Thursday, July 31, 2014

Goings On...With Pictures!

WHERE HAVE I BEEN?!  Well, let's see...I've been making peach jam...

See how I posed that peach there? Artistic!

and I've been reading about some of the quirkier habits of that creature known as the human adolescent...seems that the latest fad is to set oneself on fire.  That's bright.

And I've been learning how to ride a road bike (you know, the kind with the turny-downy handlebars?) again, after many, many years away...

Very tippy...

AND I have been attempting to get ready for a family "vacation," if that is what one can call sleeping in a camper, showering where you have to pay quarters for hot water, and cooking over an open fire. "Getting ready" includes trying to weed our front yard enough that it can suffer 2 weeks of neglect without the neighbors turning us in to the HOA while we are gone...

Believe me, this is an improvement.

Getting ready also includes attempting to gather the right amounts of non-perishable food to feed a family of 6 (including 3 vegetarians and one adamant carnivore) for a fortnight...

Yes, there IS a lot of junk food.  It's called "keeping people happy."

In the meantime, Brian is at BrickFair (pictures tomorrow!) and the girls have been shuttled off to vacation Bible school every morning this week, so I can get something done.  Also, they like it.  There is a lot of candy involved.  I guess the Bible school teachers believe in keeping people happy, too.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Puppy Love

I visited Jennifer of Mama's Minutiae today.  It was the puppy pictures on her blog that got me. She had mentioned that lots of people have been coming by to visit her EIGHT ADORABLE CUTE CUDDLY-WUDDLY PUPPIES, and I thought, "Hey! The girls would love to visit puppies!" So, in a very uncharacteristic move, I invited myself over.

Hey, I've read her blog for years, people.  So it's sort of like I know her, right? Maybe?

Seriously, who could resist this?

Luckily, that was good enough for her (she reads my blog also, so I'm not a complete stranger asking to come play with her puppies - almost, but not quite). She said sure, Saturday's good, and I put both girls and a bunch of snacks in the car and drove 2 hours into a more rural (and beautiful) part of the state. At one point, we passed a house with clothes hanging on the line to dry.  "Oh, wow," said Rachel. "Living here is like camping every day!"

So yeah, my kids ARE very suburban and sheltered.  Sue me.

You know, I've met other bloggers before; sometimes it has gone okay, and sometimes it's been a tad awkward.  I have had one blogger say to me, "You're NOTHING like I imagined you." And I've had another insist, "You are EXACTLY like you sound in your blog." So go figure - you can't predict how these meet-ups will turn out, and that knowledge gave me a small panic attack when I woke up yesterday morning and remembered that I had invited myself to a stranger's home.  What the heck had I been thinking? I wondered. But I had already promised puppy-cuddling to the girls, so there was no turning back.

People, I am so glad I made the trip.  Jennifer is exactly as she sounds on her blog, and we talked for over 3 hours straight while her kids showed my girls around the farm and introduced them to all the animals. My throat hurts.

And PUPPIES!  So CUTE, and Jennifer didn't even get upset when Rachel (completely unaccustomed to squirming baby animals) dropped one on the ground almost as soon as we arrived. Or if she was upset, she hid it very well.

So I headed home just before dark with 2 very tired girls and a newly fueled enthusiasm for homeschooling, cooking, and life in general.  Not bad for a 3-hour chat, eh?  My only regret is that I didn't request the recipe for those cookies Jennifer made for our visit.  All that food she photographs on her blog?  Apparently, it tastes as good as it looks.

So there you go - take risks, step out of your comfort zone. You just might end up being glad you did. Many thanks to Jennifer, for her hospitality and kindness and cookies, and to her kids, for putting up with my rather citified girls.  Anyone need a puppy? There are still a few available, and I promise they are as cute as they look in that picture up there.

Is citified a word? I thought it was, but now I'm not too sure.

