Friday, April 24, 2009

Cleaning With Salad Dressing

Summer is here and so is the dirt! In our family, summer means no shoes, as small a shirt possible (for me) or none at all (for the boys), cut off pants, lots of playing in the yard and garden, and bikes, bikes, bikes. The screen doors open and the windows are left unlatched so that the house is breezy and warm; the clothes are hung to dry in the yard; we play significantly more; music pours out of our outdoor speakers; generally the atmosphere around here breaks loose from being closed up through the fall and winter. This means fun but also dirt, grass stains, dust, debris, and smudgy hand prints all over the house. Personally, I think it is well worth the trade.

For Bell Bell, summer means lazing around the house, preferably the laundry room sink, basking in the sun and shedding her fur everywhere. Guadie prefers the yard under our giant azalea we have named "Big Boy" but shedding all over none the less. If only I could do that, minus the fur that is. For me, summer is a shift in cleaning up fur as well as much more fun that hibernating in doors over the winter.

When I first moved in with Jules, I was amazed at the sheer number of cleaning products he had under the sink. There were at least 10. I usually stick with about three: Windex, bleach, and wood polish. When the floor started to look dull, I embraced Quick Shine as well. Those seem to clean most everything. I'm sure there are specialty products out there that are necessary for certain surfaces (just like bleach can't be used on our hardwood floors) but we have a fairly simple, none specialty house so I'm just not aware of them.

Around here, I began cleaning the floor with Murphy Oil as I'm sure most anyone who has owned hardwood floors has done at some point, but the stuff is expensive! So I began to search for other alternatives that wouldn't kill our floors. I'm not one for chemicals (my skin freaks out with hives) so as basic as possible is the route most traveled around here.

When I first read about alternative floor cleaner, many contained large amounts of water. This made me nervous. Water and hardwood floors are sworn enemies! But cleaning with water made much more sense than cleaning with salad dressing. Yes, salad dressing. Equal parts white vinegar (Do Not Use Apple Cider, Red Wine, Balsamic) and vegetable oil (olive oil, baby oil, mineral oil) can be sprayed onto your floors and then buffed clean with a mop or towel as a homemade alternative to expensive or chemical cleaners. The idea seemed crazy. Oil and Vinegar, really!?! But I read it time and again. So I tried it when Jules was at work in a small corner to see if it would kill the floor. I would suggest this to anyone before they use alternative products, wither they are home cleaners, lotions, laundry detergent what have you. Always try a small spot to check before diving in full bore. Needless to say, it worked. In fact it worked so well that I didn't have to use the Quick Shine at all. Even Jules (the household skeptic) commented on how great the floors looked. Salad dressing, who knew!

Not only are vegetable oil and white vinegar exceptionally cheap, they are something we most always have around so there is not worry about running out of them when needed. Basically, the vinegar cuts grease and grime while the oil polishes. Together they work wonders without any harmful water to ruin your hardwood.

The drawback is that it's stinky to an extent. Let's be real, you are using a vinegar which doesn't necessarily smell the best. In less than 20 minutes however, the floors are dry and the smell is gone. Secondly, you are going to need to shake the bottle up repeatedly because the mixture separates. Though I used an old 1 pint vinegar bottle and poured the cleaner directly onto my rag, a spray bottle would probably work wonders and make the job much faster. We just didn't have one in the house. Regardless, I'm going to be hard pressed to find another product that makes the floor look anywhere near as great! User beware: this product works so well you are going to want to dance across the floor in your socks and undies like Tom Cruise in Risky Business.

So let the freedom rock and gangster rap flow through our backyard and the dirt fall where it may. My salad dressing and I will take on the fur, the grime, and the smudgy hands! The summer has come and we can't wait to get out and play!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Jules is the primary income for our house. Though I have a job, it isn't really a job. I work 3-4 nights a week in the kitchen of a local restaurant for minimum wage and tips. It isn't rocket science, or brain surgery, or police work. It is nothing compared to working with at-risk kids like I used to. Now, if I screw up or make a mistake someone doesn't get their dinner when they thought they would. I can live with that.

