On going Green-ish

Let me start off by saying that my voter registration card has a big “R” on it. I am by no means someone who should be considered as the poster girl for being green. I own a Ford Explorer and I really hate those stupid little smart cars that I’m pretty sure looks like an afternoon snack to my truck.

When I started getting “greener” it wasn’t some mission to save the world or the trees or the ozone layer. It was a simple mission to make my wallet a little greener. While I knew the first steps would help, no one told me just how much money I would save by making little changes.

No, I didn’t discard every paper plate or paper towel in my home. I’m sorry, but I have a 4 year old and the idea of eternal laundry and dishes just doesn’t sit well. I did start a garden. I have a pretty large garden space in my back yard which I have used to grow a variety of fruits and veggies. Mostly, I thought it would be something to make me feel good and spend some time outside. And it did. It was a great space that my son I spent time. He learned how to make things grow and we ate from our bounty together.

This was the start of a whole new use for the backyard. Three years later, we have four chickens, a bigger garden and we do things a little greener. I use Tupperware instead of plastic bags on my lunch. And I am careful about my spending. We keep the thermostat at a constant temperature. We are careful about our fuel use. We don’t eat out as much, and cook more at home. We are also building a greenhouse over our garden so we can get even more from it.

Being greenish isn’t just about hugging trees. As a matter of fact, for me, being greener was just as much about being more money-wise as it was being traditionally greener. And who can say no to that?


Week recaps

Snow; that’s the word of the day. I went to sleep last night and woke this morning to find my entire world covered in the light, fluffy (and unfortunately very cold) stuff. While I am an avid critic of the cold, I am happy for my son that some snow finally made its way into our corner of the world. Of course, the fluffy white stuff brought with it all of the normal headaches—the scraping, the wet pants cuffs and the people who randomly lose control of their vehicles and drive into the side of buildings. You know, typical. After an hour of snowball fights, snow angels and a snow pyramid (because my son found a snowman too hard to make), I had to head inside to warm up and ready for work.
Our boss has been in an unusually foul mood the last few days. He complained to our bigger boss about planned leave that we requested—for October, 10 months away… and 6 months after he leaves here. I guess he’s taking this whole being-an-ass thing seriously. But whatever. I know it’s difficult on him to be here, no respect from his men, and no respect from his own leadership. I guess you reap what you sew.
On another note, my son has been steadily making his way through the entire catalogue of the local library. Yesterday, my son found a book he liked and proudly exclaimed (as loudly as he could to the entire library) “IT’S GEORGE WASHINGTON!!” and demanded that we check out two books on him. He would have checked out more but I convinced him to leave some for later. So, for his bedtime story he got the entire rundown of GW’s life. I was proud of my son for recognizing him and taking an interest. My work is successful!!
After 11 excruciating days in labor, my sister finally gave birth to her daughter. 6 pounds, 10 ounces and 21 inches long. After the ice melts, I’ll be happy to drive to the mountains of Tennessee to see my little niece. Children bring so much joy… right up until they talk through every important moment of NCIS.


Suspiciously quiet

When my four year old is quiet, I know something is up. He is either in trouble, or he is about to be. I on the other hand, tend to be suspiciously quiet when I have been ridiculously busy. Well, I wouldn’t say ridiculously maybe, but busy none the less.

The rest of the work week consisted of tyrants who said that, despite freezing temperatures and falling snow, the heat was to remain in the locked and off position. So, I wore my coat inside all day. It was strangely reminiscent of high school.

The week has also included two wonderful trips to our local public library. My son loves to read and I love to read to him. We’ve read 14 books since Wednesday, quite the accomplishment for a child of four. I am struggling to teach him to read. Though he excels in math and science (he can tell you all about an exoskeleton) he has not yet mastered reading. He knows his alphabet and the sounds each letter makes. He can even write most of them and makes them out of legos and play-dough. Reading, however, has eluded us. I feel confident however, that if we just keep reading a few books a day, he’ll catch on in his own time.

I have made a budget for the entire year. Quite a skill, I know. I so far have stuck to it pretty well for the last two months. I am paying off pretty much all my bills (except my truck and student loans) and getting out of debt as much as possible. I also have a two year plan (starting next year) which will pay off my truck a few years early and save me thousands. All without sacrificing family vacations! I plan to tuck a little more money into savings, my 401K and my son’s college savings plan after April (the date on which I pay off all my other debts).

