Friday, May 31, 2013

Ms. Patmore stole my toilet paper

My soul-sister Kari and I joke sometimes about how pets sort of require that you keep a roll of paper towels in the house.

Because there is just something about cleaning up a handful of regurgitated garbage that makes you super grateful that you can just throw it all back in the trash and never see it again.


So the truth is, I use paper. I try to be conservative. I recycle like Ed Begley Jr's slightly obsessive Midwestern niece.

But there is an area of my life where I have recently tried cutting back even more.

And that would be in the potty.

(I know. Let's just do our best to get through this together.)
The first time I heard about the idea of using cloth toilet ... um, cloths? was when I interviewed Tara Wagner of The Organic Sister for a web site I used to edit. At the time, she had just started her project Sustainable Baby Steps, and was traveling around the country with her family in an RV fueled by recycled vegetable oil.

She mentioned her family of three also used reusable toilet paper, and I thought, what I often think when I hear a new idea -- that will be the one that makes my husband finally divorce me.

I mean, I come up with plenty of weird stuff on my own, and he is a patient man, but there are times when I think he would have really liked to have found a nice, average girl -- someone who buys him Tombstone pizzas for dinner, and who doesn't fill his basement bathroom with baby chicks and kitties on the mend, and possibly a foster dog, even though he was totally all for that, don't let him fool you.

So I put the idea on a shelf for a bit. Until I started watching Downton Abbey and needed something easy to sew. So I blame Downton Abbey, really. It's so hard not to.

In the course of watching three seasons, I sewed about 4 dozen wipes and a wet bag. The wipes were easy -- the wet bag was a little harder, but I needed a distraction in Season 3, and that's all I am saying.

(Except a car crash? Really? Seemed so tacked-on, didn't it?)
The actual process I learned from my friend Danielle, who has a very down-to-earth approach about the whole thing which I have adopted: you can just use them when you're onesie-ing, and maybe working your way up to twosie-ing at some point, but no pressure. Husbands can use them or not, and you want to keep a roll in there of the paper stuff anyway for guests. Basically, it's worth a shot. It's not Spanish Influenza. Just relax. Everything will be OK.

The whole thing really starts to make sense if you sew anyway, and you have scrap fabric laying around. I gathered up a bunch of flannel and made a bunch of mixy-matchy wipes. I will say that coincidentally, a lot of them feature umbrellas? Weird, right? I choose to not over-think it.

I spent some time on Etsy looking at really cute, color-coordinated wipe sets, and I based my sizing on that. I would cut two pieces of flannel into 8-inch by 6-inch rectangles, and put right sides together (no pinning, I've got a show to watch.)
I'd then sew around, curving the corners (you don't have to -- I thought it looked cute), and leaving a little hole between corners for turning.

I'd then turn them right-side-out, fold in the little edges of the hole, and sew them up. Then I would top stitch around the outside.

I don't have a serger, which in this case probably saved me a finger.

To make things quicker, I used a rainbow variegated thread, which goes with everything and nothing.

They were super simple and easy to make, and frankly, they are really easy to use. I throw them in the laundry when the bag gets full, right along with the bag.

Some of us use them, and some don't. That's OK. We're saving a few trees, a bit of money, and we'll never technically run out of toilet paper again.

Frankly, I can't wait until Season 4. Maybe I'll start building a compost toilet ...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Sweet Moments

This holiday weekend, we kept very busy. There was lots to plant, and lots of work to do in our backyard.

The kids played with the neighbor, and we baked cinnamon rolls - a process perfect for holidays, when you have a little extra time together, and don't mind packing on 6 to 8 pounds.

These cinnamon rolls will always remind me of two Christmases ago, when our family spent "the week between" just hanging out -- just the four of us. We would wake up late, eat cinnamon rolls for breakfast, watch The Price is Right, and then, while the kids played with new toys and art supplies, my husband and I would plan an activity for the day -- bowling? sushi dinner? more lounging and cinnamon roll consumption?

We did a lot less lounging the past few days because we'd been given the wonderful advice by our veterinary technician and lifelong friend Lynne to stay busy while our cat was recovering from being hit by a car. And so, we dug in the dirt while waiting for daily updates from our sweet veterinarian, who would greet me with, "calling for Kara Anderson, relative of Rig-a-twany ..."

He would then convey the news: Rigatoni was still with us, she was taking a little food, a little water. Her jaw was broken, and there was a lot of head trauma, but none of the really scary stuff. We found out Sunday that she could see, which had been a concern. By Monday he was sure that there really wasn't extensive damage to her brain, and that she just needed a lot of nursing and rest.

I hate to say that we were just filling time until the phone rang each day, but when it did ring, three sets of eyes would look at me expectantly, while I carefully responded, "OK. That's good news. We are still hopeful."

