Thursday, March 27, 2008

Out of the Mouths of Babes…

Today at lunch, ‘LilDude (5) pipes up and says, “Sometimes it’s better to be alone than to be scared.” I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. I probed a bit and discovered he was referring to a situation in one of our favorite books, The Island of the Skog, in which a character decides he'd rather be alone on an island than be in the company of creatures that he imagines might be scary.

We talked about how things we anticipate as frightening might not turn out to be so scary after all. I mentioned how preschool friends or teachers might have seemed scary at first. He agreed that things aren’t that way now. “Sometimes I sit by GIRLS!” Apparently the ultimate in scary for 5-year-old boys.

I replied, “But I’m a girl.”

His reply? “Actually, you’re an old woman.”

Now that's scary! :)

I Have a Confession

I have an addiction.

I find it embarrassing to even mention.

It comes in box.

I find myself turning to it at random times throughout the day.

I’m especially vulnerable to its allures when I’m tired. Or when I haven’t seen another adult for hours. Or when I’m bored.

If you haven’t already guessed, it’s tv. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have it on all day. But I often flip it on in the morning with the intent of hearing the weather report…and then just happen to leave it on through celebrity woe stories…or the smartest infant in the world story…or the demise of human kind through impending bird flu story. Then I sometimes turn it on while I’m making lunch to “hear the weather” again. Funny how the weather report usually doesn’t change that much between breakfast and lunch. And then I might turn it on again as I’m cooking dinner, just to be alternately entertained and horrified by the guests on Dr. Phil or Oprah.

If I end up doing the dinner dishes, the tv goes on again. My kitchen sink faces a wall, so I excuse my addiction, figuring that looking at the tv is better than looking at nothing. After the kids are in bed, I usually flop on the couch and watch whatever is on. In our house, it’s not much! We don’t have cable or satellite, so the most I can hope for is a piece of someone’s “reality”…which is usually about as far from my “real life” as you can get!

In our house, we have four televisions. The main one is upstairs in our family room. An old color tv is in my husband’s office. We have a little tv/vcr combo in the kitchen that we bought about ten years ago before we took a cross-country trip in the mini-van with our young kids. And, right out of the stone age, is the black and white dinosaur that my husband won in high school. It sits on my office desk and makes very loud crackling noises when I turn it on.

As a television watcher in the U.S., the day of HDD (high definition …whatever that means!) is fast approaching. Since we don’t have cable and don’t intend to, that means we must purchase converter boxes. Since the boxes cost more than most of our televisions are worth, I don’t plan to purchase enough boxes to update all four machines.* What a perfect time to work on my addiction!

When my finger feels the urge to push the “on” button, I am turning to the radio and turning on my favorite classical station. I have loved classical music since I was a child and have always wished that I had more “time” to listen. Amazing how much “time” I suddenly have!

*As a post note...the idea of the amount of garbage that is about to be created by this HDD switch about sends me over the edge. I figure the least I can do is not replace the televisions I'm disposing. I realize that there are "recycling" programs, but I would guess that the sheer number of units will far exceed the capacity to recycle.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Crockpot Tamale Pie

This is a favorite at our house! (And another way to use my frozen corn!)

3/4 c. yellow cornmeal
1 beef bouillon cube (I sometimes leave this out...)
1 c. water
1 lb ground beef
1 t. chili powder
1, 14-16 oz jar thick/chunky salsa (I use home canned)
1, 16 oz can corn, drained (I use 2 c. frozen, thawed, from garden)
1/4 c. whole ripe olives

In large bowl, mix water and bouillon cube, add cornmeal. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in beef, chili powder, salsa, corn, olives. Pour into 3 1/2 qt. slow cooker.

Cover and cook on LOW, 5-7 hours or until set. Optional: sprinkle cheese on top

Makes 6 servings.

Comment for Consideration…on Self-Sufficiency

What do you think when you read this?

“When I was a boy in the countryside—fifty years ago and more—people [gardened] for self-sufficiency, for it would not have occurred to them to do otherwise. People were self-reliant because they had to be: it was a way of life. They were doing what generations had done before them; simply carrying on a traditional way of life. Money was a rare commodity: far too valuable to be spent on things you could grow or make yourself. It was spent on tools or fabric for clothes or luxury foods like tea or coffee. They would have laughed at a diet of store-bought foods…”

--John Seymour, The Self-Sufficient Gardener (1979—but note this is coming out as a new book/revised edition in April!) as quoted in PowerDown by Richard Heinberg

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Kids and Food “Deception”

Some days, I think I fit better in “The Waltons” generation. Remember how the family would sit together at every meal? Platters and serving dishes lined the middle of the table. Prayers were said. And everyone ate. Momma never once jumped up to get a special plate for JimBob because he didn’t like broccoli. You never saw Grandma trying to sneak a tablespoon of cauliflower into Elizabeth’s eggs for fear that she wouldn’t eat vegetables any other way. No mid-afternoon run to the big yellow arches because chicken nuggets were the only thing MaryEllen would tolerate. And lo and behold…none of the children starved! They ate what was served. No one even provided chips, crackers or pudding snack cups to hold them over until the next meal.

