Friday, December 23, 2011

My Christmas Shopping Wish List

I do a lot of shopping online and have for years. And it has spoiled me for the regular kind. Sort-of.

There is a lot of talk lately about buying local. Everyone wants us to shop the mom-and-pop stores. I'd love to. Really I would. I wish more of them would put their inventory online. I know, I know, that's expensive to implement and time-consuming to manage. But when I have money to spend but no time, I don't have time to browse through six shops of unknown goods. They might well have better options, better prices, and/or better customer service. I just don't have time to find out.

I'm not talking about just the convenience factor. Sure, it is a lot easier to sit in bed with a laptop at 11:30PM and browse toys than it is to find a babysitter so I can wander the aisles at Toys R Us without the kids in tow. And it is wonderful to spend five minutes on my phone ordering something while I'm watching the kids' soccer practice, and have it arrive on my doorstep two days later, without me setting foot in a retail store.

Don't get me wrong, I love brick-and-mortar stores. I love the sensory experiences and the way you can walk down an aisle and find things that weren't on your list. The sights, the smells. The tactile experience of feeling a fabric or hefting a box. There is a sense of quality and scale that is hard to convey through online shopping.

Online storefronts have far too much whitespace and far too much text for true browsing. Come on, folks, just put 3-d, rotatable images of items and pack them on virtual "shelves" on the screen, without all the miscellaneous text and buttons and such taking up the whole screen! I'm sure that's coming...some day...
One way that web shopping really works for me now is in the shopping cart. I can load up thousands of dollars worth of items into a shopping cart as I browse around a site, and then whittle my way down to $20 with just a few clicks before I actually checkout. Brick and Mortar stores get a little annoyed if you dump three tons of unwanted merchandise on the cashiers to put back away. So these days I find myself walking loops around the big box stores, putting items in my cart on one pass, and putting them back away on the next (assuming I can remember where they came from).

And I love that an online shopping cart always tells me exactly how much money I'm on the hook for as I shop. No last-minute math errors at the checkout there (occasionally there are shipping cost surprises though!).

I love that I can easily shop half a dozen stores at once. Open a tab for each website, load up six carts full of merchandise at once, compare shipping dates and total price, and I'm in business. Now, with my trusty smartphone, I'm getting that experience more and more while in a physical store, too. I can scan a barcode at Target and see how much it costs at Walmart, Amazon, ToysRUs, and Big Al's Toy Barn.

I get very annoyed at in-store-only deals these days. On the flip side, I like being able to look up on-line whether something I want is in-stock before I go loop-de-looping all over a store to find out for myself.
I have stood at an empty shelf and ordered myself the out-of-stock item from the store's website. Stores really ought to enable this a bit more by adding QR codes on shelves and/or in paper ads. Who needs a raincheck when you have a mobile-friendly website? Just don't make me download your special "store app". Providing basic WiFi for those of us who lose the phone's data signal in the back of the store would be nice too. Or maybe just build a touch-screen, camera-enabled device into your shopping carts (Immediate access to your website! Smart shopping cart! Two wishes in one!)

And somebody, please, make the full-color Sunday Ads easily findable and viewable on a phone-sized screen. I shouldn't need to kill trees, but online viewing of the ads involves lots of zooming and scrolling and tons of wasted space around the edges of screens (plus actively seeking out the proper ads on a dozen or more websites). If a process is too time consuming, people won't bother doing it. Online Sunday Ads are still well into that time-consuming stage for me.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

In St. Louis, Bill McClellan is known for his opinion pieces that run in the Post Dispatch. He uses a dry sense of humor and a kind of every-man approach to tackle tough subjects. I enjoy his columns in part because he talks about issues that I just don't see elsewhere, and in part because I can never predict what the next one will be about. Today he isn't trying to save a criminal from unjust prosecution or to help a family struggling with unfair medical insurance decisions. Today, he told sick employees to go home. Work can survive without you.

Its a timely discussion given that my husband and I spend a great deal of energy negotiating sick kids and deadlines. We did so this week, even, as Trystan got his first ear infection of the cold season. (Plus a cough and some wheezing. Par for the course).

McClellan got many of the facts dead-on. That schools are a petri dish of infection (things are improving now that we are out of the daycare age). How parents have to decide whose work is more important ("My deadline is in three days and we are behind" "I have a conference call that will determine whether my contract is renewed").  But he missed one rather important fact: Sick days are a scarce commodity for parents.

I miss sick days. Days where I, myself, am allowed to stay in bed until the throbbing head subsides or the cough abates. I think its been two or three years since I last called in sick on my own behalf (whenever Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was in theaters, because I drugged myself up and sat in a mostly empty theater sipping soda before the Dr appointment that diagnosed a particularly nasty strep ear/throat infection...figured I could convalesce at the theater as well as at home in that case and I get few chances to go enjoy a movie).

With my work schedule, I get about 8 sick days and about 9-10 vacation days a year (there are strange little decimals involved there because it's a percentage of another number). I already negotiated a 4-day a week schedule to be able to handle the whopping 37 days off school that the kids get every year. With full time work, I would need a nanny (which I would have to work overtime to pay for), as between my husband and I we don't have enough days off to cover the kids. And that's just the healthy time off. 8 sick days doesn't go very far when you count tonsilectomies, 2-3 ear and/or throat infections, the odd flu and RSV, times two children.Oh yeah, plus the regular doctor appointments (pesky doctors don't like to work on Labor Day or Thanksgiving either).

