Monday, June 29, 2009

Favorites, Part 5: Baby Signs

I don't even remember where I first heard about the idea, and I was slightly skeptical at first, but I'm a convert now. I love baby signs. If you're not familiar with this, it's a simplified form of sign language for babies. Babies often have the brainpower to communicate before they have the developmental ability to actually talk. If a baby can wave bye-bye, they can learn other signs and gestures too.

The most useful signs are things like: more, all done, food, drink, nurse, and diaper change. Other signs that are easy, fun, or useful are things like: mommy, daddy, bath, sleep, cat, dog, bird, etc. You can get pretty elaborate with vocabulary. At our house we mostly stick to the basics.

But let me tell you, it's SOOO nice to be able to find out what the poor kid is crying about. Throw in yes/no and pointing and we can have a very useful interaction: What do you need Owen? Food. Ok, let's go to the kitchen and get you a snack. Do you want this yogurt? No. How about applesauce? No. (Points to sauerkraut.)

Sauerkraut?! I wouldn't have guessed that in a million years. But he ate a bowlful and then asked for more. And then a drink. All without talking. And probably more importantly, he stopped crying as soon as we started moving toward his goal.

It's also cool to see combinations emerge. My favorite example was one day when I was taking Owen out to the car. I was just getting ready to put him in his seat when I realized only the driver's door was unlocked. So I walked back around to the other side of the car to hit the "unlock" button. Owen got really upset because he thought we were going back to the boring old house. So he starts crying, and signing more and waving bye-bye. More bye-bye. That's just cool.

We used the book Baby Signs, which I think was the original, or at least an early proponent. There are a ton of imitators and variants out there now. Not surprising I guess, since it's so easy and so useful.

There's no evidence that it delays speech or confuses kids when they do start speaking. The opposite seems to be true. The research shows that it apparently gives them a bit of a cognitive head start on language skills. And once they do learn to talk, the signs become less efficient than words, so they fall by the wayside.

The book was interesting, going over the research that's been done, examples of how it helped different families, and quite a few potentially handy signs. To be honest though, you don't need a book. The actual signs don't matter. They just have to be simple enough that a baby can do them. Whole hand gestures are better than anything requiring finger dexterity. Intuitive signs are useful (pretend your finger is a banana and imitate peeling it), and anything that's similar to ASL is good too if you ever have any sense you might want to learn it. And signs for words that are hard for little kids to say can come in handy as well.

Infants probably won't get it, but you can start early if you like. I think we started trying to work them in around 6 months and that may have been a bit too early to sink in. But it got us in the habit.

Owen's starting to talk now. Or at least blurt out the first syllables of various words. (Every animal is a dog. Or a "dah!") But it'll still be a little while before he really gets going. (His brother won't let him get a word in edgewise anyway...)

For such a small effort, the payoff is pretty sweet.


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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Independence Days week 9

A little late this week.

1. Plant something - Nothing this week. Still trying to catch up with the weeds and grass. And yet another dead engine.

2. Harvest something - Kale, lettuce, and eggs. Oh, and gooseberries, but the chickens did all that harvesting. Someday I'll remember to put bird netting over them.

3. Preserve something - Strawberries! Finally. We made about eight pints of strawberry-vanilla jam. Tasty.

4. Reduce waste - Used bad hay to mulch the potatoes and the corn. Kept working on cloth diapering for both Amelia and Owen. (Amelia's definitely more of a challenge...)

5. Preparation and Storage - Transferred rice, salt, brown sugar and probably a couple other staples from their bags into storage buckets. Gave the grain mill a permanent home in the storage area. I tried using a stationary bike with a V-belt to make the grain mill pedal-powered, but the belt doesn't grip well enough to grind the grains. I looked online and saw that some people who have tried the same ended up with a bicycle chain setup instead of a belt. Expanded and cleaned up the storage area. Started getting materials together to actually put walls around it.

