Thursday, June 16, 2011

To thine own true

I was lured into the world of Jamie Oliver via The Naked Chef and 10 years on in my adoration of all things relevant to local food, sustainable eating and a slower approach to the way food is brought to the table he is one of the few cooks I continue to follow.

OK OK, I admit never once cooked anything out of my copy of Jamie's Dinners though each time I would grab the book I would carefully flick through the beautifully rustic photos of various dishes wanting to recreate one but the effort of translating either the ingredients or measurements into what I had on hand always seemed to be just too much. It wasn't really, in retrospect.

Lately I've watched bits and pieces of Jamie at Home, donned in wellies complete with rolled up jeans and a from the garden tousled look Jamie conducts the entire show as if he's set-up a kitchen right there in his garden shed with few kitchen gadgets in sight. The  produce and meats are so freshly procured I spend the entire show staring at the screen with a 3rd eye look of confusion. However a few days ago I caught an episode whose theme was various salad greens.  From my distant perch on the couch it looked like arugula, radish leaves, and other random mixed greens, a hunk of crusty day old bread crumbled, grilled Italian sausage, cucumber and a light oil/vinegar dressing. Or so I thought. Upon closer inspection what looked like sausage may instead have been some odd vegetable but who knows as signs lately have been pointing me to the nearest eye doctor given the gradual dimming of my once crystal clear vision. What I do know is watching him scoop and mix that salad reminded me of the joy of light eating in summer. I thrive on dinner salads and now with Winter in tow entree salads are a great way to have a quick, hearty, freshly made dinner or lunch.

Here's my knock-off Jamiesque rustic summer salad:

Seasonal greens
Saute or grilled veggie Italian Sausage (I like the Tofurky brand)
Toasted and crumbled bread of your choice (I like rye or sourdough)
Roughly chopped tomato
Roughly chopped cucumber
Extra virgin olive oil
Vinegar of choice or juice of fresh lemon
Fresh pepper

(I prefer to mix my oil and vinegar separately then add in)

Lightly mix


Monday, June 6, 2011

Do U Promise?

The educational funding philosophy, pay now dream later, is one I came across when researching how best to plan and save for education expenses. With the sky rocketing costs of college, ever increasing primary education tuition and the pretty penny asked for infant and nursery school programs, it can be daunting.

For my own household the focus is to direct my resources towards the primary learning years: pre-k to 12th grade tuition costs with a nominal amount towards college. The idea though of not putting anything aside for college did not feel right for me personally so I opened a 529 account for Winter with a contribution equal to the maximum tax deduction as being a good benchmark to go by. If I receive any gift checks I also transfer those to her college fund but otherwise I'm not putting every spare penny in it. A friend of mine joked that at the rate our country is going with educational costs, it will only hold the spot.

Lol err...

Because of all the educational disparities and the burden of costs if you do want to try to go other routes, education has become one of my ongoing soundtracks...which schools, how to pay for it, how to plan for it, you name and I can often be found drifting off somewhere and somehow referencing this now beloved subject. Beloved it may be, it requires some sort of planning to proceed as I hope to. This all goes back to that post on the long term effects of decision making.

Because most parents only have so many resources it is nice to find come across other ways to make sure you are accessing all there is you can to support you in whichever goal you may have.

In this case I started reading more about U Promise. You spend at approved vendors either via through their site, with the card, using U Promise coupons or via the restaurant membership and a % of the amount spent is credited to your account. I had an account set up a few years ago but truthfully it sat empty and unused until recently. Mainly because the concept seemed tedious for little return. Alas, I found myself drifting back because in the past year I've made quite a few purchases as a result of Winter in a variety of areas and I wondered if somehow any of it could offer free money for our educational pot.

Now, I am not a finance guru or advisor, to each is his own decision with regards to saving etc for educational expenses. What I will say is I see how you could use U Promise in a way that is not cost effective and I see how it can be used in a way that is rational and truly contributory.

Here's what I do in our case and for each person it is different based on where you live and how you shop etc.

I did NOT sign up for the credit card nor do I use credit cards for purchases.

I registered my debit card and drug store card.

I shop online for quite a few things and I did see several of the stores I visit often. Each time I want to buy something that is related to either of these stores I go to the UPromise website and link to them through the site after I log in then continue my purchase. Since it doesn't matter what card I use there really is no other step and I am not searching for stuff to buy to earn the reward but just getting the reward for what I decide to buy naturally. Also both of the Thai restaurants within a few blocks of us are in the restaurant circle so whenever I do eat there I use my debit card, which I already would anyway, to receive the reward.

I'm sure there are ways to rack up rewards faster etc but in the end you might become the problem as opposed to contributing to the end point.

With each store you get a % of the purchase at point of sale credited to your account and then you can let the money accumulate and request a check, link it to a student loan or 529 account or invest it.  I linked the UPromise account I had to Winter's 529 and it will automatically transfer the $ earned at the end of each quarter.

Some people manage to accumulate a few hundred a year or practically nothing depending on how they use the account. I do see we will earn something of substance and its that much more in the kettle.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Eco-tip: Do it yourself dried fruit snacks

I try to buy the majority of my food from the farmer's market and have found myself nibbling and subsequently purchasing each week the various dried food sundries I've found there. 

Apricots, cherries, blueberries, strawberries...At $2.50/pack its a fair price for honest food but at the rate I'm consuming them I've started thinking there has to be another way...

