Hiking with Goblins – September 2014

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The bees were so cold they were barely moving their antennae. It was really neat to watch them in slow motion.

I’ve been wanting to get out and take a nice hike for a while, but weather and timing hasn’t quite worked out until today. While the morning was chilly enough that the bees were barely moving, that kept the mosquitoes off us for most of the day.

Hiking with goblins takes a few things:

  1. Patience. The walk is at their pace, and only ever at their pace. Every pretty rock, stick, and flower MUST be inspected. If deemed collectible, it MUST be stuffed in their pockets.
  2. Open eyes, but especially open ears. Sometimes I’m the one who spots or hears cool things, but my goblins always surprise me with their observation skills.
  3. The tenacity to “death march” them past their comfort zone. A self-directed child will rarely hike more than a mile. Today we did a bit over 5 miles, though it took over 3 hours to do. Yes, they complain, but they’ll thank you afterwards.
  4. Snacks and water. Granola works really well for us.

Besides the bee featured above, we also really enjoyed the “astronomy trail”, which is a scale model of the solar system built on just over 1,000 yards. It’s amazing how close the sun/mercury/venus/earth/mars are compared to the rest of the solar system.

 


Cold Shock

Yesterday we had a 30 degree swing in temperature overnight. The cold weather stuck around today and the weekend won’t be much warmer. Yep, it’s fall!

I had to reach back in my brain for how to dress, balancing the fact that we needed to bike somewhere but biking with kids is considerably slower than biking by myself. For the goblins, I was really proud of them. After an initial shock (it’s cold Daddy!) they warmed up to the idea of being out in the cold. We ran a few errands but then played at the park for two hours at a windy 45F.

In fact, I was the one who gave in first. Since I was sitting down and reading, the wind started to cut through my layers, and I’d forgotten to bring gloves. One of these days I’ll even get gloves that let me work the Kindle.

Winter, with its even colder temperatures, salt, snow, and slush is its own beast – but I think yesterday was a good indication of how we’ll weather it.


Citizens of the Multiverse

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Alas, I only have two hands.

A sense of place, and the tools to deal with it: to immerse, but also to dissect and subsume. This is my homeschooling philosophy in its broadest form.

With the oldest at 8, dissecting reality is limited, but we’re laying the groundwork via math. Alpha and Beta are responding really well to the interface of the Khan Academy program. I still have to prod them to get through the subject matter at points, but math is no longer a subject I dread teaching.

In science, our lifestyle constantly immerses us in the nature around us. While limited, being in an urban area, Milwaukee is a city blessed with a lot of green space – some of it surprisingly remote. We’ve taken 5 mile hikes within earshot of roads where you can barely see the cars through the forests, and at times the sound of the wind and water drowned everything else out. We climbed through a dry creekbed that turned not so dry further upstream. For the first time, they got to see (and hear) a squirrel eating.

There’s also formal education. The current unit is about bats, and each subsequent unit will start with flora and fauna from our region, but eventually broadening out past what we might encounter on our nature hikes.

Bats were also the subject of some silly stories, like:

The vampire bat was searching for a mammal. The bat was thirsty. It found cows!

When it found the cows, they were swishing their tails. The cows were in the forest, and it was light. Then the cows got scared of the bats. Then the bat was chasing the cows. Then cows got away.

Then it found a gorilla! It was eating bananas.  Then the bat chased the gorilla, but the gorilla was too fast.

Of course, there’s more to humans than just their isolated interactions with the ecology around them. The social fabric of humans is its own ecology. So we’re learning about countries as well. The current unit is France. I’ll admit we haven’t learned a ton yet, but there’s no particular speed or requirement here. Plans include a day where we eat like a family from that country, and the cookbooks I’ve been poking through are at least teaching me something.

Which is one of the joys of homeschooling. The parent learns almost as much, if not more than, the child. Education isn’t about mass-producing an economic cog that’s finished at 18, with optional future upgrades. It’s about learning all along life’s journey.


Bike versus Car – August 2014

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A lot of people promote biking as a great alternative to using a fuel-burning vehicle. The benefits, in order of importance, are:

  1. Increased health and improved mood.
  2. Lowered environmental impact.
  3. It can save money.

I put saving money at the lowest importance for two reasons. First, depending on how you do it, biking doesn’t save all that much money, especially if you’re someone who (incorrectly) puts a lost-income value on the increased time it takes to travel. Second, if you’re only motivated by money, the instant you run into difficulty with a repair, an injury, or bad weather, biking goes out the window. I know this for a fact, because I initially started biking to save money, and only stuck with it for reasons #1 and #2.

That said, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to track biking cost per mile versus car cost per mile – especially for a family of 5. Adding those extra bikes means more capital tied up in your bike fleet, and more maintenance expense over time.

Note: I’m not going to factor depreciated values into the capital costs. Instead, this is a straight up “cost to date, distance to date” calculation.

Let’s start with the cars. I haven’t kept thorough records, so these are best-guess estimates based mostly on my memory.

