Thursday, January 31, 2008

Energy Offsets

What do you guys think?

One website I read compared it to eating rich food and then jogging the next day. It sounds to me like another way for rich people to insist they are environmentalists while continuing their insanely wasteful lifestyles.

Although the first comparison may be more accurate than it initially sounds... most people I know who overeat and then try to make up for it later end up overweight.

There is no way to undo an action once it has been taken.

Ricki Lake Does Something Useful

I am torn between being a home birth advocate and a medical traditionalist.

On one hand, I have almost died in labor three of four times. Medical intervention saved me. Thank heaven.

On the other hand, I strongly believe that in a healthy, normal situation, medicine can only be bad for mothers and babies. I always feel weirded out in the hospital, disoriented and even manic. I have trouble eating, can't sleep, and go home weaker than I was moments after giving birth. Part of this is the normal hormonal insanity involved in going from pregnant to non-pregnant, but I can't help but wonder how much is the sterility and impersonality of the hospital experience. Mothers innately know that childbirth is one of the most magical and powerful moments in our lives, so to go through it in a sterile situation where we are stripped of power and the experience stripped of magic tears a big hole in humanity.

It isn't just childbirth, either. Every time I interact with my doctor, I go away feeling bad. It's not his fault. He's a nice enough guy. He tells me all the stuff he is required by law to tell me, and I keep doing what I am doing because I think twelve years of successful parenting leave his seven years of school in the dust. He thinks I'm foolish for not following the advice of the medical establishment to the very letter, and I think he's foolish for believing so completely in this dogma when they change positions every week or so. I'm tired of playing birth control method roulette and tired of having the talk about certain procedures and vaccinations I'm uncomfortable with. And, to be honest, I hate the way so many doctors see themselves as beacons of information in our pitiful little lives. I was a straight-A student, accepted to Ivy League colleges, and could go to medical school next fall if I applied. And while there I am certain they would teach me nothing of consequence that I don't already know about women, babies, and childbirth. Intellectually, doctors have nothing on me. I have doctors in my family, so I know that, outside of pretty killer wages, they are no different from anyone else.

Granted, they are experts in a complicated field. But so are auto mechanics, and I've never had the feeling my transmission guy was talking down to me.

I will see this film if it comes to Yakima and report back.

Greener by the Dozen?

Someone asked me the other day how someone as environmentally conscious as me ends up with eight kids.

In my defense, I married into four of them. I didn't actually plan the other four; in fact, I planned against them with the most foolproof methods offered by modern science. I have several friends who have very large and very green families, so I don't have a ready answer as to how I ended up with one or whether I feel it is some sort of hypocrisy.

Consider the following two families, one based on mine and the other on a good friend of mine's:

Family A is a Green Party-voting family that contributes to excellent social causes and has just one child--they are NPG advocates.

Family B is all over the place in political ideology and favored causes. They have a blended family of eight children, three grown and five in the home.

Family A is the obvious winner of the Green Award, unless you look deeper.

Family A has a larger home than Family B. They keep it colder in the summer, and warmer in the winter. They don't economize as much--they don't have to. They eat more meat, more packaged foods, drive a larger car. As a group, they use more electric in their home and more fuel in their vehicle.

Family B is stringent when it comes to conserving everything from gas to ziplocs. They buy everything used except food. They might be tempted to be more wasteful if they could afford it, but they can't. They earn the same amount as Family A and have to make it work.

I think Family B wins.

For a visual example: say the average American family uses ten resource tokens a year. Large families get the same as small families--simple economic reality is that we do not earn more for every baby we have, not in a private economy at least. So the family of three is using 3.3 tokens per capita, while the family of seven is using 1.43. Family B is not using more resources; they are simply more conservative in the use of their tokens. They are a more efficient child raising unit.

I'm not saying that there are no other options. There could be a Family C--a couple with one child sharing a 700 sq. ft home, living on beans and the products of their garden, hanging out laundry and fitting comfortably into their Prius. They get the Green Award over Families A and B. But the reality is that most American and Western European families use most of the resource tokens we are allotted.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Meal Planning Part One: Dinner

Whether you are interested in making your life healthier, greener, or just saner, meal planning is a good organizational tool to add to your "toolbox". It saves money, saves time, and saves extra trips to the store and drives through the drive-thru. It ensures that my family is eating healthy, balanced meals and a wide array of foods. In some cases, meal planning makes delegating easier, as my 12 year old can check the menu on my white board and get dinner started. Meal planning is done at my house every Tuesday, when the sale papers for that week come around. I plan for the week ahead starting that Sunday, leaving me several days to pick up what we need when I pass the stores in question. I plan based on that week's sales and on what I happen to have on hand at that time, which keeps us within budget.

To prevent monotony and keep my focus on frugal, healthy meals, I use the following rotation:

1 large, meat-based meal with starch on the side--think steak and potatoes. We usually have this meal on Sunday. It makes my meat eaters happy and gives them something to look forward to on lentil soup night.

1 pasta based meal. This could be something as easy as spaghetti with red sauce, or something more complicated like gnocchi or homemade ravioli.

1 egg or cheese based meal. Egg-based would be omelets, souffle, frittata, quiche. Cheese-based could be quesadillas, homemade pizza, grilled cheese with tomato soup, etc. Vegetarian-but-not-vegan.

