Thursday, December 16, 2010

Crib Safety

The Consumer Products Safety Commission yesterday decided that cribs will no longer be allowed to have a drop-side. The story caught my eye because, although we are done having babies, we still have a crib in the house, and dealing with it has been inching higher and higher on my to-do list lately.



The crib that both of our kids slept in is assembled as a toddler bed in Trystan's room. He occasionally sleeps in it, mostly at naptime. The lucky kiddo has inherited a queen-sized bed with pillow-top mattress. I don't blame him for preferring that to the little one.  But the crib and matching changing table are still set up in his room because our house has generous sized rooms but no storage (our one small basement storage room is overflowing with stuff already).


Part of the reason I haven't sold or given away our crib yet is because the sliders on the moving side of the crib broke. Not while the kids were in it.  The drop-side comes off to transform the thing into a toddler bed. The sliders were made of plastic, and they broke after the bed side sat in a closet for a year.The CPSC complains, in part, that newer drop-side cribs are not made well and thus are dangerous. We were probably not the most gentle with ours once it was disassembled (and it was on kid #2), but if the plastic sliders can break the way ours did, then I believe the claims about quality.


I did use that drop-side feature extensively when my kids were sleeping in the crib. I am only 5'4", and with the rail up and the mattress in its lowest position (the only safe place setting once babies learn to stand up in the crib), I was not able to reach over the crib to the baby. If manufacturers won't be able to sell cribs with that feature, then they're going to have to chop about six inches off the height of the crib legs so that parents can get to their kids.


I had been meaning for a few weeks to call the manufacturer and try to get replacement hardware for our old crib in preparation for a garage sale (or at least a donation). But the new rule prohibits even re-selling used cribs with drop sides, and I doubt the crib company is going to be willing to send me new slider hardware. I guess I now have a nice looking toddler bed with matching extra-deep shelving set to get rid of.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Generation Gap

The other day Charlotte noticed a book icon on our house phone and asked why there was a story on it. I laughed and said it was the built-in phonebook, and then realized that she had no idea what a phonebook was.

We have not kept paper phone books in our house for probably ten years or more. Every time someone drops one on our doorstep, we either give it away or recycle it. The internet has long been a much more reliable and faster way to look up numbers.

So I had to explain that a phonebook was a book with names and phone numbers. Charlotte looked puzzled for a moment and then comprehension dawned. Her school publishes a printed phone directory every year. She knew what the "buzz book" was. 

Our kids have never known a time when TV shows were limited by a fixed time schedule. They have never known a phone with a cord. They have never seen a copy of the Yellow Pages in the house. They would have no idea what photo film is, or understand why they can't see a picture two seconds after it is taken. They have talked via Skype to my grandmother in Nebraska. Even the family fridge calendar is being obsoleted this year by the magic of Google online and on my husband's and my phones. School permission slips are sent in pdf format by email. My sisters and I collaborate on gifts with the help of PayPal and online shopping.

We are still missing the flying cars, but life is starting to feel more like the Jetsons every day.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Signs from the Universe

Sometimes you just get a Sign from the Universe.

Like when you dream about your unborn child and she introduces herself and informs you of her name (my daughter did that. I hadn't ever considered the name Charlotte before that dream).

Or when the college you liked best, the one that felt like home the minute you stepped onto the campus, the one that then proceeded to decorate itself with the most beautiful and picturesque snowfall just for your visit, and the one that was also the most expensive and farthest out of your financial reach, just happens to send you what amounts to a full scholarship.

Or when there are not one, but two sets of beautiful kittens born under your own front porch in one summer, and the second litter (of only 2 cats, which is the perfect number of adoptees) bears an uncanny resemblance to a pair of cats from your childhood, and one of the two kittens practically begs at the front door to be let inside, and the timing just happens to be pretty darned good for your family to introduce pets.

Apparently, now the Universe is in dire need of a picture album of my family. There have been Signs.

We took the kids to see Santa at the mall on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. For the grand price of $25 we got a couple of snapshots of the kids on Santa's lap, a CD of the same snapshot, and a $20 gift card to Shutterfly. (Did I mention that the Universe might be named Shutterfly for purposes of this post?). $20 is way more than I needed to order a few extra prints of the Santa pose, so I started browsing the photo books. You know, the ones where you upload like 100 pictures and design your own book. They're great. They're beautiful. They give me panic attacks.

I have no idea where my hang-up about pictures and albums (and the insertion of the one into the other) comes from. It's not like I've ever been attacked by a rabid scrapbook or mauled by a glue-dot wielding paper cutter or anything. But when it comes to dealing with photos, I freeze.

I'm getting better. Thanks to the choosing of my own camera (one that didn't have so many buttons and lenses that it requires a college degree to shoot a photo), and to the purchase of my phone (with built-in camera), I now willingly take photos. Without prompting. I even share them (that whole "Share via Facebook" option on the phone goes so fast I don't have time to pass out from the hyperventilating).

Back to Shutterfly and the photo books. I've made one of these before. Last year, after our family trip to Destin over Thanksgiving, I spent hours arranging our photos onto pages and choosing background colors. It turned out really nice, and the kids love the finished book to pieces, and I've been afraid of that website ever since. It's a time suck and something about all of that arranging and sorting just seems so hard. (Yes, I am the same person who is writing my 4th novel-length manuscript that I hope to someday publish, this one being an epic fantasy that will likely clock in somewhere over 100,000 words long. Clearly large tasks don't always freak me out).

So, $20 gift card. I've got to spend it (not doing so violates every instinct against gifting my money to some corporate bottom line). I looked at the site Sunday morning and ended up running from the computer in terror. And then, at the grocery store checkout Sunday night, they printed me out a nice coupon. Was it $2 off my next grocery order? Oh, no. They couldn't be that kind. No, it was a free 8x8 photo book from Shutterfly.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Trivia

The most expensive food item on our Thanksgiving table was:
  1. The turkey (a 20 pounder, slow-smoked over applewood chips)
  2. The wine. We bought four bottles, and my in-laws added another two.
  3. The stuffing.
Yep, it’s a trick question. The answer is not a). Thanks to grocery store competition and coupons, we paid a rather paltry sum for a rather large fresh bird. And I am not including the cost of the woodchips or brine/glaze/rub because no new ingredients were purchased there. (And yes, my husband actually smoked the turkey and it was divine. The local barbeque chains would be in serious trouble should he decide to switch careers.)
The answer is not b). I did buy four bottles of wine, and my in-laws did bring another two. But this is another trick question, since I would not attempt to place a value on the wine that was gifted to us, and as a group we only made it through the two gifted bottles. The rest of what we bought ourselves is still in our fridge.
Yes, the answer is the stuffing. No, it wasn’t from a box. That stuff required two loaves of bread, a pound of sausage, celery, onions, chicken broth, eggs, pecans, fresh sage and thyme, and dried cherries. The cherries alone cost me $10, the bread another $4.50, and I forget how much the sausage was (maybe $3.50?). The fresh herbs were a couple of bucks each. And the turkey wings from the main bird were roasted on top of the pan of stuffing for extra flavor (we didn’t buy extra wings, just cut the ones off the bird).  The recipe was from the latest Cook’s Illustrated magazine (if you like to cook, seriously check that one out…it is excellent).  It was designed for producing a large amount of tasty stuffing without the benefit of cooking inside the turkey itself.  By “large amount” I mean it overflowed my 9x13 pan to fill a second 8x8 pan, and could have been the main dish for a gathering of 12 people. In fact, it would probably make a good one-dish kind of meal (using chicken parts instead of turkey wings).
How about you? What was the star of your Thanksgiving table (or your favorite dish if you didn’t cook or host)?

Monday, November 08, 2010

A New Sort of Potty Training

Since being adopted by a pair of adorable black kittens a few months ago, we have been adjusting our homelife to accommodate them. It is a lot like having a new baby (or two of them).

The kitties were crawling with fleas when I first brought them in out of the yard, so I stashed them in the powder room that is near our garage and kitchen. For two weeks, they lived in there almost exclusively, with daily baths and some extra exercise (limited at first to hard-floor surfaces only, so as to contain the critters-within-the-critters). They were pretty small then, not even a pound apiece and roughly 4 weeks old, so the 5x5 space with food, water, litter, and a scratching post was nicely adequate.

