Monday, September 28, 2015

A List

  • I'm slowly starting the annual fall cleanup of our flower beds.  This essentially consists of pulling mass amounts of creeping Charlie and dead foliage out, interspersed with buckets of balls that have been hit into the hostas/lilies/everything else by certain children and then left there for me to find right about now.
I kid you not, the above is from right about four square feet of flower bed, so for once I was not being hyperbolic; when I am done I will literally have buckets of found balls, along with a sock or four that blew off while drying in the summer sun.

  • Since Derek and I recently finished all of Midsomer Murders that Netflix has to offer, I took the advice of MomQueenBee and we gave Doc Martin a try, because when there is a BBC-shaped hole in your life, the only thing you can fill it with is, well, more BBC.  Three seasons in, I have three important things to share with you about our new show- a list within a list, if you will (HOW EXCITING!):
  1. We rely heavily on closed captioning for most shows, but British television in particular; however, the person who did the CC for Doc Martin needs to be summarily FIRED.  It's awful!  If they're not taking the easy way out ("inaudible content" constantly shows up), they're just out and out wrong; I don't know how many times I've exclaimed, "That is not what he said!" during each episode.  This makes me a joy to watch tv with, by the way.
  2. Derek did a google street view tour of the village where the show is shot, so when I'm not yelling about the incorrect CC, he's interjecting with comments like, "Where does that car think it's going?  There's a dead end around that corner!"  We might just be made for each other.
  3. If for no other reason, you must watch the show for its insults.  The doctor (not to be confused with The Doctor) is a curmudgeon of the highest order, and rarely holds back his vitriol.  Last night he called a man an "unctuous, platitudinizing eunuch," which was so spot-on for the character he was lashing out against I cackled and then went running for a pencil so I wouldn't forget those words anytime soon.

  • A while back I read a tip from Superstar Science Chef Person Alton Brown (I'm pretty sure that's his actual title), which advised you add a bit of salt to your coffee grounds before brewing to help cut the bitterness.  Well, I ground up my beans and put them in their basket filter and added some salt, but then when I tasted the coffee... I don't know.  I can't tell if I could actually taste the salt, or if I've gotten so used to bitter coffee, what my taste buds were reading as "salt" was really just a lack of bitterness.  I need someone's help with this.  I don't really know how you're supposed to help me, but still- help!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Two Books

Jane, The Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt, Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

This is a recommendation from me and from daughter Adelaide.  This is a YA graphic novel, but don't let that deter you:  There's something here for most everyone.  I loved it because it celebrates being a bit different and lonely and makes you want to pick up your worn copy of Jane Eyre and wear it out a bit more; Adelaide loved it because it speaks to where she's at right now:  Feeling like an outcast more often than not and finding real difficulty fitting in with other kids her age.  We each zipped through it in ten minutes or less, wanting to find out how the story ends, but it's also the kind of book that you'll want to pick up again to page through, discovering nuances you missed the first race-through and appreciating anew the perfectly fitted illustrations.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

As soon as I finished this book I was like, "I NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE WHO HAS READ THIS BOOK."  Which is a whole lot of people, as this one isn't exactly new, but still.  I've just now read it, so it's time to start talking about it again.
I remember when it first started hitting the shelves, and seeing on the cover that it was being compared to Mary Karr's The Liar's Club, a book that I decidedly did not care for, so I put this one right back down and carried on for a good nine years without reading it.
Well, now I have read it.  And I am angry.
I don't think it was the author's intention to make her parents seem like monsters, because despite their MYRIAD faults, her love for them shines through very brightly, but CRIMINY.  I can only imagine how difficult this was to write; was it more of an exorcism for Ms. Walls, or did she find herself back in therapy, feeling re-victimized?  I think her folks did love her and her siblings, as much as they were capable, but it feels like a bona fide miracle that they all survived to the extent that they did.
Now:  Why didn't I hate this book?  I should have hated it.  I usually can't stand this type of memoir, because so much of it feels overwhelmingly hopeless.  Was it because I knew the author survived her own childhood and thrived despite (because of?) it?  Or is it a huge testament to her ability to tell her own story in a way that never felt whiney or self-suffering?  Was it that a better life seemed constantly possible and just around the next corner for these kids, or what?  I need someone to explain my own feelings for this book to me, STAT.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


