free alligators roaming about. If I had not heeded the park's rules, I could have touched one's tail. I was inches from its tail.

I took close-up pictures. I'm not sure I wanted to get another opportunity. I was fine for myself, but seeing Ballerina and Explorer so close to alligators made me nervous; they are oblivious to their power. Builder had a sense of propriety around them, knowing full well the dangers of their jaws. Husband looked confident he could overpower one if he needed to, because, gosh, he had seen the Seminoles and the Crocodile Hunter do it.

Explorer, only two years on this earth and certain she knows it all, lost her temper a few times trying to go play with them. What ever could she see in these rubbery, bumpy, giant lizard-like grey masses? People smiled knowingly as they were passing her crumpled little figure lying on the sun-drenched boardwalk.

Later on the same trail I saw anhingas mating, mother herons feeding their gangly-looking offspring, and pretty blue herons posing, then flying away as if to say, "enough gawking already".

The Gumbo Limbo trail was an entirely different experience - secluded, quiet, abundant in plant life but only a few catbirds to be seen. It was nice to be in the shade, and my oldest and youngest were starting to get tired. I liked the jungle feel.

Each trail didn't go for more than a mile, but our young adventurers kept going back and forth, stopping at innumerable places. These were, no doubt, the longest two miles of my life. If it weren't for my middle nature girl, Ballerina, we would have missed the curious catbird and the stately green dragonfly on the leaf.

We would have to go back and go on the Mahogany Trail. The rich diversity of wildlife here in the Everglades is something to behold, and something to protect.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Nature Video Gone Wild

A dear friend shared this on Facebook. I have seen many nature shows in my life (Richard Attenborough, anyone?), but this one takes the cake. Not too shabby for a fuzzy homemade clip. It feels as if you're right there with the firsthand viewers.

Not only is it exciting, but it has moments of sadness, amazement, peril, and triumph. I have no idea if what the site claims is true - that this is a cellphone webcam video or if it was sold for a million dollars to National Geographic. Even if this is not so, in my mind, this video is worth quite more than a thousand words.

What do you think?

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Finding the Center

After a sabbatical, people tend to gain a deeper understanding of self, to realize their dreams again, and are certain in the path to follow or forge ahead through an unproven path of their own. I consider my unintentional sabbatical from blogging a combination of both. The perceptive among us have noticed that I changed the name of the blog from "Charlotte Mason Inspired Homeschool" to "Charlotte Mason Inspired Life". As I gain experience in homeschooling - next year I'll be entering my sixth year teaching at home - I find the boundaries between homeschooling and living life to be increasingly blurred.

What is learning, really, and what is it that children are supposed to know? Writing and reading? Absolutely. Science and math? Undoubtedly. Without negating the necessity of a curriculum grounded in words, numbers, content, and critical thinking - on the contrary, I'm venturing to think on what Charlotte Mason so simply and eloquently said, "learning from books and things". Not just books, not just things. A combination of both. Together. 

The raging debate in educational circles has been for years: phonics or sight reading? Why not both? The child benefits from both phonics as well as sight reading, and can make those mental leaps she needs to read better, faster. My oldest didn't need sight words. He automatically started getting the whole picture. He is, after all, a big picture kind of guy. My daughter hangs out in the details, and although she's getting the phonics aspect of reading, she's struggling with the sight words. She sees one part and makes the whole word that part. She needs help synthesizing the whole, putting it all together. I predict she will care more about spelling than my son does.  Since he sees the whole picture, he doesn't care about the details - the letters configured just so. 

Nature Study or Hard Sciences? You guessed it, it's both. It's not an if/or proposition. What I gather from Charlotte Mason's books is that an adequate amount of time in the schools of her day was spent dedicated to what we call nowadays the "hard sciences". People mistakenly believe that because she didn't write much on math and sciences, she didn't care about them. Nothing could be further from the truth. She felt that the math and sciences portions were given adequate attention already, the discipline and experiment-side being developed nicely. Ms. Mason wrote the books to fill a gap, fill a need for nature exploration and not only learning from books. Again, books and things. Children needed to explore, get hands-on, firsthand experience outdoors. How can children even care about this abstract, mysterious nature if they are cooped up in a classroom all day? I applaud school gardening efforts, and I want to see even more nature exploration in our public and private schools.

Back to myself, I have learned through hard-won life experience that everything exists in balance. Like a level, finding the center is where we belong. In the center is God, and our true selves. 

Extricating myself from clutter and screen distractions, I find myself yearning for the center, yearning for God. A hundred years ago, Charlotte Mason understood this yearning and shared her ideas about educating children about God, Man, and the Universe. Although we say humankind now, as we should, the basic premise is the same: we need all three. The knowledge of God through the Bible, prayers, and the building of a relationship with Him, in order to perceive Him and let Him guide you. The knowledge of Humankind through history, literature (the Great Conversation), the arts, the experiences, artistic expressions, and thoughts of others before us and with us today. The knowledge of the Universe - the realm of nature study, the sciences, the accumulated body of knowledge of nature, our earth, the planets, the universe. 

The tools we use to access and deal with these stores of knowledge are solid reading, math, and writing skills.

The center in educating our children is not neglecting any of these important aspects of knowledge, but embracing and cultivating all, in balance.