Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thing a Day

I signed up for the thing a day challenge, because I felt my life hasn't been stressful enough lately. Actually, it helps me to be creative when life is stressful! So, I'll be posting my pictures there starting tomorrow. It's basically a site where all the registered folks create on thing a day for the entire month of February. That's 29 things this year. Registration ends at midnight tonight:

Today's creation won't count, but he's cute! I really want a better exacto knife. Not an emergency. Not a need. The crab's legs would have been easier to cut out.

There's a beautiful, soft falling snow today, the house is warm and the kids have spend this morning working on their magazine submissions for their Writer's Workshop. Homeschooling life is back to normal, the kids didn't suddenly get stupid overnight because we spent the day reading out loud (finished The Wheel on the School) instead of calculating the permimeter and area of composite figures.

I don't know a homeschooling parent who doesn't occasionally go into a panic funk over what their kids are or aren't doing. It's painful when it happens, but a bit easier to overcome each time. Like me, my children are slow to get moving in the mornings. If their day doesn't start until 10 or 11, they still manage to learn and the earth still manages to spin on it's axis. Most days I can rememer that. Some days I have trouble. I think because it was so cold in the house yesterday - and too cold to knit! - my brain froze on the fact that the kids were having a hard time concentrating.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It only gets better from here

My baby turned 4 yesterday! Four candles, four years since that freezing night of his birth, four. I relived his birth in my dreams last night, the howling wind kept me awake. I have no desire to be pregnant again or to have another child, but would love to have just one more birth like his. We labored at home until it was almost too late, he arrived 1/2 an hour after we got to the hospital, no anesthesia, no tearing, no nothing. A perfect 9 pound, 6 ounce midwife delivered VBAC.

Today I'm trying to relax about the fact that we did very little yesterday in homeschooling land due to the big, big birthday and are doing even less today. Trying not to let it worry me, trying not to feel like we are "behind" or "lazy." The fact is that we are cold.

The furnace went out this morning. It was 60 degrees when Mark left at 6, but he didn't think much of that as we set the thermostat for 64 at night and it was bitterly cold. I didn't get up until 7 and it was 58 degrees then. Still no worries. When I walked past with another cup of steaming (literally) coffee almost an hour later and noticed the thermostat read 56, I started to panic. I took the fish upstairs, called Mark, called a service guy, woke up the older two to get them tidying up our incredibly messy post-birthday home and started to work on the basement.

I've always called our basement a toxic waste dump. It is a dump. It is where we dump every possible thing we just can't throw out. We have good intentions - save boxes, bubble wrap and packing pillows for eBay sales; save the boxes we got from blueberry picking this year for next year; save fabric for weaving, knitting and other projects (OK, this borders on a compulsion); save, save, save. But don't bother to organize anything, or put it anywhere but at the bottom of the stairs! I worked up a sweat for half an hour moving junk from one place to another, sweeping up corn from around the freezer (don't ask) and cat mess from behind it (ditto) in case the guy had to get to the breaker box. I cleared in front of the furnace, moved all the hanging clothes (remember the dryer?) to the other side of the basement and cleared a path to the water shut off.

I guess because the temp was 56 when I called, they sent someone really quickly. We had half an hour and did an amazing job! Our guy was very nice, got it working, cleaned it, changed the humidifier filter and dropped the temperature to 53 in the process. No we're back to a balmy 56 and out nearly $300. That's our third major appliance to break - dryer, car, furnace. I think we are done now. I hope we are.

It really is too cold to concentrate on anything. We tried getting on the couch under blankets, but the Little Man was just too squirmy, too four to pay attention to The Story of the World. They are now all on the top bunk - hot air rises - playing DS and other electronic things under the blankets. I might try to get more interest in Babylon when the house hits 60.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Watch this!

Take two minutes out of your life, you aren't too busy to click the button. It's worth it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Swish, Swish

We had a great time cross-country skiing yesterday. After a week of really frigid weather, yesterday was start of the big warm up, today all the snow will melt as the temperature reaches the mid-forties.

We had been cooped up all week from the lack of a car and the cold. The weekend was beautiful. The Cook County Forest Preserve District operates a ski rental facility at Camp Sagawau near Lemont. The facility is in an old farmhouse and they can rent skis to people as small as the Little Man and as big as me.

