Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Disposables: Glasslock

Have any of you out there seen these?!?
They are Glasslock containers by Snapware which are completely made of glass other than their plastic, gasketed lids (I can live with a plastic lid). They are tempered so they can go in the freezer, refrigerator, or microwave (no oven) and best of all they mean that all the Gladware in our house can disappear! Swoon!

Gladware has been a long hold out in our household because it was all we could find for Jules to take his lunch to and from school. The Pyrex, which has long since replaced household Tupperware, wouldn't stand up to multiple trips being beaten around in the back of Jule's truck. Plus, the lids on Pyrex don't stick on making spills inevitable. It just wouldn't have worked, so the Gladware trudged on getting ever more discusting and ever more stained. Has anyone else noticed that the cheapo plastic Gladware is incredibly hard to clean?

But today, what did we find as we perused the local discount co-op? Glasslock! So Glasslock it will now be. Apparently, Glasslock has been around in swanky stores which normal families cannot shop. Stores like Crate and Barrel and the Container Store have had them around a while. Now they are showing up everywhere, even on Amazon.

I'm so excited! The Gladware was one of the last major plastic holdouts in our household. Rest In Peace you ocean clogging, non-biodegradable, incredibly unhealthy plastic.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to Make Fruit Crates from Pallets

Canning season is almost upon us. I can feel the throws of fruit picking mania just over the horizon. Last year was our first real initiation into the U-Pick market. We learned a few things.

While waiting in line for our peaches to be weighed, we ogled the fruit crates of an older man in front of us. He had his red wagon train stacked with peaches, all nicely nestled and perfectly balanced. Nothing was bruising as he bumped along the gravel road. There was serious skill here. This man had canning season down to an art. We proceeded to ogle and awe further vowing to take on his Jedi-like fruit season knowledge.

Our one hundred pounds of peaches started to soften and bruise the instant we brought them through the door last year. A frenzied, sticky day was spent peeling, slicing, and canning. Jules had to finish up all by himself (gulp!) due to me needing to go to work that evening. We figured we had at least two days to split the canning up into. We were totally wrong.

When a stack of pallets was up for grabs on a street corner, we grabbed them. Later, we saw an older fruit crate at an estate sale and grabbed it, too. Together, these would become our coveted fruit crates.

The construction of a fruit crate is remarkably simple. The important parts are 1) to leave air spaces between the slats so the fruit can have air circulate all around it preventing spoilage, 2) no sharp edges inside so that the fruit could become bruised or ripped open, and 3) stackable but not resting on the fruit. These fruit crates provide all that and cost about 50 cents a piece using salvaged wood. 'Trol around on Craigslist or Freecycle a bit and see if you can find any pallets up for grabs. They can easily be sliced apart to form light weight, uniform boards. If the size of your deconstructed pallets isn't exactly the same, just go with it.

A box of 4D nails
Miter saw (though any kind of saw would work)
Tape measure

Deconstructed Pallets
2 - 52 inch lattice trim boards (a whopping 26 cents a piece at Home Depot)

To begin with, cut your pallet boards to the correct sizes. You will need:

2 - 6 inch x 14 inch (front and back)
2 - 6 inch x 17 inch (bottom)

Miter the corners of these boards at a 45 degree angle 3/4 of an inch in from the corners. The mitered edges allow the crates to stack without bruising the fruit.

From each lattice board cut:
2 - 17 inch side pieces
1 - 14 inch bottom support board

Now that all the pieces are cut, you just have to stack them up and have a lovely assistant (that's always my job) hold them in place while you nail things together. As much as the assistant isn't completely necessary, they make things a ton faster (and it gives me a job when Jules' works).

Have your lovely assistant hold the front and back boards while you nail the bottom boards on one at a time. There should be a 2 inch gap down the center of the crate to allow airflow.

Cover the nails holding the bottom boards with the bottom support board, by carefully nailing it on top. This board provides added structure to the crate for fruits picked hard and therefore extremely heavy (like pears). This piece also allows for additional airflow when the crates are all stacked together.

Turning the crate up on one side, carefully nail in each lattice board leaving a gap down the center for airflow. Flip the crate over and do the same thing on the other side.

It is that simple!

Now you just have to make a whole bunch and head on out to the orchard.

Monday, May 17, 2010

This Weeks Published Articles

At the urging of a few readers and many friends the following is a list of links to published works for various companies. These are not pay-per-click and I do not get any kind of money for traffic, advertising or such. Mainly, people just wanted to see, well I guess read, what I had written. These are the ones which have been published, a couple have been purchased with scheduled publishing and still others are waiting for review from my editor. (I still get a little excited at writing the words "my editor." I actually have an editor!) Depending on how fast my editor goes through articles, and on interest, I will publish more as they come.

