Monthly Archives: June 2008

Canning turkey and other fun things

I was up late, late, late last night.  Until 3 am.  Because I had so much food to put in the fridge, and not enough room for all of it, I had to take out the two roasted turkeys I cooked the day before. I had deboned them and put the pieces in 9 x 13 pans with the intent to can them as my first canning project the following day.  But I had to accelerate my plans so that the food I had didn’t spoil for lack of refrigeration.

I’ve been very interested in the idea of canning for quite some time.  This year, I decided I’m going to stop being interested in the idea and learn how to do it!  Four weeks ago, I bought a large number of jars from someone who was downsizing her canning since her sons were in college.  Then two different people from Craig’s List gave me some smaller canning jars.  Two weeks later, the canner I bought on Amazon arrived (Presto 23 quart size).  Several days ago, my mom picked up the canning tools kit that I was still needing.  I checked out canning books from the library and read several to get an idea of what was involved.  Plus I did bunches of online reading. 

So I was finally ready, and just in time to rescue my food from ruin.  :)  I had a good bit of trepidation about using a pressure canner – what little I had ever heard about pressure cookers scared me and intimidated me.  But vegetables and meats have to be pressure canned for them to be safely preserved, so there was no way around it.

Since it was my first time, it was a long process.  First I had to prepare the jars, lids, heat up the turkey until it was hot, prepare stock to pour on top of the turkey – and that was before I started canning anything.  Then I filled each of the jars with turkey pieces, poured stock on top to fill the space, closed them up and when the canner was full, I closed the lid and began exhausting the steam from inside the pot.  That meant boiling it until the steam came out the top, then letting it boil another ten minutes with the steam coming through the vent hole – I think the purpose is to get rid of all the air inside.  But I might be mixed up about the whys of it. 

Anyway, after that, I put the pressure regulator on top of the vent hole, and watched the dial gauge register the pressure.  It took a few minutes for the pressure to start to build enough for the gauge to register, but it started rising steadily.  Once it hit 11 pounds of pressure, I turned the heat down and kept an eye on it to be sure it didn’t drop below that or go above that.  It took 90 minutes to process once the pressure reached the desired number.  And then when I finally could turn it off, I had to wait for the pressure to totally come down before I could open it.

So it took a long time.  It wasn’t a lot of hands on time, most of it was in preparing in the beginning, and then needing to be close by to keep an eye on it.  If this was in the middle of the day, it wouldn’t have been such a pain.  But the hour got later and later and I was exhausted before I even started – I started a little before midnight.  While I was waiting for it finish processing, my 13 year old daughter started making mulberry jam.  (I didn’t mention that after a long day of shopping, we came home, unpacked for a half hour and then took my son to his little league baseball game.  Or that right after that, we picked mulberries near the field for a half hour.  And then we finally got home and had a late dinner and eventually put most of the kids to bed before I started all of this.)

Fruit jams don’t require pressure cooking, they just need a water bath processing.  So since I had to be awake and in the kitchen anyway, after she prepared the jam and filled the jars, I sent her to sleep and put that on the stove to cook as well. 

When it was finally all done, I had seven quarts of turkey lined up on my counter, along with eight jars of jam.  It was a very satisfying sight.  And especially nice to know that this is food that will stay good indefinitely, regardless of power outtages, and ready for me to use on a busy day.  Not only that, I was able to take advantage of the turkey being on sale, when usually I would be forced to pass it by or buy less because I wouldn’t have had room for it.  So there’s a financial savings in it, too. 

Tonight I made 5 quarts of dilled carrots, using dill from our garden and baby carrots that I picked up on sale yesterday (5 lb for $2).  Remember the issue I have with insufficient fridge space?  So 8 pounds of baby carrots were transformed into a tasty side dish that won’t need refrigerating until each jar is opened.  It’s very liberating!  I have a 16 quart pot on the stove simmering with stock as I write.  Tomorrow I plan to can large jars of stock.  That way I’ll have smaller amounts whenever I need it to cook with.  I enjoy having an ever present pot of soup or stock simmering on the stove in the winter, but I welcome it less in the summer!

I’m also planning to can bean soups, beans, and chilis, and if our garden gives us enough produce, then I’ll use the extra to preserve the taste of summer vegetables for the winter.  :)  Now I need to get lots more jars – I thought when I got 6.5 dozen large, 6.5 dozen medium, and about 5 dozen small that I would have plenty.  But they get filled up very quickly!


