Category Archives: House & Stuff

Ending 2013 a Bit Wiser?

So another year is coming to a close.  Like every year, there have been ups and downs.  As always, there are parts of the year that I am very relieved to see over and done with.  And there are parts that I want to do my best to remember, treasure and carry with me as time inevitably marches on.

Same old, same old, really.

I hope, as with each old-to-new year, that I’ve learned things of value.  That I’ve gained valuable experience with something that will help me down the road.  That I’ve grown (and not just around the middle).  If I’m being fully honest with myself, I’ve definitely grown around the middle and I’m pretty sure I’ve learned more than a handful of useful, if not valuable, things.  No matter what kind of year I’ve had, I cannot stop experience and progress from happening.  Good thing I’m getting used to it.

Because I’m a List Person and I categorize things in my head before I realize it, these are some of the things I’ve learned in 2013:

  • I’m still thoroughly disgusted with bugs.  Seeing large images of bugs on a projector screen is like being in a circle of hell
  • I like soil.  Soil is most definitely NOT Dirt.  Soil is organic matter. Dirt is what you sweep or vacuum up, and it may or may not be organic. I also learned the difference between Soil & Dirt
  • Turf/grass is mind numbingly boring (to me).  I almost fell asleep, while standing up, during a field trip to a turf farm.  Hence, I love the 2 guys at Eco Lawn, who take care of our lawn and patiently answer all of my questions.  They are worth every penny PLUS they seem to really like turf. Bless Them
  • I like researching plant pathology and playing with microscopes
  • I loved the Master Gardener classes, except the ones on bugs and turf
  • I still don’t know what I want to do with a Master Gardener certification yet but I’m glad I’m not designing web sites anymore
  • I mostly enjoy taking online classes – but I miss face-to-face contact with fellow students.  Still, the convenience and potential is wonderful
  • I’m becoming far more liberal in my political views as I get older
  • I can make bows and arrows but I stink at actually shooting arrows (except on the Wii – I’m really great at Wii Archery)
  • I could definitely help plan kid’s parties but I’m not sure I like working with groups of kids.  I’m more of an idea person
  • I get easily irked by kids who are spoiled, entitled and rude
  • I get even more irked by parents who don’t do anything about their spoiled, entitled and rude children
  • I believe strongly in the power of prayer and positive thinking
  • I think if pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals really wanted to cure cancer, they would do so – there’s too much money to be made in treating cancer (and other diseases) instead of curing them.  I’ve become convinced of this in 2013
  • I’ve lost too many people I love to cancer.  And there’s always someone I care about who is dealing with it
  • I love camping but it would not be fun if I had to do it without an electric hook up.  I have no intention of ever sleeping on the ground again; air mattress or I’m not going
  • I can start and maintain a roaring fire.  Turns out, this is a very helpful skill to have
  • I am learning to say No when asked to volunteer for something.  It’s taken years to get to this point.  I’m working on not feeling guilty when I say No
  • I don’t exercise as much as I should
  • You can never have too many Christmas lights at Christmas time
  • I don’t think I could ever give up cheese or chocolate
  • I could easily work at IKEA.  I know more about their products than most of the employees there
  • I am hooked on the simply awesome  concept of frozen dollops of whipped cream to plop onto hot chocolate
  • I shamelessly collect ideas on the internet, especially Pinterest
  • I watch too much TV
  • I don’t feel bad about how much TV I watch
  • I don’t feel as guilty about buying birthday/thank you/etc cards as I used to. I’ve learned it’s OK to NOT make homemade cards all the time
  • I eat I Love Peanut Butter’s Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter straight out of the jar
  • A teaspoon of local honey a day really does provide allergy relief, as long as I remember to do it every day
  • A neti pot is great, once you get past how icky it looks on YouTube
  • I get choked up when I think of what life will be like without my parents
  • I do the Mommy Sway thing when I hold our cat.  I didn’t know I did this until someone pointed it out to me, but I don’t care.  She’s my fur baby, after all
  • Most nights when I check on N before I go to bed, I spend a few minutes just staring at him, sometimes just touching his hair – I cannot believe my baby is growing up this fast.  I often wonder how long I can get away with this
  • N still believes in Santa and I totally love that and encourage it
  • A moved out in Feb and I miss her being here every day, but I do not miss the tension.  I’m learning to let her go and do her own thing
  • I’m not good at letting people go and do their own thing but I’m getting better with practice
  • I still hold my breath when I see the lower Manhattan skyline
  • I really like how our recent renovations have gone.  I really love our new bathroom.  I’m trying not to get carried away and paint and re-do everything in the house
  • I re-read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings this summer and realized that I missed at least half the details when I read them as a child and then again as a teen.  So I’ll probably re-read them in about 20 years and see what else I’ve missed
  • I still haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey and am perfectly fine with that
  • I still prefer to read books on paper rather than on an e-reader
  • I am still able to function on 5 hours of sleep a night.  Not sure if that’s a good thing but it seems to be working out OK
  • I liked traveling on the auto train a lot more than I thought I would
  • I learned how to cut up an 18 pound whole turkey into parts.  This is also a very useful skill
  • I would like to take a class (if I can find one)  to learn how to cut up meat the proper way.  This could end up saving us money, too
  • I learned how to pickle just about any vegetable you can think of
  • I bought a PVC tube cutting tool that turned out to be the best $5 I’ve spent in the past few years (see the item about making bows & arrows)
  • I am very happy that N has faith that I can make almost any party or craft or science project come together.  His creativity & confidence – along with access to the internet – make for some fun projects
  • I already have a long “Things to Do in 2014” list and I’m only 80% sure that it’ll all get done

