Four Weeks of Mostly Meatless Dinners (February)

I’m not using the term “pesco-vegetarian” in the title like I have for many of my other multi-week meal plans because I think “meatless” is the more common word people are searching for in Lent.  My family eats no meat at home except occasional fish–which does not count as “meat” in many fasting plans, for some reason–so our menus are ideal for Lenten fasting or any time you want to avoid eating red meat and poultry.  Recently, I have been eating meat in restaurants a bit more often than usual because I’m seven months pregnant and have developed anemia, and the iron from turkey and beef is supposed to be the most absorbable…but in general, I still prefer a low-meat diet.

This menu features two new gadgets we got for Christmas: a slow cooker and a Vidalia Chop Wizard.  We’re finding both of them to be pretty useful.

Here’s what we ate for dinners in February.  Our weekday lunches are leftovers and occasional restaurant meals for the adults and a lunchbox meal (using leftovers where feasible) for third-grader Nicholas.  Weekend lunches tend to be leftovers, too; the ones that weren’t, or that made some notable use of the leftovers, are listed here.  I plan the menu, but my partner Daniel cooks our weeknight dinners so they’re ready when I get home from work, while I cook on the weekends and sometimes prepare ingredients during the week.

Week One:

  • Sunday:
    • Lunch: Pizza and salad left over from the previous night, when we had friends over for dinner.  They brought a “salad bar” (greens, shredded carrot, cherry tomatoes, avocado, and beets in separate containers) and we bought the pizza at Mineo’s.  I made Italian salad dressing–I don’t really have a recipe, but my method goes something like this: In a glass jar, put 2 parts olive oil and 1 part apple cider vinegar; sprinkle in plenty of sea salt, black pepper, dried minced onion, and granulated garlic and smaller amounts of dried red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast flakes, dried basil, dried oregano, and dried parsley; close jar tightly and shake it; taste it and adjust as needed; set jar inside a shallow dish to protect the tablecloth from oily drips.  This dressing can be stored at room temperature for a couple weeks.
    • Dinner: Lemon Creamy Salmon with Tangy Greens.  I used frozen kale for the greens and heated up leftover rice for my carbohydrate and leftover whole-wheat couscous for the guys.  Now we had a second jar of homemade salad dressing, a different flavor; I put them side by side in a small oval dish. Read more…

Humidify Your Home the Cheap and Easy Way!

Our house has forced-air heat: The furnace blows warm air through the ducts and out through vents in most of the rooms.  Our vents are in the baseboards, so they push out the air horizontally at floor level.  This tip also would work with a wall vent that is just above a shelf or table, and would probably work with floor vents or a floor furnace as well.  (If you have ceiling vents or another type of heat, such as radiators, and have a humidifying tip, I’d love to hear it!  Please post a comment.)

The trouble with forced-air heat is that the air coming out of the ducts is very dry.  Most winters this has bothered me a bit, but this year it’s really getting to me!  Maybe I’m more delicate because I’m pregnant.  I have awakened at least once almost every night with my mouth completely dried out, and I often have a slight nosebleed in the morning.  Our whole family had viral bronchitis in January, and the dry air was making our coughing worse.  We needed more moisture!

We tried an electric humidifier.  I could see mist coming out of its spout some of the time, so I knew it was doing something, and it did seem to make the air slightly gentler.  But there were several things about it that bothered me: Read more…

Lemon Creamy Salmon with Tangy Greens

This is a meal my family has enjoyed repeatedly since it was inspired by a chicken recipe more than two years ago.  We rarely eat chicken and never cook it at home, so we’ve always made this with canned wild Alaskan salmon.  I’ve now made enough changes to the original recipe that I feel this qualifies as a different recipe.

You can make this meal for $5 or less if you stock up on canned salmon when it goes on sale, and you choose wisely on the greens and carbohydrate–the recipe is very flexible about those specifics.

There are five components to this meal, which picky people may prefer to eat separately: salmon in sauce, greens, dressing, dried cranberries, and a carbohydrate.  The way I serve this meal for myself is to put the salmon on top of the carb, and the dressing and cranberries on top of the greens.

To make 4 servings, you will need:

  • 15 oz. canned or pre-cooked salmon
  • 1 small or 1/2 large onion
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 4 servings prepared carbohydrate: pasta, rice, baked or mashed potato, toasted hearty bread, etc.
  • 4 cups fresh, or 2 cups shredded frozen, dark green leaves: kale, spinach, Swiss chard, etc.
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (separately from above oil)
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit)

The first step is to consider what kind of carb and what kind of greens you are using.  If the carb is not yet cooked, start cooking it first.  If you’ll be serving toast, wait until last to toast it so it will be warm.  If you want to eat the greens raw, all you have to do is rinse them and tear larger leaves into bite-size pieces.  If the greens are frozen, or they’re fresh but you want to serve them cooked, start cooking them–I often use frozen kale, just put it in a covered pot with a small amount of water, and poke it with a spoon every few minutes until all the chunks are broken up and it is a slightly less bright green.

Drain the salmon and remove unwanted bones.

Dice the onion.  Cook it in 2 Tbsp. oil until it begins to brown.

Stir in broth and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium and stir in yogurt, thyme, and lemon juice.  (If you used leftover cooked salmon that was not salted, instead of canned salmon, you may want to add some salt.)  Stir for about 2 minutes.

Add the salmon.  Break it up into small chunks.  Heat for another few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, make the dressing, either by shaking in a small glass jar or by whisking in a small bowl: Crush the garlic and mix it with 1/3 cup oil and the vinegar and salt.

