Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I've been thinking lately about economizing. With a failing car and leaking roof and a county that wants to boot us out of land use taxation, we've been getting more serious about trimming our budget, fleshing out what it looks like for us living on basically one income. Of course, neither Austin nor I have ever been known as spendthrifts in the first place, so that makes the challenge a bit more difficult in the first place. :)

1) I've been starting small. Instead of buying the $20 car seat tray for our upcoming road trip I found a neat metal retro one that works at our local thrift shop (while Tucker had a play date with all the toys in the children's section). New water bottle for spinning class at the Y? 10 cents at the thrift store. Tucker's lifejacket at the beach isn't working? Sew on a buckle so it won't ride up. It's actually kind of fun to think creatively about ways to make/find/restore something rather than just putting it on a shopping list.

2) I've been doing a lot of cooking. I've been cooking our own beans rather than buying canned, making our own yogurt, grinding our own sunflower seed butter, making our own pizza, baking our own artisan bread. We're eating a lot of salads, and a lot of summer squash that our garden is blessing us abundantly with right now. Tonight I'm making squash corn soup and squash-potato-parmesan cakes from the latest Eating Well.

3) I've been adjusting my perspective on household items--it's not about what all could we use, but what do we really need. For example, up to now I've viewed my pantry as something to keep stocked at all times... but really, is it a problem if not all the food choices are there all the time? I mean, so the raisins run out for a few days between shopping trips... not the end of the world. Of course, this is not the case for everything (think: toilet paper), but in general it's a good attitude adjustment for someone who is constantly trying to get everything checked off her to-do list.

4) I've been giving myself dollar figures and goals, and also have been tracking the expenses saved through one means or another, which has made everything a lot more tangible and has also turned this into an interesting challenge. Tracking things has also been great to help me see changes... sometimes in the scope of all the fixed household bills it feels like the discretionary items are so small... and yet, of course, those are really the only things that can be changed most of the time.


In the evenings, Tucker and Austin often play in the sunroom while I finish dinner. Tucker likes these times so much he's taken to telling Austin "Down!" so that Austin will lie on the floor with Tucker and play.

It sounds like Tucker is commanding the dog to lie down....

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Which one of these is not like the others?

One of our juvenile hens has started crowing every morning. It's an adolescent crow--the poor gal's voice usually cracks halfway through its wake-up call. But of course, if one of our "hens" is crowing, the detective in me says that something is amiss.

I think the hatchery we got our chicks from has a 95% success rate in identifying and sending hens (and weeding out the roosters). But we also have one bantam chick from a friend that is straight run, which means that the hatchery just sent whatever chick hatched and didn't try to separate hens from roosters.

Will the true man please stand up?

We finally figured it out yesterday. The fact that it is 50% larger than any of the hens should have clued us in, or its large feet (read: talons), or its bright red comb, but what clinched the deal was that we actually caught one of our white rocks crowing.

Now the decision is: do we want chicken dinner or a rooster to protect the flock (and make baby chicks)?

Friday, June 26, 2009

HGTV comes to Midway Farm

Well, HGTV without the cameras came to Midway Farm in the persona of professional interior designer Jay Stiner. My mother-in-law and Jay took a girls' trip to our area to antique and generally have a good time. Their trip also of course involved visiting Tucker; while Helen had Tucker-time, I got Jay's advice on our house!

Apparently, the night after I gave her the tour, she dreamed about our dining room and awoke as a woman on a mission. It was time, she said, to throw the furniture up in the air and have it magically plop down in new places.

Dragging our gazillion-ton old piano across the room on potholders (don't ask!) didn't feel like magically having it plop down in a new place. In fact, we got half way across the room and three of the four of us had a crisis of confidence. Jay insisted that we had no choice but to soldier on.

Each time we moved one thing, we would step back to see if we liked it, and Jay would insist that we keep moving, that we needed to put everything into place first and then judge its success.

