Why I Write This Stuff Down

Right now we work full-time, send our kids to school, play soccer, and do all the things "normal" people do, but we want more. We want to show our kids the world and learn along the way. This blog is me trying to figure out how.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Instant Pot, We Hardly Knew Ye

I was on the Instant Pot train for a couple of years at least. I was fascinated by them and thought for sure I would love one and use it all the time. Growing up vegetarian in the south in the 80's, I had to cook most of my own food, and I read many recipes and articles telling me that a pressure cooker was integral to my very existence. BUT it was also likely to explode and kill me and my whole family, so I never bought one. Then my mother-in-law saw them on sale before Christmas and decided to give one to each of her three sons, and voila, a pressure cooker entered my kitchen.

It sat in the box on the floor for weeks because it's enormous, and we were a little intimidated by it. I finally unboxed it, washed all the parts, put it together, and made white rice, and it was the best freaking rice I have ever had. All told it wasn't any faster than making it in a pot on the stove because it takes a little time to come up to pressure and then to come back down, but still the rice was amazing.

In the back of my mind I thought "maybe a rice cooker would be just as good" (and my husband thought it, too), but we made a few more things in it to see how versatile it really is. We cooked chicken breasts from frozen, and that was handy because we had forgotten to take them out of the freezer. BUT the pot took a long time to come up to pressure (because we filled it with giant chicken-shaped ice cubes), and we usually plan better, so needing to cook something frozen is unusual for us. They were good, but they were not a revelation.

My husband made a whole chicken in it once, and again the meat tasted good but the skin was yucky, like it would be in a slow cooker. I've read many recipes that say you can just pop it in a pan and under the broiler! But the whole point is supposed to be that this thing is autonomous, so that option annoyed me and we didn't do it. Mostly because a whole chicken is hard to handle and we didn't want to get more dishes dirty.

We made rice again and maybe one other thing that I forgot, but by the time we'd used it for a couple of weeks, my husband and I came to the conclusion that it is not the small appliance for us for several reasons:

  • As I mentioned above, the thing is huge. We don't have space for it to live on the counter, and it's too big for all of our cabinets, so we have it on an open shelf. Even then we have to take the lid off and store it next to the pot, so it takes up the room of two smaller appliances in our tiny kitchen. Maybe if it had a dedicated counter spot it wouldn't seem like so much work to get it out and then clean all the parts and put it away again.
  • The saute function appealed to me because it saves cleaning a pot. However, this function is awkward to use because the pot is so tall, and the insert doesn't have handles, so it kind of wiggles around while you are sauteing. Plus the final product is strictly OK. Yes, it does a lot of things, but it doesn't do most of them all that well in my opinion.
  • It does cook things quickly, but the times are misleadingly short. It takes a few minutes to come up to pressure (sometimes more than a few), and it takes a while for the pressure to release naturally. You can hand-release the pressure, but that scares me a little and I haven't done it enough to know when it's a good idea and when it isn't. My point is that "You can cook frozen chicken breasts in 12 minutes" is technically true, but the whole thing takes longer than that and you can't really walk away.
  • The keypad is not intuitive in any way. 
  • You can't mess around with your food while it's cooking. Drew and I both like to check in with things while they are on the stove or even in the slow cooker. We like to stir them, taste them, adjust seasonings, check for doneness, etc. You can't do any of those things with the Instant Pot, you just lock the lid and hope for the best. This cuts out a lot of what makes cooking worth it for us, and that just isn't the kind of cook we have in our kitchen.
  • We plan out most of our meals each week and post them on the fridge, so it's incredibly rare for us to come home and wonder what is for dinner. This thing seems perfect for people who don't plan well and need something fast at the end of the day. Again, that's not us.
  • We are not comfortable leaving it alone all day and programming it to come on while we are not around, which means every time we use it we have to be in the kitchen or nearby the entire time, and that doesn't work for us. I'm perfectly happy turning on the crock pot in the morning and coming home to something delicious that cooked all day. Plus the Instant Pot is so sealed that you don't really smell anything while it's working - I can see how that would be a plus for some people, but we love to smell dinner cooking all day. 
  • The whole process just seems sort of cold because you're closing everything up in this heavy-duty capsule, and you can't see or smell what's inside. The aesthetics just don't appeal to us.

Again, the rice is fantastic, and we will probably buy a much smaller rice cooker, but the Instant Pot is not for us.

UPDATE: Still not for us. Our dog has had a stomach bug or something for the last few days, and I made some rice for her last night at 8:30 because it seems to calm her digestion. I considered using the Instant Pot for .5 seconds, but the thought of hauling it out on the counter and taking all the parts and pieces out to wash didn't appeal to me at all. I just made it in a pot and that was that.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Why Does This Blog Exist?

