People (men, kids, etc.) can learn to cook

My DH is a crazy accomplished chef.  He cooks amazing desserts.  He’s been playing with making his own pasta.  He’s mastered sourdough from a levain.  He’s got the best all-butter pie crusts around.  He can do pretty much anything. He’s done in depth studies about what makes the best chocolate chip cookies using lab notebook techniques. If there’s a recipe, he’s game to try it.

It wasn’t always this way.  When we got married, he could make bread using the breadmaker that his grandma had gotten him when we went to college and that was about it.  He’d also made pizza (using dough from the bread maker) a few times in college.  He mostly lived on day old bagels and I’m not sure what else.

One day during our first year of graduate school and married life, DH asked if I could make my chili for dinner and I suddenly realized that he needed to learn how to cook.  Otherwise I would be in charge of all the meal stuff every day for the rest of our lives.  Or maybe until I got one of our future children to take over (I did a lot of the cooking at my parents’, especially during summers).

So I showed him how to make chili.  And how to make spaghetti, which is pretty similar.  And various egg dishes.

Then he started getting into recipes.  He wasn’t very good at substitutions and his knife skills drove me crazy because he was SO SLOW getting perfectly even cubes instead of just doing a rough cut.  But we managed.

Three years after getting real jobs, I sent him to a semester-long cooking class and that really improved his knife skills.  He can take down a raw chicken with ease.  And carrots get diced quickly and imperfectly with no second-guessing.  He can even cut an orange so it looks fancy!

He’s now been cooking for nearly 20 years and can make substitutions on the fly.  He can adjust recipes for weather conditions or flavor preferences (DC2 isn’t into spicy, I hate goat cheese, etc.)    It didn’t take 20 years to get to this point.  The cooking class was only really necessary to get his knife skills up to speed (honestly, I don’t know what the hangup there was).

My little sister also didn’t know how to cook until she was well into adult-hood.  She hated doing it growing up and my parents had me, so there didn’t seem to be any reason to force her.  They already had someone to chop potatoes.  (In fairness, my sister’s existence meant I never had to mow a lawn since my mom assumed my sensitivity to heat and general clumsiness would result in me mangling a foot or two if I tried.  I do have faded cooking-related scars on my hands and arms, but I never actually lost a limb doing it.)  Since hitting her 30s, she’s been learning a lot more about cooking– most of the Christmas and Birthday presents she’s been requesting have been cooking related for the past 10 years or so.  She’s currently really into Ottonleigh’s Simple book* and in the Before Times was baking breakfast things for early morning meetings for her Team once a month or so.

DC1 has also been upping hir cooking skills– zie made a few complicated dishes from a fancy sushi cookbook without complaint.  Though, due to the lack of ability to get sushi-grade fish, zie has switched over to the Help! My apartment has a kitchen! cookbook and has started mastering simpler things like garlic bread and shrimp cocktail.  Zie is currently on the “make one dinner a week for the family” plan.  Both kids are in charge of their own breakfasts (cereal, fruit, leftover baked goods) and lunches (leftovers, quesadillas, sandwiches or cheese and crackers/rice cakes).

Who does the cooking in your place?  When did you learn how to cook?

*Disclaimer:  We got a copy of this book and Ottonleigh has six definitions of “simple” (one for each letter in the word Simple, get it?) and it is debatable how many of the recipes are anything like “quick and easy”, though they are labeled with what kind of simple they are.  Also they’ve all been delicious.  But we haven’t noticed them being any simpler in range than the ones in the Jerusalem cookbook which we would recommend over Simple.

What we’ve been doing with our kids

We have two children:  DC1, age 13 and DC2, age 7.

DC1 is in high school and has plenty of homework to keep hir busy all day.  Zie has also been binging on mostly terrible WWII movies for extra credit for history, which zie needs thanks to a low test grade earlier this quarter.  As is typical of teenagers, DC1 seems to be mostly fine entertaining hirself.

DC2, on the other hand, is an extrovert who thrives on attention and has a ton of energy.  If DC2 spends more than a couple of hours watching shows, zie gets super grumpy.  There’s also a limit to video games and screentime overall before grumpiness sets in, but the line isn’t as clear cut.  Usually we send DC2 to daycamp or after school care where zie can work out a lot of that extra energy.  We cannot do that during a quarantine.

So here’s what we’ve been doing instead.

We’ve been letting DC2 sleep in and haven’t been policing sleeping time.  Hir no more screens time is 7pm and hir lights out (except hir personal lamp which zie uses as a nightlight) is 8pm.  Zie will stay up reading comic books or Harry Potter or whatever zie is into well past 8pm if we don’t police this even though zie isn’t supposed to.  We have not been policing it, which means zie stays quiet in hir room after 8pm not sleeping and then sleeps in until 10 or 11am.  This is fantastic given that we don’t have to get hir up to catch the bus at 6:50am.  (This is pretty terrible when school is in session and zie has to get up.)

