Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Half-Year Update

Wow, where has time gone? Seems like just yesterday I was writing the November update, and here we are - 6 months later and ready for another one!

So where are we? Pretty much the same as we were in November, and sometimes, that's a good thing. Not to say that change isn't good, but occasionally, you need a little steadiness in your life, a little status quo to maintain sanity.

On that note, we'll start with Mark this time. He always winds up last on the list probably because he has the least change of all of us on a regular basis, but these days, he's busier than ever since Spring is finally here! Mark is busy planning and planting. He put in a ton of onion plants - enough that if they all come up and yield onions, we'll be selling them (or rather paying people to take them) on the street corners. He's also buying annuals and planning the vegetable beds, and already has a few veggies bought - we're just waiting for mid-May to put them in, because around here, that's usually when the threat of frost is officially gone. Add to that list cutting the grass, getting out the patio furniture, tearing out old landscaping and putting in new, mulching all the beds, everywhere, keeping the deer off the flowers, planning a windowsill scraping and painting "party" (with me as the only invited guest), and a shed-cleaning out party (again, a small party, at that), and add in the usual chores of helping out with the kids, keeping this place shipshape, and always, always, doing all our mail, financial stuff and bills, and you've got one busy guy, but one very appreciated guy. Really not sure what I'd do without him!

Next, we have Matthew. Matthew is almost 3 - he'll have his birthday in late June. My previous fears of him never talking were unfounded, and been replaced by the fear that no one will ever understand a word the kid says but maybe me, Mark and Grandma. He's the poster-child for garbled speech. But it's getting better, and we'll let the doctor decide when and if he needs some kind of help. Matthew is kind of a brute. He barrels his way through life, knocking over pretty much anything in his path, his path to whatever he has on his mind. He is also extremely vocal about his needs and wants, and these vocalizations tend to escalate rather obnoxiously until he figures out he's not going to get his way. Then he goes and has a tantrum or tosses a toy. And then he gets to see his friend the Naughty Corner. Did I say Terrible Two's back in November? I sure did. Still there. Waiting for three. Hope it magically changes! But what can I say - he's cute as a button and loves to snuggle, loves to read books and color and play with rocks - anywhere, anytime. He also loves animals and music and sports. He adores his big brother, follows him around, repeats everything Jonathan says, including sneezing and one time, he even mimicked Jonathan when Jonathan tripped and fell on the steps. If I hadn't been concerned for Jonathan's welfare, I think I would have wet myself laughing - he even made the same grunt noise as he fell as Jonathan involuntarily did.

Much to Jonathan's misery. Jonathan loves his little brother, no doubt, but Jonathan also loves his independence, his privacy, and his toys. And he particularly hates it when one of his toys gets broken or goes missing, courtesy of Matthew. But that's what little brothers are for, I guess. Anyway, Jonathan is now 5 years, 2 months, going on about 12. He is almost finished his first year of "school" - his pre-k ends at the end of May. He'll be off to kindergarten full-time in the Fall, and I'm not sure how I'm going to stand it. I said this about pre-k, too, but that was only 3 days a week for half a day. I can't imagine life without my big boy all day, everyday. If you ask me, schools get the best of your children. Early in the day when they're sharp and clever and happy and well-rested. Then, the school sends them home to you - tired, cranky, hungry...thanks a lot. Anyway, more in the Fall on that one I guess. Jonathan is a pretty studious one. Although he loves the great outdoors, riding his bike and going to the playground, his mind is always pre-occupied with some scientific or numerical notion - he counts things he sees, comments about shapes of leaves and the position of the sun in the sky, plays with a calculator in his spare time (Mommy, did you know that 45 plus 51 equals 96?!!!), and is obssessed with learning the states, their location, their capitals, their nicknames and their size ranking. He's really growing up - he can dress and undress himself (when he puts his mind to it!) although he sometimes needs help with a particularly difficult button or a shirt that's tough to get over his head. After most meals, he'll clear away his dishes, putting them in the dishwasher or sink, without even being asked. And saints preserve us, he is finally tasting and eating a wider variety of foods. Thanks to a little strong-arming from us, plus what seems to be a newfound curiousity (or maybe from just watching his school friends eat different foods at lunchtimes in school), he is finally coming around in that department. A few nights a week, I'll still make his favorite, noodles with butter, but other nights, he must at least try what we're eating, or if I truly don't think he'll like it, I'll make him a hot dog or a quesadilla or a peanut butter sandwich. I certainly don't expect him to eat tossed salads with chicken, feta and avocado, but that happens to be one of me and Mark's you gotta do what you gotta do!

