Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Works for Me Wednesdays: Menu Planning for the Consistency Impaired

I always vowed I would not use menu plans, because a) how boring it would be to have it all set down what you would eat three Thursdays from now, and b) it's not as frugal (supposedly) as just shopping from the sales and cooking with what you have.

Sometime after D2 was born, however, my entire food-planning brain fried. I bought things that rotted in the fridge, and then didn't have the right ingredients to make anything I could think of to make. I started cooking too late in the day. I knew I needed to have something written down in advance or supper simply wasn't going to happen.

I finally realized something. Pretty much everything I buy falls into one of three categories: a) It never comes on sale, or doesn't come on as often as I need it (milk, eggs, certain health-food stuff); b) It can be bought in large quantities and stored or frozen when it's on sale (meat, cheese, bread, canned goods--the big-ticket stuff); or c) Something in the same general category comes on sale every week (produce). So menu-planning doesn't have to keep me from shopping the sales.

I sat down and wrote out a four-week plan of our favorite meals. I try to have most of them fit into what I call the "pot-and-a-bowl" category: a pot of main dish and a bowl of salad make a balanced meal. At most, I have to fix biscuits or rice on the side. This cuts down on dishes. Only the "pot" category is written down. I can then adapt the "bowl" in accordance with which produce was on sale this week.

I also wrote two overlapping menu plans, one for hot weather and one for cold weather, using the same basic ingredients. Thus on the day we would have white chicken chili if it was cold, I make a white bean and chicken salad if it's hot. This allows me to adapt to unexpected changes in the weather. And if I just can't stand the thought of what's on the menu, I have enough slack from stuff already stored to fix something else.

Now I only shop the sales for things I will actually use, and I hardly ever forget to take something out of the freezer in time to thaw. There's enough flexibility that I don't get bored. And supper actually gets to the table on time.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

House Repainting Proposal

Thanks to SK for the picture.


We returned from our biannual pilgrimage to DOB's grandfather's home yesterday and so far no one has broken out in poison ivy, ticks, sunburn, or chiggers, so I think we survived unscathed.

D2 spent much of his time trying to pull hair out of the cat. Fortunately the cat was a tolerant one. I don't think I would have the nerve to have an animal with small children.

DOB's aunt offered to bring out some of her granddaughter's toys for the ducklings to play with. I thought, "They have only a few hours to play in real, live woods--don't bring out anything plastic to distract them!" We instead took our regular pilgrimage down to throw rocks in the creek.

D2 would also like us to note that he cut his first tooth and sat himself up for the first time on Sunday. He cut his second one at some disputed time between then and this evening. Sometime in the past week, he also figured out how to make rude noises by blowing into skin. Since his own arm is rather small, he usually uses my arm or leg or foot. Being a little boy, he thinks this quite hilarious.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Star-Nosed Sneetches

Were, of course, the best Sneetches on the Beaches, owing to their superiority at certain potty-related skills. I initially put up a paper on the wall for her to put the stars on, but she quickly learned to see that as only a temporary storage spot, and would take them off to make cards, or simply to wear. For a while last week, she decided the best place to wear them was on her nose. I think she got that idea from Papa.

Although we are far from done, things are definitely beginning to click. In consequence, our house is a veritable constellation. I had one on my sock, but it must have fallen off.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Another Change of Territory

A month ago or thereabouts, we were planning to stay in this apartment at least two years. Maybe longer. Then we would probably move to a house somewhere similarly on the outskirts of the city area.

Last week we thought we would look around to see what was in our price range and what neighborhood we liked so we would be ready to move in January.

Yesterday we bought a house in the city. It was one of those love-at-first-sight things. Hopefully not a love-is-blind thing.

It's a house like Grandma's house. Like The Little House. It's a friendly house and it likes us. We like it.

It has a big attic to play in on rainy days while the rain patters on the roof. It has a big basement with a workbench and a storeroom and a big open area to play in on hot days and maybe turn into a school room someday. It has a small but quite useable backyard to play in on all the other days and grow tomatoes along the fence. It has a deck and a front porch with room for two rockers for the parents to sit on and sip lemonade while the kids run around the front yard, chasing fireflies. It's in a neighborhood of other little houses where kids ride their bikes and people stroll down the sidewalks.

On a more practical standpoint, it has just been completely remodeled with new furnace, air conditioning, floors, paint, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It is, we know, more frugal and proper to get one of these houses before it is fixed up and do the work ourselves. We also know, from experience, that we have not the time, energy, skill, or patience to do such a thing, and the extra amount charged for the work done sounded quite reasonable.

We are not entirely blind to its faults. The closets date from the era when one had an everyday dress and a Sunday-go-to-meeting dress. There is no garage. The attic stairs would daunt an Anasazi Indian. Perhaps worst of all, it is green. Mint green.

But we love it.

