Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pick a card, any card

I like gift cards. We give a lot of them for weddings, and I love to get them for Christmas gifts. I'm particular about stuff I want (and am already overloaded by "junk" I don't), so being allowed to choose my gift is a gift in itself. Plus, when I have a giftcard to use, I like take the opportunity to shop by myself and wander at my own leisure--which makes a gift card as much about "me time" as it is the book/clothing/coffee drink that I actually purchase.

Somehow, we've gotten overloaded by them lately. I have been gathering them from around the house, and I think I could re-tile the bathroom floor with them. Don't believe me? Here's a list of the unused (or partially used) gift cards in our house that I am aware of:

Borders (at least 2 separate ones)
Barnes and Noble
Starbucks (at least 2, one might be empty)
Best Buy
The Viking Store
Lerner NY (technically, it's a paper receipt with store credit from a return)
Texas Roadhouse
Landmark Cinema (I think that's the name...the one in Plaza Frontenac)
And a prepaid Visa card (a rebate of some sort)

We could shop till we drop for an entire weekend, and still have plastic left over.

I guess this isn't a bad thing, really, except that some of these cards are aging. Some gift cards start charging fees after the cards go unused for a specified amount of time. And when stores go out of business, the gift cards are often rendered useless. I believe that they are considered by the courts to be a form of unsecured debt, and in a bankruptcy, all of the secured debt is paid off first.

Our current bounty makes me nervous. I get anxious about money in different ways than my husband does. He worries about putting away enough for the future, and having money left over for our heirs. I'm more concerned with making sure today's bills get covered. We're comfortable now, its true, but I can't shake the fear and the habits to make sure that we stay that way.

And stuffing money into drawers and bulletin boards, where little fee-mice will nibble the corners off of it makes me antsy to go out and spend. At the same time, for the cards that were gifts and not just store credit, I feel obligated to spend the money effectively, and get the best gift I can for the giver's money. That means that I'm reluctant to blow an entire card in one purchase.

As for my husband, he's not a big shopper in the first place. Nor does he have a giant purse to cram full of excess plastic and carry around every day. And he also has a Hershey's bar in one of those "it's a She" wrappers sitting on his desk from a baby announcement several years ago. (Pack rat? I'll call it extra sentimental) I think that he might prefer to tile a bathroom floor with gift cards rather than actually spend them.

Does anyone else have problems with gift cards piling up? How do you deal with them? Of is it just us...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Trystan is 16 months old, has one kidney, a colon that was initially attached to his bladder (instead of say, an anus), and irregular vertebrae that might signal spinal cord (read: nerve) issues. And on Sunday, twice he requested to pee in the potty and actually did it.

Before that, he had wandered in once while I was assisting his 3.9-year old sister (who is normally independently in charge of her own waste management) with an extra wipe-job, involving an actual baby wipe. Trystan sat down on the stepstool to watch and was exceedingly indignant when he was bodily removed from the room (he's rather destructive in bathrooms). About 5 minutes later, I noticed a certain scent emanating from his rear. He wasn't in the bathroom to watch, to heckle, or to cause trouble. He was IN LINE. Doh! I apologized profusely to him as he lay on his changing table giving me a cold shoulder. Dude, learn some more words, ok?

Impressive what the kid understands. I just hope that this is a good portent for the future of potty training. Maybe he'll be one of the lucky small % with the high imperforate anus defect who can toilet train normally. Or maybe he just had a very good day!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Monkeying Around

Saturday was the first time in a long time that we had nowhere to go and nothing to do. There's always housework, but nothing pressing. So we went to the zoo. I'd share photos, but that would require us to have remembered the camera.

We tried to go early, to beat the heat. It sort of worked. The humidity was immune to our beatings, however. Maybe next time I'll walk around with a million of those "silica gel" packets stapled to my shirt.

On the spur of the moment, we called friends who have kids the same ages as our ownMr. Friend was able to join us with his boys, though his wife was busy. They have one of those nifty strollers with an extra sit/stand jumpseat on the back for their preschooler to ride on. Charlotte loved it. She kept squeezing in, so it frequently looked like our friend had 3 kids and we had 1.

