Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Pumpkin

So here is my pumpkin this year. Amazingly, it actually looks even better in real life! I was so excited it actually turned out fairly well, I haven't taken photos of any of the other pumpkins we have carved so far (and they are all really cool!). I'll snap a shot soon. Below is the "in the light" obligatory photo. There were two major mishaps, but hopefully you can't really notice them. I'm gonna try and fix them before tomorrow night. I also might add "vote" or "vote hope," mainly to add some ventilation:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Good Deeds and Little Warrior

You may recall and

Little Warrior is almost done with her last scheduled treatment. She keeps saying "On Halloween, cancer will be over." Please pray with me that it will be, and send her and her whole family all the loving energy you can muster. And please, if you can do something good for Love Through Action, do that too.

Friday, October 24, 2008


It's pumpkin carving time. G. and I have a general (not every year, but every year we can manage it) tradition of carving elaborate pumpkins. It's probably the most artistic endeavor in my life all year. I have made some pretty cool pumpkins, but every year I get nervous I will have to go back to basic jack-o-laterns because I am not sure of my abilities. We'll see what I can pull off this year!

Anyway, a buddy online posted a link to a political slant on pumpkins this year. Some of these are very elaborate, and I thought I'd post just for fun:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hi "Mindy"!

So I have this really good friend, who I love dearly. She lives back in my old state. I miss her dearly. Anyway, she keeps trying to call me on her way in to work every morning, and keeps missing me by a hair. I can't find her cell phone number, and I know her best time to chat is on her way to and from work.

This time when she called she said she was going to check my blog to see what is up in my life recently. So this is my shout out to her.

What's been going on in my life lately?


The kids are both doing well. M is doing a one day per week Montessori program at a center for otherwise homeschooled children, and we are doing Montessori-based homeschooling the rest of the time. He is absolutely thriving! It is wonderful. I'm thinking of pulling him out of all his public-school based therapies. They are poor quality (private would be so much better) and really not the direction we are wanting to head. So many things he does in the public schools undermines the great stuff happening in Montessori for him. In any case, he is talking up a storm and wants to know about everything right now. His favorite subjects at the moment are (1) what exists "behind the walls" and (2) what exists "underneath the floor." He wants to know about wires and electricity, and pipes and plumbing. He also asks the question, "What is in that?" about everything until we get down to talking about "invisible" science, like atoms. He is such a curious, thougtful boy. I really need to brush up on my science.

K. can't wait to turn three and start going to the Montessori center too. She is super interested in letters. She loves for me to write words on her magnadoodle, and then she takes letters from her alphabet puzzle and moves them on top of my letters until she's spelled out the word. The first thing she asks for me to do every morning and the last thing she asks for me to do every night is to read to her. She is all about books, books, books all day long, though make no mistake about it...she is also on the go! Even when we read, she is twisting and turning and squirming. Even more than the average two year old, she is not one to sit still. She is a mover and a shaker! I'm thinking she might want to take dance. Actually, both kids would probably enjoy gymnastics or dance classes. K's favorite song is a "babywipe" song M made up. It's too hilarious, and she sings it nonstop. It's only words are "babywipe, babywipe," but it is sung with such a tender, sweet voice that even the word "babywipe" is no endearing.

We're getting closer to K's adoption. Not there yet, but things are looking pretty good. We really wanted to fly back for it. We owe M's birthfamily a visit so we're going to have to fork over the money at some point...but right now we just don't have it. I would have liked to visit you, and G's brother and his family while we were at it. Looks like we'll be doing the proceedings by phone and notary/certified mail though.

I had my 72 hour EEG but don't have the results yet. I think I am supposed to go see the epileptologist some time this month, but I forget when. G is looking for part-time work. She definitely doesn't want to teach preK again until the kids are older. She is looking for work that she can keep at work, rather than take home, and something she can do without a lot of thought. Something like bartending. I think that kind of adult time will be good for G too. My work is going okay. Not shortage of challenges to keep me hopping and of course everyone is worried about budgets for the upcoming year, especially since we (1) we have already used all of our heating oil money for the budget year through January and we just had to turn on the heat at the start of October, and (2) we are about to begin a capital campaign, just now as the economy hits the fan. But so much of my world is filled with graces and blessings, and dare I say that God is present. The work is good. So good.