Once parents have traded off sick-days-with-junior two to three times in one week (For the first child. And repeated it the following week for the second child.), there is little left in the bank to draw from when you come down with your own scratchy throat and chills. 

I would love to never infect my coworkers with the various and sundry viruses that my children so kindly cough into my face. And maybe someday, both Corporate America and Education will agree on a standard set of "days off" for both parents and children thereby making "working mom" not feel so much like a circus juggling act. Maybe I should just plan on winning the lottery instead. To help pay for all the hand sanitizer that I need to disinfect my cube so that I don't make anyone sick.

Anyway, I enjoyed McClellan's column. I just felt compelled to add my own commentary to his commentary. And to remind everyone to be kind to the parent who's hacking up a lung in the next cube over. Chances are, she doesn't want to be spewing disease around the place any more than you do.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving Vacation - The Short Version

Marshmallows are not cat treats
Christmas Tree

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Break - The Long Version

Thanksgiving is over, and once again I feel like I need a vacation to recover from my vacation. The kids had the entire week off school, and while I'd love to say that we had a fabulous time together, in reality I was grumpy.

I got no writing done. I failed to get much of the housecleaning done that I wanted (there are still cardboard boxes in annoying parts of the house). I didn't get Charlotte's ripped school bag sewn back together. I felt like I yelled at the kids more than played with them (to be fair, they are loud loud loud and don't seem to follow directions. And they whine. A lot).

Mother of the year, I am not.

We did a few fun things. Last Monday we found our local library and signed up for cards (it's a different county than where we lived before). That branch is pretty big, and had several computers and a train table (as well as books), so the three of us spent a happy two hours relaxing and came home with a dozen books (and two movies). That afternoon, we had the local YMCA pool nearly to ourselves during open swim time. Most of the local schools were in session, and I suppose swimming isn't top of the Thanksgiving week activity list for most people.

Tuesday we mostly shopped for our Thanksgiving dinner. Unlike my friend Bethany, who made hers from locally-sourced and home-grown ingredients, ours was pretty commercial. We did buy a hormone-free, fresh turkey from a local small grocery store (the turkey itself was probably not local). The rest came from Target.
The kitchen in our new house has double ovens. I love having two full-sized ovens. Yes, I'm showing off, but I really love love having two full-sized ovens. My husband dressed the turkey and had it roasting at the same time the kids and I were making pies. After the pies were done, we made green bean and sweet potato casseroles. Most years I have to practically make a spreadsheet to schedule oven time to make sure everything gets done. This year, no problems.

We saw The Muppets this weekend. I think I was more excited about it than the kids were. Fabulous movie, btw, especially if you grew up on the Muppet Show, The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets Take Manhatten, etc.

Let's see, what else...Trystan had a soccer game on Black Friday. I did some after-Thanksgiving shopping, but mainly online (I do not care to fight a crowd or stay up late..there will be more deals coming..there always are).

We picked up more drapery rods and one of the sets hung. Slowly we are whittling down the list of naked windows in our house. I have bought very few actual drapes, just hardware. I had a rather substantial stash of non-neutral fabric panels from the old house that work rather well in the new one (though I might need to buy more sheers to finish out the last few windows--those were neutral enough to leave in the old place).

We started decorating for the holidays. I am disappointed to say that I couldn't find a 9-12 foot pre-lit tree that was sufficiently discounted (we have high ceilings in our living room, and I was hoping for something really tall). Regardless of height, the cats love the Christmas tree. It is 1) a tree to climb 2) covered in toys (all with tails), and 3) has a soft velvet tree skirt to nap on. As long as they don't 1) knock it over 2) chew through the lights or 3) break any irreplaceable ornaments, we will all have a happy holiday season.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Are you done moving yet?

I think that when we look back on 2011 from a safe distance of, say, fifteen years, that my husband and I will believe we made the right choice. I think that we will pat ourselves on the back for buying at the low point of the market, thereby gaining our family a much nicer home than we would have achieved otherwise. I hope.
So, we have owned the new house for three and a half months, and occupied it for two and a half. Surely we're done moving. Right?

The old house still holds one thing of value to us: a really long stepladder that is a pain to transport (and I have no idea why the movers didn't put it on their really long trucks to transport...). There is a pile of junk that I need to give to some charity (junk meaning outgrown clothes, coats, extra dishes and knick knacks that we haven't had a place for in years and didn't feel like lugging along to the new basement). Obviously, the old house is still on the market. (And the price is going down folks...did I mention how this was a good time to buy? Like, you're getting a ton of house for the money...).

The new house is slightly organized. There are a few rooms that don't have cardboard boxes in them anymore. There are a few rooms that do have curtains on the windows (namely the bedrooms and master bath). I don't think we have hung anything on a wall yet (except those few curtain rods). We haven't done any landscaping yet. Our patio furniture lives temporarily in our garage, awaiting a patio to call its own. But as of this past Saturday, we can finally park two cars in our new three-car garage. We haven't yet convinced our in-car automatic garage door openers to talk to the new garage doors. We have installed cat-doors to allow the fur dudes access to the basement litter boxes.

It's a work in progress.

