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Just Call Me Ian McEwan....Or, Not

Don't forget to enter my blog anniversary giveaway to win a $25 Starbucks gift card here (ends 8/1)!!

I've been trying to write this post for a while now. But for some reason, every time I sit down to write it, I get all nervous but giddy, like I'm back in the ninth grade trying to talk to the cute boy in my science class.

Hopefully, what I'm working on now will last a little longer than that crush. But if it doesn't, I'll be happy I did it.

My name's Natalie, and I'm writing a novel.

So, there it is. I don't know why I'm so embarrassed about it.

I lie--I do know why. I'm scared that what I'm writing is complete and utter junk. I am really, really hard on other people's writing (thanks, English grad school), and I know that what I'm writing is nowhere near as awesome as my favorite authors. I am a literary critic and professor by training, not a writer. However, I would like to point out that I was the second place winner of the 2003 Post and Courier "Wild Tales for Cool Kids" writing contest. I'm guaranteed to write a bestseller with those credentials.

Plus, I have this idea that established authors are (generally) awesome, but beginning writers are kind of dorky. How many people do we all know who are writing a novel, and you think, "You're writing a novel? I didn't even know you could address an envelope!" (Though, this may just be me being overly critical....)

Granted, I'm not completely done with the actual writing, and I haven't even begun to think about the editing, but that doesn't stop me from blanching at the idea of sending the manuscript out to agents and all of them laughing in my face. I've always been better at dishing out the criticism.

I don't know if I'll actually get this published, but it's something I've wanted to do for a while. I'll feel fulfilled just getting it done.

Anyway, I hope that you'll all send good thoughts and happy inspiration my way. And if, by chance, you'd like to help me whip my novel into shape when I'm finished writing, let me know! You can also keep up with my writing progress by checking out the "That Which Remains" section in my right sidebar.

Homeschool Teacher Q&A

By profession, I'm a teacher. I worked for the three years as an English professor at the college level before turning to a unique homeschool program locally.

A little background on the school/ program:
Instead of my students going to school, school comes to them. The three main students have two core teachers--myself for literature, writing, spelling, grammar and vocabulary, and their math/ science teacher. They also have part-time teachers who work in the late afternoons and weekends for languages (Latin, Hebrew, French and Chinese), history and handwriting. 
I also have another student for a half-hour each day, who learns about the history and culture of various world countries; he's being integrated into the school since he's only in kindergarten. He also takes handwriting, phonics/ reading, math and science throughout the day. 
This will be my second year with the program, and I have come to learn so much about homeschooling and teaching in general. The way that I approached learning/ teaching in college versus how I now must approach learning and teaching with elementary and middle school aged students has taught me SO much about myself and my learning style.

I have read blogs of many of you who homeschool or work with your children one-on-one after school. Homeschooling can sometimes be a lonely venture since you have few (if any) other teachers to reach out to for advice. I thought it might be helpful to post some Q & A's that I often get as the teacher of homeschooled children (i.e. "So, are they really weird?"), as well as a resources list for English/ Language Arts.
I thought this was funny. Of course, not all of these apply since A) I'm not the parent, B) we stay on a super strict schedule--no sleeping in or wearing PJs to class, and C) the motivation behind homeschooling wasn't a religious or social one, but rather done in the interest of the students learning more within the same amount of time.
Please visit the {Homeschooling} tab above. I'll add more information as the school year advances. I also have many, many other resources than the ones list on this page, so feel free to email me (cosmosmariners@gmail.com) if you have any questions.

Tomato Basil Bacon Tart, or, the Natalie Version of Tart Making

Tarts to me have an air of sophistication about them...perhaps because the only times I eat them are at  luncheons or bridal showers.

I don't know why I'm not more inclined to try baking tarts on a day-to-day basis. It could be because they seem like a lot of work. Or, because they're a little intimidating--I mean, you have to make a crust and pre-bake it and all that jazz. I'm also a nervous baker because baking's not like stove-top cooking: I can't just throw a dash of this and a dash of that into the baked dish because that equals major cooking fail most of the time.

Today, I felt brave, so I decided to tackle a recipe I'd found on Pinterest several weeks ago. It's been there, lurking on my recipes page, waiting for me to take up the challenge. Landon was at work, Phoebe Dog was being lazy on the couch and I had some time to kill.

