Wednesday, April 29, 2009

April was Polka Dots

I don't think I'm really "into" polka dots, which was this months Year of Color theme. Took me the whole month to scrounge up enough polka dots to make my inspiration pages. There was a scavenger hunt too, but I didn't get done in time to enter. So here are my pics for fun.

Food with polka dots

Polka dots in nature

More of nature's polka dots in the form of spring sleet on my deck.

A polka dotted craft

My something vintage: a pair of polka dotted day dresses

My polka dotted article of clothing

Another polka dotted "craft" of sorts: my son's space wall.

The only thing I was inspired to actually make this month with polka dots: a few snips of purple polka dotted ribbon. I don' t think I actually dislike polka dots. I recall having lots of brightly colored polka dotted clothes and accessories in the 80's. I think I just don't actually know how to incorporate them. May is "green" and I think that will work a lot better for me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Redemption: The Moonville Tunnel

If you are a fan of The Secret or what's known as The Law of Attraction you will enjoy this. By Sunday morning, a mere 48 hours after embarking on this little journey of ours I was ready to throw in the towel. Once again we got little sleep, then sat up half the night having a heart-to-heart about the kids, which is all fine and dandy, but by morning we were all obnoxious again. By the time the breakfast dishes were done I was literally in tears because I had had enough. I just wanted to go home and crawl into bed, which pissed me off cause we still hadn't seen the Moonville Tunnel, and I've been wanting to do that for more than a decade.

We were all packed by 9:30am, and I wandered out onto the porch while the boys and Ken finished up loading the car. I said a little prayer. I asked the Universe to please let me have a nice pleasant day and see the Moonville Tunnel. I calmed my mind. And guess what???

We did it! And, with hardly any fussing at all!

Nothing finer than an old deserted railway tunnel on a very nice day. There aren't even any marked trails or anything. You have to follow the directions found in a Vinton County tourist flyer to get there. Oh, and the road to get there is a dirt road. It is awesome! The boys really loved having a mystery to solve.

Supposedly, the Moonville Tunnel is haunted too! There is also some evidence that a couple of folks did actually die in or around the tunnel in railway accidents.

Zack didn't understand why I told him I thought the humans that populate this tunnel bother me more than the ghosts.

My Happy Family at Moonville Tunnel.

We then made our way back to Logan, to this crazy little plaza we love called Rempel's Grove. I think all little towns have these. It has The Olde Dutch Restaurant, a craft mall, a great big antique store, canoeing, an ice cream shop, mini golf and a petting zoo. Very kitschy. After being very well fed by the Dutch and their fantastic buffet (broasted chicken anyone?) the boys let me have a brief excurstion through the antique shop. Hurray! And still, no fussing and whining either!

Found some excellent railroading memorobilia.

Odds and ends for me. The big green ledger was more of a score that I first realized. It is a secretaries' ledger from the Ladies auxilary to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen from 1932. Righteous! But now I don't want to cut it up for collage anymore!

The Montgomery Ward Catologue was the best---it's from 1923, with some color but lots of vintage b/w pages to use for something.

The inside of the ledger I don't want to destroy now.

That's pretty much it. I think at first we were a little disappointed because last year we spent the better part of a week down there and it was such a fantastic time that the boys literally asked for months and months when are we going back to the cabin? This time around we were rushed; our real vacation is in a couple months to a beach house in North Carolina, so for this one we could neither afford time nor money to extend this little journey anymore than we did. It's like we were trying to pack in too much and maybe recapture the magic or something. Well if I learned anything it's this: as parents we have the power at anytime to reset the course of the day. To call a do-over, if you will. Sometimes if you let yourself be pulled into the drama of the moment you miss all the beauty that's happening around you.

There are these moments of Zen happening all the time whether we notice them or not.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Our latest family adventure, or, How My Family Isn't Always Perfect

It is come to this blogger's attention that my lovely pictures and tales outline an almost idyllic state of domestic affairs around here. So for fun I won't trouble you with the pictures of the homemade granola and trail mix we made as a group activity with the kids or any of that nonsense. (Okay we did that but all was not to be, well, as perfect as that little activity. So, for fun, here is a photographic essay in how our family is pretty much like anyone else's on vacation and sharing some of the anecdotes that won't necessarily fit neatly into the scrapbook.

