Sunday, February 7, 2016


I recently encountered several people and organizations (including parts of the American government) publishing opinions on children, picky eating, and leftovers. Most have approached the issue from the perspective that pickiness is a normal phase that includes aversion to leftovers, and that parents should tolerate and accommodate it gracefully. Parents are warned that insistence on eating leftover or objectionable food will precipitate unhealthy eating habits and possibly eating disorders.

Other sources are moms, locked in a seeming blogosphere battle to the death over how to handle the leftover.  Some reiterate the advice of the professionals described above. Others herald their epiphany that money and time may be saved through the serving of leftovers and the discouragement of arbitrary complaints about food textures, colors, smells, and flavors (I am NOT  talking abut allergies or the sensitivities that sometimes acompany neurological difficulties).

If you poke around this blog, it won't take long to discover that I am an enthusiastic partisan of the leftover.  I also expend a great deal of energy finding palatable ways to serve the foods I purchase for the sake of cost savings. Leftovers make the most of my grocery dollars, save me time in the kitchen, and head off food waste.  Buying groceries to cater to my pocketbook rather than to my palate also saves me money, expands my cooking skills, and helps my family adjust to a more balanced and diverse diet.  All of that is at the family level, though.  Why should I demand the cooperation of my individual children?
  • Pickiness might be a normal phase of childhood. Catering to it is not a normal phase of parenting.  It is the historical norm of humanity not to have a multiplicity of food options.  Nuggets, pizza, and plain noodles have never been the mainstays of the human diet, and somehow the species has flourished.
  • We all hope that our children will have better, easier, more successful lives than we.  While we hope for the best, we are obligated as parents to prepare our children for the worst.  Only a century ago, food was rationed to support the war effort for World War I.  Eight decades ago, Americans of all stripes stared down food insecurity, both for lack of cash and for crop failure. Seven decades ago, food was rationed yet again for World War II. There are still many people alive who remember the latter two instances.  We cannot take food security for granted.
  • Per food security, modern agriculture hinges on monoculture, especially for staple crops like grains, corn, rice, and potatoes.  Right now, farmers and biologists are staring down a blight that threatens the vast majority of the world's banana production. What if a blight struck the world's potato crop (most of which are genetically identical to each other, and therefore incredibly vulnerable), or wheat, rice, or corn crops?  Considering the global nature of trade and the vulnerable nature of monocultures, it wouldn't take much to force a reconfiguration of the American diet.  It behooves all of us to be flexible.
  • Closer to home than preparing children for the possibility of future trial, a willingness to eat what one is served is one of the rudiments of being a polite guest. If children are expected to receive food graciously from the person who cooks at home, they will be unlikely to be rude in receiving food as guests.
  • While diverse eating is healthy and a good habit to foster, so is the willingness to eat the same thing multiple days in a week.  Having days when cooking is reduced saves money on food and energy and reserves time normally spent cooking for other pursuits.
  • The occasional, brief experience of hunger gives all of us a renewed appreciation for food in general and gratitude for the efforts of those who prepare it.
  • We should all foster a sense of gratitude for the earth's bounty rather than disappointment in it.
  • Most important, though, is each individual's responsibility to reduce food waste.  A whopping 40% of food in the United States goes to waste.  Globally, over a quarter of all food goes to waste.  The smallest reductions in those figures translate to significant increases in the availability of food for the poor.  Moreover, wasted food generates dangerous gases when it rots in landfills. Reducing food waste through frugal eating habits benefits everyone, and it's something everyone can do.
I have also seen argued that a child should be permitted to get a bowl of cereal or some other food if he does not prefer what is served. Not only is this a gateway to potentially seriously unhealthy eating habits, it is very rude and would never be permitted while visiting someone else's home.  Moreover, when money is tight, all the food in the house may be attached to a meal plan.  That bowl of cereal eaten in lieu of dinner might very well mean that someone has to skip breakfast the next morning.  With financial misfortune comes the forced breaking of many habits, but the establishment of frugal habits at the outset will ease any necessary transition.

I also don't condone cutting crusts off of bread or other accommodations of pickiness,  unlike allowing a child to avoid eating what they purport to dislike at the moment, altering a food to meet the child's sense of aesthetics reinforces pickiness and wastefulness through parental collaboration. I don't care if I can make bread pudding and stuffing out of all those cut off crusts, cutting them off teaches the child that waste is permissible and worth the expenditure of time, attention, and energy.  After making my child a crustless sandwich at lunch, how can I honestly expect him to eat the onion in his dinner or the bruised spot on his banana at breakfast the next morning?  The message has been mixed.