1 bean or legume meal. Great for keeping costs (and weights) down. When I'm being cheap we might have two of these and skip wild card night.

2 chicken based meals. One "family pack" of chicken lasts us two meals if at least one of them is a stirfry, soup, casserole, or other meat-stretching type meal.

1 international dinner OR recipe experiment OR what-the-hell-it's-on-sale meal. Basically, wild card night. If you are seafood lovers, you could have seafood this night. I'm allergic to most seafoods, not enough to die but enough that even residue on dishes could make me sick, so we eat seafood in the summer when my dear husband can grill and save me from the washing dishes/vomitting/washing/vomitting rotation that indoor seafood cooking can cause.

Okay, so you have a few ideas, hopefully seven. Now you have to look at your calendar. Mondays and Fridays here are busy from dawn to bedtime, so I might do crockpot chili or something super easy like omelets or spaghetti. Sundays are family night, and Saturdays we often have people over. Wednesdays are not always busy, but generally tiring, so I will need something easy. Every family has their own rhythm. In our house, our meal schedule roughly looks like the following:

Sunday: Meat and starch
Tuesday: Egg/cheese
Wednesday: Chicken 1
Thursday: Chicken 2
Friday: Bean or legume
Saturday: wild card night

Be flexible and move things around as needed. The goal is to do what works for your family, not what what works for my family.

I plugged in the meals I chose until I had this:

Sunday: Planned: grilled steak and potatoes. Actual: Pizza (I hate to confess this... A friend and I were working on a newsletter we co-edit and before I knew it, the clock chimed five and I had an hour to stop at the store, make the twenty minute drive home, and get dinner on the table.)

Monday: Whole-wheat spaghetti with marinara sauce and meatballs, garlic bread, salad

Tuesday: Vegetable frittata, salad

Wednesday: Oven-fried chicken, roasted red potatoes, peas

Thursday: Sagemommy's Thai chicken: Remaining 3 pieces of chicken chopped and stirfried with vegetables, served with brown rice with a sauce I make from mixing half peanut butter and half teriyaki sauce over medium low heat and adding small amounts of chopped fresh ginger, sesame oil, and cayenne pepper.

Friday: Curried lenttils, homemade flat bread, fruit

Saturday: Planned: Homemade falafel. Actual: Grilled steak, baked potato, steamed broccoli. Because Sunday ended up being wild card night and I know everyone will be clamoring for red meat.

Now isn't that easy? I'll do a separate entry for breakfast, lunch, and snack.

Get Organized!

It's what I'm doing! Want to join me?

First, a confession. I'm already a very organized person. How can I not be, with a large family, homeschooling, and this insane need to do everything myself? We're good at getting everyday chores done, but every home needs an occasional going-through, and there's no time like now.

Last week the boys and I tore apart and re-arranged their bedroom. This week I'm hitting the girls' room. Children's bedrooms tend to be organizational disasters, and it's easy to convince myself that what we really need is more rubbermaid bins and not less stuff. So my mantra is LESS STUFF. Less to clean, less to store, and less to move when the time comes.

Next will be my room. My husband does not share my love of order, so it can get pretty cluttered in here. If you have any cool, cheap, and earth-friendly organization and/or decoration ideas, let me know.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Image of Homeschooling

I began homeschooling as a temporary solution to a temporary problem. I continued because it works. This seems rational to me, and yet I get the feeling people make some extreme judgments about my family based on this one choice.

For the record, I do not view society as evil. I do not want my children to reject the world. I do not wear long skirts every day. I am not a religious or political extremist. I believe in evolution and teach it as scientific truth. Nor were my children necessarily unsuccessful at school. My children have attended both public and private schools and were in all cases at the top of their classes in academics, sports, and popularity. I did notice a few flaws in the system, however.

My children *did* learn basic math, reading, and a wide variety of other topics, like how baby birds grow in their eggs and name of the capital of Maryland.

They also learned that a child's clothing is more important than any other trait, that bullying is to be tolerated, that learning is a job and not something to be done for its own merit, and that working faster than the rest of the class (or slower, although this was never our issue) makes you a "challenge" and not in a good way. And I was okay with this. I think good parenting can undo most of the wrongs children are exposed to in school and in the general world.

Here is what the school never taught my children, and never could:

to love reading
to love learning
to love life
to enjoy being different and unique
to avoid people who treat them poorly
to include people who may not be their favorites
that a person's parents' socioeconomic status has no effect on their ability to be a good friend or a good person
to interact and work cooperatively with a mixed-age and mixed-ability group
to plan, research, and execute their own projects
to have strong opinions and learn to back them up with fact

Most of us reach adulthood before we learn any of the above. That's why I homeschool--because there is nothing the schools can teach my child that I can't, but there is so much I can teach them that the schools never could. I've done the school thing and I know what I'm not missing. And yet when we tell the librarian that No-it's-not-a-school-holiday-we-just-don't-go-to-school, she looks at me like I live in a cabin with an arsenal of White Pride Bibles and semi-automatic hunting rifles. And she doesn't look at the books she is checking out for us--the medieval history, Pythagorus, and Shakespeare that my 12-year-old chose because those are his interests right now, the first and second grade readers that my five-year-old reads by herself.



