Monday, September 28, 2015

The hobby agreement

After we moved in with my parents, it quickly became apparent to both HusbandX and me that we really needed something to do with each other, to talk about.  With no jobs, and in a house with so many other people with a variety of competing needs, we were spending less and less time together.  And when we did spend time together, it always felt like it ended in an argument.
We both knew we needed something to foster communication, togetherness, and common interests, but didn't really know what.  We have separate hobbies--I read (so much) and he plays video games.  In our own home, we'd spend that time in the same room, doing our own thing but free to talk to each other if something caught our interest.  This is how I ended up reading Let's Pretend This Never Happened (by Jenny Lawson) aloud, because I was so tired of going back to read the part that made me laugh out loud that it was just easier to read the whole book to him.  This was, hands down, one of the most fun things HusbandX and I have ever done together.
Here, though, we don't have the luxury to do things like this as much.  Someone's always around, or interrupting, or we're just so darn sick of being around people that we don't want to speak to anyone.  (Even extroverts need alone time!)  We get some time from our Thursday night bike rides that is completely ours, but an hour or so a week is just not enough time for a couple to devote to each other.
So we came up with a simple bargain: we would each take on the other's hobbies.  At least once every six months, I would play a video game and he would read two books.  Naturally, they had to be games he'd played and books I'd read, so that we could discuss them.  We came up with lists of what we thought the other person would really enjoy, and a few special agreements within the grand bargain.  For instance, the Hunger Games series is a very quick read, so he would read all three in exchange for me playing Portal.
Over our bike camping weekend, HusbandX brought Ender's Game to read, and we discussed the book as he went along.  He enjoyed it, as I'd known he would, and we both enjoyed the discussions we had.
Unfortunately, fulfilling my end of the bargain hasn't been so easy.  I picked BioShock Infinite as my first game, but it turns out that my computer isn't good enough to handle the graphics.  The second game we tried ended the same way.  Now, I'm onto my third pick of game (Mass Effect), and my least favorite style of game: a console.  I hate the controls because I always end up in a corner staring at the sky and shouting at the screen, "I don't know what's going on!" as I furiously button-mash.  Yeah, there are reasons I don't usually play video games.
I will persist, however, because this is important to me.  I hate the console, but it's right next to HusbandX's computer so I get to spend that time with him.  Usually he's laughing at me, but that's ok too.**
This, of course, isn't the only thing we've done to get back on track with each other.  Aside from the bike camping, we've also spent all that time picking and processing the food people have given us this year.  Spending a few hours with your spouse while chopping and pressing apples might not be high up on anyone's list of most romantic moments, but it turns out that it's a great way to connect.  My brother found where we can stream "Whose Line Is It Anyway", and we watch those as we work to preserve food for the winter.  Laughing with your spouse can be one of the best balms for any marriage.  Now, all we need to do is say, "Butterstick!" and at least one of us laughs.
We've worked on getting out for more bike rides, just the two of us.  When we run errands the Munchkin is there, which is awesome (she sings while we ride) but isn't quite the same as being alone with your partner.  There are topics we discuss on our bike rides with just each other that we never seem to broach when even the toddler is around: fears, stresses, highlights of the day or week, discussing ideas for our future or what we'd like to have happen in the next year.
So we're beginning the autumn in a far better state than we were over the summer.  Perhaps the heat had something to do with our tempers, and I know the stress of unemployment has taken its toll, but whatever the cause I'm glad we're out of marital discord.  Even better, Jenny Lawson has another book that just came out.  Thanks to the Munchkin, I think my read-aloud skills are brushed up enough for the coming challenge.

**UPDATE: HusbandX managed to get this on the computer instead, so now I'm button-mashing on the computer hooked up to the TV in the office.  Still next to HusbandX so we get to spend the time together and he gets to laugh at me when I accidentally discharge my weapon and then squeak.  Which I apparently do a lot.  Even so, the computer works so much better for me than the console.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Biking while female

Last week, while biking an errand with the Munchkin, I realized that I'd committed a cardinal sin: that of not changing into more appropriate bike attire before leaving the house.  That is to say, my boobs were totally hanging out because the cut of my top, perfectly modest and acceptable while I'm upright, hangs down and flashes the world while I'm biking.  And I have, as my husband would put it, "huge tracts of land".
When I realized what was going on, honestly, my first thought was, "Meh."  So what?  It's not like I could change it.  And even if I could, they're just boobs.  I mean, they're my boobs and as huge a fan as I am of the Free The Nipple movement, I'm not actually going to start parading my bare breasts around.  (I did that enough, by accident, when I was nursing the Munchkin.)  But they were encased in a bra which nicely covered up most of the good stuff, so I don't really care if anyone saw what was left.
However, I do care that there are men out there who will take the presence of my boobs the wrong way.  Men who will feel free to honk and holler and generally feel it's their Solemn Duty to remind me that I am a woman in the public sphere.  I was saved from that on this particular occasion by virtue of having the Munchkin with me (I assume--even with the term MILF floating around, hitting on A Mom that way just isn't done; have some respect, dude! she's got a kid!), but when she's not with me, I am fair game.  For being female.  Worse, a female on a bike.  So dangerous!  So sweaty and dirty and unladylike!
On a recent Thursday night ride my friend Em was wearing a dress that was low-cut but fitted to her chest like a bra or swimsuit, so she wasn't showing any more than I had been from my normal t-shirt.  But because they were out there, some guy yelled to her, "Nice boobs!"  She didn't have time to yell it then but she later said that her favorite comeback for that is, "Disappointing dick!"  That has gotten men to call her a bitch, because apparently it's ok for them to degrade her, but if she turns it around and gives them the same treatment, that's just bitchy behavior.  Legit.
How sad is it that this has happened to her so many times that she's got a go-to comeback?  The guys who do this can't even be bothered to be creative with their derogatory behavior.
This is an issue which, like so many others, men don't have to think about.  I don't think it's wrong that they don't have to, but I do think it's wrong that it's something which women are forced to confront.  I polled the ladies of my Thursday night group, asking if they change their shirt before riding, in consideration of their boobs.  One said that she'd turned a tank top around when she was younger, so that the higher side was in front, and another said that she sometimes considers how the guy she's seeing (who's part of the group) will view her attire (as in, will he think it's sexy? rather than, will he think it's too immodest?), but everyone else said they'd just stopped caring.  The consensus was that there's no winning.  The pervs will manage to make you feel like you're under-dressed even if you're wearing a turtleneck.
Talk to just about any cyclist and you can get a list of abuse they've been subjected to from drivers: stuff thrown at them, people cussing at them, driving dangerously near/around them, and the always popular, "Get off the road!" yelled at them.  Talk to any female cyclist about what was the most memorable abuse that they received while on a bike and most of them will start listing the creepy things that guys have done: slowing down to stare at your butt (and shouting to let you know what they're doing), creative (and not-so-creative) catcalling, men conspicuously staring at your boobs, and otherwise letting you know that you're a female who is on a bike, but really shouldn't be.  Because females, yo.
Unfortunately, it's not just random street men who do this.  It's the biking industry itself, as well as the culture of men who have decided that women are Inferior Beings and shouldn't ride bikes.  That's messed up, and I cannot say it enough.  I realize that women are underrepresented in biking, as they are in video games and so many other venues.  But all of these venues have in common the fact that they make women uncomfortable and do everything they can to marginalize and de-value women.  Again, that's really messed up.  Worse, in my experience, men who do their utmost to push women aside are also those most likely to complain about being "friend-zoned", or that women just don't appreciate them.  These are the men who will complain that "there's not enough ass" in the biking world, but any woman who doesn't want to be just a piece of ass is a bitch and should GTFO.
Infuriating does not begin to describe how this feels.
Ironically, studies done on this topic show that it's men of lower social status, and therefore less likely to "get the girl", who are the most likely to display anger toward women.  So in their efforts to make themselves seem more manly and of higher status (i.e., putting women down) they actually make themselves less desirable to women.  I would laugh if it wasn't so facepalm-y.
I really wish that I could make those men understand that women don't do a damn thing for their viewing pleasure.  Biking, running, walking the dog, and all the other outdoor activities which set us up as prime targets for catcalling: not one of these is done so that a man might notice us.  We're just trying to live our lives.  Why is that so hard to understand?  Men are accorded that freedom, when will women get to just be people?
In my bike group, we have some awesome and wonderfully self-aware men.  But even in a group like ours, where women usually feel safe, there have been incidents.  Women have had their pictures taken while swimming (in underwear or skinny-dipping) over the summer, without their permission.  At least one woman was groped at one of the giant events--that man was quietly asked not to return.  Even just last night, on a normal (not themed) ride, with about 80 (?) people, while stopped at a light, a woman rolled down her window to ask, "Hey, what's going on?"  As some of us were trying to explain that we were just out riding for fun, because it's Thursday, one of the guys kept telling her that she was hot and should join us.  "Can I have your number?  And then I can call you about next week?  Because you're hot."  She ignored him, as women usually do with such asinine behavior, so I finally decided to speak up.  After all, having other women not speak up when we see or hear such things is part of the problem.
Probably, my heavy use of sarcasm wasn't the greatest approach.  "Well done, dude, I'm sure that made her feel so welcome.  It's not like it was creepy at all."  And on.  It was rather gratifying to have two other women pipe up.  "Seconded."  "Yep, that was creepy."  He asked to speak with us at the next big stop and did so.  It was hard because he was defensive over his actions, explaining that she was hot (I'm not sure why that makes his actions better?) and he was trying to do it in a funny, not creepy, way.  Funny.  That's what it was to him.  How do you explain to someone with that mindset that their actions aren't funny to the person on the receiving end?  In the very brief time I had with him I pointed out that he knows nothing about her--she could have been going home to her husband or boyfriend, or to her kids.  And even beyond that, no woman sits in her car thinking, "God, I wish some guy would hit on me at the next light!"  I didn't get to ask, did he really expect her to say, "Oh my gosh, you want my number?  Sure!  Here!"  Has that approach ever worked, in the history of ever, for a man?  It's like honking at women walking by.  What do men expect, that the woman will chase down their car to give that guy their number?  Women don't feel flattered by that attention, it's unnerving.  Funny is not a descriptor that comes up at all for women discussing these types of events.

