Saturday, April 26, 2008

Wildlife galore

I feel like a diverse wildlife population is a sign of a healthy garden. If I'm right, we have one of the best set ups around!! What we've been watching the most lately are our three little black swallowtail caterpillars (or, calapitters, as Sierra calls them). We had been watching these things gorge themselves on our dill (we have more than harm done) and were pleasantly surprised to find they are black swallowtails and dill is one of their first choices for food (along with fennel and parsley). One seems to have gone away (or is very cleverly disguised), but the other two have decided to set up shop and turn into butterflies right outside our back door yay!!! Sierra now tells everyone, "calapitters turn into butterflies and that's called metamorphosis" LOL
So the first pic is one of them done eating and preparing to go into its cocoon, the second pic, you can see the cocoon (chyrsalis, I think??)

The first one should come out next Saturday or Sunday and the second just stopped eating tonight and should be in a cocoon by tomorrow morning.

The next set of neat pics:

Scary looking snake, right? Nope! Biggest skink known to man (or, at least, known to me)

We have a (I'm assuming) mating pair of these things living in the yard. We keep seeing them by the back door and near the closest garden bed. Looked them up online and they are the biggest skink in Texas (up to 13 inches long!) and this is mating season.

And along with the biggest skink....the teeniest tiniest praying mantis ever! It's an itty bitty baby:

Now, you would think *anything* this small would be interested in hiding away and not being noticed. Nope. I'm fairly certain it was tracking a spider ten times it's size and no joke, it charged me several times while I was trying to take a picture. I had to take about 10 to get two good ones because I would hold the camera up and it would do this crazy kamikaze death charge thing and run at the camera. I swear, you could see it thinking, "I will come and eat you in the night". It was way cute. It was on top of the car and we were going somewhere, so we set it safely in the yard to hunt less beneficial critters.

As for the human wildlife---Sedona has learned to sit up by herself, yay! I put her on the floor on her tummy and turned around and when I turned back she was sitting up! She just looks at you like, "so? what's the big deal?" I, of course, took a picture, but it's kind of a lame picture since it's fuzzy, and her nose is running and she's got prunes all over her shirt. But then, that's what life with kids is really like ;-)

And here's Sierra in her new dress I made her. She doesn't want me to shorten it and I'm pretty sure my tomboy will step on it and rip it if I don't. I got her to sit still for one picture (unlike the "twirly skirt" a few posts down), but then she also insisted on a "crazy picture" I've included both...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


It took THREE AND A HALF hours to get Sedona to sleep tonight. That's virtually unheard of for this child---she's such a better sleeper than Sierra ever has been. She's either on the verge of crawling or walking. She'd get mad if you held her and the second you put her down, she tried to crawl (she still does a weird beached whale movement to get anywhere). She was also happy being stood up in the play pen, where she'd hold on to the side and look at you all pitiful like, as if it's our fault she can't get this forward motion thing down.
Here's what a very sleepy baby that's fighting hard to stay awake looks like:

I forgot to update about her GI appointment last week. We started out going over the constipation issue--what she's eating, how much, etc...and decided that she's doing better on that front, but we need to be giving her the lactulose (a laxative--it's basically derived from milk sugar and draws water into the intestine to soften stools) on a bit more regular basis. Then he looks at her growth chart and says, "oh, her weight gain's not very good. Actually, it's pretty bad". Seriously, I about fell out of my chair in shock. FINALLY after 7 months, someone besides me notices and comments on this without my prompting. There's been a lot of "there, there, she's chubby and happy, it's fine" talk going on up to this point. Anyways...the child's gained 6 oz per month, every month since she was 2 months old. Babies' growth is NOT supposed to be linear. Even at this age (when, all else equal, a 6oz/month gain would be okay), that is not enough to maintain a growth curve. There is still the possibility that she is settling into her genetic potential (we are tall, skinny people), but we've kinda all been watching and waiting for that and she just keeps dropping curves. She started out at the 90th percentile (yes, I know, too big for our genetics) and has drifted all the way down to the 25th since this started. She's also dropping "weight for length" growth curves big time, which all means she's getting skinnier. When you see her, please please please do not comment how big and healthy she looks. I know she's got fat rolls--babies are SUPPOSED to have fat rolls, I want her to KEEP her fat rolls until she naturally runs them off in toddler-hood. I really don't think the pediatrician with over 30 years experience and the GI from Texas Children's with over 30 years experience and my maternal instinct are all just completely wrong. So, the plan we agreed on was kind of a little more wait and see. Since the bloody stools have stopped and not resumed, there is not a pressing need to justify putting her through a bunch more tests. They had us track her calorie intake for 3 days--it wasn't 100% accurate b/c we chose to go ahead and nurse her at night and had to pump and bottle feed her (no way I can pump what she usually takes, and we got some milk out of the freezer, but the bottle flow is so fast that that could have been "force" feeding her), but it gave us an idea. Her calories aren't super low (which would mean she's just not getting enough), or super high (which would point towards metabolic problem). The GI had us fax our log down to him and he's sending it to a dietician at Texas Children's to go over. We haven't heard back and since there was nothing alarmingly bad about it, I'm not sure we will. We will see the GI again (actually, the guy above him, b/c he's retiring) at the first of June. If I understood correctly, we will test her for Celiac at that time if she continues to drop on the growth chart.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dishwasher Detergent

