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Home Ec 101

Time to learn those life skills

Jennifer Oakley
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Will Lane, Chip Lane, Rob Lane

CAST AWAY Will Lane gets a lesson in fly fishing from dad Chip Lane while brother Rob (from left) looks on. Chip taught the boys how to catch, clean and cook trout. (Photo: carrieturnerphotography.com)

After the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools, a meme popped up that struck a chord with a lot of parents: Now that school is closed for a while, my kids will be taking: AP Chores, Honors Yard Work, Dishwashing 101, AP Trash Disposal, Honors Laundry and Home Economics, aka Make Your Own Lunch.

With an abundance of time together, some Buzz parents are teaching their children at-home life skills.

Calling it the bright side of the pandemic, these four families say the forced time at home has helped their kids, from 2 to 20, learn needed home economics lessons.

Mom-of-two Sarah Lane remembers that a home ec class was offered when she was a student at Lamar High School. “I wish I had taken it at Lamar,” she says. “For example, I can needlepoint, but I can’t sew. It would be nice to know how to do that. Also, you could learn how to cook for the family. When you think about it, there are only so much ramen or microwave meals you can eat. Home economics teaches practical skills to learn when you graduate high school, like surviving!”

It is with this mindset that Sarah and attorney husband Chip faced the at-home orders that the pandemic brought. With Scouts and sports cancelled and with school online, the family was home 24/7. Why not, she thought, use this time to get sons Rob, 15, and Will, 12, who both attend St. John’s School, to be fully invested in their home life?

“You do need to learn how to clean a bathroom and cook your own food. I went to college not knowing,” says Sarah. “It’s been nice slowing down so we could teach them.” Sarah went all-in. Both boys had to learn how to do everything from laundry to cooking to polishing silver. “They have to make their beds, and once a week have to wash and change the sheets. They also share a bathroom, so they have to take turns cleaning the toilet, sink, shower and bathtub.”

In the kitchen, the boys have been learning how to create decorated sugar cookies and homemade pasta. At their family vacation home in North Carolina, Chip taught the boys how to catch, clean and cook trout. “I learned how to gut the fish with a little knife – and the fish tasted good,” says Rob. “It’s a lot more logical to fish for your own food, since all the restaurants are closed.”


Paige, JB, Emma and Holly Stephenson grew fruits and vegetables and learned how to can them and make preserves. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

The scaling back of restaurants was one reason why Holly, an MBA-turned-stay-at-home mom, and Jon Stephenson, a criminal defense attorney, expanded their at-home garden with children JB, 11, Emma, 9, and Paige, 7. In a nod to memories of her grandmother’s garden, Holly has always kept a small garden that she tends. But with the extra time at home, she jumped at the chance to teach her kids how to make things grow.

“Together, we planted baby corn, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeños and beans,” says Holly. The children water, weed and pick their bounty daily. “I definitely feel like my kids are getting a chance now to do things that they would not have been able to do in their super busy, over-scheduled life. They never would have gotten to see how things work. For example, we pick our cucumbers, and I have taught them how they can actually make pickles. They don’t just come from the store.”

They also have canned peaches and created a strawberry spread, a carrot relish and rosemary salt. When Jon brought home a 25-pound bag of flour, Holly taught the kids how to bake. “I got to teach them that bread does not come from the store,” says Holly. “We don’t normally have time to make bread, so now we have time and the reason to make it.” 

Holly, who was a biology major at The University of Texas, also put her science skills to work. “Biology is where it is at with me. Every holiday I give my kids a science-experiment box, but we are always too busy to use them. But during the time at home, I pulled them out, and we would do the experiments, like growing crystals, or we would ride our bikes to the bayou to find all the wildflowers. Then we would take photos, document the flowers, and then also look at flower petals under a microscope.”

The children, who all attend Wilchester Elementary School, enjoy their newfound kitchen skills. Paige brews and froths coffee every morning and delivers it to Holly and Jon before they get out of bed. And, on the couple’s 13th wedding anniversary – and in a testament to all they have learned – the three siblings planned a celebratory dinner.

“Our anniversary was in April, and we could not go out to eat,” says Holly, smiling. “They planned our dinner, set the table, made our plates for us, and dressed up and waited on us, and served our wine. They were so sweet. They even did entertainment: cup stacking, singing and dancing. It was super cute.”


Shelly Chandra has spent time at home during the pandemic teaching daughter Layla how to cook and clean. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Shelly Chandra says the cute factor is on overload when she analyzes the benefits for daughter Layla, 4, and son Kabir, 2, that have come since preschool was turned into an at-home experience.

