Tag Archives: For Parents

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. 

On the Menu: Risotto

Risotto is one of those dishes I had heard about and never made because it always sounded finicky and involved. Turns out it’s not. It can be on the table in about 45 minutes including prep time and it’s incredibly filling and simple. 

Menu

  • risotto
  • roast chicken 
  • salad

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. 

  • roast chicken (You could buy a raw chicken and roast it yourself, but it will take about an hour. I also find that buying the pre-roasted ones are cheaper than the raw ones.)
  • broth, 3.5 cups or 28 oz (can be chicken or vegetable, store-bought or homemade)
  • arborio rice
  • onion 
  • butter 
  • grated parmesan or a parmesan rind
  • lettuce
  • salad dressing
  • salad toppings 

Equipment List

  • knife & cutting board (prep for risotto)
  • 2 2-quart pots (for risotto)
  • wooden spoon (for risotto)
  • ladle (for broth)
  • large bowl & tongs (for salad)

Risotto
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For the risotto
  1. 4 cups broth (or two cans or one carton)
  2. 2 tablespoons butter
  3. 1 onion, minced
  4. salt and pepper
  5. 1 cup Arborio rice
  6. 1/2 cup grated parmesan
Instructions
  1. Place the broth into one of the pots and put over low heat.
  2. In the other pot, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice to the pot and stir to coat.
  3. Add one ladle full of broth and stir to combine. Lower the heat to medium-low or low. Allow the broth to be absorbed by the rice then add another ladle full. Continue this process until the rice is tender and most or all the broth is used up, about 20 minutes or up to 30. Stir occasionally and after each addition of broth.
  4. While the risotto is gently simmering is the time to prep anything else you need for the meal. Make the salad or saute the vegetables, zest the lemon and shred or slice the chicken.
  5. Turn the heat off and stir in the parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.
Adapted from Everyday Food
Adapted from Everyday Food
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.

  • The recipe calls for mixing in grated parmesan at the end, but sometimes I don’t have that on hand or don’t have enough. When that happens I throw in a parmesan rind at the start of cooking. It slowly melts into the risotto. It won’t be as cheesy, but it will add flavor. Just remove it before serving. The grocery store usually has them in the deli/cheese counter for sale for really cheap. 
  • My original recipe calls for a 1/2 white wine to be added the beginning of the cooking, before that first ladleful of broth. You can certainly do this. The white wine goes well with the risotto at the dinner table to be sure. I am usually out of white wine or don’t have a good bottle open so I frequently skip this step. In fact I nearly always skip it. Sure, it enhances the flavor of the dish, but not enough that I have ever felt it to be an essential step in the home kitchen. 
  • This is a basic recipe for risotto and to my mind it functions as a side. However if, instead of keeping it plain, you add a few things it becomes the main dish.

As the risotto finishes cooking, stir in some lemon zest (about a 1/2 tsp or more if you like it really lemony), some chopped parsley and, instead of serving the chicken along side the risotto, shred it up and mix it in. This is essentially chicken and rice stew. 

You can always skip the chicken all together and, if you want a one bowl meal, sauté some vegetables and mix them in. We like mushrooms, asparagus or squash of any kind. I don’t recommend cooking them in the risotto simply because they’ll get soggy and mushy. 

If you want to change up the grain you are using and try something else in the pantry, you can do that too. We frequently make this with quinoa. In that case, add all the liquid in at once and allow to cook while stirring. Also rinse the quinoa before cooking, because it can be bitter. You can make it with orzo, which is small rice-shaped pasta, or you can make it with barley. 

  • I usually hate having to use two pots – one for the broth, one for the risotto – so I frequently use bullion cubes to make the broth. I put the cubes in a large measuring cup and fill with water then microwave it to dissolve the bullion. This means the broth is already hot and there isn’t a need to heat it on the stove. 

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. 

  • This is a tough one because there’s a lot of open flame and hot liquids, but I will have Cam help me ladle the broth and stir the pot as it cooks. I’ll let you determine if you want your child working at the stove.
  • Kids love to grate things. I know it seems scary, like using a knife, but hand them the zester and let them go to town on the lemon. Just remind them not to get too much of the white part of the rind, as it’s bitter. 
  • Kids can also help shred up the chicken. (I can’t recommend that variation of the recipe enough.) So long as the chicken isn’t piping hot they’ll do a fine job. Doesn’t matter if the pieces are big or small. They’ll break up more when they get mixed in. 
  • You can also include them on making the salad. They’re great at adding toppings, helping toss and tearing up lettuce leaves. 

Hundred Languages Read Along: Introduction

Hundre LanguagesIntroduction

I don’t usually read introductions. They tend to summarize what’s going to be discussed in each chapter and if I’m going to read the book, I can discover that for myself. The introduction here literally introduced the reader to Reggio Emilia, the city, and the surrounding area. It also did what introductions do and summarize each of the chapters. I did see how, if you did not plan on reading the book in its entirety, that could be useful. More information was provided than the chapter title so it would be easy to use this as a gauge for which portions would be most relevant and useful to you. They also explained why several of the chapters take the format they do, specifically why they are in interview form.

The chapter does go into a bit of detail about the title of the book, which stems from the famous exhibit that has been traveling the US for decades now. (Sadly I missed it when it was in a city a few hours south from where I live when Cam was tiny.) The authors wanted, after the exhibit opened, to elaborate on it and study it more fully. This was simply not possible in the exhibit format so they decided on a book. 