But as soon as they were big enough for a medicated flea treatment from the vet, we gave them run of the main floor of our house. Couches, carpets, kids. And plants, knickknacks and drapes.

I've had kittens before, but it's been a really long time. And while it's funny to watch them spiderman their way up the back of the couch or dangle from the lace curtains by their claws, my wallet is cringing. And then they got big enough to knock things over. All of our houseplants are now either on very high shelves or safely moved up to the master bedroom (we now keep our bedrooms door shut to cut down on pet dander in the sleeping quarters).

But until this weekend, we still had both a litter box and a set of cat food dishes taking up the lion's share of our powder room. That bathroom is the primary one that visitors to the house would use, so we haven't really had anyone over (and those who have ventured in have been ushered upstairs or to the basement to pee).

In addition to cat food, a new scratching post, and vet visits, the two putty tats have now cost us a pair of new doors plus cat flaps. No, they didn't destroy anything, but we didn't want to cut holes in the solid-wood, 6-panel, stained-wood doors to allow the cats access to the basement storage room where we wanted to move the cat litter. My husband spent like 6 hours on Saturday routing and drilling and sawing and hanging a
$20 hollow-core replacement door. We will have to paint it at a later time.

The second door is for the top of the stairs leading down to the finished basement, but its not done yet. All we've done there is to take the existing one off its hinges and store it away elsewhere, leaving an open doorway to the stairs below. We also shifted a couple of cookbook bookcases around in the kitchen to make room for the food dishes. I think the new arrangement will work just fine, but the flow of the house is different, for sure.

After mucking out that powder room (I literally cleaned every surface in it from walls to baseboards to hand-scrubbing floors to make sure it was clean and sparkly again), we now have our people-potty space back. And a pair of very confused kitty cats.

The kitties have been introduced to their new litter location. They have been trained on the proper use of the cat door, and have demonstrated their prowess at entering and exiting through that route. But I think they keep forgetting where to go. Not that we've seen any actual accidents, but the kitties start howling at us right after they eat until we pick them up and carry them to the basement (note they're now about 10-12 weeks old and can fly from chair to chair in the living room...stairs are not a physical barrier).

This morning (day 2 of the basement-litter arrangement), I caught one of the kitties sitting in the powder room trash can. Butt down, head out, looking like he was going to do his business right there. Using the can, as it were. Understandable, since a litter box is a big container lined in plastic, and the trash can is also a container lined in plastic (just smaller).

So, just in case, they've been shut into the basement room for the day (with food, water, and a cozy basket to sleep in, plus the large assortment of boxes and rolled up carpet scraps to climb on). I'm hoping they get used to the new placement soon so we don't have to escort them to the potty every time they have to go.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The white dress

Attempt number two of camera phone to blog.

In case you're curious, I'm trying to send photos directly from my phone to the blog. The first method I tried yesterday involved sending a text message. Apparently, blogger will take a text message and publish it immediately, but NOT if it includes a photo.

I was able to email my blog address from the phone, but that saves a draft so I had to go back and tell it to publish. Like a week later when I finally remembered to do it :)

Anywho, here is Charlotte in her white dress from last week.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Quick photos of Chsr in her white dress.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My yearly masterpiece

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
(I hope the photo link works OK. I have no idea what it looks like through Facebook. You might have to actually click through to see the entire thing, the twitpic link seems to be cropping funny)

I used to sew a lot more than I do. I've made drapes and upholstered ottomans, quilts, stuffed animals, clothing, even my baby sister's flower girl dress for my wedding. I did stop short at making my own dress (though I still have one pattern that is gorgeous...I just need an excuse for a ball gown...).

Before my daughter was born, I imagined myself sewing all sorts of clothes and home decor and crafts for her. I have books and patterns and even piles of uncut fabric stocked in my office. Ok, other working moms, stop laughing at me. Really, now. Stop.

Actually what killed my sewing hobby wasn't Charlotte's birth, or the fact that my sewing room became her bedroom. It was that my new sewing space (our home office) shares a wall with Charlotte's bedroom. For years you could barely sit in a squeaky chair in that room after bedtime without waking her up. And then came her little brother.

In the past twelve months, I have sewn exactly two items. Charlotte's white dress for Kindergarten and now, as of last night, Charlotte's white dress for first grade. She goes to a Catholic school and for special mass days throughout the year, the girls all must wear an all-white dress. With sleeves. And not a beaded-satin-and-chiffon-mini-bride white dress. Something so "basic" that no store bothers to sell them :)

But I can sew, so sew I did. I had no time, and no space, and was up till the wee hours of the..oh wait, till 11:30...that's still late for me :) Her dress is done. Its adorable. I'm biased. I only had to cut the front out twice thanks to a little help from a scissor-wielding 3-year old. I did my first invisible zipper ever (something other sewers/sewists/seamstresses might understand...and that's a whole sewing-geeked out post of its own).

And I have no idea if it fits because my darling daughter was sound asleep when it was finished. And it still lacks the finishing touch: a good coating of stain repellent because white dresses attract chocolate milk like kittens to a crystal vase of flowers.

Photo of the completed dress on its new owner shall be forthcoming. First white dress day is tomorrow.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Kiddie Candids

Until recently my kids had one of those "kid-proof" cameras. The kind whose commercials show kids dropping them down the stairs. Yep, I'm pretty sure this one went down the stairs once or five times. And that's not what killed the camera.

I was going through the memory card looking at what all we'd managed to salvaged. Judging by the kids faces, outfits, and haircuts, we had about a year's worth of pictures. In the first photo, Trystan looks to be about two and a half. And he's clearly upset. If I had to guess, I'd say that his sister had just taken the camera out of his hands.

There were tons of unrecognizable blobs among the shots. And some funny ones, like this series of Charlotte clearly attempting a self-portrait. 

(Keep Scrolling)
|
\/
|
|

\/|
|
|
\/

|
|
\/
|
|
\/
(Last One of the Charlotte Series)
For some reason, this scene was a popular one. This is the corner of our bed (yes, unmade). The same shot was included in several different groups clearly separated by time.
Feet are also a popular subject. These are Trystan's.
On the same day as he took pictures of his feet, he was photographing our deck. This shot is looking down on the patio and our massively overgrown garden. Its not a bad shot, actually.

You might be wondering just how a kid-proof camera does actually die.

There might be more than one effective method. Ours drowned in the bathtub. Overnight apparently.  Yes, a big person got scolded for leaving water in the bathtub overnight. And a couple of kids were scolded for putting the camera in it.

The camera was toast. The batteries leaked. But the memory card was salvageable (after Windows' checkdisk repaired a file).

This last photo is the last one for the old camera.  I have no idea what this last actually is. Could be an extreme close up of a nose. Could be the bottom of the tub. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Kitten update

The kittens had their first vet checkup Monday. They are about 4 weeks old. And they're boys. Both of them. I would totally have lost that bet.

Not, ahem, that I can't tell the difference between the two. But they haven't really been showing off their stuff. One has barely been showing his face, let alone the rest of him.

In addition to boy parts, the kittens have fleas. No surprise there. They got de-worming medicine, and goop for their eyes. Their eyes have been mucous-y, which the vet said could indicate a feline Herpes, something exceedingly common among the great unwashed masses of strays. Flea medicines, hots and additional tests (Feline Leukemia, etc) will wait for 2 and 6 more weeks.

So the boys have had their first bath (two actually), non-medicated since they aren't old enough for a real flea dip. After their baths, they both got snuggled in towels and we had both of them purring. Even the shy guy, who has hissed at me every time I've had to move him. He was my cuddle bug (and then Charlotte's when I had to run upstairs and get Trystan out of trouble). Apparently shy guy prefers to be picked up by his scruff, something I'm squeamish about (no matter how much evidence that it doesn't hurt and that clearly, this one prefers it). Just grabbing him by that loose skin by his neck calms him right down. He must miss his momma, poor guy.

No, they don't have names yet. And no, they're not official members of the family yet. But I don't think the vocal kitten quite understands that. He is loudly insistent that he wants free reign of the entire house and free access to its 2-legged inhabitants. Shy guy may be coming around. After this mornings purr fest, he's got to feel a little less upset with us. Don't think he'll forgive the kitchen sink for a while, though.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Furballs

I bought baby formula yesterday for the first time ever. We have visitors.