We only tried the trail labeled "easy." It has been nearly 30 years (and one original ankle) since I last skied, and after yesterday, I really regret the absence. The trail was very scenic, but started with a scary hill. As this was full of bald spots, we took the advice of one of the volunteers and carried our skis down. From there, it was smooth sailing, sort of. Mark and I managed not to fall, but not for lack of trying. The kids fell often, but only one really learned how to get up. Mark had to hold the Little Man's hand or even carry him part of the way. I focused on my balance.

The older two tackled the large up hill in the picture, and fell. Little Missy couldn't quite figure out how to stand up and managed to slip her ski and boot off, it slid to us at the bottom of the hill. That's when we realized she had removed her socks to get the boot to fit better. Yikes. Mark carried the ski and boot up the hill to her while Nathan went around the loop and got to go down the hill on the other side. The Little Man, ever so helpful, had removed his skis and climbed the hill on foot to help his sister. While Mark was helping her get her boot on and the other ski off, our munchkin managed to hide a ski almost completely in a hollow log.

We'll go again this winter. At $30 per family, it's a really reasonable outing. And, if memory serves me correctly, it gets easier, the kids will fall less and be less frustrated as time goes on. Even with all the falling and the difficulty getting up hills, we all had a great time.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Baby, it's cold outside!

My usual morning routine is to go for a half hour walk, read the Chicago Tribune online, get the weather forecast from, read comics (through a Seattle paper, I think), read my favorite blogs, check email and then start my day. It takes a while, but I take a while to wake up. 2 large cups of coffee.

When I checked the weather at about 7, it was -5 degrees air temperature. We have a dangerous wind chill warning. And there's about an inch of snow that needs to be shoveled off the sidewalks. Wow, that's cold. And it's been cold, although not this cold, for days now. Ever since the Buick died last week it's been cold. Not good walking to stores and classes weather.

So, what have we done since being banished indoors? Let's see. Moon sand has been strewn all about the living room, sticking deep into the spaces between the floor boards and at the junction of the fireplace apron and the floor. Many of us have had a cold, so we've mostly huddled and blown our noses. Those who do not have a cold have been busy making Kleenex sculptures, villages and people. Paper has been brought out, as have crayons, markers, and tape. The little man is in his tape period right now, it's amazing what a child can do with a roll of tape. What goes through the brain as it decides to tape together R2D2, a pop stick with moon sand on it, a balloon and a play mobile goat?

The house is a mess with us being home all the time, it's impossible to keep up with the tidying. Roomba doesn't like moon sand, he still has no voice and now his battery wont hold a charge. So, he's no help. Of course, I would be more help if I spent more time cleaning and less time knitting!

We have been getting more scholarly pursuits accomplished. We made a run to the library when the car came home last night and picked up 18 items that had been on old for us, transferred from other libraries. We've been doing more science experiment, more history reading and playing around with math more. We have some old science project books from the 1980s, the one we are going through right now is Physical Science Activities for Grades 2 through 8. This is how my kids like to learn science, by doing things. They have been learning about light by doing things making a pinhole camera and seeing how light bends through water.

We have been walking to dance class, just three blocks away. Three nights a week we have dance, one night for each child. It's supposed to get all the way up to 10 degrees today for Little Missy's class. A heat wave.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

From Bad to Worse

Just when we thought things really couldn't get worse for our family, the wolf is at our door. This whole string of bad luck started on December 15th, and we really think it should be done by now! It's a strange Murphy's luck vortex that we just can't seem to get out of.

First our youngest fell through the ice, then our oldest had his ear impaled with a stick, the dryer gave up the ghost and the car Mark uses for work conked out one fine pre-dawn morning in the middle of nowhere. He was working a 12 hour shift, gone from 3:30 in the afternoon until 6:30 in the morning and we were unable to make a decision on how to proceed with the ancient Buick until that was over.

Despite the mechanic telling us he didn't know how long the car would last if he fixed the alternator, we decided to go ahead with the repair. The $366.57 (including tow) repair. After all, it's not like we were intending for Mark to use it for his daily 50 mile each way commute. We weren't even intending to use it for our weekly 18 mile each way commute to Girl Scouts, or our weekly Writer's Workshop probably 8 miles away. No, we just wanted to get to gymnastics, dance, the library and maybe the gym - all within a four mile radius of our home.

