Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And School Starts to Pay Off

My good friend, the one with 5 boys, told me last year when I was particularly frustrated with Jonathan's behavior "don't worry, once he starts school, things will change for the better." Who was I to argue? She certainly has experience in those matters. But secretly, I was thinking, what better child to defy a generation's worth of the inevitable? Jonathan would be sure to be the one holdout in a classroom of compliant children.

But happily, and with extreme caution, I can report that already, we're starting to see some of those changes. It started early. He had only gone to school one or two days, when I stopped hearing "pee-pee-potty." Now he tells me he has to use the "bathroom", and the other day, he excused himself from the dinner table, announcing he had to use the "restroom". Good heavens, who are you and what have you done with Jonathan?

Unbelievably, he has earned his gold stars every single day, even the day when he apparently fell off his seat in the computer lab - he still got a gold star along with a note from the teacher to "please work on teaching Jonathan to sit on his bottom". Mark and I shared a quiet chuckle over this one, after all, if Jonathan is even IN a chair, it's a victory.

The other day, Matthew was (supposedly) taking a nap and I was telling Jonathan to please keep quiet. We were walking down the hallway toward the kitchen, and I reminded him yet again to not run like a herd of cattle, when he turns around and tells me he's going to teach me a song. He puts his finger to his lips and starts whisper-singing "Quiet as a mouse, here we go...quiet as a mouse on tippy-toe...." all the while tip-toeing up the hall past Matthew's door. Whoa. Amazing.

He even likes to play school. He'll get the whole living room set up as a classroom, and calls the kitchen the "cafeteria". He plans a lesson! He announces it's reading time, or time to learn numbers or letters (he has these posters and he'll point to each number or letter and "teach" me what they are). Then there's "game time", coloring time, etc... All the while, he's the teacher, of course, and you never saw a child so still, so focused, so poised. He could play school all afternoon, if I let him. I indulge him a bit - I'll pour a cup of coffee and go in and learn my letters again. But I've now realized that we can also "learn" things like "how to unload the dishwasher" and "cleaning up the classroom before your brother wakes up and finds the crayons and colors on every surface we have, including the LCD screen tv". And HE DOES IT. Happily. With no WHINING!

I realize this is all part of growing up. But I don't think it's a coincidence that all these nice changes have come about just 3 weeks into him starting pre-k. So for now, I'm grateful, and looking forward to even more changes ahead!

Friday, September 19, 2008

You've Got to Be Kidding...

So I read this article just the other day. I can't even remember where it was - but very possibly it might have been August or September's issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Yes, I get it. No, it doesn't help me make MY home and garden better, but we can dream, right? So there's this article about stay-at-homes. How in the past, a stay-at-home spouse was in a position to be coveted - after all, it usually meant that the family was so well-off, one spouse could afford not to work and had the "luxury" of staying home. It talked about the fact that some families don't do it for "monetary reasons", rather, they enjoy the fact that one spouse can stay home and handle the day-to-day affairs of the household, leaving their evenings and weekends free to have fun. Of course, they had an example - an interview with a family - one spouse stayed home - can't remember which one, but Monday and Friday were "errand" days, Tuesday was grocery day, Wednesday was laundry day and Thursday was cleaning day. "It all works out so well!" they gushed - they have the weekends free, no errands to run, no groceries to buy, food is there and prepared.....ok. So what in the world is wrong with this picture? As if setting aside an entire day to shop for groceries and an entire day to do laundry isn't ridiculous enough, this couple HAS NO CHILDREN.

Okay. You have no kids. And you still need all that time to get your day-to-day household business done? C'mon people, are you nuts? After all, how long does it actually TAKE to do the laundry for two people, one of which stays home?! Presumably, that's at least one person that doesn't need to be ironing and laundering special-care items that one would wear to work say in a business setting. And gee, does it REALLY take a whole Tuesday to shop for groceries for two people who actually EAT their food rather than sulk petulantly at the plate in front of them full of a carefully prepared meal that will eventually wind up in the trash?