The Munchkin's bike.

So I've been ruminating on all of these issues and then thought about how I want to raise my daughter to be a cyclist, despite the hardships and the stigma.  Despite the message that she will get, many times from many different people, that she is a lesser being because she's a female.  There will be a day when, in all seriousness, she tells me that there's something she can't do because she's a girl.  I know she will, because that was a message I internalized when I was younger too.
I talked with HusbandX about potentially banning the phrase "just a girl" in our house (except in the excellent case of the No Doubt song) because she's going to hear it so many other places that I don't want her to have to hear it at home, even in jest.  Because hearing it as a joke is tiring as well.  There are very few other things I absolutely will not allow her to say, but putting herself down and limiting herself based on her gender will not fly.  There are things that she won't be able to do, or won't do as well, because of her biology, but she'll never find out what her actual limits are if she's told to not even bother trying because she's female.
It makes me proud when people remark on how capable she is, how strong.  When she was first born I told her all the time how cute she is.  I kept thinking, gah!  I'm turning into one of those people who does nothing but compliment little girls on their looks!  But as she grew older, as she actually developed strength and started doing noteworthy things, my remarks about her looks have faded to being rare, and so have HusbandX's.  Now we tell her that we're proud of how strong she is, of how hard she works, and we encourage her to try things, to do better.  Even at her age, though, not everyone does.  We get surprised comments at the park about how strong she is, how brave, with the implied (if not explicit) addendum "for a girl".  It sucks that I need to shield her from that attitude even now, when she's not even 2.
People tell me how boys are different from girls because "they're just so much wilder" and I think, "You haven't met my girl, then."  Are boys really so much different, or are they just given more license to run and play?  Because "boys will be boys".
The Munchkin is small, and since neither of her parents is tall, she likely will be small for the rest of her life.  She will get extra crap for it, and be considered an easier target for those who seek to make her feel like less than a human being.  Ask me how I know.  She's going to need to know that she's capable and strong, no matter what other people try to tell her.  I hope we can build a foundation of inner strength so that she feels free to be feminine, but knows that she's so much more than "just a girl".

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Autumn is, and always has been, my favorite time of year.  It's glorious.  Around the beginning of August, I started feeling hardcore homesick for Fairbanks and all of the lovely colors I knew would start arriving there soon, not to mention the cooler weather.  I've been roasting here all summer!  But now, finally, it's Seattle's turn.  Surprisingly, this rainy town hasn't quite lived up to its reputation.  Sure, there's been rain.  Even epic rain, the kind that makes you say, "Hmm, I don't think I actually want to bike out in this weather."  (That was Thursday night, before our ride.  The rain stopped while we sat in the car and chatted on the phone with HusbandX's brother, and didn't come back, in lighter form, until we were nearly back at the car.)  It rained quite heavily last night, but the Munchkin woke me up to an absolutely lovely morning, with evidence of the rain still everywhere but no clouds in sight.  We enjoyed the morning by putting her on her balance bike (she's almost big enough for it now!) and after, heading to the park, where we both splashed in puddles.

My attempt, last autumn, to take a cute Pinterest-like picture
of the Munchkin with a pumpkin.  FAIL.

The cooler temperatures have, of course, been incredibly welcome for we poor cool-weather cravers.  In addition, grilling over the summer is nice, but many of my favorite foods (squashes, apples, root vegetables!) all come into season at this time of year, when it's cool enough to want to cook and eat them.  I'm still enjoying a few last nectarines from the farmer's market, but the transition to All Things Apple is one I'm enjoying.  A glass of sweet cider from the apples we pressed, apples with cheese as my lunch, or mulled apple cider (again, from our own cider!) for dessert...bliss.

What does any of this have to do with frugality, the purported purpose of this blog?  Many things.

1) Autumn means a lack of heating and/or air conditioning.  Yep, turn those bad boys off to save some serious dough.  Daytime temperatures are still heating up the house, but opening a window to take advantage of the breeze actually works, which it didn't when the temps were over 90.
Whenever I've had to pay for climate control, my roommate (or spouse) and I have made a game to see how long into autumn we could go without turning on the heat.  When HusbandX and I lived in our dry cabin, heating fuel was massively expensive.  I remember it being $1200 for 500 gallons (I think), which is not much fuel in Fairbanks but is a lot of cash for a student who's working two summer jobs to save up enough for living costs over the winter.  So we decided to see if we could push off needing any heat until it snowed, which happened in late September that year.  When it did snow I said, "Aw, come on, I bet we could make it even longer!"  HusbandX, the killjoy, vetoed that plan.
Even after we turned on the heat, we made it a game to see how low we could comfortably keep it.  It wasn't uncommon to catch me reading while bundled up, including a hat and gloves.*  Autumn, however, is that lovely time of year where those extreme measures aren't needed.  So enjoy it!

2) Now is the time to stock up on whatever fruits and vegetables you can.  As I said above, many of them are in season, so not only are they at their tastiest, they're also at their cheapest.  Or free.  My annual summer stocking-up of fruit is winding down (in addition to all of the preserves, nearly half of our chest freezer is filled with blueberries, cherries, peaches, and blackberries) but vegetables and apples are still going strong.  Thankfully, many of them won't need much in the way of preservation.  Winter squashes should stay good for quite some time if left in a cool, dry place, as will onions, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and apples.
Since we haven't eaten many of these autumn foods over the summer, they're also unique to our palates right now and provide the diversity we crave.  Instead of feeling like we're always eating the same old things, and changing it up by going out to different places, we change our eating habits and ingredients based on the season.  This ensures that we're never bored with our own cooking so going out is a special treat and one reserved strictly for seeing people we haven't been around for a long time, such as out-of-town relatives.

3) It's the season of baking.  All that stuff you didn't want to make over the summer lest you heat up your abode?  Now's the time to start DIYing again.  Bread, cookies if you're so inclined, muffins, and anything else your heart desires.  Buying these things is, generally, so much more expensive than doing it yourself, and they don't take a huge amount of time.  Plus, it's fun to bake stuff.  Kids, especially, enjoy helping.  Ask me how I know, just please don't ask why there's flour all over the counter still.
This season is also when we haul out the slow cooker to make our meals for us, saving time (a necessity, always), money (by not ordering out or making more expensive stuff--slow cooking can make even cheap cuts of meat tender and delicious), and energy (they use very little of it).  The anticipation of dinner hovers in the air all day as it cooks, and when we finally sit down to the meal it's with the desire to savor it and enjoy it to the fullest, as we've enjoyed its scent all day.

