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Levi through June

Not to sound cliché, but it’s really amazing watching my son grow up. He is this amazing little person who captures interesting aspects of both Peter and me and the rest of our family. He plays games like normal kids, and he tests limits like normal kids. Overall, though, I doubt we could be blessed with a happier kid.

Today, Levi really took off walking. Levi has done everything on his own schedule, even down to his teeth. His teeth are actually a very poignant example. He was cutting his first teeth since four months old, but no tooth really popped through the gum-line until he hit one year. Eight months of cutting teeth and baby Orajel! Likewise, everything else has been on his own timeline from when he rolled over first, sat up, stood up, and now walking.

Walking has been interesting. We are now at the point where parental comparisons seem to be at an all-time high. “My kid walked when he was 3 months and was speaking in full sentences by 5,” it seems the brags go. Every parent competing to see who really has the smartest kid. We know our kid’s smart, but how do you prove it when they aren’t walking on their own at nearly 17 months? You don’t is the bottom line.

But today, Levi did walk completely on his own, turning, falling, squatting, and getting up for almost an hour! He lapped that little living room rug countless times, and the entire time he was giggling and clapping, knowing what he’s accomplished. He can walk.

What crystallized for me, though, was an awareness of how well this kid knows himself, and at such a young age. We adults strive to ‘know thyself’ for a lifetime, and he’s got it right now. He has taken his time maybe because he’s aware that big ole head of his makes balance difficult. He practiced ‘downward facing dog’ for weeks and squats for several days, and tonight, did he use them!

I didn’t capture any video of our now walking-monster, but instead, I made a video capturing who this kid is. I hope you all enjoy.

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How do I make my whites whiter?

If you can’t use bleach to make your laundry shine, what should you use? The answer: vinegar and baking soda.

In the previous post, I described three items to have in your home for everyday cleaning: vinegar, baking soda, and soap. We do have additional cleaning items, such as a specific laundry soap (BioKleen), and I even have a specific toilet bowl cleaner (Ecover). There are some things to keep in mind that I learned the hard way.

I have suffered from eczema for almost ten years now. The first five years of having this skin condition, I did not know what it was. By accident, though, I found that by not using products with scent or dye, my skin was simply happier. Soon, I found myself replacing Tide with All Free and Clear. I like static free laundry, so the dryer sheet was replaced with a dye-free, perfume-free variety. Over time, I gravitated to biodegradable products, such as BioKleen and Ecover (Lord knows there are others!), and found that I could do lightly scented things, but it had to be natural.

Research showed me that city-dwellers have higher incidences of allergy than those who grow up on the farm, more specifically, people who grow up with livestock like cows. Some conjectures drawn from these findings are that we keep things too clean in the city, and our exposure to allergens is fewer than those living in rural settings, so we don’t allow our bodies to build up proper immunity. Allergies include asthma, seasonal allergies, and skin conditions like eczema. As stated above, one way to remedy these irritations is to get back to basics in cleaning.

So, if we shouldn’t use bleach to clean because it’s poisonous and kills too many good things, it brings us back to the question of what we should use. For our laundry, we use the standard measurement of BioKleen (which happens to be highly concentrated and cost less in the end because you use less) with baking soda and vinegar in the bleach spout. Try a tablespoon of vinegar at a time.

Having a baby has shown us that there are some stains you do want removed, and for those tougher stains we use Ecover’s stain stick. Lately, though, that hasn’t been very much because the regular routine works fine.

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Since the 90s

I was thinking about music this morning, when it occurred to me that you no longer see on regular television advertisements for ‘party mixes’. You know, those ‘dance CDs’ that have all the greats? A recent conversation with a friend, who is an associate professor at a university in Michigan and teaches freshman, showed me some of the differences in kids these days. These thoughts have made me think about the differences between what we liked in the 90s and what we like now, late 2008.

‘Kids these days’ spend a lot of time on facebook, like when they should be paying attention to a lecture. I suppose they do this instead of sleeping. A few years ago, it was noted that kids these days no longer listen to albums, rather they pick their favorite songs and assign them to playlists. Today, my friend noticed, that kids don’t even listen to songs, instead they pick out parts of the song they enjoy stylistically and mesh one part with another.

