Sunday, June 30, 2013

Happy Birthday Little Girl!

On Friday, Miss F turned one year old!

We let her have a sample of white bread and jam - her first ever! - at our local organic market.

Miss F and I went down to the Shenandoah River on a big family and friends trip.  *B* couldn't make it because he was at school all day Saturday :o( 

 Miss F, lounging in her PJs

 Thumb sucking is a clear sign of a sleepy baby

Mama, did you see that?!?!

 In awe of nature

 Standing and cruising, but not quite walking yet

We had Miss F's birthday party a mere four hours after getting home from the camping trip.  Her godmother took her out with her own girls for a couple of hours before the party so that I could cook - prepping hamburger patties, making baked beans, potato salad, home-grown veggie platter, and homemade chocolate ice cream (drool).

Ooo, is it my birthday?  I love this dress, which we got at a consignment store for less than $5.

 This wee one picked food off of EVERYONE'S plate, including her Auntie *A*.

 *B* made Miss F a crown of honeysuckle rather than a paper party hat.  Her high chair is in the middle of a baby pool.

 My mother made her a cake of applesauce and banana with a yogurt frosting rather than the white sugar-white flour cakes most kids get.

 Miss F also had homemade chocolate ice cream for the first time.  She liked it so much, she licked the plate (and got it all over her face).

 She went straight into the baby pool to wash off all of the chocolate.

 When opening presents, Miss F went sans clothing since her dress was wet.

 Miss F playing with her new blocks.

Miss F with *B* playing with the new book we gave her.

What a wonderful year it's been!  I'm so privliged to be her mother.  Though it's the toughest job I've ever had, I look forward to many more years to come.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Emergency Car Kits with Babies

I had a rather well stocked car kit in my car for a number of years.  My dad "found" some milk crates somewhere many years ago, and each of us had one in a car full of automotive fluids and the like.  Before Miss F, I stocked it with food, water, and winter supplies as well.

The car kit ended up in the basement when the stroller took up the entirety of my two door car's small hatchback trunk.  When I bought my new (to me) four door wagon, the kit never made it back in.  Even if I did put it back, we would totally be unprepared for the types of emergencies that accompany a baby.

These are the things that you'll find in our improved car kits:

Towels - This one we got from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  At first it was a bit of a joke, but we quickly realized how useful towels are!  The ones we have are extra wide and extra long.  They can be used as a blanket, as a pillow, for absorption, as a sun shade, as a wind break, rolled up to make the car seat level, as a seat cushion, and hundreds of other ways.  We keep three in each car.

Bathing suits - You never know when they come in handy.  They'll be replaced with snow clothes in the winter.
Baby's pants
Baby's sleeper
Hats for all
Shirt for Mama - Miss F uses my shirts rather than dolls to lull herself to sleep.  And it never hurts to have an extra!
Bandanas - Like mini towels, they're infinitely useful.

Trail mix (for adults and older kids)
Puffed kamut (for the baby)
Water bottles

Baby Supplies
Toy car
Grocery bag
Toilet paper

Automobile Supplies
Motor oil
Mechanic's gloves
Tire iron

First Aid Supplies
First aid kit
Chux pad
Latex gloves

As Miss F gets older (and eventually as we have more children), this list will change.  Is there anything big missing?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Life Without Air Conditioning

*B* and I think quite frequently about our "forever home".  One day we'll move out of our very tiny townhouse, into a house that we can grow old in.  We dream of this house being built properly, with good shade trees and cross breezes, like houses used to be.  We talk about how people used to be of sterner stock, relatively at ease in the heat.  At least they didn't whine quite so much as we do.  So we decided to put off installing our window units.

We did install one window unit in Miss F's room.  At the end of May, it was over 90 degrees outside for four days.  We had tried to use fans and leave Miss F in just a diaper, but she was drenched in sweat.  In the end, it seemed better to have a happy, safe, well rested baby than to make some kind of ecological or frugal point.

*B* and I did a fair amount of research about energy efficiency and cooling our home.  This site is fascinating as far as energy useage and cost goes.  We always assumed that central air was more efficient than window units.  We didn't know how wrong we were!

Using Fans to Cool
Fans (ceiling, box, etc) cost very little compared to running a window unit.  Running a medium ceiling fan 24 hours a day - which we don't do - is 1/10th the cost of running a window unit.  And that window unit is about 1/4 the cost of a central air conditioning unit.  Now I know that we use more fans because we don't have a window units, and we have more window units because we don't have central air.  But we would need four window units (which we don't have) to make up the cost of central air, or a whopping FORTY fans to make up that energy consumption.