Add to that, we are on a system of weekend chores.  So, that means that instead of half an hour of violin practice, DC1 has to do a full hour.  DC2 has a full load of workbooks instead of just Singapore math.  We also started Hard Math for Elementary Students during Spring Break because the other stuff was getting finished too quickly and DC2 was bouncing off the walls, so we needed a challenge.

DC2’s current line of workbooks (amazon links are affiliate links) is:

Brainquest Grade 3 (I would recommend this series to anybody, gifted or not– it’s just a really thick really good series of workbooks for each grade with additional summer books as well– try barnesandnoble if amazon is out of the grade you want)
Primary Mathematics 4A (this is Singapore math, not an affiliate link)
FlashKids Writing Skills 3 (this is because zie was having trouble “letting go” with English assignments back in like October, so we added a series of English workbooks, I can’t find a link to grade 3, but here’s grade 2)
Easy Spanish Step-By-Step (I ordered this off Amazon last week because I thought we could use it for the summer if hir school didn’t shut down)
Hard Math for Elementary School (for this you need 3 books:  workbook, textbook, solutions manual)
Coloring by note music coloring book (from piano teacher)
We used to have a handwriting practice book instead of Spanish, but zie finished it and has pretty decent handwriting, so we didn’t see the need to replace it with another.

On Sunday evening, we talked with both DC1 and DC2 about how school was closed for at least a week but mommy and daddy still need to work, so DC2 needs to ask DC1 for help first before Mommy and Daddy.  They were both understanding.  #blessed

DC1’s schedule:
Get up around 8am, goof off for a bit.
Take shower, brush teeth. Eat Breakfast.
Work on homework.
Sometime before lunch: Do piano practicing.
Sometime around 11 or 12: Eat lunch. Put away dishes from dishwasher if asked to.
Work on homework, help DC2.
Squabble with DC2 after DC2 has finished chores and screentime.
Get kicked out of house for bike ride with DC2.
Terrible WWII movie or more homework.
Dinner.
Violin.
Put away dishes or laundry.
Whatever DC1 does in the evenings.

DC2’s schedule:
Get up around 11am.
Eat Breakfast. Brush Teeth.
Zoom through homework books. Ask DC1 for help except sometimes ask mommy or daddy.
Gripe about lunch options. Eat lunch. Put away silverware from dishwasher if DC1 is putting away dishes.
Piano practicing.
Screen time! Usually an hour of videos and an hour of slime rancher or stardew valley. Sometimes minecraft if DC1 isn’t using the computer.
Squabble with DC1.
Get kicked out of house for bikeride with DC1.
Watch Magic School Bus in Spanish because we only have that and Harry Potter in Spanish or Try not to watch terrible WWII movie unless it’s something like Indiana Jones or Captain America.
Complain about being bored. Refuse to clean room.
xtramath (almost done with division) or Encore reading from school
Write Bad Kitty Fan Fiction or do drawing tutorials on YouTube or play with calligraphy set from Christmas.
Hang out with Mommy and/or Daddy. Do crafts with Daddy. Do chores or read or watch twoset/tryguys videos on the couch with Mommy.
Dinner.
Put away silverware or laundry.
More hanging out with parents.
7pm: Showertime!
8pm: Bedtime!

In a couple days we will ask DC2’s best friend’s parents if zie can Facetime with DC2.  We all facetimed with my sister on my sister’s birthday.  Poor Auntie being socially distanced on her birthday.

Here’s somethingremarkable asking for tips on how to keep a 7 year old occupied.

Here’s an old post of ours on how to keep a gifted kid challenged.  Here’s another set of old posts on (mostly educational) apps that our kids have enjoyed at various ages (strong recommendation for all the dragonbox games).

If you have kids, what are you doing to keep them occupied while you work from home?  Have you seen any good posts with suggestions or have other links?  (I’ve been digging the Gen X latchkey generation stuff on twitter because yeah, that was me.  Don’t bother mommy when she’s working unless you are bleeding.)  Any recommendations for videos in Spanish besides Pocoyo?  (Any anime suitable for a 7 year old?  Spanish dubbed/subbed anime used to be easily available on youtube, but they seem to have cracked down.)

Ask the Grumpies: Schools in the SF Bay area that are good for mathematically advanced kids?