6. Build Community Food Systems - Sold eggs at work. Tried to arrange for someone to cut our hay. Tried to arrange for someone to breed our cow. Neither has been successful so far.

7. Eat the Food - Baked a couple loaves of no-knead coffee can bread. And we were testing some different bean recipes this week: Pasta with kale, beans, cheese and bacon. Some sort of bean caserole thing (which was not a keeper). And a pretty decent bean soup. Plus some eggs, bread, and strawberry jam. I'm sure there were others, but I'm drawing a blank.



Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My weird home state

Ohio must be a weird place for travelers.

First of all, any state with counties named Hocking and Licking have to be a little strange.

But it's also full of cities and towns whose names are taken from various Native American cultures, which are somtimes rendered in more than one way in different places. So Pickaway county has the same origin as a town called Piqua in another part of the state. Cuyahoga has the same root as Cayuga. And Miami in one place is Maumee in another.

There are plenty of tongue twisters in there too: Tuscarawas, Pymatuning, Olentangy, Chillicothe, and my favorite - this one's actually of German origin - Gnadenhutten... inexplicably pronounced "ji NAY dun huh tehn."

But weird pronunciations are pretty common, even for easy looking names. Here's a list of towns and cities named after other more famous places, with their Ohio-ized pronunciations:

Medina = meh DIE nuh
Newark = NERK
Lima = LIE muh
Canton = CANT en
Vienna = vee EH nuh
Bellfontaine = behl FOWN tuhn
Houston = HOUSE tuhn
Louisville = LEW us vihl
Delhi = DELL hi
Berlin = BUR lynn
Milan = MEE lan
Versailles = ver SALES
Lancaster = LANK stir
Cairo = CARE oh
Carthagena = CAR thuh GEE nuh
New Athens = NEW AY thinz

and my favorite:

Russia = ROO she

What does all this have to do with anything?

Well, nothing really.



Sunday, June 21, 2009

I love this chart

I've been tracking our monthly electricity usage ever since we moved into this house, in a spreadsheet. It's got all kinds of nerdy calculations in it that estimate money saved, carbon dioxide saved, percent change, etc. But my favorite thing about it is the bar graph that shows monthly electricity usage from year to year.

I had to shrink it a bit to fit on this page, but hopefully you can at least see the downward stair effect on most months. It's getting harder to keep it going down, but I was really excited that we finally broke the 500 kWh barrier. As far as I can figure, it's going to be really tough to beat last month's 480 without either replacing our well pump or ditching our fridge or freezer. It probably helped that we were gone for the better part of a week too.

But I do think it's cool that our highest bill so far this year is lower than our lowest bill in 2006.

Anyway, hopefully we can keep descending that staircase for the rest of 2009. That's always my goal: Less than the same month last year.



Saturday, June 20, 2009

Freaky Mutant Strawberries

Check out these monster strawberries...


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Independence Days week 8

I've been trying to catch up on life after last week's trip. And I'm fighting an annoying health problem that's trying it's damnedest to be chronic or something. Plus a daughter who's keeping me up too late and a son who's getting me up too early.

It's been a long week.

Next week my excuse will be too much cutting of grass and pulling of weeds. Hopefully anyway.

1. Plant something - Nothing this week. I really need to get my summer vining stuff out. I've been late on everything else too...

2. Harvest something - Cherries. Four of them. Also one currant and one gooseberry, to see how ripe they were. And eggs. Well, and broccoli, only not in a good way. It bolted and went all spindly, skipping entirely the part that we cared about.

3. Preserve something - Still no strawberries. Maybe next week.

4. Reduce waste - Unfortunately, we had to throw out a bunch of moldy rolled oats (sounds like a good start for a tongue twister), moldy rice, and rotting apples. But we did tighten our budget up again and commit to eating out a lot less. Lori made bread, pepperoni rolls, chicken stock, and lots of yummy dinners. I used some of Meadow's rejected hay to mulch the potatoes.

