Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Our family's must-see TV

Apparently our family TV viewing has become this: we gather around the glowing screen to watch the anime sci-fi series "Oban Star-Racers" and "Avatar: The Last Air-Bender", as well as watch-'em-do-stuff shows "Survivorman" and "Dirty Jobs", and a long-time favorite, "Good Eats", the cooking show for analytical folks. This week we added the new Discovery Channel limited series, "Planet Earth". We really, really, really like these shows! Sadly the animated series "Dragon Booster" was pulled mid-run; we all enjoyed that a whole bunch, too. On the up side, apparently the Science Channel is planning some very cool stuff for a "space week" in May. Yay!

As far as what the boys choose to watch in the afternoon, they seem to have moved on from a months-long fascination with "Tom and Jerry" and "The Pink Panther" (love the music), occasional viewings of "The Jetsons", and, more recently, the annoying "Duck Dodgers". Now they choose our family-favorite shows or the Drake and Josh show, which is reasonably funny and/or not too annoying. As a result, I've set up the DVR to record "Kim Possible" from time to time.

This is why I LOVE satellite TV with DVR, which allowed me to hide the Cartoon Network, the many Disney Channels, and various others with annoying or simply awful shows aimed at kids. The boys no longer watch live TV unless we're watching sports, weather, or news. Instead, we watch recorded cool stuff I find on Discovery Channel, Science Channel, and History International. I am pleased as punch about that.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Let's garden!

My arms and lower legs ache, I'm tired, and my comfy bed is calling me Right Now -- but I just gotta say: we have achieved launch with my yard/garden projects!

After a lovely, relaxed spring break from homeschooling, this weekend we hefted the garden tools and literally dug into the boring, sort of pathetic dit-dot-dit row of plants in our front entryway garden bed. The leaves dropped by our oak tree in January have been raked out of the bed. The five sad little bushes have been trimmed to little stubs and dug out of their abodes. Dear husband even removed all of the annoying landscape lights, and we found a wayward Superball deep in one of the little bushes.

Have I mentioned how incredibly great it is that Son1 and Son2 are old enough to participate in household projects in ways that HELP? If it were only dear husband and me doing this, there would still be big piles of leaves in our garden beds and hunks of bushes all over the walkway... OR, we two grownups would be rather more grumpy and ready for bed right now. Thanks, boys.

Next task: dig up and move two liriope to join the other two in the bed below the bay-like front window. Then fill the row of five holes and prep that bed. Place two concrete pavers to support the legs of a rustic wooden bench, and put the bench in place. This is my to-do list for tomorrow afternoon.

While messing around out there this week, I want to (as planned a couple of years ago) change the front garden bed shapes. I'm going to un-curve the line of concrete edgers to make room for a little sitting area in the 'L' of the garden beds -- wahoo! -- a little planting space in front of the happy, healthy boxwoods, and general making-more-sense-ness throughout.

I have plans for the narrow space behind the variegated liriope, and the even narrower space in front. These plans require plant acquisitions (hint: deep green verticality behind, low colorful flowerishness in front). I need a groundcover under the bench, partly to help keep the soil off the walkway. I think I'm going to move the burgundy daylilies from their too-sunny spot around the corner, and install them in front of the lovely, green, happy boxwoods. Maybe I'll plant something wild and crazy in their old place to climb up into the I-forget-what shrub that wants to be 12 feet tall. I'm thinking... zucchini! Or maybe pole beans. It'll complement the big pot of tomatoes I've planned for a bare space in the garden bed at the outer end of the entryway; this year I intend for plans to become reality at last. Enough with the thinking already!

Shall we go plant and seed shopping tomorrow before dinner, or perhaps after lunch on Tuesday?!?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

How then shall we live? Baby steps add up

We made some big changes last year: local, seasonal food; warm house in summer/cool in winter; hang most clothes to dry... It seems that many small and large decisions made over the years have begun to really add up.

Before last year...

Major: One-car family. Every move in the last 15 years but one, chose to live within 2 miles of where my husband works, and within 5 miles of grocery shopping, library etc. Very restricted spending, and focus on getting out of debt.
Secondary: Light- or no-meat meals. Recycling. Some compact fluorescent lights. No chemical use on the yard, and little in the house. Cloths rather than paper towels, paper napkins, diapers, "feminine needs." Increasing reliance on pass-along and thrift store clothing, supplemented as needed.

Last year...