By no means does this imply that I don't take my job seriously or try to do it well. I really like working in restaurant kitchens with their adrenaline-based, fast paced lifestyle. I just mean that the stress is different and the consequences not quite so extreme. Our household could exist without my job (it would be very tight, but possible). My job is the latte job. It allows us to go out to eat, to get lattes, to shop at thrift stores on our Saturday walks, to go to Chuck E. Cheese or bowling for family night. It is the cushion of money that makes us feel safe.

My real job is taking care of Jules, our house, and our son. I homeschool the Spicy Barracuda because his birthday misses by 4 days for kindergarten entry. I clean (though I'm not very good at it) and make our meals. I manage the grocery lists and household projects. But most of all, I do research and look for ways for our house to run more efficiently. Coupon clipping, meal preparation, gardens, root cellars, rain barrels, these things all take time and which is at a significant premium with both people working full time. By not working full time, I can take on these various household chores with enjoyment and gusto allowing Jules to relax after work. It also means no child care and the ability to lower bills.

This last year the goal has been centered around food. Before the Spicy Barracuda and I, Jules spent about $250 a month in the dreaded task of grocery shopping and ate tuna fish and nachos as his staple meals. Oh, Bachelor food, what would the world be without you? With the onset of actual cooking, and some meal planning our grocery bill has plummeted. We purchased an apple tree, two blueberry bushes, and planted the garden. The root cellar began to be dug so that we could use the dirt to fill in the multiple large raised beds and have somewhere to store our veggies once we harvested them. Composting was used to temper the dirt with organic material so it would be good soil for the plants. The rain barrels came about to water the food we would be growing. The bulk food purchasing was to help with the food bill until the plants actually could be harvested and wound up slashing our garbage bill along with it. Along the way much more has transformed and as we walked around the yard yesterday, I was amazed at all that had been accomplished.

So, on to the next real project for our household! The bills. The grocery bill might have plummeted with the arrival of the Spicy Barracuda and I, but the rest of the bills definitely went up. With two more bodies occupying the house during the day, a lot more was being used at a higher frequency. When Jules and I sat down and discussed it there are about three main bills in our house and two miscellaneous. Electric, Natural Gas, Water are the big main bills. Cell phones and Gasoline are the two others. This next year our focus is going to shift from infrastructure for our food to infrastructure for our bills.

Our house is a 50's style atomic ranch. It is fabulous! We have tried to keep the style throughout even including furniture and colors. For this reason, energy efficient appliances aren't really going to work out very well. However, by purchasing only two a month, we can outfit the whole house in energy efficient light bulbs without one killer monetary hit.

Another big energy sucker is our dryer. It heats up the house tremendously during the summer and only adds more money drain in the air conditioner trying to compensate. Luckily our entire neighborhood has been outfitted in the backyard for umbrella clothes lines. No more dryer in the summer!

Lastly, the purchase of a solar water heater would do wonders for some serious decreasing. The main use of our electric right now (other than appliances) is the hot water heater. The current state and federal rebate/tax credit programs make the purchase ($2,500) almost break even within a year and that doesn't count the amount saved on the electric bill. I have my fingers crossed for next year's tax return outfitting our house with solar for heating the water. Photovoltaic cells for complete energy dependence is completely out of reach right now and no where near practical. Not only is it not sunny enough here, but the total cost is like $25,000. Hah! I don't know about your household, but we aren't getting anywhere near that much back in a tax return!

Natural Gas
Our Natural Gas is only used for the furnace. The local National Forest allows for firewood permits at $5 a chord. We did some talking with our older neighbors who used to heat their house solely with wood and they have said four chords was the magic number. Another declaration on their part was how wonderfully fun it was to go up and spend the day out in the woods cutting. We will see! For $20 of heat for the whole winter it will be well worth the exercise!

Turning the furnace off also allows us to store more in our root cellar because the furnace shares the space. Without the added heat of the furnace the space stays cooler and more damp, both major pluses! However, the insulation down there could use a major revamp as well. It keeps the cold down and the heat in the house where it should be. So we will be reinsulating.

