Thursday, March 31, 2011

What We Teach Our Children

I spend a lot of my day teaching, and probably about as much time thinking about teaching.  The type of Physics I teach is semi-experimental in that not too many schools in the country teach physics to kids that are in Algebra I.  It's made my work interesting, frustrating, baffling, and rewarding.  I find myself combing research magazines and professional association publications to figure out how the heck I'm going to get my goals accomplished.

I think about how to connect with kids that, in a few short years, have had a drastically different childhood than I have.  I grew up without cell phones.  I didn't get my first cell phone until I was in college, though my mom would let me borrow hers if I needed to drive somewhere late at night.  I didn't really care about my computer until I was in 9th grade when AIM came out.  Facebook certainly didn't exist.  These kids are so connected that you cannot get them to put their phones away during the school day.

I think about how we teach things that don't matter at all in the real world and put so much stress on kids.  When I was in middle school, kids were required to take Family and Consumer Science (FACS).  We learned to sew, cook in a microwave, wash clothes, budget to some extent, and did a lot of job exploration.  The kids I teach have never taken FACS, or Home Ec, or anything at all about actual life skills.  Do these kids need to know about radical functions in their real lives?  Or will they, at thirty five, think of a radical function as an awesome party?

I would love to teach kids something real about life:  Should you get a Roth or traditional IRA?  How can credit cards be a gateway to lifelong debt?  Why is it better to pay cash for a car than get a loan?  How do you set a table?  What is the proper etiquette for letter writing, email writing, or voice mails?  How and how often do you clean curtains?  How do you maintain a house?  How do you caulk?  How do you change the oil and breaks in a car?  How do you change a tire?  How do you make a nutritious, homemade meal?

Theoretically, all these things are supposed to be taught by parents.  But the parents of kids now never learned these things themselves.  The natural progression for learning home skills has broken down.  There are adults who own cars but who have never changed a tire.  There are people who hire professionals to paint their rooms because they don't know how.  There are people every day and all over the world who rack up debt and don't save for their retirement who will, inevitably, either live off of the system (if it still exists) or die without medical care or money to buy food.

What good is teaching our kids grand concepts that they won't use if they won't be able to lead a quality life?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An All-Natural Pantry

Given our latest push to eat sustainably and healthfully, combined with my ongoing campaign to have a pantry my grandmother would be proud of, I've been mulling over the practicalities of having an all-natural pantry as of late.  When Shirley over at Choosing Voluntary Simplicity wrote her post today on what's in her pantry, I knew that it was time to start putting thoughts into words so that they'll (hopefully) turn into actions.

I cleaned our pantry out this past weekend.  We had a bag of potatoes explode all over the bottom shelf of the pantry as well as a plastic bin that holds blankets.  It's just as well, because the bin was taking up so much room that I never used the pantry anymore.  I'd send *B* down because I couldn't stretch over the bin to reach the food.  I'm ashamed to say that I had to throw out a fair amount of food because it was expired.  A few more items moved upstairs to be eaten this week, much to the delight of my co-workers who ate up my double chocolate devil's food cake muffins.  A few more items had a couple of months left on them, but we no longer eat that type of food, so they are to be donated.

When I first started loading up our pantry, I filled it with things we ate often:  spaghetti, hamburger helper, commercially canned fruit and vegetables, baking mixes, and sauces out of bottles.  As I was cleaning, I realized that we hadn't wanted or needed any of these things in the couple of months that I overlooked the pantry.  Our eating habits now have us choosing sprouted english muffins, whole grain rice, and an abundance of fresh veggies.  This is where I started to rethink our storage habits.

As my garden starts to unfold, I find myself planting many more vegetables that are able to be frozen or canned.  I have (some) time in the summer, and I plan on putting that time to good use, stocking up for the later months.  For the vegetables that refuse to grow, I will buy extras at the farmer's market.  Even if it doesn't come from my backyard, I can still get it from my area.

I'm going to get air tight containers that can hold our chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and all of the other grains and legumes that we run across.  Right now our grains are in strange plastic bags, twist-tied, and often unmarked.  I keep meaning to try quinoa and couscous.  I know I've had one of them, but due to the labeling issue, I don't know which one.

I'm going to create my own dehydrated soups so that *B* can have (fairly) quick lunches that are nutritious and homemade (I'm not really a soup girl).  We were given some of the packaged versions for Christmas, and he seemed to scarf them up.  How hard could it be to make my own?

I will reevaluate my potato storage so that they a) don't turn to mush and b) don't sprout.  All the potatoes in the basement rotted, and all of the potatoes in the kitchen sprouted and turned green.

