Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Happy Ten

The end of February is not a time of year I traditionally dwell on happiness, with March looming cold and wet on the horizon, but having read this post at Shivaya Naturals this morning, I felt compelled to tease out a handful of things that make me happy in life. I'm sure there are more, but they're hard to think of when freezing rain is pouring outside. Anyway, here are my ten, and feel free to add your ten to the comments and/or post on your blog!

1 The first daffodils of spring.
2 A sunny day at the beach.
3 Ice cream.
4 Finishing a project.
5 Pictures my kids draw.
6 Things my kids say.
7 Writing.
8 Long weekends.
9 Snuggling with my sons.
10 Traveling.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


We had another long weekend this week, and although I'm starting to sound boring saying it, I'm sure, these four-day weekends are simply luxurious.

We spent Saturday in a busy flurry of activity, making cakes and cookies for Valentine's Day and preparing for a little early Chinese New Year celebration.

We expanded on last year's festivities a bit, making paper lanterns,

M got out the Horrorgami book that he bought from a library book sale and which is crazy-hard,

I resurrected the Buddha Board and we (as in me) tried our hand at Chinese characters,

We refreshed the nature table with a little tiger (made by Grandpoppy for last year's birthday, and painted by me--finally--in December) and a candle for a friend-of-a-friend who is gravely ill.

I made our annual eggrolls for dinner, only they were out of wrappers at the grocery store (how is that possible?), so I thought I'd try and see if spring roll wrappers (of which I had a huge package) would work (they didn't). As Z would say, "Wot, wot, waaaaa!" At least my kick *ss sweet & sour sauce kicked *ss! I served the eggrolls with jade fried rice and azuki beans pureed with sugar (they Eden azuki beans were only 99 cents, and they're supposed to bring well being when eaten at New Year...only I failed to look up a recipe for them online ahead of time, and the closest thing I could find in one of my cookbooks was the fact that you can buy commercial bean paste--which is supposed to be the chocolate of Asia--made from azuki beans and did not go over as well as chocolate, I must say, but it was not bad, and even M ate it!)

I made the boys each a little envelope with red origami paper and the character for "happy" (M asked, "Why do you want us to be happy?") and stuffed a $5 bill inside. We didn't get to our books until the next day (The Story of Ping--which I remembered from my childhood and found at a used book store--and Daisy Comes Home; both books about China from the point of view of a pet fowl. What does this mean?) Next year I want to learn a Chinese fairy tale for our nightly storytelling and get some Chinese music to listen to.

Sunday we ferried our heart-shaped treats to visit with family and friends, including C's "other" brother who lives halfway around the world and whom we see only every few years. (Cookie recipe here...they rock!)

After a day of eating and ice-skating we left the first born there for a week (this was the start of the inexplicable and senseless Maine tradition of February Break) and E and Z spent two quiet, lazy days relaxing at home, engaging in "unstructured" play (that was the erstwhile box from our massive toilet paper served as an excellent "Trash Can Monster" costume for several days before it met its demise).

Hiking out trail for the first time since we lost E and he threw up (didn't I tell you about that one?)

Finding fresh pileated woodpecker excavations (yes my children go into the woods packing plastic...and for some reason Z wanted to wear his doll's sleeping bag for a hat. He called it his "Japanese hat"...not sure where that come from.) Here are some woodpecker holes in that same tree last April.

Discovering "forts" in patches of melted snow.

Checking out the river ice. After sitting by, and breaking off chunks of, the ice for a while, E and Z slid down onto the ice on the river. It had heaved up and broken into big chunks after a massive rain a few weeks ago, and settled back down, with new ice sealing in the cracks. I really don't know why I let them go out, because intellectually I knew it has not been cold enough for the ice to be safe, but it was covered with animal tracks and just seemed so inviting (to us all, apparently). I made my way after them (it was really a small hill of ice we had to go down) and when I stepped where two chunks of ice had come together, my foot went right down through the rotten ice and into the black river water below. The ice block we had come down and the one they were on now were quite safe, but the hole I made could easily have swallowed a four-year-old. We gingerly made our way over the rotten ice and back onto dry land. I think it was a good object lesson in why you never go out onto ice unless you know for sure it's safe. (We were well upstream of that open channel of water you see in this picture, Mom).

