Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Darn Drosophila

Even though I keep a clean house (especially kitchen) and get rid of fruit past its prime, at certain times of year, the fruit flies are just obnoxious!  We eat a lot of fruit over here, especially fresh peaches, watermelon, grapes (and beverages made with grapes), tomatoes, berries, and apples.  We particularly like bananas when they go brown and mushy; they make the best Smoothies and I bake the most delicious GF Banana Bread.  And with great banana bread, comes great amounts of fruit flies.

No More Fruit Flies!
This easy solution is cheap, humane, and natural.  It has evolved over the years with a lot of tweaks and trials, but here is the basic premise:
  1. Find a small, kind of low glass: An empty baby food jar, votive holder, rarely used shot glass from Mt. Rushmore that was gifted by the father-in-law, even a low wine or juice glass are all fine.  By experience, get something stable with a some weight because a light little plastic one is likely to get knocked over.
  2. In the small glass add a little:
    1. wine - the sweeter the better
    2. brandy - fruit brandies work the best, such as apricot or blackberry
    3. vinegar - usually apple cider or red wine vinegar (notice the fruit theme)
  3. This is not at all an exact science.  Use what is in the house and add a little of each.  If one or two are missing, just skip them.  No need to go out and buy them!  It barely needs a couple of Tablespoons in total, basically make the glass 1/3 full, leaving plenty of room for them to fly.*
  4. Next, get a piece of cellophane wrap, put it over the top to slow evaporation (and keep the flies inside).  Poke a couple of holes and / or leave a small opening**.
  5. Set discreetly near the problem area or make more than one if you have multiple problem areas (most effective if you clean-up the original attraction).
Within a little while, the fruit flies will be uncontrollably drawn to the concoction.  They will fly in and enjoy themselves to death (literally).  I like that they are leaving this world happy and that the fruit fly problem is resolved without leaving the house or spending any money!

*I believe myself to be as humane as they come but honestly know someone in my UCofFM who likes to catch and release fruit flies!  Seeing they are not endangered and their entire life cycle is something like 8 days, I don't really get it, but if this is important, the best way is to only add apple cider vinegar or just a chunk of banana and no liquid.  Some flies may die (maybe it was "their time" but most just get trapped under the cellophane and can be henceforth released into the wild while all serenade with a pathetic version of "Born Free," which as far as anyone knows only has 2 lines and therefore accidentally turns into "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

**Rather than cellophane, some people use a funnel so that the fruit flies can't escape.  This works but the problem is that I never have the perfect size funnel (paper ones are a mess) and rather than the whole thing being relatively inconspicuous, there is this whole apparatus ready to create chaos.  I consider the small piece of cellophane much better even though there is a bit of waste.  My very frugal and environmentally conscious Mom would probably save the piece of cellophane in the designated, washed out fruit fly glass, and use it the next time fruit flies come around. I wonder if I nailed a couple of holes into the lid of an old baby food jar if that would work?!  I will try it next time and update this post!

11/19/11 - UPDATE - Back at work the office is FILLED with really annoying fruit flies.  I have no idea why. I tried the little cup but there were so many that they just sat on the rim and would fly away when people walked by.  I switched to putting the mixture into an old screw top wine bottle (about a quarter of the bottle was filled with the mixture).  I used a paper clip to poke a fruit fly sized hole in the cap.  When I came back into the office after the weekend, the bottle had at least 100 fruit flies in it. This worked great!  I think I will use the wine bottle at home even though there are rarely more than 5 or 6.  Maybe a small wine bottle?!

Saturday, September 24, 2011


At this point, I'm a little addicted and I have so many creative friends that I am dying to follow that I feel I need to dedicate one quick blog to Pinterest. My Dear Sister (who is the greatest dreamer I know) introduced me to Pinterest at the last family party a couple of weeks back.  It is basically like looking through magazines and ripping out your favorite pictures and putting them in file folders to be used for a later project-- only digital.  And unlike buying all those magazines that end up in the recycle bin, it is FREE!

