Friday, September 04, 2015

Freezer un-cooking ($5 Dinners Package)

Today Mr. Fixit and I did some freezer un-cooking, also known as "dump recipes." It's the equivalent of putting brownie ingredients into a bag and calling it a mix. The idea here is that you put meat, vegetables and other ingredients into freezer bags and then use them in the slow cooker or as casseroles. (Yes, I know some of you have been doing this for years.)

The recipes we used came from a new downloadable package at $5 Dinners: 20 Freezer to Slow Cooker Meals for $160 – 3rd Edition.  You get the shopping lists, directions, recipes, printable labels, and access to a video showing you how Erin Chase did the whole sequence. I skipped the printable labels because they're very expensive here (I used paper and tape); and I also broke down some of her 4-serving meals into 2-serving ones, because often these days it's just two or three of us eating dinner.

This morning we went to Eurofoods and brought home chicken breasts, ground beef, and a piece of pork (the directions called for pork chops, but it was less expensive to buy a large piece and cut it up ourselves). In the afternoon, we went to Bulk Barn (for a few seasonings) and Wal-mart, and got everything else that wasn't already on the shelf, including some beef that we also cut up ourselves..

At three o'clock, we put everything on the kitchen table and started to work.
Mixing up some sauce
In the home stretch.
Last round: the stew beef packages
Bags going into the freezer
Odds and ends of tomato sauce, one bag of ground beef, and two tired people. We were done like, um, dinner.

Overall reviews, based only on preparation? (We haven't actually cooked any of the packages yet.) My only real complaint is that the ground beef we bought didn't stretch far enough to make all the planned recipes, even though we weighed it out before putting it in the bags. The shortfall may have been due to shrinkage after browning  (the only actual cooking required in this packaging marathon), and we did swipe half a pound for our own dinner, but it was still a bit disappointing to have the other ingredients ready and then realize that we'd have to leave a few packages out. Next time we'll have to over-estimate.

There was also a bit of confusion around which recipes needed tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, or diced tomatoes; in some places options were given, but the grocery lists didn't always include those. I think I would say that, if you want to follow the recipes and not run short, it wouldn't hurt to buy a couple of extra cans of each type. We ended up filling in with a jar of pasta sauce from the pantry, which really isn't a problem, just something to keep in mind.

Best advice: work with a friend:. Even Erin Chase had her son opening cans for her. And make something nice for dinner at the end.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

This one should have stayed quiet

The local police have begun a crackdown on drivers using cell phones. This morning Mr. Fixit saw a guy ahead of him in a van talking, talking, talking on the phone. When he got pulled over for a ticket, he was heard to say, "Can I just finish my call first?"

Quote for the day: Not that quiet?

"You wouldn't be reading this book if I hadn't persuaded my publisher that I was enough of a pseudo-extrovert to promote it." ~~ Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Hello September Edition


1. What's on your September calendar? Anything fun? 

a) Next week I send my "baby" off for her first day of school. (She's fourteen.) Tonight we are invited to a family barbecue at the school.

b) We're going to buy a few pounds of ground beef and chicken (once again, I don't give up easy), and try some freezer cooking.

2. You might be described as a natural born _____________________?

That sounds like one of those fill-in-the-blank jokes  from Match Game

Natural born bookworm, how's that?

3. September is National Courtesy Month...what one act of courtesy would you most like to see more of in your home, town, or the world at large? 

I'm still recovering from my July trip there-and-back-again through two Canadian and U.S. airports. Can I just say that I appreciated it when I did experience courteous treatment? And we'll leave the rest be.

4. Eager beaver, chicken out, clam up, or let the cat out of the bag...of the phrases listed, which one have you related to most recently? 

All of the above. But I have tried not to chicken out or clam up when it was time to let the cat out of the bag.

5. What's your movie theatre snack protocol? Do you chow down on snacks during the previews or wait until the movie begins? Do you buy snacks or refuse to pay those kind of prices? What's the last movie you saw in a theatre? How many thumbs up would you give it?