Of course, in the end, Jay was completely right and the new dining room is fabulous. It is much more airy than before, and at the same time, much more inviting to eat in. And it's pretty. REALLY pretty. :)

In the ten minutes before they had to hit the road Jay also re-arranged Tucker's room and re-oriented the bed in the guest bedroom. Fabulous. I thought I had some "before" pictures to post, but alas, it seems I was wrong, so you'll have to imagine the dramatic improvement. THANKS JAY!!!!

Guest baby for the day

Tucker got to enjoy an all day play-date today with our friends' son from church (whose parents were having a babysitting problem!). We took them to the library where Tucker read books loudly and John threw wooden trains off a step and tried to escape by crawling as fast as his little legs could carry him. Then for added entertainment we went to Harris Teeter for the sports car shopping cart, the free sugar cookie and balloon for kids... oh yeah, and for a little food. :)

Tucker did not like sharing his trucks very much, or sharing me! When I picked John up, Tucker wanted to go up too. The cutest was when John was leaving and we put his sandals on and Tucker decided he needed to take his sneakers off to put sandals on too.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Strangely silent

Our house is strangely silent these days. Our roof has been in the process of being painted for five weeks, and was finally finished earlier this week. I think the roof painting process was supposed to take a week and a half, but it's been a really rainy spring and the job stretched on and on. I mean, would you want to climb up a ladder onto a wet roof in the rain?

At first it was a bit of an inconvenience, having intruders outside our windows... but then we struck up a good rapport with Forrest and the gang. Forrest even started bringing his fourth grade son Eddie along, who would shoot baskets and ride his bike while his dad worked.

It really feels like something is missing not having their big white van in the driveway and a bunch of guys broiling in the heat on the roof. I know they're glad they're done... who wants to paint a roof in Virginia in the summer? It's an insane idea in the first place.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

When I grow up...

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I want to do when I grow up. It may seem a bit late in the game to be asking this question, but somehow I never asked it all that seriously before.

When I was in high school I asked where I wanted to go to college.

When I was in college I asked what I was interested in studying.

When I was out of college I asked who would employ me with the degree I had.

None of these are bad questions, of course, but I think it's time to insert into the mix: what kind of career do I want to have? What do I enjoy doing? What skills do I bring to the table?

Picking a field based on what is fun (or easy!) to read about in college is more than slightly myopic. But what happens when you have a college degree in something that was fun to learn about but maybe not a great career choice for you? What next?

One thing I've been running up against is that my values have changed since the early part of college when I was making some decisions about what to pursue. Specifically, we've chosen location over career. There is lots of potentially interesting environmental work out there... if you're willing to move around to places that are under-served, or are particular hotspots of environmental activity.

But say you've committed to a small Southern town with a major university and a glut of eager young environmentalists? What next?

Yeah, I don't know either. But I'm thinking about it!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Didn't know this still happened any more...

I've been checking in on my poor, sick car everyday this week, and everyday it was still sick. Jimmy, the mechanic, told me that it'd be done by Friday. I called on Friday night just before closing and it wasn't done. He said that he just needed to get it down off the lift and test it then we could pick it up. He said it'd take a few minutes but he'd call when it was ready.

Of course, dinner came and went, and still no word. Oh well. Right?

Actually, he ended up calling at 9 pm, still at the garage. He said it was ready and that I could just come and pick it up this weekend even though the office was closed and there's no way I could pay till Monday. He wanted me to drive it all weekend to see if the problem had been successfully fixed (this is after all the sixth time it's gone into the shop).

Wow. I mean, I'm sure we have a bill of several hundred dollars to pay on Monday... and he gave us permission just to take the car? That is really neat. I know we live in a small town, but I am really impressed. He has our business for life.

P.S. Also, so far so good, my car has been running reliably since yesterday... keeping my fingers crossed.

Busy weekend

We have had a busy weekend so far. This first set of pictures is from the picnic we had last night at our local lake. It was the first time we'd been to a real beach this summer, and Tucker was very enthusiastic. The pictures make it look like we were the only people at the beach, but there were actually lots of other kids that Tucker was really interested in. The boys in the family next to us caught a turtle and were so excited to show Tucker, who was actually a bit intimidated by the whole thing.