A few days ago, my husband spotted a couple of kittens peeking out from under our front porch. We knew there were stray cats in the neighborhood. My garden, for once, has flourished because of them. They've kept the rabbit population from turning our veggies into an all-you-can-eat salad bar.

There was a family of cats in our yard a few months ago. We had bought kitten food for them intending to rescue the family, but they moved on before we had a chance.

This mother cat also appears to be a stray. She's beautiful, all black with green eyes and no collar. And won't come near us. But one of her kittens was out in the yard on Friday, mewling and acting friendly and curious. 

We set out food for them for a day or two first. Then Friday morning, the curious cat not only let me pet her, but to pick her up briefly. I took advantage of the opportunity to bring her inside and put her in the powder room off our kitchen.  I gave her food and water, and begged some kitty litter from a friend in the neighborhood. Later in the afternoon I managed to snag the other kitten as she ventured out for a snack.

They are adorable, and took to the cat litter right away (thankfully). They were also both much happier once they were reunited. I still feel bad for momma cat. She's come poking back around the porch a couple of times, probably looking for her babies. As a mother, I feel terribly guilty about separating the family. But with cars and tomcats and dogs and potentially-non-cat-friendly neighbors about, there is no way I'm letting these two furballs fend for themselves outside.

We have a vet appointment set for tomorrow, and we stocked up on more kitten food and some powdered kitten formula. I don't have any idea how old they are. Possibly as young as 3 or 4 weeks, though they seem able and willing to eat both dry cat food and wet, and to drink from a bowl. And the milk won't hurt.  They are confined to our bathroom plus a few chaperoned jaunts around the kitchen for now. They have black spots inside their ears that might be mites, and are itchy enough to have fleas.

We don't know how long they will stay with us. Maybe not long. Maybe forever. Yet to be decided. I don't want to take them to the Humane Society, because they do euthanize animals that don't find homes. And I want these two little kittens to have a home, preferably together. My husband and I have still to weigh the pros and cons of allergies, small children, pet sitters, and scratching posts vs furniture before we will decide for sure.

They are beautiful, aren't they?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Flushing it down the toilet

If you live in St. Louis County, did you know how your sewer bill is calculated?

We do now.

And a word of advice: don't have plumbing issues in the winter. Ever. Or you will pay more for them than you think.

Sometime last year, we ran into a string of what I thought was bad luck or severe disorganization. Don't be fooled by any clean, shiny kitchen countertops you might see in my house: I'm a master of sweeping all the junk to the side when guests come over. In any case, there were a couple of months in a row where it seemed like we missed paying our water bill. Disorganized as my husband and I can be, we are typically very good about paying all bills on time, not carrying debt, not screwing around with our money.

So it was extremely frustrating to get a bill that says "Due upon receipt", meaning "You didn't pay us". 
Especially since 1) we use every auto-bill-pay service offered and 2) I would swear that we were paying our bills. At the time, I called the water company and made sure we were up to date, and found out that they don't bill us monthly. They bill quarterly (ish). And we didn't have any auto-pay set up with them. It was the sewer bill that was auto-withdrawn monthly. No wonder I was confused.

Fast forward to this summer, and I actually receive a water bill and a sewer bill at the same time, and dared to compare the two. MSD was billing us $88 for a single month. Missouri American Water was billing us $60 for THREE months of fresh water. Now that was way out of whack. How can we owe four times more money to flush the toilet than we were paying for the water in the first place?

I asked a couple of friends who live in our neighborhood, with similar size families and similar size houses how much they were paying for their sewer bills. Both paid around the $20-30 range. And their water bills were comparable to ours.

So I called MSD, and got some generally helpful email messages in response, detailing how our bill is calculated.

In St. Louis County, where all houses have a water meter, MSD gets the water meter reading for the quarter that runs from November through February. They have a formula based on your average water usage. They choose that winter quarter because it does not include the summer grass-watering season, so its supposed to more accurately reflect how much water actually goes into the sewer system. Great. Fine. Makes sense. But I still didn't get how they came up with such a large number for us, when our friends (with similar water usage) were paying so much less.

So I called Missouri American water. They were also helpful, and emailed me a table detailing our water meter readings and usage for the past few years.

It just happened that for the quarter ending in February of 2009 (the reading that sets our sewer bill for most of 2010), that our usage was nearly 10 times our normal amount. 125 vs 15 for the May 2010 quarter. I checked our bank records, and that giant number matched up with a giant bill that we paid. (Around the time of the late bills and "due upon receipt", so I probably didn't catch that the huge bill was huge because of usage)

Yikes. Hubby and I tried to remember what was going on in Winter 2008/2009 in our house. I have a vague recollection of running toilets--I think the flappers have an expiration date because every toilet in our house needed a replacement at one point (we had to buy a "contractor pack" of replacements). And we did have an outdoor irrigation system on a timer that got left on (and created us a nice little ice sculpture before we figured out the mistake). That was also around the time we had a lot of water in our back yard, so maybe that outdoor irrigation system was leakier than we realized. Our best guess is that those things killed our water bill for that quarter, and subsequently jacked up our sewer bill for the rest of the year.

The moral of this story is that if you have any plumbing problems, get them fixed right away. Leaky pipes, running toilets, outdoor spigot problems. Whatever. Especially in the winter. Or you will pay for them over and over and over again.

In that communication with MSD this summer, they did give us good news. In the winter quarter ending February 2010, our water usage was fairly normal (around that 15 mark), so our monthly sewer bill from September 2010 until August 2011 will be in the $20-30 range. Right where it should be.

And we will be checking every toilet and sink this fall, and shutting off the outside water spigots just in case.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Picture Day


We took the kids for photos today. We typically do it around each kid's birthday, plus a whole family photo at Christmas.  And our kids like to ham it up for  the camera.


This morning was a little hectic. When I put together the original outfits that we were going to use, we realized that the hot pink in Charlotte's version clashed badly with the brick reds of Trystan's.

Plan B involved a quick hunt through the closet, which turned up some lovely but spring-y outfits for each, plus lots of summer shorts.  We took what we had, and grabbed some of our pool toys to go for a beach look, and were only a couple of minutes late.

Despite having two wiggly kids who tend to make goofy faces when they laugh, the results were cute. And the beach look worked.

Yes, these are professional photos, and no, I'm not violating any copyrights by posting them. I'd happily just buy the image CD, but these places are apparently subsidizing all of their fancy photo printing capabilities, because the CD alone costs twice as much as a CD plus more prints than will ever make it into an album.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Where did August go?

There's nothing like waking up on September 1st to realize that your August to-do list is almost as long as it was a month ago.

Sure, Charlotte is in school, and we are slowly getting back into the school routine. Soccer practices have started, and today is her first piano/keyboarding class of the year. We've had homework most nights. And its my husband and I who have failed most often to sign off on her assignment sheet. Charlotte seems to do great with her work so far. I don't think she believed me that she might have an actual test of her spelling words for this week, but she could spell them all this morning, so she's prepared for the worst:)

Trystan isn't quite as lost in the shuffle as he seemed to be last year. He changed rooms at daycare this past month too, from the 2-year old room to the 3-year old room. That was supposed to signal that he was potty trained, but it's been hit and miss. He will have a perfectly accident free week followed by a week of daily bags-of-stinky-wet-clothes to bring home. Luckily, daycare is (mostly) forgiving since they know his medical history (though lately I suspect his potty issues are 80% stubborn-three-year-old-boy and at most 20% medical).

I did get him signed up for a gymnastics class, and he really, really enjoys it. He liked his "Little Bitty Dance" class this summer too, but the tumbling offers a bit more chance to burn off excess energy (running, jumping, and climbing are encouraged in this one...). I'm still feeling massive mom-guilt that he has had fewer opportunities for extra activites than Charlotte had by his age. I'm a second child myself, which compounds the guilt when I have to skip doing something extra for him in order to accommodate her.

