Friday, April 09, 2010

Email alerts.

It's all very well to decide not to pick up the phone if caller ID says it's my mother or brother. (Babbling co-dependent loonies, the two of them.) It's a good plan, although annoying in that they will call and call and call and call the house, and my bluetooth in the car doesn't have caller ID, so I end up speaking to my brother all the time on speaker phone in the car because I keep forgetting he has my cell phone number.

Nonetheless, I've been successfully avoiding my mother, although Dear Butcher spoke to her a few days ago. He ended up laughing at her, which I don't think made the conversation a very positive experience for her. (Apparently she said something like, "Now that the custody arrangements are going to go the way I want them to, everything will be perfect." To which Dear Butcher guffawed and said, "Really? Just like that? Perfect.")

Well now, four days later, the custody arrangements are not going the way she wants, so after calling me 14 times yesterday, she sent me an email.

I didn't open it, but when I turned on the computer this morning, the first line of the email was excerpted onto my home page. Just that one line was enough to make me grit my teeth and start thinking of a thousand snappy comebacks, logical devices, snarling rejoinders and other responses while I was making my coffee.

Deep breaths and a mug of coffee later, I'm back on solid ground again.

Our furnace died two days ago. Yesterday we had an HVAC contractor come out to look at the 20 year old beast. After much poking around in vents and examination of electrical service and duct capacity, we're going to not only replace the furnace, but install air conditioning. For this, we have to take out a small equity loan. But the manager of the bank LOVES Dear Butcher. They can sit in the lobby of that teeny bank and discuss The Fed and Prime Interest Rates and the Chamber of Commerce and Main Street happenings for hours. Yes, hours. For all my politicking, those "we are men of business" conversations just make me want to start shrieking and rending my clothes out of boredom. But when Dear Butcher calls the bank manager to say our furnace died, the bank manager yawps into the phone, "Come on DOWN! I'll have the paperwork filled out for you in FIVE MINUTES!" Sometimes schmoozing is a good thing.

But the thing with the furnace is that I'd like to get a handyman in to run ethernet cable up to Neo's room. The wireless is NOT working in this house. We've tried everything, but if you are upstairs there is no signal, and Neo is completely frustrated. With the AC, I've killed any discretionary funds for Neo's computer, so I told her we would ask the grandmothers if they would be interested in helping me pay for the cable work. Shouldn't be much.

The first line of my mother's email detailed how she was going to lose all her savings on fighting for my brother's custody of his son. Woe is me, and aren't I a good mother, and don't you feel sorry for on for more details.

He's almost fifty and you're STILL paying his legal bills and didn't you have to sell your HOUSE to move into an apartment because you were supporting him? Now you're complaining that the custody case is going to wipe out any profit from the sale of your house? The house you did construction on so you could live there in old age. I wouldn't mind a little help with the Furnace and the Computer and Summer Camp you know. But hey, this way is MUCH better. Better for my soul, if not my bottom line. But don't whine to me, OK?

So how do I block my phone, my cell phone AND my email?

I need to find a desert island with an air conditioned house.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Folding laundry, ironing shirts, stacking dishes, cleaning the floor.

All of these involve an insane level of boredom.

I am aware that this is not much of a news flash -- but I'm struck by how very, very, very bored I've been all freaking day long. And the house really doesn't look all that much better as everything is *folded* in the closet rather than lying on the floor of the closet.

Edit -- Lying? Laying? Shirts don't lay eggs, it must by lying, right?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

There's a tree somewhere producing pollen and I'm stuck with this headache.

Allergy medication works, but it KNOCKS me out. Like a hammer to the head, sometimes right in the middle of a sentence.

And the newest fabulosity is that just before the allergy strikes, the entire inside of my mouth starts itching.

I never used to have hay fever. My mother even scorned its very existence -- that children who had hay fever had overprotective parents who were making the whole thing up. I remember sneezing or sniffling here or there as a kid, and I know that over time I've developed a hay allergy, but it was mostly a sniff, sniff, snerkle sort of annoyance.

This comes on like a raging wildfire all at once. There are no preliminary sniffles, just POW!

