Botany of the Home

I’ve started clearing the back part of our property. We’ve neglected it since we bought the place, aside from trimming down a few trees and my husband’s foray back there to dig out some of our wild roses.

As a result, it’s absolutely awful. The poison ivy has spread, but it’s only one of approximately 7 vines that threaten to take over our yard. The others are Virginia Creeper, Bittersweet, Wild Clematis, swamp dewberry, wild grapes, and ground ivy. Did you know Virginia creeper causes a rash in your skin if you’re one of those “sensitive people?” Neither did until I looked it up after getting a huge rash when I decided to pull some up Willy nilly. Wild clematis I originally mistook for poison ivy since poison ivy can also climb, also occasionally looks like a mitten and alternates on the vine. Except poison ivy doesn’t flower and I saw the wild clematis when it was flowering. Since the clematis had grown to cover several sapling, bushes and felled tree trunks, this was a huge relief. Less of a relief is the fact that the variety we have growing here just happens to be the kind that also causes a rash, though more temporary than the other two. Bittersweet, though invasive, wild grape, and swamp dewberry are probably the least distressing of all the vines. No rashes, they have yet to cover everything. They’re fine. I still want to get rid of them, however.

Ground ivy on the other hand…

If anyone knows of a more useless vine, let me know. Nothing eats ground ivy. In fact, it’s toxic to some animals. It grows like 60 cm a year, releases about a billion seeds from its tiny purple flowers, and will utterly and completely take over your yard. Kind of like it’s attempting to do to mine.

Like its name suggests, it covers the ground. Aggressively, choking out anything else that might want to grow there. You could use an herbicide to get rid of it, but me being a hippy, I don’t want to. But there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to get rid of it, other than spraying it or covering it with black plastic (which I’ve done with the poison ivy). The internet suggests that a solution of borax will kill it. However, it also says that if the solution isn’t exactly the correct percentage, it will kill everything and not just the ground ivy. I don’t really want to kill everything. Just the ground ivy. Then again, it’s not like i couldn’t just plant more grass.

In areas thick with it, you can just roll it up like a carpet, which I have done. You find where the vines end and just pull them up and roll, revealing the dirt and bugs underneath. This is weirdly enjoyable, especially for the chickens if they happen to be around. Of course, any plants that happen to be nearby will also be pulled up, but if the area is just ground ivy, not a problem.

It is, however, time consuming. I hate ground ivy.

At least it doesn’t cause any rashes and has no thorns. Unlike the wild blackberries and wild roses that have sprouted up everywhere. The wild roses are particularly bad. You have to dig them out with the roots or else they’re just come back and their thorns are much, much bigger than bramble thorns.

My husband doubts they’re actually wild roses and thinks they’re more of a thistle. I’ve searched the internet and they don’t look much like thistle at all. But unlike the wild roses I see when googling, these never blossom. These wild roses are all thorn and no flower. Could there be a more disheartening plant?

Sometimes I think previous owners must have had a garden back there because along with the wild blackberries, there are quite a few black raspberry plants growing. These too have spread, their long canes bending over and sticking into the ground to start next year’s crop. They’re easy to differentiate from the blackberries with their frosty blue color. The berries also lack the inner seed, which I prefer over black berries. Due to their wild and uncontrollable nature, I’m pulling them, too, although it may be stupid: I’ve ordered more raspberries to plant in the same area in the spring: red, yellow, and black. Why not just keep the free ones? I don’t know. it I’ve heard you’re supposed to rip out the old ones after a few years and plant new ones. I don’t know why, it’s just what I’ve been told. So I’m pulling these up by the roots as well.

All these things I clear, I toss over the steep embankment in the back of the upper part of our property. It falls off quite suddenly into the woods, where I don’t really want to go. My goal is to build up all the cut brush and let it rot, eventually building up the dirt so that we maybe have a nice gentle slope into the woods instead of a sudden drop off. Aside from that, I’ve also decided it’s my low-tech carbon sink. Where previously we would have burned all these things I’ve cut down, I’m now just throwing it there to let it slowly rot. No more carbon suddenly released into the atmosphere! Go me!

