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…

Why my kid never believed in Santa Claus

He never believed in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, either.  There are three important reasons why Daniel and I decided, before Nicholas was born, that we were not going to pretend that any of these characters were real.

The first is that we didn’t like the idea of lying to our child.  We felt that claiming these characters were real, when we know they aren’t, would kind of make us feel bad.  Our child should be able to trust us.  Now that we’ve met the individual child we got, we know he’s a very analytical type who easily figures out what’s going on and demands full explanations of processes.  He was hard to confuse with things like Piaget’s famous conservation experiments even when he was a toddler.  The first time he ever saw a stage magician, he immediately started trying to figure out how to do those tricks.  If we’d presented the fables as truth, we’d have been interrogated with years of questions about exactly how those reindeer fly to every house in one night, where the bunny gets the eggs, etc., etc.

The second reason is that we wanted him to appreciate, from the very beginning, that holiday magic is something we all make for one another.  Christmas gifts aren’t brought by a guy in a sleigh to whom money is no object; we spend hours choosing or making gifts for our loved ones, thinking about what each person would like, as a way of expressing our love and respect for each other.  Easter isn’t about a magic bunny who brings us candy for no apparent reason; Easter is about Jesus and the springtime renewal of the world, and Grandma likes to send us some candy.  Losing a tooth is an exciting step toward maturity that is honored with a little treat, and there is a traditional routine for collecting this treat from your parents overnight using a special marsupial (Tooth Beary) crocheted by Grandma.

The third reason is that I wanted to teach my child my religion.  (Daniel does not belong to an organized religion, so the deal was that I could take Nicholas to church and teach him my faith until such time as he might tell me he didn’t believe it and didn’t want to go.  By age 3 he had decided he definitely wanted to be an Episcopalian, and he was baptized.)  If I told him Santa Claus was real, and he then found out otherwise, he would then logically doubt what I’d been telling him about God being real.  After all, the invisibility and super-powers of God are not all that different from what people attribute to Santa.  As I mentioned last week, Nicholas has shown no signs of doubting the existence of God but has remarked on the oddity of people believing in these other entities while not believing in God.

So, without Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, poor Nicholas has had a really dreary, cynical childhood, huh?  Read more…

Answering a child’s questions on human origins

A while back, another mother asked my advice:

Tonight my five year old asked me, “Where did the first people come from?”

“Well,” I replied, “Different people believe different things.  Scientists think that humans evolved from gorillas.”

“What is evolved?”

“That’s when things change from one thing to another, like a caterpillar to a butterfly.  Other people believe in God, that he is up in the sky watching over us all and he created the first people. . . .”

So, what do you say when your child asks you about God for the first time? How do you incorporate scientific evolution?

These big questions are daunting!  Try not to worry about giving the perfect answer the first time; kids come back to these questions again and again.

My son Nicholas asked where people come from soon after he turned 3.  First he was asking how babies are made; I gave a basic explanation that satisfied him for the moment.  Then he asked about death.  A week or so later, he thought of “the chicken or the egg” question and asked how the FIRST baby could ever have been born.  I said something like this:

“Well, we can’t know for sure how that happened because the first people hadn’t invented writing yet, so they didn’t have any way to write down their story. Scientists who have studied the fossils say that all animals are related, and over millions of years, one family of animals kept having babies that were a little more like people than their parents were, and another family of animals kept having babies that were a little more like cats than their parents were, and another family of animals kept having babies that were a little more like turtles than their parents were, and so on until each kind of animal was very different from the others.  There are some things that are still the same among lots of animals, like backbones and fingers.  God is very smart, and maybe God made one main pattern to turn into all the kinds of animals and people.”

That gave Nicholas a lot to think about for a while!

Next time we talked about it, I asked if he would like to hear a story about the first people, and I told him the story of Adam and Eve.  This is consistent with my personal belief that the stories of the Old Testament are traditional legends of our people that contain important truths for us today but are not literally true representations of exactly what really happened.  Nicholas requested “the story of before the beginning” on a regular basis for several years; he enjoyed both my telling the story and my reading it from the Bible.  Not only is it a satisfying story of humans originating from the loving care of God, but it goes on to an important lesson about temptation, obedience, and experiencing the consequences of one’s actions, which led to lots of interesting discussion for us.

