Thursday, March 27, 2008

Gas Prices

Well, since it looks like we'll be staying over $3/gallon for quite a while (and inching up to $4/gal or more), it's time for a gas prices post. Unless you own a hybrid (and I don't), it's costing you roughly a dollar for every 5 miles you drive now. In my life, this means I'm paying a dollar everytime I drive to pick Sierra up from school. Other things in a 2.5 mile radius (5 mile roundtrip)---WalMart (ick, but I find myself needing to go there a few times a year anyway), Lowe's, HEB, Walgreens, Luby's, Brazos Natural Foods....basically everything I need except the pediatrician and family medicine doctors. Josh's work is about 5-7 miles each way. SOOO......Josh's work is an easy bike ride away, and all those other things are perfectly good walking distance with both girls in the jogging stroller. Yes, it takes a bit of time, but I'm combining exercise, recreation and fresh air with my gas saving time. In a couple more months Sedona will be able to support her head and a helmet and then we can bike everywhere. OR, I can spend $1 for each of those trips by car. $1 doesn't seem like a whole lot at face value, but I've been paying attention to what I can buy for $1 besides gas......4lbs of sugar (on sale), 1/2 pound of butter, about 2 lbs of flour, 2 "crack tacos" from jack-in-the-box (I know, they're probably not even food, but they're so addictive), a large Sonic drink at happy hour...you get the idea. Start paying attention to what you can get for a dollar and then remind yourself that you already used that money to drive to the store in the first place.

I do still drive plenty, but we're doing our best to limit ourselves to one tank of gas for each car each month (which comes up to about $100/month). So how to increase gas mileage?

1) Make sure your tires are aired up properly--makes a really big difference right away

2)Coast--or as one article said, drive like you don't have brakes. If there's a red light up ahead, take your foot off the gas and coast to it. Make it a game--can you keep the car moving all the time (less gas to use if you're just keeping a moving object moving)? Don't accelerate quickly. When you get to the street your house is on, coast along at 20mph without touching the accelerator--make use of that gas you already pumped into the engine. Of course, there's a limit to this and even when you're just coasting to a red light somebody's gonna get frustrated with you. Just laugh to yourself and mutter about the poor fool that's wasting their money on extra gas.

3) Drive a little bit slower--Our car's mileage is best at about 65 on highways. Going 70 really doesn't get us there that much faster, but it does use more money.

4) If you have cruise control, use it.

5) If your car has real-time miles per gallon on the dash, use it. Whenever I get in the car, I flip the switch on my dash to see what my average miles per gallon is, then I set it back to real-time mpg and see how much of my drive I can stay above (and therefore raise) my average. Note: don't watch this so much that you're not watching the road ;-)

6) A lot of people say to turn off the a/c, but I live in Texas with two small children....I'm frugal, not a masochist ;-)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Photo overload!

Lots of pictures in this post!!

We'll start with the mundane. The chickens have moved out to their new home. They are happy happy birds (too happy at dusk, when their gleeful chirping makes me cringe and await the neighbor's complaints, but no one has said anything yet--it wouldn't really matter since we are following all the city ordinances, but it's nice to not be at war with the people living 100 feet away). Their coop gets moved about every three days so they can "free" range. I've found it takes them a matter of hours to search out and eat all the clover, the other grasses soon follow. Dandelions are the last thing standing and only get moderately pecked at even when most of the other grass (and probably the feed too) is gone. The dog hasn't gotten used to them yet and seems unable to avoid her canine instinct to run laps around the coop while barking. Thankfully no chickens have had a heart attack and they have now learned to just go into their roost and ignore her.


Sedona has started eating the gerber puffs and *loves* them. I now have trouble getting her to eat regular baby food. It's not uncommon for her to take 2 or 3 spoons, then bang on her tray and yell "PUH! PUH!!" until you give her a few puffs, then she'll eat more baby food. We started her on Kix and she does well with those too (and they have way more calories). The good news is eating now keeps her entertained while I cook or fold laundry or whatever...just keep tossing a finger food her way and she's a happy camper (by the way, her shirt is so wet from all the drool...as sierra says, "she's a drooly drooly baby):

She is also REALLY wanting to crawl. She's not yet getting anywhere--she's doing the typical "crawl" backwards thing where she just rocks and then pushes herself back, which is apparently infuriating, because it's the source of more crying/yelling than I've ever seen from the child.