This morning I'm up and about, no sniffles or itchiness in sight. But I awoke with this sharp headache that coffee isn't fixing. Fun.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Food Revolution

Like JM Carr, I've been watching Food Revolution, but I've been a bit disappointed, as I am with all things regarding public education as reported in the media. There's not enough detail to help explain to the viewer the problems the Jamie's up against as he tries to change the nation's school lunch programs.

First of all, he's not the first chef to try. Alice Waters tried to set up school gardens in the Berkeley public schools, based on the Montessori model of hands-on learning, to encourage kids to recognize their food and to eat the healthy produce they grew. The program continues to expand, but Alice Waters herself has said that just having the kids grow the food was not enough to get them to try it. Now that she's set up a private foundation to support the edible schoolyard, it can be added to the public schools. But on its OWN, as the program was first developed, the Alice Waters experiment was a financial failure.

It's all about finances. Everything. The producers of the show don't even bother to explain the federal program, how it meshes with the "Free and Reduced Lunch Program", or what the difference is between a breakfast and a lunch program. Makes for good TV but very, very poor activism.

To begin to get my hands around this thing, I'll base this off of JMC's post from a few days ago: Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

From JMC:
I was intrigued to see the kids all eating breakfast at school. Despite the fact that the federal government mandates certain administration is state-based, and can vary widely. When I was a kid, back in the dark ages (80s and early 90s), breakfast at school was a relative rarity.
But the breakfast program is NOT a school-based program. Neither is the National Lunch Program. Both are administered BY the USDA. Yes, your department of agriculture designs, funds, and provides pre-packaged foods for the food in your school.

More detail on meal reimbursements later, but the breakfast program ends up costing the schools more money if a large number of students don't participate. (Reimbursement for lunch is different -- you can lose a lot of money very quickly in the breakfast program.) Since participation is dependent on parents getting up a bit earlier to get the kids there (as opposed to lunch where you have a captive audience), a lot of schools don't offer breakfast choice at all. If there's a substantial percentage of the school eligible for a free and reduced meal plan, then it can make sense to simply train the student body to expect to eat breakfast at school. When my eldest attended Berkeley public schools, the students came into the classroom, sat down, and ate a breakfast laid out for them at their desk. (Fruit, milk and cold cereal.) In our present district, none of the schools automatically provide breakfast to the entire student body.

Generally, a large school with a large "Title I" population (low socio-economic class) will provide breakfast to the entire population.

More from JMC:

Another contrast was the menu. Locally, the meal usually consisted of milk, eggs, breakfast meat, and/or oatmeal/grits and/or cold cereal. When Jamie walked into the school cafeteria and saw the kids eating “breakfast pizza”, I thought they were eating some sort of flatbread with eggs on it. No, it was regular pizza. And sweetened milk (strawberry or chocolate). I was horrified. It’s one thing to be a hung over college student eating cold pizza for breakfast, but pizza for breakfast every day? For a five, six, seven, eight year old? That is NOT healthy.
Menu development is where there is SOME local control. However, we now enter the new gray area of offer vs. serve. Never heard of offer vs. serve? It's a real problem.

Let's say you want the kids to eat a healthy breakfast of fruit and hot cereal. You plop it on the tray and then they eat it, right? Welllll, no. Not according to the 1980's USDA "Healthy Schools Meal Initiative." (In my opinion, it is this initiative that is creating most of the headache in school nutrition programs.)

You are no longer allowed to plop stuff on the tray and make the kids eat it. Kids have to be offered healthy choices. It's supposed to help kids balance their calories on their own and it destigmatizes the poor kids eating Chicken A La King slop from the wealthy kids eating a piece of whole fruit and a sandwich. Under Offer vs. Serve, ALL kids are encouraged to go through the lunch line, not just the poor kids.

Each child has an option of 4 to 5 choices (one meat, one fruit, etc., etc.) They must choose three, no more than two from the same category. STAFF MAY NOT REQUIRE a child choose this or that. STAFF MAY NOT REQUIRE that a child finish what is on their plate, and the child may not go back through the line to get an option they passed up before. (This link summarizes the rules pretty nicely: An explanation from a high school's website)

This creates an insane amount of waste. The USDA meal plan does include way too much bread and a fairly small amount of protein, but imagine how annoying it is to find the trash bin full, day after day, of food that the kids had no intention of eating in the first place. Over time, this creates a sense in the lunch room that it's better to give the kids foods they are going to eat. Also, you have to offer a choice. It cannot be "Today is roast chicken. Eat it or go hungry." There has to be a choice of this vs. that, and all the choices have to mesh together in such a way that the meal nutrition guidelines are met.

