Wednesday, May 28, 2008

how long have you been keeping this from me?

Did everyone except me know that Venice doesn't have any cars? How cool is that?

in which I account for my filthy kitchen floor

Articles and entire books about making your own household cleaners have been around for years now. I've never really understood them. They generally list all sorts of combinations of basic ingredients to mix together in spray bottles or shaker jars to use on specific surfaces, which seems like far more work than necessary.

Maybe it's just that I have a low standard of cleanliness? I clean pretty much everything with just water. If it doesn't come off I'll add dish soap. If it's really stuck on there I'll add baking soda. I don't need premixed containers of Borax and whatever taking up space in my cabinets to get the job done. But then, I don't care if my floors are whiter than white either.

I suppose the purpose of these recipes is to replace the specific products that most people have been (inexplicably) buying for years with an alternative that can be put in the same kind of container and used in the same way. Maybe this makes the transition easier for some people. But I think that it (a) unnecessarily complicates the process, (b) focuses overly much on the commercial products, making the alternatives seem like weak replacements, and (c) encourages obsessiveness over housework ("even if you don't want to poison your kids with chemicals, you should still be spending lots of time cleaning!"). A lot of earthy-crunchy tips seem to focus on making life harder when rethinking your goals and standards may be a better way to go. Your goal is to have a clean house without nasty chemicals and disposable packaging? Well, try using what you have and see if it works, and reconsider whether it's really necessary to scrub the counters with disinfectant every day. Want to stop using toxic lawn chemicals? Just stop and see what happens; if you don't like the results, look for some fixes, but you don't immediately need to start applying liquid manure and attacking weeds with a propane torch. Really, dandelions are no less attractive than hollyhocks.

Friday, May 23, 2008

university maintenance part 2

Speak of the devil. I just received this message off the staff listserv:

For your information:

Per a phone call received from the Plant Department, Matt and a student will be going around our building today doing maintenance (oiling) of all door hinges and locks.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

love is a battlefield

Instead of a unity candle at their wedding, these people made a unity volcano. (It's around 2:05.) At first I thought, "wow, C would totally do that." Then I realized that by the time he's old enough to get married, he'll be away beyond that- he'll produce something much more explosive.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

university maintenance

The maintenance guy I see most frequently in my building always calls me “doctor.” “Hey doctor, how’s it going?” I don’t generally hear him greeting anyone else so I don’t know if this is his standard moniker for everyone at the University or if I’m special. It cracks me up either way.

Maintenance work here is all centralized, resulting sometimes in surprising efficiency (large teams of men with tools appeared last month to remove all of the winter air conditioner covers at once; the breathless coordination via walkie-talkie lent the operation a SWAT-teamish air) and sometimes in shocking inefficiency (it took over a month to move a desk once because they weren’t allowed to do it or lend us a dolly so we could do it until a work order went through official channels). The staff at Alfred had a bit more flexibility. A man named LeRoy (pronounced Le Roy, not Leeroy) was detailed to the house I lived in my last two years there. The University had just purchased it so it needed a few tweaks to adapt it to student housing, which made LeRoy’s work a bit more interesting than otherwise- I suspect he enjoyed getting to spend his days designing and building customized shelving rather than oiling door hinges. Maybe that’s why he was so accommodating when we asked him to help with random tasks like tweaking our composter so it could be turned more easily or adjusting our faucets so they closed more tightly. Or maybe his years of experience with students made him realize that if we were left to our own devices, we were likely to REALLY screw things up. An ounce of prevention and all that.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Free Range Kids

Free Range Kids

As they get older, I'd like to give the kids more freedom. I feel that the risk of kidnapping is far outweighed by the psychological risks of being insulated and overprotected. But when community norms are such that letting kids do things on their own is an oddity, it's harder. I couldn't send C to the grocery store on his own without risking the cashier asking where his parents are, putting him in an awkward spot. The public library explicitly prohibits children under 12 from being left unattended. Some of the intersections near our house are not safe. And maybe because unsupervised kids are a rarity now, he would be a more likely target for a criminal?

I'm glad to live in a town that has amenities which permit more freedom to kids and teens than Clifton Park did- sidewalks, access to a bus line, streetlights. And I do see middle school aged kids doing things on their own- biking to friends', going to the coffee shop. But I wish we were a little bit closer to the time when Ramona Quimby had free reign of the neighborhood by the age of four.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

And his shirt doesn't help either

C has had a series of "literature projects" due each week at school. Given his WWII obsession and unwillingness to follow directions, I suspect that his output has been rather different from what his teacher expected. The first week was supposed to be a "banner" about a book. C constructed a 3-dimensional military tank out of paper and attached it to a piece of paper (the "banner") with a string. I didn't see last week's, which was a mobile; I only hope that he didn't make the cutouts in the shape of swastikas.

This week, he was assigned to make a mask. His choice of character is not unexpected.

Yes, I tried to encourage him to choose anyone other than Hitler. Yes, I have an e-mail in to his teacher apologizing. Yes, I started to try to explain to him how Hitler's image remains very disturbing to a lot of people, but stopped when I realized I might be doing more harm than good. How to explain to a seven-year-old how the horrors of a war that ended before his grandparents were born are still so resonant?

of course it all ended in tears

Last weekend C wanted to test out a new boat he'd built and so we made a trip to Five Rivers.

A was shy.

The boat worked quite well.