Happy New Year!

Advertisements

A New Tradition aka The Unmaking of a Picky, Sexist Eater

It all started about 6 weeks ago, after 3 days of hearing my son complain about “what’s for dinner?”   Enough!

My first reaction?  Anger.  I’m the primary cook in our household.  Occasionally, my husband grills.  We eat out a couple times a month.  Most days, however, it’s just me.  I rarely have any help from shopping, prep work, cooking and clean up.  We have a small family (3 to feed, sometimes 4), a large kitchen, and the financial means to eat well.  Plus, I like to cook and have a good track record for making  food that tastes good, as opposed to meals that ‘don’t suck.’

So yes, I was angry.  I was even a little resentful.  Heck, I was very resentful.  Doesn’t my son know that I shop for and cook meals we will like?  Most meals are even, egads! pretty healthy, too!

The answer to my unsaid question is, No, he doesn’t actually know.  I mean, he knows that I do the grocery shopping, sure.  He’s with me enough times to know how that goes and what we buy (and don’t buy).  And yes, he sees me cooking and baking most days.

But he doesn’t truly know what “cooking” means.  We’ve done the fun stuff together – cookies & cupcakes.  But a full blown meal?  No, he hasn’t done that.

Add to that lack of hands-on experience his preference for microwavable mac & cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches (made by his big sister, who is the pro at that particular dish), and chicken nuggets.  Normal favorite food stuffs for a kid his age.   After all, he’s 9, he’s a boy and he’s never shown much interest beyond playing with flour and decorating gingerbread cookies.

The boy thing… Mike has consistently joked around the kids that cooking is “woman’s work.”  And there’s not much going on in our kitchen to prove him wrong.  He can make himself toast, heat up soup in the microwave, and even zap himself an omelette.  His preference for cooking can be summed up in 3 words: Cooking With Danger.  That is, the microwave or grill. For roasts, homemade soups, casseroles, sautes, pies, cookies, and any chocolate dessert that didn’t come in a plastic wrapper, I’m the go-to person in our house.

Yet somewhere along the way, our son has decided that the jokes were fact.  Just because that’s all he’s seen doesn’t mean that’s all he SHOULD see, especially now that he’s getting older and more aware of the world beyond our house, street and town.  And it is among my jobs as his mother to tweak his understanding of the world when I think he’s humming along the wrong, or slightly skewed, path.