Mover:

I am moving to the SF Bay area for a new job from a city across the country.  My six year old is currently several years ahead in math at school and I would like to find a school supportive of continued enrichment/acceleration.  Any words of wisdom?

What we’ve had to do when doing sabbatical moves is to call up the school districts of all the places we’ve been thinking of moving to and just ask what is done in DC’s situation.  This has been very informative as some districts are much better than others.  In our case, we didn’t ask about single-subject acceleration which is what it sounds like you need, but instead whole-grade acceleration.  I know we posted on our process, but I cannot for the life of me find that post.  Essentially we looked at a map of a reasonable commute to my sabbatical place and called all the school districts and explained and just asked what their general policy was for our situation.  Some said they would obviously put DC1 in the next grade, some said they’d test DC1, and some said they’d put DC1 in the grade for hir age level.  You would likely want to be asking about single subject acceleration.

In terms of the Bay area specifically, I don’t know if this is still true, but Berkeley schools have always had a reputation for being anti-intellectual.  They’re very into “letting kids be kids” which means bored out of their skulls.  There used to be a forum that you could find online with lots of parents complaining about it.  Sunnyvale is another district that is not great in that respect.

In terms of out of school math enrichment:  Math Circles are great.  DC1 started going in middle school.  Our DC2 hasn’t gone to one yet, but DC2 is only doing third grade math right now.  These are usually on Saturdays.  They get to do fun stuff that often isn’t done within school.

Good luck!

Do any members of grumpy nation have experience or insight with single-subject acceleration at the elementary school level in the greater SF bay area?

Ask the grumpies: Do you ration Halloween candy or do you let your kids eat as much as they want all at once?

Melva asks:

For Halloween candy, do you let your kids eat as much as they want or do you put limits on how much they can eat at a time?

My colleagues and I were just discussing this before a meeting earlier this week.  The answers ranged from one person only allowing hir kids to have one piece a day and a couple of us (including me) without any rules on how much can be consumed Halloween night.

The conversation included whether it was better to have a little sugar every day for most of the year or to have a couple/few heavy sugary days and then have entirely candy-free days (we’re social scientists, not nutritionists, so this was solely speculative).  Candy quality over time was also discussed.  But the main argument seemed to be that if you let kids eat as much candy as they want, they’ll get sick.

To which I replied, quite truthfully, “Oh, that only happens once.”

Which I guess illustrates how DH and I are very much natural consequences parents.  It’s not like we didn’t tell them that too much candy will give them a tummy ache, but sometimes one doesn’t know what too much is until one has experienced it.  (My learning experience was Easter, First Grade, in case you’re wondering.)

We don’t buy any candy other than extra super dark chocolate that’s mine and they have to ask permission to have, so the only way they get candy is via Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and what they spend their own money on (also the occasional school/party treat and the weekly dumdum from the piano teacher).  They almost never spend their own money on candy (though that’s where all my money went when I was growing up).  So unless they decide to ration out holiday candy themselves, most days will be candy-free.

There are rules on *when* candy can be consumed in my house, but not how much. They can generally only eat it after meals, mostly after dinner.  That’s because they’re still growing and allowing natural consequences doesn’t extend to missing important vitamins that could contribute to their growth because they’re overfull on sugar.

Is this the right thing to do?  Who knows.  It’s the lazy thing to do, which basically means it’s what works for us.  (We also let our kids nap whenever they were sleepy, while the one piece a day colleague had rigid nap schedules– I don’t think it actually matters.)  Last night our kids only ate a few pieces right after they got back, then noted they were full and put their remaining candy back in their bags.  I would like to say they then moved their bags to the kitchen pantry to their candy shelf, but in truth they left them on the dining room floor.  (Because all their bad habits come from me and I leave my bag on the floor whenever I’m not using it.)

Did you have rules growing up about how much Halloween candy you could eat at a time?  If applicable, do you have rules for your kids?

Simple meals for kids to cook

We feel like it is important for our kids to be able to cook a few meals on their own before they leave our house for good.  Ideally they will also know how to follow a cookbook, but being able to do a few simple meals from scratch (or with a box) without needing access to the internet or an actual cookbook is a helpful skill that should be useful in all sorts of situations.

What are some of these meals they can and should be able to do?

Our kids can both do:
1. scrambled eggs
2. quesadillas/tacos
3. grilled cheese
4. macaroni and cheese from a box with tuna and peas
5. cold cereal
6. salad

I really ought to teach them how to do spaghetti with meat sauce and onions sometime soon.  If either of them liked chili, that would also be on my list.

My memorized repertoire when I left home also included (along with all of the above): fry-ups, swiss steak, chicken cacciatore, salad dressing baked chicken, and leek and potato soup.  I could also do random things with lipton onions soup packets and cans of various campbells soups.  I haven’t made most of these in years either because they’re not healthy with my PCOS or because the children aren’t crazy about them.