4) Autumn is the cheapest season for exercise.  After all, who wants to be stuck inside on a treadmill or stair master when it's not blazing hot or cold enough to require gloves and a hat outside?  It's sunny and warm, but not too warm, so get out and enjoy it!  Go for walks and bike rides with friends or alone, take your kid to the park without fearing burns from the playground equipment, go hiking and camping and backpacking.  I know, the allure of all your favorite TV shows coming back is tempting, but you can watch them on DVD later when it's too hot or cold to move.  For now, do yourself a favor and get outside for some fresh air.
In Fairbanks, I always knew that this time of year was my last chance at sun.  In many ways, it's the same down here.  Instead of the sun always being down, though, it'll be hidden behind clouds for much of the winter.  Either way, you don't realize how much you miss the sun until it's suddenly never there.  When the Munchkin was born, in late November, I did my best to sleep when she slept, which meant that a few times I slept through the sunlight.  I ended up crying when I realized what had happened, and it was hard to keep myself from becoming depressed.  After the first couple of times, I decided that I wouldn't nap, no matter how tired I was, unless the sun was down, because it was too important to me to get that tiny bit of daylight.  This is a lesson I want to carry forward here, since sunlight will be no less important to my peace of mind than it was in Alaska.  Getting outside to walk the dog is far cheaper, and healthier, than investing in a Happy Light.

5) It's also the best season to curl up with a good (library) book and a mug of tea (or coffee, or cider, or....)  I know, I just told you to get outside!  But no one's going to do that all day every day, so when I do have down time, I usually spend it with a good book and a mug of tea.  Library books are worlds cheaper than paying for cable, and they don't cost any electricity like running a TV does.
A book, a sunny living room, and cat or dog cuddles is, to me, the perfect way to spend the Munchkin's nap time.

6) Enjoy slowing down.  Every season has its own pace, and summer's has always been rather frenetic and manic to me.  There are always things going on, people to see, stuff to do that you can't do later on.  I enjoy the whirlwind, but by the time autumn comes around I'm thankful for the small respites that come my way.  Even when we hang out with friends now it's not so much about doing things as it is about seeing each other and catching up.  We had two game nights with various friends this past weekend and not only did people show up who wouldn't have had the time over the summer (due to the other million things going on), but even the way people interacted was a bit slower, a bit calmer.  We took more time to really catch up.

I hope you're enjoying the season as much as I am!

*It might sound miserable, but I think back on our time living in that cabin fondly, and I know that part of it is because of, not despite, the hardships we endured.

Monday, September 21, 2015

What did we do with all of those apples?

I mentioned before that some friends of ours gave us roughly 100 lbs of apples, and we turned many of them into hard cider.  Well, a day or two after I posted that, we had more people offer us free apples, for the price of picking them, because once again they weren't going to get around to using their apples and just didn't want to see them go to waste.
Enter another 50 lbs or so of apples, when we still hadn't quite finished processing the rest of the first batch.  By that point, we were feeling a little bit overwhelmed by apples.
The best ones got picked out for eating fresh and we noshed on apples for days as we contemplated all the hard work involved in preserving them through various means.
This time was not wasted.  I'd also gotten to pick as many tomatoes as I could from a friend's garden, and those would go bad first.  So I spent several days over pots of tomatoes and the canner, ending up with 19 pints of diced tomatoes and 13 pints of tomato sauce.

Just some of the tomatoes I picked, in all their glorious variety.

Reducing for tomato sauce.  By the time it was ready to can it was
down to only one pot.

Finished tomato sauce, sitting next to the jars of brandied cherries 
in red wine, which I made at the same time to take advantage
of the already-hot canning pot.

I chose diced tomatoes and tomato sauce because those are the two types of canned tomatoes used most in our house.  We do use tomato paste, but unless you've got the right variety, a fair amount of time on your hands, and an overabundance of tomatoes, I don't find homemade tomato paste to be worth the effort.  I did, however, cook down the tomato sauce enough that we shouldn't need to add much, if any, store-bought tomato paste when we use it.
Finally, we had to tackle the apples.  We started with my mom teaching me how to make applesauce.  I've made it a few times before but it always came out burnt and just...not so good.  I ate it, but mostly because I didn't want to waste the food, so it usually got baked into something (like muffins) to mask the burnt taste.
My mother, on the other hand, is a master applesauce maker and I wanted to learn her secrets.  Turns out, it's really not that hard.  Chop the apples (and peel them, if desired, but save the peels for another use!) and put them in a big pot with just enough water to keep them from burning.  Adding the water, a little bit at a time as needed, as the apples cooked down, was the true secret, I found out.  Before I'd just added some water at the beginning and thought the juice from the apples would be enough after that.  Nope.  We added water, 1/4 cup at a time, until the apples were all cooked down and the applesauce was the proper texture, thick and with small bits of apple chunk still in it.  If you want it more like purchased applesauce, put it through a food mill or into a food processor or blender, and add more water.
Other than that, we're applesauce purists.  No added sugar, and just a bit of cinnamon.  We came away with 8 quarts of applesauce, some of which was put in the fridge for eating and six quarts successfully canned.  Three of those will be going to our friends with the new baby.

Cooking down the apples.

7 quarts of applesauce.  One can didn't seal, so it's in the freezer.

I said in my previous post about the apples that I made scrap apple jelly, and scrap apple vinegar.  Some of the jelly was indeed used for waffles (yum!) one morning, and the vinegar is fermenting away.  It will take a couple more weeks before it's truly ready, though I've taken out the apple bits and am letting the "mother" grow.  It's quite fun to experiment with fermentation, and I can see how so many people have begun making their own saurkrauts and such.  So I made more.  Lots more.  I have quarts of this stuff fermenting away in the bottom of a pantry.

I put a smaller canning ring in the jar to hold down the apple
scraps, beneath the water level.  Otherwise the apple parts 
sticking out just go moldy.

HusbandX racked over his own fermenting project, the hard cider.  By that I mean, he filtered it somewhat, and took a small taste at the same time.  It's delicious!  It needs a bit more time, and bottling, but those will happen soon and we know now that the finished product will be well worth the time and effort we put into it.
The bulk of the apples this time, however, went to make sweet cider.  The press came into action again and once it was all done, the juice was boiled for ten minutes to kill any microbes and prevent wild fermentation.  Some was stored in the fridge for drinking immediately (that one's gone) and the rest was stored in the chest freezer, in a washed-out milk jug.  All in all, we got about a gallon and a half, and we still have one bag of apples left to press for cider.  (Soon.)
Now that most of the work is done, we're feeling less overwhelmed and more grateful once again.  We're enjoying the fruits (ha!) of our labors, and with the variety we've created there are lots of different ways in which to do so.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I thought I would love this

When I was in my late teens and into my early 20s, I worked as a nanny/babysitter for four families.  All of the mothers I worked with/for were stay at home moms and just needed me for, basically, sanity time.  I was going to say what they did while I watched their kids for a few hours each week but you know what?  I don't need to justify why stay at home moms needed a little help.  If they needed it, they needed it.  End of story.
The kids were awesome, easy to love, and I'm so proud of the teenagers they've grown into.  Two of them are now seniors in high school and, Gawd, that makes me feel old.
I learned so much about being a parent from my time nannying, like setting appropriate boundaries but also learning when it was all right to bend the rules; when to be the disciplinarian and when the kids needed empathy instead of punishment.  Really, that work has carried with me.  I learned the qualities that a good leader should possess, because what is parenting but leading?  Businesses have outcomes they want to achieve, but so do parents.  Different parenting styles mainly have to do with what outcomes the parents want to produce, and therefore judgment values on what is "right" or "wrong" are incredibly silly.  None of the sets of parents did things just as the others did, so I needed to be flexible to adapt to each one, as well as to the needs of each child.  And you know what?  All of the kids turned out fabulous, because it's not the differing parenting styles which mattered so much as creating a loving and stable atmosphere for them to grow up in.
Seeing these moms, though, I really wanted to be like them someday.  Part of this desire, I suppose, was because I didn't know what I wanted to do or be when I grew up.  Even now, I don't really consider myself as having a "career" in the traditional sense so much as I have a job category I fell into because it sounded more interesting than most and then it was a steady way to earn money.*  Some kids know right away what they want to do, but I'm over 30 and still couldn't tell you what my ambition is for a career.  Clearly, I love kids and was always told, "Oh, it will be different when you have your own.  The love you feel for them is just so much...more."  So, I thought, being a stay at home mom would be wonderful.
The plan, when we moved down here, was that HusbandX would get a job and I could be the stay home parent for a bit.  While he was a student, HusbandX was the main parent (with help from our fantastic babysitter and some of our friends) and I felt like I'd put in my time as the breadwinner.  I've been the one with the stable job for years, it's my turn to stay home and make house and play with the baby!  Working sucks!
Then we moved down here, and within two weeks I was practically climbing the walls with boredom and frustration.  Going to the park in the mornings, going for walks in the afternoons or running errands, and holy balls, kid, are you screaming at me AGAIN?  Use your words!  No?  What do you mean no?  You haven't even tried talking to me, you just went straight to screaming!  I don't know what you want when you scream at me.  Fine, if you're not going to stop you're getting a time out until you can CALM DOWN AND STOP YELLING AT ME.
Yes, I totally have been that parent who's yelling at their kid to stop yelling.  For some reason, I can only take about five hours of being consistently whined and yelled at before I lose my temper.  Then, I need to be on my own for an hour or so.

