Monthly Archives: January 2008

Countertop catastrophe and correction

Our kitchen has been coming along nicely.  My husband ended up being unable to take a day off this past week, which meant that he didn’t have that block of time to get work done that I originally was counting on when I set my ambitious goal of having it all done within 5 days.  And of course when you start a project like this, you end up running into unplanned things that need to be dealt with (like the range hood that we decided to vent outside instead of having all the air recirculate as happens with unvented hoods). 

But by Friday, all the cabinets were in, the double oven and cooktop were installed, and even the sink was in.  The sink was in, but the pipes weren’t attached….but still, all in all, a very impressive show of accomplishment from my husband, who was working with very limited time.

 So late Friday afternoon, I was warming up some food on high and managed to burn the brand new countertop.  Yes, less than two hours after the installation of the cooktop was finished.  I couldn’t believe it.  I wanted to run out Saturday night and just buy entirely new countertops, but my husband wasn’t excited about that.  He reminded me that we said we would keep this as low budget as possible and one burn mark wasn’t a justifiable reason to go buy another 26 feet of countertop.  So I reluctantly agreed, since my argument ‘once we’re doing all that work, it should look really good’ didn’t really hold up to the cost argument.

But today dh was measuring to fit the corner and realized that the amount of countertop we bought won’t be enough due to how they needed to be cut.  That was enough to get me started on ‘let’s go buy all new countertops’, which he still wasn’t thrilled about.  But I wasn’t willing to lose countertop space by changing the original plan.  It just seemed to me penny wise and pound foolish to have spent all that money for everything, and then to limit the effectiveness of the layout because of the additional cost.  I’m fortunate that my husband isn’t the kind of person who makes a decision and then sticks to it no matter what – he’s very open to discussion and ended up agreeing that we should just buy new countertops.  So off I went to Home Depot (which sometimes feels like my home away from home.)

They had four kinds of countertops there, and surprisingly, one of the patterns displayed was identical to what I bought at the building salvage supply place!  I couldn’t believe it.  Even though I would like to buy one of the other patterns more, out of respect to my husband’s concern about the cost, I’ve decided to stick with the current countertop design so that the replacement costs will be limited.  As much as I like asthetics, I value my husband and his feelings more, even if he wouldn’t insist on it.  And it will end up looking very nice, anyway.

So what we will do is this: replace the burnt counter with the second counter we bought, which doesn’t have a backspash – which is what we should have used in the first place and then we wouldn’t have had a problem with burning the backsplash.   And dh told me when he installed the sink (which is on the same length of countertop) that it would have been much easier if we had used the countertop without a backsplash.  You live and you learn….. 

 Then we’ll only need to spend another $150 – $170 on the remaining countertops from HD.  Then everything will match and I won’t have to look at that burn mark anymore.  Yeah, that’s money, but before we were thinking all the money we spent on the first set of countertops was totally wasted plus we would have to spend another $300 or so for new ones.  It actually ends up that it was really good that we bought the first set of countertops, since Home Depot only sells countertops with backsplashes, unless you custom order.  So our mistake will only cost us about $30, it’s not a big loss like it could have been.


Natural diaper rash remedy

Yesterday morning, when I changed my toddler’s diaper, he was screaming while I was cringing at how red and inflamed his little bottom was.  I haven’t had to deal often with diaper rash, but occasionally it does happen.

Several days ago, I asked for a suggestion at the health food store, and it was suggested that I use castor oil with some aloe in it.  I didn’t have any aloe, but since I did have castor oil, that’s what I used.  And it worked – except on the areas that it couldn’t reach, specifically where the elastic of the diaper enclosed the inner leg and the inner crack of his bottom (where they specifically said not to apply it).  But now those areas were raw and almost bleeding – it was painful just to look at it.

So I tried more castor oil, and then put some cloth underwear on him so I would know immediately when he was wet and he wouldn’t have to sit in it for even a few minutes before he was changed.    Then because he was crying that the underwear were rubbing the same place on his upper thighs, I took off the underwear and let him go without anything.  He didn’t like that at all and kept trying to bring me a diaper to put on him, but I thought the air would be helpful.  And maybe it was helpful, but not helpful enough.  Fresh air and keeping the bottom dry are useful suggestions, but they are more effective in terms of prevention.  As a cure for a nasty diaper rash, it just takes too long. 

