Tuesday, November 4, 2014

_The Hancock News_ Column-- October 22, 2014

As a homeschooling mom, I try to make almost every part of our lives an educational experience. A simple walk on our driveway easily  morphs into a study of the features of various weeds or clouds or geology if I let myself get carried away. 

I’m sure my children don’t always appreciate it, but that didn’t stop me from attempting to engineer our recent trip to Myrtle Beach around learning opportunities. Between poring over maps, analyzing advertisements, and discovering seashells, waves, tides and new plants, I’m surprised my children had a chance to relax and enjoy vacation.

Despite all of my pointing out this and drawing attention to that, the wisest words came from the mouth of my nine-year-old son.

The last day on the beach saw my determined youngsters (and their supportive parents) set out to build a huge sandcastle. With pails and shovels in hand, a suitable spot was selected. Then the digging and dumping of sand commenced. My daughters collected piles of seashells which were to be used as armor for the castle walls or just pretty decorations, depending on who you asked. 

Eventually there were architectural disagreements, and one son broke out on his own to establish his own less decorative and more functional sand structure. Before the castle was even close to being finished, most of the children took greater interest in the gentle waves. The whole thing was forgotten at lunchtime, with piles of shells lying about and the castle not much more than a giant packed down pile of sand surrounded by a moat a toddler could disappear in. 

We didn’t get back to the beach until after supper for a last walk to gather seashells. My oldest daughter was especially anxious to get back to the sandcastle. As we crested the dunes, it was plain to me and my husband that the tide was rolling in, and it was almost high tide.

What was left of our castle was quickly disappearing, and over our dramatic daughter’s screams of sorrow, I urged my husband to take a picture with his phone, and quickly! I reasoned that having a picture of the castle would calm down dear daughter who was now scrambling about to rescue all the shells she had abandoned earlier in the day.

Our last view of the sandcastle

No such luck. Her broken heart would not heal so quickly, and every sandcastle we passed on our last evening stroll seemed a fresh opportunity for her to express her despair loudly.

My son, however, uncharacteristically took it all in stride and observed, “I guess that’s just the life of a sandcastle.”

Indeed. All too often I build up my mental sandcastles, only to have them toppled by the unrelenting waves of reality, and no amount of crying on my part can make any difference. I suppose it’s okay for me to dream big, so long as my feet stay firmly grounded in the real world.
Our family loved combing the beach on our vacation. I have no idea how many clam shells we picked up, each more wonderful than the last. It was truly delightful to watch as the children formed memories of sand, shells, and surf. My two-year-old is still finding “seashells” in our yard, bringing inside pockets full of acorns.

One memory we did not make this time at the beach was a seafood feast.  While we love seafood, the price of those buffets was just too high to take out our whole family. And that’s okay because from time to time, we splurge here at home with this clam chowder. There’s nothing like enjoying a warm, crusty loaf of bread with this tasty soup.

Clam Chowder

4 (6.5-ounce) cans minced clams
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
2 cups chicken broth
6 slices bacon, minced (or more--if you’re like me)
1 onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4-6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper, to taste

Drain the clams, reserving the juice. Combine the drained juice, bottled clam juice and chicken broth. Add water to make a total of 5 cups of liquid.

 Cook the bacon in a large pot until beginning to crisp. Stir in the onion and cook until onion is soft and bacon is crisp.

Stir in the garlic and cook a few seconds, just until you can smell it. Add the flour and stir to coat the vegetables. Gradually stir or whisk in the broth mixture. Add the potatoes, bay leaves and thyme. Simmer until potatoes are tender.

4. Stir in the clams and cream. Return to a simmer, then remove from heat. Remove the bay leaves and add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

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