It takes one major weekend rain event (sometimes daily rain event) to fill up 1-1 1/2 rain barrels. This means during the rainy season here, we will have to have more than the current five barrels if we want to maximize the amount of harvest. Right now we have enough water to have disconnected our toilet from city water, and have back stock for the summer. With more water we will be able to expand our rainwater usage into the daily small loads of dishes I wash by hand and the car washing throughout the year. This leaves showers/baths, three loads of laundry, and one load of dishes a week as the only major uses for our city water.

Currently, the water we harvest with our rain barrels comes off the back porch and runs through a rather old, metal gutter. It works for getting the water off the roof, but makes for the water uncertain for use as anything other than irrigation and toilet flushing. A replacement gutter made from high impact plastic is needed along with a leaf guard system to keep the water filtered.

By surveying our yard, we think we have space for 8 more barrels tucked away in the far corner of the yard and along the unused side of the house. With small stands and a nice wooden screen (so you don't see them) the addition will be highly useful and very inconspicuous.

Cell Phones
Jules and I switched to a shared minute plan quite a while ago. This brought him over to Verizon where most all of his family and mine get their cell phone service. With Verizon, if you call or recieve a call from someone who uses Verizon the call doesn't charge you minutes. This alone made the cost of our phones dramatically decrease. When we signed up, we did what most people do and went highly safe with the amount of minutes being used. Now, it has become clear we can most likely downsize our plan without much of any change in our useage.

By paying attention and grouping errands I've managed to only fill up my gas tank once 10-12 days for about $20. However, Jules is a teacher. One of the cardinal rules of teaching is that you do not live in the same district that you teach. This allows you to have a personal life and not run into your students everywhere at the least opportune times. (I once ran into parents of students while buying a large amount of alcohol for a friend's college graduation party.) He drives his truck quite a ways twice a day as a result.

However, Jules loves to bike to work. This commute is 60 miles round trip, and though he used to do it at least once a week, the toll on his body and time is extreme. Luckily, in September when the new school year starts, the completion of a significantly closer mass transit system will be in place allowing for the commute to take much less toll on his body. This means he can bike/ride to work two, three, or even more times a week. Not only will this make him personally feel better, but it will help with gasoline quite a bit.

The changes for next year will definitely be a more noticeable cultural shift than this years. Hopefully, the Barracuda is young enough still for the views of the mass culture to not affect him too much. Whether all of these ideas will come to fruition the same with this last year seems to be falling into place one can only wonder, but by having a plan and writing it down the ideas are at least in place for us to slowly move toward them. This last year has (and continues) to be a tremendous success in my book allowing for high hopes for the future.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Family Day

The Spicy Barracuda sees Jules a lot. He sees me a lot. However, with our work schedules been opposed and the budget for child care limited (non-existent), he doesn't see much of both Jules and me at the same time. So Thursday nights and Saturdays have become Family Nights. This is specific time which has been set aside for us to do things as a family. Sometimes it is watching a classic movie. Sometimes it is going to Chuck E. Cheese or bowling. Sometimes it is riding our bikes to the park and the local hot dog shop or playing games together around the table after dinner. It doesn't really matter what the activity as long as it is spent as a family with the central point of playing together. Honestly, it is pretty great.

Today, Family Day was spent at the Farmers' Market. The Farmers' Market is filled with family friendly activities and plenty to see. With Guadalupe still having a bit of angst when it comes to strangers, she reluctantly stayed home. Hopefully, if The Walks continue she will soon get to come along. Being a gardener, the whole experience is quite voyeuristic for me. I want to see what other people are growing, and how well they are growing it. I want to ask them questions about having bees and harvesting honey. I want to marvel at their beautiful flowers, upon flowers, upon flowers. I want to taste the cheese they may from their cows and marvel at how different all of it is and how they made it themselves. I want to show the Barracuda how beautiful leeks grow with their leaves all fanned out and how many varieties of pears exist. I want to taste, and talk, and see, and experience the energy of people who spend their lives growing and creating sustenance.