He was crying all day, walking in an awkward way to avoid anything touching that area, and only sitting on his knees.  My dh had the van for the day so I had no way to get to a store to buy any kind of ointment.  Finally, I decided to try the natural remedy that my 13 yo daughter has suggested to me several times.  (She’s read a book we have around the house about natural home remedies and has alot of info in her head as a result.)  I couldn’t see how it could work, but I was desperate to do something to help him, so I tried it. 

The remedy is to brown some flour in a pan and then apply it to the diaper area when it’s cooled down.  That’s the entire remedy.  He had been crying at every diaper change (as well as a good part of the day), but amazingly, as soon as this flour was sprinkled on him, he stopped crying.  Then he started acting more like his usual cheerful self, playing and running around.  When we next changed his diaper, we couldn’t believe the noticeable improvement.   It was late afternoon by the time we tried it, so I only was able to change him once (and sprinkle the flour on) before putting him in for the night.   By this morning, it was much much better – we can see a slight bit of redness, but he has no pain or discomfort at all.  All within a half a day’s time.

Since flour is something that everyone has in the house, and it takes just a few minutes to prepare this remedy, I thought that I should share something this easy and this effective with you! 


Mom wanting adult contact

>>My situation is this- I yearn for adult conversation
sometimes! We just moved to an area where there are tons of
playgroups and Mom and Me activities and whatnot, but I’m not really
interested in shoving my son (21 months) into all of this. He’s so young, and I just don’t believe that he needs to be around so many other children all of the time. As it is, I meet with a new friend in a park on
Sunday mornings for an hour and a half or so – she has a 21 month old
girl. I really do it more for myself than for ds- as much as I
love being around him, sometimes an entire day will go by and I
realize that I haven’t spoken to a single adult! (Until my husband
comes home, that is) I feel like even the park can be too much for
him when it’s really crowded, as it was yesterday. He gets into
other people’s bags and toys and I hate saying “no!” to him all of
the time, even if it is as gentle as I can be, or if it’s actually
redirecting or whatever. He’s just so young, he doesn’t understand yet.

I hope I’m being cohesive. It’s not that I need or want a break from
my son, but at the same time, I would like some adult conversation
once in a while.<<

Yes, what you said made a lot of sense.  I’ve had the same dilemma myself at times, even now with older kids.  I really find that peer group interaction is mostly unhelpful but that’s the only time I get to see other moms!  So it’s a balance, weighing your needs and your child’s needs, and trying not to compromise either of you.  But sometimes there has to be a compromise, and then how do you decide what to do?

I’ll say for starters that I truly believe that ‘if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy’.  I’ve seen too many mothers take this concept to an extreme and justify doing whatever they want regardless of the effect on their children because it makes them feel good and that’s what matters.  But that’s not what I mean.  It means that to be the best parent you can be, you have to be filling yourself up on an ongoing basis.  If you deplete yourself, physically, spiritually, or emotionally, you have that much less to give.  And when a mom ends up burnt out and worn out, she’s likely to be resentful and unpleasant to be around. 

So I think it’s good to preempt all that negativity and be honest and non- apologetic for having needs.  What your real needs and how you can meet them?  You’re around a very young child all day, and I think it’s really reasonable and understandable to want to touch base with another adult during the course of a day or week or whatever.  What if you went to the park for an hour each day – would that be enough for you to get out and chat with other moms?  When I had little kids, this really helped me. 

I understand the dynamics you’re describing of the situation that occurs when you do get out.  But let’s put it in perspective:  he has you all day long in an ideal environment.  When you do go out, doesn’t he enjoy himself, too?  Even with you needing to redirect him or stop him from some things?   

You have to do a cost/benefit analysis – does getting out however often justify the situations you have to deal with as a result of going out?  If it does, then do it, and don’t feel guilty for a second. Think how lucky your husband is to have a wife who’s not desperate to speak to him, and how lucky your child is to have a healthy role model for nurturing one’s self. 

One suggestion I have is to be very clear and firm about what you don’t want him to do, like go into other people’s bags.  He’s not too young to understand this (my son is the same age so I know it’s possible!).  Once he gets clear on the parameters, you’ll have to do less redirecting and can enjoy your time out more and so can he.  If you aren’t clear, then everytime you go out for the rest of your life (:)) you’re going to be telling him again and again what not to do.  Not fun for either of you.

Good luck! 


Ski pants and respecting yourself

What do ski pants and self respect have to do with each other?  I’ll tell you what happened today and then you’ll know!