Adding to my mom-guilt-and-to-do-list-anxiety is that Trystan is in desperate need of new clothes because (for once) I haven't taken the time to shop. And yet he continues to grow. And because the big discount stores don't seem to carry boys clothes in the 2T/3T/4T range (seriously, the two places nearest me have infant stuff and kid stuff, and toddler girl dresses, but toddler boys are expected to go naked?), and I haven't had the time to branch outside of my quick grocery/toiletry/school-supply runs to other types of stores.

The house is a mess, inside and out. Our garden is both overgrown and dying back at the same time. I had to compost half a dozen cucumbers the other day because they went fuzzy waiting for me to actually use the new batch of pickle jars I'd finally gotten around to purchasing (not that we don't already have half a dozen jars of pickles in the pantry already).

Tuesday night, our air conditioner went out. I'd been worrying about it all summer. Its ten years old, just like the house, and just hasn't had quite the same perk this summer. (I can totally sympathize) My husband thinks the problem is actually the fan, not the compressor, but we'll find out. Hopefully today.**  And I'm hoping that the house a/c doesn't talk to my car very often, because I've had the same suspicion about it this summer too. The car is only 7 years old, not 10, but we're approaching the point of imminent-death or immortality. In my experience, cars hit a certain point and either fall apart all at once, or they just keep puttering along until they're embarrassingly, laughably old. I've got my fingers crossed for the auto-immortality option, especially with the HVAC repairs that we didn't anticipate.

So, welcome September. Here's hoping that I finish my August list before Halloween, that I manage costumes sometime before Christmas, and that I'm not stuffing candy canes into the Easter Baskets.

**In the day between writing this and remembering to hit the "Publish" button, my husband arranged for the air conditioner to be fixed. The compressor was fine, but a capacitor for the fan was dead.  Its been replaced so the house fan now blows again (in a good way), and while he was  researching it, he found an idea for a slightly greener variable speed (I think) fan that we might install. Overall, it was a couple hundred dollars to repair, which is far better than the several-thousands that I was initially fearing. And that replacement fan motor, should we do that, is not terribly expensive and might qualify for a tax break.  I like that :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where do you read?

I frequently hear from writing friends that they don't have much time to read. Actually, I hear that from non-writer friends, too. I am totally mystified by the comment. Who doesn't have time to read?

There is a cute post at Tor.com called Gulp or sip: How do you read? The blogger and I have much in common when it comes to reading.

I read all the time, every day. I used to get in trouble in school for whipping out a book and reading during class. When I started reading romances in high school—the kind with Fabio and an unlaced corset on the front—I bought a cloth book cover so that teachers couldn't object (as much) to what I chose to read.

Like the blogger, I read when I eat by myself. I read before bed. I read on airplanes. I love flying by myself because I have hours where I can do little else besides read.

When I was nursing both of my kids, and pumping on breaks at work, I would read. I had to set myself a timer to make sure I didn't get too engrossed in a book and stay in the mother's room for an hour at a stretch.

I read old classics through DailyLit.com (free! Delivered in small chunks via RSS feed to Google Reader! Alice in Wonderland is even wackier than I remember it!).

Lately, with the addition of my Sony reader and both the Borders and Kindle apps on my phone, I read everywhere. In between stirring the tomato sauce for dinner and draining the pasta. Just out of splash range while the kids are in the bathtub. During Dragon Tales, Max and Ruby, and WordWorld. In the lobby during the kids dance class. In the waiting room at the doctor's office.

I read in the car on long car rides. I read on short car rides. If I cared for audio books (I don't), I'd “read” while driving. I'm tempted to try them again, just to make a dent in my list of books to read.

With few exceptions, I read two or more childrens' books every night. Outloud. To my children, who always beg for one more.

Since starting writing the past few years, I haven't noticed any decline in how much I read. But I have changed what I read.

I read books on writing, books on grammar (a small section at a time), books in genres that I'm also writing, books that are completely different. I read my critique partners' chapters of books they haven't finished yet. I've beta-read whole books for them. I read blogs and more blogs (from editors, agents, writers, book reviews).

I also read more than one book at a time, and I don't always finish them. Right now, I probably have 5 books in progress. I can think of two books on writing, at least two fiction books I've started, and a couple of non-fiction ones in areas of research for potential future writing of my own.

I used to finish every work of fiction that I started, no matter what. I'm much pickier now. I also have an entire bookshelf (plus a still-unpacked duffel bag) full of books that I've bought or received (love free books from RWA conference!). So a book has to be great (or better than great), or else it can be replaced by one of a hundred more that I have queued up and ready to go.

What about you? Where do you read? Or do you need a long "gulp" for your reading time?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The best way to recover from a trip

The best way to recover from a trip is by turning around and going on another one. Right? Uh, sure.

Two weeks ago I went to the RWA National Convention (Romance Writers of America) in Orlando. Yes, I'm a writer. No, I'm not published. I'm working on that :) That, in fact, was the purpose of the convention. Though at times it felt like a vacation (no kids, no cooking, no laundry), the point was to attend workshops to improve my writing and to network with other writers, editors, and literary agents. The first photo is from the last night when the Golden Heart and Rita awards are presented. Its kind of like the Oscars for romance novels, only 99% of all of the awards attendees are female :) The first photo is my weekly critique group (minus Dawn, who had already headed back to her room). From the left are Shawntelle Madison, Jeannie Lin, myself, and Amanda Berry.


After a week back at the day job, and not quite catching up on dirty laundry, we drove to Indiana for my husband's family reunion. The second photo shows my kids (facing the camera behind the table), their cousins (backs to the camera), my sister-in-law (right side of the table) and mother-in-law (left side) working on crafts during the heat of the afternoon. There were lots more cousins and second cousins there that I didn't get photos of. Most of them blondies like my kids :)

We left the reunion close to dinner time and drove up to Indianapolis to visit my mom and two of my sisters. On Sunday, we all went to the Indiana State Fair. We took the fair train, run by the Indiana Museum of Transportation, which also happens to leave from about 5 minutes away from Mom's house. Trystan is a train fanatic and loved every minute of the ride. I got pictures of Charlotte and my sister Katie because they were in the seat across from mine, but not Trystan (who was in my lap or running down the aisle most of the trip).

The kids rode a bunch of rides, and it was Charlotte's first time on a Ferris wheel. We walked through some of the livestock barns. The kids especially liked the chickens and bunnies. For lunch, we had rib-eye steak sandwiches that were delicious. Except that the tent was right next to one of the doors to the cow barn, where the cows were being primped for show. As my husband phrased it, "There is no second place." We drove home Monday afternoon, exhausted, and still haven't tackled the mountain of laundry.


I have an unexpected day off today. Unexpected because we have a deadline at work next week, and I was mentally prepared for stress and overtime. But (fingers crossed!) we are running ahead of schedule, so I'm home.

And I plan to spend the day lazing by the pool eating chocolate, since the kids are at daycare.

Or, I could do laundry, buy groceries, clean the house, pick up supplies for tomorrow's girl scout day camp, and finish polishing one of my manuscripts (fancy word for those unpublished books) to send off to a requesting agent.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Back to $chool

The St. Louis Post Dispatch this morning reported that the average family will spend about $600 this fall buying school supplies. They didn’t say whether that was per child, or whether it assumed the average 2.4 or 1.9 or whatever children per family. Nor do they say whether it includes school clothes and sports equipment, or just the learning-related supplies.  But I believe it.
 
We only have one child to buy school supplies for, and she’s entering first grade. So there are no laptops or expensive reference books on her supply list. But that doesn’t mean our shopping list is much shorter than average.
 
Char goes to a private school, so uniforms are at the top of her list. And by “uniform” I don’t mean “generic white polo shirt and navy blue skirt that can be bought at Walmart”. I mean go to the one and only uniform provider to buy the one style of school-approved blouse, the one style of school-approved plaid jumper (which is different for first grade than the Kindergarten style), the one style of school-approved warm weather shorts, and the one style of school-approved under-the-jumper shorts.  Her shoes are likewise dictated by the school and available from exactly two retailers in the entire St. Louis metro area. And no, this stuff isn’t cheap. 
 