When we got out of the truck, Tucker carried his red ball all the way into the beach... he is really into balls right now, and especially loves to kick them. Pretty soon we're going to have to banish most balls from the inside of our house, because throwing them will be just too tempting. The only thing that wasn't fun for Tucker about the outing was having to leave!

Tucker has found a new hobby: mowing the lawn. Austin mowed it yesterday morning, and so I brought down the plastic lawn mower Helen had found at a thrift shop. Tucker takes lawn mowing very seriously--he wouldn't use his mower when Daddy was mowing, because he needed to observe Austin closely. But once Austin was done, Tucker has been compulsively mowing the lawn at every opportunity. When he has a serious task like this, he is way too busy to stop and smile for the camera.

Yesterday morning we went to a park that had just been renovated and has this neat water wall. It is perfect for Tucker, with water but very little risk of drowning. And it's open all the time (the pools here don't seem to be open until the very late morning).

In other news, Tucker tends to sleep with one of two trucks. Most of the time I don't think he plays with them, they're more like security items along with his ducky and pacifier. He also has taken to gathering our silverware during and after dinner and putting them away in the silverware drawer... the only problem, of course, is that the silverware that he's putting away is all dirty.

These days,

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy father's day!

“You can’t blog until you eat your peas.”
-Austin, on balancing responsibilities and blogging

*This quote got lost somewhere in January without me putting it up, but I figure Austin's wisdom is timeless.

Lessons from reading Madeline

Tucker and I had a fun day at the library, which is in a converted train station. It is approximately 10 feet from the tracks and occasionally we get treated to the train roaring buy. Today we had the best train day ever, because the train actually slowed down and stopped right in front of the library's big picture window.

From the same window, Tucker can also watch the fork lifts load lumber onto big flat bed trailers at the lumber yard across the tracks. So obviously, the library is a big hit, but we don't get much reading done.

I pulled some books for him to look at and decide which to take home. We were talking about Madeline this week at book club, so I looked it up and tried to get Tucker interested. I loved the Madeline books as a kid (my mom always told me that if I hadn't been named Jacqueline, it would've been Madeline), with all the little girls in rows parading around Paris.

Unfortunately, Tucker's interest was about nonexistent and the book got nixed in favor of I Like to Ride My Train. Sigh. Still... at least he wasn't like my friend's (slightly older) son who read the Madeline book where there's a guillotine and was so inspired he decided to build one of his own.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shopping carts and grandparents

Tucker has been having lots of grandparent time recently, and he LOVES it. These photos are courtesy of Pa Pa, who still seems to be Tucker's favorite these days.

The excitement today was that Helen took Tucker to the toy store to let him pick out a toy. I'm not sure if they've ever done that before, but Tucker thought it was a VERY good idea. What did he pick? A shopping cart. He is in love.

In other news, we had another "first" today: first time having to go home from a restaurant with Tucker before we'd eaten. Tucker didn't throw a tantrum, but he certainly was a tired, edgy boy that didn't know what he wanted. (Actually, Austin took Tucker home and let Helen, David and I eat in peace!!)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Here we go... potty training

I think it's time to start potty training Tucker. I say this with a lot of trepidation; I don't like changing dirty diapers any more than the next person, but it's daunting to tackle such a big new challenge, with such possibility for disaster. After all, aren't boys supposed to potty train at 3 or something like that?

But, with no prompting from me, my boy peed in the potty after a bath tonight and will go sit on his potty when he's making a dirty diaper. He definitely understands what he's supposed to do there, knows to some extent at least when he needs to go, and seems to want to use the facilities.

So, now, I guess it's time... to read the internet and figure out how you go about this thing!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

King of the Jeep

My mom was visiting last week (we miss you Jo Jo!) and we had lots of fun times. One of the highlights for Tucker was the local kids' museum where they have a traveling exhibit that includes a big jeep. We arrived early enough that he was able to don the safari hat (to compliment his tie... my son has "flair" I'm told), and be king of the jeep for a LONG time. He loved that car.

