Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Homeschooling, ODD and cutting people some slack

Sometimes, it's very hard in the "trenches". Due to my son's divorce from a woman who willingly gave up custody of a beautiful 4.5 yr old and 13 mo old, I'm in the situation where I have my grandkids from Sun night until either Fri or Sat afternoon. My son works 4-5 days a week from 2pm until 2am and I live two counties away, so for right now, this is the best solution we have. I now find MYSELF back in the trenches. Both children have developmental delays due to neglect and inconsistent access to food. Needless to say, the almost 5 yr old will not be ready for kindergarten and will have to be homeschooled. I'm on disability and at 62 never thought I'd be doing this again. lol But...we do what needs to be done and don't give up on the kids.

Perhaps I should now change the blog name to Nana's Nut House! lol

I'm glad you  have seen and responded to your children's issues. I've known some very good teachers in the local school, but with what is thrown at them, they just can't do all that everyone wants them to do. There just isn't time in the day to do it.

Ultimately, our kids are our responsibility. Sometimes, being our children's advocate means removing them from harmful situations - even if it is the "traditional school" that is the situation. It is a rough road to travel and the older they are, the more effort it takes on everyone's part - parent(s) and child(ren) to recover from the toxicity that has occurred. But "better late than  never" seems to apply here. They can have their self-esteem rebuilt and as the mature, they will appreciate your efforts.

Each child/family is different and what works for one child/family may not work for others. There are kids that will sit down and flourish on doing workbooks and others that it kills them, academically speaking. That's just not the way they learn. As we learn what works for each of our kids, we can better serve their needs. And yes, teaching responsibility to our kids is a VERY important part of our schooling. Again, different methods work for different kids.

We all have to hang in there. Look for the positive and comment on that. The more "atta-boy/girl" they get, the better it is. Accentuate the positive, ignore the negative as much as is humanly possible. (yeah, the constant sound-making of some kids can drive us up the wall and we tell them, repeatedly, to be QUIET! lol)

Personally, I still find it overwhelming as I work with the grands. Speech is not clear, baby-talking needs to be stopped, attention-getting activities in public needs to be stopped, developmental delays need to be addressed. Baby needs PT (at least the therapist comes to the house each week). etc And then there's the constant need to feed and clean up 6 times a day (kids were not feed regularly - to keep them small and infantized. People paid attention to her because the kids were so small and cute.) After 5 months with me, they are finally on the bottom 10% of the WIC chart on height/weight but it's been an uphill work to satiate their hunger with nourishing foods. Thankfully, they are now on a proper growth curve and seem to be catching up, however, the concern is that the 5 year old may have had his growth permanently stunted to a degree.

So...chins up, Faith on, and off we go as the saga continues.

I guess the best thing for all of us to to do what our kids need done. All kids learn differently and the key to successful teaching is to teach to the way that that child learns. Homeschooling allows us to run the gamete from textbooks and workbooks, to unit studies to unschooling. As we use the method that is best for each child, we find the child will flourish. And when we are trying to homeschool multiple kids, it can get tricky, especially when we're trying to use different textbooks for different ages/levels kids. Some kids need strict schedules, others need flexibility, still others it's catch as catch can to prevent meltdowns.

I found that for my kids, 2 of the 3 learned better by hands on. The 3rd LOVED workbooks - something that I missed - probably because there was no money to BUY workbooks. I had a 4 year rotating curriculum that I used as a basis for what we did. I learned to "sneak" school in as that way, the ODD child had less to rebel against. One of the things they still talk about loving was that I'd read to them for hours on end. We read everything from the Scriptures to the Narnia series to Harry Potter. We'd read and watch movies based on the book(s) we'd read and talk about the differences and what we liked and didn't. To this day, my kids LOVE to read.

In the end, we need to learn to let go ourselves and quit comparing OURSELVES and our homeschooling against others. It's not a competition. Some kids are homeschooled because their parents don't want them exposed to the ultra-liberal ideas of socialist teachers that infest some schools. Others have kids in crisis that have been in school, but are failing to thrive because of issues either at school or in their own brains or bodies. Still others feel that the Lord would have them do this for reasons unknown to them. There are many reasons, all of which are valid for parents that have the best interests of their child(ren) in mind (we'll leave out the small number of abusive parents that use it to hide abuse from being caught) All are valid reasons to homeschool. Most all parents have the goal of seeing that their kids are educated to the best of their child's capabilities. For many, that means public/private school. For some it's total homeschool. For others, it's a combination, homeschooled for some years, public schooled for other years.

I once read a blog post from a lady that had a lot of children, some of whom were old enough to be homeschooled. She also had an infant and toddlers that needed tending and would sometimes interrupt "school time". The name of her post was "Sometimes, the baby IS the lesson" and went on to comment that her kids will grow-up to be parents and that as she showed patience and love to the little "disturbers", she was teaching her children how to parent. Our treatment of each other in our family and outside it, IS always the lesson. 

I have heard people comment that there is no such thing as O.D.D. What it is is BRAT and the parents just "need to control" their child. OBVIOUSLY, they've NEVER had to deal with a child that IS trying to behave and wants to be good, but has control issues. And we as their parents DO discipline them. A lot of times these people don't have kids of their own or they have such mild-mannered, laid-back kids that a simple word to them gets results. Or they just beat the crap out of their kids until the kid minds.

Laid-back? WELL...not in MY family we don't have laid-back personalities! 12 hrs after my 9 week-premature daughter was born, she kept trying to turn her head and couldn't because of her CPAP tubing. A nurse kept turning her head back to the side it was on. The 4th time, the nurse held her head down for a few seconds. Her response? She grabbed that tube and with a white fist, tried to pull it out and screamed so loudly she was heard outside the NICU. 3.87 lbs of pure fury. This was the results of "bad parenting"? NOT! lol And yeah, this was the child that got the most attention as keeping her stable (well, as much as possible) kept the household quieter.

We all make mistakes. I used to be a paramedic making life and death decisions everyday. I never second-guessed myself. I know what had to be done and did it. Then I got married and had child #1, the preemie above. And about 3 months into the "project" I told a friend that I had NEVER second-guessed myself like I have as a parent. This mother of 4 said; "Welcome to the club!".

One of the most powerful things we can teach our children is that we all make mistakes. We do the best we can and sometimes, we make mistakes and fail or feel we've failed. How we handle our failures shows our children what to do when they fail. Do we lay there and cry what losers we are? Do we blame others? Or do we pick our selves up, acknowledge our mistakes, ask forgiveness from those we've hurt and then move on, trying to learn from the mistakes we've made?

ADD/ODD pt 2, Financial Struggles, Gratitude and Kid Attitudes

Dear Linda and others that are struggling with finances (or rather lack thereof) and attitudes from kids.

I know you have a lot on your plate, for a while before and just after I got married and had kids, I lived off grid. There's a WHOLE lot of extra work that comes with the self-sufficient lifestyle. Toss in ADD/ADHD/ODD, learning differences, kids and illnesses and life gets really, really crazy; really, really quickly.

I know it's especially hard when there aren't a lot of resources to get the things that "everybody else has". It's hard when you don't have money to buy the curriculum that would help you help your child as it's more geared to their problems. But we learn to shop used book & curriculum places both off and on line. We learn to talk to others. We learn to ask about scholarships for things. We learn to make do with what we have. And for those of us that are religious, we petition our Heavenly Father for help and direction. Hey, they were his kids first and he didn't put them (or US!) here to fail. 

Something may not "magically" appear. It may be a prompting here and word there, a website searched. But answers, over time and as we ACT upon prior promptings, things just seem to work out. Not just like we wanted or prayed for, but in our best interest. Even the "dirtbag" experiences, if we keep a good attitude ourselves.  

Then we get to deal with the kids and the attitude about why "they're SO poor!". Toss in ODD that sometimes has them thinking that life "owes" them and there can be meltdowns and attitudes galore to deal with. Sometimes yours as well as theirs. 

