May 29, 2008

When I'm a Grown-up

My three year old: When I grow up I'm going to have long finger nails and I'm going to change my name.

Me: What will you change it to?

Three year old: I can't tell you. It's a secret.

Me: Are you going to change it to Dora?

Three year old: Yes, but you weren't supposed to know that. It's a secret.

House Keeping

I've been going through my blogroll, adding some new blogs and deleting some that are sadly gone and a few I just don't read any more. I know there are some lovely blogs that link to me out there that I've forgotten to add. Also, I know there are people out there who read this site and probably have blogs I don't know about. If I should add you to my blogroll, please let me know. How else am I going to start peppering you with visits?

May 28, 2008

Little Helpers

As we prepare to add baby number five to the household, I have been needing to rely more and more on my other "helpers" around the house. Although they do indeed make ninety percent of the messes and change their clothes more than any other people I know, the more I ask them to help out, the more help they become.

I'm not organized enough to make chore charts or stick to a set schedule of what one child is to do when, but repeating the motto of "We're a family and we help each other" and maybe the threat of a lack of bedtime stories in the evening, keep the kids doing the things we need help around the house with.

When the kids are very, very little, they obviously aren't very good helpers. However, my nineteen month old understands, "Put it in the garbage" and takes his diapers off to the kitchen and throws them away. I have to be careful not to say "Throw it in the garbage." though or he just lobs it across the room, because he clearly understands the word "throw" even better than the word "garbage." He also loves to push buttons and close doors, so when I'm doing the laundry, he helps me transfer things from the washer to the dryer, shuts the dryer door and pushes the button to start the dryer.

But even better, I don't have to do all the laundry around here. My husband taught my eight year old how to do laundry a year or so ago and because we have both a front-loading washer and dryer with the controls low on the front, all my kids can reach the controls easily. I will note that I have lost several wool and silk things and a few bras due to my son not always grasping the "not everything that can be washed can be dried" principle, but in the end, I don't have to do all the laundry! I don't even miss those wool sweaters and silk skirts that much.

After the laundry is done, we usually dump it all on my bed, which generally ensures it will be put away before I go to sleep. After the kids are scrubbed, toothbrushed and wearing pjs, it is clothes putting away time. Usually I don't bother to fold things. By the time the folded things get carried off by the kidlets and stuffed into drawers they are unfolded anyway, so I mostly just sort the piles, hand them into waiting arms and let them stuff away. Even my three year can do this, although she has the most trouble. Sometimes I will have to give her all of one type of clothing at a time (like all the shirts) and let her put those away before handing over another type of clothing. Otherwise she sometimes gets overwhelmed and weepy at the end of a long day. Of course, if she didn't get filthy and change her clothes five times per day, she wouldn't have nearly so many clothes to overwhelm her, but we don't need to mention that, do we?

All the kids know how to pick up books, though the eight year old (when he doesn't try to organize them as his librarian mother sometimes is wont to do) is particularly good at shelving things. Toys too, as long as the organizational system is easy to follow, are quickly cleared away.

The eight year old and the five year old (and sometimes even the three year old) are good at clearing the table and setting it. The forks wind up on the wrong side of the plate occasionally, but they are starting to be able to tell their left from their right.

All the cleaning aside, my five year old particularly loves to help cook. Her father has patiently fished out many an eggshell and has taught her to crack eggs and whisk them up nicely all ready for scrambling. When we make a fun recipe, I'll call them together and have the oldest read through the ingredients while the five and three year olds try to find things. It even helps with reading fractions. The older ones are getting decent at measuring things out and the three year old loves stirring.

There are many other ways to involve the kids around the house, not only letting them see what you are doing to make the house a home, but also letting them try things out and prepare them for making their own house some day. What kinds of ideas do you have?

May 27, 2008

Fizzix is phun!

Some of us may have a physicist or two in the family. I happen to have a nerdy wonderful father, who let me play with stuff like HP calculators, super conductors and liquid nitrogen when I was growing up. I think I just found a source for all future Father's Day presents.

The Weekend

I hope everyone out there had a lovely long weekend. We had a busy, busy one, as most weekends around here seem to go.

