Thursday, July 30, 2015

Flour sack towels

What with the dryer being broken, I'm hanging everything out to dry. Unfortunately, most of our diapers and training pants are very thick, heavy, and take a long time to dry - even in the dryer. With the humidity levels being so high, even on hot days these babies don't dry fully before sunset. I do have a dozen Dappi prefolds, which are fairly decent birdseye cotton diapers (sadly now discontinued) that line dry well, but they weren't enough. I knew I had to change things up.

I know, they're huge. They fold up small, though.
So I went to Target and bought a dozen flour sack towels! For those of you not in the know, flour sacks are what poor people use to use for their diapers, and they still work well today. They're thin, soft, and very absorbent - and best of all, since they're only one layer thick, they can dry in as little as 20 minutes on the line. Target offers a very nice 4 pack of 30" by 30" square towels for $3.99.

To use them, you can fold them up into fancy shapes and Snappi or pin them, or you can just fold them into a thick rectangle and lay it into a self-closing cover, like I do. When it's time to wash them, they rinse very clean and don't hold onto residue, and they dry in a flash. They're so thin that at first they don't seem like they'll absorb enough, but there's just something about the layers and the space between each layer that allows it to hold much more liquid than it looks like it should.

I've been meaning to get a set of these as flat diapers for a long time, to use in emergency situations like prolonged power outages or zombie attacks. I guess broken dryer counts too.  :)

If you want to know more about flat diapers and using them in extreme situations, check out Dirty Diaper Laundry.  Kim Rosas organizes an annual Flats and Hand washing challenge to both raise awareness for people who have trouble affording diapers, and to demonstrate that people can cloth diaper with or without a washing machine. I hopefully won't have to test the hand washing end any time soon, but the hanging dry is going very well!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Raining? No, it's pouring. But we have an umbrella.

Last week, during one of the hottest weeks of the summer so far, the air conditioning in my van ran out of coolant. Or maybe something else broke on it, I'm not sure - we can't get it fixed just yet anyway.

This morning I went to the dryer to unload the diapers and training pants, only to find that they were still pretty wet. I had noticed they were still damp yesterday when I went to remove them, so I put them in for another cycle then - dampness this morning means the dryer isn't heating up.

Our brand new couch is sagging in the corner, looking as though part of the frame just gave up.

I'm not panicking right now, because I'm pulling a Pollyanna-ish "I'm glad!" act.

I'm GLAD that I have a clothesline and several folding drying racks, and that our dryer is only about 3 years old and may still be under warranty.

I'm GLAD that the couch is likewise under warranty - 5 years, no questions.

I'm GLAD that the vans electric powered windows work, and the blowers can still move the semi-fresh air around the inside of the van. And that the van still runs safely and well.

I'm GLAD that even though our income is minimal right now, Jake and I have ways of boosting it - Jake is doing fix-it jobs for friends and family, I can pick up a massage gig here and there, my book is bringing in a steady trickle of income (really not a lot - about $40 this month - but money is money), and once the A/C is repaired I can drive for Uber again to bring in a few extra bucks. Food and medical are covered via the state right now. I'm not thrilled about that, but it's helping a lot. We still have some savings to cover our bills.

I'm GLAD that Jake isn't just sitting around, waiting for a job. At last count he had over 150 resumes and applications out.

I'm GLAD that should I need to, I have enough marketable skills to get an OK job. Not a great one, but we would be OK on that - we haven't come to that decision to send me back to work yet, but we'll see how the next few months go.

I'm GLAD that despite all this, we still have the resources to make a (gluten free) lasagna for a friend who's baby is in the hospital, and to deliver it to her family.

We will get through this.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Poverty blinders

I used to have this problem. Whatever was not immediate and vital to functioning for the day was excluded from my thoughts.

Not altogether abnormal, but when you're poor, there are so many things that would improve the day to day life IF attention were paid to them. For example, applying for utility assistance BEFORE the cold/hot spell. Or remembering to buy groceries that will make packing lunches easy, so you're not stuck trying to make a fake pizza out of a slice of bread, a ketchup packet, and an old string cheese in the work microwave.

When I was coming out of my Hard Core Poor days and living with my parents, I decided I had to repay them for their help and not be much of a burden (though I know we were). I applied for assistance so I could get a child care subsidy, and hunted for work.

