Tag Archives: For Parents

Learning to Read

We’re all very excited around here because Cam is learning to read. She really started to show some interest a few months ago when she began memorizing the names of the letters and identifying them when she saw them. 

This is most exciting for me because I have plenty of experience with abilities later in the process. All my years working in lower school, and particularly in second grade, I have seen fluency really come together and skills strengthen. But I haven’t seen the start of the process and quite frankly it’s amazing. 

Some resources 

I’ve been looking for resources to help support her and here are some things I’ve discovered. I tend not to like worksheets and things like that, but she’s motivated and interested so I’ve been using them.

First, she needs lots of practice working out the sounds each letter makes. I downloaded a bunch of printables that have her practice letter sounds both by themselves and as initial sounds. Scour Pinterest for these free resources. Here’s a link to a Pinterest search for some of those activities and printables.

Next, she needs to be able to identify the upper and lower case letter as the books she reads in have different cases and different fonts. I bought this game on Amazon that is a memory-style game. It’s nice and she likes Memory so I figured she would be willing to play. Also, here is a search on Pinterest for matching upper and lower case letter games

Then we needed some little books for her to read. Costco has a four or five BOB book collections for $11. I just bought all of them. Many of them are way above her ability right now. One set is called the Pre-Reader Collection and it goes through some skills readers need (like pattern recognition) and also all the letters of the alphabet with their sounds. I find the BOB books totally boring, but Cam likes them a lot. She is also able to read the first few in the first collection. Which brings me to my next point. 

Let’s talk about easy readers

There are a lot of really great easy readers out there. You know them. They have a smaller trim size than picture books, but are bigger than an actual chapter book. They’re kind of short and have large print with spaced out lines on each page. They’re books like Frog and Toad and Little Bear and Cat in the Hat. The thing is, even the easiest ones require a fair amount of skill and ability to read. The vast majority do not use simple short vowel patterns and CVC word patterns (consonant-vowel-consonant). Add to this the fact that a bunch of companies publish them and their reading levels are not consistent across brands. Kids learning to read do quickly put spelling patterns together in their minds and memorize sight words (words you know on sight without having to sound out or look more closely), but it takes some time and practice. They do eventually get to a place where they can really read those types of books, but where Cam is now she needs super basic readers. That’s where the BOB books seem to have the market cornered. 

Waiting until the time is right

So one thing I am trying very hard to balance is pushing her to practice and actually read with not killing the interest she has. I know the more she practices the better she’ll get and the easier it will become. But right now it’s hard and laborious and fatiguing. I’m glad I allowed her to pick the time she actually began to work through it. It’s coming quickly and she’s incredibly motivated. Hopefully she can sustain that interest while her skills catch up. 

A final thought. I know the concept of your child learning to read can be incredibly stressful (as is nearly everything with parenting). Will they ever learn? Will they want to? Will they struggle? What if it happens later than all the other kids? The thing about reading is that by fifth grade, it’s all a wash. With very, very, very few exceptions teachers in the upper grades do not know who read first, second or last. (Well, maybe last. There are children with learning disabilities that continue to struggle.) But those super star readers in kindergarten and first grade? They are not always on top and frequently become totally indistinguishable from their peers. Repeat after me: it all becomes a wash. What does that mean for you right now, with a young child? Enjoy them as they are. They will get there. They do all learn to read. It’s an amazing thing to watch as this whole new word opens up to your child (remember how the world opened up when they learned to talk and to walk? it’s like that all over again, but with a more cognizant person). Enjoy that and don’t worry so much. 

In Praise of the Friend Without Kids

We all have mommy friends. Either ones we’ve known pre-children and have stayed friends with or ones we’ve met because we have kids. But today I am grateful for the friends we have that do not have children. 

As a parent it can be really difficult to separate your own emotions from your kid. So when they go through a phase or have some sort of issue it can be hard to remain objective and understand what is going on and what to do. I have a stellar mom’s group I can turn to and they often have superb advice. But they draw on their own experience with their kids. That isn’t always a problem, but I find that my friend without kids doesn’t have the same type of emotional attachment to parenting and sometimes you just need that. They can give you that hard, objective perspective. 

It helps that my friend without kids does have experience with kids. It also helps that she’s a level-headed sort of person and generally has good ideas and advice no matter the situation. I’ve watched her draw on her own childhood experience (something I also like to do). So it’s not like she’s coming from left field when she talks about kids and kid issues.

