Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Photo Mosaic to Ring in the New Year (Meme)

1. Growing Pains, 2. Julia Ormond (of whom there was no photo, apparently), 3. Pregnancy, 4. Feeling at Home, 5. Auld Lange Syne, 6. Homebirth, 7. Columnar Apple Trees, 8. Inner Peace, 9. Blissful, 10. A Greek Olive Grove, 11. Domestic Bliss, 12. Family of six

The answers to these questions are above:
1. 1. Looking back on 2008, what might the theme have been?
2. If 2008 was a movie, who would play you?
3. What was your greatest gift of 2008?
4. What is your New Year Resolution, or, what are you committing to this year?
5. If January could be represented by one song, what would it be?
6. What do you wish for your body in 2009?
7. Name one new thing you would love to try in the New Year.
8. What do you long for 2009 to bring?
9. If that happened, how would you feel?
10. Where would you love to vacation in 2009 if money were no object?
11. What would you like the theme of 2009 to be?
12. If 2009 was a book, and the title was 5 words or less, what might the title be?

To create your own New Year's mosaic, type the answer to each of the 12 questions in the Flickr search page, choose a photo from the first page of search results only, then copy and paste the URL of the photo into the mosaic maker. Don't forget to adjust the number of rows and columns in your mosaic to accomodate all 12 photos. Et voila!

Thanks to Suzie for sharing this with her readers and inviting them to join in!

Most of all, have a wonderful, wonderful New Year, readers. :-)

Toy Review 2: Disney Princess Super Playhouse Tent with Lights

Picture from

Next up comes the toy with the absolute worst rating from us. This is a toy that will be returned for sure. I'm not sure where this was purchased because it was bought by a family member for Annie. Let's first put aside the whole Disney princess character debate, okay? Okay. Thanks. The real problems with this toy have nothing to do with its nourishment for the young girl's soul.

All right, all right. In the interest of staying positive, I will say that Annie was thrilled when she got this. Though we already have a playhouse type thing, she is much more into castles than she is into cottages, so we acquiesced and opened it despite my distaste for duplicate gifts. The thing is humongous and can fit all three of my kids comfortably for a little tea party or refuge from attacking skeleton armies (I'll let you guess which scenario belongs to which child's imagination).

Now onto the cons. My first and biggest complaint is that the tent just doesn't work. The poles (plastic, of course) are meant to be inserted into channels in the fabric shell, but almost all of the poles are about an inch too long to fit into the channels! This means that they cannot be secured by the velcro flaps and slide out with just a bit of jostling by the children, forcing the roof to collapse. I looked online at various sites to see if others had this problem, and they had. In fact, this product got only 2 stars on the Toys 'R' Us website. There were also poles to expand the turret rooms, but the channels for these were actually sewn shut on our particular playhut.

The problems mentioned above are easily and cheaply solved (wood dowels cut to size, paring down the plastic poles, etc.), but when you pay $50 for an item, there shouldn't be any immediate need to fix things, right?

Did I mention that the playhouse actually requires batteries!? There are LED lights around the doorway of the castle, apparently "for safe nighttime play" ( again). So... polyester shell, plastic skeleton, battery-powered LED lights, foreign made... not the most eco-conscious toy on the market.

I would absolutely not recommend this product to anyone.

Overall rating (out of 5 stars): *
Affordability: ***
Educational value: **
Durability: *
Ease of use: *
Versatility: ****
Environmental Friendliness: *
Fun: ***

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Toy Review 1: Quadrilla Marble Railway Basic Set

So, the gift-giving holidays of 2008 are over. Phew! As usual, between us, their grandparents, aunts, and uncles, the kids got more than they asked for and more than they needed. Some of it was wonderful and some of it was... well, returnable. I thought that over the next week I'd give reviews of some of the best and worst gifts given to our children, not to brag about what they got, but as a guide to my fellow parents out there.

First up is one of the best toys: the Quadrilla Marble Railway Basic Set. This was actually purchased by me for Airius (on sale through Oompa Toys) after reading every review I could find online. Airius loves to work with his hands but still lacks the fine motor skills needed for writing, drawing, and many other creative endeavors, so I thought this might be a nice step up from the typical building blocks that he's been playing with for years.

My favorite thing about this product is the endless learning opportunities it provides. Each block has its own specific function, so it requires some problem solving skills and a basic grasp of gravity/physics to form an effective marble run. The manufacturer provides a guide with building instructions for several fun configurations, but my kids almost immediately wanted to go into uncharted territory and make their own setups. Awesome!

My biggest complaint about the Quadrilla is that it is touted as being a wooden toy, but there are actually plastic parts to it. Each of the wooden blocks has a small plastic ring at its junction point, and some of the blocks have other plastic bits to guide the marbles. The wooden pieces are beautiful, though, and the blocks are dyed in water-based stains. A lesser complaint is that the structures are a bit delicate once they're set up. It's relatively easy to knock things out of whack while sending down a deluge of marbles, which of course makes the marbles go everywhere, but as long as things don't get too rambunctious it usually stays intact. There are plastic sets that lock together more securely if you don't mind the tradeoff of plastic versus wood. The occassional diversions are great learning opportunities, if you ask me, requiring the kids to slow down and troubleshoot their structure to figure out just where things are going awry.

There are many add-ons for the basic set that can be purchased to keep your child's imagination growing. We haven't yet tried any of these or shown them to the kids because I'm trying to discourage "collector mentality," but we will be keeping them in mind for later gifts if the kids seem interested.

Overall, this is a product I would highly recommend to other parents. Even today, nearly a week after it was opened, all of the kids are enjoying this toy. The Quadrilla is much, much more expensive than its fully plastic counterparts, as is to be expected, but I think the extra price is worth it.

Overall rating (out of 5 stars): ****
Affordability: ***
Educational value: ****
Durability: ****
Ease of use: **** (recommended for the 5 and up crowd especially)
Versatility: *****
Environmental Friendliness: ** (they get docked extra for misleading advertising)
Fun: *****

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Almost Post-Holiday

Two holiday visits down, one more to go.

This is the first holiday when we haven't had some huge catastrophe putting a pall over everything. No deaths, no huge family feuds, no major problems with the house or cars. Phew! I managed to get myself well in time for Yule, but my Annie girl got very, very sick a couple days before Christmas. She had to stay home from the revelries that took place with The Husband's dad's side of the family, and she was actually happy about it. That should give you some idea of just how miserable the poor kid was. I'm hoping she's well enough to go the The Husband's mom's side tomorrow.

We even managed to get the ornaments on the tree!

I've had a billion and one posts lined up but haven't managed to get to actually putting them together and publishing them between my own illness and Annie's and the general chaos that surrounds this time of year. Hopefully, I'll get back on track soon.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I Can Almost Breathe Again

I have been ill since November 1st. It's getting old. It hasn't been the same illness continually, but one thing right after the other. Has it really been weeks since I've posted here!? Yikes.

As much as I've tried just muddling through, getting things done, it hasn't really happened. For example, our Yule/Christmas tree has been up for a week, sans ornaments. All of the decorations are still in the attic. I could go on an on about the frustrations that have come up and the number of things of my to-do list that haven't been done, but today is the first day that I can actually move without feeling like I'm pulling taffy, so I'm just going to keep moving forward. One step at a time. Things will get done or they won't. I may be kicking myself later, but right now, through bouts of hacking and shivering, I'm just doing what I can.

At this moment I can do laundry, so I'm going to. Joy!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Product Review: Knifty Knitter Long Loom

A couple weeks before her birthday, Annie had a sudden interest in knitting. I have no idea where it came from, since she hasn't seen me knitting anything, but she was very insistent that I go to the attic and find my supplies. I only have one circular needle, however, and it's a rather small gauge. I was afraid it'd be difficult for her, so The Husband and I went on a search for a beginner's knitting kit. Instead, we came across the Knifty Knitter by Provo Craft. Annie said she wanted to knit a scarf, so I bought the 19" long loom. I also bought some pink, fuzzy clearance yarn.

She wanted to get started right away after opening the loom on her birthday, so we opened it, and I quickly went over the instructions with her. It was immediately apparent that the yarn winding was a bit confusing for her, but she really loved doing the hooking. The real surprise was that Airius loved it more! We ended up knitting as a team of three with me weaving the yarn on the loom, Annie hooking one row and Airius hooking the second. Before we knew it, we had half a scarf done!