On the way back home, Z bushwhacked through the woods and forged his own trail to the field.

I felt compelled to rid our house of dust and spent much of Monday and Tuesday dusting, vacuuming, mopping and even washing throw blankets and E and Z's play dishes. Partly due to reading this book, and partly a way of resisting other things--completing a certain writing assignment I needed to have done this week, finishing up my Inside Out class (the fourth and final week wrapped up last Friday, and I'm still stuck in the middle of week three). Maybe a little spring fever mixed in there too.

I even found another "heart in nature" for next year's Valentine cards. What do you think it should say inside, "You have a heart of stone, Valentine"?


Update: I forgot to link to the book that has me going crazy trying to remove the dust from my house: The Body Toxic by Nena Baker.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Getting the Plastic Out, Stage One

Warning: This post may give you more insight into me than you ever could possible want. Proceed at your own risk.

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by my quest to go plastic-free this month, so I decided to take the advice of Beth Terry, plastic-free living blogger at Fake Plastic Fish, and take it one step at a time (OK she probably said something more eloquent than that, but I can't find the post...the point is that if you try to make this kind of change overnight, you doom yourself to failure). So instead of making a general/vague "reduce plastic" my One Small Change for the month of February, I'm going to focus on one area of my home/life each month until I get to the point where I want to be with all of this (as plastic-free as Beth? we'll see...).

So for this month, I'm focusing on personal care/household care (that is, items stored in the bathroom). I started by inventorying what I have stored in each bathroom, what it is used for (if used at all) and what possible alternatives there are.

Downstairs Bathroom
Let's peek behind the curtain:

Pretty scary huh? Here's what we found inside:
Laundry. I switched from laundry detergent to soap nuts (Laundry Tree brand is packaged plastic-free) several months ago and love them. They work as well as the "natural" detergents and clothes always smell fresh & clean (we do hang our laundry outside). I would say that little boys' socks and workin' men's shirts come out less than white, but I guess I don't care if they're dingy (and they certainly don't care). I throw some non-chlorine bleach in for good measure (cardboard box). And it is a bit of a pain to remember to have some "soap nut soak" made and on hand for when you want to wash with cold water, but really no biggie.

Cleaning Products.

Large jug (plastic) white vinegar; used for cleaning toilets, as a dishwasher rinse agent and occasional laundry use. I'm sticking with the plastic because it's big, cheap and #2 (a.k.a. recyclable). Plastic reusable spray bottle vinegar & water mix (for the windows & mirrors).

Baking soda in re-used plastic container; used for scouring powder, hair washing (more on that in a minute), clearing drains. We buy it in 50-lb paper bags at the feed store for about $10 a bag.

Cardboard box borax, leftover from cloth diaper days. Should just use it up in lieu of baking soda.

Empty bottle Osmo Wash & Care, for cleaning wood floors (have since started using soap nut soak, with a splash of olive oil...don't know why I still had this bottle). Spray bottle from Seventh Generation orange care bathroom cleaner (has since been refilled with Citra Solve and water; the sprayer doesn't really work any more and I just use either water, water and vinegar, baking soda or soap nut soak for cleaning). Will find a way to use it up and recycle the bottle.

First aid supplies. Two (plastic) boxes of gauze, tape, moleskin, bandaids, ace bandages, etc. C buys most of this stuff (some of it is leftover from our Colorado Trail hike in 1996!!). I would, however, like to find an eco alternative to plastic bandaids. I do buy the fabric ones (hoping they are PVC-free) but they are still not biodegradable. But I can't see having three boys and no bandaids. Suggestions (tearing cloth into strips, Civil War style?)??
I did create a little "boo boo basket" inspired by The Handmade Home. In it are castor oil (organic in a glass bottle--I learned this summer that this was my late grandmother's cure for bumps and bruises), arnica gel (metal tube) for sore muscles, calendula cream (metal tube) for cuts and skin ouchies, aloe vera gel (for burns, in plastic bottle--should get an aloe plant), bandaids (fabric), a thermometer (mercury-free digital; plastic), and a flannel rice bag.