She’s had good advice for me when Cam struggled with preschool and with the admissions process for the school we originally considered. Even naps! She’s had good advice about naps. Sometimes she just affirms what I already know, but other times she pushes me a step further or makes me look at a situation from a different perspective. And that’s really refreshing and often the best advice I get. 

So to my friend without kids, you know who you are, thank you for all your thoughts and advice over the past few years. Outwardly you may not seem like the first choice for parenting advice, but you are. Also, get ready for the teenage years. I’m going to need all the help I can get. :)  

Potty Training Round 700

The Saddest ToiletI thought I would put this out there for the moms who have struggled with potty training their kids. I seem to have so many mom friends whose kids just naturally potty trained, or trained super early, or simply needed a couple days at home with mom standing over them. This has not been the case for my daughter. Not. In. The. Least. 

Cam isn’t necessarily an anxious child. She’s a typical first child, cautious, but I would never describe her as anxious. Still, when it comes to trying new things, and wearing underwear and sitting on the potty, she is apprehensive. Usually I can gently push her to try something new or do it with her and have a lot of success getting her out of her comfort zone and having fun. Certainly I have tried these tactics with potty training, but to no avail. With potty training she has ultimate control over how things go and she is exercising that control to its fullest. 

She’s peed in the potty every since last summer and had only a handful of “accidents” which have been the result of being too lazy to actually use the potty while playing. She’s been dry at night since 8 months old (no joke). She knows when she needs to poop and now is wearing underwear the majority of the time, but switches to a diaper when she does poop. Cam has no underlying medical or developmental reasons for this to be happening. It appears just to be her. 

I suppose you could argue the end is in sight for us since she mostly wears underwear, but I think I’ve pushed as much as I can for the time being and it might be another year before she sits on the potty for all of it. She is also oddly uncomfortable wearing underwear to bed. I let her wear a diaper because I am not prepared for a fight and tears and drama right before bed. Still, she’s been dry overnight for years. Where does that apprehension come from?

I’ve wondered over the years if we hadn’t switched to disposable training pants would she have had better luck training? Maybe, but very hard to say. For awhile I had her in cotton training pants, but it simply resulted in floods when she needed to pee and lots of scrubbing when there was poo. She wasn’t ready and it was too much work and water on my part. Diapers didn’t fit her properly at a certain age (or so I thought) so we switched to training pants and by the time she was ready to switch back to cotton pants there were a lot of tears. Buckets full. It was too stressful for everyone involved. It did help having a friend to watch pee on the potty (and weirdly she uses the grown-up potty when we have friends over). So did some of our favorite potty training books. But nothing got her actually ready except herself. She had and is having to come to it in her own time. 

One thing I have noticed about other “potty trained” kids is that that term is loosely applied in almost all situations. Most parents report accidents for years. Many are not actually potty trained to poop on the potty, just pee. Many are not dry through the night. So before you get worked up over everyone else’s kids being potty trained, look more closely at what they mean by that. Doing it on your child’s timeline (instead of one enforced by a preschool program or parental desire) seems to lead to full potty training in the same amount of time with many, many fewer accidents and tears and power struggles. 

There are definitely days and times I think she may go to college in diapers despite the funny saying that no one ever did. She’s past 5 years old now. But I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My point in writing this is to share that there are parents and children out there for whom the traditional methods just aren’t working and I want you to know it’s hard and frustrating and expensive (shit, five years of diapers) and you aren’t alone. 

Introvert parenting introvert

I know talking about introverts and extroverts became really popular after Susan Cain gave her TedTalk and published her book Quiet. I have seen her TedTalk, read the article she wrote in The New York Times (I think?) that sparked the idea for the book, but I have not read her book. The thing is I’ve known long before she became popular that I was an introvert. I’ve also known that introversion-extroversion is a sliding scale. My husband is a lot more outgoing than I am, but he certainly has some introverted qualities and I am far less introverted than some of my friends. 

When Quiet came out it inspired a bevy of articles about introverts parenting extroverts and vice versa. I think they offer a lot of food for thought and good advice. I read a couple of them when Cam was little and I began to wonder where she would fall on the spectrum of introversion-extroversion. Now that she’s a bit older (almost 5!!) I’m starting to discover the answer to that. Turns out she’s a lot like her father. She is outgoing, but still needs that alone time to recharge her batteries. 