Back to where I began… after 3 days of his complaining about what I was making for dinner, he was on the receiving end of my anger and resentment.  He sulked, I seethed, and dinner – I can’t even remember what it was – was not a happy time for any of us.

The next day, an idea popped into my head with the ease of a yawn.  So simple!  How could I not have figured this out sooner?

I primed Mike first; he seemed to think it worth trying.  His support was all that was required of him at this point.  He’s a willing guinea pig for most things I cook, too.  So far, this was off to a good start.

I talked with my son that evening, explaining to him that I had An Idea that involved him.  I also explained WHY – and that the goal was to help him learn what was involved with cooking  a meal.  Therefore, he was going to be my assistant for every dinner that upcoming week.

Naturally, he groaned.  He complained.  He muttered.  Mike backed me up immediately and put the kabosh on the moaning and groaning.  I continued to explain The Idea.  Not only was he going to be my assistant (with the fancy French name of “sous chef”), he would help me plan the meals.

And, finally, the biggest gem of The Idea: we would pick a meal that would go with a movie we’d watch as a family.  Ta Da!

His initial reaction was… willingness!  Enthusiasm even!  There was almost singing going on in my head!

I was not unprepared, then, for his first question: what movie?  I’d done research on this before the pitch, so I told him that we’d watch “Ratatouille” while making Ratatouille.  He was still enthused, even though he frowned a tad because of the movie choice.  It turns out that he couldn’t remember seeing the movie before.  No problem, I assured him.   He had liked it before, and I felt confident this would be a good meal and movie combination.

I had made traditional ratatouille a few weeks before, and everyone had liked it.  That was another part of introducing The Idea – making sure the meal would be one he’d like enough to try/eat since he had liked it recently.

We figured out the meals for the week, including something simple like pigs and blankets.  We also planned his favorite non-mac&cheese-chicken-nugget-grilled-cheese meal: pierogies and kielbasa.  With 3 meals out of 6 planned, we were starting on a positive note.

I did the shopping for our meals by myself that week, while he was in school.  I thought I would be pushing it if I had him come with me for that part.  I also figured out out which parts of each meal he’d be able to help me with and which parts he could wander off to play or do homework.  When I explained that he would have ‘breaks,’ he was relieved and much more willing to help with each meal.

The Ratatouille recipe we used was one I’d found online at a great food blog, http://smittenkitchen.com/2007/07/rat-a-too-ee-for-you-ee/  We got all of the ingredients onto the counter then followed that by getting out the necessary equipment.

And this became our “Wow!” moment – his introduction to a mandolin!  Safety was a priority, of course, and his Star Wars apron was also a key element to his positive experience.   We cleaned the veggies, sliced them carefully, and layered them to our hearts’ content.  The result matched the photo on the blog, then we topped it with a piece of cut out parchment paper.  And we were both excited to taste it when it was done, because it looked good and smelled great already.

Meanwhile, the movie was playing in the den while we were cooking in the kitchen.  He got to bounce from counter to beanbag chair often enough to not notice that he was actually helping make a meal.

Clean up was easy, he didn’t complain once.  When the movie was over (thank goodness Disney movies are pretty short), it was time for everyone to sit down and eat.  His curiosity nearly beat out his pride as we pulled the parchment paper top off and oooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh it smelled and looked more awesome than we’d expected!

Mike was effusive in his praise to the chefs, which went a long way in helping our son adjust to a tweaked path.  But the kicker was when we all went for second helpings, with nary a chicken nugget or cheesy noodle in sight!  The rest of the week went smoothly but, admittedly, with much less fanfare and ‘oooooooohs’ and ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaahs.’  My one regret in introducing this new tradition was that we started with the big Aha! meal first.

If the tradition hadn’t taken hold, I’d be worried.  However, we are now 6 weeks and 4 “Dinner & a Movie” nights into our new and popular tradition.  Best yet, my son has been slightly transformed into a less picky eater and a more helpful set of hands in the house.