5. Preparation and Storage - Got a dozen plastic buckets through a local group that's coordinating bulk orders for pantry items and such. That way we can reduce the chances of moldy oats and stuff. Sprinkled some diatomaceous earth around the floor of our storage area, to keep bugs away. Cleaned up and reorganized a little in the storage area as well.

6. Build Community Food Systems - I guess participating in the bulk ordering group is a good one here. Other than that, not too much.

7. Eat the Food - This is another one I'm fuzzy on. Does making stuff from scratch count, if it's from non-local ingredients? Or from bulk ingredients? We make most of our meals from scratch, and we don't rely on ingredients that are highly processed. (And by "we" I mean "Lori". I haven't been doing much in the kitchen lately, other than taking care of dishes.) We had some great egg salad, some yummy sauerkraut with apples, onions, & bratwurst, the pepperoni roll was great, strawberry jam... I can't remember what else.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Favorites, Part 4: Curel

I don't know what magic ingredients they put in the stuff, but Curel works for me where other stuff doesn't. It's in no way a "green," orgainc, or sustainable product as far as I know. They do sell a fragrance-free version, which is what I like best. The ingredient list sounds pretty dicey for a non-chemist like me. But I can't argue with the results.

If I get a bad sunburn, I get insanely itchy skin. Like I can't sleep it's so bad. Like bugs crawling around in my flesh. For this reason, I try to be careful about getting too much sun - especially since I'm not a big fan of sunscreen.*

* Why? Well, there's been huge growth in the use of sunscreen over the past couple decades, with ever-increasing SPF numbers. And at the same time there's been ever-increasing incidence of skin cancer. I have no science here. I'm just sayin' it seems odd.

But sometimes you just get too much sun. I've tried Solarcaine cream and spray. I've tried aloe-based gels and creams, and aloe plants themselves. I've tried all kinds of stuff. Curel makes it go away. Heck, I don't even peel sometimes. I don't know what it does, but it works. It's worked for me on other types of first-degree skin burns too. (It's also great for dry skin problems in winter, windburned faces, etc.)

And it's the best thing I've found for our cow's chapped udder. The Amish guy I bought her from used Vaseline. Our feed store sells a couple different kinds of udder creams and lotions. Curel beats them all, hands down. I don't apply it unless I need to, and then only after milking is done. But cow teats certainly get chapped and chafed and rubbed wrong from all that milking.

So there you have it: A rare brand-name endorsement from me.



Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Independence Days week 7

Well, I'm traveling again, this time quite reluctantly. I done gone off to the Big City to get me some learnin. But I was able to squeeze some Independence Days stuff in before the trip, and even a little during the trip.

I think we must be onto something with the lifestyle adjustments we've been making over the last several years. I remember when I used to love traveling. Now, both on our recent family trip as well as this business trip, I find myself thinking how I can't wait to get home. Even on a when I have a good time, I can't wait to get back to "our world."

Walking around Manhattan, I can sort of see the appeal of the place. I love the fact that I can walk to everything. I love the fresh fruit and grilled food being sold on virtually every corner. I love the fact that I've heard at least three languages being spoken that I couldn't identify. Hell, I couldn't even make a guess! I love the fact that on one side of the massive St. Bart's Cathedral, they have a glamorous outdoor garden restaurant, but if you walk around the cathedral to the other side, you find the big line for the soup kitchen. I love the big burly dude with cornrows and a jacket from a tattoo shop walking some prissy little dog with a pink bow. I love the casting call line for some reality show in the lobby of my hotel, and the all female marching band inexplicably lined up on some city sidewalk doing their thing.

But there are an awful lot of people here who take themselves way too seriously. You know, the ladies in their thigh-high boots and expensive shades and hair pulled back tight. The guys with too much hair gel and tailored suits talking to little voices in their ear. Black Lincolns and Caddies lined up in front of every glass high rise. Walking along Madison and Park Ave's a couple times a day and seeing all the shops and gimmicks and pretense. Overpriced clothes and artwork and handbags and shoes. Cafés and pubs trying to pawn off twenty dollar turkey-spinach wraps and nine dollar American beers. No wonder I hardly ever see anybody smiling here. (Compare to Carlisle, PA, where everybody was smiling. Even in line at Walmart. That was weird.)

