Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekend projects

You know how frustrating it is to assemble furniture? You carefully open a box, hope like heck that all of the large plastic-coated sheets of particle board (and it's always particle board) are still in their original shapes. You find a sheet of paper with a sketch that your 4-year old could replicate, and a lot of sketchy directions that must have been translated through 3 or 4 different languages (one of which was completely devoid of articles "the" or "a") before finally resembling English.

The directions state that you only need a single screwdriver, but fail to mention that there is no single screwdriver in the world that can handle the 11 different sizes of screws, bolts, and "cam-locks" that they have packaged in individually sealed plastic baggies. They kindly provide an allen wrench for the rest of the fasteners, which snaps in half on it's first try. By the time you reach step #13, you realize that you've installed a piece incorrectly in step #2, and have to disassemble the whole thing and start again. Step #14 involes standing on your head while doing the splits and balancing 60 pounds of a wood-like material on your thumb in order to reach the specified (off-center) pre-drilled screw hole. And it will take all of your strength and both hands to coerce the screw into the hole without poking through the wrong side. Step #15 is missing altogether.

When you're finished with your assembly, you have spare parts, and your living room resembles the North Pole as your children have systematically shredded every sheet of protective styrofoam into individual white granules. You think the baby has swallowed more than a few handfuls of the stuff. You give the directions one final look, and wish that the thing came with a dose or two of ibuprofin, or at least a couple of shots of tequila.

So, you know how that goes right? How you vow to never, ever, do that again? How you start dreaming up ways to entice other people to do it for you? Wishing you could afford some real furniture made of actual wood delivered in a truck and set in place by strong burly men (preferably good-looking ones)?

You do? I don't. I actually like putting together furniture. Maybe I'm strange. Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I'm a traitor to my gender. Or maybe I'm just an engineer at heart, one who loves a good 3-d puzzle. I find myself critiquing the directions--insufficient detail, poor use of supporting diagrams. Bad bad bad choices in labelling parts. Except for the sore hands (from the dozens of screws), and the worry that Trystan really did consume a bit of sytrofoam, I don't much agree with any of the above. Well, I wouldn't mind having strong, good-looking men at my beck and call. But then, my husband did most of the hefting for me, so I think I'm covered there. Will try to follow up with the photos...there really was an impressive amount of styrofoam.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Reading List Update

I've finished two books in the last two weeks or so. Unfortunately for my stack at home, these were both from the library. When I actually get a chance to browse the New Releases shelves, I always end up bringing something home, and I've made it there three times in the last 15 days--twice with the kids for story hour on my day off, and once in the middle to return a 7-day loan book.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. This was a good, quirky read. It has a romance element, and also a little light spellcraft as one of the characters manipulates people and emotions with food and flowers, and there's a magic tree involved. But I doubt it would be shelved with romances or with fantasy in most bookstores. It reminded me a lot of the magic realism of Like Water For Chocolate, where the mystical spell-type elements are addressed with the same tone as domestic abuse and sisterly relationships.

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. I probably would never have picked this one up if it were from a different author. There is a lot of football involved. Like, play-by-play of game after game. That's not my usual style, not by a long shot, but I've enjoyed several of Grisham's books in the past. Overall: it wasn't too bad, even if I did skim a lot of the playing details. I think some of his courtroom books have been more dramatic, but I didn't abandon this book in the middle, so it kept me interested. I think some of the description of various Italian locales and sights read like a guidebook (which is how the main character was learning the info, so it was appropriate). It made me really want to visit Italy, something I've been wanting to do for a long time anyway.

What's next? I don't know. I picked up another book at the library yesterday, and have more than a dozen more sitting on my shelf.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Our Earth Day Report Card

Happy Earth Day! Like a lot of people these days, we are trying to be more environmentally conscious. I was thinking about

