"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Lion And Some Chickens

The golden, warm weather of yesterday's January thaw has gone and now we're having a wild blustery day up here on the hilltop. Lots of reading, lots of sorting through the seed bin, lots of dreaming about chickens (we're getting some!) and a little plotting about new bees (our hive bit the dust). Its a homestead dream day. I have been researching chicken coops and planting dates and talking to beekeepers on the phone about what I might have done wrong. After I push "Publish" on this post I'm off to the upstairs to rummage around in my homesteading book department and fuel the dream. This weekend I am hoping to put up a hoop house or two over some of our raised beds to get some early cold weather veggies started.

While I dreamed and researched and scribbled notes the boys have been having a playdough, graphic novel and drawing, drawing, drawing kind of day. Lots of interesting masterpieces making appearances. I am kind of smitten with this lion Ru created. I love his cheerful face, his humpy back, his tassely feet and his brush-bottle tail.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Garden Soak

Feeling a little low today so I started the day with a little meditation in my sunroom Mama-Space and then strapped a warm mug of tea to my side to keep my company while I dressed various short people and made breakfast.

But the real pick-me-up was some garden time. God, I miss being out in the garden. Right about the time February is arriving, I am starting to go crazy for a touch of something, anything that's green. The weather was incredibly warm and inviting this morning, a light, misty fog rolling down our hill and an inviting giant mud puddle by the back door waiting for the boys. I took the pruners and some stray yarn (for tying up raspberries), a trowel, some scissors, and a trowel out and I just did...ceaselessly for a little over three hours. Pom rode along on my back, sleeping peacefully through most of my work.

The smell of leaf mold, the damp earth on my knees, mud on my hands, and the sight of all those tiny green tips working their way out of the soil, promised me that this isn't forever...soon we'll be well again, soon there will be spring and soon we can cure our grumpy days with picnics.

Boy, does that sound good!

I feel a lot better.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Painless Penny Pinching

Last night A and I made an important career decision together.  It was one of those crystal times when I felt clearly that we were making an important, life-altering choice. Sort of a weighty, fork-in-the-road kind of a sensation. We're taking the left fork and things will be different from this time on. This is not only a your-life-will-never-be-the-same kind of choice but a hard-work-is-ahead, you're-playing-for-all the-marbles kind of choice. On the one hand, I love adventure and am a survivor so I believe in living on the edge so last night I felt pretty excited and motivated, but in the background is the pale and quaking me that hates change, feels secure in the known and believes contentment "the way." This morning I feel kind of wobbly and scared by the enormity and intimidating nature of making a big, scary choice like this.

We're on a new austerity plan now. Time to trim the needless waste in our life, time to live on less financially and make more happen with what we have already. I'm a person who walks this kind of line uneasily. On the one hand I'm not a high-roller, I kind of hate money and status items and I get a great deal of satisfaction from clever, frugal-living. On the other hand, I don't like stifling fun, rationing pleasure or forgoing enjoyment and I'm a bit lazy about doing everything myself to save a buck. Time to figure out not only how to save money objectively but how I will best and most happily save money. What things do I truly not need? What things can I change that will make me happier or just as happy and also thriftier? And what ways can I trim a little off the edge and still leave enough to make life feel pleasant? This whole discussion feel selfish and egotistical and entirely white-collar America. Argh. But you know, this year my theme is acceptance, this is part of it. This is where I honestly am psychologically about saving money and I know that if I plan a bleak, bread and water system for the next four years it will never work, I don't really believe in forced, purposeful, chosen deprivation and I'll never do it if that's what I attempt.

Last night I sat down and made up this list. Here's my current ideas for "Painless Penny Pinching"---the way I roll. Got anything to add? Books to suggest? Tweaks you think would help? Please contribute. We'll need all the help we can get.