Purchased brand-new, it would cost around $120-150 to outfit her for a single day at school. Luckily, the school runs a used-uniform sale every summer, and she already has a collection of blouses, warm-weather shorts, and under-shorts from last year that still fit (many of which were bought at the used uniform sale last year).  Unluckily, Charlotte must be the smallest first-grader ever because there were no used jumpers in her size at the used uniform sale (she would be swimming in the lone size 7 that I found, let alone the 8’s and up on the rack).  So we still need to purchase one or two brand-new size 5 or 6 jumpers (at around $50 each).  Or I need to do some serious tailoring.  (In my free time LOL)
 
Besides every day uniforms, she needs an all-white dress for special feast days.  An all-white dress with sleeves, but NOT made of beaded satin like most of the First Communion-type dresses sold in department stores. In other words, the type of dress you can’t find anywhere. The uniform store has a limited selection of ghastly options that run around $125.  Hancock fabrics had some lovely white cotton eyelet for $5 a yard. So, about $30 for pattern, zipper, thread, fabric, lining fabric, plus several hours of my (free, LOL) time to cut and assemble. I feel for the families who don’t have the option of making their own dresses. And the boys who *must* buy a specific uniform-store-provided blazer and tie. (The boat we’ll be in once Trystan hits Kindergarten in a few years).
 
Lets not forget gym shoes (to leave at school), tennis shoes for warm-weather days (mostly white, no princesses or fairies or glittery pink-and-silver), tights (which last year lasted an average of 5-7 wearings each, tops), and plain red sweats for gym (not hot pink, no glittery emblems, in other words impossible to find in the girls department, and in dangerously low supply in the boys department of any given store). And soccer cleats. I’m not counting her soccer uniform (since it was paid for last spring with her registration fee), and she already has two pairs of shin guards from last year.  We won’t discuss costs for other extra curriculars (potentially dance or gymnastics, to be decided once we see the final soccer schedule).
 
Did I mention actual school supplies yet? This is the one place where I actually feel thrifty. The school contracted with some small business to provide packs of pre-approved school supplies, at $40 for the first grade list. But when I looked at what was on the list, I realized I could do much better.  She didn’t need another ruler (we bought 1 last year and she somehow adopted a second). She already had one of two required school-emblem pencil cases (the second was $3.50). She had a couple of folders in the proscribed colors that were still in good shape from last year. I had several 1” white binders with insertable covers that I’d bought in a pack for myself for something else. The rest of the items (pencils, crayons, markers, pointed scissors, additional plastic folder with or without clips in specific colors) were all available in the same styles/sizes/quantities from chain stores for very little money.  I think I spent about $15, and that included extra sets of markers and colored pencils for home (at $1 for the Crayola washables, why wouldn’t I?).
 
Not counting the uniforms, we will spend way under that $600 mark. Counting uniforms and soccer shoes, we’re getting closer. On the upside, Char doesn’t need as much of wardrobe as other kids, since she only wears jeans and dresses and things on weekends, so we do save money there.
 
And I won’t even begin adding up the cost of the tuition.  As I’ve joked, we’re not just saving for college, we’re *practicing*.
 
 
 

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

I saw a funny quote today

Life is precious; treat it like a jewel.
 
Uh, don’t we use diamonds for drills and saws?  And don’t we chip bits off of jewels and grind them down into just the right shape? And then lock them away in a safe? Is that how I’m supposed to treat life?
 
Funny, I would think that “life” should be treated as though it’s alive. Alive, and in need of nourishment and sunshine, and a storm now and then to clean the dead leaves away and to strengthen us.
 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New toys

Have I whined about my cell phone in a while? I don’t think I’m allowed to do that any more.
 
Gone are the days of the phone-that-does-nothing-but-call.  Really, nothing. No camera. No Bluetooth headsets. No web browsing.  Not even a chintzy game.  It placed and received phone calls.  And performed its duties honorably for over 5 years. Yes, 5.  My cell phone is an antique.  Not quite a car phone, though (remember those?)
 
It kind of like my car:  I didn’t want to replace it until I had to.  My car’s 7 years old, now, btw. With last week’s cell phone purchase, I have now owned more cell phones than cars.  This one is phone #3 (I’m still driving car #2).
 
I actually didn’t have to replace my cell phone (*gasp*).  My husband had to replace his.  After spending an entire weekend “updating” itself (and running out of battery half-way through the update, then re-starting), it quit behaving at all like a proper little phone.  Some days it would not respond at all to any buttons (even the power button).  Some days it would buzz at him and then shut itself down. 
 
He needed a new phone, so I got one too.  After all, I’m the one who’s been drooling over friends’ web-browsing, calendar apps, texting, cameras, etc.  Hubby really just wanted a phone that made calls, but he refused the offer of my old-but-functional one, LOL.  Funny, but we had the same discussion when his old car needed help.  I wanted the big fancy kid-hauler, and he wanted something less soccer-mom-ish. But he declined the offer of my Accord, so he’s driving the new Highlander and I’m still in my car.  Hmmm…
 
We both got the new HTC Evo’s.  I’m going to have to buy a pink case for mine to help me tell them apart :). They were both activated last night, and I got Facebook and Twitter and my google account all hooked up and running.  I think he may have been downloading games or possibly an Android SDK.  Not really sure.
 
Ok, so I do get one last cell-phone whine.  There is no way to transfer the phone numbers from my old phone to the new one automatically.  Really, none.  No, the old phone doesn’t have a data cable of any sort, and No, the Sprint folks can’t do it for me either, even for a fee. So I have an hour or so of manual text entry to do so I don’t lose people.  Guess that’s the end of that little rant, huh.
 
 
 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Twilight

I finally did it. I’d been avoiding it for a year (or more? I’ve lost track). I watched Twilight.

 

Lets’ just say that while I enjoy sci fi/urban fantasy/paranormal romance and also YA (hello, Harry Potter), that I have never gotten into vampires.  Sure, I saw Interview with a Vampire years ago, and it wasn’t bad.  But it never inspired any Bite-Me type fantasies (no matter how sexy the leading actors were…too bad they were bloodsucking dead people). A recent Harlequin Blaze (whose title escapes me) about cowboy vampires didn’t really help matters.  At some point all that scary-evil-biting-erotic(?) stuff just looks silly to me. Still, when so many people are so awe-struck by a book series or film, I figure I should at least see it once.  Know what the hype is about.

 

And maybe, had I read the book first, I might have enjoyed it more. Maybe. I usually get a better feeling for characters when I read them then when I watch them. I may have skimmed the first page or two in a bookstore. But it didn’t draw me in. 

 

After two and a half hours of ten angst and blue-washed shady scenery, I still don’t get it.  The end wasn’t bad.  From about the point that James(?), the evil hunter vampire, showed up on the scene the pace really picked up.  But that was what, 45 minutes, tops?  And I’m still shocked that Bella’s parents didn’t suspect Edward of physically abusing her and try to separate the two (or at least send her to counseling).  Come on, falling down stairs? How does that account for teethmarks on her wrist? I’m still shaking my head over that.

 

So, I saw the movie.  And am still not tempted to pick up the books. Never say never, of course. But I won’t be eating my words any time soon.

 

 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Our Garden in June



Our garden is growing beautifully, so far, and I think it looks very pretty. So I took pictures and made a quick and amateurish video slideshow of them. And you're the lucky audience. (Well, you and my future self, since I write this stuff for my own amusement). BTW, this is my first attempt at throwing pictures into a movie for the web, so please forgive the rough edges.

So far, most things are growing great. One tomato plant and one cucumber are attempting to take over the rest, and the watermelon plant at the other end has crept into the rock bed. By count, we have more pepper plants than anything else (combination of jalapeno, banana, and bell peppers), but they're slow to take off. I wonder if its not quite sunny enough for them, or if they're just later growers.

The rain barrel is working pretty well so far, but it has really low water pressure (just gravity). I recently removed the fancy irrigation system made from a kit and replaced it with a really long soaker hose looped around all the plants. The word "fancy" was a bit sarcastic. The kit was a nice idea, but it had some issues (like leaky connections that may have been the fault of the, ahem, installer). The soaker hose seems to be working, even with the low flow from the barrel. Its on a timer set for an hour a day, which seems to be working for now.