Considering I'm down to about 15 pounds of flour, I'm going to seriously look into buying it in bulk from our organic market.  I keep saying I will, but I actually will this time.

Finally, I'm going to stop thinking of our freezer as unreliable storage and start using it to its fullest (both capacity and potential).  Yes, the power could go out and we could lose our food storage.  But that's better than not using the space at all.  I am much more interested in eating frozen snap peas than canned green peas any day.  If it helps us to eat our vegetables and to save on food costs, I'm all for it.

What's in your pantry?

Monday, March 28, 2011

What Happened to Spring?

On Sunday morning, I woke up to snow.  Not a whole lot, not even worth photographing, but snow nonetheless.  And we're supposed to get more on Wednesday.

The little potato shoots that were sprouting are now dead.  The little peas that were starting to emerge have died back significantly.  Other crops still haven't even decided to poke through the soil, if they will at all.  *B* and I were considering some kind of warming blanket for the garden.  I've seen those garden hoop systems on different websites, but I'm just a little scared of them.  I don't know why, but I'm hesitant to get them as I'm not 100% sure I know what I'm doing.

I've been doing a lot of research, reading Mother Earth News, Appalachian Feet, as many articles online as I can find.  Regardless, I feel like I'm going to fail big time in this year's gardening endeavors.  I'm hopeful that it's nothing a good warm spell won't fix, but until then, our fingers are crossed.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Beauty of a CSA

*B* and I subscribe to a strange type of CSA.  It's not the traditional pay-the-farmer-get-the-food type.  We actually have the food delivered to our house year round, every other Tuesday.  The company has a number of local, organic farms that they work with, and we get to choose what food we want for the shipment. 

Because of our CSA deliveries, I've tried and/or rediscovered:
  • Kale
  • Fresh Spinach (not in a salad)
  • Collard Greens
  • Swiss Chard
  • Broccoli Rabe
  • Beets
  • Turnips
  • Rutabegas
  • Butternut Squash
  • Acorn Squash
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Kumquats
  • Radishes
I've also had a ton of foods that I have all the time:
  • Blueberries
  • Pears (of all types)
  • Oranges
  • Apples
  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Snap Peas
  • Many, many more
Since I gave up going out to eat for Lent, and *B* gave up meat all together for Lent, we've been chowing down on the vegetables like it's our job.  I'm very hopeful that we'll continue this meatless tradition after Easter.  If you told me this is how I'd be eating a year ago, I'd say you were off your rocker.  But I feel much better having done it, and try to remind myself of that when I crave things that are both meat and not homemade.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Starting the Garden

The weather's been kind of iffy lately.  Mother Nature seems to be having some wicked mood swings.  For a while, we were up to and above the 70s.  This weekend, they're calling for an inch of snow.  I'm sure in a few months, though, I'll be looking back at the 60 degree days longingly.

A few weeks ago, I started our container gardens.  I planted some garlic, one onion that came from our CSA that was sprouting in the kitchen, different varieties of potatoes from the CSA that sprouted (including a purple flesh variety!) and some more Mary Washington asparagus. The garlic is already growing, the onion has taken off, and the potatoes are just now poking through the soil.

*B* and I took advantage of the nice weather over the past few weeks to get rest of the garden going.  We actually tested our soil in the raised bed for the first time.  Given that, we filled the raised bed with topsoil (big mistake, now I know better), the nutrient levels weren't all that bad.

The first thing we did is turned over the soil that was there.  Some of the perlite that we had added settled out to the bottom and needed to be reincorporated.  While we were turning the soil, we found the strangest thing - three large baking potatoes.  I never planted potatoes in the raised bed, I had some in a plastic container next to the bed.  Is it possible for potato roots to grow through the bottom of a cracked plastic container, through concrete and into a raised bed??

We added a bunch of compost (homemade and store bought, both) as well as organic soil conditioner.  I think we're all ready for this year now.

One weekday night last week, *B* dug up the soil around our fence that used to keep our dog out of the garden.  I planted sugar snap peas all along that fence.  It's my dream to have a fence and a trellis of sugar snaps in early June.  Here's hoping they'll grow in our iffy soil!

Last weekend, I actually got to planting in the raised bed.  I planted two types of lettuce (Bibb and Butterhead), two types of sugar snaps (Mammoth and Sugar Snap), rhubarb (Victoria, an experiment), radishes (Easter Egg and Scarlet Globe), and spinach.  I'm so very excited to see how these harvests come out now that I have a year of experience under my belt.

I've started seedlings inside, or at least tried.  *B* and I went to a gardening class that said we HAVE to start with sterile potting soil.  Wouldn't you know it, the things I planted in random soil are doing well, and the things I've planted in sterile soil haven't done a thing.  Hmpf.