Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I Blame Louisa, Laura, and Lucy

Lately, I've been noticing that a lot of bloggers I casually enjoy seem to have a small running theme. A similarity. A coincidence, perhaps, but a common thread, regardless.

Sure, some blogs share a pioneering spirit, raising chickens and baking their own bread and growing what they eat. Others like getting their hands dirty and DIYing their hearts out. Lots share a life-simplifying philosophy. Many chat about living an earth-friendly life. Most ultimately focus on giving their all to their families.

Just drop the name "Anne" (with an "e") on Facebook and the chatter starts. The same can be said for Laura and, to a lesser extent, Jo.

I blame the ladies. Those independent lady authors who came before us and created such true-to-life characters (characters who often reflected their own independent streaks) that still resonate with readers and fans a hundred plus years later.


Like many who grew up in the late '70s and '80s, I watched quite a bit of "Little House on the Prairie" and then, after watching my sister read the crap out of the series, swiped them from her book shelf when I was old enough to read a chapter book. During a time that could be construed as a bit terrifying (high child mortality rate, taking huge risks traveling to a new, dangerous territory to raise one's family, relying on one's own hands to provide food and shelter), Laura and her family faced challenges but grew together with warmth and even some fun. "Half-Pint" was allowed to be her own individualistic, at-times outspoken self.

I still think of her when I smell lemon verbena or see it at Bath & Body Works.

Laura was my gateway girl. Sweet and readable, I longed to eat biscuits with jam, grow my own garden, pull taffy, wear calico dresses with braids, and pretty much build a time machine to go join Laura in any one of her family's cabins. It was definitely one of the things that sparked my history obsession.

Next, thanks to the impeccably-produced "Avonlea" TV series, which my mother and I watched religiously each week, I became interested in the books of Lucy Maud Montgomery. I took one or two of her original Chronicles of Avonlea books from the library, but got absolutely hooked when I met Anne.

I loved Lucy's Sarah Stanley, but Anne was timeless. Between Megan Follows' performance in the miniseries and finally reading a handful of the Anne books (namely, Anne of Green Gables) when I was old enough to comprehend the flowery language (very Victorian), I lurved her. Anne (with an "e") Shirley was handed a pretty unlucky hand. Orphaned. Passed from one unfriendly family to the next. She finally landed in Prince Edward Island with strict, sensible Marilla Cuthbert and her silent, sweet brother, Matthew.

Her spunk, spirit, independence, and intelligence always inspired me. Aside from her disdain for her red hair, she never seemed to feel sorry for her lot in life. It helped me to recognize that, throughout history, lives have been hard. Damn hard. Far harder than mine, even growing up without my father. It taught me to suck it up and find the joys in life.

And, then, there was my all-time favorite author and character.

I watched the movie first -- the good one, the 1994 one. (I love Katharine Hepburn, but hers is only second place of the five -- yes, FIVE -- versions.) It became a family classic. My sister and I will still throw in the DVD on those "off" days we need the comfort of the story and the friends within. Then, in about 8th grade, I got my very own copy of Little Women for Christmas (which, considering the first chapter's theme, was perfect). Since then, I've read it piecemeal every year, or a different LMA work or biography. I have a new copy, but kept the old one. Of course. My dream is to own a first edition (two volumes).

Jo, the second oldest of four March girls, is the epitome of a feisty chick. She feels incredible highs when she's able to read, write, and act with her sisters and friend-next-door Laurie (um, a guy), and incredible lows when she feels a great urge to be able to do greater things during the Civil War and in her own life, a tad bitter that she wasn't born a boy with the rights they were afforded. She'd rather run, use slang, and speak her mind than be quiet or prim and proper. She's a modern woman if ever there was one. I like to think she (in the form of Louisa May Alcott, her alter-ego) would have very much enjoyed and embraced the independence that women have gained, and it makes me appreciate the education and choices I've been afforded. Even if I have chosen to get married and have kids. *wink, wink*

Little Women and LMA is one of the reasons that we like to travel to Concord from time to time. I've been through her house once (and, honestly, felt like I was meeting a celebrity the whole time) and have learned about transcendentalism, her famous family friends and acquaintances, and every year seem to find out more deeply interesting facts about her family and past. The fact that it's the site of the shot heard 'round the world...well, for a history freak like me, that's the icing on the cake. Nom nom.

I think it's only natural that so many of the independent female writers of today who may see any of these writers or their timeless girls as idols have taken to the interwebs to write their own hearts. The women of yore were romantic but realistic. True to themselves and independent. Hard workers to support their families. Strong as hell in the face of adversity. They helped show us a world outside our tiny little girl lives, inspired us to dream, and taught us to try what we want and work hard at it.