I hope we'll talk soon. I can't wait to hear how you and A. and B. are doing.

Your Friend S.

P.S. Both kids have decided to be firefighters for Halloween!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Funny Scam?

About 9:30 this evening, I pull into the parking lot of a supermarket. The parking lot is not terribly bright, but fairly full, as it serves not only the supermarket, but also a craft store, a party supply store, and a couple of restaurants. I need to pick up a single item for church and head back to work, but I'm in the middle of listening to an interesting NPR segment on investing, so I sit in the car for a few minutes.

I notice a young lady, perhaps in her twenties, messing around with something in the trunk of her car, which is parked not far from mine. It doesn't look like she is loading groceries, or anything, but I don't make much of a note of that in my mind at the time. A few minutes later, a man, perhaps in his thirties comes and speaks with her, and then he comes over and signals me to roll down my window. I think perhaps their car had a dead battery, and I roll down my window sympathetically (having had a dead battery in my own car recently, ahem).

The man says, "Excuse me? Do you by any chance listen to hip hop?"

I tell him I do "on occassion," not really knowing where he might be trying to take this conversation. The fact is, I really enjoy music (of many types), and do in fact listen to hip hop, but can't listen to any music frequently because it bothers my sensory issues. When I do listen to music, these days it is mostly on my sattelite radio, and rarely a single artist I've selected in particular to listen to. If you ask me to name a favorite recording artist of any genre, I wouldn't be able to name any names because of my memory problems in combination with the fact that I just don't select a whole lot of music to listen to right now.

So the man then introduces himself by a name, and I swear that name is Chewbacca. (It wasn't until I got back to the church that I realized why the name sounded so familiar. Yep, Star Wars.) He also points to the young woman he was just talking to and says she is his girlfriend. Anyway, he says he is a rapper and that he has a CD he wants me to listen to and tell him "what I think."

Um, okay. I figure he wants to sell me something, but I am willing to give him a couple minutes of my time for him to make his case.

So then he proceeds to pull out a CD with absolutely no label on it. More on that in a second.

I turn it on and listen, and we chat for a few minutes. He swears that he is well known, that he has been on MTV and everything, but that he and a whole lot of other rappers are starting to just sell their own stuff independently because the record labels are ripping them off. He tells me that if you calculate it, most rappers working with big labels make under $1 an hour. He claims that the rapper "50 cent" makes 50 cents. He also talks for a bit about his favorite musicians, naming 80s rock musicians he thinks I'll recognize. He asks me what I had in my CD player before he came to my car, and I honestly tell him "nothing," which catches him a bit off guard.

I start flipping through the songs, and periodically he tells me to go to a particular track. He is obviously directing me to tracks he thinks I'll like, all the more "mild" sounding, cheezy love song ones (bleh!). I say, "So you are trying to sell these CDs?" Yep, he tells me. "Well, I don't have any cash on me, but how much are you trying to sell them for anyway?" "$10" he says.

I notice one track is skipping a bit, and he doesn't seem to hear it but does direct me to another. Then he directs me to one that he says has some vocals from his daughter "Jewel." This skips as well, and I look at him puzzled and he says it has never done that before. I eject the CD, and we thank one another: he thanks me for actually being willing to listen, saying most folks are scared to even talk to him, and I thank him for sharing his CD with me. We re-introduce ourselves, and then I go in and buy my falafel mix and get back to my car to see his car is gone.

The whole encounter was polite and pleasant. He seemed nice. I actually enjoyed talking to him. But the way I figure, it has got to be a scam.