This past weekend was an excellent example of how that works in our family. Thursday we went to the zoo for dinner with two families. Friday night we drove several towns over to have dinner with another friend’s family. Saturday we were out and about running errands and then went swimming at Grandpa Tom’s house, then dinner at another friend’s house. Sunday we went to a birthday party in Napa. I knew in planning this that I would be fried by the end of the weekend and I suspected Cam would be too.

Friday night ended in tears as we left our friend’s house. Cam didn’t want to leave because she was having fun. While she loves to play, she’s usually pretty willing to leave when it’s time. She has never been the kid you have to pry away from something kicking and screaming. The tears were the first sign. Saturday night dissolved in lots of tears and opposition. Sunday was a lot of the same. By Sunday there was a lot of asking if we were “there yet”, another behavior we rarely see, and yet more tears and clinginess. 

I knew when I planned the weekend it was going to be too much and I was right. I usually limit us to one “event” per weekend or every few days. I don’t think we had much choice this weekend though (many of these dates were the only ones that worked). I do think I could have been better about making sure we had breaks between activities and got to bed earlier. My husband was frustrated with Cam and I was too, but we also knew her brain was just overwhelmed and wasn’t getting what it needed to recharge. This meant lots of hugs and cuddles even though we weren’t really feeling cuddly. Thankfully, because I was just as spent I knew exactly how Cam felt. 

I guess my point in writing this is a reminder to parents to consider how your child needs structure and downtime. We all need to be sure they got enough sleep, ate recently, and aren’t getting overstimulated. But don’t forget the power of their personality in the equation when you start seeing difficult behavior. 

Books, Books, and More Books

So, you may have noticed that I’ve really been posting mostly about books lately. There are several reasons for that, the biggest being that this past year I was officially working in a library and my world has been books. I read a lot. I read to see if books are right for our library. I read to see if I can use them in lessons. I read them to see if they need to weeded out of our collection. I read them for fun. I read them to see if Cam would like them. I read them to Cam. 

Please don’t get the impression that libraries and librarians are all about books. I am not actually paid to read books. I am paid to shelve them, process them, and teach kids that come to visit me in the library. A big part of that teaching has nothing to do with pleasure reading. Nothing. At. All. I do work hard to make sure my students like to read, can read, and come in to read for pleasure. While pleasure reading is incredibly important, I also realize that it isn’t for everyone. Just like baseball isn’t something everyone wants to do. However, reading for information, reading to learn, reading to inform is of the utmost importance. So is evaluating what you are reading. Evaluating it critically. Looking at something and deciding if you agree. Deciding if an article is well reasoned and makes sense. Looking at who wrote an article (or book, or whatever) and sussing out their motives and evaluating those. Basically I teach critical thinking. That is what a librarian, especially a school librarian, is really there for. That is why you don’t see me writing a lot about literacy activities to force your child into interacting more with a book. I do write a lot about why or how a book might work for a family or child. That is just how I think about books. 

One thing I have become incredibly passionate about, and I’ve said this before, is getting more diverse books onto our library shelves. Personal libraries and institutional ones. And that’s where this passion and this blog have begun to collide lately. In light of all the recent crappy events in the world I think it’s more important than ever that we get positive representations of diversity (i.e. non-white) into our children’s hands, minds, and hearts. Books are an excellent, non threatening way to do that.

I am still trying to find how I want to focus my attention here and honestly that is a constantly moving target. I still plan on sharing what’s going on on the family farm and the things I am doing with Cam, but right now I want a space where I can promote books, particularly good diverse ones, with parents. I have a library blog that you can check out which is nearly all reviews, but I focus there on talking about books and how they can work for a library collection and that is very different beast from the home environment. 