This blog is a personal blog written and edited exclusively by the author. For questions about this blog, please contact the author by using the comment section or email to .This blog accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation.The compensation received may influence the advertising content, topics or posts made in this blog. That content, advertising space or post may or may not be explicitly identified as paid or sponsored content, although it will be pretty freaking obvious.The owner(s) of this blog is compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the bloggers' own. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer, provider or party in question.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hanging out clothes in winter?

I know people who do it! And they don't live near the equator. I am intrigued...

I air dry a few things in my laundry room, but I would love to find a way to line-dry in winter. No fair hanging clothes all over the house; even if my husband didn't throw a tantrum, the kids and cats would get them dirty before they could even be worn.

The garage is out, too. I took a can of peaches out of there this weekend and they were frozen.

We have seven people in my house right now, which is a good excuse NOT to hang clothes out (or in) and a great reason TO do it as well.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Is that what I think it is?

Is that a butt?

Mrs. Hannigan gave me this award for my post on freebies.

If you get a chance to stop by her blog, you will find out that she has six girls and is into the same stuff I am (homeschooling, eating healthy, crafting, making fun of Yakima people). Life with so many little girls must be interesting... naked Barbies and boyfriend drama as far as the eye can see. She seems to encourage free expression in her children, something I try to stifle as much as possible in my household.

If I seem to know her better than one generally knows their blog buddies, it's because we're in the same Attachment Parenting playgroup and several other activities.

You can check out her antics at

Just for Fun... the many names of Emily

1. YOUR ROCK STAR NAME: (first pet & current car):
Brittany-Spaniel Chrysler-Town-and-Country-Minivan--I hope it gets better. Although Brittany Chrysler does kinda sound like a country singer.

2.YOUR GANGSTA NAME: (fave ice cream flavor, favorite cookie):
Phish Food Tollhouse.

3. YOUR “FLY Guy/Girl” NAME: (first initial of first name, first three letters of your last name): E-Mars

4. YOUR DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite color, favorite animal):
Ivory Hamster. I had to take a break and laugh there.

5. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, city where you were born):
Ethel Redding. Clearly we are talking about a 30's radio soap opera.

6. YOUR STAR WARS NAME: (the first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 letters of your first):
Marem. Not bad. I wanted my youngest's middle name to be Maryam, which is similar.

7. SUPERHERO NAME: (”The” + 2nd favorite color, favorite drink):The Violet Diet Pepsi. This would look like chemotherapy drugs.

8. NASCAR NAME: (the first names of your grandfathers): Ivan Frank. Hey, that actually does sound like a Nascar driver!

9. WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother’s & father’s middle names): Anne Wayne. John's ugly sister.

10. TV WEATHER ANCHOR NAME: (Your 5th grade teacher’s last name, a major city that starts with the same letter): Koeppel Kennewick. Had to take another giggle break.

11. SPY NAME: (your favorite season/holiday, flower). Autumn Queen-Anne's-Lace. Could be shortened to Autumn Lace.

12. CARTOON NAME: (favorite fruit, article of clothing you’re wearing right now + “ie” or “y”):
Peach Hoodie

13. HIPPIE NAME: (What you ate for breakfast, your favorite tree): Grapenut Aspen
I grew up in California's Humboldt County, so this could in fact have been my name.

14. YOUR ROCK STAR TOUR NAME: (”The” + Your fave hobby/craft, fave weather element + “Tour” and the year): The Embroidery Rainshower 2008.

If you decide to do this, put a link in my comments so I can laugh at you... fair is fair.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Extreme Recipe Makeover

Every week I receive an email from Kraft Food and Family full of recipes and meal tips. The recipes are all simple enough for a middle schooler and look like they taste good in a 50's food kind of way, but they are full of unhealthy frankenfood ingredients. Honestly, who feeds their kids processed cheese or white bread anymore?

Lest someone think you cannot make a kid-friendly meal without opening several boxes, I decided to makeover a few of this week's recommended meals.

1. "America's Favorite Grilled Cheese Sandwich"

Before I go on, does anyone actually need a recipe for grilled cheese? C'mon. But I'll print it anyway:

2 slices white bread
2 KRAFT Singles
2 tsp. butter or margarine, softened
TOP 1 of the bread slices with Singles; cover with remaining bread slice.
SPREAD outside of sandwich with butter.
COOK in skillet on medium heat 3 min. on each side or until golden brown on both sides.

Healthy Makeover:
2 slices whole grain bread
2 slices organic mozzarrella
2 tsp olive oil
3 slices organic tomato
TOP 1 of the bread slices with tomato, then cheese; cover with remaining bread slice.
POUR 2 tsp olive oil in skillet and COOK sandwich on medium heat 3 min. on each side.

Sometimes I put fresh basil in mine.

2. Cheesy Pepperoni Pulls
4 oz. OSCAR MAYER Pepperoni slices
1 green pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup KRAFT Zesty Italian Dressing
1 cup KRAFT Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 pkg. (13.4 oz.) refrigerated pizza dough
PREHEAT oven to 400ºF. Combine pepperoni, peppers, onions, tomatoes and dressing in 13x9-inch baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle with cheese.
UNROLL pizza dough; cut into 2-inch pieces with sharp knife or kitchen shears. Place evenly over cheese.
BAKE 30 min.; cool 10 min. Invert onto platter; carefully remove dish.

