• Sometimes the homemade valentines cards from preschool parents are because at 8pm the night before the parents realized they’d forgotten to buy the damn cards (and the oldest kid already used up last year’s leftover cards which is why you’re out except 3 teacher-size cards and two ripped cards) and why does a toddler need valentine cards anyway?  Update:  Only half the kids sent in cards anyway.
  • This just in:  Fundamentalist churches are tools of the patriarchy bent on separating people from their money, oppressing women, and growing their empires.  Yeah, I know, a big shock to our readers.  But it had to be said.
  • Everything does NOT happen “for a reason”.  People who can think that can’t ever have been the victims of systematic oppression.  Sometimes life just sucks (often because people suck).  Because if everything happens for a reason then that implies that some folks’ real suffering is just background there to help out a more privileged protagonist, and that’s never a good reason.
  • dear senior white male professors, I am not your secretary.  Look it up yourself.
  •  raising a girl is not easier than raising a boy when they are three and raising a boy is not easier than raising a girl when they are teens.  Take your sexist stereotypes based on your n=1 (or more realistically, n=0) and burn them.

Arepas: A gluten-free win

Many years ago we lived in a big city in walking distance to a wonderful little arepa place.  We’d never had arepas before and we instantly became addicted.

Arepas a kind of cornbread, round like a small corn pita-bread, crusty on the outside with soft melty cornmeal on the inside.  They hail from several Latin American countries, and the ones we craved are from Venezuela, where they split them in two to make sandwiches.  There’s a particularly addicting arepa sandwich called reina pepiada, which is essentially chicken salad with avocado.  Or a slice of fresh cheese.  Or just butter.  Oh oh oh.

Fast forward many years, and we’ve been unable to find arepas, or rather, we’ve been able to find plenty of Colombian arepas, but none of the Venezuelan kind.  After deciding it probably wasn’t worth trying to get to the 3 yelp-dot diner two hours away in the middle of nowhere, we figured maybe this was something we could make on our own.

So eventually DH got himself a Latin American cookbook.  It’s a bit intimidating… sort of the Joy of Cooking Latin-American style.  An encyclopedia for a continent and a half’s worth of cooking.

Then my mom bought the arepa maker off my amazon wishlist.  And we were in business.

Oh joy.

We haven’t quite mastered the amazing rosemary chicken salad of the big city, but we’ve got the avocado down.  And the arepas are heavenly.  Just as we remembered them.

You don’t actually need an arepa maker to make arepas, you can make them on the stovetop like pupusas or really thick tortillas.  But to get them just like the ones at the restaurant, the arepa maker was necessary.

Here’s an internet recipe.  The internet makes a big deal about using PAN harina, but we’ve been using instant masa instead to no ill effect.

This week in challenge eating :

Quesadillas (we actually had these last week, but pretend we actually did fried rice last week and not this week).


Leek and potato soup– Leeks are out of season, but we got some anyway.  $3 for organic leeks.  <$3 for potatoes.  And some butter.  So $6 for a big pot.

stirfry with the leftover cabbage and other assorted veggies

vegetarian chili– Same as meat chili, but without the meat.

spaghetti with meat sauce

scrambled eggs

In memorium

We got two amazing cats when we finally moved into an apartment that allowed them.  Little Kitty and Big Kitty.  We’d initially gone to get Little Kitty and decided she needed a companion.  Big Kitty was in her room at the shelter.  A big soft short-hair calico, mostly white with small black and ginger patches.  When we came in the room, she was sociable, gave us some love and pettings and then after a while went back to her little house area.  After checking out the other cats, we decided she was just right… loving and sociable but not too clingy.

Her sheet said she’d come from a house with too many cats and that she loved dogs and children.

The women at the animal shelter said she had a heart condition and they didn’t expect her to be adopted.  They hadn’t even listed her.  We’ll take her anyway, we said.

We gave her heart medication each day.  DH picked up her prescription refill today.

She was a beautifully behaved cat.  She didn’t go on counters (except when she thought we weren’t looking and then would jump down if seen), and never understood why we let Little Kitty jump on them.  She mainly just tolerated Little Kitty, but she also taught semi-feral Little Kitty how to do important cat things, like how to meow.