So, we are getting to the part of the year where people don't like to buy houses (I guess they don't fit under the tree very well), so our old house may get offered for rent if it doesn't find a buyer soon. I'd rather sell than mess with a renter, but I'd rather rent than continue paying for a vacant house. We have holiday time coming up and don't (so far) have any major travel planned, so there is hope that we can get a few more things out of boxes and hung onto walls and generally spruced up.

I am still clinging to hope that in a few years we will fondly look back on our move and be so glad we put ourselves through the trouble. The thought keeps us going through payments and raised-then-dashed-hopes of buyer interest, through phone calls to old neighbors to help with trash cans and lawn companies to mow before open houses, through the hauling of boxes up and down stairs and the filling of trashcans with stuff we probably shouldn't have packed in the first place.

It will be worth it. It will be worth it. It will be worth it. (I hope).

Friday, September 23, 2011

It never gets easier

You would think that, after all of the drama that we endured when Trystan was a baby, that something as mundane as Charlotte's outpatient tonsillectomy would be no big deal. It is a very common surgery, one that kids her age handle very well.

And yet, the moment she was out of my sight and in the care of the nurses and surgeon and anesthesiologist, I cried tears of helplessness and fear all over my husband’s shoulder. She would be fine. I had to trust that she would be fine. I said a silent prayer for her safety, and one for the doctor and nurses who would be taking care of her. But it didn’t make it any easier to have her behind a door where I couldn't hold her hand.

With Trystan's epic tome of medical considerations, I've always taken Charlotte's good health for granted. But she has gotten strep regularly a couple times a year since toddlerhood, and she snores like Darth Vadar with a faulty power supply. Her tonsils have been huge, resembling a pair of shelled walnuts closing off the back of her throat even when she wasn’t sick.

The referral to the pediatric otolaryngologist was a relief. "Have you seen these?" he asked me, looking down her throat. Oh yes, regularly for the past several years. He wasted no time deliberating whether or not she was a good candidate. He simply started reciting the risks and benefits of surgery like it was a done deal.

Wednesday’s surgery wasn't, in the grand scheme of things, a huge deal. Charlotte stayed home from school and hung out in her jammies. We watched a couple of movies. I had to remind her a couple of times that she couldn't have a snack until it was all over. We left around noon for the hospital. She was very, very brave the whole time.

The anesthesia was not kind to her. She woke up afterwards in a haze and confused, scared and clinging and not able to focus well. But as the last of the drugs wore down, she began dutifully swallowing white cherry and blue raspberry slushies. Before long, she was requesting food and enjoying jello and pudding and a bite of Suzy Q (which was probably contraband as it came from me and not from the nurses). We were home by 9pm.

She is sore, but in good spirits. She is hungry, but only eats a bite or two at a time. She is anxious to work on some of the homework her teacher sent, but maybe not the handwriting practice. She has a list of movies that she wants to re-watch. Her voice is different.

When I tiptoed into her room overnight to bring her pain meds, she was sleeping peacefully. Quietly. So quietly that I was worried for half a heartbeat before I realized that the surgery has already gotten rid of the snoring. Perhaps now she can catch up on years of sleep-debt caused by poor breathing.

So, the family will be enjoying jello and pumpkin pie and milkshakes and smoothies, and giving up chips and other scratchy things while our big girl heals. We have some home-schooling to do. We have a lot of snuggling to do. And we have prayers of thanksgiving to say for the continued good health of our Charlotte.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

This End Up

I've been griping about packing and moving lately, so now it's time to gripe about unpacking.

I feel like my brain is on overload trying to sort out the order in which order to tackle the unpacking. I want my bedroom put together, but many of our clothes are in drawers that belong in dressers that will now be located in other bedrooms. There is a pile of clothes in my son's room that belongs in one of those sets of drawers. The frame is in his room, but the drawers themselves are down on our floor. There is a stack of book boxes along one wall that belong in my office. There is a bookshelf blocking part of the door to the office that belongs in the kids' office/study room. I found boxes in Charlotte's room that belong down in my office. My dining room table is littered with knick-knacks that go in the china cabinet, which is full of pieces that belong in the buffet, which is still in the possession of the moving company pending a leg repair. Somewhere is the box with the table pad that will protect the table from being scratched by all those knick-knacks.

The whole unpacking problem is like one huge tangle of yarn, except I can't find an end to tug on. Every time I try, I end up jogging between six different rooms, then come back later to find that I've left bits and pieces out in each one of them, making the house look even messier. And every third box or so I find a whole bunch of stuff that I really want packed back up and moved to a far-back corner of the basement.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Moving Lessons

The Great Move of 2011 is Not Yet Complete.

Alas, I had hoped to claim victory by last night. But, as we have learned the hard way, our family has a lot of stuff. Much of it is junk that I am not sure we need or want. Much of it is Important. And Precious. And Labor Intensive.

We began moving shortly after we closed on our new house at the end of July. Our old garage is still quite full of garage-y things. Our basement is still brimming with basement-y things. And our old kitchen cupboards hold a variety of very hard to pack knick-knack-y-things.  In the new house, we have boxes everywhere. Our bedroom floor is littered with drawers of clothes (The actual dressers to which the drawers belong are in a different room. By design. Sort of).

Most of my shoes are in a large bag whose location I may or may not be able to guess. And the sideboard to my dining room set is somewhere in the metro area awaiting repair from moving damage (hint: Neither drag nor tork the legs on a sideboard-with-ball-and-claw-legs, even if you are a Big Burly Moving Man. Or perhaps, especially if you are  Big Burly Moving Man).