Good things we do:
  • Compost. We recently bought an actual bin for about $40 at Sams's Club, as our previous home-made containment device didn't contain the yard waste well and pretty much looked like a large pile of leaves, dirt, and rose bush clippings. The new one is kind of ugly black plastic, but it's contained and the black will trap heat, which ought to help. As I was transferring the old stuff into the new bin on Sunday, I realized that our inept first attempt was actually somewhat successful--the bottom layer was a rich, dark, soft earthy material. Now, however, the good stuff has been layered throughout the new bin to help get some of the upper levels moving. Maybe by next spring our garden will actually benefit from the trouble!
  • Reusable Grocry Bags. We now own a large enough collection to carry a full, large load of groceries home. We have 1-2 from each of several stores--Schnucks, Target, Walmart, Trader Joe's, etc. They were cheap, like $1 each, purchases 1 or 2 at a time over several weeks. I wish stores would offer some sort of incentive (free bag with $100 purchase, or 25c off your grocery bill for reusing bags)--I think more folks would take them up on it. The nice side benefit is that all the plastic grocery bags don't pile up and then multiply under the sink anymore (I swear they were breeding down there...) I could never remember to take them back to the stoers to recycle, and we just don't go through that much bathroom trash to reuse them all.
  • Recycling. Hooray for Maryland Heights for providing free recycling starting this year and HUGE free recycling bins to all homeowners. We were paying to recycle before, and constantly overflowing the little bin. These days, our recyclling bin is about half of our weekly trash output.
  • Programmable Thermostat. It saves us money too.
  • Bottled water: Rather, a lack of it. We own a fair number of travel cups/water jugs and rarely use bottles. If we do, we recycle them.

Not so good things:
  • Disposable diapers. This is purely a time thing. Without using cloth diapers, our laundry is never done. Maybe if I could afford to hire help. Or to pay a diaper service, which, last I checked, costs more than our disposables (and involves buring gas for the service to drive them around town).
  • Unplugging appliances that arent' in use: I frequently wander around unplugging things like my razor charger (I use an electric..don't laugh, it works), and teh power cord to the bounce house, which has a LED in it. But I have yet to convince my hubby to actually shut off the computers during the day, and there are lots of plugs that are just a pain to reach, so they stay in.

Where we would improve, if we could:

  • Light Bulbs: We have replaced some bulbs with compact fluorescents, but we ahve a lot of lights on dimmer switches. Like, every celing fan in the house (6 fans x 4/5 bulbs each). I have yet to find a compact fluorescent in the stores that is safe for dimmers. Also, last time we tried those with our light-sensing timers for the outside lights, we got a bad flashing effect.
  • Cars. We have talked about replacing one of our cars with a hybrid. Possibly both--but one would have to be a hybrid minivan (if such a thing exists yet) or an SUV (something with some hauling capacity, you know). In the mean time, we are living car-payment free, and that is a lot more important to us.
  • Solar Electricity. My husband has been drooling for years over solar shingle setups that would let us collect our own electricitiy. Theoretically, we could even sell any overflow back to the power company, effectively getting paid during the sunny summer months. The initial cost is kind of high, and right now, we're probably halfway through the life of our roof, so it's not a good time.
  • Buying more locally grown produce. I don't know why the grocery stores import their bell peppers from Chile when there are local farms that sell them. I don't have time to head downtown or to Kirkwood weekly to buy fruit and veggies. I finally last year discovered a farmers market that is within reasonable driving distance, so hopefully we will make some use of that this summer. We usually try to grow a few things of our own, but our garden space is limited, and the local rabbit population plentiful (probably thanks to our meager efforts). This year, if we're lucky, we're hoping for a bumper crop of pumpkins. Or at least one or two.
  • Ride my bike to work. I suppose it's theoretically possible--I've biked this distance before. If I lived a little closer, I really might in good weather. But, really, it's not going to happen. Working from home is completely out of the question, due to the nature of my job. So, I burn gasoline.
How about you? What do you do that is good for the environment? Anything that you don't do? Won't do?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rattle and Roll

Did you feel it?

Trystan was nearly asleep (again). He'd been up and down since about 3:30, so we had also. I had given up getting him to stay asleep in his own bed, so he was in ours. My husband thought it was a strong wind. Our house is a 2-story, walkout basement, high on a hill on some of the highest ground around for a couple of miles. We get wind that sometimes shakes the house. But there was no howling, just creaking and groaning, and that slightly seasick feeling like I'd just crossed the studio floor with pique turns. Wait, that was my ballet/exercise class earlier in the evening. So, the sound was off, and all of our patio furniture stayed put on our deck. Can't be wind.

A small sign reading "Condemned" stands warning to all who enter our office, for good reason. It hit the floor by way of the wooden door, and sounded a lot like the cross-slats of Charlotte's canopy bed. The bed is beautiful and graceful and made long before rampant lawsuits from the parents of home gymnasts, so those cross pieces aren't bolted and glued and nailed and taped into place. My husband ran in to find her awake, unharmed, her bed intact.