We also rode the carousel out front of the museum, which was fun... though on our way out Tucker tried to jump off of it while it was moving. He is good at keeping me ever vigilant. :)

I am Wii-tarded

I hung out with some college friends yesterday and what did we do? Yes, we played Wii. It seems a bit odd that our ladies day out in Old Town Alexandria basically entailed eating and Wii... but it was entertaining, totally out of the box for me, and gave me a sliver of understanding of what people are talking about when they talk about the game.

I've never played before, and I am horrible. In MarioKart, a race car game, I generally was only able to complete one lap of a three lap race before everyone else finished. I watched my character die 1000 creative deaths. I think every time I finished last, the character shook her head and said "oh my!" My sentiments exactly.

I enjoyed tennis and bowling a lot more, and was not quite as terribly bad at them. But I don't feel any need to work on my abilities, much less play Wii ever again. I do come by my pop culture ignorance honestly. And without cable, renting movies, or anything like that, I don't see that ignorance changing any time soon.

Also, on a totally random tangent, the two friends I hung out with yesterday are both named Emily. And both of their significant others are named Matt. Weird, huh?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Good books?

I have to come up with three suggestions for my book club next year by Tuesday. Everyone presents their three options, and we pick one book for each person.

So far, I have two of the three selected: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. I haven't read either, but I've read others by both Gladwell and Kingsolver, and love both authors. Gladwell writes non-fiction about how people think and make decisions, trying to explain intriguing everyday mysteries. In Outliers I think he poses and sets about answering the question why some people are successful and some are not.

I picked Prodigal Summer because it's a Kingsolver book I haven't read. It especially seems apt because it's set in the Appalachians, and has a bigger emphasis on nature and place than some of her books.

But here's the problem: I need a third pick.

Here are some candidates:
Gilead by Marilynn Robinson
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (fabulous book, but I've already read it)

The book I pick can't be a new release because it needs to be readily available in the library system. But otherwise just about anything is fair game.

Any ideas????

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Uncle Mike, this one's for you

Tucker tried on his tux today for Mike and Kat's wedding in August. He's going to be the ringbearer, though I'm pretty sure he won't be carrying the ring, and it remains to be seen how he'll do walking down the aisle (or getting pulled in a wagon). I give it a 50-50 chance that I'll be carrying him.

He wasn't sure he liked getting all dolled up first thing in the morning, but I told him he needed to do it for Uncle Mike (the clock was ticking on switching sizes, if necessary). You really can find anything on ebay--this was a new toddler tuxedo for $30.

Of course, trying it on was VERY serious business and required both a pacifier and Ducky.

It also required a lot of checking himself out in the mirror to figure out what was going on.

In the end, he decided he was done with it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hail the size of half dollars

We had an impressive storm yesterday evening, including the biggest hail I've ever seen. I tried to take a picture of it, but my camera was on a mysterious setting that made all the images black. This image is courtesy of google, but the hail really was that large, and it collected enough to make the mulch on our flower beds white.

The temperature went from almost 90 degrees to less than 70 in about 20 minutes. Austin is the weather guy around here and he can give a good explanation of hail, but to me it's pretty remarkable that big balls of ice can form and pelt us during a summer thunderstorm.

In the end, the cars weren't dented, the windshields didn't crack, and only a few tree limbs came down. In fact, to our surprise, the power flickered a bit but didn't even go out.

This is one of the truly amazing features of our new home... the power doesn't go out all the time. When we lived 5 miles down the road (with the same power company), our power went out all the time. ALL THE TIME. If the sky even looked like it was going to storm, we lost our power. The summer before Tucker was born when I was very pregnant, we had some horribly hot, sticky evenings with no AC (9 months pregnant and 84+ degrees inside with no working fan...), eating canned fruit and tuna so our food wouldn't go bad.

Instead, last night we had a civilized dinner with all three of Tucker's grandparents, enjoying the blue candles we didn't even need to light.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Our garden

Nancy wanted to know what we have in our garden this year besides bumper crops of snap peas and lettuce.

Let's see...

