Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The child who left our home

Yesterday, C-son left our home.

This is hard to describe, not only because there are so many emotions but because there are so many parts to the story.  There is the side of C-son's social worker who said, "I'm sure you can work through this."  And the side of our own social workers, who said they'd never seen a case this difficult.  There is the side of my step-daughters who say, "but every time we saw him, he smiled and was so cheerful."  But there's also the side of K-daughter, who was there when he was throwing hammers at the house and pulling knives out of the drawer in a rage, who is terrified that he'll come back to our home.  

I think I agree with all of them.  He's a poor kid who has been through a lot.  I know we were his last shot at having a family, so I felt an especial obligation to work harder than I have so far:  if we'd just gotten him on the right meds, could it have worked?  I wanted to be superwoman.  I wanted to be the one who saved him.  I don't at all like admitting that not only was love not enough, but love and discipline and positive reinforcement and everything else I could think of were not enough.  *I* was not enough.

He'd gotten increasingly defiant and angry this past week; the stealing I mentioned a while back was just a small part of it.  There was an argument that started when my husband told him to come home from skating by 8:45 -- C-son reacted by cursing, throwing things, locking himself in the bathroom.  The next night, a similar discussion resulted in the hammer-throwing and knife-pulling.  I sent the other kids to the attic to get them out of his way.  He left under custody of the police, who took him to the local hospital under a "302" (mental health observation).  He won't come back to our home; there is a good chance I won't ever see him again.

A weird irony of this is that my last few hours with him were much like my first week with him:  buried in paperwork and a confusion of bureaucracy.  My first few weeks, I spent hours trying to negotiate the tangle of insurance questions to get him the medications he'd run out of.   Admitting him to the ER was a tangle of custody questions: was I allowed to sign him in?  Which of the two social agencies actually has legal authority to admit him?   I spent about two hours at the hospital filling out paperwork, and they asked me to stay longer in case they had more questions in a few more hours.  But by 11:00 I was going brain dead and had to leave.

And so today we begin the process of figuring out what our lives will be like without C-son here anymore.  For us, I expect it will be much calmer and more predictable.  There is an uncomfortable sense of relief.  Here.

But for C-son, I know, not so much.  Drat drat drat.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Changes ($137)

First, I will pretend that everything is the same.
Last week, the 20-week grocery average was $137; this week it remains $137.  This,  because we spent $37 this week on groceries.  There were also (on the part of my husband) multiple trips to lunch restaurants with the boys -- I don't have any idea how much those cost us, but I'm throwing up my hands and over-estimating it at $100.  Which keeps things the same as before.  Grocery-wise.
But the truth is things are not the same with the people in the home.  Today we are in the midst of a big messy change, and I'm not sure how it's going to work out.   So I'll keep this post short and write more tomorrow.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cell phone update: ay-ay, or I-I?

Two weeks ago, I bought my boys cell phones and signed them up for a pay-as-you-go plan.

The pay-as-you-go started with lots of "go" and therefore lots of "pay".  There has been a bit of the "Ay-ay-ay!" at the beginning of this experiment.  So what has happened in the meantime?  How have things settled out during the past two weeks?

Well, the boys have indeed stopped purchasing those expensive ringtones that they bought on the first day.  But (at least for a while), they couldn't stop themselves from making out-of-network calls, or even sometimes ordering new games.  Technology is fun, after all.  So, more money got spent that the boys could ill-afford to spend.

After a few days of their mom (me) seeing her boys blow through the minutes on the phones, I decided we needed to have a talk.  By some miracle of inspiration, that's all I said:  "We need to have a talk about the cell phones."  I didn't say why.  I didn't (this truly is a minor miracle) start nagging right away.

The boys came to the table like adults.  They knew the score, they told me.  They'd been using up their minutes way too fast.  I didn't say it; they did.  I was a proud mama.

We discussed possible alternatives.  The boys didn't have much (other than vague promises that they'd try for more self-control).  So when I suggested some ideas, I was surprised -- stunned, even -- to see how happy they were to agree.  This is like the twilight zone:  Super-Mom with her kids, the Ultra-Agreeables.  We should have our own TV show or something.

Instead of my looking over their massive phone use and saying "Ay-ay-ay", we went to two kinds of "I":  Immediacy and Information.

Immediacy:  I suggested that if they spend more than their allotment of money for the day (that is, if they call out of network and incur additional costs), that they lose use of the phone the very next day.   That is, they don't wait 20 or 30 days until they use up their money to quit using the phone, but they take the "no-phone hit" right away.  To my utter, utter surprise, they all loved this suggestion.  Go figure.  And I've had to enforce this rule exactly once so far (with the impulsive J-son); for the other two boys, this rule reigned in all excessive spending immediately.  I am floored.

Information:  I've started giving them once-a-week paper updates with the subtraction done for them.  It's one thing to say, "you won't get more money until October, and you have only $39 left on the phone."  But when I added the line, "This means there will be at least 42 days between now and then that you can not use your phone", something in their demeanor changes.  They've voluntarily started giving up their phones for days at a time right now.  They've considered sharing phones (although I'll believe that when I see it).  

I feel like both of these solutions have implications for grown-ups:  that somehow doing the subtraction (buying X means I'm giving up Y) could help with budgeting.  Or making deals with yourself about spending today leading to money fasts tomorrow would help to curb today's spending.  But I can't make the connection, somehow.  I'm just glad that we seem to be hitting some kind of happy cell-phone equilibrium here in the Miser Mom household.

Perhaps.  We'll find out for sure sometime between now and October 10.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Locks and snares

Last day of writing about stealing.  For me, if there were a fun aspect of this --- there's not, actually, but if there were --- it would be the physical part.  James Bond-esque traps to detect the burglar.  Carpentry projects that remove objects from temptation's way.  So, I admit that when I start suspecting theft, I go all 007.  

When I thought maybe one of our kids was drinking our booze, I removed all bottles but one (that's not unusual in our home).  On that one, I drew a small, unobtrusive line at the height of the remaining alcohol.  I also used candle wax to attach a piece of thread to the cap and the bottle.  This was not so much to catch the child in the act as to confirm whether I was imagining things.  When, a week or so later, the thread had come off and the liquid had gone down a half-inch, I felt almost a relief -- I hadn't been hallucinating.

It's for the same reason -- to make sure I'm not losing my marbles -- that I sometimes leave a small object like a ball at the base of our bedroom door, in such a way that opening the door would roll it away.  It's almost more for my ease of mind than anything else.  And peace of mind is especially important in a home where there's been stealing going on -- otherwise, any thing I casually misplace becomes a reason for panic that it's been picked up by the wrong person.

On the other hand, when the ball gets rolled away AND the candy jar seems lighter than usual, then I know I'm not just misremembering the candy level.  A weirdly helpful kind of certainty.