Jules loves all of the above things as well, but particularly he likes the food. Street food is something I could live on for a good 4 years eating it every meal of every day. Jules might be able to for the rest of his life. Farmer's markets are a wonder at all the different kinds of delectable street food. There was exotic coffee and local wineries. There was a stand with three different kinds of kettle corn. (It was very difficult to resist and I don't know if I will be able to next time.) There were tamales, and gyros, and Asian stir-fry noodles. There were muffins, and cookies, and breads of all kinds. There were jams, honeys, and pestos. There were dozens of kinds of cheese - Jules favorite! People were selling eggs, seafood, and grass fed beef by order. We settled on pears, honey, goat cheese, a blueberry cornbread muffin the size of Barracuda's head, a giant cookie, and two meditarranian gyros filled with sweet spicy chicken, rice, and fresh veggies and yogart sauce. Our little red wagon was quite full, as were our tummies.

The Spicy Barracuda's favorite part are all the people. People watching and street entertainment are some of the finest around at street fairs and farmers' markets. There were hippies playing tight rope on a slack line. Barracuda had to try! There were hacky-sac circles. Barracuda really wanted to try. There were people doing paperwork on blankets, couples cooing over each other on benches, families with children running about. There were musicians ranging in age from three violinist girls who were about 10 to a man dressed just like Jimmi Hendrix. There were string quartets complete with cellos. There were drummers in circles. There was even a gorgeous woman rhythmicly moving to African dance who was just plain mesmorizing. (I think African dance might join my Life List.) Watching all the different urbanites which flock to these events for leisurely fun is quite the example of all different walks of life being able to coexist and have fun together. The Spicy Barracuda ran through the park, created his own music with a favorite stick, poked the stick into the fountains, said hello to just about anyone and everyone, danced a bit, and then got into the car to drive home quite tired.

The rest of our day was spent working in the yard and prepping for the summer which is definitely on the way. Current, Spicy Barracuda is passed out in a tent which was quickly pitched in the backyard when he decided at dinner to try camping out. Sleeping outside in a tent is something he has done a couple of times before on family camp outs, but doing it solo is a new experience. We will see if he makes it the whole night.

The greatest part of Family Night is that it not only gives us a chance to be together, but it allows us to interact in a completely stress-free way. Wandering about the Farmers' Market has no time constraints, not expectations to live up to, no deadlines or social graces which need to be upheld. More over, you can see all different kinds of people freely being themselves and this encourages the same behavior in us. We can come home and enjoy working in the yard while the Barracuda and Guadalupe play together being a silly as can be. Overall, the implimentation of Family Nights have helped with all of us trying new things and becoming much closer together.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Quick Update

Things We Have Learned About Our Rain Barrels

Firstly, rain barrels, the way we made them, cannot withstand a curious four and a half year old little boy climbing upon them to see how much water rained last night. The spigots will fracture right off causing 55-110 gallons (he tried it twice!) to gush out in a nice uniform arch and course toward the foundation of your house much faster than the small child can realize what to do. Luckily, the washers seem to help immensely allowing for the plastic couplings to break clean and not stretch out the holes in the barrel. Equally lucky, if this should happen in your residence a well placed finger from even the smallest hand can plug the hole. After much yelling, getting quite wet, and finding every possible water receptacle in or around our house the barrels were drained. A mad rush to Home Depot and much prayer for it to not rain, allowed for replacement parts and a quick fix.

For those of you who haven't yet purchased the supplies for your rain barrels might I now suggest the $0.79 bright yellow plug which can fit into the ABS pipe bridge between the two barrels. This plug will fit into the sandwich piece (trap adapter) which holds the ABS pipe to the rain barrel. By blocking the bridge pipe, even if it does rain, all that will happen is your barrels will fill in the space above the overflow allowing you a temporary hiatus on the broken barrel filling with water. It will not prevent flooding if it rains like it did for Noah, but it will hold off a shower or two and saved us. For 79 cents it is worth it!

