Thursday, July 30, 2015

Baby time

I've once again managed to birth an embarrassingly large baby, an embarrassingly long time after the so-called "due date", after an embarrassingly easy (relatively easy, that is) labor.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The last room in the house

I got tired of sitting around in various degrees of pre-labor, and made an unsuccessful search among my husband's boxes of stuff for the one box of yarn, planning to knit a dishcloth. Blocked in that direction, I started thinking about what I could do with "my" room:  a windowless mostly-finished room in the basement with a very low dropped ceiling and a gas meter; the least attractive room in the house. I have a few of my few things in there, but spend very little time in it. Most of my craft supplies and tools have migrated upstairs, so I can work while watching children. But with the hotter weather, the basement has become more attractive.

I started with a couple of "How can I make this prettier and work better?" tweaks; getting the yards of phone cord and coaxial cable that came with the tiny closet off the floor, so I could put my homemade concrete weights in there; putting the handful of books in the crate that I have for a small bookshelf; bringing down a few more craft books. Our old rocker was a Problem upstairs, so it is in there now. This led to thinking about having a desk or a table to sit at, and to realizing that there was no reason not to make one....

I started by sitting in the rocker, at various tilts, with a tape measure to see exactly how high I wanted the table to be...the advantage of being able to customize something perfectly to your own needs is not one to be given up lightly.

After some scrounging in the garage and basement, I found a piece of scrap plywood from one of my husband's projects for a table top, and lengths of wood from the lumber motherlode for table legs. I simply joined them with screws, which is a rather wobbly way to do it, but it will be easy to disassemble for the next move. I can add more structure later, if I want. The table is not for heavy crafting; there is a workbench in the utility room next door for that. I sanded the top, and then rubbed in some paraffin wax from an old candle for a subtle finish (violin fingerboards are finished with paraffin in this way); I need to repeat this as I missed some spots. Then I painted the legs (which are rough, weathered cedar) with the same free latex paint from the hazardous waste center that I used on the dresser that is in there.

So the space is quickly being transformed. I have a short list of other things to find or make, for it to be fully functional. Then I want to do something about the panels in the dropped ceiling, which for some reason are covered in grimy handprints.

A simple start in the kitchen: recipes

I learned to cook and bake from helping my grandma in the kitchen, from experimenting at home on Friday Serve-Yourself nights (when my mother refused to cook), from working in church and camp kitchens, and from cookbooks. Now my children are learning how to get around in the kitchen.

Here are some of my core frugal recipes. Abbreviations:  C for cup, T for tablespoon, tsp for teaspoon.  I buy yeast in bulk at the co-op (for around $6 per pound), so I generally skip the "proofing" step in making yeast breads, as I know that it is alive and will activate. "Cocoa powder" means baking cocoa, not hot cocoa mix. In place of baking powder I often use 1 part baking soda to 2 parts cream of tartar, when I can buy the cream of tartar in bulk.

On my own recipe cards, I write the baking temperature and pan size at the top, because preheating the oven and getting the pan ready is what I actually do first in baking.

These are mostly baking recipes, because baking requires more precise and definite recipes, while stovetop cooking is usually much more flexible in terms of ingredients and techniques. I'd advise getting a good basic cookbook (such as an older edition of The Joy of Cooking) that teaches the techniques of cooking and baking, in particular:  how to select and cook meats and vegetables, make a white sauce, make a basic soup and stew, how to knead, when to take your baking out of the oven. Some sort of primer on slow cooker/CrockPot cooking would also be good. Dried rice and beans and pasta and oatmeal have cooking instructions on their packaging; it is well worth learning how to cook these "from scratch", rather than buying the convenience versions. I keep some old issues of Taste of Home and Taste of Home's Quick Cooking magazines, to browse through when I get in a cooking rut, although they contain many recipes that could hardly be called frugal.

No-knead peasant bread

2 1/4 tsp (or 1 packet) yeast
2 C warm water
pinch sugar
4 scant C flour
2 tsp salt

Mix ingredients in bowl; cover and let rise in warm place 1 hour. Divide dough into two greased pans and let rise again for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, put pans in and turn oven down to 375 degrees; bake for 35 minutes.

Pizza/breadstick dough

2 1/4 tsp (or 1 packet) yeast
1 C warm water
pinch sugar
2 T olive oil
about 3 C of flour; increase slightly for breadsticks
1/2 tsp salt

Mix ingredients and knead a few minutes to make dough smoother and more elastic. Put dough in bowl, oil it with a little more olive oil, cover, and let rise in warm place one hour. Punch down. Let it rise again (I usually don't).  Press into cookie sheet/pizza pan for pizza, or flatten, slice, and twist to form breadsticks. Pizza dough can be prebaked for 5 minutes before topping (I usually don't). Pizza:  add sauce and toppings. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-18 minutes for pizza, 12-15 minutes for breadsticks. Breadsticks: rub tops with butter. (This recipe originally called for a shorter baking time at a higher temperature, but I can't remember exactly what they were, and this is what I do.)