  • I have done the impossible:
That, my friends, is a dahlia, whose tuber I buried months ago with little hope, because although I can grow all manner of things, dahlias (and crocus and carrots) have never been one of them.  Is this bloom small and runty and more chewed up than I'd like?  Yes.  But it's alive- IT'S ALIVE!  (Say the previous statement with less Easter morning and more mad scientist tone of voice, just so we're all on the same page.)

  • It would seem that fourth grade is when they really start piling on the homework.  One month in and Adelaide spends at least an hour after school every day plowing through math and social studies and recorder practice *shudder*.
When sharing with the family her Best Thing/ Worst Thing last night at supper, however, her Best was homework.  In reply to the expected incredulous stares and sounds from the rest of us, she merely shrugged her shoulders and said, "What?  I like homework."  I'll take it while the takin's good.

  • Blondies are one of the best desserts ever when done right, and I found a recipe that does them way, way right:  Glazed Apple Maple Blondies.  They're easy and come together quickly, not to mention the fact that they're delicious.  These things are super rich, so a small portion goes a long way, unless of course you've had a long day, in which case I will not judge you.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Caedmon's Last Year on One Hand

Here's a headline for you:  Caedmon is no longer four.

Monday was our youngest boy's birthday.

Our bold, fierce, tough, superhero of a four-year-old is now our bold, fierce, tough, superhero five-year-old.


A real tough guy.

Not to be trifled with, I tell you.

Except maybe when he needs help with his zipper.


Whew.  Even someone who cuts a figure this ferocious has soft spots, though.

Rice crispy treats- with sprinkles, of course- are one.

Another is an older sister who dotes on a certain five-year-old tough guy; at least when she's not threatening to maim him for messing with her stuff again.
She not only made him a birthday card, she sat in the hallway the morning of his birthday, waiting for him to emerge, so that she could present this card to him, complete with birthday poem and treasure map.  It was important to her that he start his day with a treasure hunt that ended when he found the present she spent days making for him.

It's a little hard to make out, but that is her gift to him in action.  While other children seemingly want only their two front teeth, the object of Caedmon's desire are lethal weapons, which Adelaide took pains to deliver:  She found some sharp, pointed wooden skewers, painted them black, then showed our preschooler how to insert them into straws- which she ever so helpfully provided- before blowing on the end and toward your intended victim.  They are legitimately dangerous, and the newest item on our family's Controlled Substance List.  Doesn't every family have one of those?

I say if you're going to have weaknesses, you can do worse than rice crispy treats and sisters.

Now, the balloon one I don't get.

It's dark magic, indeed.

Oh, and birthday crowns.  He has a soft spot for those, too.  But who doesn't, am I right?

Happy Birthday, Future Superhero that fixes cars and has his own supercar!  (His answer when I asked what he wants to be when he grows up.)

Friday, September 18, 2015

I Love Gardening... Or I Will, Anyway

I've made it abundantly clear in the past that I love to garden.  I love, love, love it, right up until I don't anymore.

I really don't know how people do it in regions where you can garden close to year-round, because our six-month growing season is about all I can take.  Right around this time of year, every year, I'm like, "Ugh, ENOUGH ALREADY.  Why is everything still growing, like, ALL THE TIME?"

I think part of this is that I am a lazy gardener, but another big part is that I am a terribly, horribly spoiled gardener.  The beanstalk that climbed to the heavens?  I swear Jack dropped those magic beans in our backyard, because you can practically just fling stuff around and it will take root and grow.

Don't believe me?  Think I'm exaggerating?

I didn't plant this.
It's already netted me four zucchini.

I didn't plant this, either.
And yet there are gourds growing on it.

Matter of fact, I didn't plant any zucchini or gourds this year, but my yard still manages to grow them spontaneously.  This is some immaculate conception business, here.