The great acidophilus find!

When I went shopping yesterday, I came home loaded down with boxes.  I picked up 2 cases of sweet potatoes (80 lb), 1 case of regular potatoes (50 lb), 1 case of red potatoes (50 lb), 1 case of organic bananas (40 lb), 30 lb of apples and you already read about the boniatos.  I also bought a 50 lb bag of rolled oats, about 20 lb of quick oats, a bunch of organic hard red wheat, and then all the other things, like canned goods.  That’s in addition to the 50 lb of carrots and 50 lb of cabbage that I picked up at the vegetable store a couple of days ago, along with all the other veggies in my order.  (Do you ever wonder how I find a place to store all this?  Trust me, it takes an effort.)

I also found something in the dairy department that I decided to buy because it was such a good price, even though I wasn’t sure what it was.  I told my kids I was sure it was something that was usually very expensive, though!  It said Bio-K Plus, dairy culture.  No instructions on how to use it, just the ingredients and that it was packed with acidophilus.  A case of 12 boxes was $3, so I bought a box.  It didn’t look very appealing and I figured no one was buying it because no one knew what it was.  Even the cashier asked me what it was when I checked out.  After we packed everything into the van, I decided to pop back in and buy another case.  I knew that whatever it was, it was a good buy and I didn’t want to kick myself when I got home that I didn’t buy more. My main concern was where I would put it, since I only have one regular sized refrigerator.  

When I got home, I googled (told you I love Google) Bio-K to see what this stuff was.  Well.  I found out that it is a very pricey nutritional supplement used to improve the health of the digestive system, in a yogurt like form, but very potent.  Each 3.5 oz container is equivalent to the acidophilus in 100 3.5 oz servings of plain yogurt.  Then I looked at the price – a box of six little bottles was $25.  And I had 12 of those boxes in one case!  And two cases of it! 

I didn’t do the math, my kids did.  They informed me that it would have cost a bit over $600 dollars had I bought them at market value, instead of for $6.  Quite a savings, don’t you think?!? 

So you might be wondering, why was it so cheap?  Was something wrong with it?  No, nothing was wrong with it, except that it was very close to the expiration date.  The way this store works is they buy truckloads of food items from various stores.  Sometimes things come through and whoever is pricing it doesn’t know what it is.  So they price it according to whatever they suppose it is.  In this case, they priced it the way they would a case of six containers of yogurt, and put it next to the yogurts. 

I’ve already started giving it to the kids.  Digestive health is the most crucial aspect of health, since if your digestion and absorption aren’t efficient, then it can manifest itself in ill health in other seemingly unrelated areas.  It will be interesting to see if we notice any visible improvements to our health, but whether we notice it or not, it’s logical to me that it will be helpful for us.  So that was a nice find.  :)


Boniato bonanza!

Yesterday I did my huge monthly shopping trip, and came home with oodles of good stuff.  I really enjoy shopping for food and coming home with my bundles and boxes to take care of my family with – my husband says he’s glad he married someone who gets so much pleasure out of food shopping for the family.  I’m easy to entertain.  :)

At one of my favorite stores (a grocery outlet), there was a box that said, “Everything in this box is 25 cents a pound.”  I looked in the box, but didn’t recognize the vegetable inside, so I went over to the woman in charge of the vegetable section of the store and asked what it was.  She told me she didn’t know, but someone told her it was something like a sweet potato.  I asked them how much it would be if I bought a case (I think she’s getting used to me asking this, lol), and they said $7.50.  I figured for that price I should try it, and then when the young lady was helping me with the case, she heaped it full of lots more of them, so I ended up with at least 60 pounds (if my math was right, that’s less than .13 a lb!). 

It looked vaguely familiar to me from an Asian vegetable store that I periodically stop in at, where I know it sells for $1 lb.  I didn’t know what it was called, but noticed a produce sticker on it that said ‘boniato’.  It didn’t ring a bell, so I googled it (I LOVE Google – I use it all the time), and came up with some information on how to store it, cook it, and some recipes.  It seems it’s more perishable than sweet potatoes, and they turn brown quickly when you peel them, so I peeled fast and kept a large bowl of water next to me to pop them into right away.  I prepared boniato pudding and served it for dinner – it was a mixture of shredded boniato (less sweet than a sweet potato and more starchy), milk, sweetener, coconut, eggs, and spices.  Except for the sugar it was filled with good stuff, and I used raw sugar and halved the amount it called for.  The kids gobbled it up.  I made two very full 9 x 13 pans, and they only ate one pan full, so I’ll give them the second one for breakfast tomorrow. 

