Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Waste Not: Energy and Paper Products

As I'm not an authority on all things Energy-related by any stretch of the imagination, I'm just going to point you toward a favorite resource of mine I found on our energy provider's website:

101 Easy Ways to Save Energy

If you're an energy-saving expert, I would bet that there's at least a couple things in that link you either hadn't thought of or aren't already doing; if you're more of a novice:  Don't be overwhelmed.  We've been slowly decreasing our waste over the past several years, executing one or two new waste-reduction measures at a time.  Maybe pick one of the things in that list, and do that.  You'll find how easy it is, try something else new in a month or two, marvel at how simple these changes are and how good it feels to waste less, then before long you'll be that annoying person that sneaks into your friends' houses to install aerators on all their faucets and sorts their trash for recycling.  IT'S GONNA BE GREAT.

Now, how about a list about paper?

  •   I won't talk about all the wasted paper that comes home in one of our children's backpack (SO.MUCH.PAPER.), but I will mention another of our children who, if you look at the backside of most of his preschool creations, you'll find junk mail and such the preschool teacher is obviously reusing.  How much paper do we immediately throw away after opening the mail?  I've started setting aside the paper that's only been printed on one side for our children to use, as they're heavily into coloring and painting and creative wastefulness.

  • Paper towels.  This is one we've been working on decreasing, although I do still keep a roll under the sink.  My darling mother was kind enough to buy me some Norwex cleaning cloths, which I use for cleaning the bathroom sinks, mirrors, all our windows, and just about any other surface other than the toilet.  I'm ashamed to say I still use paper towels on our toilet, because I'm a little eeked out about using my fancy cloths on there, especially with three males in the house whose aim is often less than stellar.  I'm working up to using some of our cheap terry cloths on the toilets- I got them from Wal-Mart around eight years ago, and they've held up really well.  After all, if people can wash cloth diapers in the washing machine, I suppose I can handle washing a cloth used to clean our toilets.  I guess.  Probably.  We'll see.

  • Napkins. We, apparently, are a nasty, nasty family, as in general we neither own nor use even paper napkins, although we do on occasion make use of those dreaded paper towels if we're eating spaghetti or pizza.  Enter cloth napkins!  If you're like me and have a fabric stash, it's the easiest thing in the world to cut them into squares and hem them.  Or you can get something like a set of 12 napkins for $12 at Wal-Mart for all you fertile Catholic families.  Cloth napkins have the added benefit of instantly making every family meal feel uber-fancy.  I suggest you obey any subsequent urges to start wearing a monocle or carrying a cane for twirling around.  (Sidenote:  it would seem that all my notions of class and fanciness come from Mr. Peanut.  I'm choosing not to ponder too deeply what this says about me.)

  • Kleenex.  First of all, please be aware that I know this is where I will lose some of you.  I may not have known that three days ago, however, had I not waved around my pretty embroidered handkerchief at supper with friends and seen some of them cringe away from me in horror.  I see nothing wrong with using my handkerchief when it's for allergies or for when I'm cold or working out and my nose-faucet forgets how to turn itself off.  Rest assured, when I'm actually sick I still use disposable tissues.  (And I wash my hands a lot on a daily basis, okay?)  But really, I've watched my grandpa use a handkerchief for years, and let's be honest, the world would most likely be a much better place if everyone were a little more like Edgar Von Soosten.  I should note that I have not switched the rest of our family over to handkerchiefs.  I have mixed feelings about our children using hankies, although it would probably be more sanitary than some of the methods of snot removal they currently employ.  And you are welcome for not describing those in detail.

  • Coffee Filters.  I've been looking around my house over the past week, trying to identify paper goods we can replace with their more economical and ecologically-friendly alternatives, and coffee filters was one I just noticed this morning.  I know those filters go into my compost pile when I'm done, but still- it feels more ecologically and financially sound not to purchase them in the first place.  A quick google search led me to mesh filters, which can apparently be found at Wal-Mart and on Amazon for $5 or less (or a lot more, because I guess some people just can't stand not to pay $60 for coffee filters- thanks, Sur la Table!).  Do any of you have any experience with these mesh-style filters?  Do they work okay?  Any complaints about or praise for them?  And yes, I know there are "environmentally friendly" paper coffee filters, but to me, those are still filters that are made from trees and had to be produced by some kind of machinery that uses some kind fuel to run.  I'm sure we could get into all kinds of debates regarding the worthiness of eco-friendly paper filters vs plastic-including mesh filters, but I don't know enough to possibly participate, much less win, this debate, so... someone go research that for me.  Please.