Actually, if I had to guess, it's due to the squirrels and birds that are frequent visitors to my open compost heap.  I often see them frolicking around our backyard, apple cores and remnant vegetables clamped in their mouths.  I'm still going to insist on calling that vine up there "Mary."

Here's the perennially messy vegetable patch:

Out of all that, I planted three tomato plants and one strawberry plant.  The rest is all volunteer tomato plants.  Purposeful or not, it nets me a bowlful of tomatoes every few days.

Despite being the only tomato-eater in the house, 90% of these are already gone, because I made sure to have my favorite vegetable dip mixed up and on hand.  Of course, I had to pay the toll to collect all that tomato-ey goodness, extracted by the millions of mosquitoes that haunt the great outdoors around here.  Both vegetables (fine, fruits) and mosquitoes are made possible by

mass amounts of rain, all the time, even now as I type this.  Along with easy Iowa gardens come hordes of Iowa mosquitoes brought about by buckets of Iowa rain.  I'm not complaining, exactly, just... informing.  If ever you come to visit us in the summer or fall pre-frost, don't forget the bug spray, because there's no way you're escaping without a garden tour.

For some reason, when it comes to vegetable gardening, I'm a bit like roses, in that I have a super-enthusiastic-productive year, then a meh-lazy-just-for-show year.  Two years ago I grew plenty of sprouts and seedlings and tomatoes and onions and gourds and sunflowers and zucchini and peppers.  This year?  Some tomatoes and a few small strawberries.

I just have to keep in mind that this means come early spring of next year, I'll have my egg carton seedlings started and carefully labeled, and most of my seed packets ready, and a grand plan that I'll half-execute, because if this year was lackadaisical, it means the next is an On Year.  Heck, the neurotic side of me is stirring already, just writing this post.  

Coming Soon, To a Windowsill Near- well, not you, but Me...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Nest: A Review

Because we're exciting party animals, when Derek and I were perusing last year's Black Friday sales, we immediately zeroed in on the sexiest product on the market:

That's right:  A Nest Learning Thermostat.  And before you turn away because surely this has got to be the most boring post ever, please:  Don't.  This thing is AMAZING, and we love it like a fourth child that saves us energy and money and always does what we say, so actually not like a child at all.  It's an anti-child, if you will.

I have a curious relationship with our Nest, in that the traits that make us love it are the same ones that make it super creepy to me.  It's like Santa in that it sees you when you're sleeping and it knows when you're awake, except instead of breaking into your home, it monitors the activity inside the house and does things like turning itself down when we're not home and "learning" our personal patterns as to when we turn it up and down and to what temperature, then automatically does it for us.  You can also control it via your phone, which Derek has used many times both because I can never seem to remember to manually set it to "Away" when I'm leaving the house and to mess with me by turning the heat down when he's not home but I am, which is a very strange kind of a prank, really.

When we take trips in the winter, we always turn our heat way, way down, which in the past meant we came home to a decidedly chilly house, because nothing says "Welcome home, family!" like getting out of the cold only to go into the cold.  Now, however, Derek will turn it on via his phone when we're a few minutes away, so by the time we get home, the heat is on and the temperature is rising when we step inside.  It's heavenly.

Another delightful feature is the monthly report Nest emails us.  Here are just a few neato things contained within the email we received for August:

Since October 2011, all Nest Thermostat schedules have saved:
4,581,243,474  kWh
That's enough energy to power the laptops of every high school student in the U.S. for about 4 years.

Here's how you did:
This month you used 25 fewer hours than last month.-25

A look at your Leafs:
This month, the average Nest Thermostat owner in your area earned 14 Leafs. Here's how many you earned:
In August you earned:
Nest Leafs
6 more than July
In August you're in the top:
of Nesters
in your area
This year you've earned:
Nest Leafs
Let your friends know how many Leafs you earned.

Two things about that last graphic:  Does it drive me the tiniest bit crazy that they call them "Leafs" instead of "Leaves"?  YOU BETCHA.  A tiny piece of me dies each time I see that.