It was highly gratifying to call upon our new tradition this week, when Halloween Trick or Treating was postponed because of the freak winter storm.  Disappointment turned to WooHoo! when we decided to watch our just-delivered copy of “Captain America” while feasting on meatloaf, mashed potatoes and apple pie.  All homemade with some help from my sous chef.

Our Dinner & A Movie pairings to date:

  • Ratatouille’s Ratatouille with “Ratatouille”
  • Spaghetti & Meatballs with “Tangled”
  • Swedish Meatballs & egg noodles with “Thor”
  • Mini Meatloaves, Mashed Potatoes and apple pie with “Captain America”

I don’t expect the complaining to complete disappear, of course.  He’s a normal kid, after all.  It’s with tentative hope that I think we’ve got something good to build on here, even if we end up eating it all up until the next meal.

Merry Halloween!

I’d like to think that snow on Halloween, or the days leading up to it, is a rare occurrence.  Sadly, it is not.  At least, it’s not rare anymore.  For 3 of the past 4 years, there has been snow – light or heavy – in the days leading up to Halloween.  “Freak Winter Storm” is the usual name for this.  This year’s, 2011, is different, though.  It is a full blown Nor’easter, complete with extensive power outages from blown transformers and downed lines, massive tree damage, blocked roads, over 6 inches of wet, heavy snow and winds.

I think we need to call Halloween something else, so I’ve coined “Merry Halloween” as the more appropriate salutation.   Trick or treaters will be wearing boots (my son wants to wear his snow shoes) and other winter gear.  Costumes will largely be covered.  Traipsing through snow go get pieces of candy seems like a lot more trouble than it’s worth.   This leads me to wonder:

Do we stay home and feast on the candy we bought with the intention of doling it out?

Do we bundle up like eskimos and assure the folks in the neighborhood that we are wearing costumes underneath it all, really?  But please don’t make us unzip the coats to prove it, we don’t want to get frost bite.   Just toss us a Twix and we’ll be on our way!

For the past 4 years, we’ve hosted a Halloween party for our son’s friends.  A few are in the neighborhood, most are school mates in town, and some are close family friends who travel over half an hour to get here.  It’s always an indoor party, there are crafts and games.  The parties, coincidentally, began with this new autumn climate phenomenon.  It’s definitely a coincidence, but it’s also beginning to feel like a curse.  We can laugh at this, and we do.  If I actually thought I could influence weather patterns in any way, I’d be using my power for good, not evil.

For one thing, I’d rearrange the overwatering of the Northeast that happened this summer and balance it out with some rain in Texas.   If our big lobster/BBQ party in the summer didn’t make that weather blip happen, then clearly my power over weather simply doesn’t exist.

Today is the day before Halloween, there is snow EVERYWHERE I look outside.  The sun is shining and therefore melting the snow.  The snow is now dropping, rather than dripping, constantly and often the chunks are the size of softballs.  Branches are bent in unnatural angles.  I keep expecting them to pop back to their normal position once the snow has slid off but, so far, that hasn’t happened.

The trees that withstood a hurricane are now sadly bowed and bent yet also beautiful – snow does that, hiding the damage it’s created under an innocent white blanket.  The effect is begging for black and white photography to do it justice.

Oct2011 Nor'easter

October 2011 Nor'easter - front yard view

We took many photos this morning, the sun pink and yellow.   The colored leaves are pretty much still on the trees, as well as the branches that fell during the storm.  I’m not sure how old the 2 large trees in our front yard are but they look substantial.  I’m sad to think that we may have to take them down at some point.  At the very least, they need a lot of trim work.  I hope they will be stronger, and we’ll be safer, once that’s done.

Oct2011 Nor'easter

October 2011 Nor'easter - big front yard tree

Related to all of this was the headline that a well known global warming skeptic has publicly announced his agreement with the broad scientific consensus that Global Warming is a fact, not just a theory.  Looking out the window as I type this and listening to the hum of chain saws, I’m not sure if the irony is funny or frightening.  I err with science on just about everything but I don’t see rain out there, I see snow.  In October.  It would be nice to hear theories as to what is happening…anything to explain this.