I felt the biggest negative of the product was the amount of plastic it involved. The loom itself is plastic, as well as the hook handle, needle, and all packaging. If you're trying to avoid plastic in your life, it's best just to skip the Knifty Knitter and try your hand at regular needle knitting.

Another negative is that for even a mediocre knitter like myself, the loom is soooo much slower than needles. I'm sure I could have whipped the scarf up in an hour or two with needles, but even without helpers it took much longer on the loom. It does do away with having to count stitches though, definitely a plus. has plenty of Knifty Knitter projects to expand upon the very simple knit project given with the loom, so at least there's a certain amount of versatility. Unfortunately, there are several different looms in various shapes and sizes that may be needed for any given project. You can't just buy one and complete every project on their site.

I don't think it'll be long before Annie and Airius both can do the entire process by themselves, so the product is probably appropriate for most children 5 and up.

Overall rating (out of 5 stars): ***
Durability: *****
Ease of use: ****
Versatility: ***
Environmental friendliness: *
Usefulness: **

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Church of the Old Mermaids is on!!

Just when I was feeling uninspired, unamazed, and ready to hibernate through the winter, my favorite author, Kim Antieau (whom I know I've posted about before on here), has self-published her book Church of the Old Mermaids. I mentioned the Old Mermaids back here when I talked about our garden "seashells", but I've been following the stories for some time through the blog. These stories are... beauty in words. Beautiful words. I don't know, but I know what I like when I read it.

I feel my tail sprouting. Must. Go. Splash into this book. I hope that some of you will join me because I know the journey will be well worth it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Homemade Gift (Kinda Sorta)

Annie absolutely cannot stop drawing and crafting. She wants to do it all day long, every day, and she brings at least 5 drawings or projects home each day from school. For her birthday, then, I decided that she might appreciate her very own art box. This way she doesn't have to ask me to get the crayons for her (which are put up because a certain 2-year-old has covered every single downstairs wall with doodles), and I got to introduce some new craft items to her that have been stored in my cache.

In total, this gift cost about $20 because there were a few items that we don't generally keep on hand in the house that I wanted to add especially for her. The box itself is actually my old Caboodle that I kept my makeup and accessories in as a teen. In the box we have:

  • 3 craft punches (dog, cat, and paw print for my little animal lover)-- From my scrapbooking stash

  • Mini stapler-- Bought new for use in making her own booklets

  • Large eraser-- Gathered from the kids' art supplies

  • Pencil sharpener-- Gathered from the kids' art supplies

  • Two pencils-- Gathered from the kids' art supplies

  • Glue stick-- Gathered from the kids' art supplies

  • Safety scissors-- Bought new since we only had one pair in the house

  • Heart shaped paperclips-- Bought new (and grudgingly)

  • 8 Glitter glue pens-- Bought new; the most expensive new item, but I knew she'd love them!

  • Crayons-- Gathered from the kids' art supplies

  • White sketching paper-- I looked all over for a mini sketchbook that would fit, but couldn't find one. Instead, I cut up some larger sheets we already had at home.

  • Construction paper-- Again, small sheets cut from larger sheets we already had

  • Pipe cleaners-- Gathered from the kids' art supplies

  • Beads-- Bought new

  • Elastic thread for beading-- Bought new

  • Cinderella stamp and pad of stamping paper-- Received in a party gift bag earlier in the year

  • Phew! I think that's it. As her skills improve, we'll add things gradually. For now, this keeps her plenty occupied. She makes magic wands from the pipe cleaners, bracelets and necklaces from the beads and elastic thread, and has covered every sheet of paper in glittery doodles. Fun stuff!

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    How I SHOULD Have Prepared My Garden For Winter

    Yesterday we were a little surprised to get quite the snow flurry. It was wet, packing snow too. Mondays are errand days for me, so I was out and about and thinking of all the things I still haven't done to prepare my garden for winter. Between the kids being ill, me being ill, and the rain we've had for the last week or so, I am sorely behind. Still on the to-do list:

    -Rake all leaves (which only ceased falling a couple of days ago) onto garden beds
    -Cover compost piles
    -Find something to do with the billion and a half pebbles filling the children's sled and every single plastic pot I own
    -Wash all outdoor toys and bring to basement for duration of winter
    -Clean patio area
    -Move large rocks from backyard to frontyard for border
    -Remove hose from spigot and store
    -Clean all garden tools
    -Mulch blueberry bushes with pine needles

    We're supposed to get more snow Sunday, but I hope that this slight bit we have now will melt before then so that I can get my behind in gear! How is everyone else doing on winter prep?

    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    The First Snow

    Okay, I admit it. I've lost my will to blog. There are things that I could be posting about, like the fact that the twins have turned 5, the few "thrifty" things I got/made for their birthday, my foray into making apple cider vinegar, my insane journey into trying to really connect with my home and redoing our master bedroom, or the battle that is waged every year around this time between me and... everyone else.

    But I just. Can't. Make. Myself. Do it.

    Yesterday, however, the first snow of the year fell, and it felt like the kind of thing that needed to be put down somewhere. You know, recorded for posterity or some such thing. It started as rain, but by the afternoon, it had turned into a very wet, light snowfall. None of it stuck, and it wasn't the sort of white fluff that makes pretty pictures. But, well, now you know that it's snowed here. :)

    I hope you're all doing well out there in the ether...

    Now back to hibernating.

    Saturday, November 8, 2008

    Our Ohio

    I'm not a magazine person. In fact, I don't have a single magazine subscription in my name (The Husband and the kids are a different story). "Our Ohio" is sent to us as a benefit of membership in the Ohio Farm Bureau, however, and I thoroughly enjoy its bi-monthly editions. It's a great way to learn about various local farms, vineyards, businesses, and events. It also has a recipe feature with each edition, where one ingredient (usually seasonal) is featured.

    The reason I'm sharing this little treasure of information with you now, though, is because the November/December issue featured a couple of "alternative cooking" methods that is right up the alley of any homesteader. The recipe theme was campfire recipes (which you can find online at Our Ohio), which was preceded with a short, sweet article entitled "Fun With Campfire Cooking." There's also another article called "Fire it Up" about hearthside cooking lessons in Lucas County.

    Unfortunately, I won't be doing any hearthside cooking anytime soon. That loverly picture to the left is my "hearth," a non-functioning, capped gas fireplace which we haven't even come close to restoring yet. After a dreadful Yuletide ice storm in our apartment years with 1-year-old twins in which our electricity (including our electric heat) was knocked out for days, we purposely looked for a home with a fireplace... just in case. Once we had it, however, The Husband was so worried that the twins would be burned that he had his step-dad cap the gasline going to the fireplace and remove the fixture. Then the worry was that the twins would climb the chimney, so our fireplace was turned ever so stylish with the addition of a lovely baby gate to the front. That was a long way of telling you that I don't have the proper equipment for hearthside cooking. ;)

    Annnnnnyway, check out "Our Ohio" if you have the chance, especially if you happen to, uh, be in Ohio. If you don't have access to the mag but the idea of hearthside/campfire cooking has intrigued you, check out The Magic of Fire by William Rubel for another jumping off point. Happy cooking!

    Tuesday, November 4, 2008

    Civic Duty--Done!

    I've purposely kept this blog free of my political leanings as much as possible, which I hope you all appreciate. I'm not at all afraid of entering into political discourse, but this election has been so LONG and drawn out that I figure we all need a place where we can take a break. So, never fear, today's post is not about who I voted for or why, simply that I voted at all.

    We voted quickly and easily today. Oh, how I love small towns! I had to wait about 5 minutes (maybe less) for a machine to open up, but that was it. The machine gave me no problems, and I checked the paper print to make sure that everything was cast correctly. Airius voted with me because he liked my candidate best, but Annie and Callie voted with their Daddy. We're all proudly sporting out stickers. I'd love to show you some adorable pictures of the kids taking part in democracy, but my camera battery died just as we were done voting. *sigh* I definitely need to pay closer attention to that.

    The kids are both home from school today because their bellies aren't feeling completely well yet. I had to pick Annie up from school yesterday because she spent all but 15 minutes out of an hour and a half in the bathroom, so they won't let her come back until she's symptom free for at least 24 hours. The Husband's home too because, well, he has a flexible schedule and really wants to watch every. second. of. political. coverage.

