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


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 :)