Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Garden Construction - Laying Path

No time to write a full post today, but I wanted to share some photos from the weekend's work. Once again, we had one sunny day and two days of rain and mud. Sunday night our camera stopped working so I don't know when I will next have new pictures to share.

Saturday, the digging is done and the raspberry trellis is up:

Starting to get the path in place:

Sunday, putting in the "Snap-Edge" to hold the pavers in place. These come in 8-foot lengths, and you basically nail them to the ground with giant spikes.

The connection to the patio is shown below. Average had to make several cuts to the pavers to get this corner to look this way, but he is still considering adding one more triangle-cut stone. What do you think?

Here we are Sunday afternoon, completely muddy, tired, and sore, but very happy with ourselves!

As always, there is still more to do: filling and planting the cells of the path, getting new soil for the raised beds, repairing our lawn, and tilling for the flower bed next to the house. But, the hardest, heaviest work is done! Average weighed the pavers and they are about 65 pounds each. No wonder his back is hurting!

Thank you to my sister Molly for coming and digging, shoveling gravel, and moving many pavers for us. Thanks to my mom for babysitting Sweet Pea, bringing dinner on Friday, and tidying up the house. Thanks to Average's mom and partner for preparing an amazing turkey dinner for us all on Saturday night. Thanks to our friend Brad for making the gravel layer get put in so quickly, and finally thanks to my dad for watching Sweet Pea on Sunday afternoon so we could get the path totally put in and properly edged. We couldn't have accomplished this without all of your help! We are so lucky to have such amazing family and friends.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Green Cleaning in the Bathroom

Today I did my first whole-room cleaning with only home-made products. I attacked the bathroom, which was dingy and soap-scummed.

For the sink, toilet, and bathtub, I used straight white vinegar rubbed on with a sponge or a brush, followed by a scrubbing with baking soda. The fizzing and foaming when the two combined made it kind of fun! I found I didn't have to scrub any harder than I usually do with my store-bought products, and the porcelain is now sparkling clean! The mirrors and floor were cleaned with vinegar and water. Vinegar doesn't smell the greatest, but the smell disappears as soon as it dries.

The most disgusting area of the bathroom, worse than the toilet, is the tile around our window. This window is the only one that the previous owners didn't replace with a new vinyl one. I think the reason is that they would have had to re-do the tile, but I sure wish they would have changed it! It is a metal window that slides open to the side. The sliding area fills up with yucky, slimy water, as the condensation that forms on the window is constantly rolling down into it. Instead of replacing the window and re-doing the tile, they just added some additional grout and sealant in the whole area, in a messy fashion. So, mildew and mold has a great place to grow in the gummy corners, and in some areas it looks like there is mildew BELOW the new sealant. I have tried many different products to clean this window area, and everything works equally poorly. Someday we will remodel this bathroom, but for now I just want to be able to maintain it looking a little less gross. I decided to do an experiment and compare tea tree oil (TTO) with grapefruit seed extract (GSE). I have taken GSE with juice as a home remedy for preventing infection, and have used diluted TTO on my skin and scalp. I bought some cheap spray bottles to mix my cleaners with water. I used about 20 drops of GSE with 14 ounces of water in one bottle, and about a teaspoon of TTO with 14 ounces of water in another bottle. I sprayed each cleaner on one half of the window and surrounding tile, and waited a few minutes while I cleaned another area. I was so excited when I came back to the window area, wiped my sponge across, and black mildew came off! Both cleaners seemed to work equally well, but I think I prefer the TTO because it leaves a cleaner, fresher smell in the room, and I have heard that it is produced in a greener process. Now, the gross window area isn't totally white and sparkling, like the tub is, but it is a huge improvement.

If you have done any blog posts comparing green cleaning products, please feel free to leave your links in comments!

One of the great things about using these cleaning ingredients is that I felt totally comfortable with Sweet Pea in the bathroom with me while I was doing the cleaning. The fumes are not harmful, as they are with some conventional cleaning products, and if she somehow got ahold of one of my spray bottles or sponges, a taste of them wouldn't be poisonous for her.

What room should I tackle next?
Also, does anyone have a recipe for a green carpet cleaner?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Who Am I?

I haven't yet written a complete "About Me" post yet, and I figured it's about time. I plan to use this for a new page of the blog using the new "Pages" feature of blogger.

