To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Flu Preparedness - The Practical Side

I have the flu. I should be sleeping right now, but I'm coughing like crazy and restless and shivering. This is day 5. I'm kicking myself now for not opting to take Tamiflu, but I was hoping that if I stayed completely in bed and took good care of myself, it would resolve quickly. Alas, it's going to run the full 7 days or more, I think. My daughter is well now, but she had it and it turned into pneumonia. Here's the real kicker. We both had the flu vaccine - and we had it several weeks before getting sick, so it did have time to be effective.

It's looking like it will be a bad flu year, so I'll distract myself from the misery to share some advice. First, do get the shot. Obviously, it's not a guarantee that you won't get the flu. There's a fair bit of controversy about how effective it really is. The claims range from not at all to 70-90%. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. If it even provides a 20-30% chance of avoiding what I'm dealing with, it's well worth it.

I think there are a fair number of people who don't really understand what influenza is and that may contribute to their decision not to get the shot. It's not a stomach bug. It's also not just a very bad cold. It's not even close to being a cold. Almost universally, the flu includes a high fever (102 - 105), sometimes over an extended period, with headaches, body aches, chills, sweats, and general misery. Getting out of bed can be almost impossible. It can include a sore throat, runny nose, and a nasty cough. I have coughed until I pulled a muscle in my back, which makes continuing to cough just loads of fun. If the words "just shoot me now" aren't occurring to you almost hourly, it's not the flu.

Second, especially during flu season, do all of the common sense things you need to do to stay healthy. Get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, get some exercise, and perhaps most importantly, keep your stress level under control. Why did I say "most importantly?" Because stress can actually negate your flu shot. That may very well explain why I got the flu.

This is pretty much where all of the "flu preparedness" web sites stop. Hmmm. Whoever writes those web sites has never had a fever of 103 with a daughter who had to be gotten to school, fed, provided with clean clothes and driven places, dogs that had to be cared for, and all while dad worked a 12-hour shift with an hour commute on each side, or worse was out of town on a business trip. There's quite a lot more to the practical side of flu preparedness!

From now on, I will be making a Hunker Down Kit every fall. Now, this is practical flu preparedness! Have you watched the TV shows where people make stockpiles of supplies to prepare for some future disaster? Most of those disasters are a lot less likely than the possibility that your family might get knocked down all at once by the flu or a stomach bug. It just so happened that this year, I coincidentally had a little stockpile of things from a recent couponing expedition, and it was a huge blessing that I didn't have to make a grocery run in those first few days! I had 2 boxes of crackers, cans of soup, a 2 week supply of dog and cat food, plenty of tissues, plenty of ibuprofen and cough medicine, a loaf of bread in the freezer, the kind of lunch and frozen b'fast items my daughter likes, and an adequate supply of toilet paper. I had my favorite tea and honey to sweeten it with. There were a few things I did need, though. I needed a new filter for the cold mist humidifier. It would have been good to have a few frozen crockpot meals that required no prep other than thawing. I had only 2 eggs. So, my preparedness plan will include a stockpile of non-perishable items as well as a plan to buy enough of basic perishables like yogurt and fruit to always have some in reserve as we rotate through. I'll also make sure I never completely use down my stockpile of crockpot freezer meals, which I had, sadly, just done.

When I get over the current bug, and get past Christmas, I'm going to create a Hunker Down kit to get us through the rest of the winter, and I'll write about it here, so stay tuned!

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Reading Aloud To My Elementary School Child

The munchkin's school offers an optional independent reading program called The 100 Book Club. In the elementary years, students work toward a goal of a specified number of pages, not 100 actual books. It's a great program, and we support it, but this year, we've opted out. Here are my reasons for doing so, and a description of what we're doing instead.

The 100 Book Club program allowed students to read anything they chose, as long as it was at an appropriate level. My daughter's books of choice are The Cupcake Diaries and graphical novels like Diary of A Wimpy Kid. Nothing wrong with those books as entertainment, but they don't stand up to classics that I might choose for her. I wanted more balance between my daughter's choices and the classics.