So, you know all those wonderfully creative websites and blogs that you think, "Oh my gosh!  I love that patio! When I redo my patio, I want it to look something like that!"  Generally, one proceeds to either:
  • Think the idea is UNFORGETTABLE (but never remember it)
  • Save the picture to a random folder on the desktop
  • Bookmark the site & hope to find the right post again
  • Print it out and put it in a file cabinet (GASP!)
  • and  if/when you go back or are ready for it or need an idea, it is a jumbled mess.
Pinterest solves the problem; it saves the picture AND the link associated with the picture so that when you click the picture, it returns to the original website.  It is also displayed in kind of a cool collage format.

As if that isn't enough, Pinterest is a community and there is nothing private about it!  You can see what other people "pinned" and thought was cool.  You can repin it to your own wall, you can comment on it.  You can follow other creative people.  There are crafts and destinations and house projects and haircuts and quotes and recipes and patterns and thrifty ideas (and tatoos?!).

It is the most magnificent way to spend an afternoon.  It has already been life changing for me (okay, possibly a little bit of a melodramatic exaggeration).  I found a couple of pictures that I LOVED and redid my back door with a little paint, 3 flower boxes and $12 worth of fall flowers.  It looks so much better and it was cheap and I NEVER would have come up with it without Pinterest.

So... Here is how to join!
  1. / it is cool to look at what other people pinned but it is even cooler to have your own account.
  2. Request an invite; it takes about a day to receive it.  I've received no future annoying spamy emails from Pinterest*
  3. It seems to need to be linked with Facebook or Twitter.  It doesn't put anything up on your FB page, it just links to help find your friends and it gives you the option to post something easily to your FB wall.  I know that is a big downer for the anti-FB.  You could start a FB account, make it totally private and NEVER use it?
  4. I would start by "repinning" what other people have liked, that is the easiest.  You just make new catagories from your desktop and repin the pictures you like to your own categories.
  5. Next you can pin from websites, you just "add a new pin" and link it to the http and categorize it, write a little description and you are set.
  6. The mobile version is nice but much more limited; Still nice to glance at when I am waiting for soccer practice to end.
I can't wait to follow all of my creative friends!  My homeschooling friends will absolutely love this site.  It is a perfect way to plan projects.  I really thought that I didn't need another time sucker, but this is very different.  It is like glancing through the greatest magazine ever.  It is hard to put down the first couple of days but after that, I just check it when I have a little downtime.

The important part is that next time I need an idea for a handmade gift, or a party theme, or an activity for the kids, or a holiday craft b/c I am a joint PTA room mom, or I'm redoing the bathroom (FINALLY), I will have a whole inspiring folder to look through!

(side note:  For those people who like the initial screen that is pulled up when NOT logged into Pinterest, it is the "discussions tab" to the right of the "pinboards you follow tab".)

*Check your Pinterest Settings under Email Notifications if you are getting bombarded.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fairy Tales

We have an innately cynical son; I mean that in the most endearing way possible.  It is not at all a shock as being cynical is quite possibly hereditary and runs deep on my DH's side.  Our son has never "believed."  Not that we pushed it, but early on, we gave up all hope of Santa, the Easter bunny, Leprechans, the Tooth Fairy, the Great Pumpkin, etc. By 3, he was already getting to the point where he was dangerously close to wrecking the wonder for other kids and I had to lay it out for him.
So one day, I pulled him aside and said, "Listen you jaded little punk (okay, maybe not my exact words but the gist), It is okay if you don't want to have a fun, magical little life, but by no means can you ruin it for someone else.  Here is the deal: You are right, Dad and I are the fairies, BUT if you so much as whisper this to another person, child or adult... if I so much as hear a murmur that you have mentioned this to someone else... the gravy train ends at that moment and instead of being a receiver of the presents, the candy, the cash... You will forever be part of the surprise and you will help me create the magic but receive none of it."
From that moment on, there was never another word from our logical son, rarely even to us except a sweet wink now and again; Rather than trying to constantly prove that it was all a fake, he sat on Santa's lap with a big smile, designed a leprechaun trap, and participated cheerfully in our annual Easter scavenger hunt.  He even enthusiastically helps orchestrate the magic.