Here are some thoughts on that issue and what I did to help mine along. 

One of the things that my kids had to deal with is that I served a mission for my church in the Colombia Bogota region. When my kids started to complain about not having abcxyz, I would acknowledge their feelings, but then I would also talk about some of the people I saw, some of the KIDS I saw. I talked about how literally blessed we truly ARE, even when we're "poor" as compared to others around us. I was inspired to use the phrase that "we weren't really "poor", we just had a bad cash flow". Because we truly ARE blessed, we truly are rich compared to a LOT of other people in this world. So we mostly have the necessities of life, it's the "wants" that are tripping us and our kids up. 

Years later, my oldest said; "you know mom, when we were younger, we hated that you had served a mission. We would be upset about not having money and used to try and have a pity party you always made us feel badly for complaining." "You'd tell us stories about people, even KIDS that had nothing. Kids as young as 5 that had to go to work and work 12 hrs a day in the hot sun and then go to school until 11 PM if they were lucky enough to have parents that would pay for them to do it. And then remind us that we weren't poor, we just had a bad cash flow." "We HATED it then, because it always made us stop and think about all we did have, even if we couldn't afford to go do all the cool things some of the other kids were able to do.

Kids sometimes need to be reminded that w
e have clean water to drink, multiple outfits to wear. We don't have to go walk for miles to get dirty water - or have no water at all. We have indoor plumbing and/or the ability to create sanitary conditions even if "all" we have is an outhouse. We have electricity. We have free schools, if we choose to attend them and even in some "developed" countries, we have a freedom they do not have. We are free to homeschool/be homeschooled. We have knowledge. We can read, write do math, understand science. Yes, for AMERICANS we are poor. But compared to so much of the rest of the world, we are truly RICH. It's all in how we choose to look at it.

Perhaps it's time for a virtual field trip to a poor country or two. Even better, if you can afford a trip to Mexico or another "poor" country. Have someone local show you around. Show you what passes for schools in the poorer areas. Show you how "normal" people live, without going into dangerous areas. I promise you it will make a difference in what your family sees as "poor". 

I've lived in 3 different countries in 3 continents. I can tell you from actually LIVING there, not visiting, but living there - Japan, where I was stationed for 18 months in the mid '70's. Where people got up in the morning, went outside and used the "benjo" ditches to relieve themselves. Colombia for 9 months in 1980/81. I have more "stuff" than the middle class people and even some of the people they consider wealthy.  I grew up poor(ish) in the Southern US (where some of my peers growing up in the 1960(!) STILL didn't have indoor plumbing nor electricity. I've lived off grid - without electricity, sewage nor water on the property. I grew my food. I had 2 preemie babies with no well on my property. What water there was, was hauled in a 500 gal "water buffalo" for cleaning and laundry, or in gallon milk jugs for drinking and cooking EACH WEEK. To get the water from the buffalo into the house, a sump pump was dropped into the tank and the other end was screwed into the water line into the house. To use it, we had to turn off the a/c and plug in the pump - otherwise, it tripped the switch and we had no electricity. And we lived in nice, hot, humid FLORIDA! In a trailer! With a steel roof. But at the time, I owned it - only to lose it in the divorce, along with my good credit rating and being left with all the bills and expenses. Yeah, dad's aren't the only ones that can be taken to the cleaners by a dishonorable ex-spouse. But even in those VERY humble circumstances, I had more than about 2/3 of the people of Colombia in general and almost 100% of those living outside of major cities. 

There are plenty of videos out there that show third world countries. Have them watch some of those videos and get a new perspective on their OWN lives and how blessed they truly are.

Perhaps they need to observe and even interact with some of the homeless in our own areas. People
who, for whatever reason, are without a roof over their heads. And surprisingly, many times, it's not their fault. (And I strongly believe in personal choice and accountability).

But get sick, incur medical bills, lose your home trying to pay them and you're homeless. (NOT) your fault.

Let family move into your home, have them (behind your back) do illegal things and then get busted. Your house is seized and you're homeless. (Not your fault).

Be older and trying to help younger family members. Have them steal and forge your name, or trust them when they say they'll take care of you - only to have them literally put you on the street as they now have control of your assets. (Not your fault).

Be mentally ill or a vet suffering PTSD. (not their fault)

Lots of things can make someone homeless besides generally being "unworthy because they won't work". 

And once homeless, then it is so very, very hard to climb back into having a job and a place to live. See, no proper clothing, no job. Dirty because of no access to water, no job. No job, no place to live because you have no money. "So, they should just go get a job!". Please, note. I'm very conservative. I know there are people who play the system - I even casually know some of them. And they do need a swift kick in the pants. But many more are not deserving of being told it's their fault, it's not. And some of them are on the streets with their kids. 

I've been homeless several times in my life. And even though I was trying to make what to me were positive life changes, it WAS my fault I was homeless - I was chasing dreams and sometimes promised jobs weren't delivered. But I had some resources to fall back on. Church family, friends and having been in the military and then in a couple of Air National Guard units. Once, because I left an abusive marriage with my 3 kids 5 down to 5 months and nursing. SCARY.   But sometimes, you have to give up something to achieve something else. In that case, it was a very, very humble home to get out of an abusive marriage by going into a shelter for battered women.

Turn off tv and stay OUT Of the malls. 

Once, when I took my daughter and her boyfriend to Atlanta to go to the mall, I went inside with them. Now I had been happy with my life. I didn't have everything I wanted, but I did have what I needed. Let me tell you something. 10 minutes in that mall and I had the BIGGEST pity party in all the world going on inside of my head. I became SO discontented. Why here was ALL of these NICE things. Things that I will NEVER in this WORLD EVER have. (and it's true, I won't - I can't afford them and won't go into debt to get them). I worked SO hard, why wasn't I one of the blessed ones to have at least a FEW of theses NICE things???? And on it went for a few minutes. Until I caught myself in the envy and covetousness that I was feeling and said WHOA!! And I immediately left the mall and went and sat in the car. And rehearsed to myself all of the sad situations of people I knew in Columbia, knew in the states. And started counting my blessings! And then an amazing thing. I was at peace and contented once again. 

Malls and TV are there for one reason and one reason only - to make us WANT and to be envious of, the items they are selling. To make us feel DEPRIVED if we don't have these things. Which is the opposite of what we need to be feeling. Again, reference those in the rest of the world that aren't blessed with even a change of clothing, water to drink - much less clean water, a roof over their head - no matter how humble nor even food to eat - or worse, to feed to their children. People who get to watch their children DIE because THEY can't provide for them.

It's all in perspective and I tried to instill in my kids a proper perspective. Having said that, people, including kids have their agency. We may teach a truth, skill or attitude that is so necessary to being a good, competent adult, but they get to choose whether or not to assimilate the teaching and live by it. 

It's a very harsh truth for parents, especially we mammas whom like to load ourselves with guilt, to have to deal with. You keep pondering, what more could I have done - SURELY I missed SOMETHING or they would have done/not done abcxyz. Surely, if I had only done this instead of that, then things would have been different. Surely, if (name a person of influence in their life) had been a better person and better influence things would have been different. Why, yes, it would have been different. But they DIDN'T and you're going to have to forgive the person (for YOUR sake and move on).

And you just have to come to the point where you realize that you tried to do the best you could with what you had. At the end of the day, they have made their choice(s) and YOU, they, (and their children) have to live with the consequences. More on THAT in a later post. Nothing will change in the life of the now adult until THEY chose to change, choose to quit blaming everybody else, accept personal responsibility for what's happened and do what they know to be the good and right thing to do. And until THEY choose to change, there's nothing you can do about it. NOTHING you can do about it! I repeat, NOTHING you can do about it.
And please learn the difference between "helping" someone and "enabling them", then make sure you're not enabling their continued poor choices. Sometimes, we need to simultaneously keep the porch light on and the front door locked. We need to let them know we still love them, still want them, but that certain behaviors are NOT acceptable. Our ODD kids need this tough love most of all. Because just like ADD/ADHD doesn't just 'go away' at 18 or 20, neither does the ODD. They still need to work on it. However, they may choose to not do so. Then we allow them the right to choose and simply accept their choice - and allow them to deal with the consequences. Even when it directly and negatively affects us.

