Friday, April 15, 2011

Any green thumbs in the family?

Anyone who has talked with Joseph has probably heard about his farming dreams. It's not a constant thing with him but, once or twice a year, he gets on a long kick about how he wants to move to a farm--either right now or when he grows up--or farm in our back "yard". Joseph, of course, would also be the first to tell you that, "Just in general, I really can't wheel on grass." Which isn't exactly true but it's definitely not the best surface for him.

Anyway. We have long wanted to do some container gardening so that Joseph can get at what we're growing but we've moved every summer since Joseph was old enough to help plant a seed so we've never taken the plunge. With all we have going on right now, large-scale container gardening isn't a big priority but Eric really, really wanted to try out some lettuce this year. We both have mouth-watering memories from the summer Eric house sat for an older couple who told him to please harvest and eat anything that was ready in the garden while they were gone. Almost every night we went out and picked ourselves an amazing salad.

I can't claim much credit for this project. Eric did all the research and found that lettuce does pretty well in a pretty simple container. My basic contribution was to pick up the lumber during my weekly Home Depot run (during which I discovered that a 10-foot 2x6 board is the largest thing I can safely move to a lumber cart while wearing a baby). Then, during classic "let's do a project" mode at our house, Eric was working from home and pointed out that since the two little boys were asleep I could go out and set up the planter boxes. I was more than happy to do that all on my own but, of course, both boys woke up early and Eric ended up coming out and doing most of the work himself after all.

The kids were jumping out of their skin with excitement. Joseph and Margaret alphabetized the seed packets and placed the seeds carefully.

But William wasn't too pleased when he found out that we hadn't just built him a huge sand box to dig in all the time (I also can't claim any credit at all for this magnificent outfit of his):

Fortunately, there was plenty of watering to do so all three kids got to help with that.

Joseph has checked several times this afternoon and reports that we don't have any plants sprouting quite yet. We're actually a little late to the game with lettuce planting for New Jersey but we're supposed to have lots of cool, rainy weather for the next couple weeks so we're hoping that something will grow. If we have success we may look at what we can plant later in the season or expand things a bit next year.

And Joseph has now decided he wants to be a botanist when he grows up and is requesting that our next home schooling unit with the Rice boys be all about plants (click on that link for some more pics of my kiddos and a peek at what we did this week).

And please excuse our rather sorry-looking patio. We have a construction site next door and they put up a chain link fence inside our property line which we'll have to investigate at some point. And, just generally, the patio was left in a sort of chaotic state. But, living in the city, any outdoor space at all is a bonus so we're happy to have it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

New Shoes!

Posting about the kids' new shoes is a little odd but this is the kind of thing I get asked about a lot. Plus it gave me an excuse to snap a few cute pictures of a couple of my kids for all you grandparents out there.

If you've ever asked yourself, "What does Susan think are the best kid shoes?" wonder no longer. These are Keen Newport H2s. We first got a pair of these handed down to us the summer Margaret was one. I'd had a heck of a time finding summer shoes that were decently supportive and not sporting Dora the Explorer and Margaret was picky about comfort. Given that she was already walking several miles a day sometimes at that age, I was fine with finding her shoes that worked.

There's an endless debate--especially with children's items--about whether to spend extra for "quality." In general we choose the "budget" option whenever it is feasible. But these shoes are a definite exception. They retail regularly for around $50 a pop which is a lot to spend on kids shoes. But a few times a year the price bottoms out at around $35 which is only a bit more than a decent pair of shoes from Target. And these shoes have other benefits that justify the high price.

First, they are built like tanks. The kids log miles and miles of walking in these shoes and they hold up amazingly well. The original handed down pair of purple Keens is in storage and Margaret's pair from last year will join them. They both still look almost new. I have been burned in the past paying more for something thinking it will last well enough to pass down to the next kid but these shoes have renewed my faith in quality.

Second, the design of the shoes lets us replace other pairs we might normally buy. These are closed-toe but have plenty of breathing space. They are waterproof! And they don't stink! For summer these are the only shoes Margaret wears. They pass muster for me as Sunday shoes because they never look dingy and we walk to and from church. They also work during transitional seasons with a pair of socks. So, other than these Keens, the only other shoes I need to buy are a pair of boots for winter and two pairs of "holiday" shoes (one for Christmas, one for Easter) which I usually find for about $10 apiece. That's not too bad for a yearly shoe outlay.