“To me, the greatest gift they have had is time together,” says Shelly, who is a Class Three teacher at St. John’s School. Since both children were home all day, Shelly and husband Nitin, a business consultant, decided to look at all the positives to come out of a situation that was out of their control. “I truly believe their relationship will be stronger because of quarantine life. Family time, too. It was the first time with zero social obligations. A lot of wonderful things have come out of this that I will forever be grateful for.”

It also gave Shelly a chance to work with Layla on tasks she might not otherwise had taken the time to teach. “This quarantine time gave us the opportunity to re-fold pajamas 10 times to learn how to do it and wipe a table down after you eat. And bake with me because I have the time for it to be messy. And also learn how to wash our cars since the car wash is closed,” says Shelly. “And we started writing thank you notes. Whether someone dropped off passed-down clothes or baked goods, we would work on thank you notes. It was a great way for her to work on her letters and also learn that when people do nice things for us, you need to write thank you notes.”

And while Shelly is hoping for school to start again, she is grateful for the lessons learned at home. “They are learning life skills in a different way,” she says. “I think that quarantine time has shown us how over-scheduled our kids are. There are a lot of silver linings.”


Brothers Michael and Matthew Posoli (from left) have been mulching yards this summer. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Joy Posoli agrees. At the Posoli household, a series of cancelled summer plans, along with a need to clean up garden beds, provided an impetus for many lessons for even their older kids: Matthew, 20, Isabella, 17, and Michael, 16. Isabella and Michael finished their school year online, at St. Agnes and Strake Jesuit, respectively, as did Matthew, who came home from college to finish his semester. Joy, a stay-at-home mom, and husband Paul, former president of Cristo Rey Jesuit high school, considered how to re-channel the summer. 

“In March, we personally were having our own spring-enhancement landscape, and we thought: Let’s have our sons do the mulch,” says Joy, noting that their “Honors Yard Work” became a teachable moment.  

Matthew and Michael did not shy away from the labor involved in laying down mulch, which turned into an “aha” moment for them. The brothers had summer plans that were cancelled and needed to replace their internships and sports teams with something else. So, while sister Isabella hunkered down on a Spanish-immersion course and college applications, they made flyers, sent texts, and asked if anyone needed their yard mulched.

Posoli siblings

Brothers Michael and Matthew Posoli learned how to mulch yards this summer while sister Isabella was working on a Spanish-immersion class and college applications. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Turns out, they did, and the brothers say that they have learned so much that will make them better equipped for school and for life. “Michael and I have to make a plan for how to approach each yard, so we are constantly having a lot of communication back and forth,” says Matthew, a finance major in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. “Learning how to collaborate will go a long way to work with other people when one day we are back in the classroom on group projects.”

“I would say learning real life skills is important,” says Michael. “For most of my life, I have been a shy person, but this is making me talk to adults and letting me get out of my shell and expand myself.  The coronavirus has transformed school knowledge to home knowledge, and, prior to Covid, we were just in the classroom learning subjects  but now we are at home, learning how to take care of a home.”

Sarah Lane’s “No-Fail” Sugar Cookie Recipe

Sugar cookies

Sarah Lane taught sons Rob and Will how to bake and decorate sugar cookies. (Photo: carrieturnerphotography.com)

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt

Cookie Frosting:
2 pounds powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons meringue powder
½ cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoons white food coloring
¼ cup corn syrup

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add to butter mixture. Mix well.

Put a handful of the freshly made dough between two pieces of parchment paper and roll to desired thickness. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Put the rolled dough, including the parchment paper, on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for 10 minutes or longer. Your dough will be chilled and ready to cut and bake with no wait and no added flour.

Repeat with scraps after cutting the cookies. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Let cool. Makes 2 dozen 3-inch cookies.

Cookie Frosting:
Beat all the ingredients together until icing forms peaks (7 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty mixer). Add water by the tablespoon to thin the icing to desired consistency. (Tip: White food coloring helps to keep the icing colors from bleeding when decorating cookies. The corn syrup gives the icing a softer bite.)

Holly Stephenson’s Peach Preserves

4½ cups sugar (divided)
6 cups mashed ripe peaches

Add ½ the sugar to the 6 cups of fruit. Bring to a rolling boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. At the end of the 3 minutes, add remaining sugar and let return to a boil for 3 more minutes. Remove from stove and let cool, stirring until all foam disappears. Add to sterilized canning jars and process in boiling water 10 minutes. Great on toast, biscuits, cream cheese and crackers. (How to process: Holly says, “Put in a big pot of boiling water, making sure water covers the tops of the cans by an inch or more. Bring to a boil for however many minutes. This seals it. Then take it out and listen for the pop, meaning it is sealed.”)