Kevlar vs. Ceramic Brake Pads

How to Clean a Flat Plate Solar Collector

How to Remove Cabinet Door Pulls

These are some of last weeks articles. I was on the bottom of the seniority ladder and thus got the leftovers that no one else wanted. After producing all last week, the articles have become a little more hardcore.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ways to Lower the Grocery Bill: Where's the Beef?

In our household, we don't eat much meat. That statement would have been sacrilege a year or so ago. (Jules' has literally been hospitalized for enjoying a steak too rapidly.) Now, however, we don't really miss the meat that used to grace the table so liberally. We aren't vegetarians (yet), but we definitely aren't carnivorous anymore. Jules still loves a steak (even if his stomach doesn't) and I must admit a couple bites tastes pretty good. However, we no longer get hamburgers since they don't agree with us and veggies are showing up in larger and larger quantities. Slowly, but surely, we are beginning to lose our stomach enzymes to be able to break down meat proteins and the taste tends to fall away as well.

In reality, daily protein requirements are very small. Two to four ounces of lean meat a day is more than plenty for most adults. Not per meal but per day. With this in mind, our household has shifted away from eating meat as a staple to eating meat as a part of our dinners.

All dinners in our household use less than half a pound of meat pre-portioned into cans and stored in The Hole. In instances of meat sauce or vegetable beef soup (also portioned in The Hole), it is far less than half a pound. One pint lasts for all of our dinner and then Jules' lunch the next day.

This reduction in meat consumption has been one of the largest factors in lowering our grocery bill. We flat out don't buy any meat when we do monthly grocery shopping. All meat is purchased in really large increments when the all natural, never frozen stuff is on sale for 1 dollar a pound.

Occasionally we go crazy and purchase the clearance meat at Safeway for things like stir fry, breakfast for dinner, pork chops or something. This meat is cut into portions about the size of a deck of cards. One deck of cards is approximately 3 ounces of meat. Most packaged meat is about twice as thick as a card deck and that is how much we use for our dinners.

The rest is then individually wrapped in foil and frozen. For about four dollars we can have enough for four dinners. In our household, that is an extravagant meat filled dinner.

The transition hasn't been hard at all as long as you keep the foods flavorful. A small amount of bacon can go a really long ways. The same is true for beef that has been cooked in its own juices or chicken canned in broth. Most of meat's taste is in the smell, so if you can preserve the scent your tongue can be easily fooled. Once you get used to a smaller portion, you don't have fool yourself at all.

Secondly, the meat is mixed in with other things and cooked in its own juices. No longer is their a large hunk of meat on our plates. Instead meat is mixed with rice, gravy, or in soup. This provides small flavorful bits which make way for other tastes never experienced before. When your dinner plate is piled with a hunk of meat, some kind of veggie, and a starchy side there isn't much room for experimentation. Once you decide that this dinner equation doesn't work, the world is open to much more enjoyable things. Curry, zucchini or squashes, fresh herbs, large salads, and even beets are things that our family is eating and growing.

When you consider the amount of resources which go into a single pound of beef the concept of stretching the meat out makes even more sense. (Click on any of the sentences to find the source of the information.) Two-thousand five hundred gallons of water are used to produce only one pound of beef. Ten times more fossil fuels are necessary to produce one calorie of animal protein than one pound of plant protein. That is ten times more carbon dioxide emitted as well. Grazing land covers 26% of the earth's land surface and one third of all arable land is used for feed crops. With this, and our health, in mind we have made the conscious decision to green up our diet along with our lifestyle.

With food this good, who's missing it!

If you would like to use a protein calculator to find out how much protein your body actually needs visit this website.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


So what does our family do without television? We buy cheapo pizza, eat like pigs, and play Uno until long past the Barracuda's bedtime.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Creating a Homeschool Schedule

For this last year of homeschooling we haven't ever really had a schedule. Life has been fairly loose and open as The Barracuda was so young and I was so new to all this. We have let whimsy take us as we may go. Now, with me working from home and The Barracuda becoming so much more active, a schedule has become necessary in order for everything to get done. An active boy means that there are many more things he wants to do, much more dirt in the house, and lots more stuff flying around to clutter up our worlds. Also, I used to be able to completely leave the house and be isolated from family when I worked. This is definitely not preferable in some ways, but it meant that there were no interruptions.