Serve the salmon, carb, greens, dressing, and cranberries together or separately, as desired.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more recipes!  Visit Fabulously Frugal Thursday and Thrifty Thursday for more affordable ideas!

My kid doesn’t have to wear a coat.

I’m an easily chilled sort of person. I like to feel warm and cozy, and being cold upsets me. In any given weather conditions, I’m usually wearing at least as many garments as the average person, often more.

My son Nicholas seems to feel warm most of the time. He’s often quite calm and comfortable in very cold temperatures. He has a decent sense of modesty and won’t run around undressed in public–he doesn’t even like to go shirtless–but he’ll happily wear a light jacket or no jacket, bare feet or flip-flops, one layer of short-sleeved shirt, in conditions where I think that isn’t nearly enough.

I decided a long time ago not to fight about this. I do advise him when the weather has gotten colder since the last time he was outside, or when the forecast calls for a 20-degree drop during the day. I occasionally insist that he bring along appropriate garments in case he wants them later. But I don’t force him to wear a coat, or zip it up, or keep the hood on.

Nicholas started teaching me about this a few days after he was born. Everything I had read about baby care said that your baby should wear as many layers as you are wearing yourself, plus a hat. He was born in December, so on our first day home from the hospital, I was wearing a flannel shirt over a long-sleeved thermal top over a nursing bra, jeans over cotton leggings, and three pairs of socks. It was a bit confusing to extrapolate the equivalent from his wardrobe, but I swaddled him in a flannel blanket over a long-sleeved knit jumpsuit over a T-shirt and diaper, knitted booties over socks, plus a knitted hat.

His face seemed very pink. He was grouchy.

“I think he’s hot,” said his grandmother.

Read more…

My Favorite Love Song

I’m not very romantic. A lot of the gooey sentiments expressed around Valentine’s Day send me into fits of critical thinking. I’m kind of like this. But I am in love with Daniel, and have been for almost 20 years, and sometimes get kind of sentimental about it.

In particular, I can get all choked up thinking about the years when I truly believed it was unlikely that I would ever find someone I really loved and liked and felt really well matched with, who would feel the same way about me–because I thought I was too weird, too smart, too interested in unpopular things and not good enough at feigning interest in popular things, too unfashionable, too tall, too radical, too shy, too strange in my perception of romantic relationships, too nervous, too obsessed with words so that a long list repeatedly using a word like “too” would start to make that word seem so ridiculous that I’d feel uncertain it really existed. My first many crushes on boys convinced me that anybody I thought was wonderful would consider me somewhere between horribly repulsive and unworthy of notice.

Despite all that, I wistfully enjoyed listening to this song, composed by Linda Ronstadt and Wendy Waldman, performed by Lucy Simon on In Harmony, the 1980 album of wonderful songs for children performed by popular singers of the era. I loved the whole album (except for “The Sailor and the Mermaid”–gack, romance and terrible singing!) and played it a zillion times and memorized all the songs, but it’s this one that came to mind when I finally did find someone really compatible and fall in love.

I Have a Song

I have a song. I think it’s a song that’s about you.
I have a song. I think it’s a song about somebody who
Can see a cloud go drifting by, feel the very same as I.
Oh, I have a song. I think it’s a song that’s about you,
That’s about you.

I have a dream. I think it’s a dream maybe you have too.
I have a dream, a wonderful dream about somebody who
I think would really like to know the part of me I’m scared to show.
Oh, I have a dream. I think it’s a dream maybe you have too,
That maybe you have too.

I have a hope. I think it’s a hope that I share with you.
I have a hope, a wonderful hope about somebody who
Believes in love, believes in me, believes in how good life can be.
Oh, I have a hope. I think it’s a hope that I share with you.
Oh, I have a hope. I think it’s a hope that I share with you.
Oh, I share with you.

See? It’s not about how I’m obsessed with you and you’re everything to me and I’d die without you and I’d kill for you and I’m nothing without you and all that overblown freakishness. This song is about how we appreciate the same things, enjoy being together, want to know each other deeply and be okay with that. It’s a song about my fondest dream and hope, that someone special will love the true me, and how I’m a little frightened even to talk about that, but I hope maybe you’ll understand and feel the same and we can share our lives together.

It’s not that it’s the greatest song. It’s very ’70s-sounding, with instrumental music that starts off so saggy that it makes me want to roll my eyes a little. But it’s earnest and singable, and it says exactly what I want. To me, finding the man for whom my heart had this song is the most romantic thing imaginable, and all I really want for Valentine’s Day is to listen to it (or even just think it) while held in his arms.

My brother had the same doubts I did about ever finding a compatible partner, and then he didn’t have my experience of choosing an ultra-geeky college with a skewed gender ratio where it was surprisingly easy to surround myself with compatible people, fall in love repeatedly, and find a wonderful life-partner before I turned 21. My brother had a harder time, well into adulthood. But then he found somebody wonderful! We went to their wedding a few years ago. I’m not into weddings. But when the music that accompanied my brother down the aisle was “I Have a Song”, I almost collapsed into a sobbing sentimental heap. Because he had that song, that dream, that hope, and now finally he had someone to share that song! Wow.

So that’s what I think is romantic. This is the love song that works for me!

My Top 3 Kitchen Time-Saving Tips

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship is asking everyone to share our top 3 kitchen time-savers this week!  I work full-time outside the home, and although my partner Daniel has been doing more than half the cooking in the past few years, I do most of the planning, shopping, and preliminary preparations.  He works from home and tries to continue getting work done after our nine-year-old comes home from school, so it’s important to him to be able to spend less than an hour making dinner.  Here are our top tips:

Prepare ingredients for multiple meals at once.

