February 25, 2008

Good Omens

Whew! Things are starting to fly along at lightening speed around here! We're in a rush to find things like fixtures so that the plumbing rough-in can happen (it's starting this weekend!), as well as finalizing a few other things.

We bought two of our kitchen appliances yesterday, so I can move on to dreaming about other things now (toilets, maybe?). We found a very nice man who sells scratch and dent appliances for about half the cost of new (all tested, and with a six month warranty).

The stove that we bought doesn't have anything wrong with it (it was a floor model), and the dishwasher only has a very slight ding on the side, which you'll never see once it's recessed into the cabinets. Buying slightly damaged appliances has allowed us to upgrade to much higher quality units. We got the Kenmore Elite range with convection oven for about what we would have paid for a entry level coil top. The dishwasher is a Whirlpool Gold energy star model.

Over the past few weekends while at the house, we've noticed that we seem to have a pair of ravens living on or around our property. Ravens hold special meaning for me, so I see this as a very good omen for our life there.

In addition, while we were sitting enjoying the sunshine last Sunday, we noticed the distinct sound of owl calls coming from the woods behind us, and since my husband's family crest is an owl, we're taking this as a positive sign as well. With the reality of our future mortgage becoming clearer, we're looking for all the reassurance we can get! ;D

February 20, 2008

Spring Fever

First off, thank you all so much for your input regarding appliances, it was a huge help! It sounds like the consensus is to go with white, and I think I've found the ones that I want (more on that later). I saw an ad for Heartland Appliances recently that said "Stainless steel belongs in your cutlery drawer", so I'm taking that as a sign. I've even found a line of pressure canners that can be used on ceramic cooktops in case we decide to go that route.

The weather has been downright warm here the last several days, and I'm finding myself with a bad case of spring fever. It's so bad that I've actually been walking around with butterflies in my stomach, like something really exciting is going to happen. This happens to me every year, and it probably explains why most of the big things in my life happen in March when I'm totally abuzz. I never realize how much these dark winter days (which I love, don't get me wrong!) affect me until spring arrives and I turn into a totally different (giddy) creature.
Part of the excitement might have something to do with our house actually looking like a house:

This photo cracks me up. It looks like I managed to catch a tiny cat walking on the fence, but it's actually the neighbor's border collie picking up the stick that I'd just thrown for her - perspective is everything!

My husband and I have been doing the weekly site cleanup instead of paying one of our contractor's guys to it, and it also ensures that as much is being reused and recycled as possible. We pulled nails from our plywood concrete forms for one of our soon-to-be neighbors to use, and we're going to use the left over 2 x 4's to frame in our basement walls. The plastic that comes wrapped around the pallets of wood has been recycled, as have the leftover bits of rebar and metal strapping. Any wood scraps are being sorted and saved for later building projects (the future garden shed and/or chicken coop) , with anything too small being earmarked for the wood stove. Our contractor said that the other house he's currently working on has had three skids worth of garbage hauled away already, but so far we haven't even needed one, and they're nearly finished! I'm hoping we can avoid getting one altogether.

With this warm spell, the ground has started to thaw, and I spent a good portion of our clean-up day planting bulbs. Most of them were wildflowers which I planted on the edge of the wooded areas where they will naturalize over the coming years. My garden fever has been so bad that I've already been to my favorite nursery (even though I have nowhere to plant anything yet), and I've even started a few seeds (just sweet onions so far).

I'm not the only one who's been enjoying the sunshine. While we were out the other day, we saw three eagles riding the air currents over the park we were picnicking at, and when we got home later that day, we heard this guy calling from a tree behind the house (my daughter took this great photo):

Clouds moved in for a while today, but luckily they went away long enough for us to get a glimpse of the lunar eclipse that occured this evening.

I think there's more rain in the forecast, but I've had a taste of spring now and there's no going back. The cherry trees will be blooming soon, and then it'll be game over. I can almost feel the dirt under my nails!

February 12, 2008

Appliance Overload

With our house progressing, we're frantically trying to finalize things like appliances and finishing details because we know we're not going to have time to do so once we're in the middle of insulating, drywalling, and all that fun stuff. I've been scouring Craigslist looking for a good deal, but we haven't really settled on what we're looking for yet, so that's making things a little difficult.
I'm feeling a huge amount of pressure to go along with the current trend toward high end stainless steel appliances, and while I do like the look of them , I don't love the inflated price (or their tendency to attract fingerprints). I don't really mind the look of nice white appliances, including coil elements, which seem to be on their way to extinction. In fact, my dream would be to get a set of refurbished antique appliances (I adore the look of fridges and stoves from the 1940's and 50's), with their white enamel and shiny chrome accents, but the price is prohibitive. I've looked at getting originals that haven't yet been updated, and while that is technically recycling, their high energy requirement is a turnoff. We're going for a "modern farmhouse" look for out kitchen (wood floors, beadboard, and other vintage touches), so I think good quality white appliances would look fine, especially if we throw in a few stainless touches elsewhere (knobs, faucets, etc.).
Clearly I need some help solving my dilemma, and I'm hoping that some of you might take the time to weigh in with your opinion on this matter. What do you prefer? White or stainless? Coil or ceramic cooktop (gas isn't an option)? Convection or not? Bottom or top mount refrigerator? Is there a particular brand that you swear by (or swear off)? Why?
Please help!

February 07, 2008

Grooming Behavior

This week's news headlines have been filled with reports of chemicals in baby products and their possible toxicity. The main concern of this latest report is over phthalates, which are added to plastics to make them more flexible and have lately been raising concerns over their use in toys, as they are suspected carcinogens and hormone disrupters. It turns out that phthalates are also regularly added to personal care products in order to increase the longevity of the fragrance, as well as to increase the absorption of lotions into the skin.

