Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New Thing: Facebook

It's been a while since I've posted any of my "new things" for the year.
I've probably missed a few. This weekend, I created an account on
Facebook. I did some quick searches for a few friends who I knew had
profiles, and found pages for dozens of friends from high school and
college. I've requested quite a few friends, and had lots of people see
and add me also.

With how fast I went from empty profile to lots of friends, I can see
the time-sucking addictive appeal of the site. I have a profile on
MySpace too. Can't say I've been on MySpace much. Don't know that I'll
be super-active on Facebook, either. It depends on the result of free
time + internet access - more important things to do :) Losing lots of
time to the blackhole of social networking isn't real high on my to-do

Still, feel free to drop me a note or a friend request. Like with
MySpace, I do reply when prodded by non-spammers :)

Monday, April 27, 2009

My Garden

My husband and I are at odds over the yard.

He tries valiantly to cut and maintain a lush carpet of green grass
every year. He does the mowing himself, and likes to hire a service to
do all the bug/weed/fertilizer spraying. And in general, we end up with
nice looking grass.

That is, if you like that sort of thing. For me, I'm not a grass fan.
Grass requires more maintenance than my rose bushes, and its flowers
aren't exactly colorful. Nor can you eat it, unless you're a cow.

It gets into everything, especially my flower beds. Grass is the worst
weed in our yard. The only way I've been able to kill grass that has
infiltrated my garden beds is by waiting till winter and spraying the
whole bed with Roundup, hoping that I'm not damaging dormant perennials.

And removing chunks of sod to add a new bed is backbreaking,
hand-blistering work. I know, I do a lot of it myself. I've tried
using roundup and/or weed fabric + mulch to get rid of the grass without
actually digging it out of the beds, and it just comes back. Usually
right in the middle of a plant where I can't spray it with weed killer.

I spent a lot of time outside this weekend working on the garden. Note
I don't say "working on the yard". I filled in vacant beds with flowers
(I seem incapable of choosing a plant that doesn't flower or produce
edible fruit), removed a small dead tree and replaced it with a pair of
raspberry bushes, transplanted a small volunteer pine tree out of one of
my flower beds, and set up the hanging baskets on our front porch with
fresh coconut liners and petunias. I love petunias in hanging baskets.
That volunteer pine tree was added to a newly-dug bed and flanked by a
pair of evergreen shrubs (wait, those aren't edible...but neither is the
pine tree and it needed friends).

I also started to dig grass out from under a new set of stepping stones
that lead from the sidewalk to our front door, to set them into the
ground better (I am not a fan of house walks that lead only to the
driveway--as if every visitor must arrive by vehicle and never by foot).
The stones are made out of recycled grocery bags and look really nice,
though I need one more--they were sold in 3-packs though. So I may be
making my own stepping stone to fill the gap (a nice mosaic tile one
with the house numbers or kiddo hand prints maybe).

I gave up quickly on digging out the grass under them. It's a huge
pain. And I didn't have any sand to help level the bumpy clay left once
the grass was gone. Instead, I proposed to my husband that we just turn
that whole side of the front yard into a large planting bed. He wasn't
too keen on killing that much grass. Alas.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cease and Desist

Attention all bees and wasps and other miscellaneous insects in the neighborhood:


Any attempts at pollination will end badly. For the both of us.

That brightly colored flower you keep eyeing is my head, and that is hair, not flower petals. The color, btw, is merely blonde--perhaps you don't see enough real ones of those around town to know the difference.

So please just bug off!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Every Day Magic

Bright morning sunlight streams through our family room window wall,
thanks to our house's East-West orientation. When it does, the light
illuminates the small flecks of dust in the air. When I see the tiny
sparkles, I think about furnace filters and vacuum cleaning. Trystan
sees stars.

Inspired by Dora, Trystan loves to try to catch those early morning
stars in his hands. "Catch Stars" he says as he claps little hands
together, sending the specks scattering away. He then carefully opens
his hands to peek, and says "Oh No!" in his baby falsetto, and tries
again. And he counts them: "Unn. Oooh. Eee. Four. Fi." Precious.

Oh, to be a child again and see magic and possibilities where grown-ups
see work and problems.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A few hours left...

Ever entered a recipe contest? I've sent a few recipes here and there
into Better Homes & Gardens or other contests. No, I've never won.
Doesn't stop me from trying, though :)

Today, I entered the <a
href="https://www.pillsbury.com/bakeoff/">Pillsbury Bake Off</a>. The
winner gets $1 million, and the 100 finalists get a trip to Florida to
compete in the actual bake-off event. The contest is held every other
year and HGTV tends to broadcast it. Entering, for me, is like buying a
(free) lottery ticket. I'm not holding my breath. But boy its fun to

I'm not telling you what I entered. Maybe later this year, when the
actual finalists are announced, I'll post it to my blog. I entered in
the "Sweet Treats" category :) Thought about options for the breakfast
one, but never got around to actually creating a recipe.

