Friday, September 28, 2007

the blustery day

Well, let's try this "fall" thing again, shall we?

It's not supposed to get above 80 degrees in the next week. Today I looked out at the backyard and saw something I had forgotten about--leaves on the ground! After four years of living in apartments and city rowhouses, it's time to rake leaves again. I wonder if we have a leaf rake. There's a shed of tools and garden implements that we share with the neighbors. There's probably one in there.

It's the perfect day to be up and about without getting hot and sticky. But there's something keeping me here...


Monday, September 24, 2007

happy birthday, susie / los, panik!

First of all, a happy birthday to Susie, one of the stars of Family Hack* and Khymi's little sister!

Susie is a kid after our own hearts. Khymi informed Dad on the phone last night that, "this morning, my sister woke up and she was crying, so I just sang 'Panik' to her and she stopped crying!" Clearly, a two-year-old who has her priorities straight.

Khymi is referring to this song by Wir Sind Helden. Ever since this summer, she has decided that it fits the bill for any scenario where music is required. We're really glad she likes it so much...we just hope Mama and Papa aren't on the verge of "accidentally" running over the CD in the driveway.

*Bonus: Family Hack is Khymi's mom and stepdad's resource blog for families on the go--check it out!


Sunday, September 23, 2007

HPR Home Cinema, episode I

Everybody, meet Khymi. Khymi, the "R" part of our family surname triumvirate, turned six-and-a-half this Rosh Hashanah (approximately) and has her own way with a number of things. One of those things is now The Monkey Bars.

"...and then watch, you'll find out that that wasn't cheating after all, because I go all the way back anyway..."

My daughter, everybody: she wants to be the player, the coach, the referee, and the commentator all at the same time. Loquacious much? I wonder where she gets that...


a better grasstrap

What if I told you, dear reader, that you could have a better lawnmower?
What if I said this mower never clogs?
Always starts?
No expensive repair necessary?
No extra expense of gas or electric bills?
100 percent emission-free?
Less noisy, with only a pleasant, intermittent whir?
So safe you can even use it with sandals?
No risk of flipping over?
And best of all, cuts grass just about as well as a motorized mower, with only a little added exercise from you?

Gee, you say, why haven't I heard about these innovative new mowers?

Oh, because this technology isn't actually new. It's OLD and QUAINT and therefore supposedly OBSOLETE. You see, we just got a reel mower. You know, the kind of thing you push, and it makes the wheels turn, which makes these blades spin around and cut the grass. It uses food-calories instead of fossil-fuel calories. So you see, this new advancement, superior to the rotary mower, is actually OLD. Maybe that's why you haven't heard about it. Because hey, older technology can't possibly work better than newer stuff, right?

The best part of all? It's practically brand-new, and we got it for FREE instead of paying $100. (CraigsList: It's the new Amazon.)

Gee, you say, how does one swing that?

It's easy. You wouldn't believe how many people want to get rid of reel mowers once they get something motorized and fossil-fuel burning. On one side are all the benefits I listed above. On the other are, well, uh, a somewhat faster and somewhat closer shave, or in other words, the same quality with a little less human effort. Oh, and the technology is NEWER, so it must be better than that which is OLD.

To which we say: Fine! Please! Give 'em away! Joke's on you, suckers...

For now, I'll be nursing my blisters and - at last, after weeks cursing a broken-down gas mower - basking in the sweet smell of fresh-cut grass.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A step in the wrong direction for Maryland

I waited to post on this until today. Yesterday when I heard the news, I was too frustrated and angry, and I would have just written some long soapbox-y diatribe. I'll try not to do that now. But I do feel like I have a lot to say.

Jacob tried explaining to me that sometimes, judges make decisions that even they may not agree with because their job is to decide within the confines of the current legal framework and the particular arguments with which they have been presented. And this one was tricky because the argument, as I understand it, was that marriage discrimination is sex discrimination, not sexual orientation discrimination. If you look at the example of the lesbian couple who was forced to separate because one of them was an Indian citizen and had to return to India because her visa had expired, and if they had been married, the American citizen could have sponsored her partner for citizenship, you could say that if one of them had been a man (something that is of course beyond their control), they wouldn't have had all the trouble they did. And that's unfair. But if you say, if they had been an opposite-sex couple, then you're talking about sexual orientation discrimination. It's semantics, but it's a very fine line, and the judges weren't buying it.