How do I know all of this. Well...walking that path now. Even though the young adult is an Eagle Scout, attitudes about money, and/or "I deserve it" (and it's more than financial things that people think they "deserve") and the inability to put off what is want this minute for a better tomorrow or next month/year has not kicked in. And kids are involved. Which takes me to part 3 tomorrow.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Making Master Mixes or Individual Prepackaged Mixes at Home

Sometimes, I like the convenience of having a master mix but I don't want all the chemicals and whatnot that are in commercial mixes. Plus, I like the taste of the recipes I normally use and they're expensive when compared to how much it costs to make it at home.

Want those $4-$8 fancy bread machine mixes? Want taco seasoning? Cinnamon toast "seasoning"? Cookie mixes? Pancake mixes? Cake mixes? Hot chocolate? Bean Dip? Baking Mix (ala Bisquick)? "Cream of whatever" soups to cook with? You know, those just add liquids, the contents of the package, mix and cook mixes? Those pricy who-knows-what's REALLY in them and has it been recalled mixes? What to do? Why make your OWN!

Make them yourself! Yes. You. CAN. Cheaper, no chemicals. Nothing but what YOU put in it. That taste like YOU made them at home - because you did! And did I mention - it's CHEAPER?!! You don't need anything special and I'll be that the ingredients are already on your shelf.

What are "prepackaged" mixes? Why nothing more than packages of (usually) dry ingredients that you add in the liquid to at home and then bake. Yeah, it's really THAT simple. You can do prepackaging of wet ingredients, but then it has to be used in a rather short period of time or frozen. For starters, stick to dry ingredient items.

 "Cream of whatever" soups CAN be made dry and then the liquid added back into them. They can even be "dairy free" and even GLUTEN-FREE if you use dried beans that you've milled into flour. Don't even HAVE to have a mill. I've done it in a coffee grinder (I don't drink coffee, so I don't have to worry about imparting a "coffee" flavor to my flour. I'd use a dedicated grinder for grinding grains.) And used a small canning jar instead of my large blender jar and "blended" the grains/beans into flour. (Bet you didn't know you can do this with any US blender. Yep, the "business" end of the blender will fit onto standard mason jars. You can use it like a "Bullet blender". No need to buy one!!) AND I've used my food processor to blend things to a flour.

Really, you can do this with ANY recipe that has dry ingredients in it. Pre-measure the dry ingredients into storage bags, jars, or whatever you like and store for later. Then when you're ready to cook, you've already got a lot of the work done for you.

And you can opt to do it two different ways. You can either store them in individual, pre-measured packets or as master mixes that you'll scoop out the designated amount of mix and go from there.

Individual Packets:

It's easy to do and I do this with my favorite bread machine recipes. While I'm measuring out the dry ingredients into the ABM pan, I line up several storage bags and measure out all the dry ingredients (including yeast) into the bags as well. I roll up each bag to remove air, zip or snap close and then mix the ingredients together so the yeast doesn't end up concentrated in one spot. I then put the smaller bags together in either a larger storage bag or a repurposed #10 can and mark what's in the bag. Since I use all whole wheat, I store them in the freezer so I don't lose the vitamins in the wheat. When I'm ready to bake, I open my cabinet over where the ABM sits, look at the 3x5 card taped inside with just the liquids I need listed that I need to add to the machine. Measure those out and dump into the pan, add one bag of the mix from the freezer and start the machine. Spend about 3 minutes adjusting the flour/water ratio and you're good to go. Perfect each time - well each time the power doesn't go out - in the middle of bread making! (Take it out, finish kneading it, if needed; let the dough rest for about 15 minutes, flatten the dough out into tortilla/pita/naan size portions and cook using "alternative cooking methods" - unless the power is back on. Then you'd just let it rise, shape into loaf, let it rise again and bake. You can even let it rise once in the ABM pan and then turn the ABM to the "bake" setting. No need to heat the whole house for one loaf of bread.

"Master" mixes:

Making master mixes takes a few minutes longer the first time you convert the recipe and some EASY kitchen math, but once you've done it the that first time and WRITE DOWN the "master" recipe, it's a breeze there-after!

You need to measure out - down to the portion of a tsp, how much a single recipe makes. Next, decide how many portions you want to store. Multiply EACH item in the recipe by that number, writing down how much you'll need in total. You'll only have to do this the first time you make this "master mix". (Just WRITE DOWN that amount and there-after you'll know) Then place your ingredients into a storage container MIX THEM WELL, mark how much you need to measure out for a single recipe and store that info on the container. When you want to use the recipe measure out that amount, add the liquid for one batch and cook.

Some basic kitchen math. Remember that 1 cup = 16 Tbs and 1 Tbs =3 tsp. So...
1/4 cup = 4 Tbs
1/3 cup = 5 Tbs, 1 tsp
1/2 cup = 8 Tbs
2/3 cup = 10 Tbs, 2 tsp
3/4 cup = 12 Tbs.

And measure carefully as you go so you have consistent results. So you can scoop, but make sure you use a knife or other flat object to sweep the excess off of the top to level it out. Do this for both measuring cups AND measuring spoons. Even a little bit too much or too little will affect how most recipes will turn out. (And yes, the queen of scoop-and-shake-off-the-excess actually does this with EVERY master mix and EVERY bread machine recipe I make.)

For instance, for a single recipe of ABM bread I need 3 1/2 cups flour, 3 tbs sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1 Tbs gluten, 2 tsp yeast. Mix this together and measure how much dry ingredients you end up with. (It comes out to 3 cups, 12 Tbs, 2 tsp which converts to 3 3/4 cups, 2 tsp for one batch.)  I want to have 6 batches stored. I measure out 21 cups of flour, 1 cup + 2 Tbs sugar, 2 Tbs salt, 6 Tbs gluten and 3 Tbs yeast. I mix that in a large container and when ready to use, measure out a single portion and add it to the liquid this recipe needs. (1 1/4 cup warm water, 3 Tbs olive oil). Turn on machine, adjust flour/water as needed to get the proper dough consistency. You really should do this each time you use your ABM anyway because it gives better result bread. It takes all of about 3 minutes or so to stand there and adjust it.

That's it. Yep. Not rocket science after all, though when you read the labels on prepackaged foods you'd think it was. 

If you'd normally cream butter and sugar together like for making cookies and cakes, doing this will change the way the recipe comes out. But you can always opt to measure the sugar into separate bags and grab a bag out for each batch you make. However, you buy pre-measured packages of cookie dough and cake mixes and it's all mixed together for you.

Shelf life:

The shelf life of any product will depend on how hot/cold the temperature is where it's stored and whether it has oils/shortening/butter, baking powder or whole grains that have been milled in it. These items shorten the "life-span" of mixes on a shelf. That's why all the chemicals are in store-bought mixes. It stops things from going rancid, though it can't stop baking powder from losing it's "oomph" nor loss of vitamins in the food. The solution to this is to either make smaller amounts of mixes and/or store them in fridge or freezer.And know that if you use butter in place of shortening, it needs to be refrigerated.

As far as I can tell from my research, most mixes that don't have shortening in it will last for 6-9 months on a shelf in room temperature. If it has shortening in it, 3-6 months. Spices are good for a year before they start to lose their potency. (And the year starts from when they're picked, not when you make the mix.)  If my spices are a little older, I just add a "tad" more to make up for the loss.