As for me - not much change here. Busy, as usual, busy at home, busy with the kids, busy with the part-time job, keeping up the house, busy with the flute and various choirs. Had an opportunity to join the local performance band, but had to turn that one down - just not enough hours in the day, and flute committments already take up enough family time; I just don't want to add any more right now. I'm looking forward to summer and the freedom it brings, the warm weather, the windows open, playing with the kids in the pool and summer hikes and bikes. Not to mention one of my absolute favorite things: the farmer's market! Fresh produce is coming, and I can't wait!

So that's us, for this half-year, anyway. Like I said, not much going on, but I'll take it. We have our jobs, we have our home and we have enough leftover to have fun. Right about now, that means the world to me!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Could I Live Without China?

Last week, Mark showed me an article he was reading about drywall that had been manufactured in China during the height of the housing boom here in the US a few years ago. Seems that they were manufacturing drywall so fast because demand was so high, that they weren't paying a whole lot of attention to the process (big surprise) and now the drywall which is in people's homes, is leeching all kinds of toxic crap and making people sick. Well, gee, China, thanks a lot. Not bad enough to hear about toxic dog food, excessive lead in children's toys, and whatever crap was in the baby formula. It got me thinking....first of all, I can't even begin to imagine the factories over there. Considering practically everything we buy is made in China, they must have factories from one end of the horizon to the other. And with however many billion people to work there, and how fast their production's surprising that more stuff isn't faulty, although, technically, it is. Every month I read magazines that tell about recalls on all kinds of stuff...lamps, toys, grills, you name it. It started me wondering...could I live without China-made goods? A quick inspection of everything around me, including the little toys I'd put in my kids' Easter baskets, the plastic eggs and even the basket itself was made in China. Half or probably well over more than half the stuff in my kitchen....well, I could've done a full-house inventory, but we all know what the outcome would've been. Wow.

So I said to Mark - what do you think? Could we do this? Could we put a moratorium on Chinese-manufactured goods coming into this house? Would we, COULD we survive? He was skeptical, and of course, so was I. But think about it. If enough American families did this, it would not only force China to reconsider their shoddy manufacturing, but maybe, just maybe it would expand other markets, like hmmmm, AMERICAN made products? Okay, that's a stretch.

Our first major purchase since then - shelving from IKEA. I'd had my eye on this shelving for about a year now. We did the research, we measured, we packed up the boys and found ourselves in the IKEA store. Never gave nary a thought to where this stuff was from. Just bought and loaded and transported home. Imagine my surprise (and DELIGHT) when we discovered that this particular shelving system was absolutely NOT manufactured in China, rather, it was from Canada, and it was made from sustainable wood products! Oh Happy Day! Gotta love IKEA! And then, yesterday. Here in Cumberland we have this great blanket outlet - Biederlack blankets and they have 50,000 in stock. And I had never been there! So with both little guys in tow, I checked it out yesterday, and bought a great American-made blanket/bedspread thing for our guest room for summer. I will definitely be doing more shopping there in the future - great blankets, even greater prices and local!