DC1 has been preferring to make desserts from cookbooks.  Along with that, most kids seem to like making cookies.  Although I have some desserts memorized (ex. dump cake), I don’t really have any worth making memorized, so we use recipes.

What simple meals did you make as a kid?  What do your kids make, if applicable?  What other meals do you recommend kids learn how to do before they leave home?

 

Ask the grumpies: Can kids have too many books? (Spoiler: so long as they’re not in danger of being crushed, no)

Leah asks:

How many kids’ books are too many?

Does not compute.

Ask the grumpies: Do you read the books your kids read?

Leah asks:

Do you read the books your kids are reading? At what age seems good to stop doing so? It feels weird to me (since I have little kids) to imagine a day when they’re reading books that I haven’t read.

… Are the books in question interesting?  If so, yes.  If not, no.  I don’t think we’ve ever screened books for our kids other than to warn DC1/2 that the third Harry Potter might be too scary and the fourth one definitely is.  (DC2 turned out to be fine with Harry Potter #3, unlike DC1.  DC2 was also able to watch Star Wars at a much younger age without freaking out about it.)

I guess this goes back to our lazy parenting philosophy!

Ask the grumpies: anything you wish you’d done before marriage and/or kids?

yet another pf blog asks:

Is there anything you wish you had done before you were married? How about before you had kids?

#1:  One of us doesn’t have kids so the point is moot over here. (#2, got anything?) What would I have done differently before I got married? I can’t think of anything. Being with my partner has made the rest of my life easier and more fun.

#2:  Hm, I got married young.  I can’t really imagine single life before marriage.  I mean, I did date some losers in college, mainly because I didn’t know how to say no and a small amount because of the novelty of guys thinking I was amazing.  Those are not good reasons, so it was a huge relief in grad school to be able to stick my hand up and point to the ring when loser guys hit on me.  So definitely not dating other guys (or other people, more generally– I used to think I was DH-sexual, but now I’m fairly sure I’m… what was that word I discovered on captain awkward?  I can’t remember but it’s the one where you have to really get invested in a person before you find them physically attractive, so it seems like asexuality, but it really isn’t.  That’s what I am.  Except younger Pierce Brosnan– he’s still hot, but who knows, maybe I just liked Remmington Steele.).  Everything else I can do while married, I think.

Before kids we didn’t have money.  Now we have money.  Perhaps I wish we had money before kids?  Though getting money at the same time as kids was pretty useful and caused our standard of living to go up instead of down, so maybe not that.  Yeah, I got nuthin’.  I’m not big into regret… maybe it’s time spent in LA with the constant message that everything happens for a reason.  Or maybe it’s just the sunk cost moving forward training in economics.  I guess I wish I’d published more!  But I wish I’d published more after kids too… it’s sort of a never-ending thing with an academic career.

Grumpy nation, is there any day seizing you wish you’d done in the past?

Ask the grumpies: How to teach a kid to code?

Sandy L asks:

How to teach a kid to code when you don’t know how? (And I don’t live in a big city and I also don’t want to spend $1000 on coding camp. There has got to be a better way.)

We don’t know the answer to this question.  Here’s what we had tried on this subject back in 2015.  DC2 did really enjoy the Python for Kids book and enjoyed modifying the programs in the book, but hasn’t really come up with any programs of hir own.  We did not try Teach your kids to code.

Last summer DC1 did a week long video game design daycamp.  That used a program called Unity.  Zie fiddled around on it for about a month after the camp and then accidentally deleted or broke hir game in a way that locked it and lost interest.  Next year there’s a middle-school class that *might* teach programming but it also might not.  If it’s taught by the same teacher as the gifted-only version of the class we’re definitely not interested [update:  because DC1 is gifted, zie is only allowed to take the gifted-only version].  But there will be programming classes once zie gets to high school which is pretty exciting.  (We don’t live in a big city either, but having the university here adds a lot.)

DC1 and DC2 have both done Hour of Code in school and have links to practicing outside of school.  There’s also Khan Academy.

I dunno, does your local community college offer an intro programming class?  If so, it will probably be in Java or Python.

Any better suggestions for Sandy L?

Ask the grumpies: Things to help a kid get into the college of hir choice

Sandy L. asks

If a kid has his heart set on a college, what things could help them get in besides academics. For example, MIT has these science camps for kids that are expensive but could they also help with admissions later on?