While all this information was interesting and marginally relevant, the introduction really shone in the last 8 pages or so where it gives an excellent historical overview of the educational and child care system in Italy.(They have high quality, state funded child care available to families from four months up! The US needs something like that.) It starts in the early 19th century, and without getting too dry and involved, covers political and social movements and reforms that shaped the system and allowed the Reggio Emilia approach to emerge and flourish. This was absolutely fascinating, but again not essential to understanding how the approach works or how to apply it (although I think they would argue differently). Certainly it gives a great foundation and at under ten pages it’s well worth reading. 

I do wish I could find an overview like that about American education. I think it would be very informative and would allow educators both a sense of how all the pieces of our educational system fit together and how to go about changing them for the better and adapting something like the Reggio Emilia approach to our schooling. In my own research I have come across the idea that our idea of school comes from an imagined ideal of the 1950s and it would be interesting to see both how that emerged and how it is changing. 

One last thought, I have an older edition (I believe the third edition is out now. It has a green cover.) which makes this one a bit dated. I suspect with the much more recent economic downturn and European economic crisis things have changed more, at least on an administrative level, and I would be extremely curious to know how that has impacted these schools and the services available to families. 

On the Menu: Spaghetti

Menu

  • Spaghetti with sauce
  • Garlic bread
  • Salad

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. 

  • spaghetti (1 lb box)
  • ground beef (1/2-1 lb., depending on how many people and how much meat you like)
  • tomato sauce (15 oz. can, or homemade if you have it on hand)
  • Italian seasoning (this is one of those spice mixes that you can buy and keep in the pantry)
  • salt
  • bread (we like sourdough, but French bread is also good)
  • butter
  • garlic salt
  • lettuce (or bag salad)
  • salad dressing
  • salad fixings (whatever you like on your salad)

Equipment List

  • 2 quart pot (for sauce)
  • large pot (for pasta)
  • cookie sheet
  • large bowl (for salad)
  • tongs 
  • wooden spoon
  • butter knife

Easy Spaghetti
Serves 2
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
For sauce
  1. 1/2 lb. ground beef (use up to 1 lb. depending on how meaty you like your sauce)
  2. 1/2 tsp. salt (you may need to adjust this based on how salty the tomato sauce is)
  3. 1 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  4. 15 oz. tomato sauce (if using canned), 2 cups if using homemade
  5. More salt to taste
For garlic bread
  1. sliced bread
  2. butter
  3. garlic salt
Instructions
  1. Heat your pot of water for the pasta. Make according to package instructions. This can be done while the sauce cooks. I use the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta as the time I cook and simmer the sauce.
For the sauce
  1. Over medium-high heat, heat the 2-quart pot and add the ground beef. Sprinkle with the salt. Brown the beef until there is little to no pink left. This shouldn't take more than about 5 minutes, but will depend on how much beef you are using.
  2. Lower the heat to medium-low once browned and sprinkle with the Italian seasoning and give it a stir to distribute.
  3. Add the tomato sauce to the pot and stir. I usually swish a bit of water in the can to get all the last dregs of sauce out. Bring to a simmer and lower the heat to the lowest setting.
  4. Let simmer until the pasta is done, or about 15 minutes.
  5. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
For the garlic bread
  1. While the sauce simmers, lay out the bread slices on the cookie sheet.
  2. Butter the slices.
  3. Sprinkle with the garlic salt.
  4. Place your oven's top rack close to your broiler.
  5. Place in your oven with the broiler on high. Toast for 2-3 minutes until brown and toasty, but not burnt.
  6. Remove from oven.
  7. If you are like me and forget to move the rack, it may take longer to toast the bread (closer to 8 minutes) if the rack is in the middle of the oven.
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. 

  • You don’t have to use spaghetti. I frequently cook up whatever pasta I have on hand. Fusilli and farfelle are good with this sauce. If you are super ambitious you can make your own pasta -it’s simple, but takes some time. I use about half the box of pasta for this recipe which means one box makes two dinners!
  • If you want to add in some vegetables or are vegetarian shred up some carrots (say one carrot per person if there is meat and two or three per person if there isn’t any meat) and add them in after you’ve put in the tomato sauce. Just be forewarned that they will cook down and release some liquid and will thin the sauce, so you may need to cook the sauce longer to boil it off. This is a Depression Era trick my family used. 
  • I use 3/4 lb. of ground beef with one 15 oz. can of tomato sauce (we like the Muir Glen, not because it’s organic, but because it seems to have the best flavor) and that will serve me, my husband, and my daughter (and sometimes my father in law). If you like meatier sauce or have more people, add more beef. I would say use 1 lb. and 2 1/2 cups of tomato sauce if you have 2-3 adults and 2-3 kids. 
  • You can add parmesan, either shredded or grated, to the garlic bread. 
  • Instead of salad, feel free to steam some broccoli and sprinkle the sauce and broccoli with parmesan. 
  • I don’t buy salad dressing. I just drizzle the lettuce with some olive oil and soy sauce, the way you would with oil and vinegar, then toss. Sounds weird, but it’s delicious. 

 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. 

  • The garlic bread is one of the best places in this meal to include your child. They can butter the bread and sprinkle on the garlic salt. 
  • Kids are also good at making salads. There are lettuce knives that are plastic and not sharp that they could use to cut up the lettuce leaves. They can also simply tear the leaves once you have sliced off the bottom of the lettuce head. Or they can empty the bag of leaves into the bowl. 
  • If you’re looking for a story to go along with this check out Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. It’s all about how her magic pasta pot goes awry.