Saturdays at the zoo are, well, a zoo. People, people everywhere. They're actually one of the main exhibits as some of them smell only slightly better than the elephants. We tried to stick to indoor exhibits--the reptile and mammal houses, the penguins. I still have never seen a sea lion show. One of these days.

I was impressed at how attentive Trystan was all morning. It's been several months since we were there last, so he's never paid much attention to the animals before. Saturday he was smiling and pointing and enjoying the show. He said "dog" and pointed at the prairie dogs, and loved to watch the penguins diving and splashing. We took a train ride shortly before we left, and he did not enjoy that at all. Kept trying to get off at every stop (we rode the complete circle all at once).

I had thought that spending over five hours outside in the sun would exhaust both kids, but those strollers worked too well. Trystan slept for about 45 minutes in his stroller at lunch time, and Charlotte fought sleeping until several hours after we got home. They were both crabby (as were we). But it was fun.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Trystan's MRI

Friday was strange. I woke Trystan up at 4:30 in the morning, fed him a bowl of oatmeal, and put him back to bed. He was scheduled for an MRI to check for a tethered spinal cord at noon, and couldn't have any solid food after 5am. Then, clear liquids only until 9, and then nothing until after the procedure.

Withholding food wasn't as horrific as I feared. I had to keep him playing either upstairs in the bedrooms (he loves doing laundry), or in the basement play area (he loves the bounce house). If we stayed on the main floor, then he would probably have helped himself to a snack from the pantry. He is especially fond of raisins lately, and even carries the box to the kid-sized table to eat it. Did I mention that he's a climber?

He told me a couple of times that he was hungry, but was pacified by, well, a pacifier. And we left around 10:30, so it wasn't that long that he had to wait. The drive to Children's was a little surreal. One of the local radio stations was hosting a charity event and were playing Christmas music all day, and introducing themselves as The Christmas Station. July 25th. Christmas in July. (though why don't we say "Christmas in June", as June is 6 months from Christmas...July is a 7/5 split...makes no sense to me...)

The procedure center at Childrens was running a little behind, and so Trystan played with every toy in their cupboard at least twice. He even got to color with crayons (only a little got on the sheets to the hospital bed, I swear), and helped me to fill out a parent questionaire. (Did you see the yellow zig-zag? That was Trystan answering "No" to the question about metal plates in his head...).

Trystan had to be sedated, and because it is always hard to find his veins, they put him under with gas before attempting to start an IV. At that point, I was handed a pager and sent to the cafeteria to wait. Oddly, enough, the cafeteria was also celebrating Christmas in July, with a menu of roast turkey and mashed potatoes. I had pizza.

It was a little strange pushing around a stroller with no kid in it, but I wasn't the only one. I had a brief conversation with another mom whose son was there to see the surgeons (not Trystans, but one of the others in the same office), and who had been through the MRI for tethered chord. He had a different overall set of issues, but it was nice to share quick anecdotes. Her little boy wasn't expected to walk at all, but three months after getting leg braces walked into their neurologist's office on his own power. Kids are awesome.

Trystan awoke from the sedation very quickly. That is to say, he was sound asleep one moment, and wide awake the next. Wide awake and quickly divesting himself of all extraneous paraphanalia, like the oxygen tube in his nose, the pusle-ox meter on his thumb, and his IV. Luckily they had the IV taped down well, because I know from experience how much those things bleed when you pull them out too fast.

I was given instructions to not allow him to drive or operate heavy machinery, and to make sure he had fluids. He was only a little wobbly on his feet at first, and did not apreciate the fruit-punch flavored pedialyte. It was better in his own sippy cup, but still sub-optimal. He dumped most of it out in the car, in his carseat--his butt was wet and fruity when we got home. We left fairly soon after he woke up. If it were up to Trystan, he would have walked out a lot sooner--he kept trying to escape out the door while I was gathering our stuff up.