    Soooooo... that's what I'll be doing for the rest of the day. Cleaning up bodily explosions from my children and listening to non-stop, blaringly loud election coverage. Did I mention that The Husband is an old man? :)

    Sunday, November 2, 2008

    Belated Beggar's Night Post

    I didn't know if we were going to make the trick-or-treating rounds this year. The girls, The Husband, and I had all finally stopped vomiting, but now the girls were making explosions from the other end. Oy. I could easily envision the mess that would happen in front of some poor neighbor's house when we couldn't get back to the house in time...

    But we decided to go when the girls seemed to be taking a break from illness. The Husband always insists that we make the hour drive out to his mother's house to trick-or-treat there, where he feels most at home and comfortable. At least this way his mom gets to see the kids all dressed up. This year we walked for about an hour. Normally, it's a much shorter jaunt, but the kids are getting older and are much more capable of convincing Daddy to keep going--er, I mean-- they're much more capable of making the walk.

    As you can see, Annie was a witch, Airius was The Incredible Hulk (he's never even seen the movie or cartoon), and Callie was Tinkerbell. Traditionally, our costumes are homemade, but this year was different. The Husband, my great eco-saboteur, decided to buy costumes for Annie and Airius without asking me first. We already had the Tinkerbell costume, given to Callie by Daniel's mom for Christmas, I think. I'm not bitter, I swear. ;)

    Finally, bags bulging with sugary goodness, we headed back to my mother-in-law's home for a quick dinner and then... THE CANDY GORGE. Yes, I'm a bad mother. I don't often give my kids candy, and we're not a "dessert" type of family simply because I haven't perfected my cooking/baking skills yet. So, the holidays are a sweet time for my kids. Beggar's Night especially, I let them eat their fill of candy (after dinner, of course) with no intervention from Mom. Airius is always the first to stop and Annie is always the last. After the initial gorge, though, Mommy confiscates all candy and, with a wave of my magic wand, it all disappears. :)

    What do I do with all the candy? I snitch a few of my childhood favorites, and the Husband, who has a huge sweet tooth, eats his fill. I sort through for things that will last awhile and stash that in a secret place (secret from The Husband AND the kids) to stuff stockings at Yule where the gorge will be repeated.

    Thursday, October 23, 2008

    Back Soon

    I promise. While I'd like to say that I've been hard at work on some incredible homesteading project, the truth is much less glamorous. We've all been hit with a deplorable stomach bug, and I just haven't had time to post between moments of cleaning up the various bodily explosions of one husband, two children (Airius somehow managed to escape this completely so far...), and my pregnant self. Did you know that pregnant women are insanely sensitive to pungent odors? Pity me, people. :)

    And happy Samhain, Halloween, or whatever it is you're celebrating today!

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    The Children Are Nestled All Snug in Their Beds... Part 2

    Just goes to show that daddies are good co-sleepers too.

    Word to the wise: don't type your blog posts in too much of a hurry. It's inevitable that you will forget something. I rushed a bit through my previous post on how to keep infants and children warm at night in the chill of a 55 degree home, thus I neglected to add the last tip.

    Sticking with our Victorian Night Before Christmas theme, imagine how the beds of the poem's subjects would have looked. A stand alone metal bed frame with a mattress perched on top? Guess again. Canopy and four poster beds were very common back then and with good reason. The drapery surrounding the bed is just one more layer of insulation, keeping out the cold and keeping in the body heat. So, if after layers of pajamas, socks, and blankets your child is still cold, or if they absolutely must sleep by themselves, consider adding some drapery around the bed. We've all seen the cutesy mosquito netting kits for sale in department stores that promise to make your daughter feel like a princess, but you don't even have to buy anything to make this idea work. Grab some extra sheets, blankets, curtains, or yards of fabric that you have laying around the house and nail/staple it right to your child's ceiling if you must. It may not be pretty or ultra-convenient, but it will work.

    The method I prefer, if your child doesn't have a canopy bed, is to attach curtain rods to the ceiling and hang the drapery fabric from that, very similar to this. If the bed is against a wall or in a corner, you can simply install the rods at the open sides of the bed. The wall won't provide as much insulation as the canopy will, but it'll save you money and/or time this way and still give much the same effect of keeping warmth in. Make simple tiebacks from your ribbon stash (what?? you don't have one!?), fabric cords, or strips of fabric. You can get as fancy or as simple as you'd like with this. Let your imagination and the supplies you already have guide you.

    A canopy is probably not the best idea for an infant who is old enough to pull to a standing position by themselves or for toddlers who still live in close connection to our genetic relatives, the apes. Those curtain rods will not hold up to a lot of pulling or swinging, and you don't want to add anything that might become a choking hazard. For your newborn or very small infant who is not yet doing much moving in their bed, install the curtain rods far enough out from the edges of the crib that they won't be able to grab them, even accidentally, through the bars of their crib.

    One very last thing. Do your best not to put your child's bed/crib near a window. It's inevitable, regardless of how new or good your windows are, that there will be a draft. I know that sometimes it's just impossible not to use a window wall because of a room's configuration, but do your best. If the bed must be by a window, get some thermal insulating drapes to keep out the drafts.

    If anyone has any pictures or other do-it-yourself canopy ideas, please share!

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    A Step-Saving Kitchen

    It's not bungalow restoration, being from a couple decades later, but there are some brilliant ideas on this video nevertheless. Enjoy!

    Friday, October 17, 2008

    Blogging Break

    It seems like I just took one, I know, but I'm going out of town this weekend to attend my best friend's wedding so I will not be blogging for a spell. West Virginia, here I come!

    Have a good weekend, y'all (how's my drawl? :-)

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Annie Asks...

    "Mom, why is toilet paper made of paper?" (Picture is a self-portrait of Annie.)

    I love these moments when the children start to catch on to the changes we're making, and it prompts them to ask questions and probe into why things are the way they are and why we're making a change. We haven't completely phased out toilet paper at BobbleHead yet, mainly because my husband is adamantly refusing to give it up, but I have the kids using old baby washcloths to wipe themselves when they urinate. I was extremely tense that they might forget and flush the cloth down the toilet causing who knows what amount of plumbing havoc, but they've not forgotten yet, and it's been many months.

    Annie and I had quite the discussion (with Airius and The Bean listening on, of course) about how toilet paper disintegrates in water, which she immediately had to try in the sink. Then she wanted to know why we would want to use cloth when the toilet paper just disappears. I have to wash the cloth. Why would I want to do that? This led to a conversation of where paper comes from, how long it takes trees to grow, why trees are so important to our planet, how much toilet paper costs, etc. My girl is amazing, I tell ya. She knew more than I thought she would, and I'm sure she absorbed the new stuff.

    Luckily, she didn't ask why we don't use the cloth wipes for fecal cleanup, but I wouldn't put it past her to do it once just to see how I react. ;)

    How do your kids handle all the changes you've been making during your journey to simplicity?

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    The Children Are Nestled All Snug in Their Beds...

    The twins at 5 months old, all cuddled up together.

    Crunchy Chicken's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge is getting close, so despite outdoor temperatures of nearly 80 degrees (!), I've been thinking warm thoughts. One of the questions that seems to be asked every year for the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge is how to keep infants and children warm when you've decided to turn the thermostat down to 55 degrees at night. The twins, my first children, were born in November when we lived in a drafty apartment. I quickly began to look backwards, into history, to see how babies were kept warm in the days before we could set our digital thermostats at whatever temperature made us most comfortable. Here are just a few of the strategies I used (and still use) to keep our little ones nice and snug:

    The best source of heat in cold weather is body heat, in my opinion. It works quickly, doesn't require artifical and possibly dangerous energy sources, and creates family unity. That said, my first recommendation for keeping any infant or child warm is to welcome them into your bed. This is called co-sleeping nowadays, and there is plenty of information available about how to do so safely. This can be very scary for someone who has been conditioned to think that co-sleeping is dangerous, and I understand. But remember: "According to the National SIDS Alliance, approximately 2,700 babies die each year from SIDS; the vast majority of those sleeping alone in a crib. In the CPSC study, 515 died between 1990 to 1997 directly as a result of poor safety in co-sleeping." Both mom and dad, but especially a breast-feeding mother, are specially designed to help their infants regulate their body temperatures. That's something a blanket just can't do.

    Co-sleeping is also often the most frugal sleeping option for baby. The purchase of a crib, bassinet, or cradle can be delayed or put off altogether. I purchased cribs and was given bassinets for the twins, but I rarely used them at night. (There are those times when you just need some time in bed with your partner to... bond ;-) If your child(ren) has a separate room, you can shut off the register to their room at night and funnel all the heat to the room you're sleeping in together.