That's all a little hard for me to swallow. It's hard when from my perspective, the choice should be simple, and not a question of interpreting laws this way or that way. We're at an age where a ton of our friends are getting married, and I can think of three friends and their partners off the top of my head who would probably jump at the chance (or at least consider it seriously) if it were given to them. One of them is my best and oldest friend.

We struggled with the decision to get married, not because of how it would affect our lives directly, but because we felt conflicted and almost guilty about being in a position of privilege. This summer I wrote a research paper on same-sex marriage, and it made me think critically about what the institution has come to mean in American society. The counter-arguments almost always mentioned something along the lines that marriage exists in its current form because of the possibility of procreation, and opposite-sex couples are the only ones who can procreate "naturally."

I promised no huge rant, so I'll just say, if you have children, if you don't have children, if you've dealt with infertility, if you are a woman of any age, if you know children whose parents were never married and are (shocker, this one) totally normal, if you never plan to have children, if you have children who are not your biological offspring...think long and hard about the implications of that line of reasoning. Think about what really matters to you. "Legitimacy"? "Tradition"? Not so much for me. What matters are love, respect, admiration and dedication. Between any consenting adult partners, and among any family. Among human beings, really. And when you look at all of the marriage debate, those things aren't mentioned very much. Something's wrong with that picture.

We are very happy that we got married. In the end, it was what we wanted for ourselves. But I promised myself that I would try to help the effort toward winning this right for everyone who wants it.

So what can we do, now that the final decision has been made? The next place to focus is the state legislature. What couldn't be won in a lawsuit may be possible through legislation. If you live in Maryland, I encourage you to contact your state senator and delegates and tell them you support marriage rights for all.

P.S. The Washington Post hosted an interesting online Q & A session about same-sex marriage this afternoon. The transcript is available here.


Monday, September 17, 2007


We all love IKEA, right? Sure we do. It's the whole package: a socially-conscious purveyor of inexpensive, space-saving and attractive European-style home furnishings, and a place you can take your kids where they'll actually look forward to hanging around while you're pricing sofas. If you stay through mealtime, no problem. Another family-friendly oasis awaits you in the store's cafeteria. What more could you ask for?

As if that weren't enough, IKEA is also the place where my dad has been happily employed for many years. So my loyalty runs deeper still. Dad is one of two store carpenters, which means, among other things, that he builds the larger parts of the "rooms" on the showroom floor (walls, kitchens, and so on). They have other employees (or in Scandinavian social-democratic IKEA-speak, "co-workers") whose job it is to assemble the furniture for display, but my dad can usually tell me the difference between the base model and the next best one, and steers me away from the real lemons. There's a difference between the fiberboard-and-melamine nightmare that'll only last you a year and the more durable pieces (for example, my steel-frame bed, purchased c. 1999-2000, that's been disassembled and reassembled over the course of five moves and is no worse for the wear).

Jacob had never been to an IKEA before he met me. If he had a nickel for every time I've told him, "You know, they have that at IKEA," well...he'd probably have enough for a delicious IKEA breakfast. And that includes coffee.

That all being said...IKEA's not the be-all and end-all. Since we moved into the small red house, we've been itching to put away all our boxes of books, but we had nowhere to put them. Our first instinct was to run to IKEA and come home with 300 dollars' worth of BILLY bookcases, but then we thought of the fact that a) 300 dollars might be a pretty good deal, but it's still a lot of money and b) we've been trying to quit buying newly-manufactured things when we could be saving something from the landfill.

So we decided to check out Community Forklift, a local organization that sells salvaged and surplus building materials at drastically reduced prices. What should we find on our first trip to their huge warehouse in Edmonston but a set of bookshelves, recently removed from the GWU law library:

Cheaper than BILLY, and solid oak to boot. We haven't unpacked all the books yet, but for now that bottom shelf has been serving as a "cat cubby."

Bonus: Want to get more mileage out of your IKEA stuff? Get inspired by ikea hacker.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

summer's end

The heat and humidity vanished yesterday. Maybe they'll be back, maybe they won't. Maybe that was it. The cat has stopped sprawling out on the wood floor during the day, in favor of resuming her spot on the back of the futon, curled up with her nose tucked between her paws. We turned off the A/C and opened up all the windows!