Zack hiding in the cabin and doing a little art to pass the time while trying to get away from Daddy fussing at the grill.

The confident chef. Except that we were using a bag of charcoal leftover from last year. That I opened over the winter to grab eyes for the snowman. And that due to the humidity it probably absorbed, took over an hour and a lot of fussing to get hot enough to cook four hamburgers and a couple of hotdogs.

Dinner the first night. Everyone argued because applesauce was the only thing the children would eat, and the parents did not appreciate that the boys refused to eat the hot dogs because they had cheese in them. There was much whining and cajoling, the meal ending with two hungry boys.

My Angel Nathan, the constant source of shreiking throughout most of the trip.

Trying to get them to sleep was impossible. Not just the cute boy-stuff, but really really annoying. We finally ignored them while drinking beers on the back porch.

This is my sweet husband on the first morning, having had no sleep partially because a large group up the road took charge of the communal campfire ring and were hooping it up pretty good, and partially because the boys were popping out of bed every hour or so. Oh, and the bed sucked too.

Finally on the trail, there were some cute moments, like Zack stopping to draw a picture of a waterfall. Hmph, and he didn't want to hike.

Piece of interesting driftwood. My way of passing the time.

Taking a pic of my shoes whilst pretending not to know who Nathan or my husband, who was chasing him, were.

The boys overlooking the Devil's Bathtub. Literally one minute later I was dashing after Nathan, well off the marked path, grabbing him just as he was about to slip on the mud and down the thirty-forty feet into the ravine.

See, Nathan is something of a Bear Grylls. He likes to climb. A lot. We like this, but we also sort of hate it, especially when he's centimeters from plummeting to his own demise. Which was often.

When he throws a fit and won't go where he's supposed to, Daddy chucks him on his shoulders. He spent much of the trip just like this.

Night two: Ken starts the fire early so the boys can have the campfire experience before the morons come out with their alcohol. We think they actually felled a pine tree for firewood the night before because Ken swears he heard a chainsaw. Notice the large tree trunk pieces in the background. I am pretty sure doing that in a state park is a misdemeanor. We did eat well that night: dogs, grilled cheeses for Zack, chips, and s'mores. Though of course the boys didn't want to cook their own food. Or even have a toasted shmarshmellow. No, they only ate plain marshmellows and chocolate squares. Still, it was okay. Except that Nathan continued to whine and shreik and fuss about everything.

They amused themselves on the swings, caring little for the campfire.

Tomorrow: Redemption and the Moonville Tunnel

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Let the season begin!

Around here the church rummage sale marks the unofficial kickoff of yard saling season. Hurray! It was made even better by the church lady bake sale; cupcakes just in time for the fishes' birthday. (That will be a whole blog in and of itself, lol)

Zack's find was this cast iron wagon toy. A tiny bit of research tells me it is probably a reproduction though we will check it out further.

Odds and ends for me: a magazine for 15 cents, two bags of Mardi Gras beads for the same, and a pretty little hankie with a lady and her troubadour for a quarter.

Pay dirt for me: a couple of vintage atlases to craft with. Fifteen cents.

More happiness: books of vintage sheet music for a quarter each! I should have bought the whole box, but felt like I needed to share because, you know, it's church.

The best treat: a quiet morning with Zack, who had a free day from school while little brother still had to go to preschool. Don't you just love days that are a little bit off the beaten path? Zack didn't believe me at first when I told him we were going treasure hunting.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth day: it ain't easy being green

Time for our Earth Day checkup in this little experiment we like to call our household.

First, we did explore all the cleaning potential of vinegar, and it does a great job. Learned that if you don't like the smell you can add essential oil. I like tea tree and lavender myself, and lemon is good because we've been trained by the household product companies that lemon=clean. Check out Heloise for all your vinegar uses. She has the most useful column in the entire newspaper, in my opinion. My big setback in this department is my stockpile of cleaners purchased from my local Sam's Club in a fit of nesting. I don't feel comfortable just pitching it all out, so I use it sparingly when needed. What I find though is that I don't actually need the chemicals in most cases, so i save the really harsh stuff for like scrubbing grease film off the range hood or persistent rust stains from the sink. That does not include drain cleaners and bowl cleaners. We've managed to get through the year using natural means of unclogging things and cleaning toilets. And I've not purchased a single chemical product. ('cept the Swiffer stuff, but I'm working on that, okay?) We also learned, at 4am, that a good scrubdown with baking soda and water does an excellent job of removing puke-smell from a carpet. Next to explore: borax.