Who Am I?
Before I had a baby (daughter's alias: Sweet Pea), before I became a teacher, before I got married (husband's alias: Average), before I spent six months in Spain, before I had one job for more than a few months, I was the kind of person who had an easy time describing herself. I won more local scholarships (in my tiny Oregon town) than anyone else the year that I graduated from high school, partly because I could clearly and distinctly explain who I was and where I was going. I participated in about as many extracurricular activities as a person can, and I was thrilled to go to college. I felt like I had limitless possibilities, and in a way, I did. It doesn't really feel that way anymore. I have been struggling to write this post for weeks, because even though there are plenty of labels I can apply to myself (mom, wife, teacher, doula), I somehow am finding it harder to define who I am. I have a husband, a mortgage, a dog, a baby, and not much free time. However, I am happy to have this blog in my life because I am finding it helps me to redefine what my priorities are and who I want to be in this new role of parenthood. I have loved writing about my choices and experiences here, and hope that I am able to inform and entertain you in the process. I started blogging because I felt I needed an outlet to share my personal thoughts and I wanted to keep my mind sharp with writing. Being a stay-at-home-mom has many challenges, one of which is the feeling of isolation during those days at home, especially in the beginning when it can be hard to get out with the baby. I felt like I was learning so much from books, the internet, and my experiences, and making so many important choices and changes in my life and I wanted to share it with someone - or everyone! So, I followed the lead of so many other "mommy-bloggers" out there and started writing for the internet. This blog has brought me new friends, new ideas, and a sense of satisfaction when I publish each post. The main topics I have covered include cloth diapers, food and gardening, home improvement and sewing, and our family's attempts at living a more green and healthy lifestyle with a new baby. I plan to continue to write on these topics, but expect that my blog will change some as my baby ages, as my work situation evolves, and as we add to our family.

My work history:
I have worked as a middle school and high school teacher, a substitute teacher, a receptionist, litter patrol crew member, assistant publisher for an online magazine, a restaurant hostess/waitress, a forest protection officer, and a wild-land firefighter. Being a mother is the hardest job I've had. I am about to start a long-term substitute teaching job, and expect that perhaps being a working mother will become the hardest thing I've done. I'll let you know.

The random facts:
My favorite color is blue, I love dessert, I like a clean house but I don't like to clean, I enjoy movies and TV more than I think I should, and I (like many many people) have always wanted to write a book. I married my best friend and the love of my life five years ago. He walked down the aisle to the throne room theme from Star Wars, and we spent our honeymoon in Belize. I am tall - 5'10". I can speak, understand, read, and write Spanish. I trained as a doula four years ago and have attended 8 births in that role. I love being a mother, but have struggled with many aspects of it: breastfeeding was a huge challenge for us, bedtime is often difficult, my baby is fickle about her tastes and will eat something one day and refuse it the next, and we have had to make lifestyle changes that I was probably in a little bit of denial about before our baby was born. However, Sweet Pea is incredibly easy to love and brings an abundance of joy and laughter to our lives. She has helped me to feel motivated to be more healthy in many aspects of my life, and I feel like I am constantly learning each day that I spend with her. So the hardest job is also the best job I've had.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Garden Construction - Digging and More Digging

When we bought our house over a year ago, the backyard consisted of grass, five overgrown fruit trees, two large rotting raised beds, and a corner compost pile. Last fall I hired a garden designer to help us plan for changes to our backyard, and we had our fruit trees professionally pruned. This month we started spending lots of time standing in the yard saying "hmmm... what about," scratching our heads and sighing. It seemed to be such a long process to figure out what to start with, what materials we wanted to use, and how much of the plan we could tackle this year. This past weekend we finally made some physical progress, which is much more satisfying than mental progress, and we have the sore muscles, muddy shoes, and scrapes (in addition to the changes to the yard itself) to prove it. We have deconstructed the old beds and compost pile, built 6 new 4'x8' cedar-board raised beds, and dug out for the path that will go around and between each bed, along the length of the yard and connecting to the patio and garden shed. We are using Turfstone, an open-cell concrete paver, for the path.

Saturday was sunny and Sweet Pea was happy to play in the grass for most of the day. Once we really got into the digging we fenced her in with the final raised bed (photo above), kind of like a giant open-bottom playpen. Sunday was rainy and she fell down, got her hands muddy, and cried as soon as I set her on the ground. She doesn't like to play on wet ground, apparently. So, I spent part of the day working with her in the ERGO on my back, avoiding any tasks that required much bending over. In the afternoon I went inside and hung out with her for a while, then got back to digging once she went down for a nap (thank goodness for baby monitors!)