Instead, it will slowly be released there except for whatever stays in the soil. I don’t know. But it feels productive and I like seeing any sort of improvement.


The Tooth Fairy Sucks

We tell our kids about the tooth fairy. It’s just one of those fun things we do, although we don’t take it very seriously. Since he stays up later than I do, my husband plays the tooth fairy. I’m usually asleep in bed before Beta actually manages to fall asleep and since she’s the one who’s losing all the teeth right now, it makes life easier.

Except the Tooth Fairy keeps forgetting to show up. The first time this happened and Beta came downstairs disappointed in the morning, we said, “Oh no! Were you awake really late? Because the Tooth Fairy won’t come unless you fall asleep early.”

She admitted she had been up late. “I was just so excited about the Tooth Fairy coming and giving me a coin, I couldn’t fall asleep.” She tried her best to fall asleep the next night and my husband made a note to remember to go up there and take the tooth. It all worked out and Beta found a coin under her pillow the next morning. That was a close one, we told each other.

This last tooth, however, we failed miserably. My husband forgot the first night and without prompting, Beta blamed herself. “I was awake too late! I’m going to have to go to bed really early tonight so the Tooth Fairy will come.” My husband felt horribly guilty.

Next morning, Beta slept in. I quietly asked my husband in the kitchen if he had remembered the Tooth Fairy. He cringed. “No! I forgot! What are we going to do?” I thought a second, then went to his office and grabbed the coin and headed up to her bedroom, hoping she was still asleep. She woke up when I entered and I approached the pillow and, while slipping the coin underneath it, told her “Good morning! Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah,” she answered sleepily. I cast around for a way to distract her so I could slide the envelope containing her tooth out from underneath her pillow.
“Well, why don’t you go get dressed?”
“Okay. But you have to turn around so you don’t see me get out of bed. I don’t want you to see my underpants!”
I gave her a confused look. “What? Aren’t you wearing Pjs?”
“I am, but you might see them and it would be embarrassing.”
I thought for a moment. “Alright. If you turn around and face that wall, I’ll turn around and face this wall while you get out of bed.” She did and I quickly snatched the envelope and crammed it under my shirt. She then got out of bed and I opened her blinds.

“Oh!” I said suddenly, as if a thought were just occurring to me. “Did the Tooth Fairy come last night?”
“No,” she answered sadly. “I didn’t see a coin.”
“Oh. Well, did you look carefully?”
“I did but I didn’t see one.”
“Why don’t you look again?”
She moved her entire pillow and there was the coin. She smiled happily and took it into her hand. “I must have looked before she had time to come. Or I didn’t look in the right spot because here it is!”
I smiled at her and agreed that must have been what happened. Then I headed to my room to stuff the tooth into my underwear drawer until I could sneak it downstairs to where we keep all the kids’ teeth. They’re one of the millions of things we’re planning on keeping to hand out to the kids when they pack up to move out.
When I went back downstairs to the kitchen, my husband whispered, “Did you get it?” I nodded and told him what happened. He looked relieved. Crisis averted. Disappointment averted.

We’re beginning to wonder how long it will be until my kids figure out that we’re the ones who are forgetting and not some mystical being who is simply waiting for you to fall asleep before taking your tooh.

I’m Happy


I’m not upset. I might feel upset, but I assure you I’m not.

Yes, sure it sucks that the friends I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with four years running have decided to spend this Thanksgiving with other friends. I knew this day was coming, so it wasn’t really surprising, just sad that I hadn’t adequately prepared for it. It’s also sad that I had to casually ask them if we were going to get together for Thanksgiving this year again and they had to let me down gently, assuring me that they had just received another invite “a few days ago” and accepted. I get the feeling that had I not asked they wouldn’t have told. Would that have been better? I probably would have figured it out eventually as the days ticked by.