And we've been enjoying mini-harvests of beans, green onions, and lettuce (in the flower pots) for about two weeks now. Charlotte eats the peas right off the stalk. And this is the first year we've had ripe tomatoes before the 4th of July. Only a couple so far, and Charlotte has claimed most of those also.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Trystan's Black Muffins


7:32AM Sunday morning

Trystan: "I want muffins."
Me: "Muffins? What kind of muffins?"
Trystan: "Black muffins. I want to stir."

Trystan's Black Muffins

Ingredients
Dry:

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hersheys Special Dark Cocoa)
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Wet:
3/4 cup rolled oats*
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1 egg
1 Tbsp dry instant coffee**
1 tsp vanilla extract

*No, this isn't a typo. Read on :)
** This much coffee won't make the muffins taste like mocha, but it will make the chocolate flavor stand out more. You could omit this if you prefer.



Directions

  1. (Mommy's job) Preheat oven to 400.
  2. (Trystan's job) Line muffin pan with muffin cups. We made 24 mini-muffins, but a 12-cup pan should also work (Same temperature, longer bake time). FYI, Trystan chose the pink-hearted muffin cup liners over the plain white that I was reaching for.
  3. (Trystan's job) Combine all ingredients listed under "wet" above.
    • Small children love to stir. I keep small whisks on hand just for this purpose.
    • Yes, the wet ingredients list includes the oatmeal. We keep the old-fashioned oats on hand, and I've found that soaking them in wet ingredients before baking makes them less crunchy in the finished product.
    • And I add the instant coffee to the wet ingredients because my preferred brand is kind of clumpy and works better dissolved

  4. (Mommy's job) Combine all ingredients listed under "dry" above. I do the dry ingredients to keep flour from flying all over my kitchen.
  5. (Trystan's job) Add wet ingredients to dry, and stir "just until moistened". This batter mixed up almost as thick as cookie dough, and I had to take over the stirring to make sure it got combined without spilling. The thick batter was mostly due to the cocoa powder, but the resulting muffins were really moist because cocoa powder adds some fat along with the flavor.
  6. (Mommy's job) Spoon batter/dough into muffin cups. I filled 24 mini-cups to the top and had a tiny amount of batter left over. I could probably have done 36 mini-muffins that were all a bit shorter instead.
  7. (Trystan's job) Count muffins as batter is loaded into each one. If it had been Charlotte helping, she would have had to answer a variety of harder math problems at this stage ("If all 4 of us each eat the same number of muffins, how many would we each get?", etc)
  8. (Mommy's job) Bake 12-15 minutes (15-20 or so for normal-sized muffins). When you can smell them really strongly, they're probably done. Stick a toothpick in one to check.
  9. (Trystan's job) Press face to oven window to watch while they bake.
  10. (Mommy's job) Remove muffins from pan to a cooling rack. Mini muffins are cool enough to eat in less than 5 minutes.
  11. (Trystan's job) Eat!


Friday, June 25, 2010

Who are you again?

This whole "digital age" thing is great. Really. No, that smile's not fake at all. Its great. Hey, it pays our bills. It must be great.

I love having like six different email accounts, most of which cannot (or should not) be combined. Work, home, writing, the spam-catcher. The other spam catcher. The super-secret spam catcher. I can't get to the home email from work, and can't get to the work email from home. And the Yahoo email (the one I've had since the early 90's) is half spam catcher and only half works from either Work or my Netbook (small screen resolution vs big ads). Facebook is a twice-a-month activity for me. Hubby hasn't bothered yet.

And calendars. The paper one on the fridge. The paper one in my purse. Outlook on my laptop. Outlook on hubby's desktop. Outlook in our individual work accounts. Calendar apps on Hubby's iPod touch. Google calendar. And the best part is that there is no single calendar or calendar app that my husband and I can share at the moment that can actually go everywhere with us. I cannot take a PDA to my desk at work (or a cell phone, or any other electronic device), and internet access there is spotty, controlled, and monitored (hello Big Brother).

I can (usually) connect to Google, but since I don't have any sort of smartphone or PDA, I can't see it at home. I can get online at home, but computers are to small children what bug lights are to mosquitoes. That Windows startup chime will draw a 3-year old to my lap faster than the word ice cream. Check email? Check Facebook? Read or type a single sentence? Not without two more hands (2 for the keyboard, 2 for the child).

And then there are those old-fashioned ring-y things called phones. I have one at work. It has a curly cord and no caller id, and is attached to my desk. If you call it while I'm sitting at my desk, we can talk. If you call it and I'm not at my desk, you must leave voicemail (there is a little light that sometimes blinks to tell me about a message...or at least it used to). My cell phone is turned off during the workday, and buried in my purse while I'm at home (not intentionally). The home phones work great. We even have an answering machine. And caller ID. Few people ever leave us messages though (most of the calls are from charities asking for money).

Texting? Yeah, I've heard of it. My phone kind of does it, though I pay PER TEXT sent or received. My husband's phone does not text.

Funny, even though there are like 1000 ways to talk to people, I still have as little time as ever to actually do any of it. Divide 5 free minutes a day by 50 different devices/accounts to check, and its no wonder I miss stuff.

Digital age? Lovely. Wonderful. Joyful. Its bringing the human race closer together. Or so I have read in the newspaper.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Deep Thoughts Thursday

I don’t usually comment on news unless I have something smart-a$$’ed to say. Today I do.  The post office has been talking for a while about cutting Saturday mail delivery to save money, and there have been hearings in Congress about it.

 

Here’s my thought (that no one important will bother listening to): Why Saturday? Why not cut Wednesday?

 

Does anything good come in the mail on a Wednesday? I bet people will complain less if they have only a one-day break at a time in mail delivery, instead of a long weekend. Some of us may not even notice the missing mail in the middle of the week (don’t know about you, but by Wednesday I’m already tired and looking forward to Friday).

 

Ok, I feel all civic minded now. And tomorrow, back to my reguluarly-(un)-scheduled ramblings on completely unrelated and uniteresting topics. Possibly about paint colors. I actually have a post in mind about paint colors, and where best to use them.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

All Wet

The very blonde theme of my weekend so far seems to involve submerging things in water. Things that have no business being submerged.

Friday, I wore a pedometer into the pool. There's a wellness challenge at work at the moment where you count steps with a pedometer all day (plus time spent doing other exercise), and might win a prize at the end. I've been remembering my pedometer everywhere I go, including clipping it to the skirt I wore taking the kids to the pool on Friday. Strike that, I clipped the thing to my swimsuit, not to the skirt. So when the cover-up came off, the pedometer stayed on, and spent its share of time chasing two kids around the pool. And not just the baby pool--Trystan dog paddles nicely with a swim vest on.

The good news: The pedometer was very cheap, already a few years old, and I have another free one to use for the wellness challenge.

The better news: The pedometer might recover.

Saturday night, I took my wedding and engagement ring off while I was putting away meat from a grocery store trip. I put them in my pocket, like I always do. An hour or so later I had changed into pajamas and started a load of laundry. A load that contained the skirt with the pocket with the rings. And brilliant me, I even heard the clanking in the washer and didn't think a thing about it. Until this morning when I went looking for the rings, and found yesterday's clothes in a basket of clean and dry clothes.

The good news: the engagement ring at least has turned up. I found it in the dryer with the sheets from the following load, still hot to the touch. The diamond is loose in its setting, but I'd bent two of the prongs already, so now I really really have to get it fixed (and maybe sized...the silly thing now slips off my finger).

The iffy news: It is entirely possible that my wedding ring is still in the washer (currently running a load of very wet, soapy towels). We have a front-loader and it is unlikely the ring could have escaped--the drain holes are too small. But it is still AWOL.

And I'm wearing my high school class ring because otherwise my finger feels empty. Funny, with how large my wedding and engagement rings were feeling lately, I'd considered buying a cubic zirconia temporary one until we could decide how/if/when to re-size (and possibly re-set) the other two. But I haven't, and I only own two other rings (the one on my finger, and my college class ring that is also too big).

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dead tree reading

The tree-hugger in me would love to read all my news online. The reader in me loves the fact that the stories and ads in those oversize sheets of inky newsprint don't move.

Obviously, after my last post about the new Sony, I have been thinking about e-readers and online content a lot lately. I already read a lot online. I use Google Reader to read blog posts, and am a member of a handful of Yahoo groups that I look at occasionally. I have an iGoogle page and a yahoo home page (and I forget which pops up first lately) that both attempt to "customize" news for me. And I do check stlToday.com (the online version of the St. Louis Post Dispatch print paper).