So, if the "traps" are for my own sanity, then the locks are to help the kids:  "Lead me not into temptation".  Once they're convinced (after many half-hearted tries) that the gummy vitamins are completely inaccessible, they begin to lose interest, develop new habits.

The problem with locks is that they're a pain in the . . . in the family.  I resisted putting locks in my sewing room for a long time, and finally gave in when I realized that was the most humane way of keeping my kids out things they couldn't help themselves from getting into.  When C-son recently  started going through things in our bedroom, I was much quicker to add them.

I don't recommend safes for deterring kid-burglars.  First of all, they're very expensive -- tiny ones too small to use can easily be $70, and most safes run in the hundreds of dollars.  But more importantly, they're a pain to use: you don't want to bend over and lock and unlock a safe several times a day.  And if you start leaving things out of the locked area and your kids discover this, you've extended ten-fold the number of times they'll scout around to see whether you've done it again.  The locks have to be easy to use consistently.  All the time.

Combination locks are great.  Not only do you not need to keep track of a key, but if you worry that the kids have mastered the combination you can change it.  (In contrast, recently one of my kids found the key to a regular lock and took it, which resulted in very very tense discussions to get it returned).   Another huge plus for a combination lock is that it has its very own "trap" aspect.  That is, I remember two combinations:  the one that opens it, and the one I leave the lock on once I've locked it.  If I see anything else, I know the kids have been trying to get in, and I can step up my vigilance.
My sewing room closet door, with an added lock.
 Here's a lock I added to my sewing room closet door last year -- in that closet, I can store lots and lots of stuff away from the kids.  The combination lock uses letters, not numbers.  My current "closed" word is "Woote" (that changes occasionally).  I'm very certain that the kids haven't messed with this lock in months.
Close-up of the lock in standard (for now) closed position.
Here's a lock we just added this past weekend to my husband's ugly dresser.  

The lock didn't make it any prettier, but it does mean he can use his entire top drawer to stash away electronics, his wallet, etc -- which is what he was used to doing anyway, without the lock.  And we do know that unsuccessful  attempts were recently made to get in.  So we'll be careful about being consistent and careful about this for the next month or so.

Here's a somewhat less ugly lock.

I have a solid oak nightstand, and I didn't want to completely uglify it.  So I added what my hardware store calls a "keyed sash lock".  It's meant for windows, but I think it doesn't look that bad on my nightstand.  For what it's worth, I got this idea from a lockable nightstand that my sister bought two years ago.  She doesn't have kids who are live-in burglars like I do, but one summer when she had a bunch of different house guests she lost some heirloom jewelry, and decided to have a safe place of her own.

The disadvantage is keeping track of the key.  I thought I could put it discretely on a hook elsewhere in the room; as I mentioned above, that was a huge mistake.  Drat.  

These locks were fairly inexpensive and easy to install (each lock cost me somewhere between $8 and $20, depending on the type).  As I've said, I really wish I didn't have to lock things up in my own home.  But given the circumstances, these are the least stressful part of restraining and retraining my kids.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stealing away

More on stealing.  Today, not focusing on the why or wherefore, but instead just focusing on changing behavior.

There's a line we heard from a friend; my husband and I repeat it over and over again to each other.  I'd been telling this friend how the boys had been stealing gummy vitamins out of my sewing room at night.  I described in detail the punishments we'd meted out, the lessons we'd preached at the boys at great length, and the rewards we'd promised them for future good behavior.  And my friend listened to this wide-eyed, and asked, 
"So, you think the boys won't steal anymore?".
I think my friend doesn't have any kids.  That's what I think.

Changing the behavior that my kids learned over time takes a lot of time and persistence.  And because the kids weren't really sure they wanted to change the behavior, it took even more time and even more (of my) persistence.  Of course, part of what I do is
  • make it easier to do the right thing (such as give them a box full of cans of soup they can eat for a midnight snack instead of pilfering off-limits candy), 
and another part of what I do is 
  • make it harder to do the wrong thing (we'll talk about locks and such tomorrow).  
But that doesn't cover it all.  For example, J-son sometimes took money, just to give it to other people.  He stole a $5 bill off my husband's dresser and gave it to some guy on a basketball court, no particular reason.  He took a $100 bill out of my husband's wallet and gave it to a girlfriend.  He'd "borrow" an MP3 player from a friend's house, and then tell me his friend had given it to him as a gift.  Boxes and locks go only so far.

Here, in no particular order, are the behavior aspects we implemented.  Let me clarify that:  I'm listing them in no particular order, but part of what made them successful is that we actually implemented ALL of them, consistently.  Order matters a lot.
  • Restitution:  As far as possible, the boys paid their debts back.  Sometimes the money came out of their bank accounts; sometimes it came in chores (J-son picked up dog poop 100 days in a row after the $100 bill fiasco).  
  • Punishment.  My husband took the role of drill sergeant; he'd run N-son and J-son and have them do push-ups until their arms quivered.  (Corporal punishment was not an option for these kids). 
  • Counseling.  I played "good cop" to my husband's "bad cop", probing the boys about why they did the theft and how they did the theft.  I'd ask them if it made them happy to steal (they'd always say no).  We'd discuss alternatives ("you could ask for food; you could save your money; you could wait until morning.")  
  • Medication.  As mentioned yesterday.
  • Reward.  It's hard to reward not-stealing . . . it's too easy to turn things into a reward for not-getting-caught-stealing.  But I did set up an allowance system, with real money (the beginning of the slow death of Mommy Dollars).    And weekly allowance has always been contingent on "not stealing and not lying."  Strictly enforced.  So, sort of a reward.  
  • Diversion.  We'd go out of our way to get the kids more exercise (wear them out so they'd sleep all night).  We'd try to direct them into wholesome activities and away from the kinds of kids who accept $100 bills.  This technique had limited success, at best.
  • Clarifying rules.  This has been especially important with C-son.  When I hand him anything now, I will make sure either to say clearly, "This is now yours.  You may keep it," or "You may use this for the afternoon, but it is mine, and I want it back later today when you are done."   I'm much more careful to say, "The things in this cabinet belong to me.  I will let you use them if appropriate, but you have to ask me first or you're not allowed to touch them."  And I repeat over and over that he is not supposed to go in certain rooms (my bedroom or sewing room) without me there.
  • Additional rules.  It is now a rule in our home that my boys may not accept gifts from friends.  The friends have to give the thing to ME, instead.  We had to enforce that rule often for things that J-son brought home -- sometimes the "gift" really was a gift, and sometimes its appearance in J-son's pocket was a surprise to the original owner.  This was emotionally the hardest rule to implement, because it embarrassed J-son, no matter whether the gift was legit or not.  But it had the quickest, most profound impact on changing his habits.
As you can imagine, in the most intense phases of this process, we were pretty depressed.  No surprise there.  It's hard to be constantly on the lookout; every time we temporarily misplaced something, we had to wonder whether it was a brain fart or a burglary.  It's hard to have these kids you're supposed to love, and instead to be constantly in their face about what they took this time.   