  • Other stuff.  Looking around my house, the only other major sources of paper consumption appear to be toilet paper (which isn't going anywhere, okay?  Well, I suppose it is, right down the toilet, but you know- we're not getting rid of it.  We're just not.) and books, and the only way you'll suggest I switch exclusively to ebooks is if you've been searching for some passive aggressive way to end our friendship.  

Any other paper-replacing suggestions?  I have a feeling I have big blind spots where paper products are concerned, but they seem to be hiding from me, as blind spots are wont to do.  Help.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Waste Not: Laundry

My bible study is currently embracing that one book I've told you about two or three hundred times (7 by Jen Hatmaker, which is about creating margin and the concept of the biblical fast but is somehow simultaneously hilarious), which means that each week, following along with Jen, we find a way to create a personal fast around that chapter's topic.  The first week I only ate 7 foods.  It was hell.  The second week I only wore 7 clothes.  It felt embarrassingly easy, given how hard the Foods week was, although I was cold a lot.  The third week I abstained from social media (although I did have a couple scheduled blog posts), which was harder than I thought it would be- I learned some hard lessons that week.  So now, here we are, Week 4: Waste.  Reducing waste in your life, understanding that taking care of God's creation isn't just for hippies, etc, etc.

The thing is?  I'm already good at this.  I'm struggling to figure out what I'm supposed to learn from this week.  I know, I know there are further ways to reduce waste within our family, but I'm having trouble identifying them.

This is not because I'm just so, so awesome.  We are a frugal family who lives on a budget, and that more or less forces you to eliminate as much waste from your life as possible.  It's not hard for me to pare down on wasted trips to the store when our van gets 16 miles per gallon.  It's easy to tell our kids to put another layer of clothing on instead of turning up the thermostat, because heating costs are expensive, especially in a winter like the one we just survived.

I've been thinking about writing a series of posts on this, the topic of waste, for quite some time now; what you'll find below is actually a draft of a post I wrote back in December (I think I entitled the series Frugal in '14, which I still can't decide if I want to find that embarrassing or clever).  I got three posts done in the series, reviewed them, decided that THIS ALL SUCKS, EVERYTHING I WRITE IS PURE CRAP, which I do a whole lot of the time but post it anyway, but for some reason for this I decided to shelve the series.  Anyway, given the discussions my friends and I have been having on reducing waste, I thought I'd go ahead and post the drafts, crap or not, plus write fresh posts, finishing out the series.

HERE'S WHERE YOU COME IN.  I'm seriously having trouble figuring out how to reduce waste in our household.  I know there are things we're not doing, but I can't seem to identify them.  So if you know of some trick corresponding to that day's topic, could you please, please, please, let me in on your secrets?  Please?

[Frugal in '14, Draft]

Ah, laundry.

I have three small children.  I do lots of laundry, which often includes re-washing the same load because there were M&M's/rabbit poop/ladybugs/crayons in their pockets.  (I check their pockets, okay?  I do.  But at some point children's clothing designers decided it would be a fantastic idea to put right around ten million pockets on little boys' pants, probably because they hate me.  I sometimes miss a pocket or two.  Obviously.)

I don't even know how people who live on a ranch/farm/anywhere near sand do it.  I'm pretty sure I'd give up the laundry ghost.  

But because so much of my life is spent doing laundry right now, I have spent considerable time considering all the ways to save money doing so.  Here's the list:

  • Only wash full loads of laundry.  It's the most efficient, which is code for 'saves money.'  P.S.  I'm a little jealous if you only have enough laundry to do a partial load.  And by "a little jealous" I mean "trying not to hate you."

  • We regularly receive a little pamphlet from our energy provider (which I'll go on and on about ad nauseum tomorrow- who's excited?!); one month it told me that the average dryer cycle costs around $0.50 to run.  This, of course, was all the incentive I needed to air dry as much of our laundry as I can.  4 loads of laundry this morning currently drying on the drying racks = $2 in my pocket.  $0.50/load may not seem like much until you look at how much laundry you do every week and multiply it times 52 weeks per year.  In the winter, this obviously takes longer because I'm drying everything inside on the drying racks, but when it gets anywhere above 50 degrees F, I put those racks on the back deck to dry in the sun.  It's amazing how fast a load will dry in the middle of summer.  I'd love to have a clothes line in the backyard, or possibly one of these beauties one day:

It's an indoor clothes line!  I found it at zorotools.com.

  • If you're dead set on drying your clothes in the dryer (my family has threatened to revolt the times I didn't dry their towels in the dryer; something about "cardboard" and "sandpaper."  My insistence of "feels like money saved!" fell on deaf ears), make sure you're drying a full load as often as possible; it's the most efficient.  You're also supposed to try and dry one load after another, capitalizing on the fact that the dryer's already hot, so it doesn't have to waste energy reheating every time you put a new load in there.