Everyone in the family has a bed. We have managed at least three successful meals that were actually prepared in our new kitchen (technically, the main dish of one of them was prepared outside by the front door in the smoker). We know the whereabouts of our safe (which holds nothing of value to anyone other than us and the IRS), the antique silverware (which has seen hard use, was never overly valuable, and is custom-engraved with the family's last initial), and the most beloved teddy bears (named Inky-Dinky and Polka Dot).

We are exhausted.

But, we are all adjusting well to our new home. Including Their Majesties the Royal Furballs. Ravenkall, pictured above, especially loves all of the high perches and balconies in the house. The first time he attempted the perch in the photo, he required a ladder-assisted escort back to the groun. The second time, he jumped (and all bones appear to have survived).

It is much easier to get oneself into trouble than out of it, but I suppose we shall all land on our feet eventually.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Opening Houses

There is such a thing as too much HGTV, people.

We had an open house last weekend, and one of the only negative comments that our realtor passed along to us was that our front porch was not as welcoming as it should be, because we have flower pots with some half-dead flowers in them.

To that comment, I roll my eyes.

The flower pots aren't for sale, dead or alive. Besides, we're talking max $50 of pots, dirt, and dead petunias (my 2nd or 3rd batch for the year...even watering them daily hasn't quite been enough in this heat). If that's a deal breaker, well, I don't really know what to say about that. It's like complaining that the comforter on my daughter's bed is too girly (The comforter is not for sale either!)

Now, the grass in the front of our house has taken a serious beating this summer, and that is something that a prospective buyer might keep an eye on. A month of 100-degree heat, no rain, and a professional lawn service (who cut the grass way, way, way too short) have sent it way into the "dormant" end of the spectrum. At the same time, our neighbors on both sides are in the same boat. And the ones across the street who have a sprinkler system timed to go off every morning aren't doing much better(!). That is, unfortunately, something we are unhappy with but can't do much about in a hurry. We are watering it. A lot. There is only so much you can do when it is 100 degrees (or even 90's and sunny) and you have a western exposure. Grass will neither be reasoned with nor bribed. My husband and I have joked about spray paint. (If only that were an option)

The grass may be unhappy, but my mums, sedum, and rose bushes that also adorn the front are doing nicely. Personally, I'd take pretty flowers over a maintenance-greedy water-sucking thatch of plain ol' grass any day. But, it's not up to me, it's up to some buyer who may have some ideal image of thick green turf on their "gotta-have-it" list.

*sigh* Selling a house is a pain in the petunias.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moving and Packing

If someone were to break into our new house today, they would be really amused (or confused). It is our Christmas House. The front closet is stocked with heavy coats and boots. The bedrooms have sweaters, turtlenecks, and long pants. And the basement is full of Christmas decorations. And that's all that is there.

Our official move date to the new house is September 1st, the Thursday before Labor Day. That is the date when the moving company arrives with four men and two big trucks to load up our furniture. It's a bit of a contrast to our move into the house eleven years ago:  It is a toss-up whether we spent more money on the Uhaul or the pizza and beer that we served to the friend who helped us move. Nope, not doing that this time. We love our friends too much to ask them to haul our (rather heavy) collection of junk across town again.

We have begun moving the things that were already packed and/or that we could easily live without until September. Yes, we could just box everything and have the nice strong men move it all for us, but they charge by the hour, so we are trying to focus our money on the heavy-lifting.

Packing is a pain. It feels like so much work to carefully tuck items into bubble wrap and neatly array them into boxes, just to drive them twenty minutes away and tear off all that wrapping. But if I just tucked a few things into a shopping bag and drove them in the car, it would take us months to move. So, we have boxes and boxes and boxes.

We could choose to pay the moving company (by the hour) to box all of our things for us. That is so tempting--have them arrive on Wednesday and box up the world, then drive it over on Thursday. Except I'm too cheap and feeling too poor...we still have two mortgages to pay until we find a buyer for the old house.
It is also an interesting challenge to decide what we can live without. Now that we are within two weeks of M-day, the decisions are getting easier. Saturday I packed and moved a bunch of bathroom items. Tonight I think I'll tackle most of the dishes and possibly some kitchen appliances. I could probably just load most of those into the trunk of my car and skip the boxes, since I can unpack them straight to the new cabinets. We may eat off paper plates for a few days right before the moving day. We can further whittle our closets down to just a few days worth of clothes. We have delayed moving most of the kids' things because we didn't want to freak them out, but we can transport those now too.

And we have begun buying some of the necessities for the new place: curtain rods for bedroom and bathroom windows. A zippered clothes wardrobe-thing for the basement for some of our "archive" clothing (junk like our high school letter jackets that we want to keep, but have no intention of wearing). Believe it or not, the new master bedroom has a smaller closet than the old one. But our old one was insanely huge (6x16) so we got really lazy about purging old clothing and never needed basement-ready storage before.

Every time I think we've made major progress on the move, I look around and realize just how much is left. I am getting antsy to just be done with the process. Anyone have a magic wand handy?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Open House

We had our first open house last weekend and the turnout was...less than spectacular. We had one person come besides our realtor. One.

Granted, the one person was also a realtor, who had a client who was looking for a house in our neighborhood. All we need is one buyer. But still, after all our work lately to make sure the house was as good as it could be, it was disappointing.