Each time we'd go through this cycle, my husband would turn to me and say, "So,  . . . now that we've told the boys not to take things that don't belong to them, they'll never steal again, will they?"  But of course we never meant that.  That line was our own little macabre joke.   Bad habits = hard to break.  

And yet, here we are, lo these many months later.  And for N-son and J-son, the bad habits of theft seem to basically be subdued.  I can't remember the last time the boys had to run or do pushups.   Their debts have been paid, if not forgotten.  We haven't grown complacent, by any means, but the worst of it all seems to have passed.

Now that C-son has started taking things, we've carefully started putting this structure back in place.  The big difference with C-son is that punishment is basically out of the picture; he has "ODD" (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), so any punishment just makes him 50 times worse.  [For an example, read about the battle I picked with him; restricting his access to my power drill resulted in an entire day of sulking and avoidance.]  So we rely more heavily on counseling and rules, with additional praise for asking to borrow things as opposed to just taking them.

And just as the thievery itself slowly fades away, tomorrow will be the last day I'll write about this.  Oh, thank goodness.  What a miserable topic.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stealing and revealing

As promised, today I'm going to write about stealing, trying to show this more from the my kids' point of view.  Because one of the things our social workers tell us over and over again is that we have to try to understand where the behavior is coming from.  This is the part of the process I'm the least comfortable with; it seems "touchy-feely" to me.  I'm on more solid ground when I can talk about concrete things (like locks on cabinets) or about rewards and consequences.  I'll leave those for future posts.

To see why this part is important, though, I'll give you an example of a completely different issue; it's an example that comes up over and over again in foster care classes.  Why does a child wet her bed every night?  For most parents, they might suspect bladder issues or some such "ordinary" answer.  But for some foster kids, it's a defense mechanism.  Peeing the bed keeps them from getting molested by the creep their birth mom has been dating.   You hear that, and you realize that most of the "normal" methods for keeping a kid dry at night just aren't going to work here.
Me and the toddler N-son, back in the year 2001.

For all of my sons, impulse control is a real issue.  We brought N-son to our home at the delicate age of 6 weeks, so you think he'd be pretty much like any of our own birth children.  But the prenatal care that his birth mom had consisted of this:  she walked into the hospital, announced she was in labor, and said she wanted to place him for adoption.  He'd had a stroke in utero; he had seizures when he was two days old.  His right side has always lagged behind his left side -- he essentially can't see out of one eye.

I say all that because there are people who worry about over-diagnosing ADHD.  My son has clearly had something messing with his brain since before he was born.  With N-son, when he's not on his concerta, he gets so clumsy he hurts himself.  Even on his meds, he can alternate between flinching at any physical touch at one extreme, and standing way too close at the other.  (The code word we use is "Bubble!", as in "give the other person a bubble of space".  I say that and he knows to step back one step).

Impulse control comes and goes with N-son.  He started pilfering candy and spare change at night, while we were asleep, only after he saw his brother J-son doing it, and -- like many bad habits started carelessly -- it became a very difficult habit to break.  I think he really doesn't want to do it, any more than many smokers want to keep smoking . . . but candy and snacks are just too hard to resist.

J-son was taken from his birth mom when he was in kindergarden -- I should say, the first time he was in kindergarden.  He had to repeat that grade.  Like N-son, J-son's prenatal care was minimal; but he had additional physical problems his first few years:  pulmonary trouble, encopresis (constipation so bad that he'd leak and soil his underwear), and a lot of times when he wasn't sure he'd get dinner.  He doesn't talk about it much with me, but when he gets on the telephone with his birth sister, he'll say things like, "Remember the time the police came to our house?  Remember how there was never anything to eat?"
J-son cares for the baby of a friend.
He's impulsive; he's also
a real people-person who loves kids.

When he moved in with his foster mom, he was so hyper that his foster mom installed a mini trampoline in her living room, and he'd practice his ABC's while he jumped up and down.  Once his foster mom got permission to start him on ritalin, he started earning A's in school.   He's calmed down enough that he almost seems not to need his meds; unlike N-son, J-son's ADHD isn't mostly physical.  But it's definitely behavioral.  

J-son started taking things a year after he moved in with us; it was also the time we officially adopted him.  It was also the time we lowered his ADHD meds because he was doing so well, and who wants to put kids on high doses of unnecessary meds, anyway?

What caused the theft?  He'd certainly been around other kids in other houses who took stuff, so it could have been imitation.  It also might have been hunger -- he has a high metabolism and doesn't sleep well at night, so it makes sense that he'd get up and raid the kitchen cabinets for jars of peanut butter, or take candy.  And while he's there, take money for the school vending machine.  Food insecurity, come back to haunt him.   And it could also be the impulse/medication issue.  Of all our kids, J-son clearly has the most difficulty with delayed gratification -- he just can't seem to wait for anything.  

Lots of anguish, lots of punishment and restriction and rewards later, the N-and-J-son stealing is under control.   Part of the solution was filling up a giant box with cans of soup that the boys can eat if they get hungry at night -- and emphasizing that there's a right way to get a midnight snack.  But I admit that another part of it was upping the drugs to their original levels.

And C-son?  It's so hard to tell what goes on in his head, because he doesn't talk much.  He moved in with us just three months ago.  At age 15, he's lived in over 20 different homes in his life.  That alone is hard to fathom.  It gets more unfathomable.  He was adopted once before, and that family abused him; during that time he got in trouble with the law and ended up in a mental hospital.  Another time, the foster mom he was living with had a heart attack and died while the paramedics were working on her, while he was in the house.  Again, behavior problems followed.
C-son gently "touches up" a hair cut for J-son.
C-son loves tools and is highly detail oriented.

For C-son, what is surprising is not that he's started taking things.  What's amazing to me is what he doesn't do.  He has never destroyed something in our home.  He's never hit his brothers in anger.  When he gets upset, he doesn't yell, thrash, or become violent -- he just storms out of the home for 10 minutes, and then comes back to sulk/hide in his room.  He shuts down and becomes unresponsive, but he doesn't make himself a danger to himself or others.

Part of the issue, we're slowly realizing, is that he takes things that enable him to log onto Facebook.  For a kids who has moved around as much as he has, staying connected to current and former friends (and even -- sort of scary to us -- to his birth family) is important to him.  And we've been so concerned about internet addiction that we've severely restricted internet access in the home.  In a way, he's just trying to rebalance what we've done to him.