The last movie I saw in a theatre was Frozen, in the middle of a cold snap. And on the rare occasions we do go to a movie, Mr. Fixit and I might share some popcorn.

6. Henry Ford is quoted as saying, "Nobody can think straight who does not work. Idleness warps the mind." Agree or disagree? Why?

INFP types have a natural-born need for a certain amount of "idleness," which you can think of as mushrooms growing in the dark. It's kind of like the quote that's supposed to be by R.L. Stevenson but which nobody has actually been able to find in his writings (that's a rabbit trail): "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant."  There are some things you have to work and work at, and other things that have to start with idleness. Some days you have things to check off, other times you're just planting seeds. 


I bet Ford did his own share of idling.

7. What's the last job you completed or task you performed where you had to 'work like a dog' until it was finished?

Getting The Plutarch Project ready to publish (the last week of it was stressful).


8.  Insert your own random thought here. 

Gregory Wolfe writes in Beauty Will Save the World: “We have had a number of books casting the acid of angry rejection over the spirit of our age. They are not in error; it is only that in many cases they do not get us anywhere.” When I took university writing classes, "angry poetry" seemed to be the norm. But as Wolfe says, where did it get us? We need less anger at "them," more compassion for "us."

The Wednesday Hodgepodge is hosted at From This Side of the Pond. Add your link to the post!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Circe Quote for the Day: Preparing a lesson is not the same as just writing it

"There's no substitute for a teacher's quality preparation. Without preparation a teacher can't teach with purpose.  This obviously refers to photocopies and supplies and crafting lesson plans, all of which are important.

"But it also refers to the kind of preparation that involves contemplation. A good teacher reflects on both the subject he is teaching and his role as a cultivator of wisdom and virtue; he doesn't lose sight of (or ignore) the purpose of his calling. That is, he doesn't allow contemplation of the lesson plans to keep him from preparing his own mind and soul for the act of seed-planting."
Full article: 3 Things Teachers Can Learn from Cooking, by David Kern

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Quote for the day: Education is a science of many relations

In Beauty Will Save the World, Gregory Wolfe describes the "sacramental vision" of his mentor Russell Kirk, which he saw firsthand not only as his student but as his driver.
"These trips [to Kirk's home] were always leisurely, made on back roads, all of which Kirk knew intimately. As we drove through the Michigan countryside, Kirk introduced me to the particular delights of each small town along the way...We always looked out for the black squirrels in Albion, as well as the sale table at the Albion College library. We never failed to stop at the ice cream parlor in Charlotte, which had once been the railroad depot. And in Ionia we visited the orchard...Kirk knew the streets where the best examples of neoclassical architecture could be found, not to mention the best diners."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Another new book!

The Plutarch Project, Volume One is now up on Amazon. More on my book blog.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Treehouse Photos

Cookies, for a group here tonight 
 Tomatoes from the garden, going in spaghetti sauce tonight
New-to-us table and chairs. What do you think?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Old habits (Not-Back-to-Homeschool Week, Last of Three)

I like it when good things turn up in strange places.

I've been working through William Zinsser's Writing to Learn, and last night I got to his chapter "Man, Woman and Child," about writing in the social sciences. All through the book Zinsser includes examples of good writing in each academic area; but in this chapter, he tells about how his own interest in anthropology began. In the 1950's, he was working as a journalist and was required to attend Broadway performances as part of his job. (What a hard-knock life.) One night he saw a performance by some Balinese dancers, and he was so fascinated that he decided to take his next vacation in Bali. This is what he found:
"...I made my way up into the hills to the village of Pliatan. The musicians and dancers who had conquered Broadway had long since come home and were back at their everyday jobs in the rice fields. That's how I found out that the Balinese have almost no concept of 'art.' What I had assumed was their art turned out to be organic to their life...Art, life and religion were intertwined. Children and chickens were everywhere...That was my first view of a unified culture, and I remember how resentful I felt that my own culture didn't have such an enviable wholeness."
 Zinsser says his point (as he sees it) is that we can't take any culture as just "quaint," and that writing about anthropology is serious business. Unfortunately, that leads in to a skippable "cultural" example about evil spirits, but we'll let that go; I'm more interested in his story about Bali.