Healthy Makeover:
1/2 pound grilled chicken breast, sliced into strips
2 cups organic chopped veggies of your choice

2 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp finely chopped fresh Italian herbs--basil, oregano, whatever you grow on your sill
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup shredded organic mozzarella

1/2 batch whole wheat bread dough

PREHEAT oven to 400ºF. Combine chicken, veggies, garlic, herbs, and olive oil in 13x9-inch oiled baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese.
ROLL Dough out into pizza sized circle; cut into 2-inch pieces with sharp knife or kitchen shears. Place evenly over cheese.
BAKE 30 min.; cool 10 min. Invert onto platter; carefully remove dish.

3. Cheesy Beef and Veggie Pasta
3 cups farfalle (bow-tie pasta), uncooked
1 lb. lean ground beef
2 carrots, sliced
4 green onions, chopped
2 cups milk
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 lb. (4 oz.) VELVEETA Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup KRAFT Shredded Cheddar & Monterey Jack Cheese
COOK pasta as directed on package. Meanwhile, brown meat in large deep skillet on medium-high heat; drain.
ADD carrots and onions to skillet; cook 5 min., stirring occasionally. Drain pasta. Add to meat mixture in skillet along with the milk, peas and VELVEETA; stir. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook 5 min. or until VELVEETA is melted and mixture is heated through, stirring occasionally.
SPRINKLE with the shredded cheese.

Healthy Makeover:
3 cups whole grain pasta
1 lb. lean ground beef
2 organic carrots, sliced
4 organic green onions, chopped
2 cups organic milk
1 cup organic frozen peas
3 cups shredded organic cheddar cheese, separated

COOK pasta as directed on package. Meanwhile, brown meat in large deep skillet on medium-high heat; drain.
ADD carrots and onions to skillet; cook 5 min., stirring occasionally. Drain pasta. Add to meat mixture in skillet along with the milk, peas and two cups of cheese; stir. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook 2 min. or until cheese is melted and mixture is heated through, stirring occasionally.
SPRINKLE with the remaining cup of shredded cheese.

Adding to the retch factor, one of the reviewers of the third recipe suggested using canned peas and carrots to save time and adding a packet of Lipton onion soup powder for flavor. If you want flavor, you should start with flavorful ingredients, not freakin Velveeta.

It doesn't seem to take much more money or effort to make the healthier versions of these recipes, so why bother with the originals? I guess that's why they deliver the nutritionally void versions... they're hoping I'll throw my hands up and decided that processed cheese product and white flour pasta are good enough for my family.

The Tao of Garage Sales

Or, I-'m-So-Cheap Part Two

Every year I spend my spring weekends picking through a pile of garden gnomes and Hollie Hobbitt bath towels on someone's front lawn looking for that elusive item that I truly need. One year it was a microwave; last year it was baby gear; I'm always looking for snow stuff and sports equipment. Given my love of garage sale-ing--I would probably do it as a hobby even if there were no financial benefit--it's surprising that I've never had my own garage sale.

That is about to change.

I went through my boys' bedroom yesterday and pulled out three Target bags of garbage, four bags of perfectly good toys that are needed by no one in our home, and about three-hundred outgrown books. I personally prefer libraries over buying books, but my 12yo son spends most of his allowance and holiday gift money at Borders. He didn't want to give them away, and selling them via Craiglist or Ebay would be a pain in the @ss. Why not have a garage sale? I asked him. His eyes lit up.

It just so happens that we have a considerable collection of miscellaneous stuff that we like too much to give away but not enough to actually use--just enough to fill a suburban driveway, in fact. So a garage sale it is! The kids plan to spend their portion of the proceeds on more of those wooden planks they are into. These little planks are so expensive we have only a 200 piece set that I found on clearance, creating ample opportunity for practicing the skills of negotiating and outright stealing. Divided three ways, there's never enough to make a complete structure. I was thinking we should put it toward a big wooden swing set/fort type deal when we buy a house, but this will leave more money for the grown-ups. And we *are* the ones who have to expend most of the effort.

Here's the plan:

One month before: amass merchandise in one place, finalize date, begin collecting bags
Two weeks before: put ads in paper, make signs
One week before: buy price tags, borrow tables, get change.
Two days before: tag items, politely(?) ask neighbor if they can keep their @^%&ing yapping, snapping poodles away from my property for one flipping day
Day before: hang signs, allow friends and homeschoolers to "pre-sale" while I set up
Day of: Keep kids in basement play room watching whatever pay-per-view cartoon they have been coveting while husband, stepson, and I man the sale. Yikes, I'm really nervous about having people milling around while my kids are downstairs. Now I'm re-thinking this.

We could make some serious money here! Which brings me to the issue of pricing... What are fair garage sale prices? I was just talking to a real estate appraiser who was commenting on people's tendency to over-value their stuff. He's in the business of disappointing people, he says, because his appraisals always come in at 20% or more less than home owners expect. I've seen this same phenomena at garage sales... I paid forty bucks for these jeans brand new, so thirty is a fair price. Except that the jeans are now faded and two years old and this is a GARAGE SALE, HELLO?

I'm thinking:
books 50 cents each or $5 for a large paper sack
older children's clothing, same
movies, CDs, and dvds $2
Adult clothing in good condition--10% of new price
baby gear 20% of new price
Toys-$1 each for average run of the mill toy, $3-5 for nicer newer one or a complete set
miscellaneous stuff, under a dollar or $5 a sack

At these prices we would make at least a hundred dollars, which isn't that much when I add up my effort and time. Maybe we'll sell cookies and treats as well. What would be a fair price for my super-yummy organic oatmeal/peanut butter cookies?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Me and Freebies

I think--I hope--that I come across as a fairly normal person. Sure, I have this weird thing about buying local, but that's so common it's almost a fad. I homeschool, but even that is becoming commonplace.