On the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, our daughter exists in an entirely magical realm, mostly of her own accord and imagination.  We flew to Disney when she was 4 and for years after she swore that it resided in the clouds and moved around, the jet streams pointed the way.  She is constantly looking for Care Bears in the clouds.  She can talk to birds (honestly she is so good that sometimes I can't tell if it is her or the bird that is chirping).  One of her teachers said that she doesn't have rose color glasses, she has rose colored eye-balls; you can NEVER take them off like you could glasses, it is just her worldview.
At one point last winter, I heard the kids talking and one said to her, "Do you think that Santa is real?"
She replied, "Um Yeh! but I also believe my stuffed animals can talk so it's not really much of a stretch."
As you can imagine, I usually cut out the middle man and forget the Tooth Fairy entirely for my son.  I just hand him $2 and am done with it.  Before he lost his first tooth, he came home with a rundown of how much each of the local tooth fairies are paying (just so ours stays competitive).  He sticks his own tooth in the designated container, and it is SOOO boring, but he is logical and practical and has excellent instincts.  I guess in the long run, I am happy to be raising a man who doesn't blindly follow but questions and thinks.  

Love this - it hangs beside our bookshelves

My sweet little girl finally lost her first tooth.  She is the last person in 3rd grade to lose their first tooth (some already have braces!) and it has been the bane of her existence for years.  She has had a lot of time to dream up the Tooth Fairy and has written multiple versions of notes because she didn't want to get it wrong (it isn't every day that you get a chance to write to a real live fairy).

It was so fun to be magical for her.  I had found a hardcover Rainbow Magic Fairy Book with her name. I wrote a note from the Tooth Fairy and another note in her book from her personal fairy.  Her sweet eyes just lit up when she woke before 6am clutching the letter and the book in her hands.  The $2 made no difference to her (she gave one of the dollars to a friend who was sleeping over); she is already analyzing what to write to the fairy next, but not about wishes-- just about what it is like to be a fairy.

There is something refreshingly lovely about her choice to believe in the magical side of life.  Who doesn't want to believe that sweet little woodland fairies live in our backyard and that animals can talk and that the world is filled with enchantment and mystery?  I hope we never outgrow this and that I will get to embrace the magical side of life with her for a lot longer.

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” - CS Lewis

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.
-G. K. Chesterton

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Great Pumpkin Spice

Being truly one of the 10 absolutely perfect days a year-- slightly cool, sunny, and with a warm fall breeze-- and as I was pushing this sweet baby in a stroller, wrapped in my fuzzy hoody, but still able to wear flip flops with my jeans... From blocks away I could smell the espresso wafting from the little local coffee shop. The magnetism was too hard to resist.. I broke down, splurged, and bought the most glorious 16oz Grande Pumpkin Spice 2% Latte with Whipped Cream (and full caffeine) -- I thought I showed CONSIDERABLE restraint with my 2% milk choice over whole milk. The barista made it exactly right and every steaming sip was autumnal grandeur incarnate...

Let me just say, a latte is never quite as splendid as 6 weeks into Living Lean.  We were $200 under our grocery/dining budget last month (clearly no extra treats).  I am down 6 pounds and could literally taste each decadent calorie (380 total) with every drop.  This was not the moment to dwell on the future 120 minutes of brisk walking required to burn it off... This was a Moment to Simply Savor...

And fueled by the Magic (or caffeine- who can tell?) of a fore mentioned latte... I proceeded to fuel yet another dangerous passion... My love of Spring Bulbs...

I love their happy. bright, never-ending array of colors. 
I love that they are inexpensive and never need to be watered.
I love that they come back every year but if they don't, I'd never know. 
I love that I don't ever remember where I planted them so in the spring I am always pleasantly surprised to see their green little buds popping up all over.
I love that some are early and some are late and some are large and some are naturalized into the lawn.
I love when they circle trees and bunch in little garden bouquets.
I love to plant them as leaves fall around me, carrying a promise that winter will end. 
I love to see glimpses of them peeking through when the weather finally breaks.