That word "organic" has popped up more than once over the last couple of years, and not in a health-food sense; it means a wholeness of life, and (to put it in educational terms), a unity of knowledge and thought. I've said this before, but it's why homeschool "retirees" don't stop thinking about learning, whether we're surrounded by Balinese dancers, children and chickens, or by just keeping up with the laundry and our young-adult offspring. Brother Lawrence had the right idea--prayer functions in the midst of bustle and clatter...and also in the quiet times. Our lives are as real in the supermarket and in a chance to talk with the neighbours, as on the stage, or as (for some of us) in or out of the schoolroom. None of it is perfect, but it is all what we are given to do.

The final Brother Cadfael novel centers around his making a very hard decision. For personal reasons, he chooses to disobey orders and, basically, go AWOL so that he can help someone he cares about. He knows that if he does this, he may never be allowed back in the monastery. The identity he has shaped for years can be torn away by a quick decision. At an earlier point in his life, remaining in the cloister would have meant everything to him, might have been the right choice; but now an act of love is more important than hanging on to position and approval. In the end (spoiler), all is resolved and he is, happily, welcomed back. But even if he hadn't been, we get the impression that it would have been okay either way. He was who he was, whether he had his hair tonsured and wore a habit, or not.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Not-Back-to-Homeschool Week, Part Two

Some thoughts on what we do when we homeschool:

I've said here before, somewhere, that when my mother taught school, she always had her eye open for classroom pictures, clippings, anything that might not come her way again. My dad, a collector of British royalty memorabilia, did the same. Even when I started homeschooling, well after the age of photocopying, it wasn't uncommon to have people trying to pass on sets of prepared "ditto masters" for spirit duplicators. You might not find a reproducible map of the Hebrides again, you know? It was like preparing for a possible rubber-band famine.

Most of us eventually stopped the picture/map hoarding, especially when Google Image and all the rest of it came along. But in another sense, being a homeschooling parent is still very much about preparing, thinking ahead, collecting, storing--even if it's mostly virtual or just in your head. As long as you have at least another year to go, you stay in travel mode, looking at what's coming up next and thinking about where you might land tomorrow, picking up a basket of apples for snacks, looking up campground ratings, and trying to balance "getting there" with enjoying the journey. For me, it's been a twenty-year habit of keeping my eyes peeled at yard sales and liquidation stores; checking out online freebies; and looking at museum ads with the word "field trip" at the front of my brain.

Not so different from my mom.

And right now, although I still do have an almost-ninth grader (so we're not done with school years and all that goes with that), I am beginning to have a sense of finally bringing the suitcases in and unpacking.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Half price books from the thrift store, and a larger find

A trip to the thrift store, and some extra deals on books: Evelyn Waugh, Oswald Chambers, and Nancy Pearcey.

Plus...we bought a table and six chairs, to be delivered. (Yes, thrift shops deliver.) Less vintage than ours, but (hopefully) more comfortable.

Quote for the day: The model of the Incarnation

"It seems fair to say that the model of how to be in the world ought to be Christ himself. In the doctrine of the Incarnation Christians understand Jesus to be fully human and fully divine. All of the heresies and errors that afflict the church...can be measured by their tendency to stress either the human or the divine dimensions at the expense of the other." ~~ Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

Monday, August 17, 2015

Redeeming the Time (Not-Back-to-Homeschool Week, Part One)

Things I am not doing this week:

Planning school schedules
Worrying about French lessons
Looking for field trip ideas
Signing school board papers (they haven't sent any yet this year anyway)
Writing blog posts about school plans.