Last week I picked up Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, from the library. The book provides instructions on how to puree vegetables so that they can be incorporated ("hidden"!!!!) in recipes that kids will eat. The concept confused me on a number of levels. First, many—if not most—of the recipes end up providing a tablespoon of vegetables or less per serving. I’m currently looking at the “French Toast” recipe that calls for 2 tablespoons of puree (there is a list of purees to choose from) in a recipe that serves 4. So we’re talking 1/2 tablespoon per person??? I’m perplexed as to why one would go to so much effort for so little nutritional payoff.

I’m also entirely confused by the use of the word “deception” throughout the book. I find it odd that we live in a culture that promotes hiding good nutritious food in order to get our kids to eat it. I thought the goal was to expose our kids, time and again, to the amazing palate of nutritious goodness that our planet has to offer. I would much rather repeatedly expose my child to “real”—not hidden—vegetables. Eating together as a family, my children learn that the people they love and respect EAT VEGETABLES! It’s WHAT WE DO.

I’ve been slowing working my way through a very different cookbook that our naturopath recommended, The Garden of Eating. Although I don’t plan to go to the extremes (large consumption of vegetables/fruits & meat to the exclusion of most grains) outlined in the book, I do leave it with a challenge. I’d like to widen my cooking repertoire as well as my family’s palate. I want to increase the variety of vegetables we grow and try out some new items at the Farmer’s Market this summer.

And I don’t plan to hide them in anything.

Someone recently asked me how we handle kids and eating at our house. It’s really simple. I usually make dinner and put it on the table. We sit down as a family to eat. Everyone is expected to try everything. If you want seconds of something…or dessert, on the rare occasion that it’s available…then you eat a reasonable portion of everything first. If you choose not to, that’s fine…there’s always breakfast tomorrow. …And I don’t mean that I save dinner for breakfast! I just mean that if anyone chooses not to eat, there is always another meal coming. Interestingly enough, I don’t think anyone has ever chosen to not eat dinner. But more than once I’ve had a child suddenly say, in a shocked way, “This is good! Remember when I didn’t used to like it?” Tastebuds and children do grow and change if given the opportunity.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Slow Cooker Chili

Late winter is not especially exciting when you’re trying to eat in season. Root vegetables and squash are getting old…both literally and to the palate. But things are starting to bloom, a signal that it’s time to really make an effort to use up whatever is in the freezer in preparation for next year’s supply. At this point we have a lot of frozen corn and tomatoes left. It’s time to use those ingredients in abundance. Here is a favorite recipe modified from Simply in Season

Slow Cooker Chili

1 lb ground beef

Brown in large frypan.

1/2 to 1 onion (chopped)
1-2 cloves minced garlic (optional)
1/2 to 1 cup green pepper (I use frozen, chopped)
1/2 to 1 cup celery (chopped, optional)

Add to beef and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Place in slow cooker.

4 cups beans (I use 1 can black and 1 can kidney)
1 qt. tomatoes (chopped, I use frozen**)
1-2 T. chili powder
1 T. honey
1 t. salt
1-2 or more cups corn (I use frozen)
1 can pieces & stems mushrooms (optional)
1 T. Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 hot chili pepper (minced, optional, I use frozen)

Add and cook on high for 15 minutes then on low for 8-10 hours. Serve as soup (add water at the end to make soupier) or over rice or pasta.

My family really likes this as an alternative to taco soup which is another soup/stew favorite.

**This past year I read several articles about the potential problems with plastic packaging in food storage. I was particularly concerned with storing acidic ingredients in plastic. In the past, I froze tomatoes in yogurt or cottage cheese containers (recycling!) or in standard freezer containers. This year, in an effort to get away from plastic, I froze tomatoes in quart jars with used canning lids from the previous year. (So the lids had already had the seal used, but the seal was still adequate for freezing.) I left plenty of head space for expansion. The system has worked great as long as I remember to pull out ingredients with time to allow for thawing.

The Ego in the Road…

Ever been driving along a country road, sun shining, pink cherry blossoms blooming, only to hear a BANG! THUMP! and realize your peaceful moment was just interrupted by a stinky, dead creature lying in the middle of the road? This weekend, I experienced a series of events that made me realize that my ego sometimes becomes that creature. I didn’t like what I saw.