But that's not the only aspect of his taking/hoarding.  He seems to have more self control than the other boys, but also to seem to just want stuff.  To keep things, like a magpie.  Or like a dragon, sitting on his gold.  It might be because he's moved so many times and therefore had to give things up so much.  It might be a control issue: he loves tinkering with things, figuring out how they work, and he's especially drawn to things that are mechanical and electrical.  We're still trying to figure this one out.

I don't seem to be trying to convince anyone to consider adoption, do I?  I re-read this and realize it sounds horribly, horribly depressing and difficult.  That's the down side of this touchy-feely stuff; getting bogged down in gloominess.  Because there's a lot of good stuff, too.   So let me just remind you that these are the same kids who learned to use the sewing machine and made me bean bags as a surprise gift; the same kids who willingly and proudly spent the summer doing chores; the same kids who sit quietly beside us in church.  The same kids who giggle together, and who riff on the guitar to "Bille Jean's not my lover".  The depressing past doesn't really predict the future.  

But this week is the depressing stuff.  More on stealing tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dealing . . . with stealing

When I was six years old, I pocketed a giant gum ball from a store.  My parents discovered my crime as we were getting into the car.  They lectured me, marched me back into the store, and had me return the gum ball (still in its wrapper) and apologize.  Total shame and humiliation; a memory I still remember.  How many of us have memories like that?

I guess I always thought that if my own kids stole anything themselves, it would be like my own experience:  Out of the house.  One time only.  Lesson seared into the psyche, not to be repeated.  When one of my step-daughters, in her early teens, swiped booze from our cabinets, I got my first taste that stealing isn't always quite so Norman Rockwell. 

The rest of this week, that's what I'm going to write about:  about kids stealing.

Note.  It's a bit daunting to be writing about stealing.  I've held off writing about this for a long time.  For one thing, if I were a good enough parent, would my kids steal?  I admit I'm a little concerned about my own image.  But a second reason, and maybe a bigger reason that I've hung back from the topic, is that the people who are the most negative about adopting kids from the foster system point exactly to this notion:  foster kids are thieves.

So I'll say that all kids, adopted and biological, have the potential to steal stuff, even from their own parents.  That's why I started this post with stories about myself and my straight-A-student step-daughter.  While it's true that statistically foster children have a greater tendency to pilfer things, I want to resist the label "thief" as though it's a permanent brand tattooed on their forehead.  So far, four-out-of-five of the kids I'm going to write about today have turned their backs on their previous light-fingered habits . . . and the fifth is too new to our house to have had time to repent.   So you catch us in mid-rehabilitation.

I guess I should add that a third reason I've hesitated to bring this up is it's depressing.  Depressing and stressful.  My kids could be perfect for 23 hours and 55 minutes of every day* -- doing chores, making dinner, playing well together, writing thank you notes -- but if they spend the other 5 minutes looting the drawer that holds my husband's wallet, then that colors the whole day.  Time-wise, that'd be a 287:1 good-to-bad ratio.  Energy- and emotion-wise, it would feel like the opposite.
 (*they're not, but let's pretend for the sake of argument they are)

Still, now that I've become an unwilling expert of sorts, I'll point out there's lots of kinds of stealing kids can do:
  • There's shoplifting (my own guilty version).  
  • The booze stealing was troubling mostly for the behavior it implied, not because of the cost of the theft or even because it hit particularly close to home.  It wasn't the case, for example, that I worried about missing my my cash or credit cards because of the missing whiskey.  (I have friends who even believe that this is "normal" behavior for teenagers).
  •  J-son and N-son did some minor, child-like theft (we found peanut butter jars in their closet, and for several months no candy jar in our home was safe).  
  • But they also went through the phase that seems the most criminal version; taking money out of our drawers or wallets, and spending it on vending machine food or using it to impress other kids.  They were sneaky about it; they lied about it, and the fact that there were two of them made it hard to pin down the culprit (although often it was both).  
C-son is a weirder case -- with him, it's almost not stealing.  He'll take something (usually something electronic) from somewhere in the house into his own bedroom.  He doesn't take it out of the house; he doesn't hide it; often he doesn't even deny taking it.  He sometimes leaves it there on his bed in plain sight.  When I ask him about it, he admits he found it and just wanted to use it.  And he'll put it back willingly.  Sometimes it's just strange stuff he can't even use: a car cell-phone charger for a phone we no longer have, or  my "kilo-watt" meter.  A roll of red electrician's tape.

But sometimes it's pricey stuff: a laptop.  a blackberry.  an iPod.  And he gets it by going through my husband's drawers, not just by finding it lying around in the living room.   It feels personal as well as costly.  So clearly we need to address this.  

So this week I'm going to write about dealing with stealing.  I'll try to give you a peek at some of the behavioral approaches we've used, not because I think we did a great job but because I think it might be interesting just to read about what this is like -- a bit of a story, perhaps more from the point of view of the kids than I'm used to giving.  For the same reason, I'll write about pharmaceutical changes we've used (or not).  I'll also write about physical changes we've made to the home (cabinets and locks) -- some of these might be of interest even to people without live-in burglars.

Finally, I'll add that with C-son, we knew thieving might be a problem when we brought him into the home -- it was part of the child profile his social workers shared with us.  It's actually surprising to us that it took this long to surface.  As I wrote to a friend last March,
Everything you wrote about how people treat dogs [badly] is likewise true of how people treat children . . . with somewhat more awful consequences.   . . .  My husband and I have learned the hard way how to deal with kids who steal -- and thank goodness we think we've figured out how to turn that around.  We have to dig a little deeper to see if we think we can actually handle everything else the new boys will bring along as baggage.   . . .
Honestly, what keeps going through my head is, as he hung on the cross, Jesus invited a thief to share his heavenly home.  So, . . . me too?  My home's not so heavenly, but it's not the worst spot on the planet.
Onward and upward.

Monday, July 23, 2012

$137: salt (the grain thereof)

This past week, we spent $58 on groceries.  If you pretend that the previous  'grocery vacation' week doesn't count (and I do pretend that), then that brings the 20-week grocery average to $137/week.  Again, that '20' (referring to weeks) doesn't count last week.

Spending this week -- which does count again -- consisted of a $7 trip on my part to market (dairy and mushrooms).  It included a $6 trip on my husband's part for ice cream (now all gone), and another $45 trip again by the husband to the grocery store for hamburger buns, more fake bread, and other such items.  This begs the question, what on earth have we been eating?  I mean, aside from ice cream.
C-son is serving up dinner.  Pasta with pesto.  Sauce with lentils.
J-son is serving up a face.
Well, in some small part we have been trying to deplete the stores of food we already have.  Above is C-son, proud of the dinner he cooked:  spaghetti, pesto, and tomato sauce with lentils.  All from the larder of bulk-purchased or pre-frozen CSA foods.  (While C-son makes his own dinner, J-son is making his own face, of course.)  Earlier in the week, J-son made stroganoff with the mushrooms and some bulk-purchased beef.  I experimented with so-so sweet-and-sour soy beans.  It is good to be able to scan the shelves and find dinner waiting, or nearly so.