We've also taken good steps as a family towards getting away from harsh body products. I recalled in my camp days having used Dr. Bronner's magic soaps and now I find that they have a whole line of products. Good old peppermint is still my fave, especially for a bright morning shower, but like the lavender for bath time too. For the boys I happened upon the Rainbow Research products at my local Whole Foods Market. It has a nice natural fragrance that doesn't assault you with the pungent green apple or bubble gum smells of the regular products. Pricey, but they don't bathe as much as I might like so no big deal.

We took a step backwards in the single serving disposable department. For one, I am not giving up my Swiffer till the kids go to college. Just isn't happening. Also, our dear friends gave us a Keurig coffee maker for Christmas. Ken was ecstatic. I was not so much when I learned that you have to buy these expensive little coffee shell things for it, at an average cost of 50 cents a pop. However. It makes a damn perfect cup every time. And no wasted pot if you just felt like a cup or two. And you can get fair trade brands. And if you peel out the cotton liner you can recycle the plastic mini cups. And I'm dumping the grounds in the compost. And did I mention it's a really nice cup of coffee? In fact, since getting it I almost never go for coffee shop coffee anymore, so that's keeping me off the road, right?

For the first time ever I charted out our energy usage going back to '06. Happily I found that most of our utilities have come nicely down over the years. First we gave up watering the lawn. We've also been bumping the thermostat a degree a year or so warmer in the summer and colder in the winter, which really has worked out. In a failed experiment we also bought an electric space heater. Worked great and saved us maybe $70 on our gas bill over three months, but bumped up our electric by maybe $170 for the same period. Grr. Ah well try again. We're doing all the stuff they say to: compact flourescents (we'll be switching to LED's hopefully) cold wash for the clothes, we don't let the water run. I'd like to hang the wash in the summer but my suburb homeowner association doesn't allow it. Maybe we can get that changed! At any rate, it all helps and it all shows up on your bill too. Also two months ago we got all Energy Star appliances for the kitchen, so it will be interesting to track how that impacts our electric bills.

We continued using our cloth napkins, and the same package of paper napkins I bought for Zack's birthday party last year is still in the island. Speaking of parties I am jazzed that green is so in because now when we have a cookout or whatever I don't feel bad about hauling out my coffee cannister full of never-used Wendy's knife-and-fork packs that I save from trips to fast food, and the what we refer to as "heirloom gift bags." I am also feeling a lot more confident this year in scaling back the kids' birthdays, something I've really been wanting to do for a while now, but have been reluctant to do. We aren't giving up the party, just the scale and also making it no gifts (except for grammas of course; that would be a little much I think.) We have tried to tell people to scale it down in the past but for some reason they don't get it. They have sometimes actually bought more stuff, which just won't do. No kid needs a pile of 20 gifts for every birthday.

Speaking of the kids, we have greatly reduced our consumption of fast food this year. We are now down to once every other week, give or take. The boys are right on board with me on the kids-meals: another plastic toy made in China that will end up in the landfill won't do at all. My kids are 3 and 5 and they totally get it. In fact, the few times I let them have kids meals they hated the toys they got. So now we have three basic conditions for fast food: one, that we only have it sparingly because we are not eating anything good for us, two, that we don't need a crappy toy, and three, that we only stop if we are already out on another errand. They are perfectly happy to share the drink that comes with the ten piece nugget meal. The reason I added this little thing in here was because we try to make our kids aware of the process of what creates trash and what happens to trash. Watching endless hours of Dirty Jobs helps. They really seem to understand the whole concept of reducing being the most important part of the chain. They know what can and can't be recycled, and they even will encourage us to buy the glass jar of peanut butter over the plastic one, because they know it's easier to recycle. Cool people, kids are. If you give them a chance they will wow you with their ability to learn and adapt. I also can't let this pass without saying, Nate learned to go potty! No more diapers, thank goodness, that was one of our two bags of trash every week!