And indeed there is.

I've just eaten two handfuls of homemade dried strawberries before they were barely cooled. They were that good.

So here we go:

Wash fruit and cut in slices or leave whole (e.g. blueberries or strawberries)

Heat oven to its LOWEST setting (mine is 170)

Put fruit onto baking sheet and "bake" until chewy not dried

Cool then Eat!

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I started reading More magazine off and on a year ago attracted by the substance its title indicated. That it features women 'of a certain age' on its covers and speaks to them in its editorial made it all the more of interest. This month included an article in the memoir section by Krista Bremer called Libya: What I wore to the Revelation. In it she talks about her visit there several years ago to meet her in-laws and the culture clash and embrace she experienced. Towards the end she reflects on the gaggle of women whose close confines she remained in for the greater portion of her trip, I'll spare writing out the whole thing but these are the lines I found myself lingering over:

They would never experience the freedoms I enjoyed...They would never negotiate six weeks' maternity leave with a boss who viewed that arrangement as generous, or leave their tiny babies with a stranger for eight hours while they sat in an office across town, taking breaks to pump breast milk in the employee bathroom....They would never know the persistent sense of inadequacy or the creeping exhaustion that comes from doggedly chasing the elusive dream that women can be everything at once: sexy and youthful, independent and financially successful, extraordinary mothers and wives. And yet during my time in Libya I missed this chase most of all: the working, driving, shopping and exercising, the exhilarating freedom to pursue my endless desire for more.

I'm not on board with the cloistered and controlled lifestyle of the women she describes but in reading her liberation speak last line I find myself thinking...really? I'm not so eager to board the attainment trip she's talking about either. I never anticipated the impact my maternity leave would have on my outlook when it came to the firm grip I had previously maintained in the rat race. The complete disconnect the time away from life as I formally knew it left me with a louder hum of hmmmms. I do not miss the chase and I've seriously questioned my idea of 'more'.

I can't just stumble off the track entirely, or at least let me say I chose not to. What I am doing is resisting. A resistance that is at times silent, exhilarating, painful, isolating, empowering and frightening in its shifts of what supported my sense and need for security all in an attempt to find a balance I can live with.

There are many things about our society that, in my experience so far, have proven support of families in all their forms is wanting, especially mothers. That said our society does stand apart in at least one diminishing but hopefully not dying distinction and that is the freedom and choices we have access to which allow us to more easily than others attain the lives we want to live.

I embrace that freedom and am chasing it intensely.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Once upon a potty

I admit when I first read through the concept of EC (Elimination Communication) and diaper free methods I scoffed and kept it moving, the cotton diaper aisle was as far as I planned to tread when it came to 'alternative' diapering options. Somehow though I did find myself reading more about EC'ing which basically is learning your baby's potty need cues and putting them on a baby potty seat to catch the results. It seemed logical and sometimes the more off topic something is the more intrigued I become.

However practicality won over my curiosity for its two simple reasons, time consuming.

Now here we are month 7 and counting and curious developments are taking place in the world of output (aka poop / pee):

With more solids it has become more, well, solid. I find it interesting that more often than not mothers start cloth diapering when their babies were older and not as newborns. I found threads few and far between that discussed cloth as early as the hospital and several cloth diapering moms advised not to start until after the meconium passes or later because I wouldn't feel like doing all that in the early weeks plus it would ruin my lovely diapers. Naturally I didn't understand because the concept of keeping the diapers pristine seemed contradictory, I used liners and that was all I needed to combat the meconium phase. The water soluble state of ebf poop and the scentless pee has been the easiest maintenance, even the blowouts and meconium followed by first weeks period of a dozen diapers a day. Messy, yes, but dump whole lot in clothes bag, wash and diaper looks like nothing dramatic, if at all, happened.

Now we have a mud like consistency and sometimes formed output. Since she's still breastfed I suppose that's the reason for this intense err...situation, we have in clean-up. We use biodegradable diaper liners for her pocket diapers because of all the aquaphor we have to use on her skin but I see these are ideal also for this more extensive poop period and onwards. Once soiled the liners are pulled and tossed in the toilet. I've eyed my diaper sprayer and I see this is possibly going to come in handy now too. I'm unsure of the combo of rinse and/or use liners approach but we'll see. My understanding is that once the poop becomes more solid the common steps are to shake the diaper into the toilet, spray with an enzyme like Bac-out or similar to fight stains then toss in laundry bin until wash day. I see our routine is changing but I'm determined to see this through.  

Cue in Bjorn potty, the sweet mini commode now installed our bathroom. While I never did the EC I was seeing the signs of when she might be going. It’s a hit or miss but the same cues that told me she was wet etc. are the ones I honed in on and am seeing more of especially now with this change in consistency. I've also noticed that instead of cleaning up a wet/night drenched diaper that she has been dry and then starts to go only after I start the changing/dress process in the morning so these are the signs amongst other reasons to introduce the potty. My mother, thank the lord, has been a wonderful no nonsense resource in the potty training world. We went to the store together and she suggested I bring Winter. We then pulled out the potties available and let her pick. And pick indeed she did, it was clear which one seemed most comfortable for her. I now immediately put her on the potty once she wakes up and I let her hang out there for about 10 minutes but not so long that she gets agitated or cries. Nothing has made it in so far but as time passes and we get a routine going I do see how eventually the little throne will catch some sort of output.

Wish us luck.