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Keeping up Appearances

I have accepted the fact that I need deadlines for motivation to keep up with the mundane tasks of life.

We've made a point of entertaining a lot this season, and my house is keeping fairly clean for that reason only.

If I know people are coming over, I will actually do laundry to get it off the floor.

If I know people are coming over, the slipcovers get washed, the toilets scrubbed, the furniture dusted--and I'll even take a swipe at the baseboards.

The car? I cleaned the car in anticipation of taking it in for service. I shoveled it out, vacuumed, and washed it before taking it in. Sound silly? You haven't seen our car. I mean, you HAVEN'T SEEN OUR CAR.

We're having a garage sale next weekend. You can bet I'll put effort into the parking pad, which now holds a ton of yard debris, bricks, pruned branches, and scrap building materials. Not nicely stacked or arranged at all. It's a mess. It's truly awful. Next weekend it'll be spiffy because we'll have strangers wandering around back there.

Today the A/C man is supposed to visit our basement but the task of bringing order to that space is overwhelming. I might put him off till Monday and suffer the heat until then. Really. The basement has been neglected for a couple years, except for the addition of a dehumidifier and a few abandoned attempts to bring order. We've had flooding, rodents, and mold down there. I avoid it.

I put things off and live with a cruddy house until someone else has to see it. Even an air conditioner guy gets a better "basement experience" than we afford ourselves.

Any one else like me?


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My half of the yard

In our household, I've become the "front yard" person, and Curt is the "back yard" person.

Each year, I start to fret about "curb appeal" as things start to grow. I trim the hedge, mow the lawn, plant the window boxes, etc.

If I didn't do this, nobody would. The grass could go to seed in the front and Curt would remain engrossed in the back yard, oblivious, because he's more interested in gardening than in trimming hedges.

Our home used to be owned by an avid and experienced gardener, and our small back yard is beautifully planted in perennials, ornamental trees, and a lovely Asian pear tree.

Curt will spend hours dividing perennials, moving plants for better light, pruning trees, and balancing the size and shape of plantings for the space.

I've been facing the front yard a day or two at a time, depending on weather. On one day I'll trim the hedges, the next I'll weed one of the two garden beds, and the next day I'll cut the grass. Then the cycle starts all over again.

After I proved myself a miserable failure at bringing in or otherwise protecting our wicker furniture out front, we decided to buy some new outdoor furniture that could withstand the elements if neglected. Though I was not that keen to buy new, I was also not keen to spend half my summer at garage sales looking for something I liked. I'm getting more and more that way.

As an experienced yard saler, I know that it pays to always be looking, and to start looking now for things you will need later (my garage is FULL of bargains I've bought that I may need later--heh, heh).

I went to a couple sales looking for furniture and then I pooped out. Curt said he'd seen something he liked at World Market. We looked, and BINGO! A wood outdoor furniture set was on sale for a great price, including the cushions. We snapped it up and I have to say that I am pleased as pie.

I like things a little rustic and funky (remind me to show you my wall cabinet) but this set is rather Pottery Barn. That's okay. No buyers remorse here. Very happy to have my front patio settled and comfy for entertaining.

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My Garden

I've been waiting to post photos of my garden because I LOST my shots. Keep thinking I'll find them in a memory card somewhere. Why don't I take more? Okay, I will.

Anyhow, as you may recall, I injured my knee. Well, the MRI revealed a large bone fragment floating around in there, making it painful and nearly impossible to walk for awhile.

Before I could get my appointment w/the orthopedic specialist, the bone fragment must have wandered into another part of my knee, because now I'm perfectly mobile, save for a bit of tenderness. I'm putting off the appointment with the specialist for now.

During those hobbled days, Curt built two beautiful raised beds over the places where I'd started digging my garden.

So, the man who tends to finish my projects finished a project for me yet again.

To be honest, I was a little put out by his building these beds and plopping them right on top of my hard work. I was appreciative, but gently mentioned something about the cost (he said these would last 15 years), and then about how I would have been perfectly happy for him to help with the in-ground beds versus starting something completely new.

Actually, I really do like these beds, even if it seems like overkill after speaking with a neighbor gentleman who informed me that our Iowa soil doesn't so much as require tilling. What?