Big Kitty always wanted to be alpha cat, even though Little Kitty doesn’t understand social hierarchies.  Sometimes Little Kitty would accidentally become alpha, which was always funny because Little Kitty was about half the size of Big Kitty and really had no idea what was going on with the dominance games.

Big Kitty liked hard catfood a lot, and deferred to Little Kitty over who got first dibs on the soft food because that’s the one thing Little Kitty would defend, and it’s easier to keep your alpha status if you don’t have to fight for it.

Big Kitty’s short hair turned out to have a longer undercoat in the winter.  She was the softest kitty imaginable.  We had to make sure she had special catfood because she’d throw up most kinds of high quality food, but Little Kitty needed something high quality to keep her fur from getting dry.  We won’t have to buy Purina One Sensitive Systems anymore.  We also had to ration her food because otherwise she’d throw it up (and she’d get overweight).  After many experiments with water pistols and so on to try to keep her from waking us up wailing for food, we set up a catfood timer.  We’ll have to reset that for one cat, or just get rid of it since Little Kitty never overate anyway.  Or maybe Garage Cat will start sharing with Little Kitty now that Big Kitty is no longer keeping him in the guest bedroom.  I suppose we could move his stuff now.  These words seem so cold but my heart is breaking so hard every time I think about how things are going to change.

DH was her favorite.  Occasionally she’d try to take my side of the bed so she could be with him.  But she’d give it up grudgingly.

She was super cuddly with me when I got pregnant both times.  After DC1 was born and before we started cosleeping, we’d close the door because Big Kitty loved the Pack N Play and you don’t want to accidentally smother a baby.  Big Kitty would wail outside the door to be let in.  It was so much easier to sleep when we gave that up.

As advertised, she was great with children.  Wonderful with both babies.  She started swiping a bit at tail pulls and so on when DC1 got old enough to know better, but with DC2 she didn’t even mind those, especially since we’d give her hairball treats after each new indignity.

She was great at finding missing kittens when we misplaced them.  She’d guard and hiss, but was never actually mean to the four stray cats.  She used every one of the extra litter boxes.

She had her favorite spots in the house.  DC1’s bed, both on top and under.  The corner of my closet.  The armrest on the overstuffed chair.  She won’t be there anymore, even if traces of her soft white fur still remain.

At 4 something pm when DH was home, she started panting and meowing and her back legs didn’t work.  While I got the kids, DH called the vet and then another bigger vet and got her in the carrying case and took her to the hospital.  She’d had a stroke and was in a lot of pain.  A heparin shot would loosen that and she might survive, but given her heart condition, it was unlikely she would make it after her blood started flowing again and even if she did, she’d continue to have strokes.  DH had to make a decision and he couldn’t contact me because my phone was dead, so he called his mom.  Big Kitty was in pain and didn’t know what was going on and he petted her and said goodbye.  When I finally got home and called him I couldn’t understand what he was saying because he was crying so hard.

The vet has said many times that Big Kitty has lasted longer than any other cat she’s seen with this heart condition.  She wasn’t an old kitty, but she was middle aged.  Still spry, but not quite as much as she used to be.  Without the heart condition, she probably would have had many more years, but with the heart condition, we’re lucky we’ve had her this long.  They asked DH to donate her body to the state vet school because of it and DH decided to do that.  They’ll send us a cast of her paw in return.

It’s so hard to believe she won’t be around anymore.  She’s gone suddenly with only an hour or so of pain; she didn’t waste away.   If we didn’t have to change anything I could just pretend that she’s in a different hiding spot than where I’m looking.  I wouldn’t have to know that she’s gone.  She’s lived a good life and was a wonderful kitty.  We will miss her so much.

Good-bye, Big Kitty.  We will always love you.

Big Kitty's last photo

Big Kitty’s last photo

If only google really knew the answers

Q:  What are some strange babywords

A:  My sister’s first word was “French fry”.  Yes, we are American.  When I was little I used to walk around saying “budgie budgie budgie”.  Not the bird, just a word.

Q:  is academia right for me

A:  If you are asking the internet, then probably not.

Q:  why cant i say anything normal facebook

A:  Abnormal situation.

Q:  if you were on a deserted island for 5 years and only had a choice of 1 food and 1 music band….what would they be?