I’m trying my best not to feel too hurt. We contacted other friends to see what they were doing for Thanksgiving. Those with family in the area are obviously going to spend it with them. Other friends who joined our little group last year for Thanksgiving told me they’re planning on a “low-key Thanksgiving” this year. I did not reply that that sounded perfect and how would they like to have a low-key Thanksgiving together? Because I know that they always say that whenever I’ve invited them to celebrate Thanksgiving together; they only go when my other friend invites them. The end result from all this, aside from looking a bit desperate, is that we are now chicken-sitting for some friends who are travelling to visit family for Thanksgiving.

So it’s a low key Thanksgiving for us this year. I’m not sure I see the point. My husband doesn’t really “get” Thanksgiving, not having celebrated it at all until he immigrated here. He points out that most Finns he knows in the US don’t celebrate it at all and it’s not that big of a deal. He doesn’t like turkey and, due to his low-carb diabetes management, doesn’t eat most of the food traditionally served at Thanksgiving.

In all honesty, the kids aren’t fans of it either. They like the turkey okay, they refuse to try the cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and any of the pie. Beta has since declared that she will try pumpkin pie this year because she saw someone on a youtube video and they really liked it because they put frosting and sprinkles on it.

“I am not putting frosting and sprinkles on pumpkin pie,” I declared stoutly. What kind of heathen is she??

“Well, can I have it with whipped cream?”
“Yes, it’s fine to have it with whipped cream. I always do.”
“Okay, I’ll try that!” I’m not convinced she actually will, but we’ll try.

In order to have a proper Thanksgiving, I like to have three pies: an apple, a pecan and a pumpkin. Missing one of these would just be wrong. But I can’t eat all three by myself. Forgetting the whole holiday sounds more and more appealing.

But I would feel bad about that. I would feel like the kids wouldn’t make the same happy memories around Thanksgiving that I did. My family didn’t fight on Thanksgiving. My dad made the turkey and we pitched in with the pies. We played Risk the whole day, moving it to the card table when dinner was ready. We got out the good China, the family silver and a table cloth. Everything was beautiful, and special.

But I can’t force my memories onto my family. I can’t make Thanksgiving mean something to them just because it means something to me. And the whole appeal of spending time with them falls flat: we spend every single day together as it is since we work from home and they’re schooled at home. What we really need is time celebrating with other people.

Barring that, I guess we can always celebrate it the Finnish way. That is, not at all, but with copious amounts of liquor.

If you give me another bag, I will stab you

This is such an American problem to have.

You go to the store and buy a few items, say a pound of ground beef, a pint of ice cream and a bunch of bananas because your 3 year old has decided that’s all he’s eating this week. You head on up to the register and have forgotten your reusable bags. Not to worry! Plastic bags are still free here, they’re not banned and you don’t have to pay a single cent for them.

And the bagger very happily puts your meat in one bag (it’s important to keep the plastic-wrapped raw meat from touching anything else), the ice cream in another (cold items should be separate least their icey coldness freeze everything else you buy), and the bananas in a third bag (fresh produce could be contaminated by all of the above, especially if not plastic wrapped).

Three fucking bags.

I used to not care about this, but in the past years I’ve become a bit more environmentally conscious. These bags are going to haunt me and the rest of humanity forever. The times I forget my reusable bags are like agony. I usually end up repeating “Oh, no thanks. I don’t need any bags” with a big smile, lest they think I’m being rude. “Oh, are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sure. I have a ton of them at home I’m trying to work through.”

This is fine at most stores, but one in particular *coughmarketbasketcough* is a tougher nut to crack. My husband always forgets the reusable bags and he always goes to this store to shop. He’s tried telling them he doesn’t want any bags. “Well, if you don’t get any bags, we’ll have to put stickers on every single item you buy.” Their way of preventing shrink is sticking an orange sticker on everything you buy that doesn’t go into a bag. So your watermelon (“Do you want your watermelon in a bag?” “What? No, I don’t particularly feel like re-enacting childbirth with a watermelon when I get home. Just put it in the damn cart already!”), your milk, your soda bottles, your 12 pack of soda cans…all get orange stickers on them.