I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I suppose that makes me a part of Generation X. My mother is a baby boomer, although she was born a bit later, she is the product of parents who were directly affected by World War II. My step-father fit certain stereotypes of the 70s, the time when he was in college. There is a fabulous picture of him and his three friends, all with long hair, looking like the party kids of those days. When I grew up bell-bottoms were not fashionable, they were shunned. When I was younger, we french-rolled our jeans to make them even tighter and more tapered. We even drew our socks over our jeans. We wore loafers, and we did this goofy knot on the end so we never had to tie them. Correction, others did that as I could never figure out the magic of the knot. We had a pogo ball, and the commercial was even shot at our local John Ball Park Zoo. French-rolls and pogo balls fell away to Red Hot Chile Peppers and Nirvana while I was in high school. My friends and I loved watching movies, and quick favorites were Sleepless in Seattle and The American President. The summer I graduated high school, a favorite blockbuster was Twister. Today, we have more superheroes in Hancock and The Dark Knight.

I wonder what other changes there are that I can’t see. So, we no longer have party mixes, pogo balls, and music and movies are forever changing. Bell-bottoms are back, although we don’t dare call them that. But, please let me have my flared pants because boot-cut just won’t do.

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Three years ago I wouldn’t have known to be thankful for scavengers. Today, I do and I am.

As a courtesy to a friend, three years ago I agreed to take hold of some of his things while he tended to things in his life. The stipulation was that I was able to use these things. The things included two bookshelves, one chair, one couch, and one futon with two pads. As far as I can tell we basically had a verbal contract that kept getting extended in the interim.

He phoned a few months ago that he wanted his bed back, the futon. After thinking about what was involved and now not having space to move something of the nature of a futon frame, he was instructed to find someone with a truck to get this things. Unfortunately for us, he, it seems, never had any intentions of getting the rest of his things – only the futon. After receiving his permission, the rest of the items went to the curb today.

We were most worried about the couch as we could no longer see any value in it, at all. The rest of the items would be easy to get to Goodwill, and our conscience would allow it. So, we brought everything to the curb while Levi cheered in his stroller. I took a box we weren’t using and cut into four pieces then writing ‘FREE’ on each and putting one on each piece of furniture. Pete and Levi then ran out for some errands to help a neighbor while I posted the free items on craigslist and freecycle.

About an hour and a half after we put the items to the curb, a youngish couple pulled up in their well used brown pick up with topper. Diligently, they loaded the couch and chair into the back, and then they arranged one bookshelf on top of the topper, tied securely with rope.

I have never been so happy as I was in that moment to see someone come to my curb and take our ‘garbage’ away. It’s true, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. And today, I am thankful for those scavengers, an essential piece to our city’s services.

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How can I clean my home, naturally?

With natural pest management, natural home management seems like a natural next step. Pun intended. We are offered so many choices when shopping for cleaning solutions, it’s often difficult to decide which works best. My years as an adult have taught me to go back to the basics.

What do we need to clean in the home? We need water to moisten messes, a little soap to scrub them off, an abrasive for those tougher scrubbing problems, and a disinfectant. Remember, we don’t actually want to kill off good bacteria because we need that to build our immune systems and let nature’s services do their thing. The first thing we need to learn is anti-bacterial soaps are a big no-no. Not only do they kill bad bacteria, but they kill good bacteria which can lead to drain problems.

Although bleach is a disinfectant, so is vinegar. Since bleach is the poisonous option, I choose to not use it, and not to buy it. Most of us have vinegar in the house for cooking, so buy it big because it’s also something that can be used in laundry and cleaning.

An easy abrasive to keep on hand is Baking Soda. Make sure to buy it from the baking aisle, you don’t want to the special-formulated laundry soap. Sprinkling baking soda, for example, on a stove top with tonight’s dinner caked on top is an easy way to get it clean. Then, you just take your damp sponge (vegetable cellulose) or rag (that old towel that is too ratty to be a towel) and wipe it up. Yes, some ‘elbow grease’ is required, but a lot less than if you were to go at it without the baking soda.

And, of course soap. There are a lot of soaps out there, and a lot of great recipes to make your own soap. The basic thing we need is some lather to help melt those tough to clean things away. I found a natural do-everything soap from People’s Co-op (a local co-op specializing in natural and vegetarian options) a few years ago, but recently, I’ve settled on BioKleen and Ecover. BioKleen is a Vancouver, Washington based company that specializes in an entire line of cleaning products. Ecover is based in Germany. I use Ecover’s dishsoap for nearly everything from washing dishes to mopping the floor. My husband really likes it for washing his hands after working on the car. We don’t even buy Gojo’s Orange Pumice hand cleaner anymore.

The basic three ingredients you need to clean in your home, naturally are vinegar, baking soda, and soap. More on their uses to come…

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What about the bugs I don’t want in the home?