Miscellaneous. Instructions (paper) for what to do if you break a compact fluorescent bulb; giant (plastic) refill bottle for bubbles; homemade furniture wax (glass jar); Magic Erasers (will look up to see if these are toxic or not--only thing that cleans the mineral stains off the tub!!); plastic bottle hydrogen peroxide (C buys this for I don't know what, but it does take blood off clothes); Earth Enzymes drain opener (plastic jar) and (repurposed) toothbrush for cleaning drains; various shoe leather treatments (plastic); sunblocks (plastic); bug repellents (plastic); glow in the dark vampire teeth (plastic); rubbing alcohol (plastic--C bought this to clean off old records. This is my life!); face crayons and an empty glass soap dispenser (with plastic pump); C's electric razor that he uses like once a year. Most of these things I will either use up and not replace, or leave on the shelf until I go through this exercise again and then just dispose of them.
The only thing I really won't be able to get away without replacing is the sunblock. I use the chemical-free mineral kind, but it still comes in a plastic tube. I do prefer covering my kids with shade, clothes and hats (and letting them get a bit of sun exposure for Vitamin D), but when you're in full sun at the beach or something, you really need sunblock. Ideas?

Medicine Cabinet

In the medicine cabinet I found various vitamins and supplements (rarely used), essential oils and tinctures, over-the-counter medicines, three bottles of eyeglass cleaner (free when you buy a pair of glasses), C's razor blades (again, rarely used) and one stick of moxa. The only over-the-counter meds I really feel I need to have on hand are ibuprofen (both adult and kids--Z tends to get really high fevers). I do have children's allergy liquid from when E had an encounter with a furry caterpillar and ended up with a full-body rash, and Benadryl cream because I tend to get rashes in reaction to everything (metal, synthetic fabric, etc.). (See the Fixodent--no one here has dentures, but C bought it when his temporary crown fell out; and the Itchy Feet? Lotrimin cream for diaper rash...we haven't had any diaper rash around here for a couple of years...think I should throw it away??) Oh and that frog--PVC plastic, probably has phthalates...I suffered buyers remorse as soon as I brought it home and it's lived on top of the cabinet ever since.

I used to be very interested in herbs for healing and would like to get back to that...if I grow my own they can be garden-to-compost plastic-free. We treat some things with herbs/foods/spices now: for coughs I just give them honey (I want to try to make these throat lozenges) and I used turmeric with great success on an impetigo rash on E. Do you use any natural remedies for your children?

We also have a drawer next to the sink that was full of used toothbrushes, the electric toothbrush and various heads (which no-one seems to be using anymore), dental floss samples from the dentist, more fake teeth, bags, soap, corks, broken goggles, old lip balm and two sticks Tom's of Maine deodorant (these are C's...I'll tell you about my deodorant in a moment).

This is what I tossed, recycled or put in stasis until I can figure out what to do with them (I'm determined to find a way to recycle toothbrushes!!)

And this is the cabinet after I was done. Better, no? Plastic free? No.

Upstairs Bathroom
Above the upstairs bathroom sink, we find more over-the-counter meds, lots of little plastic bottles of homeopathic tablets (that we rarely use, though C swears by the pulsatilla--which I bought in a futile attempt to roust a certain presenting twin out of his breech position--for post-nasal drip), toothbrushes (the kind you get free from the dentist--all plastic of course) and toothpaste (Tom's of Maine, aluminum tube with plastic cap), various oils creams, cleansers and rubs (anything bought recently is in glass--mostly Burt's Bees), Gentle-Floss (plastic-packaging-free dental floss). Oh, and my (very plastic) night guard that's supposed to keep me from grinding my teeth away. Yup. I sleep with a mouth full of plastic.

In a drawer were a bunch of ponytail holders, bobby pins, bandaids, lotion samples, more old toothbrushes, Lansinoh (from the breastfeeding days), tooth whitener (tossed that right in the trash--what possessed me to buy it? Did I even read the ingredients? What is all that stuff?), and a ton of those stupid one-use flossers the dentist gives my kids for free.
Under the sink we find giant plastic jug apple cider vinegar (for hair washing...I promise I'll get to that in a minute) and a giant plastic jug of Dr. Bronner's soap (this is what I wash the twins--hair and body--with...we've had that bottle for a couple of years now and it will probably last us at least a couple years more) and toilet brush (plastic) in a yogurt tub (plastic) and a barf bowl (plastic--from a hospital stay when someone was born). Also an inflatable bath pillow (plastic--PVC, the worst kind--and possible punctured) and a repurposed toothbrush for cleaning the drain). And TP--I'll tell you about that in a minute.