It’s fun to find new things to cook with and especially to do it on a lean budget!


Is driving a scooter a good option?

Many of you know me from other places, so you remember that three years ago we converted a mini school bus to run on waste vegetable oil.  That was a successful experience that we all enjoyed, but we (sniff) sold the van last winter.  When we were driving the veggie van, I enjoyed watching the gas prices climb, feeling that the higher they went, the better an investment our van had been.  But since it’s no longer with us, my husband and I are discussing strategies to limit our dependence on a vehicle. 

Why?  Well, obviously, gas prices are high, and in my opinion, they are going to continue steadily rising due to the limited nature of oil and the ever increasing demand from various countries that until now haven’t used much.  We already employ most of the strategies I hear suggested for saving on transportation costs: we have only one vehicle, we drive it as little as we need to, my husband carpools or takes public transportation to work all but one day a week (when those options aren’t available), we carpool my son to high school, I do one food shopping trip a month, and bunch all my errands as much as possible.  And we still are spending over $300 monthly on gas.

So what to do?  I feel like it’s going to take something more drastic to make any difference, as the increasing costs of gas are outpacing whatever we may save by cutting back, so that we’re hardly managing to stay ahead of costs.  I thought about buying another mini school bus to convert, and spoke to the manager of the company we purchased from before, but the costs are much higher now than they were. 

My husband didn’t like that idea, anyway.  He feels that we need to stop looking for cheaper ways to drive and instead, develop a different paradigm regarding getting where we need to go.  Things like, not automatically assuming the only way to get anywhere is a car – walking, taking a bus, staying home more.

We spoke seriously as a family about the possibility of getting rid of our van, and as much as we liked that idea, it isn’t viable for us right now.  We live in an area where some things are walking distance, but not most.  The main things we need a vehicle for are: carpool for son, husband takes it to work one day a week, and shopping.  We considered paying someone to take our son to school, renting a van once a month to do all the shopping, walking more as a family and taking public transportation when we wanted to take a trip – but the numbers just don’t work.  If we paid someone to take our son to school (six trips/three roundtrip daily – current rate is $80 one way), that alone would cost almost as much as we spend in gas and insurance (we don’t have a car payment). 

We’re looking into scooters as an option for my husband to use for his commute.  He has a 40 mile drive, in one direction, and replacing his driving even one day with a scooter would be a big help.  Scooters with motors under a certain size don’t require a special license or insurance, but they also aren’t allowed on roads that have speeds of over 45 mph.  So driving on the highway would be out.  My husband borrowed a scooter from a friend yesterday, to see how driving around feels, and is planning to take it to work tomorrow and see if the drive is manageable.  It is very cool looking, and he so far enjoyed zipping around with it.  For his commute, he mapped out a route that will take him along slower roads, so the drive will take much longer than usual.  It might be fun for a while, but a two hour drive in the outdoors isn’t something that seems that it will work long term. 

For short commutes of 10 miles or less, though, I think scooters are the way to go.  They’re inexpensive to buy, very good on gas (about 70 – 100 mpg), and just right for when one person needs to get somewhere.  I’ll let you know how it works out!


Using a clothesline

For the first eight years and four children of my marriage, I didn’t have a dryer.  I did have a freestanding clothes dryer rack, though, and that’s what I used.  It was simple, cheap, and it worked.

How did we do it?  Well, the first thing was not being able to depend on an electric dryer, because we didn’t have one.  I’m sure that during those winter days that were damp I would have used a dryer if I had one. (Especially when we had a child who didn’t stay dry during the nights, and that meant lots of sheets and blankets regularly needing to be laundered!)  Necessity is the mother of invention, but it also means that we push ourselves to do good things that we might otherwised not be motivated to do – and hanging clothes outside to dry was one of those things for me.

The second thing that helped was being aware of the weather and what clean clothes each child had available.  In the six months of sunny weather we were graced with, it wasn’t hard to wash clothes in the morning and have them dry an hour or so after hanging them up.  But in the winter, when the rack came indoors on cloudy days, and even on sunny days the cold weather precluded quick drying, I needed to plan ahead to ensure that everyone had clean clothes when they needed them. 

When we moved to Washington state, the house we rented had a washer and dryer, and it was easier to just use what was there instead of setting up any other system.  And then we left the West coast, but didn’t really rethink the clothes drying issue enough to take action.