Now we just have to find a way to get out of our lease, in which we agreed to give our right arms and our first-born child if we left before January. D1 objects to this arrangement, as she wants to go climb the stairs.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Some positive developments

Two mornings in a row this week D1 needed CPR (that would be a Critical Potty Run) right while I was feeding D2 his breakfast. Two mornings in a row I set the bowl of food down on his tray without realizing it, and returned several minutes later to find the food still on the tray. And on his shirt. And down inside the chair. And on the floor.

This morning, however, was different. Instead of being up at the crack of dawn asking for breakfast, she still hadn't uttered a peep until after D2 was finished with his meal. I went in to check on her and discovered that I had left a book within reach of her crib and she had pulled it in and was quietly reading. I don't think she got switched at the hospital.

Maybe I'll set a nice selection on her dresser and see if my mornings aren't a little calmer.

D2 has mastered the army crawl and now has perpetual rug burns on his arms and legs from doing it too fast. He seems determined to skin his nose on the patio before he even learns to walk. D1, who a few months ago wanted to have her hand held and preferrably be carried at every opportunity, now pulls her hand down to her side and says, "D1 walk by 'elf." It's a little sad, but not very.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Mothering Types

Your type is: entp —The “Independence” Mother
“When I held my babies, I always faced them outward so they could take in the world.”
Full of energy and confident in her own self-sufficiency and competence, the ENTP mother encourages her children—as a role model and as a teacher—to be independent and confident on their own in the world.
A “big picture” person, she points out options and possibilities along the way. Objective and logical as well, the ENTP wants her children to evaluate their choices and learn from the consequences of their own decisions.
The ENTP mother is resourceful and action-oriented. She likes going places and doing things with her children, exploring all that life has to offer. She is less concerned with rules, routines, and schedules. Introducing her children to new concepts and activities, challenging them, and stimulating their intellectual development are top priorities.

Quiz is here.

I found this moderately interesting; it's just the standard Meyers-Briggs typing applied to parenting styles. Of course it makes everyone sound good, so we can all be happy Being Ourselves. But then, there's plenty of Mommy Guilt going around, anyway, so that's probably just as well. It also annoys me when people use "I'm not a mother-type" as an excuse either not to have children or not to raise them personally. (Note: I am NOT encouraging psychopaths to have children.)

I am definitely not a stereotypical good mother. I do not drop everything to kiss their boo-boos, unless I see actual blood, and then I'm certainly not going to kiss it. Eww. I do not bathe them daily. I clean the house sporadically and usually am missing several necessary items. I just finished sewing a skirt, no doubt at severe damage to D2's psyche, who kept waking up from his nap just as I had the machine threaded, the fabric pinned, and everything lined up.

But I am good at a few things. I take them outside all the time. I find them new "toys" constantly (mostly in my kitchen cupboards and the mailbox). I talk about things with them, show them new things, read them lots of books. I step back and wait for them to figure things out for themselves. And I think I'm taking enough care of them that they will survive to adulthood with their bodies and souls relatively intact. So it's OK; I don't need to hand them off to someone else who's nicer or more organized. God meant for them to be my kids and me to be their mother.

There's no quiz for fathers, who do not angst about such things, but I think you can just change the pronouns. DOB definitely sounds like the "Individual Integrity" father. (INTJ)

Thoughts on Societal Evolution

On Saturday we viewed a house that had evidently been cleaned up and remodeled after an estate sale. Along the freshly-painted walls someone had taped "before" pictures of room after room papered with tacky paper and crammed to the gills with junk of all descriptions.

People often blame such messes on people growing up during the Depression. (Which, of course, is not necessarily applicable. My grandparents' house is always in a state of spic-and-spanness that I will never achieve. And although they still have a chest of treasured toys from my mother's childhood, there is a distinct lack of used coffee filters being saved.)

It seems to me, though, that growing up any time before the recent explosion of consumer goods would make "saving stuff" a more appropriate survival strategy than "throwing stuff away." When goods are scarce, it makes sense to hang on to them. Here and now, you can have way more goods than you could ever use without even trying to buy stuff.

This, of course, makes things more difficult for people with packrattish tendencies. But for those who have grown up in a world where people throw things away, at least it's not quite so difficult. Natural packrats who grew up in a "save everything" world and find themselves in a disposable world have the worst time of it.

Therefore, I predict that over the next few decades such messes will become rarer. And I will believe DOB when he reassures me that, even though I am not very tidy and he likes to save his favorite childhood box, we will never turn out like that.

(The cleaned-up house, btw, is the house of our intermediate dreams, and we would be dancing in the streets if all the pieces fell into place for us to get it. But we shall see.)