Write away, girls. Write away.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mama Must-Haves

Today's post contains affiliate links. They won't make your computer explode or steal your identity...I hope.

So many friends and acquaintances on Facebook (and, y'know, in the real world) are having babies left and right. We're in talks ourselves, but are still putting off a second bambino for the time being. We're also pretty private about things; that "don't tell anyone until the second trimester" thing is law for us, outside of one or two close family members or a BFF.

All these gorgeous shots of tiny shut-eyed beauties got me thinking about Hadman and what it was like to bring him home those 2+ years ago. Oh, how terrified and unprepared we felt. I'm tons more laid-back now, and Dave's improved immensely. We're kinda rocking it, parentally. Most of the time. 

Whenever we choose to have another (if we should be so lucky, knocking on lots of wood), I'm excited to try some things that, for one reason or another, didn't work out with our first little guy. I'll admit that, while I "tried" cloth diapering, I didn't succeed -- okay, I failed at it. So, that. There's that.

Also, with how humongous our monkey was, babywearing didn't really work out, either. It is what it is, but I hope to try it in the future. Maybe a future babe will enjoy it (and it'll probably make life a bit easier with a bigger brother running around).

But enough of the stuff that didn't work for us. Here are some of the stuff that I wouldn't live without that worked out awesomely for us...


#1 - It took awhile to decide on a pump to use at school everyday, so I took a risk purchasing this Medela In Style Advanced Breast Pump. Turns out, it wasn't such a risk, after all! This thing is a work horse. It comes with everything you need (you'll need to replenish your storage bags, but that's pretty much it). Once you get the hang of, y'know, feeling like you're being milked in a small space at work, it feels like routine -- thanks to this machine. Considering how nerve-wracking the whole concept of pumping can be, having a pump you can trust with such a delicate process is golden.   

#2 - I know, I know. You're thinking, "isn't this supposed to be essentials for parenting a baby?" Yup. We read to Hadley from week one, and it's pretty much his favorite thing to do today. And he's two. This was our first Mo Willems book, and we've been addicted ever since. Have you met Elephant and Piggie? If not, you totally should. They're the gateway drug to Pigeon. I also foresee some Knufflebunny in our future.

#3 - This Fisher-Price Space Saver High Chair (in a neutral color; ours is tan with polka dots) is probably the baby product with the most longevity. We used it from about 5-6 months until the present, and I foresee using it for awhile still. As the name implies, it saves the space of a regular high chair by utilizing a regular old dining chair as its base. When the time comes, this thing will store awesomely, too. I just can't say enough good about it. Seriously.

#4 - Dave insisted that I include Sophie, and I can't blame him too much. She's a classic, she's adorable, and Hadman lovingly chomped on her for quite awhile. Plus, giraffes turned out to be his spirit animal during his first year, so it was a perfect match. Don't mind the price tag on this one; she's worth it.

#5 - Glass bottles?! Are you insane?? Yes, but that's beside the point. These classic Evenflo glass bottles worked wonderfully and put my super-obsessed mama mind to rest about BPA and all those other nasties, especially when warming. We also used the smaller 4 ounce size, especially when he was holding his own bottles. Side note: When the kiddos get bigger and you're heading to a place that you know will have a tile floor, just keep an extra eye on the bottles. Made that mistake once; will never make it again.

#6 - If you're a new mama and you're having a hard time getting your little one to sleep at night, all I can say is -- SWADDLE, SWADDLE, SWADDLE! Then swaddle some more. These organic muslin blankies are what I prefer thanks to their breathability (especially when your newborn is a summer baby) and flexibility, which allows just the right amount of movement and comfortable snuggliness. Seriously, it sounds crazy, but these were a lifesaver. Probably the only reason we got ANY sleep.

#7 - The sooner you get a potty chair, the better. Santa brought this Bjorn Baby potty, which has since lived in the kitchen (under the above Space Saver chair, actually) and is utilized daily. He's not fully trained yet, but the fact that he's shown an interest since about 18 months is incredible. Thank you, Santa! He also knows that it's HIS special potty, so that's pretty great, too. Quick tip: Get a cheap little plastic bin and leave a handful of board books, along with dipes and wipes, next to your main potty. You'll get sick of the books (seriously, we could recite our four books from memory), but it'll make potty time way easier and fun for everyone.