  • Make your own laundry detergent.  This is the one where people usually start to say things like, "Funny, you don't look like a hippie," and "Oh, so you're one of those people."  It's true.  I make my own laundry detergent.  And I am not ashamed.  It's easy, relatively quick (takes me about half an hour to make a batch that lasts around six months), and is ridiculously inexpensive.  I use the Duggars' recipe (you know, the Duggars?  Live in Arkansas?  Have a million kids?  Or 19, anyway?  See, you do know who I'm talking about!), which I found in one of their books but you can also find on their website (which I've so helpfully provided via that linky-thing back there).  I find all three ingredients- Fels Naptha soap bar, Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, and Borax in the laundry soap aisle at Wal-Mart, all for around 7 or 8 bucks, and you're not going to need to buy new boxes of Washing Soda (NOT the same as Baking Soda, trust me on this one) and Borax for a long, long time.

  • As for dryer sheets- I don't use them.  We have certain friends, ahem, who claim to have static cling problems (that was hilarious conversation, let me tell you), but as I hang-dry most of our clothes, this isn't a problem.  As for softness, I've found a little vinegar in place of fabric softener in the washing machine works just as well, and no, does not leave a smell.  I do know people who swear by those dryer balls; Derek's parents have some, I tried and liked them, but just haven't remembered to hunt them up at Wal-Mart yet.

Okay, Laundry Divas (ugh.  Do me a favor and please don't ever call me that.), how can I reduce or even eliminate waste in the laundering areas of my life?  What am I forgetting?  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Eric Carle Flash Cards

I don't really talk about Stuff on here very much, as in, "Hey, try this amazing Stuff, it's totally amazing!" or "Get yourself to your local Stuff-Mart and buy as much of this Stuff as will fit into your cart!"

However, I would feel remiss if I didn't let you know about the Best Flash Cards in the Entire World.

That's right- flash cards.  Those things you use to drill information into your children's brains like a tapeworm through your large intestine (I would apologize for that analogy, but that's sometimes how I visualize the learning process- and now you will, too).  I know, I know, children learn best through play and experience and blah blah blah.  I'm all for hippie learning crap, okay, but I also see nothing wrong with reinforcing what they're learning and helping to make some knowledge automatic, like letters and times tables.

Enter Eric Carle Animal Flash Cards, which are approximately 8.4 billion times better than any other flash cards that have walked through the door of this house.  First of all, do you have any idea how many flashcards I've thrown away?  Because I sure don't.  Dozens and dozens, at least, because most of them are flimsy and ugly and get buried at the bottom of the toy box, where they get bent and torn, not that our children care, as they wanted little to do with them in the first place.

Eric Carle flash cards, on the other hand, are made of some kind of reinforced cardboard, the same material board books are made of, perfect for resisting children's destructive little paws.  Each one is also a small work of art, with an illustration of an animal by Carle on one side, and the capital and lower case letter on the other (he uses a xolo for "X," in case you're curious, which I was when we first opened the box, and urchins for "U," dashing my hopes for an illustrated flash card unicorn).  The letter side is my favorite, as each one also features a bright, graphically illustrated background.  They're just pretty.

I have to admit, they're a little pricey, as you saw if you clicked on that link I included above.  Well, maybe not pricey to some of you, but for me, who's used to garage sale prices, $15.00 is a lot to spend for flash cards.  But maybe there's some kind of holiday coming up and friends and family members are asking things like, "What should I get Junior for his birthday/Christmas/Hannukah/President's Day?" and ANYTHING BUT STUFFED ANIMALS isn't actually a helpful answer.  My mom got these for one of our children for some holiday or other a year or two ago, and we have used them to death (oh, hey, Mom- did you know Eric Carle also apparently makes number flash cards?  Aren't they pretty?  Did you see that helpful link I just provided?  Did you know Caedmon's birthday is in September?).  Or maybe you don't have small children yourself- these are a great gift idea for toddlers and preschoolers; it helps them learn and won't make their parents hate you for bringing another worthless piece of plastic into their children's lives.  Just saying.

[Note:  I'm not being paid or reimbursed or anything for telling you about these flash cards.  I just think they're awesome flash cards.  I'm also wondering how many times I can say flash cards in one post.  Flash cards flash cards flash cards.]

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Where? In a Trap! Well, Why Didn't You Say So?"