We picked up the land barge this morning. I insisted Mark come back home with it so I wouldn't be stranded on the highway with three kids in the back and the mercury not quite at 10 degrees. We did OK on the highway for maybe 10 miles and then it started making noises. When we were off the highway, Mark discovered he couldn't stop without the car dying. We just barely made it home, Mark took side streets, blew through stop signs and got very lucky with traffic. It died at the end of the driveway, emitting a strange metallic, oil and burnt plastic smell.

So, we made a bad decision. We need to move on. We really need to move the dead Buick out of the driveway or we'll have to plow around it. And we need a new car.

I'm trying to find the silver lining. I know there has to be one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Busy and Idle

First the busy stuff. This is the hat I knitted for Little Missy. She picked out the yarn at Joann's - it was on sale (my criteria) and sparkly (hers), then told me the design she wanted and I went to town. It's a thick and thin yarn, so there wasn't much to do but boring knit, but she loves it.

After that, I got a copy of the two Sew What? books from the library and made myself a fleece shirt. The fleece was also on sale at Joann's and I had coupons for the buttons and the pearl cotton. The books are really great, they teach you how to make a body template and then design the piece to make it fit you perfectly. I hope there are more books coming in the series.

And then I made these fun potholders. Our dryer is still dead and we have not deemed it an emergency at this point. While hanging our old potholders to dry the other day, I decided to just throw them out, they were that grungy. These were made from a pair of Mark's old jeans, stitched on top of felted wool from a blanket project last year. The wool came from sweaters purchased at Goodwill. The blanket was a disaster, but these potholders and the mittens I've made from the recycled sweaters are sure fun.

But no amount of craftiness could help today. Ever since discovering Dave Ramsey last year and agreeing with him that "debt is dumb, cash is king", we've sworn off credit cards. We had missed a payment, had our interest rate on a considerable balance zoom to nearly 30%, transferred the balance to a zero interest card and have been steadily paying it off ever since. We've realigned our priorities to paying of the debt except the house, bringing our emergency cash fund to 6 months of expenses, funding IRAs for us and educational IRAs for the kids (this is a good year or two off) and then tackling the mortgage. We've learned what really is an emergency - food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medication. And we've tried to learn what is not an emergency - Christmas, the dryer, new scissors, etc.

Today it was transportation. We have a 15 year old Buick, generously given to us by Mark's mom when the Honda hit 200,000 miles four or five years ago. The poor thing just gave out today, they really don't like to go over 100,000 miles. Mark had just moved to a 12 hour night shift last night and was leaving the plant when the car died in the left turn lane at 5:45 a.m. With a lot of help, we got the thing towed and asked the mechanic to call my cell. The guy was very honest, he said that he could fix the alternator and charge up the battery, but he's not sure that will make the car run - the engine is knocking, there's fluid in places it shouldn't be and something bad has happened to some gaskets. He wanted us to decide if the car was worth the money. We're thinking about it.

So, the kids and I are idle. It's not an emergency in the sense that we have to use credit to solve the problem. (Our emergency fund is only $1000 while we pay off the credit card.) We can walk to most of our classes and things locally, and skip a few weeks of far away homeschooling fun while we decide what to do. I need to take a fresh look at our stuff to decide what to put on eBay as cash raising, we need to play with the budget a bit to squeeze more blood from the turnip and find a rabbit to pull out of our hat.

One day at a time. Luckily, my yarn and paper stashes are big enough to carry me through without having to break that other resolution.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Resolutions, Part 2

Another of my resolutions for 2008 is to get more outdoors time into our schedule. We already do a lot with weekend hikes and my twice a month Roots&Shoots schedule. In the winter especially it is easy to stay huddled up indoors. This isn't healthy for our family, we need to get out and breathe the air, soak up the sunshine, explore.