As for “when your child asks you about God for the first time” . . . all his life I have spoken of God as if we both know God and God’s existence is simply an underlying fact of reality.  We’ve discussed specifics of belief and practice as they come up, but Nicholas has never asked who/what/where is God.  He did not seem aware that there are people who believe God doesn’t exist until he was in kindergarten, when he commented to me that it’s funny how some people believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy but don’t believe in God–gee, that’s wacky, huh?  (We never spoke to him of Santa or the Tooth Fairy as anything other than fun traditions of pretending.)

I know that many people struggle with the idea that evolution and God-creation are two separate viewpoints.  To me, it’s easy to believe in both: Evolution is God’s Plan.  I love to read the creation story from Genesis because, although I don’t believe it all happened in six days as we understand days, I believe that it unfolded in that general order (there was light, and then there was matter, then water separate from solid land, then plants, then animals, all before people came to be) and that every moment of it was planned, presided over, directed, loved, and approved by God.  All the science is true.  But there’s More.  

(By the way–evolution is not like the transition from caterpillar to butterfly.  That’s one individual changing from one form to another the same way her ancestors did it and her children will do it.  Evolution is a species changing in a way that makes future generations different from the previous ones.)

Telling my child that we are both evolved from animals and created by God worked for me!

Gradually Expanding Range for a Child Walking Alone

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting:
Staying Safe

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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“It’s a different world than when we were kids.” I often hear parents say this when they are talking about how they don’t allow their children–or even teenagers–to go anywhere alone, to walk anywhere, even to play in their own front yard.

Yes, this is a different world, the America of 2013 compared with the America of 1981, when I was 8 years old like my son is now–AMERICA IS A SAFER PLACE THAN IT WAS WHEN I WAS A CHILD. Every type of violent crime is significantly less common now than it was then. The thing many parents are most afraid will happen to a child let out of their sight is kidnapping, although abductions of children by strangers are extremely rare.

I’ve been working in crime research for 15 years, and that’s really given me some perspective on risk: The vast majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, not by a stranger who abruptly captures the victim in a public place–and this is especially true of child molestation. Yes, terrible things can happen to innocent people, and it is horrible when they do, but it is important not to get too freaked out about “risk”.  (I want you to see this cartoon that clearly illustrates the issue, but I can’t get it to display on my page!)

Of course, we do feel some concern about the safety of our beloved only child. Realistically, the highest risk he faces in walking around the neighborhood is being hit by a car. I’ve written before about how we taught him traffic safety skills and decided when he was ready to walk around the block alone. In second grade, he began walking home from school alone some days, and now in third grade he is doing it 4 days a week. This is a journey of 5 blocks, with a crossing guard posted at the only busy intersection. Nicholas always gets home safely and has had no problems.

This summer, he grew bored with his walks around the block and asked to walk farther, alone. We have not been letting him walk to his school alone when the crossing guard is not on duty, because of that busy street. But we thought we might allow him to walk as far as the nearest busy street in each direction from our house.  Read more…

No-Bake Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie for Summer

This is not so much a recipe as an example of how to work with the food, and the weather, that you happen to have.  Last weekend was very hot and humid, and we had some ingredients that needed to be used, including just two potatoes from our farm share–not enough to make a baked potato for each member of our 3-person family.  When I mused to Daniel about what to do with the potatoes, he suggested shepherd’s pie, which has mashed potato as the bottom layer.

The trouble was that shepherd’s pie is baked.  There was no way I was going to turn on the oven in this weather!  We don’t have air conditioning, but even in an air-conditioned house, it’s silly to use the oven in hot weather because it will make the AC work harder and waste energy.  I wondered if I could just make the mashed potatoes (only a small amount, so not too steamy) and briefly cook some other food and put it all together in a casserole dish.

It worked!  My casserole did not hold together particularly well when served, but a baked shepherd’s pie usually doesn’t, either.  All of us liked this main dish, served with a side of grapes.

Our eight-year-old Nicholas took this picture of the starting ingredients:
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Read more…

An Abundance of Apples

Returning from a family vacation last Tuesday, waiting at a traffic light around the corner from our home, I glanced up and noticed many red apples decorating the trees at the edge of a neglected parking lot. This lot belonged to a restaurant that closed several years ago, and the building’s been vacant ever since. Nobody is using that parking lot. I doubt that anyone feels a sense of ownership about those apples. I’m almost certain that nobody would bother spraying pesticides on those trees, which means the apples are organic. FREE ORGANIC APPLES!!

I love saving money, and I love saving food from being wasted. Also, it was a nice day, and we were getting home with time to spare before dinner. As soon as we’d unloaded the car, my eight-year-old Nicholas and I walked over to the parking lot with a couple of bags and started picking apples.