So here is to continuing to make 2013 a healthy year. I’m bringing lunch/dinner to work every day, saving both money and my health. Paying off my debts and becoming more financially healthy. And focusing on my son’s educational and social well being, making my home healthier. Who else has healthy goals they believe they will actually accomplish this year?



School. It’s a challenge that my son and I are facing together.

For me, I am finishing my Master’s Degree. My classes are all done and have been for a little while. On Monday, I take my comprehensive exam. Its a day long writing exam which determines whether or not I get my degree. Yeah, no pressure. 5 days. Then it’s over.

For my son, school time is just beginning. He starts kindergarten this fall. My son has been pretty lucky, and didn’t start daycare until he was 6 months old and was home full time by the time he was 2. As such, he has been a little nervous about going to school all day. Since the subject first came up he has given me a firm “No way buckwheat!” about the whole school discussion. What’s a mom to do?

The most important question I faced, where to send him? There are a few options in my area. There is the neighborhood public school, other local public schools, private mostly religious schools, and a public charter school. So, for the last two years I have researched each of them heavily. As someone who doesn’t prescribe to any particular faith, I am leery about sending a chid so young to any institution that will teach my child that there is only one right way. Especially with everything going on in the world, there is no telling what kind of nut job could be standing in front of the classroom spouting intolerance to a room full of vulnerable 5 year olds. That is of course, not at all to suggest that religious people are, by default, intolerant. I don’t even think most of them are, but it really only takes one. I want my child to have all the information and be able to make the decision that makes the most sense to him. And I wouldn’t mind a religious high school, when my son will be old enough to separate the wheat from the chaff.

So, religious school out and no non-religious elementary private schools in the area means either home school or public school. So, on to the public schools. Going to a public school other than the local one you are districted for is not an easy thing to achieve. So I looked into our local school. Low test scores (well below the state and county average) and extremely high rates of poverty (over 80% eligible for free and reduced lunch). Yikes! This is my baby boy, my only child. As such, I want him to have every advantage that is available to him. It is well documented that children from low income families have more behavior and learning problems. This has something to do with younger, more stressed parents who usually work long hours and have little time to devote to the children. More of these children tend to be looked after by strangers and have less one on one time with their parents. Of course, this is all just “per the studies” and averages so it isn’t true of every child.

Either way, not what I’d hoped for for my baby boy. So? The public charter school. We went to an open house last night. The kindergartners do science experiments and write out hypotheses about their experiments and are expected to write and illustrate sentences. The second graders separate out recyclables, slop, other organics, and trash from lunch hour. They feed the slop to the chickens and pigs they have onsite and give the other organics to the worm farm they have in their science classes which create the soil that they take out to their garden and greenhouse to grow the veggies that then get used in the cafeteria. Talk about learning about plant and animal biology!! The seventh graders spend a week in Italy. And most importantly, after the open house, my son changed from “No way” to “can I go today?”

Now let’s just hope that out of the 70+ applications, my son’s name gets picked out of the hat (it’s a no kidding lottery) for the 20 spots available.


The weekend: torture or pleasure?

Sometimes it is unclear to me whether weekends are meant to be times of family and relaxation or instruments of torture. While it was much warmer here then it has been in months, the dreary fog and constant rain meant that most of our weekend was to be had indoors. The resulting cabin fever almost resulted in the calling of the men in white coats. A nice, relaxing bowl of Zuppa Toscana was able to ease us into a mode of quiet relief, but not until Sunday night. Why didn’t we think of that sooner?

My younger sister is pregnant and ready to burst. She will be bestowing me with the title of Aunt for the first time and really the entire family is anticipating the arrival of the baby girl. On Friday, my sister began having contractions and on Saturday they got to a steady 3 minutes apart. She went to the hospital only to find out she is in pre-labor which can last for up to a week. So, we are now all in a perpetual state of anxiousness knowing that it will be “any minute” but not yet. *sigh*

In our infinite wisdom, my roommate and I decided that this dreary weekend was a good time to attempt to find a new cable/internet/tv provider, only to be driven to further madness when we found that no single provider has everything we need in our area with the exception of the one overpriced service we already have. Almost all have two of three and Verizon was particularly rude when asked about their tv package with direct tv. In the end, we were just as unsure, frustrated and furious as we had been at our original provider and opted to not talk about it anymore for the moment.