We don't have the results yet. Someone will call us, or our pediatrician, "soon". If the department is as timely with following up on test results as they were about scheduling, we might find out by Christmas. It's only 5 months away, after all.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


If you've ever done yoga, you may be familiar with some common poses: warrior, tree, eagle, cat, etc. I have spent the past four years pefecting a new series of poses, geared towards mothers of young children. Although this would probabably work better as a photo blog, you will have to bear with me on the descriptions. This is just a first draft of my master thesis, after all.

Teeth Pose Imagine you are standing at the bathroom sink about to brush your teeth. Begin by standing straight on two feet (this is your resting position). Raise your right hand to your mouth. Now bend one knee to hold the vanity doors shut as if to prevent a toddler from opening them. Now, lift your other leg behind you and hold, as if to keep a shower doors from sliding opened by (the same) exploratory toddler. Before returning to your resting position, bend forward (keeping the bent knee and lifted leg in place) to spit. Repeat with the opposite arms and legs.

Dinner Pose Imagine you are standing at a hot stove. Begin in your resting position--straight on two feet, hand at your sides. Now raise both arms in front of you, as if you are manipulating two hot pans. Raise up onto the balls of your feet, stick your butt out behind you, and arch your upper back up and over towards the stove. Hold until small children have successfully squeezed between your legs and the oven door. As an advanced technique, peform the same move while standing on one leg, the other held out to the side keeping a cabinet door closed.

Tickle Pose This is a partner pose, requiring one or more partners, ideally 3 feet tall or shorter. Sit down on the floor cross legged. Have your first partner climb into your lap, put his hands on your shoulders and push until you roll backwards, taking him with you. Lift him up into the air above your chest. The second partner, if you are using one, has two options: 1) Climb onto your bent legs while you lift her into the air, or 2) lift up your shirt and raspberry your tummy. Raise and lower partner #1 while he laughs.

Toy Pose Lay down on the floor, flat on your tummy. Reach your arms up by your head and then sweep them back along the floor toward your legs, as if you are reaching under the couch for a lost toy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dictionary of the Absurd

I am always annoyed by the jargony phrases that people--especially non-technical mangerial types--like to throw around. They think that they sound cool, informed, hip. Most of the time I end up scratching my head and wondering what, exactly, they really meant. Or if they, themselves, even know.

Overarching It is used like "all-encompassing" or "all-inclusive". The book had overarching themes of hope and despair. It always makes me picture the Arch, or else a bridge crossing a stream--something that hops from one point to another without touching the ground in between. Somehow, I don't think that's what people have in mind.

Knowledge Transfer It means to teach or to inform. The phrase always conjures images of people hooking up a network wire between their heads and clicking "download". If only we could.

Disconnect This is what happens when you're done with your knowledge transfer, I suppose. It shoudln't describe a case where you never connected--that would be a misconnect? For a disconnect, you have to hook up first. I could describe the mental picture here, but I'll just say that that sort of behavior is not generally condoned in the workplace.

Leverage To utilize or take advantage of. "We want to leverage our expertise in order to win this contract." Recently I heard a high-level executive refer to myself and my colleagues as "intellectual capital" that the company was trying to "leverage". Makes me feel like a rock that they're loading into a trebuchet.

Pushing the Envelope Pushing it where? Is this like a dog nosing a piece of paper along the ground? Why would I want to push it when I can put a stamp on it and mail it?

Thinking Outside the Box Is the outside of the box really more interesting than the inside? Or is the "box" a reference to the cubicle I sit in every day? Does that mean I'm supposed to be thinking about work when I leave? Fat chance there.

Paradigm Shift I think people mean that we're going to change a mode of thinking to a completely different one--like writing top to bottom instead of left to right. But to shift doesn't mean to replace, just to move. So is our paradigm now in second gear or reverse? Or just stuck in all Caps?

Hit the ground running I did this once in gym class, and still have a scar on my left knee.

Face time To be honest, I don't want any other kind of (body part) time with anyone but my husband. See my note above about behaviors not condoned in the workplace.