    As an offshoot of parental co-sleeping, there's also sibling co-sleeping. All those renditions of The Night Before Christmas with a bedful of sleeping children are more than quaint, they're practical. Again, body heat is best for keeping everyone snug. It is not wise to keep an infant or very young child in bed with older siblings. The Bean has only started sleeping with Annie this winter, and The Bean is now more than two years old. Annie and Airius did sometimes sleep together as infants, but as toddlers they preferred separation from each other, even when they were in Mommy's and Daddy's bed. There may be squabbling between children who share a bed, but there's a lot of bonding and closeness too. When the girls are just getting under each other's skin, the threat of having to go to their own beds is usually enough to quiet them. Airius's main reason for wanting a baby brother was because he wants someone to share a room with. Since the twins are only 4 (soon to be 5... boo hoo!), we do not discourage him from sleeping with his sisters if he wants. It just seems to be that they segregate themselves from sleeping together.

    Get out your knitting needles because suggestion #3 is to wear a hat to bed. Are we seeing a theme emerge here? "And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap..." Okay, you don't have to knit your own. Just grab a stocking hat from your winter stash and keep it on all day and night. Be sure both your infants and children have them too. Though the exact percentage is debated, most scientists agree that a high percentage of your body heat is lost through your head. The head of an infant is large in proportion to the rest of its body, so this is especially true for them. Keep those baby beanies on your little one! Most children I know absolutely love hats of all types, so I've never had one balk at wearing a nightcap. Make sure they fit snugly on those little heads so that they don't pose a choking hazard. There are so many cute hat patterns for kids and babies that you may have a whole slew of them by the end of winter! Try to stay away from hats with strings around the neck. These could be a choking hazard for children while they sleep.

    After your littles have donned their night caps, make sure their feet are covered. Have you ever put your feet in warm or cold water and felt a temperature shift in your whole body? Exactly. I'd recommend a thinner, daily wear sock go on the feet first. Cover these with a thick woolen sock. It's best if both pairs of socks go to at least mid-calf. This will prevent kids from kicking their socks off in their sleep and add a little warmth to the legs where pajama pants or nightgowns can hike up and leave skin bare. For infants and small children, footed sleepers are a blessing. You can put socks either underneath or over top of the footies. I've had better luck putting the socks over top. Somehow, my kids always manage to kick the socks off if they're inside the footies. Then they just have big, lumpy socks rolling around in their jammies all night. Not comfortable. My kids have never seemed to need more than two pairs of socks, but use your best judgement.

    Layering pajamas and blankets is an easy enough solution. This doesn't have to be layering pajama on top of pajama. Simply adding a t-shirt under a nightshirt or a pair of body hugging thermal underwear underneath can be enough. With infants, I recommend a long-sleeved onesie underneath their pajamas. If they're sleeping with you, this should be more than sufficient (it may even be too much). If your baby is on its own at night, I'd suggest adding a sleep sack over the pajamas. It is both more dangerous and more likely for your baby to be too hot than too cold. Don't feel extremities to test for warmth. Touch their bare chest instead or their bare head. For children over a year old, layering blankets is a no-brainer. Do not put loose blankets atop your infant. We used to tuck flannel receiving blankets into the sides of the crib when the babes were napping during the day, but at night they only used sleep sacks when they weren't sleeping with me. In bed with me, I'd layer tight-fitting clothing over my chest and simply keep the blankets tucked around my waist, legs, and feet. This way, the baby was in no danger of suffocation from our bulky blankets.

    Flannel sheets don't create warmth, but they seem to retain it better than the cotton sheets of summer. If you compare climbing into a winter bed dressed with flannel sheets to one dressed with cotton sheets, well, there really is no comparison. It's just not as cold. In my area, flannel sheets are difficult to find in thrift stores, freecycle, or garage/yard sales, but you can often get them at the various discount stores in all kinds of cute prints. My goal (yet to be reached) is to have two sets of flannel sheets for each bed in the house.

    If you've got a rice pouch for easing tummy aches and breast woes, heat your rice pouch to a safe temperature and stick it in your infant's or child's bed before they go to sleep. With older children, you can leave the pouch in bed for them to tuck their feet against. With small children and infants, remove the pouch before they climb under their covers. Those flannel sheets will stay warm for quite awhile after baby is laid down, making it easier for them to keep that body temperature. You can also add various herbs to your pouch to soothe baby. Warming herbs, like cinnamon, ginger, or cloves can be nice as well but may keep baby awake. Have fun experimenting.

    This is how I manage to keep my children (and myself!) dreaming of sugar plums each winter. So snuggle up those babies in their cute little nightcaps and hibernate for awhile. You will not want to get out of bed, I swear. :) What are your suggestions for keeping infants and children warm in cold weather?

    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    Today's Harvest

    The past 24 hours have been a little hectic, so we spent today digging potatoes in the garden, ripping up our sunflowers, corn, and tomato plants, and wondering what in the world to do with the bed still overflowing with prickly borage.

    Last night wasn't nearly so much fun. I spent a couple of hours in the ER after not feeling the baby move for 48 hours and waking up at 7am with mild cramping. I'm not the type to run to a doctor, but The Husband was worried enough to come home early from work, so off I went. Before I left, The Husband pressed his cheek to my tummy and told the baby that he loved it and he knew it'd be all right. "Behave for your Mommy, okay?" One last kiss to my stomach. "I'd feel better if the baby had a name," I said without knowing why.

    It took the nurse nearly 20 minutes to find the baby's heartbeat. I was sweating bullets, even though I know that ER nurses aren't nearly as adept at this sort of thing as a nurse or doc at an OB/GYN office. Finally, we heard the heartbeat, and at that exact moment, my little one let out an enormous kick and bounced that doppler right off of my stomach. I know, little one. I should never have disturbed you.

    I was ready to go home at that point, but the doctor had different ideas, of course. I had a full battery of blood work drawn, gave a urine sample, and was wheeled in for an ultrasound, grumbling all the way. Once I heard baby's heart beating, I knew things were fine. It was glorious to see that baby moving on the ultrasound screen though! The first question from the woman doing the ultrasound was whether or not I wanted to know the sex. Daniel had made a point of telling me before I left for the hospital that I'd better find out the sex of the baby if given the chance. He knows all too well that I'd rather be surprised, but this pregnancy has been all about compromise, so I agreed. As soon as the image shifted to that secret spot between the baby's legs, I knew it was a girl. Though I'd been getting boy vibes for the whole pregnancy, I wasn't surprised. The one name we had agreed on had been for a girl. The baby had had her name all along.

    Armed with new ultrasound photos to show the kids, a handful of Vicodin (what? Doesn't your doctor prescribe Vicodin for adominal pain that you've described as mild and a 2 on a scale of 1-10?), and a "diagnosis" connecting my normally low blood pressure with a lethargic but undistressed baby (yeah, right), I finally got in the car and rambled on home. The Husband was relieved, as was I. I still couldn't get her to move today until I decided to put some pressure on my uterus. Then she poked delicately at my hand.

    Airius had some trouble adjusting to the idea of a baby sister this morning. After all, the boy had flipped a coin and been told our baby was a boy! He's coming around though. I told him we may still keep the baby in his room for awhile, which is what he really wants. He's jealous that his sisters always have each other for company. Maybe we'll move the twins back in together and let The Bean share a room with the baby. I don't know. Anyone have any suggestions?

    Today's harvest, artfully arranged by garden girl Annie in a basket received from a Freecycle offer. I'll talk more about the results of the garden in another post, but for now I'm resting with my children, those in the here and now and those whose faces I have yet to see. Love, love, love.

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Sanitizing Your Gardening Pots

    As I sat in the optometrist's waiting room a week or so ago, I thumbed distractedly through the pages of an Organic Gardening magazine. I came across a very short article on container gardens and began to read through their provided checklist. Imagine my surprise when it was stressed that sanitizing your pots with bleach was a necessary way to prevent diseases from year to year. I should have taken down the issue number, but I didn't. A search on their website quickly yielded up another article recommending the same diluted bleach to clean your pots. Ugh.