When you’re going to the trouble of cutting up some food, using cutting tools that will have to be cleaned, you may as well cut a whole lot of it!  While you’re at it, measure the portions you’ll need for several recipes, and wash the measuring cup just once.  If you preserve some of the food (we freeze any we don’t plan to use within a week), you can stock up when it’s on sale and use it over a long period of time, instead of buying smaller amounts at higher prices.  Here are some specifics: Read more…

GAME SHOW!! with math practice

My third-grade son and I came up with a game that was a lot of fun and valuable math practice and physical exercise for him, while being very easy for me and using only a few basic supplies that were easy to set up and clean up.  This is a perfect activity for families in which all available parents are still recovering from viral bronchitis (or similar debilitating illness) while one or more kids are fully recovered and going stir crazy, but it’s too cold to play outside.  It could easily be adapted for multiple players.

Materials:

  • large supply of fake money, such as from a Monopoly or Life board game.  If you don’t have this, you can keep the kid busy with a preliminary activity of making fake money!  You want at least 20 bills in each of several denominations.
  • stopwatch.
  • area of clean floor.  Have the child sweep the floor before playing.  If possible, use an area at the foot of a staircase or outside one end of a hallway, near a couch or bed where the parent can be comfortable.
  • two receptacles of some sort, which can hold a handful of fake money or a small trinket.  I grabbed some Christmas stockings that are still waiting to be put away.  (We got sick right after Christmas….)
  • a few small trinkets.  These do not have to be anything actually exciting–you’re just going to pretend they are.  Another option is to cut some photos of desirable items out of an advertising flyer.

Prerequisite: Child should have at least one experience of watching a typical television game show, such as “The Price Is Right”, to learn the appropriate ridiculously enthusiastic behavior and when to deploy it vs. when to listen carefully to the game show host’s instructions.

Set Up: Scatter the fake money in a big, festive pile on the clean floor.  If desired, decorate the staircase/hallway/approach to the pile with some of the money along the edges of the path and/or with whatever tinsel garlands or anything you happen to have lying around.

How to Play:

  • Contestant [child] runs down the stairs/hallway while game show host [parent] enthusiastically announces, “Come on doowwwwnn, Nicholas!!!”  Contestant bounces next to the money for a moment of imagined applause.
  • Host announces, “Your challenge is to pick up . . . exactly . . . ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED FORTY-SIX DOLLARS!!  Go!!” and starts the stopwatch.  (Choose a number you’ll easily remember, like the last 4 digits of a familiar phone number.  You don’t want any confusion over what the number was.  If this is difficult for you, use a phone book or other printed source of numbers, and check off each one after use.)
  • Contestant scrambles to pick up the correct amount of money as quickly as possible.
  • Host stops the stopwatch and announces the time: “He did that in just twenty-eight seconds!  But . . . is it the correct amount?”
  • Contestant shudders in suspense while host counts the money.
    • If amount is correct, host announces, “Congratulations!!  You are the winner of one thousand two hundred forty-six dollars!!  YAAAAYYY!!” and tosses the money over the contestant’s head while the contestant does a victory dance.
    • If amount is too large, host is very shocked: “One thousand two hundred sixty-six dollars?  How greedy!”  Contestant shrivels in shame and pays a penalty equivalent to the difference ($20 in this example) from his previous winnings.
    • If amount is too small, host is sympathetic: “Aww!  One thousand one hundred forty-six dollars!  You are not a winner.  Better luck next time.”  Money goes back to the pile while contestant walks away sighing.
  • Repeat over and over and over again for as long as contestant and host can stand it.  (Of course, each round uses a different amount of money.)
  • About every tenth win, host announces, “You’ve unlocked the Special Bonus!!!  Which of these hidden prizes will you choose?”  Host holds up the two receptacles in which she has hidden the prizes.  Contestant chooses.  Host reveals the prize, for instance a card depicting Mickey Mouse: “You’ve won . . . free admission to Disney World!!  YAAAAYYY!!”  Contestant hyperactively celebrates.  Host then reveals the other prize: “But look at what you could have won!  This fine bottle of hand lotion!”  (You might want to make one prize really exciting and the other something of a dud.)
  • If anybody needs to get a drink, go to the bathroom, etc., host announces, “We’ll be back after these messages!”  (Set up the next Special Bonus when child is out of the room.)

Because Nicholas was the only contestant, we weren’t keeping score; he was just enjoying the challenge.  He made only three mistakes in nearly two hours of play; usually, he was able to scoop up the correct amount, even though he completed every challenge in less than 40 seconds and some in as little as 7 seconds.  I’m impressed!

With multiple contestants, you could set aside the winnings–or add up a running total on a scoreboard so that you can return the money to the pile, as well as getting addition practice–and see who gets the most money.  You might incorporate the time in the scoring, too.  If contestants are at different ability levels, give the younger one simpler rather than smaller amounts of money, like $3,000 while the older one has to find $2,917.

This homemade game show worked for me!  Visit Mom’s Library for more activities to do with kids!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more low-cost do-it-yourself activities!

Top 10 Articles Earthlings Read in 2013

Just like 2012, most of my most-read articles in 2013 were classics published before 2013. Well, after all, this isn’t really a blog; it’s a free ebook to which I keep adding chapters, so the old stuff is still relevant.