But the salt needs to have grains taken thereof.  That is, my husband has been feeding the boys restaurant meals on several occasions.  The restaurant meals don't make it into the grocery total.  Cheating.

Also, C-son has lost 9 pounds this past month.  He was skinny even before he lost the weight.  His physician isn't worried, but his mother is.  And probably part of the reason is the unfamiliar, uber-healthy meals we've been having.  So, more recently,  I've started trying to alter the menu to add fat and salt:  omelettes.  hamburgers.  fried potatoes.  Put the pounds back on that boy.

And yet, although C-son has been complaining about vegetables, and although he recently brought up the topic of his eventual adoption party -- and when I asked him what foods he wanted, his first response was a grinned "no vegetables" -- in spite of all that, last night at our hamburger dinner he had thirds on cucumbers, and seconds on green beans, and he asked if in the future we could serve that yellow vegetable again (summer squash), and although he passed up a second hamburger, he finished off the cherry tomatoes.

On the other hand . . . $137/week.  As fake as that number is, 137 is a beautiful number.  Prime, for one thing.  And a pythagorean hypotenuse, for another:  if you walked 88 yards due north, and another 105 yards due east, you'd be 137 yards from where you started, providing you could fly with the crow.

The crow.  Just don't eat it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

How to spend time and energy wasting food

Every week, Kristen over at The Frugal Girl hosts "Food Waste Friday", showing photos of the food she's had to throw out, and inviting  other people to do the same.

This week, I'll win big.  This much bad food took a bunch of planning and time, and I'd like to tell you how I managed it.

We started with some zucchini that I knew we couldn't eat soon.  So I decided to try an experiment:  zucchini pickles.  I'd never made them before, but I googled recipes, followed one of them (sort of), and put up three jars of zucchini pickles.  All the instructions say that pickles need to sit a week before you eat them.  The jar you see front-and-slightly-left-of-center above is the one that didn't seal, so we stuck it in the fridge, waited a week, and then tried it at dinner time.

No good.  That's all I want to say.  There are two other jars down in the cellar; they'll join their big brother in the trip to the compost pile.

And then there's the bean/potato soup.  I love soups, and I've had a great time lately making soup from bean stock.  When I cook up beans, I soak the dry beans over night, toss that water, rinse the beans, and then boil the beans in fresh water.  The juice from that boiling becomes the base for some great soups: think beans, sauteed onions, a few other veggies, and maybe potatoes.  Good stuff.

But this time around, when I made the huge pot of soup, I wasn't ready to can it right away, so I let it sit out overnight, and then canned it the next day.  I've heard cooling down and the reboiling isn't good for food.  Guess what?  It wasn't -- it started to turn a bit rancid.  Lots of good soup, from a good recipe.  But I waited too long.  Processing right away is vital.

The soup -- that was just stupid.  But the pickles?  Actually, I'm sort of proud of them.  I mean, they were awful, but that's not really the point, is it?  Learning new skills means not only learning what to do, but also what not to do.  I'm not ever going to wait before canning soup again, and I'm going to hunt around for good pickle recipes before I try again.  At least I know what to avoid.  Maybe.

I can't show you pictures of the other food I was "putting up" when I did the pickled zucchini and soup, because we ate it all already.  That was the dehydrated cabbage, surprisingly tangy and crunchy.  My neighbor has even asked me to dry her latest CSA cabbage.  I told her she has to wait a day or two, though, because we have another giant pile of summer squash, and this is where it is now.

Another experiment.  For which I have high (and dry) hopes.  With any luck, you won't see these summer squash strutting their stuff on a future Friday post.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tour of the kitchen counters

 A while back, I wrote about a book called "Snoop", which describes how much you can learn about a person by looking at that person's home.   An early weekday tour of my kitchen counter: does this say a lot about the kind of eater I've become? 

The tour begins with soy beans (purchased from Miller's Amish organic market), soaking overnight.

Nearby is the More-with-Less Cookbook, which I've been browsing through.  I figured I'd try the "Sweet and Sour Beans" recipe.  (Later that night, I discovered I wasn't really all that impressed by the recipe.  But C-son asked for a second helping; "a big one, please."  Limited success).

Traveling along the counter, we find the peaches from my very own peach tree.    They're delicious!  
I have outside confirmation of the deliciousness, by the way; we're grudging partners in the peach collecting business with our local squirrels.

Further along the counter, there's a collection of what we don't eat:  the compost bin, plus some random rinsed-out plastic bags, drying out before I stash them back in the drawer.
Oooh, and then there are tomatoes.  Not from my own garden (those are still green), but from the CSA. We had an awesome peach/tomato/basil salad for dinner.

No! don't look below!
Darn, you looked.  That's the trail mix I made up.  Processed food.  In my defense (or as my own rationalization/excuses), I'll point out that this was left over from the 9-hour car trip, and it kept us from stopping at fast food restaurants.

And we end at a plate of coriander seeds, culled from my cilantro plants (thanks to my friend June for letting me know what was happening when my cilantro started flowering).  These are drying out.  When they're all brown, I'll grind them up and use the spice to make . . . um, whatever it is people use coriander for.  Perhaps curry?  I'm still figuring that one out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cell phone lessons

As I write the first draft of this post in the afternoon, my boys are outside mowing the lawn.  Earlier today they cleaned the dining room windows and scrubbed the kitchen floor.  All this, they are doing without direct supervision from me.  By now, they're that good.  I'm so proud (and maybe just a little shocked).   The first lesson of cell-phone ownership the boys got to have is that earning things requires work, and not just grudging, do-I-have-to?  work, but take-pride-in-it kind of work.  The most important lesson learned.   Forgive me for gloating.

J-son washes the dining room windows.
The actual transfer of ownership from cell phone provider to mother to child, however, has had a few more concrete lessons, some for them and some for me.  And here they are.

It's worth it to do a bit of research.
I mentioned yesterday that I had wanted to get a phone with no texting capabilities.  That's darned hard to do, but it's possible to get a phone and block texting on it.  That was good for me to learn . . . especially because it allows me to hold out the hope of texting someday, should things go well.

I did a lot of internet scouting.  I even did an internet chat with a "customer care representative" in which I must have said about 4 times, "I am not buying a phone today".  But I got a lot of questions answered.  And I found a phone that retails at $130 (that price is a total lie) and sells on the internet for $20, but sells in the store for $50.  When I pointed out that lower price eventually in the store, they knocked the store price down to $20.  Since I bought three phones, doing an hour of advance research saved me at least $90.

