Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Innovative Constellation

Occasionally a series of unrelated factors come together in such a way that a new idea, a grand event in the evolution of the universe, occurs. I appreciate these serendipitous moments; I imagine the Lord laughing about the foreseeable but unexpected poetry of the creative moment. This past week the Lord was given such an occasion to laugh, by the constellation of five elements of everyday life.

1. Last year we bought a 2005 Hyundai Elantra GT. You may remember it from earlier entries. Although it is well used, it has a CD player in the dash, which is more than can be said for our ancient Mazda. Thus, since we acquired the Silver Bullet, a small stash of CDs has accumulated in the front central compartment.

2. The compact disc represents an achievement in both technology and aesthetics. In addition to holding vast amounts of complex information, the recording and reading surface of the disc has a silver sheen that both reflects and refracts light. One can clearly see reflected images in its circular depth, and rainbows flash across its resined surface.

3. Federal law now requires that children under twenty-two pounds in weight or less than twenty-nine inches in length be restrained in a bucket seat that faces the rear of the vehicle. Gwendolyn, as of today, still fits within that size bracket, although I may not receive my next paycheck before that changes. 

4. Some time ago Gwendolyn crossed the line in her development when she began to recognize Sara’s and my faces. And more recently, she entered the phase of childhood when staring at faces—it often does not matter whose—keeps her content for long periods of time.

5. Today we drove from home to Newtown, Connecticut, where my brother- and sister-in-law live. The drive takes three and a half hours; you can imagine how after about three hours Gwendolyn tired of sitting in the back seat, by herself. The rear windshield wiper didn’t amuse her anymore; neither did the bobbly toys on the handle of her bucket seat. Her bottle was empty until we got to our destination, and her pacifier wasn’t cutting it. So she was crying.

At the moment when these five factors converged, Sara made a serendipitous discovery. She grabbed a CD from the dash, reached into the back seat, and held the reflective surface in front of Gwendolyn’s face. Occupied by the wide-eyed visage now present in front of her, our daughter’s cries ceased, and we enjoyed quiet for the rest of the ride.

And the Lord of all creation laughed with joy.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Flip Side of Simplicity

(If you haven’t yet, scroll down and read Emrys’ entry “Simplicity” first.)

Measures of our living simply danced my mind earlier this week in the midst of a day that had me feeling like the Energizer Bunny in need of Ritalin.   I jumped tasks from hanging out a load of cloth diapers on previously mentioned laundry line, to pouring candles, to planting spinach and peas in the garden, to dishes and cleaning, with Gwen’s diapers, feeding and care in between.  

I choose to be a stay/work at home Mom (SAHM).  While being a SAHM is hugely rewarding, the pay isn’t much.  In fact, my “pay” is generally measured in money saved.  (but that’s a whole different post!) So while Emrys contributes the paycheck to our family, I contribute the time.  When I was working full time, my biggest complaint was that my employer owned me from 8:30-5:30 whether there was work for me or not, and I was not particularly enamored with the work I was doing.  Now my time is kind of my own and I can spending it doing things I enjoy (cleaning toilets excluded).  I take the time to figure out how to stretch our money as far as we can and many of these ways are encompassed in living simply and organically: breaking life down to the simplest level.  I’ve found that usually taking tasks down to their simplest level, requires less money, but more work. 

 Using the laundry lines means working with the weather to get the laundry dry, hauling laundry to the line(s), hanging it up, taking it down when dry and hauling it back inside.  I’ve saved on propane and electricity, spent more time and gotten a mild work-out in the process – so I guess I’ve saved on the gym too.

 Gardening is another of our choices that take us straight to our food source.  We plant seeds (or started plants) and watch our plants grow and reap the harvest.  Then take the harvest and process it for the freezer.  All taking the investment of time and creativity (see entries regarding tomato trees & troughs) while saving on the grocery bill as fresh produce will grace our table and tomatoes (in many forms), peppers, squash, pumpkin, green beans, broccoli and cauliflower will fill our freezer at a fraction of the grocery store price. 