    Not only is bleach bad for your plants, bad for you, and bad for the environment, it's corrosive and will break down your pots over time. Now, to be fair, household bleach does not contribute to the greenhouse effect or harm the ozone layer. There are all kinds of arguments about how household bleach begins and ends as salt water, and that may be true (though watch carefully in these arguments for things like "90-95% of household bleach breaks down into salt and water." What happens to that other 5-10%?). HOWEVER, this is a chemical I don't even keep in my home for three reasons: Airius, Annie, and The Bean. Whether it begins and ends harmlessly, it is most definitely not harmless while it's sitting in that plastic bottle in your house.

    While I'd like to say that it's not necessary to disinfect your pots, that just isn't true. But I'll take my container veggies and herbs without the bleach residue, thank you very much. If you're like me, consider the following disinfecting/sanitizing options sans bleach:

    1. When faced with anything calling for bleach, I first try that handy dandy standby: distilled white vinegar. Use a solution of half water, half white vinegar in your sink or other container and soak pots for an hour. This is what I use for all of my pots, especially plastic, but you can use it for glazed and terra cotta pots too. This is a good all purpose solution.

    2. I have disinfected my terra cotta pots in the oven set on 220 degrees Farenheit for one hour. This will kill just about everything that might affect your plants. Obviously, this method is not best for large pots or plastic. It takes up a lot of time and oven space, and it uses precious energy too. I wonder if this can be done in a solar oven? Hmmmm... Please remember that, like any other crockery, the pots will be blazing hot when they come out of the oven!

    Both of the above methods are effective and, in my view, safer than the use of bleach. Does anyone else have a garden pot sanitizing/disinfecting tip they'd like to share?

    Wednesday, October 8, 2008

    A Break From the Seriousness

    My first handmade preschool gift, from my sweet Annie. Be still my heart...

    Annie hadn't even made it all the way down the aisle of the bus before she was excitedly saying that she had a gift for me. When she put the sparkly plastic beaded bracelet in my hand, I admit that I choked up just a bit. How I love this child. So considerate. So thoughtful. So very loving.

    Thank you, my sweetheart. I won't take it off. Promise.

    EFFAK-- Emergency Financial First Aid Kit

    I know, I know. I've been posting around the issue of the economic crisis lately rather than addressing it directly. The truth is, though, that I honestly believe I'll be raising my children during the next Great Depression. I could outline my thought process for you, but there are a million other bloggers out there who are already doing a much better job at it than I could. Let it just suffice to say that my thoughts of late have been almost exclusively bent towards emergency preparedness, be it immediate things that we need (warm pajamas for the kids) or more longterm items (a year's supply of food). Maybe it's the blogs I read, but I haven't seen many posts at all geared towards financial preparedness. Everyone seems to simply be in lockdown mode.

    So here I am to share a wonderful tool with you all. It's called the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit, or EFFAK. Basically, the EFFAK helps the user to identify key financial documents and organize them effectively so that financial stability can be maintained during an emergency. Think of it as a quick reference when you need to have things at hand right now.

    One kit per household should be sufficient, but be sure that all of your various accounts and assets are included. If you and your partner(s) or child(ren) have separate bank accounts, for example, make sure they all make their way into your file, not just your joint accounts. It may take you awhile to complete the kit, but believe me, it is well worth it. I recommend that you do this together with anyone who will be sharing your kit. Not only will you both be aware of what is included and what the importance of each item is, but it will give anyone who isn't always the most involved party in the finances a chance to get an overview of things.

    One more piece of advice. It's always best to have a backup of your backup, so please consider making a copy of your EFFAK and storing it in a safety deposit box at your bank, credit union, or other institution. Though I didn't think of it myself, I've seen it recommended that you mail a copy of your EFFAK, in a sealed envelope, to your attorney to be opened in the case of personal incapacitation. Don't forget that your personal home EFFAK copy should be stored in a fireproof safe or other reliable storage container.

    To print your free EFFAK, visit Not only do they provide you with the kit, they also provide you with more advice and helpful information than I provided in this post. The linked page will also give you access to their Personal Disaster Preparedness Guide in case you need a jumping off point for general emergency preparedness as well.

    Here's hoping you never have to use this kit, friends. Good luck.

    Anyone else with tips on preparing your finances or financial documents to weather any storm?

    Sunday, October 5, 2008

    Craigslist vs. eBay-- When to Use One or the Other

    When I decided earlier this year to begin The Great Declutter, my immediate thought was to sell on eBay. I'd both sold and bought items there before without any problems, and I didn't really know anything about craigslist. I should have done my research, but I was eager to get started and jumped right into an eBay selling bonanza!

    Things went well until I started to sell larger items that I wasn't willing to ship because of the cost to the buyer and the inconvenience to me for having to haul a humongous box to the post office while also ensuring the safety of three small children across a busy parking lot. It was here, with the "Local Pickup Only" option, that I ran into a wall. Again and again I would sell an item, only to be sent a message, sometimes days or even weeks after the auction had ended, stating that the buyer hadn't noticed that the item was for local pickup only and that they couldn't drive from Florida or Oregon or Maryland or Wherever to pick it up. Oops! So sorry. Oh, and can I have a refund of my money? I put "Local Pickup Only" in bold, red letters on these listings. I threatened that money would not be refunded if buyer reneged on pickup. I sent messages to people before auctions ended if it looked like they were going to win and their address was listed outside of Ohio. All to no avail.

    *sigh* This may seem like no big deal, but consider this: each time this happens, I have to relist the item, incurring double the eBay fees. It may be only $0.15, but I'm trying to make money, not lose it. Besides, with someone as inherenty frugal as I am, any fee makes my heart race a little faster. Double fees make me violently ill.

    Enter craigslist. At this wonderful site, there are no fees (unless you're posting a job ad, I think). The buyer must contact you for information on pickup or shipping. You know you're getting someone local. Another feature is that you get to set your price. There is no bidding, so you don't have to wonder what you're going to get at the end of a sale.

    Woah. Back up! Did you say there were no fees!? Then why don't you just sell everything on craigslist and tell eBay where to go? The answer is this, my friends: $$$$. I know, it sounds horrible, but it's true! When you have an item that is collectible or where you're really unsure of how much you should list it for, eBay is usually the better bet, especially if it's something that is easily shipped. Remember, with eBay, you can sell both nationally and internationally. You're catering to a much broader customer base. Maybe your town doesn't have a huge Star Trek fanbase (yeah, I don't know how that's possible either), but there is a fanbase out there. With eBay, they'll come to you. With craigslist, your customer base is much more focused and limited. If your item is large or you have a definite price in mind, craigslist is probably your best bet. So, to summarize:

    --If your item is small, easily shipped, collectible, and/or you are unsure of its value, eBay is probably the wisest choice.

    --If your item is large, expensive or unwieldy to ship or transport, or is worth a definitive amount of money, try craigslist first.

    It took me a few painful run-ins with the wall before I learned this lesson, but thus far things seem to be working out much better now that I'm utilizing both of the above mentioned options. The attic is clearing out a little more every day, and our emergency fund is growing once more. With the economic downturn our country is in, I'm sure someone out there will benefit from this simple formula.

    Thursday, October 2, 2008

    My Not So Big Reveal

    I'll admit that it hurt a little, temporarily giving up on the idea of a metal roof. We've been contemplating this decision for awhile now, and we really thought we could make it work. The man who came to give us our estimate was extremely cooperative on the pricing in return for having our blossoming homestead as a tour opportunity for eco-minded potential customers. Still, with the economy in the condition it's in, we were just sick at the thought of making such a big ticket purchase. We don't immediately need a roof (famous last words, right?), so it seemed most reasonable to postpone this project.

    I'm a little disappointed, but there is plenty to keep me occupied. The gaps in our cold weather preparations are becoming glaring as our thermostat sits firmly at 65 degrees Farenheit. Time to channel the Spirit of Squirrel!

    Blogging Break

    I've come down with a dreadful sore throat and congestion, so I'm going to take some time off of blogging to heal. Hope you're all spinning through the change of seasons with health and happiness.

    Wednesday, October 1, 2008

    Lazy Day

    This picture of my grandmother's shawl haphazardly thrown on a dining chair in the shadowy, barely there light of an autumn afternoon is the perfect image for this day. Raspberry leaf infusion warmed my child-bearing belly first thing this nippy morning and was replaced with hot chocolate in the afternoon as I filed away bit of paperwork after bit of paperwork. If you could see our bedroom floor... But that's exactly why you haven't. :)

    Because my attention is shifting more and more to the home part of the homestead as colder weather comes on, I decided to try my hand at researching previous owners of our house. Though I'm extremely interested in the people who lived here before us simply because they shared this bit of life with me, I'll admit that I'd almost rather not know anything about them beyond their names. My imagination is full of romantic notions about things that might have taken place in this cozy little house, and I'd rather like to keep it that way! I know, it's silly. But it's true.

