Monday, June 30, 2008

Chickens Unite!

This weekend the weather was beautiful and we wanted some outdoor time with the kids, so we went to Hilltop Hanover Farm, a lovely farm owned by Westchester County. Yes, Westchester County owns a farm - who knew? We drove up and met some friends there, and it just couldn't be prettier. It's amazing to find something like this so close to the area where we live, where people build houses practically on top of each other. So nice to see fields and open land.

The kids picked carrots and sugar snap peas (The Professor's FAVORITE). You could also pick leeks, scallions, and chard, but our refrigerator is rather full at the moment, so we stopped with what we had. The people who run the place were fabulous, and walked the kids through how to do the picking. They also had some cute activities for the kids like weaving and potato stamping (if I could figure out why my pictures won't correctly rotate, I would have some on here, but sadly they are all upside down and refuse to cooperate...).

We saw baby ducks and baby chickens:

After picking our vegetables and enjoying the cuteness of baby animals, we decided to sit at a lovely, shaded picnic table and have some lunch. Apparently baby chickens are acceptable, but adult chickens posed something of a problem.

As soon as we sat down at the table, the chickens (who must be used to receiving tasty morsels dropped or thrown by lunchers) immediately swarmed up to the table. Miss Serious was beside herself, and immediately slapped her feet onto the picnic bench (which posed rather a problem, as she had just been trodding in chicken poo). I thought, in a somewhat misguided way, that if I threw some crusts of bread far away from the table they would let us be, but of course this only encouraged them. Chickens have a surprising amount of attitude, and I was afraid Miss Serious was going to have a full-blown anxiety attack right at the table, so we wrapped up the lunch leftovers, scraped the chicken poo off the bench, and vamoosed.

The kids had just had chicken two nights in a row, and you know what they say about payback.....

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tiny Shiny, Big Difference

Hello all... The Professor here, chiming in as "guest blogger" today. Mother Necessity has informed me that she has right of refusal on any and all posts I write, no rights reserved, the comments presented here are the sole opinion of the author and do not indicate the opinion or endorsement of the management, objects in mirror may be larger than they appear, and any other warnings and disclaimers that spring to mind.

Earlier this afternoon, we were running the numbers on Quicken to see how having a new car has impacted our fuel bills. Our little 2007 Hyundai Elantra, "Tiny Shiny" (everyone gets a pseudonym in this blog), is turning 1 at the end of July. Sigh, they grow so quickly these days, don't they? Seems like just yesterday we were... But I digress. We purchased the new car last year before our annual summer car trip to Cape Cod. The minivan we owned was costing us a lot of money in maintenance and gas. So it was farewell to "Big Red" and hello Tiny Shiny. Bonus green fact about Tiny Shiny: It's a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) and the greenest car we could afford.

Here's the lowdown on how Tiny Shiny has helped us go green and save a little money:

1) This year, we filled up at a gas station 43 times. The year before, we filled up 40 times. Now, before you get on our case about wasting precious natural resources, Big Red had a 20 gallon tank and Tiny Shiny has a 14 gallon one. While we don't know exactly how many gallons of gas we bought the past 12 months, I'm sure that it's a reduction over the previous year.

2) Despite the insane increases in gas prices (we're paying around $4.40 per gallon these days), we've actually spent $243.56 less fueling the car this year. Some of it is driving less (about 1000 miles less this year) and some of it is driving differently (see Mother Necessity's post on hypermiling). But a lot of it is the improved mpg.

Mother Necessity still has "Prius Envy," but the Elantra is doing well by us.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Weathering the Weather

June has definitely been odd this year. After the 4 day kick your bottom heat wave, I was so grateful to get back to normal temperatures, but lately we've been ending the day with these really spectacular thunderstorms. We have an area in front of our building which has a tendency to turn into a lake when presented with very heavy rainfall over a short period of time, and for some reason none of the drivers around here know how to drive when confronted with large (or small for that matter) pools of water. It got so ridiculous that we finally took some pictures:

There's a car under there, even though it can't be seen. They go tearing through the water so fast that the cars going in the other direction all have to stop because they can't see a darn thing. I can only hope that they are all on their way to perform emergency surgery somewhere, and not just trying to beat the red light.