A:  Pasta with toppings; U2

Q:  how to help gifted children sleep longer

A:  Just don’t.  Leave them alone.  Unless you suspect they actually do need more sleep and have apnea or something, but that has nothing to do with giftedness.

Q:  can you be a professor and take your summers off?

A:  “Can” you or “Should” you?  Define “off”.

Q:  what will trigger my ideal student to think of college?

A:  If they are ideal students, aren’t they already thinking of college?  Define “ideal”.  #2 notes that they might be under-privileged, in which case they may think they’re credit constrained.  Financial aid counseling!  Help completing the FAFSA!

Q:  why people shouldn’t complain about going to school in bad weather

A:  Because at least they don’t have to ride mastodons anymore; those things smelled fierce.

Q:  what is new on education these days?

A:  Everything old is new again.

Q:  overachieving mommies where are all the mellow and lazy moms blog

A:  Have you tried http://offbeatfamilies.com/ ?


  • Mean kitten has been tamed.  Now we still have 6 cats and no idea what to do with 4 of them (we’re keeping our original two!).  The kittens are rapidly losing their kitten-hood.
  • DC1 still loves school and has requested to stay at the same school another year.  Ze has a new math/reading teacher because the one ze had first semester was a college student who is doing student-teaching this semester.  The current one has a lot of experience and loves the kids and is better at cluster grouping than hir predecessor.  Her daughter is also a children’s novelist, which is pretty cool.  At our recent p/t conference we talked about perfectionism *again*.  It’s a constant battle.
  • DC2 is loving hir new daycare.  That last week when we were transitioning, ze would not want to leave the new place to go to the old place and ze would scream when we left hir at the old place.  Ze is all like, “buh bye” at the new place.  It’s just like it was back before our first daycare went out of business.  Whew.
  • The guy who stole all that money from the first daycare (turns out to be the ex-husband of an employee, not even the employee herself) did get caught, but he used the money for drugs, so I don’t think we’re going to see any of our prepayment back unless insurance kicks in.  DH doesn’t want to deal with small claims court now that he has a job and we don’t have much time and the director needs that money more than we do even if she has it.  So we’re probably just going to mentally write it off as a loss.
  • Last we heard, the relative’s oldest daughter doesn’t want to go to community college anymore because it’s hard and has gotten a job at Wendy’s (the economy must be picking up), but is still going to school even though she doesn’t want to.  The second daughter is working two jobs (both fastfood) while her step-mom takes care of the baby.  They’ve figured out paternity, and the father’s family wanted to work something out under the table rather than telling the government, but the relative talked his daughter out of that.  (Because it would be fraud and illegal and she’d lose her benefits entirely if caught.)
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A budding feminist spec fic reader

A boy who is turning 12 years old wants to read sci fi and fantasy with strong females.  We have suggestions, of course.

Ursula K. LeGuin is probably the textbook choice, along with contemporary writer Andre Norton.  These strong women both address feminist themes through science fiction, though in different ways.

Ann McCaffrey is often suggested because she’s a woman who writes science fiction and therefore must be feminist.  Turns out that’s not true.  She’s a VERY BAD CHOICE as she promotes rape culture.  (Third book, protagonist rapes his girlfriend, and makes everything ok by helping her clean afterward.  No. No. No. No.  I stopped reading her after that book, but I am told that her later books have similar or worse issues with rape.)  (Thanks to #2’s warning, #1 hasn’t read that series, but I haven’t found anything problematic in the McCaffrey I have read.  #2 notes that’s probably because McCaffrey coauthors with actual feminists in many of her other series.)

I keep meaning to read C. J. Cherryh‘s  Pride of Chanur series.

Elizabeth Moon.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are excellent choices, together or separately (try The Wee Free Men).

Brian Sanderson’s Mistborn series is fantastic.  The Hunger GamesOctavia Butler.

Tamora Pierce in general and in specific, though #2 has a bit of a problem with the fourth book in her first series… the main character has a lot of messed up sex, and by messed up, she means messed up in terms of power differentials.  The sex is not really consensual given the power differences in one “relationship” and the age differences in the other.  (#1 missed that series.  The Pierce I have read has been fantastic!)  Holly Lisle probably has too much sex for a 12-year old.  Pre-read Diplomacy of Wolves to see if your kid is old enough for it.