I harbor this deep, dark secret: I am incredibly cheap.

Because I am of Jewish ethnic origin, I feel like I should hide this to avoid jokes. Also, it's nice having everyone think we are upper-middle-class when in fact we hang on to middle-middle-class with white knuckles and dug-in fingernails. People just assume you are smarter, funner, more stylish if you make a lot of money. You're one of them. You're good people. They're entirely wrong to think this way and I should be doing everything in my power to dissuade them.


--Last weekend my Huggies Wet Wipes were free after coupon/sale combination at Target and it made my day. Actually, it made my weekend.

--When I walk into a clothing store, I head immediately for the clearance racks. I don't even see the aisle displays. They could have cashmere twin sets for a penny and I wouldn't notice.

--My kids don't know what is in the middle aisles of our local grocery store, the one we shop at every week. We buy the great deals on produce, meat, and dairy that skirt the perimeter and we visit the little organic bulk section, but I couldn't tell you where the Froot Loops are. We buy cereals and snacks at Costco where the organic versions are cheap.

--I have a Kate Spade handbag collection. None of them cost more than 4.99. I have even given designer handbags as gifts to family members who covet them. They think I spent too much... if only they knew.

--I told my daughter that Value Village is called Nordstrom. She likes to tell people where we buy everything and it was getting embarrassing. I hurry her past the sign too fast for her to sound it out, and when she noticed it began with a different letter, I told her the V is silent.

--I make my own BBQ sauce because I can't find an organic one locally, and when I do I probably won't be able to afford it.

--I have not bought shampoo, conditioner, or any kind of hair product in almost a year. Ditto for lotions, moisturizers, anti-perspirants, and a huge chunk of my feminine products. Whoa... how do I manage that?

Oh yeah, I get it for free.

The big indicator of my cheapness is my love of freebies. I find and order free stuff off the internet every day. I have a freebie page on my website, and it's the most often updated page. Freebies have become a major part of my morning routine. I make it into a challenge; how long can I have clean, moisturized hair from one tiny foil packet?

I worry about the environmental friendliness, but the post man comes here every day regardless of what he brings. I recycle all the tiny bottles and the paper envelopes in which they arrived. Gettig so many things for free leaves a huge empty space in on the miscellaneous line of our budget for things like buying more organic, giving to charities, and other green pursuits.

What attracts me to the freebies, more even than the financial savings, is the feeling that I am sticking it to the man. Freebie dispersion is a major part of marketing for the major health and beauty companies. Corporate America is trying to lure me into loyal customerhood, and it ain't gonna happen. I will use their Dove shampoo, love how shiny it makes my locks, and move on to Sunsilk when the bottle is empty. Proctor and Gamble is not getting a dime from me or my household even though I enjoy their products on a daily basis and even have them delivered to my door.

I think (barring theft of course) that NOT paying is the greener way. If we have to be part of this evil economy that is sinking its tentacles into the deepest recesses of our lives, leeching the third world of resources, and hypnotizing small children, let's at least not pay the beast for its services.

I'm off now, to find some more freebies. I'm running low on razors.

Monday, January 21, 2008

This Week's Menu

We're still cleaning out the freezer. Here is what I plan to dig out/defrost/throw together:

Monday: Turkey burgers with chipotle aioli, roasted red potatoes and steamed cauliflower

(Okay, I have to take a break and congratulate myself on that one because it's not bad for a thrown together meal, on a Monday at that.)

Tuesday: Cheeseburger pie and roasted miscellaneous veggies. My 12 yo son saw the recipe on a Bisquick box and wants to make it. Ooookkkkkaaaayyyy. I think we'll do half TVP/half burger.

Wednesday: Spaghetti and green salad. Maybe garlic bread or foccaccia if I'm ambitious.

Thursday: Vegan lentil stew, 12-grain bread, and, gosh, more salad. I need to find a few veggies recipes.

Friday: Chicken and mozzarrella tortellini, salad.

Saturday: Some kind of marinated chicken skewers, pasta salad, cut up fruit. It's my wish-it-was-summer-already dinner

Sunday: Ribs from the freezer, baked potatoes, some kind of vegetable

A note: last week I made tacos and stretched the meat to about twice its original volume with oatmeal and lentils. I just added the about a cup of plain uncooked oatmeal and a little over a cup of cooked plain lentils to the cooked meat while I was adding the spices and sauce. I ended up needing more liquid because the oatmeal absorbs as it cooks. The kids didn't notice.

The Breakfast of Champions

I'm a big fan of breakfast. I eat it; I make my kids eat it; I try to make my husband eat it. It's like coffee--I know people do without it quite happily, but I don't quite comprehend how.

When my kids were in traditional school, a teacher told me that they were the only ones who regularly ate breakfast. This was in a high-scoring school in an upper middle class community in Northern California. I still don't understand how the parents managed this. First, if I don't feed my kids (and quickly), they start serving themselves--digging through cabinets and drawers, leaving trails of Cheerio dust and messes that will require more cleaning time than I would have spent cooking myself. Second, they dissolve into whiney, tantrum-throwing monsters if they are low on protein, so I would have to spend time dealing with less-than-ideal behavior, again more time than I would have spent cooking.