We have seven fans (three ceiling, two largish size, and two small size) and one window unit that run at different times a day. All of these running 24 hours a day cost about $121 per month, compared to $286 for central air.  We turn off all but one ceiling fan, a small fan, and a window unit at night, so that really is a lower number than $121.  Even now, Miss F's window unit is on since she's napping, but it's on energy saver set for 73 degrees.  Most of the time, that bad boy doesn't even kick on.  On her level of the house, there's a ceiling fan and a small fan on because I forgot to turn them off this morning.  On my level of the house, I have one small floor fan aimed at me, and one ceiling fan running.

 We don't actually turn this one off during the day because it's hard to tell when you've actually turned it off or not.  It takes forever to stop turning.

The best part about this fan (a Stanley) is that it has two outlets on the side to charge my laptop!

So here we are, in the end of June, with fans a-blazing.  Part of our success, so far, is the relatively mild weather we've been having.  In the last month, one day averaged in the 60s, ten days were in the 70s, fifteen in the 80s, and only four in the 90s.  The other part comes from good research on air circulation.

Our front door and our back door are not quite in line with each other.  We can open both doors and draw a little tiny bit of air.  I wouldn't even call it a breeze.  But the back door is directly across from our living room window.  We put a box fan in that window, pointed outward, to draw air through the rooms.  It's amazing how well it works!


Changing Personal Perceptions
In the winter, we set the thermostat to 60 degrees and tough out the cold.  We use blankets, layered clothing, and baking in the oven to keep the house warm.  Why shouldn't be do the same (though colder) in the summer?

We tend to wear lighter clothing now in the summer.  When at home without company, I'll wear a tank top and very light, flowy cotton shorts.  *B* tends to wear cotton shorts and a t-shirt (or no shirt if it's that hot).  Miss F often goes diaper only.

We also have a baby pool.  Yes, it's wonderful to "lounge" in the pool (which is 6 inches deep and five feet in diameter).  But it's what happens after lounging that makes it special.  Evaporative cooling is the same principle behind sweat - you get wet, and your body cools as that liquid evaporates off the skin.  After taking even a brief dip in the pool (sometimes just feet), we lightly towel off so that we don't soak the carpet, but we let the air flow do the rest.  It feels like the temperature has dropped ten degrees just by getting a little wet.  And showers tend to happen around 3 pm here for the same reason.

It doesn't hurt that *B*'s job is not air conditioned.  He works in a building that is often ten degrees hotter than it is outside.  He uses a Frogg Togg Chilly Dana Bandana, which is a triangular towel that keeps cool when wet.  

When *B* gets home, our house is fifteen degrees cooler than he's been dealing with all day.  So he's rather happy for the relief, even though others might find the room warm.

My favorite part of not having air conditioners in the windows?  Fresh air and light!  I always dread losing windows to the air conditioner in the summer.  Since our windows aren't full of air conditioner, we leave them open and enjoy the breezes that we do get.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Death, Grief, and Children

My immediate family has been very lucky to have been spared many losses.  Since I was born almost 30 years ago, we've lost four family members:  my aunt when I was 2, my uncle when I was 15, my great-grandmother when I was 17, and just last week, my grandmother.

I was too young to remember my aunt.  My mom tells me stories about what happened when she got sick.  She was only 23 when she passed, and no one really expected it.  My mom whisked me across the country just in time to see her before she died.

My uncle died in a motorcycle accident.  Rather than having me attend the services, my parents had me and my younger brother stay with family friends.  They were too distraught to think through the appropriate age and manner for approaching death and grief.

I was in Oklahoma visiting a friend for three weeks when my great-grandmother died.  I missed all of the services because I couldn't fly home.  We knew that she would be passing soon, so I said my goodbyes before I left for my trip.

Those were the family members I was close with.  There were cousins of my parents, my father's uncle, and others that passed.  My parents (one, the other, or both) attended, but it was never even insinuated that we should go.

Though I had no experience with death in my family, I had horrendous experiences with death in American culture.  Ever since I was a child, I saw graphic depictions of death on television.  I learned about the physical processes of death in science class.  I knew exactly what would happen once I died - physically, not spiritually - and it terrified me.  And while I understood that death was permanent, I still feared the "supernatural" death experiences present movies and television:  people rising out of cemeteries, ghosts, and the like.