  • Initial Cost as of 8-1-14: $30,900

This reflects the original purchase prices of the vehicles, all repairs, registrations, and fuel costs for the time we’ve owned them.

  • Initial Miles as of 8-1-14: 80,000
  • Initial CPM as of 8-1-14: $0.39

For the bikes my spreadsheet has been live since January 2014, but I update it regularly, so I’ll only report the ending mileage and CPM figures for the end of August 2014.

August 2014 Report

  • Vehicle Miles (this month): 708
  • Vehicle Capital (this month): $206.69
  • Vehicle CPM (all-time): $0.39
  • Bike Miles (this month): 571.35
  • Bike Capital (this month): $449.70
  • Bike CPM (all-time): $0.48

Currently the cars are winning. Boo!


Goblin Hoard Report Card – August 2014

August was an expensive month. I feel like I’ve been writing that every month lately! Sigh.

I ended up having to spend $300 out of pocket for the medical expenses from my bike crash earlier in the summer. The Alchemist really wanted Goblins Alpha and Beta to do Sunday School in preparation for their First Communion, and our parish charges a hefty $440 combined for that. Being an atheist, I’d just as soon not spend that money, but it’s important to her, so I didn’t want to burn marital capital.

Spending on the bike front continues to be high. Had to buy new lights, new tires, and got the Alchemist’s bike set up with fenders and a rear rack. We even rode her commute once, but she’s not too keen on biking 13.5 miles one way at 6AM. I’m not going to push her, but we’re glad to have the ability to take family rides even in the dark now!

Normally I spread the monthly surplus across our debt prepayment and various savings funds but for the next few months I’m going to split it 50/50 between debt and a sink fund of my choosing (this month it’s the transportation capital fund). This means our travel fund will end up pretty light for our planned Christmas vacation, but we should still be okay in that department.

It’s all mental accounting anyways….

Budget for August 2014

Income (combined after all deductions): $3,887.98

Recurring Payments

  • Housing (Mortgage+Tax+Insurance): $1,061
  • Student Loans (combined): $859.78
  • Auto Insurance: $82.58
  • Cellphone: $0 (Not a typo. Stored balance from last month. So far I am averaging $17.50 per month but this will likely trend down further over time.)
  • Life Insurance: $60
  • Internet: $58
  • Gas/Electric: $111.14 (all time low!)

Spending

  • Groceries/Necessities: $606.07
  • Gas: $110.47 (lowest month in 2014)
  • Medical Expenses Out of Pocket: $304.90
  • Discretionary: $0
  • Travel: $0 (Ending balance: $241.10)
  • House: $13.56 (Ending balance: $-126.86)
  • Education/Kids: $448.20 (Ending balance: $-410.63)
  • Vehicle Capital Fund: $320.52 (Ending balance: $-248.58 with $250 surplus added to it)

Grade: I think I’m going to stop self-grading. It’s just too damn arbitrary.

An expensive month, but sometimes you have those. None of this money was wasted, and we’ll recover quickly enough.

Both my birthday (30) and Beta’s (7) went really well. We had a fun month overall. Added “bonus”: one of our cars isn’t working and I’m waiting on a part (and time) to fix it, so we’re getting a nice unplanned “one car family” experiment this past week. So far I like it!


Grocery Breakdown – August 2014

I used to call these updates “spending porn” because that’s kind of what it is – a voyeuristic look at spending in detail, but I’m starting to wonder if I really want folks coming to my blog by searching for things like, well, porn.

Grocery Spending Breakdown for August 2014

Notes:

  • Family of 5: two adults, goblins aged 8, 7, and 4
  • Primarily shop at Woodman’s (regional grocer), Costco (once a month), and farmer’s/produce markets.

Categorization is always somewhat arbitrary, so I’ve shared the Google Sheet for those who want to see details. Commenting is allowed if anyone wants to.

  • Produce: $131.91
  • Animal Products:  $207.62
  • Grains/Snacks: $152.99
  • Misc/Personal Care: $54.92
  • Beverages: $48.43

Ate more meat than usual this month, partly due to having a party for Goblin Beta – and she specifically requested “burgers and hot dogs”. We recently made the decision to limit alcohol to special occasions only, so beverage spending will continue to fall.

I know people who spend far less per person for groceries each month, but I’m pretty happy with the balance we’ve been striking for the long haul.


Whole Wheat Baking Conversion

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For simplicity of pantry-keeping and an increase in nutritional value, I’ve spent the past few weeks converting all of my core baking recipes over from 50/50 white/whole wheat to 100% whole wheat. Surprisingly, it’s gone quite smoothly – and I’m incredibly pleased with the results!

Here are the recipes I’ve converted all in one user-friendly page. Wheat flours vary by brand, but I can verify these work with Dakota Maid and Gold Medal.

Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread

Note: this is a slightly chewy, denser loaf than my other No-Knead Bread. It has a nutty, tangy flavor that may be too much for some, but my kids seem no more ambivalent about eating sandwiches from this bread than my former recipe. (The curse of any DIY parent is that “store” stuff becomes a treat. I still remember thinking box macaroni and cheese was a delicacy….)

