Friday, April 30, 2010

Bagel's New Obsession

Bagel was obsessed with fire alarms for a while, and then he got obsessed with me, but he gave that up about a year ago to become obsessed with his birthday party. Ever since his 5th birthday party had to be cancelled due to illness, he's been planning for this year's birthday party. Every day for a year he would come to me with his latest set of party plans: themes, activities, foods.

Bagel's supposed to read 15 minutes a day for school. But this week I haven't been able to get him interested in books at all. If I tell him it's reading time, usually he'll bring me a stack of books so high we don't have time to read them all. But this week all he'd bring was the smallest, shortest book he could find. His reading log is due today and he's scarcely read 15 minutes all week. Since this isn't typical, I sat down to think about what was going on. And that's when it hit me: he hasn't spoken about his birthday party all week long.

We've been through obsession changes before with Sonshine. He started off with Thomas the Tank Engine and I had to memorize the entire roster of trains (which thankfully, at that time, was much shorter than it is now) so that I could pass my daily grilling without Sonshine melting down. He later moved on to (in no particular order) Theodore the Tugboat, the Civil War, origami, Legos, Star Wars, and Lego Star Wars. When he switched obsessions, there would be a brief but intense period where it would seem to him like the world was spinning out of control because he didn't know everything there was to know about the new obsession. So when I thought about it, I realized that this went pretty far toward explaining why Bagel had stepped up his hating on me this week. And when I thought about it for a minute, it wasn't hard to figure out what his new obsession is: money.


One of my great failings as a parent is that I have never been able to motivate my kids to do their chores out of altruism. Maybe that's my fault; maybe I just happen to have a bunch of objectivist children. I have to pay them money to get them to do chores. So we have an office in the house called Room Captain. Unlike most of the paid chores, which are on a fee-for-service basis, the Room Captain is a management position. Room Captains are given a job too large for one child to do: clean up a certain room to the point that it can be vacuumed. This is easy enough to do if the room is essentially clean and just needs some tidying, but the initial effort can only be done by a team. When I created this position, I hoped that it would do two things: one, put the kids in a position where they couldn't afford to alienate their siblings; two, make it clear that they could earn a load of money for a little effort by cleaning up all the time. It's a difficult position for them and so it pays commensurately: a dollar for each day that the room remains clean. (This is the market-clearing price, in case anyone's interested: I couldn't get anyone to take the job for less than a dollar a day. Princess won't take it at all because it's chump change compared to what she earns babysitting. Remember, this is the girl who outsourced her chores.)

Well, about a week ago, Bagel comes to me and says he wants to be a Room Captain. I really didn't intend the job to be taken by anyone under the age of 8, but I thought he could give it a try anyway. I assigned him the Augean Stables: the boys' bedroom. What do you know, the child did it! I gave him a few pointers like "You really don't want to yell at Sonshine that you hate him, or he won't help you clean." He spent all day working on his leadership style as well as the bedroom, and by nightfall they had carpet AND it was vacuumed, and Bagel had a dollar burning a hole in his pocket. He's kept the room clean every night for a week, and the kids are getting along better and helping each other tidy their rooms every evening.

This is good, but now he's obsessed with money. He wants to go to the store every day and spend his dollar. He wants to do extra jobs to earn extra money. He wants to save up for the kinds of toys Sonshine gets with his money (Sonshine is Room Captain of the study). He desperately wants that Holy Grail, the elusive $5 bill. He yelled at me yesterday because he kept asking me to set the exchange rate to four $1 bills for a $5 bill and I kept telling him the exchange rate wasn't in my power to fix. He spends all his time scheming how he can get more money.

I don't know if I like this new obsession. At least most of what Sonshine got obsessed with, we could check out of the library. This is costing me a pretty penny. However, it is getting me two rooms of the house with Lego-free vacuumed carpet for less than I'd have to pay a cleaning lady, and the kids are getting along better to boot.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Just put the flag at half staff every day

On my way home from picking up the kids at school today, I noticed that flags were at half staff. I racked my brain trying to think if it was the anniversary of something horrific, but I came up with nothing. When I got home, I searched and found out that it was to honor the memory of the late Dorothy Height, a person of such importance in the Civil Rights movement that I had never heard of her before. When somebody major dies, the blogosphere usually erupts in eulogies and posts. I hadn't heard anything about her death, even though it was more than a week ago. Norman Borlaug got more blog-love at his passing, and he was also a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient as well as a Nobel Laureate, but I don't recall President Obama lowering the flags to half-staff for him.