Additionally, it is raining again today (but warmish) so I suppose I will rouse my sleeping preschooler (yes, it’s 11am and he’s still asleep, yes this is typical and yes, I am spoiled) and make a run to the local library.


Raising a Rebel

As a mother, I want to teach my child all of the requisite skills that will surely be necessary later in life. Think about what I just said there: all the skills!!!  What does that mean? Well, the obvious things such as to crawl, walk, bathe, brush teeth, get dressed, feed himself and ride a bike. But there is so much more to it than that. I have to teach him how to relate to other people, keep the swing going, make Mac and Cheese, be financially responsible, separate laundry, understand the lyrics to a song, right from wrong, the nuances of sarcasm, why we can’t call the police on every speeder on the road, the stove is still hot after you turn it off, you can grow your own vegetables, you can’t grow money, how to appreciate world culture and why the bad guys knocked the buildings down in New York. I can add a million more things to this list, and all of those would only cover one week.

Parenting is challenging, but worth the awkward silence from the guy in the Target checkout line who my son informed that “fuck” isn’t a nice word. The lesson of the week? Working for what you want.

My son is only four, but I don’t believe in treating him like a baby. Sure, he still has his baby blanket and wants to snuggle at bedtime. He can’t use the stove without supervision, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t learn to cook. It may be a few years yet before I relax on the couch and let my son even pour the milk into his cereal without a cautious hand underneath. I still think it is important to teach him these life skills now. So today, he learned how to make Mac and Cheese, one of the staples of his diet. I have a step stool that I keep in the kitchen which stays out due to the frequency with which it is used. I have a rule in my house, I will cook for the family but if you refuse to eat it and want something else, you have to make it yourself.

So, my son pulled out a pot, took it to the sink and filled it (about) halfway with water. While he readjusted the stepstool, I carried it from the sink to the stove. He picked the right knob for the eye and waited for it to boil. Once the bubbles were going strong, he poured the noodles into the pan (after a word of caution about taking the cheese packet out first), learned how to set the kitchen timer for seven minutes. When the timer went off, he raced me back to the kitchen to learn how to strain noodles (a first for him) and then proceeded to measure (again with help) the butter and milk. Then his favorite part, stir and EAT!  

I know he is young yet to cook for himself, but I live in a world of “what ifs.” I want to know that if something were to happen to me, my son would have some very basic survival skills. He can make his own cereal, scrambled eggs, soup (if it has a pop top), cheese and pepperoni and now, we are adding Mac and cheese to the list. He helps with laundry (he loves to throw the clothes and Downy ball into the water) and dishes. I know that when he does go off to college, he will be able to separate his clothes correctly. He will know the importance of using hot water to wash/rinse dishes. He will be able to cook for himself. He will even be able to grow a garden of his very own.  

I may be thinking too far ahead. After all, my little chef hasn’t even started kindergarten. But, I figure it is never too early to start teaching the values of hard work and what it means to be part of a family. And we are able to spend a lot of quality time together. Win-win I’d say!

Let's talk about it Nemo

Let’s talk about it Nemo

Travel bug

Lady LibertyOne thing is for sure, I was bitten by the travel bug very early life. My mother loves to travel. I’ve been told that for both of us it was probably a means of escaping difficulties in our lives. Yeah, maybe. I think it is the rush that I get. There is an overwhelming feeling of awe standing in front of Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art in NyC, a giddiness standing atop the Empire State Building, a breathlessness watching the sunset from Sacre Coeur, prepare bliss sitting beach side from Myan ruins in Mexico, a desire for adventure and possibility when eating freshly picked fruit watching wild horses atop a mountainside in Jamaica. No, it isn’t an escape, its an adrenaline rush!