My son told me last week that his high school is having a ski trip. A $60 trip, which isn’t cheap.  I really don’t like all the extracurricular expenses – after all, I’m already paying for private school tuition.  Anyway, the principal called him over to speak to him and told him that because he’s made such a great transition to high school from homeschooling, academically as well as socially, the school is going to pay for his ski trip as a way to acknowledge his effort.  My son was really appreciative and it was nice for him to know that the administration has noticed his effort. 

So he’s going skiing tomorrow. And my eleven year old daughter has a snow tubing trip planned for this Sunday, with her Girl Scout troop.  That’s being paid for by funds from cookie sales, which is nice, since the girls worked really hard to sell cookies as a troop. Their hard work built this fund that will now pay for some fun troop outings.  Anyway, both of them have grown out of their snow pants/snowbibs (you’d be amazed how someone is always growing out of something here – it could be a part time job just keeping everyone appropriately clothed).  So off I went to the thrift store today to see if I would have any luck finding a couple of pairs.

While I was there, I bought some other things, and finally got to the checkout.  While the cashier was ringing up my order, I had been holding the store credit I was planning to use for part of the costs, and when she told me the total, handed it to her along with my debit card.  Instead of taking it, she angrily turned around, grabbed her head, and started muttering unpleasantly before turning back to me and angrily telling me that I can only use store credit if it’s given before the order is rung up.

I smiled at her and said, “You know, you can tell me nicely if there’s something different I need to do.  I shop here all the time so it’s no problem for me to use the credit next time I come in. There’s nothing posted about how to use store credit, and the only way I can know is if you tell me.  But yelling at me isn’t going to help.” 

Then the woman looked at me and when she realized that I wasn’t being nasty, that I was being nice to her even though she overreacted, she quieted down really fast.  And then she apologized sincerely, and told me she shouldn’t have gotten so upset and she was really sorry about it.  Then she explained that she thought she was going to have to cancel my entire order and re-ring it up.  

There have been plenty of times when I’ve encountered irate people, like all of us have.  And some of the time, I take it personally.  Most of the time, I don’t respond to the negativity but try my best to be respectful of the person I’m interacting with regardless.  But I’ve come to realize that I need to respect myself as much as I try to respect others to create.  And respecting myself  means appropriately letting others what standards I find acceptable to interact with me, including cashiers! 


Saying thank you

Today the electrician came to wire the kitchen for the electric oven (we had gas until now).  It’s been a while since I wrote about my last experience with this company, but I’ll just say that though the electricians who came were both pleasant, I wasn’t happy with their work.  Because it didn’t work properly.  Plus they made a big mistake that cost me an extra $300 in labor costs, and then it still wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. 

But I like the owner of the company, and he took care of the problems and took responsibility for it, so I decided to continue using him.  Today they sent a different electrician who was just wonderful.  He was an older man who has been an electrician for over 50 years, and three years ago decided to work for this man so that he didn’t have to deal with paperwork anymore.  He knew what to do, he did everything quickly and efficiently, and he was really pleasant in general.  AND – he straighted out the mess they made of the wiring in the attic and now it all works properly. 

When he left, I told him how much I appreciated his work, and said that we’ll be requesting that they send him next time we need work done (which will be fairly soon – I didn’t want to do it all today because of the time and expense).  But after he left, I felt that just saying thank you to him wasn’t enough.  So I sent an email to the owner of the company, telling him all the things I just told you.  Why shouldn’t they hear how great their employee is?  And why shouldn’t he benefit by having his employers know that he gave excellent service?

Taking the time to say thank you is such a small investment, but it makes a big difference. 


Deciding to stop working to be home with kids

Many of us have been raised to value a career and the status that comes with it more than being home and raising our kids.  Then, when we end up having children, we often end up torn between the strong and deep bond we feel with our children and our desire for recognition and accomplishment (not to mention a paycheck!).

When my oldest was born, it never even occurred to me not to go back to work. And so I did, when he was 7 weeks old.  It was emotionally hard to leave him with a babysitter, but that was the societal expectation and I never questioned whether mothers of young children should be working.  Then my second was born seventeen months later, and again, I didn’t consider staying home with her, though I did stay home with her five weeks longer than I had with my son before returning to work.  All I thought about was finding childcare arrangements that I found suitable, and how much less money I’d be actually making after paying for two children in almost full time care (7 am – 2:30/3 pm). 