Jules has become much more frustrated lately with how jumbled our house is and with my admitted lack of balancing ability. A schedule makes Jules nervous. He wants The Barracuda to be able to assess and prioritize things which need to be done and then complete them accordingly. He feels that timers, schedules, and specifics will hinder The Barracuda's ability to think for himself. Life is constantly changing and lots of gray area will help prepare our son for that fact.

I don't do gray areas very well. Balancing and juggling multiple things with a thousand different variables leaves me constantly surprised and with no direction. There is almost nothing I hate more than surprises. The distaste is so strong that Jules has been directly informed I do not want to be proposed to without some kind of warning. If I'm going to be accountable for something I want to know exactly how something should be done and exactly when. Things stay the same, I do them the same way, in the same order, and conclude with the same result. When that doesn't happen, I get all flustered and distracted or I make completely the wrong judgment call. Projects go unfinished, stuff gets left out, and I don't follow through with anything. A flustered, distracted, whimsical lifestyle suits me very well as there aren't too many things I honestly care much about. We need to be happy, healthy, and together the rest is just small stuff. Jules grew up in the military (born and raised either on base or just outside) and it doesn't suit him at all. All that small stuff makes him stressed.

Jules and I discussed it, again (this is a recurring conversation). The lists I have made myself weren't working; stuff was still overlooked and mis-prioritized. I was getting discouraged. Compromise was necessary somewhere in the middle of itemized life and complete open blank slate.

This morning, The Barracuda and I sat down to write a schedule that will hopefully meet all our household needs. The Barracuda got to list all the things he feels are important for our day to include even if they weren't fun things (like cleaning). Once the list was formed, he separated them into Morning, Lunch, Dinner, and Evening activities. Next, I came in with specific times for these activities to start and end. This created specific timed transitions for me to be able to have a definitive ending and starting for activities. The time is chunked out into subjects but not specifically itemized so The Barracuda will still have to prioritize and assess how things should be accomplished, but time won't get away from us. Together, we decided that everything seemed reasonable.

Daily Schedule


get dressed
I still don't know why this takes him ten minutes, but it does.
8:10am -- make beds
I literally have to say "I don't care if you are naked, it is time to make your bed!"
eat breakfast
oatmeal or fruit

brush teeth
9:00-9:45am -- Walk the dog

10:00 -- 2 hours quiet time
The Barracuda gets to play quietly with something that doesn't require batteries while Mommy writes

clean up

Lunch: 12:00
eat lunch
left overs, soup and quesadilla, or veggies and tuna fish

brush teeth
12:45 -- 45 minutes Barracuda's self school time
Self directed learning is an important part of our homeschooling. Math work, copy work from essays he has dictated, Rosetta Stone Spanish, finishing science or book report pictures, etc. are all things he can do without my direct assistance. The Barracuda has to work on school completely by himself unless something in his room is on fire or there is a serial killer outside his window. At that point he can call for me.

brush teeth

1:30 -- 2 hours play time
Outside, Inside, on the computer, loudly, with the neighbors, whatever. This is also Mommy housecleaning time.

Afternoon: 3:30
Dad gets home and decompresses from crazy, high schoolers that have only 28 more days of school.

Walk the dog up to the park and play

Mom makes dinner

Dinner: 5:00
eat dinner and talk together about our day
brush teeth

6:00 -- 1.5 hours of school time
This is time for The Barracuda and I to work directly one-on-one and discuss new school concepts or connections between concepts. During this time we can read a chapter or two from his novel as well. Jules uses this time to grade papers, plan, and do his school stuff as well.

Evening: 7:30
Family time to do something fun together.

8:30 -- brush teeth and jammies on
brush teeth
Barracuda goes to bed while Jules and I eat candy and go crazy while doing daily crossword puzzle together.

You may notice that brushing teeth is written quite a few times and is a schedule event. After a couple mortifying fabulous trips to the pediatric dentist I have learned quite a bit more about my horrible dental genetics and why Gatorade is as bad as soda for a child to drink. I'll post about it soon when I really wrap my head around the disastrous fabulous situation. Now, we have scheduled teeth brushing for both the Barracuda and myself a minimum of four times a day. Fun! Fun! Fun!

The only day this schedule doesn't happen is on Wednesday due to The Barracuda being with Grammie and Grampie all day. Other than that, library story times, movies or circus days at the local parks, homeschool meet-ups, and even spending time with the other grandparents fit into the time blocks so that there is a definite flow to our day. Hopefully, this will allow for us to have a much more seamless day rather than a choppy time of crazed events where much is being overlooked.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Loving Every Minute Of It!