But then, a backslide. I've been doing great with the clothesline outside - loving going out, getting a breath of fresh air, hanging up the clothes, NOT using the dryer....but I needed a thing to hold my clothespins (Jonathan was working out for a while, but he tends to run off with my clothespins!) So at the grocery the other day, I found a little canvas pouch-thing on a hanger that was designed to do JUST what I wanted, so I threw it in the cart, no hesitation. Then, I picked it up again and turned it over. China. DOH! And I put it back in the cart. I NEEDED it! What am I supposed to do, go home, search the internet, pay three times as much plus shipping, wait two know the drill. Well, that's just great. That's like a vegetarian eating a cheeseburger and saying "But I was hungry."

So I made sort of a deal with myself for the future. I'm going to make an honest effort to find things not made in China. If I'm pressed for time and have no choice, well, what can I say. And I'm thinking something else might just come out of this. Maybe, just maybe, it will cut down on some impulse purchases. Did you ever think - hey, I want "xyz" so you ran out to buy it the very next day? But sometimes, you think - hey, I want "xyz" and you wait until say, the weekend to get it, and by the weekend, you discover you could live without it? Happens to me sometimes, so maybe if I told myself, I'll buy "xyz" if I can find one not made in China, I may just realize I don't need it after all, and save myself from bringing more stuff into the house.

So why not join me in my China-manufactured goods semi-boycott?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hot Cross Buns

Man, it has been TOO LONG since I've blogged about food and the fun I have in the kitchen! Not to say the cooking has stopped, no indeed. Sometimes I think I spend half my life in this kitchen...somedays it feels like I never leave it. But in a way, that's okay. My kitchen's big and sunny with lots of big windows that overlook the yard, the gardens, and out to the mountains. If there was a room I'd pick to HAVE to be in, it'd be the kitchen.

And so it's with lots of happiness that I bring you: Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday. I was under the mistaken impression that these were traditionally for Easter Sunday. Wrong. Going back to pre-Anglican England, these were almost exclusively for Good Friday - with the cross on top to remind us of the crucifixion of Jesus. Well, why not I asked myself. I consulted a couple of recipe books, then searched online...then did what I always do - take the best parts of several recipes and conjure up my own.

I also learned a really neat new trick. I used to raise bread in my bathroom - don't laugh! There's a wonderful heater in there and the rest of the house is relatively cool - in winter that is. So it's hard to make sure my doughs are staying nice and toasty warm. I read online where a great place to raise dough is actually in the oven with just the light on. The heat from the incandescent bulb provides a nice warm environment, and the closed oven is free from drafts and from curious little fingers. Particularly curious little fingers that have ahem....been in the bathroom and it's environs.

So anyway, I did the first rise in my bread machine - just didn't feel like getting the big mixer with the dough hook out today! I know, I know, I SHOULD be kneading it by hand...but why? Mixer does it so well! Anyway, used the bread machine since it was still on the countertop from last night's pizza crust. Did the first rise in there. Left it in an additional hour. Then shaped the dough into balls, then stuck it in my "oven with the light on" for several hours. Cut some crosses in the top and baked, then glazed with sugary icing and there you have it! Yum. Almost too indulgent for Good Friday, but not really...they're not really all that sweet, and these turned out really light and fluffy. The raisins got a little shredded by my bread machine....darn, didn't think of THAT....but it turned out fine since they got all dispersed throughout the dough rather than just a raisin here, raisin there.

But now, who's going to eat all these buns?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

That's Just What Mommies Do

Yesterday, I think I went from room to room just carrying things around. I'd put something down in one room, pick up something else, trying to organize, trying to straighten the mess that is my house and my life. I walked into Jonathan's room and sighed. Somewhere around two dozen books were piled next to his bed, in his bed, on the floor next to the bed....the child likes to read himself to sleep at night, and while I can't fault him for that, he hasn't yet grasped the concept of returning the books to the bookshelf the next day!

So, guess who gets to do it? And I just can't put them back on the bookshelf. My OCD tendencies take over, and I must line them up by size and genre - that is, the two volume children's dictionary (yes, he reads dictionaries) must go together, and the Dr. Seuss collection must be grouped together. Call me crazy, but I'm a little anal about that stuff.....gee, ya think that's why I never get half the stuff done around the house I should - 'cause I'm too busy alphabetizing my spices? NAH!