•No more Amazon book buying (use up A's closet stash, inter-library loan, and
borrow from friends instead)
•Make our own cards for holidays and trim the list for who gets one
•Make birthday gifts for friends
• Grow our own veggies and freeze what we can for the winter
•Shop at Stop and Shop, Save Rite, Aldi, or Grade A and wave goodbye to Whole Foods or Fairway
•Borrow homeschool supplies or books from my circle of friends
•Limit dates to $20 dollars or less and get more creative
•Buy annuals in Michigan when we go this spring, prices are wayyy cheaper
•Shred newspapers or junk-mail for guinea pig bedding and feed them grass and weeds from our yard and scraps instead of buying bedding and pellets and hay from the pet store.
•Kill Netflix? (EEP!)  and instead watch YouTube stuff, and borrow movies from friends and the library
•Only go to single $ restaurants and limit frequency (once a month?)
•Unsubscribe to anything I am not using or don't need online and make sure that the menu planner I am using is the best deal financially.
•Use coupons and shop sales for food. Stock up on good deals.
•Get a new lid for my travel coffee cup and make myself coffee instead of buying it
•See if we can get better insurance rates
•Turn house temp down a touch, maybe even just at night?
•Only run the dishwasher when completely full.
•Wash clothes in cold water when possible.
•Weatherize the house.
•Keep an active inventory of what is in our freezer and pantry that is used in the coming week's menu plan.
•Menu plan every single meal...not just dinners.
•Get plant divisions from neighbors and dig wild instead of buying any new perennials.
•Buy special paleo foods online where I can get cheap prices.
•Get energy star appliance upgrades ASAP.
•Vacation close to home....maybe even at home
•Shop carefully for gas (even Carleen)
•Stop going to the extra Saturday yoga class and go to my studio more instead if
I want a weekend boost.
•Pack food for vacations and make a pact to stay out of stores while
driving to and fro and set a cap for any shopping we do at our destination.
•Shop ahead for holidays
•Make more easy clothes for the boys (simple knit pants from t-shirts?)
•Envelope budget for groceries for the week.
•Make our own cleaning supplies
•Carpool with friends
•Use the city bus
•Go to free classes at the library for kid-fun.
•Wash, vacuum and wax our own car instead of going to the car wash.
•Regularly freeze any food in the fridge that isn't getting eaten to reduce waste
•Shop clearance sales for kid clothes and also thrift shop when in Michigan when visiting family because prices are much cheaper.
•DIY for home repairs, teach myself what I need to know. I can do it!
•Make tangible financial goals and reward ourselves when we meet them!
•Save our change
•Review our utilities and be sure we are getting the best rates possible from our providers
•Line dry clothes, especially in warm weather
Refinance our mortgage again.
•Use the local library passes for area activities.

What do you do to save money without feeling sorry for yourself?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Music Cleaning

Happy Poetry Friday!

Today I am feeling too drifty and loose-endsy to take the time to link up with the other contributors. I'm having my own private poetry event here in a quiet corner of my blog. Sometimes introvert half-bloods have to have a little space.

I'm craving music in my life. I miss my high school days with the endless radio background soundtrack, listening to our favorites with the windows open and the dashboard buzzing with bass reverb. I love the rippling, cathartic, tumble of perfectly reciting lyrics and vocal twitches and guitar solos in unison with my favorite artists at top volume. I love the way certain songs make me feel and I love the way certain feelings are mirrored up in front of me in a heart-squeezing, soaring chorus line. Time to burn some cds.

I listen to Spotify and Pandora but my oh-so-portable little iPhone doesn't bloom out in lush volume quite like a regular set of speakers. So, I bought myself a cheap cherry-red cd player for the kitchen and now, I'm going to burn myself a row of mix cds to pop in during dishwasher loading time. My boys are gonna learn We Will Rock You like all good red blooded Americans. Come to think of it, this might be the way to light a fire of energy under my new everyone-helps-clear-the-dinner-table rule! Nice.

 I am using my cd project as an excuse to also clear up the teetering piles of old audio cds sitting all over the office desk that I keep hoping will magically go away. Rip time. And then Goodwill will get a gigantic musical present! Freedom is good.


Spending quiet softly while
The pewter sky smears past
The giant oak sleeping outside
My window.
Tearing songs from mirrored,
Mermaid scales that I decoupage
To a giant cloud blooming into
My collage.
Teetering stacks of crystal
Sail out the door smoothly,
Winking blessings as they leave
My margin.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Band-Aid Thief

I am a pretty stern hand with the bandaids at our house. I know its an American expectation that kids be given character bandaids every time they bump their shins. I'm mean. I insist on blood before there be handing out of bandages. Stickers are stickers, bandaids are bandaids. When Nib was in the hospital this past spring I relaxed my rule and let the nurses give him as many bandaids as they wanted to try to cheer him up. Mostly, he's back to my standard procedures but every once in a while I find those little plastic tabs on the floor and wonder where he put the contraband bandaid. I just found one of them. Sweet, sly boy.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Green Brain

I have Green-Brain. Its that time of year. There are any number of things sprouting and greening and budding in our sunroom which is very cheerful. This is a good time of year to be one of my houseplants. I'm dreaming of gardens and gardening and yet feeling so cold averse that I want to spend all my time snuggled up indoors. All of that amounts to much more attentive, loving care for the plant members of the household right about now. I am clinging to each little chartreuse leaf and unfolding blossom to tide me over until the warm comes back and until the baby is willing to me wander farther than a foot from him with my pruning shears and my trowel.

