Sunday, November 29, 2009


I don't know what's wrong with me, but instead of the usual winter slump (a.k.a. mild depression) that usually hits me by the time this dark time of the year, I continue to be basically HAPPY -- you know, cheerful, ready to sing "The hills are alive..."
What gives? Instead of getting grumpier as I get older, I get happier. I'm just plain old THANKFUL for the good life our family has. Soppy, I know...

It's been a very nice relaxed Thanksgiving for the Borealkraut family.
On Turkey Day, Eldest came for the feast together with her 2 roommates, and we really enjoyed visiting with them, including playing a rousing game of "Apples to Apples" and telling various embarrassing stories of when the kids were small. Eldest wrote me a sweet Thank you email the next day, where she shared that she and her roommates thought our family was very "loving". Shucks -- I'm just a sucker for stuff like that -- I'd have been ready to hand over my car keys if she'd asked for them right then...

We did not end up going on our annual ski-into-the-cabin trip the next day: the Prof and I both were suffering from back pain, and decided that we just were not up to pulling sleds and sleeping on hard bunkbeds (yes, we were definitely being whimps, but we're allowed at our ripe old age!). So instead we just laid low and enjoyed hanging out with the kids, reading, watching movies, and nibbling on turkey left-overs.

But other good things happened as a result of us not going to the cabin. We got to meet Wolf's new girlfriend, A, and her family: first we had a chance to meet them all at the sledding hill in a downtown park, and then tonight A and her sister came over for dinner. They live in the Valley (another valley than our little valley: so it's at least a 30 mile drive), so the families meeting was a big step -- yes, a little awkward at first, but I think it went well, and we're really pleased how nice A and her family are! It's like in the movie The Sound of Music, when Maria tells of how Mother Superior always said "When the good Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window." Not that I'm particularly religious, but I have to admit, I'm really happy for the Wolfman that it worked out that way -- Howl!

Photo credit:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dirty Laundry

Now that I got your attention!...

This post is literally about laundry, and its environmental impacts, rather than the airing of anybody's dirty laundry (I'm just not the gossiping type...)

This is the first part of my GREEN series in which I intend/attempt to write about how I can help to do my part in helping the environment -- you know, less wasting of energy, sustainable living, etc.

I'm starting out with the ordinary subject of LAUNDRY:
Everybody does laundry -- clothes get dirty, and then we wash them. In an effort to do my part in keeping this planet from Global Warming at an alarming rate, I try not to use an extra-ordinary amount of energy in keeping my family in tidy whities! My part may be tiny, but it's still significant -- if nothing else by the influence I have on the next generation: my own 3 kids!

Surely everybody has heard of the 3 R's: "Reduce, Reuse, recycle". More recently a new word has been added to this trilogy: rethink. That one's my favorite -- just stopping to think about the impact of the myriad daily decisions we make each day, and how they affect the environment!
Back to laundry, some Americans are starting to RETHINK their relationships with their laundry detergents, washers, and clothesdryers.

First of all, we can easily REDUCE (REUSE) the amount of laundry generated by wearing our clothes longer before laundering them. This may be a tough sell, especially to teens and pre-teens who go through clothes like there's no tomorrow, but really, they do care about the environment, so try that tactic (are you paying attention, Youngest?)

RETHINK our tools
Detergents: switching to environmentally more friendly detergents by avoiding phosphates and chlorine. For a review of detergents, their cost and environmental impact, go to consumersearch.
Also, simply using less. When it comes to everything from shampoos to laundry detergents, we don't need to use so much of it! Many products are more concentrated today, so we need less, and thus generate less empty plastic bottles...

Washing machine: about 5 years ago, we replaced our inefficient older Whirlpool with a water-saving washer made in New Zealand: and one of the first things I noticed is how much more efficient the spin cycle was -- and when laundry is less soggy, it takes less energy to dry them!
Also, avoid running small loads -- it's definitely inefficient.

Dryer: Best of all is to avoid using it in the first place. Hanging laundry up to dry the "old-fashioned" way is surely the most environmentally friendly.
Back when I was a young new bride and husband #1 and I bought our first house, we went appliance-shopping, and I had to convince him we only needed a washer, no dryer. Maybe, I said, when we have messy kids, and live in a cold place like Alaska...
Now I do have kids, live in AK and do own a dryer. It's old and runs on electricity instead of the more efficient natural gas (but it does have a dryness sensor, which does make a lot of sense!). But I don't use my dryer all that much.

Most Americans feel like they can't go without a dryer, time-wise and space-wise.
I would argue it does not take all that much space and time, and I'll go over what I find helps me to minimize the use of the dryer. Even in the winter (especially when it's super cold and we heat our houses, and the indoor air is very dry) you don't need to stick all your clothes into the dryer -- just to vent that heat to the outside!