[Puppies image: Mama's Minutia]

Friday, July 25, 2014


Artisan ice cubes, I call them
My not-so-willing offspring are burdened (to hear them tell it) with an unreasonable number of tasks around here: laundry, dishes, putting out the trash, you name it - there is always some chore that one or the other of my hapless children finds him/herself obligated to perform. And believe me, there is no whistle-while-you-work ethos happening in this household; rather, each task is greeted with dismay - nay, shock - that there is yet again something that needs to be done. And at the top of their list of disliked chores? That, my friends, would be the dreaded making of the ice cubes.

You see, there is no automatic ice maker for us, no binful of perfectly shaped cubes waiting to chill our drinks when we open our freezer door. Instead, once or even twice daily, we have to fill the 5 plastic trays with water, stack them in the freezer, WAIT several hours, and then empty the resulting ice cubes into our ice cube bin.

To hear the kids tell it, this job has them channeling 19th-century Almanzo Wilder, going out on the frozen lake with his dad and the hired men to cut large blocks of ice to store in the icehouse. Not a day goes by that one of my beloved progeny doesn't complain about the fact we are the only family (in his world, anyway) continuing to make ice cubes the old-fashioned way. Tell me, is this the price I pay for raising them in an upscale, semi-urban community?  Are they doomed to grow up thinking that the luxury appliances they see in all their friends' houses are the global norm?

Sometimes I think I should ditch everything and move us out to a farm in the mountains for a year, where the kids can learn to, I don't know, do whatever it is people do on farms. Churn butter? Muck out stalls? Hang wet laundry on the clothesline?  Maybe, after enough time doing those things, they would be happy to come back to a place where their toughest task is to wrestle a few cubes of frozen water out of plastic trays.  Maybe they would even begin to appreciate the air conditioning, the automatic clothes dryer, the ever-present supply of hot water as the luxuries they really are.

Better yet, I shouldn't move away from city life at all.  I mean, why should I suffer? I already appreciate the advantages of modern living.  Instead, I can just send the kids.  Any farming bloggers out there who want to do a kid swap?  Think about it - you can teach my kids what REAL WORK is, while your kids would experience what to them will feel like a well-deserved vacation.  It's a win-win, right?

[Ice cubes image: Photos Public Domain]

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Red Alert

Lovely, isn't it?

DO NOT ask for whom the mosquito buzzes; it buzzes for thee.  That's right, folks - the first locally acquired case of chikungunya has been diagnosed in Florida.  IT'S HERE.

Don't say I didn't warn you...

[Mosquito image: Wikipedia]

Thursday, July 17, 2014

News You Can Use

On the parenting front:

You heard it here first, folks, teens are stressful...according to one study quoted by NPR, "...about one-third (34 percent) of those who live with one or more teenagers said they'd had a great deal of stress in the past month."  To which I say, "Yup."

The health beat:

We've already discussed this particularly lovely bug that bites your face and deposits its eggs in your skin, right? You know, the eggs that end up making your heart or intestines explode?  Well, this bug's existence has now provided me with yet another reason not to get a pet for the children.

These will change my life

And, finally, style (the home variety): among the things homeschoolers REALLY like to buy...can one ever have enough bookshelves?  And these fold flat when not in use!  Now you have a place to put all the schoolbooks that your children insist on losing during the year.  ALL the books will stay RIGHT HERE, on this marvelous, foldable set of shelves. This is the story we homeschoolers tell ourselves, in that idealistic time known as mid-summer, before another ugly academic year has begun to trample all our pedagogical dreams.

A thing of beauty...

Ditto for this thing here...I swear to you, it's all the rage in homeschool circles.  THIS year, there will be pencils.  They will be sharpened, without having to search for batteries first.  NO ONE will spend the morning on the couch whining over and over about not being able to find a usable writing implement. Peace and joy will reign, forever and ever, amen.

Monday, July 14, 2014


I've been away all weekend at a belated memorial service for my friend, who passed away last October.  I told the story about our ill-fated trip to Harris Teeter (among other things), and made everybody laugh.  It felt awesome.

We all had a lot of fun.  Is that so wrong?

Anyway, we had brunch the next day at her daughter's house, a cute dwelling built back in 1931.  I was happy until I walked into the kitchen, where I saw the stove.  THIS stove:

Look at the dials - looks like an H.A. Rey drawing of a stove

"Wow," I said to her husband.  "I didn't think they made that kind of stove anymore."