On the other end of the phone, I would hear this wonderful man, who has been practicing for probably 60 years tell me things like, "I've been doing this for a long time, and I've learned that family is about pets and pets are about family. I sense that your children are quite attached, and I want you to know that we are doing everything we can."

Doing all they could included him visiting her twice a day on a holiday weekend, carefully administering food, water, and medication, and giving our family buckets of hope.

We decided that that kind of care really required pay-back in cinnamon rolls. It was just a must.

And so, we spent Monday night and Tuesday morning boiling, mixing, rising, punching, rolling, dusting, and melting enough butter to swim in.

By 10 a.m., our entire house smelled like an Ikea, and by noon, we had news that they thought Riggs was ready to come home.

"Look, Mom! They are living their dream of being old farm cats!"
Yesterday was a day when I saw so much compassion -- from dedicated veterinarians, from the whole crew at our vet's office, from friends and family, who have been texting and emailing since we found Riggs asking for updates, and from my own little family. 

There is something about watching a 6-foot-4-inch man, cramped in a bathroom, cradling a cat and giving her water with an eye-dropper, that makes you flash back to your wedding, and that feeling that you were making the best decision of your life.

There's something about watching your children love a cat who doesn't look how she used to (the photo above is from before the accident) -- a cat who is just struggling to survive -- and hearing them tell her how much she is loved, how special she is, and how proud they are they she is fighting so hard to stay with us.

It makes you realize how incredibly lucky you are, even when just a couple of days ago, life seemed kind of scary.

You suddenly remember that most of the world deserves a pan of cinnamon rolls. That this is a good place, this universe of ours, and that sometimes, amazing, wonderful things can happen.

With love and hope, all things are possible. Add butter and sugar, and every day looks a little brighter than the one before.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Making friends through homeschooling without worrying about "socialization"

Are you visiting today from Simple Homeschool? Thank you for stopping by! This is my relatively new blog all about homeschooling, backyard farming, food, knitting, and the general trouble created by too much vinegar and baking soda in one house. To read more, you can subscribe here, or find me on Facebook or Pinterest!

For those not visiting via Simple Homeschool, I was fortunate enough to contribute a piece about the age-old "socialization" question today:

Whew, I remember thinking -- we were finally part of something. It was so handy to have that answer ready in my back pocket when the grocery clerk or dental assistant asked us how my kids socialized.

"We have a group!" I would say.

Problem solved.

Or was it?

My kids were interacting. They were invited to birthday parties. They had "friends."

"A friend is someone who likes you ..." I would read Joan Walsh Angland's little classic to my children and ask myself, do these people really like us, or are we all just here at the same time?

It was a fair question, I think. Our activities seemed to revolve around parent chit-chat and trying to get a handle on this new homeschooling gig.

We were our own little Ellis Island, brought together by circumstance, some of us not even speaking the same "homeschool" language.

Read more at Simple Homeschool and please let me know what you think!

Thanks for stopping by!!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

What's at Stake

This is a year of big changes for us -- a new house, new chickens and even a new way of gardening.

Ten years ago, at our country farmette, we grew asparagus, rhubarb, a huge vegetable garden and even grapes. My kids can't believe we had grapes just feet from the kitchen door, but that was part of the beauty of country living. That and a garage in our basement. And horse next door that scared our nervous dog.

From that house, we moved into the city. Like the city, across from a hospital and next to an apartment building.

We tried gardening. We wanted very much to make it work, but it never seemed to happen for us. Some years, we'd get a few tomatoes and herbs. Our mint and lemon balm plants produced more and more, while our vegetable plants produced less and less.

I think I knew we were in real trouble the year our neighbor got a Topsy Turvy and brought us his excess tomatoes. The gardening snob in my just couldn't handle his extra upside-down cast-offs.

And so, when we moved into this house, we began planning right away. Our kind friends even made us a garden bed to get us started, and we planted garlic and shallots last fall.

We've never beed raised bed people -- we instead would borrow a roto-tiller and wrestle with it until we had a trapezoid patch of mud chunks. From there, we'd plant and hope for the best.

But our fall garden bed looked great in the yard, and so this spring we built one and a half more. We've filled our beds with organic heirloom seeds and plants, and so far, our boxes are blooming.

I wish we had room for more, but as it is, our 2.5 beds are pretty packed -- so much so that the usual large tomato cages that we employed back when there was room for a grape arbor take up a lot of real estate in our smaller garden patch.

We decided to try staking them this year instead. I used some old long underwear pants from my kiddos to create strips of fabric. One of my favorite manuals for sustainable backyard living, Little House in the Suburbs, warned against using anything that could dig into our tender tomatoes. They suggested pantyhose. I think I had those one time -- they're like yoga pants for businesspeople, right?