I remember when Mark and I were just a couple. Our little family of two - we lived in a townhouse in Annapolis, we both worked at the same office, we commuted together, we played co-ed volleyball, we went out to eat with our friends, and SOMEHOW, we managed to get our laundry done, procure food for the house, and STILL had plenty of time to keep the place neat and orderly, and weekends were awesome - I still remember we used to have friends over, go out of town, go to the beach for the day, visit parents - I never once remembered staying home on weekends because OH NO - we both worked, therefore we had to go grocery shopping and pick up the dry-cleaning and it took an entire Saturday!

So I'm a little unimpressed with the logic. "Getting things done so the weekends are free" doesn't seem like a valid reason to be a stay-at-home. Take some advice from someone WITH kids, where's it actually an advantage to be a stay-at-home. We get all that stuff done, too, during the week. We drag our screaming, protesting, picky-eating, whining, and half the time, coughing and sneezing kids with us to the grocery store, the dry cleaners, the bank, the liquor store, etc... We do laundry when we can - throw in a load at 6am, by the time you're ready to leave for school or the library or wherever, it's ready to go in the dryer, fold it at midnight. And cleaning? Well, it's an ongoing thing. Maybe our homes aren't in Better Homes and Gardens (HA!) but things do get picked up, and the vacuum does get run once in awhile.

I'm not saying families of two shouldn't have a stay-at-home. Just please don't try to tell me the whole week is just filled to the brim with "errands" and "running the house." I'm thinking that there must be an awful lot of bon-bon eating going on!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Trouble A-Brewin'

If you've ever had kids of any age, but particularly, 4 and 2 year old boys, you know that this is nothing but trouble. Jonathan is allowed to use the computer - he has his own log-in (the others are password-protected) and he knows how to get it set up. He loves to play games, to draw and paint and to see his television friends come alive on the screen. But if there's one thing Jonathan does NOT do well, it is sit down, on his bottom, on the chair. He even got a notation about it from his pre-k teacher, apparently because he fell off his chair while in the computer lab at school. So, here he is, half-on, half-off the chair, and Matthew decided to take full advantage.

The miracle here, is that for one, Jonathan even LET him climb up there in the first place. Usually, Jonathan will not tolerate the intrusion and shove him down before he can even get half a leg up. And the other miracle is that Jonathan actually tolerated it for a LOT longer than I ever thought he would. Hmmmm, could pre-k be making a difference? I removed Matthew in a pre-emptive strike - Jonathan never once complained about him. Of course, Matthew was sitting quietly and watching, not pulling Jonathan's hair for a change, and not grabbing for the mouse -- very uncharacteristic for my terrible-two!

Monday, September 15, 2008

More Thoughts on Recycling

A comment on my previous post inspired me to continue with the recycling theme. There's some history here, and a few questions. The first question is (or was): is the message getting through? Are people "getting" it? Are they understanding that recycling helps the environment, and can also help out with the "bottom line?" A good question, but here's an even better one: what are the communities and local governments doing to inspire people to reduce their own waste and embrace a more conservationist attitude?

Let's wind the clock back a few years. Okay, 15 years. Eek. I worked in Annapolis, in a cube for state government. So did a few friends. One of these friends used to stroll by my office almost daily, come in, peer into my trash, remove anything recyclable and take it with her to heaven knows where. To her credit, she didn't end our friendship over it. But nor did a few dirty looks and heavy sighs on her part convince me that I needed to put myself out long enough to go figure out what in the world she was doing with my empty Coke cans and then go do it myself.

Fast forward a few years. Mark and I bought a townhouse in Annapolis, and one of our first housewarming gifts courtesy of the Anne Arundel county government was a brand-spanking new blue recycling bin. We could set it out on the curb once a week loaded with a mishmash of bottles, jars, paper....we didn't even have to sort! How easy was that? And wow, it was free!! Well, as free as county taxes could be considered free, but let's not get off the topic. They also picked up our trash once a week, so who could complain? Then we moved to Allegany. Uh-oh.