We really went wild in the garden. This year we've planted (or will plant) peas, lettuce, carrots, beans, black eye peas, yellow squash, zuccini, corn, tomatoes, peppers, okra, cabbage, winter squash, melons, blueberries, various herbs, a pumpkin or two and green onions, a strawberry patch, and two each of blackberry and raspberry bushes. We are now looking at pear trees to add too. And we're getting a better composter to plop out in the middle of a butterfly garden. Craploads of work but totally worth it, considering I have the time. Hopefully we will get a lot of good local eats out of it, and if we're lucky we will recoop the cost of all the plants and seeds in a reduced food bill. My favorite garden book this year, at the advice of my friend Erin, was Square Foot Gardening. If you are interested in gardening but have limited space, check it out.

Finally we visited the government's carbon calculator widget. Very surprisingly we are doing ok. Well below the national averages for various things. But they give you a lot of ideas to improve your number.

Now we have a nice list of things to research and/or do in the upcoming year:

---Check out solar panels. Apparently the government gives you all kinds of tax credits, plus I love the idea of being "off the grid" and not having an electric bill. Kind of a daydream right now, but it could be very worthwhile in the long run.
---Check out window replacement. This is a little more affordable for us, and likewise you get a tax credit.
---Make a better effort at only buying clothing that is either thrifted or made from natural fibers, scrupulous companies and sustainably. I really drop the ball on this cause I have two little boys and there's this Old Navy, like right down the road...
---Start using the LED light bulbs in the house.
---Do a better job of combining trips in the car (did great when the gas was $4 a gallon)
---Have a clean sweep garage sale, after which we donate all the unsold stuff to the kidney foundation or Amvets.
---Really get back into the simple habits: shutting off the tap, turning off the lights, and heck maybe not even watching so much tv.
---Pay more attention this year to buying less heavily packaged stuff. We have a bag of trash a container of recycling most weeks but I think we can do better!

I like to post these conversations because I feel like the dialogue on the environment in the country is a little, well, crazy. The celebs tell us to take public transport and use one square of TP while they jet off in their private jets, which they of course "offset their carbon" because of the power of their message. Balls. I'd rather hear real stuff that real people do to do their part, not because Washington or some pop star said to, but because conserving our resources and protecting our ecosystem is just plain the right thing to do. We can't all run out and buy a hybrid, and honestly if you already have a good, efficient vehicle that you maintain well, I don't think you should until you are actually ready to do so. But we can all be aware of things like the continent of trash floating in the Pacific, leading to the fish bellies full of plastic, among other things, and maybe take a moment to ponder that before tossing that empty water bottle into the regular trash. We also don't need to erroneously politicize the environmental movement like we do everything else (and I aim that on both directions, if you get my meaning.) I believe if we take care of things in many small ways, on our own, we can accomplish a whole lot.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Odds and ends from the weekend

Easter craft; paper eggs on a canvas. I got the idea from several people on the Year of Color Flickr shared area.

Went for a hike this weekend, and saw stuff like this. This is the Big Darby Creek.

We estimate we hiked 3 miles, and the boys kept up every step of the way. They were treated to ice cream at the end.

Zack and I made this pizza from scratch.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Two cool things this Friday

First of all, I prepped these three canvases. Basically I needed cheap art for the tv room. I now want to figure out what images I want to put on them, or just hang them up as-is. They are collage pieces, where I used different papers, followed by layers of paints, textured paints, vintage sheet music and gold leaf. When they dry I'll hang them up and see if I like them. What I liked about this was little Nate joined me, and there are no wrong ways to paint here, so it was right up a 3 year old's alley.

On a whim, I took the boys to see the baby elephant at the Columbus Zoo! He is only a week old, and today was the first day for visitors, so I made the spontaneous decision to go as soon as Zack hopped off the bus. It was cold and rainy so we didn't have much of a wait. Tomorrow they are calling for sunshine, and the zoo already had up the barriers with signs reading "60 minute wait to see baby elephant from this point." We made a great call! He is adorable!