My little hell-raiser, stopping to sniff the flowers.  Getting
out of the house is keeping me from going crazy.

Mind you, I've always known that parenthood is tough.  And I have a very active, curious, bright little bundle of supersonic energy.  We didn't expect her to be easy, because neither we nor any of our siblings were easy kids.  The Munchkin wasn't even easy in the womb, constantly rolling and kicking.  I knew she was stubborn when she stuck her butt under my ribs for two days and wouldn't move even when I tried to push her into a different spot.  I stopped doing the recommended kick counts because the longest it ever took was 10 minutes, and I'd done it during one of her infrequent slow times.  Usually it felt like she was practicing jiu-jitsu in my abdomen.
When the Munchkin was just a few months old I did an internet search for what qualifies as a high needs baby and came across this list.  She fit every single one of those criteria, which helped me to feel less like a complete failure on days when she would demand everything we had and then a little bit more.
Even so, I thought that I would enjoy staying home with her.  Maybe I was just stressed out because working and being a parent and taking care of a household is a lot.  When I don't have to do as much, surely life will be a little bit easier.  I clung to that thought, and tried to ignore remembering the infant days when I'd thought, "Thank God, it's Monday and I get to go to work!  I can finally have a break!"
Now, I don't even get naps because she's starting to give those up.  Instead, she climbs the furniture.  I mean that literally.  There's a dresser in her room that's about shoulder height for me and she climbs up on it when she should be napping.  Even now, I can hear drawers being pulled out so that she can climb up on the desk.
And she's awesome!  I love who she is, because she's such a great kid.  I tell her pretty much every day that out of all the many, many babies in the world, she's my favorite.  But this doesn't make being around her less draining.  She's getting easier as she gets older and as she becomes more independent, but she's still not an easy kid to take care of.  She is, as HusbandX and I frequently remind each other, definitely our child.
When I started browsing job postings within a couple of weeks after moving, I realized that being a stay at home parent perhaps wasn't my calling.  Maybe other stay at home moms have easier kids, or more patience for a lack of stimulating conversation and time alone, or maybe tons of them are just leading lives of quiet desperation but don't want to say so because then they'd seem like terrible parents.  I don't know.  What I do know is, I want to go back to work.
One of the popular ideas right now is that of balance, particularly when it comes to work and life.  I don't know what the right balance is for us yet.  Perhaps if I found only a part-time job I'd get to have the fun time with the Munchkin (and despite my complaining, there are a lot of fun times) while still working and having my own life.  Maybe I'll think differently when we have our own place to live, and maybe when we need to shop around for childcare I'll discover that being home with her is less stressful than shelling out tons of money each month for someone else to do so.  But for right now, the job search is on.

*OK, the last job I had I really did love.  My coworkers were great, the job itself was interesting, and I would have happily stayed there for a long, long time.  Now I just need to find the same thing down here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Biking in Seattle

I'm a list person.  I've had a running list in my head of all the pros and cons of moving to Seattle for...well, when did we bring this idea up again?  And even though it's a Done Deal, I've still got this list in my head.
One of the biggies, for me, was biking.  Pro: bike culture is strong here.  Pro: no snow and ice in the winter, which usually stopped me in Fairbanks.  (My bike was so completely unsuited to snow and ice.)  Con: lots of cars.  Too many cars.  Con: Seattle has lots of bike lanes, but Fairbanks has tons of bike paths, completely set away from cars.  Con: the distances will be greater.
I honestly worried that we'd move down here and I'd stop biking.  Long distances and hills!  Would my natural laziness manage to be overcome by my love of biking?  It turns out, I needn't have worried.  The day after we arrived (in the middle of the night) I went for my first run in nearly a month, in brand new shoes.  The day after that, when I woke up seriously sore (to the point that stairs became my nemesis) I still decided to ride in a ladies-only alleycat bike race.  That was my grand introduction to biking in Seattle.  I met some wonderful ladies, including one of the ringleaders for Seattle Family Biking.  ("Ooh, is that a trailer hitch on your bike?")  And I came in 28th out of 90 riders!  I credit my stubborn determination not to slow the rest of the group down for such a good spot.  Not being able to walk properly for the next week was totally worth it.
We started riding with an infamous Seattle are bike group on Thursday nights, and scoured Craigslist until we found bikes which were far more suitable for this area than our trusty old Fairbanks bikes had been.

If you see this bike and I'm not on it, call me because it was stolen.

I had worried that biking with the Munchkin near cars would make me too nervous, but it really hasn't so far.  For the most part, I feel fairly safe.  At least, I don't trust drivers more than I could throw their cars, but I am as careful as I can be and so far we haven't run into too many assholes.  Plus, the Munchkin loooves bike rides.  Who am I to deny her that joy?  So, we bike.  To the farmer's market, to the grocery store, to the park, to the library.  I tried to think of times when I ride without her, and realized that in an average week the only ride I do sans trailer and toddler is the Thursday night ride.
Let me tell you one of the secrets to biking most places: it makes you feel like a certified BadAss.  Today, I biked the Munchkin over to the pet store and we biked home with both cat food and litter.  All the way up the hill I couldn't even get upset that I was on a hill because, damn, how many other people are out there biking up hills with toddlers and heavy cat supplies?  Not many.  I might not be an elite athlete, but I know that in my own way I am in an elite group of people.  And the more I ride around, the easier it's getting.  I know, I know: I'm stating the obvious.  But it really is that easy.  Hills don't scare me anymore.  Distances that seemed long in Fairbanks have become routine.  I'm even becoming adept at throwing out one-handed (or one-fingered) signals to drivers.
For her upcoming birthday, HusbandX's parents bought the Munchkin a balance bike.  It's still just a touch too big (bummer!) but she loves to play with it and we push her around the block on it sometimes.  The first time we did so HusbandX was telling her, "Not only do Mommy and Daddy love biking, but your uncle is a legendary bicyclist, so you've got a lot to live up to."
I know it's not totally safe to bike.  Cyclists get hit all the time.  One of the ladies I raced with way back at the beginning of the summer said she'd only been bike commuting for 9 months and had already been hit twice.  But, driving isn't all that safe either.  People drive and get hit all the time, and no one thinks anything of it if they get back in the car and drive again.  There's no cautioning, "Are you sure you want to drive?  You remember what happened last time...."  Frankly, I'm sick of cars being the status quo.  I'm tired of the fact that they are considered by many (most?) people to be necessary to modern living, and that the inherent dangers of cars are brushed aside.  I hate that bicycling is seen as somehow super dangerous, when driving a one-ton death machine around while texting or talking on the phone, or doing makeup, or eating, or doing any number of other distracting things, is seen as totally normal and even ok to many people.  I hate that they are the de facto method of getting from place to place, that most infrastructure in this country is built around cars, and the fact that being a person who mostly bicycles is considered counter-culture.  WTF?
And despite all of that, the thing that makes me most angry is the simple fact that biking is fun, and most people don't realize it.  No matter how bad my day has been, when I hop on my bike I end up smiling.  It's the best way I've ever found to de-stress, so much so that I biked to my last interview.*  It helped me to relax and think about answers to possible questions, to arrive calm and confident and collected.
I've heard people say they like driving, but no one really likes driving in traffic.  The act of driving might be interesting, but the congestion that has developed pretty much everywhere just sucks.  Driving is a chore.  Biking your errands, on the other hand, is inherently fun.  You don't have to worry about traffic jams because you can bike right on through.  If more people biked, it would become far safer and more infrastructure would be built around bicycling, making it even safer.  Then, there are the health benefits.  Yes, cyclists get injuries.  I was introduced to the term "collarboner" recently: any accident which sends the rider flying over the handlebars, usually resulting in a broken collarbone.
But cyclists are also fit, and frankly, I know of very few healthy groups more aware of their own mortality than bicyclists.  There are some unsafe jerks, but for the most part cyclists are trying to operate in a car's world as safely as possible.  It's not easy.
I recently installed the app Strava onto my phone, thinking that I would use it to track my running and biking miles.  Almost immediately I signed up for the challenge to see how many miles I can bike and run this month.  Then I promptly forgot about it.  I've used the app for precisely half of one ride.  Every time I was nearly home from a ride and thought, "Crap, I did it again!  Well, too late to track my miles now," it got me thinking about why I didn't remember to use the app.  On my ride home today it occurred to me that I don't use the app because I don't ride thinking of how many miles I'll get in, I ride for the joy of riding my bike.