Before we began. Average, measuring and sighing:

Sweet Pea does some measurements of her own:
Five of the beds are in place. That's my dad on the right, playing with Sweet Pea. He helped us out a ton on Saturday. Thanks, Dad!
These pavers are super heavy to move around! They are four inches tall and nearly 15"x30". But, they are great for drainage, and I think they look super cool. Plus, they will be great for walking on barefoot once we get the cells (empty diamonds) planted with moss and other "walkables."
Glen tries to help. Digging while baby-wearing. I think she is asleep here:
This is as far as we got by the end of the weekend. The gravel, sand, and pavers will be delivered this week and my mom and sister are kindly coming up to assist us in building the path.
We have more digging to do to get to the 8" depth recommended for installing the path with proper base layer, and still need to plot out and dig the connections to the patio and the garden shed (on the far end of the house, around the corner. Average is also hard at work constructing a set of poles to string wire between to support the raspberries as they grow, and has already completed building the new compost bin. Yes, we have undertaken a major job here, but there is even more I want to do! I really want to install the flower bed along the house this summer, as it is just one long bare, blank exterior wall right now, but we will see how much digging I can handle before I decide it's good enough for this year. The most important thing to us was being able to continue and expand our food-growing this year, so the raised beds have been the primary goal, and we did them! Woo hoo!

This is the long-term plan we are using, with a few modifications, from Villa Verde Garden Design:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Care.com Free Weekend

For anyone looking for a nanny, babysitter, pet sitter, senior care provider, or other care-person:

Care.com's Free Weekend starts tomorrow. This opportunity runs March 19th through March 21st.
During this weekend, anyone can search for caregivers, post jobs, and get contact information.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Green Cleaning

As part of my effort to lead a more green and healthy lifestyle, with fewer toxic products in my home, I have started learning about green cleaning. With just a few ingredients you can make most of your cleaners, and they generally work as well as the store-bought ones. In addition, your home-made cleaners will almost always be cheaper than the ones you buy ready-made in the store!

The basic ingredients that you will need are vinegar, baking soda, and water. For some cleaning jobs you might also want hydrogen peroxide, grapefruit seed extract, essential oils such as lemon or thyme, or borax. Two great articles/posts on this topic can be found at: Little Acorns to Mighty Oaks and Green America.

I used baking soda to clean my stove top yesterday and it worked great, and I am planning on testing out different variations of mixtures of grapefruit seed extract, vinegar, and essential oils, on the mildew around the window in my shower. Please share any suggestions or tips!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Feeding My One-Year-Old

You may have read about our earlier experiences and struggles with feeding Sweet Pea solids. Over the last month, she has continued to slowly expand her palate, and to eat with more regularity, saving me lots of worry. She has also continued to gain weight and height, and generally seems healthy and happy. Some major breakthroughs on the way to more consistent eating came, first when she learned the sign for "milk" and could let me know when she was hungry, then when she learned the sign for "more" which she usually uses for solid food, and finally, now that she is beginning to, messily, feed herself with utensils. She seems to really prefer to use the spoon herself, and last night ate a bowl of applesauce after Average handed her the spoon, when she had initially refused being spoon-fed by him. All of this goes to support my theory that she prefers to do things on her own. She seems to want to be in control of her own consumption and be able to make choices about what, when, and how much to eat. I am happy to provide those choices as long as she is eating something! Here she is with her spoon last night:
Right now she is eating three meals a day, and sometimes an afternoon snack as well. We usually do jarred baby food (we like to get the organic varieties, such as Earth's Best) and dry cereals like Cheerios and Rice Krispies for breakfast. For lunch, some favorites are crackers and cheese and scrambled eggs. Sometimes she eats what I'm eating if it's manageable with her eight teeth and tiny mouth. For dinner, we try to feed her what we're eating (she loves corn, rice, potatoes, and cooked veggies). The general idea is that we start by offering what we're eating. If she won't eat that, then we try purees and yogurt, if she won't eat that, then we try cereal or crackers. Sometimes after she's had a few bites of something she likes that she can feed herself (such as Annie's Cheddar Bunnies) she is more open to taking in other foods, too. I have found that feeding her is all about patience. If she turns her head away or throws things, I just go about eating my food, or play with her for a minute or two, and try again. About half the time, on the second try she is ready to eat. She sits in her Bumbo on a chair pulled up to the table with us most of the time, or in a high chair or in our laps at restaurants. I also give her a snack cup full of crackers, raisins, or yogurt melts to graze from throughout the day and during car rides. She is also still breastfeeding about four to five times a day, and once at night.

In general, I think her eating habits are fairly typical of a one-year-old, but like we had a longer road to get here than most. Maybe it would have been easier if I would have followed the standard directions and started her with rice cereal, then moved to veggies purees, then fruits, and so on. Or maybe not? I have a strong feeling that Sweet Pea's eating habits are just an expression of her personality.