Unlike my German relatives who choose not to own dryers at all, out of principle, I do actually like having a tumbler, because I DO NOT LIKE TO IRON. My mom spends hours ironing, and that would drive me batty!
So I use my dryer to get the wrinkles out, but don't actually use it to dry the whole load.
Here's what I do (and I NEVER iron, except as a hobby, such as when I'm sewing a quilt!).

I take laundry out of washer and start sorting:
1.) Socks, bras and other small items go on the space station right above the washer -- mine looks something like the item from pictured on the right.
2.) Anything made of synthetics is easy to hang up and dry wrinkle-free -- I just give it a good shake and hang it up -- it will dry quickly, and I don't have to deal with that static you get when they're come out of the dryer and cling to everything.
3.) Big things (like sheets) get hung outside over the railing in the warm season, or hung over chairs and couches if no visitors are expected.
4.) Drying rack is great for towels and other uncomplicated laundry such as T-shirts, etc.
I like to set it up right in the laundry room next to the baseboard heat, or this time of year, in front of the woodstove. In the summer, it often sits on the deck, where it is quick and easy to move indoors if it looks like rain!
5.) Hangers are my friends! I have a closet rod above the dryer, and all the shirts go from there directly into the closet -- no folding of shirts, no sirree.
6.) Pants go on those skirt-hangers that have a clip on each end. I hang mine on the shower curtain rod -- where there's enough room for those long dangly legs. By the next time we need the shower, they'll be dry and ready to hang in the closet.
6.) Anything that's made mostly of cotton has a tendency to dry with lots of wrinkles in it, so here is where I use the electric tumbler for "antrocknen" or slightly-drying: I toss them into the dryer for a few minutes (3-5 at most, & no need for those dryer sheets), then take them out damp and hang them up on hangers. VOILA -no need to iron.

This works pretty well for me. If I'm really, really, REALLY busy, then I might end up using the dryer and pulling fewer items out of the tumbler for air-drying on hangers, but I always pull out at least a few of the heavier items -- think of how much energy is used just to dry towels and jeans -- just by pulling those out I've saved that energy.

PS: it helps, of course, to distribute laundering throughout the week -- that way I can fold away the dry load when I start the next...

Photo credit here

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

sub-zero weather

It's COLD!!!
Probably won't get above zero degrees Fahrenheit today, and down by the river it's -20F.
Home sick, got another puker on the couch (Youngest)! So I'm too lazy to search hubby's computer for good pictures of how COLD and BEAUTIFUL our valley is right now -- but do go visit The Schneiders -An Alaskan Yurt Family blog for some great photos of this valley, including a time lapse series of the sun barely flitting along the mountains (be patient & let it load first, then click on the arrow below last picture).

Youngest and I are crawling back into bed!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It was my birthday yesterday, and I'm feeling great (despite the fact that the stomach flu is making the rounds in our household -- so far only through the male population!).
True, I'm another year older, but strangely, that does not bother me at all. I don't feel old, even though now I am as close as I can get to the big 5-0 without actually being there yet!
Here's a photo of moi, taken by hubby when we went blueberry-picking this fall. I usually don't like to have my picture taken, as I'm not photogenic at all. But on that particular beautiful fall day, I didn't mind him clicking away...

I'm a really lucky person: I've got a loving family, good health, and live in a really nice place!
I know that it's more luck than earned -- luck to have met and married a wonderful man (I suppose I can take some credit for having at least been at least a decent enough person) , genetic luck in that I have not inherited lousy DNA, and luck that the winds blew our little family to Alaska (the last great frontier!)

What makes me ponder this right now is that I recently received a real good rating when I applied for life insurance -- I got a clean bill of health! Apparently my health history and blood results indicate that I'm at a low risk to keel over from a heart attack anytime soon.
I can thank my parents for good genes -- on my father's side everybody seems to live well into their 80's without any heart problems, cancer, diabetes or Alzheimers. Watch out kids, you may not see any of that life insurance money for at least 30 years!

I'm truly lucky to be healthy. Besides inheriting healthy genes, I suppose I can take a little credit for a reasonably healthy lifestyle. What does that involve? What helps is not smoking or drinking (I do enjoy a glass of wine or beer a couple of times a week, however), sleeping well and not having a stressful life or job, eating reasonably healthy foods, and staying active.

I'm no sports nut, and certainly don't run marathons. But I do manage to be active everyday -- it may not seem much, but at a minimum, I guess I easily get those minimum recommended 20-30 minutes of light aerobic exercise every day. Most days that's just simply walking (lots), but it might also be gardening, snow shoveling or yoga.

Food is something everybody seems to be focused on these days, or even posessed by. Yes, I try to eat reasonably healthy, but I'm no health nut, either. In fact, I have a pretty healthy appetite: I eat a lot, and I have never really gone on a "diet". I'm not skinny, but not overweight either. But I do watch what I eat in the sense that I'm aware of what I eat -- what I aim for is to eat whole foods. By "whole" I don't just mean "wholesome", but also "real", as in not highly processed. As much as possible, that means fresh produce, whole grains, healthy proteins. But I also enjoy food, and if one day I feel like a Reese's Peanutbutter cup, by all means, if I crave one, then I have one. Preferrably just one, savor it, and then not have the need to eat another for a long time.
Depriving oneself of certain "forbidden"foods (such as chocolate or icecream) is just a bad mind game, in my book, and can lead to breakdown and overeating. I find myself doing much better around tempting desserts now that I've made "peace" by allowing myself simply to eat "anything". I am now often just as happy to have a carrot for snack, instead of a cookie, without feeling deprived. Perhaps this comes with age, because my younger self would have gone for the cookie!