*Don't worry, I had items, like nice clothes, packed in my bag to make myself presentable.  I didn't go into the interview all sweaty and wearing yoga pants.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

I refuse to spend that much on my kid

At least yearly there are crazy headlines shouting about how much kids cost.  "Your kid will cost you a quarter of a million dollars to raise!" they shout.  "The figures are based on the cost of housing, food, transportation, clothing, healthcare, education, childcare, and miscellaneous expenses, like hair cuts and cell phones."
Of course, what the headlines don't shout about is the huge discrepancy in those numbers.  Low income families spend more like $145,500 over 18 years on their kids.  High income families spend closer to half a million, and all of this has regional variation.  Breaking it down, middle-income families spend about $13,000/year, low income families spend a bit over $8,000/year, and high income families spend about $30,000/year.  The low income figure, when broken down into a yearly amount, doesn't seem so bad, but I knew it was still pretty inflated.
When HusbandX and I decided that we were ready to have a kid, we weren't in what most people would consider an ideal situation.  I was working full-time, but not for very much money.  I was right on the edge of what's considered a living wage for an Alaskan.  HusbandX, meanwhile, had started taking classes toward a second degree.  Thankfully, part of my benefits in working for the university (as most U's do) included tuition benefits.  We still had to pay fees, but no tuition.  And of course, he wanted to focus on classes so he didn't work much.  One very part-time job working as the weekend roaster for a local coffee roasting shop (with the perk--ha!--of free coffee while he was working!) which paid about half of our monthly grocery bill.  In addition, we were (and still are) paying off HusbandX's student loans from his first degree.  So we knew going into this project that money would be tight.
What we did have on our side, thankfully, was a decent amount of savings.  For six glorious and awful months, HusbandX worked as the environmental officer at a mine.  Two weeks out at the mine, one week home.  The schedule was brutal and neither of us wanted this to be a long-term thing, so we saved pretty much every penny of what he made, and those six months more than doubled our income for the year.  When winter came and the company laid everyone off, we didn't mind so much, and it was after that when he started taking classes again.
Still, having savings didn't mean we wanted to dip into it.  What if we needed that money later on?  What if we wanted to buy a house?  What if the baby ended up needing extra post-natal care for some reason, like time in the NICU?  What if something happened I couldn't work, or if I got laid off?  So many what-ifs which make having savings available a necessity.  So we set about trying to figure out the cheapest way to have a baby.
She's nearly two now, and since her conception I estimate that we've spent only about $6,000, including all food, transportation, clothing, and medical bills.  If I'd had a normal delivery rather than an emergency c-section, it would probably be lower by about $1-2,000.
How did we do it?  Actually, it's been pretty easy.  Mostly it just comes down to "don't buy stuff".  I was going to start this list with the two biggies, breastfeeding and cloth diapering, but I feel like pretty much everyone knows that those can save money (even with external costs factored in, such as laundry detergent and extra food for a breastfeeding mom) and have either already decided in favor of them, or decided against them for perfectly legit reasons.  My brother and his wife won't cloth diaper because they'd have to haul the dirty diapers down to the laundromat.  Even if the money worked out in favor, the time spent and the hassle would be huge.  And I know lots of moms who couldn't breastfeed so I, personally, refuse to pile onto the stack of guilt that seems to be de rigueur.  There's no reason to feel guilty about not breastfeeding, for any reason.
So minus those two, here's my list of frugal baby hacks.

Check out your local Buy Nothing group
Most of them have Facebook pages.  You can post stuff that you need, and people in your area willing to give up that/those item(s) will respond.  It might not work 100% of the time, but it's a great place to start.  Especially with baby items, it's been my experience that there are a lot of people who are super happy just to get rid of them by any means possible.  And since babies only use things for a short amount of time, they haven't had much time to destroy them.  Stains can be washed and it's not like the child will care when they're in a used bouncy seat or gnawing on a used teething toy.

Ask family and friends
I'm not talking about asking them to buy stuff for you.  I mean that if you have family (siblings, cousins) or friends who've had kids, chances are they've got baby gear they want to unload.  In fact, you might not even have to ask them.  After we announced on Facebook that we were expecting a girl, I had a cousin message me to let me know she'd send us a few things from her daughters, including some cloth diapers.  I did a happy dance.  Just a few days after that, one of my second cousins (whom I never would have dreamed of asking about baby items!) messaged me to say that they still had some baby items from when their kids were small, and would we like them?  Of course we would!
We have never had to buy the Munchkin a pair of shoes.  Not a single one.  Friends and family have always provided these for us.  Most have been used by other kids, but a few pairs were new.  Great-Grandma sent a pair of boots last Christmas (which haven't actually been worn yet because they were so big!), and some friends had bought boots for their son before last winter, but he'd grown out of them by the time winter started so they gave them to us.
Thanks to some friends who've decided that their daughter will be an only child, we were the grateful recipients of years' worth of shoes, and clothes up to 4T.  Since our Munchkin is fairly petite and has been moving into new clothes with what the label actually says, that means we've got clothes for her until she's 4.  I have two tote boxes filled with clothes the Munchkin hasn't even gotten to wear yet.
We also haven't been picky about what we get.  Boy clothes, girl clothes, doesn't matter.  Babies are all shaped the same anyway, and dinosaurs are cool no matter what your gender is.
We are passing along some of this generosity by sending a box of items to my brother and sister-in-law (who's due in just a couple more weeks!), and will continue to do so, at the very least out of gratitude that so many others have been so generous with us.

See if your parents have a stash of old baby clothes
Before the Munchkin was born, my MIL brought up a bunch of things which had been my husband's as a little boy.  A stuffed dinosaur, some boots, a baby doll, some blocks and a train.  On my side, my parents and I recently went through a trunk full of old baby clothes from my brothers and me.  The Munchkin now gets to wear some of the best fashions of the 70s and 80s.  She looks really cute, and the clothes and toys she's received are sturdy.  They've withstood the test of time, after all.
Some friends of ours didn't have to buy pretty much anything for their baby.  The mom's parents had saved everything from her niece's baby- and childhood, including the furniture.  Since our friends also had a girl, they had pretty much everything they needed to get going.  How awesome is that?

Rockin' an outfit last worn by one of my brothers in the late 70s,
and hand-me-down sandals.

If you do need something, see if you can make it
Before the Munchkin was born, after we had all of the cloth diapers assembled, I realized that it would be fairly easy to do cloth wipes as well.  So I cut up an old, torn flannel sheet and serged the edges to make wipes.  Ta-da!  No one cares if they're oddly sized, or if they're not perfectly square.  We just wet them down and wipe away.  Total cost: $0.  (Even the sheet was free--my MIL had given us some of her old sheets when she realized she had too many.  We used them as sheets until HusbandX tore them by accident, then used the fabric as many ways as we could.)
When this summer was coming up I realized that the Munchkin needed some warm weather jammies.  All we had were the full-length footie jammies, which would have been fine in Fairbanks, but not so great in Seattle where it actually gets hot.  So, I made some nightgowns out of old men's shirts.  (I'll do a tutorial soon.)  Total cost for that project was $0, and she loves them.
Instead of buying disposable training pants, I made some cloth ones.  (I followed this tutorial and used regular 2T/3T underwear.)  Even for me, this was a ridiculously easy project.  If I give myself a fairly generous wage for my time, I estimate they cost me about $2 a pair.  Disposables are anywhere from $.28 each to $.58 each, and purchased cloth training pants (which often don't have the water-resistant outside that mine do) are at least $3 each.  Not only did I save money, but I can pass these along to friends when we're done.  I've found them to be incredibly durable so they should make it through at least four or five kids before they wear down.