However, there is a silver lining from all these wild storms - the grass and flowers are beautiful, and every once in a while nature sends us one of these:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Movin' On Up

Even though Miss Serious' last day of first grade is tomorrow, her class had a celebration this morning. It was so cute I almost couldn't stand it - I swear these things are planned by sadists to make us all tear up instantly. The kids read stories and poems they had written, and there was a wonderful slide show (of course set to music designed to bring out those sappy tears) and everyone did a terrific job. If I could figure out how to fuzz out faces, I would post pictures, but unfortunately my photo editing skills are basically limited to actually getting them off the camera and onto the computer.

I can't believe how the time flies, and next year Big Trouble will be joining Miss Serious at school. I can't really say it feels like yesterday that they were babies, but it really doesn't feel like 7 years. Congratulations on a wonderful year, Miss Serious. We couldn't be prouder of you.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Driving in the Slow Lane

In my never-ending quest to squeeze dollars out of pennies, I've been trying to figure out how to get better mileage on the car. Gas is now well over $4 a gallon (on my last fill-up I paid around $4.40) and the experts are talking about it reaching $5 before the summer is over.

Even though I'm as cheap as they come, I'm not actually too upset by these new gas prices; living in an affluent area, most of the cars on the road around here are SUV's - and not the little SUV's, the big earth-shaking, taking up 2 parking spaces kind of SUV's. I've actually noticed a decrease in the hugest of these cars (the shameful Hummer) on the road, and the other day saw 4 Prius's in a row waiting at a stoplight.

Last year we traded in our mini-van for a more fuel efficient car. We were looking at the Prius, but it was out of our price range, and the trunk was too small for us, as we have just the one car. We got a SULEV (super low emission vehicle) and have been getting around 25 mpg on local driving and have surpassed 38 on the highway (is it sad that my life has become so mundane that this got me really excited?).

We've now entered a new phase, and this phase is called hypermiling. I ran across some articles about this on the web (the web continues to amaze me - articles, message boards, groups for ANYTHING you could want) and was somewhat intrigued. And, just like anything, there are some real nutjobs out there that call this a sport and take it to the extreme. But, if it will save gas and money, why not give it a try?

Basically it boils down to altering your driving style in such a way that you use the brakes less and use the momentum built up in the car as much as possible so that you don't need to accelerate so often. The basic things we have been trying this week are:

1. Driving 60 mph on the highway with cruise control
2. Driving as if your brakes don't work as well - I used to drive this way when I drove a stick because it was such a pain to work the clutch from a full stop. You basically leave more of a buffer between you and the car in front of you so that you don't have to adjust so much to their stopping and starting
3. Coast when you can

There are a lot of other wacky suggestions that the hypermilers have come up with, and the real serious ones have special gauges installed in the car so they can always see their fuel consumption. We decided to just employ the above suggestions, which seemed to be the safest and easiest to implement. We've gone through 1/4 tank of gas doing only local driving, which usually ends up being around 80 miles. We've gotten 110 out of this 1/4 tank, so I think it's having an effect.

The only drawback is that now I am the person that I would have been really annoyed getting behind in the past. I figure we eat at the same time as the elderly now (5:30) why not drive like them?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lesson Learned #4

This is actually a lesson learned by Big Trouble, but I think it has important applications for us all: When drinking a bottle of Snapple (or any wide-mouth bottle, I suppose) don't try to drink so much at one time that you suction your lip to the bottle and cause bodily injury.

Thank you for your pioneering experimentation, Big Trouble. You may have saved future generations from unnecessary face defacement.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Spin Me a Yarn

I've decided that yarn is a gateway drug. I learned how to knit about 4 years ago, and it has taken over many hours of my life, an enormous number of my brain cells, and not a small amount of my apartment's closet space.

Lately, because I don't have enough nonsense going on, I've become somewhat obsessed interested in the idea of spinning. I blame this partly on the internet, because you can type in any subject you're interested in, and the most fabulous information and pictures are at your fingertips. A friend said that she knew this was coming as soon as she heard that I had dyed my own yarn.

So, I gave in to temptation, and because I have neither limitless funds nor space, I decided to try the whole thing out with a spindle rather than a wheel.

I purchased both a kick spindle and a regular spindle from Heavenly Handspinning, a company that comes very highly praised by those in the know, and my experience with them was excellent. In only a few days, my precious package arrived; I had also ordered some lovely roving, which arrived the following day.