So Easter was this week. Following Sierra's thoroughly confused questions about why we need a 6 foot tall rabbit and what a rabbit has to do with eggs, we've (for this year anyway) ditched the easter bunny. She was no less excited about everything. She got to dye eggs:


And she was very excited to get her easter basket in the morning:

Sedona was a little less sure about what this whole easter basket thing was about

But she was excited to get a new can of puffs anyway and took the opportunity to inspect the ingredient list and find out just what it is that makes puffs so darn tasty:


We all headed outside at 8:30 in the morning to hunt eggs and Sierra found them all pretty quickly and was very excited. She spent the next hour standing in a chair at the kitchen window looking outside to see if she could spot anymore eggs. She finally told us she found one and it wasn't an egg, but she wouldn't believe us, so we told her to go look. She puts on her shoes, heads out to the very back of the yard and yells out, "It's not an egg". As she's walking back though, she suddenly veers off and starts shouting, "I FOUND AN EGG! I FOUND AN EGG! I FOUND AN EGG!" The kid was SOOOOOOO excited she literally ran out of her shoe.. "I FOUND AN EGG! I FOUND AN---MY SHOE!.....I FOUND AN EGG! I FOUND AN EGG!" So, I can say with confidence that everyone within a 10 mile radius was definitely awake by 9am because our child graced them with egg hunt excitement even if they didn't have kids of their own.

Later on we learned that a cheapo $1 kite is one of the coolest toys ever to a three year old. Each time I resist the urge to get her big expensive stuff, I get reminded that she's really happy without us spending tons of money (besides, why bother having to "one up" myself every year this early??).


We got video of her flying the kite as well, because most of the time she was jumping up and down and going, "my kite! my kite! look at my kite! my kite's way up in the air! my kite! my kite!" I guess flight is pretty amazing when you're 3.

And here are the resident partners in crime. Sierra is completely a daddy's girl:

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lies for your own good

I gotta give two thumbs up to the recipe book: Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld (as in Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld). I had heard a lot of people talking about this book, but I have the kid who won't touch a vegetable and wouldn't eat anything green (including green jello) until very recently, so I was skeptical and didn't want to buy it. I looked it up at our local library and they had a copy (yay!) there were, like, 3 people in line ahead of me to borrow, so I had to wait a LONG time to get it. Anyways, got it last monday and have been trying things out and I highly highly recommend it. The premise is to make vegetable purees (think stage 1 baby food) that you mix in with kid favorites. So far, I've made blueberry oatmeal bars that have pureed spinach mixed in with the blueberry filling and grilled cheese that had sweet potato puree mixed in with the cheese. Both went over with no comments whatsoever from Sierra. Some of the others I plan to try---mac and cheese with sweet potato or butternut squash puree mixed in; scrambled eggs with cauliflower mixed in; "fried" rice balls with pureed chicken, sweet potato and spinach mixed in; homemade chicken nuggets with pureed carrot. Everyone also tells me the chocolate chip cookies with garbanzo beans are wonderful, but I haven't tried that one yet.

I was really surprised about the blueberry oatmeal bars--okay, so yes, it's a dessert type thing, but if I'm gonna give the kid dessert anyway, I might as well throw in some spinach (which I would never in a million years get her to eat otherwise). It took me the longest to eat them--I couldn't get the sight and smell of spinach puree mixed with blueberry jam out of my mind. I finally did though and the spinach is completely undetectable (tip--you have to let them *completely* cool off or you can still taste/smell the spinach).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

You're gonna miss this

My last day at work was Friday. Ask me again in six months, because I may be climbing the walls (that's how long I stayed home with Sierra before I started working), but I'm LOVING my time at home. One of my friends recently made a blog post about "mommy paychecks"--I have gladly handed over my money paychecks for mommy paychecks. Josh is a very very smart man. Whenever Sierra says something about momma not working anymore, he slips in, "momma still works, it's just that she only has ONE full time job now" ;-) Have I mentioned lately that I married the best man in the world? ;-) Anyways, I am really enjoying rocking Sedona to sleep for her naps. In the past that's been one of my least favorite baby-care activities, but I missed out on it for the last 8 months (I'd put her in the wrap at work and then continue working, I couldn't stop for 15 minutes to rock her), and have found I really look forward to it now. Nothing beats baby fine hair against your cheek, one baby arm wrapped around your arm and a chubby baby hand against your neck. I'm also pleasantly surprised that when I haven't used up all my patience on grown people who need baby-sitting to get a job done, I have plenty left for my own three year old at the end of the day. There have been many fewer power struggles between Sierra and I this week, and when she gets upset, I'm able to respond in a completely calm tone of voice, which just sorta difuses her anger/frustration. I think that's probably been the biggest benefit so far---I'm still sane when everyone gets home! I do miss the clients, but I'm working on getting set up to teach some breastfeeding/childbirth classes (which is a nights/weekend independent working type thing).