Cutting Edge / Bleeding Edge The forefront. The beginning. Leaders, visionaries, etc are on these so-called edges. We're always on the cutting edge, which seems to me that we're about to be sliced in half, like a salami perched on the blade of a knife. Why aren't we "the cutting edge" itself--then we're doing the slicing. Somehow, I'd rather be the knife than the salami.

What else did I miss?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

No more Meez

If you read this directly on my webpage, you may have noticed my nifty "Meez" graphic up the past couple of weeks. Their site is fun--I made a paper doll of myself and dressed it up. It was cute, but kind of big on the side of my blog. It's gone again. Well, mostly. Here she is one last time (and this time the graphic shouldn't get chopped by the side-bar):

Meez 3D avatar avatars games

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chicken Fajita Blackbean Chili

Sunday I made chili for lunch. I actually set out to make fajitas, or possibly nachos. Funny how cooking can go so far off course.

The problem was that we had an odd assortment of food in the house. I found chicken breasts, onions, and bell peppers (on the verge of going bad), so decided to do the fajita thing. I got everthing cut up, and was beginning to cook the meat when I found that we had no tortillas. We did have nach chips, so I thought I'd switch to taco salads. No lettuce. Back to the cupboard looking for black beans to make nachos. I found a can of "caribbean style black beans and rice". Close enough.

I had cut the chicken into thin strips--maybe 1/4-1/2" wide and was sauteeing them with a little olive oil (EVOO, you know). With more time and/or forethought I would have marinaded them for better flavor, but then this post would be completely different. When the chicken was basically cooked through, I added seasoning--chili powder from Penzey's, and a little cumin. I sprinkled it in dry, hoping to toast it a bit to bring out the flavor. I pulled the meat out of the pan, and set it in a bowl, covered, to rest while I dealt with the veggies.

The pan was really dry, so I added more EVOO and tossed in the onions and bell peppers. Unfortunately, the pan was not only dry, but way too hot, and the veggies didn't release enough liquid, so the seasonings were threatening to burn. There was a really nice fond on the bottom of the pan, but the onions were not nearly as soft as I like, and nowhere near carmelized, which I prefer (too many cold veggies, too little pan). I had to do something to keep things from burning.

So I deglazed the pan with about a cup of chicken broth made from a chicken soup base paste that I keep in the fridge. That helped, but now I had way too much liquid, and it wasn't cooking down.

Around here, my husband came in from mowing the lawn, saw my mess and suggested that I just call it 'soup'. So I did.

I dumped in the beans/rice, added the chicken back in, and finished it with a good squeeze of bottled lime juice. Overall: not bad. If I were setting out to make a chicken-fajita-blackbean-chili, I would have added a lot more chili powder though (or at least have thrown in some chipotle peppers). Overall, it was pretty good. Also, I would have used straight black beans, and not the rice-combo. And I wouldn't have cut the veggies into long strips (those are awkward on a spoon...)

Chicken Fajita Blackbean Chili (Serves 3-4)
Total cooking time about 30 minutes

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced into 1/4" wide strips
1 red bell pepper, diced into 1/2" chunks
1 medium yellow onion, diced into 1/2" chunks
1 can black beans
1 cup chicken broth (canned or from bouillon or a soup base)
(optional) hot peppers or canned chipotle peppers, to taste
chili powder (I prefer a no-salt-added one)--to taste, probably 1-4 TBSP or so
2 Tbsp lime juice (from a bottle is fine, or fresh-squeezed if you've got it)
2-4 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil or other cooking oil
Tortilla chips, sour cream, hot sauce, shredded cheese, etc for toppings