Using "food storage" items:

In some places, it's easy to find things like powdered milk, eggs and butter. It's quite all right to use these in place of the "real" thing in your mixes. I live in an area where I have to special order them and they are expensive, so I don't use them in the prepackaged mixes I make. However, to use them just substitute each item you want to use with it's DRY equivalent. Then remember to add the liquid you'd use to rehydrate it into the total liquid when you go to cook with it. So if you're using powdered egg and want to sub out 2 eggs, measure out the dry amount of egg powder (I think it's one Tbs per egg - so 2 Tbs) and mix that into the dry ingredients. Then when you go to make your mix, add in the liquid amount called for (I think it's 2 Tbs per egg, so 4 Tbs. And that 4 Tbs WILL make a difference in a lot of recipes - it's 1/4 CUP!)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Pressure Cooker Chicken and Brown Rice

First off, I don't like a lot of chicken in my rice. I'm not that fond of chicken any more. Though I will say the organic stuff was GOOD and had I realized just how tasty it was, I would have used another piece of breast meat and saved the strips for another day. And I so totally eyeball my spices that I'm guessing here on the amounts. (I'm pretty good at thinking this is 1/2 tsp and it actually BEING 1/2 tsp when I've measured it.)

1-2 boneless, skinless chicken breast haves (can use any chicken you have!)
*3 cups brown rice
6 cups water, broth, stock or put some bullion in the water
1-2 tsp onion powder
1-2 tsp garlic powder
1-2 tsp turmeric
1-2 tsp poultry seasoning
3 Tbs olive oil (I used 2 of olive and one of bacon drippings - it's a southern thang!)

Put liquid in another pot and bring it to a boil. I had some leftover stock that I made from the carcass of a deli chicken, so I used that. You can also make stock/broth from scratch with a whole chicken. Recipe is here towards the middle of the page and it's the chicken and yellow rice recipe.

While the liquid is coming to a boil, cut your chicken up into pieces. I don't like a lot of chicken, so I cut the pieces small. It made it go farther and  I didn't have so much chicken in my mouth. After cutting up the chicken, set it aside.

Put the oil in the bottom of your pressure cooker (NOT canner!) and put the rice in and lightly brown it. The oil will help toast the rice, keep it from foaming in the pot and help it to not stick to the bottom of the pan as it cooks.

When the rice has toasted and the liquid in the other pot has come to a boil. Add the meat to the rice and then GENTLY add the liquid to the hot rice. It WILL spit and spatter if you add it too quickly! So only add about 2 cups and let it settle down and then add the rest of the liquid. Then add your spices to the mix and stir it all together well. Turn the heat up to high, place the lid on the pot and place the regulator on top of it's post. Bring the pressure up on high heat, then when the regulator begins to rock, turn down the heat to a lower temp. You just want the regulator to rock gently, so the lowest heat that will maintain the rocking is good. When the regulator starts to rock, set the timer for 15 minutes. At the end of the 15 minutes, turn the heat off and just let the pot sit for another 10 minutes. At the end of the 10 minutes, you can finish releasing the pressure, open the lid and fluff the rice. Some people like to then turn the heat back on to dry out the rice a bit, but I don't do that. As I was busy breading the chicken strips from the last post, I let the lid stay on for a little longer. It probably sat for another 5 minutes or so. It won't hurt it if you don't release the pressure at the exact second.

*(I had 2 2/3 cups of long-grain brown, so I filled the rest of the cup up with long-grain white rice.) Just use what you have!

You can use less rice/liquid. I used 2 cups of liquid for each cup of rice. I've read where you can only use 1 1/2 cups of liquid for each cup of rice and you will have a dryer rice, but I like mine a little more sticky. If you cut the amount of rice/liquid, you can then cut the amount of spices. I just spice things to taste, but some people want specifics so I try to oblige.

I like this served with Aji Picante which is a dish I learned to make in Colombia. The recipe is also on the same page as the yellow rice is, just down a little further.

The chicken and rice is another dish that can be frozen. I'd freeze it in meal-size portions - but then I live alone and this much rice won't get eaten at one sitting and I don't want to eat it all week. lol

Homemade Chicken Strips or Nuggets

 This recipe is a starting point for making your own homemade chicken strips or nuggets. Mix and match spices and cracker types to suit your family's tastes and budget. You can use powdered Ranch Dressing instead of the spices. You can make it "taco" by adding in taco seasonings instead of the thyme, basil and marjoram. You can used an Italian seasoning instead of my spices. Or try using BBQ, fajitas,  or jerk chicken spices. Try some dry teriyaki or Chinese 5 spice seasonings for an oriental flavor. You want to use about 2 - 2.5 Tbs of total spices for this amount of crackers.

*4-5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts halves

**1 16-oz box Ritz crackers (4 sleeves), crushed into crumbs Or any type crumbs you want to use.

1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp marjoram
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder

***1/2 - 1 cup cup olive oil (or can use buttermilk, milk, eggs or eggs and milk)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F). Spray a cookie sheet (really, I used a jelly roll pan - it has the edges on it.) with cooking spray and set aside.

In a gallon zip-top bag, mix together everything except the chicken and the oil (or it's substitutes) and shake it up so that the spices are distributed.

Cut chicken up into about 4 strips each or cut into nuggets. You can just quarter the breast pieces for large nuggets; cut the breasts into strips and leave half long and half short; or cut the strips into 1"-2" pieces for regular-sized nuggets.

Dip the chicken strips/nuggets about 4 pieces at a time for strips and about 10 pieces at a time for nuggets, into the oil (or it's substitute), turning to coat. When all those pieces are coated, pick each one up and let a little of the liquid drip off. When all of those pieces are in the zip bag and holding it closed, shake the bag until the pieces are coated. The chicken will slide down into the crumb mix, so you will have to dig for them. That's why having a head count makes life easier. You know if you've left one behind! Place each piece on the prepared pan. I crowded mine together so I could get them all on one pan, but you can separate them more and use two pans.

Bake at 375 deg. for about 20 minutes for strips, about 15 minutes for nuggets. (ovens vary a bit, so check on them a couple of minutes before the time is up) About 1/2 way into the cooking time, turn them over and slightly reposition them a little more apart (they will have plumped up some, so they're not taking up as much room. Finish baking them. I always look for and cut into the thickest piece that I can find to make sure it's done. If it's done, then the rest of them are done. (It won't look pink and the juices are clear when it's done.) If it's not done, then cook for another couple of minutes and check another piece.

Enjoy with your favorite dipping sauce: ketchup, mustard, ranch, bbq, teriyaki, hot sauce, Sriracha, peanut sauce, you name it. Or eat them plain.

Serve with a side of rice and a salad. I made some pressure cooker chicken and brown rice (I went REALLY light on the chicken in it - I used the chicken for the strips instead.)

* I used boneless skinless because I found some organically grown on sale for .99 cents a pound. Couldn't pass that one up. Normally, I'd just debone and skin some chicken and use whatever I had. The meat doesn't have to be breast meat.

** I used Ritz crackers because I had a box that I had bought for my son some months ago. He's moved out. I tried to eat them, but they were just TOO salty for my tastes (I used to like them?? what the heck?). Anyway, I didn't want to throw them away. They worked really well in this recipe.

***About the oil. I thought it would crisp up the chicken coating more. It really didn't and made the strips a little greasy. Next time I'll go back to my normal buttermilk or milk and egg to moisten the chicken. I'll probably also flour the chicken first, then dip in the liquid and then dip in the crumbs. I think more will stick onto the chicken that way and make it crispier. The flavor was good, just a bit greasy. But then, I don't normally eat fried foods, I bake my foods - even French fries.

I've never frozen this recipe, but it should freeze well. I'd reheat the frozen strips/nuggets at about 400- 425 deg (F) for about 15-20 minutes.

This made a LOT of coating. Enough that I'm going to put the rest in the freezer for another time. You can either cut the coating portion of the recipe in half or just freeze it in the zip bag like I'm going to do.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Darlene's Pressure Cooker Split Pea Soup

Darlene's Pressure Cooker split pea soup
Made about 1 1/2 qts of soup. 6 Corelle-ware cereal bowls full. 
This method is different from most pressure cooking methods. We're not just dumping and pressurizing, so READ THE INSTRUCTIONS all the way through! 

