Archive for May, 2008
freezer dinner

A few weeks ago, I decided to get serious about preparing and freezing dinners ahead of time, so that Rob and I won’t be rushing around to the grocery store and feverishly chopping garlic while trying to soothe a crying baby.  I looked in the local library for a good freezer meals cookbook, followed by a reluctant trip to Borders, where I also left empty-handed.  I started looking online and reading reviews of freezer meal cookbooks, where I came upon this one:

I ordered it, and because I’m so budget-conscious, I elected the slow, cheap, shipping option.  That has turned out to be a mistake.  I still don’t have the cookbook, but I decided last night in a moment of desperation to use the “Search Inside” option to gather a few recipes and at least get started on some meal planning.  In only 2 hours, I was able to make 6 lbs. of pork ribs (with homemade sauce), 2.5 lbs of tex-mex flavored chicken fingers, and 3 lbs. of marinated flank steak.  I went through 2.5 bulbs of garlic….yum!  I still want to make a couple of casseroles and a pan of lasagna, but other than that, we should be all set.  We can supplement the dinners with trips to the Farmer’s Market for fresh vegetables until our own are ready for harvesting.  Depending on how well this make-ahead meal preparation goes, I may actually continue to do it once I go back to work.  Seems like it could definitely save time and reduce stress!  I keep hearing about “meal assembly kitchens” and the like, including Let’s Eat, Let’s Dish, and The Busy Chef, the only meal assembly kitchen in the entire state of Vermont.  Here’s a state-by-state directory of meal assembly kitchens.  I’ve always wondered about how efficient and cost-effective those services are.  I do think they tend to be more helpful for people who abhor cooking and don’t want to waste time picking out recipes, shopping for ingredients, doing the initial prep work and chopping, and cleaning up when the prep is done.  I don’t mind all of that stuff, so for me, the freezer thing seemed to be the way to go.  We’ll let you know how it goes!

baby quilt: complete

Pics from Mom:

completed quilt: front  completed quilt: back

Click through on each image for larger sizes.  It’s certainly come a long way from the fabric swatches!

How I’ve spent my Memorial Day weekend

What a great weekend!

 

Things with the neighbors are better.  After the noise of Friday night and Saturday morning/afternoon, things seem to have cooled off downstairs.  It’s been very quiet around here, and I actually enjoyed a complete night’s sleep last night (I slept from 12:30-6:50AM!)  I am so happy about this!  I’m glad that Rob said something to them.  I don’t think the gal downstairs is a bad person, although her roommates aren’t always the most considerate.  

 

Yesterday was a gorgeous day.  When I first woke up, I noticed that my belly had succumbed to gravity and was obviously much lower than it had been.  Rob commented on this before I even had a chance to ask him if this change was in my head.  Indeed it’s not, and I even have the photographic evidence to prove it (pictures to come).  We walked and walked and walked all over town.  We picked up a new camera while we were out and about, and managed to run into our friends Adam and Sue at the garden.  We joined them for an evening of grilling hot dogs and hamburgers.  This morning we got out early for breakfast at The Skinny Pancake.  Wow.  I couldn’t decide on coffee or hot chocolate with my breakfast, so I opted for a mocha (size=large).  I also chose a crepe filled with cheddar cheese and tart apples.  Oh my goodness, it was delicious!  On the weekends, I usually make homemade muffins, pancakes, or waffles filled with fruit and whole grains, but we decided instead to try out a new restaurant while we still have the option of just getting up and going out on a whim.  I’m glad we did.

 

I’ve also spent the majority of the weekend reading.  I’m finally digging into The Moral Animal, at Rob’s insistence.  Having taught Animal Behavior over 3 semesters, I am already familiar with a lot of the concepts in this book.  However, Robert Wright does offer up some ideas that I had not yet encountered.  For one, he tries to contextualize Darwin’s thinking in terms of his own mate choice and reproductive success within the backdrop of Victorian England.  Interesting.  He also offers up (what I consider to be) the counterintuitive idea that monogamy (especially serial monogamy as is the case in our society) is not advantageous for females.  Also interesting.  I’m only about a quarter of the way through the book, so I should probably withhold judgment until I’ve read the whole thing.  I refuse to read Rob’s critical analysis until I’ve had a chance to grapple with the book on my own terms.