Almost every night I am carting the clanging metal compost can outside to our backyard pile and dumping more veggie trimmings and fruit cores. I feel very motivated to grow the heap, thinking about all the earthworms that I hope are churning away in the core of the pile, making me sweet fertilizer for filling up anemic raised beds, and tucking around my sad strawberry plants. Its a good time of year to be anything gardeny that wants my attention. Green leaves, and curling tendrils and produce of all kinds from my own land are what I am dreaming about at night, craving at the library, and turning my camera on whenever I look around for subjects.

Pom is not a fan of plants, unless he can eat them. He puts everything in his mouth and is scooting around backwards making himself angry at the way everything gets father and farther away every time he moves. And he is starting to make stabs at standing and stepping a little with hands to hold. The doctor tells me he is 5th percentile for weight and height but I find it hard to be too concerned, when he's so impossibly round and happy.  He's just a small, plump, happy man.


Monday, January 21, 2013


I am always a fan of public art. Especially the kind that seems brightly, unexpected and makes me smile when I stumble on it. The boys and I just bumped into a tree that had been "yarn-bombed" and was sporting a perky, striped turtle-neck. Yarn-bombing is a recent phenomenon and its fun to see it appear in my urban backyard...think bright graffiti with knitting needles. Somehow it feels like stealth caring for random objects, dressing them up in colorful, personal, warm little costumes. I think this lucky little tree was grinning, happy to have been made into happy public art by some sneaky fiber artist. Don't you think?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Poetry Friday: Marriage Advice for Myself

Happy Poetry Friday everyone!

I am writing today about a personal journey I'm having at the moment. I chose a theme word for this year to help me focus my thoughts and ideas and efforts. This is the year of "Acceptance" for me. I'm working more to accept the circumstances I am handed, to accept the problems that I am facing, to accept the people who have been put in my life, to accept myself and my flaws, to accept the good I'm given and the help and creativity and hope around me.

One of the biggest areas I'm really flexing the acceptance muscle is in my marriage. Its so easy to decide that the person we are with needs to change all of their problems, to distance ourselves from them and find ways to differentiate instead of unify, and even to wish away for refuse to acknowledge some of the truth of the current state. I'm on a quest to go to a different place: a knowing and a seeing that is not resignation but just awareness and honesty with overtones of oneness and deep compassion for him and for myself.

And then I made a poem.

If I Were Wise

If I were a wise woman
I would allow my husband to just be.
I'd let him care obsessively about
The exact time he goes to bed and the
The turning off of lights in empty rooms.
I would let him rage about slow traffic
And children who forget to put their shoes on.
I would listen to his worries about the
Dangers of caffeine and alcohol and liberals
And understand it all as his honest now.
I would live like a great warm radiator at his side,
Walking my own path and letting go of his.
I would see myself winking from his mirrored-skin
And hear his voice ripple in my exultant shout
Below the great cement arches of an over-pass. 

Go to Violet's blog this week to see all the other contributors to Poetry Friday today and read a cozy bunch of verse.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

In Which I Join The Neighborhood Association

There is a tiny garden down the street from us, tucked between a couple of houses, surrounded by a metal fence and a rusted gate with curling decorations, not obviously belonging to anyone.... with a plaque in it reading "In Memorium." I have wandered by many times with the boys and wondered about it, trying to place which house it belonged to and thinking curiously about the woman whose name was inscribed there.

Just tonight, looking up our neighborhood organization (which I am always meaning to join and never getting around to) I noticed her name "Beverly Eckert" in past events from 2009. Turns out she was my neighbor, she lived in the house behind us, our backyards kiss, there is a family living there now who have big happy dogs who play catch with their balls back there. This lady who has now become a name on a plaque to me, in an overgrown garden behind a rusted gate had quite an interesting story. Her husband died in the 9/11 attacks in the towers while she talked to him on the phone. Beverly then devoted herself to community life, to activism, to tutoring children and volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and planting gardens and painting murals in my neighborhood. Small things...ways to make good in her world. And then in 2009 she was killed in a plane crash, and the neighbors with the big dogs moved in.