All four of us slept in our bed. I didn't sleep. One baby, now wide awake again, thought I was his pacifier. I suspect he's teething. Or his ears are still bothering him. The other was kneading my bare shoulders with her hands as she tried to doze. Sleep and my alarm came at the same time, along with a very confusing dream involving separating half a dozen eggs for some kind of dessert made of chocolate. I don't know what I was baking, brownies?, but the directions made very little sense. Much like the rest of today after such an exhausting morning.

Maybe the height of our house didn't affect us as much as our location, because I just felt an aftershock, like kids bouncing in the room next door. I work the basement of a heavy cement and steel building.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What's the big secret?

One of my biggest pet-peeves about shopping online is when I have to call a store to find out the price of something. Apparently, some manufacturers get upset when websites advertise low prices for their goods, and I just don't get why. Because a website might compete with some other retailer? Why on earth would the manufacturer care? Don't they sell their stuff to the retailers to make their own profits? God forbid, customers might be decide to buy something based on price and the convenience of not having to put on clothes and leave their home, instead of wasting days driving around to mom and pop "local" businesses that are hard to find and never open when you need them (and lets hope they actually carry what you are looking for, because there is no way to know until you arrive!). Given the high cost of shipping some items, it's really a wash for the customer, many times. You would think that getting a little name recognition, and having products available for customers to purchase when they want to purchase them would be key practices.

Let me rewind a bit. I have been starting to window-shop new office/craft furniture. My current setup is two folding tables, one with slightly broken legs. They provide a large amount of flat space for cutting fabric (should I actually have a few minutes to sew), but absolutely no storage. Like most horizontal surfaces in our house, my "desk" is currently covered by piles of stuff. My chair probably is too. I have been attempting to re-work the space with baby steps, starting about 3 years ago buy buying a laptop that could be used on my "desk" and then easily put aside to make room for fabric. I've been cleaning out old craft supplies that are piled in our office closet (luckily, it's a LARGE closet, but organizing it is a whole 'nother thread, so to speak). My husband recently installed a wall-mount for my little TV (which I rarely watch, thanks to my lack of time in the office), that gets it up and off of my "desk" as well.

Now, I want to tackle the actual desk issue. I have wall space that is completely blank. I have floor space that holds nothing but table legs (plus whatever junk has been moved off of the tables). I have junk that needs shelves or drawers or somewhere else to go. It's not really junk, it's fabric and yarn, patterns, notions, etc. But it looks like junk right now, and may as well be in its current state of disarray. And I have two heavy sewing machines (one's a serger) that need someplace secure to live, safe from dust and curious little hands. High shelves are impractical because of their weight (hard for me to lift, hard for a shelf to sustain the weight without bending, and dangerous if they ever fall).

Now back to my gripe. There are some sewing cabinets on the market where the machine rests inside, with a air-lift mechanism to bring it up to desk height, and the ability to close doors and hide (and protect) the things in what looks like a small cabinet. Dragging small children to shop for furniture is impractical. The large chain fabric stores have little to nothing in stock in sewing tables (they refer you to brochures and websites), and any small sew-n-vac shops are hidden in out-of-the-way parts of town and lord only knows what they actually stock (if all they have are brochures, then they're no better anyway). Large retailers like Walmart or Office Max don't carry them at all. So I'm left with the internet, and the oddly reclusive behavior of the sewing furniture manufacturers.

Some sites show cabinets and prices, but only for certain brands. Other brands, like Koala (which makes excessively expensive and complicated sewing tables that expand and collapse like wooden Transformers) force you to visit their own website for a simple price. Regal/Horn of America also must demand that retailers not list their prices, but their own website doesn't either. I'm not shopping for this, I'm looking for something more like this. I refuse to pay $2000+ for particle board, no matter how nifty their air-lift mechanisms.