 

I’ve also been reading some back issues of American Educator, which have some really interesting articles on the challenges that administrators, teachers, assessment providers, and textbook publishers face in contemporary education.  Education is a hot topic for me, not just b/c we’ll have a little one of our own who will be participating in our public education system within a few short years, but also because having done some teaching myself, I am finding myself increasingly opinionated about what it means to get a good education and how this feat should be accomplished.  The articles I am reading are focused entirely on K-12 education which is really different from the college-level teaching that I do….but should it be?  Much of the controversy over K-12 education these days centers around standardized testing and the curricula that supposedly prepare students for these tests.  There are of course several questions that one can (and should) raise:  1) Is the content of the standardized tests helpful or important for preparing students?  2) Relatedly, what exactly are we “preparing” students for?  Work, further education, further tests, lifelong learning? 3) What role do curricula have in preparing students for these tests?  Should all of the curriculum “teach to the test?”  Part of the curriculum? 4) What do these assessments tell us really?  How can learning be measured accurately and reliably?

 

These were questions that I raised in reading the articles, although the articles themselves raised a whole different set of questions.  First, they lamented the lack of direction (or as they put it) “clear, specific content” provided by what they call “standards” that are set by each state.  What they say is lacking in these “standards” are clear directions to the teachers regarding EXACTLY what they should be teaching.  I have some opinions on this, and I feel (as with most things), that the nuanced view is the correct one.  On the one hand, having a very specific set of concepts to teach (along with a specific way to teach them) is advantageous because it provides measurable criteria by which one’s progress can be assessed.  Secondly, applying the same set of specific “standards” at each school across the state eliminates the variability in educational opportunities and sets the stage for equality and homogeneity of educational opportunity from school to school (if such an idealistic thing even exists).  On the other hand (and this is my college-level bias coming into play), what sort of teachers are we if we need to be told exactly what to teach?!  As someone who has taught a few college courses, I can tell you that hell would freeze over before someone (faculty, administration, or otherwise) would interject and tell me what to teach.  On top of this, I would feel resentful that someone did not trust my ability to come up with engaging and important topics, along with creative approaches through which these topics can be broached.  In developing course sylllabi, I have not had a problem with finding important topics, but I HAVE had difficulty narrowing down particular topics.  After all, it seems that there are a great many interesting and important things to discuss.  What I have resorted to doing is picking a few core “fundamental” topics that are foundational to the course, and then having the students vote on topics depending on their interest.  This works incredibly well.  The students are more invested in their education because they are active participants in it.  I can’t say with any certainty how well something like that would work with K-12 education, but for God’s sake, allowing the students some agency and choice in some of the details may go a long way in making students’ feel invested in what they are learning.  I remember really disliking high school because we didn’t have choices—and incidentally, much of this was related to the standardized tests that were required of us.  If you went to high school in MD during the 90s, you probably recall the Maryland Functional Writing Test.  In 9th grade English, we were given “writing prompts” and were taught explicitly to begin our response with the phrase, “I am going to tell you about….”  One cannot imagine a less compelling way to begin an essay.  By 10th grade English (after the functional writing tests had been administered) we were instructed to forget everything we had learned about responding to writing prompts, and instead to write essays that (imagine this) engaged your audience through creative use of language, form, and (gasp) content.  This is an admittedly confusing series of demands that are placed on 14- and 15-year olds.  I see the results of this confusion in junior and senior college students today who regard syllabi and instructions with distrust, and often e-mail me repeatedly wanting confirmation that they are doing things “the right way.”  We have taught them that there are arbitrary rules to be followed (not questioned) and to be afraid of taking risks in their thinking and writing.  This is NOT what education should be about.  I remember thinking that the faceless people who “graded” our functional writing tests were complete morons lacking a sophisticated grasp of American English.  What I have since discovered, of course, is that almost ALL of what is wrong with American education right now is either directly or indirectly linked to the well-intentioned but ultimately misguided goal of teaching “objective” information, in an “objective” way, all the while teaching the students to “objectively” interpret (hahahahah) the information, so that their “objective”  analysis (ahahahah, once again) can be “objectively” assessed by  our standardized tests.  I get the idea here—we are striving for measurable objectives that can be assessed in a nearly identical way from student to student.  We don’t want bias.  But what we have given up to eliminate this bias is the ability to truly engage in critical discourse.  A tactic that I see repeated over and over in essays by college students is the “if I diminish the credibilty of the author/research design/hypothesis/interpretation by saying that it is biased, my teacher will see I am a critical thinker and I will get an A.”  The problem is, criticism is not helpful (or terribly critical for that matter) if it is unfounded, unsupported, and wholly lacking in justification.  I try to exhume some sense from my students:  ”What specifically is biased about the research design?  Did they not include the proper controls?”  These questions are usually met with blank stares.  At some point, these students were taught that objectivity is supreme, and that you win Brownie points simply by saying that something is not objective (ironically independent of your own own ability to prove said lack of objectivity).  A related tactic is the sort of hand-waving that occurs when a student is asked a pointed question and they respond with “It’s relative,” or “It depends on contextual factors.”  These are answers that lack explanatory power—relative to what?  Dependent on which contextual factors?  No one ever knows the specific answers to these questions.  They haven’t had to, historically.  Saying “it depends” or that “it’s relative” is sufficient in the K-12 environment, and it’s a great cop-out in the college environment.  It doesn’t require any real thinking on the student’s part, and it looks on the surface like the product of real intellectual engagement.  And to conclude this stream of consciousness, I will go out on a limb and propose that this is PRECISELY why teachers in K-12 are screaming for clear, specific standards.  They too, were educated in a system that did not encourage them to go out on an intellectual limb, not to take risks, not to trust their intuitions.  They need to be told what to do.  They want their clear, specific standards to explicitly say “I am going to teach this class about…..” 