Guess what? Allegany doesn't pick up trash. Nor do they give you shiny blue bins for recycling. Nope, you haul it yourself. Now some very enterprising folks bought some dump trucks and offer their services - curbside, that is, for a nice fee. We resisted for a few years, but finally gave in - after all, those disposable diapers (did I say that!) can get stinky in between trips to the local landfill, and don't smell too great in the back of a mini-van either. And recycling? Well, I must say, although they don't provide pick-up, the county seems to do a pretty good job of providing many places to recycle many things. Cans, bottles, plastics, newspapers, cardboard, motor oil, magazines, you name it. And unbelievably, half the time, the bins are so full you can hardly get your stuff in! Which begs the question: are there that many forward-thinking folks in this little mountain county? Or could there be...another reason?

Well, let's pick it apart a minute. Let's see, we have to contract our own trash pick-up. They come twice a week in this neighborhood. They'll take just about anything, but their unwritten rule is no more than 6-8 bags a week. Big stuff you still need to take to the landfill yourself. For the people that don't contract the pros, you pay 50 cents a bag (40 gallon maximum) to haul it yourself and heave it into these gigantic dumpsters at three or four dump sites around the county. You have to buy these bright orange tags at local vendors and stick them to each and every bag. With me so far? But guess what? Recycling is FREE. You can drop off plastic bottles, glass bottles, paper, all that, as much as you want, for free. So let's do the math. If a family of four generates 2-3 bags of recyclables a week in addition to regular trash, that's $1.50 a week at the landfill, well boy howdy, that's almost $80 a year saved by recycling alone. Effortless.

I'd say the Allegany County government has given families a bit of incentive to recycle, no? Let's see some other local governments start putting some surcharges on the amount of trash you're allowed to leave by the curb, and watch how many folks take a second look at the value of recycling.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Save Some Money, Save The Environment

With all the talk about rising costs here and every newspaper and magazine carrying articles about how to reduce use and stretch the dollar we're re-thinking our daily lives and have come up with some ways to reduce in our own home. This is by no means a complete list, just some of the things we've done recently. Every day I try to think how I can save more, or do just one more little thing that will translate into a bottom-line savings by the end of the year, either for us, or for the environment. So here's some ideas - if anyone has any more, let me know!

Reduce the plastic-bag-at-the-market waste: I've purchased 4 or 5 of the re-usable bags from the grocery store - the ones I got from Trader Joe's are the best! Did you know that you can fit 3 or 4 times the amount of "stuff" in them? So rather than bringing home 10 flimsy plastic bags that rip and tear, you bring home 3 or 4, and there's no waste. And occassionally, if I do get a drippy pack of chicken, I'll put that in a plastic bag, sure. But then when I get home, that plastic bag gets used as a liner for Matthew's trash can where his diapers go, or a liner for the bathroom trash can.

Light bulbs - I never thought I'd do it - I hated flourescent light. But the ones they have out now you can hardly tell the difference! There's a slight delay when you flip the switch, but after that it looks just like incandescent. Yes, they're tons more expensive at the outset. But they last for years, and save you money for every minute they're on.

Paper towels - whew we do go through some paper towels around here. But lately I've challenged myself to see how FEW I can use in a day, or a week. Whereas I used to make a salad and use one to catch all the peels, seeds, etc..., I now just use a cereal bowl and scrape the bowl right into the trash. Where I used to use one or two to clean up the kids after a meal, I now use a separate dish rag and launder it every other day or so. And spills? Well, why NOT dirty up a clean dish towel and toss it in the laundry? That's what they're for! I surprised myself - I tried to go a whole week by only using one paper towel a day, and wound up only using about 4 the whole week!

Plastic baggies - okay, ziplocs have their place, for sure. And we try to re-use them whenever we can and whenever it's practical. But when you're packing lunches and putting sandwiches, chips, fruit, etc...ALL into little individual zip-loc or other plastic bags, that's a bit of a waste. I try to now use waxed paper for most stuff - it's more biodegradeable. And I've purchased some re-usable plastic containers for things like sandwiches and snacks...not the MOST environmentally friendly choice - plastic to replace plastic...but at least it's not winding up in a landfill everyday.