Another issue for us was that it created a sense of pressure. The homework load is heavier this year. We are involved in a program of daily Bible reading for Sunday School. The munchkin has piano practice obligations and tennis lessons and practice. We ask her to do a daily chore. There are days when we barely get everything done by bedtime, and then I was saying, "You've got to hurry up and get in bed and start reading or we'll never get in all of the pages for 100 Book Club." This seemed to thwart the whole idea of reading for pleasure.

Finally, we were both missing our summer tradition of my reading aloud to her. We both treasure those quiet, cuddly moments when the world can fall away while we get lost in a story together. I read books to her that are harder than what she'd choose, and she is learning to love great literature this way. So far, I've read most of the Little House on the Prairie series, The Secret Garden, and Black Beauty. There are real benefits to reading aloud - besides stirring a love for literature, it allows the reader to model good prosody which improves comprehension and fluency. (The importance of prosody) Reading aloud can nurture a wider vocabulary, especially if you read books that are beyond the child's current reading level.

I love reading with my munchkin. I have a degree in English and secondary education, and while we chose not to homeschool, I still want to employ more of my teaching skills with my own child. Since reading is NOT the munchkin's first love, then there is no better thing I can do for her, educationally, than to use my own expertise and love for books to nurture her literary growth.

So, that's the why of it all. Here's the how. We've set a few goals. The munchkin will read 7 books of her own choosing this school year, apart from the reading she does for school assignments. She's already read 3. She will read two books of my choosing. I have chosen Pippi Longstocking and a non-fiction book, Case Closed?: Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science. I am reading to her the following books this year:  Julie of the Wolves, Peter Pan, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Tom is a book she is unlikely to encounter in school these days, and one I'd prefer to explain myself, anyway. At the end of the school year, when 100 Book Club participants are rewarded with an ice cream party, if we've met our own goal, I'll pick her up from school and we'll have our own ice cream party. We are already deep into Julie, and loving every minute. The munchkin gets into bed on time so that there will be time for reading and begs me not to quit at lights-out. I don't like to interrupt our reading with a bunch of comprehension questions or vocabulary explanations, but I will be following up each major section of the book with a few of those. We'll also map out Julie's path through the Arctic tundra and learn about Inuit traditions and tundra wolves.

If you'd like to read or teach Julie of the Wolves, here are several resources you might find helpful!

Listen to Jean Craighead George tell about herself and read an excerpt of Julie:

JCG's web page includes a biography, videos, and lots more

Find links here to help plot Julie's path through the Artic tundra

Facts about wolves

More facts about tundra wolves

About the Inuit

Lesson plans for teaching Julie of the Wolves

Photos From Fall

Lots of water has passed under the bridge since the last post. The munchkin is in 4th grade now, and our schedule is busier than ever! Here are a few photo highlights.
First day of 4th grade!
We had a sleepover for the munchkin's 10th birthday party. Here they are painting fingernails.

We had a mystery-themed party, and used the Slumber Party kit from Dramatic Fanatic. I highly recommend these party kits! The directions were very easy to follow and the girls had a great time. Check out the cute cake my friend made to go with the theme!

For Halloween, we decided to continue the mystery theme. The munchkin was Shirley Holmes, girl detective, and our beagle played the role of her trusty sidekick, Watsonya. I found the pattern for the costume at the Martha Stewart site, and I found a huge cut of houndstooth polyester for less than $3 at Goodwill! Can't beat that!

One of the biggest highlights of recent days was Mary Beth's tennis tournament win. First place in girls 10 and under at a USTA Satellite tournament!

She won 4 matches to win the trophy. In two of the matches, she lost the first set then came back to win the second set and ultimately a tie-breaker to win the match. I suspect that it was her "never give up" attitude that won the first place price. Later, I asked her about it. "Well," she said, "some kids get all frustrated when they're losing, and it makes them not play as well. I decided that I would not let it bother me, and I wouldn't get lazy. I should just keep trying my best."

Wish I could bottle that.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Freezer Cooking

I've been a busy bee in my kitchen today. With the munchkin's school starting in just a little more than a week and my piano teaching term starting the following week, I'm feeling the pressure to get some food prepared and frozen to make our busy year a little easier.