Here, just in case you missed them, are the 10 articles added in 2013 that got the most readers:

  1. 10 Lessons Learned from Rewiring an Old House. Many thanks to my brother Ben for sharing his experience in this guest post, which makes the important point that while rewiring may not be rocket science, it is very hard work and takes a long time. Ben shared helpful tips on how to do it right and what not to do.
  2. Apple Cider Vinegar as Facial Toner. Here I explain how to control oily skin with a natural, affordable product instead of some weird chemical. There’s even a garbage-free way to do it, without cotton balls!
  3. Cute and Thrifty Kitchen Scouring Powder. Here’s the cheap, safe, environmentally friendly way to scrub your sink, remove tea stains from mugs, and get that dried-up pasta off the pan. I also explain how to make a convenient, damp-proof, shaker-top bottle that matches your kitchen decor, without spending a penny or having serious crafty skills. With photos!
  4. Freezing Cheese. Larger blocks of cheese often are a better value than the small ones, but only if you eat all the cheese before it gets moldy. Here’s the secret to storing cheese in the freezer without sacrificing quality or convenience–or spending money on freezer bags. Includes links to our favorite recipes using cheese, as well as information on why pre-grated cheese might not be a wise purchase.
  5. Could you feed your family on a food stamp budget? This question was raised by my pastor and led me to explore how much my family actually spends on food, and what makes our grocery budgeting different from a more impoverished family’s.
  6. Buying Bulk Food in Reused Containers. A large portion of my family’s thrifty yet healthy diet comes from the bulk department of our local food co-op. In this article I explain how this type of bulk buying works, where we get good containers, how we clean and store them, and how they’re superior to disposable packaging. I also get into detail about which items are a bargain when purchased in bulk and which are not. With photos!
  7. How I told my child the Easter story. Explaining the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus can be difficult: “He was only temporarily dead, so rejoice!! Never mind about those sins,” and somehow it all has to do with bunnies and jellybeans and tulips, and–well, it can be a bit confusing! Here’s the full story as I’ve been telling it to my son since he was very little.
  8. Why my kid never believed in Santa Claus–and why that doesn’t take all the magic out of Christmas, and how we avoid ruining it for kids who do believe.
  9. Less Acid Spaghetti Sauce. This casual experiment with my endlessly-variable marinara sauce recipe showed me that it’s possible to make a delicious tomato sauce that won’t aggravate a mildly touchy stomach.
  10. My Coupon Organizer. I used free, unwanted materials to make the coupon holder I’d owned for a long time into something that works better for my family. With photos!

I’ll also give honorable mention to several articles that were published toward the end of 2012 and were very popular in 2013:

  1. What to Serve for Coffee Hour. Would you like to provide the refreshments for after church or a similar gathering, but you’re not sure what’s the right amount or variety of food? This helpful guide is based on my many years of experience!
  2. How to Salvage Over-baked Brownies. One of the foods I made for coffee hour didn’t turn out so well! Here’s the simple strategy for redeeming both the food and the pan.
  3. What to Do with Bread Heels. Detailed recipe for Cheesy Vegetable Bread Pudding, plus 3 more ways to use the sad leftover ends of a loaf–or any other unwanted bread.
  4. “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” Review. My son and I spell out all the details of why this new animated show, though hardly the worst thing PBS Kids has offered, isn’t nearly as good as Mister Rogers’ original program.

Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for hundreds more helpful articles on many subjects!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for many other ways to save money on food and use resources wisely!

Wearing a stretchy tummy band instead of maternity pants: A review

Soon after my first pregnancy, it became fashionable to wear a top over another top that is longer and sticks out at the bottom. Soon after that, I heard about a garment called the Bella Band that is simply a wide band of stretchy fabric worn around the abdominal area, such that it looks like a longer undershirt but serves the function of holding up one’s unzipped pants. This innovation enables expectant mothers to continue wearing pants that no longer zip over the expanding tummy. I saw several bloggers raving about it, and it sounded plausible to me.

Ten weeks into my current pregnancy, my jeans–which are high-waisted and relatively close-fitting on my non-pregnant body–could still zip but gave me a feeling of pressure that really bothered my queasy stomach, especially right after a meal. However, when I tried on my old maternity pants, they were too loose. I went looking for one of these stretchy bands.

The brand I bought is the Tummy Sleeve, sold at Motherhood Maternity stores. It was $17, which seemed a bit steep. (However, the store gave me a free baby bottle and a packet of really good coupons!) It is made of nylon spandex and available in several colors.

I wore it every day for 7 weeks. Then I started wearing my slimmest maternity pants some days and the band on other days, for a few weeks before I began wearing maternity pants all the time. At 24 weeks, I can still get into my jeans with the band, if I want to. It looks like this:

Read more…

Baked Fish with Clementines

This recipe works with any citrus fruit, but I made it most recently with clementines because they seem especially abundant and affordable this winter, so we had bought a big box! It is a good way to use up clementines (or an orange or lemon, or probably it would work with limes or a grapefruit) that are getting kind of old for fresh eating but aren’t actually moldy or vinegary-smelling.

This recipe also works with either mild white fish or salmon. We usually eat it with rice and a green vegetable such as broccoli. I like to put my fish and vegetable on top of the rice and then spoon the sauce from the fish pan over the whole meal.

To make 3 main-dish servings, you will need:

  • 3 fish fillets (fresh, frozen, or thawed)
  • 2 clementines, 1 orange or lemon, or 1/4 cup frozen concentrated orange juice (scoop it out of the can and then mix up the rest of the juice for drinking)
  • 1/4 onion, or 1 green onion
  • 2 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • butter to grease the baking pan

Consult fish packaging for appropriate oven temperature and baking time. Preheat oven.