So there's a new country song called "you're gonna miss this" that gives me goosebumps now. The first part talks about missing being a teenager or married without kids, and sorry, I don't miss those (I've always been in a hurry to grow up and while the responsibility that comes with being grown up can be tough, no way would I trade it to be a kid again), but the last part is:
Five years later there's a plumber workin' on the water heater
Dog's barkin', phone's ringin'
One kid's cryin', one kid's screamin'
And she keeps apologizin'
He says "They don't bother me.
I've got 2 babies of my own.
One's 36, one's 23.
It's hard to believe, but...

You're gonna miss this
You're gonna want this back
You're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you're gonna miss this"


And that part gets me, because I know I'm gonna miss having my babies around. I'm sure there are fun times ahead (especially when they're big enough to really go hiking, climbing, biking, etc...), but there's not much in life that beats rocking babies :-) So, yes, we're incredibly short on money now (though a benefit of frugality is we have savings instead of revolving debt), and with gas prices so high we walk or bike where we need to go most of the time, and we count taco bell as "going out" and even that's a rarity, but the trade-offs are great. The amount of money I was getting was not nearly enough to justify the stress on our family.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A big, big, BIG rabbit

Last weekend was the Easter Egg Hunt at the George Bush Library. They do a really neat set up every year. It's all free and all the kiddos under 7 get a goody bag (candy, pencils, bracelets, activity book, stickers, etc...) and they do an easter egg "hunt". They outline three huge rectangles on the grass and scatter a bunch of easter eggs out there. The kids are separated by age and when the easter bunny blows the fire truck horn all the kids rush for the eggs. In the past it's been a little "dog eat dog", even in the 0-3 year old set. This year was exceptionally tame for some reason. It was also the first year Sierra was willing to do the hunt. Pics of Sierra:

Sedona also got in on the action, though I think any brightly colored object would've drawn her attention



Another part of the annual Easter Egg Hunt is a chance to sit on a fire truck. Last year Sierra totally freaked out and would not get on the fire truck. For an ENTIRE year we've have heard (repeatedly) about how she wanted to sit on a fire truck. When we saw a fire truck going down the road (sirens blaring, racing through red lights, etc...) she wanted me to stop the truck so she could ride on it. When we saw firemen in the grocery store, she wanted me to go ask them if she could sit on the truck. Everywhere we went, every truck she passed, she asked about this. We told her she had her chance and she would have to wait until next year. Anytime she didn't want to do something that was sort of a one time thing, all we had to say was, "remember the fire truck?" Anyways....she DID get on the fire truck this year. At first, she refused, but that was because the fireman was lifting the kids up. Once we told her daddy could lift her up, she hesitantly agreed. You'll see from the picture just how thrilled she was


On the way home though, she was ALL sorts of proud of herself...."I got on the fire truck this year!"

Here she is showing off her big bad "happy easter" fake tattoo. I have no idea where she got the notion to make that face LOL


And the only thing better than homegrown free food is WILD free food! I discovered a plethora of wild onion in our backyard! I kept pulling weeds in the strawberry bed (note: strawberries and onions are good companion plants) and commenting that the weeds smelled like onion. Then a few days ago I noticed a clump of these "weeds" next to the raised bed with a seed pod that looked an awful lot like onion. I pulled on it and a small chive looking thing comes up and over powers the air with the smell of onion. Then I look up and notice these things are growing like CRAZY all over one section of the backyard. I just casually pulled a bunch and got this:


There's lots and lots and lots more out there. I looked up wild onion and apparently they are indigenous to Texas. There are a few wild onion mimics (though I'm not sure if they're around this area), but everyone says the mimics don't smell like onion and these most definitely do and look JUST like the pictures of wild onion. Everything I've read says they're just as good for food as cultivated onion (unless you're a cow or horse and eat an entire pasture of wild onion leaves).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kraut!


We have been successful in creating sauerkraut! Since neither of us has ever eaten (much less made) homemade sauerkraut, Josh took a jar of it to the German post-doc in his lab and she smelled and tasted it and says it is indeed sauerkraut. Yay us!