But I vastly prefer the bundle of paper and glossy print ads that are delivered to our house on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays (and sometimes other random days of the week). The articles don't move. Nothing pops up on top of the article I'm looking at. I don't have to watch a commercial before playing Sudoku.

The Borders/Sony store has been advertising a Wall Street Journal subscription delivered automatically to your reader (targeted towards Sony's larger "daily" edition). I wonder if that type of format might be more my speed. Except I don't read the Wall Street Journal. The Post-Dispatch has an electronic edition that looks like the , but according to their FAQ, it doesn't include the advertising inserts (which, truthfully, is about 1/3 of the reason I like reading the paper). Still, its a thought.

What do you think? Do you like reading news online? Do you hate it? Do you read a newspaper at all?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

eReader

Back in 2007, I wrote a post on this blog about the brand new Amazon Kindle on sale for around $400. I wasn’t impressed. Actually, that wasn’t quite it. Through my rather sarcastic humor, I was trying to show that I am not an early adopter of new technologies, and that I thought that e-readers and e-books have a bit more evolving to do.

Times change, some. I am still underwhelmed by the Kindle. Not so much the idea of e-readers, but the device itself reminds me of the stereo in my husband’s last car: it has too many buttons. But the more I get into writing, and studying up on the business of publishing, the more I like electronic publishing. And the more writers I have met, the more I like the variety of work that is electronically published.

No, I’m not published yet. Still working on that. But considering some of the subgenres of romance I am writing (in my "spare" time, in case this hobby of mine is news to you), I am absolutely open to being electronically published.

But back to the e-readers. One of my major hangups about e-readers is the cost. I have a laptop and a netbook. Why would I want to shell out another $300-400 (or more) for another device. Why can’t I just read on my existing computers? Well, I can. But I don’t. It kills my eyes. I spend too much time in front of a computer screen already. More and more, an ereader with an eInk screen, the kind with low refresh rates and low light output, have started to seem like a better idea.

Ok,the issue isn't just my eyes. Its also my bookshelves. We have an entire wall of our bedroom lined in tall book shelves. And if I'm not careful, I will soon begin overflowing them. Not counting the books in the office, cookbooks in the kitchen, or the kids collections, which are overflowing shelves in their rooms.

What did you say? Get rid of books? Blasphemer.

Prices on e-readers are coming down and I finally bought a Sony touch. So far, I love it. Its does not have built-in WiFi/3G networking so it can't just automatically download books, but I don't miss that feature (too easy to overbuy, and I have lots of e-book resources to choose from without it). And it has a stylus and some ability to highlight and take notes on screen.

I still think that e-books and reader technologies have a long way to go. There are too many formats, and the options can be really confusing (can you say Beta vs VHS?). And some formats look nicer on small screens than others. But this works. It travels nicely, and I'm taking advantage of free reads, digital-first books that aren't in print, and a few books that I know I'll only read once.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Stuff for summer

I don’t normally review actual products on this blog. This is not a money-making venture.  I have no ads, have never accepted any free anythings in return for a review or any advertising.  Not that I have the sort of readership to support something like that.  Hah. Readership. I think I tripled my exposure by pushing the blog posts through to Facebook (Hi random Facebook friends, including high school classmates I haven’t seen in 15 years…welcome to my rambling!)
 
I’m not changing my normal habits today. But I am mentioning stuff. Stuff I like. Stuff I bought myself and feel like talking about.
 
Fancy Walking Shoes. I’m talking about the round-bottomed walking shoes that are supposed to be extra toning/shaping/etc while you walk. There are a bunch of brands of these being advertised everywhere.  Sketchers is especially prolific (or maybe I’m just their target market because I see their shoe ads everywhere). I don’t have Sketchers (sorry folks, love the looks of your shoes, not paying $120 for a pair).  I did buy a pair of Aspire-brand walking/fitness shoes at Sports Authority last month for less than half the price of the Sketchers.  And I get stopped by strangers on the street every time I wear them out. (Well, twice. But its kind of weird to be approached by strangers in the mall asking where I got my shoes.)
 
Yes, I like my rolling/toning/whatever shoes. And yes they do feel different when I walk. They remind me of high school marching band, the way they force your toes up and to roll your feet as you walk. In fact, I think the band may have worn shoes with rounded soles for the purpose of getting everyone’s toes up and feet rolling.  Am I toner or more in shape with the fancy new (and pink and silver) shoes?  Meh.  But they work different muscles in your calves and your lower abs.  And if you do a lot of walking, they might be worthwhile just to mix up which muscles you’re working out.
 
Clinical Strength Antiperspirant.  All the deodorant brands seem to be selling this lately. These are a fairly liquid (either roll on or similar) that you put on once a day and they claim to work for 24 hours. I was afraid to try it for a while (certain brands of “extra-strength” stuff makes me break out in hives). I finally got brave and tried it.  Wow, this stuff works.  And no hives. You can literally put it on before bed and not sweat for a day, which is really nice when you’re wearing tank tops and sleeveless dresses.  When I say it works, I mean that I can go to the gym, do an hour-long workout, and leave with my hair dripping wet and the back of my shirt soaked, and completely dry underarms.
 
Pizza Crust Yeast.  (Hey, I never promised a coherent theme to this list…).  Pizza Crust Yeast is different somehow than regular bread yeast. I’m not sure how exactly, but it promises that you can make and bake a from-scratch pizza in 30 minutes, without all of the rise and rest time of a typical pizza dough.  It is not supposed to be good for actual bread baking. Since my regular pizza dough takes either 1-2 hours of hot rise and rest time, or 24 hours of slow-rising in the fridge, I figured it was worth the $1.50 to try.

It seemed to work.  I sort of followed the recipe on the yeast package, but changed it to a honey wheat crust (swapped three-quarters of a cup of flour for wheat flour, and used honey instead of the sugar).  I made the pizzas thin crusts, and their flavor and texture were just fine.  There is a warning about not using it for bread baking, but I may try it for last-minute yeast cinnamon rolls some morning (if it works, that would be a very diet-unfriendly recipe to have in the repertoire).  If I do, Ill report back how it worked.
 
 

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Welcome Summer

Whoever decided that summer means lazy days of swimming and sipping lemonade and napping in a hammock should be shot.  Or maybe tied to that hammock and left to sizzle and burn in the hot summer sun. It is nothing short of cruel to bombard us with media images promising rest and warm, sun-heated happiness.  If Memorial Day weekend is any indication, then summer 2010 will be just as hustled, hurried, and harassed as the worst holiday season.
 
Friday was Charlotte’s last day of Kindergarten, so after working four hours, I left by eleven AM to run errands before picking her up at noon.  We celebrated the end of her last day of school by going out to lunch at the same restaurant we went to on her first day of school. Then it was home to unload a backpack full of school supplies, fill in a few pages in a school-years scrapbook (starting with the “Preschool” ones that were still blank….), do some housework, and pick up her brother from daycare.  If we did anything else Friday evening, I have apparently blocked it out or subsequently lost those brain cells somewhere in the mad dash that ensued beginning Saturday.
 
Saturday involved early morning gardening, midday housekeeping, an afternoon trip to Lowes for more gardening supplies, and an evening party at a friend’s house.  It felt like summer.  Mid-July in fact.  According to the car, the parking lot at Lowes was over 100 degrees.  And I felt every single one of them as I loaded up a trunk full of bagged mulch, then had to unload and reload it all when I found the trunk mat was blocking the door latch. My husband (who’d stayed home with napping kids) was kind enough to unload it all and haul it all down the hill to the backyard.  Where it still is.
 
Sunday was spent over the river (and probably through the woods, though you can’t see many trees from the highway) with my husband’s family for church, lunch, playtime, naptime, and a movie (Shrek! Even the three 3-year olds loved it!).  Amazingly, my kids didn’t fall asleep in the car on the ride home.  And therefore didn’t go to bed until almost 10pm.
 