All parents were required to help with a children’s play production. I didn’t have a strong job preference, but one of the items on the list was “makeup” and since I’d done it as a teacher and a student, I offered to help. A few days before the production, I received a call from the play coordinator saying that they wanted me as a “pair of hands” but that the head make-up mom (HMM) wanted me to understand that she was in charge, that I wasn’t to do anything “artsy” and that I would only be following her instructions. As I didn’t know either the coordinator or the HMM—had never even met the HMM--I thought the request was unusual, but I assured her that I did not want to be in charge and was happy to do whatever she wished.

When I arrived at dress rehearsal, I did exactly as asked. I made-up 5-6 kids, checking with the HMM each time before I excused them; each child was deemed passable. On about child #7, HMM was busy so I excused the child without checking. Child #7 was immediately called back for a little more eye make-up. When I checked with HMM on the next few kids and all was fine, I again tried to release a child who was then called back because he wasn’t “done.”

At this point, you should have seen my ego. It was growing, and GROWing, and GROWING. I was about busting buttons, trying to keep my mouth shut and my ego from spewing all over the room. As any of my friends or family will attest, I LIKE TO BE RIGHT! I do not like to be told that I am wrong. And it takes about every ounce of self-control that I have to keep my mouth shut when I think I’m right!!!!

I didn’t say a word. They wanted my hands, so I kept my hands busy and tried to keep my mouth shut.

After awhile, a mom came in with her son, reflecting aloud on how hard it was to do the “quick change” make-up that was necessary in his role. I casually mentioned that I’d heard that if you wash your face with cold cream prior to make-up that it can help in the removal process. The other mom nodded. HMM looked up from the face she was doing and said, “No. You can’t do that because it will make it so the make-up won’t adhere.” I closed my mouth and put my hands back to work.

But, oh man!!!! My ego wouldn’t quit. The minute I got home, I pulled out my dramatic makeup text and looked it up. I found a paragraph supporting what I’d said, almost word for word.

So there I sat, ego on one shoulder, reason on the other.

Ego: “You should tell her because it would make the production easier for everyone.”

Reason: “No you shouldn’t. It’d just make her mad and she wouldn’t do it anyway.”

Ego: “But I want to be right! I want to look smart! I want to look like I know what I’m doing! I want to be more than a pair of hands.”

Reason: “You are so full of yourself. Be quiet, shut up, and let the HMM have her moment. Why do you have to be right all the time anyway????”

Ego: “You bug me.”

Reason: “You’re like a smelly, dead animal lying in the road.”

I was really ticked at Reason, but in a rare, unusual sign of amity, I let her win.

Performance day was a repeat of rehearsal. I was the hands, HMM was the boss and the brains. It was all I could do to keep BFE (big fat ego) in check.

In Sunday School the next day, I shared my story in a conversation about people’s desire for power and control. I wasn’t a bit proud of the feelings that the experience had brought up for me. I so, so badly wanted to be the boss, the one in control, the one who was right. I really appreciated one response…”If you had pushed your agenda—if you’d spewed—if you would have made being right the most important thing—it would have been an act of violence against that person.”

It was a lightbulb moment. My ego and its incessant need to be right…at whatever cost…is a form of violence against others. It is the dead, smelly thing lying in the middle of a beautiful country road.

P.S. I have no reason to believe that HMM would ever come across my blog. But if you do, I honestly enjoyed working with you and you taught me more about myself than I’ve probably learned in the last few years. I appreciate it.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Blogging Blue Jeans

Things that can make me feel guilty are also the things that can inspire…

Have you ever pondered blue jeans? Usually when I think of jeans, I think of my boys; especially at young ages, they could easily wear through a pair of jeans before they outgrew them. I used to have two goals:

1. Locate jeans that fit. (I have boys with ultra-slim waists, so this isn’t always easy.)
2. Get them as inexpensively as possible.

But thanks to a friend, I’ve started to think about other topics…like who makes jeans and at what cost? A friend just loaned me a video, China Blue, detailing the world of blue jean manufacturing in China. Young Chinese—usually women—many as young as 13 or 14, leave their families in the country to go make money in city factories. They live in “factory housing” consisting of concrete, sparsely heated rooms, housing about 12 girls/room. Each girl has her own bed…but the beds aren’t used much because the girls routinely work 18 hour days with no overtime pay. They make about 6 cents/hour. Food is subtracted from their wages as are any “infractions” such as the penalty received for staying out late one night. (For this, the girls had to work two days without pay.)

In the scenario presented, the factory owner makes about $4 for a pair of jeans and then the foreign buyer charges about 10x that for the same pair. Leading U.S. jean labels were represented as buyers.