Got a good recipe? Go over and enter. Submissions close today, Monday
April 20th, so you only have a few hours left. And the recipes are
required to use ingredients from specific lists of sponsored items,
which could be tricky. If you do, good luck! And may the best baker
win :)

Dining In?

When you're the parent of a 4.5 year old and a potty-training 2-year
old, you don't eat out at restaurants. You eat at restrooms. I see the
ladies room of every establishment that we visit, often several times in
the course of one dinner. My husband spends an equal amount of time in
the mens room.

Trystan is, despite the odds associated with his bowel issues, potty
training. And doing a bang-up job of it. Wait, he's a boy...he does a
bang-up job of everything. Bang up, throw down, crash smash roar. The
joys of the Y-chromosome. But back to the subject of the potty.

My son could be tinkle-trained. I say "could" be because he doesn't
really like going potty at home. Just out in public. Maybe I should
install auto-flushers on our toilets at home. But out and about, he will
stay dry and ask to use the potty for hours at a time--usually right up
until he takes a nap or is strapped into his carseat for too long. He
even occasionally poops on the potty, though he frequently stops mid-way
and finishes later in his diaper. It remains to be seen whether that
behavior is normal toddlerism or if there are any secondary issues for
the doctors to ponder. He's not even 25 months yet, so he's way ahead
of the potty training curve, and it could be a year or more before we
have a good handle on whether he's got full control or is just stubborn.
Like his sister was.

In the mean time, I hope he can figure out the tinkle-thing. Seriously,
he should not need to pee every 15 minutes, should he? I suspect at
least half of the potty requests are caused by boredom, because when
you're 2 you really don't care to linger over drinks and discuss
politics. But he squeezes at least a few drops out every time (often
much more), so its hard to fault him for asking.

Maybe I should start a new restaurant rating service--based on the
comfort, cleanliness, and attractiveness of their restrooms. Goodness
knows I spend enough time there to notice those sorts of things.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Going Green

I’m on a money kick lately. Not because I suddenly have more (I don’t) or less (thank goodness not). Its more of a spring cleaning. A long overdue spring cleaning.

I started things out a year or so ago by moving my personal checking account to the same credit union where my husband and I keep our joint checking. It was a much better deal, especially for when I overdraw the account. Doesn’t happen often, but I don’t tend to stockpile money in that account and I run it close to 0 on purpose. It’s my "pin money", not the family finances after all. The old account would charge me like $50 for every overdraw, meaning that one overdraw inevitably led to two or three more before I caught the problem. The new one costs under $5. Much better. Plus, they give me free online bill pay, a service that cost $ with the other bank. Again, not many "bills" come out of this account, but the few that do are easier to take care of. I’ve used 5 whole paper checks in almost a year.

I’m in the process of changing my credit card over too. I’ve had the old one for like 15 years, but it’s been a pain lately. Last year while planning a trip to Texas for my sister's graduation, I found that Orbitz.com couldn't verify the phone number on it, so I couldn't use it to buy plane tickets. And Alamo's website swore up and down that it was a debit card, and therefore not eligible to reserve a car online. And points/perks? None. My new one (at the same credit union as my newer checking account) also has a lower interest rate (though I'm scared sh*tless of credit card debt, and only carry a balance under extreme duress). And it earns points that might earn free stuff. I have one more item on the old card (a hotel reservation for later this summer) that I need to move, and I can close it for good.

Also on the list of clean-up/tune-up:

Cancelling a completely un-used second phone line in the house. Once upon a time it was a fax line, but hasn’t even had a modem hooked to it for a couple of years. At the same time, I got our phone agreements changed around so that we now have caller ID and call waiting (20th century here we come…), unlimited long distance on the house phone, and it costs less than what we were paying before.

Getting rid of a Sears card that we opened 3 years ago solely for the 0% interest deal for a new washer and dryer. We’d never even activated the cards, and really don’t need the open credit account hanging around.

Opening college savings accounts for both kids. You’d think we might have done this for at least Charlotte already. Oops. Last night we did. We went with the Missouri 529 plans, and have just barely opened them with minimum balances. Scheduling contributions will come soon.

Moving some of the small pad of savings in my personal account to a slightly higher interest-rate bearing CD. I was *this* close one day to investing some of it in stocks for a potentially higher gain, but I really do need the money as an emergency fund. A CD is not quite as liquid as a basic money market, but its as much of a gamble as I'm willing to take.