The main reaction to this latest information seems to be one of helplessness. Many people feel like there's nothing that can be done, as these chemicals are in everything (even though they're not listed on the labels) and are seemingly impossible to avoid. While it does take some careful shopping, alternatives are certainly out there. I've been allergic to most mainstream grooming products for almost 20 years now (I'm convinced that this is some kind of payback for my "product" addiction as a teen), so I've had to find products without any kind of artificial colors, chemicals or fragrance whatsoever. It can be a little frustrating, but it is possible, and it's a small price to pay for eliminating the eczema and skin irritation that I experienced previously.

The best place to start when looking for healthier alternatives is your local health food store - I gave up shopping in the beauty department of drugstores and supermarkets years ago. However, not everything being sold as "natural" actually is - many of these products (even ones labelled as "organic") still contain irritants and questionable ingredients. Look for short ingredient lists, with things that you actually recognize listed on the label. There's a good list of things to avoid located here.

Another option is to make your own products, which gives you total control over what's going onto your skin, and can save you money. One of my favorite books on this topic is Natural Beauty at Home by Janice Cox, which is packed with recipes for everything from lipgloss to hairspray. Cranberry Lane is a great local company that sells everything you need to make your own delicious homemade goodies. Not only will these things be better for your family and the environment, but it's a lot of fun too. Kids love making their own flavored lipbalm and bath bombs, and it makes a great birthday party or sleepover activity!

We seem to have been duped into believing that we need this stuff in order to make ourselves look and smell better, but it's absolutely not true. I used to spend a fortune on mousse, gel, and hairspray to get my hair looking how I wanted it (bear in mind, it was the 80's), but now I don't use anything and my hair is shinier and fluffier than ever. I was also convinced that if I found just the right cleansing routine, I'd end up looking like Cindy Crawford, but now I use nothing but a bar of olive oil or goat's milk soap, and I'm happy to report that I don't look any less like Cindy than I did before.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a total ascetic when it comes to these things. I definitely love things that smell nice, but now I just have to have them around me, not on me (and they can't be artificial!). And while I don't wear full make-up like I used to, I still wear a lick of mascara and a touch of blush if I'm going out. It took a long time to find brands that didn't make my face peel off, but I can get away with a little bit of it now and then.

It only makes sense that if we shouldn't be exposing ourselves to these chemicals through our personal care products, we shouldn't be using them to clean our house either. Detergents with any kind of fragrance or chemicals drive my skin crazy, and if I walk into someone's house that's been cleaned with regular harsh cleaners, I'll have sneezing fits for an hour (I used to think that people with allergies were either wimps or faking it - can you say Karma?). I get by with baking soda, vinegar and liquid soap for most of my cleaning, with a dash of my favorite essential oil for a little added zip(there's nothing like a little lemon, lavender, pine, mint, or eucalyptus oil to make things smell really fresh and clean!).

It gives me the heebie jeebies to thing about the chemicals that get dumped into our water supply every day. Next time you reach for that harsh cleaning product, stop and ask yourself how you'd feel about stirring a bit of it into your next glass of water, because that's exactly where it all eventually ends up.

But what about killing germs, you might ask? By now, most of us know that taking antibiotics unnecessarily is creating strains of superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics, yet we think nothing of using anti-bacterial products in our homes, and they also contribute to resistant strains of bacteria. If we're careful and avoid splashing raw chicken juice around our kitchens, most of these things are unnecessary anyway, and it has been suggested that children who are raised in very sterile environments have higher rates of asthma and gastrointestinal illness. It turns out that a little bit of dirt is good for us.

Having this chemical senstivity has, for the most part, been a royal pain in the you-know-what, but it has also been a blessing in disguise. If you suffer from itchy, sensitive skin, eczema (my doctor was convinced for years that the rash on my arms was a fungal infection), or other unexplained skin irritation, watching what you put on your body or clean your house with might make a difference. Even if you don't have such a visible reaction to these unwanted additives, choosing milder products will decrease your family's exposure to potentially toxic chemicals, keep our water clean, save you some money, and maybe even prevent future health problems. How can you go wrong?

February 02, 2008

A Slow News Day

Things are still cruising along at a pretty slow pace around here, but I just had to share my big splurge!

I'm not a woman with the stereotypical shoe fetish - I'm pretty monogamous when it comes to footwear. I have one favorite pair of boots which were a gift from my brother and sister-in-law when my son was born (how's that for a baby gift?!), and I've worn them probably 300 days a year for the past 9 years since then. They fit me like dream, and I have never felt the need to replace them (despite their very shabby appearance), until recently. The wintery weather that we've had this year has clearly demonstrated that I've worn the soles so flat that I'd get better traction by strapping toboggans to my feet than I would wearing my beloved Blunnies.

I thought about having them resoled instead of replacing them, but the leather is badly worn on the toes, and Princess had used them as a chew toy when she was a puppy, so they're looking a little worse for wear. These babies are not cheap though - nearly $200. When you work it out, that's really only about $20 a year, but it's a big chunk to shell out all at once, so I was preparing myself to slip and slide through another couple of years on these ones. On a whim I checked Craigslist, and would you believe it, there was a woman selling a lightly used pair in just my size for a fraction of the price!

Now I've got myself some shiny new boots, and the best part is, I'm able to maintain my dignity while walking in the snow. I'll definitely revisit my old pair now and then. After all, I raised my babies wearing those shoes.

Since I'm sharing things that make me happy, I have to post a couple of videos for an artist that I'm addicted to at the moment. You might recognize Feist from her recent iPod commercial. She's a Canadian musician who's been around for a while, but I've only just started listening to her stuff on a regular basis. I absolutely love her music, as well as the fact that she's not above looking silly in her videos:

Click here to see more of her on Youtube.


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