Yesterday (yeesteerdaay, all my troubles seemed so far away!)-

Do you guys do that?  Allow your train of thought to completely derail or interrupt otherwise rational conversations by stopping to sing the next line of whatever song your conversational words just prompted?  I remember it being a lot more charming when my 1st and 2nd grade teacher did it while reading off our words for spelling tests:  "Number five- 'love'... LOOOOVE BOOOAAAT soon will be making another run!"  Granted, Miss Young could sing her little heart out.  

Aaaanyway.  Yesterday... yeesteerdaaay... ack, okay, yesterday we had a little event here in the Crisler household.  Not "event" as in a birthday party or anything requiring invitations or its very own Pinterest board, but more of a... spectator sport, I guess.  And by "spectator sport" I don't mean soccer or tennis.  Holy cow, how about I just tell the story?

The thing is, we've had a little problem with mice recently.  Thankfully, this isn't a regular occurrence for us; the last time we had mice in our house was when I was pregnant with Caedmon and found a dead one at the bottom of our pantry embalmed in spilled Karo syrup and I had to chisel it off the floor while retching and gagging.  (There is, of course, a blog post about that little incident somewhere on here, but I really don't feel like hunting for it today.  Rest assured you just read everything about it anyone would ever want to in the previous sentence.)  I found evidence of mouse-related activity a couple weeks ago, Derek promptly set mouse traps using a highly specific method involving those wooden spring-loaded traps and a peanut and glue and peanut butter.  One mouse was dispatched within a couple days, thankfully after I had already gone to bed.  I had hoped that was it, that we had merely played host to a bachelor mouse too rootless to tie himself down with a wife and litter of darling disease-ridden mouse babies.

Yesterday, however, Adelaide and Atticus were rooting around in the pantry for an after-school snack when I heard the following conversation:

Atticus:  "What is that?"

Adelaide:  "What is what?"

Atticus:  "That thing, under the shelves.  (Starting to freak out)  WHAT IS THAT?"

Adelaide:  "I don't know!  I... is it... I think it's an animal!"

Me, hollering from the living room, because there was now no way I was coming anywhere near the kitchen:  "It's probably a mouse.  We knew we had some mice in the house, so Daddy set traps to kill them.  It must have caught one.  Just get out of there."

That should have been the end of it, right?  Anyone in their right mind would get as far away from the dead rodent as possible, especially given that Derek would be home in a scant 45 minutes to do what is surely one of his favorite man-of-the-house duties, namely ridding our dwelling of pretty much anything that moves of its own volition but doesn't have a Crisler-granted name.  And "BAT BAT IT'S A BAAAAT!" doesn't count.  We're talking Fred or Percy or Charlie.  (Gracious, who now wants to have a family of bats move into their house just so they can name them after the Weasleys?  Not me, but someone should do that.)

Instead, I began hearing things like this:  "WHAT- IT'S ALIVE!"  "AAAAH!"  "IT'S EAR JUST TWITCHED!"  "AAAAH!"  "Oh, wait, no, that's just a fly EATING it."  "AAAAH!"  "I'm going to touch it!"  "GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU DISGUSTING CHILDREN?"

Guess who said that last one?

Atticus was pretty freaked out by the whole thing, but I swear, had I let her, Adelaide would have set up a lawn chair to better watch such can't-miss activities as death throes and decomposing.

Derek did come home and promptly do the fun adult job of removing the mouse from the trap and throwing it away, along with the related adult jobs of picking up small brown objects and throwing them at the children while screaming, "MOUSE!" just to hear them squeal.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The State of Our Backyard Address

Let's take a tour, hmm?

Hyacinths that I just found today, and only vaguely remember planting.  As for color, um... peach, maybe?  For some reason peach is coming to mind.  I could have sworn I planted the peach in the front yard, though, in a flower bed I have been vigilantly searching for apparently nonexistent hyacinth buds.

Daffodils!  Probably!

Rhuuuuuuuubarb.  Ugly at this point, but I'm confident it will blossom into something beautiful, no doubt after some hard, character-building lessons that will teach it compassion and empathy for its fellow plant.  

This is my favorite stage for sedum, all young and green and pretty.  Don't worry, rhubarb, looks aren't everything; sedum is relatively worthless compared to your deliciousness in pies and crumbles and tarts.  Except that sedum attracts all those bees and butterflies to our yard every summer and fall.  Imagine that- a beauty pageant contestant with a worthwhile Talent.  Wonders never cease.  (Does anyone, anyone have any idea what I'm talking about at this point?  Because I'm not sure that I do.)

I found these munchable tulip sprouts in a neglected corner of the backyard; because I had completely forgotten about planting them, I didn't spray them with miracle solution (aka Liquid Fence), and the rabbits had themselves a pagan feast.  They have since been sprayed, and will hopefully recover.  