*We're trying corn for the first time, and have staggered two plantings so we'll have a lot of corn, for a long time.
*Tomatoes (cherry and regular)--this is the first time we've grown them exclusively from seed and didn't cheat with seedlings
*Green peppers--these are not looking very good, but then again peppers haven't ever really worked well for us
*Winter squash
*Cucumbers--we had to get some seedlings as our seeds were wiped out
*Okra--this is supposed to be easy to grow, but our plants aren't looking great
*Pole beans
*NO Zucchini!!!
*lots of herbs, including a bunch of basil to dry and to freeze in pesto

It looks like some of the blueberries we planted will yield a little bit of fruit this year and maybe some blackberries or raspberries, but I think that will be about it for our fruit until things mature for at least another year or two (we planted a bunch of different fruit trees last fall).

Later on in the summer we'll be planting pumpkins, fennel, and then starting in on our cool season crops (cabbage, broccoli, kale, collards, brussel sprouts, spinach, arugala etc.). We missed planting potatoes and onions but next year we'll get those in the ground in the spring.

Austin gave me a pressure canner for Christmas, so it will be interesting to try my hand at preserving things later in the season. I'm especially hoping for a bumper crop of tomatoes!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sometimes a little fear would be nice

In fact, I'd just settle for some caution... or some sense. Tucker has no clue that water is dangerous when you can't swim. Our property is bounded by the Meechums River, which is high on Tucker's list of places to be. Thankfully, it's a long walk to get to the river from our house so there's little danger of him getting down there by himself. But we have big plans for a lot of river time this summer, and Tucker is so enthusiastic about the idea that he just about dives in the water every time we see it.

As you can tell from the pictures, Ben is stepping up to the plate as a lifeguard. He also has a lot more time to smile for the camera than Tucker who is too busy throwing rocks. You also may be able to tell that Tucker doesn't think much about my lifejacket idea. Too bad that being a toddler is not about democracy.

Bluegrass Sunday afternoons

The Blue Ridge Parkway hosts various local groups every Sunday afternoon in the summer for free concerts in the Park. We haven't been since Tucker was born, and decided it was time today. It is hard to wake a sleeping baby, but it was worth it.

The weather was gorgeous--80 degrees at our house, 73 on the top of the mountain, and sunny. Tucker sat on our blanket in the shade and was mesmerized by the music. Several times he pointed at the musicians, to make sure we saw. He also loved clapping for them at the end of every song. His phrase of the day: "Wow." There were lots of wows about just about everything. In fact, our active little boy did not move from the blanket until after intermission to explore the rest of the homestead. I was shocked.

Tucker tried to steal the ball another family was kicking around several times, and got extremely shy when an elderly gentleman came up and wanted to show Tucker how he could wiggle his ears. It took almost half an hour to get Tucker back to the truck to go home because he was adament about watching various vehicles (motorcycles, RVs) pull out of the parking lot. He stood by the side of the grass where we'd been parking and waved to the cars he liked.

In other highlights from the weekend, Tiger Woods won today (and we even got to watch the end!).

Article by Andree Seu

David sent this article to me by Andree Seu at World Magazine (6/3/09)

Seu is writing about a book called A Praying Life by Paul Miller. In the article he summarizes "a few good things God wants for you in the deserts and ambiguity that stretch between asking and receiving." Here are a few excerpts from the list that particularly struck me:

• He wants you to have a chance to get to know him.
• He wants you to have a chance to get to know yourself.
• He wants to expose your idols—and deal with them—in a natural way.
• He wants you to come to the point of surrendering completely.
• He wants you to know what perplexity and the silence of God feel like, so that you can help others who are going through it.
• He wants you to have mad joy at the way He finally answers your prayer, rather than the lesser joy of an answer given too soon.
• He wants you to get to see, when you emerge from the desert, that He was there all along.
• He wants you to have a chance to hold on tight to him in the middle of the story, when you see no light—and then He wants to reward you for that.
• He wants to give you a chance to walk by faith and not by sight, not as a mere slogan or abstract doctrine but as an every-moment dance.
• He wants to give you a chance to learn that praying, as Miller writes, is “inseparable from repenting, serving, managing, waiting,” and not an add-on in your life.
• He wants to give you a chance to reject what seem like answers to prayer on a silver platter that have, as Miller writes, “little tests of integrity” attached to them.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

