Sunday, July 26, 2015

Making the Most of Red Meat

A friend of ours is a slaughterer, and we were able, a few months ago, to fill part of our freezer with mutton at a very reasonable price.  A couple weeks ago, I cooked the rack, and some aspect of that meal carried us through over a week's worth of dinners.  The same thing could be done with beef ribs or other cuts of meat suitable for braising.

Here's how you make one meal's worth of meat last nine dinners.
  • Dinner 1: Buy enough lamb shanks or ribs to serve everyone for one meal plus one more serving. Braise them. I used this simple crockpot recipe (using a bullion cube instead of the onion soup mix), and it was both inexpensive and delicious.  I served the shanks with potatoes and green beans. Skim and save the fat that congeals on the top, and save the braising liquid. When you serve the meat, insist on portion control with it, and reserve the extra serving of meat that you bought.
  • Dinners 2-4:  Using the braising liquid, cook at least two cups of dried beans, along with a chopped onion or two and a bell pepper.  I used equal portions of pinto and black beans.  Black eyed peas would also have been a good option.  You will probably need to add more water to have enough liquid.  I served rice and beans for dinner twice (salad on the side).  For a third meal, the beans were running a bit short, so I added some turkey hotdogs to the beans.  Again, I reserved the bean liquor.
  • Dinners 5 and 6: Cook a large batch of rice in the bean liquor.  You might need to add more water to make enough liquid.  Add to the rice before you start cooking it onions, bell pepper, a couple of chopped hotdogs or sausages, and any leftover beans.  Serve as a main course with grated cheese and maybe some green onions or cilantro.  Add a vegetable side dish, and call it dinner.
  • Dinner 7:  Use the saved fat to make a double batch of gravy.  Use half the gravy for a dinner of biscuits or rice and gravy served with vegetables. If making biscuits, make a double batch of dough, and freeze half.
  • Dinners 8 and 9: Use the remaining gravy and reserved meat (deboned and chopped small) to makes shepherd's pie or pot pie.  If you served the meat with potatoes in the initial meal, leftover potatoes can be used to make the top of a shepherd's pie.  In addition to meat and gravy, I filled my 9x13 pie with onions, celery, carrots, and mushrooms all sautéed together; some frozen peas and corn; and a leftover half can of green beans.  I also topped it with biscuits (this is where you can use the other half of that biscuit dough) instead of potatoes or pie crust. I served the pot pie with a salad on the side.
Cooking with more than one meal or type of meal in mind is something I term "strategic cooking", and it is an invaluable tool for keeping grocery expenses under control.

This post has been linked to WFMW,  Busy Monday and MYHSM

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Copying Tips for Homeschoolers

Like many homeschool moms, I use my printer a lot.  Not only do I print out materials, but I make a lot of copies.  I like the materials I use, and I want to keep the originals clean to use with multiple children. That means we use ink cartridges pretty quickly, and I try to make them last as long as possible.

My particular printer uses cartridges that cost $20 per package, and each package contains one color and one black cartridge.  Unfortunately, refurbished cartridges are not available for it.  Since most things I copy or print use primarily black ink, I end up using more black ink than color.  In order to use my cartridges more evenly, I make a point of printing in color whenever possible.  While that means I use up color ink more quickly, but it stretches out the black ink, and that means I buy cartridges less frequently.  It also means that I am less likely to wind up with a pile of unused color cartridges.   And if I use up a black cartridge,  printing in color allows my printer to default to blue.

Another way I save on black ink (when I remember to do it) is to put a piece of blank, white paper behind anything I copy that is smaller than 8.5X11.   This way the edge around my copies will come out white and not grey.

This post has been linked to WFMW,  HHH,  Busy Monday, and MYHSM

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

To Expectant Mothers: Be Prepared

We've all heard news stories about mothers giving birth very quickly and unexpectedly.  To many women, it sounds like a fantasy or an urban legend,  but precipitous labor happens--usually not at the post office, but it does happen.  While it is very rare among first time mothers, rapid labor is far more common among women who have given birth at least once before, especially if prior births were relatively fast or easy.

I would know.  It's happened to me twice now.  My first two births were easy and fairly fast.  My third and fourth have both clocked in well under three hours from start to finish.