#8 - We got a few bottles of Baby Bee shampoo-and-body-wash for our shower, and I'm so glad we did. I don't think I've had to buy a bottle yet! I just keep refilling my small one from the huge bulk-sized one. This is Hadman's main soap (he's also used one I had to review, which was fine), and I prefer it because a) it works, b) it's natural, c) it smells AWESOME (he doesn't smell like a little hippie baby; he smells just like a BABY...you know the smell...the one you want to bottle and never let go), and d) it makes for a super fun bubble bath. I've even been known to use it as shampoo when I'm low from time to time. #noshame #notsorry


What were some of your essentials? Do you agree/disagree with any of my suggestions?

Oh, and feel free to check out the rest of my baby list items (I'm still adding) if you need a few more suggestions. Hint: Cheapest organic crib mattress EVER. Just sayin'. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Currently - July 25th

In 1970's game show announcer voice: "Welcome to this week's episode of Currently!" Let's see what's up, shall we?


This week has been full of watching. Watching the weather to see whether (weather...whether...whatever) I could do some work outdoors or in during a Hadnap. Watching the little guy's heiny thanks to a horrible case of...well, use your imagination. What makes one's heiny particularly neon red? Poor little monkey. (It's teething, BTW.) Watching a buttload of Sesame Street to keep him chill and relaxed. Watching "Little Women" during naptime because, well, Mama can only take so much Sesame Street.


Searching for my ancestors on Ancestry.com is beyond rad. The nights that I can keep my eyelids open enough, that is. Dude. I'm related to Martin Van Buren. (Not the best president ever...or possibly one of the worst...but it's better than Hitler.) Oh, and we've got a handful of relatives that came during the "Great Migration" in the 1630s, along with one that goes back to Edward I. Yep. King of England, folks. Feel free to kiss my feet or try to overtake my kingdom and behead me. That might be fun.

It just goes to show you, though, that you're missing out on something if you ignore the ladies. I wouldn't have discovered any of the particularly cool ancestors (or the "important" connections, although those who migrated during the Irish migration are just as important as the "known" characters on the tree) or have gotten as much information if I hadn't clicked on the little leaf next to the ladies' names. Mind you, it saddens me that there can be full-length books written about a family's gentlemen but all you really find out about the ladies is their birth, death, and marriage dates. But, as I've always known, we are all truly equal as individuals and, damn it, ladies are cool.

Probably why I'm so thoroughly enjoying reading Marmee & Louisa by Eve LaPlante. It's no secret I'm a Louisa May Alcott fan (see above spiel about Little Women), and this is an in-depth look at how her relationship with her oft-ignored mother impacted her life and writings. The fact that the author is a distant relative who grew up with first-source materials in her attic just adds to the "thrilling factor."

We're growing them big here in the dorky/acting out household. Aye-yea. Veggies in the garden. Cats on the furniture. Toddlers who look like they could start kindergarten tomorrow. He won't have his two-year appointment until next month (his pediatrician is having a baby this month, so...sheesh, how dare he? ;-)), but it'll be interesting to hear what percentile he's in. I feel awkward when people start talking to him in the 4-year-old rather than 2-year-old way at the grocery store and expect answers. There are times that he's completely social ("HI!!!!" is pretty much all he'll say to strangers, though) and others when he's a terrified ball of shyness, so either way, they doth ask too much.


Ignoring the fact that (counts on fingers) FIVE months from TODAY is Christmas, folks. The mess. The toys. The pile of ignored clothes. The running from one family to the next. The baking, the buying, the wrapping. Actually...I'm a little excited...but I'm still ignoring it. Hoping to simplify things a bit this year, too, so we won't jump off that bridge until we get to it.

What about you? What's "currently" happening with you? Growing anything cool? Ignoring? Searching?

Linking up to the incomparable Harvesting Kale and fabulous Ot & Et.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why Would I Want One of Those?

Our house is a step back in time. Our TV is an Admiral. (Dave's from a long time ago.) No flat-screen. Just a big black box. We keep it prominently displayed just in case someone considers casing the joint. (And when it goes, we have a second just-as-outdated TV waiting in the wings.)

We have a record player (that also plays cassette tapes - I only have one anymore - and radio) in our sun room.

And, in an unfun take on the ever-popular, ever-ruined (in the library world, at least) "Where's Waldo" books, just try and see what's missing from our kitchen. Aside from general housewifey cleanliness.



Yup, no dishwasher.

There are a couple of reasons that we never took that plate plunge.

First, there's no realistic space for the thing without making the place look seriously effed up. The base cabinet would look all funky near the sink, and there really isn't the space for it there, anyway. Our kitchen's a pretty good size (there's a wall of cabinetry behind where I took the picture and tons of space for a small table/stools and cat food - priorities, people - on the right), but it was built in 1920, so there's really no non-awkward place for one.