Last, but not least, another factor in being healthy and happy, to me, is having a creative outlet. This is often not considered when people list necessary ingredients for health. But exercising the mind is as crucial as exercising the body. Without that, my life becomes rote, routine, listless. I need to have a creative outlet in my daily life, be it knitting or sewing, discussing politics, listening to music, cooking a good meal for friends and family, reading and/or writing. These are all things I can and will continue to do for many years to come.

I leave you with a story I read once about a very old lady who loved to quilt, and continued to quilt even when her eyesight had long gone dim. How did she do it? Whenever her grandchildren came to visit, she had them thread all her needles for her, and stick them into the curtains. Thus she always had a ready supply to keep on quilting...

I'm at the point now that I need reading glasses for fine print and threading needles, and pretty soon you'll be seeing me with a pair of granny glasses dangling around my neck from a beaded chain. But hopefully I'll have a smile rather than a frown on my wrinkled face!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Berlin Wall tumbling down...

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall tumbling down. What a momentous event!
Most everyone remembers exactly where they were when they heard big-momentous news --such as when the twin towers came down on 9/11/2001, or when the Challenger blew up, or the Kennedy assassination (well I was barely out of diapers on that one...)

And I hate to admit that I barely remember the Berlin Wall tumbling down -- my own life at the time was tumbling down around me: my then-husband had left me and my 2-yr old daughter...
But life has a way of going forward, my life turned around, and my then 2-yr old daughter (Eldest) has just now returned from a month in Germany, full of stories "Berlin was my absolute favorite city -- it's the best party town, ever!"

Full circle. I've been to Berlin only once as a young adult, when I was around her age, and remember vividly the divided city: East Germany with it's graying buildings that still had bullet holes from WW2, the East German police with their guns and dogs when our train pulled into their stations, then crossing the border, giving way to colorful, lively, and yes "Party-town" West Berlin!

I heard on the radio this morning that for a few euros you can buy fake passports with East German transit stamps in them -- I still have one that's for real! Never would have guessed back then that someday it would be a souvenir of a bygone era...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Letter to a 5-year old friend

Dear Little One,

You and your family have been a part of our lives since long before you were born-- you're practically extended family to us, and feel sort-of like an auntie ( your Crazy German Aunt?).

You're VERY special to us, and we love you!

I'm writing to you because we have an issue with dinners when you come over to our house. Unfortunately, your behavior has become so much of a problem that it makes dinnertime unpleasant -- for me, the cook, for your parents and everybody else at the table. I hope we can find a way to turn that around.
First of all, let me assure you that to me, personally, it's not a big deal if you don't eat what I cooked. I'd love for you to try what I cooked, but if you end up not liking it, then that's that. No problem.
But I do have a problem when you fuss. When you whine "I don't like it!" or even say "Yuck" before we start eating -- well, that hurts my feeling. I think you can understand why: if you made your mommy a present, and she said "I don't like it" before she even opened it, that would really hurt your feelings, wouldn't it?

Your parents usually ask you to try new foods. You may not feel so adventurous, especially if it looks unfamiliar (crazy German food)? Your parents are just doing what all good parents do -- they ask their kids to give something new a chance. Because they know if you never tried anything new in your life, you'd still be living on breastmilk and baby food, and I bet you've come across many yummy foods since you ate strained peas as a baby!

So what I'm asking of you, please don't make such a big fuss when you eat dinner at our house. Here's a deal: First, give it a try. I'll serve you a small serving (one bite). If you don't like it, say so politely ("No more, thank you"). That's all. No big deal!
Hopefully there will be something at the dinner table that you do like. But if there is not, that's still not a reason to fuss.
You can ask nicely if there might be something else for you to eat, but there may not be (that will really be up to your parents -- they may choose to tell you there are no other choices). You won't starve, but you won't get dessert either.
At this point, you may start feeling very sorry for yourself. What always seems to happen with kids at this point is that they start a big fuss, trying to get their way. We've all done it at some point in our lives, and guess what, we found out the hard way that it's really not worth it!

Here's what I need you to understand: fussing will not get your way at my dinner table like you did the other night. From now on, I'm going to ask you (or any other kid fussing), to leave the table. It's really very simple. You're welcome back when you're calmed down and can be polite.

Oh, by the way, here's a hint: if you tell the cook when you do like a dish, that will not only make him/her smile, it will even make them cook your favorite foods more often!
PS: unless they're still on breastmilk , of course:)