Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fun with quinoa!!

Like the food-storage mom, I'm interested in cooking with dried beans and grains because it's healthy and economical.  I don't do it as often as I'd like (mostly because the people in my family don't like anything more complicated than plain pasta), but every now and then I like to try it.

As soon as I read that quinoa has a high protein content and can be grown in arid land, I immediately wanted to try to add more quinoa to my diet.  I'm not actually vegetarian, but I think that it's important to try to eat as little meat as possible, for environmental reasons.  It appears that quinoa is a pretty Earth-friendly food to switch to!

Pretty much all of the recipes I've seen for quinoa are variants of a tabbouleh-style salad, so I went out and bought a quinoa cookbook, in hopes of finding a bit more variety.  After reading through it, however, I was no more inspired than before -- and I kind of came to the conclusion that maybe making it into a salad is the classic quinoa dish for a reason.

In my version, I cooked the quinoa according to the standard instructions on the package, and I also included some kidney beans and chick-peas that I had prepared (soaked overnight and then cooked at a low boil for an hour, then strained).

After putting these three ingredients together, you can kind of just throw in whatever other ingredients you like in this sort of salad.  In my case I added a packet of feta cheese (cubed), 1/2 cucumber (diced), chopped pitted olives, and some fresh herbs (parsley, dill, mint).  I also sautéd some chopped onion with pine nuts and pumpkin seeds, and added them as well.  Then I added oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste.

I found that quinoa also works as an additional ingredient in my usual sort-of-minestrone soup recipe.  That recipe is one to remember if you're actually living off your food storage because it doesn't require any fresh ingredients (though I usually use fresh green onions).

In addition to the beans and chick-peas (soaked overnight), put about 100 grams of quinoa in 2 liters of broth, and cook them for about an hour with some peeled, chopped tomatoes (I used canned), and some chopped onions and herbs.

I would like to maybe try some more adventurous recipes with dried beans and/or quinoa, but these basic recipes are some good basics to start with.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Now I am officially annoyed with Gmail

They just deleted my son's account without even giving us the opportunity to download his existing emails.

Here's what happened:

I set up a gmail account for my son a few years ago, which he has been using (very rarely) to keep in touch with friends and family members.  The other day, I wanted to log him into his account to get him to reply to a message from his grandparents, and gmail passed me through one of those personal info forms, as it sometimes does. (I've given them my mobile number on one such screen, for example, and tested it -- in case I lose my password or something.)

Anyway, this time, the info page was a simple name-gender-birthdate form.  For a moment I hesitated because I don't know what they might be using our personal data for, but then my "What the hell, it doesn't matter..." attitude kicked in, and I just went ahead and filled it out for my son.

Next thing I know, his account is suspended, and I'm notified that it will be deleted in a month unless I can provide an ID card showing that my son is at least 13 years old.  Well, he's not 13 years old, so I can't prove that he is!  And I now I can't even download an archive of his messages before they get deleted!

Now, some of you are probably saying that there was probably a software license that I clicked through at some point affirming that the user of the account is at least 13.  That's possible, but normally when there's this sort of age restriction, the company makes you click a box specifically affirming your age.  I'm generally very careful about this.  For example, I was setting up a YouTube account for my son (back when YouTube and Gmail accounts were separate), and when I got to the bit where it said you have to be at least 13 to have a YouTube account, I stopped and told him he could have his own YouTube account when he turns 13.

I guess the problem is that now Google has linked gmail in with all of these other services (like YouTube and Google+) that aren't open to kids.  But I can think of a few solutions that would be a lot better than surprising us by deleting his account:

  • Create a separate category of restricted accounts (for kids) that are just email,
  • Simply suspend his account until he turns 13 (he's 12 1/2 for heaven's sake!),
  • Allow parents (with demonstrated ID) to download an archive of the messages of any kids who created accounts before this restriction.
I know that ignorance of the rules is no excuse, but sincerely, it didn't occur to me that it would be a problem for my kid to have an email account.  Even his own school created an email account for him (which he hasn't been using, but I guess he will now...).