Robin McKinley (her lighter stuff… Deerskin [a retelling of Donkeyskin] is feminist, and amazingly good, but it contains rather violent incest… Sunshine has happy sex in it IIRC, but is definitely more YA than Junior). The Blue Sword was the first grown-up fantasy book I ever read (fourth grade assigned reading, I LOVED Mrs. A.) and it got me hooked on the entire genre.

Patricia C. Wrede, particularly the first two books in the Dragon series (Dealing with Dragons is the start).  The third and fourth books leave the protagonist somewhat helpless until a boy grows up to save the day.

Carolyn Stevermer, both with and without Patricia Wrede.

Joan Aiken’s Dido Twite series: first is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Martha Wells.

Margaret Ball.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman.  Though she does address some adult themes, they always have happened off-stage before the book starts.  The characters heal during the book.

For hard sci-fi, you could start the Honor Harrington series with On Basilisk Station by David Weber. Jane Yolen’s graphic novel Foiled is a must (the sequel is Curses! Foiled Again). Anything by Susan Cooper, though #2 notes that The Dark is Rising has a stereotypical female character, the stereotypical “male” action coming from the boys.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (her other series is for adults, but this one is YA with no sex).  IT IS ADDICTING.  I WANT MORE MORE MORE.

You could try Diane Duane’s series starting with So You Want to Be a Wizard. Everything by Diana Wynne Jones is very excellent, though her last book has an inappropriate sexual relationship thrown in as an afterthought.  A 12 year old might not notice it. (#1 didn’t.)

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman.  Only sort of fantasy, but has sequels if you like it.

The Blossom Culp series by Richard Peck (time travel, ghosts, etc. put this fully into spec fic!)

Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series, starting with The Illyrian Adventure (spec fic in the sense that Indiana Jones is spec fic).

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.  (Sure, this is historical, but… you could pretend it’s fantasy.)

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (the sequel, The Song of the Quarkbeast, is out now).

Graceling by Kristin Cashore is excellent (though somewhat hardcore, violence-wise). It has sequels but I never read them.

Other good YA stuff is by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (any of it).

I can go on if you want… but I would need to check DC’s bookshelves for all my old YA books.  (I’m totally going to read hir The Real Me at some point, though that is not science fiction or fantasy at all.)

Chime in, readers!

On baking from scratch, from mixes, or not at all

When you’re trying to save money, it can be difficult to decide what to make from scratch and what to buy for convenience.  Sometimes it’s a time issue, but sometimes the price difference between products isn’t that big.  Sometimes the price difference is enormous.  Often the big difference is in quality.

If you do plan on doing a lot of baking a stand mixers is an important investment.  A stand mixer is well worth the time (and potentially money) that it saves if you can afford it.  That’s one of those problems with being genuinely poor– where are you going to get $250 or $350 to buy a high quality stand mixer so you can multi-task while making bread?  Without a mixer, where are you going to find the time to bake from scratch on a regular basis?

Some people balk at the cost of yeast when baking bread, but really you only need to buy it once.  If you’re going to be baking bread regularly you can keep a starter in your fridge and use that in place of store-bought yeast.  If you’re not going to be baking all the time, you can still save on yeast using the “old dough” method, which uses old dough to provide yeast for new dough, and the dough can be frozen for quite some time before reuse.  Once you’re down to the price of flour, sugar, and oil, homemade bread is a delicious but inexpensive carb.

Making your own mix when you have time might be an option.  Pancakes are super cheap from scratch.  Yes, it’s convenient to buy a mix and just add liquid, but if you’re really trying to save money, you can mix up a big batch of mix yourself and use it as you need it.  Similarly, you can make up extra waffles or pancakes for your own toaster-waffles (or microwave pancakes) on weekday mornings.

Cakes, on the other hand, are often expensive homemade than store-bought or from a mix because you start using butter, and even with on-sale butter ($2/lb at the holidays), it can start to add up, especially if you want to add things like chocolate or candied fruit.  Of course, the same quality cake will cost tens of dollars from a real bakery.  Supermarket cakes tend to be chiffon (using oil) or shortening.  They’re not as good, but may be less expensive than you making your own (especially when reduced for quick sale after an event).  If you’re really into chiffon cakes, it may be less expensive to make your own mix than to make from a mix, but you’ll have to run the numbers yourself.  Personally I don’t think store-bought cakes or mixes are worth it– if I’m going to eat something bad for me it had better taste really good.  (Store-bought brownies and mixes, otoh, can be pretty tasty.)