Check anywhere that has free or cheap furniture
Curbside dresser with a "free" sign on it?  Even if it's ugly, sanding it down and adding a coat of paint will do wonders.  If something is broken, it's worth checking to see if that can be fixed, or if it can be done without, like drawers.  Add some baskets instead.  There are hundreds of Pinterest-worthy tutorials on how to transform a piece of furniture.  Even if you don't already have the skills needed, watch a few Youtube tutorials and give it a go.  At worst you're out the cost of the materials, if you had to purchase some, which is far cheaper than the cost of buying something brand new that you later find you don't like, or which breaks apart before the baby's second birthday.

If you have to buy, always, always buy used
There are so many used baby items floating around out there that I don't really see how anyone could get away with only having new items for a kid.  That would just be crazy, and I shudder at the thought of the cost.  Value Village, Goodwill, consignment shops, eBay, and Craigslist are always the first places to go to.  The very first outfit we got for the Munchkin was the very day we found out she was a girl.  We needed to go to Value Village anyway for some maternity pants and HusbandX found an adorable blue plaid dress for $2.99.  He held it up to me with pleading eyes and just said, "Yeah?"  It's too small for her now, but it's still his favorite outfit of hers.
When we have had to buy clothes, they've all been used.  Total, we've spent less than $100 on clothing for her, including all winter gear for living in Fairbanks.

Utilize gifts
This last one is tricky.  I don't actually care much for Christmas and birthday presents.  I feel like they take more away from those occasions than they add.  People stress out over them and so frequently, what's given is junk.  However, I've come to realize that some people are givers who just really like to get gifts for others.  My mother-in-law is one.  She shows her love by giving gifts.  Instead of crushing her by saying that we don't want her generosity, we let her know what would be most useful for us.  That way she gets to express herself and her love in a way that feels comfortable, and we get items which will be used and loved.  (I also feel a little bit less guilty about this--yes, guilt for accepting gifts happily given!--because my MIL is savvy and almost always gets used items.)
We are also lucky because our Munchkin is the first grandbaby on both sides, and the first great-grandbaby for at least one person.  So our families have been really excited and love to get the Munchkin things.  We've just steered them toward what she really needs, and it makes everyone happy.

Potty train early
After reading the book "Diaper Free Before 3", we decided to give early potty training a go.  And I do mean early.  We started sitting her on the potty at about 6 months, when she was starting to be able to sit up on her own.  (We still held her up, don't worry.)  I won't go into all the details (maybe in another post, if anyone's curious?), and potty training is still ongoing, but it has reduced our need for diapers so much.  Even with cloth diapers that's important because it's reducing our need to launder (water,electricity, soap), and reducing the wear and tear so they last longer.  At an age when most parents are just starting to think about potty training, I can confidently state that my kid is mostly daytime potty trained.

Don't buy stuff
This is the last on my list, but by far the most important.  Babies just don't need all that much, certainly far less than we're constantly told they need.  I was both surprised and pleased by how little we found that we actually needed, even living in the cold north where temps regularly dropped to -40 or colder.  We've donated so many things as we realized it was all just an overwhelming amount of stuff, only half of which we used.  (I suggest finding a women's shelter or some other organization which directly helps out women and children.)  Blankets, toys, and clothes have all been given away to people who need them far more than we do, and when we've decided that we're totally done having kids, all of the no-longer-needed items will be put back into the stream of used but perfectly usable baby gear for others who need it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The terrible tragedy of living with Alzheimer's

My grandmother developed dementia as she grew older, the product of many tiny strokes which slowly took her away from us.  She lived across the country from us so I didn't get to see her that often, but even from afar it was a terrible tragedy to live with.  I was always a favorite with my grandmother, and seeing her decline that way, knowing that who she was was slowly being stolen from her and from all of us, was miserable.
I hoped and prayed that neither of my parents would get dementia.
A few years ago, I noticed that my mother didn't seem quite like herself.  I had noticed over the phone that she would frequently repeat herself, and that she started talking about the weather more.  It wasn't until I went home for Christmas, however, that anything seemed truly unusual.  She was more forgetful than she should have been, and learning new things was incredibly difficult.  She would misplace things easily, and not notice them even when they were right in front of her.  She couldn't even remember where to put things in her own kitchen.  It was a little scary, but I didn't know how to bring it up with my family.
I didn't have to.  My eldest brother called me several days after we both got home (him to California, me to Alaska) and asked, "Did something Mom?"  We talked about it and told each other what we'd each witnessed, then decided that since we'd both noticed we needed to talk to our dad.
It turns out, our dad had noticed as well but hadn't said anything just to see if we would notice.  If we didn't, then he was imagining things.  If we noticed, then clearly there was a problem which needed to be checked out.
It's been several years since my mom's diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's, and not a day goes by that I don't think about it.  How quickly I'll lose my mother, both because it will steal away her personality and because it's a death sentence.  I think about all those prayers I, apparently, wasted in the hopes that I would never have to witness this.  I was raised religious but haven't been a church-goer since reaching adulthood.  This, however, has killed any hint of religious fervor I had left in me.  Frankly, any deity who could unleash this horrible illness upon my sweet, kind, generous, brilliant, and faithful mother isn't a God who is worthy of my worship.  I'm just so damn angry about this.
It was hard enough to deal with from afar, but seeing it up close every single day is so wearing.  I can't even imagine how it is for my dad, who thankfully has begun going to a support group for people whose loved ones have Alzheimer's.  He's quiet about it, however, because my mom is ashamed of it, like dementia is a moral failing or a sin.  So we tiptoe around the topic, never actually saying "dementia" and trying not to allude to my mom's forgetfulness.  She didn't misplace things, they've just gone walkabout on their own.  We remind her of things when she's clearly forgotten them, repeat ourselves as if it's the first time we've answered a question, and give one-step directions as if she was a child again, because she can't remember two different steps long enough to do them.
Some days are good, and other days are clearly bad days.  Sometimes even a small thing can throw her off so that the day goes downhill.  I took my mom to Costco a few weeks ago and, as it turns out, she'd forgotten her Costco card.  As I don't have one yet, we couldn't go in.  Not a big deal, but she was frantic and berating herself.  I tried to point out that I've done the same thing myself, going to the store without my wallet on a few occasions, but she couldn't be consoled.  We went to the grocery store and she was more forgetful than I'd ever seen her before.  I had to remind her three times on the way to the tomatoes that she was going to pick out tomatoes.  "What was I getting again?"  "Tomatoes, Mom."  As soon as she'd turn around, I could see her looking around at all of the produce, clearly having forgotten what I'd just said, hesitantly reaching for an onion before pulling her hand back.  "Tomatoes, Mom.  We need three."  "Oh, that's right!"  It was nighmarish, but similar scenes have played out pretty much every day.
My mom, who has always been an avid reader, can no longer follow a story long enough to read more than a magazine article.  She cleans obsessively because it's one of the few things she knows she can still do, and because it helps her to feel useful.  The down side of this is that she now has three extra people living here, three people who don't actually have places to put our stuff because this is only supposed to be a temporary place to stay until we get on our feet.  So she puts our things "away" and we have to go searching to find them.  They're never in the same place twice, and the places she thinks are logical to put things are not what make sense to the rest of us.
We're getting better and learning not to leave our things out where she will feel the need to tidy them up.  Even things which I need to put somewhere for only a few minutes until I need it again are put out of sight, or they're liable to be "cleaned up" and it will take me half an hour to find it again.
I feel really selfish complaining about how this is making my life difficult, but I often find it easier to deal with if I'm angry.  If I'm angry, at least I'm not about to start crying over the loss of my mother.  My mother who got two master's degrees and raised four children and always knew the answers to Jeaopardy! and read books like I do and sang in the church choir and sewed our costumes and baked all our bread when I was a kid and cooked dinner pretty much every night and who taught me about organization and who was the backbone of our family...that mom is not the one I have now.  I am sad and I am furious, but it's an impotent rage because there's really no one to blame.
If for no other reason, I'm glad we're living here right now because I want my daughter to know her grandmother as well as she can, and I want my mom to know her granddaughter, her very first grandbaby.  It's wonderful to see how the Munchkin lights up when she sees her Mimi, and my daughter is certainly the light of my mom's life.  That is when I get the saddest, however, seeing them together and knowing that my daughter will never get to know my mom as she was before dementia.  Too, the sneaky thought worms its way in that someday soon, my mom will start forgetting my daughter's name.  She'll start forgetting that she's a grandmother at all.  I will have to be the keeper of that memory, the one who tells my daughter about how my mom started shouting with joy when we told her she'd have a grandbaby, and danced when she found out we were having a girl.  But it will be just that, a story which my daughter might have a hard time connecting with the woman who doesn't recognize her, and it breaks my heart.
Mom has started talking to me about her death lately.  She wants to get her wishes known while she's still mostly in her right mind.  My dad had a heart attack a couple of years ago which scared her, and the rest of us, silly.  The thought that my dad might go first haunts me.  I am one of the executors on my mother's living will, if my dad isn't alive, but my mom wanted to be sure I wouldn't cut my siblings out of the decision-making process.  (As if I would!--we're all very close.)  I've promised her that I'll ensure that she's cremated, that she isn't "preserved and stuffed in a box like a cookie."  If possible, she just wants to be buried in a cardboard box, so her remains can become part of the earth again quickly, with no headstone.  She liked the idea of a tree marking her burial site, and if possible, "if it doesn't creep the rest of the family out too much", she'd like to be buried on the property of her family home.  This was a hard conversation to have, but I'm glad we did have it.  I'm glad to know that, in the end, I will be there to voice and carry out her wishes.
For now, I try to focus on the good things.  There are bad days, and days when she sits quietly and seems so alone in her own head.  But there are times when one of us gets her to double over with laughter, and times when her sense of humor comes out as she delivers a devastating one-liner that leaves the rest of us doubled over with laughter.  I know now how to help her get out of a funk, at least sometimes.  That's really all I can do.  And when despair threatens to overtake me, I go off to quietly take care of myself so that I can return with a smile and a project which she can help me with.  Today, she'll teach me how to make apple butter.  That, too, will be something I'm now the keeper of.  When I make apple butter years from now I'll teach the Munchkin and talk about my mom, and I will do my best to remember my mom in her best years.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sewing projects part one: the frugalest of skirts