So, here was one of the quirks of the system. While you were looking for work and until you got your first paycheck, the child care was covered by the welfare department. Afterward, your case was transferred to a different agency that was open to anyone who wanted to apply, but funding was tight. If you just applied to that agency, it was iffy if you would get any help. But if you were transferred from welfare, you were guaranteed funding. I was so baffled by this paperwork that I nearly LOST my funding more than once, simply because I had my "It's too confusing, I'll go to work, go get the kids, make dinner, go to bed" blinders on. Everything in life felt so exhausting and hard, that even though something could have helped me make it easier, the process of applying was so daunting that I would ignore it.

There were any number of programs that I probably could have taken advantage of over the past years, but I had those poverty blinders. When I was pregnant with Daniel, a friend set up an appointment for me with Morning Star Pregnancy services so I could get some free maternity clothes. I got lost on the way there, got discouraged, and never made it. I didn't bother going back, either. I scraped some cash and spent money I couldn't really afford on clothes that someone would have GIVEN me for free, because I got stuck mentally about making another appointment, getting there on time, bringing my proof of income, and dragging my 3 year old along. I just... couldn't.

I think I'm better about this these days. I can commit to appointments. I still miss some now and then, but I really work on this. I can show up (mostly) on time. I can usually produce the needed paperwork if asked. But back then I was so overwhelmed, so stressed, and so disorganized that it was nearly impossible to do all those things.

So, if you know somebody that's going through this phase, please don't yell or ask "why can't you JUST DO THIS?". Give them a big calendar with lots of room to write things. Show them how to organize their vital paperwork. Offer a ride to an appointment (and put it in Google calendar so you don't forget). Help them plan. Right now they CAN'T plan. Help them schedule. They CAN'T schedule just now. Help them set up a plan to fill out their paperwork (it's so daunting) and a deadline to submit it that's actually a week before the REAL deadline.

They're trying. They're struggling. It's harder than many people would guess. Don't dismiss their efforts.

Back to School bargains begin!

I know, it's not even August yet! But the office supply stores are bringing the bargains NOW - and there are deals to be had, whether or not your school sent out the supply list yet.

Office Max/Depot has a rotating bargain list that offers 3 items a week for a penny each, as long as you spend $5. This week is 3"x5" index cards, a 10 pack of basic ball point pens, and bottles of white glue. I don't care what school or grade you're in, those are good things to have around the house! If you have trouble getting to the $5 amount, I suggest getting a ream of printer paper for $6 - it's not like you won't use it!

Staples is hedging their bets - they are guaranteeing the lowest price on supplies by 110% this year. Right now the ubiquitous 24 pack of Crayola crayons are $.50 there, and a 12 pack of Crayola colored pencils are $.97, but hold onto the receipt - if Walmart decides to undercut that price, Staples will refund the difference! Of course, the guarantee doesn't apply to store brands, so shop wisely.

Staples is also offering 70 page spiral notebooks for 25 cents each (limit 30), pocket folders with or without 3 hole prongs for 15 cents (limit 30), wooden rulers for 35 cents, 12 packs of pencils for 68 cents, and 4 packs of glue sticks for $1.

If you want to get all the shopping done quickly, I'd hit Staples for the paper and writing products. If you don't mind picking things up in bits and pieces, keep watching the Office Max deals - you may not find everything you need right away, but it's never a bad idea to stockpile crayons and glue if you have kids.

As a half homeschooling, half private school family, we get a lot of benefit from the items that are on sale but are not on my "school" kids list. The notebooks make great writing journals, and the folders are super for containing projects and lapbooks. Tristan has decided he loves to color too, so extra crayons are a necessity here.

Our printer is pooping out lately, and I'm considering watching the sales for a good deal on a printer. We print a LOT here, and Catie is doing more and more computer based projects that need to be printed. The trouble is I've fallen for the cheap printer thing before, and the replacement ink cartridges cost more than the printer - it would have made more sense to buy 4 printers just to have the backup ink! I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Kamping at Knoebels

We've been on a LOT of family trips so far this year! It's one of the (few) benefits when no one has a steady job - we can take off when we please and when the rates are cheaper. All of these trips have been with and at least partially funded by either Jake's parents or mine, because they wanted a trip with the grandkids. We have contributed financially, but in general the trips have been a treat to us.