I unpacked my treasures, and began to "spin":

Hmmmm...not as easy as it looks. There are tons of videos available about how to do this, and some of them look like magicians as they spin - it's really amazing. I am not a terribly coordinated person (I often bump into walls trying to take a corner too quickly) so I thought the kick spindle would be a good fit for me. It works pretty well, and I have been doing a little every day. I rolled my attempts onto a cardboard tube, and you can see the progression from really lumpy and uneven on the right to less lumpy (but still uneven) on the left:

I've been doing a little bit every day, and I know I'm improving. I don't know if you can call the finished product yarn, but it's definitely more yarnlike than the fluff I started with, so I guess we'll call that progress!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I Love Free!

I am the one who is home, so I do the majority of the shopping for the house. As we needed some things for the Flag Day cupcakes, I recently stopped off at my local supermarket. I needed cupcake liners and Crisco. I know, Crisco is not good for you, but it makes very nice frosting. I even sucked it up and paid the extra $2.00 for the name brand (GASP!) because they've dropped their trans-fats. This was not easy for me, as the concept of willingly paying more for something goes completely against my cheap nature, but it went in my cart anyway.

We (Big Trouble and myself) brought our purchases to the cashier, paid, and then, as is my normal procedure, I scanned the receipt. And, as is also generally normal procedure, we headed to customer service because they overcharged me for the Crisco. I think my children think that when you go shopping, there are always two stops - cashier and then customer service; they consider this a typical shopping trip with mom, just like they're never surprised when we're driving somewhere and have to turn around because we're lost.

I love the store policy that if the items scans incorrectly, you get it for free, and this particular store had this policy. So, I walked out with a big tub of free Crisco and a smile on face.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Aftermath of Flag Day

The big Flag Day celebration is over. It was actually over yesterday, but I was too tired to make my fingers type coherent sentences. At Miss Serious' school they do a lovely assembly where the children dress in red, white, and blue and sing patriotic songs. Miss Serious even got to introduce a song, and did a terrific job. With such a charming beginning, who could have predicted the mayhem that would shortly ensue?

After the Flag Day concert, it is the school tradition to have a cookout at a parent's home. We walk the students from the school to the designated house, and everyone has a great time, right? This was the way it worked last year, so I was lulled into a false sense of security.

This year I had no place to deposit Big Trouble, so I brought him with us, as did several of the parents there. The children ran around the yard, had lunch, and were generally having a blast. Being that we live where we do, the house where it was hosted was absolutely beautiful, and most of the mothers were dressed in snazzy sundresses and looking glamorous. I don't seem to have the knack for looking glamorous, so I looked like I usually do. I sat down in the shade with some of the other mothers and indulged in some grown-up talk. One of the mothers told me that Big Trouble needed me, so I turned around and he was standing next to me with his hand over his mouth. I thought he had been hit with a ball, but sadly it wasn't that easy - he promptly threw up all over the patio. It's always fun to be at someone else's house when your child does something like this; luckily everyone else there also had small children and understood, and the hostess calmly told her husband to get the hose, showed Big Trouble and myself to the tub, and brought him a change of clothes. Her husband also got to hose off Big Trouble's sandals - why do they always hit their feet?

Okay, a minor hiccup in the day, but we move on. In case anyone thinks I'm being cavalier about a child vomiting, I should mention that Big Trouble has the best gag reflex on the planet, and used to vomit several times a week when he got something into his mouth he didn't care for. The only good thing about such a strong reflex is that I'm pretty sure he will never choke - I could feed him marbles (I won't) and he'd figure it out. When I asked him why he lost it this time he said he had remembered something he ate earlier in the day that he didn't like.

About 5 minutes after this lovely event, the teacher brought a crying Miss Serious into the house; she had bumped her leg. We got some ice on it, and through the miracle of ice cream she promptly felt better.

Okay, everyone's back to having a good time; about 1/2 hour later, I'm told Miss Serious is in the house because she feels sick. Now I'm wondering if the planets have aligned in some bizarre fashion, because my children are generally pretty trouble-free. I find Miss Serious in the bathroom, where she hasn't actually gotten sick. When she mentioned how nice and cool the tile floor felt, I decided that she must be having trouble with the heat, so I wet down her head and neck with some cold water, handed her a bag (just in case), took her outside and hosed her down. After about 15 minutes of sitting on the cold, wet, shady grass, I could hear her laughing with her friends, and her color had changed from gray to her normal pink.

