Monday, September 29, 2008

The Big Bailout

Is anyone talking about anything else? Does anyone actually know what they're talking about? Here's a nice little explanation from the BBC. Trust the Brits to explain the American economy! 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Like I NEEDED that!

Tonight, we had our annual neighborhood party at our neighbor Mike's house. Every year, about 6 couples/families get together from houses surrounding ours, and we have a little pitch-in. Hubby and I bring our brood, Mike & his wife invite their grandkids, all the other neighbors come armed with good stories and good food, and we all have a good time. 

This year's party was no disappointment, especially in the story department. Let me just share my favorite with you, so you can share my horror and amazement, mmkay? 

The folks that own the house three doors down from us are avid gardeners, both of flowers and food. Mrs. Neighbor related a story to us that has me, well, a bit spooked. As she was cleaning up around the backyard a few days ago, she moved a trash can aside to get to some leaves. And what did she find behind said trash can? Go ahead. Guess. 

A snake? Nooooo, snakes are too commonplace. Not a snake. That's too easy. Guess again.

A mouse? Nope. Did I mention Mrs. Neighbor has several cats? No, not a rat either. Not a rodent of any variety. 

A spider, you say? Yeppers, that's what it was. But no common, everyday, ordinary spider. IT WAS A @$%$&%#$%@ TARANTULA!!

So what did she do when she saw the wee little beastie? Well, I'd love to tell you, but unfortunately when she said, "Tarantula" (you have to read that like in the movies, ya know? All slooooooowwww and warped and creepy-like, all deep-voiced like a tape recorder with bad batteries - taaaaraaaaaannnnnntuuuuullllllaaaaa) my brain stopped functioning at a thinking level and started functioning at a "I'm going to wrap our house in plastic and not come out until the first good snow has blanketed the ground with 16 inches of arachnid-killing freezing cold precipitation and that thing better not come after my babies or I'll go all Mama Bear on his a**."  Yeah, didn't catch the rest of the story, except to know that the cursed, hairy thing is still on the loose in my 'hood! 

Thank You, God, that I was born in the Midwest, and it freezes here. Thank You that it's nearly October, and the first good killing frost is coming. Please help me resist the temptation to Google "tarantula" (taaaaaaaaaarrrrraaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnntttttttttuuuuuuulllllllaaaaaa) and find out all kinds of creepy facts about venom and eyes on stalks and palps and exoskeletons. 


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A post about compost

A while back (last fall? Christmas? this past spring?) we started composting. It wasn't too hard to convince hubby to go along, since he's already been on many crazy/frugal/tree-hugging adventures with me. (Now, there's a post worth writing!)

I started composting because I hate making trash. I genuinely hate to throw things away. We started recycling our plastics, glass, and paper. We started to consider a garden. Composting seemed like a natural step to make. 

When I first explored the idea with hubby, I was a bit intimidated by the whole process. Carbons? Nitrogens? Won't it stink? Will the dog try to eat it? But honestly, it's so easy! I have a small crock on my kitchen counter, with a lid that contains a filter: 

Odd bits of vegetable and fruit scraps go in there. Apple cores, banana peels, watermelon rind, coffee grounds - if it came from a plant (and hasn't been cooked in an oil or fat), then we throw it in the compost container. When the container is full, it gets dumped on the outside compost pile. 

Our outside piles are a mixture of what was in the kitchen bin, grass clippings, and leaves from last fall. (Whenever the boys find a worm, they throw it in the pile, too. Worms like to eat compost.) So all that stuff, veggies and grass and fruit and coffee grounds and leaves (and the occasional well-rinsed egg shell) just get put in a pile to rot. 

Now you'd think that such a pile would stink, right? It doesn't! Amazingly enough, it just smells like dirt. We have two piles right now, side by side. One is a pile that is just decomposing, and doing nothing else. The other pile is the pile we add to on a regular basis. When our decomposing pile is nothin' but dirt, we'll throw it on the garden, and the "adding pile" will become the decomposing pile.  We'll start a new adding pile in place of the decomposing pile that just became part of the garden. 

There are a couple of good sources to find out about composting. I really liked this site that talks about what you can put in your pile. I also like the book Let It Rot. The author gets into the nitty gritty of chemistry of composting - carbon and nitrogen, browns and greens, starters and all that good (sometime unnecessary and complicated) stuff. 

What do we do to our compost pile? Well, we add the ingredients listed above. We avoid any oils or fats in the pile (veggies cooked in butter are out, as is meat). We try to keep it moist, when we remember that it hasn't rained in a while (though I'm too cheap to water our compost often. I mean, really, what's the worst thing that's going to happen if I forget to water? Um, nothing is going to happen - really. It'll just stop decomposing for a while.) And we turn the compost every few days, which means that someone goes out there with a garden hoe and stirs the pile up. 

And no, the dog never bothers the compost. Like I said, it smells like dirt, not food. 

I'll keep adding to it this winter, though I probably won't stir it, since it's darn cold here in winter. But I'm sure that the freezing/thawing processes that happen in early spring will help decay. Whoo-hoo! 