Source: Annie's Eats blog
The original recipe for Tomato Basil Tart was from Annie's Eats blog. It looks all sorts of delicious, but that darned crust seemed super intimidating. I also didn't have a food processor, which the original recipe called for--I, with nothing else to do on a Saturday morning, decided to make do as best as I could with what I had...which turned out to be a spoon, a mixing bowl and some good, old-fashioned elbow grease.

The Annie's Eats version called for fresh basil, which I didn't have, so I substituted dried. I also minced the garlic using my handy dandy handheld garlic mincer thingy and mixed the two together. The Annie's Eats version was very big on having tiny pieces of both (thus, why she called for the food processor), and the dried/ minced versions of mine were looking pretty good.

I followed the rest of the directions for the crust pretty well (I did cheat and melt the butter in the microwave before adding it to the flour/spices mix, though--you have to do what you have to do when you've not got a food processor!!). The end result looked pretty good and dough-like:
I was supposed to wrap it up and put the dough in the refrigerator for an hour to chill, but I have better things to do than wait around for dough to do its thing, so I smushed it out on a plate and put it in the freezer for ten minutes while I cleaned up. Bam! Worked like a charm!

I put some Pam into my tart pan (which was, in actuality, half of a set of Oreo cookie cake pans!) and then covered the bottom and part of the sides with my dough. So far, so good.
My tart had an identity crisis as the pan is clearly labeled "cookie."
Then, I was supposed to put wax paper and baking beads (!?!?) on top of the dough. Uh, oops. Instead, I used put a glass pot lid on the top of the baking dish and into the oven it went.
It's a special kind of baking: Natalie baking. 
While the dough was pre-baking, I set about to get my tart filling ingredients together. Instead of just tomatoes as the original called for, I decided to jazz up my tart with a few other things I had lying around. Plus, Landon doesn't like tomatoes that much, so I thought offsetting the tomato flavor with something else would be just the ticket.

Enter: red onions (finely chopped) and bacon (cooked and crumbled).
Just after coming out of the microwave. I used my new microwave baking hanger thingy, which I got from my mother-in-law. It looks funny, but it works GREAT!! Thanks, Nann!

Bacon Chopped-tastic.
All of the ingredients waiting patiently for the tart crust to hurry up and get out of the oven already.
The dough ended up coming out of the oven perfectly, and I don't see the need for baking beads and wax paper. My weirdo cooking style sometimes pays off!

I layered the ingredients into the warm tart crust: mozzerella, bacon, onion and tomato. I followed that with a dose of olive oil, salt, pepper, and more dried basil.
The mozz is locked and loaded.
Time for a quick dip in the oven!
I followed the directions from here on out to a T: I rotated the pan halfway through and dabbed off any extra moisture at the halfway point.

Time to eat. Yum!
The end result: a gorgeous, tasty tart. I'm glad I tweaked the recipe a little, even though the final product was a mixture of the Annie's Eats version and the Onion, Bacon and Spinach tart I tried about two years ago when I first started blogging. Landon's thoughts: two thumbs up!

An owl apron makes cooking better. 

Natalie's Tomato Basil Bacon Tart
Serves 4-6
Dough Ingredients:*
2 TB dried basil
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1 stick butter, cut up into 8-10 pieces and mostly melted (30 sec. on high)
4 TB water

Filling Ingredients:
2 beefy tomatoes, sliced (or a dozen cherry tomatoes, sliced)
8 oz. fresh mozzarella (very important! Don't use grated!)
6-8 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 red onion, chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1-2 TB olive oil
1-2 tsp. dried basil (1-2 TB fresh basil, minced)
Parmesan cheese, to taste

*If you were feeling really apprehensive about making the dough (or just didn't have the time to deal with all of that) you could buy Pillsbury pie crust dough, roll it out in the pan and then press in the same amount of dried basil and garlic before pre-baking. It won't be as tasty as the original, but it would make do in a pinch.

Mix together basil and garlic in a bowl. Slowly add in flour, stirring until garlic/ basil mix is incorporated fully. Pour melted butter into bowl and mix. Add in water. (You can add in one more TB if dough is not forming). Dough should come together after a little bit of stirring. Put dough on a plate and put into freezer for 10 minutes. After that time, spray tart pan and put dough in, making sure that you spread dough onto sides of tart pan as well.

Bake covered for 10 minutes at 425 F. Remove covering and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Take crust out and reduce heat to 375 F.

Layer mozzarella, bacon, onion and tomato. Garnish with Parmesan cheese, basil and olive oil.

Bake for 30 minutes at 375, turning pan and blotting off extra liquid halfway through. Crust should be slightly brown and cheese should be bubbly. Let tart rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Thoughts and Prayers

I'm usually a pretty upbeat person, and my blog posts generally reflect this fact.