As for our household only being in the top 30% of Nesters in our area, well.  Top 30% is obviously not good enough for the Crislers, not even close, so we're working on moving up through the ranks.  I realize that there are a bunch of factors that likely go into this, such as the size of your house, how energy efficient it is, etc.  No matter; if you're the tiniest bit competitive about this kind of thing (Sports?  I couldn't care less; not competitive at all.  Energy efficiency?  WE MUST AND WILL PREVAIL.), Nest is a terrific motivator to be less of a leech on the environment.

Why, hello, Nest!

Oh, and that's just another Leaf earned.  Take that, 30%!

If ever you decide to purchase a Nest of your own, don't forget to check with your energy company for rebates:  We got a sweet one from Alliant, which helped offset the initial cost.

Now, if only they could come with some kind of game to earn "Drops" or something for our water usage.  Someone get on that, please, because I know we'd be way higher than 30% in that competition.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Pretties from a Wednesday Run

When you do outside stuff like running or cycling or walking, you get to know your own corner of the universe quite well.  I tend to stick with the same routes when I'm running because my sense of direction is questionable at the best of times, and while attempting to move at a faster pace than normal, well... I'm going to be nice to myself and just say that my brain goes on autopilot and can't be bothered by trifles like "Turn left on 550th Ave unless you want to be stranded on a random gravel road with no idea where you are but with an exceptional view of acre upon acre of cornfields."


Many routes around here consist of miles of straight paths and fields, which is lovely in its own way, but today's was a little more entertaining, provided you find things like trees entertaining, which I definitely do.

Look!  Apiaries!  I love these things, and it always heartens me to see them; I'm always afraid of certain things dying out, but it would seem that beekeeping is not.  Just the bees.  No big deal.

(Note:  If you're looking for an excellent, excellent nonfiction children's book about bees and the honeybee crisis, I highly recommend The Hive Detectives:  Chronicle of a Honeybee Catastrophe.  For two years it has remained one of Adelaide's favorites.  It pulled me in, too.) 

Something about this view makes me think of the scene in Mary Poppins when Bert is drawing with chalk and creates a path that leads out of view.  Remember Dick Van Dyke's "British" accent in that movie?  (Suspicious quotation marks intentional.)  As a kid I didn't think twice about it, but the first time I viewed it as an adult it added an entirely new (accidental) layer of comedy to the movie.
The truly glorious aspect of the above photo, though?  SHADE, GLORIOUS SHADE.

And then I found this snake!  I almost tripped over him, which would have been unfortunate for the both of us and cut short a fated friendship.  Not to worry, fellow snake lovers:  I moved him to the side of the road post-photo shoot, after I'd yelled non-sequiturs like "FIERCE!" and "WORK!" at him while snapping pictures.  Because as far as I can tell, that's what fashion photographers do.

What type of tree creates this perfectly tree-shaped tree, I wonder?

Hello, Ballard creek.  I swear, whenever and wherever I cross you, you are stunning.

This may be my favorite view of all, as it means I am done.  I've been dropping Caedmon off at preschool, then leaving my vehicle parked there to set out for my run, so when I arrive back at the school, it means walking and then water and then sitting.
The preschool is only on the basement level of the building; the rest is the dwelling of the teacher and her family.  Not pictured are the goats and chickens and yoga mats.  Yes, it is that kind of preschool, and our kids love it.

Also not pictured were today's strong winds, which was the only thing that kept me from overheating.  I love strong winds during a run and in general, but I recently saw this video and had to admit that a lack of wind could have its benefits:

Chandelier Tree from Colin Kennedy on Vimeo.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Magnificent, Magical Monday

That title up there is a blatant bid for some self-fulfilling prophecy-type action.  I'm sure there's a book out there somewhere- no doubt shelved in "Self Improvement"- that says that very thing, along the lines of "If you write it, it will become your truth.  Believe in your spirit's ability to guide you through the shoals of life, and embrace all the colors of you."