For one thing, the CD had no label. As in, no sticker on it. You can get labels and make them up yourself on a computer for like $10. If he was any kind of singer, wouldn't he want to present his name, his image on his sample? He didn't even write his name with a Sharpie marker on the CD. For another, if you are trying to sell your rap/hip hop CDs, wouldn't you find a better target market than sitting outside in the parking lot at the grocery store and hitting up random people. Especially if you are well known and have been on MTV. Wouldn't you at least be selling over the internet or something? Which reminds me, I paused and said in a hesitant voice that I listen to hip hop "occassionally." I am sure he could tell I was hugely ignorant about singer names. That makes a great target for a scam...not such a great target for building up CD-purchasing customers.

Now that I am back at the church, I can't find a rapper with his "name" or anything similar on the internet.

So what do you think this could have been about? I'd like to think the best, but truly this situation was all off. My first guess is that he has burned various songs (not his own) onto a CD and is trying to sell it for $10 a peice as his own.

Although I suppose he also could have been trying to get me to take out my purse so he could rob me. Robbery is a not-infrequent crime in my city. Then again, my purse was sitting on the passenger side of my car the whole time, so I suppose he could have robbed me in any case, if he had really wanted. He also could have been trying to find out if I had a CD player in my car, and what type (easy to take out or not) or a stash of CDs, which could be stolen and sold.


Friday, October 10, 2008

This Looks Really Interesting

On one of my mommy groups, a mom posted this as a must-see:

I just started watching it, and it looks interesting. Join me! And post your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What a Disappointing Debate

Last night we saw McCain and Obama in the second of just three opportunities to go "toe-to-toe." The result: a disappointment.

I hate to admit it, but McCain faired much, much better in the "town hall" approach to this debate. I already have done my research and long ago made my commitment to Obama, but McCain tugged on me just a little last night. I don't agree with his proposed policies, but his arguments were made in a much more cogent and intelligent manner last night. I saw the type of leadership in the way McCain talked that has-- at least in part-- made me such a big fan of Obama. His comments on domestic policy were surprisingly well-laid out (this is such a weakness of his), and I felt like Obama just kept repeating over and over the same things he said in the first debate. I thought Obama did a steller job in the first debate, but I didn't want to hear it a second time, you know?

Both candidates, of course, were a let down this time around in any case. That's been talked about everywhere. Especially on that last question, "What don't you know and how would you learn it?" I wanted to hear something genuine, but hah, it goes without saying that such a thing would be expecting too much in these final countdown days. The whole debate was just, well, blah. And as much as I respect Tom B., I felt like rather than pushing on the time limits, etc., he should have been expending his energy pushing for some *real* answers and not just rhetoric.

Oh well. Here's to hoping the third debate is better.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I Sure Do Live In a Very Different Place

A little over a year ago, I was completing my sixth (?) year of living in a town with weekly--sometimes multiple per week-- protests against the war.

So far I haven't seen any of those here, though I understand there was a second annual "peace vigil" last night at the other UU church in town (I couldn't go due to other things in which I was involved). Today, however, while driving home from work, I saw my kid's favorite park, which spans several blocks, completely surrounded by what appears to be people fresh from church, holding anti-abortion signs that said things like "Jesus saves and heals," "abortion is murder," and various biblical quotes relating to children.

I found myself thankful that I didn't have my kids in the car so I wouldn't have to explain what the anti-abortion signs were about. Why oh why did they choose a children's park of all places to conduct their protest? That just seems so, well, anti-family values. Shouldn't a mom have the right to shelter her three or five or seven year old from the concept of abortion? Thinking about their choice of venue makes me raging mad, actually. And I noticed that very few kids were playing at this usually very busy park.

[Edited to add: Please see my post-script comment in the comments section, where I name an "adoption is the loving option" sign as the most offensive among the signs]

Now, don't get me wrong. For one thing, I am fairly pro-choice in terms of political policy, but have in recent years become semi-conservative about abortion on a personal level. Though I would support a friend in her emotional process should she choose to have an abortion, I wouldn't ever be the one to suggest it. For another, back in my old town, there were certainly occassional anti-abortion protests, but it just seemed like such a striking contrast to my old town having never seen a protest here against the war, which also involves debate over things like "murder." I actually think if there was an anti-war protest here, there would be a lot of anger about it despite the fact that most Americans are very critical of the war.

