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Friday, May 27, 2011


A dear family member let me know I was spending too much time on the internet.

So there will be a short recess before regular posting resumes June 8th.

Enjoy spending time with the people you love!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Super Uterus

Super Uterus t-shirts and products available through Cafe Press.

100% of proceeds to Planned Parenthood!

Water Woes

Do you scrutinize your utility bills? You really should. It's lots of fun and educational.

I've been doing this for so long that it's hard for me to believe when people comment about not knowing how much their utility bills are per month. A coworker recently told me that she reimburses her roomate for half the water & electric bill, yet never has a chance to actually look at the bill herself. That doesn't seem fair!

Back when I was an ESL instructor, I used to bring in a copy of my family's water/electric bill for "Real Life Reading" practice while studying the topic of Homes. We practiced skimming and scanning through the columns to analyze how much for water, power, etc. was used, and how much it cost. I get a little thrill each month that I can see visible improvement in reducing our energy or water usage from the prior month or prior year. This is partly because I am very frugal, but also because I am environmentally oriented.

No matter how hard I try, I have never been able to decrease the water use of my family of 4 below 4 kilogallons per month. This is in the fall, winter, and early spring, when we use less. Some of the things that I have done to bring us down to this 4 KG level include:
  • not flushing the toilet each time someone pees
  • instituting a two-towel per week policy per person to cut down on crazy laundy levels
  • having the kids wash their own laundry (oddly, they don't wash as much this way)
  • rewearing clothes if not smelly or dirty
  • of course, not running water while brushing teeth or washing faces
  • trying to wash/rinse dishes with two tubs rather than running rinse water (we don't have a dishwasher)
  • limiting baths (only 2 of us enjoy them anyway)
  • turning off water while soaping, shampooing during showers
Four kilogallons may not sound like a lot. Our utility company told us that it is below the average water use of 11 kilogallons for a family of 4. So we're doing pretty well (except in the summer, when we water the garden and use can jump to almost 20 KG). But that means four thousand gallons of water. FOUR THOUSAND gallons per month! Can you imagine four thousand milk jugs laid side to side? That's a lot of water! Most of it spent for cleaning and washing and flushing, not for drinking or cooking.

Where we live, water is cheap (and for the moment, relatively plentiful). The frugal side of me is not eager to see prices rise, but the environmental side of me knows that this may be the only way to get the average local citizen to pay more attention to usage. We know this process from rising gas prices. Our utility company has a tiered system. Those who use less are rewarded with a lower rate. Here is the breakdown of our bill:

  • Cost for basic water service: $10.70 (no matter how much is used)
  • Cost for H2O per KG: $1.41 (dirt cheap, I tell you!)
  • Cost for wastewater basic service: $10.48 (irrespective of amount)
  • Cost for wastewater per KG of water use: $3.94
  • Cost for city stormwater service: $9.82
  • Total water bill: $52.38
  • Basically, for each extra KG we use, our bill rises $5.35, but we can never get below around $30 for the basic charges even if we were on vacation and using no water.
Our neighbors K. & S. have a rainwater collection system that purifies their water using UV light. Their drinking water is delicious. They have the first completely "off the grid" home in our area. This photo below is not really their house, just an example of a collection system.

Anyway, tonight we ran the new drip irrigation system Minou set up in the raised beds for a half an hour tonight, and checked the water meter before and after. In 30 minutes, we used 280 gallons of water. In just 30 minutes! In the heat of summer, this will need to be on nightly for the veggie garden and blueberries.

I'm discouraged.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dance Day

Last Sunday G2 had his end of year dance performance. His ballet school is fantastic. I can't say enough good things about it. It's run by a husband and wife team, has a very supportive, friendly, family atmosphere, and nurtures some of their many talented kids to the pre-professional level. They also have a large boys' program, run by the artistic director, offering free classes through a grant for boys aged 9-21. The older boys are great with the younger ones, and they have a blast.

The end of the year show was amazing. Having classes from the tiniest tots to older teens, it's a diverse experience, and they embrace that by alternating between performances of the upper and lower level classes. The little ones are so cute it makes your teeth ache, wandering across the stage and gamely jumping up and down in their tutus and tights, usually following a slightly older leader (Minou can't watch because there are always a few who forget what they are doing and sit down--he hates that). The older dancers in the upper classes are absolutely spectacular. This year they incorporated some ballroom and salsa dancing as well.