And now, I need a volunteer to forcibly hold me down this fall until I agree to finally write down what bulbs I plant where.  You hereby have my official permission.  Until I forget.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Down the Rabbit Hole

A couple days ago, I was talking to Adelaide, relating to her the following story:

"So the other day I was on the front porch when I saw a lady and her dog walk by, and I thought what if, just what if I were an alien sent to earth on some kind of reconnaissance mission about the feasibility of invading this planet, and my first view of Earth's lifeforms was this lady walking her dog, but I'm an alien and I have no context for what this thing might be, so I think that what we know is the lady is the adult form of this planet's inhabitants, and what we know is the leash and the dog the alien instead assumes is some sort of umbilicus connecting the mother organism to her four-legged offspring, like, the dog is the larval or maybe pupal form of Earth's inhabitants, and the alien is so freaked out by this craziness that it reports back to its superiors that invasion is not recommended."

Now, for the past, oh, say five or six years, this would have been the springboard for a fun if not slightly wacky conversation between my daughter and I, but on this particular day, the only response I got was, "Mommy.  Why are you thinking about these things?"  Granted, she said it with a smile on her face, but still.

At first, I was deeply disappointed by this, thinking our daughter had somehow outgrown her own imagination or that public schooling had sucked all the creativity out of her or that she was beginning to consider herself too cool not just for school but also conversations about aliens.

After only a few minutes following this sad train of thought, however, I was able to remind myself of all the seriously weird things I see her saying and making and not-so-surreptitiously doing on a near-daily basis, and I cheered right up.  Plus, I need her to have inherited a decent amount of her father's common sense, as she will most likely be the person in charge of my care should I ever reach an advanced age.

Then I felt better.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Once Upon a Time, There Was a List

  • The Liquid Fence appears to be working.  (I may or may not have stood at the entrance to the rabbits' burrow under our shed and cackled madly when I discovered this- but quietly, because we live in town and have neighbors.  Quiet evil laughter is harder to execute than you might expect.  Go on, try it.  Get as villainous as you can but don't let your co-workers or family members or dog hear you.  It's surprisingly difficult, huh?  Apparently evil calls for volume.  The things you learn.)  The chewed ends of the tulip leaves have begun to mend themselves, and I haven't detected any further illegal consumption of my pretties.  I have thus begun composing an epic musical masterpiece dedicated to Liquid Fence.  And by "epic musical masterpiece," I mean I've been singing Smelly Cat but substituting the word "rabbit" and adding quite a bit more verbal venom to the lyrics.

  • In other plant news, my seedlings are coming along nicely.

I just love this stage.  So young, so innocent.  They still believe everything you say but haven't started mouthing off when you're out in public.

  • We went to Derek's parents' new house again a couple weeks ago, and two things of note happened (well, probably more than that, but I only remember two):  We had THE BEST Mexican food, which sounds trivial, but please understand, I love Mexican food, and have been utterly unable to find any decent offerings of it since moving to Iowa.  I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that we were too far north, too far away from, you know, Mexico, when we went to Lomita's.  
I admit, I was skeptical.  Derek's parents had been there once before, but I don't know how many Iowans have recommended really terrible Mexican food to me. (Hint:  A LOT)  Then there was the fact that it was a lunch buffet.  I envisioned a taco bar with store-bought hard shell tacos and bagged cheddar cheese.  Plus there was the apostrophe-s in the name of the place.  Nothing Spanish about that.

I was so.wrong.  This place.  Run by actual Mexicans with the actual spiritual gift of making people fat with their insanely delicious food (oh, you don't remember that one?  I'm pretty sure it's right after speaking in tongues and before interpretation).  There's one guy whose only job appeared to be re-stocking the amazing buffet.  Just a constant back and forth between the kitchen and the buffet with fresh taquitos, fresh fajita fillings (juicy chicken, tender steak, flavorful strips of vegetables- I dream about those vegetables.  It is not normal for me to dream about vegetables, okay?), THE BEST queso blanco that I would happily drown in if they'd only fill a jacuzzi with the stuff, fresh guacamole (I don't even usually like guacamole), fresh flour tortillas individually wrapped in aluminum foil to keep them warm.  And I just listed maybe ten percent of what was offered on that buffet.  I mean honestly, who knew you had to travel an hour NORTH to get good Mexican food?  Not I, said the hungry girl.