I accidentally bought 260 -- to add to my already quite large collection.  Good thing I didn't pass a shoe sale or art fest or used book store with the Magic coursing through my veins... I'm not sure claiming, "the 16oz Grande Pumpkin Spice 2% Latte with Whipped Cream made me do it" is a good justification, even in my own magically latte altered mind... 

Maybe an Early Mother's Day Gift?  Or maybe I should capitalize on the Magic, stop blathering, pull out fall decorations, put away the laundry, and clean this place up?!?!

Holding out hope that my DH (or the blog grammar police) don't read this particular post, not because I'm ashamed of the splurges... but because I have seriously over used the suspension point and dash in this non-sense -- Now, I shall really cross the line and add an emoticon to complete the casual writing tri-fecta :0)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whispering Hush

I spent the morning doing a favor for an old friend.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching her baby while she (exhaustedly*) worked.  Admittedly, I had a big learning curve with my 2 kids and can't really say that I enjoyed the baby years.  I had no clue what I was doing but eventually learned-- the hard way.  With so many mistakes out of the way, I would totally rock at being a new Mom now!  That said, my heart broke for this new Mom.  I will never judge how another Mother raises her children, and I make it a goal to rarely give unsolicited parenting advice (except to my sister whom I am sure is THRILLED with the wealth of knowledge that I continually impart on her), but if asked, this is what I would say:

Sweet Dear New Mother-- I am not at all judging your choices, especially as I did the EXACT same thing, only waited way too long.  I wish someone would have sat me down, Mom to Mom and lovingly walked me through this--

It Is Officially Time to Teach Him to Sleep

Believe it or not, sleep is a learned habit (some just learn it easier than others) and it is essential to a child's growth that he gets adequate rest.  It is your job as a parent to teach him how to sleep, just as later you will teach him how to be kind or how to eat healthy or how to be polite or how to be a good sport -- some life skills are just harder to learn/teach than others.  He is at a prime age and you are ALL in desperate need of REM.  The older he gets, the harder it will be.  At this point, I highly doubt it will happen on its own.  It is one of the first hard things that you will need to do as a Mother -- things that break your heart, that you don't want to do but you know, in the long run, it is best for your Sweet Child... and for your family.  You will be amazed at how much better everyone feels when they are sleeping the night and taking regular naps.  It should only be a rough week or two -- if you wait as long as I did, it could be a rough month+ (especially b/c he was old enough to jump out of the crib).

The books, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child or Solve Your Childs Sleep Problems or No Cry Sleep Solution or Sleepeasy Solution for Exhausted Parents are all good.  I'm sure there are others as well.  I know you are tired, but grab all 4 from the library, read through the appropriate sections, and glean what you like from them.  The important thing is that all of you get sleep, not which method you choose (or if you combine the best from a couple); every child/parent is different and what worked for one, may have no hope for the next.  Here is what we found effective for both our kids:

1)  The baby shouldn't be in your room.  As a Mom, you hear too much. If your room is close enough, you shouldn't even need a baby monitor (unless you are outside or really far and physically can't hear the screaming).

2) Start a routine that means sleep time.  Something simple like:  hold off on feeding, change his diaper, read a quick book, nurse/feed him, lay him in his crib, turn on music (my kids liked classical), turn on a fan, turn off the light, kiss him, tell him "I love you Sweet Baby James; it is time to go to sleep," and shut the door (your routine can vary from this-- just have a routine, at consistent times, and try to stick with it).

3) At this point, he will **SCREAM**.  He will cough, he will yell, he will gag, he will throw everything out of his crib, he will curse you up and down in the only way that a baby can... I recommend you STAY BUSY -- Clean the kitchen, do the dishes, straighten the house--  Something active, not checking emails.  It's okay if he can hear you.