On a lighter note, I am not a Sarah Silverman fan, but she did have this hilarious episode on her show where she unwittingly becomes an anti-abortion protestor. It is very funny, and if you can put up with Silverman's type of humor, and a totally irreverant and immoral take on abortion (remember, Sarah Silverman has even joked about cancer), I recommend it. I couldn't find the whole episode online, though, so instead I leave you with a clip from the end:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Our Strategies For Keeping the Heat Turned Down Lower This Year

...Okay, so check to make sure if weather stripping isn't it. Other ideas...

  • 2 Layer Minimum: All family members have happily agreed to wear long underware under our clothes. Sweaters are encouraged but do not count as a layer.

  • Socks and Hats Required: We plan to wear socks all winter long. Two layers of socks, with wool on top, or even just wool socks by themselves are preferable. Slippers make a great addition but are not necessarily necessary ;-). Hats are a must at all times outdoors, but also are great when folks get chilly indoors. If one of us is cold during the day, we'll try a comfortable hat before turning up the heat.

  • Tea as the Standard Drink: During the winter, we plan to drink warm drinks throughout the day. Options include warm milk, apple cider, or our current favorite: tea. The children enjoy a child-friendly herbal (thus naturally caffeine free) tea, lightly steeped. They like Celestial Seasoning teas such as Sleepytime, Chamomile, Peppermint, and the Berry one (can't recall its name at the moment). They have yet to try the Orange Zest tea. Coffee is also an option for adults and hot chocolate is a favorite among everybody on special occassions. All of us will drink something warm not just during the day, but especially before bed.

  • Warm and Spicey Foods: Cooking and baking not only keeps the house warmer, but eating warm cooked meals helps to warm people. We won't be having meals that are served cold this winter...hardboiled eggs, most types of sandwiches, etc. Since everybody in our family likes spicey food, we'll also be eating plenty of that because it can noticeably warm us up.

  • A "Downsized" House: We will be closing off a number of rooms for the coldest months of the winter. We don't have multi-zone heating, but we do have radiators that can be shut off individually in rooms, and as I understand it, this can save on heat. I know a woman who has shut down the entire upper level of her house, setting up bedrooms on the first level (which she decided to make the "open for business" level due to the location of the kitchen on the ground level). I guess that is always an option. We have three rooms downstairs that could be transformed into bedrooms with a little creativity if absolutely necessary.

  • Cold Means Get Out: The library and the ecotarium (to which we have a membership) are two of probably several places we can go that will not be keeping heat any lower this year than last year.

  • Rice Pack Warmers: We have at least one already, and could make or inexpensively buy several more. Heated in the microwave for a few minutes, these can warm beds before bedtime, couches, and even chairs throughout the house. They can also be used by any of us if we just feel a little chilly.

  • Blankets, Blankets, Everywhere: Reading books under blankets on couches can be a fun activity for everyone! Blankets can also be used by any person who wants one for his or her lap while doing a puzzle, playing a card or board game, drawing, writing, or otherwise staying put in one place.

  • Fans on Reverse: I have heard that putting a fan on the "reverse" setting, if one is available, helps disperse heat throughout the room. I will be checking to see if either of our fans has this setting.

  • All Appliances Run During the Day: In the summer, we have a rule that we don't vacuum, do laundry, cook, or run the diswasher during the day because it makes the house hot. Now that winter is here, this can be part of a great strategy to keep warm during the day. At night it is great to run appliances too for heat, but it is easier to stay warm at night under the covers than it is during the day.

Other things we'll possibly do? I am going to keep my eye out at the thrift shop for soft, wool clothes. Unfortunately, we can't do just any wool clothes because wool is very itchy and none of us tolerate itchy wool. But maybe we'll find something. If not, I am at least going to buy wool *socks,* no matter where I have to buy them. I also am going to look around for heat-resistant radiator reflectors to put on exterior walls behind radiators to prevent heat escape, and hopefully we can swing it (assuming cost) to get our radiators fully serviced this winter. If the project looks manageable for non-do-it-yourselfers like us, I'll use 2" certifoam insulation around rim joists, which are in between floor joists in the basement, to help keep the floors warm. If we have enough when that is done, we will also get flannel or fleece sheets for the beds. And finally, I hope to make "draft dodgers" for doors between rooms, especially rooms we won't be using.