What has me musing about drying clothes in the sun today?  After a very long time of wanting to get back to sun drying, my husband has put up a clothesline in the backyard for me.  Today was the first time in years that I was able to hang clothes outside in an organized way.  And I really enjoyed it – it’s one of those things that you can do, being present in the moment and feeling the pleasure of the outdoors while you do it.  I enlisted my just turned six year old son (had a birthday on Sat.) to help – I held the clothes in place, he clipped the clothespins on.

About a year ago, I was looking into retractable clotheslines.  The price made me hesitate, but it sounded like a great idea – pull it out when in use, unhook it so it retracts when not in use.  But the reviews I read seemed lukewarm and I didn’t want to spend over $60 on junk.  So this year I headed to the Home Depot and bought a length of clothesline about 200 feet long.  It has been waiting for my husband to have time to put it up, but he finally was able to do it a few days ago.  He affixed two by fours to the side of the house and the side of the garage, then strung the clothesline between it, back and forth several times.  (He left the line too loose, out of good intentions, but that’s something he’s going to remedy for me tomorrow – the clothes were drooping quite low because there was so much slack in the lines.  It did make it very easy for the six year old to help, though, because it was so easy for him to reach!)

I enjoy simplicity in life, and a clothesline is as simple as it gets!  I also like knowing that with a very small amount of time, I can save money on electricity, reduce my energy consumption and dependence on outside energy suppliers, get a little exercise and enjoy the smell of freshly dried sun kissed clothes.  Mmmm!


Building up food stores for emergencies

I mentioned a while ago that I was concerned about emergency preparation, and though it’s something that I think about almost daily, I keep pushing off sharing my thoughts here with you. I’m a positive person in general, and I don’t want to sound negative.  But I feel it’s not any kindness not to share something that could be important for your family.  So here goes.  :)

About four months ago, I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen for a while, and asked how things were.  He told me about his new position, writing up emergency preparation plans for the county in which he lived.  This involved a very large amount of research (I think he said nine months’ worth), and then he prepared his recommendation for the public, based on all his research.  I was very interested in what were the suggestions for an emergency were, as well as what could precipitate the kind of emergency that would necessitate using those suggestions.

Firstly, the suggestions:  have three days of whatever you need in your house at any given time (food, medicine, water, hygiene products, etc).  I commented that three days of supplies didn’t seem like a very large cushion to me.  He agreed, and said that the recommendation is made based on what they think people will be able to hear, not on what will actually be most appropriate.  He said that provisions for a month would really be the kind of recommendation they might want to make, but know that most people would hear that number and it would seem so intimidating that they give up before even starting.  So they give a number that will give most people something to strive for, but something they feel is doable and realistic, because it’s better than nothing. 

I understood this reasoning (though all of us would be wise to understand how much more than three days of supplies we really need than that), but I found it alarming to consider that most of the American population doesn’t have even three days of food in their home.  We live in a time of so much affluence, yet have become dependent on constant trips to the store for whatever we need, relying on the retailers to provide us with what we need when we need it.  We’re very fortunate to live in a world in which our food comes to use regularly through the various channels and with remarkably little interruption.

But have you ever thought about what would happen if there were even a small disruption in one part of the supply chain? Each part is so linked to the next that even a small problem in one area could become a very big problem.  We can’t plan for every eventuality, and I don’t believe in living in fear and anxiety about what could go wrong.  But I do think that we need to make our best effort to be prepared for whatever eventualities may come our way. 

What does this mean for me personally?  I try to have at least a month’s supply of food stored, working towards more (but with the increases in food costs, I’m finding it a challenge to get my pantry built up further while maintaining my current food budget).  Foods like grains and beans keep well for long term storage, as well as canned fruits, veggies, and fish.  Some recent things I’m doing with this in mind: I’ve started a garden so as to be less dependent on retailers, am learning about foods that grow locally in the wild, and have just bought a pressure canner and jars, so that I can preserve foods that will stay without electricity (we would lose all the food in the freezer if we lost power for more than a day or two), and are cooked and ready to eat with no additional prepping necessary.  I have bottled water stored in gallon jugs – not nearly enough for a long term emergency, but enough for two or three days for our family. My concern about insufficient water is part of what made me decide it’s time to learn to can, because having lots of dried beans on hand only helps if you have the water to cook them in!  But with a canner, I can preserve soups, chilis, beans, meat, fruits and veggies – in a ready to eat form, for long term storage.  (It also makes it convenient to have something cooked I can just pull out for dinner – I’n not thinking of it being useful only in case of a catastrophe!).