Alas, immediately after this picture was taken, Dan slipped and both he and C fell in the water. C was furious and convinced that Dan had done this on purpose. He said he was not going home with us and stormed upstream. A started wailing, "I NEED MY BROTHER!" I send Dan ahead with A, assuring her that we would not actually allow C to spend the night outside at Five Rivers. I tailed C for about a quarter mile before convincing him to (begrudgingly) come home with us.

Monday, May 05, 2008

not a soccer mom

C's first soccer practice was last Monday. It was pouring. Half the kids didn't attend, and the coach thankfully sent them home early.

Lack of practice did not however prevent them from having a game on Saturday. It was at the "Soccerplex," which is a whole lotta fields alongside a highway, the noise of which adds to the chaos. Again, it was raining (though not as hard). Dan and I were surprised at the number of parents who enthusiastically delivered their children to the 9 a.m. game anyway- it was kind of a culture shock for us. We spent much of the morning entertained by the absurdity of the situation and wondering how many of the other parents felt the same way.

C played on half a field, with its lines painted across those of the full field, so it was confusing. That was perhaps the least of his team's problems however, since none of the kids had ever played together and C didn't appear to be the only one who only vaguely knew the rules. (Not our fault, by the way; Dan tried to go over them with him, but C rebelled halfway through.) A lot of the kids had been playing for years though (there were three-year-olds playing the next field over!) and some of them were surprisingly good, and even the clueless kids did better at maintaining their positions than I expected, especially given the well-meaning but disorganized coaching.

C surprised us by his ability to stand up for himself (requesting several times to play offense), management of his mistakes (he was able to shrug off being told to re-do a throw-in because both his feet hadn't been on the ground rather than getting upset/ embarrassed by it), and generally "normal" behavior. He didn't actually talk to any of the other kids, but he wasn't overtly antisocial either, which was good to see.

A was surprisingly patient for the first half of the game but then got understandably bored. She noticed the concession stand and tried to get us to utilize it rather slyly.

A: I'm hungry.
S: Here, Daddy packed potatoes for you!
A (whining): Daddy said he'd bring me a banana!
S: Really? Hmm- oh, here it is!
A (clearly disappointed that we hadn't screwed up): Actually I don't want a banana OR potatoes.
S: Well let me know if you decide you're hungry.
A: I want something different.
S: The game will be over in about 20 minutes.
A (giving up on subtlety): I think they sell food over there.
S: But we brought food with us, so we don't need to buy that.

I managed to distract her by running up and down hills for a while. But five minutes later, Dan appears and she again casually suggests a visit to the concession stand.

D: We didn't bring money for that.
A (bursting into tears): BUT YOU BROUGHT YOUR WALLET!!!!!

Friday, May 02, 2008

garden update, because I know you care

We had a week or so of summer, but now we're back to spring. The summer weather did make it easier to get the peas in our garden. This year we added a layer of horse manure in the fall and then put leaves on top; not the same depth of leaves as the previous year, but hopefully enough to keep most of the weeds down. (Though I have been shocked at the number that have already managed to work their way up through the 2-3" left of the leaves that were there all last season plus the 4 or so inches we put on top this year.) The only problem I had with the leaves last year was the slugs, and I have a few ideas for limiting their damage this year.

We plan on relying on a CSA for most of our produce this year since our gardening time is limited, so I didn't bother planting any greens. All we have in so far are sugar snap peas, which are coming up nicely. I'm putting in another row every week, which is supposed to extend our harvest; in the past I've found that the later plantings catch up to the first ones by the time the plants flower, but it's worth another try.

I harvested the few dried scarlet runner beans that managed to survive the deer last year. I'm not sure where to plant them since they obviously need to be inside the fence- I will sprout them first to make sure they're viable before devoting space to them.

Some of the strawberries' roots miraculously survived despite the damage inflicted by the deer last year. I'm not sure how best to maintain the plot (I'm not good at weeding, but don't want to use a heavy mulch because I don't want to drown out the strawberry plants) or prevent a recurrence of their annihilation. With Paco gone, we can only expect more trouble with wildlife.

We're clearing out our chest freezer to defrost it before we have greens to freeze, and discovered a forgotten bag of farmer's market broccoli that I used in dinner last night. Despite being thawed and refrozen when the freezer was accidentally unplugged, it was still amazing- much more tender and flavorful than commercially frozen broccoli. Maybe it's a different variety that's not chosen for its toughness? I wonder if it's too late to plant a spring crop.

more from the Fuehrer

I had the same reaction as this guy when C brought home his soccer "uniform" on Monday. Even more startling to me, however- the shirt is white. It is going to be covered in mud after the first game tomorrow, and I'm never going to get the stains out. Should I have a party for the whole team halfway through the season to convert from the white team into the tie-dyed team?

Given C's continuing independent study of WWII, I'm surprised he didn't point out the resemblance. Last night he asked me what started "the" war between China and Japan. I confessed to knowing nothing about it other than a vague sense of millenia-long cultural rivalries (which, of course, I could relate most closely to Nazism). He went on a bit about the U.S. not aiding Japan against China and Japan's motivations for bombing Pearl Harbor, which I also knew nothing about. I'll be needing to provide a lot more help with his research if he wants to trace back the antecedents to every war to the beginning of time. And I'll need to decide whether I should be actively engaging in my own study so I know what he's talking about.