I feel I should start by saying that I have basically no sewing skills.  I'm a moderate knitter (I can do socks!) and a fair crocheter, but sewing is something my mom never really had the patience to teach me when I was younger.  Since I'm one of four kids, now that I'm an adult (sort of), I can see how it was easier for her just to do things herself rather than stop to show me.
A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law was kind enough to give me her old serger.  This has been a rather invaluable tool for me, since it only has one stitch it does, so I can't get too confused.  I've patched and repaired a number of items, including a duvet.  Before my daughter was born I cut up an old, torn flannel sheet, serged the edges, and made my own cloth diaper wipes.  I figured I was using cloth diapers anyway (gotten for free from family who were done having kids and wanted to pass them along, no less! thanks, family!) so I might as well go whole hog and use cloth wipes.  It was a fantastic decision.
But now that we're living with my parents for a bit, I really wanted to start learning how to sew.  After all, I'm jobless and (theoretically) have plenty of time on my hands.  One of the projects I've had in mind for a long time was to make a skirt for myself.  I didn't use to be a skirt wearer--in Fairbanks I felt like they weren't so useful.  After all, most of the time I wanted my legs to be bundled up for the cold.  But in Seattle's more mild climate, skirts can be an all-year item that are both cute and functional.  I can wear them to work or just to take my daughter to the park.  This skirt also saved me from the worst of the (record-breaking) summer heat because it actually felt more comfortable and cooler than shorts.
So why am I calling it the frugalest of skirts?  Because I used a waste product for most of the fabric: ripped jeans.  My favorite pair of jeans got some major holes in them last winter, holes in a place which I couldn't repair and which couldn't be fixed by making them into cutoffs.  In short, they got large holes in the crotch area.  I nursed them through the worst part of winter, making them somewhat presentable by wearing leggings underneath.  However, it was finally time to admit that they were goners.  The sadness I felt was somewhat mitigated by the fact that, around this time, I lost a few pounds and needed a smaller size anyway.
Still, I didn't want to just toss them in the trash and be done with them.  That seemed wasteful when there was so much perfectly useable material.  An idea was born to turn the jeans into a cute skirt.  I could picture exactly how I wanted the skirt to look.  Unfortunately, at the time I was still months away from being anywhere near a sewing machine.  So I did what cutting I could, bought some fabric* (only 1/3 of a yard, and it was more than plenty), and packed the sewing project away until after the move.
When I finally pulled it out, since I'd already done the prep work of cutting down the jeans, all I had to do was cut the fabric panels for the front and back, and the hem, and actually sew it all together.  It was a remarkably fast project which, other than learning how to re-thread the bobbin and thread the sewing machine (thanks, Mom!), didn't test my lack of sewing skills at all.  A few straight stitches followed up by some zig-zag stitch and I had a completed skirt.

Front and back views of the skirt. Navy thread blended with
the denim and white thread is hardly noticeable on the contrast fabric.

I doubled over the bottom so I didn't truly have to hem it.  Also, the panel fabric was a bit sheer so I put a backing on it, some black fabric I pulled out of my craft box from curtains I'd made years and years ago for our cabin in Fairbanks.  They were an odd size and haven't fit any windows since we moved out of that place, so I've been slowly pillaging the fabric as I need it for other things.
The most amazing part of this to me is that I've actually had more than one person stop me on the street to ask, "Did you make that skirt yourself?  It's really cute!"  I don't think I've ever had anyone randomly stop me before to say that any part of my outfit was cute.  (Don't know what that says about me....)
The fact that it's cute is a definite plus, but I don't know which I'm more in love with: it's durability or the way it hides stains.  I mean, I have an active toddler.  Any skirt in which I can bike (with shorts underneath), chase after the kiddo, and which can have peanut butter or yogurt wiped off without leaving a giant stain is exactly what I need.
I look forward to pairing it with leggings and a sweater for autumn and winter.

*Please note: I could have made it even more frugal by using either the denim from the legs which I cut off, or other scrap fabric for the panel, but I didn't care for any of the colors I had so I splurged and bought $3 worth of fabric, which I can pair with quite a few different shirts and sweaters of mine.  I opted for versatility of use rather than going the cheapest route possible.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The least frugal anniversary we've ever had

Our anniversary tradition is fairly simple, but something we both look forward to.  Each year, one of us has elected to make a fancy dinner for the two of us.  It's always something new, something we've never tried to make before.  Usually at least a few of the ingredients are bought especially for the meal, things we splurge on: a fancy cheese, some fresh herbs, out of season fruit.  Last year, I made beef bourguignonne pot pie.  (The beef was the big splurge in that, and not only was it worth every penny, it was worth all of the 3 hours I spent cooking it.)  The year before, the mister made pasta from scratch, and a few other dishes that all tied together.  He usually prefers to have several smaller plates and an appetizer, whereas I make one big thing, plus a salad, and then maybe dessert.  It works for us.  We set out our tablecloth, light a few candles, get dressed up fancy for each other.
This year, however, we realized that our happy little tradition wasn't going to work.  My parents cook one dinner (or rather, we rotate who cooks dinner) and expect everyone in the house to eat together.  What were we going to do, take over the kitchen and cook just for ourselves, then hole up in a room?  That would be a little weird, in so many different ways.
Furthermore, with so many people in the house we realized that the thing we were most short on wasn't fancy cheese or fruit, it was time alone with each other.  We spend so much of our day helping out the family, taking care of the Munchkin, and job hunting that we haven't spent nearly as much time with each other as we'd like.  So we planned something different.  We went bike camping on beautiful Orcas Island, in the San Juans.
This was the first time either of us had been bike camping, so we expected a few bumps.  We just didn't expect the bumps we got.
I had started the weekend by pre-injuring myself.  We ride with friends on Thursday nights and, for whatever reason, the person who lead the ride took us down an honest-to-God hobo trail under the freeways of Seattle.  Now, don't get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with homeless people bunking down in these places (I mean, aside from the fact that I think the rest of us should provide for them better, but that's a different post).  I do, however, object to terrain which most of the bikes and many of the riders are clearly unsuited to.  Quite a few people crashed, including me, and I was unfortunate enough to land on a rock.
Most of my thigh, covered in a bruise.