Are there any parents out there willing to admit to not feeding the kidlets breakfast? How do you deal with the messes and behavior? Is it really a timesaver for your family?

I doubt anyone will answer that call.

In my home, breakfast is usually something with protein and whole grains. I try to make it fun to prevent arguments and standoffs, but health definitely comes first. I have an advantage in that my children still haven't realized that many of their peers successfully demand expensive and unhealthy foods. It helps that we homeschool... obviously parents willing to spend eight hours a day or more making sure Junior gets a quality education aren't going to skimp on meals. So far our only food conflict was when my 12yo son discovered one of his friends gets (drum roll...) Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. As opposed to Annie's organic, which I think tastes better anyway.

Today we had french toast made with 12-grain bread... yummy!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hi Lisa!

House Part Two or Three Or Whatever

The wiring is legal and as safe as electric current in your living areas ever is! WAHOO!

We're in the middle of applying for mortgages. An interesting experience because:

a. Banks don't want to talk to me because I'm not a wage earner. Correction, I told them. I *am* a wage earner. My husband pays me (X amount of money, equal to 100% of his take-home pay) for housekeeping and childcare. If you don't believe me, ask him whether he was consulted the last time I went shopping.

They still want him to be the go-to guy for mortgages. But...

b. They don't work weekends or evenings. Of course not! It's a freakin' bank! Hello, Emily?

And I am puzzled because they do prefer giving mortgages to people with jobs, right? If so, why create a system in which aforementioned people with jobs can't have the job AND the mortgage? I suppose he can take time off work (stifling laughter because he balked at taking time off for our daughter's birth last spring).

Supposedly you can apply over the phone and they fax you the papers to sign. Maybe I'll call and talk in a really deep voice, then have them fax the papers to my husband's office. And if he's out, like he usually is, his secretary can sign for him and fax them back.

Isn't that easy now?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Day in the Life of Sage Family

I thought I would share this because I love to see how other people live. So here is what I do every day. Because it varies every day, I chose to highlight last Monday.

6:30 AM: Husband leaves for work; I get up. I get myself ready, make my bed, pick up in my room, begin packing whatever bags we are needing that day, plan meals, and start laundry.

7:00 AM: I wake up kids. They get dressed and make beds. I make breakfast--on this day, it's Bob's Red Mill multigrain hot cereal with maple syrup and sliced bananas.

7:30 AM: The baby wakes up. I get her ready and feed her breakfast while 12yo son reads and the younger two destroy the house.

8:00 AM: Studies begin. The oldest is attending college, so we don't see a lot of him and I (YAY) don't have to manage his studies and social life. 12 yo usually does algebra and religion first, then spelling, composition, biology, and handwriting throughout the day. On Tuesday, he does a exercise called "Editor-in-Chief" which teaches language arts through having the kids edit different articles. On Wednesday, he writes an essay. On Thursday, he studies Latin.

While oldest is working, I show 5yo daughter her lessons for the day. She's doing first grade work but flying through it. I show her today's work in math, handwriting, phonics, and social studies, and she blazes through it.

3 yo son and 7 mo daughter play with Brio trains on the dining room floor while older kids work at the table. I start a lamb and root vegetable stew in the crockpot and switch over laundry.

9:30 AM: Time to go! We pile in the (new, impressively fuel-efficient) minivan and head for karate. 12 yo takes lessons while I sit in the hall and help 5 yo with a new phonics reader. When she is finished, she joins 3 yo son and a few other preschoolers in the block corner. Baby sits on my lap and shows off her two new teeth.

11:00 AM: We are back in the car and dashing home. Once there, we grab lunch (Horizon organic yogurt tubes, organic baby carrots, whole wheat crackers) and our swim bags. The kids put swimsuits under their street clothes. I change baby and reboot laundry, then we dash out the door.

11:30 AM: We eat lunch in the car on our way to archery. Technically our family (that is, my husband) has a strict rule against eating in the car, and when my family (again, my husband) comes up with a way to manage my day so this is possible, I will be happy to oblige. 5 yo and 12 yo learn how to hit targets. I'm not really sure how this skill will benefit my children as adults unless they are contemplating a career as a medieval outlaw, but they love it and their friends are there. I have several consecutive heart attacks as I chase 3 yo around a weapon-filled room for an hour.

12:50 PM: Archery is from 12-1 PM, but we leave ten minutes early because swim lessons start at one. We jet across town.

1:05 PM: We dash into swim lessons. 3 yo and 5 yo peel off outer clothing and hop into water. Baby nurses under a blanket and 12 yo plays in the deep end.

Swimming on Mondays and Wednesdays is the definitive social event for homeschoolers around here. By 1:45, swim lessons are over and about 40 children get to play in the Olympic sized indoor pool until 3. Moms talk, knit, and plan group activities with other families. My baby naps in her carrier.

3:30 PM: Kids are showered, dried, dressed, and in the car. While we drive home, I review the day's work with my 12 yo. While we drove from event to event, he somehow finished all of his schoolwork. I ask him sample questions and quiz him aloud until I am satisfied that he has mastered today's work.