And now the moment you've been waiting for--the shower area, where you will note another vinegar bottle, a repurposed container of baking soda and a small bottle for mixing. C practices "no-poo," that is, he washes his hair with a baking soda and water solution and conditions it with apple cider vinegar and water. I also use the baking soda mixture to wash M's hair. It seems to work great for both of them, but I found it too drying for my hair, and I thought my hair was falling out by the handful last fall. It could have been my diet, a vitamin deficiency, hormonal changes or old age, but I decided to go back to shampoo (which you can barely see in the window sill because it is back-lit--next to my plastic bottle of Aveda Be Curly). So I need help! Anyone have a good non-plastic, non-commercial hair wash that is not drying? Or a recommendation on how to use no-poo in a non-drying, non-hair-falling out way? (I should mention that C has longer hair than me, and he does not experience the 'Barbie doll" hair effect that I did). For shower soap (not pictured) we use Kirk's castile, which comes wrapped in paper, and I inspected that paper as closely as I could, and it does not appear to be plastic-coated. For hand soap, I buy bars of natural, completely package-free soap from the health food store.
There's one other cabinet in the bathroom which I neglected to photograph (thank goodness, you say), that is filled with all manner of foot lotions and cocoa butter creams and bubble baths and a whole box of travel-sized products and bottles (which I confess I didn't even open). Most of this stuff came as gifts, and I just need to either use it up or toss it out (anyone up for a spa day?) Also inside are cotton balls and swabs. I buy the organic kind, but they come packaged in plastic.

Now for a brief detour to the bedroom, here is my dresser (please excuse the dust). Note the plastic bottles of lotion, which, when used up will be replaced by lotion bar that my parents gave me for my birthday. It comes in a tin container and seems to be mostly cocoa butter. When it's all used up, I think I'll try to make my own. See the little jar? That's my homemade deodorant, which works GREAT (for me that is...C tried it for a while and let's just say it's NOT "strong enough for a man"). Also a plastic tube of eucalyptus rub and one of lip balm. When those are used up, they'll be replaced by non-plastic (homemade) options.

OK, so what, if anything did we learn from all this and where does it get us?
Here are my takeaway messages:

--Stop buying random vitamins/homeopathic cures/over the counter drugs for every little ailment.

--Just say "no thank you" to free stuff (I already hand back the vinyl bag and the floss sample they hand out at the dentist. Should I also say "no" to the toothbrushes and buy the Preserve kind instead? I did put the flossing sticks on the counter for the boys to use up--then I'll teach them to use real floss and tell the hygenist no thank you, we'd prefer using our own floss).

--Find an alternative shampoo option that works for me and an alternative deodorant that works for C.

--Write a letter to Organic Essentials encouraging them to use non-plastic packaging for their cotton balls and q-tips.

And, finally, I have made one change already--I ordered a subscription...for toilet paper! That's right. I ordered a case of 48 rolls of Seventh Generation TP (the kind that comes wrapped in paper) through Amazon and by scheduling regular delivery (a.k.a. a subscription), I saved 15%. I've been wanting to do this for a long time (even the recycled stuff at the grocery store comes in plastic, and to buy individual rolls of the Seventh Generation at the health food store costs almost twice as much). Our first case came today...can't imagine what the delivery person thought of our bathroom needs!

One last note (I know I said finally in the last paragraph)...did you note the absense of the more, er, delicate items a lady might store in her powder room? I'm talkin' feminine hygiene? The reason there is none in either of the bathrooms, is that I store my products in the my dresser, where I put them when they come out of the laundry. OK so I'm not ready for "the family cloth" to replace my toilet paper, but I have been using the "lady cloth" for two or three years now complaints. I have two brands, and the one I'm only going to recommend my preferred brand, Luna Pads (the other is too bulky for comfort), though there are lots of crafty types who sell them on Etsy these days, so don't be deterred from trying their offerings (and they appear a lot more affordable. I will say the Luna Pads are crazy expensive (I spent around $60 for my starter kit of about four pads--ouch--and maybe around $30 for six additional in the not-as-good brand--but seriously, how much would I have spent on disposable ones in the last two years--and the next however many these things last?? Totally worth the sticker shock).
Phew! Next month we'll proceed to the kitchen, which should narrow the discussion of bodily functions considerably.
Updated: Here's the link to the post on Fake Plastic Fish that describes Beth Terry's journey into going plastic-free and why it's important to go slowly.