As for next year, maybe we’ll have the Halloween party in August, just to play it safe.

One year later…

Why does it take me so long to write on this?  I need and want the practice, so I have a few drafts but few of them get finished.  Which reminds me that I have fabric to be fashioned into curtains… but I haven’t finished them either.  *sigh*   I have, it seems, too many projects and not enough time.

So, officially, it is one year later since I’ve written on our blog.  And when I say “our” I guess I really mean “mine.”  Mike hasn’t written anything on it, though I’m not surprised.  It’s not his thing, it’s mine.  Perhaps Nicholas will contribute something!

The last thing I wrote about was the Imagination Station playground.  We happened to visit it recently, to celebrate its 1 year birthday.  It still looks great and is extremely popular.  There were many familiar faces who came to celebrate, and of those, there were a few people that I hadn’t seen in a year.  It was good to catch up, and to look at all of the kids clearly enjoying every inch of the playground.  Nicholas still has his favorite spots: sitting ON the tunnel slide, the swings, and just running around the whole thing.

There is landscaping around the perimeter of the playground now, and inscribed pavers in the area of the main entrance sign.  From a distance and up close, the entire playground looks colorful and fun.  The big bonus is all of the seating for parents – something the old playground was lacking.

The playground project helped tweak my brain into looking forward in terms of what I want to do when I “grow up.”    It’s a bit of reinvention as well as recognizing some truths.  The computer programming industry has changed to the point where I am no longer marketable.  Website design can be done by just about anyone these days (hello WordPress!) and my skills are too basic to ask for someone to pay me to do the work.  That pretty much sums up my job skills.  So this is where “reinvention” comes in.

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve asked people who know me well and can be honest with me (in a kind way…!) to get their feedback.  I thought of what I like to do, of what I don’t want to do, and of what I’d need to do to get me to… well… that was the final part of the process:  The Destination.

Facts:

  • I enjoy gardening, especially organic
  • I enjoy cooking and baking (including eating)
  • I like working on a computer but don’t want to think about how to make it work
  • I would like to learn more without having a full course load
  • I want to have time and opportunity to volunteer with school stuff and Scouts
  • I want to improve my health
  • I don’t want to add significantly to my stress levels

I had no destination in mind and still don’t have a specific one in sight yet.  But I know roughly what I’d like to be doing down the road.

Playing with Dirt

Garden 2010

Herb & Vegetable Garden, bed #2, 2010

This could be a regression to childhood, I really haven’t thought that deeply about it.  But I know the work I really enjoy doing that also won’t add to my cholesterol and waistline.

So what’s next?  I could fiddle in my own gardens for a while, research and try out techniques and pay attention to the results.  I do that already and still feel like there are huge gaps of what I know and don’t know.  I looked into graduate school and while a graduate program may ultimately be a part of this reinvention, I don’t know if that’s what would be the best way to learn.

Enter Rutgers University’s Cooperative Extension program, specifically http://njaes.rutgers.edu/extension/

I will hopefully be able to enter their September – March program in the fall.  In the meantime, I’m playing in the dirt of my own back and front yards, contending with cold, rainy then hot and humid weather, and a never ending parade of critters that love to destroy what I’ve sown.

It’s easy for me to lose track of time when I’m in the garden – it is no accident that I haven’t replaced the broken battery in my watch.  I plug in my iPod and dig, pull, mix, and pinch at will.  I am an organized enough person to chart what I’ve planted, going back quite a few years, and what’s worked/not worked.  From my perspective, gardening is a sensory-heavy blend of creativity and science.

So now I know my next destination, though there is still a lot of wiggle room for where I will precisely end up.  Twenty years ago the ambiguity of that would have terrified me.   I think it also would have locked me into a path that I’m simply not ready to commit to.  The open-endedness of this is very enlightening and not the least bit scary.  It’s nice to know that my 40s have brought me something my 20-something year old self would have shied away from – uncertainty.