Dice onion. (If green onion, use both white and green parts.) Cook onion and parsley in oil in a small pot until onion begins to brown.

Peel clementines and slice them horizontally (across the sections) about 1/4 inch thick. Remove any seeds.

Grease baking pan. Lay fish in it. Lay slices of clementines over the fish. Top with onion mixture. (If using concentrated juice, stir it into the onion mixture before spooning it over the fish.)

Bake until fish easily flakes apart when you poke it with a fork. Serve with some fruit on each portion.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more recipes!

P.S. Apologies to my subscribers for the long gap between posts! Right after returning from our Christmas travels, my whole family was stricken with viral bronchitis. Although it will not harm the baby, my being pregnant has made the illness especially depleting for me, and I have spent more than two weeks mostly lying in bed coughing. I am finally getting better, and writing this post and the one that will go up tomorrow is my “work” for today to test whether I am able to return to my job tomorrow. I hope all my readers are having a healthier, happier new year than I have so far!

Pocket: A Handy Tool for Web Browsing

This is a guest post by Ben Stallings (brother of ‘Becca) , who is a permaculture gardener, home energy efficiency auditor, and owner of a curbside recycling business in Kansas.

I got an email a few days ago informing me that I’m in the top 5% of users of a service called Pocket — I’ve used their free service to read more words on more Web pages than 95% of their users.  This is a totally unpaid and unasked-for endorsement, but chances are you haven’t even heard of this service, so let me introduce you and explain why I use Pocket so much:

  • Pocket makes it easier for me to save Web pages to read later than to read them right away, helping me to avoid distraction.  You know when you should be doing something, but someone has sent you an interesting link, or posted it on Facebook or somewhere, and you want to be sure to read it, but you’re afraid if you don’t read it now you’ll forget?  Being able to add it to your Pocket means you can be sure you won’t lose it and can resume what you were doing.  This has revolutionized the way I read blogs in particular; I scan the headlines in my RSS reader every morning, and rather than read any of them immediately, I save the ones I want to read to my Pocket and go on with my day.
  • Pocket is so integrated with my mobile and desktop browsers that it feels like how the Web was meant to work.  Saving a page to my Pocket is easier than bookmarking it in the browser.  Reading a page in Pocket is often easier and more pleasant than reading it in the browser, because Pocket gets rid of all the ads, menus, and other distractions in most Web pages so I can focus on the text of the page I’m interested in, and it reformats that text for optimal reading on whatever device I’m using at the moment.  I find that any Web page worth taking the time to read (rather than just skim) is worth saving to my Pocket so I can enjoy it more.
  • Reading a page in my Pocket is often more secure than reading it on the original site.  Pocket gets rid of all the tracking cookies that typically follow you within and among sites as you browse, and I can use Pocket to read a page over an encrypted (https) connection even if the original source site did not have a secure option.  Sure, Pocket itself is collecting data about my use of their service, but their privacy policy is as good as anyone’s. (In a nutshell, they will only share your info if required by law.)
  • Probably the most important factor in how much I read in Pocket is that the app for my smartphone will read articles to me aloud.  All Android phones (and iPhones) have text-to-speech capability built in, but most apps don’t support it.  The Pocket app does.  Since it’s already stripped out all the menus and sidebars and other distractions away from the text of the article, when I ask it to read a page it can generally get right to the point.  It’s perfect for catching up on my reading while I garden, wash dishes, or even drive on the highway!

I’ve had a really good experience with this service, and I hope you will, too!  Next time they announce statistics, I expect you to be in that top 5%!

Becca says: Thanks, Ben!  I never heard of Pocket before.  It sounds like a great tool to use when browsing Works-for-Me Wednesday, a weekly collection of over 200 helpful tips!

A Positive Experience at the Post Office

The United States Postal Service has had a rough time in recent years. “Snail mail” just seems so slow, now that we can do a lot of things online.  FedEx and UPS have made their services more convenient to use, so a lot of people no longer choose the post office as their method of sending a package.  As the USPS struggles, it’s had to raise stamp prices frequently and cut staffing at some locations so that customers wait in line longer.  Even I have complained about the post office vending machine and its horrible fake “stamps”.  The Christmas season is an especially busy time for the post office, and we grouchy citizens tend to focus on the tedious standing-in-line and the worries about whether our gifts will arrive in time for Christmas, instead of marveling at the number of cards and packages that arrive promptly in perfect condition despite icy roads and runways.

But this week, I had a great experience with the post office!

Read more…

Planning, Parenting, and Perfection

Welcome to the December 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: The More Things Change . . .

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about life changes.

***

As a teenager, I went through several phases when I spent a lot of time daydreaming about my adult life.  I “planned” which neighborhoods I would live in at each stage, chose homes from architecture books and decided where I would put all the furniture, and selected names and birthdates for my child(ren) and their father(s).  Some of the details changed as I experimented with different possible futures–one child or two? Would I really be happy with just one man for decades?–but I was certain about a few things: I would become an architect, I would live in New York City, and I would give birth to a daughter within a few months of my 30th birthday.

Why 30?  Well, my parents are 30 calendar years older than I am and 30 years ahead in school, and that’s really neat!  It’s always been easy to figure out how old my parents are now, what year they were my age, and when they were in which grade.  It just feels right.  Also, 30 seemed to be a good age for parenthood: old enough to have experienced some adult adventures without kids, young enough to enjoy plenty of adventures with kids.

I was 20 when I admitted that I could not become an architect.  I changed my major to psychology, finished college, worked at a few assorted jobs, and eventually became the data manager of a social science research study–a career I’d never heard of when I was in high school that turns out to be very well suited to me.  Meanwhile, I’d decided not to move to New York, because I really love Pittsburgh–a city I’d never even considered visiting until Carnegie Mellon University sent me a recruiting brochure.