Last week, we had a tornado watch in our area, and when residual parts of the storm hit here, it was scary.  But after a minute of panicked thinking, I mentally checked off: we have food (stored), water (bottled), light (candles and flashlights), etc – and that gave me peace of mind that I had done my best to be prepared. 

 Do I think that we’re going to have an emergency that will necessitate using these things?  I certainly hope not!  But I do believe that being prepared keeps an emergency from feeling like an emergency for you.  Life happens – illness, natural disasters, terrorism, layoffs.  I don’t believe that it’s possible to plan for every eventuality, and it’s not my goal.  I believe that G-d is in charge and I try my best to be a responsible steward of our resources for the sake of my family, who depend on me. 


Dandelions and mulberries

You know, I seriously have at least five posts every day that I want to write, but not enough time for most of them.  Life is so full and there’s always something going on (particularly in my thoughts:)), but once the day is over, I can’t even remember the next day what happened to post retroactively!

Today I had fun foraging for edible wild foods with the kids.  I’m very interested in learning to identify plants that grow locally in the wild, and finding out what they are used for.  I need to get a decent book with good photos, though.  I’m enjoying the book I’m reading now, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, but there are only line drawings in it and I can’t figure out if what I see in my yard matches those drawings.

I brought samples of a couple of plants inside, went online, and googled for pictures of what I conjectured they might be.  It really wasn’t a very efficient way to do it, but I’m trying to learn!  But I’m hesitant to eat anything unless I’m positive it’s edible, and I realized that getting help from someone who knows something would be really good!  I called an older neighbor this evening and asked her if we could visit her garden so she could show us what she’s growing, and then asked if she recognized the weeds that are local.  She said she knew some of them, and would be happy to show us what she knows when the weather gets a little cooler. 

I saw a reference for The Forager’s Harvest, which sounded perfect, because the pictures are supposedly very clear and make identifying what you see easy – that’s what I want.  Amazon was out of stock, so I found his website and called them directly.  His wife called me back and after telling me how to order it directly from them (that’s what I called to ask about), answered a question about the pile of burdock leaves that my 13 year old daughter picked today.  I was hoping they would be edible, but she said she didn’t recommend using the leaves, just the stem part, and that it tasted similar to celery when cooked.  People nowadays just don’t have this kind of knowledge or familiarity anymore, of knowing how to prepare indigenous plants, whether for food or medicine.  Knowing how the world around us works is empowering, whatever the specific skill is, and I want my children and I to access some of the ancient wisdom and know at least what is growing wild in my backyard. 

I didn’t try the burdock stems yet, but prior to her call we did identify dandelion greens, and picked a bunch of those.  Since it’s a little late in the season, they aren’t tender enough to eat fresh in a salad; they’re too bitter uncooked.  I boiled them once, and then decided to put them in boiling water a second time, which I read helps minimize the bitterness.  Then I blended them up and put them into the lentil soup for dinner. I didn’t have any (because my son accidentally added some sweetener), but the kids said it was very good.  I love knowing that I could add some power packed nutrition to our meals (dandelion is very high in vitamin C) by using what is generally considered a pesky weed. :)

Then after dinner, we took a short drive to a field where we noticed a bunch of mulberries growing last year.  I really like this location since there are plenty of branches that are low enough for even the littlest kids to pick independently.  My two year old got his own plastic container to put his berries into, and was so proud when he came home and showed his older brother (who stayed home) the mulberries he picked!

It’s really just the beginning of the mulberry season here, so the majority of the berries weren’t ripe yet, but we still got a nice amount.  It didn’t take long and it was a pleasant time of evening to be out – it was about 8:30 pm, so it was cool but still light out.  After we got home, we measured out all that we picked, and it came out to 16 cups.  I thought I would make jam out of it (something else I want to learn to do), but my kids remembered that my mom left a dehyrator here when she moved out a year ago.  We’ve never used it before (I didn’t even know it was here until a couple of weeks ago when I was cleaning out a storage area where she kept her things), but this seemed like a good way to inaugurate it.  The mulberries perfectly filled all five racks.  I read that dried mulberries are good used like dried figs or raisins in baked goods (or eaten alone). 