On Saturday morning, my husband and I got up early and sneaked out of the house, borrowed a friend's pickup truck and bought cheap mulch from the city. Oooh, aren't we exciting? Later we went to a high school graduation party and then we went to the one baby store anywhere near us that carries the super narrow carseats we need, if we are going to fit three kids across the back of the van. We think they will fit, although installing the last one is going to be very tricky.

Although most people seem to think we shouldn't even need a booster for the eight year old, Tennessee law is one of the two strictest in the nation, and a child is required to be in one until eighty pounds or age nine (not to mention that it is safer that way anyway). My eight year old is nowhere near eighty pounds and a regular booster would be nearly impossible to buckle in with a seat on either side, so we'll be getting Radian booster that is rated to eighty pounds for him. He was in a Britax Husky until recently, so this isn't a huge change, just thinner.

On Sunday after church, my husband and father worked on building the posts onto which the stair and landing railing will attach. On Monday they continued on much the same vein. Sunday, I went outside, looked over my vegetable bed, which needs to be weeded, have newspaper laid down on it and then mulch, felt how hot and muggy it was and went back inside. Monday it rained, so I didn't do any gardening then either. Today, I planted a few things in the flower beds, but still I haven't mulched.

I'd love to say we did something to commemorate Memorial Day in an appropriate fashion, but we did the more typical thing and instead worked on the house and ate barbeque, coleslaw and watermelon. Still it was a nice, full day to end the nice, full weekend. I've come to find out though that even three day weekends aren't long enough. Sigh.

May 22, 2008

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Good tips on planting an "attractive and functional" garden in Slate. I quibble a bit with the bit about putting a circle of plants under a tree.

Well, I don't quibble that it shouldn't be a circle -- if you are going to plant around a tree the swath of bed should be large-ish and probably curving instead of a tiny little circle around a big, stately tree. Smaller trees like dogwoods work their way better into a flower bed than do things like maples and oaks, too. And if you are planting under a tree, you do have to choose something that can take a drought when the tree soaks up all the water first or shields the ground with its leaves. Even so, I think trees can be surrounded by plants close to their base in an attractive manner.


Note to self: Step over electrical cords, not into them.

Last night, I was late putting the kidlets to bed, because my husband was out eating dinner with a friend who was in town. After a story, the three year old needed to use the bathroom and took an interminable time, by which point the five year old had fallen asleep.

She was on the far side of the bed, so I walked around to take her glasses off, tripped over the cord plugging in a fan and went sprawling into a table and the kids' wooden toy castle. I bashed up my head, shoulder and elbow pretty good. My caring and compassionate eight year old asked, "Do you think you'll be able to fix the drawbridge on the castle?"

I'm still pretty sore this morning and have a lump on the side of my head and a bruise on the back of my arm, but at least I didn't break anything (other than the drawbridge on the castle, of course).

To Do List

I have about six weeks or so until this baby is due to arrive and about a million things to do in that time.

  • Figure out a short list of names for boys and girls (this was easier when I hadn't already used all my favorites)
  • Decide whether I'll let my husband keep St. John on the list this time around.
  • Figure out who is going to be watching the children when I go to the hospital to have the baby.
  • If it won't be someone coming to our house (it will probably be my SIL about an hour from here), I must pack suitcases for the kids so they can have clothes and brush their teeth.
  • Pack a suitcase for the hospital.
  • Buy snacks for my husband to eat in the hospital so he won't be cranky.
  • Turn in grades for the kids and close out our homeschooling year.
  • Measure backseat of the minivan and figure out if we can fit three carseats back there.
  • If we can't -- panic, cry and worry about the fact bigger automobiles, like money, don't grow on trees.
  • Cook and bake more stuff for the freezer, so that we'll have something to eat after this child arrives.
  • Wish I had more recipes that froze well.
  • Encourage my husband (and my father while he is here visiting) to finish up some necessary projects upstairs so that the big kids will not all be sleeping in the family room and the 19 month old can move out of my closet before the new little one arrives.
  • Try to find my infant carseat.
  • Figure out whether the infant carseat has outlived its shelf-life, since it is coming up on six years old.
  • Do about a million other things that haven't even crossed my mind yet.

