Thursday, November 27, 2008

Good News for the Holidays

Q&A for Good Health (from one of the forwarded emails making the rounds):

Q: I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life; is this true?
A: Your heart is only good for so many beats, and that's it - don't waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer; that's like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.

Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?
A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef is also a good source of field grass (green leafy vegetable). And a pork chop can give you 100% of your recommended daily allowance of vegetable products.

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?
A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more of the goodness that way. Beer is also made out of grain. Bottoms up!

Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?
A: Well, if you have a body and you have fat, your ratio is one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.

Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?
A: Can't think of a single one, sorry. My philosophy is: No Pain...Good!

Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?
A: YOU'RE NOT LISTENING!!! .... Foods are fried these days in vegetable oil. In fact, they're permeated in it. How could getting more vegetables be bad for you?

Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?
A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. You should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.

Q: Is chocolate bad for me?
A: Are you crazy? HELLO Cocoa beans! Another vegetable!!! It's the best feel-good food around!

Q: Is swimming good for your figure?
A:If swimming is good for your figure, explain whales to me.

Q: Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle?
A: Hey! 'Round' is a shape!

Well, I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had about food and diets. And remember: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways - Chardonnay in one hand - chocolate in the other - body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO HOO, What a Ride!"

AND...... For those of you who watch what you eat, here's the final word on nutrition and health. It's a relief to know the truth after all those conflicting nutritional studies.
1. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
2. The Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
3. The Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
4. The Italians drink a lot of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
5. The Germans drink a lot of beers and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

CONCLUSION: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Morphing Martinis

I am amused to see that, at least on drink menus, a martini is no longer a slug of gin (or vodka, if you insist) with a very small amount of vermouth and possibly some odd garnishes. Apparently, a martini is now any mixed drink that is shaken over ice and poured into an "up" glass - a technique rather than a recipe. This includes martinis, gimlets, and all kinds of fruit-juice drinks made with gin or vodka. Last night, I tasted a "salt and pepper martini" that was made with vodka, grapefruit juice, and Cointreau (the name comes from the fact that the rim is salted and a skiff of pepper is floated over the top). It was very good, but it isn't a real martini by any stretch of the imagination.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

XBox Options

Why is it that game developers for XBox only seem to create cartoon games and violent games? I got tired of the war games my boys like to play, so I went to the store myself to find a reasonable game. Sigh. I have to admit that there really wasn't anything that might appeal to teenagers that wasn't either violent or more violent. I think it might be time to invest in a Wii or something else with a wider range of options.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fried Spinach

The Naked Noodle has an interesting topping on their list: fried spinach, liberally salted. Odd as it sounded, I really liked it on my noodle dish, so when my son made fettuccine (from scratch) tonight, fried spinach was high on my list for toppings. I heated up some oil in a skillet and started tossing handfuls of spinach in - only to quickly realize that using a deep-fryer would be a lot better at containing the spattering oil. But the skillet fried the spinach pretty well, and with a generous sprinkling of salt, it made a great topping, along with Italian sausages, sun-dried tomatoes, and local mushrooms. Next time, I will try the deep-fryer so that clean-up is faster.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

BBQ Pork Bruschetta

Based on a photo in a magazine, I tried a new kind of bruschetta for dinner tonight (it's all I had for dinner). I topped thin slices of baguette with maybe a tablespoon of plain goat cheese, then toasted them for a few minutes. Then I topped each one with a forkful of shredded pork mixed with a tangy barbecue sauce. It was really tasty! and made a great dinner.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Homeschool Specialty

A friend who trying to put together some homeschooling panels recently asked what my "homeschooling specialty" is. That is an interesting question. What is it that I am particularly good at when it comes to homeschooling? I've gotten a kid into college, so she thought that might be something I could talk about, but I don't feel anywhere near an expert on doing it with any out-of-state colleges, especially competitive ones. So what am I really good at when it comes to homeschooling?

I think that what I am best at is fine-tuning assignments for each kid. I always start out with a grand plan for what I will teach in a given year, which includes different focuses for each child, depending on their interests. So a son who is interested in military history might have an emphasis on battles won and lost, while my daughter will have more emphasis on literature and another son will read about the great buildings of the period.