A lazy Saturday…

If you know us, you know that we can’t stand our neighbors.  We are generally tolerant people, in the sense that we will put up with crappy music blasting through the walls until about midnight.  Actually, we still put up with it after midnight, but we just bitch about it at length amongst ourselves.  Our downstairs neighbors chose last night to blast incredibly awful music until 4:30AM.  People were in out out of their unit all night long.  I kept getting jolted awake as soon as I’d drift off to sleep….and sleep has been in short supply lately.  At 3:30AM, Rob wrote a note and stuck it on their door asking them to politely watch the volume.  Well, they got the note, but the noise has gone on ALL DAY today.  I’ve been doing different things to keep busy as the day has gone on.  My main goal is to try to stay as relaxed as possible, which is very difficult with a bunch of people playing awful hip hop and engaging in childish drinking games just underneath my bedroom.  I really haven’t felt too emotional or upset during this pregnancy, but the idea that the hospital is going to be more relaxing than my own home depresses me beyond belief.  I’ve had contractions all day today and it’s been really difficult to lay here thinking about how the challenging moments of labor are only going to get worse when I can hear vapid shouting matches unfold underneath our home in the middle of the night.  I want out of here so badly.  There are other reasons to despise the neighbors (like no help with the yard work when it’s obvious that I (we) can’t do it by ourselves anymore), but I don’t want to digress too much.

So here’s what we did with our Saturday to distract us from the Neanderthals downstairs:

  • I made homemade oatmeal apple pancakes for breakfast
  • We walked into town and bought a baby book and a wool diaper cover
  • Went to the Farmer’s Market where I ran into the university veterinarian (who gave me a big hug and good luck vibes for the delivery), one of my former students and his daughter, my prenatal yoga teacher and her 1-week old son, and some dude that Rob works with.
  • Sat on my butt and watched Rob weed the garden
  • Came home and laid around in bed, wishing I had ear plugs:(
  • We’re about to walk up to the movie theater to see Indiana Jones
  • Afterwards, we will likely continue our date at a local restaurant
Not a bad day considering the rough start we had with our neighbors.  Keep your fingers crossed for us that we are able to get a night of uninterrupted sleep tonight (a girl can dream, can’t she?!)
Full term

I just hit the 37 week mark (or what is considered full term!)  I just got back from the midwife, and here are the stats:

  • I am 3 cm dilated
  • I am 75% effaced
  • The baby is at 0 station (meaning his/her head is wedged down there pretty good)
  • Baby is estimated to weigh 6 lbs. 13 oz.
I can tell you I did not need an exam to know that things have been happening.  I could go a few more weeks like this in theory, but I just don’t think I’m going to make it to mid-June.  I hope not anyway.  Having someone’s head wedged in your pelvis makes things precarious.  My beautiful friend Deborah was up for a visit this week, and I felt so bad that I couldn’t walk around as much as usual (or kayak).  Luckily, she is a trooper and was amenable to me taking naps and putting my feet up whenever I felt the urge to rest (which was often).  
I haven’t had time to prepare frozen dinners for the freezer yet.  Ah well, it’s one of those things that might not get done.  If it doesn’t, it’s fine.  But I probably shouldn’t procrastinate any longer on packing that hospital bag.