Pickiness doesn't only arise from encouragement of bad habits, a desire to test limits, or a bad attitude.  It can also be the result of incorrect parental habits,  allowing children to snack before dinner or serving too much at mealtime will result in food waste.  It isn't the child's fault if the adult doesn't ensure the child is hungry at mealtime.  While working to instill good habits in our children, we must also maintain our own discipline and have reasonable expectations of how much our children can eat.

The other issue is that children often mimic their parents.  If the parents snub leftovers, talk excessively about foods they dislike, or refuse to try new things, the children follow suit.  Good habits in children start with good habits in adults.  To this end, it is important to try to find palatable ways to prepare the foods we adults find less than mouth-watering. As a child, I thought beets, mushrooms, eggplant, giblets, and lima beans were icky.  As an adult, I've gone to some lengths to find ways to add them to my diet.  They will never be my first choice (beet salad might be an exception), but I will never break my grocery budget simply to avoid them.  And my children and I talk about it.  My husband dislikes the texture of oatmeal, but he eats it when I serve it, and we talk to the children about it.

By the same token, I don't force my children to eat things I know aren't compatible with young tastebuds.  If my husband and I plan to eat a spicy curry, I plan to cook something mild for the kids, usually some kind of treat.  I don't do this often, and I portray it as all of us getting something special for dinner. I always allow the children a taste of the grownup food if they ask.

The re-serving of food left unfinished at a prior meal is not a punishment and should never be seen as such. Yes, it can reflect improperly sized servings, and that lesson should be learned.  But the habit of wasting food should never be fostered, nor should habits of inflexibility in eating. A child who does not wish to eat his food now may eat it later.  The same is true of bathing and teeth brushing.  All be done.

My boys certainly try to be picky eaters, but it goes in phases.  Sometimes they gobble whatever is put before them, and other times they turn up their noses at the most kid friendly foods. Generally speaking, it has been a matter of power struggle: they want to see what they can get away with, and I have to play enforcement officer. Eventually, they move on until it occurs to one of them to play the game again.

This post has been linked to HHHWFMWMYHSMFrugal Friday, and Busy Monday.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Ring

(Image from Tiffany & Co.)

We were driving cross country in freezing weather, and we stopped at a travel center to stretch our legs.  When I used the ladies' room, I washed my hands and dried them with a paper towel over the trash can.  My hands hurt from the cold outside.

A couple hours later, and many, many miles down the road, I noticed that something was missing.  My wedding ring had fallen into that truck stop trash can when I dried my hands.  There was no retrieving it even if we turned around.

In everything we had been through over the preceding years, I had hung on to that ring.  We had downsized multiple times and sold off almost everything we had that was of any value, but I held on to that ring.  Then it was gone. And I didn't even notice when it fell off.

That was two years ago.  We started over again in a new job, a new town, and a new state, and then repeated the process a few more times. In all the upheaval, I could never quite justify the expense of replacing that ring.

We had left most of our things behind in a storage unit in our old state, so I went a year with no ring on my left hand at all.  When we eventually wound our way back and unpacked that storage unit, I pulled out my jewelry box and picked a silver ring with a garnet in it to wear as an interim wedding band.  It was a cheap thing I had bought ten years before just because I thought it was pretty.  I wore it for a year.

Like I said, it was cheap. Silver isn't very durable.  Neither are garnets.  This last fall, I noticed that I kept needing to bend the band back into shape. The garnet was terribly scuffed.  It was time to consider replacing my wedding band.

I went to a jewelry store to begin my search. As happened when I first searched for a ring as a bride, the lady behind the counter must have thought I was insane.  She certainly looked at me as though that was what she thought.  My requirements are, apparently, unheard-of:
  • It couldn't be gold.  I have an allergy to it--not it's alloys, but the gold itself.
  • No stones.  My engagement ring had a stone set in it, and that stone caught on everything.  I spent my engagement with a bruised ring finger from that stone catching on drawers.  As for flat settings, I don't want to worry about losing gems.
  • I wanted something with a little interest.  I was hoping for a band with an engraved design or filigree work.  
My old ring had a scrolled filigree design, but had to be ordered, because the store didn't normally carry that kind of thing.  At least that store, while thinking me unusual, was willing to accommodate me and let me order from the catalogue.  This time, there was no such accommodation. I was able to find, though, that I really liked some of the designs on men's steel wedding bands. Armed with that discovery, I turned to Amazon.

On Amazon, I quickly found a design I liked that came in women's sizes.  Since the band is steel, I don't have to worry about it being bent out of shape, either.  And at less than $20 including shipping, I couldn't complain about the price. I am so happy to have a new ring, and I love what I found.  Initially, though, I didn't want anyone to know the ring's price or material, because the ring is "fake".

With Valentine's Day merchandise lining the store shelves now, and romance themed articles popping up in the blogosphere, I felt compelled to share this story.  You see, a wedding band is a symbol, not of status or affluence or even of how much one's husband is willing to spend on jewelry,  but of the commitment spouses make to each other. Indeed, the history of engagement and wedding bands is one of contractual concerns as much as of love.