Similarly, if you have expensive tastes, then homemade may be worth it because you use higher quality and fresher ingredients than the store.  Granola isn’t peanuts to make depending on what you put in it (the oats are cheap, but nuts can get expensive), but it is so pricy to buy that making it turns out to be a pretty good deal.  Freshly made granola also tastes ambrosial.

The true benefit to making your own baked goods is that you control what the ingredients are.  There’s a lot of crap in a lot of processed foods, even in the pre-made mixes.  There are breads that are cheaper than flour, but I can’t bring myself to eat them.  We still have some wonderbread in our freezer from when FIL was here and he wanted to make french toast with bread (but not whole wheat bread).  (MIL shouldn’t eat it because of her diabetes.)

But often times store-bought is the way to go.  If you can find a sandwich bread you like, store-bought lasts longer and comes perfectly sliced.  Sometimes you only want one cookie and not an entire batch (and what’s the point in going through the effort of making just one cookie?  and you mean to freeze the dough or the cookies for later but…).  The kind of pastry dough you use to make croissants is a multi-hour if not multi-day affair of folding and pounding if you make it from scratch (though buying croissants made without butter is completely not worth it no matter how inexpensive).

Sometimes you don’t have time and it’s worth more to buy the convenience food so you can earn more money, even when we’re not talking about croissants.  However, baking is a good way to spend time with kids– they can help at a pretty early age.  And, once they’re old enough to do it on your own, the time calculus changes.  Obviously they need to make more cookies.

Sometimes there are sales that make store-bought baked goods ridiculously inexpensive.  Check out the day-old bin, and check for holiday-themed mixes and baked items after a holiday for real deals.

When do you bake, when do you buy?  When do you use a mix?

This week’s menu:

Fried rice.  This uses the leftover rice from last week’s stirfry, but if it doesn’t the entire meal costs <$3.

Fried kielbasa with onions and potatoes.  If you want to save money and aren’t worried about your gylcemic load, you can buy a big bag of potatoes.  The trick is that you have to eat them before they go bad.  Because of my PCOS we won’t be doing that– potatoes are a special treat that I need to balance with meat and/or vinegar to slow digestion so I don’t get blood sugar spikes.  But man I do love me some potatoes.  Kielbasa ~$3  Onion ~$1.  Potatoes ~$1

Homemade pizza.  Dough, sauce, cheese.  Bread dough<$1, sauce <$2 (we use canned pizza sauce, but if you want to go cheaper you can just get a small tin of tomato sauce and add salt and any spices you have on hand), cheese… can vary depending on what kind you use and how much you use of it, but let’s go <$2.  DH insisted on more pepperoni (<$2) and some mushrooms (<$1).  Base meal is <$5, more fancy versions will depend on toppings.  One recipe worth tends to have a lot of leftovers.

Black Bean Soup.  Black beans, onions, carrots.  This costs about the same as split pea soup from last time, but I really want to have it with sour cream, so add a bit more.  And we’ve got cilantro in our garden that’s thriving despite (or because of) the recent cold snaps.

Spaghetti.  Can of sauce, noodles.  ~$4.  ($3 if you make the sauce from canned tomatoes and aren’t picky about spices)  If you add meat, another $2-$6.

Wraps.  Wraps are like sandwiches, but with (flour) tortillas instead of bread.  You can put anything in them from sandwich fillings to leftover rice, bean, or noodle dishes.  They’re good on-the-go versions of a meal.   We are going to do fresh spring rolls instead because we still have rice wrappers from last time and DC2 shouldn’t have flour tortillas.  The price on this can vary tremendously depending on what you put inside the cover.   We’ll be doing noodles, lettuce, cilantro, mint (also thriving), and shrimp (DH wanted seafood and shrimp are in season), so not that cheap.  A less expensive spring roll option would use chicken or maybe tofu depending on tofu prices.

Sweet and sour red cabbage.  We might do this with the kielbasa instead of potatoes and onions, I dunno.  <$1 for the cabbage (and there’s usually leftover).