Getting a cell phone takes time.
My husband made an exploratory trip to the store earlier this summer.  I spent an hour toodling around online earlier last week.  I spent probably an hour in the store getting the cell phones set up.  I don't like stores very much, and cell phone stores are worse (beeping things and videos flashing everywhere and no chairs).  I brought some math to do and sat on the floor in a corner for most of the time that my phones were becoming "activated".  I'll repeat that; I'm glad I brought something to do with me.   I should have brought a sweater, too.
C-son scrubs the floor while talking on the phone.
Not relevant to the discussion, but I think it's funny.

Pay as you go.
We got a "pay as you go" plan for the boys.  This limits the size of the mistakes kids can make, and -- as you'll see below -- it's very very (very) easy to make mistakes with a cell phone.  I'm darned glad I did pay-as-you-go.  I put $60 on each phone initially, since that amount allowed me to waive the $35 activation fee.

The basic plan is the boys pay $1 for the first call of the day; after that all calls to other people in our network are free.  Calls out of network are 10¢/minute.   The idea was to make this money last until November, or require the boys themselves to fund the remaining time.  What I didn't know is that these dollars expire after 3 months.   So that was one of my lessons learned -- to ask about expiration dates.  Not that the money will last to November . . . but I get ahead of myself.

Setting up the phones takes time
.  Time together

I gave the boys their telephones on Sunday, a day we spent about 9 hours in the car.  Great car toys.  No, really.  I was there to answer lots of questions, and then lots more questions; the boys were all in close proximity to each other and could figure out how to enter contacts, dial, take pictures of one another, and play with ring tones.  The trip passed quickly, and the boys came out of the car happy and psyched.

Speaking of ring tones . . . 
So on that one day of the new cell phones, each one of the boys managed to blow $15-$20 of that initial $60.  Wow.  How did that happen?

Small ways: a friend they thought was on our network wasn't.   A very pretty, female friend.  16 or 17 phone calls later, C-son had spent $2 trying to reach her.

Other small ways:  My sales rep had blocked texting and internet, but not sending pictures [insert appropriate curses here].  So, 25¢ a pop here, 25¢ a pop there, and a few more dollars got whittled away.

But ringtones, man, they're seductive.  Expensive.  And all three boys loaded up.  The next morning, I got to explain the ramifications of all the fun they'd had.   And another lesson was learned.

Following up takes more time.
The day after the boys got their phones, I spent yet another hour on the telephone with our provider, setting up online account access so I could monitor the boys' cell accounts.  And boy, are we all glad I did!  Because, all of these charges the boys got whacked with on their first cell phone day came without any warning to us.  (Okay, C-son's calls to his cutie were something both his brothers and I warned him about.  But the rest, big surprise).  We also discovered that the cell company had initially put only $50 of the $60 I'd paid on each account.  The follow-up was probably just as important to saving money as the initial research.  Another good lesson.

Pay as you go, redux.
The pay-as-you-go plan allows the mistake to be contained, I mentioned before.   This wasn't like the time one of my daughters unexpectedly racked up 1000 (I kid you not) minutes in one month, resulting in a family bill in the hundreds and hundreds (repeat) of dollars.  That was awful.  And I know many parents have similar stories.  Limited financial damage here.

And I also got to explain to the boys that they now know why many people get cell phones and hit with unexpected charges.  My boys just spent $20 of their own money (or 20 days with no cell phone use, if they prefer).   Their phones are learning phones.  Phones with training wheels.  Crashes happen at slow speeds.  I gave the kids a kiss, let them put their own bandaids on their boo-boos, and waved as they hopped back on.

And yet, can I say that despite the day 1 and day 2 follow ups, the boys seem NOT to have mastered the lessons of moderation?  Are you surprised?  Three days into this, they're still burning through the money at an alarming (to me) rate; $5 on cutie calls and downloaded games.  The phones will last maybe another week or two like this, and then go dead for three months.  Their heads know the consequences; their metabolisms, not so much.  We'll see how devastating it is to run out of funds and go through withdrawal.  Will this turn unhappy and ugly?  Or will they learn to self-regulate?  Time wil tell . . .

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Children's first cell phone contract

This weekend,  I bought each of my three boys a cell phone.  This has been a promised reward for doing their three hours of chores, four days a week.  They've been doing a great job.  With vacations and math trips and other non-chore weeks on the horizon, the end of chore days are in sight, and I wanted to reward the kids.  And so, I hurdled over the edge and connected my boys to the wider celular world.

For reasons that I probably don't have to explain, I wanted to avoid texting and internet use.  Okay, maybe I will explain anyway, because you might think my reservation is merely the money.  Oh, no, it's not that at all.  The concern can be explained in one word:  hyper-addicted.  These kids get near a live internet connection and don't come out of it until next Thursday, if we're lucky.  They don't eat, drink, bathe, or blink.   It's the flip side of ADHD, the complete fixation on techno-drugs.  So, I figured I wanted to start as simple as possible:  voice only.

I got a pre-paid plan and stuck enough money on it that they'll be able to use the phone essentially every other day on my dime.  Once they make the first call of the day, they get unlimited calls to people in the same network (in particular, their parents and sisters).  The rest of the minutes and the rest of the days, they'll have to pay for themselves.

I looked up all sorts of parent/kid agreements for cell phones.  Many mentioned texting, which we won't have for a while.  But I learned from these that it helps to remind kids that cell phone nastiness is just as nasty as face-to-face nastiness.  And that there are things adults take for granted that are completely non-obvious to kids.  So, before we parceled out the phones, I made them agree to the contract below.  I tried to add in both threats (removal of the phones) and promises (texting might be possible in the future).  We'll keep our fingers crossed and see how it goes.

In two days already, we've all learned a lot.  And tomorrow, I'll share what we learned -- what I think I did right (so far) and what I wish I'd been more careful about.

But for now, here's the agreement.

Cell Phone Agreement
Financial Agreement:
  • Mom and Dad will pay for the cell phone itself, for the charger, and for the hook-up fee.  We will continue to own the phones and the chargers.   They’re ours, not yours.  You may use the phones as long as we say so. 
  • If you break or lose the phone, you will be responsible for purchasing a new one.
  • Mom and Dad will purchase a bunch of minutes on each phone initially.  The purpose of these minutes is to allow our sons to call us:  that is, to call Mom, Dad, and each other.  We will continue to pay about $15/month for calls so that you can call us occasionally.
  • You will be responsible for purchasing any minutes to talk to friends or to anyone other than Mom, Dad, or extra days of talking time. 
  • Until further notice, the cell phone is for voice calls only.  Text messages might be possible at a later date, but first you have to demonstrate that you are responsible with the basic phone set up first.