I am not a market analyst, though I do have a few theories as to why we had such a low turnout:
  1. School starts this week. Most families who want to move either did it last month, or else are waiting until they get in the groove of fall. And our house is most likely to appeal to a family.
  2. Debt ceiling and stock market. The various and sundry news outlets have foretold the end of the world as we know it, therefore no one wants to buy a house. Best to wait until after the apocalypse to see which areas of the world are glowing with an eerie green and which are still habitable.
  3. We are overpriced. I don't actually believe this one as we are darned close to actually taking a loss on the house at our current price. By "taking a loss" I mean that should our house be destroyed by a tornado today, it would cost more to build another one exactly like it on the same lot than we are asking a buyer to pay for it. But, logic and math have never played a part in the real estate market, and I don't expect it to start now.
  4. We are flesh-eating monsters and there is Dark Mark permanently hanging over our roof, a la Voldemort. This is actually my favorite theory lately, as it explains many things (including our issues with flooring contractors). This theory would also conveniently explain why we recently sealed our garage floor (had to cover the fresh patch where we hid all the bodies...), that we own two black cats, and the assortment of dragon decorations...
  5. The house has been listed for all of two weeks, and there aren't a lot of people in a position to buy a house, especially one that is probably a move-up house compared to many nearby neighborhoods (and many of those people are probably wringing their hands wondering why no one is coming to their open houses either).
  6. Its too soon to tell.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Looking for a house? I've got one for sale. Ok, so that's not exactly a surprise to anyone who's read my last few blog posts. No, I'm not posting the MLS link or the photos here. Go dig around or and see what you can find. If it's nice, make an offer. Maybe it will be mine :)

Getting the house ready to list has been a huge chore. I never want to talk to another flooring contractor again, and I'm thrilled that our new house is brand-new with brand-new carpet that should last us many good years (at least long enough to forget the trauma). I have some advice for contractor-types:

Communicate with your potential customers. Frequently and honestly. It's not much to ask, I swear.

Two different contractor lost our business for communication problems. The first was an independent company recommended by our realtor. I'm not naming their name because I did get an apology phone call after the fact. But basically, the sales rep showed (an hour late) with two small squares of carpet (his "samples"), took measurements. And then we waited a week and heard nothing from him. This was in early July and we were aiming to get our house photographed and listed by the 21st of July (and he knew this).

When the president of the company called later to apologize (sort-of), he said that the rep had sent us email (he read off the email address...was typo-d so it never got to us...our email has our last name in the domain name and he spelled it wrong), and that the rep had called (he hadn't). Knowing that we were in a bit of a time crunch, you'd think that he might have followed up at least once (possibly more) to make sure that we got his estimate, or sent it by snail mail in addition to email, just in case. Whatever.

Next we went to our friendly neighborhood home improvement warehouse store, where they had nice-looking in-stock beige carpet (nothing fancy, but about the same color/quality as what we were replacing) and a big ol' sign advertising "72 hour install" on in-stock carpet. Perfect, right? Not so much. They hired a sub-contractor. The sub took 4 days (of their promised 2) to CALL us to set up the appointment to measure for the carpet (scheduled for 2 days later than that), then 3 more days to turn the numbers back to the store, then waited over a week (of their promised 2-day waiting period) to call and schedule the install (which they wanted to set for 2-3 weeks later, not 72 hours).

In the mean time, we'd gone back to the home-improvement warehouse store and complained. The store was very helpful and scrounged up a crew to get it done before the 28th of July (see how we'd already had to push the listing date back?). The crew was literally in our house until 10pm one Friday night finishing up.

Hooray for the store, and big hooray for that crew.

To the other sub: I hope that the store re-thinks how they work contracts with them. True, we were buying inexpensive carpet, but the install costs aren't tied to the cost of the carpet. And those time-frames are set by the store (with whom we'd signed the contracts and paid the money), and should have been respected. If they couldn't handle the job they should have called on day 1, not day 7. I would have forgiven them for saying that they couldn't do it. I can't forgive them for wasting my time.

All is well. We have all-new carpet in most of our house (we didn't do the bedrooms--there was no where to move all the furniture). Our house looks really nice. Thankfully. Now we just need a buyer.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Packing Packing Packing

Closets are scary, scary places. Every time I delve into one that really needs cleaning, I am both horrified and disgusted by what I find in them.

No, this isn't related to my joke about how the new garage floor coating will mask all the bloodstains, or how when we up-sized our fridge, we could fit a whole nother person in it.

We are packrats, but not of the insect-attracting, living-room-composting variety.  We are clean, and the visible parts of our house stay relatively uncluttered.

But oh, the closets.

My husband and I are also both masters at the video game Tetris. That's the one with the different-shaped pieces that drop from the sky and you have to quickly flip them around and scoot them into place at the bottom without leaving any gaps. I bet that we would be pretty darned good at a 3-d version of it also. Because our house is like that. Every square inch of space, every gap, every nook and cranny has been well utilized.

Packing items into fixed-sized boxes for temporary storage and their eventual joyride across town in a semi is very different than Tetris. It is more like eating a restaurant salad. I don't know how they fit so much stuff in those bowls, but no matter how many bites you take, the salad looks as full as ever.