Holy crap, you guys.  Slap an unearned honorific somewhere in my name and I could have my very own cult.  'Cause girls just wanna be cult leaders- I'm pretty sure there was an 80's pop song to that effect.  Kool-aid, anyone?

I think the only way to keep this post from devolving into complete madness is to compose a list.  Because lists solve everything!

  • This morning before school, Atticus put on a pair of pants.  (Whew!  What a narrative hook, RIGHT?)  Actually, he put on four pairs of pants, because it's that time of year again:

He's been wearing shorts for months and I've been able to pretend he has a dresser-full of clothes that fit him.  Because surely he hasn't spent the last three months outgrowing all his clothing.  That would be preposterous and entirely without precedent!

Okay, so maybe he grew the tiniest bit over the summer, but not enough to outgrow clothes that fit him perfectly well in the spring!  There's no way he grew, let's see....

Two and a quarter inches in a year.  Although really, for Atticus, that's some pretty restrained growing.

  • Last week we were a bit early for Adelaide's piano lesson, so I did what any good mother does:  
Yes.  I pulled into the little cemetery we drive past every week.  I think it's a testament to my incredible self-restraint that I haven't taken the kids on a tour of this one before, because I love me a good graveyard, and this one is in a tiny, tiny town- not even a town, actually; it has no post office, no local government, just a smattering of houses, a sod farm, and a winery in the middle of rural Iowa.  Obviously a cemetery there is going to be fun.

And look!  Our curiosity was rewarded!

Adelaide and I spotted this structure in a back corner of the cemetery, and while she thought maybe it was an old tiny house (or Tiny House, I suppose- have you seen that show, or the documentary about those things?  Because she is obsessed with them, claiming that when she grows up she is going to have a midnight blue truck in order to haul her Tiny House around behind it.), I thought it was a supply shed for whomever maintains the lot.

But nay!  We were both wonderfully, beautifully wrong!

That is a smile that can only be wrested from Daughter upon the discovery of an old outhouse.  Is it sad that she and I were equally delighted to open the door and find the bench with its necessary hole?  I say, "No."  Derek, just... don't answer.

I was a little hesitant to pick it up, as it was labeled a thriller and I am a self-avowed pansy.  But a story about a woman who wakes up every day, no knowledge of any of the days leading up to it, having to re-learn that she's married, that she was in a terrible accident, that her short term memory erases itself each time she enters deep sleep- well, that sounds like a good one.

The book ended up reminding me a bit of Gone Girl, except I didn't hate every single person in it, which is a major plus for me.  It had the twisting plot and chilling aspects of GG, along with the driving need to figure out what the heck is going on here?  I enjoyed it very much, and for my fellow 'fraidy cats, it wasn't too terribly scary.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Better Vans, Better Libraries

The rumors are true:  We got a new vehicle.

Here is the truth about driving a vehicle so far past its expiration date it's going all Kevorkian on you, begging for the sweet release of van-death:  Your children (and you!) will be almost indecently grateful for this new vehicle.  They care not one whit that this vehicle is not brand-new, or that it's not as fancy as some of its fellows out on the road; they're just happy to be able to hear again.  Every single time we've ridden in it, at least one of them has commented, "It's so quiet!"  I said nearly the same thing to Derek after driving it to the library last night.  "I cannot get over how quiet this van is.  I mean, it's seriously, like, silent."

Now, is it silent?  Of course not.  This is not a Tesla we're talking about here.  But it has zero, count 'em, ZERO holes in the muffler, nor does the flex pipe need to be replaced.  It has four, count 'em, FOUR working door handles, AND the back hatch opens.  And did I mention the heating in the back of the van?  Because it works!  It pumps out beautifully warm air at your command!  MAGIC!

Speaking of the library (I kind of did, buried somewhere in a paragraph up there), can I just say how marvelous it is to visit a 21st century library?  I remember the cruel limits imposed on me as a child, like three books is gonna last me more than a day, lady.  Do you know how many books we checked out last night?