We soon found that most of the apples were out of our reach. Read more…

Four Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners (summer)

A pesco-vegetarian is someone who eats no meat except fish. That’s what we do when we’re at home and most of the time when we eat in other places.

Here’s what we ate for dinner for four weeks in July and August. Normally I plan our menu up to a week in advance and do the weekend cooking and some ingredient preparation during the week, while Daniel cooks our weeknight dinners. However, in the third week shown here, Daniel was out of town, so I had to do all the cooking. It was difficult because I was picking up our eight-year-old Nicholas from his day camp near my office at 6:00 each weeknight, and then it took us a while to get home, and he’s supposed to be in bed by 8:30, and some nights we had to fit in an errand…. We ate in restaurants more often than normal, and I did some food prep at night, and it all worked out, but I certainly am glad to have Daniel home again!!

We buy a share in a local organic farm every summer and get a crate of fresh produce delivered to our neighborhood every Wednesday, so many of our meals are structured around the veggies we got from the farm.

Week One:

  • Sunday: Tangy Honey Apricot Tofu, Salty String Beans made with green beans from the farm, and rice.
  • Monday: Whole-wheat spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce from the batch I made the previous week–similar to this marinara sauce with maximum basil, except that I didn’t use any bell pepper in this one.
  • Tuesday: Bean Burritos including green onion from the farm.
  • Wednesday: Out to dinner at the Dumpling House, our neighborhood Chinese restaurant. We had the steamed vegetable dumplings, Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce, and tofu with black mushrooms and bamboo shoots.
  • Thursday: Big salad of lettuce, cucumber, carrot, and tomato, all from the farm. We tried this Five-Ingredient Salad Dressing and liked it a lot! This was a very hot day, and none of us was feeling hungry enough to need some protein or bread as we normally would with a salad meal.
  • Friday: Nicholas wanted the few potatoes we’d gotten from the farm to be served baked, with garlic butter. Daniel baked them in the microwave. He also sauteed zucchini, green onion, and herbs, all from the farm, in olive oil. He and I ate the veggies on our potatoes, but Nicholas wouldn’t even taste them.
  • Saturday: I thawed the last of these Nutshroom Burgers that I’d made a couple weeks earlier, and Nicholas grilled them while I made a batch of coleslaw out of a cabbage from the farm. We kept a little bit of coleslaw for our lunches and donated the rest for volunteers from our church to serve at a homeless shelter. I’ve done this a few times because of my limited tolerance for cabbage–if I eat too much of it in a short time, my stomach gets upset–and because I’ve been told that the homeless men of Pittsburgh really like coleslaw!

Read more…

A Week of Vegetarian Lunchbox Lunches

Daniel is the lunchbox-packing parent in our family. He was in charge of grinding up leftovers for baby Nicholas to eat at childcare, and he has packed a lunch for Nicholas to take to school every day for the past three grades and to day camp every day for the past two summers. We love the Planetbox lunch kit and just recently replaced the carrying bag after three years–the box itself is still going strong, along with the Little Dipper and Big Dipper containers for holding moist foods.

When Daniel went camping for a week, I took charge of packing Nick’s lunch. I had noticed in the preceding few weeks that Daniel was grumbling about having trouble thinking of things to put into the lunchbox that Nicholas would eat. For a long time, I’ve been irked at Daniel’s tendency to ignore the lunchbox when it comes home and not clean it until the next morning, just before repacking it–and then complain that any uneaten food in it is no longer edible and therefore wasted, and that it is hard to clean because food has dried onto it. I also knew it was crucial to allow time for packing the lunchbox, since it’s not part of my normal routine and the public transit schedule this summer is such that leaving the house just a few minutes late means Nicholas and I have a long wait for the bus and get to camp 15 minutes late!

Therefore, I set myself up for success: Each night after getting Nicholas to bed, I poured the remaining water in his water bottle onto the garden and put the bottle in the dish drainer, then opened the lunchbox, ate any remaining food, cleaned out the box and Dippers with a soapy cloth, and set them to dry. While I was doing this, I thought about what I might pack for the next day’s lunch and maybe made a few notes. I listed what I packed each day at the side of my dinner menu page for the 4-week period, to help me remember what I’d already packed that week, to have some ideas to pass to Daniel when he got back, and to be able to write this post! I set my alarm clock 10 minutes earlier than normal so I’d have time to pack the lunch in the morning.