Or, another way to ask would be… what do we do about those pests, naturally? How do we get rid of pests, naturally? What is a natural remedy for pests?

Every summer, we get ants. Here in the Pacific Northwest, Willamette Valley, after the mild winter has gone, on that first warm, sunny day; the ants come out to play. I have lived here for five years in four different places in three areas of Portland (SE, SW, N), and only one home was ant-free. Every other place had the same problem at the same time of year, that first nice day in spring the ants come out.

It’s always difficult to discern where they originate. Toxic solutions didn’t work. An environmentally-friendly professional didn’t work. And, my mother’s old trick of cayenne pepper didn’t work. So, how to get rid of these pests is a question that comes up often. And, when you consider pets and small children who don’t know that something is bad and they shouldn’t touch it, the desire for natural solutions is greater.

Some basic web research yielded these results:

  • Talcum baby powder sprinkled along the ants trail
  • Bay leaves (you know, that soup ingredient, laurel leaves) whole placed in a row where the ants go
  • Vinegar (white distilled) in a spray bottle or vinegar & soap in a spray bottle sprayed along the trail where the ants go, let dry and wait
  • Black or cayenne pepper sprinkled in a row where the ants are found

Since cayenne pepper didn’t work here for me, I was skeptical of the bay leaves, we don’t own large quantities of talcum powder, the vinegar solution was for me. Trial and error taught me to fill the spray bottle nearly full with vinegar (I started with 3 parts water, 1 part vinegar) and a big squirt of soap. I use Ecover’s Dishwashing Soap (you know if you wash dishes by hand). Now, when I see ants, I spray the area they are found with this concoction, and the ants disappear for several weeks. I have had to go back to the bottle since April, but they have ceased to be the annoying pests I usually think of them to be.

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The Achievement of the B.A.

As many of my friends know, I have been in pursuit of my Bachelor’s Degree for 12 years. Granted, there have been breaks in between, but the start to finish date is from 1996 to 2008. Reflection has shown me that, for me, there is no other way I could have completed this path. I have been able to accomplish some pretty nifty things and allow life to help frame the way I look at this pursuit of education and its importance, and how that question is framed. It’s also allowed me to maintain my high-typing speeds (upward of 98 words per minute).

Now, I am done. There is nothing more I can do that will add to my pursuit of a Bachelor of Arts. I am done. I only need to wait for the paperwork to be completed, and then I will finalize this occasion by walking in the Summer Commencement at Portland State.

I can now say that I have credentials. I have a B.A. in Social Science with a Minor in Sustainable Urban Development. I will no longer list Michigan State University as part of my official education as the degree will be granted from Portland State.

I am done.

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In God We Trust

A recent conversation with a friend, explored differing opinions regarding “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency. We are aware of opinions that “In God We Trust” has always been on U.S. currency, and the adamant support that goes with that belief. My friend also came across someone who was willing to boycott the new dollar coin because he felt it was improper for a U.S. coin to not host the phrase, “In God We Trust.”

First, we should be clear that the phrase “In God We Trust” was not always on U.S. currency, just as “under God” was not always a part of the “Pledge of Allegiance.” These phrases were added around the time of World War II.

Regardless, I wanted this anonymous person (I have no idea who it is) to rest assured that “In God We Trust” has not been removed from new coinage, simply moved to the side of the coin instead of on the face of the coin.

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How to attract good bugs to my garden?

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is probably what you could learn about next. I will refer you (again) to those fabulous articles by the University of Wisconsin, this one titled Managing Leaves & Yard Trimmings. I would have included a PDF, but unfortunately a few hard drive crashes and no frequent back ups have erased it from my computer. But, here’s the link again: Obviously, I am going to tell you to “Say NO to Chemicals!” You want things like worms and ladybugs. Ladybugs, for instance, eat aphids which eat roses. I don’t know all the ins and outs of IPM, but that’s where I’d direct you next to learn more about what you want to see in your yard and what you don’t.

I kept getting stuck on shade, without re-referencing your email, as your question and thinking about what to plant in the shade. I don’t have an answer for that, but that’s not really what you asked. Shade is good because it helps with energy costs, especially around the home. Having plants work together is good… but anyway. That’s not specific, only generalities.

Back to what you want to see in your yard. I just did a Google search for “good bugs in Michigan” and this is the first thing that popped up from the Michigan Department of Agriculture:,1607,7-125-1566_1733_22582_22592-69349–,00.html. They list three bugs you want to see: Praying Mantis, Ladybug, and Honeybee.

Now – maybe the BEST site is this from MSU: This is a chart of the type of native plant and how good they are at attracting bees.