So what does this save me? Well, I get great dirt for free. I buy fewer trash bags. And I'm not adding to the landfills. Yay for me! 

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Looky what I made!

This was, by far, the easiest craft I've ever done. And so quick! I bought some ribbon and alligator clips, and voila! New hair accessories for Gracie! I think I have a new addiction...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Things I love

A little list of the things I love, in no order whatsoever, and not including people:
  • composting
  • oreos
  • homeschooling
  • thunderstorms, but only during the day
  • fresh-cut grass
  • home-cooked soup
  • slippers in wintertime
  • cool socks
  • toile
  • storage containers, especially laundry baskets
  • chocolate 
  • iced coffee
  • a good, clean joke
  • Monday Night Football
  • polka music
  • turn-of-the-century houses
  • Easter Mass
  • an earnest, respectful argument about an important subject
  • hot tea with honey
  • autumn
  • snow
  • Christmas, especially now that I have children
  • baby feet
  • clean sheets
  • quilts
  • camping
  • marching band
  • Project Runway
  • a good book and the time to enjoy it
  • napping on the couch
  • a tidy closet
  • window seats
  • big front porches and iced tea
  • Christmas trees (actually, Christmas decorations in general)
  • front-door wreaths
  • clotheslines
  • garage sales
  • my label maker
  • pretty mixing bowls
  • my Roomba
  • baby noises

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mad Cow Testing...or "Why We DON'T eat Beef"

A few years ago (8? 9?) we became a no-beef household. We just don't eat it. Primarily because of problems with "downer cattle" and Mad Cow Disease, and the glaring and willful incompetence of the FDA and its refusal to acknowledge the issue. And after reading this article, my decision is reaffirmed. Unless I know the farmer and the cow that I'm eating, there is NO WAY that potentially disease-ridden garbage is going to pass my lips or be fed to my children! (Hmmmm... does that mean that beef farmers/ranchers are going to sue me now, like Oprah? Where's Dr. Phil?!) 

Let's review the facts, shall we? Mad Cow Disease is fatal. If a human being acquires the disease, that person will eventually have a brain that resembles swiss cheese more than gray matter. The USDA currently tests 1% of US beef, because of the "low incidence" (their words, not mine) of Mad Cow. Hmmmm... the low incidence wouldn't have anything to do with the miniscule testing, would it? It's kinda hard to find something that you're purposefully not looking for. 

And that brings me to my next joke - GMO labeling. Currently, the European Union requires labeling of all agricultural products that contain genetically modified organisms. Why don't we require it here in the US? Because the Government has decided for us Little Folks that it's perfectly safe to throw GMOs into our food, so why should we worry? Uncle Sam is watching out for us, keeping all those big, complicated, scary thoughts at bay, so that agribusiness can go on as usual, making its monster profits, and poisoning our planet in the process. WTG, lobbyists! High five on hoodwinking the American public! 

What ever happened to the idea of a free market? Let the consumer decide whether or not she wants to buy the GMO corn or not. Good grief. Sometimes I feel like the only sane person in an asylum. 

There are so many things that are just so wrong, all around us. The environment, the food we eat, the screwy welfare system, abortion, circumcision, healthcare, vaccines, education, (not so) free trade, rampant consumerism, the media's sexualization of children, oy vey! The list goes on and on. I guess what I'm trying to get at is that I'm so darn tired of people looking at me like I'm nuts because I actually care about doing my little part to fix things. Folks look at me like I have a third eye because I refuse to just numbly nod my head and blankly smile when faced with idiocy. I don't stick my head in the sand and pretend that I don't know what I know - when I see something wrong, darn it, I'm going to say it's wrong! I can't be a lemming, jumping off a cliff because it makes people around me comfortable. 

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Clothing the kids

Clothing four children inexpensively is not something that can be done without planning and organization. (So much of what frugality can accomplish is impossible without organization.)

Here is a picture of some of the hand-me-downs I've saved for the kids. (Yes, I said some.) The kids range in age from 8 months to 8 years old - that's quite a bit of clothing to hold onto! We have a large-ish garage (2 1/2 car) with shelving covering one side. Fully 1/3 of it is taken up by clothing and shoes, boxed by gender and size. We have a few boxes in the attic of the house. Coats, gloves, hats and scarves are in a big rubbermaid tote in the basement. 
I've (mostly) used copy paper boxes, labeled, and put in order by size from left to right. Because I have such a large volume of clothing to choose from, I only save items that 1. I like 2. are unstained 3. are in good repair. I don't throw away clothing that I've chosen not to pass down. Instead, I either save it for our annual garage sale (another box in the garage!), or, if it's unsalvageable, I tear it up to use for cleaning rags. To repeat myself, because this point cannot be overstated, I only keep clothing that looks like it hasn't been passed down! I don't want my children to feel shabby, and having a large-ish family, it's important to me that my children look well-cared-for. 

Saving clothes to pass down is only ONE part of the clothing system that I use. Getting the clothes for the oldest child to pass down is another matter - and being the cheapskate that I am, I do not pay full retail! 