So I’d totally failed to meet my goals for my twenties, but I was very happy.  Also, oddly enough, I’d managed to do something that my cynical, depressed ninth-grade self had discarded as a dream too painfully impossible even to think about: I had found That Guy with the red curly hair and the beard who actually loved me in all my weirdness and understood and agreed about the kind of relationship I wanted to have with a man!  Daniel isn’t always in every way exactly what I wanted, but he’s much, much closer than I thought I would ever find.

We started trying to conceive shortly after I turned 29.  I knew that, with my long and irregular cycles, it would probably take several months to get pregnant, but that was perfect: I would be 30 when our baby was born!  It was all working out just as I’d planned!

But it didn’t.  Months passed, and I got more and more agitated about tracking everything precisely, trying to make my body do what I desperately hoped it could do–what if it couldn’t?  What if I could never be a mother, or if I could do it only with scary technologies that I wasn’t sure were really quite ethical in this crowded world?  I diligently prayed for pregnancy and was rewarded by getting my period on my 30th birthday–gee, thanks a lot, God!  I got more and more bitter and desperate.  Finally we started getting the tests to determine just how infertile we were, and I gave up on conceiving naturally.

That lasted two months.  Is it because I gave up control, or because the right time just was not quite when I thought it was?  I was 31 years 7 months old when Nicholas was born; he is 32 years behind me in school.  And he’s a boy.

Yet the timing was perfect!  He was conceived on 04-04-04, obviously a lucky day, and then my baby boy emerged into the world on Christmas Eve!  I was joyful and triumphant!  I completely forgave God for all the delay and worry (it took me much longer to admit what a jerk I’d been about it and to forgive myself) and accepted that this was the child who was meant for me, arriving at the right time. Read more…

Advent Prayer Tip

The four weeks before Christmas make up the contemplative season of Advent, in which Christians are supposed to prepare our hearts to welcome the newborn Prince of Peace.

The four weeks before Christmas are a time of frenzied shopping, cooking, housecleaning or travel-planning, and festive-event-attending for most people.

There are various ways to calm the chaos and have a less materialistic and stressful Advent and Christmas season, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.

A few years ago, I saw a simple tip that has helped me to work in some prayers amid all the things I’m doing in preparation for Christmas:
Whenever you find yourself waiting, pray.
Advent is the season of waiting. But when we feel very busy with lots of things to do, waiting is hard–we get impatient and frustrated! Using that waiting time to do something can help, especially if it’s something you can do in your head with no special materials and it’s something that makes you feel a bit more holy and less humbuggy.

When you are waiting in the check-out line . . . waiting for the bus . . . waiting for the water to boil . . . stuck in a traffic jam . . . waiting for a fellow shopper to move out of your way . . . waiting for the elevator . . . waiting for the waiter to take your order . . . waiting for the computer to start up . . . waiting for your kid to cooperate . . . waiting for your toast to be done . . . waiting for the traffic light to turn green . . . scrubbing a crusty pan waiting for all that gunk to come loose . . . waiting for the rest of the family to get ready to go somewhere . . . waiting for your turn to see the doctor . . . pray. Because hey, why not? It’s something to do instead of just rolling your eyes and sighing.

Use a prayer you have memorized, or just make it up as you go. Pray for grace and peace in your soul. Pray for guidance as you decide what to do next and get your priorities in order. Give thanks for all the things that are going right–you may find that there are more than you thought. Ask for help with the things that are worrying you–they may seem smaller once you lay them down. If you can’t think of anything else to pray for, look around you, choose a person, and pray that whatever she needs will come to her today.

Like a lot of things, it works for me when I remember to do it! Here’s my reminder. I hope it works for you, too.

Easy Fresh Apple Yogurt

I’m finally beginning to feel a lot better and get back into being able to think about food! I’ve actually cooked several meals from scratch, without collapsing, in the last couple of weeks.

One of the oddities of this pregnancy is that I’m sometimes having a hard time with raw apples: Either they give me an acid stomach ache, or they make the back of my tongue sting.  However, our farm share gave us a lot of apples, and local organic apples are among the lowest-priced fruit in stores at this season, so we’ve consistently had apples sitting around the kitchen.  One evening I got inspired to make myself a delicious snack, with protein and calcium and fat to help me stay full overnight, that enables me to eat an apple without problems–and it’s ready before I can get excessively hungry!

To make one serving, you will need:

  • 1 large apple, or 2 small apples
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • dash nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. butter or coconut oil
  • 1 tsp. sorghum syrup, honey, or maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt

Remove the apple core and any weird rough sections of peel.  Dice apple into bite-size or smaller chunks.  Place in a microwave-safe, large cereal bowl.  (If you don’t want to use a microwave, you can cook the apple in a small pot on the stove and then put it into your bowl.)

Add all other ingredients except yogurt.

Cover the bowl with a plate or other suitable cover.  Microwave on full power for 1 minute.  Stir thoroughly.  Make sure apples are soft; if not, cook it a bit longer.

Add yogurt.  Mix it in.

Enjoy!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more autumnal recipes!

Use those last drops of cooking oil!

One of the annoying things about recycling food containers is that you’re supposed to get them relatively clean and rinsed-out before you put them in the recycling bin.  This is particularly difficult with cooking oil because it clings to the inside of the bottle, and it doesn’t mix with water to rinse out, and if you use soap to get it off then you get suds inside the bottle that drip out and make a sticky (still-oily) mess in the bottom of the recycling bin.  It’s also frustrating to see just how much oil is left in the bottle when you’re no longer able to pour out reasonable amounts for recipes–good quality oils are expensive, so I hate to see any amount going to waste!