Minou's artistic pre-show photography

G2 was in two dances. One was a classical ballet piece with only three male dancers, so they were showcased. They are starting to lift the girls (and are supposed to do lots of push-ups at home!). He was so poised and elegant. The second piece was my favorite. It had all the boys in the boys' class, a wide range of ages and abilities, and had to accomodate all those dancers. It was a humorous, athletic, jazzy piece set to "Don't worry, be happy." The kids did breakdancing, made human pyramids, and swooped around the stage on skateboards, scooters, and unicycles as part of the choreography. G2 is a ham, so he was great in that performance. I wish I could post them both here.

I'm so proud of him, and happy that he loves to dance.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Masked Man

Who is this masked man?

Ruth's Raspberries

Our good friend and neighbor Auntie R. has created a magical forest of a yard and garden.

Recently, she showed me where her raspberries had escaped their little garden space and were spreading.

She told me to dig up and take as many as I wanted that were outside the bounds of the fenced garden.
I took her at her word!

I've been wanting a raspberry bed--they are my favorite summer berry.
But again, it wasn't in the budget right now. It was on my list of things to save for, and I'd been planning to get bare root canes next early spring. I had thought that they needed full sun, and was planning a spot to dig up a new bed next to the fence separating our yard from our front neighbors'. However, these plants seemed to be doing really well in their shady woodland with just a few hours of direct sunlight per day. And the Territorial seed catalog didn't say they needed full sun--just rich, well-drained soil. So this morning I went shovel in hand and dug up quite a few escapee canes. I put them in our shadiest raised beds, where nothing we've planted has done too well so far (except finally the wisteria). They do get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day, mostly morning sun. I substantially amended the soil in those beds with all that great compost last weekend, so hopefully they will be happy there. And I'm so happy to have this beautiful new raspberry patch, complete with history (they came from R.'s old house & garden). And for free!

Hooray for sharing! Thank you, Auntie R.

Monday, May 23, 2011



I enjoy unexpected visits from friends, something that's not extremely common here. Of course, not every moment is the best time for a visit. But as long as "I'm in the middle of something right now" is a comfortable statement, the element of surprise is great. Our good friend K. who lives in the neighborhood will often stop by for a cup of coffee, which I love, or to round up a play date for her son C. with G2. I also love it that C. sometimes comes by on his own asking "Do you want to play today?" K. attributes this habit to her years spent living in Latin America, where visiting without arranging first is a much more frequent practice.

I also love it when friends from out of town come stay with us. Even better when they feel comfortable enough to call on the spur of the moment on their way through the state, and we get to visit with them and have the pleasure of their company. Those are "family" friends.


We are fortunate today to have our lovely friend Ro visiting on her way up north, along with her sleek senior greyhound Indy. She and Minou were in graduate school together, suffered through their thesis projects around the same time, and she was G1's favorite local "auntie" when he was a newborn. She has a fascinating new job preserving cultural and historic resources--not only homes but towns and industrial structures too. Can't say too much more in case her position is top secret, but let's just say that we are thrilled to have her here, and hope that we can have lots more visits back and forth now that she lives in our region.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

House Dreams

I often dream of houses--always have. Sometimes I wake up from a dream of living in a different house, or different space, with a feeling of calm; sometimes with a feeling of intense longing. I remember reading somewhere years ago that a house represents the self in a dream. For me, I think it has something to do with the possibility of different lives (that Gemini nature!).

I love our little house, which was designed and built for our family in the spirit of the most intense practicality--with a little bit of fancy thrown in. We have big, beautiful windows that let in a lot of light and views of trees. It is very energy efficient and airtight. We have an on-demand hot water heater, and radiant floor heat, though cooking in the kitchen pretty much heats the downstairs in the winter. And 950 square feet is plenty of room for a family of 4 who likes to hang out together, though I sometimes wish it was configured a little differently (one more bedroom, please!). It was also designed to be inexpensive to build, by then-designer, now-architect Minou--carefully measured so that there was no waste of time or materials. Our mortgage is on par with renting a student apartment in our area.  Plus, I think I've mentioned how wonderful our neighborhood is, filled with family, good friends, and nice people.

All this to say, moving is not something we ever seriously think about (unless Minou is missing his homeland). However.