At this point I decided to cut my losses, pack up my children and head out. We had walked over, so took it slow (I poured water on their heads throughout the walk, which they found wildly funny) and made it home. They each took a cool shower, and I rewarded myself with Chinese food for dinner. At 8:30 I'd decided I had definitely had enough of this day, and went to bed.

I have a feeling (call me crazy!) that today will be better. All I can say is that it better be.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

If At First You Don't Succeed....

Well, the heat finally broke (who would have thought 85 would feel COOL?) and after many days of lying dormant, I turned on my oven again. Miss Serious' school is having a flag day celebration, and needed cupcakes. As we have planned to have more food there than any class of first graders can reasonably consume, I decided to make mini cupcakes. And, unlike my normal operating procedure, I even remembered to pick up the cupcake wrappers in advance. So far, so good.

Big Trouble and I got to work and mixed up the batter. The cupcake wrappers were foil, and too large to fit into my pans. Apparently this kind just sits on a baking sheet. Fine - I lined them all up and filled them with batter. My usual batch of batter makes enough for 24 regular sized cupcakes. I was planning on 48 minis, and filled the little cups all the way to the top with batter. I bake a lot, and you'd think I would have recognized the problems with this. First of all, 24 regular cupcakes use a lot more batter than 48 minis. And, as batter cooks, it rises quite a bit. Thus, if you use a full recipe of batter to fill these cups, and then in some fit of insanity fill them all to the top of the wrappers, you'll probably end up with something like this:

Yup, an entire batch of 48 mutant cupcakes. In my optimistic (and lazy) way, I thought I would be able to just pull off the excess cake, but after several torn foil wrappers and cupcake crumbs flung all over my kitchen, I saw reason and just mixed up another batch of batter. This time I made the 48 minis AND 12 regular sized cupcakes like I should have done in the first place. The only thing I can say is that my brain must have melted from all the heat stress of the last few days - I'm hoping it will come back soon, because I have things to do.

Miss Serious said that we needed a flag to celebrate flag day, so this is what I came up with. Happy (early) Flag Day!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lesson Learned #3

Today's lesson learned is: appreciate what you have.

Like, when you write a whining blog post about how hot it is and complain that you only have fans; then you lose power in the middle of the night, and wake up because you find yourself lying in a tepid pool of your own sweat. You then suddenly realize that fans are the most wonderful invention ever created and that you appreciate them more than you can say.

Thank you, fans. We love you.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Totally Hot!

And not in a good way. We are in the middle of a kick-your-hieney heat wave here, and I have had enough. We live on the fourth floor, and in a (perhaps misguided) fit of trying to be greener (and save some $ on the electric bill), we put our air conditioner on freecycle. It was promptly picked up by a woman who marveled that we were getting rid of it. "Don't you know it's going to be hot?" she asked as she happily hauled it away.

Well yes, we knew it was going to be hot, I just didn't expect it so soon. Now the hot is here, and it's quite spectacular. We do have some systems in place to combat the heat, as we did without the air conditioner all last summer as well. We pull the drapes/close the blinds to keep out excess sun, and run all the fans that we can fit into our little apartment throughout the day. It helps, but when I opened the door for a friend earlier today, I did welcome her to hell.

I know that this too shall pass, and we are trying to remain cheerful and upbeat while the sweat pours down our faces. We've been spending lots of time at the local libraries (air conditioned and free!), so at least we're catching up on our reading.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Lesson Learned #2

After the previous post about the Bronx Zoo debacle, I thought that when I can't think of anything else to write it might be fun to jot down lessons that I've learned throughout this thrilling, madcap, roller-coaster of a life I've been having. Some of these lessons (like this one) were learned a while ago, while others are so fresh they still have that new car smell. The one I learned about the Bronx Zoo will count as the first lesson, so onto lesson learned #2:

When you see firemen running across the street towards your apartment building with hoses, it's probably not a false alarm and it might be wise to grab your babies and get out as soon as possible.

I'm going to add a corollary to lesson #2 in the form of lesson #2a:

When escaping your presumed aflame apartment building, if at all possible bring your purse.

Not sure if these will ever come in handy for anyone else, but it never hurts to be prepared.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Older and Wiser

When you're in school to become a teacher, a phrase that gets bandied about on a regular basis is "life-long learner." This phrase is ostensibly used to describe the types of teachers we should want to be who continue our education and stretch our knowledge base. Personally, I think it's just a term they handed us so that when we're sitting in a job interview and full of stress we'll have something to say when asked what kind of teacher we want to be, rather than something pithy like, "One with a job."