My SIL asked if I had a magical cheap dishwasher detergent alternative. Hmmm....I did not. It sounded like something I needed though. Dishwasher detergent is fairly cheap at Sam's, but (as much as I cover my eyes and ears and sing "la la la la la" when I walk through the door) Sam's is really just WalMart and I really really try to avoid giving my money to Walmart. So dishwasher detergent, huh? I was on a search. And I found what I was looking for. Better yet, it uses the same ingredients as the homemade laundry detergent--yay! I found a few theories.....

The one I made (and is washing a load of dishes as we speak) mixes equal parts Borax and Washing Soda. That's it. Why oh why have I been buying cascade all these years????? Most people also recommend filling the rinse aid compartment with plain ol' white vinegar (very cheap at Sam's---grrrrrrrr maybe I can't get away from it after all, though at the rate we're going I need a 50 gallon drum of vinegar). Apparently the homemade detergent will leave spots without the vinegar rinse.

Some people said to use baking soda instead of washing soda, but I think these people are new to frugal/green living and just misunderstood something somewhere along the way.

Some people just use the homemade laundry detergent in the dishwasher as well--apparently, it's non-sudsing enough that it works fine.

In searching for a recipe, I also found the best blog I've ever come across: I especially love her smooching trees, sex, and breastfeeding posts (click on the appropriate tag links to see the posts).

Free Advice

I was driving to the doctor today and saw something that I feel deserves a blog post. It's not often I claim to know what's best for a certain person. Well, maybe I'll gripe about my opinion to Josh, but I don't go around telling the whole world they should do this or that. However, I think I can confidently say NO ONE should be reading while driving. I'm not talking a quick look at directions or something, but actually reading while driving. I had the joy of ending up behind a truck that had a college-aged looking guy holding a book up off to his right (cause you wouldn't want to obscure your vision of the road while you're reading and driving would you?). Yes, the truck was moving. Now, I'm a reading addict. I've been known to read while eating, while riding in a car, while waiting for an appointment, even while walking (not on busy roads though), but I can say without hesitation that it is NOT a good idea to read WHILE DRIVING!!!!!!!!! Not just for your own sake, but for the poor sap who's in on coming traffic, or the lady behind you with her baby in the car that would rather not be planning how she's going to avoid the wreck you're likely to cause. Really---I can't think of anything that can't wait until you get to your destination.