Lesson Number Two happened just today. Rain Barrels cost much, much more money if you wreck your significant other's truck on the way home from picking them up. Our three rain barrels just increased in price $500 not including what our insurance will tack on each month in increased fees. Drive home very slowly, even when you are only 5 minutes from your turn. Do not allow for any distraction, regardless of how minor. Better yet, find a way for him (or both) of you to go and get the rain barrels so that you aren't borrowing a vehicle when you apprently have an issue with rear ending the guy infront of you. At least tax returns are coming and Jules is understanding beyond belief.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Hole

When the idea of starting a garden first was broached to Jules, it wasn't one he immediately enjoyed. Well, that isn't true. He liked the idea of a garden well enough, however, he liked the idea of a yard much, much more. Initially, I'd planted a few fringe veggies around the edges and had a three tomato plants squished into one big pot. The turning point occurred when salsa found its way into the house. Jules LOVES Mexican food. Fresh salsa from our yard definitely made this garden thing a bit more worthwhile.

Now, the garden is extensive featuring seven 4 foot by 9 foot raised beds, a strawberry patch, blueberries, an apple tree, and an herb garden. It is wonderful! I'm bouncy about it whenever something new sprouts or we visit the local nursery. With all that produce we need somewhere to keep it.
Living in only 900 square feet, storage is at a premium. We just plain don't have the space to accumulate much. I quite like it as that means there is much less to clean and it is much easier to keep life simple. The drawback becomes having places to put all our extra bulk foods, canning, and fresh produce. My first thought was the garage, but Jules put a big veto on that one. It was for the best, we have way too much in there anyway. So next came the rather radical idea of a root cellar.

The very words root cellar seem archaic, but it makes a whole lot of sense especially as times get tougher and money gets even tighter. Basically a root cellar is a way to let Mother Nature do the refrigeration for you. Good root cellars both borrow and keep the cold. By digging in the ground well below the frost level the temperature remains as fairly constant 52 degrees and is slow to be effected by the extremely cold surface temperatures. In this way the veggies and fruits have protection from frost, and extra refrideration from the warm house temperatures. You can then emitt the extremely cold night air into the cellar (via vents or windows) allowing for the temperature to cool to between 32 and 40 degrees. With a pan or water for humidity (so the veggies don't crack or wilt) and two air vents to allow cross movement of air to avoid rotting, you're basic requirements are met. This gives you an extremely large, electricity-free, refridgerator. A finished or unfinished basement, an under the stair closet, a corner of your garage, even a hole in the yard can function as a perfectly good root cellar with little to no work after the initial set up. Canning and dry goods can also work well in a root cellar with only a small partition between the foods that need high humidity and cooler temperatures. In this way you can store large amounts of food and be able to "bulk up" when various fruits and veggies are in season and significantly cheaper not to mention better tasting!

Our root cellar is being put in by The Spicy Barracuda and I hauling up one 5 gallon bucket of dirt at a time. We are hand digging it out of what Jules has coined our "Hole." I honestly don't think he took me seriously when I said I was going to dig us one. But shovel and adz in hand the Barracuda and I began digging away. It is just plain hard work, but the exercise is wonderful and all the dirt has done nicely to fill our raised beds in the garden. The cellar is now coming along very well and we are beginning to consider shelving. The space is beginning as a way to hold our canned foods (most of this year's planting) and our dry bulk storage of 2 gallon buckets. As the space widens, and our garden yeilds increase, the Northeast side will become our actual root cellar to hold the cabbage, potatoes, carrots and such. The task has really been good for my exercising, and the Barracuda can now swing a adz like a pro! His arms are becoming very strong and he is really learning the value of watching his hard work patiently turn into a finished product.