Since I don't really know who Dorothy Height is, I'll grant that since they don't give the Presidential Medal of Freedom out in cereal boxes, she was probably a good person who made a large and positive contribution to the world. But flags at half staff? Really? Have we really lost such a valuable national treasure that the flags have to go to half staff?

If we're going to lower the flag to half-staff for the death of everybody who was really really nice, why bother having a whole staff? I think we ought to save our days of national mourning for the truly extraordinary. The deaths of presidents: yes. National tragedies: of course. But the passing of really good people? The flags outside nursing homes would never reach the top if we flew flags at half-staff for that.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Recipe: Honey Sesame Chicken Stir-Fry + Technique: Ginger Cubes

Honey Sesame Chicken is a mealtime favorite at our house. We like going out to Asian buffet restaurants, but it's difficult to do with food allergies because even if somebody would tell you the ingredients there are just too many dishes to ask about all of them. So this is my attempt at allergen-free restaurant-style Chinese food. Luckily Chinese food is very versatile. If you're soy-allergic or gluten-free you can substitute for the soy sauce; if you're vegan, use Portabello mushrooms or tofu for the chicken. We thicken the sauce with arrowroot when Princess is off corn.

I will warn you, though: this one is SWEET. If you don't like it sweet you may want to cut back the honey. On the other hand, if you want your kids to eat it, you might leave it as is. Also, this is a family size recipe. If you're cooking for fewer people, half it, or else make it all and freeze half for later.

I really love ginger. It's one of my absolute favorite flavors. So I love putting as much fresh ginger as I can get away with in every dish I can get away with putting it in (FH isn't fond of strong ginger flavor). However, I hate peeling ginger. I like to pick ginger roots that are most nearly spherical, since this minimizes the ratio of peel to delicious ginger root. However, I only really need a little ginger for each recipe, and that purpose is best served by a narrow root which you can cut off a bit of at a time.

So I found a solution to this: I buy a whole lot of fat ginger roots at a time, peel them, chop them in the food processor, and freeze them in an ice cube tray, adding a little water to hold the cubes together. I keep the frozen ginger cubes in a baggie in the freezer and pull out one at a time. I got the idea from, of all places, a vintage baby food cookbook. I used to make baby food and freeze it in ice cube trays so that I could make it once and defrost just the right quantity. After that I started making all kinds of ice cube tray ingots-- I found, for example, that a standard plastic ice cube tray makes ingots of beeswax perfectly sized for making batches of ointment, with 1 ingot per 1 cup of herb-infused oil. And broth cubes are really great to put in a child's hot soup to cool it off.

So this recipe calls for a ginger cube. If you don't have ginger cubes just put in some minced fresh ginger, about the same volume as an ice cube.


Honey Sesame Chicken Stir-Fry

2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped in 1" chunks
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
1-2 packages frozen stir-fry vegetables OR 24 oz. white mushrooms, small ones halved, large ones quartered
1 ginger cube
1/3 c. honey
1/3 c. soy sauce
1/3 c. water
6 Tbsp. arrowroot, cornstarch, or potato starch
1-2 green onions, chopped

Heat oils over medium high heat in 12" skillet. When hot, add chicken and saute until mostly white (if using fresh veggies, saute until exterior is all white). Add veggies and ginger cube and saute until veggies are cooked. In the meantime, whisk together the honey, soy sauce, water, and arrowroot. When veggies are cooked, add sauce and green onions, and stir constantly until sauce thickens. Serve with rice.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Fetch Me Some Water

I've noticed lately that Knuckles loves to bring me cups of water, preferably with about a dozen straws in them. He brought me one today, and it reminded me of something that happened a while back.

I was at my mom's house, reading in the living room, when Knuckles came up to me with a tiny paper cup of water and motioned me to drink it. So I did. It tasted a little funny, and it was room temperature, but I graciously said "Thank you!" to him. He took the cup and ran off again. A few minutes later he came back with a second cupful, which I also drank and thanked him. At that point someone remarked, "I didn't hear the water running." That was the point at which I realized that the tiny paper cups were kept in the bathroom... that he had brought them to me from down the hall, not from the kitchen... and I hadn't heard the water running either.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Help Me Choose Colors!

I recently designed a new bootie style, Victorian Boots. My original concept was to make them in black and gray, like actual boots with spats.

Later I had some more ideas for color combinations:


Pink/Robin's Egg Blue


Red/Black (this is from the photo shoot for the catalog)

Here's the ideas I've had so far:
So now help me choose which ones are the cutest by taking this poll! You can vote for more than one, and the top rated ones will end up in my final color lineup. If you have any ideas for other color combinations, please vote for "Other" in the poll and leave details in the comments.