By follow instructions pressure canning/cooking is VERY safe! THINK about what you're doing and pressure canning/cooking is VERY safe! But if you start "winging it" or not paying attention, you WILL have problems!

Plan on being in the same room with the pressure cooker/canner while it's going. Do NOT walk off and "forget it". This is not the time to be doing 3 things at once.You need to be able to hear the regulator rocking. If you get the heat too low or too high, the sound of the regulator rocking will let you know that you need to come attend to the heat level.
Preparing your pressure cooker:

Place the cooking rack (that came with your pressure cooker) and about 2 cups of water in the bottom of a 6 qt pressure cooker. Place medium-size stainless steel or Pyrex glass bowl on top of rack. Make sure there's room in the bowl for everything with about 2-2 1/2 inches from the food to the lip of the bowl to spare. Also, the bowl has to sit no higher than 3/4 of the way up the pot to allow for proper cooking under pressure. Food will boil in the bowl, so it needs some room to not overflow the bowl. Make sure you can get the bowl in and out of the pan easily so that the steam can go around the sides of the bowl - you don't want the steam pushing the bowl (and its contents!) up near the exhaust port! If that happens, food particles WILL block the port and you WILL have an explosion from the build-up of pressure. So that's why you don't want to force the bowl into the pan. (Do I REALLY need to tell anyone to NOT USE PLASTIC in a pressure cooker? Do YOU really want to be the butt of "dumb blonde" jokes? lol)
Reminder: Even with an easy to remove bowl, you will NOT be able to remove the bowl until the bowl cools down some, so plan to use a ladle to remove the soup from the pot. (You can't pour the soup out of the bowl because hot water from the bottom of the pan will ALSO come out with the soup! And the bowl will probably fall out - leaving a mess and you burned!)
The reason for the bowl is to keep the split peas from sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan. This method works for making chili in the pressure cooker too. In fact, anything that has a tendency to stick to the bottom of the pan is a good candidate for this method. It allows the food(s) to be pressure cooked, but keeps it off the bottom of the pan where it will stick and burn. Next time I make hash, I'm going to use the bowl in the pot. Last time, I almost burned the hash. If I used a glass bowl, I would NOT use a "quick pressure release" method of cooling down the pot. I think it will cause the glass to break. I'm not going to try it myself and see what happens and I would suggest you NOT try it either. 

1 can of ham* (cannery processed in #2 cans) (Can use diced ham, bacon, ham hocks, Kielbasa or summer sausage for this too)
**1 3/4 cups - 2 1/2 cups water (I used broth from ham), chicken or veggie stock, or bouillon cubes/granules to add more flavor
1 cup split peas
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 small carrots, cut into 3/4" pennies
7 very small potatoes, scrubbed. Large dices
1 small bay leaf
3 turns of my little pepper grinder - about 1/4 tsp (I don't normally use pepper either. lol)
large pinch of ground ginger - about 1/4 tsp
salt - optional (I don't normally add salt to my food. And with the ham, I didn't need to add any. YMMV)
Add to individual bowls:
2 tsp butter
1/4 tsp Sriracha Hot sauce (or hot sauce of your choice)
1 tsp red wine vinegar (I'll be fresh lemon juice would be good too!)

*I canned some ham at our local cannery in #2 cans. This is the first can that I've used. I ended up with about 2 1/2 cups of broth and 1 cup meat.
Pick over peas and rinse. Place drained peas in bottom of bowl. (If not using canned ham, skip to "*Add ham") Drain and measure liquid from ham. You should have about 2 1/2 cups liquid from the can. If not, add water, stock, etc. 
*Add ham and liquid to bowl.
Add onion, garlic, bay leaf, pepper and ginger to bowl.
Prepare veggies and add to bowl.
Close pressure cooker and turn heat on high. Bring to pressure following your manufacturer's suggestions. When regulator starts rocking, slowly lower heat to a slow rocking of the regulator. Let pressure cook for 15 mins. When time is up, remove pan from heat, but let the pressure come down on its own. (It took about 30 mins for me to hear the safety valve click as it released.)
REMOVE THE BAY LEAF! Don't ask, it wasn't pretty and 35 years later, I still remember it. DO NOT TRY TO REMOVE BOWL FROM PAN AT THIS TIME! 
**Either take a stick blender to the contents of  the bowl or use 1 3/4 cups of water. I think I'll stay with the stick blender because it thickened it up just right for me, but if you want chunks of meat and veggies, cut back on the water - unless you like a thinner soup. Ladle it into individual serving bowls.
It still "needed something". So I stirred in 2 tsp butter and 1/4 tsp Sriracha sauce (Asian hot sauce) into my soup in my bowl. Still "needed something". Added 2 tsps of red wine vinegar to top of the soup in my bowl and didn't stir in. YEAH!!! Disclaimer: I have an asbestos tongue. When my bottle of Louisana Hot Sauce proclaims; "One drop will do", I laugh at it, open the bottle UP (instead of using the dropper in the cap) and POUR it on my food - especially when I want "Hot Wings". As for the vinegar,  I'm of German/Dutch stock. I like SOUR just fine. In fact, I peel and eat grapefruit like most people peel and eat an orange. Except ya have to remove the membrane around the segments - those suckers are BITTER. (Ok, I'm from FL too. lol)
Alternate treatments:
Forget the meat/meat stock and you have a vegetarian soup. 
I believe this to be gluten free. I know there's no gluten in anything until you get to the Sriracha sauce. There's nothing to indicate anything that would be hiding gluten in it, but since I don't have a problem with gluten, I haven't investigated it.

Use 5 or 6 slices of bacon. Fry in bottom of pressure cooker until browned. Remove from pan and fry onions until golden, add garlic and cook a few minutes more. Add 1 cup of water and deglase the pan. Pour water/onions and garlic into bowl. Place 2 cups of water into bottom of pressure cooker, along with the rack Add bowl and follow rest of directions above.
Make cream of split pea soup by adding white sauce to it after it's cooked. (3 T flour, 3 T butter/bacon grease, 2 cups milk) I would definitely cut back the water in the bowl to 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups or the milk will thin it too much for most of us to enjoy.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Making do in a small living space

This past Aug, I moved from a 4 bedroom house to a 1 bedroom duplex. Not only is there fewer rooms, but the 4 rooms (bedroom/bathroom/livingroom/kitchen) I do have are MUCH smaller than their counterparts in my old house. My kitchen is almost non-existent. AND the notice that I had to move gave me less than a month to get moved. Not a lot of time to sort a lot of things. Some of my food storage things were easy to sort as I moved them. So were my homeschooling books/children's books. Those boxes went to DD and DSIL basement. They will be returned to the house as soon as I can get stuff here decluttered. Food storage stays, books will be sold.

Some things I've done to maximize space:

Gotten rid of a lot of stuff and am continuing to purge. The kids had to come get their belongs, if not...their stuff went to someone whom wanted it or to the trash.

I've repurposed some metal utility shelving and bookshelves that I already had and a dresser that wasn't "needed". I hang most of my clothing. Gotten/getting rid of a lot of things I never wear/think I'll fit back into "someday"/don't like.

Things I'm keeping have to do double duty. Duplicates are going. (Do I really NEED 3 BOXES of cookbooks? Uhmmmm...don't I look on-line when I want a new recipe or to check the cooking times on things?) Do I really need a flour sifter when I have a small-grid metal strainer? I now make Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and Healthy Breads in 5 Minutes a Day. Do I really need TWO bread machines? I mean, it takes me less times to mix a batch of REALLY good-tasting bread dough from which I can make 4 or so loaves of bread in less time than it takes me to fiddle with the bread machine!