Third, the kids love them. These arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon and William has not removed them except to change his clothes. He slept in them. That was a real treat when he crawled into our bed in the night and we got kicked in the ribs. Keens don't really work for Joseph's feet but William's shoes will definitely be kept for Gregory and we'll continue to save Margaret's in case she ever gets that sister she's praying for.

So there's my little treatise on kids' shoes. Next time someone asks me about this I can just point them here rather than re-typing all of these fascinating thoughts. And if, after reading this, you are ready to run out and buy some for your kids, two warnings: all Keens run small so you might have to size up and some kids hate them. The first two pairs we owned were given to us by a family whose girls refused to wear them. So I would recommend finding a place to try out your first pair. I bought them last year during the semi-annual REI sale and this year found them online ( for 20% off and then added an 8% Ebates refund on top. Both times I paid $35.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The hinterlands

I have no idea what is wrong with my camera. Anyone want to guess why all my pictures seem slightly blurry and low-resolution? I know I'm not the world's greatest photographer but usually I can manage to keep my hands steady. I'm going to post these anyway because it will give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

The back "mud room" which is in need of some serious organization.

I didn't accomplish anything on my "Little House Projects List" this weekend. Yesterday we headed to a birthday party around noon for both the children of some good friends in our neighborhood. We intended to stay for two hours, tops, and then come back home to get something done. We had such a good time visiting with everyone that we stayed until it was time to come home and put the kids to bed. Perhaps this afternoon I can put a dent in our bedroom which currently looks like a rummage sale exploded all over the place. Eric did manage to cross something off his list by installing a programmable thermostat. I just love these things. Nothing beats rolling out of bed in the early morning to a house that is already nice and warm.

Eric didn't make all those holes--he's actually pretty competent with a drill. We're guessing this is at least the third thermostat in this spot though the last one was pretty old so it doesn't make sense that the old holes weren't patched.

In the meantime, I will entertain you with a little tour of our basement and attic. Our goal, while house hunting, was to find a home with a big enough ground floor for the entire family to live on permanently. And when I say "entire family" that includes having more kids, I hope. But we soon realized that we weren't going to find a city house in our price range with three good-size bedrooms and enough leftover living space to keep us all from driving each other nuts. We continued to rule out single family homes because they tend to have all the bedrooms on the second floor (they also cost just as much, or more, than the two-family homes and make up only about 20% of the housing stock in our neighborhood). So we were left with finding a two-family with a couple main-floor bedrooms and a finished basement.

We definitely have mixed feelings about the usefulness of a finished basement. Joseph can't get down there so we don't want to use it on a regular basis for much of anything but as our family grows, something will have to give and we'll need the space. We're still working out the details of all that. For now, our main apartment is about 1200 square feet with two bedrooms and we're all fine with the space that gives us for now.

That ledge makes a nice little pantry overflow space. Lots of tomatoes! We found them for fifty cents a can and stocked up.

As you head down the back stairs from the kitchen you come into a pretty nice, well-lit room. It's messy! But it's a basement and we're still unpacking. This room currently houses our laundry and chest freezer and storage items that we need to access more frequently: tools, bulk food items, etc.

There is an "L" off to the back with some built-in closet space and we have some plans to organize that entire nook to hold everything that will live in this room permanently. Then we both feel like this room could be nice enough for a bedroom for us, for one of the kids, for guests. This room can be closed off completely from the rest of the basement which as you'll see boasts a second kitchen:

This is also "L" shaped and is big enough for one or two to "eat in". There is a nice large room beyond it.

It's a bit spartan at the moment but we have successfully hosted a couple sets of guests down here already. Margaret spends her rest time down here each day. When she isn't sleeping she likes to dance in front of the big, mirrored closet.

There is also a basement entrance from the front hall and that comes into this rather large entry-way space and you can see there is a second full bath off to the right there.