3:45 PM: Home again! The stew smells divine. We unpack bags and pick up around the house. I switch over laundry (again!) and 5 yo gets into ballet clothes. You didn't think our day ended this early, did you?

4:15 PM: The oldest is home, so 12 yo stays with older brother and studies his lines (he has the lead part in a local production of Shakepeare's The Merchant of Venice) while the three youngest and I head for dance lessons.

4:30-5:30 PM: Have you ever seen ten little girls in tutus try to do plies in time to the Cinderella Suite? It's worth the rush to get there!

5:45 PM: I pick up whole wheat rolls and organic spring salad mix at the store on my way home. We arrive at the same time as Daddy! The kids mob him while I get everything on the table.

6:00 PM: We eat. So soon? In case you haven't noticed, I don't have a lot of time to waste!

My day isn't over yet. After dinner, we clear plates and load them into the dishwasher while 12 yo puts on his Boy Scout uniform. Then it's off to the minivan again! I drop him off and come back home. I fold laundry and get the younger kids ready for bed. At 8:15, my husband takes over the bedtime rituals while I pick up the Boy Scout.

8:45 PM: Home... for at least twelve hours. I do some computer work and plan the next day's lessons and menu of events. 12 yo practices kata (karate stuff) and then goes to bed.

I am trying to map out how we could manage our schedule using public transportation at least part of the time. I have a homeschooling mommy friend who does it with great success and uses that time to interact with her kids and run tele-errands on her cell phone (paying bills, making calls, etc). I keep our fuel usage down to ten gallons a week by planning things in circuits, but I would love to get under half of that.

9:30 PM I fall asleep... accidentally. I always mean to stay up late and get more housework done, but it never seems to happen. But laundry is done, dishes are done, and so nothing is pressing enough to keep me awake.

Is it this busy every day? Consider:

Tuesday: Sparring class, housekeeping, basketball, playdates.
Wednesday: Karate and swimming.
Thursday: Library, shopping and errand day, sparring class, attachment parenting mom's group, basketball.
Friday: End-of-week testing, Latin lessons, art lessons, various monthly co-ops, Little Flowers (a girl scout type group)

Thus goes a normal day in the life of a trying-to-be-green, homeschooling mommy. People often ask me how my children deal with the monotony and isolation of homeschooling. I don't know how to answer. The kids seem to thrive on this manic style of education and are all testing several grade levels above their age.

I would love to read your "Day in the Life". Post a link to your blog in my comments if you want to share.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

House Update

My husband looked up *the* house on our local assessor's website. It's listed as having two bedrooms.

Which means the other three have been added without permits. Without inspections.

Okay, it's not a deal-breaker, but...

When we go to add on or further improve the house, IF we do, they might make us tear out the un-permitted work and redo it to the house gestapo's spec's.

When we go to sell, IF we decided to sell, we would be selling a two bedroom house with three not-quite-legal bonus rooms.

Who knows what's under those walls? my husband asks.

What do you mean? I ask, answering a question with a question just to be annoying.

Wiring is tricky (he knows this because electrical engineering was his major in college). It could be hunky-dory, or the whole house could go up in flame at any time.

Fear of fire is one of my more rational phobias, which include fish, small airplanes, and suspension bridges.

It's probably fine, he says.

He knows he's won... this round.

This Week's Menus

...are nonexistent.

I realized it was time to clean out my freezer when I could not read the labels on the packages for all the frost. So, every morning I take a package out of the freezer, and that's what we eat for dinner. I'm still buying dairy and produce, but that's all. If I were to make a menu, it would look something like this:

Today: Nondescript red meat roast in rosemary sauce, roasted potatoes, sad-looking veggies from our garden this year or someone else's garden the year before.

Tomorrow: Is-that-chicken-or-just-something-that-tastes-like-it? stew, salad with freezer-burned-bread-turned-croutons.

This is a good way to salvage your grocery budget on weeks like this one, when the sale papers seem to think 5.99/lb hamburger is worth a full-color front page.

Our freezer is huge, so they had better dazzle me next week or it'll be supper roulette, round two.

Saving lots of money for Disneyland!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The House Negotiations

Okay, you probably read my old House/New House post last week and thus know that we are in the market... kind of.

A friend is moving and wants to sell her house. We want to buy a house similar to hers in a neighborhood similar to hers. Easy, right?

Consider the following:

CON: We just bought a new minivan and are about to embark on a very expensive vacation that has been planned for months. No, we cannot cancel; every morning, my five year old daughter checks the calendar and tells the breakfast table and everyone at it how many days until Disneyland.

There is literally $30 in my savings account. Do you think they'll take that as a down payment?

PRO: One CAN buy without a down payment, even in today's edgy mortgage climate, when "one" is (like us) a couple with a more-than-decent income and excellent credit. As for closing costs, this would take about a month, which gives us ample time to beg wealthier relatives for a short term loan. We could also put them on a credit card or add them into the mortgage. Or we could cancel Disneyland (just kidding).

CON: The house is about half-remodeled. I know nothing about remodeling except what I have learned from HGTV and I wonder whether necessary permits were obtained and whether everything was done to code. I have no idea when one needs a permit, or how to get one... do the owners? Also, we would be moving into a house that needs work, immediate work. Did I mention we have five kids in our home and we homeschool?

PRO: It's a lovely house with almost infinite potential and they have done great things with it. I see where they are going and I approve. They have six kids and homeschool as well, by the way.