Today, though, I wanted to share a few things that have been weighing on my mind the last week or so.  And I wanted to ask each and everyone of my blog readers to send prayers, good thoughts, good karma, etc. to the two families below.

This past week, Landon received the horrifying news that one of his friends from high school, Jessie, had fallen into a diabetic coma and choked to death. She was 26. She'd been sick in the days leading up to her death, but no one, including Jessie, apparently knew (or even suspected) she had diabetes. Landon was much closer to Jessie, since they grew up together, but I remember her being an incredibly sweet, kind person. Landon has been in shock the last few days--he just can't wrap his head around the fact that Jessie died so suddenly, and I think that's a sentiment that the entire community is struggling with right now. Her friends and family have lost a wonderful person, and I ask you to keep them in your thoughts in the upcoming days as they lay their daughter and friend to rest.
(taken from her Facebook page)
And in an unrelated (but just as shocking) incident, one of the guys I went to high school with got in a horrible car accident on August 3. Nick Collins went to middle and high school with my sister and I; he graduated from Bishop England the year after me and the year before my sister. BE is a small school and everyone knows everyone. Nick's also in a popular local band here in Charleston called "Fowler's Mustache" with a couple of other BE grads. He's the same age as Jessie--26.
(taken from his fundraising page)
Anyway, he was traveling to Mount Pleasant from Daniel Island in the early morning of August 3 when the car went off the road and he was thrown from the back seat (someone else was driving) onto the highway. As passers-by were trying to help him and the people left in the car, Nick was run over by an 18-wheeler...who kept on going without stopping to help.

Nick's still in serious, serious condition at MUSC--he's had to have several surgeries, part of one of his legs has been amputated, and he's still in a medically induced coma. While he's got a long road ahead of him in terms of recuperation and rehabilitation, it is a miracle that he's even alive.

It's been amazing to see the Charleston community rally around him and his family in this difficult time. I ask you to send good thoughts to his family to keep them strong and healing prayers to keep Nick on his road to recovery.
How to help:

  • If you're in the Charleston area, I'd encourage you to donate blood at MUSC in Nick's name or come to the blood drive this Tuesday from 1-7 at the Mount Pleasant Holiday Inn (sign up at redcrossblood.org and use sponsor code NickCollins). 
  • You can also donate money to help his family cover his medical and rehab costs at his gofundme site
  • There are also keep up with the other fundraising efforts at nacwins.com

If nothing else, I hope you hug your friends and family a little longer tonight, and remember why you're thankful for them! 

Edisto Island, Part 2

As promised, here are the rest of the Edisto Island pictures (to see part one, click here). I've been feeling under the weather the last two days, so they didn't get posted when I wanted them to. 

Edisto is incredibly rural in most parts, so there are gorgeous tree-covered dirt roads like this one all over the place (this one is the road to/ from Botany Bay from Highway 174 (which leads to Edisto Beach).
edisto island

At the intersection of Botany Bay Road and Hwy 174, there's this tree that's always decorated for the nearest holiday. It was still decorated for July 4th, even though we were there two weeks after Independence Day.
decorated tree edisto island

The way we organized the eating was pretty nice. Since there were six people there (me, Landon's parents, Landon, two of his three siblings, and Landon's brother-in-law), Nann (Landon's mom) came up with the idea that each adult or couple would have charge of a day for food. Landon and I took the first day we were there--Tuesday--so that we could go ahead and work hard, then spend the rest of the vacation tasting everyone else's delicious recipes. Landon and I cooked:
hashbrown casserole for breakfast
several cold salads for lunch (Suddenly Pasta Salad classic, quinoa salad and broccoli salad)

We also enjoyed chicken (and for those of the group not allergic--shrimp) kabobs, baked chicken parmesan, sausage and red rice, chocolate chip and pecan waffles, and chicken salad sandwiches. Yum!
Nann prepping for dinner one night.

And a few other pictures from all over the trip:
Doing what I do best: reading (on the tablet)!
edisto island piggly wiggly
Going to the store with Sam, Landon's dad
Cruising down the road in the golf cart: Landon was voted out of the driver's seat by his dad and I after Landon almost flipped the cart. Eek.
Landon with his vacation hat and his vacation beard.
edisto island fishing
After hours and hours of casting into the surf, Landon caught a 5-lb sheepshead. He actually cooked it, and I tried a little bit. It tasted a lot like mahi. 