When I asked my mom the other day why she never took me to funerals, she said she didn't want to disturb me.  I think I was far more disturbed by what I experienced outside of a loving family than what I experienced with my grandmother's funeral.

I still have serious issues with death and dying.  While I was there when she passed, I couldn't bring myself to touch my grandmother immediately after she died.  I attended both viewings, but I never got within 15 feet of the open casket.  I could see her from where I was, and I did my duty as a granddaughter by attending.  At her funeral, I stood next to the closed casket, but I never touched it.  At the interment, I was obsessively careful to walk between graves so as not to step over anyone.

But the events that kept me up at night for years were not as traumatic as I expected.  When Miss F was nursing at night, I would wake up, worried that my grandparents had died, dreading what would happen next.  I am obviously grieving.  But I'm no longer up at night, dreading that moment.

This week has taught me how to better handle death when it comes to my children.  Miss F attended one of the viewings and the funeral.  It is better than she learns about death and grief from family in a loving and compassionate manner than to learn as I did.  It won't be a perfect lesson, but I hope to spare her the anxiety that has been saddled on me for so long.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Losing Our Matriarch

On Tuesday night, my grandmother passed away after having collapsed at home the night before.  She was 82 years old, and would have been married for 61 years this Friday.  With her husband, she had three children (one deceased), four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.  We were all with her, except Miss F who was with *B* in the waiting room as no one under 12 was allowed in the hospital unit.  My uncle's widow, my mother (my grandmother's ex-daughter-in-law), my brother's fiancee, and my grandmother's sister were also in attendance.

I had never been in the room when someone passed before.  I've never been to a funeral either, though that will change by the end of the week.  Right now I feel like I've accepted it, but I haven't been through most of the traditional stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  That makes me wonder if Friday will be the end of the healing process or the raw beginning.  We'll see what happens.

In honor of my grandmother, here are a few of the things she loved:
- Her family
- Her church
- Saint Therese of Lisieux
- Christmas cacti
- Geraniums
- Wave petunias
- Homemade sour beef with mashed potatoes
- Ice cream after dinner
- Going to Ocean City in the summer
- Going on cruises
- Getting something on sale
- Collectibles (beanie babies, Christmas villages, etc).
- Email forwarded jokes

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Strawberry Fields Forever

Our front yard is very small as far as yards go.  It's just three raised beds, each about 4 feet by 15 feet. In the top bed, we have mostly native, perennial flowers.  In the second bed, strawberries and three hostas.  In the bottom bed, there are herbs, radishes, carrots, and nasturtiums.

Our strawberries have hit their prime.  On Saturday, I picked as many as I saw, and got a little over two pounds.  I was thrilled and amazed!  What a great yield for a garden that started as eight little plants a couple of years ago.

I used one pound to make homemade ice cream for Father's Day.  Along with the vanilla and chocolate I've been making and storing for the occasion, everyone loved it.  But I'm not a big fan of strawberry ice cream in general, and I had other plans for the berries.  I just had to wait for more to come in.

I wanted to make something that would sustain us long term, not something that we gulped down and quickly forgot.  And so, I eased back into canning and made some delicious jam.  I figured I'd have to wait quite a while to get enough berries to make the jam.  I thought I'd have to clear out the whole patch.  But Saturday evening, there were loads of dark red berries where they had been pink the day before.  We got another 2.5 pounds in just a few minutes.


 Nearly an hour later, we had 12 cups and 2 pints of jam.  This (plus the 8 jars we already have in the pantry), should keep us clear through to next year.  Given the price of sugar and the fact that I put eight cups of sugar in it, all of this jam cost us about $7.  The same amount of jam for the store brand costs $42, which gives us a savings of $35.  Not too shabby!  But still, I hope to be able to bring the cost and the sugar down in the next recipe.  It's way sweeter than the jam to which we're accustomed.

We still have a ton of berries left on the plants, so I have to find more recipes.  There will definitely be strawberry shortcake, plain strawberries, and perhaps even strawberry crepes.  And, of course, we'll freeze some.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Food Frugality: Sales and Buying in Bulk

I've been trying to be very careful with our food budget lately.  We've decided to try to eat more locally than organically (aside from the dirty dozen).  Now that the farmer's markets are starting up, that's a lot easier.  We get our eggs from our farmer's market for two dollars fewer than those in the grocery store.  And this lady lives just up the road!  I know that she sells eggs in the off season, too.  We're going to have to visit her once the farmer's markets end for the year.