Family Rules
  • Each night at 9 p.m., you will turn off your cell phone and give it to Mom.  She will charge the phone each night for you.  She will keep the phone until you are ready to leave for school on weekdays, or until 9 a.m. on weekends. 
  • You should be aware that we will check your phone logs.  We will have access to the numbers you call and the numbers that called you.  [Note: I value privacy, and think it's important to let my kids know that I don't randomly snoop, so this is mostly for the contrast with the other, private parts of their lives].

Safety rules:
  • Safety is important – this includes both your own safety and the safety of other people around you.  If Mom or Dad observes you using cell phones in a dangerous or unsafe way, you could lose cell phone privileges for a day, a week, or permanently.
  • If you’re on a bike, you will STOP the bike and pull over before talking on the cell phone.
  • If you are out after dark, you will not walk around and talk on the cell at the same time:  this makes you a target for robbery.
  • You will tell a parent if you get suspicious or threatening calls.

Politeness Rules
  • You will never, ever use the cell phone in an area that has signs or rules saying,  “Do not use cell phones here.”   This includes school, doctor’s offices, church, and the theater. 
  • You will not use the cell phone to tease or harass other people. 
  • You will not use the phone in a place where speaking loud disturbs other people.
  • No cell phones at meals.
  • You will call people only during normal “waking” hours, normally between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.  You may call people before 9 a.m. only if you have permission from them to do so (for example, if they ask you to call them while you’re on the way to school).
  • Violations of these politeness rules will result in the loss of phone privileges, either temporarily or permanently.

Monday, July 16, 2012

$?? -- grocery vacation

This past week was an odd grocery week.  With just two adults in the home, both of us in "let's celebrate the marriage" mode, we didn't do much grocery shopping.   Yogurt?  Bananas?  I think we spent less than $10 on traditional groceries.  But we didn't keep track.

We also ate at a bunch of restaurants.  Plan A was to go to an uber-fancy place recommended by a friend, but when we showed up we discovered it was noisy-chic, not intimate-chic, so we left and went to our favorite sushi place.  That was followed another evening by a local diner, and preceded by a dinner at our favorite sandwich place.  So our restaurant-hopping wasn't as expensive as I'd planned it to be.

But again, I didn't really keep tabs on the total.  Shocking.  Inappropriate.  Call it what you will.  A vacation from the kids, but also a vacation from receipt-gathering.  I figure, once a year, that's okay?

Coming up tomorrow:  Cell phones for teenagers. Yoicks!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

All those musical CDs: a symphony in three parts

Oh, those compact disks.   This is a song-blog about my CD collection, in three movements.
My inspiration: The Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery.
Love those gold shelves!
Movement one:  The compilation and construction phase.   About a dozen years ago, I was entirely inspired by a combination of the Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery, on the one hand, and some Sky Mall cabinet on the other.  So I constructed this shelf out of scrap lumber.  

The advantage of this shelf is that all the different-size compartments disguises the fact that I didn't quite do things at right angles.  I did make sure I measured the heights so that CD's work.  The cost: screws and blue paint.  Cheap, and we've loved this shelf ever since.

Movement two:  More compilation.  More dust.  The shelves got cluttered and (did I mention this?) dusty.  Worse than just looking bad, the excessive amount of stuff made us just avoid it all.  We had all those CDs, and cassette tapes, and books, and knick knacks, but we never went near the shelf.  Couldn't find our favorite music quickly, so we didn't bother looking at all.  Fortunately, the movement began to be resolved by this summer's Children's Chores, as personified by N-son:
N-son dusts each and every CD and removes it from the shelf.
N-son dusted each CD and put them all in a giant pile on the floor.  We got ready to donate all our cassette tapes to the library (but C-son rescued them to his own bedroom before we could get them out of the garage.  Go figure.)  N-son also dusted all the shelves, and then (when he wasn't looking) his mom re-dusted them.  We did a triage on the giant pile of CDs, giving away those we no longer want, tossing empty jewel cases, and sorting the remaining CDs into categories.  Then they went back onto the cleaner, more spacious shelves.

Movement three:  Actually listening to the music.  Again.  and again.  This week, with my sons gone, I've gone through all my favorite old CDs.  Wow, what a wonderful experience.  I'm listening to Linda Rondstat's "Blue Bayou" right now, remembering seeing her sing it with the Muppet Frogs many years ago.  I've reconnected with Greg Brown, Michelle Shocked, Cheryl Wheeler, Natalie Merchant, Blues Traveler, Allison Krause, Patsy Cline, and Billy Joel.
Some of the CDs I've listened to this one week.
And, of course, this listening is the reason I got all this music in the first place.  I feel like I've come back to where I should be, in many ways.  Good for the heart; good for the soul.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Intermediate Canning tricks

When I started learning to can, I was intimidated just by the basics: putting the lids on (did I do it right?). Boiling the water (did I do it long enough)?  Seeing whether things sealed (did the cans 'pop'?).

But as I practiced, I learned that canning food is actually surprisingly easy, especially in this internet age.  Want to can pickled zucchini?  Just type "how to can pickled zucchini" in your favorite search engine, gather your ingredients, and go. Wonder whether it's safe to can green beans?  Do a search on "how to can green beans", and discover you should pressure can them for 25 minutes, but water bath canning is not recommended.  I'm getting good at looking up recipes and canning times.

So, having graduated from Canning 101, I'm moving onto the 200-level of canning tricks.  I'm offering some of my favorite non-standard canning tips, in the fervent hope this will inspire people to share their favorite canning tips with me.   I'm on a canning roll!  I want to learn more!

Here goes, then.

Putting food into jars (from my friend Judy):  Use a cookie sheet under the jars you're filling, to catch spills.  Judy showed me that she can collect up the dribs and drabs of jam from the cookie sheet for that night's dessert.  And it makes clean-up easier.
These are jars pretending to be filled on top of a baking sheet.
Actually, they're two jars from the fridge, because they didn't seal.
But they're glad to be stunt doubles for this photo.
Rings:  Use bent hangers to hold rings.  When I'm ready to start canning, I can bring a few hangers' worth of rings upstairs and hang them off my cabinet doors for easy grabbing.

A bent hangar is great at holding rings.
More rings:  Once the jars are cool, take off the rings and wipe the threads on the jar, so you don't get mold (ewww).  This is another tip I heard from Judy, but I didn't appreciate it until I canned some peaches.  The jars sealed up just fine, but some peach juice between the jar and the ring got disgustingly moldy over the winter.  It was on the outside of the jar . . . but yuck.  Now I take the rings off, both to get at spilled food, but also to triple-check that the jars are really sealed.