    I'm researching these past owners anyway in the hopes that I'll be able to track down a living descendant and perhaps convince them to find a couple old pictures taken in this house that they may have tucked away somewhere. I'm still not sure how I'll approach them if I ever do manage to track them down, but the worst thing they could do is say no, right? And if my endeavor gets me a little closer to actual restoration instead of random estimations of what might have been, then I'm willing to risk an odd look or two. I'm a sucker for history.

    I won't mention the name of the woman who owned this house just before us because, as far as I can ascertain, she's still living. However, I did manage to find another owner just by looking through the details of our title. We have a shared drive with our neighbors (well, we did, but that's a whole other story), so the deed detailed the implementation of the drive, agreed upon by both the previous owners of our home and the previous owners of the home next door. It was 1976 that the drive was put in, and at that time, the owners of our little bungalow were William K. Hamor and Lucile H. Hamor. A quick internet search didn't turn up anything for either of them, but I checked for obituaries and found that both of them had passed.

    Lucile died first at the age of 83 in 1992, and William didn't follow until 2003 when he was 94. Interestingly, they both had June 1909 birthdays. It seems they were still living somewhere in Marion when they died. I may have located William in the 1910 census in Northumberland, PA, but I'll need other information to verify that this is in fact my William K. Hamor. I also need to track down a marriage certificate so that I can discern Lucile's maiden name and get more information on her. I'll be looking up Hamors in the phonebook before you know it! ;)

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008


    One of the things that has always stuck with me throughout life: the night my mom told me that, if everyone was like me, nothing revolutionary would ever happen in this world. I've always played it safe. Followed the rules. Compromised.

    I really felt that homesteading fell into that category. You know, don't depend on others, take care of yourself. Do what's right for the earth. Isn't it trendy to be "green"? And then yesterday, as I showed a complete stranger around our "homestead" and told him my hopes and dreams for what it one day will be, a strange thing happened. "Wow!" he exclaimed. "This is really rather revolutionary."


    Yeah, it is.

    We don't have much. Our path to sustainability or evironmentally-friendly living or the simple life or whatever you want to call it has only just begun. It was apparent though, in my conversation with this gentleman, that he hadn't seen a vegetable garden in somebody's backyard since he was a little boy (and he was much older than I am, I might add!). I mentioned our rain barrel project for next year, and his eyes grew wide. "Rain barrels!? I haven't seen anyone set up rain barrels in... well, more than 20 years! What made you think of doing that? Why would you need to in Ohio?" And so, the meeting that should have lasted no more than 40 minutes took about 3 hours, and I realized that maybe-- just maybe-- I have a little of mom's revolutionary spirit in me after all.

    Sunday, September 28, 2008

    Wish Me Luck...

    I've been dealing with a feverish toddler all weekend, but she's showing marked improvement today. That's excellent, not just for the health of The Bean, but because tomorrow's a big day here. Tomorrow I have to sell the homestead.

    No, not sell it as in the real estate market, but sell the idea of it to someone who may be able to contribute in small part to it. I don't want to spill the details just yet because it's quite possible that nothing at all will come from it. I am possibly the worst saleswoman in the world, and I'll be going it alone for this venture. I'm suddenly beset by the idea that we haven't done enough yet. We aren't really a homestead. We have so far to go! This is just the beginning of thing. We're not even close to sustainability, and we may never be...

    You know how it goes. Do any of you ever have these doubts?

    Send me some good vibes when you get the chance. I'll need them.

    Friday, September 26, 2008

    What's Blooming in My Garden-- September 26, 2008

    The elusive Holy Grail of my garden, a blooming Corno di Toro pepper (Capsicum annuum). This picture was taken in late August, so we do actually have just a few peppers ripening in the garden now. It's a miracle!

    A volunteer globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa). I'm not at all fond of the fuschia color of the bracts, but my Scorpio Sun daughter loves it. It was she who picked out the amaranth at the nursery last year. I was lazy last year and did not collect seeds, but this year I will because Annie really loves this plant.

    My unidentified wild aster, which I pretty much let have the run of the yard. The beneficials love this plant come September when most other blooms are spent. The bush, and this does get huge enough to call a bush, just thrums with the humming and activity of various insects. Wherever I've lived (excluding California), this plant has followed. I lean towards Heath aster (Symphyotricum ericoides) as the species, but I'm just not certain. Anyone wanna weigh in?

    Night-blooming and very fragrant moonflower vine (Ipomoea alba). I have yet to build a trellis structure that can adequately maintain this vine's vigorous growth. Still, I love nothing more than sitting on my porch in the moonlight, surrounded by the luminescent glow and the intoxicating scent of these beauties.

    'Dark Opal' basil's (Ociumum basilicum) delicate flowers.

    The sky blue cousin of the moonflower vine, morning glories (Ipomoea spp.) are as cheerful as moonflowers are mysterious. In our garden, this is their first year, and I can already tell that I'm going to have to keep a close eye on these stranglers.

    One of my equinox gifts, a delicately shaded purple aster which shall ever after be known as Equinox Aster at our homestead. It is possibly New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), but that is as yet unconfirmed.

    Thursday, September 25, 2008

    When More Vinyl Windows Go Bad

    After yesterday's post on my condensating windows, I sat back and thought long and hard about the issue. I was willing to start looking for salvaged wood windows to replace ours with, but pickings here are slim, and I have to face the reality that most of my energy is focused on pregnancy and the kids right now. I wasn't sure I'd have the push to actually get anything done. I'd take my time, I thought. Things didn't need to happen NOW.

    Then today I was cleaning our bedroom (don't get me started), and I realized that the ginormous pile of papers sitting under one of our bedroom windows was water damaged. How did that happen? I looked around to see if there was something that could have spilled on them. Nothing. Then I inadvertently placed my hand on the window sill to pull my big, pregnant butt up and felt moisture. Oh no. I haven't found the actual leak yet, but I know it's there.

    Thank you, Universe, for giving me the motivation to get off my ass and get these windows done. :)

    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    When Vinyl Windows Go Bad

    No, that condensation on our window is not on the outer pane of glass. It's between the two panes. This happens in vinyl windows when the moisture seal fails, and though it's touted as a repairable problem, I'm trying to use it as a way to convince my husband to start replacing our windows with *ahem* salvaged wood windows. I have no idea how old these vinyl windows are, and the one in the picture already had this problem when we moved in. Why am I harping about it now? Because it's officially autumn when the thought of heat bills to come give me goosebumps, I'm pregnant and nesting, and so the house must be completely redone from top to bottom! NOW.

    I hated our windows when we bought this place. My husband loves them. Nearly every window in the house has frosted glass on the bottom pane. I'm assuming this is for privacy, since we can nearly touch our neighbors if we stick our hands out the window, but it blocks light in an already dark old house and, well, it just looks tacky to me.

    Shall I go into the possible dangers to our health that are posed by vinyl windows? PVC contains pthalates, lead, cadmium, light stabilizers, heat stabilizers, anti-oxidants, barium, and other chemical compounds.

    High levels of lead are also found in PVC. Studies have shown that vinyl windows can deteriorate from the effects of the heat and sun. This deterioration releases lead dust at dangerous levels. Vinyl window shades containing lead have been banned in the U.S.

    But vinyl windows are sitting in nearly every wall of my house. And we were worried about lead paint when we moved in. Hmmm...

    I tried for several years to put our windows out of my mind because there's nothing I hate more than sending something that is working to a landfill. I'm not sure what the "right" answer is. Do I get the window repaired, knowing that the rest are soon to come but avoiding the addition to the landfill, or do I hope that someone will be able to reuse these and start finding salvaged wooden windows, which may have lead paint covering them that I have to either have removed by a professional (pregnant women DO NOT do lead paint removal. Period.) or otherwise encapsulated.

    If you're in the mood for a funny but informative video about the dangers of PVC, check out Sam Suds and the Case of PVC, the Poison Plastic.