I plan to go back in a week or so, when the berries have ripened more, and pick some to eat fresh, some to make jam with, and some to can in its own juice.  I’ve never done this before, so it will be an interesting experiment.  I really love the idea of using the resources that are around us, free for the taking, if we just take the time to learn about it!


More free tshirts!

I’m adding this post to update my earlier post about the tshirts we were given yesterday.  I just got a call from the library branch we were at – my first thought was that I must have returned something without all of the cds.  But it was the lady who gave us the tshirts yesterday.  It seems that they had a staff meeting this morning and someone brought up  that it wasn’t right to give only two shirts to our family when we have eight kids.  So they all decided that they would give the other six kids tshirts, too! 

I told her that I didn’t feel right for one family to get 8 shirts when there are so many kids who didn’t get even one.  She told me all the staff agreed to it and it was ‘a done deal’; they were only calling me to find out the kids’ sizes, not to ask me what I thought of it.  :)

I don’t know what to tell my kids when they ask why people do these things – I really don’t.  (They also wondered how the librarians knew our name and phone number, but that was easier to figure out.)  That’s because I just don’t know why.  Our kids dress nicely and certainly don’t look like they need clothes!  I think it must be because people have such good hearts and want to share good things with others, and maybe we just are in the right places at the right times.  But whatever the reason, wasn’t that nice?


The things two year olds say!

This morning my mom popped in before work, and my 2 year old showed her his new rocking chair (see my post from a couple of days ago) – “it’s my rocking chair from the garbage”.  It’s good my mom understands what that means, because it doesn’t sound too good, does it?!

After she left, he asked me to put his sandals on so he could go out.  I told him we weren’t going out now.  A few minutes later, someone asked where he was, and ran outside to check for him.  He had put on his sandals, opened the back door (that I thought was too heavy for him – got to keep it locked now that I know he can pull it open), and was going into the alley behind the house.  When he saw my daughter coming to get him, he told her, “I’m looking for garbage”.  LOL – it was very cute. 

He already learned that good things come from people giving them away, but I think I’m going to have to teach him to express it a little differently, though, lest he say something like that in company that takes him literally!


Summer reading programs

It seems that libraries all over the country have motivational summer reading programs, to encourage kids to read during their summer vacation.  And since everyone agrees that reading is a good thing, these programs must be a good thing, right?

 I don’t think that they’re bad, but I don’t particularly care for them.  When my kids were younger, I didn’t sign them up for it, but now that they’re older and have asked to do it, I agreed.  My concern about reading programs is that the stress is on external motivation – the underlying message is, ‘read a book so you can get a prize’, though they supposedly are saying ‘read a book because reading is fun’.  There’s no difference if you read a 30 page easy reader or a challenging thick novel, so if someone is focusing on reading a certain amount of books to get points or prizes, they’re going to read the short and easy books. 

I love reading, and am constantly broadening my knowledge of many things thanks to my reading, and want my kids to also love reading.  The environment in our house is very book friendly – we read books to our littlest kids, have oodles of books around of our own and from the library, and continue reading out loud as a family as the kids get older.  As a result, my kids all enjoy books.

I think external motivation cheapens the value of what you are trying to motivate a child to do.  The underlying message is, ‘reading by itself isn’t fun, so we’ll give you prizes because that’s the only way to get you to do it’.  There’s a place for that, since it might pull in reluctant readers and help them find that reading is enjoyable.  But it tends to demotivate, or only works for the duration of the incentive program.  I remember participating in a school reading contest in fifth grade – I watched as kids who never read copied titles from the classroom library onto their forms and filled up their sheets.  Seeing that, it became obvious to me that the contest wasn’t going to be based on who actually read and what they read, which was supposedly the point.  I was an avid reader, and I went over to the shelves and copied down the titles of books I had read before the contest started – I still remember feeling wrong about the whole scenario.  The kids who didn’t read were cheating, the kids who did read were cheating.  And for what?

I want my kids to be lifelong readers, who want to read and enjoy reading.  I don’t want them to have the on/off pattern that has been demonstrated to be the norm with these kind of contests.  In order to ensure that they challenge themselves in their reading, I have a selection of books that my kids need to read from each day for a certain amount of time.  These are all good books, but they also have more complex sentence structure and vocabulary than they might choose on their own. 

So why do I let my kids participate in the summer reading programs? Because my kids already enjoy reading and they aren’t allowed to change their reading standards just to participate.  My kids have mandatory daily reading time (in addition to the free reading they do on their own), and if they want to write down those books on their library reading lists, that’s fine with me.