Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Budo and the Art of Making Tomatoes (into sauce that is....)

One of my favourite things in the world to eat is instant ramen. There was a time when that guilty pleasure was known only to a select group of people, but now that cultural diversity is becoming the norm, you can find some pretty good quality instant ramen at your local grocery store!

Now before you start thinking that you are reading the wrong blogpost for the topic at hand, I can assure you that in a round about way this will all connect, promise.

But one of the things that I want to experience in my life is to have some real ramen made by a true ramen chef. There is a gentle art in making ramen, and those who know will tell you that the secret to ramen is in the broth. It is the "soul" of the ramen. The broth is the unifying principle that ties everything together. It is the chi of the meal.

A bowl of ramen is a universe onto itself. Every ingredient existing in perfect harmony with each other. Actually if you want to see a great non cerebral, yet still intelligent movie about a great bowl of ramen, watch the 2008 movie "The Ramen Girl"

The key to making the broth is that you need to put your soul into it. It is not just about throwing a bunch of ingredients together and simmering it for an hour or two. You have to stir a bit of yourself into it. No I don't mean literally stirring yourself into the broth...that would be unsanitary! But there is a relationship that develops between you and the broth that is in a way indescribable.

So where do the tomatoes come in???????

One of the family traditions that we are starting to develop is the yearly making of the sauce....tomato sauce that is. Actually, our family makes passata di pomodoro.

In cost cutting terms, making your own sauce is VERY labour intensive and it requires quite a bit of upfront expense. So generally speaking you have to commit yourself to years of making sauce to really break even.

HOWEVER, one does not necessarily choose to make tomatoes for the cost savings.....it is the experience that making tomatoes creates. Talk to anyone of Italian descent and they can tell you all sorts of stories about making sauce. All the stuff that happens around the sauce gives it a bit of life....our kids love to watch the puree as it passes through the machine as it separates the skins. They come up with all sorts of stories and imaginative uses for the skins...laughing as they try to lift a bushels worth of tomato skins in the little green bin. I have NOT introduced them to Tomatina.

This year each of the older kids assigned themselves a "station" where they all took part in the process, which involves stewing the tomatoes, then passing them through a tomato machine and simmering the puree for a few hours. It is in the simmering that the magic happens. While simmering the mixture with a spoon the size of a small canoe paddle, what looks like a vat of red water will slowly thicken into a puree with the consistency of chinese congee. It is in this moment where ramen meets risotto.

Here is the math:

5 bushels of plum tomatoes @$15.99 = $79.95
Tank of propane $12 (Costco has the best price for propane btw)
7 boxes Jar lids @1.99 = $14

Previously purchased:

Propane burner: $79.00

Huge pot...like really huge...I think ours holds 65 litres: $80

Tomato machine: this one depends. We bought a hand crank one years ago for about $100 or so, but you can get motorized machines for $499. A lot of people make their own motorized machine for a lot less, we have been able to use a home made motorized machine the last couple of years....what a difference!

Out of this batch of tomatoes, we processed 4 bushels worth and jarred 59 litres of sauce....we would have had 60 litres, but you can't go through a day of making sauce without having spaghetti for dinner!!!!

So if you have been working it out in your head, that comes to about $105.88 which is about $1.76/L. If you buy tomato sauce on sale you can get it for about $0.88/ 680ml.

Which is not that big of a cost savings if you consider that that price does not factor in the initial costs of the machine, the burner and the mamma honkin' pot that you simmer the tomatoes in (We also process the jars, but I have had many Italian friends tell me that it is not necessary if you do it right)

What you do get is a year's worth of pure, tomato sauce that has no additives, no preservatives, no salt, all natural tomato sauce. Not to mention memories to last a lifetime.

I suddenly feel a craving for meatballs.


Monday, 22 August 2011

Introducing the Cast of the Show.....

Greetings TiPSI Dad readers!

As I was pondering the different things I could write about in this weeks entry, I realized that perhaps this would be a good time to introduce the various members of our TPSI family! (Just in case you are wondering, I am trying to coin a term don't ya know....TPSI = Two Parent Single Income...I just put the "i" in the title of my blog to help people with the pronunciation)

One of the first things you learn when you are a parent of more than one child is that though they come from the same genetic make up as you do....they are all different!!! All of a sudden all those XXYY XxYy charts in first year Bio take on a whole new relevance. Still don't understand them though.

Anyway, the various members of this TPSI family are:

Gavin (12): He is the oldest of the bunch, and like all firstborns is the one who gets saddled with a lot of the responsibility, but he also gets to be the first to do things too. Being a firstborn myself I hold fast to the conviction that it is the God given right of all firstborns to make life as difficult as it can be for their younger siblings, which he manages to do from time to time. After all, it's payback for how easy it will be for the rest of them when the younger siblings are allowed to get away with everything.....