The next thing I did was, naturally, to download an archive of all of my own gmail messages.  Well, that's what I did right after kicking myself for relying on gmail so heavily for all of my personal data needs.  If, for example, they suddenly decided that they require some criterion that I don't meet -- and they spontaneously deleted my account over it (which they may well be legally allowed to do) -- I would be up shit creek, so to speak.

Then I started imagining writing a horror flick about some evil villain taking over Google and holding everyone's data hostage.  Scary!!

Anyone else out there have a similar problem, and opinions on a solution?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Clash of cultures!! Maybe one day I'll get this Swiss thing right...

A little over a week ago, I posted the following status on Facebook:
Just got back from a short trip to Lyon. It was fun and the food was great, but I was surprised by how dingy the city seemed. I think this was mostly because it was raining the whole time, so we hardly went out, and when we did explore the city, everything was cold, wet, gray, and miserable. But I think it's also because Switzerland has messed up my expectations of how clean and new everything needs to be.
A couple of days later, I got a reminder of the fact that the amazing cleanliness in Switzerland does come with a price...

I was sitting at home watching my kids and the kids of a friend of mine (well, passively -- I was also doing my skype German lesson).  The kids had recently come in from playing outside when I heard a knock at the door.  It was my neighbor, who had come to tell me that the kids had tracked mud in the hallway -- and to explain to me that I need to tell them to wipe their feet carefully before coming into the building.

You may be thinking that's kinda weird.  If you are thinking that, then you have never lived in Switzerland.  In Switzerland, this is totally normal, expected behavior.  In Switzerland, if you are doing something wrong (making a mess or excessive noise, for example), you can pretty much expect that someone is going to tell you, politely (usually), that you are doing it wrong, and need to knock it off.

This system has certain advantages.  Remember that problem with le merde in France?  I probably don't have to tell you that they don't have that problem here.  Plus there's something to be said for a direct approach.

From my own experience, Mormon culture encourages exactly the opposite approach:  conflict is to be avoided at all costs, so when there's a problem, it often festers and escalates and then comes out in passive-aggressive ways.  (See these discussions.)  In this case, however, this is the first complaint this neighbor has made in the year we've been living here, and now I feel fairly confident that I'm not doing anything else that's too big a problem.  If I were, someone would tell me.

And, of course, that was the next part of the story.  Can you guess?  My husband and I received an email from the same neighbor a couple of days later complaining that we hadn't vacuumed the hallway.

The funny thing is that it was simply a clash of cultural expectations.  There really wasn't that much dirt in the hallway (well, by American or French standards, anyway) and the hallway is cleaned regularly.  I had assumed that by apologizing and promising it wouldn't happen again, I was done.  But a Swiss colleague confirmed that when a Swiss person points out a mess that is your fault, that means that you are to clean it up immediately.

Now it's funny to me to re-read the post on Swiss etiquette I wrote after about a year of living in Switzerland.  I had mentioned a person silently hinting that someone was doing something wrong (failing to move to the "standing" lane on the escalator) as an example of Swiss politeness.  It was a funny scene, but clearly I was interpreting it through my own cultural lens of what constitutes polite behavior.  Now I think that guy was probably a foreigner. ;)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

State of the Me: 2013 - 2014

I'm glad it is time to assess where I'm at and talk about goals!  Why?  Well, because I've had this weird malaise lately, and I feel like just taking the time to analyze it (in order to write this post) has been helpful.

My analysis in a nutshell is the following:  My day-to-day life is actually going fairly well, but I have a number of creative projects I'd like to spend more time on, and I'm stressed by the fact that it's not clear when that's ever going to happen.

Now for the details:

Home: We've been in our new apartment (condo, actually) for just over a year.  It's really perfect for our lifestyle (location, size, style) -- the only drawback is that I spend more time on housework simply because I've finally gotten to the point where I really can put everything away and have the whole place completely clean and organized, for the first time since I-don't-know-when!  I also spent a lot of time this past year building storage shelving in the basement; so much so that I've joked that organizing my basement is my hobby!  It's hardly a joke, actually -- the basement looks fantastic, and now I can find anything!!

Job: I've been working for Dybuster for almost four years now, making it my longest real job ever.  As always, I have a lot of responsibility and a variety of tasks -- it has basically been going well the whole time.