 I enjoy cooking and have taken on the rule of thumb to cook once, and eat at least 3 times from the mess.  Usually this takes the form of making a large meal and feasting on leftovers a couple more times before it’s polished off.  Sometimes though, it’s being even more intentional and preparing a meal x3 or x4 and putting the prepared in the freezer for later.  So the ready to bake lasagna or enchiladas in the freezer aren’t from Stouffers and soups aren’t from Campbell’s but from our kitchen – and many times contain produce from our garden.

 I know that these methods of simplicity are not everyone’s cup of tea, and there are times in our house where simplicity falls to the side of practicality: “I am too tired to deal with this, laundry’s in the dryer and eat whatever you can find for dinner”.  This is one of the first “jobs” I’ve had where I go to bed at the end of the day thinking that I’m proud of what I do and truly enjoy the life we’ve been given here. 


A few days ago, I hung another clothesline on the back side of our house. As I put in the hour or so of work to hang this line, I reflected on the fact that we have a propane-fueled dryer in the house that we will use very rarely all spring and summer.

If you break down my salary, I make $21 per hour (before taxes). Even with the price of propane high enough that people complain--though: when did they not complain about the price of propane?--it is more cost-effective for us, hour per hour, to put the clothes in the dryer and let the propane do the work.

Yet, we have chosen the more labor-intensive route: to hang clothes on a line as long as weather allows. We have chosen a lower-tech solution to our clothes-drying needs, not because it's easier or cheaper, for it is neither of those. Rather, we have chosen simplicity over complexity: the use of already-moving air to the option of heating air in a manufactured cylinder and tumbling it until the buzzer goes off. I could tell you that we're trying to "go green," but that would be a half-truth. A better way to put it is that we're trying to use what the Lord has given us already (hands, feet, time, and wind) instead of what has to be trucked in to us and stored in a 500-gallon metal bottle in the back yard.

We're not getting rid of our propane--far from it. But in this little corner of our lives, we're living with more simplicity.

From another perspective: I enjoyed the challenge of putting up the clothesline more than the challenge of fixing the dryer.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Eleven Weeks

It's hard to believe that Gwen is eleven weeks old - almost 3 months!  I had to look at the calendar to count the weeks - I lost track after her 8 week check-up.  She's outgrown most of her 0-3 month clothes and some of her 3-6 month stuff.  Unofficially, she's about 25 inches long - measured by mom and a ribbon laying around the house.  In this picture, the blanket she's laying on is 24 inches wide (it held still while I tried to measure) so you get the idea.

She's also mastering her motor skills and can even squeek out a grin while practicing holding her head up while she's on her tummy!

She's also becoming very interactive, smiling and even starting to giggle.  Here's Gwen and Daddy chair dancing:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gwen's First Easter

Gwen's first Easter was celebrated with GrammaB and Valerie.  We all went to church for a wonderful Easter celebration and then to brunch with great food!  The evening included Wii for Emrys & I while Gwendolyn napped and studied the ceiling fan with Aunt Sharon.  I wanted to try to get a picture of the three of us but it just didn't happen.  

Monday, April 06, 2009

Roofing Phase I

When some dear friends came to visit from Colorado last week, I took the opportunity to educate them on how we rural upstate New Yorkers spend our spare time. I took them out to work on my treehouse. Using more of the vinyl siding donated by Larry (shop at Harpursville Farm & Garden!), we set to work finishing the roof on Phase I of the treehouse.

To give you an idea, here's a shot of me sliding the next sheet of vinyl into place. If you look closely, you'll see the tip of my tongue sticking out--this was strenuous and difficult work!

Here are Cameron and I cutting the vinyl to the precise fit required by my precision-designed frame:

Here's Ted getting ready to spot the ladder (which is going up from the treehouse floor to probably 20 feet off the ground):

Can you tell what's going on in this scene?