Soooo... we went to camp and play at Knoebels Grove! If you've never heard of this jewel of an amusement park, don't feel bad - it's a semi-secret up in the mountains of Elysburg, PA. This park is one of very few that doesn't charge admission or parking! Think of that - NO ADMISSION CHARGE! FREE PARKING! They offer either tickets or ride-all-day passes for their rides, so everyone from Grandma down to the babies can come and enjoy the well-shaded park. Not only that, there are many picnic groves at the edge of the park where you can enjoy your thrifty packed lunch.

Knoebels actually says on their website (and in many places around the park) that their MISSION is to provide a fun time at a reasonable price to all families. I don't see that at other parks. Even Kennywood, which I love, doesn't make it a point to allow families on any budget to come and have fun - Knoebels is very special that way. My friends who have many children really appreciate this - you can buy a $20 book of ride tickets for $16 at Weis grocery stores, which can be used on whichever rides you choose. When you have 8 kids like my one friend, not having to shell out entrance fees for all of them is huge - AND you can pack your meals! And I should say - while they do sell food at the park, it's not all that expensive compared to other parks. One of the better deals (if you can eat gluten and dairy) is a whole pizza for $15. Ice cream cones are around $2.50 - $3.00, a large Pepsi for $2.50. Very nearly real world pricing, as opposed to the captive audience fees where a 20 oz bottle of water will cost you $3.00!

The rides are classic park fare, with 4 roller coasters for the thrill seekers, and a wide base of family friendly rides. There are two carousels, both with antique hand-carved horses, and the larger one still allows you to catch the brass ring for a free ride. (Jake got it on one of our rides this year!)

The park also offers a HUGE swimming pool and water slides, for a separate entrance fee - we considered swimming one of our days there, but it was a bit chilly, so we opted out.

Which brings me to another part of this - the camping! Knoebels has campsites both right next to park grounds and a few miles down the road, and cabins and cottages for rent (some right IN the park). The price for the sites is meh... $46 a night or $260 a week, which still beats most hotel prices, but seems a little high for "roughing it". My MIL covered the costs, though, and brought her pop-up camper. The bathhouses are pretty good at the site, and we camped within a decent walking distance from the park itself. Decent in the morning, anyway - when we were tired from a full day, it seemed much further!
Peeking out of the camper.

Catie hanging with the cousins.

Seriously, Mom?

We met Santa one site over, too. His license plate even said SANTA. So it was totally him.

The greatest part about spending a few days there was that when nap time or lunch time rolled around, we could stroll back to our site, take a break, and go back when we were rested and fed. The pressure to have a good time NOW and hit ALL THE RIDES was off - we had plenty of time. And because we were there with my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her family, and various cousins, when Jake and I wanted to slip off and ride a roller coaster, it was easy to do.

My nephew rode this ride three times in a row, and the last time fell asleep holding the bell string. When they woke him, he mumbled "one more time..."! No pics of him, so Tristan grinning will have to do.
Jake, Tristan, and my MIL on the train.

I love camping. I especially love coming back from camping with a renewed appreciation for my mattress and tub baths.  :)  We got back at dinner time last night, made gluten free spaghetti (I was too tired to finish it, which is astounding) bathed, and everyone crashed hard. Tristan is still a little run-down and extra snuggly, so we're having a mellow day. Catie and Daniel are celebrating their reunion with their tablets (we leave those behind when we camp).

Friday, July 10, 2015


I realize that my blog has been light on all things bikey, and there's a reason.

My glorious cargo trike has been sidelined for a few weeks. I bought an electric assist kit, thinking that it wouldn't be all that difficult to assemble, and failing that, a local e-bike guy might be able to help assemble it.

First of all, WRONG on all counts. I don't know if other brands of e-kits ship with schematics, but this one sure didn't. Because all the wheels on my Schoolbus are 24" instead of 26", it took quite a lot of hunting to even find a rear geared hub rim kit in the right size. When it arrived with no diagrams or explanations, we were bewildered. So I called a local guy who had an outdated website (my first clue) and asked if he could assemble it.

Now, to be fair, he DID admit that while he loves e-bikes and building them,but he had only ever assembled about 10, and they were all on standard frame bikes. He had assembled one of the same kits as mine before, though, and that was one more than we had done.