There's a farm in a town about half an hour away that has a large farm stand and restaurant.  We dropped by today while wandering around my old stomping grounds.  There are two things I love about this farm:  their peaches and their "seconds" deals.  Their peaches are to die for.  For the seconds deals, they put all of the produce that is bruised, damaged, or about to go off into bags and boxes and sell them for a deep discount.  I love it when huge baskets of peaches go up there.  I can them and enjoy them all year.

But tonight, we were treated to a nice surprise.  There were four bags of produce on the seconds shelf.  They were mixed packages of parsnips and small potatoes.  Each bag was fifty cents.  Rather than just buying one, I figured we could afford the $2 for all of them.  When I got home, I weighed them.  For two dollars, we got:
  • 10.5 pounds parsnips = $1.27 = $0.11 per pound
  • 5.75 pounds potatoes = $0.73 = $0.13 per pound
That is a FANTASTIC price!  I didn't realize how wonderful a deal that was.

These are the potatoes before doing anything to them.  I'll deal with them tomorrow.

 Parsnips as I started to peel them.  That's a four quart bowl.

 Yes, I peeled and cut them into strips on my living room floor.  I was watching Doctor Who :o)

 I blanched them in batches in boiling water for two minutes each per the instructions I found from the National Center for Home Food Preservation

 Stage two of the blanching:  submerging them in cold water in a freshly scrubbed sink.

 Stage three:  let the parsnips drain by putting them in a colander or steamer basket.

Finally, I vacuumed sealed them in one pound packages.  

So with peels, tops, and bad parts, I lost about 2 pounds of parsnip weight.  But still $1.27 for 8 pounds is definitely not bad :o)


I had bought a spiral sliced ham a while ago.  I had never bought a spiral sliced ham before, just the regular old kind.  I threw it in the freezer, and mostly forgot about it.  I'd open the door, feel guilty about not dealing with it, and shut the door without giving it another thought.  Finally, I thawed that and decided to repackage it.

This is the original price of this arganically and humanely raised ham.  I got it half price since it was after the holiday (which holiday?  Christmas?  Easter?  I can't remember.  It was in the freezer THAT long.)
Since it was spiral sliced, all I really had to do is carve straight down the bone and I got ready made lunchmeat.  I repackaged it in 8 bags of 8 (ish) ounce packages, plus two packages of ham chunks where the ham had not been spiraled PLUS a ham bone and all of the fat scraps I trimmed off.  Regular old ham in the grocery store runs about $6 a pound.  I have a bunch of delicious, humanely raised ham for merely $2.50 a pound.  Talk about frugal and responsible!  I have two more hams in our freezer that aren't spiral sliced, but I'm excited to cut them up when we run out of this lot.


My next project is to part out *B*'s Christmas bonus.  Every year, he gets a turkey AFTER Christmas.  It's very kind of his company, but we obviously can't use it for our holidays in the year that we get it.  So we've been freezing it until the next Thanksgiving for a few years.  But now my brother also gets a turkey as a bonus, and we are up to our ears in birds.  Since things are a little tight, I'm going to follow these suggestions to get our best usage out of it now.

We'll see how it goes.  So long as I can get it all done while Miss F is down for a nap, it should be a snap.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Long Trip Home

Saturday afternoon and evening were an experience I will not soon forget.  I was told by multiple people that security at the Tulsa airport takes 15 minutes to get through.  Miss F and I still arrived 2 hours early.  As soon as we got through security, we found out that our plane was delayed by half an hour.  I started to panic just a little bit because I knew that we had a 45 minute layover.

Miss F loved the airport, though.  She crawled and cruised all over the place.  A little girl about 8 years old and her younger brother took a liking to her.  Their mother worked for the airline, so they spent a lot of times in the airport.  I kept pulling Miss F back to the middle of the room, and she crawled right back to them.


We got on the plane, and they said we'd get in almost on time.  Yay!  This flight isn't full (unlike our trip out), so we got our own row.  Double yay!  Miss F sat in the seat, munching on sauteed apples and oatmeal pancakes.  She particularly enjoyed the safety instruction card.  I guess it was something about the colorful pictures and lack of words that attracted her.