Things I am doing this week:

Putting final touches on a second e-book project
Working with online and local friends who are getting ready to start a new homeschool year.
Wondering if baby kangaroos really do care about hugging teddy bears
Reading Beauty Will Save the World by Gregory Wolfe (because it arrived suddenly through inter-library loan, and you don't get renewals)
Trying to use up a lot of cherry tomatoes
Rounding up a few school supplies for Lydia to put in her new backpack
Rounding up moral support and mom-advice to go along with the school supplies (yes, I agree, you need a pair of sneakers because three-inch heels are not a good choice when you're running for the bus)


Words I am thinking about:

"I've found some consolation in the thought that Dante's pilgrimage doesn't really begin at mid-life; in a sense, he's been on a pilgrimage all along." (Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World)

"My own vocation, as I have come to understand it, is to explore the relationship between religion, art, and culture in order to discover how the imagination may 'redeem the time.'" (same)

What that makes me think:

Everybody asks me lately what I'm going to be "doing." The implication is, what is I'm doing to redeem the time, or otherwise justify what until recently was fairly justifiable? If I said "reading library books," I would expect some raised eyebrows. "Making cherry tomato pasta?" Maybe okay. "Mound of laundry?" That's usually acceptable. "Going on pilgrimage?" Unexpected, at least

But this pilgrimage is the one I've been on all along.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Quote for the day: echoes of Frye

Gregory Wolfe seems to echo Northrop Frye here:

"...I am now convinced that authentic renewal can only emerge out of the imaginative visions of the artist and the mystic. This does not mean that I have withdrawn into some anti-intellectual Palace of Art. Rather, it involves the conviction that politics and rhetoric...are shaped by the pre-political roots of culture: myth, metaphor, and spiritual experience as recorded by the artist and the saint." ~~ Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why I can't read self-help books anymore

One summer during university, I remember there being a sort of tuck shop or newspaper stand right outside (or inside, I can't remember) our apartment building. All that matters about that was that I found it hard to go past the booth  after work without picking up a chocolate bar, especially one of those "thick" ones that had recently appeared on the candy racks. And paying for it out of my spindly minimum wage paycheque. It was a temporary habit that died out naturally when the summer sublet was up and I moved somewhere without a too-handy newspaper stand.

A couple of years later, I found I had acquired another, slightly more expensive habit: self-help books. "P" personality types love them, and I was going through enough angst at the time that I felt I needed their (relatively) cheap, if often contradictory therapy. Assert yourself, forgive everyone, stay away from toxic people, mend fences. Wear the right colours. Find your temperament. Drink herbal tea. Stop being a packrat. You are a special person. You are just like everyone else.

Actually that last one was true in the sense that, just like everyone else, I was trying to find the answers to life in the next overpriced book from Coles or Lichtman's, or from the Christian bookstore. Sometimes I did pick up useful advice, but more often I just read them and went on in the same old way, until the next book "fix" popped up.

All that was a very long time ago, and my need (and time) for personal-type self-help books slid away as life got busier and I found myself just doing whatever I had to do. Recently, though, I've been in a position where I thought a (public-library based) self-help book fix wouldn't be a bad thing. I'm at the age, I'm at the stage. So I picked up and downloaded a couple of newer books that I thought might be helpful for Women Who Used to be Busy Mommies Now Wondering What to do Next.

The word "crone" somewhere about page three should have been enough warning. I quit reading the "women's book" less than halfway through. The "happy homemaker" book, likewise.

It's not that my ego is so superinflated that I think I can't learn from someone else's wise words. It's just that, I think, I'm looking in the wrong Dewey number. The trouble with most self-help books is that they're like someone handing you a can of paint and a brush, or maybe a journal and a gel pen, and hoping that the tools themselves will give you an epiphany. I think the truth about life is out there, but it's out there in a lot of other places. You have to do some travelling, some collecting, then maybe come back and figure out what to put into the journal.

I'm going back to my "regular station" (a.k.a. a long want-to-read list). Ironically, my favourite book right now is John Ciardi's translation of The Divine Comedy, a journey through heaven, hell, and places in between. Virgil must have been the original self-help tour guide.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Quote for the day, on the writing of sentences

"What does preoccupy me is the plain declarative sentence. How have we managed to hide it from so much of the population?...Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly should be able to write clearly--about any subject at all...by breaking the ideas down into logical units, called sentences, and putting one sentence after another." ~~ Willliam Zinsser, Writing to Learn