The single best things you can do to make your child love reading are:

  1. Read to them
  2. Don’t make it a chore: No reading logs, no timers, no page number requirements.
  3. Let them choose what they read to themselves and what you read to them. Yes, even if that means a book you hate like Captain Underpants.
  4. Don’t tie it with punishment or reward: Don’t withhold reading for not doing chores, don’t make it a punishment for not doing chores, and don’t make them interact with a book they don’t like. If they have to read something particular for school I highly recommend you read it out loud to them. And PLEASE talk to them about why they are not enjoying it. Boring is not a response. Show them how to be more specific and articulate in their criticism. Encourage them to share those thoughts with their teacher. And be honest about your opinon about the book. I tell Cam all the time if I don’t like books and why (usually because they are racist).
  5. Read to them some more
  6. Did I say, read to them? Yes? Well, do it again. 
  7. Make sure they see YOU reading for pleasure. I know MANY parents that proudly say they’ve read all of two books in a year (or fewer) and yet fight with their children to make them read 30 minutes a day. Take a look at your relationship with reading. Seeing you read is going to be a much more effective motivator. And if you don’t hold yourself to a high reading standard, why hold your kids to it? If you don’t value it enough to do it 30 minutes a day, why would they? This also applies to #3. Don’t make them read high brow literature when all you read are New York Times bestsellers. By and large those are not high literature. That’s fine! We all read books to escape and have fun. Much like we all enjoy a candy bar or bag of potato chips from time to time. Just know that kids and their reading habits can and will look like yours. Just like your eating habits. 
  8. Know that reading doesn’t just happen in chapter books. Picture books are reading. Comics are reading. Text messages are reading. You read all day everyday, you just don’t think about it. You read emails, tweets, articles online, Facebook. That’s all reading. Don’t hold your child to an impossible standard of only reading the most difficult nonfiction text they can. And make sure they know reading comes in a lot of forms and formats including audiobooks. Even if they aren’t your preferences, they might be for your child. 
  9. Make sure they are seeing other people in books as well as seeing themselves. This can be difficult, but keep looking. 
  10. And just for good measure, read to them. Even when they seem way too old. 

Modeling Good Relationships

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mommy guilt and the things I have it around. One place in particular is getting frustrated with Cam and showing it. She’s dragging her feet about brushing hair or putting on socks and I just get so frustrated I hurry her along and get short with her. I snap at her or wrestle her into the socks. 

In thinking about these interactions, though, I’ve come to believe that it’s important for Cam to see that this happens. We all have emotions and sometimes we aren’t great about regulating them, even in adulthood. Instead of feeling guilty that it happened- a less than useful emotion in the situation- I need to jump in and do damage control almost immediately. First I apologize, then I explain why I got frustrated, then ask for her help either to finish the task or in the future. Sometimes I explain that it wasn’t really her, it was something else bothering me and I unfairly took it out on her. I also promise to try my best next time not to react that way and, if it was something she was struggling with and I didn’t notice, to check in before getting upset.  

The thing is, no relationship is perfect. Everyone fights- with their spouse, with their friends, with their coworkers. We’re all different people with different needs and ideas and tolerances. The point is not that we are all calm and collected all the time. In fact, the perfectly serene countenance, to me, seems eerily close to the happily-ever-after of fairy tales and the don’t-make-waves standard we like to hold women and girls to. A standard that is both unrealistic and probably unattainable and often held only for girls and women. 

Let’s be clear this is not free license to yell and scream at kids, belittle them with your words, and especially not get physical with them. I think we’re all guilty at one point or another of simply losing our shit and yelling. We shouldn’t, but it does happen. And when it does there is a lot more repair work that needs to be done than when we get mad and curt. 

These frustrations, though, provide us with a teachable moment. We can model for our children how to repair things with someone we care about when we’ve slipped up. I would infinitely prefer Cam knew that she didn’t have to be perfect in every relationship (an ideal that would ultimately lead to her repressing her feelings and emotions and constantly subordinating them to someone else’s), but that she can apologize. I want her to know that disagreeing is normal and that you don’t have to agree to love someone or be friends with them, you just need to be kind and thoughtful when you do disagree. Again this is a standard I most often see being applied to girls and women, and I want her to break away from it. I also want her to know that one small spat or disagreement does not spell the end of a relationship. Modeling that when I’m frustrated is the perfect opportunity to show her what a good relationship looks like. 

On the Menu: Enchiladas

I am sure this is a bastardization of what real enchiladas are, but they are the enchiladas of my white, middle-class, suburban childhood. They are also incredibly simple and come together in about 30 minutes. 

Menu

Cheese Enchiladas

Rice & Beans

Peppers & Onions

Shopping List

You may have any or all of this in your pantry. Many of the ingredients will keep in your pantry and can be used on multiple occasions. 