The absence of a band is not the dissolution of that commitment.  Whether the marriage will tarnish is not determined by the gold or platinum content of the ring.  The strength of a marriage to withstand the trials of life is not predicated on the number or clarity of the diamonds worn by the wife.

My grandmother's first wedding band was a ribbon cigar band in 1935. Her marriage long outlasted that flimsy piece of silk, and was eventually replaced by a very thin gold band.  Years after my grandfather passed on, my father and his siblings pooled some money to buy my grandmother a prettier, but still very modest, wedding band to commemmorate what would have been her anniversary. That set reflected, not how my grandparents felt about each other, nor the value of their marriage, but how their children flet about it.

This year, as the catalogues, store fronts, billboards, and television commercials woo us into spending money on ostentatious displays intended either for our partners or to show them off to the world, let us instead demonstrate our marital commitments through our behavior.  Let us prioritize our common goals and values over present appearances. Let us allow the evaluation of our relationships to be made by the next generation, because that appraisal, in the end, is what matters.

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

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Busy Hands

"Idle hands are the devil's plaything," or so the saying goes.  I know that I'm much less irritable when I keep my hands busy.  The Bat, too, is much less prone to trouble when his mind is focused on his hands.  I can't ask him to sit quietly while listening to or watching anything.  He will try, but soon he will bounce off the walls, unable to concentrate on the matter at hand.

Story time before bed has always been a problem.  In theory, the Bat likes the idea of my reading aloud.  In practice, his mind wanders, and before I know it, I'm shouting over simulated engine noises and interrupting myself to tell him not to run, jump, or climb.  For a long time, I simply stopped reading aloud, but that's no fun for anyone.  I really wanted to introduce the Bat (and the younger boys) to books, too. Not reading at all hinders that agenda.

Then I taught the Bat to knit.  Knitting is one of my main tools for keeping my hands occupied. That wasn't on my mind when I taught him, though.  Knitting, beyond being a practical skill, improves fine motor skills, promotes critical thinking, and encourages constructive (as opposed to destructive) inclinations.  It's also immensely satisfying to build something oneself.

With the Bat's intuitive feel for engineering and all things mechanical, I figured knitting was a good place for him to start in that direction, since it carries minimal risk of injury or death.

From the outset, he was excited about it, and I soon learned that having him do a few stitches is enough to redirect his attention away from being angry or frustrated.  Lately, I've harnessed this power for bedtime.  Every night, the Bat reads a story to me or his brothers, and I read a story to him.  While I read to him, he knits.  When he is done knitting for the evening, I am done reading, and we are both happy.

This post has been linked to Frugal FridayWFMWFFPHHHBusy MondayMYHSM, and

Chaotic Bliss Homeschooling

Monday, January 18, 2016

Meatloaf Hack

I made meatloaf last week, and I did something a little different this time.  A few days before, I had made cornbread dressing for part of a meal (from cornbread leftover from a meal from the previous week), and I had about 1.5 cups leftover.   Instead of using bread crumbs or oatmeal as the filler in my meatloaf, I used the dressing as the filler.

Because the dressing was already seasoned, I was able to cut most of the meatloaf seasonings. The meatloaf tasted pretty much how my meatloaf usually tastes, because I season it and dressing essentially the same way. Using the leftover dressing saved me considerable time and concentration by significantly reducing the number of measured ingredients I needed to add.

As I've written before, I also use meatloaf as an ingredient in other meals, too.  For example, I crumbled up about 1.5 cups of the meatloaf in a shepherd's pie last night, instead of just using ground beef.

This post has been linked to Frugal FridayWFMWHHHBusy Monday, and MYHSM.

Monday, January 11, 2016

It's the Simple Things...

In our homeschool, I refuse to play the part of entertainment coordinator. It's not that I think school should be boring or unpleasant, I'm just not going to go out of my way to make everything a game.  There are things that must be done, and we do them.  That said, I also try to keep lessons brief and to the point.  We don't do busy work, and I don't think it's right to have small children hunched over their work for hours at a time.

But there are days when everyone needs a little motivation.  The copywork is uninteresting or the page of arithmetic problems seems neverending.  When that happens, a little color can be just the boost needed to plough through the work at hand.

We take a minute, get a little water, maybe do a bit of oral work, and I break out some colored pencils. Often, the option of writing in one's favorite color is just what's needed to get the work done. We've especially enjoyed using some multicolor pencils my uncle sent as a gift a few years back.

I also like the boys using colored pencils, because the tips seem less inclined to break than their graphite counterparts.

The lesson learned? Sometimes, what looks like entitlement or stubbornness is just a need for a little change in routine.  I don't need to entertain my children.  They just need a little flexibility.