Paperwork is outta here. I'm taking anything I "can't part with" that's paper - cookbooks I won't use but that do have one or two recipes I'd like to have, old slides (don't have a projector - never did! But slides took up less space and were cheaper to develope than pictures were.), negatives, receipt that I need to keep, old tax returns, etc are all being scanned into the computer and put into files. Then the files will be transfered to either CD, DVD or thumb/flash drive for storage. That way, there's a backup should I need it or want to look at it and it won't clutter up my hard drive or my storage space. (Wow, that will get rid of a LOT of boxes of stuff!) Then I can throw AWAY the originals (You need to keep tax records for 7 years or so and talk to someone who knows what YOU need to keep for other records. I'm dumping tax records that were done and filed online. These are copies. It doesn't matter that I toss copies.)

Get rid of a lot of my books. Things I haven't looked at in YEARS probably don't need to be kept. Things I reread - Agatha Christy, Lilian Jackson Braun, my scriptures stay. Also some of the children's books - I have 2 grandkids on the way! (Got rid of 2 bookcases full of kid's books.)

When I moved, I organized the jumble that was my food storage into cardboard boxes marked: Flours, sweeteners, fruits, veggies, meats, tuna, pasta, baking, condiments, grains, dried beans/legumes, milk and oils/shortening. Since I only have a couple of 1/2 and 1/3 sized cabinets, I'm keeping them in those boxes! I know at a glance which box something is likely to be in and I only have about 4 or 5 of each type box to look through. When I have more time, I will sort the boxes better - but this system is better than the "toss it on the shelf and lose it" method I had before. I used "milk" boxes. The local store gets their brand milk in a heavy box that hold 4 gallons. It has handles cut into it on 2 sides. Nice size/shape for storage. Not too heavy for me to lift and carry. When I have time, I could make the boxes look nicer by paint or putting contact paper on them. But for now, they stay as they are. Oh, and as I open a box, I write on an outside surface (NOT on the top of the box!) what's IN the box so I don't have to keep hunting through the same boxes each time I want tomato sauce, etc. I keep the written side facing out, that wasy I can see what's in that box without opening it.  And they're FREE, recycled and still recycleable when I'm done with them or they wear out.

These things are the "start" of getting rid of 21 years of kids and their "stuff". It's really hard because not only am I getting rid of the clutter - and that would be anything I'm not using that's getting in the way, but I'm having to deal with memories that won't be repeated. So I cry a little and I sort and get rid of a little. Slowly, but surely, I'm getting my new place cleared out. Hopefully, by the time we get the promised storage sheds put up in the backyards, I won't need one.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all of you.

May this new year bring you happiness and prosperity.

About gauge in Knitting (and Crocheting)

Primarily, I'm talking about knitting here. But these facts also apply to crocheting as well. Gauge is gauge.  And to do a proper gauge swatch, you're supposed to knit at least a 4"x4" (10cm x 10cm) swatch, wash and dry it like you will do the finished article and THEN do the gauge check.

Let's face it, most of us do NOT do a proper gauge swatch. Some of us are doing good to get the swatch done at all and then we measure it without bothering with the washing and drying part. I'm guilty of said practice.

A sad but true fact. Very few patterns will turn out the same size as written if you don't check the gauge.  If you're an experienced kniter, you may know that you traditionally have to go up or down and how many needle sizes you usually have to change. But even then, unless it's the same designer who's patterns you've used before, you may be off gauge. The person that wrote the pattern (that's done by knitting something and writing down what you do as you do it - and frogging - A LOT!),  may have a different gauge themselves. If they have the same gauge as you do and you change needle sizes as you'd normally have to do, you'd have something too big or too small.

There are two camps or ways of checking gauge and each camp thinks the other camp is crazy. One camp thinks that knitting a swatch takes less time and then you have a "sample" to keep of how you knit with that size needle and that weight/brand yarn and that pattern (seed stitch, ribbing, etc). They start out with one size needle, do their 4"x4" square and measure it. If it's not to gauge, they switch out needles, but keep on knitting on the already existing swatch for another 4", measure that and then correct again if needed. The advantage to this method is that you then have a ball park figure for the next time you knit with those combos IF YOU'VE WRITTEN DOWN what you've done and kept it WITH the swatch. (paste a corner of a piece of paper to the swatch and mark on the corner what you did and how you did it. The cons to this method is that you've got yarn sitting there that could be in an item and you've spent time that you could have spent knitting what you want on an otherwise useless sample. OR you can make your swatch larger and when it's finished you both have a sample of your work and a washcloth/dishcloth for use.

The other camp is the "start knitting it and then see what the gauge is" camp. The value of it is that, if things are right, you can just keep going. AND you have all of that skein of yarn available to work with. Down side is this - if it's NOT right, you've got to frog it all and start again. And if it's a big project, that's a LOT of time wasted.

What I tend to do is go ahead and start a small item - one that I'm not going to have to cast on a bunch of stitches to do and then check my gauge as I go along, with the foreknowledge that I MAY have to frog it. Toe-up socks and top-down hats and mittens, squares for an afghan all make good examples of something I'd just dive into and do, then check to see if I'm on gauge. Usually you have only a few stitches to start with, and as the stitches grow you can both see and try on the item as well as measure it to see if  the gauge and size are correct.

Brim-up hats, cuff-down socks and cuff-up mittens/gloves, as well as scarves are a toss up. My feelings are that by the time I've done a swatch, I've cast on almost as many stitches as I would making the item. So I may as well go ahead and start knitting - again keeping in the back of my mind that in an hour or so, it could be frog pond time.

Something large - one piece or large panel afghans, sweaters, coats  - BIG projects that take a LONG time to do, I'd swatch. Also if I make something that uses a very fine yarn - like lace or novelty yarns, where frogging can mess up the yarn, I would also swatch. There is one time that I would go ahead and knit a big project and that's if I was making something that has sleeves that are a separate piece, cuff-up (so there's not so many stitches), I would go ahead and knit a sleeve to see if I'm getting gauge in pattern on that sleeve.

Remember to do the swatch in pattern to make sure you have the same gauge as the designer calls for. Sometimes, the designer will tell you to have such-and-such a gauge in ribbing, stockinette or garter stitch. Mostly though, the gauge will be checked in the main pattern that the item will be knit in. And I've seen patterns with swatching called for in ribbing with one size needle and another swatch in another pattern with another size needle. So ALWAYS read the pattern ALL THE WAY THROUGH!

Three other things that I have found will affect my gauge. One is the yarn itself. I did 3 swatches of a plain scarf with some Red Heart or Vanna's Choice yarn. The scarf was a simple stockinette stitch with 3 garter stitches on each side and about 3 rows of garter stitch top and bottom to control the natural tendency of stockinette to roll up on you. Well, I got to knitting and that scarf just "grew" on me. It's WAY wider that the swatch showed it should be and it's way LONGER than what I intended. And yes, my swatch WAS accurate - in 4". The finished scarf was only supposed to be 12" wide, so even if the gauge was off, it wouldn't have grown to 18" wide. I guess as I made it the weight of the fabric it caused it to stretch out. Since it was for a kid to take to school, I didn't loose any sleep over it.

The second thing that has fouled me up was changing types and "style" of knitting. When I went from using DPN's and either "Bates" or "Boyle" needles to using Magic Loop and Addis Turbos needles, I had a HUGE gauge change. To the point that I had to completely frog one of the Fingerless gloves that I was working on. It was my own pattern for a fitted glove. I wrote down what I was doing as I did it. And I still had the DPN/Bates/Boyle glove WAY larger (and fitting the recipient) than the ML/Addis glove, which was too small. That was about 18 hrs of work off to the frog pond. My fault because I should have checked the gauge when I changed, but never dreamed there would be a difference. After all, it was the same yarn and the same size needles. It wasn't until I had DD try them on that I found they were WAY too tight. To the point that the stitches were stretched enough you could see her arm through the stitches.

