Sunday, May 31, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
This evening my husband and I met with C to make up a list of activities for her to turn to when she is bored at home. Some are solo, some will require a parent. She is entitled to 30 minutes of parent time in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon. C said she was bored by the meeting, too, but we have a list of a couple dozen activities now. At the bottom I have several other activities circled in red. If C finds herself bored in spite of two dozen fun activities, an hour a day of guaranteed parent time, and a little brother to play with, we go to the doomsday option of doing housework and workbooks until we aren't bored anymore. I haven't really tried that before.
I've also written up a sheet, showing that C can earn 2 points before lunch and 2 points after lunch. Here's what it says under "How to earn points."
- Don't say "I'm bored!" Say, "Mommy, can you help me find something to do?"
- No repeated requests or offers.
- No means no.
- Do a good job finding activities.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Maybe I should have kept the possum.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
On the internet, one often runs into expressions of puzzlement on the decline of home cooking and the ubiquity of restaurants that serve mediocre versions of things that you could make cheaper and just as fast at home. I baked enthusiastically starting in 6th grade and have cooked lots of different things over the years, but sadly, I too am a victim of this phenomenon and I stopped cooking regularly in spring 2003, around the time my oldest started crawling. What happened?
Thanks to Daniel T. Willingham's Why Don't Students Like School, I think I know why. I think the problem was that even when I was at my peak as a cook, it was an enjoyable, engrossing leisure activity, rather than being automatic. As Willingham would phrase it, I was using all of my working memory for cooking. If there were any other demands on my attention, things broke down. There's also the issue of background knowledge. Willingham says:
Do you have a friend who can walk into someone else's kitchen and rapidly produce a nice dinner from whatever food is around, usually to the astonishment of whoever's kitchen it is? When your friend looks in a cupboard, she doesn't see ingredients, she sees recipes. She draws on extensive background knowledge about food and cooking...
What I and other dinner-challenged people are lacking is practice and background knowledge so that making dinner doesn't require any intellectual effort. We need to get past the point where every dinner requires thought (and then you order pizza) to the point where we have a small, well-rehearsed repertoire that we can put together in the dark.
UPDATE: It occurs to me that this need to automate cooking is another example of why "you can just look it up!" fails in real world application. "Looking it up" is slow and inefficient, especially when dealing with external distractions. To be an effective home cook, you need to know basically what you are going to be doing before you open the cookbook.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
Eventually, facilities put in a call to Eco-Safe, but we weren't sure how soon they'd be able to check in with us. Sometime after the kids went to bed (9:15ish), my husband and I ventured out to the dark backyard with a flashlight, a couple of brooms, and a rake. After a bunch of fiddling with the crack in the trash can from a safe distance (and spraying the opossum with the hose), the opossum was freed and it immediately disappeared. I called facilities and updated them. Some time later, the Eco-Safe guy appeared to inquire about the well-being of the opossum.
Tomorrow I'll need to talk to the city waste disposal people about getting a new crack-free trash container.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
UPDATE: I didn't rinse the brown rice before cooking (to maximize stickiness) and I was careful about making sure to put in enough water. The results were nutty and moist and I was gratified. I have avoided cooking rice for years (white rice is nutritionally dubious and brown rice takes forever), so I am very pleased that the rice cooker really is that easy to work with. (Where have you been all my life? Aside from the year or so spent neglected on the kitchen counter, that is?) Tasted from the pan, the sweet and sour sauce had a pleasant lime taste and a zing from the vinegar. It tasted OK on the chicken (which was not battered), just a little bland and muted. My husband thinks it probably needed some more time to thicken. Since he says it took half an hour to prepare this sweet and sour sauce from scratch, doing so is probably a culinary dead end. Tonight's dinner probably came in at a bit under $13 total. I love stir fry dinners at home, but they are our most expensive home cooking, given that right off we are spending around $6 for chicken. I like panang tofu as much as the next person, but I don't think the kids would be clamoring for seconds. (We have one very good Thai restaurant locally (which has proselytizing Buddhist literature in the waiting area), one pan-Asian chain called Pei Wei, and a multitude of iffy to so-so Chinese buffets.)
Dessert was a berry pie that my husband worked on with D: two HEB crusts, frozen cherries, frozen raspberries, some frozen blueberries, corn starch and sugar. I didn't figure up how much the ingredients cost, but presumably we could have bought a frozen pie at HEB for roughly the same price, but with more mystery ingredients.
Friday, May 22, 2009
One cafeteria (probably the worst one) reopens at the beginning of June, so we won't be completely on our own if we can just get through the month of May. However, we probably aren't going to want to face the cafeteria five nights a week. I was working up a list of realistic menus last night and here is my initial draft:
- beans and rice
- stir fry
- ham and sweet potatoes
- salmon baked in aluminum foil (with rosemary or whatever)
- chicken baked in aluminum foil (with mole or rosemary or whatever)
I'm not excited about this list, but I suppose a lot depends on what you do with it. The spaghetti would probably be a lot more interesting with some of our fresh basil, and for our rice and beans tonight I'm planning on mixing brown and white rice and cutting up lemon and lime wedges and setting out ranchera salsa (which I have become very fond of).