When I was on the board, I looked over a sample of kid's purchases during middle and high school snack. In a three week period, there was 1 purchase of a side salad, 6 purchases of fruit, and daily purchases of bagels w/cream cheese and pizza along with a purchase of ranch dressing. (Kids dip the pizza into ranch -- that's their choice.) So everyday the schools packed the snack carts with fresh salad, so they could show that they had offered it to the kids, and every two days they threw the fresh salads away. They CANNOT take the option of the pizza away without substituting an equal option of bread, vegetables and protein exchanges. Hard to find something that's cheap enough to fit the guidelines in that situation, so the pizza stayed. (The individual packages of ranch dressing went away though.)

The other bit that's not being addressed in these discussions is cost. Once you have a National Lunch program, the prices you can charge for your meals are directly linked to the federal subsidies for your meals. Free and Reduced lunches can cost no more than X to manufacture and full price lunches can be priced at no more than 50 cents to a dollar more than the cost of the Free and Reduced lunch cost. School lunches are about $2.50 because you are capped at about $1.75 in food cost for the Free and Reduced lunch. Even from the federal government, milk takes up about 50 to 60 cents of that $1.75.

A seventy cent meal which includes lots of fresh produce is a tricky thing to pull off.

AND, there's the added issue that many districts are prohibited from producing food in bulk. Small district, small school kitchens -- transportation of hot food stuffs from central kitchen creates health code problems. (Yeah, I know it's stupid, but a few districts in my area have stopped offering spaghetti sauce and chili because they can't keep the vats of sauce at the right temp -- outdated equipment and no $ to upgrade.)

How do you make a 70 cent meal? Never fear! The USDA will provide food for you and will coordinate the food with their own menu plans. Government cheese, government canned beans, government frozen product, government breads and meats. All for pennies.

Our central kitchen is HUGE and is mostly made up of freezers and dry storage space. There is not a single saucepan in site. No one's used the burner or the steam cauldron in years. It's all hotel pans, racks of them, for heating up chicken nuggets and frozen beef patties of the approved nutritional content.

In terms of shifting the program over to healthier eating, there's one other little fly in the ointment. If you want to buy really cheap beans and really cheap meat and really cheap cheese to produce a healthy bean burrito at your central kitchen, that's fine. You just have to place your order in the form of "chits" one year in advance. Over the next year you send in your chits and the government sends you your allotment of frozen ground beef. Make a mistake in ordering? Decide to try a new menu? Too bad, there's no ordering until next January. It's not a matter of blowing your budget by ordering from restaurant supply houses. If the meal costs more than 70 cents to produce, you've violated federal guidelines and you can't serve it.

Professional chefs know how to manage food costs and how to produce healthy cheap meals. Mostly they make everything they can in house and make one sauce that can go on three or four different dishes. Make stuff in bulk. Experiment. Be creative.

School lunch personnel have been locked into a system where it ends up being easier to use the prepackaged junk produced by the government to meet the needs of the government nutritional and budgetary requirements.

Our schools have very little money left to pay teachers and support staff, or to implement innovative programs. Proper nutrition is critical. However, the USDA has created a completely counterproductive and ultimately unworkable system. It's not the school's fault. It's not about local choice; it's about the federal government's willingness to feed poor people food waste and call it nutrition.

I wish, I wish, I wish, someone would do a "Food Nation" on the USDA's guidelines and meal plans. Horrible stuff.

Friday, April 02, 2010

I'll never think that I went overboard in naming my children unusual names again. My daughter has two friends, one named Zephyr and one named Aristotle.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


Had a dream last night at Evil Auntie Peril left a comment on my blog which read, "Now what?"

So I started wondering my dream what she meant. What conversation was she referring to? Was she referring to something on her blog?

But in my dream I couldn't get to her blog, and really I couldn't get to my computer either. I just had this image in my head of a computer screen I had seen somewhere with a comment box and Evil Auntie Peril's question.

Was something going on in Czechoslovakia that I should know about? No news, no contact, and this weird feeling that I should be doing something for someone else that I didn't know how to contact.

EAP, what's up? Now what?