I'm changing my idea of what this blog is. I've been re-reading old posts lately, and so much has changed since I started this several years ago. Here's a summary:

  • Really into the American food system. Like, really, really.
  • Planning to take the family on a year-long road trip and roadschool the kids.
  • Paid off debts and trying to save as much money as possible.
  • Still concerned about the food system, but scaled down to a manageable size: my family. I do what I can to help us all make good choices about food and avoid frankenfoods, but I have also lightened up a bit, thank goodness. I still think "Everything in moderation" is bullshit, but I'm far less obsessed than I was several years ago.
  • I'm in the middle of reinventing myself a bit; since January, 2017 I've lost 27 pounds and have started going to the gym with one of my girls twice a week - UPDATE: my other daughter and husband have recently joined the gym, too, and now we all go together at least once per week in addition to my other trips! It's turning into really awesome family time. I hope to lose 3-10 more pounds. I won't be that annoying friend who talks about exercise and weight loss constantly, but I'm sure I will write about it.
  • We still want to travel, but we are aiming for more of a two-week to one-month sabbatical than a quit-our-jobs free for all. We got passports!!!
  •  Since the 2016 presidential election I have been so much more active in politics than ever before. I am shocked and saddened by the direction I see my country moving in, to the point where I consider the benefits of moving out of the US on an almost daily basis, mostly for my children.
  • Parenting in the US is a competitive sport and makes me furious and sad. I'm trying to raise my girls to be independent, confident and content. I don't believe parenting is easy, but I think people make it way too hard in almost every way.
  • America fascinates me, and I have ideas for several posts on weird things I've noticed that seem to be accepted by most people. We're obsessed with "happiness;" we don't take our vacation time; we are preached to about independence and bootstraps from the time we're little, and as a result we don't want to take care of anyone but ourselves; etc.
  • We should still be saving more money.
So that's just for starters. Instead of concentrating on the three subjects at the top, I need to use this as more of a general thought-space. I hope you'll come along.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bah Humbug.

Just found this post from a couple of years ago that I never posted. Still holds up.

Christmas makes me the Grinch.

I don't like presents. Presents make me feel weird.

First of all, I don't really like to ask for presents or suggest ideas for presents because I'd feel better if no one bought me anything at all, ever. If I want something, I'd rather pick it out and buy it myself so I can get exactly what I want. That said, if there is a holiday coming up for which people traditionally give gifts, and if someone asks me what I want for that holiday, and I tell them something vague, like "I like coffee" or "gift cards are great," then please choose pretty much anything in those categories and all will be well. I will happily use/enjoy it if I left the choice up to you.

However, there are two gift scenarios that make me squirmy and stabby, and they are as follows:

  1. Someone asks me what I want, and I try to make it easy on them by giving them very specific answers, and then I receive gifts that are not what I asked for. For example, this year I told a friend/family member that I would love bedroom slippers that are Brand X in Size Y, and you can get them at Store Z. Easy peasy. I did all the legwork. Then for Christmas I received bedroom slippers in style A, which is a completely different style. Completely different. Now I feel really weird about the present, because I don't like this style and I won't wear them, and I didn't really want anything anyway, but this person is watching me open the gift and expecting me to be excited. I hate to seem ungrateful, but I am. Now it's an errand to deal with something I didn't really want anyway, but since you pressured me for an answer, I gave you something so easy to find and yet you didn't. Bleh!!! And now I feel terrible about being unhappy about it, and then in 15 seconds the terrible feeling turns to anger at the whole gift-giving culture that makes me feel guilty when I just wanted to opt out! I am the type of person who does research before a purchase, and if I told you the exact thing I wanted, then I already weighed other options. If you can't find what I asked for, then a gift card is a wonderful substitute. I do not find them impersonal; I find them perfect. Better yet - don't get me anything.
  2. Or, the person does not ask me for suggestions, she just makes a bunch of assumptions, and then I receive things I have absolutely no interest in, and again, you're watching me open it and I have to be happy about it. Or it's something customized that I really don't like, and I can't even exchange it for something I do like. I can't really even donate it to Goodwill, because who will buy a coffee mug with a blurry photo of my family on it? And if anyone did want to buy it, I would think they were weirdos, and I'd be too creeped out to let them anyway. So do I destroy it? It's a picture of my family, albeit a bad, blurry, unasked-for one. Again, I feel guilty for not being grateful, and then I feel really resentful for being expected to feel grateful for a bunch of crap that I don't want and didn't ask for.
I know it sounds severe. I read it. It sounds like I'm a huge, picky pain in the ass. But if you think that, then you're forgetting the main point: I don't want any presents ever, for any reason. That actually makes me pretty easy to deal with. If you know that, and you get me one anyway, then get me what I said I wanted. Otherwise this gift-giving exercise is for you, not me. A gift receipt is always appreciated.