- Began buying much more food locally (fyi, this improves our food's environmental impact much more than buying organic, pastured, grass-fed, etc., though we do that now too, for animal products).
- Battled last winter's high natural-gas bills by dramatically lowering the thermostat and wearing lots of layers. The light dawned: we can and ought to adapt more to the climate we live in. In summer we did the reverse -- kept the thermostat high enough that we broke a sweat doing chores, and dressed lightly.
- Learned to hang all of our laundry to dry, even without a clothesline (I use lots of plastic hangers and hang laundry in our sunroom, in doorways, and along the shower rod).
- In summer, cooked very little indoors, and especially avoided oven use (to keep our cooling costs down).
- Switched to a laptop as my primary computer (which I use intermittently most of the time I'm awake).
Secondary: switched every possible light to compact fluorescent. Moved to eating foods that are in season (not strawberries in December). Knitted cotton dishcloths rather than sponges.

This year...

I don't know what we'll actually get done, but I want to do some vegetable gardening. Install shades for our sunroom windows. Declutter and dejunk dramatically. I would love, love, love to put in a shading arbor over our southwest-exposure patio and the nearby window. Put in a ceiling fan in the living room. Try a solar cooker. In the fall, plant fruit trees, recaulk windows, and put up insulating curtains.

Some of this is about sustainability, and some about living simply, or learning to rely on our local resources, or living lightly in the world. My dream list of projects basically matches this list (for a house in the same bio- and climate region).

Friday, March 16, 2007


Over the last seven days spring sprung! A week ago there was a faint haze of spring green in some trees, daffodils were blooming in pockets of sunny warmth, and the days and nights were quite warm.

A few days later, the Bradford pear tree buds were opening to create a slight haze of white; the greening of other trees was more noticeable; and I discovered my daylilies had thrust the tips of leaves out of the soil. Then I noticed new rosettes of coreopsis and quite a lot of new growth of the Mexican hat and Indian paintbrush. Around town there were hints of color as well: yellow scattered across forsythia, deep reddish pink speckling quince, and broad patches of purple blooms across untended grassy expanses that themselves were greening up rapidly. At church we noticed a pussy willow just bursting with dove-gray catkins, and new leaves on the rose bushes. At dear husband's building, big strong leaves of what can only be tulips were well out of the soil. The daytime temperatures swung back and forth, in and out of balmy early-spring days, and we got a few days of a lot of rain; I suspect that was the final required ingredient for a big burst of change. All this time the birds had become a familiar sight again, as they sought nesting places and bustled about with their springtime tasks.

About three days ago the pear trees all along our street had reached full bloom, and even showed a bit of green as the leaves began to grow. It slowly sunk in that spring had sprung! Blazes of spring color all around town! Forsythia bursting with yellow, quince full of that deep red pink, redbud branches and twigs fuzzy with tiny red flowers, big soft-pink cup flowers held on all the leafless branches of Japanese magnolias, and, at last, our river birches sporting a bit of green in the upper reaches. Those tulips? Yesterday we noticed big green buds amid the leaves, full of promise. There is a particular flowering tree I must drive by this week; I don't want to miss its stunning, unusual spring color. I've never seen another flowering tree color like it, a sort of quince-like deep red-pink.

Here's another bit of spring: the boys have returned to playing outside often and for long periods of time most days. In fact, they're at the park behind our house right now. Our part of the world is responding to warmth and rain and sun -- not that we couldn't have an Oklahoma late-spring ice storm or snow, but another hallmark of spring is changeable weather. Spring has indeed sprung, hurrah, hurrah!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The man in black

My boys LOVE "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash! They heard it about two weeks ago when we were hanging out with my MOMS Club friends at the new, stand-alone Starbucks in town. Of course Starbucks doesn't have enough seats for a group, so we found some seats for the kids and stood around talking, drinking our snazzy coffee drinks. I didn't even notice the music -- too busy gabbing, I'm sure -- but afterward Son2 was singing, "it burns, burns, burns" and told me he'd heard it at Starbucks. I don't know much Johnny Cash, but who else could it be but the man in black??

Son2 is a whistling fiend nowadays. Last week he taught himself to whistle while breathing in as well as the more typical whistling while blowing out. This means that he can whistle at tempo every note in whatever Harry Potter soundtrack piece is in his mind at the moment, without a pause to breathe -- at least for a little while. It's kind of amazing when you realize what he's doing.

All this to say, I've heard Son2 whistle a fragment of this Johnny Cash song nearly as much this week as Harry Potter music... but the boys don't know the song very well, having only heard it once.