  • tortillas
  • jack cheese (feel free to buy pre-grated if that makes your life easier)
  • red enchilada sauce
  • Spanish or yellow rice packet (you could do homemade if you prefer)
  • can of pinto beans 
  • 2-3 bell peppers, any color
  • 1 large onion
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Equipment List

  • 8×8 baking dish (can be an aluminum pan or a glass one; for enchiladas)
  • can opener (for enchiladas and beans)
  • cheese grater (for enchiladas)
  • saucepan large enough for your tortillas to be dipped in (for enchiladas and onions & peppers)
  • rice cooker or small pot (for rice, obviously)

 

Enchiladas
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For the enchiladas
  1. 8 oz. jack cheese, grated
  2. 1/2 large can red enchilada sauce (or 1 14 oz can)
  3. 6-10 corn tortillas (the number will depend on how much cheese you fill them with and their size)
For the rice and beans
  1. 1 package Spanish or yellow rice
  2. 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
For the peppers and onions
  1. 2-3 bell peppers, sliced
  2. 1 large onion, sliced
  3. olive oil
  4. salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Prep all your ingredients. Chop the onions and peppers, open the cans, grate the cheese, put out your fillings around a work surface, drain and rinse beans. Set out your baking dish and put the pan on the stove.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350.
  3. Pour the enchilada sauce into the pan and warm over medium-low heat.
  4. Place the rice packet into the rice cooker or pot and cook according to package directions.
  5. Once sauce is warm, begin to dip tortillas into the sauce. Let them become coated and warm (this will only take a few seconds).
  6. Place saucy tortilla onto work surface and spread a handful of cheese and any other toppings down the middle.
  7. Wrap the ends around the cheese making a tube. Place with the open ends down in the baking dish. To keep the first few tortillas from popping open in the pan I use a can or cup to hold them tightly in place.
  8. Fill as many tortillas as you can, leaving a bit of cheese to sprinkle on top. You may really have to cram the last one or two in.
  9. Once the baking dish is full, pour the remaining warm enchilada sauce over the top of the enchiladas. (This is why you don't need to use a whole large can.) Sprinkle the cheese over the top and place in the oven.
  10. After dumping the sauce wipe out your skillet and put in the olive oil- enough to coat the bottom. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat.
  11. Once warm, toss in the onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sautee until turning soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the peppers and sautee longer until they are starting to soften and brown, another 5 minutes or so. If you like them crunchy, just give them a few minutes.
  12. When the rice is done, mix in the beans. Close the lid of the rice cooker or replace the lid on the pot to allow them to warm up.
  13. Check the oven. The enchilada sauce should be a bit bubbly and the cheese melty. If not, give it a few more minutes (this should only take 20 minutes tops).
  14. Remove from oven and serve with scoops of rice and onions and peppers.
Notes
  1. The dipping may seem like an unnecessary step, but with corn tortillas it will prevent them from splitting on the top when you roll them up. You can skip it, but it might be kind of annoying. See the hacks section for tips on using flour tortillas.
Atomic Bee Ranch http://atomicbeeranch.com/

Recipe Hacks

Here are a few ways to change up the recipe. You can use them if you don’t like the original recipe or if you want to make it a little differently from the last time.

This is where this recipe shines. There is so much that you can do with it.

  • Change up the cheese. You can do a mix of jack and cheddar, all cheddar. Buy the pre-shredded Mexican blend (what does that even mean?).
  • We prefer corn tortillas, but if you like the flour go for those. I find they can get soggy so I recommend toasting them either over an open flame or on a hot cast iron skillet first and NOT dipping them. But experiment with it and see what works best for your tastes. 
  • If you prefer green enchilada sauce to red, use that instead. I suggest sprinkling in a tiny bit of ranch dressing powder if you are using green enchilada sauce. It gives it a little extra oomph. 
  • My dad always added some softened red potatoes to our enchiladas. Sounds weird, but it’s delicious. Cut them into matchsticks and microwave them with a splash of water for a few minutes until soft. Then roll them into the enchiladas with the cheese. 
  • Add meat. Shredded chicken is great. Shredded beef. Ground beef. Ground turkey. Ground chicken. Just be sure it’s cooked already. 
  • Add olives and/or chopped green chilies. Add sliced pickled jalapenos. The sky is the limit with additions here. Just take into account everyone’s preferences for spicy. 
  • I suspect, although I have never tried this, you could make this more like a layered casserole. Try layering the sauce the tortillas (cut them up first), the cheese, and any other additions in the pan instead or rolling them up. If you try this and it works, leave a comment please!
  • For the rice and beans
  • So, feel free to make any of the elements of this from scratch. I haven’t found a great recipe for red enchilada sauce yet and sometimes it’s just easier, if not cheaper, to use canned beans. I know packaged rice is awfully salty, but we don’t eat it very often so I splurge and make it. If you don’t want to go whole hog and make Spanish rice from scratch make white rice (or brown if you prefer) with broth instead of water. It will be more flavorful, without being more work. 