This makes me physically ill...

From Truthout:

"There's no question that war spending for Iraq and Afghanistan will top $1 trillion after Obama's request is implemented. That's enough money to stretch - in dollar bills - from the earth to the sun. It's also enough to pay for ten years of universal primary education for all of the world's children, according to UN statistics."

And we're bickering over nickels and dimes in our school districts? Shameful, simply shameful.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I'm not sure if I have the right temperament for homeschooling, even if it were an option for our family. I'm afraid my teaching style would careen wildly between unschooling, Waldorf-inspired, Montessori-inspired, nature-based and Portuguese-immersion, with the occassional dose of authoritarian readin', 'ritin', 'rithmetic thrown in for good measure, so that my kids would grow up not only very confused but also completely illiterate.

When M started school, I figured our evenings, weekends and days off would be homeschool, and he would get the best of both worlds. I think I kind of envisioned this as us walking through the woods, teaching him the names of trees and birds, going to museums and studying the works of art or history, sketching on a hillside, and generally just being a very cultural, genteel family (a bit like becoming an accomplished young lady in a Jane Austin novel). It hasn't exactly worked out that way. Our moments and hours and days at home are split between a mad-cap rush to get everything done we need to get done in a limited time and lazing around doing very little. I suppose this could qualify as unschooling.

In any case, I have been recently inspired to both learn more about Waldorf school philosophy and techniques, and get ideas for ways to implement some of what I learn at home from this free lecture series offered by Waldorf Connection. (Three of the lectures have already taken place, but I think you can still sign up to hear the remainder, or purchase the entire series for a reasonable price).

The first lecture was on storytelling by Susan Perrow. Storytelling is something I've been wanting to learn and incorporate into our lives for a while (if you think a "writer" would be a natural-born storyteller, think again!). In the fall, I learned the story "Abiyoyo" from Pete Seeger's Storytelling Book for my Toastmaster's club ('cause I'm a geek like that) and practiced it with the boys every night for a few weeks. They loved acting out the different roles (Z always played the giant and M liked being the people whose saw, glass of water or chair were whisked away with the magic wand). We then did "Abiyoyo Returns" somewhat less thoroughly, but they didn't want to hear any more stories from the book that weren't about giants, and then the holidays set in and we became distracted by other things.

For our New Years Eve movie (which got moved to another day since we actually went to a party!) I got Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, since it is one of the few movies they haven't already seen at daycare, and even though I hate Disney, it is a classic. After we watched it, we made some little dwarfs (M whittled, E and Z painted--under strict orders as to color) and we all made faces). Then I read them "Little Snow White" from Grimm's.

I have mixed feelings about fairy tales. I received the Pantheon edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales for eight grade graduation from our bookmobile librarian, and I can remember many long hours sequestered in my cold basement room reading it. I think I actually read all of the fairy tales in the book (there must be hundreds) and read over and over my favorites. Yet, I am super-bothered mostly by the gender bias contained in most of the stories--women are either pure young virgins or wicked witches. The stories were collected by the Brothers Grimm, I believe, either during or not long after the genocide of women through the witch hunts of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. This cultural madness must have seeped into the stories that are supposed to be so ancient. Yet the language of the stories is so beautiful (whenever I read the introduction to my edition of the book I am convinced of the goodness of that olden time when the "rhythm of the night" took over, when the storyteller plied his or her skill to keep the wheels spinning, or to fill the dark hours before bedtime when there were not electric lights or TVs and no one could read), and do I want my children to be the first generation to not know "Hansel and Gretel" and "Cinderella" and "Jack and the Beanstalk" by heart?