Please forgive the blurry picture - Gracie wouldn't let me put her down. (I know, you're surprised!) 

This is the keystone of the system - the hand-me-up box. I got the name from a couple of friends, and the idea from The Tightwad Gazette. When I'm out garage sale-ing, I keep a sharp eye out for clothing that is a size ahead of what the oldest child is currently wearing. (For the boys, Adam wears an 8 right now. For girls, Grace is currently in 18 months.) For younger children, I have to keep the season in mind, too. I know the bigger sizes (starting at about 4 or 5) will be worn for a full year, so I can buy Adam's clothes for summer or winter wear. But for Gracie, it's another matter. I have to make my best guess about what size she'll be in the spring, when she'll need warm-weather clothes. But at garage sale prices, I can afford to make a few mistakes. I can always choose to sell wrong-season clothes at our annual garage sale, or I can keep them, awaiting the next child who might "line up" with that size in the right season. 

In any case, when I have enough of the next upcoming size in the hand-me-up box, I "break out" a new box, label it with size and gender, and put it on the shelf. Grace has a full box of 18 month winter clothes that she hasn't worn yet. In the hand-me-up box, Adam has some size 8 jeans (he was a 7 last winter), tees, and sweatshirts. He also has some size 10 items waiting. There are some larger sized (2T-4T) items in there for Grace, too - things that were so inexpensive and so cute that I couldn't pass them up. 

When each season changes, I "go shopping in the garage" and pull out clothes for everyone, putting away out of season clothes. The boys get a big kick out of getting a whole new wardrobe all at once, and I LOVE not spending a ton of money on clothing. As a side benefit, the kids closets are rarely crowded with outgrown clothes, since I can just rotate them out to the garage mid-season, and rotate in clothes in a larger size. 

In the future, I'd like to have a clothing inventory. I'm thinking a spiral notebook, with one size/gender on each page, and a brief list of clothing, so I know if I'm short on 3T jeans, or size 6 sweatshirts. But that will have to wait until I clear my craft table and paint the bedroom.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Odds and Ends

Again, a few unrelated photos that aren't enough of a post in themselves, but still worth sharing. 

Here's the whole crew camped out in front of the TV. Normally, I don't allow such frippery (fun word, don't you think?), but it's the weekend, and Adam is playing Nintendo. The boys are allowed to play only on Fridays (after lessons are done), Saturdays, and Sundays. And even then, it's pretty closely monitored.  Yes, I am the Nintendo Nazi.

Grace, before a nap, and soooo tired. 

Grace, telling me (her very own, personal paparazzi) that she's had ENOUGH! No more pictures! 

Joey, this morning in the backyard. The weather was a humid 85 (at 9am), and of course he's wearing a sweatshirt! 

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The School Year Has Begun

We started our school year pretty early this year, and I'm glad. It's wicked hot outside, and we're indoors, around the kitchen table (and lounging on the couch, and making messes in the sink, and cutting, coloring, and pasting - NO! NOT THE DOG!) hammering out how our school year will progress this year. Since we started so early, it will enable us to take a longer Christmas break, or wrap up earlier in the spring, when we want to be outside playing after a cooped-up winter. 

This is the first year I've formally schooled Luke. He loves coloring and using scissors and glue. He's especially proud to display his creations on the fridge. We're working on putting phonetic sounds together and learning Bible stories. He's also sitting in on Adam's science lessons, soaking up some biology. Earlier this week, we listened to wolves howl,  and played a kangaroo game. (I highly recommend the Usborne internet-linked books. What a great resource!)

Adam is moving along at a fast pace, full-steam ahead. It seems like he's got a heavy load when I write it all down on paper (math, science, language arts, history, reading, handwriting, catechism, read-alouds, spelling), but we're getting it done, and he's soaking it up as fast as I can get it to him. I'm so glad he's homeschooled, so he can take things at his own pace. 

And that hits close to the reason we homeschool, but isn't quite on the mark. It's hard to put into context, what it means to our family. We're home (or at least, together), every, every day. I am the primary influence on my children's lives. They get to build a close relationship with one another. Really, Luke and Joey are such close friends. And Adam, he just adores Gracie. Would that work the same way if I sent them away for 8ish hours a day? I would miss so much! They would miss so much! 

I know, I know. There are (*cough* weak) arguments against schooling one's own children. What if we miss something? (Well, goodness, I hope we do! Otherwise, what would be the point of college?) I'm sheltering them from the "real world." (Because school is SO MUCH like the real world. Ask anyone who eats the "real food" in the cafeteria.) And the ever-popular socialization argument that I won't even acknowledge with a response, here. (Not gonna do it.) 

The truth of the matter is: it's the right choice for us. It's not for everyone. (And frankly, I'm glad of that, because I like the library much better during the school year when most children are in school.) Sure, it's hard work sometimes. But it's also a lot of fun, watching Adam's excitement when he sees the result of a science experiment, or being a part of Luke's joy in reading "a real book." My kids are so much fun, and I want to be there for as much of their growing-up as I can.