German: Learning German has been an ongoing obstacle for the six years I've been living in Switzerland.  The main problem has been that my motivation to learn has been more negative than positive, eg. it bugs me that I have trouble communicating and that people have to translate for me, but aside from that, I never really wanted to speak German the way I was thrilled to be able to communicate in a new language back when I was first learning French.  Well, that has actually finally changed this year -- I've gotten over this hump to the point where I enjoy speaking German. Yay!!  (I can recommend my instructor who practices with me via skype, weekly.)

kids:  The kids have ongoing problems in school (learning to be tri-lingual is easier for kids than grown-ups, but still it is no simple matter!).  Things could be a lot better, but we're basically on track as best we can be.  We have loads of fun just playing, and the kids have taken the lead on some pretty impressive projects.  Still, I would like to invest more time and energy into organizing Math, Science, and programming projects to share with them.

relationships:  I feel like I've had a lot of good friendships with people who have been important to me over the past few years.  This area is my biggest goal for 2014, to cultivate new and existing relationships -- perhaps because I've seen the importance of friendships in my life lately.  Ideally, I think it would be cool if I could find friends with whom I could speak French or German, or -- even cooler -- a friend who is interested in participating in my blogging and websites.  With my husband, I think things are going well, and we're on the same page with our home/life/family ideas.  We enjoy spending time together, but we don't share all of our hobbies -- nor do we expect to -- so I think it is reasonable to seek more friendships.

blogging:  I enjoy my work with Main Street Plaza and the Mormon Alumni Association, but I'm thinking I really need to find a friend who is psyched about sharing this hobby with me.  I've spent too long feeling like I'm annoying people if I bring up my Internet hobbies, and consequently I end up feeling like my Internet activities are too disjoint from the rest of my life.  Then I don't spend as much time on them as I'd like to.  If I had one friend to hang out with and talk about this stuff, it would make all the difference.

health:  I have been attending French yoga for as long as I've been at Dybuster, and it's great!  At first I had to force myself to do it, but now I can't stay away.  I've also been making an effort to eat more vegetarian and drink in moderation.  The fact that (at 42) I'm not nearly as pretty as I was 10 years ago has been difficult to deal with.  However, I feel like I've done a good job of looking and feeling my best.  I just hope that I can get a good portrait of our family in 2014 -- we've basically never had a good portrait.  Also, I really need to schedule myself a dentist appointment...

So, things aren't going so bad, right?  I had a nice, relaxing day today and I gave haircuts to all three of my boys.  Maybe with a bit of time-management, 2014 will be the year to really get some stuff done! :D

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I'm keeping some Christmas traditions this year!

When I was in eighth grade, I wrote an essay for my English class about how Christmas is my favorite holiday -- not because of the presents, but because of all of the creative opportunities in the traditions!  There are so many possibilities in the gingerbread houses, cookies, carols, advent calendars, ornaments, other decorations, etc.

Even as a young adult newly out of the nest, I would repeat these familiar traditions -- as well as researching other traditions, to incorporate them -- and throw elaborate Christmas parties.  Later, with kids and a job, I switched by necessity to a more minimalist model, eg. a small Christmas tree, some carols on the stereo, and maybe a batch of cookies.  And (like many parents) I've felt a crazy mix of guilt and disappointment at not doing more of all that stuff I used to love as a kid.

Not too much guilt, mind you -- the whole point is for it to be fun!

The cool thing is that -- now that my kids are 10 and 12 -- it has become that much easier and more fun to add more traditions and activities to our holiday season!  For example, I made an advent calendar this year, for the first time in years:

"Made" is perhaps a strong word here -- I just decorated the tops of the star-shaped boxes and then filled them.

These sets of 24 blank star-shaped boxes are a popular craft-shop item here in Switzerland, and probably all over the world.

The fun part is that the kids are old enough to get into the traditions as well.  They want to have advent calendars, so they have one of their own:
We didn't exactly make the Lego advent calendar, but if I'm feeling ambitious, next year I might design one using our existing pieces.  Léo was also very excited to set up those two little Christmas trees, and requested a big one this year for our living room:
I think most of my favorite Christmas-tradition memories are largely from my tween-to-teen years, so now our little family is hitting our golden age of Christmas!  And the best part is that now I have an excuse to watch all of my favorite Christmas specials!!