Here I am, right in the heart of both Big Finance and Big Commerce. It's a distorted lens to view the world through, no doubt. But everything I see here just reinforces the notion that our entire economy is built on the idea that we should all spend money we don't really have on stuff we don't really need that won't really do what it's supposed to do, and we're supposed to keep doing it over and over again.

Anyway, on to the Report...

1. Plant something
- (These were all seed-started transplants.) Peppers: a couple cayennes, a couple jalapeños, nine Golden Cal Wonders, and one Mini Red Bell. I have bad luck with peppers, so I'm hoping that if I plant enough of them, I'll actually get a few to harvest. Tomatoes: Way too many, including 15 Bonny Best, 15 Amish Paste, 9 Romas, 2 Weeping Charleys, 2 Mortgage Lifters and one Red Grape. I'm hoping to sell these at work along with the eggs. And obviously we're hoping to try some more canning.

2. Harvest something - Eggs. And also one lemon balm leaf, just so I'd have something more to add to the list. I keep eying the fruits, but nothing yet. Looks like we've got some greens ready though.

3. Preserve something - Nothing this week, though hopefully strawberries soon.

4. Reduce waste - Well, I'm doing the best I can here in NYC. I unscrewed one of the two light bulbs in my hotel room lamp. It was too bright anyway. I've walked everywhere. I put the Do-Not-Disturb sign on my door when I left this morning, so I wouldn't get the never-ending supply of fresh linens. Do I really need brand new laundered, starched, and fluffed sheets and towels every single day? Of course the housekeeping folks had to come bug me this evening, but I assured them I was fine. "You have to have clean towels at least!" "I've got some, look, right here on the towel rod. See?"

5. Preparation and Storage - Started reading the new edition of Small Scale Grain Raising. Haven't managed much else on this one.

6. Build Community Food Systems - Tried to drum up some new material for Hen & Harvest, which I haven't had time to update yet. Not sure if that counts. I can't think of anything else for this one.

7. Eat the Food - I think just some eggs and strawberry jam. It's hard when I've been gone most of the week.

I think that covers it.


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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Independence Days week 6

Had to stall this week's report long enough for me to actually have stuff to put on there. Still trying to catch up from our trip and Lori's illness...

1. Plant something - Watermelon (Orangeglo), musk melon (Minnesota Midget), Asian melon (Sakata's Sweet), Cucumber (Parisian Pickling), and pumpkin (unknown variety, except that it was a pie pumpkin).

2. Harvest something - I tried a couple nibbles of what I thought might be sheep sorrel. But it wasn't. Plus eggs. Though not the ones my son and the neighbor kids threw into the pond.

3. Preserve something - Nothing this week, though hopefully strawberries soon.

4. Reduce waste - Put my makeshift shade screens in most of our west and south-facing windows. Gave away our waffle iron to somebody who was looking for one. Continued cloth diaper trials. Lori's been knitting these cool breathable wool diaper covers. They seem like magic to me - a wet diaper underneath, but the knitted wool never feels damp or anything.

5. Preparation and Storage - Bought a few bulk items for storage. Read a bit of A Nation of Farmers. Researched a variety of topics.

6. Build Community Food Systems - Bought some apples, strawberries, sweet potato pasta, and garlic herb bread. Oh, and pie and fudge. Damn those farm market vendors and they're tempting treats.

7. Eat the Food - See everything in the previous entry. Also some local sausage from the freezer. The person who sold me the sweet potato pasta suggested a recipe, which I tried, but wasn't crazy about. So I added & modified until I did like it. The sweet potato flavor was lost in the cooking process. Maybe I cooked it too long.