Putting jars into canners:  I love this idea of the "lid flower" over at a blog named (hilarious):  The Domestically Impaired Guide to the Retro Kitchen Arts.  She suggests tying a bunch of lids together and putting them on the bottom of your canning pot, to keep the jars off the bottom.  This, I will try someday, I can tell!
I totally stole this picture from the other blog. 

Labeling the jars.  Use painter's tape to label jars (tape a large swatch down on the table and write "Strawberry Jam" over and over, then tear the tape and put it on the jars).

Storing:  The  more I do this, the happier I am that I sort my food by month, not by item.  Last April I was starting to go nuts for fresh green food, so as I pickle and can food this summer, I'm going April-heavy on the veggies now.  But the fruits and jellies are getting distributed evenly through the winter months, and the tomatoes will follow suit.
So far this year, April and May are filling up;
January and February are still deliberately sparse.
(November, December, and March are hiding out of view).  

But this fuller-picture shows how each month
had a good diversity of cans last January.
I just wanted more green veggies come April.
Purging:  An advantage of sorting by month is realizing that there is some homemade food we just won't get a chance to eat this year.  And instead of waiting until May to figure this out, I can decide at the end of each month to give unwanted food as thank you gifts.  That way, I look thoughtful, not disorganized.  Hah!  It's fun to give food because, not only are most people impressed, but also I can make corny (sorry) jokes.  Like, "You got me out of a jam, so I'm giving you some jam you can get into".  Ditto for "getting me out of a pickle".  Bad jokes, good food.
Applesauce and Salsa
with greeting cards over the metal lid
and under the ring.

Do you have any favorite canning tricks or techniques?  Share, please!

National Can it Forward Day 2012 Linky Party

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The SIU & SYM school of happiness

For a variety of reasons, I've been around some very unhappy toddlers lately.   Whiners.  Screamers.  Yellers.  And I totally blame the parents --- not for getting those kids into a state of grumpiness in the first place, but for keeping them there by trying to reason with them.  When Sam Screamer didn't get the toy he wanted at the yard sale, his dad started asking him, "Well, do you want to get into your stroller?  Do you want to ride on my shoulders?  Do you want to go with Mommy?"  And Sam, instead of calming down, threw a temper tantrum I could hear a block away.  The fire department could have used him on one of their trucks.  Oy.

It's an irony of rearing kids that the parents who seem not to care about their kids' whiny preferences -- the ones who say simply, "Max, quit that noise RIGHT NOW" -- tend to have not only quieter kids, but also happier kids.  Just watch them in the store; they move past disappointment quickly.  Whereas the parents who try to placate their kids can nurse along that nasty mood for a half-hour or more.

It is probably no surprise to you that I'm of the SIU & SYM school of the pursuit of happiness.  (Um, that stands for "Suck It Up and Shut Your Mouth").  When you don't get exactly what you want from someone else, stop being a brat; deal with it; move on.

Which is why it's so embarrassing and awful that the biggest Wanda Whiner around here lately has been me.

Maybe I've been hiding it a bit on the blog (although maybe not).  But my friends and family have had to bear with my breast beating.  They've had to listen to my laments.  They've been cornered by my complaining.  

Like a spoiled little six-year old, I've complained to anyone who will listen that I've been stuck at home this summer, forced to take care of my kids when really what I want to do is math.  I moan about how my husband has done-gone-and-left-me for his army training, leaving me all alone.  What's worse, I'll say to anyone not yet avoiding me, is that my husband will be going to Afghanistan for a year, and I'll have to be a solo parent AGAIN.  Oh, the unfairness of it all!

Last week, I realized I'd reached the edge of some scary cliff.  I was telling my sister that my husband has been feeling really achy, and that he was going to be tested for Lyme Disease, and then I said -- get this -- that it would be a good thing if he did have it.  Because then he wouldn't go to Afghanistan, so I wouldn't have to take care of the kids by myself.

How sick is that?

It's true that some parts of this summer have been difficult.  It's also true that much of this summer has been a really good bonding and learning experience, so much so that I know our family will be stronger and happier for it.  And it's triply true that thinking of myself as a victim -- instead of as a woman blessed with three hard-working, polite sons who actually get along with one another and don't whine like that brat at the yard sale -- well, all this whining is merely a nasty way of nursing my own little inner temper-tantrum.  It's not going to change the circumstances of the upcoming year.  (It's not even going to help the fire department.)  Time to suck it up and get over it. 
Religious aside:  As I was writing this post, thinking it sounds all campy like Norman Vincent Peale's "Power of Positive Thinking", I just happened to get whacked in the face while reading the Bible.  In John, right after Jesus says those famous comforting words about "God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son," He mentions that He comes not to condemn but to save the world.  What does condemn mean?  He describes -- not fire and brimstone, as I would have thought -- but people who "seeing the light, prefer the shadows".  In other words, virtue may or may not be its own reward, but preferring the kvetchy life is definitely its own punishment.
As I said, time to buck up and get over myself. 

And by the way, no, my husband doesn't have Lyme Disease, just tight muscles.  And yes, he's leaving in October or November for 12 or 13 months.  And given how much the boys and I have learned by working together this summer, I think we're going to be just fine.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Showers (outdoors)

Last summer, I bought a black garden hose; I used it to solar-heat my water for some al-fresco showers.

This summer, the trees seem to be conspiring against me; the yard seems to get no sun at all until after 8 a.m., at which point I'm long done with my morning run, and therefore long past my morning shower time.  But the heatwave that's come through convinced me to pull out the old hose, sun-or-no-sun, and go for it again.

So I'll say it out right.  I love outdoor showers.
My fresh air shower basket.
The biggest deterrent is that it seems weird to some people, so I'll point out that I do wear some clothes (my jog bra and a mini skirt).  And my back yard is fairly secluded; here's a view from the alley behind my home.  

The area where I shower is under the poplar tree, by the tree house, way back there.  Here's a close-up of that space:
So I haven't managed to scandalize any neighbors yet.

The second biggest deterrent is that, if the sun doesn't heat up the water in my black hose, then the shower is brisk (as in brrrr-isk.  Hah!).  But this time of year, that's actually been an advantage -- like going swimming, it's nice to have the chance to cool off.  Come September, I'll feel differently I'm sure.

On the plus side, I use less water for summer showers: with the on/off nozzle attached to the end of the hose, I run the water only when I'm hosing myself down.  (I could do that indoors, too, but usually I don't).  Similarly, I don't steam up a home that we're trying hard to keep cool.  And the water run-off goes not down the drain, but to my tree, which needs more water in this big dry spell we've been having.

But for me the biggest reason I've been looking forward to summer showers is how it feels.  The al fresco shower is remarkably refreshing compared to indoor showers; it's hard to describe what a difference it makes. This is really my favorite reason; after a hose-shower, I'm cool and energized, not steamy and limp.