Fast pizza dough

2 1/4 tsp (or 1 packet) yeast
1 C warm water
2 C flour

Mix and press onto pan; top and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.

Simple chocolate pudding

2 C milk
1/4 C sugar
2 T cornstarch
2 T cocoa powder
1 t vanilla

Combine everything except vanilla in saucepan; stir and cook over medium heat until it thickens and boils. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Cheese sauce

(This is a variant of the chocolate pudding recipe.)

1 C milk
1 T cornstarch
2 T butter
1/4 t salt
dash pepper
about 1 C of shredded cheese, or a handful of diced cheese

Stir and cook everything but cheese in saucepan over medium until it thickens; remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted. Put back over low heat and stir if needed to melt cheese.

Tightwad Gazette's Generic Muffins (rewritten to put ingredients in order of addition)

2 to 2 1/2 C grains
Up to 1/2 C sweetener
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1 C milk
Up to 1/4 C fat
1 egg
Up to 1 1/2 C additions

Mix dry ingredients in bowl; add wet ingredients and mix briefly, put into muffin pan (greased or lined with cupcake papers) and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes

Wacky Cake

1 1/2 C flour
3/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 T cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla
5 T vegetable oil
1 T vinegar
1 C sour milk

Grease an 8x8 inch pan, put in dry ingredients and mix. Add wet ingredients and stir thoroughly. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Cream cheese frosting

8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1/2  tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon juice (optional)
powdered sugar

Soften cream cheese and butter; beat until combined. Mix in vanilla and lemon juice. Gradually mix in powdered sugar until it is the desired sweetness and consistency.

Popcorn on the stove

I use a stockpot for this, with its accessory steamer basket inverted over the top to act as a lid that lets steam out while keeping the popcorn in.

2 T vegetable oil
1/2 to 3/4 C popcorn kernels

Put oil in large pot with 3 kernels; cover and heat over medium heat until kernels pop. Add remaining popcorn, cover, swirl pan to coat kernels in oil, and continue cooking over medium heat until popping sounds slow down, occasionally shaking pan from side to side.

Homemade cocoa

2 C milk
1-2 T sugar
1 t cocoa powder
2-4 drops of vanilla

Stir in saucepan and heat over medium heat until steaming.

Potato wedges

6-9 potatoes
1 T mayonnaise, olive oil, sour cream, or plain yogurt
1 t salt or seasoned salt
seasonings as desired

Slice potatoes into wedges about 1/4 inch thick and put into large bowl. Add other ingredients and stir until wedges are coated. Spread in single layer on cookie sheets and bake at 375 degrees for about one hour.

Quick bar cookies

1/2 C butter (1 stick), melted
1 1/2 C brown sugar (or use white sugar and add 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp molasses, or just use white sugar)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 C flour
1/2 C dry oatmeal (optional)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 C chocolate chips (optional)

Mix first four ingredients in bowl. Add dry ingredients and mix. Put in greased 9x13 pan and bake 20 minutes.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The quest for status and approval

VALS is a market segmentation scheme for businesses to classify U.S. consumers into eight types and target them in their marketing. It is two-dimensional:  primary motivation (ideals, achievement, self-expression) versus resources with which to innovate (low to high).

The interesting thing for me is how the different VALS types of consumers seek to increase their social status via status symbols:  Experiencers travel to more exotic places; Makers make more things for themselves; Strivers get more elaborate tattoos. People (once they get beyond mere survival) tend to play one status game or another, depending on their means and their values, and businesses try to position themselves to profit from it.

I recently started reading Charlotte Mason's Ourselves, which mentions approbation as a basic and legitimate human need. I have come to believe that humans are hard-wired to self-destruct (in one way or another) without it. But you don't have to buy it; Jesus offers it for free, along with genuine rest from the toil of constantly proving one's worth.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The physics of the flu shot

(Yes, putting aside most of my crafts projects has left me with a lot of time to read and think and exposit.)

Somewhere I once read a statement by a doctor (I wish I had the reference, but I don't) saying that vaccination could only ever be an effective strategy against a limited number of slowly-mutating micro-organisms.  Limited, because there is a physical limit to how many vaccinations a human body can receive and produce immunity from. Slowly-mutating, because the antibodies that are created to identify and destroy a particular threat won't be effective if it has changed so much that they can't recognize it.