And that's how she became a name on a plaque in an overgrown garden down the street. 

I think I'll go join my neighborhood association now.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Morning Glow

I am stepping back into my preferred rhythm again, up early with the larks...or I would be if the larks weren't gone just now to warmer climes. I was a morning person as a baby and a little girl. I used to get up in the morning my eyes popping open to the nutty, warm smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen. I would hustle downstairs and sit on his lap while he slurped coffee through his mustache and split an apple with me, smeared with spoonfuls of peanut butter. Morning was a special, quiet, private, delicious time of day. I got up because my body told me to and because it felt right and I enjoyed the warmth and quiet peace it brought. Somehow I slipped out of the habit, and by the time I was a teenager I remember making my Papa hound me every morning to get me out of bed for high school. Sometime in my sophomore year I remember deciding suddenly to try deciding to get up cleanly and early again, no more sludgy, grungy, rough mornings and no more forcing someone else to haul me out of sleep. And that was it...the next morning I snapped upright when I was called and I was up bright and early for the rest of high school. Since then I have waffled back and forth and sometimes slid back into late rising but I always feel worse for it. Times like now when I take my teenage vow on again and creep out of bed before everyone else I feel so right and at home. The morning feels like a small, warm gift and a glowing sunrise like this one makes feel confirmed and warmed on my little path.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

One Less Shirt To Wash

You know, there are whole workbooks you can buy these days on developing "scissor skills" for your preschooler to be sure their snipping will be up to social standards. I think we have this particular skill covered in our preschool here at Chez Armstrong as Nib so easily demonstrated here.

Curved lines? No problem. He's got it down. Two years old and he's a crack shot with a pair of snips and Mommy has less laundry too! Forget those chi-chi workbooks. Who needs 'em?


Monday, January 14, 2013


We're January-ing all over the place lately at our house. Pulling down the Christmas (as it is wont to do) has led to sudden and complete redecorating in certain sections of the house. The bookcases and china cabinets have been re-styled and the mantle invigorated, the art is playing musical chairs and the sunroom is being re-invented as a mommy spa space: all watercolor work, sewing, reading nook, green oasis and guinea pig haven. A and I are set to begin guitar classes together as our weekly date night. My drool-inducing reading list is overflowing, many of them in-hand thanks to Christmas gifts from A and many more on a library list in my phone and even one in audio form for when I'm washing dishes or driving A to and fro on his commute. I am tackling garden plans with a vengeance and am up to my green little ears in all the ideas and advice I am accumulating.

I'm overwhelmed and also very excited. This is what  a new year does to me, I'm full of 25 new projects and genius ideas on overdrive and also a little swept under by the enormity of all the wonderful possibilities. My solution is to stop thinking so much, that's when the stress and enormity of it all creeps in. Less think, more do. The world is so full of a number of things...I am off to turn my world upside-down and make all manner of sparkly bits fall out onto the carpet!

Pom says that sounds just top notch...as long as I always hold him. He got separation anxiety for the New Year and has started giving babysitters fits when we're away and even wailing top volume for me whenever I set him down although he's very cheery and sweet for as long as I can push myself to tote his 5th percentile, and yet somehow impossibly heavy little frame around on my body.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Wee Sculpters

Had to share these cool paper-mache sculptures the boys have been making. We've been studying birds in science and Ru had the bright idea to make models of some of the birds we've been reading about. They carefully sculpted and painted them themselves, using our big family bird book as reference. Mostly the littler boys are playing along while Ru and I read about birds together. Jolly times though, learning about how the blue jay's favorite food in the world is acorns and how long a cardinal lives vs a blue jay! Next up he has a plan to make a life sized model of a blue jay nest, complete with stones picked from the beach painted to look like songbird eggs. We may present at our local monthly homeschool sharing night! Photobucket

Friday, January 4, 2013

Poetry Friday: An Orphan Flower Story

Happy Poetry Friday! Welcome to the first Poetry Friday of the year. Always good to start a new year off with a little poetic reflection.

Silly, little poem from me today about how a cyclamen came to our house this week.