After I put away a terribly impressive amount of food (man, I am such a catch.  Someone remind Derek how lucky he is), we all decided a hike through my in-laws property was in order.  This time it was four adults and three kids, a ratio much less conducive to losing one of said children and causing me to hyperventilate.  Derek took pity on Caedmon toward the end (it was a pretty long hike for a 3-year-old, and we went through a bunch of tangles of thorns that were taller than he was) and carried him.  From my vantage point behind them, I was able to witness Cade's transformation of pathetic, downcast face when on his own two poor feet to small, triumphant smile after Daddy had hoisted him up.

We also got a family photo, which is rare.  We don't even ask that everyone's smiling anymore, just that all five bodies are present.

To all of our friends who have asked us, "Is Caedmon this happy ALL the time?", please click to embiggen and see that no, our Cade is more than capable of unhappy pouting.  And yes, there are two other photos I could have chosen where he was not pouting, but neither of those made me laugh.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Newsy Kind of List

  • My baby sister had a baby yesterday.  The baby of my family now has two babies of her own.  This would be strange except both my sisters somehow produce the most scrumptious babies you've ever seen in your entire life.  She and her husband (because she is an adult; I just realized I'm making her sound like a teen mom or something) didn't find out the sex of the baby while pregnant, which is one of my very favorite things ever.  I love the anticipation of not knowing and the hot debate of Boy or Girl, although I could do without all the "well, since you're carrying all in front it's a girl," and "you know you're having a boy when a birthmark in the shape of Bolivia appears on your rump" nonsense.  So before yesterday, nobody knew that Steph was gestating another GIRL.  They named her Elliot Ann (adorable!), and I can't wait to see how her tank of a big sister, Vada, attempts to smother little Elliot with love.

  • I watched another documentary last night (no more Bronies, I swear).  It was Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, the one about the self-sufficient people of a small village in Siberia, and it was AMAZING.  I wish I could send Doctor Who to each one of your homes to kidnap you and bring you here to force you to watch it with me, only since I've already seen it, I'd probably spend half the time re-watching it on the television and the other half staring at your faces to watch your reactions.  It would be fun and not at all creepy.  There's so, so much I could tell you about it, but I'm afraid of ruining it for you if there's even the tiniest chance you'll ever watch it, so I'll just tell you about three of my favorite parts: 1) May 1st is Russia's equivalent of Labor Day, and one of their festivities is the curious practice of burning a scarecrow-type figure wearing a dress, which you don't really understand until the narrator informs you that they're "burning Winter in effigy."  RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU COULD DO WITH SOME BURNING OF WINTER IN EFFIGY.  2)  Gorgeous.  It is all fairy-tale gorgeous there: massive amounts of snow on the mile upon mile upon mile of forest, the breaking up of the river in the spring where it looks like the entire landscape has just decided to start moving itself along, the beautiful Russian language you get to hear as the trappers describe all their preparations and activities.  3)  It's truly remarkable everything they do by hand: making their own mosquito repellent from birch trees, making their own insulation out of moss and earth for their hunting huts, making their own skis, making their own everything.  If you loved Laura Ingalls Wilder or marveling at other cultures or if you're a human being, you should watch this film.  Incredible.

  • At the direction of Cassi Renee and Common Household Mom, I picked up some Liquid Fence this morning, as the rabbits have been eating my tulip shoots and this is bad for my blood pressure.  Here's hoping I've finally found something that works, other than searching Pinterest for a good recipe for rabbit stew, that is.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Where I Destroy What Little Credibility I Ever Had

You guys.  We got Netflix.  (Said in the voice of that girl who says, "I GOT BANGS!")

You know it's going to be an utterly vacuous, shallow post when the first sentence is about Netflix and Legally Blonde.  Just wait:  It's going to get worse, and by worse, I mean so much better.

We recently got rid of satellite, and I've discovered that it was easier for me to say self-important things like, "I'm not really much of a television person, I just read these little things called books," and other statements that no doubt made people loathe me, but as it turns out, I'm just really, really lazy.  I couldn't be bothered to search through aaaalll those channels you get with satellite (my life is just so cumbersome, you know?  It's like a Dickens novel around here), so I just never turned it on, except to watch the odd program here and there.

But two weeks ago, we joined the 21st century and got Netflix.  We're not sure how long we'll keep it (FOREVER), as we're currently just trying it out free for a month (FOREVER).

There's just one word you need to know to understand my new-found allegiance to Netflix, and it is this: DOCUMENTARIES.

That's right:  I love documentaries.
You see what I did there?  I made you think I was spurning the intelligentsia HAHAHA for a life of insipid television-watching, but no!  I love Netflix for its documentaries.

The first documentary I watched this month?  Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony.  (Aaaaand we're back to the shallows.)