I've set a goal for myself to make 28 freezer meals by mid-September. This will give me at least one meal prepared to throw in the crockpot, oven, or microwave for every full week of my piano teaching year from October forward. I also want to have several recipes of soup frozen in single serving packages to make them easy for hubby to grab and go for work lunches and several recipes of muffins for breakfast and school snacks.

Today, I've made a double batch of spaghetti sauce, enough to freeze one and have spaghetti for supper tonight. Since I have already frozen chicken pot pies, a bag of Chicken Cacciatore, and another of Honey Garlic Chicken, I've still got 24 meals to go. Sounds like a lot, but I have a plan.

In September, I'm going to host a Wildtree freezer meal workshop! They've developed a great little program for putting together freezer meals that are economical and healthy. You buy a packet of seasonings and oils, bring your meat and vegetables, and then at the workshop, we all assemble 10 meals in zip bags to freeze. I plan to use the seasonings I have left over to make another 10, meaning I will only need to make 4 more meals before the party, and I should have all of my 28 meals done with ease!

Here are the recipes I've used so far or know I will be using. (These are not the Wildtree recipes.) None of these are specifically written to be freezer recipes, but there's no reason they can't be. There's nothing in them that can't be frozen.

Chicken Cacciatore
Combine ingredients in a zip-bag and freeze. To cook, thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then follow recipe directions to cook in the crockpot. `

Honey Garlic Chicken
Same plan as above

Spaghetti sauce - no recipe, just browned ground beef and jarred sauce. Cook, cool, place in zip-lock and freeze. Thaw overnight in refrig, then warm in the microwave.

Chicken Pot Pies
These are frozen already cooked. Thaw overnight in refrigerator then warm up to eat.

Crockpot Peppercorn Steak

Ham and Cheese Sliders
I froze these to take on our beach trip, and they came out great. I assembled the sandwiches without the topping, then froze them in a single layer in zip bags. I put all of the sauce ingredients together in a small zip bag and froze that, too. Then, I just thawed the sandwiches, melted the sauce ingredients in the microwave, and followed the baking directions in the recipe. You'd never have known any of it was frozen. (BTW, I just used mayo on the sandwiches. Don't care for the Miracle Whip.)

Split Pea Soup With Ham

Broccoli Cheese Soup
I've read that cream-based soups can separate in the freezer. The trick seems to be to thaw it slowly (like overnight in the refrigerator, not quickly in the microwave), and then be prepared to use an immersion blender to blend it all back together. As long as it tastes good, I'm not sure I care much.

Pasta e fagioli
Purists will say that the pasta should be added later after thawing because it will become soft in the freezer. Again, I'm not that picky.

Pumpkin muffins

Blueberry Muffins

This is the recipe my mother uses. I've tried several recipes, but keep coming back to this.

2 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 cups plain, all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup blueberries (I usually use a little more.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the sour cream, then the eggs. (I do it this way because I usually melt the butter in the microwave. The sour cream cools it off before I add the eggs, and this keeps them from cooking in hot butter.)

Sift the dry ingredients together. Add the blueberries. Fold berry and flour mixture into egg mixture until just blended. Spoon batter into greased muffin tins.  Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes 16-20 standard-sized muffins, depending on the size of your tins. If baking mini muffins, check them for done-ness after 13-14 minutes.

High Fiber Energy Muffins
These sound too healthy to be tasty, but I love them, and even the munchkin likes them.