Include Your Child

I frequently use dinner prep as a time to decompress and enjoy myself and find adding in my daughter makes it stressful and a lot more messy. That being said, I know it’s good for her to help out and she often wants to. So, here are some easy ways to include your child when making this dinner. No guarantee that they won’t be a bit messy, though. 

  • Assuming they wear an apron, kids do a great job spreading cheese and rolling the enchiladas up. Beware of red sauce it does stain hence the apron. They can also get the rice going in the pot or rice cooker.
  • If you are confident in their ability, your child can also grate the cheese. This might make the recipe take closer to an hour, though, so use your judgement. 

A Little Weekend Reading: We Should All Be Feminists

We Should All Be FeministsWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

From Goodreads: What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay—adapted from her much-viewed TEDx talk of the same name—by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. With humor and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century—one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences—in the U.S., in her native Nigeria, and abroad—offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike.

This should be required reading for all parents of girls (both parents) and, quite honestly, parents of boys too. Adiche is an incredible writer (and speaker, as this was originally a talk she gave), but more than that she makes such excellent points. Points we should all be well versed in to help raise strong daughters, respectful sons, and end as much of the gender inequality as we can. 

“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not in our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”  

For the homeschooling and unschooling parent I think she often speaks to some of our ideals and ideas. The fact that the traditional schooling system does not address many of our concerns and feels more like it perpetuates ignorances and half truths, as well as falls into perpetuating stereotypes and incorrect ideas seems to be here in many of her points even though she is not speaking to that at all. This applies, at least for me, to both cultural, racial, and gender ideas, but here she speaks most to the gender aspect. 

“What if, in raising children, we focus on ability instead of gender? What if we focus on interest instead of gender?”

That part about interest really spoke to me. She also says:

“What struck me–with her and with many other female American friends I have–is how invested they are in being ‘liked’. How they have been raised to believe that their being likable is very important and that this ‘likable’ trait is a specific thing…We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case. We don’t teach boys to care about being likable. We spend too much time telling girls that they cannot be angry or aggressive or tough, which is bad enough, but then we turn around and either praise or excuse men for the same reasons. All over the world, there are so many magazine articles and books telling women what to do, how to be and not to be, in order to attract or please men. There are far fewer guides for me about pleasing women.”

I really think a lot of this stereotyping and inequality pops up in traditional schooling. I’ve seen it in action and am probably guilty of it myself in the classroom and at home. I cringe to think that and try to be aware of it. Reading things like this help bring it to the forefront of my mind and the more it gets in there the less likely I am to do it.

This is a very approachable read. Not because she isn’t an adamant feminist, but because it’s short and so readable. Adiche, as I said before, is an incredible writer and that comes through here. She could have come off very dry, making this feel like a college lecture, but it isn’t. She weaves in her own anecdotes and experiences. 

Certainly I am not doing this short piece justice in my review. All I can say is go read it. It’s available in print format for a few dollars or two dollars on Kindle. 

 

Cookbook Review: Good & Cheap

Good and CheapGood and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day by Leanne Brown

Through a local interest show on the public radio station I came across this cookbook Good & Cheap. I was more drawn to the message that author designed the cookbook to be used by people who live on the SNAP benefits program (food stamps). As I’ve talked about before we give to our local food bank once a month in an effort to help the community around us. I looked the book up and was enticed by the recipes for our own home. 