I have a thing for houses. Mostly sleek modern condos, old Craftsman bungalows,  historic foursquares, or those that convey cozy family life. There is a house I have been eyeing for years in our neighborhood, right across the street from the local park, that attracted me because it was an older bungalow with a big front porch and yard overgrown in a mysterious and charming way. A bamboo forest visible in the fenced back yard. Big windows. High ceilinged rooms with dark wood trim visible. Well, a few days ago I spotted a "Coming soon for sale" sign in front of it. Since it looked uninhabited, I prowled around, peering in the windows and admiring the terra cotta walls and sunny little mudroom. Imagining the  backyard garage turned into an architecture studio for Minou. I wanted that house. But somehow, I also wanted to rewind the clock and redo my children's preschool days in that house. I could imagine saying "Yes, you can go play at the park together 'til dinnertime--I'll watch you from the front window".

This obsession went so far that I took G2 by to look in the windows on the way home too, and even called the real estate agency to find out how much it was being sold for. Apparently, someone made a very good offer before it was even officially listed, so it's not going to go on the market. Which is just as well, because we could never have afforded to buy it. But maybe it's time for me to paint, or rearrange again, or something to make this, our own (sweet) living space different somehow. As much as I crave domesticity and putting down roots, I also am realizing that I enjoy some kinds of change. I'd like to spend a year living in a minimalist loft in a city, then a year in a rural farmhouse. Just to experience it.

What would your ideal living situation--or house--be like?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Grey Garden

garden gnome a la Amelie

We are back to the gloomy grey today.

Could it be because the end of the world is scheduled for today?
(Just kidding. Who comes up with these predictions anyway, and how do they arrive at them? Please enlighten me).

finally blooming wisteria

I'm not sure if this grey weather is the reason I feel so frustratingly tired and draggy today--despite TWO cups of good coffee and a lovely couch nap--or if possibly it has something to do with the fact that G2 has another paper to write. This time it's on Picasso, at least--a subject I feel slightly more knowledgeable about than black holes. I wish I were a more patient person, and that my repeated entreaties to stick to the "Task at hand, task at hand" didn't sound quite so tightly wound. However, I'm trying my best. I think there's progress since the last paper. No yelling. And I will keep trying to improve. For the moment, G2 is off at his stage rehearsal for the big end of the year ballet show--every performance by his school has been spectacular, so I'm really looking forward to it tomorrow. G1 is off working for his Grammy to pay off debt for his fancy new laptop computer. We decided that a) it would make his long summer without usual activities more tolerable and b) it was a teachable personal finance moment. Do you think it's unfair to charge a 14 year old interest?

raised bed with drip irrigation

Anyhow, the beautiful beds we prepared last week have been waiting for planting all week. I laid out all the seeds I had squirreled away today, and am excited. There are still more I need to purchase for the winter garden: sugar hubbard squash, collard greens, mizuna mustard, and beets. I also am drooling over the "Neon" (red) calendula from Territorial seed. Calendula are beautiful, edible, and tend to reseed and come back year after year in our area. However, reason prevailed before I hit the "Proceed to checkout" button. Not in our budget for May. I prefer to wait and set the $ aside for the next 2 months ($10/month for garden projects) rather than incur credit card charges. It's that ongoing struggle between needs and wants, and immediate wants (neon calendula!)  vs. long-term wants (6 month emergency fund!).
Put down that credit card & step away from the computer....

Also, as G1 reminded me, I already have lots of seeds I haven't planted yet.

seeds, beautiful seeds

Here are the seedlings G2 and I started several months back. There are 3 types of tomato starts: early cherry, white current cherry, and principe borghese, a drying tomato. A few didn't make it--they got too leggy and weren't up-potted soon enough. The catnip and licorice starts, very delicate, also didn't make it. But the basil looks beautiful! Lots and lots of sweet basil for salads and pesto. I like to freeze the pesto first in ice cube trays and then in ziplock bags, so we can take out a cube or two for evening pasta.

tomato starts

basil starts

Minou is trying to finish siding the chicken coop, the way we often do things:
many months after we start.

slow and steady gets the job done

I went looking for a trowel, and there was not a single one to be found (this in a family with at least 6 rakes and 3 shovels). Why not? They get left outside and forgotten, rusted and overgrown.
I finally found one. Next door. Can you read what's written on it? "Grammy. Please return." Hmmm.....
I borrowed it. I will return it. I promise.

Grammy Please Return

Although the sky is grey, there is glorious color in the garden.
I love the magenta of these peonies next to the orange of the California poppies.

peonies and poppies

Here is Minou's face as he says
"Are you ever going to get off that computer and actually plant the seeds?!"

enough blogging already....

Enjoy your Saturday!