Refinancing our house. With rates down almost 1% from our existing mortgage, I did a little spreadsheet magic and realized that we could save about $200 a month on our mortgage payment, and not pay more total interest on the new loan than we have left on the current mortgage. That one’s a no-brainer. The process is underway. A bonus feature is that our credit union doesn’t require an escrow account, unlike the previous mortgage company. So, we get to earn interest on our own money for the taxes and insurance every year, instead of forking it over to some big company to profit from. I see more fun with CD’s and money market accounts in my future :)

And speaking of homeowners insurance, while sending info to the credit union for the re-fi, I realized that I’d never forwarded our security system info to our insurance company. Sending that in should net us a small discount off of our policy. A discount we should have started getting like six years ago. Doh.

Even the financial advisor for my IRA (made of what used to be 401ks from previous employers) is helping me with my financial spring cleaning. I had Anhuesuer Busch stock in that account until they were bought by InBev last fall. Its probably past time that I actually invest that cash in something else. I guess he agreed, because he called me yesterday to initiate the discussion. Quite timely.

It sounds like we’re saving money left and right, but that’s never quite how things work out. While we’re knocking down monthly payments, we’re also planning to replace my husband’s car. What to replace it with is still in the discussion stage--leaning towards either a Prius or a Highlander Hybrid. But test drives and budget talks will make the ultimate decision there.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Adventures in Banking, Part Deux

After my little banking debacle the other day, you’d think I’d have learned my lesson. Alas, no.

Instead, I applied a little creative problem solving.

Problem: I want to move a little money into a CD. Because I’m a big risk-taker, that’s why. (Yes, that's sarcasm). Basically, it’s quasi-emergency cash and I’d rather earn the extra 1.5% on it in a CD than let it fester (and not grow) in my bare-bones "savings" account.

Issue #1: the "open account" website won’t let you choose a single CD to open. You must either choose more than 1 CD, or a CD + another account. I think this is a bug, but then, I’ve already explained it to customer service once and they haven’t changed anything.

Issue #2: I can accomplish what I want to do, if I go to the bank. During bankers hours. Which are not convenient.

Solution: In the list of account types on the website, there is a "holiday savings". Minimum opening balance: $5. If I select this holiday savings plus the CD, then I can open my CD. And a $5 savings account. No real loss there, just a slight shifting of money. And one of these days, I can actually go to the bank and close the extraneous account. Problem solved.

Why don’t I just go to the bank to open the CD without bothering with the $5 account? Impatience. I’ll be making that trip at some point either way, but now I’ve bought myself an extra couple of weeks of CD-growing-at-basic-interest-rate time. I’m sure those pennies will be worthwhile in the end :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Random thought of the day.

Random thought of the day:


Why do we consider it a complement to be “lionhearted”?  It is easy to be brave when you’re at the top of the food chain, with more muscle, teeth, and claws than everyone else.  I’d rather be called “gazellehearted.”  Imagine having the courage to live your life happy and carefree, knowing that a lion could be hiding behind every rock.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A rainbow of possibilities

Easter is over. The chocolate bunny has lost its ears. And you have a fridge full of hard boiled eggs. Now what?

Hard cooked eggs are good for up to 7 days in the fridge, so you’ve got a week to make it through your pastel-and-tie dye masterpieces. Unless, of course, you left them hiding at room temperature overnight Saturday night. If that’s the case, hop those babies straight to the trash.

  1. Plain. I peel them, chop into chunks with a fork, and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Maybe with a little bit of melted butter. Good at breakfast or for a snack.

  2. Deviled.

  3. Egg Salad. I do mine in a sandwich. Toast the bread first to avoid getting soggy. Add bacon, lettuce and tomato for a little extra flavor. And if you're brown-bagging, pack your salad separate from your bread and assemble at lunch time.

  4. Slice or quarter and add to a lettuce salad. Sprinkle on some leftover, chopped-up Easter ham too.

  5. Quick Breakfast quesadilla. Top a tortilla with shredded cheese and nuke in the microwave just until the cheese melts (maybe 30 seconds to a minute, depending on your tortilla size and generosity with the cheese). Top with chopped hard-boiled egg, pre-cooked crumbled bacon, and salsa. Fold in half and cut into triangles.

  6. Breakfast sandwich. Top one half of a toasted English muffin with a slice of ham (or Canadian bacon, sausage patty, or bacon), sliced hardboiled egg, and a slice of cheese (American, swiss, whatever). Warm under the broiler or in the microwave to melt the cheese (it'll also help the egg stick together while you eat it), then top with your remaining muffin half.