The dishwasher - HAS an air dry cycle. We never used to use it. We do now. If we run a load after dinner, before we go to bed we remember to crack open the door to the washer and voila! By breakfast time, all the dishes are dry. If I have to run a load after breakfast, I do the same thing and they're dry by dinner. We also never run half-loads, and we never bother with pre-rinsing - it's just not necessary anymore. We also have an Energy-Smart dishwasher - courtesy of the previous owners of this home, so at least I can feel good about that!

Leftovers - this may be a no-brainer, but in the pre-kid days, we used to eat out so much that leftovers would go to waste too often. I can recall pulling the trash can over to the refrigerator and just dumping huge loads of food. Occassionally, I still need to "clean out the fridge" where I'll find a half of a lime leftover from a recipe where I only needed a tablespoon of lime juice, and a jar of salsa that is about 1/4 full and a bag of carrots that has one or two carrots that are starting to turn black. But usually, that's about it. Leftovers around here get eaten. Mostly it's because we eat out less, so there's more opportunity to get creative with last night's dinner. But more often, it's because in my head, I usually have a plan when I cook. I make herb chicken breasts one night, and the next, I'm cutting up the leftover chicken and sprinkling it in a salad. I also go to the market with list in hand, dinner ideas scrawled out in some fashion. It doesn't ALWAYS work out, but it's gotten MUCH better over the years!

So there it is. The list is ever-evolving. Some things we've always done like using cloth diapers part-time, and turning out lights when we leave a room, and setting the timer on our thermostat. But other things, we've needed to make some adjustments. Hope this list inspires you a bit!

Monday, September 8, 2008


Okay, so I was sitting around watching some tv this weekend...I know, I know, real inspiring. But let me back up - Jonathan woke up with a cold on Friday morning and wound up missing his second day of school....I don't know who was more disappointed, him or ME! And in my quest to have him healthy and ready to return to school Monday (today), we layed pretty low this weekend. Hung out at home, I cleaned the laundry room, we watched some football (take THAT, Ocho-Stinko!) and caught some House episodes (that's a cool show!) since USA was running a House Marathon all weekend.

So on comes this commercial for Wendy's new sandwich, the Baconator. As if the name wasn't bad enough. Two "beef" patties, cheese, SIX slices of bacon...whatever. WHEN are the people in this country going to learn? Every time you turn around, there's some new huge load of food just ready to be purchased. Combo meals, combo platters, pick 5 for $5. Blah, makes me feel bloated just thinking about it. And the marketing agencies love it. The bigger they can make it look on tv, the juicier, the more crap they pile on, the more people will set aside their remote, grab their keys and dash out the door so they can wrap themselves around the latest pile of calories and saturated fat and then whine because their pants don't fit.

Don't get me wrong, my BMI needs a little work, and I address that every day. But it's only within the last year or so that I really started to be disgusted with the fast food industry. These people don't care about you, not one bit. Oh, they may claim they do! "We do it all for you". Yeah, right! What? Give you heart disease? Bigger burgers, bigger fries, "up"-sizing, "Do you want to "round that up?" (heard at Roy Roger's drive-thru recently), "super-value" combo meals...does it ever end? Remember the Shaq-Attack meal they had at BK some years ago? I swear that burger was like 8 inches in diameter. And with all the health issues and the media focusing on better eating and childhood obesity, you would think these national chains would get a clue. But no. And why? Because people are still eating there!

And the response of the fast-food industry: salads. Great. Okay, so I'm going out for a meal, presumably in a hurry or need the convenience, and I'm in my car....yeah, a salad is just perfect. Just the easist thing in the world to eat while whizzing down the highway at 65. Plus, if you add it all up, you realize you just paid $5.49 for something you can make at home, literally for about 90 cents. Yeah, they do it all for you all right.

Oh, yes, thank you Arby's for putting some deli sandwiches on your menu. Thank you for giving us another option that doesn't involve a fried burger on a white bun with cheese. Hmmmm, have you ever seen the nutritional information for these so-called "healthier" options? Most of Arby's new sandwiches are close to or over 700 calories and average 30 grams of fat. Add some curly fries and a Jamocha shake, you're talking enough food for two days for the average American.