Oh, and for the record, I'm not sure if it's the more efficient way to wash or not. I should probably search for some ways TO make it more efficient, but the comparisons seem minimal (and, in all honesty, I'm tons faster than Dave at it, so I think it's a tad more efficient the faster you are; play "beat the water", it's fun. *shakes head* It isn't.). Still, I'll continue the search. In case you're wondering, here are a few interesting articles: Treehugger (love them), NPR (love them, too) and GizMag (who?).

Anyhoo, the other big reason is that we really don't care. We've been offered the gift of a dishwasher several times, but we always quickly agree that it wouldn't be necessary. We really don't mind washing dishes by hand. And, regardless of what it may sound like, we tend not to have a full sink of dishes always waiting to be washed. (Sometimes a couple of random mugs or a plate and a knife or fork from breakfast. Maybe.)


I know. Crazy, right?

I guess that, since we've lived here, we've really gotten used to this method. Our apartments didn't have dishwashers, but we both grew up with them (and I'm assuming Dave didn't do a lot of kitchen cleaning as a teenager...just a guess; I, however, have done an @$$ ton of it since early childhood), so we know the pros to those magical mystery machines. Really, yes, they're great. We get it. We do.
But, a dishwasher's not a necessity. Plus, I've come to enjoy dish washing.

Okay, wait. The wording's wrong there. I've come to enjoy not mind dish washing. Using a brush (we used to have one for just the baby's stuff plus a bottle brush to keep it all "less contaminated" and started using the old baby brush on our stuff...now that he's allowed to eat dirt and other things I can't fathom, we're using the same one), it's fast and easy, and seeing an empty sink and full dish rack is completely fulfilling.

It also gets me off my @$$. It's easy to fall into the "sit and stare at the TV" mode after eating, especially a bigger meal like dinner. But, knowing that there's a pile of dishes waiting in the sink makes me completely unable to relax. No way. So, after the dishes are done, sometimes I ride off the rush of having accomplished at least one tiny bit of housework for the day, using the adrenaline to get something else done...or patting myself on the back and feeling that I've deserved some TV/blogging/Ancestry.com/reading/stare-at-my-husband-until-he's-uncomfortable time.

And what's better than that? Even when we move one day and, say, the joint doesn't have a dishwasher...I doubt we'll jump on the bandwagon.

What about you guys? Who's a hand washer? Who swears by their dishwasher? Who just makes their kids do it like my mom? I can't blame her, really. Her parents got an automatic dishwasher after she graduated and got married (which happened practically at the same time), so I think she realized what her value was to the family. ;-)

Come to think of it...wait a minute.

Hmm. Hmph.    

Monday, July 21, 2014

Being Kinda Productive For Once

I finally kickstarted my "get some $%&# done around the house" engine. Maybe the guilt of not doing stuff was hanging over my head. Maybe the fact that I purchased paint weeks ago and it was sitting, unused, on our deck. Maybe I finally got enough energy (or overcame the mental demons). Maybe I wanted to find "bursts"(remember those?)  of easier-to-manage tasks (or chunked-up tasks) to make it seem simpler.

Whatever it was, I got to work. And, slowly but surely, the trend continues. It even spilled into the nearest vicinity like a nasty plague (not to the neighbors; to Dave!).

I had already wire brushed a majority of the formerly invasive ivy plants which had attacked the side of our foundation. Seriously, the left caterpillar-esque tendrils of plant veins clinging with what looked like millions of legs ON the cement. There were areas that I just painted over them (uncool, I know), but for the most part those buggers were gone.

So a few quick tips for painting a foundation...

Use a crappy brush. This is actually one of my FAVORITE short rubber-handled angle brushes, but it had seen its day. Your brush will be ruined and will no longer be able to follow a straight line. It's a drunk brush, but it works for this purpose.


Use horrible posture and wear the least supportive shoes on earth. Seriously. I know you want to take several minutes to get up then walk like you're 90 when you're done, right? Follow this example:


Show your toddler-toting guns. Seriously, I didn't know I had those. Thanks for the awesome picture-taking, Dorky Daddy!

My actual advice is to use an old newspaper to not only catch drips but use as a guard. Yes, it'll keep paint from getting onto your garden beds/driveway/etc (it actually works; the stuff you see is actually junk from when they put in our new window) BUT it keeps your brush from getting dirt/gravel/mulch/randomness stuck in its bristles.



Nothing to see here, really. Just enjoying the picture. I look badass. Painting. With a "Life is Good" ("Half Full" glass) hat and my too-big cast t-shirt from our high school production of "Once Upon a Mattress". It's my go-to painting shirt and has splatters from every set I've ever painted on it. It's getting buried with me. But, of course.