The 9/11 anniversary has come and gone. It's almost become a part of the start of a new school year--I wonder how long it'll be this way. For the rest of our children's lives? Amid the "crying bald eagle" illustrations and the trite nationalistic catchphrases, I was sobered to hear an sponsor's ad on NPR, a contribution made in memory of Leslie Whittington and her family. Leslie was a colleague of my mom's and a neighbor whose daughter I used to babysit when I was in high school. It still saddens and terrifies me when I remember that morning and the phone call from Leslie's parents in Georgia. But it saddens me just as much to think of the way our country has reacted and changed in the meantime.

Fortunately, there are nice things to look forward to about fall. Jacob's birthday and the Baltimore Irish Festival are tomorrow. We might actually get some yard work done this weekend without getting heatstroke or being eaten by mosquitoes. The band is playing a show at the New Deal Café in a couple of weeks. We'll be heading up to Catoctin again and coming back with apples, pears and cider from Pryor's Orchard.

And I'm actually looking forward to getting another semester of college under my belt. No exams this time, just hands-on work and case studies. My kind of semester!


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

finally, something you can use

A Top Ten List of energy/trash/money-saving products and tips, from what we've learned so far:

  1. Compost! Even if you're like us and freaked out about vermin in an urban-suburban area, you can get a recycled plastic compost tumbler that screws shut to keep out garden pests. Search for one on Amazon and you'll come up with something. And there is a ton of information online about what you can and can't compost.

  2. Use power strips. We have our TV, VCR, DVD player and stereo hooked up to a power strip to stop the drain of idle current--when they're not on, the power strip goes off. Unplug the microwave and the coffeemaker when they're not in use, too--chances are you've got another clock in the kitchen.

  3. Use a tank bank or other water displacement device in your toilet tank and reduce the amount of water your toilet uses to flush.

  4. We found this little gem on shower saver shut-off valve. It stops the flow of water (or brings it to a trickle) while you're shampooing or soaping up in the shower, and when you flip it back on, the water temperature is the same as before. It's inexpensive and super-easy to install. Using it every time you shower adds up to a lot of water saved.

  5. Recycle--really. Check with your local department of sanitation and see what they'll take and what they won't. The hardest thing for me to remember to recycle is paper--things like gum wrappers, small receipts, Band-Aid wrappers and other stuff you'd just toss in the trash. But it doesn't take long to make it a habit. We now both compulsively save recyclable materials that we acquire outside the house and bring them home to recycle. Cut down on the paper that's going into the recycling by canceling catalog subscriptions--you can shop online!

  6. Switch to fluorescent lighting. People have been saying this for years, but now compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are becoming more available and more affordable. Besides, the higher upfront cost is nothing compared to the money you save on your electric bills. GoodCommonSense has a great selection of dimmables and hard-to-find sizes (and some LED lighting too), but for the basics we just head to IKEA.
  7. Note: make sure that when your CFLs finally burn out (I don't think any of mine have yet), you dispose of them by taking them to a hazardous waste collection day or back to IKEA. CFLs contain mercury and should not be sent straight to the landfill with your household trash.

  8. Reuse! Any time you're about to use a disposable plastic zip-top bag, see if you can use a sealable plastic container instead. Or do what Jacob does and reuse the bag. Switch to cloth napkins and use handkerchiefs instead of tissues--I have to say this is easier if you have an in-house washer and dryer, something we didn't have up until recently. If you're a woman of menstruating age, consider switching to a cloth pads or a reusable menstrual cup (this may cross your personal Grossness Threshhold, but really: they save tons of trash and money). Use reusable shopping bags when you go to the grocery store--they're more comfortable to carry anyway. Or if that's not good enough, use them when you go to a store that's not the grocery store. Refuse a plastic bag if you're buying one or two items that you can really just carry yourself. Don't buy water in plastic bottles--get one bottle and keep refilling it. Buy used materials, too--why buy new what you can get at the thrift store or on craigslist?

  9. Wash your clothes in cold water. I switched a while ago and I really haven't noticed any difference at all in how clean they get.

  10. Avoid your car. We are lucky enough to have moved to a neighborhood where we can walk to the grocery store, the pool, the library, the post office, and the bus that will take us to the Metro station. Now if only I could get Baltimore to move down here... Anyway, even if you don't live in a city like ours, carpool or use public transportation if walking or biking isn't an option. Drive part of the way and take the bus or the train the rest of the way. And here's Jacob's favorite: slow down. The faster you drive on the highway, the worse your mileage will be. Make an effort not to go over the speed limit on your next long drive and see if it makes a difference.