Because of the expert precision with which I designed my treehouse, we ended up trying to screw in pieces of the roof from the outside, with no way to get on the roof from the outside. Therefore we did a lot of reaching around, squeezing through, and leaning out in order to get in a good position to attach the roof. Here's Kara, our visiting stage set construction expert, maneuvering the drill for the next screw:

My favorite shot of the day (note the use of the tongue to help maintain balance and foster concentration):

And, at last, Phase I is complete! Here she is in all of her glory:

Thanks to Kara, Cameron, and Ted, for their creativity, precision, and good humor!

Tomato Troughs: Take 2

On some good advice from a neighbor (thanks, Merv!), I decided to go for a more structurally sound design for the hanging tomato trough. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.


Terrible Trinity

Babies require three services from their parents, rooted in the biological functions of all human life: they need to be fed; they need to have their diapers changed; and they need to be swaddled to sleep.

When an infant needs one of these three services, and is not receiving it, she has a natural indicator for the parents. It is The Cry. It sounds like a congested police siren, turned up to full volume, and can run almost continuously, for one of the miracles of new life is the ability to produce sounds of long duration with only short intakes of breath.

For whatever reason, the Lord decided not to give babies different Cries for different needs. Therefore, The Cry applies to any of the above three needs; a baby's use of The Cry offers no hint as to which of the needs must be fulfilled.

In order to avoid The Cry, our Merciful God has allowed for a shot across the bow for parents. It is The Whimper, and sounds like a bunny grunting. It says, in effect, Give me what I need, or I'll unleash The Cry! During the day, parents may get fifteen or thirty seconds of The Whimper before the air raid siren of babyhood rends the peace of the home.

In the waking hours of the day, parents can fend off The Cry by attending to The Whimper and rotating through the baby's needs. When she wakes up, if the parents feed her right away, then upon the first Whimper her diaper may be changed and forestall The Cry. Having been fed and changed in turn, the next event will almost certainly be the Need for Sleep; so at the next Whimper the swaddling blanket may be put to effective use. By taking care of one need at a time, The Cry may be kept at bay and parental sanity preserved.

Not so at 3:00 am.

In the middle of the night, when all are asleep, a horrible constellation of events takes place: a terrible trinity of needs. And by the time The Whimper wakes the unhappy parents, all the stops are out on the Great Organ of Pediatric Suffering.

At 3:00 am, the diaper has been filled, the baby is hungry, and she's still sleepy because she hasn't had a full night of sleep. So what does the parent do first? If he feeds her, The Cry will announce a full diaper. If he changes her, The Cry will persist because of hunger. If by some miracle he grew two extra arms so as to feed her and change her at the same time, The Cry would announce her need to be swaddled.

So it is that in the Wee Hours of the morning, the Wailing Banshee of Infant Need pierces the quiet of sleep, a terrible nightmare of sound that brings parents, bleary and shuffling, from their bed. Enduring the coarse keen of The Cry, they deal with the terrible trinity one at a time, until at last--changed, fed, and swaddled--the baby slides back into that slumber which makes even the hardest man weep with adoration.

And in that blessed amnesia that comes of all who view a sleeping baby, The Cry is forgotten. At least until tomorrow night.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Breakin' In the New Wheels

With the warm weather of spring entering our neck of the woods, I've been itching to get out and start walking again.  Gwen's a great passenger in the MaiTai for shorter trips but for a good long walk, she's getting a bit heavy and hey, I'm old(er) and my knees don't need any extra challenges added to my exercise routine!

Enter answered prayer.  It had been a desire of mine to have a good jogging stroller for walks.  Anyone who has driven up our road knows that the standard stroller just wasn't going to cut it.  When Gwen was about 3 weeks old, I was approched and asked if I could use a jogging stroller. YES!  So today we received said stroller and I decided that since it was upwards of 50 degrees out we should try it out.  So I bundled Gwen up and headed for the field behind our house.  