The documentary follows Jasmine, a teenage girl who is the second child from a poor family. As the second child, she is trying hard to earn money, knowing that her family has suffered from having a second child under China’s one-child policy. After two months of working without pay, she learns that new workers typically receive nothing for their first couple months of work. Having no earnings—not even the 6 cents/hour of her peers—she is forced to continue working at the factory even as others spend a month’s pay to travel home for New Year Celebrations.

Jasmine and others typically spend up to 18 hours a day at work in the factory. Her job is to cut threads from each pair of blue jeans. This job, which must be done to perfection, pays 3 cents/pair and demands 30 minutes for each pair of jeans.

The documentary explored the role of foreign buyers who typically overlook working conditions/pay in favor of the bottom line…how cheaply can I buy this so as to make more money when it’s sold at home? A couple of U.S. buyers are named, including one store (…”Gimme a W____!!!!”) that brought a grin to the Chinese factory owner’s face.

Yes, learning all this could make me feel guilty. But it also presents a challenge! Here are some ways I’m trying to meet the challenge:

1. Buy less. Consider need vs. want. My kids probably do need a pair of jeans. They probably don’t need more than a couple.

2. Look at the label. Where were these jeans manufactured? What are the chances that the location = substandard working conditions? If you have homeschool kids—or any kids for that matter—a great exercises is to go on a “global label hunt.” Ask your child to go through his closet and create a tally/graph for the number of clothing items from each country. What does this tell you about your purchases and the “cost” involved—your cost as well as the “cost” to the folks who are making the clothes? A "bargain" for me may mean that someone else "pays the price."

3. Consider used. Can you lengthen the life of a pair of jeans that someone else purchased new? Garage sales, used stores, and trading clothing with friends are all options. I routinely swap with a friend. My daughter’s clothes go to her younger girls. Her older son’s clothes go to my youngest son. It works out great for everyone!

4. Think about the industry. Their goal is to make money. To that end, workers in the country of origin are exploited. Millions of dollars are spent in advertising to convince you that you MUST HAVE whatever is new and in-style. They don’t want you to think. They want you to buy.

What other ways can we rise to this challenge?

A postscript...

Another adoptive parent emailed this to me:

China's Stolen Children

Last week, a British television network aired a controversial documentary titled China's Stolen Children. At one point, the Chinese government tried to block the British broadcast, according to The Sunday Times. The producers summarize the documentary this way: "The film follows the parents of 5-year-old Chen Jie as they desperately search for their kidnapped son, one of up to 70,000 children kidnapped and sold in China every year as a result of the One Child Policy. It includes secretly shot footage of a trafficker buying a one-year-old boy in a park, and negotiating the sale of the child to a couple in a hotel room."

This is the first of nine parts. I watched all nine segments on YouTube...the entire documentary, I believe. If you watch China Blue, this helps to shed light on why Jasmine, a second child, felt it was so important to bring money to her family.
According to this, the documentary is made by the same folks who did The Dying Rooms.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Eat Local and in Season

This year my kids studied energy use for their LegoRobotics project. They focused on how much fuel and energy (for food storage, etc…) are saved when we buy locally grown food. Although my kids didn't use media, I was thrilled to see that a school class has explored this idea. Their presentation is inspirational!

My kids learned that the nutritional value of local food is usually higher because food is fresher and hasn’t had to be artificially ripened. Financially, buying local produce gives you more “bang for your buck”; on the surface, the price may not look a lot different, but nutritionally, locally grown food is usually superior and better for the environment…and may save a lot of money in the future by reduced pesticide use, less fuel costs, reduced need for energy, etc… An added benefit? The money you pay goes directly to the people who grew your food, eliminating the "middle man" of industry...which is where much of our food dollars go. I especially like buying local because I can talk to my grower. "What chemicals were used? How often? How recently?"

For the Lego project, my kids put together a cold frame using a raised bed in our garden and a couple of old window frames. They grew radishes, spinach, and kale in the dead of winter. The broccoli has just started to develop buds. Yesterday, we ate a delicious kale salad. On Saturday, we planted both lettuce and spinach in the cold frame, anticipating some early spring salads…and all for the cost of a few seeds.

One of my favorite cookbooks, Simply in Season, is one that I turn to extensively for ideas about how to eat foods that are currently in season. During the upcoming months, I’ll try to reference some of our favorite recipes. In Sunday School we did a study of the connection between food and faith through the exploration of eating local, seasonal food. We used the Simply in Season Leader’s Study Guide which is available free here.

It was an inspirational introduction to thoughtful food buying and eating. It would be an excellent study for any small group or book club.
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