However let it also be said that Gavin has a great natural curiosity, natural leadership qualities and adapts well to change. One of our ah ha moments was when we came downstairs to find that he had made scrambled eggs and toast for two of his younger siblings, brought Keira, who was 1.5 at the time, down from her crib and fed her two handfuls of cereal.

Next in the line up is Aileen (10): She definitely showed us early on that she was a completely different person from her brother. She is strong willed and very determined, which means that she can definitely hold her own when it comes to dishing it back. She is actually pretty good at dishing it out as well.

Aileen is the artist of our clan, she has great attention to detail and is meticulous about getting things right. She is also the dancer in the family. She recently competed in the Fergus Highland Games in Highland Dancing (her second competition) and placed in the top ten in five of the six dances she danced in.

Matthias (7) is the third. He is the gentle prankster of the group. One of my favourite "atta boy" moments was when he decided to stand one inch inside Aileen's room only to tell her "I'm in here" over and over and over and over until the inevitable MOOOOOMMMMM!!!!!!! (btw he was only three at the time)

He is also the scholar and the craftsman. Perhaps even the musician. He likes to sit and pick out tunes on the piano by ear. He also wears his heart on his sleeve as well and has a genuine heart of gold. He is the one who will divide his loot bag into equal parts to share with his brothers and sisters.

Keira (4) is by far the most outgoing in the group. She doesn't just walk into a room, she ENTERS the room. It is almost impossible to stay mad at her for any length of time. True story. While she was getting a stern lecture about I can't remember what now, she started to sing, "You Are My Sunshine" in her cute little three year old voice with a cute little innocent smile...awwwwwww.

She is also the boss. Not that she is bossy, she just has a knack for getting people to do what she wants to do. In fact it is uncanny how she can get her oldest brother to do things for her.......good thing I am immune to puppy eyes.

And then you have Nathan (3) the fearless, who has managed to break more things than the first four combined. Give him a roof and he will jump off it. He is the true test of so called "unbreakable" products....if it's Nathan proof, then you know it's good quality.
He is also the protector. He will defend whatever he is holding with tooth and nail right to the very end. Not even his oldest brother can get the ball from him if Nathan has decided that he doesn't want to part with it. He will also be the brother that will intimidate all the boys the girls will bring home.

Which brings us to Raphael (1.5) who like his namesake is angelic....for now. He also broke the pattern....if you noticed, the order of boys and girls so far has been boy girl boy girl boy. Lately he has taken to singing in church....whether the choir is singing or not.

And finally Bernadette (4 months) who is the youngest of the clan and is the centre of everyone's attention. She has just found her favourite fingers to suck on and is just starting to let her little voice be heard.

When I was in university I remember reading all sorts of articles and studies from so called "experts" regarding raising children, nature vs nurture etc. The thing is, a good number of these studies, were probably carried out by people who did not have kids!!!! Case in point, even though we deliberately did not do expose her to anything girly, Aileen started pretending to put on make up when she was two!!! The truth is, what I am finding out these days is that there is a whole lot more nature than the proponents of nurture would like you to believe.

Which brings me to this week's book recommendations (not that I am going to start recommending books on a weekly basis, it just sounded cool to say that)

However I have to totally recommend "Why Gender Matters" by Dr. Leonard Sax...it is in my books I recommend section. As Liz (aka TiPSI Mom) puts it " Every father with a daughter and every mother with a son has to read this book!" You can read the synopsis of the book yourself, but I have to say that it has really helped me to understand the kids on a totally different level than before.

The other book I would strongly recommend is called "the Temperament God Gave You" by Art and Larraine Bennet (also in my recommended books section) This book not only helped me to understand my kids better, but it has taken Liz's and my communication to a whole new level!!! What I like about this book is that it cuts through all the airy fairy stuff and really gives nuts and bolts strategies to effective communication....AND it is the only communication model that I know of that requires only ONE of the individuals involved to be on board.....which should catch the attention of anyone in the business of communication and negotiation...because as you guys know, most communication tools out there require both parties to buy into the system.

Well that's it for now folks! Next week: making your own tomato sauce and its connection to Japanese Ramen noodles.


Thursday, 18 August 2011

Odds and ends

Where did the week go? The last two weeks have been especially busy so this weeks post will be a little more meandering than usual! Last weekend we were at the Fergus Highland Games, where my daughter competed as a highland dancer. (Which I am proud to mention that she placed top ten in five out of the six dances in which she was competing!)

Yesterday my faucet exploded so I spent the day running around fixing that....

Today I have been busy making tomatoes (that's tomato sauce for the uninitiated)

And I have been busy running around taking care of the ordinary business in regular life

AND this weekend I will be going to a youth conference in Midland Ontario!