One reason why I didn't eat more: this image. The sheepshead actually has rows of these nasty teeth to help it crush the crabs it eats. I thought the fish looked like it had a pair of tiny dentures in its mouth.
Kicking Landon's butt in tailgate golf!
Landon and Nann--I hate that it turned out blurry, but I just couldn't get enough light in the room!
edisto island church
One of the gorgeous old churches on the road leaving Edisto.
A fun, fun week! I'm excited about Davis Beach Week 2013!

Edisto Island

In our back-to-back beach vacations, Landon and I left Kiawah (and my family) and headed over to Edisto (and the Davis family!). The Davises go to Edisto pretty regularly, but because of crazy schedules, they hadn't had a family beach week since summer 2009...when Landon and I weren't even married yet!

Our week at Edisto consisted primarily of this:
edisto island

because that's what you do on a beach vacation, right?!?

We stayed at a cute house on Chancellor Street (maybe fifth or sixth row). The walk to and from the beach was really short, and sometimes my awesome brother- and sister-in-law would shuttle me using their golf cart!
chancellor street edisto island
I loved all of the palm trees!
chancellor street edisto island
The Davis home away from home for the week
On the Thursday of Beach Week, I was tired of getting burnt (and in the oddest patterns! I may be the world's WORST sunscreen applier!) and of sitting on the beach reading (I started reading Stephen King's "It," but gave up on the book after I'd plowed through 826 pages and I realized I still had 400 more to go. I like reading A LOT, but seriously, where was his editor on that book!??!). 

I wanted to do something else...which is asking a lot on a little place like Edisto. It's meant to be rustic and out-of-the-way, so my options were limited. I'd heard about a protected nature site just off of Edisto Beach called Botany Bay. I'd just read about the history of the two former plantations that make up the site in my new Edisto Island history book that I purchased (no one took me up on my offer to do a series of history lectures at the beach...I wonder why...), so I was game to see what was there.
All went well for the first portion of the Botany Bay adventure. We saw ruins from the plantation houses, including this gorgeous ice house.
edisto island botany bay
I thought it was a church at first because, really, who's ever seen an ice house that big?
But then my clue that we were into some serious nature appeared in Landon's hand: he'd found a snakeskin just beside the ice house.
EW. EW. EW. I am not a nature kind of gal, ESPECIALLY any nature that has to do with snakes.

Landon assured me the snakeskin was very old and that the previous owner of said skin was likely a mile or more away from us. So we continued on the driving portion of the tour. The trees and marsh on the property were breathtaking:

We saw some birds and old trees--my kind of nature. At the very end of the tour, I told Landon that I wanted to go take pictures out on the beach, which I'd heard was gorgeous. I patted myself on the back for being so brave in all this nature-y stuff and we hiked the half-mile out to the Botany Bay Beach.
botany bay beach edisto island

I was having a great time, snapping pictures of this completely undeveloped and gorgeous beach while Landon checked out the hundreds of shells all over the beach.

There were loggerhead turtle nests all over the beach, and I thought it would be neat to take a picture of one of the cages (I love turtles and think that it's AWESOME that the people of Edisto are doing so much to protect the weensy baby turtles):

when I hear Landon call (very calmly) over my shoulder, "Hey, Natalie, I think maybe you should move."

"What?" I yelled back, confused.

"I just think you should move," he repeated.

And that's when I saw IT (not the Stephen King book this time)---I shutter to even THINK ABOUT THIS--there was a snake on the same tiny patch of reeds that I was currently clambering all over. I almost stepped on a snake, y'all!!!!!

I have never had a panic attack before, but I'm pretty sure that's what then ensued for the next fifteen minutes or so: ugly crying, feelings of nausea, the inability to breathe normally. It was AWFUL. When I say I don't like snakes, I mean it with every fiber of my being. Blech.

Somehow, Landon convinced me (from 25+ feet away) to take the following pictures. My hands were shaking so much that I don't know how they even turned out. (Warning: avert your eyes if you feel the same way about reptiles as I do.)
Yes, that is Landon playing with the snake.

Then, to make matters worse, Landon took the camera and got close ups of this nasty thing so we can remember it forever (please no). I was still sobbing over by the ocean, wondering if sea snakes were coming out of it, too.

I thought beaches were safe from snakes. Is nowhere sacred anymore?!

So, that's the start of our Edisto Vacay 2012 and the story of How I Almost Hyperventilated and Died.

More tomorrow on part two of Edisto Vacay 2012 (and I promise, no more snake stories!).