Back to school. Finally!

By September 7, 2011 No Comments
OK. I am back and for real this time 😉
The kids were off for three months this year (while our tax dollars renovated the local schools), but they returned to their routine this week, and so have I. Writing this, seated in the shade of the oaks bordering my sunny deck, with hummingbirds buzzing around, feels like a “stay-cation” now.
With the start of a new academic year (and Max in Middle School!), September always feels like January’s onset of a new calendar year. Off to a fresh new start: Supplies, Lunches and Activities are revised.
Each year, teachers request many un-recyclable items that I would not purchase for our home (plastic markers for example), but would consider for school use. In a perfect world, teachers would keep “still good” supplies for subsequent classes or at least donate them to the local thrift shops at the end of the year. Better yet, manufacturers would offer non-toxic stainless refillables of modern staples such as markers, and teachers would limit their demands to those available and reuse them. But until then…
Our annual scavenger hunt for school SUPPLIES starts with a preliminary stop in the home office to retrieve last year’s leftovers and update lists with truly needed items. For example, the new box of pencils required for Max, did not make it. Afterall, Leo finds pencils on the street all year long 😉 – and we have plenty mechanical pencil refills. The disposable wipes on Leo’s list did not make it either. I volunteered to purchase reusable ones instead.

We then scout the town’s thrift shops with a much simplified and revised list. This year, we bought secondhand dividers, a binder, school paper, and one sharpie (Thank you for your donations, fellow Mill Valley-ans!).

We struck out on backpacks (bigger ones needed this year), glue stick, red ballpoint pen, second sharpie, and had to buy these new, but I am happy to give the local stationary store our scrutinized business. It not only allows us to purchase just the right amount (one is enough for now) and without the extra packaging (sold loose), but it also gives me the opportunity to support a small local business and save on gas (the big chain alternative is two towns over).
For the scientific calculator that Max needed, eBay was the best bet. Bought $4 used and now reused.
The boys’ appetites have grown this summer, so I was delighted to find an array of loose buns at the grocery store. These have simplified the kids lunch making. They are cheaper than baguette, do not need pre-ordering, and are pre-cut by Scott, making it easier for the boys to prepare them. Best of all, the serving size satisfies Max’s appetite perfectly.
As mentioned before, I do not usually spend time making what is available to us in bulk, such as pickles. But the long break and the sight of cute little pickling cucumbers at the farmer’s market, inspired me to prepare them again this year. They are easy to make with only a few bulk ingredients, the kids love them (they are sweet) and they are a great addition to school lunches. So I thought I’d share our recipe with you.

Bread and Butter Pickles Recipe

5 cups sliced pickling cucumbers (about 5 count)
1 onion
4 tsp coarse salt
1 cup cracked ice
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar (evaporated cane sugar)
Optional spices
Mix cucumbers, onions, salt, and ice in large bowl
Put a weight on the mixture for 3 hours (see picture)
Combine vinegar, sugar, drained cucumbers and spices of your choice (1/4 tsp turmeric, 1/8 celery seed, 1 tsp mustard seed for example)
Bring to boiling point (do not boil)
Fill sterilized jars (recipe will fill 1 quart size jar)
For long term storage, you can boil the sealed jar for 10 min. I personally don’t. We refrigerate them and they disappear within a month.
ACTIVITIES Never say Never… I am glad I did not.
Now the big surprise for the end. I am about to announce a major change in our household. With much deliberation (six-months long actually ;), Scott and I have finally given up on our video game battle and purchased a used Wii for Leo’s birthday. OMG! We have come to realize that our very social pre-teens are losing interest in their Legos, and cannot be kept away from gaming (at least, where we live anyways). In the last year, they have clearly learned to augment their outside playtime with a gaming fix at the neighbors.
Again, in my perfect world, our neighbors and friends would also be against video games and urge their kids to entertain themselves otherwise. We would also agree on the same house rules, dietary needs, all choose zero waste lifestyles, and live happily ever after. Well, since it is not the case, and Scott and I are not willing to move and become hermits or keep the kids locked up, but rather encourage age-appropriate social interactions at home, we considered multiple non-viable options (a trampoline on our hill, fuss-ball in the tiny playroom, etc.), until we faced the inevitable: No matter what we’d find as an alternative, gaming would still be out there and our kids would keep seeking it elsewhere. Then, I thought to myself that as long as we did it in a sustainable way (buying used console and games), with strict usage limits, it probably would not kill me 😉
We’ve had it now for only a couple of weeks, the kids bring their friends home more and I can share play time (Wii sports) with my fast growing boys. Gaming that fosters social and physical activity, afterall, is not too bad and more controllable than online gaming. And as long as we can mix it up with a variety of other activities, I am OK with it.

That said, do not fear, we are nowhere close to turning TV back on…

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