To that end, we went snowshoeing twice last week, when it was still cold. A little too cold for my littlest, but we discovered Toasty Toes foot warmers to stick onto his socks and he's very happy. I also got him some smart wool socks at REI, but it has strangely warmed up over the past few days and we haven't had an opportunity to get out. From a chilly 18 degree snowshoe expedition on Thursday, we had a 65 degree muddy hike on Sunday. In between those two, I took my R&S group to Fullersburg woods where these ducks, among many others, learned that the snow the kids were plunking into the water was not bread crumbs and they had to fend for themselves.

The family hike on Sunday was fun, but a little creepy too. Black Partridge Woods is tragically close to the highway and the traffic noise completely ruined a beautiful, scenic place. There were steep ravines to climb, a creek to follow, much mud to squish in, a wonderfully tended section with no buck thorn and many brush piles. Unfortunately, there was also ample evidence of underage drinking (why can't they bring a garbage bag like we did?) or maybe even of age drinking. Bottles broken everywhere, cans strewn about, signs posted about it being and alcohol free zone, but ample evidence of no enforcement.

It's supposed to be a wonderful place for wildflowers in the spring and we'll probably go back for that. But between the traffic noise and the litter, it's not going to be favorite haunt. I just couldn't relax and found myself peering at the cars pulling into and out of the parking lot, worried about drug deals happening under our noses. The children had a wonderful time, we didn't have to carry our youngest at all, he wanted to climb up and down, jump the creek and have fun with the big kids. Unfortunately, he only has one pair of sneakers, now very muddy.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Soft Shoe

We have had the most beautiful, frigid weather the past few days. The sun has been bright, the wind brisk, the temperatures not reaching 20 degrees. With the wind chill, it's been colder. Still, I like to get us out every day, no matter the weather, whenever possible.

We've had four pairs of snowshoes in the attic for about five years. I shattered my ankle five years ago and decided we should go snowshoeing once the cast came off and the snow fell. I was completely clueless about rehabilitation time, having never broken anything before. I still have a good deal of pain and several times a day have to work my stride to eliminate a limp.

So, the snowshoes went into the attic and were forgotten. A month or so ago I ventured up the stairs to pull down some hand me downs for the Little Man. The attic is an adventure because it's normally off limits, huge sections of the floor are missing, it's not heated or cooled and it's a complete mess of stuff. We also store the pigs' and rabbits' hay on the stairs, making the area a sneeze fest for some of us. Everyone struggled up the stairs with me for a look and to help carry down the boxes. The kids discovered the snowshoes and were excited beyond belief.

New Year's Eve and Day brought about four inches of new snow, not quite enough for snowshoeing, but we decided to try it. There are five of us and only four pairs, so we headed to REI to get another pair. Who knew there were so many options in snowshoes and that they could be so expensive? We rented a pair for $15 for three days and tried them out. The rented pair is much better than the cheapo ones I bought so long ago.

It was just beautiful out in Bemis Woods. The little guy tried his best to keep up, but I ended up carrying him on my shoulders for most of the time. We went in the heat of the day, when the mercury probably did reach 20, and the late afternoon sunlight magically lit up the trees and Salt Creek. All the crankiness of the day disappeared as the kids discovered their ability to walk on top of the snow, followed tracks left by deer and rabbits, threw snow into the creek and generally had a good time.
By the time an hour had passed, the Little Man's boots had snow in them, his socks were soaked and his feet were raw with cold. Ever since he fell through the ice, he has had really cold hands and feet. I wrapped him in fleece and we headed home.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

One of my New Year's resolutions this year is to do something creative each day. I get really cranky if I let it slide for a while and tend to have a happier day if I can discipline myself.

There is just so much to do. Today I've realized how far behind I am on many of my projects - my investment club, updating the Westside HOUSE website, planning the Roots&Shoots calendar. And this isn't even including the regular household duties, which have increased exponentially with the broken dryer.

But, it being January 1st, I kept to my promise and spent a half an hour in front of our HappyLight making tiny boxes out of Christmas cards. They are so cute! I'd like to make a bunch to put my mini-sweater, hat, mitten and sock ornaments in once I have those made. I'll have to start begging my friends and family who have not already recycled their cards to pass them on to me. The picture cards, like the ones we sent out, probably don't make good boxes and I'd have to use two to get a top and bottom, but I'll try that as well. The folded cards are the best for this project. It's quick and fun and filled my need to be creative on this cold and snowy day.