Beach at Tulum

I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively in my younger years. I have been to 46 of our 50 beautiful states and 6 other countries. I’ve touched the ancient rocks at Stonehenge, sat at the foot of Rodin’s The Thinker, fed stingrays in Grand Caymen, felt the mist of the falls at Niagra, fed iguanas at the Myan ruins, I’ve watched the Queen of England light fireworks from Buckingham Palace while serenaded by the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Paul McCartney, Elton John and more. I could fill a novel with the things I have been lucky enough to see and do.  But there is still so much I’d like to see; Brazil, Peru, the Amazon, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Italy, Ireland.

For the moment, I’ll just have to be content with showing my son all of the wonder I’ve seen In the world. It is my hope that the beauty of the world will widen his eyes and that his heart will long for daring travels and quiet enchantment. Or, if all else fails, Mickey Mouse ears and cotton candy is always a sure bet.

Cinderella's Castle

Gearing up the garden

One of the perks of owning your own home with a bit of land is being able to make your backyard give back. Many people’s backyard serve as the “kids domain” filled with swing sets, sandbox and whatever else they’ve managed to accumulate over the years. While we have the requisite swing set, a geometric climbing apparatus and a chicken house, I’ve also managed to claim a twenty by twenty-foot area for myself. It isn’t huge, but since my preschooler and I are the only veggie eaters in the house, its adequate.

Over the summer, I put up a small fence in a rather futile attempt to keep the chickens out. Weather conditions combined with bird activity (chickens included), and squirrels plagued my garden this year. Despite those challenges, I was able to harvest quite a lot from her. This spring, I have bigger plans. A greenhouse! Better temperature, water, wind and pest (read chicken) regulation will mean not only will I get much more from my garden, but it also means the growing season will be expanded substantially.

Potatoes and carrots have presented a particular problem for us due to heavy, clay soils and poor drainage. So, the solution to this problem has been to build a root vegetable box out of old pallets. Hopefully, this will mean some sweet carrots and good potatoes this year!

So, I’ve been In the process of pulling the old stakes, prepping the soil, pulling weeds and general garden winter maintenance. I’ve also acquired a few cold weather boxes to start my growing season early while the building is in process. I have some nice romaine lettuce already coming up and a few more plants germinating indoors. I can’t wait to get the greenhouse built!


Potato garden from Pallets


Chickens check out the cold weather boxes


Justice says good morning.

Work and other Mundane Tasks

I’ve had many jobs over the years. I’ve worked at a Bed and Breakfast, a sit down restaurant, a clothing store, a rental car agency, I’ve done autopsies at the morgue and now I am a civilian contractor with the military. I work with air traffic control (ATC) and I work nights, 1400-2200. Generally work is slow, I have a few trainees to attempt to impart some wisdom on and then we sit and wait for something to happen. There is the occasional aircraft emergency or some other problem to make things interesting, but for the most part I spend my time reading.

With my upcoming trip to Paris, my current reads are usually in French or about the French. When I have classes I study. I have just finished my courses for my first Master’s Degree and will soon be starting up for a second. Yes, I do love school. I also like to read for pleasure. Mostly stuff about crime, history, and other things that most people find boring. I love to read about sociology and psychology specifically about the criminal mind, the political mind or how to “read” people. It is fascinating to discover what makes people tick. Most of what I read is non-fiction, but I do read a small bit of fiction now and again.

While my work may sound easy going, it has its setbacks. Working with, but not for, the military has its challenges. The rules that apply to civilians are different from the rules that the military or the government guys follow. So are the perks. In my office, the contractors do 99% of the work and often run our office without the military at all. We have a military person overall in charge of our office and sort-of in charge of us.They are in charge of what we do when we are signed onto position, but that is it. They don’t do our time cards, evals, leave, they can’t make us do anything, they can’t hire or fire us. So, if we have a problem at work, we take it up with our contractor who has never even seen our office. It can make things a little complicated and the military folks really don’ t like being told that they aren’t in charge of us, especially when they are responsible for what we do.

Luckily, right now we have a pretty good group of people, especially in our office. Our direct military-non-supervisor-supervisor is especially sensitive to our awkward part of the team but not part of the team position and we work well together. Needless to say, not everyone is so easy to work with and things have been downright awful from time to time. But everyone does their best and we get through it.

No matter what, all jobs can be sometimes irritating. As those things go, this one is pretty good. The irritations are minor and short lived. And, I get to read…. a LOT!!

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