As far as that doctor visit....I think we can say Sedona's making progress (of some sort anyway). She has maintained her growth curve for her length and head circumference (yay!). Her weight is still dropping off. She has managed to steadily gain 6oz/month for the last 7 months. I guess a steady gain is a good thing, but it's not enough to maintain a growth curve. Back at 2 months old, she was in the 90th percentile, as of today she is right on the 25th percentile line. Now, I realize we are more "25th percentile" people and I never expected her to stay at the 90th. I'd be quite okay with her being at the 25th (though, even Sierra's right on the 50th), but she needs to level out and follow a curve here at some point. She hasn't had bloody stools for a long time now, but we are constantly battling constipation issues--the child eats a huge amount of prunes (she likes them at least!), but any grain at all seems to cause her problems (we've tried rice, corn, millet, quinoa). We have an appointment tomorrow with her GI, so the pediatrician said he'd just leave that to the specialist. She also has cradle cap that will not come off. Sierra's lasted a while, but this really won't come off (I've tried shampooing, scrubbing, rubbing in oil, picking with my won't come off). He prescribed something to put on that to clear it up. I'm still thinking there's some sort of (admittedly, mild) immunology/food allergy thing going on, but I don't know what to look for anymore. Numerous people have commented about yeast imbalances causing constipation (though that just came up with the addition of solid foods...surprise, surprise, don't get me on my lactation consultant soap box about that one) and cradle cap problems. I suppose I should go pick up some baby probiotics. They carry them at the local natural foods store and I figure they fall into that "won't hurt, might help" category. Anyways.....overall, I say she's doing a lot better--I wish she'd gain weight better, but the absence of bloody stools has got to be a good sign.

Monday, April 14, 2008

This is your brain...

This is a can of juice:

This is what happens when a can of juice spontaneously leaps from your hand and kisses you on the leg:

ouch. It also left a very sizable dent in the step stool my brother in law made us (sorry Harold).
And in other no good very bad day news, Sierra has 5---yes FIVE cavities. joy. I can't say I'm surprised. Josh and I have both had an insane amount of dental work done. My first thought was "why fill baby teeth?" but an internet search turned up the information that yes, you do fill baby teeth. There is a little gray area there, but four of these are in each of her second molars, which don't fall out until age 10-12 and you can't let decay sit around for the next 7-9 years. sigh! That should be fun. I think I'm gonna owe her a few milkshakes. Also fun is paying to fill 5 cavities. I'm gonna talk to the dentist and hope they'll give us a discount if we pay cash up front.

But all in all, life is still good. We are all healthy and together and that's what's important, right? A friend of a friend has spent the last week and a half in the hospital with their baby girl---she went to daycare just fine and then was in the hospital following an "incident". No one knows for sure what happened, but it's pretty easy to put the pieces together when you see and read about the damage that's been done. The family could use any prayers/good thoughts/healing vibes you can send their way. She has a carepage under the name AlexisLinn if you want to read more about her and see her pictures. Anything we've had to deal with (ever) pales in comparison to what this family is going through.

Our two happy girls:
Sedona still won't crawl, but she's happy as can be standing:

I made Sierra a "twirly skirt", I couldn't get her to sit still long enough to take a picture of it though, so all you get is an action shot:

Monday, April 7, 2008

50 books in a year

Since I will not be finishing any books by tomorrow evening, it's time to draw this year's 50 books in a year challenge to a close!

From April 8, 2007-April 8, 2008, I read 37 books (no, not 50, but this year I had my toddler to care for, added a new baby to the family, worked full time much of the year, moved, and completed major renovations to our new house--I think I did well ;-). I ended up with 14,326 pages. I gave myself zero credit for all of the Newsweek, Mother Earth News and Smithsonian magazines I've read cover to cover. I attributed the big increase this year to the fact that we ditched TV in July and that I finally took the time to get a library card.

The link to "50 Books In A Year" on the left goes to the list of what I've read and my short review of each book. It will stay active until I finish my next book, and then it will switch to the next year's books. That post was written August 30, 2007 (if you're looking for it and the link's already changed)

Just to sum it up for myself:
30 books
8,222 pages

37 books
14,326 pages

My grocery deal of the day

By combining sales with coupons at a store that doubles/triples coupons, I managed to pay $1.35 today for:
two pillsbury french bread loafs (the refrigerated dough stuff)
one 4-count pillsbury croissants
two 5-count Grands buttermilk biscuits
one 5-count pillsbury cinnamon rolls
one betty crocker chocolate chocolate chunk cookie mix
one betty crocker cinnamon streusel muffin mix
one lipton alfredo noodle side
one lipton spanish rice side

Price before sales/coupons---$17.86. I would say that was definitely a dollar thirty five worth of food ;-) On the croissants and the cinnamon rolls, I actually got more money off than what the item cost. It doesn't happen often, but I love it when a store pays ME to take something. Even though I always say only use a coupon if you were already going to get the item, sales like this are why I cut coupons I never have an intention of using (I'd usually make all those things from scratch, I wouldn't have used all those coupons if there wasn't such a big sale). I always check the clearance rack for things that are cheaper than what my coupon's for. If something is $0.75 and your coupon is for $1 off, most stores still give you the full $1. You can also combine store coupons with manufacturer coupons a lot of times (Fred Meyer in Utah was the best for this---I got a TON of cheerios for $0.40 a box one time when we lived there).