Brown developed the cookbook as a capstone project for her master’s degree. Using averages data she figured out how much each recipe would cost to make and keeps the costs down enough that you could eat three meals a day on the allotted $4 a day per person that the SNAP program gives you. Moreover, the cookbook is available as a free pdf download on her website. As someone who does not need to worry too much about the grocery bill (within reason, of course) I bought a copy of the book on Amazon. For every copy she sells she donates a copy to someone (or probably more accurately organizations that can reach someone) who needs it. 

The majority of the recipes are vegetarian since meat is expensive and ups the cost of most of the recipes. She also offers lots of good advice for those just learning to cook and those not super comfortable in the kitchen. While she uses ingredients that don’t cost a lot it’s easy enough to purchase more expensive organic ingredients if that is what you prefer. We have made at least a third of the recipes in this and not a single one has been bad. In fact they have all been incredibly good.

The best part? The vast majority of these recipes only take about 30 minutes to pull together and cook. There are a few, like the beef stroganoff, that take more time, but are well worth it. But most of them you could easily make on a weeknight when you’re feeling overwhelmed and have something healthy and inexpensive on the table for dinner (or lunch or breakfast).

I highly recommend seeing if your local library has a copy or downloading the pdf and trying out a few recipes to see if you like them. Then, if you do, be sure to purchase a copy (it’s only $10!) so she can donate copies to food banks and other service organizations.  

Fire Safety

Life has been busy, but it was interrupted last week by a rather scary experience. The house behind ours burned down. We didn’t notice it was on fire until we heard the sirens, our power went out and there were 15 foot flames coming out of their roof. Everyone made it out safely, but we were very concerned for awhile that our shed or house could catch fire too. 

After the excitement had died down we realized we needed to look carefully at our fire safety and I thought I would share some of our ideas and plans here. 

Fire extinguishers: there is now one in each part of the house including the garage and shed. Fires can start in garages with cars and junk piled around it can feed the blaze. Having an extinguisher nearby may help. They are also incredibly important in the kitchen where a lot of other house fires start. NEVER put water on a grease fire, use an extinguisher if you have time. 

Escape route: we don’t have a big house so I don’t know how detailed we need to get. If we can, we’ll leave through a door. But every window has a screen that can be easily pushed out. If your screens are screwed on, get them replaced so they fit properly and aren’t attached if possible. If they are metal consider having them replaced with the plastic screening so it can easily rip in an emergency. Second stories need escape ladders in the rooms. 

Defensible space and tidiness: Keeping the sides of houses clear of debris and junk will help prevent a fire from spreading either from your house or to it. I know it’s hard to keep houses totally clean, especially yard debris, but it can make a difference. Also keeping rooms tidy and garages clean will help slow a fire’s spread. It won’t stop it, but it can keep it from having lots of fuel. Again a tough one, but looking at how jam-packed our neighbor’s house was I’m sure they were not very good housekeepers and that didn’t help. (I’m talking piles and stacks of things, not not picking up toys).

Smoke detectors: Probably the most terrifying part in retrospect was how quickly the entire house was engulfed in flames. It took about 15 minutes. If they hadn’t had smoke detectors and had been asleep, I’m not sure they would have gotten out. Seriously. Make sure you have smoke detectors and make sure the batteries are working. Don’t combine them with carbon monoxide detectors. Smoke rises so detectors should be on ceilings or up high. Carbon monoxide is heavy and sinks. These need to be near the floor or on it. If CO is high enough to reach your smoke detector or smoke is low enough to reach your CO detector, it’s too late. 

Spark arrester: If you use your fireplace be sure there is a spark arrester on the chimney. This will prevent sparks and ash from landing on your roof and igniting a fire or blowing over to your neighbor’s house and starting one. Having the chimney regularly cleaned can also reduce the chance of fire. 

If at all possible make sure your electrical wiring is up to code (I know that’s an expensive one) and be sure you aren’t doing anything like overloading circuits or plugging things in to tons of adaptors and extension cords or power strips. The fire at the neighbor’s was an electrical fire that started behind the TV. If you have time run outside and hit the breaker, but being careful to begin with can help. 

I think this is all timely information too because we’re coming up on the holidays when people put out candles, have fires in their fire places, and will be cooking a lot more. Never leave candles unattended or cooking (for more than a moment or two). Under the right conditions fires can spread rapidly. And if a fire does start, get out and call the fire department. Your stuff is not worth risking your life or your family’s lives for.