I used to try to drain the last drops from the old bottle into the new bottle.  There are two problems with this.  One is that old oil, if it is getting on toward rancid, might spoil the new bottle.  The other is that it’s really difficult to balance one oily bottle on top of another, and if it falls, the oil will probably splatter around the room.

Now I’ve come up with two ways to use the last few drops of oil in the bottle!  When a bottle becomes too empty to pour from, remove and discard any shaker-top (if you can’t get it loose with your fingers, put a chopstick through the hole and push diagonally upward; this will remove any top that isn’t factory-sealed onto the bottle), put the cap back on the bottle, and set it aside for these two purposes:

  1. After washing dishes, turn the bottle upside down against the palm of your hand to get a small amount of oil.  Rub it into your hands to moisturize skin and cuticles.  Save money on hand lotion!
  2. After cleaning and drying a cast-iron skillet, turn the bottle upside down in the skillet.  Rub the oil into the skillet with your fingertips.  Let dry.  It will help to season your skillet to prevent food from sticking and prevent rust.  An almost-empty bottle will give you just about the perfect amount of oil for this purpose–it doesn’t take much, and if you use too much oil it can make your skillet gummy or rancid-smelling or attract dust.

I’ll admit that this is one of those times I’m posting good advice on the Internet to help me remember to follow this good advice myself!  At the moment we have four almost-empty oil bottles cluttering the counter next to the sink in our small kitchen!  I keep forgetting to moisturize my hands after washing dishes, until I’ve gone to bed and I feel my scaly dishpan hands snagging on the sheets.  I keep forgetting to remind Daniel (the usual skillet-scrubber in our home) to use the dregs of oil instead of new oil to season the skillets.  Let this be a reminder to both of us!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more cooking-related articles!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more handy tips!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Fabulously Frugal Thursday for more ways to make the most of what you’ve got!

Tips for Surviving Pregnancy Nausea

I am almost 14 weeks pregnant, due in early May 2014!  I’ve been struggling with nausea since the 5th week, but it’s finally, gradually beginning to abate.  Now that I’ve gotten through this phase of pregnancy two-and-a-half times (my second pregnancy died at 7 weeks; the only good thing about that was ending the queasiness!) I feel qualified to share some advice on how to cope with the horrible experience of feeling sick to your stomach for at least part of every day for two months straight.

Every mother is different.  Every pregnancy is different, even for the same mother; some details of my experience were different each time.  But I hope that my tips will give you at least a few helpful ideas.

The most important thing to know is that almost everything you know about how to react to queasy feelings and vomiting is wrong.  Probably most of your experiences with stomach upheaval have been caused by illnesses or food poisoning.  In those circumstances, you want to get the bad stuff out of your stomach and then leave it empty so it can rest; when you start eating again, you need to choose very simple, quickly digested foods; you shouldn’t eat more of the food that made you sick.  This is all very wise when your queasiness is caused by germs.  But when it’s caused by pregnancy, these behaviors will make it worse or just won’t help.  In fact, when you’re pregnant, a queasy feeling usually means you’re hungry.  It took me weeks to learn this in my first pregnancy, and I didn’t feel hunger that felt like hunger until about the sixth month.

Eat like a hobbit.  Start by putting some kind of nourishment–even if it’s only a few bites–into your mouth every hour while awake.  Within a couple of weeks, you’ll learn at which times of day you can eat larger amounts less frequently.  Develop a routine of frequent meals and snacks, adjusting as you find out what works best for you.  This is my basic routine:

  • First Breakfast.  Eat something before you even get out of bed.  A lot of pregnancy books recommend saltine crackers or pretzels for this purpose.  However, these starchy foods are difficult to eat if your mouth is dry, and in my second and third pregnancies I got a horrible aftertaste from all bread-type foods.  (My mother told me this is an amylase reaction.  I’m apparently just more grossed-out by the sweet taste of it when pregnant.)  Almonds are really good for easy eating in the dark, triggering just enough saliva to help you swallow them, and providing some protein which may settle your stomach better than simple carbs.  I bought organic, steam-pasteurized almonds in bulk at the food co-op.
  • Second Breakfast.  As soon as you get up, eat a smallish portion of an easily digestible food.  My favorites are organic cornflakes with milk, or warmed-up leftover rice with butter and either seaweed sprinkles or nutritional yeast flakes.  (The B vitamins in nutritional yeast may help with nausea.)
  • Elevensies.  After you’ve been up and about for a while, eating feels more feasible.  Do not make yourself wait until lunchtime.  Don’t even wait until 11:00 if you feel hungry/queasy earlier!  Try to get in some significant protein and/or fat at this point.  Some days I’ve ended up walking Nicholas to school and then going back home for my “elevensies” at about 8:30 before I go to work.  Some things I like to eat at this point are scrambled eggs with toast, yogurt, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
  • Lunch.  By this point in the day, I’m usually able to eat much the same kind of thing I would when not pregnant, but I have to be careful not to eat too much at once.  If going out to lunch, bring a container to save leftovers.
  • Tea-time.  Eat at some point during the afternoon.  It’s especially crucial if you work outside the home and go home at dinnertime–and even more crucial if you don’t have a Daniel making dinner ready around the time you get home, like I do–that you don’t ignore late-afternoon hunger thinking you’ll soon be eating dinner.  It’s not “soon” enough when you have an embryo draining away your nutrients!  Especially if there is any delay in getting home, you can get dangerously hungry, and that often leads to throwing up the first thing you eat.  Practice pre-emptive snacking!
  • Dinner.  Like lunch, this should be a normal meal, but don’t over-eat.
  • Nighttime Snack.  I’m often surprised at how quickly my dinner seems to disappear.  Two to three hours later, I can eat another full meal!  This should be something nourishing, not dessert.  If you do feel like eating sweets, also eat some protein that will digest more slowly.  This prevents you from running out of calories so completely during the night.