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
UPDATE: He's got fourteen points and is one point away from Byron the Bulldozer! Hopefully, we will be able to interest him in more Thomas friends. We've had success in the past with motivating him with sets of prizes (dragons and elephants), so hopefully we will be able to persuade him that Byron is lonely.
C had her birthday celebration in class today. I brought cupcakes (C insisted on store-bought), napkins, paper plates and D. C wore a sparkly crown which her teacher keeps for this purpose, she got ceremonial birthday hugs from her teacher, and the class waited in agony until she had her first bite before they got to start eating. That piece of etiquette is scrupulously observed in these parts. C has about five days of class left.
In other news, our lows are around 60 degrees and it's now 75 outside. I couldn't wish for better.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
My husband just put in some popsicles with the guanabana nectar I got at the store. The guanabana is a spiky green fruit with a mild but interestingly floral flavor.
UPDATE: You may have noticed the ubiquity of a dish of lemons or limes or both in kitchens in home magazines lately. After the dozenth sighting, I decided to give it a try and put out some in a glass dish. Other than the fact that the kids see it and want me to squeeze them some lemonade or limeade by hand (rather than using the juice in the fridge), it's a very useful and decorative practice. 1. Lemons and limes should be at room temperature before juicing. 2. It's nice to be constantly reminded that we have them, since it leads to using them, rather than leaving them in Siberia at the bottom of the fridge. 3. They smell good. 4. So far, the fruit flies don't seem interested.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
I've been looking longingly at the ginger root at the grocery store for some time. I know how wonderful everything tastes with ginger in it, and I have laid in ample supplies for cooking stir fry.
Friday, May 15, 2009
I'd like to hold out for another week or two, since last year, the summer electricity bill ran as high as $260. Our first summer (before we switched a bunch of bulbs to fluorescent), we had three bills over $400. Even the fluorescents seem to generate a lot of heat. Our current protocol is to keep as many lights as possible off, open windows and run ceiling fans. This produces tolerable results. We have nice deep eaves (a common design feature in Texas homes), which helps a lot. Unfortunately, the ceiling fans are only in the three bedrooms and the dining room is a dark, windowless hole without the lights on. Once we go over to AC, we'll shut the house down tight and try to keep lights off.
UPDATE: I just remembered that the switch-over is a bit more complicated. Initially, we'll have windows open in the morning and at night and shut down and use AC only during the hottest times of day. Eventually there's not going to be significant cooling at night, so at that point, we shut down tight for the summer and use AC all the time.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Saturday, May 9, 2009
The cafeterias close in a week and then will be shut down for two weeks. Furthermore, during the summer, only our least favorite cafeteria will be open and it's going to be packed with various summer camp groups. So we are looking at a minimum of two weeks of fending for ourselves in the wild, followed by 2.5 months of roast beef, macaroni and cheese, or institutional-grade pizza. It's almost enough to make us turn to cooking. I'm currently studying Barbara Kafka's Microwave Gourmet which may be the answer to our summer cooking issues (the heat generated by the microwave is supposed to be far less of a problem than that generated by conventional cooking, a big deal when it's 105 outside and 82 inside). I warn you though, dear readers, that I am notorious for preferring to read about domestic achievements rather than to actually perform them.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Last year's experience was:
- Seeds and bulbs don't necessarily come up, no matter what you paid for them, especially if you don't water them regularly.
- Cilantro smells better than it tastes (which is remarkably like parsley).
- Nothing can kill a mint bush. Unfortunately, there's not a lot you can do with a bushel of mint leaves. (We have a mint bush that was here when we moved in, as well about five rosemary bushes and a number of pecans. The pecans had a very good crop in 2007, but were practically barren in 2008.)
- Rosemary bushes are fantastic in this climate, and are just as indestructible as mint, but rosemary tastes great with everything.
- Our basil last year took a long time to get going (I grew it from seed), but it withstood severe neglect during the summer, bouncing back after lengthy waterless periods. It flourished deep into the fall, finally dying in late November or early December.
As I mentioned, I didn't aggressively garden this spring, although I've been attacking the weeds with a shovel this week. That said, I am enjoying dividends both from the efforts of previous residents (the pecans, mint, and rosemary) and my own work last spring. I have a row of gladioli that came up very nicely after their winter dormancy (I wasn't going to dig them up, store them over the winter, plant them in the spring, blah, blah, blah). They are mostly two feet tall now, despite no watering this spring. There's a dill plant that just came up in the area where I had dill last year and it's probably taller than any of the dill plants I had last year.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention my garlic chive plant. I put it in last year, neglected it for most of a year, and it's still going strong. These herbs are very resilient.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Monday, May 4, 2009
Sunday, May 3, 2009
UPDATE: I think C liked The Last Unicorn (she watched it with her own stuffed unicorn), but I probably should mention that the story, characters, and visuals were very weak.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
I'm starting to think that a zero-commute location near where we currently rent would work better for us. The problem is 1) there are only a couple dozen houses available in that other faculty neighborhood that is not going to be demolished 2) none of them are for sale now and 3) the last time one was for sale, it was $280k (around $100 per square feet). We're supposed to have 1.5 to 2 years before we have to leave our rental. It will be interesting to see where prices go from here.
UPDATE: I somehow failed to mention that the house is advertised as a "tutor" rather than a "tudor."