I'm not sure this new approach will work. I may find myself still purchasing tomato cages instead of relying on recycled pants and stakes from the garage, but for us, this year is about embracing the change.

Everything we do may not work. But we will learn. And that learning will make every year to come just that much easier.

What are you growing this year? Have you made any changes to your garden?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

For the Love of Rigatoni

One of the good things about residing in the city is that up until recently, my children have been mostly unfamiliar with pet injury and death.
I count this in the "good" column because I seem to be raising sensitive sorts -- children who name bugs and birds and chipmunks -- who create extensive traps, only so they can love the critters to death.
I was this same type of child, chasing the feral barn cats, knowing that with enough time and attention, they would surely want to wear doll clothes and be pushed in a stroller.
I approached this process each and every time with patience until the panic set in. There was panic, of course, because I believed that cats only lived for three years.
I think I thought this true this until at least middle school.
"This is Mr. Tubbs," my hip, new friend, with her Z. Cavaricci jeans would tell me during my first visit to her house. "He'll 18."
"You mean 18 months, right?" I asked puzzled.
Poor thing -- his life already half-way over.
When you live in the country, you become more accustomed to early pet death and destruction. Mother cats shun their young, and push them off of the garage deep-freeze where they were born. Dogs get hit by trucks.
It's the nature of things, your parents tell you.
My grandpa, the country vet, was a very caring animal lover, and yet, he was pragmatic. He could console widows and comfort children, but he didn't sugar-coat anything but his morning grapefruit.
When I got a dwarf flopped eared bunny early in high school, and it peed on my lap repeatedly, I took this as a sign of affection -- he felt comfortable.
"Or he just had to empty his bladder," my grandfather told me.
Still, he loved animals. My whole family loves animals, up until they get eaten by other animals or disappear into the woods.
And so Friday morning, when my husband called me downstairs, and I could hear in his voice that something was wrong, it hit me hard to see our sweet micro-cat Rigatoni tucked into his arms.
"She was outside," he said, and before I could utter the obvious -- that she isn't an outside cat, he added "and she doesn't look good."
She looked terrible, really -- I could see that even without my contacts in. Her face bloody, her eyes gooey, her whole head swollen. She wasn't breathing well.
He rushed her to the vet, and I called to say they were on their way.
The words fell out, and at the end, I choked on, "she's my son's."
Owen rescued Riggs from a dumpster 3 years ago. She was living on coffee ground and green lunch meat. She was so sick that when you lifted her, poo dripped out of her hind end. The vet classified it as a "public health concern," and she had to be hospitalized and given IV antibiotics.
But she bounced back. She never grew from that point, though -- frozen in time as an 3-month-old kitten, with two little teeth missing in the front.
We don't know what happened to Riggs Thursday night. We don't even know how she got out.
As I write this, we know she has head trauma.
Coming on the heels of losing our first chick to a dog, the past few weeks have been filled with a lot of pet crisis.
My poor kids, part of a family of animal-loving city folks, never knew this kind of despair. A few times we've flushed fish.
And so I'm worried about Riggs, of course. But I'm worried more about our children.
I know that either way, our family will be OK. But the more I try to channel my grandfather's pragmatism in the face of what could happen, the more I realize that that type of acceptance comes after seeing death too much.
It's a farmer's perspective, and I wonder if I'll ever get there.
I wonder if I ever want to.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Muffin Jacks.

They're Muffin Jacks. Or Pan Muffins. Or Muffin Cakes.

I'm pretty sure we decided on Muffins Jacks, though, so let's go with that.

They are definitely a combination of muffins and pancakes, and they make some morning magic. You see, we are a pancake people, here. And so many mornings, you will find me drinking a cup of tea, blurrily making up a batch of pancakes one at a time. Some mornings, that's all I can handle.

But on busy mornings, when we have places to be and tummies to fill, we make up a big batch of Muffin Jacks (yes, it's working, right?).

It's super simple -- we make up the usually pancake batter, and fill muffin cups. We add in whatever we have:

*Cinnamon and Sugar
*Chocolate Chips
*Oats and Honey
* Jam
* Crumbled Bacon

You know -- a reasonable balance between healthy stuff and chocolate -- the way life is supposed to be.

Then we pop them in the oven at until they are bouncy when lightly poked.

Muffin Jacks
1 cup flour (we use whole wheat pastry)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 egg
2 tablespoons oil or melted butter
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients in a batter bowl, whisking to combine fully. Pour into muffin cups and add ingredients. Bake at 350 for 18-22 minutes. 

The Scoop on Our Coop

I've never been a great decision maker.