4) When he has SCREAMED for 5 (or 10) minutes, go in, lay him back down, tell him in a firm adult voice, "I love you Sweet Baby James; It is time to go to sleep", shut the door and he will SCREAM again.  I recommend another project, sort mail, clean a bathroom, make beds, sweep the floor-- JUST KEEP BUSY.  You should not be sitting outside his door watching the minutes go by as he SCREAMS.  It will literally tear-apart your already fragile heart***.

5) Repeat Step 4 as many times as necessary.  Do not go in unless he has been SCREAMING for at least 5 minutes.  If he is whimpering and awake but not screaming, you are not to go in.

6)  Children need A LOT of sleep.  My kids both (ages 8 & 10) still sleep 10-12 hours a night.  He also needs 2 good naps of around an hour each (the books give great guidelines).  If he wakes up before it is time, let him SCREAM for 5 minutes, if he doesn't fall back asleep on his own, go in, lay him back down, and firmly say, "I love you Sweet Baby James; It is time to sleep". 

--Lots of Love & Wisdom Dear Young Mother--
I'm sending you all the extra strength I can muster.
As a side note:  I think it is only fair that the person who is doing the sleep training should also get to be the person who does the sweet little before sleep ritual and happily getting him in the morning/after a nap.  It helps the bonding experience.

Dear New Mother, you are WAY over-tired.  I've been there.  I know this seems over-whelming, but I know you can handle it.  You are a good mom and strong, just exhausted.  Life will feel manageable and you will feel a huge sense of accomplishment if you do this yourself. Try to read up on it now and then as soon as you get home, start the new routine.  It will go well in the long run.  Honestly, I know this is a little dis-heartening, but it really will be just one of the many things that are not so fun about being a Mom... Thankfully, there are loads of great things too...  And with a well rested family, those great things will be even greater.

*I used to drive one of my college professors nuts when I ignored spell check and made up my own words, which I did an average of 4 times a paper. I still got an A.
**To anyone appalled by me and Sears-ist to the core (nothing against Sears, it works for some, just not us)-- 10 years later, my kids still love me. I didn't break their trust, they don't wince at my touch because I let them cry when they were babies.  In my mind, it is the same as allowing a toddler to throw a temper-tantrum rather than giving in to his 10th marshmallow demand or his "need" of a new Thomas Train.  The same as making my grade-schooler do homework rather than play his DS.  This is active parenting: helping them learn from the beginning that what they want is not always what is best for them or what they need or what is right.
***I did warn/apologize to the neighbors before starting.  They would always chuckle and (*empathetically*) sigh, "No worries Deary, we've all been through it."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

P!nk, Ke$ha, & Miley Have Nothing on Me

This probably should have been done at the beginning of summer, but frankly, I was too busy arranging grand extravaganzas.  I come from a long line of party-ers (philosophically different from partiers); my Grandma is the bomb and still threw a flawlessly executed Easter at 89!  I love when a perfectly meshed group comes together. I love good food and music and drinks and laughter.  I especially love creating a theme and I need it to be cost effective.

I'll be honest, I'm not one of those people who is anxiety ridden before a party; I'm no Martha Stewart but I've hosted huge events (80+ people) and smaller gatherings (25 is our family norm) and intimate groups with just a few people --in fact, I've thrown all of those this summer at my house. I also LOVE being invited to parties, so I am a little leery to write tips for fear that someone will feel that I am judging their party.  I am NOT.  My goal is to simply divulge the secrets passed on to me that make entertaining easier, so that you too can enjoy throwing a party and avoid the desperate need to self-medicate:

1.  Manage The Guest List
--Nobody should feel left out but orchestrating an event where guests feel comfortable is important.  If planning a St. Pats Brouhaha, one may not want to invite dear sweet GG who abhors alcohol.
--When hosting a family party, the guest list doesn't need to contain everyone from both sides of the family as well as friends so that it is chaotically over-whelming and the house is bursting at it's seams.  It is sometimes simpler to limit the guest list or have more than one party but obviously be cautious of feelings.  If inviting everyone, an open house approach is sometimes helpful.
--And something my Dear Grandma taught me: Always invite lonely people (college kids away from home, people who lost a love, those who live alone), they need the fun, laughter, and company.
--***(see disclaimer below on the perfect guest list)***--