  7. Ever Tried Creamed Hard Boiled Eggs with Onions? Or Texas Mashed Potato Salad? Warm Spinach Salad with Eggs and Bacon? Me either, actually, though that spinach salad sounds yummy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

How does your garden grow?

I love this time of year. The first of my bulbs are beginning to bloom. It's always a surprise what comes up--many of my spring bulbs were planted five or more years ago, and I forget what's there. And there are years when some plants barely make a show, and then come in full force the next. And there are some that don't bloom for years, and then suddenly put on a magnificent display.

The last is anot so lovely photo. This is some kind of fungus that has appeared across large stretches of our mulch. It looks like thick-walled bubbles that break open as they reach the air, and collect rainwater. The first spot I saw looked oddly like an old, hollow, rotten pumpkin hiding at the edge of the mulch. Stepping on it did not improve its appearance.

Most of the fungus is in a stretch of flower bed that normally holds annuals--and is quite barren right now. But the one spot I found in one of my perennial beds is getting attacked with a fungicide as soon as I can find a few minutes to play with nasty chemicals.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Adventures in Banking

There is no such thing as window shopping at our bank.

They have a wonderful website where I can check balances, make transfers, view graphics of checks that have cleared, do online bill paying (which is free...and one of my new favorite services), and open new accounts.

Yesterday, I was toying with the idea of moving some of my savings into a CD instead of the basic money market account. Slightly better interest rate (up to a whopping 1.75% or so, from less than 1%), though I wouldn't be able to access it for however many months. Basic math here. I ought to come out ahead, as long as I can part with access to the cash for a while.

So, I clicked "open new account" and tried to select a 12 month CD. For some reason the site didn't think I had any account type selected so I tried to select a 9 month CD (I'm a hacker and I'm used to finding workarounds for software bugs....). And on the next screen, I got both. I don't want 2. And there was no back button. I exited out of the process and decided to try again later.

Today, I went back to "open new account" and was forced to continue working on the account application I had in progress (there was no option to begin a new account application, or to delete the in-progress one). Again, it showed me requesting 2 separate accounts, and there was no way to go backwards and fix it. And no "cancel this account application" button. I could see from the little progress chart that there was a "confirmation" step coming up, and figured I could cancel the request then. In the mean time, I was forced to select the source of funding for the two accounts--i.e. my money market account. Which contained just enough money for the minimum amount to open two CD's, and no more.

Well, turns out the "confirmation" step was where the bank's website confirms to me that the account(s) are open, not where I get to say "Make it So". There was no "Are you Sure?" button. No "Cancel this application". No Back Button.

I immediately called their customer service number, and was transferred and put on hold and then told that I had indeed opened two CD's (thus practically zeroing out an account that I use as a small cushion for my checking account, and tying that money up for 9 months and 12 months). They didn't have immediate access to undo the account creation. They will have to get back to me about my options.


The good thing is that I mucked with my own personal account and haven't, say, zeroed out the joint account that pays all the important bills (like the mortgage and daycare). But now I know. This isn't Amazon.com where I get a chance to review my order before charging it. And I'm not allowed to make mistakes or change my mind in the middle. Guess I'll be thinking twice before attempting any more "be-your-own-financial-advisor" tricks....

Monday, April 06, 2009


Its been a long time since I’ve bought a dress or three.

I will need a formal dress for a banquet I’m attending this summer, and when I went to my closet I found: nothing.

Well, not quite nothing. I really found:
  • a black and gold short formal dress that I wore my freshman year of college (1995), and that wouldn’t zip without a month on Slim-fast.

  • a short all-black formal from college that is cute, but much shorter than I’d currently wear, and may not zip either

  • a teal-colored long formal from the same general era that is way too slinky in the torso for someone who's had two children

  • I must have missed a hanger because I wore at least 4 formals in college, and only saw 3 of them

  • a bridesmaid dress, powder blue, from 1997

  • a long blue dress I wore to a company-sponsored black-tie dinner in 1999, currently a size too big

  • a shorter peach-colored lace dress that spans the bridge between semi-formal and black tie nicely, massively overworn and slightly ill-fitting—last worn while about 12 weeks pregnant with Trystan. Its stretchy.

  • a royal purple taffeta, 2-piece gown that I made BC (before Charlotte) for a Mardi Gras party (for about $10 in materials I think). It's fun. Its strapless. And completely open down the middle of the corset-style back (thus preventing the wearing of any support garments). I wore it last year to the St. Louis Mayor's Mardi Gras ball. I was breastfeeding then (and about a cup and half larger than I am now), and was afraid I'd, um, show off to everyone. This year I'd be afraid that the thing wouldn't even stay up. And did I mention the cheap fabric? Because its totally discolored under the arms.