When I was about five months pregnant with my third, I started thinking about the purpose of working and the quality of my life.  Why was I constantly running, running, running?  I felt like I never could stop moving because there was always something more to do.   That was part of having two children at different caretakers, running from dropping them off to my hour long commute, running in to the office, running back home to pick them up, and then trying to have relaxed ‘quality’ time with them before they went to bed three hours later.  (I can remember being so exhausted at this time that I would sit on the couch reading to my toddler, and falling asleep between each page of the book.  I would be jerked back to awakeness when he tugged on my arm and said, ‘Mommy!”  And then falling back asleep after reading a few sentences.)  I remembering thinking, “When am I ever going to have a chance to smell the roses?” 

The irony was that I was the kind of person other working mothers would point to as an example of doing it all.  My kids were happy and well-adjusted, my home was always neat, we frequently had guests, and I always seemed happy.  It just goes to show that you can’t assume that what you see from the outside is all that there is.

As my toddler got older, his childcare arrangements grew more complicated.  He attended a playgroup that was part of a larger school, but it began after I left, so a neighbor was responsible for taking care of him until the school van picked him up.  And it ended before I got home, so I paid yet another neighbor to take him from his school van and watch him in her home until I picked him up.  One day I found out that the neighbor lost track of time and didn’t go get him when he was dropped off from his van, so my then 2 3/4 year old son stood outside the building for ten minutes not knowing what to do (this was a very safe and small neighborhood) until another neighbor saw him and realized what had happened.  When she told me about it, I decided that was it – it was already weighing heavily on my mind about the constant rush-rush, but it was unbearable to think of my child not being cared for and not knowing what to do, while I was over an hour away.

And on the spot I made the decision to quit working when my third child was born so none of my children would ever need to be in that situation again.  That was just 3 months away….but there were other issues to then deal with – like my fears, finances…to be continued!

How to easily skin tomatoes

When I was in a dorm, my roomate taught me about how to skin tomatoes.  She would always keep some in the freezer, and then pop them into boiling water for a few seconds, and then the skins would peel right off. 

It’s honestly not something I ever thought justified keeping tomatoes in the freezer all the time, so I only tried it once in over 15 years of marriage.  It was easier to just leave them with the skin on regardless of what the recipe called for.  But I’m always open to an easier way to do things, and I’ve discovered that you can get the same result by putting fresh tomatoes in boiling water for just a few seconds.  Though the instructions I followed last time said to put them in one by one for five seconds each, I decided to see what would happen if I put about 15 or 20 in at a time (because I’m always looking for a simpler way to do things :)).  It worked fine, though I had to leave them in slightly longer. 

This was especially useful today when I needed peeled tomatoes for the tomator and pepper relish.  And next time I make tomato soup, I’ll be able to do it properly.

Kitchen work progressing…

Yesterday things were chaotic around here.  We had taken down some cabinets and emptied them of everything in them, but hadn’t yet put up new ones to replace them.  Every kitchen surface was covered, the dining room table was full, the living room was filled with cabinets and appliances not yet installed.  After breakfast, no one ate until dinner because there was literally no way to prepare any food.  Dirty dishes couldn’t be washed, because clean dishes couldn’t be put away, so there was no place to put the freshly washed dishes to dry.

But today is a different story!  Though there’s still lots to be done, it already is looking good.  All of the wall and base cabinets are in place on one side of the kitchen, leaving the other side to work on tomorrow afternoon.  We were able to put away most of the stuff that was out into the cabinets that are up now.  When we finish putting all the new cabinets in, we’re really going to feel like we have lots of storage space.  Two base cabinets and three wall cabinets aren’t yet in (still in the living room, along with a washing machine, double oven, and two cooktops ), and what we have in so far is comparable to what we’ve had until now with the old setup.  Meaning squishy but manageable.

One of the top cabinets was a microwave cabinet – it has a closed shelf above and an open shelf where the microwave is supposed to go.  It probably won’t surprise you that I don’t use microwaves, because of the health concerns regarding what it does to food.  Since it was deeper than a typical wall cabinet (because it needed to accomodate the microwave), I asked dh to cut it down to match the others.  Now I’m using the open shelf for all my jars of fermented veggies, and the closed shelf above for the empty jars that aren’t in use.  It looks so nice!