2.  Plan Ahead
--No matter how small the party, make a spreadsheet or at least a list with what needs to be done and when to avoid multiple deadline related panic attacks:  Sample Generic Party Spreadsheet Starter
--Plan a simple, manageable, but nice menu. Think about dietary restrictions (gluten free, peanut free, diabetic, on a diet, vegetarian, won't eat meat on a bone).  It puts people at ease to know they won't go into anaphylactic shock.
--Don't try anything new the day of the party -- I've had this backfire on me more than once. Along the same line, also learned by experience-- Don't over-self-serve until at least the food is out.
--Take people up on their offer to bring something; be clear but leave room for creativity, "A dessert would be great, Thanks!"
--Never hesitate to borrow party paraphernalia; those of us who have it are always more than willing to loan it (and we aren't expecting to be invited to every party)
--A house party is an excellent impetus to complete a stagnant project but don't START a new one unless you want to get in a really ugly fight with your DH (nothing says "welcome" like spouses throwing visual darts across a crowded room at each other).  
--Cleaning the house is fine a couple of days before, no need to over-clean as it will be a mess after the party anyway.  Only last minute food prep should be left to the day of the party or there is a high risk of going insane.

3.  Keep Waste & Cost to a Minimum
--Buy cheap polyester table cloths in versatile colors.  They can be found online for a couple of dollars. It is actually easier & cheaper to have them in the party box than run out to the store for disposables.
--I collect Corelle plates.  When I am at the outlet, I add a couple to my collection.  They stack well, dishwasher safe, and won't blow away or bend when you hold them.  I now have about 80 and should probably stop - mostly white but a couple patterned as well.  It makes eating much easier ($1 each but last forever).
--To keep beverages cost effective & waste free, stick to one specialty cocktail, beer, wine, water, & a pitcher of lemonade; One dear friend collects wine glasses; rather than wine markers, everyone just has a different unique wine glass (a great idea... pint glasses too - Hint Hint).

4.  Plan What to Do
--Always be ready with an activity if the group is not meshing quite as anticipated, but be flexible; nothing wrecks a good party as quickly as a strict agenda.
--Sometimes that means just conversation starter cards on the table; a game of bags or bocce outside or Apples to Apples inside. 
--Keep the kids occupied with crafts or games or karaoke.  I've had parties where I found 12-shooter nerf guns on sale and let the kids write their own list of rules, present them to me, and then have an epic battle in the playroom.

5. A Theme Simply Pulls it ALL Together
--Easy fall-back theme?  Latin music, serve margaritas, put out chips and salsa, make fajitas.
--Dead of Winter? Embrace a Beach Theme! Turn the heat up, wear flip flops, rock some summer music with mai tais.
--If it is someone's birthday, pick a theme that relates to them (soccer, the latest movie, etc.), serve their favorite food, play their favorite music, make their favorite crafts, play their fav game.
--FYI, no need to buy new music; most local libraries have an excellent selection and the internet is inundated with creative themes.

6.  Don't Go Over-board 
--Know when to stop.  Cut yourself off.  Reign yourself in.  The best parties are simple and fun and relaxed with no pressure.
--Some may disagree, but personally, I don't see a need for party favors, unless they are very practical and easy.
--If something has become over-whelming or stressful, remove it from the plan or figure a way to make it easier.

In conclusion, a party should be fun and a little crazy but not stressful.  I can honestly regularly throw a great party for 30 people for less than $100 - even with moderate alcohol.  That averages $3.33 a person.  Not bad.

***Disclaimer: One of my favorite memories was at a murder mystery party that I was invited to but knew only my "date".  I will forever know those people only by their murder mystery identity.  In addition, I have met some people that I truly adore at parties, some of them the family of in-laws, but it is generally thought about ahead of time, much like a match-maker.  These couples all like to read, or all are not republicans, or have kids the same age.  The awkward times are when there is very little in common and the guests run out of conversation in minutes.