I respect my little girl, who at 6 years old is able to walk into an ice cream shop and so decisively point at the flavor she wants -- no taste-testing, no self-doubt.

I admire that trait, and I wish I could have channeled it when our generous friends offered to make us a chicken coop.

Instead, I spent weeks flipping through Pinterest photos, wondering how two nearly identical coops could be $250, and $1,400.

I had some basics in mind, that I thought would come in very handy for our backyard mini-flock:

* I wanted a run area included.
* I wanted something mobile.
* I wanted easy access to eggs.

Finally, I sent a stilted, awkward email that said just that.

And somehow, our friends created this:

It's perfect. And beautiful. And greeeeeen!

It was just what I wanted, and it even arrived for my birthday.

Underneath is has a large run area, big enough for 4 to 6 chickens, with a large flip-down door on one end. Inside, it has two next boxes and a roost. One of the sides comes off for easy cleaning. A door on each end opens for easy access to eggs, and handles on each end make it totally mobile.

Maybe the best part is the little ramp, that is connected to a pulley. The ramp closes up at night for safety, and during the day, the girls can waddle up and down.

Except, you know ... sometimes they can't decide which way to go.

Been there, girls. Been there.

Keeping a Family Garden Journal

I was telling a friend today that I think my sentimentality gene is turned up a notch too high.

But a benefit of this is that I like to catalog things. I love to write, and take pictures, and tuck things in envelopes. And that is exactly how our family’s garden journal began.

In a small spiral bound book, we chronicle the things we grow in a little plot that seems to grow itself each year. In a time before children, my father taught me how to plant a basic vegetable garden. He taught me rules, like that you make mounds for cucumber seeds, and that you never ever try to direct sow broccoli (rookie mistake). He taught me how to make mini-greenhouses for tomatoes so that you can start them just that much sooner.

I wrote a few of those things down. They seemed important to remember.

I think now that I should write down how much my dad seemed to come by gardening naturally, and the way he would drain a glass of lemonade while looking out on our work, clearly at home.

But in gardening, I’m learning, there is a lot to remember. Like how tall your child is next to a fully grown sunflower or what type of oregano is best on pizza. Or how your youngest calls the plants “babies” and makes every effort not to step on them.

My son wrote a book three years ago. It is full of stories about our cat, Rigatoni’s adventures. And because every book must have an author page, in his neatest 6-year-old handwriting, his says: "When not writing, Owen likes to spend time in his garden."

I hope both my children will continue to enjoy our family garden project. As long as they do, I will continue writing about it.

I may not be able to grow much inside out home, but I was definitely instilled with a love of gardening and a hyperactive sentimentality gene. Most days, that seems like enough.

What to keep in your own garden journal
Like any journal, a garden journal can be an ever-changing and evolving work. And in a family, it can be a project everyone can take part in. Some things to include:

*      Children’s drawings
*      A yearly photo of your family in front of the garden
*      Favorite seed or plant varieties
*      When to plant, or when to start seeds indoors
*      A map (this is especially fun for a child to make)
*      Family quips, “Mama, do a-squitoes like tatatoes?”
*      Garden tips or resources
*      Saved seeds (in small envelopes)
*      Poems, verses or quotes: “Keep rosemary by your garden gate …Plant roses and lavender for luck." ~ Alice Hoffman
*      Plans, baby. Big, big plans …

Sunday, May 5, 2013

On Being Chicken

A few years ago, I worked part-time writing a daily blog for an organic living company. It was kind of a dream job for a homeschooling mama who loves writing, photography, and talking about her kids.

But then that company changed from direct sales to wholesale.

I went back to freelancing -- picking up odd jobs like a handyman who figures "I can probably do that."

And for a long time, I thought about blogging. I missed it. But starting over is hard.

I think I was trying to sort out what I wanted a new blog to be, and without a clear path, I just stayed where I was. I have a tendency to do that -- to put up road blocks because I am scared. You might too.

For instance, four months ago, I started this project. I wrote a quick post about loving our house, but knowing it wasn't our forever home because we wouldn't be able to have chickens.
Um. I was wrong. And it's OK to be wrong sometimes, but the bad part is that at the time I wrote that, I  hadn't even asked. I just assumed.

About a month after writing that post, I woke up on a Monday and without thinking at all, I made some phone calls. A few days after that, I was ordering chicks from a feed store, borrowing a brooder, and researching coop designs.

I'm still think that this house is a temporary stop-over for us. And I still love it.

I love it a little more because of these three girls.
I guess at some point, you get tired of waiting, and the tired begins to push aside the fear.
And maybe at that point, you end up with some livestock, in the back yard of a little house that is becoming more a home each and every day.