Third thing that affects my guage is what's going on in my life as I knit. Perhaps other more experience knitters can control this, but if I'm watching something tense on TV, having a disagreement with a kid or I'm upset over something, my gauge tightens a LOT. Crazy thing is, it's doesn't "feel" any tighter on the needles as I'm knitting, but I can see the gauge is off as I look at what I've done. Like when knitting a pair of socks one at a time. They take me a LONG time to do and when done, I can "see" if I've been knitting while something is "bothering" me or if I'm in a good mood. I can see it in the fabric. Again, that may be because I'm not really a very experienced knitter. Mostly dish cloths, 1 pair of socks, a several of pairs of wrist warmers/gloves and a couple of scarves. And while blocking cures a multitude of sins in a wool/wool blend fabric, it doesn't always do much for synthetics.

What I'm working on is collecting patterns that are really just the math equations for knitting certain items. I have socks covered with my Crazy Heels and Toes book. I can choose any size needle and any size yarn and then make my socks fit the recipient. I may have the math figured out for brim-up hats too. But to do these kinds of things, you have to understand HOW gauge works and then either do swatches or be willing to frog items. Oh, and keep a record of how many stitches you get to an inch on certain brand & weight yarns with certain size/brand needles.

In the end, with all knitting that needs to "fit", you HAVE to know how many inches you're getting to an inch and how many inches you need on the finished item. If I need an item that goes around a 9" ankle, and I know that I'm getting 6 stitches to an inch, then I KNOW I'm going to have to have about 54 stitches to get around that ankle. Then you factor in such things as negative or positive ease and number of stitches needed for the chosen pattern. Then those figures are add or subtract for the stitch adjustment(s) to the base number of stitches. So using my 6 stitches/inch and 9" ankle I know I need 54 stitches as a base. Then, usually you want some negative ease in socks so they fit properly. Usually between 10% - 15% is a good negative ease starting number. So 54-10% (5.4 rounded down to 5 stitches) = 49 stitches. If I'm using a k2, p2 ribbing on the legs and top of foot, I need a number divisible by 4 (2 knit stitches + 2 purl stitches = 4 stitches in the pattern). So I will need either 48 or 52 stitches to have the proper number of stitches. In this case, I would go with 48 stitches. That would give me a negative ease of  about 11%, which would not be too tight. 

And the bigger the item or the more stitches the item requires, the more important 1/2 and even 1/4 stitches have to the final size of the item. 1/4 of a stitch makes an equivalent of adding an additional stitch every FOUR stitches. 1/2 stitch per inch and you'd have the equivalent of 1 stitch every 2 stitches. If the pattern calls for something to be 40" and you're SUPPOSED to be getting 10 stitches to an inch, you need 400 stitches cast on. But if YOU'RE you're getting 10.25 stitches, then you've added 1" to your project without meaning because you've cast on the equivalent of 410 stitches. And if you're getting 10.50 stitches to an inch, then you've added 2" to the size - again, without meaning to do so because it's like you've cast on 420 stitches. Those inches can mean the difference between looking good and looking like something is two sizes too big. It can mean the difference between something that is supposed to be "fitted" looking like it's fitted and something looking sloppy and ill-fitting. And the reverse is also true. Too FEW stitches per inch makes something too tight! 40" of 9.75 stitches per inch is like only casting on 390 stitches. 40" of 9.50 is like casting on 380 stitches. A loss of 1" for the missing 1/4 stitches and a loss of 2" for the missing 1/2 stitches. So that 40" is now down to 38". And that's an entire SIZE difference on some items and TWO sizes different on other items.

Moral to the story - at some point, preferably not too far into the project, check your gauge! It will save you being unhappy with the final fit the project.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Cheater Potato Cheese soup

I have the "there's nothing to eat and I'm hungry" syndrome going on here. I want something quick. I want something hot. I want something creamy and smooth. I want potato soup. I want some BAKED potato soup. I do NOT want to have to cook raw potatoes. I do NOT want to fry bacon. Besides, I don't HAVE any bacon to fry. I don't have any sour cream. I do, however, have 2 packets of instant potatoes in the 4 Cheese flavor. I DO have grease saved from cooking bacon (hey, it's a Southern thing!) and I DO have cheese. Humm....I think I have an idea. Oh, nuts.

4 cups of water
1 package Idaho 4 Cheese instant potato buds
3/4 cup plain potato buds
1 Tbs bacon grease
4 oz medium sharp cheddar cheese (four 1/4" thick slices from the end of a brick of cheddar cheese)
1/4 cup feta cheese

Put the water into a microwave safe bowl and heat until it's "boiling" temp.

Add a packet of 4 cheese potatoes. Realize that what you thought was a second packet of potatoes is actually some yellow rice that will take 24 minutes forever to cook. Grab plain potato buds and dump in some - about 3/4 cup's worth, and bacon grease for flavor. Stir well. Let it sit for a few minutes to rehydrate. If it's too much like mashed potatoes and not soup, add some more water to it. If it's too watery, add some more buds.

Break up the cheddar into small pieces. Add it and the feta and stir again.

If the cheese doesn't melt, nuke the whole bowl for a minute or two. It will melt then.

Eat it. All of it. Because you haven't eaten today and it's 7pm. And you're HUNGRY.

"Why didn't you stop and fix something to eat EARLIER????"

"Because there's NOTHING to eat!"

"There are about 40 boxes that held 4 gallons of milk in EACH and they are now FILLED with FOOD! And the boxes are even LABELED with the category the food is in. What do you MEAN "there's nothing to eat?!?!"

"Ok, Ok. There's food to eat but I don't feel like cooking!"

"Since WHEN does flavored yogurt from the STORE have to be COOKED???? Since WHEN does milk and cereal have to be COOKED?? And green beans? It takes 30 seconds to walk to one of  at least SIX boxes marked "Veggies" and grab a can of veggies. 30 seconds to open the can and drain them and 3 minutes to heat them. You call THAT Cooking?? And it takes 2 minutes to grab a can of green beans, corn, tomatoes and a jar of the potatoes, one of the carrots and one of the chicken that you canned, pop the tops and toss the contents into a bowl, juices and all. Another 5 minutes or so to season it and nuke it. Garlic and onion powder, Adobo, a large pinch each of thyme, marjoram, basil and oregano. Gee, 7 WHOLE minutes 'cooking'. I'm sure it would have KILLED you to have SLAVED over that meal. AND you'd have had leftovers for tomorrow AND Sunday! Oh, and it would have taken you about 5 minutes to get the bread dough out of the fridge, shape it into two boules and let them sit for 90 minutes and then baked them for an hour. You would have had 2 or 3 days' worth of bread. You have pie crusts in the fridge. You could have eaten soup for 2 meals and then thickened the leftovers and made pot pie out of them and had another 4 meals from that! Another 5 whole minutes of 'cooking'."

Sigh. I hate it when I get all logical with me.

Hanging Laundry to Dry Indoors For Dummies

(Like ME!)

When I moved to my one-bedroom duplex from a four-bedroom house this summer, I had to downsize. A LOT! Some of the things that didn't make the mile trip to the new place was a lot of my homeschool books (still need to sell them), my freezer and my dryer. There is simply NO ROOM to have them in this house. Life is all about choices, and these things were not as important to me as what I kept here with me. So..my DK's let me keep some of my stuff in the basement of the house they're renting. Except the dryer. That's upstairs and they're using it. And since both work full-time and my daughter's pregnant, I figure the dryer is of more importance to them than it is to me. I'm not drying work clothing for two. Most of what I dry is what I kick around the house in and a few towels.

Which means, I've had to figure out how to get my clothing dry on some kind of line. I'm thankful that where I live has a nice clothes line in the back yard. I'm also glad for all the times as a child BD (before dryers), that I had to hang the family wash on the line.

But how to apply this to indoor drying. And WHY indoors. Well, I live in the SOUTH. The south is VERY GREEN. Lots of kudzu. Lots of trees. Lots of vegetation. And did I mention, LOTS of kudzu? But do you know WHY the south is green??? Because it RAINS. All. The. Time. At least where I do it rains all the time. Now, I'm thankful for the rain because I LIKE things green. If I wanted brown, I'd move out west. They have some pretty deserts. Brown deserts. That's nice to visit, but I LIKE green. So I deal with rain on a frequent basis. And you can NOT hang clothing to dry outside if it's raining. Or Snowing, Or..freezing.