We're famous

Our pic made the front page of the paper! Or, at least got into the top story of the website of a really small monthly paper in our area today. My back is to the camera, while Tucker falls in love with the blue car to our left. Of course, he has a version of the same thing at home that he doesn't play with all that much, but tearing him away from that thing was akin to child abuse. :)

We went on an outing to the farmers market and a hike, and on the way stopped at the community center to peek in at a consignment sale. It was all really fun, though Tucker was convinced on the hike that he should be allowed to walk in the mountain-fed stream that was raging from all the rain recently. He had to settle for getting his feet wet and throwing some rocks.

Check it out: http://www.nelsoncountylife.com/2009/06/06/huge-community-consignment-sale-continues-through-sunday-rvcc-6609/

Friday, June 5, 2009

This is the car saga that never ends

My car is getting lonely. It has been spending a lot of time at the mechanic's. Actually, to be exact, it has been on five separate trips to three different mechanics over the past three weeks, and it still is not fixed. Supposedly this time it will be different... I guess we'll find out on Monday.

My car is not having a subtle problem. The problem is that when it first starts up, when you press the gas pedal, it doesn't go. So, I pull out onto the road, and suddenly the car won't move forward. Big problem. Thankfully the problem goes away after a couple of minutes, but I have taken to driving around parking lots several times before going onto the road and other such tricks, to avoid us getting killed.

So, we took it to the first mechanic, who had it for a full week. He replaced the computer in the car. But as I pulled out of the shop at the end of the day on Friday, the car wouldn't go, and I glided back into the parking lot. I did make it home, but back we went to the shop first thing Monday.

Apparently my car only dislikes me because mechanic #1 couldn't get it to hesitate for him. We took it home and crossed our fingers, but soon found ourselves at shop #2.

Shop #2 diagnosed the problem, but said that it only could be fixed by the dealer's $15,000 computer that could reprogram things.

Shop #3 (the dealer) claimed that there is no such error code as my car gave Shop #2. They couldn't find a problem with the car, and wouldn't run any diagnostics based on my or the other shop's information.

So we call Shop #2 and they said that actually they COULD fix it, but they just thought it was a recall issue and the dealer would have to. But wait, since it's not under warranty, it doesn't matter.

Are you confused yet? Annoyed? Me too.

I'm just so thankful that between Austin's spray truck for work and Helen and David last week, that Tucker and I haven't been stranded at home much at all.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


These are pictures from last week, of the projects I did when Helen and David were watching Tucker. Most of my time went to overhauling our guest bathroom. Instead of ripping out our old, ugly, dilapidated medicine cabinet, vanity and light, I sanded them down and primed and painted them a bright white. I also put a fresh coat of paint on the floor, found some fun knobs to paint, and voila, a new bathroom. (Of course, we also got a new counter for the vanity... if you saw our old one you'd know why!)

I also learned how to refinish old furniture, and fixed up my nightstand and dresser that were marred and crackling after many years of love (we have Austin's grandma's furniture!).

And in the time left over, I weeded and mulched this garden bed, which was just about going feral it was so overgrown. I'm halfway through moving the railroad ties to define the bed more neatly--in the pic, the bottom is done but the top is not. Next on the agenda: what to plant? I'm looking for easy and inexpensive. Any suggestions would be welcome....

Trucks can be so helpful

After all, what else would you do with a waffle?

True wealth is...

... a thriving fence-full of sugar snap peas. (Incidentally, I'm not saying this is my exclusive definition of wealth, but you know, it is a good one.)

I remember when I was little, one of our neighbors, Mr. Nagle, grew snap peas and taught us how to pick them. What a life, I thought.

The romance with snap peas is that you get to eat them right off the vine, nothing else required. The only other veggies I put in that category are cherry tomatoes. Other than that, there are lots of things to eat raw, but most are better cooked or in a salad, or chopped and washed or whatever.

Added to the mystique of the snap pea, is that it's a crop you have to hit just right, especially down South where it gets hot fast and they wither. Another few weeks, and they'll be in revolt. But now, look at that beauty!