Now, I'm not going to completely ruin the whole feature for you, because I'm sure you've all been busy attempting to cobble 88 minutes of your lives together just to watch this jewel of a documentary, but, but, I just have to give you some of my own, personal highlights.  *Spoiler alert!*

  • The part where one man drove past his local Wal-Mart in rural North Carolina and talked about the scarcity of "ponymerch" (that's Brony for My Little Pony merchandise) in his area.
  • The part where two PhD psychologists talked about the psychology of Bronies and spoke at length about "the average Brony," who it turns out are "highly educated heterosexual males in their twenties who are most often very introverted," oh, except for a unique subset of extroverted Bronies whom they refer to as either "social Bronies" or "evangelical Bronies" (GUESS WHICH TERM'S MY FAVORITE?).  
  • The ins and outs of BronyCon (this of course being a convention for Bronies, keep up, guys), which features appearances by the voice actors from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (and make no mistake, it is this newest incarnation of My Little Pony that they're all so obsessed with), tons of vendors of My Little Pony merchandise (PONYMERCH), presentations by the scads of Bronies who make online music, art, laser shows, etc, all inspired by My Little Pony, and, more than anything, it seems, the chance for Bronies to finally find their tribe and meet like-minded people.
I know I've just spent three bullet points sounding like I'm making fun of these people (possibly because I mostly was), but there really was something kind of heart-warming about watching all of these people find each other, and to be honest, there are lots of worse things they could be spending their time and energy and emotions on, and there were some unexpected stories in there, like the one of the young man with Asperger's who had trouble relating to other people, but strongly connected to the show Friendship is Magic and its simplified moral stories, went to a BronyCon, and made some new friends without his usual anxiety.

I do have some less, ah, brony-ish documentaries in our queue, not to worry.  Next up is Happy People: A Year in the Taiga- "explores life along the River Yenisei in Russia, where the industrious inhabitants of a rural village truly live off the land," It's a Girl- which seems to be about how much it sucks to be born female in so many parts of the world, both of which I will soon view unless I trip and fall and watch Jig- "Go behind the scenes at the fiercely competitive 40th Irish Dancing World Championships" (squee!).  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I'm Gonna Whimsy You To Death

My home will never grace the pages of a decorator magazine for many reasons, chief amongst them a lack of budget, awareness of trends, the fact that we have small children and therefore can't have not just nice things, but apparently things in general.  (Side note:  Why are children so destructive?  Why do I have to keep saying, "DO NOT hang on the cabinet doors.  DO NOT climb up the fridge.  DO NOT dig that metal spoon into the table."  Why?)

More than anything keeping us from magazine covers, though, is a little word called 'whimsy.'  Now, even magazine editors seems to appreciate some whimsy, but "some" seems to be the operative word there.  They like to sprinkle a little here and there, whereas I would like to unscrew the lid and dump the entire whimsical contents all over our house.

Alas, Derek cannot see the merits of living in the housing equivalent of Wonderland, so instead I get a Pinterest board labeled "Home Decorating," and every once in a while I look through it and imagine what would happen if I were ever to magically install every single one of those things in our home while Derek was at work one day.  Oh, the look my imagination puts on his face when he walks through the door.  Priceless.

First off, you'd have this mat welcoming you into our home:
via wanelo.com

As soon as you walk in the door, you see our stairs, which would look like this (assuming I could ever bring myself to paint them, which I probably could not):

via themetapicture.com

This would be on the wall (although where, I have no idea, as I'm pretty sure our house doesn't have a stretch of wall big enough for this anywhere- DETAILS):

via dwell.com

At least one room would have a wall featuring this wallpaper (it's COLORING WALLPAPER, YOU GUYS- wallpaper you can color.  Imagine how much we'll save on therapy.  I mean, coloring is soothing, right?):

via theberry.com

We would have this refrigerator (because TARDIS FRIDGE):


We would have a laundry chute- but not just any laundry chute, a porthole laundry chute:

via alleewillis.com

Our kitchen ceiling would look like this:

via notjustahousewife.net

These pillows would grace our couch (and before you look, just know that I am perfectly aware that this is where I will lose most of you- I can't help it.  Those cats make me laugh every time I look at them, and isn't that one of things you want from your home?):
via hautelook.hardpin.com
via hautelook.hardpin.com

via kohls.com

And these pillows would go on our rockers on the front porch:


Oh, and this birdcage would have to be a light fixture somewhere in our house.  Actually, it would have to be the front room, as that's the only room that has ceilings tall enough to accomodate a birdcage light fixture:

via designsponge.com

Isn't it all so beautiful?  I lost you at the Kitty Hepburn pillow, didn't I?  What elements of whimsy would you add to your home?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Reviews, Because I Love You

Or, if we're being honest, "Book Reviews, Because I Want You to Love Books as Much as I Do."