Holly Stephenson’s Spicy Pickled Carrots

Medium onion, sliced
4 jalapeños
Small sliced cauliflower (about ½ cup)
1½ cups water
1½ cups vinegar
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
5 cloves of garlic
6 whole bay leaves
10 peppercorns
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds of carrot chips or small carrots from garden

Slice onion into pieces, slice jalapeños and cut cauliflower into pieces. In a large pot, add water, vinegar, oil, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, oregano and salt. Bring to a boil. Add carrots, onion, cauliflower and jalapeño. Lower heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes, uncovered. Add to sterile canning jars. Add lids and rings. Process in boiling water 15 minutes.

Sarah Lane’s Trout Dip

Trout Dip

Sarah Lane’s Trout Dip was made from sons Will and Rob’s freshly-caught fish. (Photo: carrieturnerphotography.com)

2 smoked whole rainbow trout (about 2 pounds each)
Salt and pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon each)
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 large jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon Louisiana style hot sauce
2 Tablespoons capers

Prepare the Egg (a barbecue cooker) to cook indirectly (with convEGGtor) at 250 F with apple-wood chunks added for smoke flavor. Spray a perforated grid with vegetable spray and place the fish on it. Season with salt and pepper. Place the fish in the Egg and cook for about an hour until golden brown and firm to the touch. Set aside to cool for 1 hour. In a large bowl combine cream cheese, mayo, sour cream, green onions, jalapeño, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, salt and hot sauce. With a big spoon, mix until well blended. Break the fish up with your hands into small pieces and add it to the bowl. Mix well, trying not to break the fish up too much. Taste and add salt, hot sauce and capers if needed. Serve with crackers and extra hot sauce on the side. Makes about 8 servings.

Holly Stephenson’s Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
¼ cup rosemary or mint leaves

Combine water, sugar and leaves in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and let sit 30 minutes. Pour through a mesh strainer into sterilized glass jar. Let cool. Add to lemonades or cocktails.

Holly Stephenson’s Rosemary Salt

1 cup rosemary leaves
3 cups coarse salt

Strip leaves from rosemary stems and finely chop in food processor. Combine with salt. Spread mixture over a large cookie sheet. Place in oven at lowest temperature for 15-20 minutes. Store in a ziplock bag or clean jar. Sprinkle on steaks, vegetables or use as a seasoning for any dish.

Holly Stephenson’s Grapefruit Jelly

4 cups sugar
2 cups fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 package of fruit pectin

Combine sugar, grapefruit juice and lemon juice in large pot. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Return to a full boil and boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Quickly skim off foam with a metal spoon. Ladle hot jelly into sterilized canning jars. Leave ¼ in headspace. Wipe rims and add lid and ring. Process in boiling water for 5 minutes. Great on toast, biscuits, cream cheese and crackers.

Grandma Mucha’s Famous Chocolate Pie

“My maternal grandma grew up with a garden and canned food growing up,” says Holly Stephenson. “I keep a garden and learned to can from Grandma Mucha. This is my favorite recipe of hers, and I always think of her when I make it!”

1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons cocoa
⅓ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 Tablespoon margarine
3 egg yolks, with egg whites, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
Baked pie shell

Meringue:
3 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ cup sugar

Combine dry ingredients and sift. Add milk, margarine and egg yolks to a saucepan. Mix with a fork and cook until the mixture thickens and bubbles. Add vanilla. Pour into baked pie shell.

Top with meringue. To make meringue, whip egg whites until soft peaks form. Then add cream of tartar and sugar a little bit at a time. Beat until glossy peaks form. Add to top of pie and then place in 350-degree oven for 5 minutes. Watch it bake because sometimes it bakes quickly. Remove from oven, cool and eat. 

“Jon’s mom, Helen, is lovingly referred to as Nana by her children,” says Holly. “She  taught us to make Mustang grape jelly. They would gather the wild grapes by her home and mash them by hand. Now her grandchildren love to spot the wild grapes whenever they see them.”