As the Barracuda encroaches on 6 he is beginning to have greater endurance. This means we can actively do more "stuff" allowing Jules and I to get a little more of our pre-child lives back. We do not wish to throw our 5 and a half year old into the deep end just yet, so day hiking is all we are taking on. This summer will be our first backpacking endeavor with The Barracuda when we stay 7-10 days in the Cahutta Wilderness. Currently, while The Barracuda is training for being able to walk 10 mile days with a backpack on, Jules and I are trying to get the kinks worked out of how our own personal hiking patterns will meld into one cohesive family hiking style.

The Barracuda is not sporting his actual Osprey Jib backpack. It would be way overkill. For day hikes he is packing his rad, little, garage sale, 1970's, fab-tacular rainbow backpack. Not only is it hard to load too full, but it also has much smaller straps and torso making it specifically for a child. With the very important job of snack carrier, The Barracuda carries a whopping 2.5 lbs enabling him to go bounding ahead of Jules and I on most any trail.

All water, cell phones, sweatshirts, and other necessities are placed in the family pack that Jules or I wear.

Happily, the beauty of nature isn't lost on our son. He keeps a pretty steady pace, but always loves to stop and look at beetles, plants, flowers, rocks, mushrooms, sticks, leaves, animals, on and on and on. He is also quite fond of the sounds nature makes and is ever alert for water, birds, chattering squirrels, the wind, on and on and on. This admiration for nature used to drive both Jules and I crazy due to causing even short jaunts to take at least an hour. By now, The Barracuda has figured out how to both look and be enamored while still moving. If a view is truly spectacular he will stop and stare from ahead of Jules and I, calling back "Hey guys! You gotta see this!" Thankfully by enduring the exceptionally-long, short hikes when he was 2 and a half we can now actively hike. It is rather wonderful for both Jules and I to realize that his appreciation spans further than a love of sticks and rocks.

Sticks and rocks are still of high importance. They are actively his favorite part of all hiking, especially when water is concerned. Most all hikes we have taken focus around water. It means that there is a definite destination which is normally quite fun and often showy. Towering water and large pools to splash around in make for quite a reason to keep walking until we get there. Skipping rocks has also become important now that The Barracuda is getting older. Much time has been spent with Jules attempting to get just the right technique. Pooh sticks (stick races named famously from the children's classic Winnie the Pooh) are a favorite game to play as well. Sticks are chosen for various characteristics (short sticks go fastest, wide sticks are more stable, long tin sticks can stretch past the finish line first) and we race them down the river to see who wins.

As much as hiking is a spiritual and physical exercise for our as a family, it is also important science curriculum at work. The Barracuda, being homeschooled, has a different sense of school than most kids. There are no breaks and there are no classrooms. We learn just about everywhere we go and especially on hikes. Jules knows much more about climbing and topographical maps. I am more well versed in flora, fauna, and rock formations. Important emphasis is placed on the idea of how small we are, how interconnected our world is, and the value of discussing these concepts with each other.

The time of year for us to actively be outside is a welcomed event in our house. The rainy season is so wet here that hiking becomes so dangerous it is rather stupid. As much as we want The Barracuda to enjoy being outside, we want him to realize some ventures are not safe. Extremely slick rocks, inches of mud, and large, steep cliff faces are not a good combination. But man, all that rain sure makes for one heck of a view when the weather dries out.

The season is definitely worth the wait!

We're Back!

"Now we're cookin' with oil!" as Jules would say. I don't know if that is a distinctly southern phrase, but he loves it and it always makes me smile. A new hard drive, a new copy of Windows, and a nice chunk of time downloading everything back onto the laptop and I'm typing in the backyard sun again. I can't complain too much. The nice chunk of money wasn't allocated for computer repair, it wasn't an un-doable amount and we are back in business with a fairly small amount of time lost.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Technology Update

I am writing this from The Barracuda's room on his ghetto older desktop. His desk is one that I had when I lived in my college van. It is rather small, and I no longer fit in it at all. The desktop is still plugging away, though it seems as slow as I remember dial up being when it comes to loading pictures. I feel a bit as though I've gone back in time and nostalgia hasn't been good to me. Needless to say, we are hoping for our laptop to come home from the doctor in about 3 days and still praying the $200 bill was not as 99% accurate as they estimated.

We are experiencing some technical difficulties over here at End of Ordinary. The laptop decided to die. A post will be coming soon!

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