  11. Eat locally. Think of where your food comes from and what it took to get it to where you bought it. Support your local farmer's market. Buy groceries in bulk if you can. Grow your own food (or even just a small herb garden) if you can.
This is what I could think of off the top of my head. We don't do all of it all the time. I happen to like certain effects of globalization--being able to buy avocados, bananas and coconuts in Maryland, for example (although having an avocado tree would be swell). But we try to contribute in ways that we can.

What would you add to this list?


return to simplicity: food and music

What a Woche! It was our third actual week in the Small Red House (only 1.5 months after moving in!), and there was a long-not-seen cousin visiting before she left for a life in Japan. And there was the darling daughter, being her usual exuberant self. And the wedding. And we put together IKEA furniture and bought bookshelves out of a law school library. And you were there, and you, and you...

It was all we could do last night to just make a (very, very late) home-cooked meal of tofu-zucchini koftas and chappatis. After a bite or two, we looked up at each other and exhaled. There we were, at last, together in our house. We'd gotten through it all, even if we never got around to sweeping the floors.

The moment was made all the sweeter by our local public radio station, which was playing a special show of Doc Watson and Jean Ritchie. I recall many a childhood afternoon spent in the den, singing along with Hazel Dickens begging for "black waters, black waters / no more in my land," and here was Jean not only singing it herself, but talking about Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the burnt swath of Appalachia lost to mountaintop removal, and the rally she attended at the UN recently, as an old lady. And her voice, like a coal-mine canary, Appalachian without shying from conventional prettiness, soulful without tearing at her own chest. So much like Doc's gentlemanly baritone, with its Carolina drawl and lack of pretension, latter-day Dixiephilic or otherwise. I got that catch in my throat like when I listen to Paul Robeson or Pete Seeger or Lotte Lenya or Johnny Cash. It's not because of any outstanding heroism on their part, per se, but because they are Big People. To hear their voices is like to walk beneath a centuries-old spruce: it dwarfs you with its majesty, humbles you with its tireless patience, and saddens you to think of its waning lifespan. These human beings possess enormous knowledge and love for mankind. Who in this world of record contracts and bohemian self-promoters will carry on when they go?

And so I put down my chappati, this small thing made with flour and hands, looked at the one I love, and sighed. What a joy is life in late summer!


Monday, September 3, 2007

the rest of it

Well, with the wedding over, the "honeymoon" over, the marriage certificate in the mail, the houseguest gone home, and the kid at her mom and stepdad's house for the next month, I'm beginning to feel a little bit like this:
My semester actually started last week, but my classes were really sort of a distraction from everything else that was going on. Jacob starts his first Real (Not An Internship or Summer Job) Job tomorrow. And we can finally look around the house and figure out what all needs to be done, and when we are going to do it all.

My job this afternoon is to make a weekly schedule for myself and factor in classes, schoolwork, internship, and (the dreaded) commuting time. I didn't plan it this way, but I have nothing but evening classes this semester, so I have a completely unstructured weekday schedule while my husband is doing the 9-to-5. I find this pretty daunting. So I'm trying to create a routine that is equal parts productive and flexible without being hectic or housewife-ish. Wish me luck.


Saturday, September 1, 2007

we deed it!

more to come...


bachelor party, SRH style?

I guess it's traditional now in our culture to celebrate the end of bachelorhood with some big, booze- and misogyny-soaked Hormone Bash. As if the Community of Like Chromosomes is bidding you farewell forever, or throwing a preemptive wake, or something. I dunno. I don't get it. (Maybe it's the appeal of people coming out of cakes?)

Once again, we have to be the low-key, nontraditional ones. If you'd like to throw a Small Red House-inspired Bachelor Party, here are two proposed itineraries, tested by experience:

1. Drive to Baltimore with fiancé/e, brother- and cousin-in-law-to-be. Eat delicious pizza in Fells Point. While fiancé/e is in class, walk around Federal Hill and go to Zeba Lounge for fleecing huka, hummus, and hot dolmades. End with Korean barbecue together, admiring the Korean beer posters and the waitresses' tonging skills.

2. Go out for family-style Chinese food with, uh, the family. Come home, put the daughter to bed. Drink a glass of cheap red wine, watch a short Netflix DVD, check email, go to bed early.

PROS: It's much cheaper, easier to plan, less embarrassing, and you're not drunk or hung-over on the wedding day. Also nobody jumps out of a cake!
CONS: Stories about the bachelor party may disappoint co-workers. Also nobody jumps out of a cake!