I have to face the fact that we own too many of certain items. Dragons. Crayons. Chip and dip sets. Blenders. Cake pans. Unused glow-in-the-dark bracelets and wands. Dead computer parts. Books on how to write software for the ancestors of those dead computer parts (MS Dos from 1985? VB4? Anyone? Anyone?).

I filled an entire "extra-large" size box with fabric that I never got around to sewing. This is the box to donate. I have about a dresser drawer full of bits that I am keeping for now. We filled three or four large sweater-type storage boxes with college t-shirts. Several more with just sweaters. There are still sweaters in our closet. 

Books. Books. Books. We have purchased and filled 30 book-sized packing boxes from Uhaul. And used a few other smallish boxes. And we haven't packed anything. I own one e-reader, too, which after this will be seeing a lot more action.

The biggest lesson that I'm learning from our moving adventure is that we can't wait eleven years between closet cleanouts. We can't just buy new stuff without getting rid of the old. Even if we have the storage space for the overflow. Because the next house may not be our last house. In another eleven or fifteen or even thirty years, someone will have to clean out our closets again. We don't need to scare them.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Girl Who Powerwashed the Hornet's Nest

Our house sparkles. Day-glow, iridescent, crystal-clear, shiny. Well, parts of it do. In order to show the house we need to get it to the "uncluttered and immaculate" stage. I believe we have achieved "uncluttered" in exactly two rooms (both of them bathrooms), and "immaculate" on a few select planar surfaces of the house, mainly outdoors.

This weekend, we successfully tackled the last* large-scale project in the great summer-fixup: the garage. Our garage floor now has a shiny new, waterproof epoxy coating, complete with colored sprinkles that looks far nicer than our formerly-stained and patched floor. And our neighbors got to view the entire contents of our garage spread across our lawn for a little over twenty-four hours while it dried. But, we sorted and packed (and purged!), and the inside of the garage now looks wonderfully neat and organized.

After helping with the garage floor, I played with our new toy. We spent some of our garage-sale earnings on a powerwasher. Why oh why didn't we buy one of these suckers (blowers?) years ago? I am a total convert. Our concrete patio used to look stained and ugly after eleven years of water and the sooty mess that I think comes from living a little too close to the airport. Our white-vinyl-and-trex deck also had a stained floor and general layer of dirt that made it look grimy and that was nearly impossible to clean, even with a scrub brush and a bottle of housewash.

No longer.

With nothing but high-powered water, I have magically transformed our concrete patio into...wait for it...a concrete patio. Ok, a new-looking concrete patio. And the deck is shiny and sparkly.
And I took my life into my hands in dispatching a hornet's nest with my magic water wand. Poor things were tending eggs, and kept coming back looking for them (every time they would fly back around, I would magically summon a tornado from a safe distance away.) The deck is now free of bird guano and all of its crevasses are free of accumulated dirt.

While I was on a roll, I discovered that our old gray-spotted plastic patio chairs (which moved with us from our last apartment 11 years ago), were actually white. The back of our house was the same gray as the front (and not brown). And we can now sit on the deck box/bench without turning the seat of our pants gray. I might have kept going, but I was getting sunburned and I really don't want to see next month's water bill.

Now that most of the projects are done, we have to do some massive furniture re-arranging (i.e. staging) and some more massive decluttering (holy smokes do we have a lot of junk in our house). And hopefully at least one of the various flooring places we have called will eventually find us worthy of their carpeting and actually agree to both measure *and* install in a timely fashion (seriously, how hard can it be for people to accept the money that we're offering them?)

The house looks pretty good (if you can see past our boxes). Not so good that I'm changing my mind about moving (did I mention the granite countertops in the new place? Double ovens? 9-foot ceilings and wood floors?). But good enough that I will be proud to offer it for sale and hope that it earns a fast bid (or maybe 3? I could totatlly go for a bidding war....don't laugh...)

*Technically, the ginormous-yet-badly-overcrowded office closet may be a bigger project than the garage. But it is air-conditioned.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The start of summer

June 6, 2011

Sometimes I am surprised by how much my children really do understand about complex concepts. And how difficult grownups make things.

Our daughter was preparing for summer school this morning. The local public school district offers a free summer enrichment program for the next few weeks, which should be a fun change for her. She gets to ride the school bus every day and to pick out her own clothes. Her eyes lit up when I told her that if she wanted to wear headbands or barrettes, that they could be any color she liked. My poor, deprived, private-schooled child :)

She asked whether she needed lunch money, and my husband started into a long, complex explanation of how when the original information was sent home in May, that the school had applied for grant money from the state to help with the summer school program. The grant did come through, and lunches were now provided for everyone for free. I jumped in, quick to dumb down the explanation to just say that the school got extra money, so she can have school lunch every day if she likes and not bring any money.

She looked me crooked and then said, "I know what 'grant' means. It's when something is free, like a wish."
Yes, darling, that is exactly what a grant is. It is just like a wish (with perhaps a bit more paperwork).
Guess I didn't need to explain anything after all.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

My Dress Disaster

May 24,  2011

My younger sister got married this weekend. This would be the absolute middle sister. I'm one of 5 sisters. Actually, in Borg terms, I'm 2 of 5. The one getting married is 3 of 5.

For me, the wedding was a rather crazy situation that included my failed attempt at sewing a dress, having to leave my husband and kids at home, and not actually sleeping much for an entire weekend. Plus fake eyelashes.