Why didn’t I just pack the lunch the night before? I’ve often seen this advice. But we were having refrigerator problems that caused unpredictable puddles of water; I didn’t want the lunch to get soggy. I wanted to pack some foods that are stored and eaten at room temperature; if I refrigerated them overnight, they might get wet with condensation when they came out into the hot, humid weather. In my experience with packing my own lunch, some foods change texture or just seem “less fresh” if cut up the night before.

Here’s what I packed in the five lunches:

Read more…

11 Blogs Worth Reading

Back in February, I received my second Liebster Award and was supposed to nominate 11 other blogs for the award.  At the time, I found this difficult, because I don’t read all that many blogs, and many of the ones I do enjoy are so obviously popular that they don’t qualify for this award, and I didn’t want to overlap with the 5 blogs I nominated the first time around.  I got up to 6, used #7 to point readers to some of the funniest stuff online even though it doesn’t meet Liebster criteria, and then paused.

Now I’ve finally finished the list!  I updated the original post–which also includes a lot of stuff about myself, if you’re interested–but I wanted to put this list of great blogs in a new post, too, so nobody misses it.

  1. Click Clack Gorilla is an American-born musician, writer, and mother now living in a Wagenplatz (kind of like a hobbit-style trailer park) in Germany.  Here’s a recent day in her life.  She also writes about interesting things like gender differences in country-music ballads about murder and who’s better than Harry Potter.
  2. This (sorta) Old Life is the story of Rita and Cane fixing up the house where they live with their children from previous marriages.  It’s part how-to manual, part eye candy, part philosophy, and always grounded in the uniqueness of these particular five people and the things they find to make their home.  I normally find home-improvement blogs pretty tedious.  Here’s what makes this one different.
  3. My Sister’s Pantry is written by two sisters who like to cook healthy, frugal, mostly vegetarian food, working from the basic principle that keeping a variety of good ingredients in stock makes it easy to cook good meals.  They cheerfully talk us through the process of improving kitchen habits, with plenty of encouragement and recipes.  We recently tried their Mac & Cheese Without the Box, and it was every bit as easy and tasty as promised!
  4. Green Idea Reviews evaluates various ideas for reducing one’s environmental impact.  Victoria, who is employed outside the home and expecting her third child, finds time to try a lot of little things that make a difference, and she writes them up in a consistent format that’s pretty objective while also giving her personal opinions and experiences.
  5. Small Steps on Our Journey is Rachel’s story of her family’s ongoing efforts to be good stewards of God’s Creation while still enjoying good food, fashion, and fun!  She has an even easier way to use up the bread heels than any of my unwanted bread tricks. (I think her kids must be a little less annoyingly observant than mine is!)
  6. Unintended Housewife was a woman who was unemployed and working out how to be a housewife, when I first saw her blog.  Now she has a baby and is in more of a typical stay-at-home mother role, but I still really enjoy her perspective on life, especially her Are You Freaking Kidding Me?! series.
  7. Hyperbole and a Half is a dead blog–the author didn’t post for quite a while, and even her explanatory update is a few months old now–and that’s why I’m not linking to the homepage.  But if your sense of humor is anything like mine, you’ll want to read every post in this collection of personal stories, many of which are illustrated with the author’s own cartooning.  [WARNING: Some posts contain effusive profanity.  Some are unsuitable for children in other ways.]  These are just a few of my favorites:
    • Sneaky Hate Spiral: A hilarious yet perceptive explanation of how a few little annoyances can add up to overwhelm you with rage.
    • This Is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult: An excellent depiction of the relationship between responsibility and morale, complete with graph.
    • The Alot: A handy strategy for coping when you see terrible grammar and punctuation on the Internet.
    • Skeleton Man: Unusual temporary school building + inappropriate Halloween story = months of torment for a second-grader.
    • PLEASE STOP!!!: An extremely effective strategy for controlling children’s behavior…and the work-around.
  8. Tell Me Why the World Is Weird is the musings of a female math nerd, raised in the United States and now living in China, who is still a Christian but questions many of the popular ideas of fundamentalism on such subjects as love and modesty.  She also posts some great collections of links to other interesting things on the Web.
  9. Kate’s Apartmentsteading is about a single mother’s efforts to “homestead” in an apartment.  Kate is an interesting vegan Muslim hippie artist who writes about all sorts of topics, from how she repaired and repainted a yard-sale rocking chair to the disturbing effects of a common cereal preservative on her child to why she quit wearing a bra.  She’s even taken on the difficult topic of how Muslims contribute to anti-Muslim bias in the United States–complete with funny ironic graphics.
  10. Amber Strocel has been writing her site for a decade and still has only slightly over 200 followers, so I think she deserves this award for her supposedly unfocused collection of writing!  Many of her articles are about raising her children, but her name isn’t Mommy.  She also thinks critically about Earth Day and shares 10 Things to Love About Canada and explains why she’s willing to walk alone at night.
  11. Stuffed Veggies is a food blog written by a Greek Orthodox vegan who shares helpful advice for coexisting with omnivores.  She posts lots of recipes for interesting salads, variations on traditional Greek foods, and even breakfast ice creams.