According to this man, I could have just put the seeds in the ground without having done ANY soil tilling or prep work, and my veggies would have grown well. I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. He insisted that I could have simply pulled up a little grass in the place in my yard where I wanted each seed to be sown, and sown the seed.

Sound crazy?

He used to be the gardening editor for Better Homes and Gardens Magazine.

Oh well.

Anyway, it's exciting and somewhat miraculous to watch a seed grow into a plant. I said as much to the former garden editor the other day when we were working on a neighborhood landscaping project. I told him that watching things grow was nothing short of miraculous, and he said that he thinks about that every time he's outside.

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How to open a coconut

With the addition of two hamsters to our household, we decided to buy a coconut.


My husband spent many years growing up in Hawaii, presumably eating lots of coconuts. He's the coconut cracker in this household.

The kitchen was dark. My flash was overpowering. I've tried to make the photos as unoffensive as possible.

So here we go. Here is how my husband cracks a nut (!):

But wait! Did you know that coconuts growing on trees do not look like coconuts in the grocery store? The coconuts we buy in the store have already had their husks removed. A coconut on a tree is huge and barky and hairy.

Ideal tools are a long nail or screw and a small hatchet (or a hammer, or a big rock, which actually requires a lot more skill to use properly than a hammer or hatchet).

First, drive the nail deep into two of the three "eyes" on the end of the coconut. You are making one hole for pouring the milk and one hole for air.

Pour the watery "milk" into a bowl, or, if you're my husband, you'll use a knife or hatchet to scrape the worst of the coconut hair from around the holes so it's possible to drink directly from the coconut.

You may need to shake the coconut to get the milk out. You may need to enlarge the holes if it doesn't trickle out easily. You will have about 3/4 cup of coconut milk, which looks like debris strewn water and not like the stuff in cans at the store.

Next, holding the coconut in one hand, take the hammer or hatchet in the other and give a good thwack to the mid-section of the coconut. You are not trying to crack open the coconut in one thwack. That would be reckless--and dangerous, since you are holding the coconut in your hands!

Give the coconut a little turn and a thwack at its midsection again about two inches from the first thwack. Continue in this manner for quite a few full rotations of the coconut: turn a couple inches,


If you're really skilled at this, you can turn the coconut with one hand and get into a rhythm. Indeed, my children and I began a percussion routine with clapping and stomping to complement the rhythmic coconut thwacks.

About a minute passed. "Okay, this is looking unproductive," I told my husband.

"Be patient," he said.

He continued thwacking until one thwack sounded distinctly different--a dull thud instead of a sharp crack.

"Ah HAH!" he said.

He kept thwacking, turning the shell around and around, a couple inches a turn. A horizontal crack along the midline became visible. It widened as the thwacks continued.

When it looks as if the shell can be pried open, you can give it a try. Curt used the hatchet to help.

You should be left with two relatively even coconut halves.

At this point you can leave the halves to dry in the hot sun, and eventually the coconut meat (the white part) will shrink and pull away from the shell. Easy peasy.

Or. .. you can do like eager coconut consumers do, and pry the meat from the shell. This takes time, and can be awkward and frustrating. My husband is methodical. He wedges a thin knife between the meat and the shell to pull the good stuff off in chunks. Completely unhelpful photo:

The coconut meat will have a brown, shell-like backing. This is edible, and indeed should be consumed along with the coconut meat. Your mouth will not notice that it's there, and it's probably an excellent source of fiber anyway.

I was going to type here that you can strain the coconut milk and drink it, but my husband said NO to the straining part. He says to drink it straight up, bits and all.

I'm not convinced.

You can drink the milk, use it in baking, or mix it with pineapple juice to create a pina colada!

As for the shells, they're perfect for a Gilligan's Island-style bikini bra, for clacking together to create horse hoof sound effects, or. . . for making little huts for your hamsters (use a saw to cut doorways).

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Young Bakers

My daughters spent the day at a friend's house yesterday.

The mother (my friend) spent the entire afternoon on the back porch, reading, on her day off. The four children came and went from the back door of the house all day to play in the backyard, to put on swimsuits, to build forts, etc.