And I'm not talking about people who don't really know me and are just taking a stab at something generic that people generally like, like smelly lotion. Thank you, acquaintance, I'll take your smelly lotion and smile about it because we don't really know each other and it was a nice gesture. I'm talking about very close friends, family, in-laws, etc. who really do KNOW me. If we feel comfortable enough with each other to ask for gift ideas, then just go with it please. Especially if it's something you plan to spend more than $10 on.

Lest you think I'm just a jerk, not wanting gifts is a real thing. You may have heard of a book called The Five Love Languages, which I admit I haven't read. Well, I recently took a test just for the hell of it to see what my "love languages" are, and surprise, surprise, I don't like presents. There is actually a test for that, so it's not just me. It's a thing! According to the test, I prefer "Acts of Service" the most, which is totally true. I would much rather have my husband fix the front porch light than give me jewelry, any day of the week. Make the girls' next doctor appointments and figure out how they are going to get there; decide on dinners for the week; fold the next load of laundry and start another. If you want to give me a gift, give me a helper, like a maid service (best present I ever received, hands down). Wash my car. Take the dog out. My time and anxiety level are so much more important to me than stuff. I don't need another mug; I need an assistant.

My husband and I talked about this feeling this year, and he agrees that the gifts make Christmas stressful for us (not for our kids of course). We just don't want stuff. Next year we will just tell everyone we want something big, like camping gear, so please just give us gift cards to Dick's Sporting Goods. Or we want to take the kids to Disney, so just give us gift cards to Disney or Amtrak or contribute to an account and give us money for that. I would love a Christmas with no individual gifts, just the ability to get what we want but can't get on our own. If you even give us anything at all, which you do NOT have to do. Seriously.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Debt Progress

I paid off my student loans!!!  I know at least some of you feel my joy.  I graduated from design school in 1999, so I should have been paid off a long time ago, but when I had my kids I took a few years off from repayment, and when I started paying again, I lowered my payments by a good deal because our whole budget was radically different, so it took 14 years, and that's just how it is.

I wrote a post about a year ago that mentioned us paying off our debts to get ready to save for travel, and since then we have paid off just about everything we owed except our house.  We paid off the only car we still owed money on, and then about a month later our other car passed away pretty dramatically.  So we replaced one car payment with another, which is not how we wanted to do it, but we plan to pay that one off early, and that's just how it is.

So anyway, now that my student loan is paid in full (So.  Excited.), the only monthly debt payments we have are our house and car.  Again, the only monthly debt payments we have are our house and car.  And May and June were not kind to us financially.  We found out we had termites, we had a major dishwasher leak and had to replace all of our carpet, we had to replace our roof, and we had to replace 2/3 of our air conditioner/HVAC stuff (whatever - I'm not an engineer).  And we still managed to pay for all of those things up front because we got a decent tax refund (which we usually just fritter away, but not this year).

Of course we still have all our monthly bills, like internet, phone, electricity, child care, etc., etc., and I'm constantly trying to figure out how to whittle those down, too (I think cable will be the next casualty).  BUT, those payments are not for money we've already spent.  We save up and pay for things with cash now or we don't get them at all, and that's what we're teaching our kids to do, too.  Debt is bad, people.  It only took me a few decades to get that down.

So we're on our way!  Or maybe we're on our way to being on our way.  Anyway, we no longer have only $127 in our savings account because we are able to put money away every payday, and it really feels good.  Like really, really good.  I can taste the Thai street food already . . . :)

Not quite yet, but someday!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why I Don't Make New Year's Resolutions

Oh my goodness, it has been way, way too long since my last post.  October?  What the heck?  (OK, here's an aside:  I'm actually quite an accomplished swearer, but having kids has made me try really hard to say things like "heck" and "goodness."  I'm not always successful, but I try.  Anyway, I read something recently that said people who curse tend to be more honest than people who don't, so you can rest assured I'm telling you the truth :)

So I don't really make New Year's resolutions because I feel like they are often too broad and/or unrealistic to succeed, and when they fail, we feel worse about ourselves than we did before we made them.  But I do like to make a (short) list of things I'd like to do better, and one of those things is to blog more.  You can see I'm doing a bang-up job, it being June and all.  Hey, gimme a break; I had a really busy / expensive May and June (more on that later).

I was trying to keep this blog strictly about our travel plans, but since we won't be traveling anytime too soon, that is really restricting what I can write about, and I like writing, so I'm easing that restriction somewhat to write a little more about my family and me instead.  You're welcome.

Anyway, this post is just here to say that I still exist, and if you care about that then you should keep looking here for new posts.  I have several that I'm working on in my head at the moment, and I will get them into the blog soon, soon, soon.  Stay with me people!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Game For Anything

My kids are so awesome!  Yes, yes, they drive me insane sometimes, and they drive each other insane sometimes and all that, but when it really matters most, they are really, really great.

