Literally Speaking

Beta saw some birds flying at the park the other day. She pointed at them and said, “Flugzeug!” I replied, “Technically, you’re not wrong.”

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It amuses me to no end to hear Alpha making his own mistakes in German. I know he’s going to make a ton of mistakes since I make quite a few with my German; it’s unavoidable. But there are somethings I say right that he says wrong. Kind of like how his little friend always says something falled down instead of fell. So I will walk into a room and hear Alpha yelling at Beta, “Nein! Das it nicht gute Idee!” instead of the correct “Nein! Das ist keine gute Idee” (No! THat’s a bad idea”), which is what I tell them all the time when they’re doing something that is A Bad Idea or when they do something dumb and it hurts them.

Another thing he says is, “ganz zu”(wholly, completely too)  instead of “viel zu” (way too). So he’ll walk into a room with no lights on and say “Es ist ganz zu dunkel!” instead of “es ist viel zu dunkel.” I’ve figured out why he does this; I once told Alpha that something was totally dark (“Es ist ganz dunkel”) and he took it and ran with it. So at the lake yesterday he kept pulling me to some water that was shaded by trees, saying “Komm mit! Wir gehen wo es ganz zu dunkel ist!” (Come! We’re going where it’s completely too dark!”) Ok, compadre.

Unfortunately getting him to speak Finnish is still quite the chore. He understands, but refuses to say more than one word in a row. He’s just not in the habit of doing it. He knows DH understands German and that’s good enough for him. We’ve discussed DH refusing to acknowledge German, but we know if we do that it will lead to a lot of frustration and a lot of screaming on Alpha’s park. So we’re not eager to try. They both went to Home Depot the other day to pick out some paint colors for Alpha’s New Room. I selected 4 different color pallets that he could choose between them and he and DH spent quite a while selecting between them until Alpha chose the one with “Mango Farbe!” (Mano color)

On the drive home they talked about the stars and moon and so forth. Alpha told DH, very importantly, “Papa, ein Mann wohnt in kuu.” A man lives in [the] moon, the last word being in Finnish. That’s pretty much as advanced as his Finnish speech is at this point. We’re hoping our trip to Finland this winter will improve on it.

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I am officially a fan of Lillian Moller Gilbreth. I just finished reading her biography, Making Time, and it was extremly interesting. I’m actually having trouble figuring out how one woman could fit so much into her life. I’m guessing the whole “efficiency expert thing” helped, not to mention her method of childrearing. Yes, she had 11 children AND a career, as the book and pretty much everyone else who has ever mentioned Mrs. Gilbreth mentions. And while she also had a lot of help rearing her children, from what I’ve gathered reading Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes, the Gilbreth parents spent most of their time delegating out the work that needed to be done and lived by the Montessori credo, “Don’t do anything for the child he can do for himself.”

I need to take a page from their book. Several, actually. I can always use the excuse, “My children are still so young they need my help!” and for some things that’s true. I certainly wouldn’t expect him to carry hot pots of water around the kitchen, for that he simply doesn’t have the strength.

But he is at a good age to start making his own breakfast. So far, he can make an egg himself. All I do is turn on the pan on the stove because it’s a bit far for him to reach. He can also make a grilled cheese sandwich by himself (again, all I do is turn on the stove). Oh, fine. I also flip the egg and the sandwich for him and take them both out of the pan. I need to have him do that I guess.

One tool the Gilbreths used both in their family and in the factories they consulted is a process chart. It lists processes that need to be completed and the worker responsible for them marks them as done. In the family, this would include things like taking a bath, brushing teeth, washing hands, and that sort of thing. Maybe even chores. I’m considering co-opting this as Alpha has huge problems completing certain processes in the morning, such as getting dressed and it makes me very frustrated that I tell him to get dressed and then half an hour later he is still….not dressed. I’m tempted to drag him out grocery shopping in his undies to get my point across. My thought is that a chart might be a good alternative to public humiliation. I can give him stickers he can place in each box everyday he completes an item. Other things no this chart would include:

1) Washing hands. The way our bathrooms are set up makes it difficult for him to wash his hands at the sink as there isn’t really room for a stool in front of the sink, so he has to go into the kitchen to wash his hands. He usually gets distracted afterwards. I’m thinking a “used potty and washed hands” section would be great.

2) Brushing teeth. I want to start the whole family (DH excepted since he’s an adult and has excellent teeth) brushing their teeth twice a day. So far Alpha hasn’t had any cavities and I”m praying he’ll stay that way, but I also recognize that the best way to ensure that is to brush twice a day. So far, we brush once. I’ve been trying off and on for years to start habitually brushing in the morning but can’t make it stick. I need a process chart of my own!