All that changed about five minutes ago when they heard "Ring of Fire (single version)" from Johnny Cash's Legend: The Ultimate Box Set (played from my laptop's iTunes wirelessly to the stereo, thanks to dear husband's setup). What happened was that last night after the kids were in bed I was looking for music to play from my dear husband's shared iTunes list. I realized dear husband had this song and in fact the whole box set, and I begged to have it on my laptop's iTunes so I could play it for the kids (yeah, for the kids, that's right, not for me...). Fast forward to tonight. The boys are busy watching the lava lamp in the darkened dining room (physics, fluid motion, all that science stuff in one ever-changing blue and green object...). Suddenly they sit up straight, look at each other, say, "it's that song!" and start singing along. I let the song repeat a few times and by the third time they were singing along with most of the song.

So... I let iTunes continue on to play more of the box set. Too fun.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Knitting bits

Waiting for last night's Cub Scout pack meeting to begin, I knit a few rows on my long-neglected lacy socks for me, and it felt great! Son1 received a bunch of badges he'd earned, as well as his Webelos rank badge, hurrah!! He was so proud, and so were we, dear husband and I. No time for knitting in the hubbub of the meeting, of course.

The spring issue of the online magazine Knitty is up. I wish I were knitting fast enough to commit to one of the baby or little girl designs; they are incredibly charming. I like one of the short-sleeved tops a lot, but I think it, too, is beyond my knitting speed at this point.

Socks, now, I can kick it up a notch and finish some of these socks I have on the needles. The process is great, but sometimes you just want to finish something!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Local good things

Yesterday the boys and I went to the dedication of the latest historical plaza on our downtown walking trail beside the railroad tracks. It was interesting and very worthwhile. But you'll see that a lot of this post is about very good coffee...

At the dedication, the boys were patient enough during the remarks by various dignitaries, even though I wouldn't let them go for the cookies (yet). They loved the flyover by the vintage Grauman biplane marked "U.S. Navy" on the underside of the wings. They really enjoyed the unveiling of the five-foot, painted bronze replica of the Grauman, complete with many wonderful details, made by a local artist in our local bronze sculpture facility. I became the master of whispered commentary.

This plaza is about our town during World War II and we had two U.S. Navy bases at that time, so there were many military folks in attendance. In addition to the color guard, which I guess is from the ROTC at local Big State University, there were many active Navy officers (my guess: from the not-to-distant air base), Navy ROTC cadets from Big State University in our town, and lots of older veterans wearing very interesting caps (with lots of pins) and jackets, as well as city officials and "regular folks" like us. Everyone gathered around the airplane and enjoyed it and the rest of the plaza for a bit.

The boys and I had fun, and cookies, and even little sandwiches!

Then we walked and shopped downtown, admittedly an extremely rare occurrence for us. Two blocks alongside the tracks to Main Street, and then we ambled past the restored old movie theater, a furniture store, a recording studio and records/CDs store, a shoe store, and I forget what else. We stopped at my first goal, a "fine chocolates and coffees" shop. Son1 decided on a handmade dark chocolate egg filled with chocolate mousse; Son2 decided on a handmade pink lemonade lollipop with a sugar bunny; I decided on a latte and a half-pound each of whole-bean store blend coffee and "Seattle blend" -- nice and dark, yum! They were out of decaf, sigh.

My plan was to buy this month's coffee from local sources, rather than Starbucks (old reliable, with a lovely habit of a seriously dark roast). Since this store blend I bought is named for the store, I think this might be locally roasted, yay. Smelled great.

But wait, there's more! On our way back, we stopped at my second goal, a new, very gourmet, boutique food shop. I oohed and ahhed at the various fancy foods, but what caught my eye was the creamline yogurt I can buy monthly through our state food co-op, but not the cream that I really like to buy from the same farm. The next item of interest was the many containers of unusual and familiar bulk pastas (completely irresistible to the boys, so they ended up on the seats at the front sidewalk, visible through the huge windows). Next, I was wowed by the large display case of specialty, high-end, handmade cheeses. I was offered a taste, but... I don't eat cheese! (I'll send my husband to this cheese lovers' heaven.)

To my surprise, I realized they sold coffee -- both espresso drinks and bulk coffee beans. Aha! An inquiry, and I had a half-pound of decaf in my hand. The source is in California, oh well. On my way to pay in front, I spied a little container of hulled barley. I'd heard they sold specialty grains and grain products; that'll do!

So. It was a wonderful afternoon. We fought a fierce wind the entire time under vivid blue, startlingly sunny skies, so I was amazingly tired when we got to the car, but it was great. And I have a local source for delicious, dark coffee (store No. 1). Those three paper bags with the fold-down tops settled in on the kitchen counter and proceeded to fill my kitchen and dining room with such an intoxicating scent in the late afternoon that I simply had to make a few cups of decaf to savor.