 
The perfectionist-without-perfection will admit right here, right now, for all the world to read: I'm not a fan of the paint color. I'm not sure what I was thinking. I know I wanted a more charcoal color, and admittedly this one looked darker on the swatch (and in the can, which tells me it's not mixed wrong). I'm positive it's the combination of a super bright summer sun and the angle with which it hits the foundation. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

It also dries dark...er. Darker. Kinda.



Either way, it looks cleaner and brighter, so it's fine. I'm not going to nitpick. S'all good.

I started the project late last week, then spent time with family on Saturday and got back to business on Sunday during naptime. Since there's a chance of rain today, I'm not expecting to finish today (I'm about 2/3 done), but if I do, I do. And I kind of hope I do.

No worries, though. I've got another project halfway finished that will grab my attention if the "rain rain rain comes down down down..."

This. Damn. Ceiling. Okay. So...ahem. This spot had a super budget style light fixture installed...but it had been placed where the angled ceiling meets the straight part of the ceiling in our upstairs hallway. Like, a half circle was cut out of the angled ceiling. Crazy town.

 
(This is actually after I patched it for the LAST TIME.)

We've patched and sanded sporadically over the years, always putting it off longer. There were times we had thin little sheets of crappy patchwork hanging precariously. The cats had grown to ignore them, so used to the crapfest were they.

So, Sunday morning after we went out to breakfast (and I had discovered that my favorite antique center nearby wouldn't open for another hour, egad), we returned home with one foul-moody, high-strung mama on board. I felt like I was spinning my wheels, so I checked my short list of house to-do's, grabbed my sander and step stool and started the a-gypsum a-flyin'. (Not sure if it's really gypsum in drywall...or whatever our house is made of...but work with me here.)

Of course, since I threw myself headlong into the project (happens. every. time.), I had failed to check on our spackle supply. D'oh. Very little, and all dried out.

Sooooo, Dave was good enough to watch Hadman while I ran to Lowe's. Of course, $100-something later I also came home with a few super cheap window blinds and a handful of other do-dads for other projects...and my beloved Dap goes-on-pink/dries-white stuff.

I applied, then had lunch, put the munchkin down for a nap, and hit the outdoors (see: foundation painting). After Dave had gone inside and got the little guy up, I finished my painting for the day and headed indoors to sand, yet again.

I'm sure you already know this, but start with the lower grit number (it's rougher); the higher, the gentler (finish with the gentler stuff).

Oh, and another word of advice. Don't take selfies. Seriously, just don't. But, if you MUST take a selfie, be sure to do it ONLY when you can embarrass yourself royally with it. 





And don't lick your lips after sanding. Stupid idea.

So, today I hope to slap on a coat of ceiling paint (how do I have two gallons of THAT in the basement but am incessantly out of what I usually need?)

Oh, and I also took the cat tower's rope scratching post from annihilated (spelled that on first try, woo to the hoo!) to looks-like-new --

RIP Monty Mouse. He squealed. #beardsleesourgodfather #jaspersourmuscle
Complete with massive amounts of help and support from Beardslee along the way. #notreally #heslept  He made some headway on reupholstering Daddy's computer chair completely in cat fur, though.


And I thought I'd share a few pics of how the garden's doing, along with its fashionable tulle attire (to keep cat poop out of our food...how's THAT for fabulous?).



Last I knew, those things (to the left, to the left) weren't trees. Too bad they turned into trees this summer 'cuz they're bogarting all the sun for my garden, man.

Oh, and the trellis near the garden in that picture? History. (It was being eaten by ants.) That was Dave's huge project this weekend, and it's awesome to finally have the thing down. Plus, a farmer helping neighbors move asked if he could take the posts and everything (ants and all), so it all got a second life. *warm fuzzies*


Summer squash lookin' all growy and stuff...


Can you see what I see? Look closely...little neon green cuteness. (I don't mind that they're cute. I just mind the taste when they turn red and, y'know, "edible." Ew. I love my husband enough to grow him two tomato plants, guys. That's mad huge love.)


Right after I picked one handful of lettuce, right before I picked the rough-around-the-edges leaves. Keeping it real.


Our first "bounty." Just a teensy strawberry (I moved those near the front of the garage and they're doing "eh, okay") that Hadley ate immediately, a couple of cherry tomaters and jalapenos, and a fistful of lettuce.

Whew! So! I know it's a long one, but that's how we've been productive lately. How about you? Getting anything checked off any lists -- even if your list includes sitting on a sandy beach with something cold to drink? (I'd like to live vicariously.) Go ahead, tell! Or just post some horrific selfies in the comments to make me feel better about my lack of selfie skillz.