Depending on the ultimate price list, I may abandon the search entirely, and just go buy a normal desk from an office supply store (something that costs hundreds of dollars less, btw, than many of the specialty cabinets), and give up my hopes of protecting my sewing machines. Won't that be great for business. At least they won't have somehow lost out to a discount website.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

There's a lot in our names

Sarahlynn has been thinking about names recently, and it got me thinking about my own. I officially changed my name when I got married, though I had reservations about it. In some ways, my reservations were kind of silly and superficial--I *like* my maiden name, it's short and not a common name (or at least a common spelling), and positioned me squarely in the middle of the alphabet, which is a comfortable spot to be in line. Yes, I did have a strong identity with my last name, but I'm also a sucker for tradition, and it just seemed strange not to take my husband's name when I married. I ended up adoptiong my maiden name as my middle name, and taking my husband's last name, a compromise that I'm pretty happy with.

I was a little worried that changing my name would somehow affect me at work, and it was certainly a pain in the ass to change. Some places required photocopies of my marriage license, some would fix it with a phone call, and some places bungled it completely. I still get mail addressed to: Kristina Sue Maiden, Kristina Sue Married, Kristina Maiden Married, and, rarely, to Husband Maiden! Granted, my maiden name is on the deed to our house, but that last one is kind of funny.

Keeping my maiden name as part of my signature helped with the transition, but I can still remember getting a package from my dad addressed to "Kris Married". I have never called myself by Kris (my family did when I was little), so that is foreign enough to read, but it was even stranger to not have my maiden name listed at all. I had to look at it for a few minutes before I really recognized it as me. Then, I changed jobs about 6 months after the wedding, and was simply known as "Kristi Married" from that point on, another kind of turning point. None of those coworkers knew my maiden name, and my email address and paperwork didn't even list it. It was kind of sad to have my first 24 years of life relegated to a single initial. It also, in a very good way, hammered home that we were well and truly married, a unit, and not merely living together with a very nice photo album.

When my husband and I were engaged, he started thinking about his last name also. He is named after his maternal grandfather, and always felt a strong affinity with him. To this day, he can bowl with his grandfather's old ball--it fits his fingers perfectly, and owns a couple of his suits, which are also a perfect fit. In one of his favorite photos, his grandfather is wearing my husband's college letter jacket. My MIL was an only child, and the rest of her family were at least a step away--second cousins and great aunts and the like. My FIL, on the other hand, is one of 13 siblings, and my husband has 30ish first Charlotte and Trystan's level there are at least 30 (and counting) second cousins. His last name is rather prolific these days. He considered, rather seriously, taking his mother's maiden name. I think he didn't quite decide, and then time passed, and now that we have children, all 4 of us would need a switch, so it's unlikely to change now.

I am happy with my name, and it suits me well these days. I don't want our children to forget where they come from, so Charlotte has my maiden name as a middle name, and Trystan has my MIL's maiden name as a middle (as does my husband). Both kids end up with 4-piece names, but it's a kind of family tradition now. I know that as they marry and have their own children some day, some names will be dropped off and left behind, and that's OK. I think that our identities change and develop over time, and it is good to both hold on to the old while embracing the new.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Reading List update

I'm slowing down. Not by choice, though. Mostly because I gave up pumping at work, so my scheduled-in break time is gone. Not that I'm now chained to my desk, but pulling out a book and reading isn't quite as acceptable as chit-chatting in front of the microwave or taking a quick walk around the building to clear your head. I did finish Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb and The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier recently. Still working on that Jimmy Buffett book. By "working on" I mean that it's still sitting on my bedside table, though I have another book on top of it. This one's a historical romance, Simply Perfect by Mary Balough. I don't think I've ever read one of hers, and I'm not far into it. They're usually quick reads for me, so we'll see.

I have a long backlog of books still, and a fresh new bookstore gift card still untapped from my birthday last month, so I need to get cracking :) I almost always read at least a little before going to sleep at night, but have been giving up longer reading times in favor of exercising or other activities. (If you clicked on that link hoping for a dirty photo, then I'm not sure whether to block you from ever commenting on my blog, or thank you for thinking that my life is that exciting and photogenic.) Now maybe if I could convince my kids to actually let me read a little at the library tomorrow instead of playing goalie-sheep dog the whole time...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Figure this one out....

I received notice at work just now that a building-wide tornado drill originally scheduled for this Thursday the 10th has been postponed until the 22nd, because of the potential for severe weather in the area on the 10th.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

She wore an itsy bitsy...

Having lost half of my bathing suit at the Y yesterday, I attempted to buy a new one. We think my suit bottoms ended up in a towel bin...which was replaced about 30 seconds before we noticed the missing bottoms. It might be recoverable--the desk workers told me to check back next week to see if housekeeping found it. That particular suit is several years old and was getting a little worn out, so I won't be heartbroken if it doesn't reappear.