The wedding was a 1920's theme complete with a jazz band and held at an Austin club called The Speakeasy. It was beautiful, swanky, and impossible to shop for. 1920's dresses come in two flavors: tawdry Halloween flapper dresses, and impossible to find flapper inspired dresses. I tried to be smart about the process and found a reproduction 1920's dress pattern. I bought yards of satin and chiffon, and cut and sewed, and ended up with a monstrosity that would have looked ridiculous had I bothered to pack it. The fault is partly mine as a (not-so-great at womens' wear) dressmaker, and partly mine as a short woman with no hips to speak of.

After shortening the original pattern by several inches and measuring and fitting as I went, I still ended up with a dress that was too long and too big and so unflattering as to look (as I mentioned before) ridiculous on me. 1920's dresses were low-waist-ed and loose with virtually no structure in the tops (no darts, no princess seams, no anything, probably as a rebellion against the corsetry and tailoring of their mothers and grandmothers' styles). It is a style that naturally flatters the tall and willowy. I am neither. Had I followed my instincts and cut the top on the bias instead of on the straight grain (darned pattern directions), it might at least have hugged the curves I do have instead of hiding them in a column of fabric rather reminiscent of a Hawaiian muumuu. Were I about 4 inches taller with wider hips, it might still have been flattering.
The skirt looks very cool. It is a handkerchief hem that I made of layers of chiffon and satin and was a beast to assemble (two layers each consisting of two panels each about a yard-square sewn together to form a giant octagon). The fabric was heavy and the points of the handkerchief do end up on the bias which made the entire thing drape downward. All the way downward to the floor. My sister wanted us in dresses no longer than calf-length. And there was no shortening that hem once it was cut (let alone assembled). It was a bit of a geometry puzzle to cut in the first place.

I tried several options for salvaging my efforts, including pinning some darts and maybe adding a sash belt. But I got the majority of the dress put together on Thursday night at 11pm and had to be on a plane Saturday morning. The simple fixes weren't working and there was just no time for something drastic.

I packed a pair of purchased black cocktail dresses that I already owned and let my mom and sisters vote on which one would look the best. One of my other sisters had a different dress disaster (hers involving ripping her first dress) so there were two of us wearing thoroughly contemporary outfits. In the end, with period hairstyles, jewelry, and feather boas, we still looked great.

Maybe I'll re-work that long satin dress into something else. Cut the top off and add a waistband for a holiday skirt. Re-cut the yardage into a dress for my daughter. Or just wear it for Halloween. With the right hat, it might make a lovely witch costume ;)

Friday, July 08, 2011

Answering the question

As of Saturday, my husband and I have answered my question of whether we stay in our current house or move.

We move.

I suppose not all of the details are cast in stone yet, but we signed a contract on a new house in St. Charles County. Yes, that makes us contributors the St. Louis metro area suburban sprawl. But, we weren't exactly in the city, or even the inner-most ring of suburbs. And the move just makes sense for our family.

Well, it makes sense until I think about the fact that we made a non-contingent offer and haven't yet sold our current house. Details, details. Yes, it's a financial risk, but a calculated one. We think we are getting a tremendous value in the new house and, at first glance, it may even appraise higher than the sell price, based on the comparables in the neighborhood. This risk has been calculated and re-calculated in spreadsheet after spreadsheet after calculator app after spreadsheet.

The house is beautiful and had just about everything on our wishlist. Three bedrooms for the family, one for a dedicated guest bedroom, an office for me, another for my husband, a big kitchen with granite, gas stove, and stainless double ovens, a three car garage, and a Flat Back Yard! The basement is unfinished, so we can spend some time mulling over arrangements of rec rooms or media rooms or craft rooms or whatever (and in the mean time, have a ton of wide-open storage space to help us sort through our junk after the move). It was a builder's spec house and has a lot more bells and whistles than we had hoped to get. I am sure we will find projects as time goes on, but a lot of it is already done.

Now comes the hard part. The packing and moving while simultaneously making our house appear perfect and glowing for potential buyers. Oh, and do all that with two kids, two cats, and a work deadline conveniently timed around the week we should have movers showing up at our door.

The kids are spending the week with one of their grandmothers, happily going to the zoo and fireworks, museums and pools. My husband and I are spending the week painting and painting and painting some more. Plus as much packing and sorting as we can manage to squeeze in. Done so far are two formerly-purple bathrooms and the formerly-navy-blue-and-"cavelike" basement stairwell. The upstairs hallway has sported builders-bare-minimum-off-white until now (it is halfway to a creamy-but-neutral color). The ceilings of nearly the entire first floor will get a refresh too, due to spills on them from the floor above (one our fault, one from leaving the kids alone in the bath too long where they discovered the joys of water fights).

Outside, our shutters are getting a bright coat of paint to even out their color as they have faded over 11 years of south-western sun exposure, and the front porch gets a coat of fresh white paint. Also in the list are a new sealer on the garage floor, mulch all around our assortment of garden beds, and powerwashing of the rest of the house and deck.

Oh yeah, and we will be replacing a fair amount of carpet in the house (a task that is just due after 11 years of wear and tear).

We are exhausted already. But this should be worthwhile.

Did I mention that the new house is already painted in neutrals and spice colors that will coordinate well with our furniture? That means no painting. For a while anyway.

Blog housekeeping..