We truly don’t know.  Take everything we say with a HUGE grain of salt.  I mean, we know people who got into Stanford but not Harvard and vice versa.  It really seems to be a crapshoot at a certain level, even if you’re your state’s math champion and have straight As, etc.  I don’t actually think it’s that hard to get into MIT if your grades and testscores are good and you have a true love of math and science compared to getting into Harvard (at least, I know a lot of people who got into MIT as undergrads who didn’t get into any ivies to which they applied).  It’s more difficult than getting into your state’s flagship, but there’s a lot less competition for those slots.  So I wouldn’t think that the science camps would be necessary.  Whether or not they help, I don’t know.

Back when it was called the Westinghouse science award, it helped to have won the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

It helps to have top scores and grades at a known-name school and to have come from nothing.  If you’re first gen, low income, and have fought your way to the top, that makes it easier for colleges to decide.  Particularly if you’re a scholarship kid at Eaton or at one of the state public boarding schools for GT kids.

One of my colleagues’ kids got in to our (state flagship) school (for engineering/CS) late admissions despite being low on grades and testscores because he did an after school club with a professor in the computer science department and did a very good job at said club, and the professor was able to pull strings.  I don’t know how universal that is– certainly I have never had any contact with undergraduate admissions– but some professors at some schools might have some pull.

If Caltech has the same application it had 15 years ago, you’re more likely to get in if you take it seriously.  Fill out that page that says, “put something interesting here” with something interesting!  I filled the entire thing in very tiny writing with math jokes.  My ex-boyfriend drew a comic showing the path of his life complete with adorable stick figures interacting with the line representing the timeline of his life.  I forget what my sister put in there but I’m sure it was interesting and entertaining.  We all got in.

On the application, if there’s a place for it, have an interesting story to tell that illustrates your interests and your academic path.  One of my college ex-boyfriends got in everywhere (he picked our SLAC over Stanford) partly because his admissions essay was a delightful story about how he built a trebuchet.  My sister got in everywhere she applied (including ivies) probably partly because she talked about how physics informed her dancing.  It probably also helps to be focused and to pretend you know what you’re going to do with your life and why and you have a path mapped out to get there.  Extra points if you are unusual– a young woman in an award winning Poms squad and an all-girls math team who has taken as much math and hard science as she can who really wants to design more energy efficient engines.  (Again, that was my sister.)

Many schools will make their final waitlist/admit decisions for people on that margin based on who has visited the campus/had an alumni interview.  I think this is unfair to low income kids who CAN’T just hop on a plane or spend two weeks in the summer driving up and down the East Coast from the Midwest, but it’s policy at many schools.

Applying early action, particularly the kind where you swear to go if you get in helps, though it decreases your financial aid offer many places.

Playing (and being really good at) the right instrument/sport can help.  But it is hard to predict what the school of your choice will need the year you’re applying.  (And this probably doesn’t matter at MIT, but I don’t actually know.)

Not needing financial aid can help at some schools.  I don’t know if MIT is one of them, but MIT is notoriously stingy when it comes to financial aid.  (Harvard is exceedingly generous!)

Being a member of an Olympic team or the child of a celebrity or owning your own profitable business or app or nonprofit that you started as a teen can make you more attractive.   So can having published a scholarly paper in an academic journal.  Or having a patent.  Or a parent who gives a multi-million dollar donation.

Passing the AMC 10 or 12 and doing well on the AIME can help.  Taking college classes and doing well in them doesn’t hurt (though as this becomes more common, it may no longer be as strong a signal as it once was).

We’re told that leadership experience, state and national awards, and volunteering can help, but I’m skeptical.  I don’t know if these are necessary, but they’re definitely not sufficient.  There’s just too many people each year who have these things.

Some people swear by college coaches.  I don’t know how to find a good one or what kind of value they add to someone who is already doing well.

I don’t know what we’re going to encourage our kids to do.  This is more timely for DC1 who starts high school in a year and a half.  Zie is really into math, but not competitions.  Zie like robotics, but not competitions.  Zie loves computers and games and likes programming but needs more formal training in programming.  Zie loves music but although better than I was at that age, is not at competition level either in piano or violin (the piano teacher is pretty lax and zie just started violin a year ago), and again, is not crazy about competition.  We might be able to get hir an unpaid summer internship with a professor at my school, or zie can do more work for me, possibly even something publishable.  Zie could take summer classes at the community college or the university (I still haven’t figured out how to do summer student-at-large classes, though it’s pretty easy for high school students to take college classes during the school year).  It is hard to say what’s best.  Most likely we’ll just let hir interests guide hir and focus on learning rather than on getting into a specific school.  Because for high income kids of educated parents, the specific school isn’t that important for earnings.

Anybody know more about what undergraduate admissions offices are looking for?