My Tight-Wad List

In many ways, I am super privileged to even be making this type of list. Eating out? Organics? Come on! Many, many folks live without these largely "middle-class" luxuries. But for us, these all represent a significant lifestyle change. And some of these will sound pretty extreme. No pain, no gain, I guess. More like, "let's survive the new economic realitities." But really, weren't many of these just how people lived 100 or 150 years ago?

  • NO eating out EVER, except for really, really, really special occassions... I know this is the usual for most folks, but for us, eating out has essentially become the biggest part of our (formerly $200) monthly "entertainment budget." In fact, we did overspend in our entertainment category on a not-irregular basis, and most months, eating out was the only culprit. We cut the budget to $100 upon our move, and thought that was all we could realistically expect of ourselves, knowing how busy we are and what a big change that was for us already. But not too long after, we realized we had to make this into a really significant lifestyle change. No more entertainment budget. None. Ever. This is the change I resent the most.
  • Far fewer organics. While the change above is the one I resent the most, this one is the one I worry about the most. The organics order of priorities is: (meat, which we don't eat), dairy, then fruits and veggies, then grains. While we have gone through other times in which we have been able to buy organic fruits and veggies only when they are the almost identical in price to non-organic, we've never had to cut out organic dairy. Now, however, we will be able to buy organic dairy much more rarely.
  • At the same time, I commit to recontacting our raw milk source, which is competatively priced (though we will have a drive to pay for to pick it up, so I will have to crunch the numbers). We will try making our own yogurts and cheeses if we can get enough milk for that purpose. This will require a significant shift in use of time. I am most looking forward to this change, though I am dreading contacting our source only because I contacted him last year but never had the time to follow-through and feel guilty. Also, next year, if we do the CSA (and given that we are having to cut down on our other organics and that the CSA is low cost, I am inclined to say we will as long as we can get a payment plan), there will have to be a moratorium on buying any other produce. No other produce expenditures at all. Ever. Somehow or another, we are going to have to live with eating only leafy greens when that is the only thing in season.
  • Soda almost never. This one has long been a goal of mine, but I've put if off far too long in fear of the withdrawl period. I'm in withdrawl right now (actually, I am sipping on a soda I found after hunting desperately in the pantry for just one unopened can), but I have reduced my soda intake by about 75% in the last week or so. Soda is going to have to become a drink for only very special occassions. Withdrawl symptoms include exhaustion, extreme headaches, complete irratibility, mood swings, unquenchable thirst, physical intolerance for changes in blood sugar, anxiety, and trembling muscles. On the plus side, I think I am finding some anecdotal evidence for the outlandish theory that my soda intake has something to do with my neurological issues. I am in the middle of a 72 hour EEG, and I have had almost no "events" to record.
  • No more canned beans or soups, and no more instant/convienence foods and frozen meals. These can all be cooked at home more cheaply, even if cooked and frozen ourselves.
  • No cell phones. We should have one contract ending this month, so that is good. But we might have to pay to get out of the contract on the other. We'll keep our prepaid phone for emergencies, but we recently discovered it is not working very well (keeps shutting off even with a charged battery, and has to be plugged in to work even half the time).
  • Changes in transportation. I've talked about this for a while, and have begun making some changes. Since moving, we've cut down on a great amount of driving. This will have to continue, and the next phase will be even more difficult because the bus system here is so incredibly unreliable and once it starts snowing (due to the fact that snow here turns to thick sheets of ice that never melt until the spring), biking (not that I even own a bike) is simply not possible. G and I found a garden wagon at Lowes on sale for $50. I think we are going to get it because it is large and would fit both kids plus a couple bags of groceries if not more. It also has these big, sturdy wheels that will work well for many surfaces. This would make walking to and from the grocery store more possible.
  • Lessened use of heat. See my next post.
  • A significantly changed Christmas. This year we will use a couple gift certificates we have saved after receiving them over the last year as gifts, etc. to buy the kids Christmas gifts. We'll be making all other gifts. Mostly, we will reduce by a good deal the amount we do gifts for the season. We also will modify the way we do Christmas cards, if we do them this year at all.
  • Natural lighting only during the day. To understand what a big deal this is, you have to understand where we live. Where I grew up, after it snowed, the sun would *eventually* come out and melt everything and bring some light for a while. Not here. Here, once it starts snowing, you don't see the sun again until the spring. It will be grey straight through. Also, as I mentioned, the snow here doesn't melt. The snow here becomes white ice once it hits the ground. Every time it snows again, a new layer goes on top of the old, which makes the first even more solid and compact. Think of the most painful kind of snowballs, and you know the kind of snow I am talking about. You can tear a pair of jeans on the ice just trying to shovel your driveway. In order to avoid SAD, we'll need to shovel our way out and spend time outdoors even when it is super cold and the ice on the ground is at thigh-level. And because the sun will be behind the clouds, I am talking about more than a few minutes outside each day. Time to get out the snowsuits and think of cheap activities to do when we are stuck home in the snow.
  • No lights after 8pm. The kids are in bed asleep by that time, so they won't be impacted in any way. But this means, if G and I are still up (what an incentive to go to bed early), if I am just getting home from a meeting or whatever, I will go by candle-light, or the light from the computer if G is watching a movie or working on the computer or something.
  • 90%+ homeade homeschool supplies. I can't really spend money right now on our Montessori lessons. I am going to have to find a way to collect cheap stuff to make the lessons from.
  • Home computer use limit of five hours per day total for the family, and turned off between useage. ALL other appliances unplugged when not in use.
  • A return to dial-up? No home internet? After the changes above, our monthly budget includes only food, medical care, mortgage, and basic utilities, except for the internet and driving back and forth to visit G's parents and sister (an hour and a half drive). We can't reasonably cut the latter. G's parents are advanced in age, and our visits with them are important. Also, we combine it with a trip to K's therapist, who is in Boston which is on the way. However, we are changing our lifestyle so much for this winter that I also don't think I am quite ready to say no more high speed home internet. That said, a few months down the line, I'll probably reconsider.