May 21, 2008

All Day, Every Day

The weather here has been pleasant so far. We've had very few unbearably hot days thus far and so we have either spent a lot of time outside or at least had doors and windows (the few that aren't painted shut with 99 years of lead based paint) hanging open to let in all the fresh air we can.

With the back door open, the 19 month old, who spent the winter confined to the indoors most of the time, has discovered a whole new world. If there is a sudden silence from the short one, I know he usually won't be pulling all the cards out of my wallet and spreading them from room to room, instead he'll be outside digging in the mud or the big pile of sand left over from the chimney we had built.

He is out there as soon as I open the door in the morning and objects to being called in for any reason other than to eat. Every night he's covered in sand and mud (as are all of his siblings) and I've had to increase the bath routine from every other day or sometimes even a little less frequently than that, because there are some very dirty, gritty children running around.

I wouldn't change these days of mud and outdoor play for anything, and neither would the kids -- especially the littlest, who would rather play in the sand more than almost anything and loves being free outside from morning until night. A dirty child is a healthy and happy one, right?

May 20, 2008

Like It Is

Patricia is right. This is a comic strip I too can relate to all too well.

May 19, 2008

The Political Concerns of an Eight Year Old

Driving around my neighborhood, which is one of the bluest enclaves in a blue city in a red state, one sees a lot of Obama signs and a few Hilary signs. I haven't seen a single McCain sign or sticker. I'm not complaining, I don't have any political stuff in my yard or on my car.

My eight year old is starting to notice all these signs though and as we cruised along to the park the other day, he worriedly announced, "Mom, I think Obama might win."

I non-committedly replied that he wasn't even the official candidate yet and one never knows about these things.

"But Mom," he doggedly insisted, "He might win and then taxes would go up and things like Legos would be more expensive."

Truly the mind of an eight year old boy is never far from the important things of the world, like Legos.

May 14, 2008

Experimenting on My Family

I've been experimenting on my family and I didn't get from any governing agencies. Does that mean some day I'll be hauled before some board and asked to explain my actions? Perhaps. That's a risk I'll just have to take.

So what evil plots and schemes have been hatching in the House of Purple? This time no shock therapy, lobotomies or other painful treatments were tested -- I make no promises for the future. I've been conducting food experiments.

As I mentioned, I've been doing a lot of baking recently. Since what I have been baking can't be called health food by any usual measurement of these things, I decided to see what people around here would say if I altered things just a little. I have determined that nobody seems to notice any changes worth mentioning if a quarter of the flour in a recipe suddenly becomes whole wheat or if as much as a tablespoon of flax seeds show up.

In other experiments, I have been replacing half the called for ground beef in several recipes (Chinese dumplings, tacos and lasagna to be specific) with TVP. My husband is recoiling with horror as he reads this, but in things with some meat, lots of onions, garlic and spices, I really haven't noticed any difference and the children have been scarfing everything down like starving animals. I wouldn't try it in recipes that put the ground beef flavor at the forefront (like a hamburger) but I suspect TVP will be showing up in a pot of chili around here as well as playing again in the things mentioned above.

So why experiment? Why not? I suppose just like in bad experiments where scientists didn't seek permission from subjects, it is interesting to see what one can get away with. How much can you change before it becomes too much. Plus, these were also tests in identifying ways to make our regular foods healthier. It may not do much, but a brownie made with some whole wheat flour and flax seeds is at least a little better for you than one without and adding TVP to a meat dish is going to make it higher in fiber and lower in fat. And besides, it isn't like I've tried to pass these off on the unsuspecting -- yet...

May 13, 2008

Fun IQ Test

It took me a while to figure out this puzzle, but I finally got everyone across the river. Can you do it too?

Baking Instead of Nesting?

When some women start closing in on their due dates, they start cleaning the house and trying to put their nests into order. I can't say I'm feeling inclined to start a massive cleaning campaign, although I would certainly love a clean and tidy house. Instead I've been baking way more than usual.

In the past few weeks, I've made brownies twice, lemon cookies, chocolate chip cookies, a chess pie (thanks to Meredith for the recipe), graham nuts (which are sort of like Grape Nuts cereal, only better) and today I just barely stopped myself from making zucchini bread, when I remembered that I needed the oven to cook the lasagna I'm preparing for dinner.