3) Cleaning out the silverware. Alpha is responsible for cleaning out the silverware every morning (or every time we run the dishwasher. Lately we’ve gotten out of our usual schedule of starting it in the evening and emptying it in the morning). I have to tell him every morning to do it and it’s very tempting for me to just do it myself as it’s “easier than reminding him.” But he does a good job and Beta enjoys helping him by handing him every piece of silverware. A sticker on a chart when the job is completed would be a great incentive!

4) Cleaning up toys/evening routine. Every evening after dinner our routine includes cleaning up the kitchen, cleaning up the living room (including all toys), then bath, book, brush teeth, Palomies Sami/Sandmännchen, bed. Lately I’ve been meeting some resistance on the toy cleaning up front. Would getting to put a sticker on a chart decrease that? Maybe!

Some things I’m toying with the idea of adding to the chart but I’m not sure if it would be worth it, such as making the beds in the morning. I know lots of people make their beds and it’s considered a valuable activity blah blah blah, but honestly the only time we make our beds is when we’re putting fresh sheets on them or I’m cleaning up the bedroom (since we’re constructing upstairs at the moment, this means never…aside from when I’m putting fresh sheets on the bed). I just don’t see the point in making beds when you’re going to sleep in them later that evening anyway. Or in the case of my kids, mess them up when you take a nap or when you’re jumping on the bed. Or whenever. Or am I missing the point? Are you supposed to make your bed after everytime you lay in it, even in the middle of the day?
As far as I’m concerned, making beds is a waste of time since we no longer have mattresses made out of straw or feathers that need to be fluffed up every night after sleeping in them. Not doing it.

I’m sure the efficiency experts would agree with me.

Ways to Cut Back

My sister wants to get solar panels. Her location is perfect for it—she has a nice long roof pointing south and lives in a region where they would generate a good amount of electricity all year round. You even get a nice tax credit from the federal government for buying solar panels and they pretty much always end up owing on their taxes. The rub in this plan is the fact you have to pay for the solar panels up front and get the tax credit later, when you file your taxes. Solar panels don’t come cheap and an array to cover her roof would probably cost about $20,000 to $30,000. Since no one is handing out home equity loans, that would mean saving the money. “You’d have to cut back on some things,” I advised.

“But that’s just the problem. There aren’t many places we could cut back, unless we cut out the kids’ music lessons and that sort of thing.”

Whenever I’m confronted by an immobile budget like this, I always think of Asians who manage to save 50% of their income. How the heck do they do it when we’re sitting here, needing every penny from our paycheck just to keep us afloat to our next one?

So I explained ‘austerity’ to my sister. Austerity, I said, is a bit like going on a diet to get to a certain goal weight. You cut out a lot of things you would normally spend money on in order to reach a goal. You can add them back in later but you cut them out for now.

If we were going to go on an austere budget in order to reach a saving goal, here are the things we would cut out:

1) Amazon Prime

2) Soda

3) Sweets

4) Driving to nearby cities more than once a week (we live in a rural area and it costs $5 in gas each time we drive to the nearest city)

5) Netflix

6) New clothes/shoes

7) Eating out

8) Alpha’s gymnastics

9) Doing new thing on the house (obviously)

10) Reduce/eliminate paper products usage

11) Stop buying kindle books

All of these things are things that bring us more enjoyment than the money would, so we do them, but for a temporary amount of time I could see us cutting them out in order to meet a goal of some sort. I could even reduce the amount of calories I eat since I need to lose weight, anyway, in order to cut our grocery bill. You know, if we really wanted to save some money but were short a few dollars to reach our goal.

Aside from those, there aren’t too many areas we could cut. We already have a garden. We could get rid of our chickens, which don’t save us any money at all. There’s no way you can raise chickens in your backyard that are cheaper than factory farm chicken/chicken eggs. It’s just not possible, especially if you’re raising your chickens humanely.

It’d probably be easier (and more enjoyable) to find ways to increase your income for that period of time and just save the money you earn than to cut all the fat out of your budget.

No Roo For You

We lost two more birds a few weeks ago to animal attacks.

The strange thing about these attacks is that they both happened in broad daylight when I was at home. The first one involved the duck run, which was close to the house between the hours of 11am to 1pm. I know this because those were the two hours we spent inside. When we went outside, I decided to water the animals and when I got to the duck pen, they were out of water and a dead duck was next to the waterer. I didn’t see any wounds, so I immediately felt horrible. We had had hot weather and I thought the poor duck must have died from the heat and lack of water. I also decided DH could have the pleasure of removing the body.

When he got home, I informed him of the animal’s demise and he went to check it out. He picked up the duck and immediately saw a huge gash in its side and a leg was missing. Something had attacked them in their run, violently.

But we had no idea what.

Then, a few days later, DH went out with Alpha and Beta and I stayed home to get some cleaning done. While I was in the kitchen I heard a sound from the chick run like our baby rooster was trying to crow. “Definitely a rooster, ” I thought to myself and kept right on cleaning. I should have gone out to check on him, but I didn’t see anything unusual from the kitchen window. When the rest of the family returned, DH went outside and discovered our rooster’s body. He only had a few small wounds that he should have been able to survive, but whatever had attacked them had pulled his body against the run walls and broken his neck. The biggest surprise was the fact that this run had been attacked since the walls are made out of hardware cloth, which has very small holes.