So he usually comes home sheepishly clutching 10-15 flimsy bags that go into the drawer with the hundred other flimsy bags awaiting their turn to go into the bathroom trashcan.
A few times, however, he’s responded with “Fine. Put a sticker on every item!” And they have. And he’s stood there and watched while they pains-takingly sticker the parsley.

I consider myself to be a libertarian and as such, I agree that people should be able to have bags if they want. But I also know that TANSTASAFL. Someone, somewhere is paying for that bag. It’s not free. It’s also a huge tragedy of the commons since no one is bearing any of the costs of that damn bag. I also know that when countries have introduced a small fee for these bags, bag usage plummets. England now charges 5 pence for carrier bags and reportedly the denser among them mistook it for a second Battle of Hastings — but bag usage has dropped. And I bet no one tries to put three items in three separate bags, either.

So why can’t we? Why would it be so unlibertarian of me to suggest we should all pay 10cents for these shitty bags so that hopefully my grandkids aren’t still using my plastic bags to fill their wastebaskets?

And why for the love of god can’t we actually fit everything into one bag?

Newman Uh-Ohs

Newman O’s taste only about a million times better than Oreos. Their cookies taste both of vanilla and chocolate, are not overwhelmingly sweet and have a proper crumb to them. None of this can be said about  Oreos. And when it comes to my junk food, I am an exacting customer.

So it’s slightly disappointing to find so many cookies stuck to the creme the wrong way round. At first, my family and I reacted to these as though they were a novelty, lauhging at the imprints on the creme and the smooth side of the cookie being wrong-side out. But I just had two wrong-side-out cookies in a row from a stack I pulled directly out of the container. What’s wrong with this picture? It’s no longer novel, it’s no longer weird. Instead, it’s becoming normal!

On the other hand, I’m glad they’re selling their oops cookies instead of trashing them in the name of quality control, which would be terribly wasteful. On the other hand, I wish they would separate them out and sell them in separate packages, preferably called Newman Uh-Ohs (I was so proud when I came up with that title. Can you tell?) and at a discount. Because I would totally buy a package full of these as long as they were discounted. Finding a lot of them in a normally priced package, meanwhile, just irritates me.

You can have it all, except your sanity

The previous edition of the Economist had several articles about the gender pay gap (and gender pension gap) and included many suggestions to remedy it – and to not make things worse (bonus article: getting the housework done). The goal, essentially, is to encourage both men and women to stay in the workforce, working the same number of hours, saving the same amount for retirement while having at least 2 kids (the ideal is to increase the birthrate) and getting both maternity and paternity leave for these.

It’s worthy goal, but it does fail to address one problem: logistics.

Say you have a family of five, mom and dad both work outside the home. Kids are ages 8, 5, and 3. It’s Monday morning. You need to get 5 different people to 5 different places, all at the same time. GO!

In some places, this might not be impossible. In Germany or Finland, the 8 year old could get himself to school and then one parent each takes one child to day care/Kindergarten. In Finland, since school doesn’t start until age 7, they could conceivably be in the same place.

But here in the US…If my husband and I didn’t both work from home, we would both have to commute 30 minutes at least to get to the nearest town where work is. And since we would be commuting along with everyone else, make that 45-60 minutes commuting.  So let’s make that the case for our theoretical family. Let’s say they have to be there at 9. Well, the local elementary school doesn’t start until 8:30 and they don’t want you dropping your kids off until 8:20 (unless you pay for before and after school care and there’s room). So the two oldest have to go there and get dropped off at 8. Other parent takes the 3 year old to daycare. It’s 7:30-5:30, so we’re good on time.