Twenty minutes before the end of our first 90 minute flight, Miss F was restless.  It was about 6 pm, and she hadn't napped all day, aside from some car seat catnaps.  And then, she unleashed her inner fury.  This baby screamed like I've never heard her before.  I tried to nurse her, she pushed me away.  I tried to feed her, she threw the food.  I tried to cuddle her with a blanket, and she tore it away.  I tried shushing and rocking.  I even tried covering her mouth.  Nothing was working.  I could see two men in front of me complaining.  One covered his ears.

At about the 10 minute mark, I started crying out of frustration.  Finally, I flipped her over in my lap, face down, so that at least she was crying toward the floor.  The little girl from earlier came up and offered her a Barbie doll.  For a brief moment, she stopped crying.  I was patting her back when she passed straight out.  She went limp as a ragdoll, and she began softly snoring.

Everything is great now, right?  No.  I forgot about our plane's delay.  We landed half an hour before my flight took off.  It was already boarding when we got to the gate.   We waited for our carry-on luggage that was gate checked.  As I'm waiting, I mention to the mother of the little girl that she did an amazing thing for me.  I tell her I'm freaking out though, because my plane is two terminals away and already boarding.  If we didn't make that flight, we wouldn't get home until midnight.  Rather than offering a half-hearted response, she grabbed my bag and told me they'd get me there.

She got us to the airport train, calm and keeping her kids in tow the whole time.  As we were riding the escalator, I asked if she'd be late for her connecting flight.  Nope, she lived in that city, and her sister was picking them up.  She could wait.  We got to the terminal and, wouldn't you know, my gate was the last gate in the terminal.  And we had 12 minutes until that plane left.  The kids and I ran (sleepy baby angrily flopping in my arms) to the gate while the mom lugged my bag behind us.  I got to the gate, breathless and shaking.  The little girl handed me the sling and baby blanket I dropped when I broke out into a sprint.  And her mom came up behind two minutes later, bag in hand.  We made it!

On this flight, I took a whole three seat row,

Monday, June 3, 2013

Preparing for Baby's First Flight

Miss F and I are flying out to Oklahoma to visit a dear friend and her newborn for five days.  I'm very excited, but with a little over twelve hours until we leave, I'm panicking a little bit.  Miss F is sitting in my lap the whole trip, which isn't too bad since it's a one hour flight, a one hour layover, and a two hour flight.  But since she doesn't have her own seat, she's not entitled to her own luggage.  Our airline charges a fee to check baggage that we're unable to afford, so we're packing it all into two bags.  Did I mention that I'm still going to cloth diaper her on the trip?

This is our main luggage.  On the left is every diaper that we own (aside from those in the diaper bag).  That takes up half of the suitcase.  On the right are our clothes (8 outfits for her, 5 for me), toiletries, and a couple of small gifts for the baby.  I'm not overly worried about clothing because my friend is about my size if I run out, and we have access to a washer and dryer.

In our diaper bag, we have four diapers, a wet bag, Lucy the giraffe (a Sophie teether), a book for the baby, a teething pacifier, a banana, three kiwis, three oatmeal pancakes, some water bottles, a sling, and a couple of assorted items.

We checked in online, the passes are 

Brewing Up Deliciousness

*B* and I are brewing machines!  While he's got beer and wine covered, I've been brewing up some non-alcoholic refreshments for us.  I got my water kefir grains in the end of April, and I've been brewing up a storm.  The first four batches were like the water kefir I used to brew:  too sweet, a little strange, and not something I was terribly interested in drinking.  But I've been keeping a journal of everything I've done.  The only thing that wasn't to-the-letter was the bit about not having chlorine in the water.  I put the water through a filter, but the filter was SUPER old.

 Water kefir grains doing their thing

Water kefir grains in a brewing bag.  It's my new experiment to minimize time for bottling.

I changed my water filter and the water kefir changed completely.  When I opened the bottles, it sounded like champagne.  Our glasses fizzed up like Sprite does.  It was brilliant.

Since the lemon soda was going well, I decided to try my hand at ginger beer.  I used Rhonda's recipe found at Down to Earth


I made it with maple syrup instead of sugar for the daily process, but I used sugar at the end. We popped one open, and it immediately fizzed.  It was exactly like the ginger beer you get in the store.  A chunk of ginger, maple syrup, sugar, and water made 5 liters of soda.  A very rough estimation puts the whole recipe at $4.  The equivalent amount of soda in Reed's Ginger Beer would be over $35!