Nana’s Mustang Grape Jelly

3 pounds mustang grapes
2 cups water
1 package of pectin
6 cups sugar
Juice of ½ lemon

Wash and remove stems from grapes. Put grapes and water into a pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes until seeds and skin start to float to top. Crush grapes in grape crusher or mash grapes with potato masher and strain through a mesh strainer. Return juice to a stove and bring to a boil. Remove any foam. Add pectin and sugar. Boil for 5 minutes. Add to sterilized jelly jars. Place lid and ring on jar and process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Allow to sit for 2 days to gel. After canned, leave at room temperature until opened and then put in fridge. Great on toast, biscuits, cream cheese and crackers.

Grandma Mucha’s Dill Pickles

12 cups water
6 cups white vinegar
1 cup canning salt
Dill sprigs     
12 pounds fresh cucumbers from the garden
Garlic cloves (1-3 cloves)
Dried hot chilis (to taste)

Bring water, vinegar and salt to a boil in a large stock pot. Boil 10 minutes. Add a sprig of dill into 9 sterilized quart jars. Pack cucumbers in jars leaving ½ inch headspace at the top. Place dill, garlic cloves and peppers into each jar. Ladle hot vinegar mixture into jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Turn jars to remove bubbles. Wipe rims. Add lid and ring on each jar. Place jar into canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil. Process for 15 minutes. Remove jars and cool.

Holly Stephenson’s Chow Chow

“I love to make this Chow Chow because you just take all of the leftovers of your garden and add it all together,” says Holly. “It tastes so good!”

4 cups chopped onion
4 cups chopped cabbage
4 cups sliced cucumbers
4 cups green peppers
½ cup salt
6 cups sugar
2 Tablespoons mustard seed
2 Tablespoons celery seed
4 cups vinegar
2 cups water

Sprinkle vegetables with salt. Let stand 4 hours. Rinse twice, and then add all other ingredients. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Pack in sterilized jars with lids and rings. Process in boiling water 5 minutes. Let cool.

  • Paige Stephenson

    Paige Stephenson, whose mom Holly is teaching her and her siblings about flower species, wears blue light-blocking glasses as she shows off petals she collected and studied under a microscope. (Photo: Holly Stephenson)

  • Chip, Will, Sarah and Rob Lane

    Chip, Will, Sarah and Rob Lane (from left, with pup Dixie) worked on home-ec skills like fishing, plus cleaning and cooking the fish, at their vacation home in Cashiers, North Carolina. (Photo: carrieturnerphotography.com)

  • Sarah Lane, Rob Lane, Will Lane

    Sarah Lane holds a frame in place around a sugar cookie that she is teaching sons Rob (working with an icing scraper) and Will how to ice and stencil. (Photo: carrieturnerphotography.com)

  • Emma Stephenson

    Emma Stephenson releases a ladybug into her family’s garden. Mom Holly ordered the ladybugs off Amazon. (Photo: Holly Stephenson)

  • Paige Stephenson

    Paige Stephenson picked these carrots, mini corn, cucumbers, green beans and grapefruit by herself at home. (Photo: Holly Stephenson)

  • JB Stephenson

    JB Stephenson studies pollen in a backyard science class taught by his biology-major mom, Holly. (Photo: Holly Stephenson)

  • Paige Stephenson
  • Chip, Will, Sarah and Rob Lane
  • Sarah Lane, Rob Lane, Will Lane
  • Emma Stephenson
  • Paige Stephenson
  • JB Stephenson

Paige Stephenson

Paige Stephenson, whose mom Holly is teaching her and her siblings about flower species, wears blue light-blocking glasses as she shows off petals she collected and studied under a microscope. (Photo: Holly Stephenson)

Chip, Will, Sarah and Rob Lane

Chip, Will, Sarah and Rob Lane (from left, with pup Dixie) worked on home-ec skills like fishing, plus cleaning and cooking the fish, at their vacation home in Cashiers, North Carolina. (Photo: carrieturnerphotography.com)

Sarah Lane, Rob Lane, Will Lane

Sarah Lane holds a frame in place around a sugar cookie that she is teaching sons Rob (working with an icing scraper) and Will how to ice and stencil. (Photo: carrieturnerphotography.com)

Emma Stephenson

Emma Stephenson releases a ladybug into her family’s garden. Mom Holly ordered the ladybugs off Amazon. (Photo: Holly Stephenson)

Paige Stephenson

Paige Stephenson picked these carrots, mini corn, cucumbers, green beans and grapefruit by herself at home. (Photo: Holly Stephenson)

JB Stephenson

JB Stephenson studies pollen in a backyard science class taught by his biology-major mom, Holly. (Photo: Holly Stephenson)

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