Among many other thoughts on Beau Geste and its sequels, which I may post some time, was the noticing of a phenomenon I have often seen in books predating the mid-twentieth century. (L. M. Montgomery; Booth Tarkington; Louisa May Alcott) Teenagers play. They play various versions of Cops and Robbers (Cowboys and Indians; Spahis and Arabs) with great elaboration. They re-enact famous historical events or literary scenes. They make up newspapers. The girls may still care for their dolls.

They're doing all these things and then, bam, the boys are off to Harvard and the girls are packing up their hope chests. Or they're out getting jobs to support the family.

Do teenagers do this anymore? I don't remember playing much as a teenager, but then, I was sick for the early years and then got caught up in a more grown-up world. My brothers did, I know. DOB says he and his brothers did. (For that matter, they still do.) Playing army seems to be acceptable a lot longer than most other games. But in the World at Large, do modern teenagers play anything but the Nintendo?

Somehow childhood used to last a lot longer than it does now, and yet full adulthood started a lot sooner. Adolescence seems to be a much less useful tool for transitioning into adulthood than it's made out to be.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A New Slogan

I'm not a sloppy housekeeper.

I'm providing cognitive stimulation by varying the learning environment.

Now excuse me while I go prevent D2 from cognitively stimulating himself with the potato bag that got left in the living room.

Possibly a Useful Thought

(Prefatory note: I've been reading What's Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life by Lise Elliot, PH. D.)

We perceive our own emotions in the frontal lobes of the brain, and those areas start operating about six months. Younger babies may feel happy or sad, but, theoretically, they don't know they're happy or sad.

The right side is where we feel bad, and the left side is where we feel good. These areas continue to go through growth spurts throughout childhood, alternating rather than growing simultaneously.

So when your toddler is going through an inexplicably cranky week, you can think to yourself, "Ah, a growth spurt in the right frontal lobe."

Then again, maybe that wouldn't help much.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Speaking of Tenets

D1 is not yet up to reciting the key tenets of the faith, but she is acquiring an impressive knowledge of Bible stories. She loves paging through her picture Bible, reciting her own two-to-four word summaries of the Bible stories.

"Jesus make biscuits fish." (All Biblical bread products are biscuits in her terminology. I'm afraid this is my fault, but it's so cute.)

"Jesus sad." (Garden of Gethsemane.)

"Soldiers Jesus away."

"Jesus alive!"

Not only has she grasped that Jesus is the key character of the Bible, she seems convinced that he is the only character of the Bible. Thus, an earlier picture of the restoration of the temple remains, no many how many times I try to tell her otherwise, "Jesus makes table!"

A Missive from the Grammar Commando

I may have posted about this before. But clearly the World At Large hasn't fully absorbed it, so I shall try again.

A "tenant" is someone who lives in housing owned by another person.

A "tenet" is an article of belief.

A "tenant of the faith" would be, I suppose, a person who lives in housing owned by a religious organization. This does not appear to be the meaning usually intended.

If you have trouble remembering, perhaps you could try noting that, if one is a tenant, one must worry about ants. (We certainly are.) Tenets, living in the ethereal realm of ideas, need not be concerned about such trifles.

Now, please, everyone, try to get it right this time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Thanks to everyone who contributed your opinions on Puppy; Puppy is now feeling secure in his identity and seriously considering a further career in acting and impersonations.

I tried to pare down our possessions when we moved. As usual, I chose some of the wrong things to pare down, one of the least logical of which was our high chair. It did take up a lot of space, and I did manage to resell it for exactly what I paid for it ($5) , but simply using D1's old booster seat (also purchased for $5 at a different yard sale) for D2 has not worked quite as well as I hoped.

For one thing, a booster seat doesn't offer quite the support of a high chair, and he tends to slide down. This usually prompts me to sing the second verse of "Wondrous Love," so that now D1 will start to chant "Sinking down, sinking down" whenever it occurs. The more serious problem is that several months of D1's usage caused the catches on the tray to weaken, and some aggresive infantile pushing (D2 uses his toes) will send it flying to the ground. D2 thinks this is funny. Needless to say, we don't put his food on his tray.

In other odd things D1 likes to say, the most worrisome is probably "Credit Card" (we give her those fake ones that come in the mail to put in her purse). "Guacamole" is her longest word. "Stinky stinky diaper" is another one applied to D2. She's fascinated with school buses, too. I hope this isn't a bad sign.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Write Now

Posts around here have been infrequent of late, because D1 has been waking up just as DOB is leaving, destroying my one lull time of the day when I can sit down and collect my thoughts enough to type. There is naptime, but I still need a nap. Especially after D2 woke up at 4 a.m. one day last week with a terrible cold which magically disappeared by breakfast. (As you may guess from the length of this post, they're both sleeping in this morning. Amazing.)

Sometimes I read the blog of Melissa Wiley, who is not only the homeschooling mom of five young children, one just born, but writes books on the side. In a recent post, she explained how she does it.