Then mom and dad go to work. But wait! Kindergarten gets out at 11:30! It’s only half-day in my town. Someone needs to pick up the 5 year old. Oh, and there is no after school care for Kindergarten because the rest of school is still going on. I forgot to mention that. Maybe 5 year old should go to private school which, like day care, has hours from 7:30-5:30. That costs more though. This shit is getting expensive: $300 a week for private school for the 5 year old, $200 a week for day care for the 3 year old.

Then school still gets out at 2:30 for the 8 year old, but that’s okay after school program will keep him until 5:30.

But wait! Work lasts until 5:00! Commute is 30 minutes without traffic! With traffic it’s 45-60! How are they going to make it there on time? It’s not physically possible! Who is going to watch the kids? Who is going to cook dinner for that matter? We eat at 6 because it’s a well known fact 3 year-olds turn into pumpkins at 8pm. Whiny, cranky pumpkins who hate everything. Can these two parents get dinner on the table for their whole family and get their 3 kids, who have also just come home, fed while they themselves haven’t had a break? And then homework! And then bed! And after school activities!

This would be hard with just two kids, but I think three kids is where everything really starts to break down. It’s not a problem that can be solves with state funded maternity and paternity leave, or guaranteed daycare spots or even before or after school care. With three kids, it becomes necessary to have someone who dedicates a large portion of his or her time to managing the family: getting everyone from Point A to Point B and maybe occasionally having a nice drink at Point C, which is located at a convenient distance from point A.

Either that person is going to have to cut hours back to part-time or just surrender and become a stay at home parent. It doesn’t matter WHO does it, the mom or the dad, but someone pretty much has to, otherwise you go insane.

We manage by both working from home and homeschooling our kids. Our toddler goes to “preschool” (more like a daycare) three days a week so we don’t go insane.

My sister managed with two kids both parents working full-time with her husband working the regular 9-5 job and she worked overnights at the hospital on the weekend. Since shifts for nurses are 12 hours, she’d work Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to be full-time, my youngest nephew went to daycare on Monday so she could sleep and she’d be up in time to pick oldest nephew up from school and then get youngest nephew from daycare. It was about as much fun as it sounds. It worked, but my sister and her husband pretty much never saw each other and after a few years, working nights lost its appeal. You can file this under the “flexible work hours” the Economist recommends.

So, yeah, while eliminating the wage and pension gaps and increasing the birth rates are all well and good what we really need help with is managing the time gap. How exactly are two parents supposed to fit everything in? Will someone come around and plan out the logistics of modern day family life?


Urine has become a constant in my life. Not so much from the older kids, who have learned to control their bladders reasonably well, but Gamma (number 3 for those of you keeping track) is absolutely hopeless.

He’s about 90% potty trained. At preschool, I would say he’s 100% potty trained. Except for that time we extended his day so that he stayed there through lunch. That pissed him off, literally. He peed through one pair of pants after another until, when I came to pick him up, he was wearing his last pair of clean pants, no underwear and a borrowed shirt. That’s the great thing about penises: they’re like hoses and can pee any direction you want them to.

An accurate depiction of Gamma

More than any other child I’ve been around, Gamma has used this to his advantage. For a while, he was peeing into his toy trucks and wheeling them around afterwards (or until I saw it and put a stop to it). He would pee into the shovel of his small front end loader, fill it up, wheel it over to his dump truck and dump it out in to it, spilling no small amount of urine on the floor in between.

How much urine can a lego hold? Ask Gamma, he probably knows. He’s turned his potty into a de facto urinal by straddling it and made it worse by taking out the bowl insert and straddling it again. Risk factor increase of urine spilling times three, at my estimate. He stands on the edge of the bathtub and pees into it instead of going to the potty. He stands on the counter of the bathroom and pees into the sink. All of these options are apparently way more fun than peeing into the potty.

Peeing outside is fun, but he apparently prefers our concrete steps to any tree. This is annoying as hell and we try to prevent it any time we see it.

My husband says the next owner of our house is going to spend most their time wondering what that smell is. I’m hoping they just assume we must have had cats. It’s a bit less embarrassing than a creative, potty-training boy.