- Read more…>

A Laundry Line-Drying System that Will Work for YOU!

Have you been wishing you could save money, conserve resources, and make your clothes last longer by line-drying your laundry instead of machine-drying it–but you just can’t figure out how to fit a clothesline into your home configuration and weekly routine?  I am here to help!  My new guest post at Live Renewed gives you 16 questions to consider and detailed suggestions about the line-drying options that will work best for your particular situation.  Check it out!

Choosing a Clothesline that Works for You

Seeking more guidance in the art of line-drying laundry?  Here are my other articles on the subject:

Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for other ways to conserve resources!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday to learn about hundreds of things that work for other writers!  Check out the Laundry Tips Linkup at Mums Make Lists!

Help Save the Animals!

My eight-year-old Nicholas created this picture that he wants you to share everywhere and put in a place where you will see it often. He wants you to think, every time you see it, about what you can do to help animals of all kinds to be safe in this world we share.

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How can you help save the animals? Here are just a few ideas:

  • When you could choose instant garbage or wash a dish instead, think about animals whose trees were cut down to make paper plates, animals whose prairie burrows were destroyed to drill oil wells so people could make more plastic, animals whose air was ruined by smoke from factories. Every time you reuse something instead of choosing a throwaway thing, you are helping to slow down the process of turning animals’ habitats into garbage.
  • Buy things that are made near where you live, instead of things that travel from the other side of the world in big ships. Think of the animals who live in the ocean where the ships leak poisonous oil. Think of the whales who get lost or can’t find food because the noise of ships blocks their special singing.
  • Pick up trash outdoors. Never throw trash on the ground! Think of the animals who get hurt by trash that gets twisted around them, chokes them, or puts bad chemicals in their drinking water.
  • Walk, bike, or take public transit whenever you can. Think about the animals who drink water that runs off pavement with yucky car drips on it, the animals who breathe air filled with car exhaust, the animals who live in rubber trees that are cut down to make tires. Every time you leave the car at home makes those problems a little bit less.
  • Have a birthday party where everybody gives money to an organization that helps animals, instead of giving you a gift. Or sell your old stuff to make money that you donate–while also helping your stuff find new users so that they don’t have to buy newly-made stuff.
  • Eat less meat and other animal foods. When you do eat them, buy food from animals who lived healthy lives. Spend a moment thinking about the animal who died, or gave up its milk or eggs, so that you could eat.

Nicholas was inspired by a recent documentary which showed that leopards are living wild in the city of Nairobi because their habitats have been destroyed. I was just fascinated by the idea that the animal knocking over your garbage cans in the alley could be a leopard! But Nicholas got very sad and upset. He had trouble falling asleep that night because he was crying about the leopards who just need space to live and all the other animals who face this problem around the world. He sobbed, “What can I do, Mama? How can I help save the animals?”

I told him the things above. I reminded him that every little bit counts and that all the little bits add up. I encouraged him to think of the animals when he is tempted to make a harmful decision.

The next day, he decided he needed to do something to help other people remember to think of the animals. He drew the picture and asked me to make copies that he could hang on telephone poles. I reminded him that paper comes from trees and that posters on poles last only a few days and often become litter. But on the Internet, images and ideas can spread very quickly all around the world.

Please share this image everywhere! Please link to this article! Please help save the animals! You can share more ideas for helping animals in the comments.

My son’s taking action to help the animals works for me! Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more ideas to use resources wisely so more creatures can share them. Visit Mom’s Library for lots more educational ideas for kids.

Ben’s Hot Chocolate

Autumn is here, and the hot chocolate season is beginning!  This is a guest post by Ben Stallings (brother of ‘Becca) , who is a permaculture gardener, home energy efficiency auditor, and owner of a curbside recycling business in Kansas and also happens to have a scrumptious hot chocolate recipe.

For most of my life, I’ve been making hot chocolate by melting chocolate chips in milk. It’s come to my attention that most people don’t do this, even though many people prefer the taste of hot chocolate made this way to the stuff from the packets, so I’d like to share my recipe, if you can call it that. But first, some history…

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at my best friend’s house, and I paid close attention to how his mother did things differently than my own mother did. One day we came in from playing in the snow, and I noticed that she was making us hot chocolate by melting chocolate chips in a pan of milk on the stove. (This required low heat and a lot of whisking, so I had plenty of time to notice what she was doing.) It was the best hot chocolate I’d ever had, so when I got home I told Mom about it. She made her own cocoa mix from powdered milk, sugar, and cocoa powder. Mom, bless her heart, decided to ask my friend’s mother for the recipe although I insisted it was just chocolate and milk. I can only guess that my friend’s mother was self-conscious about not using a commercial mix — there was a substantial socioeconomic difference between our families — because she denied the whole thing and said she had made it from a mix!

Anyhow, a few years later when we got a microwave oven, I began experimenting with melting chocolate chips in mugs of milk in the microwave. I christened it “Chocolate Abomination” because it seemed so decadent compared to mixing powder in hot water, but it’s really not that rich Read more…