"They don't," he said. "That's the original stove. It came with the house."

People, I was looking at a stove from 1931 that still worked. It was 83 YEARS OLD.  Those of you who are long-time readers can understand my angst, can't you?  Remember the crappy stove from 1983 that came with our house, that I finally had to put out of its misery?  Remember the almost-new CraigsList stove we now own, the one whose oven insists on turning itself off at random?

Yet these people were sitting there using an 83-year-old stove.  It just...rankles.  What's so special about them?  How come they don't kill every stove they come in contact with?  Do I unknowingly bear an appliance curse?  These are the thoughts that went through my head as I stared at this particular appliance that should, by logic, be in a museum, not a suburban NY kitchen.

"Can I take a picture?" I asked.

"What?" asked my startled host. "Um, sure.  But why?"

Was there any good answer for that?  Could I possibly explain to him that I needed to share this stove with you all, because you'd understand just how unfair this all is?  I guessed that he didn't want to stand there and be regaled with all my tales of appliance woe, so I mumbled something about wanting to show it to Larry as I positioned my IPad for the shot.  Then he and his wife showed me all the stove's neat features: a soup well, a stove-top broiler, the plate-warming device behind that little door to the right.

Salt in a wound, my friends, it was like salt in a wound.  They truly have no idea...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Amish Style

Worn, yet serviceable..
So, that thing over there to the left is my phone.  I call it the dinosaur phone when I joke about it with other people, but really?  In my head, it's a Star Trek communicator.  I channel Captain Kirk each time I flip it open; what's more, I like the challenge of texting without a keyboard, and I don't mind that I don't get data.  When I try to use a newfangled smartphone, it feels like I am a little kid holding a wooden block to my head and pretending it's a phone.

In short, I LIKE my phone.  AND it costs only $30, so if I lose it, no biggie - I go get another one.  The time I dropped it between a wall and a Metro escalator?  I didn't even panic.  The one sitting at the bottom of a storm drain in our town center? I don't miss it.  Really, I am too careless to own an expensive phone.

So why then is it so embarrassing when I leave it somewhere - on a cash register counter, say (see above re too careless) - and the clerk calls after me, "Oh, hey, is this your phone?"  And I turn around to see her holding it aloft in front of all the other customers, half of whom are probably thinking, "What the heck is THAT?"

Just...embarrassing.  And I don't know why.  It's not as if I am one to bow to peer pressure and jump on the latest technological bandwagon.

Oh, and did I mention that, when I was buying Rachel's bicycle, the cashier at the bike store could not BELIEVE I was unable to take a legible picture of the receipt with my cellphone.  INCREDULOUS, he was. He probably thinks I'm Amish.

Then again, that's what the kids think, too.  They consider themselves lucky to have zippers, as they tote around their own Star Trek communicators and explain to their friends yet AGAIN that, no, we don't have cable.  Top that off with a family camping trip each summer, and they have resigned themselves to being forced to live in the previous century.

I tell them that it's like time travel, but they don't buy that.  At least they're not stupid, right?

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

FitBit Me

Susie's been sick, the kind of fever-and-sore-throat sick where she doesn't really sleep at night but tosses and turns and generally keeps me awake ALL NIGHT LONG.  By 2 AM, I had pretty much reconciled myself to the thought of being sleepless and was glad enough to catch an hour or so closer to dawn.  At 6, I kicked Susie out of the bed so I could grab a little more sleep, only to feel myself being shaken awake around 7 by Rachel, who -- for reasons unknown to me - had to know RIGHT THEN whether or not Susie had slept last night.

One wonders why she didn't just ask Susie, who was awake on the couch downstairs.  Or maybe Larry, who was also up.  Why did she pick the sleeping person?  WHY?

So, yeah, the day hasn't been so great.  I"m tired, Susie is most definitely not on the mend, I'm looking at another night like the last one...AND, in an illogical moment, I started prepping the kitchen cabinets for repainting, only to realize I was missing some important tools for the operation - drip pan, drop cloths, enough PAINT.  So now I have an unpainted kitchen that is missing all the hardware from the cabinet doors.  Not quite what I would call progress, but there you are.