So here's what I figured out to do.
Wash a load of clothing normally. If you MUST, wash it by hand. But my washing machine DID make the cut of "important" items to be kept. lol

I wash my clothes in homemade laundry detergent and rinse it in vinegar. I like the homemade soap better than commercial. It doesn't stink and I don't break out in a rash from left-over soap. Before I switched to homemade soap, I had cut back on how much detergent I was putting in the washer, but I still would have problems. My laundry detergent how-to is here. And for the record, you can make a batch of this up at one time. Sometimes, I'm just lazy and don't feel like spending the time grinding soap for a whole batch. And you could make liquid soap out of it, but again...it takes more room to store it that way and I've never had any problems with the soap not dissolving in the washer, but then I do grate it rather finely by using my smallest grating wheel.

So, the laundry powder goes into the washer just like you would regular detergent. I put the vinegar into the little holder that you'd normally put your name-brand-add-it-to-the-washer dryer stuff. And turn the machine on and let it work. It works, I go post on my blog. lol

Now you have clean clothing. And NOW it's raining AGAIN and you really don't want to let it hang on the line 3 days until it decides to stop raining. I mean, no one around here would EVER be guilty of ANYTHING like that. Oh, hey, at least the clothes were well rinsed!

So, what to do? Well, hey, I have some hangers and I have a shower curtain rod. Hummmm. So, I simply hung the clothes on the hanger and then put the hanger on the shower curtain rod to dry. I've not had any problem with the clothes dripping because my washer does a good job of removing the water on the spin cycle. But it's been raining off and on for weeks here and after 24 hrs, my clothes were NOT dry. It's winter. The heater is on. If you count it being set to 66 degrees as "on". (That's what sweaters, sweatpants/shirt and socks are for. That's why the old folks used to wear HATS. Go put on more clothes!) So why didn't the clothes dry?? Well, it's cold enough to close up the house and put the heater on, but my brick house is warm enough that the heater isn't cycling as much as the a/c was blowing with it set to 78. (Go put on a light-weight cotton shirt, go barefooted. That's why the old folks used to wear cotton. Take some clothes OFF! Only don't answer the door that way, please!)

What to do? Cue the....FAN. Yes, my little fan that blew in the house to circulate the air so that the a/c wasn't running as much was placed on the bathroom floor and turned on. It then took about 3 hrs for the clothes to dry. (Cotton underthings and socks on hangers set about 1 1/2 inches apart.) Today, we have towels. Heavy towels, drying. I just hung them up about 30 minutes ago, and they're already about 1/3 dry.

Some suggestions for using indoor drying methods:

When you go to hang up an item, give it a good "snap" or two. Shaking it out helps get wrinkles out.

Use "spring"-type clothespins. The "peg" type won't work on a hanger. At least, I've never tried them on hangers because they work by putting tension on the fabric by "jamming" it in place. Fabric gets caught between the peg and whatever you're hanging the clothing on. Common sense tells me that a small diameter hanger isn't going to "jam" enough fabric for the peg to hold the fabric in place.

Hang your clothing on a plastic hanger or plastic coated hanger. You can use wood, but they're more expensive. I sometimes use metal, but you're risking getting rust on clothes if you do that too much. Unless you have a coating on the metal hangers.

I hang shirts up like I would hang them in the closet. I use clothespins on hangers to hang everything else.

I use either those special pants/skirt clothes hangers or clothespins and regular hangers. I hang pants by the waistband. I open the pants out flat and put the hanger behind the waistband and clip it in two spots. I do not stretch the waist out with elastic waists, but do put them straight across the top part of the hanger. I end up with portions of the waistband not on the hanger, but the portion that is on the hanger is enough to let the pants dry.

I hang underwear by twos. I lay one pair flat, put down the hanger so that the "BOTTOM rung" of the hanger is where I'm going to put the clothespins. I then lay the second one on top of the bottom part of the hanger hanger and clip them together, one clothespin on the left side of the item, one on the right side. I then take and clip a pair of socks to the "upper rung", one on each side of the hook. I fold the sock over the edge of the hanger and clip it in the middle of the sock. One pin to each sock.

And for Christmas, I was sent a Wally-world gift card and bought myself - a second shower curtain rod. One that is tension mounted. And I put it so that it ran parallel to the regular shower curtain rod, but in the middle of the bathtub, and above the shower head. Tensioned that bad boy in place and then washed a 3 of loads of laundry.  I hung the heavier pants and shirts I had on the screwed in shower curtain rod and hung the lighter underclothing, socks, and smaller towels on the tensioned rod. Worked GREAT!

And when the clothes are dried, there's only a few things that need folding. The rest get taken straight from the shower curtain rods to the closet and hung up. Woo wee! No more laundry piles. Well, at least CLEAN laundry piles. Now if I'd only DO the laundry more than once every two weeks, I wouldn't HAVE 4 loads that need doing. Oh, well. Baby steps, baby steps.

Fire retardant in furniture and green living

I received an email a while back asking me about washing upholstered furniture and curtains with soap to remove fire-retardant from them. (Soap as opposed to detergent. Detergent is what all of the stuff you buy in the store to clean yourself, your kids, your dishes, clothing, etc. is. Soap will remove fire-retardant, detergent will not.)

About the fire-retardant. That's a toughy. I was a paramedic and I know that most people that die in a fire die from smoke inhalation, not burns. In other words, they die from breathing in toxic fumes rather than the fire touching them. The offending fire-retardant chemicals are what keeps petroleum products from going up like charcoal lighter when the fabric is exposed to a flame. It is supposed to slow down ignition of the fabric. And since the FEMA website states that a house fire can become dangerously involved in only TWO minutes, and that a house can easily become fully involved in FIVE minutes, you want as much time as possible to get your family and yourself out of the house.

You probably can remove the retardant by washing the item in soap. You're going to either have to take the pillows to a commercial laundromat with a large-item front loading washer or do them one by one in the bathtub. You could also simply remove the covers, wash them, hang to dry and then put the pillows back into them - assuming they have a zipper construction in the back/side of them.

I would simply cover the offending pieces of furniture with a 100% cotton sheet. It will keep the "toxins" off of you, but yet, if some how they are exposed to flame, they won't go up like charcoal soaked in gas.

In fact, if you're worried about/allergic to the chemicals, instead of washing it out of all your furniture/curtains/clothing, I would be replacing my stuff with 100% natural materials. Natural materials are not as quick to ignite and they don't burn with a toxic smoke - though the carbon monoxide/dioxide will still kill you. Until I could afford to replace my belongings, I would simply cover my things with natural materials.

Do a YouTube search of house fires and see how quickly man-made items ignite. From the time of ignition on a house, you can have a house fully involved in less than 5 minutes. A house trailer can be up in 7 SECONDS. It's because of all the petro products used in them and they way buildings are constructed. This is why fire-retardation formulas were invented - to slow down the ignition and give people more time to get OUT of a burning house.

You can make your own fire-retardant. It's near the bottom of the linked post. 

Truth be told, you're probably going to have more problems from the materials that furniture is made from than the fire-retardant. If I recall correctly, foam has formaldehyde amongst other things in it. And formaldehyde is in carpet, furniture and other items. The borax and boric acid are at least naturally occurring minerals -as opposed to the myriad of petro-chemicals found in most of the items we have in our homes and there isn't a lot of it used to flame-retard clothing, bedding and upholstery.

All-in-all, if it were me, I wouldn't remove the fire-retardant, I would use cotton sheets or make cotton slip covers and use those to cover my furniture. (How to do that is available on the 'net.) The extra minute or two that the flame-retardant provides can be the difference between getting yourself and family out of a burning house or dying in it or suffering permanent lung and/or brain damage from toxic smoke.