That might seem like something enviable, but it is very intense, prone to sudden changes, and can be scary, depending on one's preparedness and how the labor progresses.  In my most recent labor, I went from becoming aware that this was the "real thing" to pushing in about 45 minutes, and from meeting the L&D admission requirements to birth in about 15 minutes.  There was simply no time for the midwife to arrive let alone to transport me anywhere safely.  And the sudden shift from riding out contractions to pushing left me so surprised that I really couldn't think my way through anything.

With that experience in mind, I would encourage any expectant mother to educate herself and encourage her husband to learn about unassisted childbirth.  Births often don't go according to plan, and being prepared for various contingencies is important.  If you hire a midwife, you and she will plan for the contingency of something going wrong.  If you have a doctor and hospital, there are procedures in place for handling various unexpected circumstances.   Likewise, if labor sneaks up on you, having some idea what to do and having a prepared partner to help with the things you can't do can make the whole process much safer and much less overwhelming.

Having some idea of the process of delivering a baby is a good idea for any expectant parent anyway, as it will help you keep calm in the delivery room.

Here are some things that I found helpful:

  • Have a First Aid handbook handy.  Read up on mouth to mouth resuscitation and the symptoms of internal bleeding.  Generally speaking, precipitous childbirth happens when all is well for both mother and child, but strange things happen, and ambulances take time to travel.
  • Read Dr. Gregory White's Emergency Childbirth.  This is a manual intended for emergency personnel, but it is very easy to read and reassuring for the layman.
  • Have a fetal heart doppler handy (they can be had very inexpensively on Amazon).  It might not occur to you to use it in the heat of the moment, or you may not have time, but the ability to track fetal heart rate and position leading up to birth is very useful.  You can also use it in lieu of a stethoscope when the baby is born to check heartrate.
  • Have a bulb syringe, towels, disposable gloves, and chux pads on hand (I buy the ones marketed for house training pets, because they are half the price of medical ones)--basically the sorts of things you need around if you plan a homebirth, many midwives post shopping lists on their professional websites and many companies sell pre-assembled birthing kits (an example can be found here).  If you are nearing your due date, having these items on hand is simply part of having a stocked first aid kit.
  • If your husband has not witnessed the "business end" of childbirth before, encourage him to watch one or two online.  Familiarity will breed confidence and will help him whether he is supporting you in the delivery room, holding your hand while the midwife helps you at home, or catching a baby in the back seat of the car.  Knowledge is power.
  • Have your husband with you for at least one third trimester prenatal appointment, and ask your doctor or midwife for an overview of what to do if labor proceeds very quickly.

Again, I am not promoting unassisted childbirth.  It is simply something that can and does happen on occasion, and the results will be better if it is an anticipated contingency.  In short, be prepared:

This post has been linked to WFMW Busy Monday and MYHSM

Monday, July 6, 2015

Announcing and Welcoming...

The Octopus!

Our little girl, Shifra Aveline, was born at home on July 1, 2015, weighing 9 pounds and 1 ounce.

Monday, June 1, 2015

When Literacy Inhibits Learning

I wrote recently about how I don't always use retention as a measure of learning.  As a homeschool family, we have the freedom and flexibility to introduce, explore, and be enriched by ideas and information without expecting the children to retain the concepts or be able to articulate them in an evaluation.  The point is for those ideas to be familiar when we return to them at a later time.  Likewise, we have the freedom to diverge from the cultural expectation that learning proceeds from a point of literacy.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love reading and language.  I have a book collection.  I learn best by reading.  I am by no means downplaying the importance of literacy.  I am simply playing up other kinds of learning at the same time.

My oldest is learning to read, and my second is just learning to write his letters, having learned their names and sounds.  Many educational materials make the assumption that literacy must come before learning other subject matter, limiting content for the sake of vocabulary.  Very often, when I look for worksheets for my boys on a topic, I find I have to skip forward a few grades to get their level of content, simply because children are expected to be literate before the topic is introduced.  But here's the thing: the entire occupation of a child's mind is learning, even long before they develop the capacity for abstraction required for reading. And sometimes a child is not ready to read, not because he lacks capacity, but because he lacks the attention span.

My children learn about the life cycle of stars, basic botany, anatomy, aviation, how firearms work, steam engines, major historical figures, clouds, and thanks to their grandfather, the fundamentals of Newton's Laws of Motion.  They do not learn these things because they are of unusually advanced intellect--they would both struggle in the classroom environment--or because I pressure them with high expectations and constant work (their workload is pretty light), but because I read aloud to them as part of their weekly curriculum.  I also let them watch documentaries intended for older audiences and make myself available to answer questions and explain the material.  The ability to read is not necessary to these types of learning.