Two weeks ago when I asked dh about buying this set of cabinets, he told me he didn’t want to start a project like this.  Today, he thanked me for taking it on since it’s so rewarding and empowering to do something like this.  I’m very appreciative to my husband for taking this on with such a great attitude.  He commented that especially since we’re doing it as a family project, it builds a nice sense of comaraderie and accomplishment.  The kids are just as excited, if not more excited, as I am to watch it all coming together!  They’re also looking forward to seeing the reaction of their grandparents on Saturday night, when they usually stop in, who were here a week and a half ago and have no idea we’re doing this.  We’re anticipating that they’ll be more than a little surprised when they pop by.  :)


Vegetable bargains

I popped out to the store today to pick up some refreshments for our homeschooling gathering tomorrow, and when I was there saw some veggies on sale.  There are vegetables on sale, and then there are veggies that are super cheap.  These were in the latter category – on the reduced rack.

There was a point that I shunned reduced produce racks, thinking they were semi rotten vegetables that the store owner was still trying to crank some profit from.   But I’ve since learned that often there is just an overstock of a given vegetable and they want to sell the produce quickly before it goes bad.  I stay away from produce that looks really bad, since I don’t find it worth my time or money to cut away all the yukky spots. 

To find these reduced racks, look for small privately owned markets that discount produce substantially when it’s ripe or a little overripe.  I’ve found a local Asian market and a Russian market both have these, along with another local smallish store.The large supermarkets very rarely have these sections -I’ve only twice in years found reduced produce at national chains – both times ripe (not overripe) bananas.  They just throw away anything with imperfections. 

The challenge with reduced produce is that it has a short shelf life, and you need to use it pretty promptly.  For a family like ours, that’s not usually a problem, since the kids love fruits and vegetables and go through it fast.  But sometimes I’ve gotten carried away by the super cheap prices and gotten too much, and then had to make a real effort to use it so it didn’t go bad. 

Now that I’ve learned about making fermented vegetables, I don’t have that kind of pressure anymore.  Today I bought a lot of tomatoes and peppers, and then prepared two quarts of tomato pepper relish when I got home (you’d be amazed how many plum tomatoes you have to use to fill up a two quart jar!).  I also added some tomatoes to the batch of salsa I made, which was way too spicy for my taste.  (My policy is to make a recipe the first time as it’s written, so I know what it’s supposed to taste like before I make my adaptations to it.)  It’s nice that I can just add some vegetables to already fermented vegetables and then put it back on the shelf to ferment some more. 

My dd13 made two versions of cortido (Latin American sauerkraut), using the pineapple vinegar we made as the fermenting agent instead of sea salt for two quarts and sea salt for the other two quarts.  (The pineapple vinegar was interesting and easy to make – you put the core and skin of a pineapple in a jar with some oregano and water to cover, and let it sit out, covered for 3 days.  Then strain it out and voila – pineapple vinegar!) 


Buying more power tools

My husband came home this morning from Home Depot with two new power tools – a hammer drill and a jigsaw drill.  He had planned to rent a hammer drill (since one wall we’re attaching cabinetes to is concrete), but then they told him it was $24 to rent it for four hours.  $34 for the day.  And the cost to buy one?  $60.  Since we’re going to need this again for when we vent the hood to the outside brick wall, it made sense to just buy it instead of renting it for two days and paying $72 plus tax. 

While he was at it, he picked up a jigsaw to cut the countertop with.  Well, not to cut the countertops, but to cut the spaces for the sink and cooktop in the countertop.  This is one of the prices you pay for doing your own home improvements – an ever growing collection of power tools.  :)

It’s pretty amazing when I think that until we bought this house a year and a half ago, we had never done any renovating or remodeling.  My husband could fix a hinge or screw in some blinds, but never did much more than that.  I’m very appreciative to him for agreeing to be involved in all my home improvement schemes.  He’s very busy and wouldn’t choose to spend time or money on these things if it weren’t for me. 

 And me – I didn’t know how to do anything!  I never even used a drill.  Actually, even when we were doing the first projects that I decided on, I was the one telling my dh and son how to do it (because I read the books and studied the situation).  But I still didn’t know how to use a drill myself until after some of kids learned.  Now it’s funny to me how easy so many of these things are to do.  A friend was here a few days ago, and when she heard we were redoing the kitchen, said, “Oh, you know how to do all of that stuff.”  As if I was some kind of long term expert.

It’s also been another fun area to apply my frugal genius to. :)