My elbow took the brunt of my fall, getting scraped and bruised and was generally painful to move about for the next 24 hours.  (Don't worry, there's clearly nothing broken.)
On that same trail, one of HX's tires blew out.  I mean the sidewall of the tire itself, not the tube.  He didn't notice until the next morning, when he saw it in daylight.  So he needed a last minute bike switch, and he chose to borrow my brother's touring bike, which was sitting in the garage, because it had a rack on the back to hold gear.  He did not think about the fact that he's four inches taller than my brother, however, just loaded up the car and we rushed off to catch that ferry.
We got to the island and, excited, rode off only to realize that the first thing we had to do was climb a very steep hill, with heavy gear and one ill-fitting bike.  HusbandX had forgotten his multitool on his road bike and couldn't adjust the seat.  "I'm pretty sure your brother stole this bike from an Oompa Loompa...then lowered the seat."
We'd checked the mileage from the ferry to the main town and to the state park, but never thought to check the terrain.  There is basically no flat to be had on that island.  It's all either up or down, and mostly up from the ferry.  HusbandX, on his ill-fitting bike and with the heaviest of the gear, quickly became downright cranky.  It was hard for me to moderate my pace enough to ride close to him, which added to the crankiness.  In my lowest gear I'd be barely turning the pedals while he was gasping his way up a fair distance behind me, grumbling about the fact that it was my stupid idea and now I couldn't even keep him company while we rode.
I managed to put up with it because I would have been the same way if I was riding a crappy bike.
Eventually I saw two bikers coming the other way and stopped them to ask how far to town (two miles left) and if they perhaps had an allen wrench I could borrow?  They said yes right about the time HusbandX huffed and puffed up to the crest of the hill.  So we got the seat problem, at least, fixed and I set about trying to get my spouse cheered up.  We were both starving at this point, it being mid-afternoon and we not having eaten since breakfast.  So we rushed, as best we could, into town and stopped at the first restaurant we found.  It proved to be a good choice.
We'd thought to go out to the state park, then come back to town for a somewhat fancy dinner and then groceries for breakfast.  So immediately after eating we left town and headed for the state park.  We didn't realize that there was roughly a solid mile of uphill to tackle between town and the park.  And that was just the one hill, the rest of it was hilly too.
Some riders seem to glide their way up hills.  Others get into their lowest gear and pace themselves.  Me, I stubborn my way up hills.  I sit on my bike pedaling as hard and fast as I can, telling myself that no stupid hill is going to defeat me.  Unfortunately, it also means that I tackle hills as fast as I can, and on his heavy tank of a bike, HusbandX was no match for me on my comparatively light cyclocross bike.  He grumbled about it while we made use of the two bike turnouts.
By the time we made it to Moran State Park, it was about 5:00 and we realized there was no way we were getting back to town that night for dinner, at least not by bike.  We toyed with the idea of getting a cab but didn't have enough reception to get the number of a cab, or even to call one of my brothers to look one up for us, and we were too lazy/tired to go back to someplace that did have reception.  That would defeat the purpose of getting the taxi anyway.
We hadn't stopped for groceries.  All we had was our water and some Clif bars we'd bought before the trip.
We paid for the camp site and were told, "It's mostly downhill from here."  LIES.
As we made our way to the camp we saw five or six little deer on the side of the road, tame enough not to run away while we rode within a dozen feet of them.
"I have a plan for dinner.  *pant, gasp*  It involves *pant* killing and eating that deer."
"We can't, *pant* there's a burn ban."
*Puff puff puff*  "Dammit!"
So yes, this year we dined on Clif bars for dinner as we sat in our camp hammock and read.  I'm not disappointed in the least.
The rest of the trip, you'll be glad to hear, went much better.  We rode and walked around the town, walked along the beach, spent a lot more time in our hammock reading and eating those ridiculous Clif bars, though we did grab some groceries the next day and have a picnic dinner at the lake.  The burn ban was lifted the second day so we made a fire, and a little after midnight we were chased into our tent by rain.  I woke up several times to an absolute downpour and worried that the ride back to the ferry would be miserable, but the rain magically lifted around ten and by 11:00 the sun was out again.  The roads dried and everything warmed up, but not too warm.  Not miserably warm.  It was perfect.
All told, including gas, parking, ferry fees, camping fees, and all the food we ate, we spent about $150 on our weekend away.  Not too bad, especially when you consider that many couples will blow more than that just on dinner out for their anniversary, plus gifts to each other.  (We decided that the bribery phase of our courtship was long over by the time we got married, so we rarely get each other gifts.)  Instead of doing the "normal" thing, we rode about forty miles together, created new memories and new jokes.  Both physically and maritally, we're stronger for having gotten away for a few days and that, to me, seems like the best sort of anniversary.

P.S. Bike lights make fantastic camping lights.  They're small but very bright, easy to hold, and because they have straps meant to go around the handlebars they're easy to hang places.  We hung two in our tent and it was very brightly illuminated while we got ready to sleep.  In the outhouse, there was an ADA-compliant bar (not sure why, since no one in a wheelchair would be able to make it up to that outhouse, I think) and I was able to wrap a light around that to illuminate everything hands-free while I used the facility.  That was both good and bad.  I could see the toilet paper, but I could also see what I'm pretty sure was a tarantula over in the corner.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

On gratitude and making the most of what we have

I've been reading and seeing a lot of stuff lately which is really hammering home the message that I am so, so privileged.  By modern American standards, I really am not.  I'm over 30, unemployed (temporarily--I had a job interview today!), and living with my parents.  "A loser" by most of my society's standards.  But when I look at the standards by which most of humanity is living, I have a freaking decadent life.  Recently, I read the book "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind".  I won't summarize it here (it's really, really good and inspiring--you should read it) but it's relevant because the boy it was about talked about a famine his family lived through.  Just the fact that they lived through it was rather amazing, but they were down to just a few handfuls of food each day by the end, scrounging for whatever they could.  He chronicled how he and a cousin cooked and ate a goat skin for Christmas, just so that they could taste meat again.  It really brings home the fact that we waste so much good food in this country, even if I didn't have John Oliver telling me so.
Then there's the Syrian refugee crisis, which really doesn't have much to do with food except that I know many of those people are probably starving, or don't know where their next meal will come from.  As a mother, my heart breaks every time I see parents carrying their children in the hope of a better life, or a life at all, considering the violence they're fleeing.  Those poor babies, and I have no idea how to help them.
All of this is making me realize that I should be grateful for everything that I have, because it's a lot.  And part of being grateful is to make the most use of what I have.
When our friends gifted us all of the apples from their tree the other day, HusbandX and I started planning out how we would make the most use of it.  The first thing he wanted to do was to make hard cider.  My dad and brother had made a sort of cider press a few years ago, when the apple tree they had was ridiculously prolific.  Unfortunately, the tree was too prolific and killed itself by splitting in half due to the weight of the apples.  They've got a new tree now, but it's young and doesn't produce as much yet, so they only got to use the press once before now.

Apples from our friends.  The worms got their share first.

The apples are untreated, so the first thing was to cut out all of the wormy bits.  Then we chunked the apples so that they could go in the food processor for shredding, then into the cider press.  It was a lot of work, and we wouldn't have gotten it all done in one day if not for the fact that the Munchkin took a nice long nap today.  Three hours of cutting apples and now I have a blister on my finger.


The shreds, the homemade press, and finally the cider in the carboy, starting its ferment.

The pressed fruit at the end was, unfortunately, pretty useless to us.  If we knew someone with chickens we would have gladly saved it and given it to them, but as it is it all went into the compost.
The cores, on the other hand, are perfectly usable.  Any that weren't wormy were saved.  Some of them went into jars to become scrap apple vinegar.

Scrap apple vinegar, fermenting in the pantry alongside all of my already-preserved items.

The rest of the cores were thrown in a pot to make apple jelly.  Unfortunately, I didn't have quite enough peel in there to have it gel (the peel is where most of the pectin is) so I'll peel some of the other apples and re-heat it, then finish canning it.  (Update: it didn't totally gel, even with the few skins I added, but it made an amazing apple syrup!  As a replacement for maple syrup, this stuff is pretty damn good.)

The start of apple jelly.

We still have a giant bag of apples left, and the same neighbor who gave me the plums has offered me as many wormy apples as I'd like to pick off her tree so I think I'll take her up on it.  What we have left will be made into soft (non-alcoholic) apple cider, applesauce, and apple butter.
Naturally, we will be sharing the fruits of our labors with the friends who've helped us and given us their apples.
We went out with an aunt this evening and when we told her what we'd been up to she remarked, "Well, at least you'll eat very well this winter!"  It's true, and I'm so thankful for it.