We hope the basement space might be a nice way to be hospitable to people needing a place to stay. Eric's department has a few new hires coming through this summer. It would be easy-enough to give someone a little studio apartment and still close off the laundry room for our family's use. But we may just keep the space all for ourselves. Once we are fully unpacked we'll have a better idea. We've also looked into converting one of the stairwells into a residential elevator which would allow us to have a much bigger house available to every member of the family.

And if that's not enough space, we've got an attic! The stairs in our entryway lead up to the second floor apartment (for which we have tenants lined up to arrive in the summer) and also to the attic entrance which is a separate, locking door off the landing. The attic is a huge, well-lit space. Currently we have long-term storage up here (outgrown kids' clothes, Christmas decorations) and Eric set up a desk with a few storage bins and a spare door. It's not fancy but he loves having a "home" office two floors away from the family. He can actually get work done from home now which is a huge boon for an academic with an irregular schedule.

With some new flooring and a coat of paint the attic could be quite lovely. It's set up for heat though we haven't been able to make it work yet (we knew about that problem before we bought it). The ceiling isn't very high but the various "rooms" are all large and there are lots of them. We are toying with the idea of making this Margaret's room in a few years.

These pictures really don't show how big this space is. It's a bit more than we know what to do with!

Out the back you can see our brand-spanking new roof, just put on yesterday. Nothing says "I'm a homeowner" like forking over thousands of dollars for a new roof. Fortunately we knew that we'd be replacing this flat section before long and got the sellers to kick in for it even though they swore it had never leaked (and we believe them). But we had a terrible wind/rain storm our second weekend here and ended up with a puddle on the floor of the second floor kitchen. So now we have a new roof. And though you can't tell from this terrible picture, we have a view of the Manhattan skyline from this roof. There might even be a chance of putting in a little deck up here down the road, though that's certainly pretty far down the list.

This isn't the prettiest view of our immediate neighborhood which is actually quite lovely. There are some luxury condos going into a vacant lot next to us at some point in the not-too-distant future.

So there you have the far reaches of our new home. It's an enormous amount of living space if we can figure out how to best use it. Fortunately, we have plenty of time to figure that out.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The little guy

Gregory has been busy outgrowing his clothes and generally charming our socks off lately. He's a little smile factory and the flock of surrogate grandmothers at our church all know they can get a big grin out of him if they run over after (or during) Mass.

He has his moments, of course, but I would say he's our most easy-going baby so far. Maybe I'm just getting better at being a mom. He sleeps for nice long stretches day and night. He mostly puts up with his violently affectionate older brother. He lets Margaret over care for him. Joseph has developed a real knack for entertaining babies lately and he's been trying his tricks on Gregory. We're all pretty smitten with him, even Robyn:

Who can hold Gregory while teaching my children anatomy:

In the top picture you might notice two items of interest. The first is that, yes, that's my baby in a basket of (clean) laundry. What can I say? We're baby furniture minimalists. All of my children so far have hated those little infant seats after the first three minutes or so. Plus those rocking seats are just too tempting for two-year olds. So I don't choose to take up valuable square footage with something that is mildly entertaining at best and life-threatening at worst. But I was really sick last week and needed to get some work done on the computer while home alone with Gregory. On a whim, I plopped him in the laundry basket and he played there happily for about thirty minutes.

The other thing you might notice now or in future pictures of Gregory is the big red spot on his chin. That's a hemangioma (sometimes called a "strawberry" or "stork bite"). These spots are fairly common but more often seen on the scalp or back of the neck. Joseph and William both had them on the backs of their necks. Gregory's is a bit worse and in a more concerning spot. Very rarely, they can grow large enough to interfere with feeding. Our pediatrician sent us for an ultrasound which we had today and it doesn't look like we have anything serious to worry about. But the spot could get quite large and red over the next year or so. Typically the spots fade and completely disappear by age five. So, now you know that that is and you don't have to wonder if Gregory's taking it on the chin from his older siblings on a regular basis.

I hope to have more fun house pics this weekend. I have a slew of exciting projects including Unpacking the Bedroom! Installing Hooks in the Entryway! Hanging Lamps for the Kids! And all sorts of other excitement. Stay tuned.