I try. I really do. As a family, we eat very, very little fast food. When we do, it's usually breakfast since the kids really love their McPancakes. And chicken fingers and fries are easy to eat in the car for them and if I'm sick of making peanut butter sandwiches every day. But Mark and I have learned. We bring along a power bar or something, and get a coffee and watch the kids eat, or we'll go through the drive-thru to get the kids' food, then go get some sandwiches at the local deli and everyone's happy. And even the kids are limited. No more than once a week, and even that rule may need to be refined a bit. Don't want to be raising kids that when their pediatrician asks them what they like to eat, they say "Baconators!"

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Our Little School Boy

Just before getting into the car:

Now we're in the car, ready to go:

Just before we picked him up at lunchtime - he wasn't done coloring his fish:

The final product - his first art project! Not bad for 4 years old!

And that elusive gold star for good behavior. I'm still convinced she mixed up Jonathan with some other little boy -- we'll see how it goes from here on out!

So there's the pics of the first day of school. A good experience for all of us! Let's just hope the rest of the year goes as smooth.
Today being Thursday, he didn't go, of course, but he is happily looking forward to going tomorrow. Today, though, we had to go to traffic court. Hmmmmmm....why, you ask? Well SOMEONE got a speeding ticket in July. Who? Well, it wasn't Mark, and Jonathan and Matthew don't drive yet. So who does that leave? Luckily, Mark's office is in the same building as the court, so he was able to watch the boys while I went upstairs and got probation for 6 months for going 81 in a 65. Oops, next time I won't get caught speed! They shouldn't be allowed to pull over moms in mini-vans. I wish some of these troopers would get the opportunity to drive ALONE with two children age 4 and under for 2 and a half hours. They would let mini-vans slide by the radar for the rest of their career!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Jonathan's First Day of School

Well, today was the day. Mark still has the camera, so I can't download the pictures, but I will later this week. How did it go? I would say....GREAT!

We started early: Mark and I were up at 6:30, sucking down coffee, me making waffles - the one thing Jonathan was guaranteed to eat in a hurry. By 6:50, we woke Jonathan, and Mark dressed him and sent him out to me, little sleepy bed-head guy. I gave him a waffle, noticed the clock said 7:00 and realized I could breathe. Mark then woke and dressed Matthew (what a great hubby!). I put Matthew's breakfast on the table, finished packing Jonathan's lunch, ate my own breakfast, washed some dishes, cleaned the countertops, brushed my teeth, washed some faces, combed some hair, supervised a potty trip, and poured a cup of milk for Jonathan. Time check: 7:25. Perfect. Into the car. WAIT! Stop for pictures!

By this time, everyone was fully awake, including the sun on what looked like a gorgeous day in the making, thank goodness. All we needed was pouring down rain, right? Not to be - it was sunny and bright.

Everything was smooth, the morning was flawless. Dropped him off at his classroom, and the one who had a meltdown was Matthew, who was horrified that we were LEAVING! I think Matthew wanted to stay with his big brother in that big, bright room full of cool toys! But Jonathan was great - he found an immediate friend and started playing with some train tracks, and when I told him goodbye, he threw me a little wave and said "Bye Mommy!" and went right back to his trains. Thank God. I didn't expect tears or hesitancy - after all, I know my Jonathan, my little social butterfly and I knew he'd fit right in. And all the excitement of the morning didn't give me time for remorse.

Mark and I picked him up together - we peeked in the classroom to see a room full of little ones, all sitting nicely and quietly, eating their lunches and coloring their pictures. Even Jonathan was still, quiet, compliant. Here I thought he'd be the one running amuck while all the other kids would be sitting nicely. He even got a star for good behavior! Does this teacher have a magic wand?

And then he came out of the room, backpack in one hand, lunchbox in the other. His face lit up when he saw us and he smiled, and as we walked toward the door, he turned and said "I love school". Enough said. I'm not sure there's a happier mommy anywhere right now!