Yield: 2 loaves

  • 866g whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed meal
  • 760g water
  1. Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  2. Form well in the center, pour water in and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon until no dry flour remains. Dough will be stiff and shaggy.
  3. Cover with a damp towel and let proof overnight.
  4. In the morning, turn the oven to the “warm” setting. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and as gently as possible, divide into two halves. Do NOT knead or punch the dough down.
  5. Stretch into a rectangle roughly 8×12 inches and fold like a letter.
  6. Place the folded loaves, seam side down, in two greased 8 inch loaf pans.
  7. Turn oven off. Allow the loaves to rise in the warmed oven for 1 hour.
  8. Remove. Preheat the oven to 450F. Once preheated, bake for 30 minutes.

Whole Wheat Pancakes

Yield: 2 pancakes (scale the recipe as desired)

  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  1. Preheat griddle over medium heat.
  2. Beat egg, milk, and sugar together until combined.
  3. Add flour, oats, and baking powder. Stir until just combined.
  4. Measure pancake batter out as desired (I use a 1/2 cup measure) and cook.

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

Note: about 20 iterations ago this came from Robbie’s Recipes and the method is still pretty similar, so I’ll give some credit for pointing me in the right direction. After all, it was the first recipe I tried that had me believing in homemade pizza.

Yield: 2 14″ crusts, easily made into a double batch if you’re entertaining or cooking with leftovers in mind. (Pizza has become our traditional Friday and Saturday dinner, since I get home too late on Saturday to cook much.)

  • 4 tsp yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1.5 cup warm (110F) water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3.5 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Mix the yeast, sugar, and oil into the water measuring cup. Let stand for 8 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, mix the salt and flour together in a large mixing bowl.
  3. When yeast mixture finishes proofing, preheat oven to 500F. Don’t preheat earlier because you want to the dough to rest in the pan for about 10 minutes before parbaking.
  4. Add the water mixture into the bowl and stir until dough is thoroughly combined. It will be stiff and shaggy.
  5. Remove the dough and knead on a floured surface for 1-2 minutes, adding flour as necessary if the dough is still sticky or difficult to handle.
  6. Cut the dough in half.
  7. Shape each half into a round and roll out to a 14″ round. Carefully fold the round in half and add to a greased pizza pan.
  8. Thoroughly prick each crust with a fork to avoid large air pockets bubbling up.
  9. Bake each crust for 4 minutes before topping as desired.
  10. Once topped, it will take between 7-9 minutes depending on your toppings and how brown you like your cheese.

Whole Wheat Tortillas

Adapted from Lard: Cooking with your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient.

Yield: 12 tortillas roughly 10″ in diameter (“soft taco” size in grocery store parlance)

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening or lard
  • 1 1/4 cup warm (not hot) water
  1. Pulse flour, baking powder, salt, and shortening together in a food processor until coarse crumbs form.
  2. Running processor on low, slowly pour in water until dough forms a ball.
  3. Knead for 2 minutes on a floured surface until the dough becomes soft and pliable.
  4. Divide into 12 equal sized balls, cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Roll each ball as thin as possible or use a tortilla press.
  6. Cook on a preheated griddle on medium high heat.
Works well for tacos when cooked on both sides. Cooks well for quesadillas with two raw, formed tortillas. Extra tortillas can be used as an impromptu dessert, served warm and buttered with honey and cinnamon. Tortillas thoroughly cooled on a rack store and reheat well in a Ziploc bag at room temperature, so if you have extra filling, save the rest of the tortillas!

Whole Wheat Tuna Turnovers

As far as I know, the concept of tuna turnovers is something my Mom came up with on her own. I keep forgetting to ask. The dough is halfway in between a pie crust and a biscuit. It’s like eating a homemade Hot Pocket, only it’s packed with flavor, not artificial ingredients. This is my own further adaptation of her recipe.

For onion-averse children, consider forming the first few pastries without onion, then mixing the onion into the filling. I do this for my goblins to avoid complaining at the table. It tastes far better with the onion, but there’s not much nutritional value in an onion.

Yield: 8-10 pastries
Filling
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 can (5 oz) of tuna
  • Shredded sharp cheddar to taste (I shred about 2 cups)
  • Miracle Whip or Mayonnaise to taste (I use a heaping tablespoon
  1. Mix ingredients together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Dough

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  1. Cut shortening into flour, powder, and salt with a pastry cutter until coarse crumbs form.
  2. Pour milk into flour, stir until thoroughly combined.
  3. Turn dough onto floured surface, knead lightly, then divide into 8-10 equal size balls.
  4. Preheat oven to 400F and grease a cookie sheet before preparing the final pastries.
  5. Roll each ball out into an 8″ round.
  6. Place a heaping tablespoon or slightly more filling on one half of the round, fold the other half of the pastry over to make a half moon shape. Pinch it closed with your fingers or a fork.
  7. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

 


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