So one night after hearing Susan Perrow's storytelling lecture, lying in bed between E and Z, with M on the bunk above, I decided to give it a try. I told "Snow White," though employing the phrase my sister and I used to use when we would pretend the baby gate at the top of our grandparents' stairs was the Magic Mirror, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" "Lips blood red, hair like night, skin like snow, her name, Snow White!"

Of course any departure from either Grimm or Disney was commented upon, "It's supposed to be a looking glass, Mom," and "You forgot the strings that tie her clothes and the comb," (I had decided to shorten it to just the apple) said M. E and Z wanted to know why she didn't fall off the cliff. M, of course, remembered the burning hot iron shoes. Tough audience.

I then read this article about storytelling, and saw the wisdom in sticking exactly with Grimm (to quiet the peanut gallery). So I set about trying to memorize "The Frog King or Iron Henry," and asked the boys to please not interrupt when I told it to them Sunday night. M was very perturbed with the ending (which, admittedly I did not learn as well as the beginning, although I do have to agree it is very weird). "When do they get married? Why don't they live happily ever after?"

Last night the asked me to tell a story but they all protested hearing "The Frog King" again (because the article said tell a story at least three times, and because I'd gone to so much trouble learning it), , but I promised the next story would be about a wolf, but they had to listen to this one for a week first. M interrupted to point out something I'd left out from the first telling (though I'm sure I said it...he wasn't paying attention) and again after it was done said, "That's just a dead ending!"

Let's home "The Three Little Kids and the Wolf" is more exciting! The amazing part was, that they all asked for the story and listened quietly throughout. Now by telling it in the dark we miss the "eye contact" bit the Waldorf article mentions, but I guess I don't really care. By telling it in the dark I'm also ensured of a captive audience of three (if the light was on, M would be reading Tin Tin). I am finding through these lectures and some articles I've read that Waldorf philosophy is quite rigid (perhaps even more rigid than public school!), and dogmatic (I don't know why storytelling must be considered "better" than reading a book--can't they both be wonderful?), but the nice thing about having an evening and weekend homeschool, is that we can pick and choose the bits we like and throw out the dogma. Sometimes we can even just hang around in our jammies playing (the horrors!) Lego's.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I must say, I'm not a huge fan of Valentine's Day (could this sentiment date back to the angst-filled adolescent years spent without being on the receiving end of boxes of chocolates and bouquets of flowers? Perhaps.) Also the giant pain-in-the neckness of making Valentine's cards, and not knowing whether to use the apostrophe or not. Oh yeah, and the gross commercialism of it all (seriously, when did it suddenly become obligatory to buy everyone on one's Valentine's list a cheap, tacky piece of kitsch from the Hallmark store?

But I do try to overcome my natural Grinchiness (why isn't there a quintessential crank who steals, ruins, or otherwise doesn't understand the deeper meaning of Valentine's Day? Christmas has more than its share and should hand one over, don't you think? Then we could all sit around the family idiot box and watch the annual, heartwarming Valentine's special), as I was saying, I put up a good front and try to make things festive.

I got our nature table spruced up, with the garland I made last year, a heart-shaped rock, a heart melted in the snow picture I took a couple of years ago some wooden heart beads leftover from our Valentine card making and a few cones (pine, hemlock and alder) that I picked up on a walk down to the river (alone...the boys are very anti-hiking these days).

I made a new garland (I saw this idea on somebody's blog somewhere, but I can't just now remember where).

Wednesday night M had it in his head that he wanted to watch Robin Hood (they'd just started it at daycare when I picked him up). C was out of town and we were just heating up leftovers for dinner, so they agreed to get ready for bed lickety-split after dinner, had the movie on by 6:00, giving me time to unload the dishwasher and reload it with two days' worth of dishes, then sneak upstairs to start a little Valentine's project. I made each boy a little heart pillow out of a recycled sweater (it was not nearly as scary to cut into the sweater as I expected it to be, but maybe that was because it came pre-shrunk from a clothing swap I went to last year) and this adorable owl fabric that I just happened to have on hand and just happened to match exactly. I embroidered their names on the back (running out of room on both E and Z's names, so only the first few letters are there...kind of Valentine pet names, I suppose) and stuffed them with fabric scraps. The owl pocket is meant to hold a little love note, which I'll have to try and think up.