At this point we think it was a raccoon. We  did catch (and release) one in a trap. Maybe that was a mistake. This doesn’t seem to fit the pattern of the fox attacks we’ve had in the past.

The most disappointing thing about this is that our rooster was a Brahma rooster, which gets very big but (we’ve heard) have fairly good personalities as far as roosters are concerned. This incident also showed the cockerel’s blossoming desire to protect his flock, a good trait in a rooster.

Unfortunately this means we’ll have to wait until next year to have another rooster as the hatcheries we get our chicks from don’t mail them one or two at a time, even if they are cockerels.

Heat with Wood- It’s good

Things have been pretty quiet around the property lately. Aside from the sound of chainsaws, that is. We made a deal with the lumberyard down the street to sell them our white pines in exchange for money and neatly stacked logs we can cut up from firewood. It’s all part of our evil plan to become more self-sufficient and make our house pay its own mortgage. So far, our plan is working out.

The first winter we were in the house, it cost us about $2,500 to heat the house from the end of January through March. We stopped heating once we ran out of oil because winter was supposed to end around there and we were going to tear out the oil tank and oil burner and replace it with an awesome wood boiler. We did that.

The second winter in our house (last winter), it cost us $700 to heat our house for the entire winter until we ran out of wood early April. We still would have used some wood had we had any left to burn to get us through a few cold nights. Our original plan was to cut trees from the property, but as it turns out my husband isn’t the lumberjack he wanted to be. As it turns out, tramping through the woods cutting down trees is not sexy and hot, it’s stinky and hot. And you get a lot of ticks. And walk through poison ivy. So he decided he’d rather stay inside and work for more money than the firewood would cost (a reasonable plan).

This year we got smart, made an agreement from the lumberyard down the street from where we bought the pine for our garden beds and are essentially getting paid $2000 to heat our house. Unfortunately, the pile of logs that we can use to heat our house still needs to be sawed to length and then split and stacked. But we’d have to stack purchased firewood, anyway, so that amount of work would be the same. A lot of this wood won’t need splitting, but our neighbor will help us do it for payment “in kind,” ie, we give him some of the wood. It’s a good deal.

Meanwhile, I’ve watched a video and learned exactly how one saws wood on the ground to length. My husband insisted he needed to build a special kind of saw horse to do it with but as it turns out all we have to do is purchase a lumber jack to jack the wood off of the ground. Barring that, we can also just saw mostly through the log one way, then turn it and saw through the rest of the way on the other side, all to keep the chainsaw out of the dirt. Easy, peasy.

The unfortunate thing about the chainsaws taking away our pine trees is that now all the lovely shade to the side of our house is gone. They’ve left us a few good sized trees that weren’t pine (2 oaks and a birch, I believe), but these trees are pretty scrawny compared to the pines that were towering over them. Hopefully in a few years the trees will be massive and more than make up for it. We may even plant our orchard over there. While fruit trees aren’t as big and towering, I’m sure they will give us some shade, unless we go strictly with dwarf fruit trees in which case it’s hopeless.

It’s a strange feeling you get to realize that you’re heating your house for nothing but labor, especially considering how much we’ve paid to do so in the past…and how much others currently pay. At our town’s Independence Day parade, a local wood boiler dealer took part, parading one of his outside models down the street on a trailer. On both sides he’d hung a side “Independence from Foreign Oil–Burn Wood! It’s Good!”

I couldn’t really disagree with him–burning wood IS good, especially when you live in an area where there is so much of it that nobody really takes care of their forests. I imagine when my host family does come and visit me they will be astounded at how poorly kept the trees are. Dead rotting trees are left where they fall and woods are rarely harvested. The guy who owns the lumberyard told us our forest should have been harvested 20 years ago. I imagine most people’s forests are in a similar state of overgrowth with sick and dying trees just left there instead of being harvested in their prime.

However, burning wood is harder than oil–it isn’t just pumped into a storage tank and then flows into the boiler magically. Oil wins in every case when it comes to portability and ease of use. That’s why we use it and not logs to run our cars–though wood would work! Since my husband was working, I got to stack and haul the majority of the wood last year. A boring workout, if there ever was one. So until the dollar is no longer used as the reserve currency, until oil is no longer only priced in the dollar, I imagine most people in the northeast are going to continue to heat with it, though the farther north you go the more wood boilers you see in people’s yards (ours is an inside one—we didn’t fancy going outside in the snow to throw more wood on the boiler) since people up north tend to have more time than money, not to mention more trees.

In other words, it’s less an issue of sustainability and independence than priorities. Most people would rather spend their time doing something else than hauling and splitting and stacking wood and foreign oil is the least of their problems.