This post has been linked to Frugal FridayHHHWFMWFFPMYHSM, and Busy Monday.

Monday, January 4, 2016

DIY Shampoo

After making my own liquid soap, I stumbled across instructions for turning liquid Castile soap into shampoo.  I had to give it a try.

While the recipe wasn't as cost effective as buying cheap shampoo from the dollar store, it had two major benefits beyond my just wanting to try it: first, with the rapid increase in antibiotic resistance,  I want to rid my household of antibacterial cleansers; and second, I have a really hard time remembering to buy more soap and shampoo when I run low--even when it's on the shopping list.

I know from reading the accounts of others who have ditched commercial shampoo that it can take time for one's hair to adjust.  Shampoos contain detergents that strip your hair and scalp of natural oils as well as washing away dirt.  As a result, our bodies compensate by over producing those oils.  When using a homemade alternative, the body must adjust to producing a more normal amount of oil, and that takes time. Knowing this, I expected my homemade concoction to give me really greasy hair the first few uses.

While I used liquid soap made from a cheap, generic bar soap, instead of from Castile soap, I otherwise followed the directions found, making a half recipe to try it out.  I put the results in an empty honey bottle with a squeeze spout.

On first acquaintance, I was pleased with my new shampoo.  It did make my hair look very greasy on the first use, but it also improved the texture. My hair (which goes to my shoulder blades) also became much less prone to tangling, and I could brush it with no difficulty straight out of the shower, even with a cheap comb. My hair became easier to put up, and stayed more comfortably in its bun all day.  Around my hairline, my hair was less frizzy, too.

Then came the second and third and fourth uses.  My hair became greasier and greasier and greasier.  Finally, I gave up, brushed liberal quantities of baking soda through my hair, and washed my hair with nothing else.

Picture from Food Network

And my hair again improved drastically.

I've washed my hair twice with baking soda since then, rubbing soda into my hair before I get in the shower. The improvements I initially saw in my hair have remained and the drawbacks of the homemade shampoo have not returned.

I've also noticed that my face is significantly cleaner when I wash it.  The only thing I changed was my hair washing routine,  which leads me to suspect that commercial shampoo left a bunch of residue on my skin.

So there you have it.  I'm officially a convert to the "no poo" method.

This post has been linked to WFMWFFPBusy Monday and MYHSM.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


My husband prefers liquid soap to bar soap, and I use liquid hand soap for both hands and dishes.  However, I don't like having to buy liquid soap or the big containers it comes in going to waste (I was buying the quart sized bulk bottles).  I also don't like how difficult it is to find liquid soap that is not antibacterial.  As for commercial dish soap, I react to one of the antiseptic components of commercial dish detergents (my hands turn red, crack, and peel). Hand soaps lack those chemicals, but work just as well for breaking through grease and stuck on food as dish soap does.

I recently found instructions on another blog for converting bar soap into liquid hand soap.  Not only is it inexpensive, but it is easy to customize as well.  The instructions produce approximately one gallon per 8 ounce bar of soap.  The bar soap I used (the cheapest I could find, since I didn't want to use expensive soap for my first try) was only 6.4 ounces, but produced results identical to those described in the instructions. I dilute my liquid soap by half, as well, so it actually made me two gallons of liquid soap.

While it does not foam or lather, it works quite nicely on both hands and dishes. It also does not work well with foaming dispensers.  Before refilling my soap dispensers, I give the jug I store it in a good shake, since it has a tendency to congeal when it sits.

As for price, you really can't beat it.  The soap I bought was 97 cents for two bars, or 48.5 cents each.  The glycerin (the other ingredient besides water) was just under $4.  Including taxes, the cost per gallon breaks down to about $1.20, which means the diluted version I use is approximately 60 cents per gallon.  And the whole thing takes about ten minutes worth of attention on my part.

When I was ready to put the soap into the jug, it was gelatinous and would not pour.  As per the original instructions, I simply beat it for a minute, working out any lumps, until it was mucilagenous more than gelatinous.  It would have worked better with an electric mixer, but I just used a large fork.  It is easy enough to do by hand that it wasn't worth it to me to create extra dishes to wash with a mixer or blender.

Filling up my dispensers, I add about a tablespoon of lotion to each hand soap dispenser, since bar soap can be somewhat drying.  I have also seen tea tree oil (which has antiseptic properties) and dried, ground eggshells (to make it abrasive) as recommended additives.

All in all, I'm very happy with my new hand soap.  I like the price, that its easy on my hands, not antibacterial, and very inexpensive. My husband likes it, too. And we're both happy that the financial loss is negligible if a child decides to pump a bunch into the sink.

This post has been linked to FFPWFMWHHHMYHSM.