CON: My husband isn't feeling it. I see potential; he sees work. I see an adequate house in an awesome neighborhood; he thinks we could get more house for the money given the stagnant real estate market. In fact, a customer who is a realtor told him so in those exact words. The family are friends, so hard core negotiation and all of the included techniques are out of the question. We think they are over-valuing the house because they love it (as do I).

PRO: A simple appraisal could clear that up. I happen to have the name of a great appraiser, one who works for my bank, who is known for being a stickler about these things.

CON: An appraisal costs $600. That's a lot of money to pay for a house we may opt not to buy.

But we have to start somewhere.

ANOTHER CON: A house a few blocks away of similar size is for sale... for less... and it doesn't need work unless you have something against country blue (I do). My husband says, let's just buy that house... we don't know them... we could offer 50K less than asking and probably still get it. Everyone knows houses aren't selling right now.

I don't like that house. I mean, I would like it if I didn't know about and want this other house. I say, shouldn't we be willing to pay more for a house that has the potential to be our dream home? Even if it is a tad more than we would have to pay for a similar home without dream potential?

It has a book nook, goshdarnit. A freaking book nook. And a tree house.

What do you think? I'm up for opinions and advice. I think the person who owns the house in question reads this blog, and that's okay. I don't mind having everything out on the table. I think if she and I sat at a table with no husbands, we'd have it worked out in no time. Husbands tend to resent these type of deals. At least mine does.

Right now we are applying for a mortgage. Then comes the appraisal. A house will be bought and bought soon, money or no money, this house or that one or another. I feel so out of control with all of these mitigating factors and pros-and-cons and feelings to consider. I console myself that I only feel this way during times of huge growth, and that I always seem to come through it unscathed. It's an exercise in dealing with power issues, and I just need to do yoga and keep my emergency inhaler near at all times.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Do You Know the Story of Stuff?

If not, look here

It's a twenty minute sermon, but a relevant and mostly factual one. I disagree a little with her take on the role of government. I think there is little a government can or should do to regulate the economy. Americans see corporations as iconic and godlike and offer them the majority of our income as tribute. There is nothing the government can do to dissuade such eager victims--and each ideological side has had eight of the last sixteen years to try.

We have to stop. So, stop, please? Just don't buy stuff. And when you must, buy used items. When buying used is impossible (as with food), buy minimally processed items that you know have been produced in a sustainable manner with fairness toward all people involved. Think about how people worked around a given challenge before it could be fixed by a trip to Stuff Mart. My mop broke, and now I use a floor rag. It's just as fast, just as easy, just as clean, and cheaper. Why did ever think I needed a mop?

Got kids? Rent Madame Blueberry and watch it with them. Talk about it. We can't afford another generation of this--our ecological account is already overdrawn.

There is nothing wrong with this country that can't be cured by self-deprivation and tolerance.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New or Old?

Which is more eco-conscious, a new house or an older one? The experts seem to be divided, which can be confusing to those of us who are in the market for a home.

My initial choice would be an older home. Older homes obviously do not need new materials to be built. They tend to be made with natural ingredients (wood!), which are favored by the green community. Also, they don't require as much new furniture. Old stuff looks good in old houses! You just wipe it with linseed oil and call it an antique.

They also tend to be smaller. There is a vast gap in perceived space needs now and fifty or more years ago. A small three bedroom/one bath home of 1000 square feet was considered more than enough for a large family until recently. A smaller home means less electric, less climate control, and less space used per family, all conscientious choices.

On the other hand, newer homes can be more energy conscious if they have features such as geo-thermal heating, double paned windows, and some of the better types of insulation. They don't need remodeling (does any home truly need remodeling? Or is that another perceived need?). There are no worries about lead and asbestos. You know exactly what you getting.

It's a tie... almost. The clincher for me is quality of materials and workmanship. I don't think most new homes are made for the long haul. I once spoke to a builder of luxury homes in California who bragged that he could read a newspaper through the carpet he had installed in his two-million-dollar-plus McMansions. Every aspect of construction was farmed out to the lowest bidder. The result was huge, sparkling, impressive houses that would need to be torn down and completely replaced in just a few decades. The stick-built Victorians and Craftsman style homes may be small and shabby compared to new ones, but they'll be their small, shabby selves when the others are piles of rubble in your local landfill.

Tomorrow I am going to check out a small older home. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Monday Menus... er, almost

I know, I know, I've been neglecting you all. I can only plead a bad case of the holiday crazies. So here is my weekly menu, a day late.

Monday: Beef stroganoff and green salad
Tuesday: Chicken and apple sausages with caramelized onions on whole wheat rolls, winter fruit salad (this is what I call bananas, apples, and pears cut into chunks and drizzled with honey, because they are the only cheap local fruit this time of year)
Wednesday: Aloo Gobi
Thursday: Lasagna bolognese from my new Italian cookbook and green salad--my recipe is different from the one in the link because it uses only a pound of ground meat and no pancetta
Friday: Lentil stew, whole wheat rolls, spinach salad
Saturday: Chicken and winter vegetable kabobs--using chicken breast, potatoes, onions, carrots, green peppers, and sweet potatoes marinated in garlic and balsamic vinegar--and brown rice
Sunday: Not sure. We usually do a big Sunday dinner... any suggestions? Maybe whole wheat fettuccini with a homemade Alfredo sauce?