Should Your Family Be Child-centered?

This is a controversial and confusing question.  Some people go on and on about how parenthood melted their selfish hearts and made them realize the importance of devoting themselves fully to making their children’s lives perfectly wonderful and completely safe.  Other people go on and on about how children are hedonistic little leeches whose spirits must be broken to show them who’s boss, and responsible parents must schedule their babies’ lives in 15-minute increments.  Then there are a lot of points of view in between.  It’s very easy, as a parent in this fast-paced society, to put a lot of energy into getting everything together for your kid and suddenly realize you’ve been neglecting yourself–or to rush around Getting Things Done and suddenly realize that you’ve been treating your child like a task on a checklist and haven’t focused on his sweet little face for days.  Where’s the balance?

Well, I can’t claim that Daniel and I have it all perfectly worked out, but in our 8 years 8 months as parents of Nicholas, we’ve done pretty well with this basic attitude: “We are all people together.  We are the same in some ways and different in other ways.  Experienced people help newer people learn how to do things.”  Nobody is the center.  This is the approach my parents seemed to be using when I was a child (I don’t know if they’d explain it in the same words) and I noticed from an early age that some other families had a different attitude.  Of course, every family is different, but I think all families could work from the basic principle that we’re all in this together and no one person is the most important.  It seems to me that whenever I wander away from this idea–either by getting dramatically self-sacrificing or by demanding that everybody take care of me–it works out badly.
Here are some of the issues parents often struggle with, and the ways they’ve worked out for our family.

Is it child-centered to allow your child to eat when hungry and sleep when sleepy?  Is it better to have a strict schedule?

Read more…

Can you scramble frozen eggs?

Food on FridaysHearth & Soul Blog HopWaste Not Want Not Wednesday
Apparently, yeah, if you let the eggs thaw a little, you can make totally normal scrambled eggs out of them. At least, I did.

I guess I’d better clarify that I’m talking about chicken eggs. In our scary high-tech world, “frozen eggs” often means human egg cells that have been frozen for later attempts at reproduction. If you have that kind of frozen eggs, do not scramble them. The results could be disastrous, or at least not very tasty.

My chicken eggs were in an 24-pack from Costco stored on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Poor old Rator has not been feeling well lately. We think it was the extremely humid, hot weather last month that caused trouble for our refrigerator, which is the type that has one temperature control for refrigerator and freezer compartments. (NOTE: If you are choosing a new fridge+freezer, choose one with separate controls for the two sections. We used to have that kind, and it was much easier to correct problems with one section being too cold or not cold enough.) A lot of frost built up on the upper back wall of the refrigerator section of this supposedly frost-free appliance, and puddles of water appeared at unpredictable times either inside the refrigerator or on the floor next to it. Daniel eventually realized that a drainage tube was totally blocked with ice and cleared it out, and that helped a lot. However, the recent condition of the eggs indicates that the problem isn’t completely solved.

Last weekend, I found that one of the three eggs remaining in the previous carton was broken–even the yolk had broken, and the fractured shell was sitting in a puddle of partly-dried raw egg. I threw that in the compost, cooked the other two eggs, and bought a new carton. I carefully checked that all the eggs were intact before buying.

Wednesday, I needed an egg to make Cheesy Walnut Burgers. It’s lucky that I brought the whole carton out of the refrigerator, rather than just opening it and grabbing the egg closest to me, because this way I noticed the four cracked eggs. Visible cracks across the tops and down the sides, but no leakage of egg white. The cracks appeared sort of glued shut. Huh?