Sunday, April 6, 2008

LOTS of pictures!

Well, just like ditching the TV actually decreased our boredom, quitting work seems to have increased the number of things I have to do. Of course, they are all things of my choice, which is infinitely less stressful ;-)

Allow me to show you our week in pictures:

Sedona has figured out how to use a sippy cup. She doesn't always remember she has to tilt it up, but if you hold it, she can drink from it. She has also learned to make "beautiful beautiful music" (or so she thinks) by banging it as hard as she can against her high chair tray. This has also led to the implementation of the "3 drop rule". We only pick things up twice, the third time you drop it, it's gone (because, yes, gravity works EVERY time. Newton proved it, no need for an 8 month old to question it). P.S. on the TV in the background (we ditched TV, not movies we rent from the library ;-) is Fraggle Rock!!! The only thing I remember about fraggle rock is getting in trouble for asking to watch it (long story that most of you already know), so I had to watch the movie

And oh to have the life of a baby. One of the books I read recently had a comment about how it must be wonderful to be a baby--to wake up one morning and realize you have body parts you didn't even know were there. Okay, when I say it, it sounds kinda creepy, but you get the point. Babies are absolutely amazed by TOES!! It's pretty fun to watch (not so fun to change her--she throws a complete hissy fit until you finish and let her have her toes back). Sidenote: she was sick this week, so she went to the doctor and her weight gain is actually doing better--she's up to 17 pounds now! We still have GI issues we're working on, she sees the GI doc on the 17th.

She's still trying to crawl and still not succeeding. A few times she has scooted both knees forward at the same time, but she's just not getting the concept of moving her hands. Have no fear, she practices constantly. 3am is one of her favorite practice times

Another Sedona/Sierra comparison pic. I think it's really easy to tell them apart now (I don't know how Sedona has managed to keep so much of her hair, most of Sierra's fell out and had to grow in again), so I won't bother labeling ;-)

My latest frugal living adventure---homemade laundry detergent! I think it's gone quite well. Price comparison--my "stock up" price (the price that's reliably cheap enough to justify buying 6 months worth) on laundry detergent (All or Purex free and clear liquid) is $3.00/100oz of non-concentrated stuff. According to the bottle, that's 32 loads worth. Making my own detergent, it only costs me $0.32 for 32 loads worth. It took me 15 minutes and I saved $6.53 (this recipe makes 78 loads worth). Directions:

Buy laundry soap bar (regular ol' ivory soap works too---one guy even uses Lever 2000--any bar soap), washing soda (not baking soda) and borax. This involves a *slight* investment (about the same as one bottle of ready made laundry detergent), but the ingredients last you a LONG time.

If you have laundry soap, use 1/3 of the bar. If you use regular soap, use the whole bar. Grate the soap (just use a regular cheese grater). I missed a pic of this part because the camera batteries were recharging. Mix soap with 4 cups of water over medium high heat until soap *completely* dissolves

Mix in 3/4 c. of Borax and 3/4 c. of washing soda. It gets kinda thick at this point. Stir to dissolve completely

Put 4 cups hot water (just the hottest from the tap) in an appropriate sized bucket. Stir in your detergent mixture, then add another 1.5 gallons (6 quarts) of hot water. Stir and let sit. You're done!

Use about 1/3-1/2c per load of clothes. It won't suds up as much as commercial detergent, but seems to clean just as well. Also, after it sets up, the consistency is kind of liquid with chunks of gel (actually, it's gel on top and liquid on bottom if you don't disturb it at all), I have mine in a scoopable container, but I suppose if you had it in an old detergent bottle you could just shake it up before measuring it out.