But I figured that I would give everybody a bit of a preview of the things that will be coming up in the weeks ahead......

So you can look forward to:

Meeting the kids!
Why I like fixing kitchen sinks better than fixing toilets
Our homeschooling odyssey
The budo of making tomatoes
Changes changes and more changes
Our highland adventure
Balancing (at least how I do it) family time, charity work and time for me

Also, if you haven't noticed, the comment field is now wide open for everyone to make comments, and I would love to hear what you think! BE WARNED....KEEP YOUR COMMENTS FAMILY FRIENDLY AND NON-ARGUMENTATIVE OR IT WILL BE REMOVED!

Having said that, I am sure that someone out there in cyberspace has a question or two....so if any of you would like me to talk about any particular topic, just send me a message, or leave a comment.

By the way in case you were wondering, a Zando Zan, is an intergalactic space assassin who was hired to get an ailen recruiter named Centauri in an obscure Disney film from the 80's called The Last Star-Fighter....just in case you haven't had a chance to google it yet ;-)


Thursday, 11 August 2011

Zen and the Art of Zero Budgeting

One of the reasons I started this blog was because one of the most frequently asked questions I would get was "how do you afford all those kids?"

The answer is pretty simple. Actually so simple that sometimes I think that people have a hard time believing me when I tell them. Especially since the pace of life tends to make us think that every thing has to be so complicated....seriously, have you seen the way some kids toys are packaged these days? You almost need a degree in engineering just to get the box open!

So what is the super simple secret to never ending bliss and happiness? Still working on that...but I can tell you that the secret to making sure that all the bills are paid each month and still having enough to buy the odd treat or two is budgeting.

With the amount of debt so many people are in it these days it makes me wonder if budgeting is becoming a dying art. Debt is one of the most aggressively marketed product these days... I can't tell you how many credit cards I have been offered in the last month!

Not only that, but now a days there are twenty somethings who have never experienced the joy of baking home made cookies, let alone the joy of balancing a cheque book! Yet these same non-foodies feel that they are entitled to the same lifestyle their parents worked for years to achieve.

Think about it this way, a household runs like a business..it is a real economy with income and expenses, assets and liabilities, production and waste. Like any business, household should also be concerned with watching the bottom line...which is where the magical mystical zero comes in to the equation.

Anyone with a math background, and really who doesn't absolutely LOVE anything to do with math, would know that in fact zero, while being the smallest non-negative integer, is a rational and therefore real number even though it is neither a prime number nor a composite number. (those of you who know how I really feel about math are laughing at me right about now)

But on an even deeper level, numerically speaking, it can be said that zero represents a state of balance. It is the point where the positive and negative integers cancel each other out. It is the centre point of a number line. It begins the positive, and ends the negative. Just as being still and doing nothing are two very different things, having zero and having nothing are two very different things. Perhaps the reason people who worry about having money at the end of each month are always stressed out, is because they are always seeking to be out of balance!

I have mentioned before that I am not a big fan of reinventing the wheel so I should point out that I learned the process of zero budgeting from the book, "Total Money Makeover" by Dave Ramsey, not to be confused with Gordon...who has a very fine line of stainless steel cookware by Royal Doulton. Although I think he spells his name with two As.

(BTW, you can check out Total Money Makeover in my recommended books widget)

Here is the math:

Basically this is done via simple spreadsheet, but I haven't figured out how to html a graph on to the blog yet....

In one column, let's call it column A, write down all sources of income eg, pay cheques, tax returns, money from pop bottle returns, whatever.

Next in another column, call it column B, or Beta or Centauri even, whatever you want, just watch out for the Zando-Zan.... I digress. Anyway, write down all of your monthly expenses eg, mortgage, utilities, cell phone etc. in the second column.

BE SURE TO TREAT SAVINGS AS AN EXPENSE!!!!! This is the key to staying out of debt and still getting the things you want in life.

Total each column.

Column A - Column B should equal Zero.

If you have a negative number, you need to figure out what to cut back.

***** REALITY CHECK***** if you are getting negative numbers on a regular basis, you are living beyond your means.

If you have a positive number it means that you can either allocate more for savings or perhaps you can get yourself that (insert frivolous treat here) you were looking at.

The comfort of a zero budget is that every penny gets in its place and is accounted for. It gives each dollar a sense of purpose. It can be argued that when a person does not feel a sense of purpose, they feel like they are a waste...money without purpose can easily go to waste as well. It will also put into perspective what you need versus what you want. Buying what you want is not a bad thing....if that is what you have purposed your money for. We (TiPSI Mom and I) wanted something that easy to use and could replace most of the functionality of our lap top, so we purposed our money and now we write our blogs using our brand new Ipad2s!