Aha! I thought. I do not have anyone who does my laundry, or my grocery shopping. No one brings me meals (well, we got one a week after D2 was born). No doubt if I had less to do, I too could spend time with my kids and still have time to sit down and Write Brilliant Things. Or at least, I'd like to think so.

But I don't have that time. And that's OK. I didn't marry DOB for his useful housekeeping skills. (He can help out in a pinch, but it had better be a pretty tight one.) Indeed, he's probably a bit more time consuming than the average husband, being as he needs help with physical therapy and tasks that require steady hands and strong ankles. My children are too little even to send outside to play for a few minutes while I fix dinner. Until you've tried to fix guacamole with the "help" of an avocado-loving toddler while spoon-feeding a ravenous baby, you don't know what complicated is.

About this time three years ago, I was preparing to leave the life I loved behind and move out here to marry DOB. I was quite eager about it, and yet every once in awhile it scared me.

Then I got a writing assignment that really mattered to me--an interview with the man who carried the flag up Iwo Jima. And I was stuck. It wouldn't come out right. None of my co-workers' suggestions were helping. Finally I sent my mangled draft to DOB and we chatted over it for a few minutes, and I went back to work. It came together; it turned into one of the best things I've ever written. I realized then that whatever it was I hoped to do in life, I wasn't meant to try it alone anymore. I needed DOB. He has the other half of my brain.

Right now, I don't have much time to use that brain on the things I'd most like to do. But at least it's there. I still have time to read and think, and every once in awhile to write. I have hope that someday, somehow, I'll have time to write again--and that when I do, I'll have something worth saying because of now.

Right now, I'm here. And this is where I'm supposed to be.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

D1's Program for World Conquest

Do you find your diminutive stature and slight build weakening your impact? Would you like to cut a more imposing figure and bend the world to your will? Try D1's Image Enhancement Program for increasing bulk. Just add eight layers of clothes to your standard attire and grab a hammer! The world is yours!

(I think that's actually a turtle puzzle she's treading under foot, but everyone knows the world rests on the back of a giant turtle.)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Duchy Dictionary

Disappointment: Watching a full bowl of homemade guacamole slip from your fingers and smash on the table, ruining the entire batch.

Decadence: Running to the store to buy more avocados just to make another batch of guacamole for dinner. (Well, they were on sale. The store is only across the street. And I had forgotten to buy yogurt anyway.)

Despair: Hearing a moderator say to the ten local candidates, after three hours of speeches, "Well, we need to be wrapping up now, so I'll give each of you three minutes to close."

Sorrow: Discovering, at the age of seven months, that the people in the world do not exist solely for your personal amusement.

Guilt: Discovering, after five false alarms, that this time it really was a need for a diaper change.

Hilarious: Watching a toddler combine practice in speech and gross motor skills by stepping back and forth between the patio and lawn, announcing, "D1 stand on grass! D1 stand on potato!"

Identity Crisis

Last weekend DOB and I took advantage of a few hours with half of our children gone to do adult activities, i.e., unpacking boxes with lots of papers. A few other boxes were in the mix, in one of which DOB found his old friend, Puppy.

"I hope you'll forgive us," I said, "A few weeks ago D1 and I had him act as a sheep."

DOB stared at the animal with a growing expression of confusion and distress. "He does look like a sheep. But he's always been a puppy!"

Off and on, for several days now, DOB and Puppy have been troubled by this question. Is he a puppy? Or a sheep? He says it's like D2 finding out that he might be a horse instead of a little boy.

I don't really know. I say we could just say he's a sheep dog and be done with it, but DOB and Puppy say they need a more definitive answer. Should he bark or bleat? Eat bones or grass? Difficult, indeed.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Some Things We Like to Do


Move. He's not quite crawling yet, but with a combination of rolls, lunges, wiggles and slides he can really cover the ground.

Knock. It's noise. Whenever his squirming takes him near some large, resonant object, like a box or a chair leg, he takes his little fist and knocks on it. I think he's going to want a drum set.

Eat. I didn't think it would be possible for any baby to eat more than D1 did, but he's obviously going to do his best. I give him spoons and encourage him to learn to get it in himself. I do have things to get done besides poking food into his mouth for two hours a day.


Talk. The connector words are still mostly missing, but she can get the idea across. "D1 go gramma grampa house day!"

Write. With crayons, with pens. In D2's chair, in her own chair, standing at the table or the counter. On any piece of paper she finds around, including the checkbook.

Give orders. The trouble is, she knows the procedures so well, we can't really disobey her. "Papa get up! Papa shirt on! D2 change! Papa oooze (shoes) on! Papa stand up! Papa go church! Mama go church! D1 go church! D2 go church!"

And yes, she usually talks in exclamation points.


Sleep. D2 has made it 5.5 hours solid for the last two nights. Ahhhhh.

Write. Too well, as here I am doing it when I should be doing the dishes and laundry.