Mostly I have been amazed at how simple this process has been. Though the work is physically tough at times, and you definitely get tired, the actual complexity of the project is minimal. You are mainly just digging away. There are many books which have been written on the subject and have helped me quite a bit when I first began and now as the spaces is coming to a point of some really setting up. Mike and Nancy Bubel have written Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables as a guide for anyone considering such an undertaking. The book is complete with plans, explanations, crop varieties, and stories of people from all walks of life and how they have created cellars for storage. Whether you are urban (like us), suburban, or rural there is something in this book which will suit you! My copy came from Powells. As far as I know they will ship just about anywhere!

Even if you do not have a garden or a space big enough to put in more plants than you already grow, help the local farm community at your local farmers' market. The markets are free, full of great family events and street entertainers, and provide you with a sense of knowing where your food comes from. This produce is normally cheaper by miles than the produce in the grocery store because you don't have to pay for the middle man and the enormous costs of all the overhead for the supermarket chains. Can it up, support your local community, and store it away to have great tasting veggies and sauces all winter long!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tom Sawyer

Peter Pan was a great success! Much rapture was had when the last duels broke out. Much wonder at all the discussion of fairies. Flying was amazing as was the idea of living underground and having a tree as a door. Pirates definitely one out over mermaids and little care was placed to the Redskins. More than anything, the idea of sitting down and listening to a story together has been fostered to the point Barracuda now asks to read together. Even if the entire story is lost to him, the desire to sit down and read is considered a solid victory to me.

So, now we are on to our next book: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The Barracuda is excited and so is Jules. Peter Pan was a bit painful for Jules to get through. His adult cynicism discouraged the wonder of the book a bit and made it hard for him to relate. But, Tom Sawyer. There is a boy Jules can relate to! Growing up in a small town on the Mississippi, living on stories and mischief, sneaking away to get into trouble with boyhood friends, trying to win the favor of a girl - this could easily be written about Jules himself.

I'm hoping this story reignites some desire within Jules to read with the Barracuda at night. Jules read, and the Barracuda loved it, but I would much rather the experience be mutually enjoyable rather than a chore. Unfortunately, most of the books Jules remembers enjoying as a child are just a bit too intense for The Barracuda right now. In a year or so, it will be Jules wanting to read at night exalting in The Last of the Mohicans,Treasure Island, and the like.

Hopefully Tom Sawyer gives Barracuda just enough encouragement to go out and have wonderful stories and adventures in our backyard, but not quite enough to go out trying to win the favor or girls. After all 4 and a half is a bit young!

""Oh, they just have a bully time - take ships, and burn them, and get the money and bury it in awful places in their island where there's ghosts and things to watch, it, and kill everybody in the ships - make 'em walk a plank. they don't kill the women - they're too noble. And the women's always beautiful, too." Chapter 13

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's A Wonderful Live

It secretly amazes me how wonderful our life is. I'm hoping others out there have the same feeling.

We aren't perfect; we have problems. We bicker. Our son has moments of being naughty. I'm not very good at keeping the house tidy. Jules' socks stink. We don't have much money in savings. I don't have a degree yet. We all have and do things that annoy the crap out of each other. Keeping up with close friends gets put off regularly. We don't exercise or brush our teeth like we know we should.

But our life, the stuff that really matters, is disgusting great. We all Love each other and make it a point to let each other know. We spend time together regularly and feel appreciated (most of the time). We're happy and fulfilled. Spicy Barracuda is curious, stimulated, and actively pursues knowledge. We are healthy. Our little house fits us, we can live within our means (sometimes barely). We have fun together. We are all comfortable enough to be silly, weird, and stupid together. At the risk of sounding too sappy and Hallmark-wonderful, I'll stop there.

The best part of all is that we can share our aspirations with each other and strive to make things happen. This support is something I've never really had much of. Though my family has always been financially supportive (sometimes astoundingly so) much of the time we're on entirely different wavelengths with life.

As such, my Life List has been posted along the tabs at the top of the page to remind me of the various things I would like to learn, see, and accomplish . To me it puts my thoughts down in print so that I can work toward them (even subconsciously) as a way to make my life feel more fulfilled. It seems to me that too many people feel that there is either no time in their current lives or all the time in the future and wind up standing at 60 wondering why they never fit in any of the things they really wanted to do. Still others (I fit in here) never consciously sat down and thought about the things which would make them feel as though they had really lived.