It has generally been my experience with young children (not just my own) that if they are able to ask a question, they are also usually able to understand the gist of the answer.

This post has been linked to HHH, WFMWBusy Monday, and MYHSM

Monday, May 25, 2015

Homeschooling, and What it Means to Learn

I recently had a conversation with another homeschool mom in which we discussed what subjects we are covering with our six-year-olds.  As I enumerated the topics I have the Bat work on in a week, I realized that it sounded like a lot:

  1. English (reading and writing)
  2. Geography
  3. Math
  4. Science
  5. Music
  6. ASL
  7. Hebrew
  8. Life skills (chores, learning to cook, etc.)
The thing is that the workload really isn't very heavy, even though I'm taking a smorgasbord approach with science this year, covering multiple areas of the topic every week. The reason it isn't overwhelming is that there are multiple definitions of learning.

In a classroom, learning is characterized by retention, and necessarily so.  This has become increasingly the case in recent years as schools have had to devote more time to testing. If you don't retain the information, you haven't learned it.

Another definition is more fluid, but not suited to the classroom at all.  My grandfather once told me that everything must be learned three times: once to forget, once to remember, and once to understand.  Within this context, much of classroom learning focuses on the second iteration--the one usually required for testing--although it can also, in later grades, emphasize the third level of learning through essay assignments.  However, institutional learning really requires an objective mechanism for evaluation to be effective in any way.  Teaching for the sake of introducing a subject is a waste of classroom time because it is not quantifiable either for administrative records or for report cards.

In the context of homeschooling, I have the freedom to introduce a wide variety of subjects while not requiring my students to retain information from all of them.  As an example, I can teach addition and subtraction to the Eel and Bat emphasizing retention of the processes involved, but allowing more leeway and time on the memorization of specific problems.  We cover a wide variety of science topics, but I honestly don't expect them to retain much if it.  I just want the ideas to be fairly familiar when we approach them again later.  With other topics, I might expect retention, but developed over the long term.  I don't expect them to learn to write each letter well in the short term, but I do expect them to improve over the course of the year.  Likewise, I expect the memorization of ASL and Hebrew vocabulary to occur over time.

Both approaches to education have benefits a drawbacks.    In the case of the Bat, the presence of variety helps us cope with his short attention span.  In the case of the Eel, a more quantifiable approach might be better, because he likes the certainty of definite endpoints.  Still, he benefits from a broad range of subjects, because I can offer him a range of subjects to choose from when we sit down to study--an approach that works very well for him--or let him do less intensive work if he didn't sleep well the previous night.  I also like for both of them that the approach we use gives me the opportunity to find their skills and interests without a significant time commitment to any one topic.

Obviously, retention and understanding are more important in later grades, but flexibility can be very useful early on.

Value judgments aside, two of the things most homeschool families enjoy is the ability to be responsive to the needs of their students and the opportunity to develop and pursue their own educational goals.  With the inevitable diversity the results, comparing notes among homeschool families can be a hotbed for miscommunication if we let it.  

So, what do you mean when you say "learning"?

This post has been linked to WFMWMYHSM, HHH and Busy Monday.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Making Eggs Ahead of Time

I recently wrote about buying foods in larger quantities and doing more of my prep work in advance as my family grows.  I've also written about keeping track of how quickly we use certain items, so that I can calculate how frequently to buy them.  Eggs are an example of both these ideas. I know how many eggs I use in a week, and I have started purchasing enough at a time to keep my family stocked for a month.

One difficulty in buying eggs in bulk is the question of storage.  The way they come from the store will not fit in my fridge.  One of my solutions has been to prepare some of the eggs in advance such that I can freeze them.

Side note:  Googling "freezing eggs" will not yield useful results. 

We usually eat scrambled eggs for breakfast once or twice every week.  I have started preparing those eggs in advance and freezing them.  For my family, I beat five eggs in a two-cup measure, and then fill the cup to the two-cup line with milk.  I then add in any seasonings that I want and pour the mixture into freezer bags.  Depending on what I feel like, I might put some chopped vegetables into the bag first.  Once the bags are sealed, I stack the flat in my freezer.

When I'm planning to have scrambled eggs for breakfast, I let a bag defrost overnight, pour it into a hot, greased pan, and cook as usual.  As far as I can tell, there is no difference in flavor or texture between preparing the eggs in advance and doing it all the same morning that I cook them.

This post has been linked to WFMW.