Read more…

Mammograms and Monthly Cycles: A Public Service Announcement

If you are a 40-year-old woman who has never had any symptoms of breast cancer, your doctor or your health insurance company probably will nudge you to get a “baseline mammogram” or “screening mammogram” done.  This could detect any tumor that might be lurking, but most likely you won’t have a tumor and this procedure will create an image of your healthy breasts that can be kept on file to compare to later scans.  It seems that a big part of cancer detection is looking for changes in a patient’s tissues rather than waiting for something to get so weird-looking that it’s obviously abnormal.

I had a baseline mammogram earlier this month.  The nurse who did it cautioned me that I was likely to be among the approximately 10% of women who are asked to come back for additional scanning after the doctor looks at the first images, because I have “dense tissue” (this is a polite way of saying “small breasts”) which is more difficult to scan thoroughly because it doesn’t mash so nicely in the scanner.  Indeed, I got a letter telling me to call to schedule a re-mash.  It hasn’t been done yet, but I’m not worried (much) because I am one of those rare Earthlings with no family history of breast cancer.  The reason it hasn’t been done yet is an important fact about the scheduling of mammograms, which nobody bothered to tell me until I was in the hospital gown, having taken off work and skipped wearing deodorant on a hot humid day, all ready to get scanned–and they had to cancel it.

Here is what everyone involved in arranging for patients to get screening mammograms ought to be trained to say:

“We recommend that you schedule the procedure in the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle, if possible, for best results.” Read more…

CONTEST: Name This Recipe!

I’ve developed a main dish that my family really likes, but we can’t figure out what to call it!  “That non-Mexican-flavored Mexican Pizza that fits in the toaster-oven” or “Beans and veggies and herbs baked on cornbread” is too cumbersome.  Surely someone on the Internet will be able to think of the perfect, short, catchy name for this delicious food!  Contest will be open for at least one week or until a suitable name comes along.  Prizes will be gratitude, acclaim, and two links to the Website of your choice (one in this post when I update it announcing the winner, one in the new post I will make titled with the new name of the recipe).

This recipe is flexible and can be adapted to the vegetables and herbs you happen to have on hand.  You could even use leftovers!  That makes it very frugal.  I’m writing the recipe with general guidelines plus specifics on what I used the last time I made it.

In an appropriate pan, it will fit into a toaster-oven, allowing you to bake it using less energy and heating up your home less than the full-size oven.  The baking time is short, which makes it ideal for warm weather and busy days.  (I’ll admit, though, that when it’s 92 degrees and humid, like it is here in Pennsylvania this week, we don’t bake anything or even make toast!)  Serve with salad or fruit for a nice meal.  It’s vegetarian and can be made vegan.

To make 4 main-dish servings, you will need: Read more

Where Robots Learn to Cook

Recently I’ve had several conversations about robots: how people keep making robots that can do new things, how robots are getting better and better, how someday maybe they’ll take over.  Yes, it is a bit daunting, but I believe there are some things that robots will never be able to do quite as well as we humans can do them.

One of these is cooking.  I can imagine robots making fast-food meals that are exactly the same for every customer in every restaurant.  (And I’m kind of surprised that McDonald’s hasn’t yet replaced its cashiers with ATM-like machines where you key in your order and the foodlike items drop out of slots–that technology has been available for a while, but thank you McDonald’s for continuing to hire humans who need jobs!)  The kind of cooking that requires tasting the food and making judgments about what it needs, though, seems like something that can be done well only by someone who eats food.

I’ve written before about robot cooking blogs, but today I received a trackback from one that really impresses me with its ability to look like a pleasant, informative cooking site while actually publishing a lot of gibberish.  It’s cookdaymeal.com and is “Designed by DECENT WEB EXPERTS.” (You can tell they’re really decent by the capital letters.) I clicked through to their site, and it looks like the decent experts might be humans, just humans who don’t speak English. But cookdaymeal.com has recipes that I don’t think were written coherently in any language.  For example, here are the ingredients of No Bake Banana Pudding:

Components: three or even four ripe plums, broke 1/3 cup dissolved butter (or decreased fat for any healthier version) the single cup sugars or darling (this could become reduced in order to cup) 1 egg cell beaten one teaspoon vanilla one teaspoon baking soda pop Pinch of sodium 1 glasses associated with all-purpose flour or even whole wheat grains flour Optionally available: Walnuts, pecans or some kind of other enthusiast of the particular option.

That’s a lot of plums for a banana pudding–and no bananas.  Yet somehow we will later “mix the particular butter using the bananas inside a large mixing dish.”  Here are some other excerpts from assorted recipes: Read more…