Here's what made me think of that:  this past weekend we gutted our kitchen.  I mean it is down to the drywall where the cabinets were, down to the studs in some places, and down to the slab where there once was terra cotta tile.  That room is empty.  This leaves us with an itty-bitty kitchen island in our dining room that now holds command central:  microwave, toaster oven, coffee pot, with refrigerator next to those and our dining room table as our eating and working space.  It's tight.

The girls made a few comments early on about not wanting the kitchen to be gone, which I think just means they have happy memories of being in there and can't really imagine what the new one will be like.  We told them several times that they will like the new kitchen, too, and it will be even better because everything will work correctly and it will look a thousand times nicer.  We're really just putting cabinets and appliances back in the same spaces, but they won't be from 1982 anymore, and it's been a long time coming.

Anyway, the weekend was full of loud construction noise and dust and crabby parents and lots of "find something to do" moments, and they just went with it.  They played together most of the time, and they only got snippy with each other a few times.  We ordered in dinner Saturday night and had a picnic on the living room floor while we watched The Avengers, and they were thrilled!  Then Sunday we got right back to it, and they were still great, still finding things to do, not really complaining at all.  Finally, after lunch, I felt guilty for kind of ignoring them all weekend, and I took them to a movie and to the grocery store while Drew finished up.  They were great for me out of the house, too!

They are generally pretty laid back kids, but we were a little concerned that they would get whiny or not play together well or something that would make the kitchen work even harder, but they never did.  They are even OK with our weird, crowded dining room, at least for now.

They were awesome when we went to Washington DC in August, too.  We trapped them on a train for 9 hours one way, kept them up too late, made them walk for miles, took them on the bus and subway and changed plans several times.  And they LOVED it!  They are still talking about what a great trip that was and how they want to go on another one.

Perfectly happy on the train.

All of this just adds to my confidence that we are doing the right thing.  When we finally get our first big trip underway, they will be as excited as we are, and they will just go with whatever comes next.  At least, that is my hope, and I'm trying so hard to be more like them every day!  My life would be so much better if I could just go with it more and stop worrying about everything.  Easier said than done, but I'm really trying.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Year of Getting Weirder

Last night our family went to a PTA meeting and school book sale where we interacted with lots of other parents and their kids.  After the meeting my husband and I were making dinner, and he said, "I think other parents think we're weird."  He says things like this from time to time, and I usually say something like, "Probably," and we move on.  But I thought about it a little harder last night, and I do actually think he's right.  I also don't care, and that's a big achievement for me.

I was raised with what I like to call "Southern Woman Syndrome."  That's not an insult to my parents; it's just the way things are in the south if you are a woman.  I define it as wanting to please everyone all the time and wanting everyone to like you all the time, even if you don't like them.  It stinks, and it's too much, but it's very common down here.

If you read my blog post about zombies, among other things, you know the last year or so has been one of great change for my family and me, at least mentally.  We've stopped trying to live like society tells us to and started trying to find the way that is best for us, and I've discovered that other people don't always like it.  It turns out when I talk about choices we've made that may not be typical (like paying off debt, getting rid of extra stuff, opting out of a lot of the food system, wanting to travel a lot with our kids), people interpret this as a criticism of their choices, even though that isn't what I say or mean at all.  They can get a little defensive, and then I get a little defensive, and then I change the subject and make a mental note to stop being so honest all the time.  That's not really the lesson I want to put out there, but I do want to warn people who are going against the norm that it happens.  The first time you encounter opposition to something you're really excited about, you will be shocked and possibly a little hurt, and then maybe a bit pissed off.  It's like the seven stages of grief, but much faster and more irritating than sad.

The things that made my husband say people think we're weirdos change from time to time.  Last night my third grader's class performed at the PTA meeting, and the parents of one of her friends sat next to us.  Without going into much detail about our religious beliefs, I will say we are teaching our kids about all major religions and also about people with no religion at all in the hopes that they will tolerate everyone and choose their own (if they feel like they need to) when they are older and able to understand what they are choosing.  My husband and I have both said we have a lot of respect for Buddhism and sort of lean in that direction, and my 8 year old likes what she knows about it so far.  Apparently she told her friend we are Buddhists, and the friend's mom asked us about it last night.  She was very sweet and just wanted to be sure that was right (probably because it's weird where we live).  We explained our method of teaching about all religions and laughed it off, but it stuck with Drew.

I wonder what that frog is asking.

It's not that he is bothered by what other people think of us, and neither am I, but it is something we think about, especially where our kids are concerned.  I want them to be unique and not to care about  other people's opinions of them like I did growing up (see Southern Woman Syndrome above), but I know their feelings are going to be hurt when their peers realize they are not exactly like everyone else.  That is the nature of kids, and unfortunately I think it's more and more the nature of our country.  All the more reason to get our acts together and take off in a year or two!