I'm not sure where the urge is coming from. I like baking just fine normally, but it is something I do once a month, not several times per week. I'm not baking this stuff and saving it for after the baby arrives, but I'm also not wolfing it all down the moment it comes out of the oven. Still, I am eating probably more than my fair share, which means that when the baby arrives, I'm going to be even more enormous than usual.

May 09, 2008

Gardening Books

Below in the comments, I was asked if I had any recommendations for good gardening books for a novice gardener. I did not start learning to garden from books, I grew up watching my mother plant things, move things, and sit in the front yard weeding. I didn't ask a lot of questions about it all back then, and I didn't even help that much, but I did learn the names of a lot of flowers and I watched and figured out what I liked. Also, being taken to places like the Botanical Gardens in Pasadena as a kid didn't hurt, although the years with a desert landscape in Phoenix probably didn't do much for any gardening bug (there I just learned the jumping cholla were pure evil and ocatillo were only nice after a big rainstorm).

I did not grow up with any kind of food producing garden and I didn't grow up in the zone or even region where I now live, so watching and visiting gardens only went so far. Otherwise, I've mostly tried, failed and asked questions of people who have more experience gardening. There is probably no book out there that is better than asking for help (besides, other gardeners often like to give you plants when you ask for help and books never do that).

Still, it never hurts to have some books to look at and get inspired by, just like it never hurts to pull out all your favorite gardening magazines and drool over the beautiful landscapes.

Here then my short list of gardening books.

  1. A good regional reference book. I have this one. I don't use it as much as I probably should, but it is especially helpful when one is just getting started.
  2. Gardening for Dummies Most of the "for Dummies" books I've looked at are very good introductions to a topic. The publishers seem to do a good job finding the right experts to write for them.
  3. The Way We Garden Now by Katherine Whiteside. I checked this out from the library last year and loved it. I found it very informative and full of interesting ideas and garden designs. It's a book I would love to own.

If I were going to suggest one more book, it might be a good plant encyclopedia. It's very helpful to know what you've got already and to help you figure out what else you might want.

Another good resource comes to my house every year in the form of plant catalogs. Not all of them are created equal. Some of the cheapo ones like Spring Hill and Michigan Bulb offer great deals, but you will find a lot of warnings of poor customer service and refunds that never arrive out there on the web. I've only ordered from one of them and I had some plants survive and some that didn't, and I did not get any money returned to me.

Simply for reference and drooling purposes, I especially like White Flower Farm and High Country Gardens, which although offering many things for the Western garden that won't work in Tennessee, also specializes in xeriscaping and who doesn't like the idea of a waterwise garden?

Major Renovation is on the No-no list?

How come nobody told me after my son was born that you weren't supposed to buy a house you couldn't live in for over a year, while it was torn apart and reworked? I suppose rushing to try and finish up the major stuff of the renovation before the next baby arrives is also on the "not recommended" list?

This and other how-to tips found here. Via the fabulous Mrs. Fussypants.

May 08, 2008

Optimisim and Resignation

The eight year old: If I win this Lego contest, I'll get the title of best Lego builder in the US and we'll all get to go to Denmark! And even if I don't win, Lego is now going to send me a surprise for my birthday!

I love that he almost always can look on the bright side of things.

May 07, 2008

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

I'm always impressed by how much our family is able to reduce our garbage output by composting and recycling all the things our city says we can put in the recycling bin, which includes plastics marked with numbers 1-7. However, it is a little depressing to read that most of the time, even if a city takes all kinds of plastics, they actually send everything but numbers 1 and 2 to the landfill or to other countries for incineration.

I'm not about to go on a no plastics whatsoever kick, but it does make one think that recycling can often be the waste of time that some suggest it is. Finding ways to reuse things ourselves (like turning newspaper into weed block or shredded credit card offers into compost) or passing things on to someone else who might want them is much better than sending things off to the recycling center. And I suppose one could resist the call of things packaged in plastic too, if one must.