Our potato plants have finally put up sprouts that are visible above the hay. If they all keep it up, we will have a freezer full of potatoes au gratin, mashed potatoes, twice baked potatoes, potato soup, hashbrowns.... We planted something like 44 sections of potato and I've read online about potato yields anywhere from 4 to 12 potatoes per plant. There's the potential for A LOT of potatoes out there.


We are steadily planting seedlings. Here's the "before" picture of how barren the garden looks. In a few months I'll take another picture of everything all grown up and we can marvel at the difference ;-)

If you live in town and want lettuce, let me know. We have more than we could possibly eat. Mostly romaine and a curly leaf variety with a little bit of spinach left.



We have determined which chicken has come out on top in the pecking order. We finally settled on the name Sheba--as in "queen of sheba", though I'm still campaigning for "She-ra". Even in their bigger box, she continues to shake a tail feather in the face of confinement.

Being a flock animal, she always jumps back in and chirps bloody murder if she falls out (this has only happened when the dog ran in there barking at her). And the chickens are moving out of the ugly teenage phase and looking mostly feathered lately.


And last but not least, the latest diapers I've made for Sedona--these are 4x8x4 infant prefolds :-)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Why are we in this hand basket...

...and why is it so hot in here?

Remember my new season of falltering? It continues to drag on. It snowed this morning. Big fat snowflakes. Lots of snowflakes. hours worth of Snowflakes. In Texas. In March. The forecast says we'll hit the 80's (again, we did last week too) by next weekend. Yup, our world's weather patterns are just jim dandy and normal...move along, nothing to see here.

And I found out I'm not the only one scoffing at the rise in flour prices. Apparently there really is a wheat shortage going on. Hmmm.... I've heard the debate go both ways on whether ethanol is really partly to blame (not being a fan of ethanol myself and being a big opponent of the corn industry, I'm gonna lean towards evil corn messing up my wheat supply). Alas, I don't think I'm quite self-sufficient enough to grow, harvest and mill my own wheat. Hrmph. Give me a few more years.

I should know by now that any time a child is quiet and not bothering you, *something* is going on. Really, I've had 3.5 years of experience, I should have picked up on this.


And it never gets old watching babies pretzel themselves up so they can try to eat their own toes.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Long time no write

It's been a busy busy week.

Serious stuff---I quit my job. Yay! Sanity is more important than money any day and it was beyond time to make this move. I have been offered the opportunity to be a back up teacher for a local hospital (for newborn, childbirth and breastfeeding classes) and my first two classes went quite well, with very good reviews from the students, so hopefully more of that comes my way. I'm going to talk to the other hospital in town (that currently offers none of those classes :-o ) about teaching over there too. I'm just waiting for CAPPA to send me a copy of my childbirth educator certificate b/c it seems to have disappeared when we moved. We will be pinching pennies even more than normal for the next year or so until Josh finishes his PhD, but of course we sat down and looked at our budget before making this decision and we think it will work out. This will also afford me the opportunity to take full advantage of the day to complete gardening/canning/preserving tasks---and becoming proficient at that stuff is a LARGE part of our long term goals.

More fun stuff---the winter harvest is just about over. My brussels sprouts are sad sad little plants. They made gorgeous sprouts and then it got warm and the sprouts opened up. Then it got cold and the plant shot up and added more sprouts, then it got warm....ah, you get the picture. We didn't get anything from them. The cabbage all got turned into sauerkraut (well, it's fermenting as we speak...it needs another week or so before it's sauerkraut). And the carrots......I have pictures to show you of the carrots. Here's Sierra showing off what happens when a carrot hits a clod of dirt:


And here's a japanese imperial carrot that did not hit a dirt clod. These things are so long I'm pretty sure the grew all the way to the bottom of the raised beds and into the soil below!!


One tray on the dehydrator full of carrots (we ended up drying 6 trays worth, about 1/3 of the carrots are still outside in the ground)

And that same tray the next morning:

Carrots dehydrate down to nothing, which is great--a garden full of carrots can be condensed down to a couple quart freezer bags. Then through out the year, whenever I make any kind of soup, I just throw in a handful of dried carrots and they plump right up!

One chicken has decided she is the queen of the roost. She demonstrates this by shaking a tail feather in the face of confinement:


She never explored the room, just perched up there and then got back in the tub. We decided it was time for a bigger (less escapable) enclosure anyway though. The chickens also got to spend the day outside in the coop. It's still not totally done, but it holds them just fine for the moment (they won't move outside full time for a few more weeks). Here's a few pictures of the coop:



And the chickens enjoying the nice weather today;

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