Jonathan was at school, so this task actually only took a minute or two, and didn't get ripped apart immediately, because...he was at school! Fast forward to bedtime. I was in the kitchen putting away some groceries because I'd just returned from the market. In my absence, Mark had handled baths, bedtime snacks and teeth-brushings (love you, sweetie!) and Jonathan was ready to be tucked in. I THOUGHT he had already settled in when all the sudden he comes running out to the kitchen.

He says to me "Mommy, I have to thank you for something." I said "You do? What do you have to thank me for?" He tells me "Thank you for straightening my books, you did it beautifully!" Awwww. Well, shucks. He has this cute little smile on his face - the kid was actually really grateful! I hugged him and told him "you're welcome - that's what Mommies are for..." and then I stopped and thought to myself WHAT did I just tell him? Did I just tell him that Mommies are there to clean up everyone's mess and re-organize everyone's life and make things all pretty and neat again (of course, at our own expense)? Did I just say that?

I guess I did. And if it brings my little guy that much pleasure, I'd do it all over again.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My New Addition

Guess what I got this weekend? Yet another step in our conservation-minded life goals: outdoor clotheslines! I'm very excited...see, I grew up hanging clothes outside with my mom and grandma who lived next door to us. Mom would get up in the summer and throw in a load or two first thing in the morning, then hang them out when it was still relatively cool. By lunchtime they'd be dry. Sometimes we'd be out or busy, and they'd still be hanging when a good old-fashioned summer afternoon thunderstorm started brewing up - and we'd have to dash to the clothesline to get them in before it started pouring. So, until now, I've been longing for a clothesline - and not just for nostalgia! Did you know that the dryer is one of the biggest energy hogs in your house? It's my eventual goal to get one of the high-efficiency washers to not only cut down on water use and overall "loads" because of their larger capacity, but also the increased spin velocity cuts down on dryer time since the clothes are more efficiently wrung out. But for now, my very old washer that came with the house is working just fine, and I hate to just toss a perfectly good appliance! So that'll have to wait a while.

Why haven't we had a clothesline yet? Hard to say - I guess in a way, it was difficult for me to get outside with two toddlers - our yard has some dangerously steep drop-offs and it's not like you can let a couple of little ones just wander while you're struggling to hang a load of sheets and blankets. My kids were and are never the type to sit there and wait...first chance they get, they're off and running in whatever direction is away from me! And of course, hanging clothes causes some of them to need to be ironed, something ELSE that takes up time I really don't have, but seem to have more of now than in the past few years.

But now I think I can swing it, at least I'll give it a try! I love the smell of laundry that's been dried outside in the sunshine and wind - glorious. Especially sheets and towels! The lines we installed are great - they're retractable, so when you're done, you just unhook the lines and they reel back up into their housing that is attached to a pole, or the side of your house, or, in our case, a few trees. In the winter, you just pull a pin and take them inside. So no unsightly lines hanging all year round, or at all when you're not using them.

My first project...washing the winter comforters and bedspreads and blankets at the laundromat (since my washer is not high-capacity, I have to take them out....hmmmmm....ANOTHER reason for a new washer!), but at least now, rather than paying to dry them at the laundromat, I can just bring them home wet and hang them up...saves money as well as time - who wants to sit in the laundry for several hours waiting for stuff to dry?

OH - and I almost forgot! We also did something new in the garden this weekend - Mark planted me a bunch of onions! We've never grown onions before, so we're not sure what to expect, but if they all come up, we'll have onions up to our eyeballs. We're talking about expanding our gardens for next's too late now to start digging up sod, and the time to really do it is in the fall, so the planning has begun for that.

Loving the positive changes and steps toward nature: air-drying clothes and growing more and more of our own foods! Is a chicken coop next in our future? Not sure the neighborhood ordinances would allow that one!