1. Heat 1 T oil in large skillet (NOT nonstick). Add chicken and saute until cooked thoroughly, about 10 minutes.
2. Add chili powder to chicken and heat until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. This will look dry!
3. Remove chicken from pan and cover. DO NOT CLEAN THE PAN! Add another Tbsp oil to pan, and all of the onions and peppers (sweet and hot). Saute 5-10 minutes until the onions are softened.
4. Leaving the veggies in the pan, add the chicken broth (i.e. deglaze the pan). Scrape the bottom of the pan with spoon/spatula to loosen all of the seasoning (that's where the flavor is).
5. Add the beans and chicken. Heat through.
6. Taste and adjust salt & pepper as necessary (the amount you need depends on your chili powder and salt content of the beans). Add the lime juice and sprinkle the cilantro as you're taking it off the heat.
7. Serve with chips, sour cream, shredded cheese, and whatever else sounds good :)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Reading List update

Quick reading list update:

Finished At Risk by Alison Kent. It was good. It surprised me as the entire plot was much more compact than most novels I read--the whole sequence lasted maybe a week, with 90% of the action taking place on 2 or 3 days total. But in each of her scenes, she goes into such intense detail that you don't feel cheated. You feel every breath, see every speck of dust stir in the air. I read a lot of historical romances with detailed backgrounds and clothing descriptions and politics. This was a neat change. BTW, I got my copy of this book for free in a drawing on the author's blog, a promo that will probably pay off for her in the long run: I'm now highly likely to buy more of her work (in addition to mentioning her here, for whatever that's worth). Thanks!

Second Sight by Amanda Quick. I have been a fan of hers for over 10 years. I've read most of her books under this pen name, though none of her Jayne Ann Krentz or Jayne Castle novels...maybe later. I finished the whole book in maybe 3 days. I keep seeing her newer one, The Third Circle at bookstores, but my to-read list has gotten rather bloated lately.

I just started on Eldest, sequel to Eragon. I actually started on A Good Yarn by Debbie Macomber first, but switched after about 2 chapters. It's not bad, just didn't quite capture my fancy (and after Amanda Quick, I was looking for another fast-engaging story). I've never read Debbie Macomber, and might get back to it later. In the mean time, that was one of my 50cent library sale table finds, so no big loss if I don't like it...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A First for Trystan

Trystan has been needing a haircut, but his hair is so fine and wispy that I've been putting it off. I think Char was nearly 2 before she needed more than her bangs trimmed (and if she could have kept a barrette in her hair for more than 30 seconds, she wouldn't have needed that). I've debated letting Trystan grow his hair long, but until it grows in a little thicker, it would just look silly. He already nearly has a comb-over with how bald his poor white head looks.

Last Friday we took the kids to The Magic House. There's nothing like a Van de Graaf generator to show off just how long your hair is:

So, Saturday Trystan got his first haircut. I took both kids to a place called Cool Cuts 4 Kids that offers car-shaped seats and DVDs or video games to keep them still. He didn't do so bad:

Unfortunately, I don't actually have a good after photo. They gave us a polaroid in a little cardstock frame with a lock of his hair as a keepsake, but I cannot easily scan their photo at the moment (myriad computer problems that my husband is in the middle of sorting out). Trystan's also sound asleep right now, so you'll have to wait till next time I have time to blog from a computer with access to our photos. He looks very cute, I assure you. And quite a bit older than he did a week ago.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Nothing says romance like...

...installing a toilet. Or re-installing one. Plus lots of quality time spent with utility knives.

On 7/7, we celebrated our 7th anniversary. In honor of the occaision, we installed a new bathroom floor. Not exactly what you would have done? Well, there was supposed to be a nice kid-free dinner over the weekend, but my husband spent the day puking so we had to postpone that. We did manage to squeeze in a relaxing barbeque with my in-laws and husbands sister's family. All 3 couples have anniversaries around the 4th.

Our anniversary itself included a sick baby (Trystan's first strep throat), a toilet in our shower, and baseboards that shattered when we removed them. We cut. We scraped. We stuck. It looks great. Trust me. Maybe I'll photograph it some day. Who am I kidding? It's a bathroom floor. I barely manage to post photos of my kids. If you want to see it, you might have to wrangle an invitation to come over in person (I'll bet our phone'll be ringing off the hook tonight...)