For C I'm working on a bit of knitting (in honor of the scarf I gave him on our first Valentine's together). These are my first cables and I'm very exciting...and most impressed with myself (note the heart-shaped stitch holders).

We always make our own Valentine's, because I refuse to participate in the gross commercialism (did I already say that?). And besides, what exactly do Transformers or Star Wars Clones have to do with the love and affection that the holiday purportedly promotes? And have you noticed? When our valentines used to be little pieces of paper in paper envelopes that came in a cardboard box, Valentine's these days are all plastic, hologram thingies that one can't even recycle when one has gotten sick of walking all over them every time one enters one's children's room. M has never once complained that we don't get store-bought Valentine cards, so it must not be too much of a torture (or he's just gotten used to me by now).

E and Z have 30 kids in their class, plus three teachers...that is a total of 64 cards (if they don't make one for themselves, although Z was pretty much interested only in making one for himself). I ask you, is that in any way reasonable. Seriously, one of the reasons I'm most looking forward to public school is a reduction by half of the number of Valentine cards we'll have to make.

For our cards this year, we cut up a big stack of abstract watercolors the boys have painted over the last year. I traced the hearts with a cookie cutter, and E doggedly cut out several pages of them (saying, "Is I a artist?" over and over), but Z cut out one, got bored and decided to draw. One of the most ingenious things I did this Christmas was get custom rubber stamps with each boy's name in his own handwriting. So instead of the chore of sitting and coaxing them to write their name 33 times, I just had to hold the cards still for E while he stamped, and stamped all of Z's for him, because he was still not into cards. For a finishing touch, we punched holes in the cards and tied on wooden heart beads.

Here's E's modest pile (looks like someone will be tying on a few dozen heart beads after getting home from knitting Thursday night).

M managed to make all of his on his own without question, or complaint, even finding his class list in his backpack and ticking off the names as he did them. So there is hope!

Updated: P.S. There's a wonderful Valentine's giveaway at Imagine Childhood today (and lots of cool gifts if you don't feel like cutting up sweaters too!)

Friday, February 5, 2010


I'm falling woefully behind in my Inside Out course. But that's OK, because I can just save the materials and work on it at my own pace; there are no "assignments" that need to be turned in, and I haven't really had time to participate in the interactive portion anyway. I think it's kind of good to take a little time to let the little snippets of introspection sink in a bit between journaling sessions.

I had thought that I had journaled in the past--I have kept notebooks of writing about my life and other things--but I guess I've never really and truly "journaled" as in writing in response to a prompt intended not to produce a piece of writing, but to tap into one's emotions. I've found myself gushing tears on more than one journaling occasion.

One of the insights I've uncovered through this process, is that I have this paradoxical conflict in my life between a deep need for solitude and an abiding loneliness. After puzzling over this for some days now, I think I understand that these two states are not so in conflict after all, but feed on each other. As a mother of three boys, a wife and an employee, I have very little time alone, in solitude [Heather has a nice description of what true solitude is here...can I tell you how good being solo on the side of a mountain with nothing but a bag of GORP and a notebook sounds? (It should go without saying that I'm visualizing this in a warm, summery, bug-free location)]. And I need it. I crave it. So much so that I resent perceived intrusions into any potential time to myself--including evenings out with friends, phone calls, a calendar with weekends booked solid for months ahead.

It kind of makes it difficult to form close, intimate friendships when one doesn't want to be around other people, doesn't it? Combine that with my natural reserve and tendency to hold people at arm's length (and that weird guard that goes up wherever mothers congregate--wondering if I'm being judged, my own judgements slipping in unbidden), and let's just say that among my many friends and acquaintances in close geographic proximity, I don't know anyone on whom I would drop in unannounced and be welcome with open arms, or who I would turn to if I had a real life crisis. Having lived in Maine for 11 consecutive years now, I should have had time to get to know at least one person that well, shouldn't I?

So I don't really know what to do with this insight, in general or in the long term, but I think now I'll notice that when I'm feeling edgy, cranky, grumpy, etc., it's time to get away. Yesterday I felt that way and took the afternoon off. I took myself out to lunch, sitting in the corner of a brew pub, occasionally dipping into the book I brought, but mostly just eating and listening in on bits of conversation around me, sort of wishing I had brought a notebook to write down some things I overheard, descriptions of people at the other tables.