As the year goes on, I find myself drifting from my plan, in response to feedback from the kids. I reduce a too-heavy reading load for one child; switch emphasis from architecture to food for another; I shift the workload from history to science to accommodate an interest in astronomy; I add assignments for a teen who has just come out of the dreaded brain-dead stage or thin them for one who is entering it; I adjust for other commitments or travel; I re-arrange an assignment sheet so it is more congenial to its user. One child gets more structure, another moves closer to unschooling. It sounds crazy, but I find that when all my kids are happy with their school, when their assignments fit their abilities, interests, and time, life is simpler for all of us.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


My cell-phone banner used to say "breathe", a gentle reminder to myself. My teen-age son got ahold of my cell phone the other day and changed the banner to say "Panic". Now, every time I see it, I laugh and remember what it used to say, so it is a better reminder to relax than I started with.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rethinking His Rejection

My teenage son, who vehemently rejected my attempt to let him study subjects of his own choosing just last Friday, has figured out that maybe it is a good idea after all. We are currently studying the Age of Exploration and world geography for humanities, but he would really rather study World War II in depth, especially the political and military aspects. So he has talked me into switching his history assignments to something I am calling WWII: Causes and Consequences, and he is much happier with his school. I guess my efforts to loosen things up worked after all.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Enchantress of Florence

The impression of Salman Rushdie's work that I have gotten over the years, based primarily on the controversy over The Satanic Verse, was that I wouldn't particularly enjoy reading it. But in the bookstore last month, The Enchantress of Florence called to me, with its rich cover, intriguing plot description, and (I admit) famous author, so I bought it. It turns out that I love Rushdie's use of language, his very-human characters, his historical settings, and his careful inclusion of subtle magic. But best of all was the plot - complex, well-paced, coherent - and the ending, which makes perfect sense but wasn't in the least predictable.

When I went looking for a link for this entry, I found that reviewers for the New York Times disdained this book as meandering, pious, and full of writerly self-congratulations; but then, the reviewer admits to finding "the marvelous tedious and the tedious... marvelous", so he probably shouldn't have been reviewing this book in the first place. On the other hand, Ursula K Le Guin thinks it is a wonderful book. Lucky for authors and publishers that there is such a diversity of opinions among readers.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Silver Linings

Of all the gifts my parents have given me over the years, the one I appreciate most right now is the ability to make the best of whatever situation I am in, to find silver linings in the storm clouds. I can't always control what happens in my life, but I can control how I respond and what I react to. Finding the positive aspects of change makes it easier to respond with gratitude, to stay open to new opportunities, to keep my stomach from tying itself in knots.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Taking My Own Advice

Over the last year or so, I have encouraged many frustrated homeschool parents to try less structure in their school assignments, to let their kids learn what they are interested in. After dealing with growing frustration over my kids' school, I finally decided to take my own advice and let go of my carefully plotted assignment schedule. So I printed out new assignment sheets, with only a few required items and lots of room for creativity on their parts, and presented them to my kids.

My daughter loved it immediately and spent several hours in the car talking to me about ways she could meet the flexible assignments. She is very excited to be able to spend more time studying the subjects she is most interested in, at her own pace. On the other hand, my two boys promptly rejected the new system. Neither of them gets excited about school, and they don't want to have to think about school enough to use the new system. They would rather go down my checklists and do what I tell them to, then be done to work on other things. I'm batting .333 - so much for my helpful advice!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Costco Lunch

At least when you eat lunch at McDonald's, the surroundings pretend to be a restaurant, a pleasant place to linger while you eat. At Costco, even the pretense is missing. The "diners" sit at plastic tables on concrete floors in front of unpainted cinderblock walls, a grim setting more prison than restaurant. The spaces between the tables are clogged with shopping carts full of mass-produced, bulk-packaged goods - this is food consumption as mass consumption, with no interest in the quality of the food or the dining experience. There is no joy in a meal here.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Late Fall Starts

In my eight-season year, Indian summer runs from the fall equinox on September 21 to November 1; late fall starts November 2 and runs until the winter solstice on December 21. For the last six weeks, we have had beautiful Indian summer weather: little moisture, cool nights, and sunny days that require, at most, a light jacket. Today late fall started, right on schedule. It is cold and grey and drizzly, and the forecast is for more of the same – plus snow – all week.