John Goddard is the poster child for the Life List, and though I don't necessarily believe in the degree of his self promoting, the message of dreaming and going for it is one of quality. I hope to promote such ideas in my son and live this message by having a list of my own which I can check off.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Walk

The more I look at it, the more the shift in our life hasn't been so much into simplicity (though this has occurred) it is in changing the perspective of how live to appreciate the small things we do every day. What used to be the mundane, annoying little things we had to fit into every day have now become events. We celebrate the activities by doing them together and making something positive occur from them. It is through these "events" that we can appreciate the small, normal things that make our life. We had normally read before bed time, but make an event out of choosing a classical chapter book and creating a story. It constantly rains here, but we made an event out of it by harvesting the rain and really quantifying the water to be useful. Everyone has to go to the grocery store, but we created an event out of it by limiting the trips to once a month, choosing to really create our food every day from scratch, watching it dwindle and then refilling it as a family. Mornings were just dragging ourselves out of bed, till Jules and I decided to make an event out of them by creating personal time for ourselves. Everyone walks their dog (hopefully), but it has finally come time to make an event out of that as well by creating "The Walk."

Our beloved Guadalupe is newly 6 months old and with that has come quite a bit of territorial behavior. She adores her family (even Bell Bell) but being a shelter rescue if anyone else moves too fast she gets very scared and sometimes snippy. That has always been true. However, if a total stranger comes up to her on the street when we aren't right there she will down right freak out at them. This is completely new behavior. She has always been territorial around the house, but frankly, I kinda liked that with Spicy Barracuda and I being home alone during the day. It makes me feel very safe to know that when I am walking my dog with my child, or at home alone, I have something there which will protect me. However, getting angry at strangers who just find her cute isn't going to work.

So I began to read up on Rottweilers and found out that this is really, really normal. It isn't an obedience issue. She comes when called, even if she doesn't want to. She doesn't jump up at people and quiets her barking when told to. She sits, fetches, and heels very well. She adapts to new rules incredibly fast and has never been even slightly aggressive to anyone in the family regardless of how the Barracuda wrestles with her. She just doesn't like anyone else to mess with her at all.

All the books have said the same basic thing: Rottweilers need activity in large amounts or they become temperamentally aggressive. So The Walk has been instituted. Every morning the Spicy Barracuda mounts his noble stead (a rockin' little bicycle) and we go for a very brisk 1 hour walk around the neighborhood. The last 10 blocks or so we race so that the Barracuda has to ride as fast as he can, I jog, and Guadie full on runs. We arrive back to the house panting and significantly more mellowed out for the day.

The exercise has done wonders! The winter nicely gave me a present of about 10 pounds to shed and this exercise has been very helpful. The difference in both Guadie and the Barracuda is equally amazing. When we missed The Walk only one day due to some broken plumbing and spewing water taking precedence, they both were hyped up beyond belief. It was one frustrating bouncy day around our house! Apparently this really gets the ya-ya's out of both of them and is great for me.

By leaving the house at 9 o'clock (no exceptions) we arrive home at 10:00 and don't have time to lazily begin our day. It is hard to let time get away from you when your wake up call is power walking! When we come home we have breakfast, brush our teeth, and begin with school for the day. The structure of having a specific starting point has made a wonderful flow. It provides the Spicy Barracuda with a specific, definable moment when things are going to start during our day. He knows what to expect and when things will be happening. Before this, time was the major designator and he is still too young to be able to really wrap his brain around what all that means. When we get home from The Walk he is ready to go. Who knew setting aside one hour in the morning could alleviate so many problems for the rest of the day!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Changing Perspectives

Spring break arrived and though we had planned a long awaited camping trip with the Spicy Barracuda, a forecast of 38 degree highs and 100% chance of rain kinda killed it. So, off to my family's beach house we ventured instead. The four days were wonderful! After the first two of pouring rain and crazy wind, the skies were cloudless and in the seventies.