Have I really gone so long without dressing up? Not really, but that peach dress, the Mardi Gras gown, and 3 or 4 maternity dresses have covered all my needs over the last 5 years.

Clearly a shopping trip was in order. Or a weekend with my sewing machine. I'd love to sew another fancy dress, but don't know how I'd get several hours of kidless time without forgoing sleep at the moment. I also figured I'd wait until after prom season was over and hit the clearance racks.

Sunday after church, we wandered the Galleria for a bit with my SIL & co. While she was picking out a nice casual jacket in Macy's, I took Charlotte and wandered through the dress department, for the fun of it. The prom-ish dresses were amusingly impractical. Maybe if I were 6ft tall and built like a beanpole. I guess 16 year olds are taller than I remember... But there were several racks of clearance dresses from the holiday season. I tried on a handful of the remainders designed for the under-60 crowd.

And bought 2! Both black, both shorter formals (one just below the knee, the other about mid-calf). Both are sleeveless, alas, but have good necklines on me. One is actually the dreaded empire-waist style, but it was cut with enough of a flare at the hem and a non-clingy fabric, so it flatters even my waistline without making me look pregnant or requiring a "body wear" purchase. The other was fitted at the waist with a nice fuller skirt. Both combined, after coupons, cost less than $50. Together. And I found another spring-y dress to wear next weekend for Easter for a little under $50 itself.

There are two morals to this story. The first is that I need to clean out my closet. The second is that its totally worthwhile to make your husband entertain two cranky kids in a department store while you shop....

Thursday, April 02, 2009

To every thing there is a season

Some people tell time with a watch, or a calendar. Some mark the days by counting birthdays and anniversaries, or changes in the weather. For some it’s by movies and TV: summer blockbusters, the new fall lineups, the sweeps months.

For me, its sweets.

For every sweet treat there is a season, and for every season a sweet treat.

Right now, we’re in jellybean season. It lasts from about 46 days before Easter until the big furry rabbit arrives. Known as “lent” in some circles, this is the time of year that I forgo my usual chocolate indulgence and must turn to other glucose hits. Brightly colored sugary pellets, here I come. This time of year, I’m not about the Jelly Belly fanciness. I just want the spring-colored generic Easter kind. The simple stuff. And this year, I found a couple of bags of “Easter Basket Eggs” which look like massive jelly beans (about 2.5” long) and are filled with a fluffy white filling instead of the bean-jelly. Mmmm.

Jellybean season frequently overlaps with Cake Week. Known merely as March 18-23 to those outside my immediate family, this is the week where we celebrate my birthday, my son’s birthday, and my mom’s birthday. That can add up to five cakes some years—one for my birthday, cupcakes for Trystan’s school classmates, Trystan’s real cake, another cake for the both of us with my husband’s family, and one to celebrate all 3 generations when we see my mom (usually around either the birthdays or Easter). And, usually there’s a cake at work, to celebrate all March birthdays in my group, not just mine.

Following Easter, for about two weeks, it’s chocolate rabbit hunting season. And Cadbury cream eggs.

Late spring is all about berries. Strawberry shortcake. Fresh blueberry muffins. Canning jars and jars of jam.

Once the weather warms up, its all about the ice cream. Homemade is best, but I love softserve from Dairy Queen or McDonalds. As a kid, I was into popsicles, and my kids still are.

Late September through Mid-October it’s the candy corn harvest. And the candy pumpkins. I eat so much of those before Halloween every year that I get sick of them until the following year. And apples. Apple pie, apple sauce, crisp apple slices with caramel dip, apple-and-onion pork roasts…

From Halloween till Thanksgiving is well, Halloween candy season. Mini Three Musketeers and Snickers, Smartees, Bottle Caps, Atomic Fireballs. Yum, yum, yum, yum and yum.

Then come candy canes, peppermint mochas, and cookies. Gingerbread. Cookie Monster Cookies. Biscotti. Fudge. Oh lovely fudge.

The beginning of every new year there’s always a pause in my candy consumption as I ponder scary things called “diets”. And then I resolve to just exercise more while I polish off the last of the Christmas goodies.

That lasts until Valentines day, and the inevitable boxes of chocolate. Not that I always receive a box of Valentines chocolates—sometimes I buy them myself the day after Valentines at 50% off. I use those to supplement my Dove Dark chocolates for a last binge before jelly bean season.

What are your favorite seasonal treats?