What are your kids favorite foods and preferred ways to eat? Have your parents shared any stories about what it was like feeding you as a toddler? I'd love to read any insights or ideas in comments, as always.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Playing Outside

Today the weather was nice, so I pruned three bushes in my front yard. Maybe a little late, but they look much better now than they did before - all leggy and with dead branches. The most exciting part of this was that Sweet Pea was able to be out there with me. Last summer I did yard work while caring for her and she would just lay on a blanket or sit in her swing or bouncy chair and be happy. When she started crawling at about 7 months old, and was also still putting everything into her mouth, there was no way I could hang out outside with her without very vigilant constant monitoring. So, for the last six months or so, yard work only got done when both Average and I were home, it wasn't raining, and we felt like it. Which is to say that it pretty much never got done. Well, we're back at it as of today, now that she is walking and doesn't put quite EVERYTHING in her mouth any more.

I forgot to bring my camera out with me today so missed a few very photo-worthy moments of Sweet Pea touching a daffodil, pulling a piece of grass, or toddling around with her bucket in hand. Next time! And there will be many many more next-times throughout this spring (which officially starts in a little over a week) because we are getting a tax refund so can afford to build the garden that we want in the back yard. Six raised beds! A paver or turfstone path! A flower bed along the house! Permanent supports for our raspberries! A new compost bin! Can you tell I am excited?! I plan to do another post showing the garden plan and photos as we make progress. Please share any tips for success with any of these projects.

I am using the following books for inspiration:


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Our Favorite Children's Music

Does the thought of children's music put a smile on your face or a look of disdain? Personally, I have always enjoyed children's music, but I know many adults who, if they don't hate it, at least are annoyed by it. When I was a kid, my favorite albums were anything by Raffi, and Wee Sing Silly Songs. I loved singing songs at summer camp, and would sing in the car to pass to the time on trips. However, if you don't like children's music so much, you might want to try a regular adult musical artist who has made a children's album. My current favorites are:
Ziggy Marley's Family Time
Dan Bern's Two Feet Tall

Of course, just because music is marketed to adults doesn't mean that children and babies won't love it too. Lately we have been using music to help Sweet Pea fall asleep at night, and Average made a great mix that helps her to relax and drift off. The majority of these are songs that we have always liked and won't easily tire of, with a few Raffi classics thrown in for good measure. Here is the list:

F-Stop Blues     Jack Johnson    Brushfire Fairytales
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot    Raffi    The Corner Grocery Store
Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby    Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss & Gillian Welch    O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Daughters    John Mayer    Heavier Things      
Blackbird    Sarah McLachlan    I Am Sam Soundtrack 
Rock-A-Bye Baby    Raffi    The Corner Grocery Store 
Hard Time Killing Floor Blues   Chris Thomas King    O Brother, Where Art Thou?  
I'm Yours    Jason Mraz    We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things    
Yellow    Coldplay    Parachutes 
Imagine   John Lennon    The John Lennon Collection
Slip Slidin' Away    Paul Simon    The Paul Simon Anthology
Home On the Range    Gene Autry    The Essential Gene Autry
Lullaby    Dixie Chicks    Taking the Long Way  
Goodnight, Irene    Raffi    The Corner Grocery Store

If you are not familiar with Raffi, and you like fun, acoustic kids music, I would recommend checking out:

Another favorite of mine when I was a child was the Really Rosie album and matching book by Carole King.

What are your favorite kids songs or albums?

*I do get a commission on Amazon sales from readers clicking through my links to buy, and from my Amazon carousel in the sidebar.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

She's a Toddler

Over the last weeks, my baby turned into a toddler. She is walking everywhere and can go from sitting to standing without pulling up on anything, and she turned one year old. I think that makes it official. We will have to start attending "toddler story time" instead of the baby story time at the public library. Even with the frequent bumps and falls, walking has been tremendously fun and exciting for all of us, and we can't wait for the next steps (running, jumping, riding bikes?)

I have mentioned this before, but I just can't quite believe sometimes that the baby that I birthed a year ago is really going to turn into a CHILD, and then a teenager, and then an adult! It blows my mind. That's how life works, so it shouldn't be a surprise, right? Am I the only one who is regularly shocked by the passage of time?

A few photos from the birthday party:
With the giraffe that Grandma made.

The carrot cake: I made it, Average decorated.

In her pretty new tutu.

Congratulations to us! We made it through one year of breastfeeding, cloth diapering, night-time waking, baby-proofing, laundry for 3 people, and learning to travel as a family, among other things. We are looking forward to more learning and adventure in the year ahead!