Influenza is not slowly-mutating, and has a variety of strains. So, for the flu shot, each year "they" try to guess what the most prevalent strains will be (say, strains A, B, and C), and the manufacturers produce a vaccine that targets these strains. A fairly high percentage of the population dutifully get their flu shots, and for most of them it is effective: they don't fall ill with strain A, strain B, or strain C, and so those strains don't spread through the population. Instead, the flu strains that go around are strains D, E, and F. Health officials issue a statement:  "Oops, we guessed wrong. We promise to do better next year, so be sure to get your flu shots then!" Rinse, and repeat the whole sequence the following year.

So, the strains that are in your flu shot are never the strains that are actually in circulation around you that year. Probably widespread flu shots do help somewhat to reduce the total number of flu cases, by blocking the spread of the frontrunner strains each flu season. But they can't be counted on to protect any particular person from getting the flu, and it is bad science to claim that they can. (Public health policy operates on the assumption that People Are Idiots, and shamelessly uses bad science and propaganda to promote its various initiatives. But actually, only Most People Are Idiots.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Local sources, and a very broad trend

The Dollar Tree store near our old house in the undesirable urban school district, where only 60% of the elementary-age kids attend public school, usually has a decent selection of educational workbooks for the lower grades. The one near our current house, in a suburb with a lingering reputation for good schools (despite changing demographics as the low-end housing is increasingly occupied by immigrants*), where homeschooling has barely been heard of and is only done by weirdoes, does not. But I found a few.

I have been avoiding Goodwill for the past several years, as my thrift store browsing time is very limited, and Goodwill is relatively expensive compared to other thrift stores in the area. But I found that they are now selling VHS tapes ten for $2, and also regularly run 50% off coupons in the local coupon supplement.


*There are over forty million first-generation immigrants in the U.S. now. That is more than ten percent of the population!  It first struck me when I saw two versions of the U.S. demographic pyramid, twenty or thirty years apart; the "baby bust" of Generation X that followed the Baby Boom was visibly filled in over time. I imagine that about forty years ago, some high-level leaders looked at the demographics of the baby bust, and the continuing effects of widespread access to contraception and abortion, said "Oh ****, Social Security is *******!!!", and created a tacit bipartisan initiative to encourage immigration by whatever means necessary.

Thus immigration has become the unmentionable elephant in the room for nearly every social issue:  education, health, housing, employment, income, poverty, voting, religion. Comparisons of past and present measurements in those areas need to be accompanied with many grains of salt, because the population itself has significantly changed. Reading the newspaper becomes an exercise in spotting what is not being said.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The value of good information

While wandering around the internet, I stumbled upon a brief list of foods that can be migraine triggers. My husband knew most of his food-related triggers, but this list had several that we had not heard about before. This new information will likely spare him several headaches a month.

I've been slowly reading through Will Durant's The Story of Civilization series. It is helping me put the history that I've largely learned piecewise into a much more coherent whole. It has also made me much more wary of historical examples used in is very easy to cherry-pick a bit of history to make your point, while ignoring whole heaps of counterexamples, not to mention the broader trends and forces that have played out over time.

I've also been stretching my learning through crossword puzzles; hard ones that force me to resort to the atlas frequently. This has exposed a number of gaps and inaccuracies in my geographic knowledge; Somalia is not directly to the west of Egypt.

For my own amusement, I calculated the percentage of our gross income that goes to health insurance premiums. At present it is large but sustainable; history has shown that the peasantry will generally tolerate incredible impositions before resorting to revolt. But next winter, we may be left with a choice between health insurance and heat, and I know which way we will vote with our dollars. It has been obvious to me (though somehow not to the Supreme Court) that Obamacare was never designed to work in the long term, but to function as a stepping-stone to single-payer health insurance. Therefore I have been waiting patiently for it to fail, and I fully expect that it will be replaced with something even worse.

The liberal strategy of "let's bring the gays out of the closet, and then we'll shove the conservative Christians in" has also been apparent to me for a long time, so the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decision was no surprise.

Not being able to do much about those issues, I have been doing what I can at home to make the world a better place: weeding, hanging up a few more decorations on the walls, restocking the pantry. And also looking forward to the world to come...what can I do now that will stand the test of fire??

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Does it provide support?

I've been thinking lately about how the things that are stored in the "support spaces" of the home (basement, garage, attic, closets, cupboards, utility room) should support the life that is being lived in (and out of) the home's living spaces. We are still storing many things that we never use, or look at, or, in some cases, even remember that we own.