At Target, I was feeling brave (and rushed), and didn't try things on. I was also kind of grubby, having driven directly there from the Y, where there was barely a family changing room and no showers to be had (all 4 of us were ripe, but we had other shopping to do also...our apologies to the other shoppers!). My existing suit is also from Target, so I was fairly confident about buying the same brand and size that things should fit, and if not, I can return them.

There was really only one tankini top that I liked (that came in my size....could have had a dozen lemon yellow ruffly bottoms though!), and it had two different matching bottoms that were both possibilities. I felt a little silly buying one top and two bottoms, so I grabbed the matching bikini top as well, planning to return it with whichever bottom I didn't like. I've never worn a bikini in public in my life--my midsection is my least favorite body part and as a result, it remains a lovely, virginal, dayglow white. If you think my face and arms look extremely pale normally, you ain't seen nothing yet!

Well, as I was taking out suit parts at home to try on, the tag ripped off of the bikini top in the tangle. They *might* take it as a return, with the tag removed, but Target's annoying about returns lately anyway. So, I think I bought myself a bikini. And a tankini--I'm just keeping all 4 pieces. The top doesn't really look that bad, I guess, considering that I've had 2 kids (at least now I have that excuse!) My stretchmarks are all generally covered by the suit bottoms, but now I can blame any above-the-belly-button pouchiness (is that a word?) on that too..... If you hit the swimming pool this summer, wear your sunglasses. If I get brave, I might blind someone!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Maximus Cutiness

Charlotte and Trystan have some very funny vocabularies lately.

Despite what all the baby books said, Trystan didn't bother with a lot of babbling until he was almost 11.5 months old. It wasn't that he couldn't make sounds, he just didn't do it very often. Sounds other than cries of indignance or anger, that is. Around 10 months, when he ought to have been repeating consonant sounds (ba ba ba or da da da), he was busy making a lot of raspberry sounds, and that tounge cluck noise. We were beginning to wonder if he was learning Swahili at daycare instead of English. His first word was "Hi", complete with a hand wave. He still does not wave "bye", though I'm certain he knows exactly what it means.

Then one day, he decided to talk. After "hi", the first word I recognized was "mine". I'd been playing with him, teasingly taking away his pacifier, and he would giggle and grab it back. With one of the grabs, he said "mine". Clear as day. I guess that's appropriate for a younger sibling. Since then, he hasn't stopped with the words, though he does make a lot of nonsense words. His babbling now is what one of my books called "jargoning"--saying a comibination of sounds, not just repeating one over and over again. I recognize some words in his talking--he says a lot of "bubba"'s, which is an endearment we've used for him since he was born. Here's a few of his other words (the ones we definitely understand):

Ada (Daddy--he's also been known to say "Hi Ada!" and wave...a whole sentance!)

Mum Mum (roughly translated: Mommy, where's my pacifier)

Arla (Charlotte)

Dora (yes, *that* Dora...Charlotte watches a couple episodes a week)

Wipe ("Swiper" in "the Fox")

BackPack (sense a theme here?)





lunch (usually sounds like "nch"...definitely means food to him)

cereal (he said that one this morning--all 3 syllables plain as day, while looking at the Cheerios box)

That (more of a "da"...he's beginning to point when he says it sometimes too)

Not to be outdone, Charlotte's vocabulary is taking off too. She is telling long, complex stories, and recalling events that happened months or even years ago. She makes up stories and songs (sometimes she borrows an existing tune, sometimes both the tune and the lyrics are brand new). She is also turning into a fitness guru. Her daycare offers an extra exercise class called "Stretch N Grow" where a lady named "Coach Tammy" leads the kids in a variety of exercises, and teaches them about muscles and bones and staying strong and healthy. Charlotte does this adorable routine that involves stretches, toe touches, and waist twists as she chants "We Stretch! We Stretch! We Groooow!", in a scary imitation of the cheerleading coach from my Jr High (No, I wasn't one...but I had her in class...come to think of it, her name was Tammy too).

I think one of the best things Char has learned from her exercise class is what she now calls her bottom: her "bootius maximus", or occasionally it's her "maiximus bootiness".

Talk about cute!