1/2 cup plain, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup wheat germ
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups bran flake and raisin cereal
1/3 cup chopped dates or raisins (optional)
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. low-fat milk
1 egg, slightly beaten
2/3 cup applesauce
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Mix first 9 ingredients (through milk) together in a large bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Combine egg, applesauce, brown sugar, and butter. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture just until moistened. Fill muffin tins until 2/3 full. Bake at 400 for 15-18 minutes.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Scenes from Summer

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Our Newest Addition

Meet Max, the newest member of the Lowe family! Hubby calls him Maximus Decimus and I call him Mad Max. Everybody calls him cute. In fact, he's so cute that my piano students are having trouble concentrating on their lessons with this little distraction running around. We adopted him from one of the local rescue agencies, and we deliberately picked the boldest one of the litter. He's not afraid of anything. He romps and plays with our two dogs like he's a dog himself. Unlike our former cat, he spends most of his day downstairs with the family, not hiding upstairs under the bed. This has created a few new challenges for us, like remembering not to leave food out on the kitchen counters. Even just-picked jalepenos are fair game. I don't think he'll eat those anymore, though! ;-)

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Spring Highlights

I've been delinquent in my posting, but here's a long catch-up post.

The photo above was taken at Callaway Gardens. We had a lovely weekend there in April, and we'll definitely be making return trips. The Butterfly Center was a big hit with the munchkin (and the grownups, too), and I'm hoping we can return in September for "Blue Morpho Month."

The munchkin is turning out to be a little tennis powerhouse! She entered her second USTA tournament in May and won second place - her second second-place win! While we were tickled with her playing, what I was most proud of was that she played through brutal heat and blisters on her hand with no complaining and was gracious to her opponents.

     I've been doing some experimental gardening.

Bell pepper
 Lessons learned:  spring vegetables don't stand much of a chance in the Georgia heat. The truth is, we only have two seasons here - summer and not-summer. My lettuce went limp, it was too hot too quickly for the radishes and carrots, and while the spinach gave us a few salads, it bolted by late April. I might try again in fall, but I won't fool with those vegetables in the spring again. So far, the peppers are coming along nicely, and the pole beans are blossoming. We got a few zucchini from our two plants, but one of the plants has succumbed to what I think is squash vine borer, and the other one isn't looking good. Lesson learned:  pest control is a daily task, especially if you're trying to do it organically.

And finally, we said goodbye recently to our sweet kitty, Sebastian. I miss the little warm bundle of fur that snuggled next to me all night long. But he was sick, and the price of loving an animal is not allowing it to suffer when nothing can be done.

As for snuggling, we have no shortage of warm furry bodies. Our big dog Bella is always good for a cuddle, and the new beagle, Mollie, would be a lap dog if we let her.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Beagle Distress

The munchkin taught our dog to climb the ladder to the fort. She did not teach her how to get down.

This is getting old.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

First Tennis Tournament

It's been one LONG day, but it ended with the munchkin (on the left) bringing home a 2nd place trophy from her first USTA-sanctioned tournament. She played 4 back-to-back matches, beat the no. 2 seeded player, and won four out of 12 games against the no. 1 seed. Not bad for her first time out!

Battling it out for 1st place in her fourth match of the day.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Adventures in Sewing

Maybe it's the new emphasis on self-sufficiency in our struggling economy. Maybe it's my tendency to want to do solitary creative things. Maybe it's because I grew up watching my mother sew. For whatever reason, I got a hankering sometime ago to learn to sew. So...

I asked for and got a sewing machine for my birthday back in November. Between the manual and lots of online tutorial videos, I've been doing pretty well, I think!

I made a bunch of these cute rice-filled owls. When they're heated in the microwave, they're so cuddly! We gave one to each of the munchkin's neighborhood friends for Valentine's Day. The kids don't seem to mind that they're a little wonky! It was a little difficult for a first project, but hey, I learned some skills and nobody feels obligated to wear it in public. (The tutorial is here.)

After the owls, I was ready to try an actual garment. So, I made a skirt for the munchkin. Again, I followed some online instructions, and it came out great!

To go with the skirt, I embellished a ready-made sweater with a little flower from the skirt fabric and made a matching sash. Cute, eh? I'm really happy to be able to make some skirts for the munchkin because so many that we find ready-made are so short.

For a play at school, she had to dress as Sarah Plain and Tall. So, I found a calico dress in a way-too-big size at Goodwill and turned it into a long skirt, paired it with a shirt we already had, and made an apron from some flour sack dishtowels. I think she looks pretty convincing!

 Actually, I'm thinking that this costume was a little too convincing as now the teacher is asking me to sew things for the craft fair. Hmmm.

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