Nor did our youngest sleep in Monday morning.  6:30AM. This kid’s internal alarm clock is more reliable than some electric models.  But maybe it was for the best, because we apparently had an entire Memorial Day weekend worth of activities ready to fit into the one remaining day.  More gardening work for me, mowing the lawn for my husband, grocery shopping, laundry, playtime outside, playtime inside, laundry, swimming at the neighborhood pool (cut short by lightning and thunder), Rock Band on the Wii (with the 3-yo on the drums and the 5-yo singing), more laundry while my husband grilled chicken and I made an apple-blackberry crisp for dessert (and banana bread for today, since the kitchen was already preheated).  The quick storm earlier cooled it off enough for us to eat dinner outside. After dessert and books (Charlotte read one to me), I was ready to be tucked in for the night. 
 
 
 

Monday, May 03, 2010

Those Garden Photos


I'm sure I have more interesting things to talk about than my yard, but I seem to be misplacing quite a few things, including my brain. So rather than attempt to write something more clever, I'm posting pictures of my garden.

These are the "after" shots, which are really the "during" because there are quite a few things not quite finished. But you can see the rectangular raised garden bed that runs along one side of the patio, with newly planted vegetables (and seeds, and space for a few more things that aren't out yet).

At the corner of the house is the stone thing (pillar?) that my husband built to hold the rain barrel. The barrel itself is styled like an old-world terra cotta pot, but its plastic. We still don't have the downspout actually sending any water into the rain barrel, but I did get a basic irrigation system assembled this weekend (not in the photo, and also not actually attached to the rain barrel for lack of proper connectors and timer). So, yeah, large brown hollow plastic pot on a stack of rocks. Moving right along.

Tucked behind it up against the side of the house is our oh-so-pretty half-broken compost bin, which is starting the season off already half-full of old plant parts. I added grass clippings today (with the snow shovel, no joke), and I think the sedums (or never-dies as my MIL calls them) are actually growing inside the compost bin. Seriously, the dumb things are still green and perky. The never-dies are the plants at the corner of the patio, and are exceedingly hard to kill (even with 100 degree heat and no water) and very very fertile. They also have pretty flowers come late summer that attract butterflies and bees (pollinators!) by the dozens. If you want one, come on over and I'll pull a chunk back out of the compost bin...

And the astute observer may notice a slight variation in the edging to our new rock bed area. We had bricks around the edges of Patio Garden 1.0 which have been reused in Patio Garden 2.0, except there weren't quite enough, and they are no longer being sold. We bought a second type of brick edgers to fill in the gap, but didn't measure quite thoroughly, so we need a few more. And we need to finish setting the rest of what we have. But you should get the idea.

And on the theme of our plastic-and-concrete backyard, I have to point out that our raised garden bed walls are plastic, the stepping stones at the bottom of the deck stairs are made from recycled plastic garbage bags, our rain barrel is plastic, and our deck is Trex and white vinyl. And, yes, we used chunks of construction-debris concrete dug out of the yard as decorative stones in between the never-dies. All the man-made (and potentially carcinogenic if media is to be believed) materials make an amusing contrast to the organic soil, water conservation, and composting. Amusing to me, anyway :)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Our Garden

I have wanted to post pictures of my garden for the past week because I feel like showing off the little outdoor renovation that our whole family (yes, even the 3-year old) worked hard at the past few weekends.  But somehow getting the right camera to the right computer with some time on my hands hasn’t really happened yet.
 
You’ll just have to take my words for it. These words.
 
We used to have a perennial bed that ran along one side of our concrete patio.  I installed the bed myself almost ten years ago and was pretty pleased with it for about five years.  It was edged with concrete bricks, topped with pretty river rock around an assortment of hardy plants (including one my mother-in-law calls “never-dies” because they don’t).  It was great. But the best landscape fabric in the world doesn’t stop dirt and fallen plant material from composting into new soil around the rocks, and the past few years the thing has been a sea of weeds (mainly grass, which I consider a weed).  And somewhere around the 2004, coincidentally, the same year that Charlotte was born, I ran out of time to garden.
 
With the help of the kids, we painstakingly removed all of the rocks from the garden bed and piled most of them in our wheelbarrow.  They didn’t all fit.  The rest got dumped on the patio and a couple of empty flower pots.  There were a LOT of rocks.  We removed the edgers, and dug out the plants, tossed the remains of the landscape fabric, and found more rocks.  Those suckers were everywhere.  They’d worked their way under the fabric, around the fabric, into the grass, deep into the dirt.  We spent a week panning for stones in soil. 
 
Three-year olds are quite good at digging in dirt for rocks, by the way.  The trouble is convincing them not to throw the rocks, or to put them in the sandbox, or right back into the dirt.  Luckily three-year olds are also washable.
 
In place of the old perennial bed, we added a raised garden from a pair of kits.  The sides are plastic and snapped together to make a single 4 x 12 rectangle, to which we added bagged garden soil.  Around 14 cubic feet.  Bags of dirt are very heavy, by the way.
 
The rocks and smaller pieces of those perennials were relocated to another side of the patio, between the corner of the new veggie bed and the base of the steps to the deck.  This is where I need a photo.  The rocks plus a couple of stepping stones we already had make for a little path that connects the stairs, the patio, and the grass beyond.  And those never-dies are great at attracting bees and butterflies in the summer (pollinators!).
 
In yesterday’s mist and gloom, Charlotte and I planted the veggie bed.  Some were from Home Depot, some sown as seeds, and some brought from school where Char’s class is also talking about gardens.  We planted strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, snow peas, green onions, jalapenos, banana peppers, and watermelons.  And what Char believes are two marigolds.  I have enough space left for a few more plants, and a pile of bell pepper seeds still in the kitchen.  I’m hoping that dreary weather will be good for the transplants, with no bright sunlight to burn the leaves, plus free watering.
 
As part of this, we also relocated our compost bin to a spot on the corner of the house right near the veggie patch.  It was out of commission last year after losing its real estate to a swing set, and needed a little duct tape to keep the sides steady.  But really, its just a glorified trash can, so it doesn’t have to look pretty.  We also bought a rain barrel this spring, and my husband built a short stone platform for it to raise it up off the ground to allow gravity to help the water flow out of it.
 
We have a few to-do’s left.  I have an irrigation kit to install (it’s been in the garage for a couple of years now because it was too linear to fit any of our previous spaces well). It will be connected to the rain barrel with a timer.  And we need to fix up the downspout to fill the rain barrel correctly.  I think a pair of tin snips are in order. 
 
Overall, I’m really happy with the space.  It looks fresher than it has in a long time, and the garden space is huge compared to the spots I’ve tried in the past.  Now, though, the concrete of our patio looks stained and cracked and generally ugly.  We also have plans to buy an outdoor storage box/mini shed to hide under the deck for storage, and I would like some new patio chairs to replace white plastic one that are now permanently gray.  One step at a time.
 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Homework

Last night, Charlotte was very upset about her homework. Not upset that she had to do it, but upset that she could not. She’s my daughter, no doubt.
 
Char is only in Kindergarten, but she has ten to fifteen minutes of homework every weeknight. Usually this is a worksheet or a book to read. Actually, anything math or number related becomes a two- to five-minute assignment, depending on how much of the sheet needs to colored after the questions are answered.  The kid likes numbers.
 
Last night’s sheet was supposed to be a math sheet that involved counting out groups of ten bees and drawing hives around them. Char could describe in detail the directions, but the paper was neither in her homework folder nor in her backpack. The kid actually teared up when I told her that.
 
Now, she’s a bit of a drama queen, but she was honestly disappointed about the missing homework. I can relate. I was enough of a nerd to enjoy most of my schoolwork, all the way through college even. Sure, I got annoyed by the assignments I thought were busy work—the ones with unnecessary repetition or quantity of work that didn’t actually teach or challenge anything new. But I enjoyed work that challenged me.
 
It’s a lot of fun to watch my daughter learning new concepts and being excited about them. Her eyes light up as she works out a subtraction problem or a counting problem. And homework at her age frequently involves crayons, scissors and glue along with the reading and problem solving. The curriculum does a good job of keeping the kids learning and having fun at the same time.
 
I hope that she will continue to be as excited by school and have fun with her homework. But I don’t for one moment believe that she will always cry when she finds out that she has an unexpected break from the homework. And when she’s about twelve and whining about how much she has to do, I’m totally reminding her of this incident.