    Equinox Gifts

    Yesterday was just a lovely, peaceful day with several unexpected gifts. Here at the homestead we consider the Autumnal Equinox to be our version of Thanksgiving, so it is important that I take the time to day to actually give gratitude to the wonderful things and people who made this year's equinox special.

    Most important of all has been the deepening connection between me and The Bean. Though we both miss the twins everyday that they go to Head Start, I am so thankful for the opportunity to devote this block of time each day just to my littlest. Soon there will be another baby, one who needs near constant attention and affection, but I hope that I can continue to give this time to The Bean. We cuddle while reading And the Good Brown Earth, and I beam with pride as she hones her balancing skills on the bricks around the (seriously weedy) wildflower patch out front. I'm so thankful for this time and these memories.

    The next bit of gratitude goes to my mother-in-law for sending along this set of gifts:

    It's not actually an equinox gift but a belated birthday present. Unfortunately, with my in-laws living an hour away and gas prices being what they are, we rarely get out to see them. Regardless of our absence, I know they're always thinking of us, and we're certainly always thinking of them. Though I wouldn't buy Pampered Chef items myself, my kitchen is sorely understocked with tools, so I am very grateful for these gifts. The spoons are bamboo, and the whisks (can you believe I've gone this long without even owning a whisk??) are stainless steel. She also sent a digital kitchen timer, citrus peeler, and corn butterer. Thank you! And thank you for the wrapping paper too. It will be reused.

    A gift from Nature herself:

    Just like the burdock that took me by suprise last week, I was both startled and excited to see this new aster peeking up through my lawn near Sister Maple. I don't know if it comes through in the picture, but the new aster is purple. I really hope that this one comes back next year with a few buddies. Our other asters, though abundant, are white and as yet unidentified.

    And lastly, a warm thank you to C, the Freecycler who passed on a bag and a half of her daughter's clothes to my daughters. It makes this pregnant, autumn-feelin' squirrel rest a little easier that Annie has clothes to grow into, regardless of how difficult the economy may get.

    Monday, September 22, 2008

    Merry Autumnal Equinox

    A little equinox magic.

    It may be just the slime trail of one of our resident spotted leopard slugs, but I was mesmerized by this bit of iridescent beauty on Mama Maple. It reminds me of something out the landscape of The Labyrinth. Even during these very rough times, there's magic all around us, things to enjoy, glimpses of bliss and beauty, moments without anxiety, fear, or depression.

    The additional magic this year is that today is also the last day of my first trimester of pregnancy. Now I can take a deep breath, relax a little, and feel a little more energetic. I've already felt just a few little kicks, though they're still few and far between, and nothing is quite as blissful as that!

    The equinox is a bittersweet time for me. In my faith, it is a day of celebration, a holiday, but it feels far too much like a farewell to me. Though I love the cooling days, the upcoming splendour of the maples' autumnal color, cuddling with all three of my babes under one huge blanket, the equinox is a reminder of the coming winter and much darker days ahead. There are many ways that I try to combat my winter blues, but those are best saved for posts to come. For now, I'll revel in the day of this annual event and be thankful for the familiar rhythm of the dance of our planet around the sun.

    Time to bask in the waning sun...

    Saturday, September 20, 2008

    Book Review: McGee & Stuckey's The Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey

    I have avoided this book for a long time. I'm not really sure why, since my long term gardening plan has always involved expansion through potted edibles, but things got accelerated a bit when I sat down to plan next year's gardening expansion budget. So, I clenched my teeth and checked this book out.

    The book is broken down into three parts: "You and Your Garden," "Down-to-Earth Basics," and "Plants for the Bountiful Container."

    In Part One, the authors discuss both the basics of gardening, like climatic considerations, and those special issues which come up with containers, like vandalism. They even give the reader three schemes for succession planning in containers. I'll admit that I bristled a bit at the "Reality Check for Container Gardens," but overall it was a simple and effective primer on gardening within the limitations of containers.

    Part Two gets down to the nitty gritty, covering all the hardware neccessities, storage possibilites, trellises, potting soil, when to plant, how to plant, seed saving, etc. I was particularly impressed by their consistent recommendation to repurpose or recycle various items that a gardener may already have, such as a toy box turned on its back used as a supply cabinet. I was unimpressed, however, with the authors' neutral stance on fertilization techniques. For hardcore organic gardeners like me, the discussion of anything besides organic options can be a bit frustrating. Still, I'm sure it's better for the popularity of the book overall.

    The majority of the book it taken up by Part Three, wherein the various fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers recommended for containers are discussed. The section also includes various garden plans and recipes. Gardening books always get huge bonus points from me if they include recipes! Those included in this book range from the standard "Pasta With Summer Vegetables" (pg. 104) to the more unique "Green Garlic Soup" (pg. 122). The garden plans left something to be desired, in my opinion. I found most of them to be a little hoaky or lacking in usefulness, but there were a few unique and inspiring ideas smattered throughout. I loved the idea to use a child's dump truck as a planter in "A Kid's Garden" (pp. 86-89) and I have the perfect place for "A Hummingbird Garden" (pp. 232-234), though why the authors didn't think to include dimensions for the box and trellis in that plan is beyond me. The entries for the individual plants themselves were pretty informative. Even if you have a traditional in-ground garden, there are specifics for growing each specimen in the containers that should be read.

    Overall, I think the book is a valuable resource for information and ideas, especially if you garden exclusively in containers. It's a little disconcerting that no photographs are included, since garden sketches always portray things through rose-colored glasses. I really wish there was more discussion of growing organically, but I'm biased in that area. I don't plan to buy the book, though I may change my mind once I get further into my garden expansion. For now, I've made notes of the specific information I need and will check the book out from the library again if neccessary.

    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    Treasures of My Garden: September 19, 2008

    A special critter edition of Treasures of My Garden comes your way today, courtesy of a morning spent cleaning up the yard in preparation for autumn.

    One of about, oh, a billion diadem garden spiders we saw today. They've all been staking their territories on our fence and the females are huge this late in the year. The kids were fascinated, though not nearly as much as arachnophile Mommy. ;) I could have spent all day watching her.

    Earlier in the summer, we got a special gift from our neighbor. Though I couldn't manage to get a picture of them then, it seems that at least one of them may have stuck around. I found this guy in the middle of a huge pile of rocks that I was trying to move (don't ask). Both Annie and Airius were eager to catch him, but neither one has my mad toad-catching skills. I took pity on the guy and let him be when the kids chased him into the borage. Fortunately, I didn't move the rock pile far. He may stay yet.

    A spotted leopard slug, one of several, also found in the rock pile inhabited by the toad above. These bad boys are very common in our garden and especially love the stump of the redbud tree we lost in a lightening storm last year. They get enormous and are my least favorite garden critters.

    Wednesday, September 17, 2008

    Just At Eye Level

    I had only just laid down on the cool grass in the shade of Sister Maple, arm draped across my pregnant belly, when a chestnut colored treasure caught my eye. There in the midst of my jungle of English ivy, something had gone to seed. Something I hadn't seen in my yard before. Something closely resembling a dock (Rumex spp.) species... But which one?

    Skipping into the house, I grabbed one of the many baby food jars I have carefully stored away in my cupboard and headed out to collect the seeds. Normally I wouldn't collect seeds from a plant that is the lone specimen in an area, but, well, this is my lawn and an area that gets mowed, which might explain the extremely small size of this plant. That and the enormous amount of shade from Sister Maple. Oh, and the stranglehold of English ivy. The dock species that I'm familiar with from Ohio and Michigan are all large plants, at least a couple of feet tall. Some are 5 feet or more. What amazes me is that this plant managed to gather enough energy to produce seed, even at its tiny size!

    Most of the dock species are edible in moderation, though there's a fair amount of oxalic acid in them. They are best cooked. There are, of course, medicinal uses as well, but I'll wait until I have a positive identification to go into those.

    I know this is a dreadful leaf photo, but the plant is angled in such a way that it's difficult to get a good one. You can kinda get a sense of size if you compare the leaf to that of the English ivy in the background. If anyone thinks they know which plant I have here, please feel free to comment! I'm guessing that it's a dwarfed Yellow Dock (R. crispus). Regardless, I've saved the seeds from this little miracle. Next spring I'll sow them in good sun and see exactly what it is I have here...