Thursday, May 19, 2011


The sun has finally arrived in our corner of the world! It's amazing the difference that it makes. The world seems to open up, expand. People's moods (and my mood!) lift. There is a general feeling of lightness, happiness, playfulness. It's about time!

 I've noticed how many more people are out and about on a warm spring evening. Cycling home, or driving last night, I see groups suddenly appear on streetcorners. In front of restaurants and coffee shops, all around the university, even gathering in front of churches. People just want to be outside in the golden light and sweet smelling air. I love it.

Do we need the contrast of the long, grey, dark, dreary, rainy winter to enjoy it? I was talking about that with G2 as I drove him home from ballet rehearsal last night. I don't know if golden spring evenings with their hint of rosy sky in the west would be quite as glorious if we hadn't just suffered through weeks of grey. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I'm a child of the rain. Growing up, I didn't mind it at all, and going out in it remains a normal necessity. I love the greenness that surrounds us here as a result of all that rain. But I find as I get older, the heavy grey sky has become more and more oppressive. It really does dampen my spirits. I find myself daydreaming about living somewhere with sharp, bright sunlight through most of the year.

Anyway, daydreaming about sunlight is not necessary today--its here! I do need to go to work, and unfortunately both my regular work settings do not have much access to natural light on the interior of the building. So I'm heading out now for a morning walk with Sawyer to soak it in at a leisurely pace before a cup of strong coffee and my quick bike commute. Simple morning pleasures.

I hope that there's sun in your corner of the world today too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wormy Fun

Some friends visited us this evening, and their little guy had a great time helping me collect red worms in the compost bin and feeding them to the chickens. While I used glove protection, he was not squeamish about catching the worms bare-handed. He also had a great time chasing and petting the chickens (after G2 caught them)! And it warmed my heart to see my not-so-little little guy being so sweet and patient with a younger one.

We call G2 the Chicken Whisperer. He has a way with those birds.
Not to mention with younger kids!


Our cat James is the most relaxed cat ever. If you're having a bad day, a dose of James is just the ticket. Look at the level of looseness:

We also call him James-of-the Lucky-Tummy. This title came from a game of Yahtzee, late one Saturday night, in which one rub of James' ample belly ensured that you would roll the dice the way you wanted to. Full house! Too bad we can't take him to Vegas.

James is unique in that at a young age, he didn't meow as much as bark. He arrived as a Christmas eve gift for G2 (with sister Mowsie/Mimounette for G1) in 2004. As a tiny kitten, he would position himself in the stairwell for maximum sound amplification. He seriously sounded like a small yappy DOG. And he's huge. We have limited his food lately, bringing him down to a svelte 16 lbs, but for a while he was up to 19 lbs. He would obliviously squash his sister Mowsie when they snuggled. He was a truly fat cat!

 James snuggling with Sister as his slimmer self

James has also had several near-brushes with death. We figure that he has used up at least three of the proverbial nine cat-lives already. At one point he had a virus that caused paralysis of his lower extremities. The vet recommended that we put him to sleep, but we just couldn't do it. He didn't appear to be in pain, so we decided to nurture him as long as we could. He recovered completely. Then last fall, he began a territory war with a neighbor's cat (thankfully, that neighbor has since moved). We had his abscessed wound operated on once, at great expense, but let him know that if he kept fighting, that was it. If I have to choose between children's medical bills and pets' medical bills, I'm sorry, but the choice is simple. While recovering, he wore this adorable newborn shirt also worn by G1 & G2 in the past, which didn't seem to bother him one bit:

He must not have understood my words of warning, because he had another fight and developed another horrific abscess. We could see down to the muscle fascia after it drained. We kept it as clean as possible, and again, he recovered completely. I hope he's with us for a long time.  Long Live the James!


Where would you go if you could travel to anywhere you wanted?

From early childhood, I've been fascinated with reading and learning about different cultures. As a child, I used to pore over coffee table books about other countries and regions, and loved meeting and hosting international students, something my mom did regularly as a "Friendship Family". I always imagined that as an adult, I would travel a lot or live in another country. I am often surprised that I ended up spending most of my adult life living in the small city I grew up in (despite its many attractions).

However, although I haven't travelled as much as I dreamed of as a child, working as an ESL instructor was  a little like travelling without leaving home. I was also lucky to study for 6 months in Beijing during my undergraduate years and travel quite a bit in China at that time. Talk about culture shock!