The good thing about all this? I think if we are successful, we are going to spend less time goofing off on the computer, and more time playing games, writing letters, and at the library. I think we are going to be getting better sleep and become more in tune with the natural cycle of the day.

Money, Money, Money, MONEY

While our elected leaders continue to debate what to do over one significant facet of the economic crisis we are in, life goes on for the rest of us.

My dw G and I, like many Americans, are feeling vulnerable at this time. For us, perhaps more so than some of our friends and family. The reasons for this are:

1. Though the political focus, at least for the time, has shifted to Wall Street, and as an extension, Mall Street (a caller on an NPR show had a good point that Main Street has already had its crisis, which came about with the "Big Box Stores," and that now, Mall Street is really the next street down from Wall Street)...fossil fuels are still a *huge* issue.

For folks out west, most of you probably see this crisis primarily in terms of transportation. For many of us in New England, our homes are heated by oil and we are seeing immediate and direct effects of the crisis. In my home, oil is not only our source for home heating, but also hot water. Worse still, we live in a particularly cold and snowy region of our state. The winters here are very difficult.

It now costs well over $800 to fill up our oil tank. If we were to heat our home and use our hot water normally, we would need to refill our oil tank every two to three weeks. Obviously, this is not financially feasible even for folks securely in the middle class.

2. G became a stay-at-home mother last year. This has really held our family together on so many different levels. It has truly been a blessing. We knew when we bought our home (which was truly *cheap* for our area) that she would need to return to work at least part time. We envisioned her working two or three evenings per week, and us continuing to maintain a schedule similar to what we have now with her at home. However, now that we have been in our new home for a few months, we are really aware of how close we are teetering to financial doom. G needs to get a job and *fast,* especially before winter hits, but even sooner. It looks like she will need to work three evenings per week for sure.

Definitely time to batten down the hatches. So my next post will be my tight-wad list. What's on yours?