The Barracuda loved it, Guadalupe loved it (her first time at the beach) and it definitely showed me the extent that our family's lifestyle is a bit off from center. To open up a pantry and see stacks of cans was odd. To not have a bins of bulk food and be making meals from scratch, was odd. To be without Jules (he stayed home for most of the trip), was odd. But most odd of all was the water!

Having rain barrels of water has changed the way that both Jules and I look at the consumption of our water. The idea of rain barrels began because in the summer it is as though someone turns off the rain faucet. It completely dries up (not even a shower) for at least a good two months and more like three. The bummer with this is that it is the prime growing season and thus, if you want a garden you have to pay for the high priced irrigation from city water. City water around here increases almost 20% in the summer! With 90-100 degree days the water is a must and so we figured why not harvest the water for free during the rainy season (the other nine months of the year).

We started small with only two barrels set up and an incomplete overflow valve. Sure, it rained a lot here. Sure, everywhere on the internet cautioned people at how quickly rain barrels filled up. But, come on. We just had them hooked up to the small porch awning not the whole roof, and two barrels is 110 gallons of water. No problem, we had a couple of weeks to get it all perfected.

In one weekend rain event we had a barrel and a half full. And it was still coming! We hadn't anticipated this kind of water falling from the sky. I have lived here my whole life and never really thought much of the volume of water when it rains. It doesn't pour, it just rains...all the time. What were we doing to do with all that water?!? We didn't want the barrels to become completely full, and flood out the makeshift overflow creating a nice eroding river in our backyard.

There had to be something, so we brainstormed. We couldn't use it to cook with because the gutters are dirty. We couldn't drink it for the same reason. The crops weren't in yet so watering wasn't necessary and the rain was watering for us. Dishes and laundry were out for the same reason we couldn't cook with it. Jules came up with it at last - the toilet. It didn't matter how dirty the water was if we were just using it for flushing the toilet!

We figured we could make use of the water (and mainly keep the barrels from flooding) for the next couple of days (it rained all week) until we could acquire a third barrel and establish the overflow. Problem solved, at least temporarily.

How much water do you think it takes to flush your toilet? I had never thought about the toilet this way. Who really wants to think about their toilet? Uh, not me. But it is one of the most highly used appliances in your house and a very simple machine. Once you turn the water off at the wall you get only a single flush. You then have to take the back lid off and fill the tank up again to the water line (literally a line in the tank) to get another flush. This is normally done automatically through the wall and that is why you turn it off. I had no frame of reference as to the water capacity of our toilet. The tank didn't look that big, eh, maybe a gallon or something. NO! It takes almost four gallons of water with every single flush of our toilet!
To put that into perspective, those are two liter soda bottles and

that is only one toilet flush.

The average person flushes the toilet 8 times a day. For those of you who work outside the home and your house (and toilet) sit unused all day this might not be much, but the Barracuda and I are home almost all day, every day. That is a lot of water (and money) literally being flushed down the toilet. Jules and I could not figure out why the water bill had spiked so much since the Barracuda and I moved it. We accepted it, but were baffled. Now, we have the answer. Somewhere between $20-$30 of our water bill was just toilet flushing.

Everyone's toilet is different, and you can calculate the amount of water you toilet uses (a great bored out of your mind activity to do with the kids) by visiting this website. If you live in a large household, this probably wouldn't work for you. There are only three of us here so we are able to pull it off very, very simply. A large kitty litter container is exactly the right size to fill the tank of our toilet now that two bricks have been placed inside. You flush, you fill. The difference is actually surprisingly minimal except in your perception of personal and household consumption.

I had no idea we used the amount of water we did. With the extent of the global water crisis leaving more than a billion people without clean water to even drink, I am so taken aback by us using four gallons of fresh water just to flush our toilet. Though I do not see our small simplification of using rainwater to flush the toilet as a way to save the impoverished of the world, the perspective it has given me on just how much I take for granted will stick with me for a long time to come.