    Monday, September 15, 2008

    Hurricane Ike Backlash in Ohio

    Cleanup Continues Across County

    Sunday brought our little homestead in Marion the backlash winds of Hurricane Ike. The Husband was home, and it was Football Sunday of course, so our whole family was snuggled up nice and warm in our little nest. We didn't realize how much damage had happened around the county until we went outside the next morning. Our neighborhood, thankfully, did not get the worst of it. The picture above was taken from my front yard, and you can see a front end loader and dump truck in the background moving fallen tree limbs and debris from yards and the road.

    BobbleHead Owl Homestead sustained nothing worse than a few twigs and very small branches scattered around the yard. The sunflowers have all been doubled over, along with the corn stalks, but for the most part we got off free of damage. The backyard privacy fence seemed to act as a windbreak. We would look out the front window and see the world swirling wildly. In the backyard, it just looked like a breezy autumn day.

    On Monday morning, the kids and I headed outside to gather some sun and fun before the bus came for Head Start, and I saw one of my elderly neighbors down the road cleaning up her yard. We went down to help. The kids thought it was great fun having someone else's yard to explore, and our neighbor was grateful for the help. She's capable, but it's good for everyone to know that there are neighbors who care, no?

    I hope all of my Marion friends came through the storm with as much luck as we had, and we're sending our well wishes to those who have been hit by the brunt of Hurricane Ike.

    Saturday, September 13, 2008

    Activating Compost With Yarrow

    “Yarrow is always the greatest boon, wherever it grows wild in the country — at the edges of the fields or roads, where cereals or potatoes or any other crops are growing. It should on no account be weeded out... In a word, like sympathetic people in human society, who have a favourable influence by their mere presence and not by anything they say, so yarrow, in a district where it is plentiful, works beneficially by its mere presence.”
    - Rudolf Steiner.

    Fall is one of the easiest seasons during which to start a compost pile because of the abundance of organic material likes fallen leaves and spent plant stalks. One of the plants you'll hear about often in connection with compost is comfrey (Symphytum spp.). There's been much ado in the blogosphere and gardening/homesteading community in general about the benefits of comfrey to the garden, both as a fertilizer and as a compost activator. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten around to adding comfrey to my herb garden. There is, however, a wonderful herb that can be used in the same manner as comfrey and that I have in abundance: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). At this time of year, her (and by "her" I mean yarrow's) beautiful heads are heavy with seed, and her time to aid in the stocking of my medicine cabinet is pretty much over. She's an herb for all seasons, though, and autumn finds her the unfailing companion of Madame TrashHeap (as The Husband affectionately refers to our compost pile).

    Just like good ole comfrey, yarrow acts a wonderful compost activator to speed up the decomposition of the green and brown materials you've added to your pile. It's been said that a single yarrow leaf, finely chopped, will give you marked results in as much as a wheelbarrow full of compost materials. This activation ability is connected to yarrow's ability to concentrate both sulphur and potassium, along with other micronutrients such as copper and phosphates. This year, knowing that I'd have an abundance of stubborn sod and crabgrass to break down in my pile, I added a couple chopped leaves of yarrow along with a handful of soil between my green and brown layers. In the biodynamic community, it is recommended that the yarrow be enclosed in the bladder of a male deer because of the herb's relationship in treating that organ (in a nutshell), hung in the sun throughout the summer and buried shallowly in the soil throughout the winter, before being added to the compost in the spring.

    You can also use yarrow as a fertilizing tea, in much the same preparation as comfrey. Fill a bucket, or whatever empty container you have on hand, with yarrow leaves and then fill again with water. Let this concoction sit for two weeks or so. I recommend that you cover it because the smell is not pleasant. Once you've let your tea brew for a couple of weeks, gather some of the liquid into a watering can and dilute it with water. I just eyeball it, but a 10:1 ratio is recommended. Yarrow fertilizing tea is good for potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and fruit trees. Each plant has their individual preference in so far as fertilization goes, so be sure to consult your favorite veggie growing guide for this information.

    Stay tuned for Spring when you'll hear me touting Yarrow's medicinal abilities, her amazing attraction to beneficial insects and pollinators, and her helpfulness in repelling various pests.

    Friday, September 12, 2008

    Popcorn Isn't Just for Popping

    Sharon over at Casaubon's Book is adding a wonderful new weekly segment to her blog called "Food Storage Quickie" that will concentrate on one aspect of food storage and one non-food item. This is great for me because I have trouble breaking emergency preparedness down into smaller goals, get overwhelmed, and do nothing. 'Tis my way.

    This week, Sharon writes about pasta, popcorn, and matches. Pasta and matches are obvious choices for me, but I hadn't really thought about the popcorn. My thoughts quickly drifted to my Depression-raised grandma who always had popcorn in her pantry because it was a cheap source of calories. Hmmm... not a bad idea. Then I remembered a recipe for Popcorn Pie I'd seen in Mother Earth News. After reading it, I'd desperately wanted to grow popcorn but ended up opting for sweet corn instead. There's always next year, right?

    Anyway, in case there are others out there not so sure that popcorn deserves a place in your food stores, I thought I'd dig up a few more recipes for you:

    Thai Peanut and Popcorn Crusted Chicken
    Popcorn Salad
    Popcorn Soup
    Popcorn Stuffing-- An actual recipe, not the joke
    Popcorn Stuffed Peppers

    A quick Google search will net you hundreds of links to dessert-type recipes, gourmet popcorn recipes, and more popcorn ball variations than one cook could possibly use. Now I'm off to add to my food stores!

    I Can Finally Breathe...

    The first week of preschool is done. I have three days of lovin' with all of my children. Annie said that she'd cried a bit at school yesterday because she missed me. It's okay to miss me, kid. I missed you too. I was looking forward to spending the day outside with my babies, cleaning up the yard and garden (it desperately needs it!), but that is not to be. It began storming last night and is expected to continue throughout the weekend, and Annie is coughing, Airius has a runny nose, and my throat is sore. We're getting used to all those billions of new germs courtesy of classmates and teachers. Hopefully it'll blow over by Monday in time for school, but who knows. Chicken noodle soup and orange juice are on the menu today.

    All in all, preschool hasn't been that bad. I've seen some good things. It's been wondrous to see just how confident my kids are and to see that, yes, they CAN behave. lol I got to witness the beginnings of a meal at Head Start, and there was a surprising amount of good. The plates and silverware were all reusable rather than styrofoam or paper disposables. The only disposable I saw for that meal was the milk cartons. They also have "family style" meals, which means that the teachers eat with the kids at one long table, pass around bowls or platters of food, let each child serve themselves providing help only if needed, and there's a fair amount of interaction and conversation. That day, they served cheeseburgers with lettuce and tomatoes, french fries, and white milk. Not great, not horrible.

    I'm also encouraged by their security measures. The yellow buses actually have harness style belts, which the bus aides help the children into. When I went to school, there wasn't a seatbelt to be found on a bus. Each child has to be signed into the bus and/or school. I have to sign them onto the bus, and I have to sign them off. They even asked for my ID the first day and will ask for the ID of anyone else that tries to sign them off of the bus to make sure they're on the list of permitted people. If I take them to school or pick them up, it's the same thing. I have to sign 'em in and out.

    Each class gets 30 min. of time outdoors on the playground every single day, which I'm thankful for. Annie and Airius are used to being outside all day, so I wasn't sure how they'd handle being cooped up for 3 hours a day.

    The BEST thing, though, is that I get to spend time alone with Callie for the first time in her life. She's having a hard time adjusting to being without her Booboo and Sissy, but I am really enjoying our closeness. It's apparent that I haven't missed anything about her, I always knew who she was, but just being able to cuddle her and focus on her without any competition is a huge bonus. Yesterday, we spent our entire hour before lunch and naptime "painting" on the walkway out front with water. A couple old paintbrushes and sponges and a bowl of water kept her occupied with no trouble at all. Towards the end, she started adding leaves, rocks, flowers, and twigs to the water and stirring it with the paintbrush. Her own witch's brew. I'm so proud! ;)

    Still, my mind keeps drifting to homeschooling. I suspected that one of the women who lives at the end of my road homeschools, so when I saw her yesterday evening, I asked if that was the case and told her that I was considering it as an option. She pointed down our road and said, "I homeschool. The house next door to me homeschools, and the house next door to that homeschools. You certainly wouldn't be alone and would have plenty of people to go to for advice or encouragement." Bless her. I think, ultimately, I'm going to let the kids decide. I know that it's my emotions, both maternal and pregnant, that are driving my thoughts toward this.

    Take a deep breath, Mama. You're in this until May...