Read More "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" »

May 05, 2008

Ugly Plastic and Ugly Yards

I admit it. We have several big plastic yard toys, including a climbing structure that used to have a slide, a swing and slide made only for extreme midgets (or two year olds), a teeter-totter shaped like a crocodile and a sand box shaped like a turtle. In fairness we bought exactly zero of these objects. The climbing thing, the "swingset," and the sand box were all given to us by neighbors who didn't have small children anymore and the teeter-totter was brought by my parents who got it at a yard sale.

Still they do clutter up the landscape and they do nothing to improve the looks of the backyard and so I read this article in Slate with a bit of a sigh. My children do play on these toys all the time, using them as houses, hideouts, circuses, ships and other similar things. But as someone who likes to garden and longs for a pretty yard both front and back, I do sometimes wish I didn't have to look at bright colored, ugly plastic things.

Truly, my children who are tall enough also climb the trees in the backyard almost as much as the climbing thing and the sand pile outside the sandbox is used more than the sandbox itself. These two plastic objet d'art are probably going to be the first to be moved on to other locales.

Although I can see that my children would probably be perfectly happy with no big toys in the yard, sometimes I still long to build a pretty wooden play structure in the backyard. That, at least wouldn't be plastic and I know they would play with it. On the other hand, it occurs to me that if we built a backyard playground, my days of throwing all the kids outside including the toddler to roam relatively safely within the confines of the fence would be gone. When I make the decision to take the kids to a park, I am there to watch them and spot the toddler when he chooses to try things far beyond his ability to safely climb alone. When I tell them to give me five minutes of quiet in the house by myself while they play outside, the toddler will still choose to try climbing things that he has no business scaling, but I won't be there to watch him.

Some day the big plastic things may be gone and my yard will be prettier, but they probably won't be replaced with a lovely wooden play structure. My inner laziness saves money and children's skulls!

May 01, 2008

Shop At Home First -- Potted Plants

As much as I like gardening and although I seem to wind up with plants in pots every year, every year most of my large pots wind up being a disappointment. The reason for the disappointment varies. Sometimes I've tried a mixture of things and one plant died, or they just didn't grow the way I wanted them to. Sometimes I've tried keeping it simple and using one sprawling, flowering plant. Those years I usually forget to water the pots and wind up, if not killing the plant, leaving it looking pathetic for the rest of the summer, until I rip it all out in the fall and stick in mums.

There have been two exceptions to my potted plant failures. I have always had lovely and abundant basil growing in pots. This is probably because I've pinched it, plucked it and taken very good care of it. Or maybe basil just likes me. The other plant that has done well consistently for me in a pot is hosta. Those I have totally ignored, not watered for weeks, stuck in full sun when I knew they are shade plants and they do beautiful things for me, sort of like the puppy that will lick your hand even after you yell at it.

Hostas fill in pots well, overwinter in the well and generally give me a nice bit of potted plant life with very little work. Paired with some vinca, which also can survive a lot of abuse and you can have a very interesting pot without much effort.

This year, this formula for pots has been especially important for me. I don't have extra money to spend on a lot of plants thanks to renovations, our trip to England and all the other things that are costing money this year. Not only do I have a tendency to find my potted plants looking pathetic by mid-summer, but then I tend to want to go buy even more plants to hide the shame of my plant abuse. I just can't do that this summer.

I had four pots I wanted to fill in my front yard. Several more in the backyard got herbs, which although tiny, I've already been putting to work in meals. The four in the front yard are purely decorative and I want them to be pretty, but I just can't justify spending much on them right now.

So I started hunting around the yard. I already had some potting soil left over from other years. I divided up some hostas, ripped a little vinca (for flowing out of the pot) out by the roots and stuck vinca and hostas in all of the front yard pots. It might have been more interesting to try something different for the other two and lamb's ear might have been interesting. Some variegated hostas would have been pretty, but I was working with the first stuff I laid hands on. For the two pots on the front porch, I splurged on a small pot of million bells. They and their bigger cousins the wave petunia are fairly unkillable and even if I do kill them, the hostas and vinca should keep the pots looking nice.

So far I'm quite pleased and especially that I managed to fill four pots with something attractive for well under $10 by using what I already had and what I knew would work well for me.