I then walked around the small town, popping into antique shops, which should have been a relaxing activity, but I feel so conspicuous in small stores, when I'm the only customer, and guilty when I don't buy anything, so that anxiety started to tug at my chest. I tried to quell it, and focus on "stillness"--another element from class, taking a few minutes each day to quiet the mind through a relaxing yoga pose, meditation, taking a walk, etc. I popped into a friend's art gallery and ended up in a long conversation about school and kids. I then went grocery shopping and picked up all the boys early, giving us a bit of breathing time to relax at home before C got home and started dinner and I headed off to my knitting group.

While an afternoon to myself is not an option every day or week, I now have the awareness that some moments of solitude are necessary for me each day, and I just need to find a way to create the space for it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

One Small Change, Month Two

January Wrap-Up
My small change for January (buy nothing) went well and was pretty easy. I kept a list of anything I thought of that I wanted during the month and it ended up being a pretty short list, with nothing I desperately needed on it. I also have a list of books in my wishilist on Better World Books, which C was supposed to get me for Christmas, but we had a technological miscommunication. I really like Better World, and buy my books from there when I can (of course I would ideally buy from a local indie bookshop, but the nearest one is in the opposite direction of where I normally go), but their wishlist leaves something to be desired (you need to log-in to get to it, so other people can't view it and buy you stuff; also it seems self-replicating--every time I go there, I find I've requested ever-more copies of the same book!).

I was going to buy myself some or all of the books (which are mostly related to craft--both knitting/sewing type craft and writing craft), but I've decided to keep Buy Nothing going for another month. I will allow myself used items (M really needs some pants...poor kid's knees are all patches; plus I miss my antiquing trips with my friend Dawn) and materials needed for making other stuff, though I might limit it somehow, like continuing to keep a list, and only buying at the end of the month, or only allowing myself one purchase a week or something (I did buy some of this yummy rainbow yarn yesterday...that's my purchase this week, or maybe month...and I do have a plan for it!).

The only thing I bought last month was posterboard for M's school project. I had saved a poster I got for free for him to use the back, but it had gotten bent/ripped (poor kid goes around in holey jeans, the least I could do is buy him a new poster board). I actually bought three, because last time M had a poster project, E and Z really wanted to make their own posters too.

Not eating out/buying snack food did not go as well. We went out for pizza every Friday before or after going swimming at the YMCA; my writing group met at a bakery and I had a cinnamon roll; I bought chocolate and ice cream to take to knitting night. I bought chocolate for my mental health. Worst offense of all, on Sunday I met up with a friend I hadn't seen in a long time and we went out for a cup of tea--being Sunday in central Maine, the only place we could think of that might be open was Dunkin' Donuts. I had an iced tea, plastic cup and all (later I realized we could have driven a few minutes in another direction and had a plastic-free pot of tea at the newish Thai restaurant).

February Change
I was hoping to do something about all the miles I drive for February, but I haven't been able to organize it. Maybe it will come together next month.

My plan B for the month was to write letters to companies to try and encourage them to move away from PVC in their packaging. I've saved packages from different things (e.g. baby shoes, mattress pads, etc.) that I'm going to send with the letters as a kind of enforced Extended Producer Responsibility...and to get rid of the packaging.

I'm still going to do that, but after reading Heather's post yesterday, about trying to eliminate plastic in her home I was inspired to do that too. As I've written before, getting rid of plastic has been a kind of long-term goal of mine, but I've run into stumbling blocks, especially in terms of food packaging. So I'm going to look around our home/life, evaluate where the plastic waste is coming from, and figure out ways to cut back. I also want to go through and get rid of as much plastic junk we have just hanging around, unused (I did this to an extent last spring, but it is an ongoing battle, I think).

And I need to try and not stress out about things outside of my control (so much of this stuff comes into our lives from outside--gifts from family and friends, "prizes" from school,'s aggravating but I need to Let It Go...) and get C to care (since his job involves filling people's homes with plastic--he has an energy efficiency business--I think he probably sees the wrapper on the toilet paper as pretty insignificant).

It's not too late to join the fun and make One Small Change each month leading up to Earth Day.
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