In honor of our illustrious occaision, I have decided to create a new listing of traditional anniversary gifts, this list geared toward today's couples, inspired by our own yearly updates:

Traditional Wedding Anniversary Gifts for Homeowners
  1. Drapes.
  2. Retaining Walls/Garden beds
  3. Baby Furniture
  4. Paint, Master Bedroom furniture
  5. Patio Furniture, sandbox
  6. Shelving for toys
  7. Vinyl and Porcelain
  8. Hardwood flooring. If anyone wants to go in together to buy this for us for next year, I'd be happy to set up a registry....

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Friday, July 4th, 2008

We've had a long, busy weekend. I have lots to say, but haven't been online at all since Thursday. I'll try to space things out.

We had a good time on the 4th. In the morning we went to the Magic House with some friends. We spent a lot longer there than our friends, and missed going out to lunch with them afterwards. But, we paid for our admission outright and didn't feel ready to leave after an hour. We're now members. They applied the $30 in admission we paid to our membership fee, and my emplyer should match our entire amount, which gets us the full unlimited membership for the cost of 2 visits. Next time, we'll be able to go out to lunch without guilt.

Friday night we met up with a friend of mine from high school who recently moved to town with her family. That's a serendipitious story in itself. A couple of weeks ago, I was surfing the net and googled myself for fun. Unsprisingly, the only link that popped up (that actually pertained to me) was my high school's alumni page. My entry was last updated in 2000, and most of the entries were equally out of date. Nevertheless, I skimmed it, looking for people I actually cared about and/or recent updates, and I got a double hit. This friend had posted an update as of April '08, and now lives in St. Charles! I emailed her right away. We emailed and phoned back and forth, and started catching up on the 14 years since we last saw each other, trading gossip on the mutual friends that we still keep up with.

We decided to get both families together to watch fireworks at the St. Charles Riverfest. It was a bit of a calculated risk. I was pretty sure that the 2 of us would get along fine, but bringing husbands and kids (hers ages 5 to 13) could get sticky. The festival atmosphere would provide us plenty of separate activities should things get uncomfortable. We easily agreed to pack picnic suppers in lieu of buying expensive nasty fair food.

Something happened on the way to the fair. There was an accident on the 70 bridge to St. Charles just before we crossed it, and all 5 lanes came to a dead stop. We just past the Earth City exit for over an hour. Trystan slept. Char sang. I watched lemmings headed for a cliff.

We were parked right next to the on-ramp from southbound Earth City Expresway onto Westbound 70. After about 20 minutes, some impatient pickup truck thought he was clever and drove himself the wrong way up the on-ramp to get off the highway--at the end of that onramp, he would end up going the wrong way on a 1-way street with oncoming traffic at at least 45 mph. Yikes. He was not alone. He was quickly followed by dozens more cars. DOZENS. They must have scared the crap out of the legitimate drivers who were trying to get to 70. I'm surprised there weren't any head-on collisions, and I sorely wished that a cop would come and sit at the other end to ticket people.

After that, our picnic and fireworks went smoothly. The families got along well together. We had both packed peanut butter sandwiches, chips, etc. I had made a chocolate sheet cake to share. Neither of us was keen to take kids on the rides, which was also good (no feelings of inequity). We had a great vantage point, near the Lewis & Clark boathouse. There were picnic tables and concrete, and port-o-potties not far away. Char got to try her first sparkler (I burned my thumb on a match...I'm not great with matches...). Trystan clapped at the fireworks. Nothing scares that kid :) The night was so beautiful and cool--maybe 82 before the sun went down--that I actually missed the sting of sweat dried over sunburned cheeks.

We made it home sometime before midnight. Both kids were sound asleep and went to bed in their bugspray. After we tucked them in, my husband and I quietly unloaded the car and straightened up in the kitchen. I remembered being a kid, dragging myself to bed exhausted, smelling of sunscreen and sweat, drifting off to sleep still marvelling over the largest of the fireworks, mentally ranking the show among all that I'd seen in the past. I remember hearing my parents puttering around as I fell asleep. I always wondered what they said with their hushed voices, muffled laughter, and the quiet bumps and scrapes of cabinets, sinks, and car doors. Now I know.