I must say, however, that I do think I learn at least something new every day. Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes a not so good thing. Today I learned that you NEVER go to the Bronx Zoo on a Friday in June.

We are members of the zoo, and go relatively frequently. I try to get there around the time they open the parking lot (another lesson learned - don't go after lunch - parking lots are full, and small children end up weeping with disappointment and recriminations) and usually zip right in, park the car, and am merrily on my way. Not so this time. Miss Serious' class was having their annual field trip to the zoo, and The Professor was chaperoning. I thought it might be a nice idea to take Big Trouble on my own, so he wouldn't feel left out. Why it didn't occur to me that if Miss Serious' class was having their trip to the zoo that day, every school in America would be doing the same I have no idea. Unfortunately, even though I may learn new things every day, I seem to be becoming exponentially less intelligent as my children age. Lack of sleep? Lack of enough quiet time to put 2 coherent thoughts together in a row? Hmmmmm....

I drove happily to our destination, pulled around the corner of the street with the entrance, and was slapped in the face by the image I was presented with - a seemingly endless stream of yellow school buses. This is never a good sign. I mentioned to Big Trouble that maybe this wasn't the best day to go to the zoo, and of course that went over like a ton of bricks. I soldiered on, devoted mother that I am, and half an hour (and God only knows how much breathed-in bus fumes) later we crept up to the front gate, parked the car, and attempted to enter the zoo.

I say attempted, because we had to claw our way through a sea of children; I have never seen so many children in one spot - it was spectacular and I was sorry I had forgotten my camera. We got into the zoo, and I designed our destinations to avoid school groups as much as possible. Luckily the zoo is huge, and even though we had to make a few detours it was a great day. It always amazes me that you can be looking at all these majestic animals, and just past the outer trees you can see the apartment buildings of the Bronx. We left early enough that we wouldn't be caught in the exodus of all the buses (see, I DO learn) and zipped home. Much better than the time we went last year and came out to the parking lot to see one of my tires completely flat. Not sure what I was supposed to learn from that one....

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A-Hunting We Will Go

Big Trouble has the incredible knack of finding money pretty much everywhere he goes. He not only looks for money, he listens for it. He can hear the jingle of dropped coins all the way across a crowded Target, and his head swivels around like a shot as he announces "I hear money!" My younger brother had this ability when we were growing up as well. I don't know why he didn't bump into hundreds of telephone poles and signposts (maybe he did and just never admitted it) because he walked with his eyes glued to the ground in search of loot. Once we were on a train, and he put his hand down in between the seats and pulled out a roll of 100 postage stamps. I decided I should do the same, and pulled out my hand covered in black slime.

This week Big Trouble was searching between the couch cushions for a lost toy when he pulled out a quarter; the child's eyes opened quite wide, as this was a whole new avenue of money possibilities opening up before him. I'm pretty sure it was lost by an unsuspecting guest, as we hold onto our change like grim death round these parts, but Big Trouble decided to kick his search up a notch:

The hunt continued for quite a while, including the request that I remove myself from the other cushion of the couch so that he could be more thorough. He didn't come up with any more cash, but it certainly wasn't from lack of effort.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Theory of Relativity

I live in a strange place, moneywise. The area where I live is absolutely beautiful - near the city, near the water, and has lots of wonderful amenities. These amenities are paid for out of the buckets of property taxes that people pay here. Unlike us, who own a 2-bedroom apartment, most people here pay enormous sums of money (the cheapest house around here starts at above half a million, and comes with 2 bedrooms and $12,000 a year in property taxes) to enjoy everything this area has to offer.

It's also an interesting place to live when you don't have an income which rivals the GNP of many developing nations around the world, and leads to a lot of comparisons with the Joneses that we have no business making. We're teachers; we chose our professions because we love them, and knew that they would never make us rich. We have a wonderful quality of life, but it's easy to forget that and wallow in self-pity when you are surrounded by people flying off for spiffy vacations, owning gorgeous homes, and being able to supply their children with pretty much anything they would like. At such times, it's important to remember that wealth is relative, and that we are incredibly lucky to have what we do.

I found this link for the Global Rich List the other day, and it made me more grateful than I have been in a long time. Give it a try, and I'll bet you agree.