Lord, I"m tired.

In other news, I ordered a FitBit Zip.  What with all the rave reviews it receives, I figured I might as well jump on the bandwagon and see if it makes me be more active during the day.  Also, it seems to help to get a new toy every once in a while, just to rev up a tired fitness routine.  Maybe I'll pick up a skateboard next.

Just kidding - I can't even ride my kids' scooters.

So will FitBit turn me into one of those people who become obsessed with fitting more steps into my day? Probably not. In this weather, I am much more likely to obsess over where to find my next fix of air conditioning to sit down in, I'm thinking. But I'll give it a try.  Maybe last night would have felt more productive if I had been keeping track of all the steps I took to refill Susie's water and get the VapoRub and turn the air conditioner on and off.  ALL NIGHT.  Really, I"m surprised I don't feel more fit already.

New trend?  Nocturnal fitness routines?  Hmmm....

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Having A Ball

So! I visited a friend recently and happened to sit on this exercise ball chair she had.  It was awesome.  I felt as though I could sit up straighter, I could feel myself working my core muscles to do so instead of straining my back. Is it crazy to spend $75-80 on one of these things?    I mean, when you consider I have to spend $30 per physical therapy session, I guess it isn't much if it helps my back, right?  Or am I rationalizing?

 Too ugly, though?  Will it clash with my highbrow IKEA decor?

Anyone have one of these?  Pros? Cons?

Friday, July 04, 2014

Praise The Lord And Pass The Backwoods DEET

Well, well, well - what have we here?  Not one, but TWO mosquito-borne diseases to worry our hypochondriacal little heads about!

Well, MY hypochondriacal little head, anyway...

Obligatory photo of enlarged mosquito
Move on over, West Nile - there's a new kid in town.  Let's all say hi to chikungunya, the latest present brought to us by our friends the Asian tiger mosquitoes.  You see, it's not enough that this particular breed of mosquitoes is out in full force ALL DAY (rather than just the evening, like those garden-variety mosquitoes you New Englanders complain so vociferously about).  Oh, no - the Asian tiger variety now has the proud distinction of carrying 2 fun diseases: good ol' West Nile virus and this lovely new disease with the hard-to-pronounce name, fresh from the Island of Hispanola.

Isn't that fun? Now those of us living in these parts can come down with a flu-like illness that occasionally invades the central nervous system to wreak all sorts of havoc OR enjoy the gift of joint pain that lasts for months.  Gosh, I hardly know which one to pick.  In fact, I haven't had this much fun since I lived in the desert for 3 months and had to shake scorpions out of my shoes before getting dressed.  Isn't nature great?

[Mosquito image: Wikipedia

Wednesday, July 02, 2014


Today? Oh, band camp, a bike ride, errands, end-of-year testing for Brian, and then meeting up with a childhood friend for the better part of the afternoon/evening. Top that off with an episode of Dr. Who ("Vampires in Venice") and you have what was a very satisfying day.  In fact, on the way up from the TV room, I was congratulating myself on all I had accomplished over the last 24 hours when Brian said, "Hey, the rug is wet right there."

"Where?" I asked, although I knew.  I knew.

"There," he said, pointing - you guessed it! - toward the floor in front of the furnace/AC closet.

Folks, I know most people in the world live without AC; I know that not having air conditioning does not constitute an emergency. But I still called that emergency repair number.  Have I mentioned that it was so hot and humid today, I didn't even hesitate (as is my wont) to turn on the AC this morning? And that the same weather is predicted for tomorrow?  And then, let's see - it's a holiday weekend! Well, this repair shouldn't be too expensive, right?

I haven't seen one of these - yet.
And now it's raining, which - in theory - should mean that things cool off and we can throw open the windows and let rain-freshened air waft through the house.  But no - here things go against the natural order, so the air becomes more humid when it rains.  It's like living in the Amazon, only with less interesting wildlife.  Thank goodness.

[Bird image: BBC Nature Places]