In garden news, Our potatoes have gone nuts. 51 of the seed potato pieces we planted ended up sprouting, some of them made 2 or 3 plants. If this hay bale thing works, we will have LOTS of potatoes

While adding hay, we found a very very large spider "friend" Not sure what type this is. We have seen garden spiders (the huge black and yellow ones) around here, but this one's new. I suppose it can eat really big bugs!!

We also started our "three sisters" planting today. We made rows (9 rows, 15 feet long) and planted corn today (every foot, so somewhere around 135 plants :-o There is a small section of baby corn, but most is sweet corn. Sierra of course immediately asked if the baby corn was for Sedona LOL

If you're looking to plant corn and want to save yourself the back breaking part of the work, I have an awesome 3 year old I can lend you....poke holes in the ground with a long stick and she happily does all the ground work of dropping a kernel in and covering it with dirt ;-) Just a reminder, the 3 sisters concept means planting corn, then after the corn sprouts, planting pole beans (that will climb the corn stalk) and any sort of squash/melon (the furry/prickly leaves grow all in between the corn/beans and keep critters away from the corn). The beans and corn compliment each other at a soil/root level as well.

The tomatoes are very happy to have moved out to the garden, they're getting huge already!

The strawberries are also happy--the bigger plants are already loaded with lots of berries, just waiting for them to grow/ripen!

And the chickens are HUGE! we have another month or so before they start laying eggs, but they look like chickens now! Sierra loves to feed them and have them "chase" her (she runs around the coop and they run after her). They come over to us whenever we walk up to the coop. Sheba met her demise (I'll spare you the story) and Sierra was pretty matter of fact about it. The worst part was we told her we killed it because it was hurt and she got all wide-eyed and concerned. Then it dawned on me....anytime she continues to do something after I told her not too, I tell her, "I don't want to hear you crying when you get hurt" (an extension of our "karma" lesson: as a toddler, we'd tell her to stop running, she wouldn't, she'd fall, and we'd say, "well, that's karma" as we picked her up. She got to the point where she'd fall and just hop right back up and say, "karma!" and keep going). Anyways, it occurred to me about 2 seconds too late that the poor kid would probably think we were gonna kill her if she got hurt. We had to back peddle and explain you can't take chickens to hospital when they're badly hurt. Once we got through that explanation, she was okay with the whole ordeal. Josh is dreaming of raising meat birds too, so might as well get this sort of thing out of the way now!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Fair Game

I just finished reading the Valerie Plame Wilson memoir Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House.

Now, I like to think that as I'm getting older I've gotten pretty good about being open minded--I'm willing to listen to all sides of an argument, and in the end, I may not agree with you, but I try to look at both sides of the issue before making up my mind. I think it's important to be fair even when it's not popular (I've learned that one the hard way). So my little disclaimer is that I am a big opponent to the Bush Administration--I'm still working on figuring out the mentality of people who still have "W 2004" bumper stickers...I just don't think it's something to brag about. I won't go so far to call myself a democrat, I'm not a huge fan of a lot of them either and I'm not a straight ticket voter. But, I really really despise Bush, and especially Cheney. I also recognize that a book by Valerie Plame Wilson about the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson is bound to biased. But even assuming you took this book with a large grain of salt and only believed...say, half...of what she writes, it should really scare you about the powers and liberties the executive branch in general, and the Bush administration specifically, have taken. And it just fed my already highly developed "creeped outedness" about Cheney.

The incredibly interesting thing about this book is the "redacting". Since Valerie Wilson was an employee of the CIA, she was required to submit her manuscript to them for redacting prior to publication. Here's the absurd part: We all know who Valerie Wilson is. We all know who she worked for. But apparently that's still technically classified, so she is not allowed to talk about it. The CIA (or White House, if you're wearing your tin foil hat today) refuses to declassify it. and I can talk about it, but she can't. As a result, huge chunks of the manuscript were blacked out by the CIA. She and her publisher made the choice of publishing the book as is---with gray bars in place of the redacted text. That leaves big pieces of the story missing. Then the publisher hired a journalist to write an "afterward". The Afterward covers just about everything that's been blacked out in Valerie's text (because, even though it's "classified" it's mostly public domain now and the journalist was able to find the information else where and site her sources for the information).

Anyways...well worth the read. She does a resonable job of showing both sides of the story. She may have a tone of outrage about it, but she does quote news sources that contradict her story, so you do get some of that.
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