When my friend walked into her house to use the bathroom she said, "It smells like bread in here!"

And the response from the two 10-year-olds was, "That's because we baked some."

Indeed, a beautiful loaf of bread was cooling on the counter. They had mixed, risen, kneaded, risen, and baked a loaf of bread throughout the afternoon!

And the kitchen was clean.


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Is it Okay to Let a Child Quit?

The first time one of my children said they wanted to quit an activity that they'd begged to do, I had to think for awhile.

I have friends in both camps: 1) make 'em follow through till the end, and 2) let 'em quit if they're not happy. I've seen a child miserably attend lessons she detested for months and months beyond when she'd wanted to quit, and I've seen a parent let a child quit after two lessons, which I though was too soon.

My compromise philosophy: Let the child quit, so long as they've given the activity a "good try."

What's a good try? I give my children a specific response when they ask this question (which has come up only twice). I'll say, "After 5 lessons, you can quit," or something similar, depending on the activity and what I judge to be enough of a try. Actually, the second time a child wanted to quit, I asked her what she deemed to be enough time to render a decision, and she gave a great response, so that's what we did.

My daughters have accepted this idea with no quibbling. I think they understand that it's pretty fair.

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One vehicle

You know what? I wrote a week's worth of posts about how we managed each day with one vehicle, and those posts were boring. Really boring.

Because all it amounts to is 1) one person using the car for the bulk of the day, and 2) the other family members traveling places by some other means.

It's not rocket science; It's carpooling, mostly.

Tonight, our girls had softball practice at the same time, but at different locations in town. Curt drove one child, and I accompanied the other on bike. If we didn't have bikes, or if our destination were too far away, I'd just ring up a teammate's parents--most of whom are my friends--and ask if they'd swing by to pick up my daughter. I'd pay them back with rides for their children on another day.

We're giving people rides all the time, and so we don't feel bad asking for a lift now and then. It's simple.

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Vinegar & Baking Soda Shampoo Update

I have not used shampoo in about 6 weeks.

The washing routine takes some getting used to; this isn't for everyone.

For one thing, there's no gratifying lather. For another, there's no squeak to the clean. My hair does not feel clean when it's still wet after washing, but it looks and feels clean when it's dry.

It takes awhile to figure out how to wash one's scalp and hair with powder. If you decide to try this, you'll see that you have to work out a method for getting at your scalp, and for cleaning the ends of your hair (I rub hair between my two palms as if I were making a playdough snake, if that makes sense).

The vinegar is in a spray bottle, and I probably use a couple of tablespoons each time I wash my hair. Not very much. I probably use 1/3 cup of baking soda per wash at this point. I am using less as I perfect my method. I expect I'll get away with one or two tablespoons down the road.

Will I do this forever? I don't know. I'll keep you posted from time to time.

I enjoy these little experiments because they enforce the idea for me that it is possible *to do without* conveniences that cost money and that we take for granted. I may not bake bread from scratch all the time, but I know how to do it, and do it pretty well. I may usually buy yogurt at the store, but I can make my own tasty yogurt when I want to. I can wash my clothes in the bathtub, make my own tinctures and old-timey kitchen remedies from plants that I've gathered, barter for goods and services, cut my family's hair, and make paper from trash. There's much more, but you get the idea.

Back to the hair.

I do not have a great haircut--just a blunt bob from Great Clips--but today a woman standing behind me at the bank complimented my hair for it's "body." I smiled and thanked her, and I probably turned red.

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Garden Update

I tore something--possibly my meniscus (knee joint thingy)--and now I have to think about how to get my last bed dug and the other two fully ready for planting.


I haven't started seeds yet, so now's a good time to get 'em going indoors.

I have to see what's possible with this leg over the next few days before I decide on how to proceed outside.

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New Acquisition

When I said I wanted a new shovel, I didn't mean a NEW shovel!

Curt couldn't resist. The cost of my garden veggies just went up, but I'm happy to have this little surprise. Think it's a hint to get back to my digging?

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What I'm Reading

Atonement by Ian McEwan

The Impossible Will Take a Little While, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K.Rowling (reading to my children)

Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman

Understanding the Bible by John A. Buehrens

The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth by Thomas Jefferson


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June 2009