Right about now some of you (if you haven't already) are saying that there is just not enough time to do all this. The funny thing is, like a good friend said to me once, I only get 24 hours a day, just like everybody else, and I still manage to find half an hour every two weeks to set a budget. Ahem, AND I have seven kids.....

Taking care of our finances has scriptural roots too, The Parable of the Talents (Mt 25: 14-30) is ...not just about using our God given talents...but it also gives us insight of the importance of treating or money with respect.... How many times have you walked by a penny in the gutter? It will also make you aware of the abundance you have in your life!

One of the useful tidbits that I got from one of the countless self help books I read before I started reading Chesterton was that no body will care for your money as much as you. But even more importantly, if you subscribe to the notion that God provides, it stands to reason that anything we have has actually been given to us by God that we might be the faithful stewards of His creation.

Zero budgeting is a way to accountable to the last penny and therefore to be faithful in little things. (Lk 16:10)

It also allows us to provide the best for our little ones.


Next week: odds and ends.....

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Time outs and Temper Tantrums

I am a big believer in discipline. If you want to have kids who behave you need to not be afraid to be a parent...and being a parent means not being afraid to discipline your children from time to time.

Let's get something clear right off the bat, I am pretty old school when it comes to my views about discipline, especially corporal discipline. But before I get all sorts of emails and comments about the evils of spanking, it is important to point out that I am not talking about the "somebody gonna get a hurt real bad" kind of old school, but if you have been paying attention, you would have noticed that I have been using the word discipline instead of punishment. Punishment and discipline are two VERY different things. And for the record, I have had my share of well deserved ear flicks.

The key to disciplining kids is first and foremost self discipline. Your kids are only a mirror of you when you are stressed out. If you want them to learn self control you need to learn self control. If you want to teach your children that God is a loving and righteous father, you need to be a loving and righteous father. If you want your kids to behave under stress, then you have to show them how to behave under stress. Sometimes it is important AND helpful for your kids to see you get stressed out....and to see how you (healthily) calm yourself down. In other words, to share your humanity while reflecting God's divinity.

However there will come a point when the three year old has gone beyond rational thought...at that point it ceases to be a teachable moment and authoritative parenting needs to happen. Take manners for instance, there comes a point when it is no longer productive to wait until the three year old says please or thank you....teaching manners is important...but you have to ask yourself whether this is the hill you are prepared to die on....and really, in a battle of wills against a three year old, who is the adult????

I often tell people that parenting gets easier after three kids, because you have to change your game plan from man to man coverage to playing zone defence. Part of this strategy is knowing that discipline is not about punishment, but about modifying behaviour. You are not trying to get even, or prove that you are smarter or stronger than a two year old....rather you are teaching said two year old that putting a knife in the electrical outlet is not a good thing....better they learn that with a flick to the ear than with a shock to their system.

If you want to teach your kids how to behave at a restaurant, you need to take them to a restaurant once in a while. But teach them table manners at home. Our kids are not allowed to misbehave at the table at any time. If they have not cooled down by the time we finish grace, they are given the chance to cool down away from the table.

Also I can NOT stress the importance of CONSISTENCY enough!!!!!!!!!! Nuff said. Be on the same page as your spouse. Figure out your game plan before the situation arises...because in the heat of the moment, things can get well.....heated.

So while I will admit that I am still figuring some of this discipline stuff out, here are some ground rules that I have found very useful over the years. By the way, while it is a lot of work at first I have to say that I am finding that I don't have to discipline as much these days, because the older ones tend to model for the younger ones....however I still get to use my "asian dad" voice from time to time.

Here is the game plan:

Never discipline when you are angry...ESPECIALLY if you subscribe to corporal punishment.

Always ask your self what is the lesson you are trying to teach.

Ask yourself: Will it matter in five minutes, five days, five weeks or five years?

Discipline MUST be carried out dispassionately...it is counter productive to be freaking out when administering discipline...because your freak out undermines your authority.

The child needs to understand, to the fullness of their capacity, why they are being disciplined.

Never threaten a consequence that you are not prepared to carry out.

Never joke about consequences...sends mixed messages

Discipline needs to fit the crime AND the child. Two kids with different temperaments will react differently to the same punishment....sometimes it is unjust to punish with the same consequence. One child may learn from a flick on the ear, the other one may just laugh it off...and another will spend years n therapy blaming that flick for all of their failures....

As a martial artist I like to employ discipline exercises that have physical benefits...like wall sits or plank pose...if two are at fault sometimes I make them do wall sits side by side...sometimes I will join them.

At the end of the day, teaching a child self discipline is just as important as teaching them math or science. After all that is how we get them to be disciples.

Next week: Zero budget? Try a "Zero Budget"