There is a great trail in the field that is utilized by the farm trucks, four-wheelers and dirtbikes and is in pretty good shape.  There was also a path around the far side of the field so that one could make a complete loop.  We set out and I did great on the main trail and then did some off-roading to get around to where the other, smaller path was supposed to be.  I got to the top of the ridge and saw that the field to the right had been plowed up and was a rutted mess, to the left, there were remnants of corn stalks that had been cut down but it looked like I could make it, so I plodded on.  Somehow, at this point Gwen was snoozing despite the bumpy ride.  I got a bit farther into the field  to find that the section I was walking in that was un-plowed didn't make it back to the front of the field where the road is that comes out by our house.  So now my sneakers are muddy and I've reached the limits of the off-roading stroller.  So we turn around and head back to the house the way we came.  

It was a great Sunday afternoon adventure and it was great just to be out.  It's the most hiking/trudging I've done in a while and I have a feeling that I may be paying for it tomorrow!

Birthday Weekend 4.0: The Rural Gourmet

In times long before ours, families would join for feast to celebrate special occasions.  This year's birthday weekend was a family gathering for feasting.  While we had some great meals, it was really about the time spent preparing and enjoying the meals that was the most memorable and enjoyable.  Mom and dad came to see us, ok they really came to see Gwen and we happened to be her, but all the same they came here for a long weekend. 

 Since Gwen’s arrival I haven’t had as much time to play in the kitchen.  I really enjoy cooking and since I don’t have 8 hands, the gourmet stuff has gotten thrown to the wayside as my energies have been spent on the care of a newborn.  So this weekend, since we had 8 hands in the house, I got to play in the kitchen. 


Dad had his meal of steaks, baked sweet potatoes and salad upon their arrival on Friday night (had to wait for him since the steaks were in his cooler!).  The gourmet touch to this meal was one of Emrys’ strawberry-rhubarb pies and homemade vanilla ice cream.  It was wonderful!

Saturday sent us in a lot of different directions since Emrys had an all day meeting, the ‘rents and Gwen and I ended up down in Binghamton running some errands.  Sunday was church and then my grand-daddy of cooking projects.  Last summer I got a ravioli mold at a random little kitchen store in Pennsylvania.  I kept saying that I wanted to make ravioli and somehow fall turned to winter turned to parenthood and I didn’t get the chance.  We have the pasta-rollers for the Kitchen-Aid but it never happened, until Sunday.  I started with this recipe and I tweaked it enough that it only remotely resembled the original for pumpkin ravioli with a pecan cream sauce. 


My dad is a fan of kitchen toys.  He got a food processor for my mom for their anniversary that he has more fun with than she does, I think.  The real gift is that there are now dishes that she doesn’t have to gook!  So when I proposed the ravioli project which requires the ravioli mold and the kitchen-aid pasta rollers and dough hook, Dad was in.  We started rolling pasta dough while Mom and Gwen snoozed.  The dough kept going and going and by the time we were done we had the pumpkin ravioli that was the original plan as well as cheese ravioli and sun-dried tomato pesto raviolis and blueberry and cream cheese raviolis.  

All of them were so good and I have cheese raviolis in the freezer for later.  One of my kitchen philosophies is that if I’m going to make that big of a mess, I better get more than one meal out of it.  So I had the original round of raviolis for dinner on Sunday with green beans and Tiramisu Cake and leftovers of the pasta and the cake on Tuesday for my birthday! 


Emrys’ birthday fell on Monday which is also his day off and he wanted Eggs Benedict for his birthday meal.  This brought on two new kitchen firsts for me.  The first was making hollandaise sauce; the second was poaching eggs in boiling water.  Both were great successes and the eggs were served with fruit salad and OJ. 

I crammed in about 3 months worth of cooking into one weekend.  I was tired, but it was fun to have family here and to spend so much time on a hobby that I really enjoy.