That's a heavily cropped screenshot of our online account.  Between four of us, we got to check out 50 items.  And that's just at one library!

Now, the downside to this is that we go to more than one library on a regular basis, and we check out at least as many books at our small town library, and that's just a heck of a lot of books to keep track of.  We do have a system for all these library books, kind of, and we have yet to lose a book.  (*crosses fingers- knocks on wood- mutters a prayer*)  

Also:  Are 21st century librarians nicer, or is it just me?  I have some pretty cranky librarians populating my memory banks, but how much of that was actual crankiness and how much was those poor people reacting to me being a punk kid?  When it comes to librarians, our family is blessed with an embarrassment of riches.  Ah, but then again, I remember a librarian in Connecticut who was so determinedly hostile I found myself hoping she'd run afoul of an overloaded book cart one day.  I walked to her library many, many days, with an infant Adelaide strapped to my chest and my face stretched into a wide, wide smile, but apparently when a librarian chooses to use her not insignificant powers for evil it can even thwart attempts to kill someone with kindness.

She was rude and cold to this face, a face that has loved books since she was teeny tiny.  Librarian Most Vile and I did not become besties.

Thankfully, 95% of the librarians we've encountered in Iowa have been the very antithesis of LMV:  Kind and open and helpful and smart and funny, reinforcing my notion that book people really are the best people.

For all my book homies

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Caedmon the Preschooler

Yesterday marked the first day where we had all three children in school, at the same time, for at least a portion of the day.

That's right:  Caedmon started preschool.

First thing yesterday morning, while attempting to rouse Atticus for the day, I heard Caedmon begin to stir in his bed a few feet away.  He usually burrows deeper into the covers for at least a little while, but not on this day:  He sat straight up and joyously exclaimed, "PRESCHOOL'S TODAY!"

We didn't have to leave for preschool for nearly an hour after dropping the older two off at the bus stop, so he had plenty of time to get ready and squirm around and not eat his breakfast out of pure excitement.  I made him stand on the front porch for pictures before we left, the same as his siblings have every year on their first days; while this induces eye-rolling on the part of the other two, he was so excited to finally be included in this little ritual, he dashed right out the door and held unusually still while I wielded the camera.  It was adorable.


He was also wearing a shirt that is too small, his shoes were on the wrong feet, and I'm pretty sure those are his brother's shorts.  He was so proud to have "picked out exactly the right clothes for my first day of preschool," I didn't have the heart to make him change.

Then it was time to take him to the school.

Derek had the morning off work, so he and I both got to walk him in.

There was a lot of energy in the school, anxious and excited kids rocketing around, anxious and excited parents standing around, along with the ubiquitous crying kid following the teachers around.  Caedmon marched right ahead of us through the door, hanging up his jacket in the coatroom and moving the attendance rock with his name on it to the "present" basket.  He hugged each of us several times in farewell, and then Derek and I left.  

Thankfully I had somewhere to be immediately after, so my emotions didn't even have a chance to catch up to current events and turn on me. Derek dropped me off at the coffee shop, where I was forced to have a salted caramel latte; I mean, it was our baby's first day of preschool, after all.  I coped by spending the bulk of the morning sitting around discussing Jesus and stuff with my friends while Derek went to the gym.  To my bible study ladies:  You make everything better.

Before long it was time to pick Caedmon up again, where he had tales of chocolate chunk granola bars and a new friend (the crier, strangely enough; Caedmon is not historically the most compassionate or sympathetic of children, so I was heartened by this discovery) and a book about a raccoon.  

Hallelujah and pass the peaches.  We made it.

UPDATE:  Okay, so I was doing fine until I went hunting for these pictures of Atticus headed off to the same preschool a couple years ago with a two-year-old Caedmon, who refused to be left out of the picture:

Or how about this one of an apprehensive Adelaide, headed to a different preschool but with the same teacher?

Look at tiny, 1-year old Atticus!  Not pictured is giant me 9 months pregnant with Caedmon, who was born a mere eight days later.  

Sheesh.  I think this is what they mean when they talk about "borrowing trouble."