For that last one, my brother recently sent me a link to the text of the original book, and it's essentially as I concluded in my analysis: the verse parts of the special are quotes from the book, and the prose parts (including the entire adventure with Heat Miser and Snow Miser making it snow in Southtown) were all made up for the special since the story in the book wasn't long or interesting enough.  

I didn't guess correctly that there were a number of stanzas from the book that didn't make it to the special, but they're basically along the same lines as the ones that were included -- no additional themes or plot.  The biggest surprise was that the character "Ignatius Thistlewhite" is actually in the original book (though his role is quite different).

My brother also sent me a set of action figures a few years ago, which I like to include in my seasonal display:
The kids are, of course, begging me to let them take the play set down and play with it -- and I do let them play with it a bit every year -- but I insist that they do it carefully and put all of the pieces back when they're done, because they would not be easy to replace.

This afternoon, we'll be rolling, cutting, and baking Christmas cookies!  Merry Christmas!!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Yes, this

I hate to post a link to an article unless I have some of my own commentary to add, but this article is more-or-less exactly what I've been saying for years.  Here's a teaser:

Put simply, we've learned a lot since 1787. What was for the Founders a kind of providential revelation—designing, from scratch, a written charter and democratic system at a time when the entire history of life on this planet contained scant examples of either—has been worked into science. More than 700 constitutions have been composed since World War II alone, and other countries have solved the very problems that cripple us today. It seems un-American to look abroad for ways to change our sacred text, but the world's nations copied us, so why not learn from them?

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Gender Education Update

My sons Nico and Leo (now aged 12 and 10) recently had a conversation that illustrates what they've learned about gender.

As background, keep in mind that the kids have never played the game "Portal Gun" but they have watched videos on YouTube of people playing the game all the way to the end, plus YouTube has taught them lots of songs about the characters and stories from "Portal Gun."  (This is one of the bizarre aspects of our Internet age that I never would have predicted...)

Anyway, unlike most first-person shooter games, the first-person character playing the game is female ("Shel") as is the main villain ("Glados" -- the computer that runs the Aperture Science Center).

Nico:  I guess Portal Gun shows that girls can do anything boys can do.

Leo:  Yeah, but boys will never believe it because boys are too selfish!  Ha, ha boys are too selfish to believe it!  [pauses to think]  Of course, girls are selfish, too.  Everybody's selfish.

I just chuckled and didn't make any remark.  But, naturally, a lot of things jumped out at me from this tiny exchange.

First, it's clear that they've picked up certain gender-privileged assumptions.  The fact that a male protagonist can set off on a video game adventure goes without saying.  A female protagonist on a video game adventure is strange and noteworthy -- something to glean a lesson from.  And you can see that my kids are using their brains, making an effort to find and learn those lessons that are out there to be learned.

Second, I want to make it clear that I never told them "boys are selfish" or taught them any other such lesson.  Leo has concluded that it is very bad to be selfish, and will often remark on whether various behaviors are selfish.  To be honest, I'm not entirely sure where he picked up his rejection of selfishness -- I'm ashamed to admit that I've been pretty lax about formally teaching my kids ethics -- but I'm not complaining.

Third -- and I'm probably reading too much into this, but -- I think Leo shows some pretty good empathy there for a 10-year-old kid.  Neither boys nor girls are inherently better nor fundamentally different from one another.  But this same human nature, given different circumstances and experiences, can manifest differently.

Also note, I'm currently reading them the "Little House" series as their bedtime story (I've also read them Heidi and the entire Harry Potter series, among other things), and Leo loved the "Dora the Explorer" stories.  So, while having a female protagonists in a video game is noteworthy, reading stories with female protagonists isn't.

I think this shows some kind of progress.  I remember when I was a kid that there was some common wisdom that for a story to appeal to both boys and girls, the protagonist has to be male.  OK, actually I think people still believe that.  (When I told my German teacher that I was reading my boys "Heidi" she protested that the story is for girls...)  But experience shows it's not true.

Come to think of it, I don't think I've read them "Alice in Wonderland" yet...