Minou is from France (Southern France--it's different, he would add) and we were  fortunate to spend almost a year living there together with G1 when I was pregnant with G2. I have some difficult, mostly fantastic memories of that year, and some great stories. (Like the one with our obstetrician sipping espresso in her red minidress 10 minutes after catching G2...) I'm happy that my boys have had some travel experiences they can remember as they went to visit Mamie, M1 & M2 the last few years. Just to know that somewhere else, people are living differently from the way you know and do yourself, and at the very same time, is an important lesson.

I've been saying for a few years that when I turn 40, I'd like to take a trip to a country I've never been to before. I'm not sure if it will really work this year, both for financial and practical reasons (I miss that academic vacation schedule, and am now the primary breadwinner), but I have started a savings account labelled "Travel" and try to put a little money in it each month. Someday it will be big enough for a plane ticket!

So...where to go? It's fun to daydream about it. I went to the travel section at the library the other day and randomly pulled travel guides that called to me off the shelves.

Where would you go if you could take a trip and money were not an issue? Another country? A region nearby? How about with real-life budget constraints?

Sunday, May 15, 2011


We sold our first eggs this weekend! The first sale was to some good friends passing through town who wanted to share them as gifts as they worked their way home. I also made a flyer and put it up at work, and made my first delivery there. The Ladies are producing 8 eggs a day on average, more than we can eat, although I try my best. If we can break even with their food and hay, I'll be satisfied. It makes me happy to share their beautiful bounty.

Compost, my eye

What a great gardening weekend! Yesterday I weeded all the raised garden beds then today used about half of this:

to mix in and improve the soil. Next, Minou spent most of today setting up a drip irrigation system.

Meanwhile, G1 hung out and helped, then made oatmeal cookies to boost morale and productivity. G2 spent most of today with his good friend C. They played in the treehouse and chased the chickens.

Poor Chiquita is indignant about being chased

I think I'll wait to plant for a few days because I am tired. However, a word of warning to all you gardeners: Be extra careful not to touch your face! I woke up this morning with a very red, sore eye and now have some antibiotic drops for a case of bacterial conjunctivitis. Ouch!

I'm not sure how it happened, but I must have rubbed my eye with composty gloves or fingers. This was my second trip to Urgent Care for a gardening-related injury (the first required stitches). Who would have thought that it was such a hazardous hobby?

Finally, I leave you with some pictures of the beauty that is the yard in spring:



wild mustard

fill dirt with weeds next to compost

Weeds have their own beauty!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ireland 2007

Since my last post about traveling daydreaming was accidentally deleted, here are some pictures of a traveling dream come true: a trip to Ireland with my mom in the spring of 2007. Let me add that I had not travelled in many a year; I had never been away from my boys for longer than a night before this; and I was (ridiculously) terrified to fly around the world without them and be away for almost 2 weeks. This trip came just after or before the new law requiring American passports to visit Canada or Mexico. I needed to renew my passport, and service was a little backed up. The passport arrived by Fed Ex at 1 pm the day before I left; my mom was already in Dublin. Whew!

I loved Dublin, the historic sites we saw, the fish and chips we ate and the Guinness I drank, but my favorite part of the trip was the time with Carol and John on the Dingle Peninsula. They picked us up in Cork, and we spent three days with them overlooking the ocean. One day we took a small motorboat out to visit the largest of the Blasket Islands. They are at the westernmost point in Europe, no longer inhabited, and imagining the isolation that the residents must have felt during winter storms was awe-inspiring. I forget when the last residents moved to the mainland (maybe the 1940s?) but it was after the death of a youth on a night the doctor was not able to make the crossing.

We also had an amazing stay with an extremely talented, generous, mystic storyteller, Anne Farrell. She had never met us yet invited us into her home, swapped stories with my mother and other Irish storytelling friends, and introduced us to some of the nature spirits of Ireland--the hawthorne trees living in her garden. If you are ever searching for a Celtic storyteller, allow me to strongly recommend her.

This trip reawakened my passion for traveling and the awareness that all over the world, other lives are going on, cities bustling, other ways of being exist....I know it sounds obvious, but it shocks me every trip, and makes me muse about the choices many of us have. It also was the first time I had been away just as "me" since having children. I desperately missed my boys, but had a wonderful time. I met so many kind strangers... from the Lebanese Muslim I sat next to on the airplane, who asked me to tell him the time so he would  know when to pray, to the taxi driver who told me that "All the Irish have a story to tell," to the Czech couple in in our Dublin B & B...everywhere. If you come across a lost-looking stranger, remember how much conversation and kindness is appreciated!