Dude, he was flummoxed. He (and I'm trying to be nice here, because he was messing with my drum brakes and that flipped me out) kept trying to overthink the battery location - it's designed to go on a back rack, but he wanted to put it in the box, which didn't work with cable lengths or ease of battery removal. He also kept setting nuts and bolts and cables in random spots on our gravel driveway. GRAVEL. DRIVEWAY. We were lucky to find them again!

Long story a little shorter, he was unable to do the job. When he left, a few components were put on, like the new hub motor rim, but the battery and controls were left dangling.A good friend who works at the bike shop and volunteers at Recycle Bicycle was able to get the bike technically ride-able again, and put on a few more of the controls, but it's still not motorized. So now I have a heavier trike (because that hub motor is heavy) that STILL isn't running, and it's discouraging to ride it half-finished that way. We still have to find a place to mount the control box, put on the control box, mount the battery to the recently installed rack, attach all the cables, and pray everything works properly.

I said it before and I'll say it again - I only had $1000 to buy this bike. I should have just waited and saved the extra $600 to get the one that already had the power assist built in. This has been a MAJOR pain.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


For the record, I personally don't have trouble sleeping, per se.

I have trouble with others preventing my sleep.

I don't know why, but Tristan has been very restless in the middle of the night, and the only way to soothe him is to take him and rock in the rocker on the front porch. That trek feels reeeeeally long at 2:30 AM.

I used to look forward to summer, because the whole family could sleep in (besides Jake). But I've been watching a boy while his mother works, which means we have to get up early to meet them. What this really amounts to is I need to go to bed earlier, but.... I don't wanna! :(  Evenings after all the kids are in bed are my only time alone with Jake, when it's quiet and we can relax. It's hard to give that up just to zonk out early.

At one point I was a single working mother, with a 4 year old and a 1 year old. Granted, I was living with my parents, but caring for and getting my kids to day care was on me. When Daniel was teething, I went through months of getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night. When I would get the rare night of 7 or 8 hours, I would come into work feeling so dynamic, I could take over the world! I scared people on those days.

I just want the scary energy again! I'm so tired today, I feel like I could ar, .usssssbphktepmkww.... snort... whaaa?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why you should keep Benadryl on hand

I babysit a really great kid. He's easy going, friendly, and sweet. He also is terribly allergic to milk, to the point that he will have an anaphalatic reaction if he eats or drinks something with dairy in it.

We went to the pool a few days ago - it was pretty cool out, but it was also the only sunny day in the forecast after days and days of rain, so the kids were eager to swim. After about an hour, everyone was chilled and ready for a snack, so I broke out the lunch bag. The boy I watch had some money, so he decided to head to the snack bar to get some extras for himself and the other kids (I told you he was sweet).

He's 7, and he's usually really good about knowing what's OK for him to have, and I was wrestling with Tristan at the time, so I didn't realize that he had bought CHEESE popcorn! He ate about six pieces before saying "uh oh". I called his mom, who said to get him some Benadryl and have him drink lots of water, then watch to make sure he doesn't swell or choke.

Now, if I had been thinking clearly, I would have asked the lifeguard station if they had Benadryl. But I was too busy hating myself for the slip up on someone elses' kid and trying to pack up to even think about asking. Catie was having a teen moment and didn't want to leave the pool, because she didn't understand how serious the reaction could be - finally I had to explain that it was leave now or he would have to go to the emergency room. THAT got her going - full Florence Nightingale fluttering, super anxious about getting him safe!

I did a mental inventory of my medicine cabinet as I threw everything in the bag, and wasn't sure if we even had any Benadryl at home. I called a friend who lived a few blocks from the pool, but she didn't have any either - thankfully there was a CVS right at the corner. I left the kids in the car (sue me - Catie had it under control) and ran in, buying the single liquid child dose packages so I wouldn't have to open and measure a bottle. I got the medicine into him before he got past the itchy, numb lips stage, and the day was saved.

I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been able to get the medicine so quickly. For example, if we had been out camping and someone had been stung by a bee, or my highly allergic husband stumbled into poison ivy (he doesn't usually swell up, just gets an awful rash, but still). So I'll be keeping those liquid ampules on hand in the future, just to be safe. And even if you don't usually use Benadryl, you should keep a few doses in your emergency kit - just in case.