My debit card left me secretely.
My yoga studio was blank and dark,
Class cancelled on this icy night.
I tried the next door grocery
Thinking stoically of my
Depleted supply of detergent.
The last cyclamen waved at me
Fluttering there on the display
Curving edges of lipstick petals
And shy, sage-veined leaves.
I tucked her snugly into my coat,
Along with one ripe papaya to
Encourage me in the winter cold.
But at the check-out I found the thing
My debit card had done, a sly jilting.
I thumbed and thumbed through my wallet,
Fumbling while the cyclamen nervously
Fluttered there on the cashier's belt.
Maybe the store manager could see
Botanical fear or loved a rescue.
He put his hand on my flickering ones
And told the cashier to type: store credit
As long as I return by Friday to pay.
And I hugged the damsel in pink to me
Glad that despite betrayal of my plastic card
I had found this fuchsia coquette for comfort.

You can find the other Poetry Friday contributions for today at our host, Matt's blog, Radio, Rythm and Rhyme. Have fun browsing! There are lots of cool posts on the list today!


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Teaching Empowerment

Teaching a small person to decipher letters and learn the secret code of reading is an electric experience. I feel completely amazed at the power of discovery, the beauty of achievement and the incredibly special tenderness of watching literacy unfold.

I have been teaching Ru to learn and he's chomping along in the reading book, learning bigger and bigger words but still not really making the leap to reading himself or devouring story for himself. I continue nudging him along and he's still making steady progress and I am waiting for the lights to blaze full in his face and set him mind buzzing with the possibilities of what he has just grasped.
In the meantime, Dee nuzzled up under my elbow and started begging to have a reading lesson too. At just four year old he's not really ready for the physical elements of writing free-hand but he is able to trace my letters and follow dotted-line letters I set up for him and at his urging I started teaching him the basic first nibbles of reading. By golly, he's getting it! He's reading little words all by himself! I feel like a rockstar in the presence of all this acquisition!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012, Diagnosed

It was a good year.

All years are good years.

I am trying to get less attached to ideas of emotional happiness and instead learn to see the fluid beauty in all things...even the rough things, even the stuff we are tempted to label and discard.

It is so alluring to kick 2012 out with a big heave ho and stamp it on the hiney as it goes with a giant red "FOR DISCARD" like a snubbed library book.

This was the year..... A had an accident with a bike and spent months in ridiculous physical therapy trying to learn to walk again after the official diagnosis of "bruising and small bone chip," it was the year we had such a plague of mosquitoes in our yard that we basically spent the second half of the summer indoors hiding, it was the year our shower started leaking through the dining room ceiling and we shifted to using the kid shower (still are!) while we saving up funds to afford a ceiling demolition, it was the year that I spent a week, heavily pregnant with my fourth baby teetering on the edge of a hospital bed holding my third son while he cried and pinning his arms down while nurses gave him i.v. meds, it was the year my cherished midwife was no longer practicing and I had to walk through this last pregnancy and birth without her care, and it was the year of illness after illness, the boys never all well at the same time.

But you know...there are so many sides to life. So many pieces to stories and so often, its all about your spin.

This was also the year.....I discovered eating grain-free/sugar free and thus shed a shackling depression, the year we met our gentle, fourth son in an amazingly quick and smooth birth, the year we hauled basket after basket in from our garden laden with peas and lettuce and tomatoes and our first ever watermelons, it was the year I finally took an interior design class, the year A picked up Spanish in his spare time, the year we celebrated surviving an entire decade of marriage together, the year we visited Hawaii and swam under a waterfall with our children, the year we picked the first fruit from our mini-orchard, and the year we made it back to Michigan for a family reunion on my great-grandparents farm, the year we brought home two furry little guinea pig sisters to live with us, the year I had a painting up in a real gallery and then sold a piece to a genuine member of the anonymous public, the year a Raleigh  policeman went out of his way to help find my stolen phone and restore my faith in cops, it was the year we were graciously mega-loved by friends in our homeschool group, neighbors and church when hard times did hit, it was the year we had a huge flock of daffodils bloom by our front door.  This and so much more...

I want to always look for the ripe, warm, flavorful bits in my experiences...even the things that feel bitter at first bite. So here I am with the winter light slanting across the floor and a round cheeked baby on my lap, on the brink of a whole new story. This year, whatever it brings I hope for more awareness, more open-eyed seeing, more love, more unity with side portions of vision, and dreams, and spine tingling to boot. Here's to 2013, doubtless, a good year!