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

I discovered Louise Penny's series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache via Cassi Renee; she practically forced me to read them with all her five-star ratings on Goodreads.  This is a solid, entertaining detective series (or "inspector" series, I suppose; the story is set in Canada, so many of the police terms are a little different), Gamache himself being an incredibly likable protagonist, very capable and full of wisdom, but extending grace to all the imperfect characters around him, being deeply aware of his own flaws.  All those characters were richly drawn, but I hesitate to simply classify the stories as being character-driven- the plot is satisfyingly intricate, as all the best murder mysteries are, and I haven't been able to predict the endings of any of Penny's books.
I've been wrestling with my own opinion of these books; I knew I wouldn't call this series one of my favorites within the genre, but couldn't quite figure out why.  I've decided it's because I'm looking for a suspension of reality when I'm reading this type of book, and Penny's characters are so realistic, all shades of grey, just too real for me.  Quite the criticism, right?  I think the problem, for me, is that I'm reading about these characters who are just too human:  most of them possess some seriously messed up traits, things I feel I just can't forgive them for, whereas if I were to encounter those things in a real person, I can actually experience enough of the good side of that person that it enables me to have compassion for them, flaws and all.  Penny talks about the good and the bad in each of her characters, but somehow I end up focusing only on the bad.  It's very uncomfortable to have humanity so accurately portrayed.
I did immensely enjoy learning so much about Canada, its culture, pieces of history, etc- turns out I know nothing about Canada.  I nearly bored Derek to death one night going on and on about Quebec after reading her book A Trick of the Light.
All in all I would recommend these- but cautiously, I reckon, for those who it turns out are a little shallow when it comes to their mysteries (ME).

Also, as a little side note on these books, I found a typo while reading one of them, but what was so fun was that a previous library patron had taken the liberty of not only finding it but also correcting it in pencil.  I love stumbling across corrected typos in my library books.  It's like catching glimpses of family members I've never met.

It's a little fuzzy, but I hope you can see that someone has corrected the word "timber," which is obviously a correctly-spelled word in its own right, to "timbre," something you'd really only know is the proper word from the context of the paragraph.  Book people are the best people.  Somebody put that on a t-shirt for me.

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman by Nora Ephron

Ephron may feel bad about her neck in this book, but I feel bad about reading it before I should have.  I found it marginally funny, but couldn't really sympathize with most of the things she was saying because I'm either too young or too poor.  I'm sure someday I will feel bad about my neck, and perhaps I should try to re-read this then, and it will be a completely different book to me.  I don't know that I'll ever identify with spending thousands of dollars on my hair every month, because it would appear that the late Ephron and I see money and the things it should go toward very, very differently.
Honestly, though, she could write just about anything and I'd be willing to forgive her, solely because of You've Got Mail, which I have seen approximately three thousand times and gladly anticipate watching three thousand more before I die.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (A Flavia de Luce novel) by Alan Bradley

You read detective series, murder mysteries, etc, and you tell yourself you're content with what's out there, and then you read this series.  Introducing Flavia de Luce, a plucky, 11-year-old girl living in the English countryside of the 1950's, who loves her distant father, is disdained by her two older sisters, and more than anything, loves chemistry, specifically poisons.  Flavia finds herself in all kinds of scrapes and tough spots throughout the series, and constantly has to help the local constabulary solve crimes, whether they want her help or not.
Flavia is simply marvelous.  I want to adopt her and bring her to 21st century Iowa, where she would no doubt achieve world domination in two short years.

The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander

I blame Shonya for the sleep I lost while reading this book, but I thank her deeply for recommending it in the first place.  This is a historical novel set in the last days of Nicholas Romanov, his wife, and children, after they had been ousted both from power and the royal palace, and told from the perspective of the kitchen boy, one of their last few faithful subjects allowed to serve them to the end, even while under house arrest.  It became apparent through reading this that I know next to nothing about Russian history (this seems to be a disturbing trend for me), and was fascinated to learn about this royal family, their beliefs, downfall, relationships to each other and the Russian people, and all the other things I'm surely leaving out.  This book was good.  Like, five out of five stars on Goodreads-good.  It's relatively short, but the pacing is perfect, you come to love and sympathize with the characters, and while I don't want to give too much away, you may get actual motion sickness from the violence of the plot twist that hits you when you least expect it.  I've refrained quite well from begging you to read this or that so far in this post, but you know I can't let one of these Books posts go by without beseeching you at least once, so here it is:  The Kitchen Boy.  Read it.  Thank me later.