It has been a while since I've actively updated my blog I guess.  We've been busy. I also have written a series of posts that I never got around to publishing (sometimes it's a two-step process and I forget to do step 2).  So, if you see posts begin to appear with suspicously old dates, my blog isn't broken. I'm just finally hitting the "publish button"

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Ten years ago today

Ten years ago today...
We were fresh-faced and well rested
We had a brand new house with clean white walls and clean white carpets and empty rooms full of promise
We had shiny new wedding bands and I had a beautiful diamond solitaire on my finger
We had airline tickets and suitcases and beachwear ready for our honeymoon
We were surrounded by family and friends for a huge wedding and reception
I was grateful to be marrying my best friend and lover and was looking forward to spending the rest of my life with him.

Our faces have laughed more and cried more and slept far less, and it shows
We have a lived-in house with painted walls and carpet ripe for repair and rooms bursting with memories
We have wedding bands that have developed a patina and my diamond solitaire needs repair.
We have moving packed and stacked and ready for our new house
We have the week to ourselves, with no children, and plans for a quiet dinner together alone
I am grateful to be married to my best friend and lover and am looking forward to spending the rest of my life with him.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

But for the grace of God...

The St. Louis area is waking up this morning to coverage of tornado damage again. Our neighborhood was, thankfully, not touched. We live within a very very short drive of Lambert St. Louis Airport, in biking distance from some of the neighborhoods in Maryland Heights and Bridgeton that were hit.

For our family, we spent an evening in our basement watching storm coverage on TV. We skipped dyeing Easter Eggs for the night. We huddled in the corner farthest from the windows and waited for the house to shake. It didn't. Except for a few pings that were probably hail hitting windows upstairs, we were not touched. The power flickered once, briefly, and came right back.

We have friends who lost power and one who was at the airport when it was hit (she's fine). Overall, I feel very grateful to  have power and a house and a roof. We were barely inconvenienced and I feel both relieved and guilty about that.

Donate Now to the St. Louis chapter of the American Red Cross

Friday, March 18, 2011

When I grow up, I want to be...

I have always envied the people who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. At the same time, I have never understood how anyone could pick just one thing. How can you be sure you have chosen the right career until you try it? How do you even narrow the field to just one thing at a time? What happens if you sign your life away and realize, ten years later, that you were dead wrong?

When I was little, I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I took ballet and tap classes until about the second grade, which was not very long, really. The story of why I stopped varies depending on whether you ask me or my parents. They claim it was my idea. I remember being sad about giving it up. I danced with various clubs in JR high and high school and took a couple of dance classes in college, as much for the exercise as anything. But by then I had long talked myself out of dance as any sort of career path. These days, I wait eagerly for the Zumba classes at the Y or the occasional wedding where the happy couple actually provides a DJ and a dance floor.

One day back in elementary school I found The Joy of Painting on PBS and suddenly I wanted to be an artist. I remember trying, very hard, to paint my happy little trees using a box of Crayola watercolors on sheets of spiral notebook paper. In the few years before I had my children, I took oil painting classes at St. Louis Community College and completed two canvases of which I am very proud (and that hang in my house). But when I was a kid and first learned the concept of "career" and "living wage", I gave up on my idea of being an artist because I had no idea how I could ever get a job. No one ever explained the idea of illustrator or designer or graphic artist to me at the time. I thought the phrase was "starving artist" :)
By middle school, I was an A student and started hearing phrases like "You can be anything you want." But I had no idea what I wanted.

My dad was (is) an electrical engineer with a huge fascination with computers. I had learned to program in BASIC (these days no one capitalizes it anymore) around second grade on our old TI computer. I would make pretty graphics and type in thousands of lines of printed game code from spiral-bound books that Dad brought home. And yet, computers were kind of a geeky-boy thing. In high school I had not yet embraced my inner geekdom, so I didn't think about computers as a career path. My mom was (is) a nurse and I was always a little bit interested in medicine and biology, so I set my sights on being a doctor. A pediatrician. That lasted until the end of my freshman year at Wash U.

I loved Wash U, but as a premed, I did not find the supportive, encouraging environment that I needed. I found competition. Lots and lots of competition. I had graduated 3rd in my class in high school (I was thrilled not to be 1st or 2nd--they were required to give a speech). At Wash U, that put me smack dab in the middle of average. I do not thrive in competitive environments. I do not thrive where my advisors tell me I am not good enough instead of encouraging me to do better (Shame on me, I got a B on a midterm once).
Between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I transferred to the School of Engineering to study Computer Science. My then-boyfriend (now husband) was a CS major and I'd watched, envyingly, as he worked on cool-looking homework assignments while I tried in vain to memorize 500 pages of biology textbook at a time. It was a drastic move, but I succeeded in computer science. Yes, it was still a sort of geeky-boy thing, but there was a certain appeal to being one of very few women among the group of geeky-boys :)

When I started interviewing for programming/IT/software jobs at graduation, I started hearing my least favorite question. "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?". Um, I had no clue. I could BS an answer that I thought the interviewer would like to hear, but my gut responses were things like "Getting married", "Trying out some new career", "Having a baby", "Going back to school to study something else", or "I'll just see how it goes". Amazingly, I still got hired.

After my youngest was born, I desperately needed a creative outlet that would not keep the children up at night or leave sharp pointy things around the house. Since oil painting was too messy for carpeted rooms and classes are never held between 9:30 and 10:30pm on a weekday, I had to find something new. Cooking is another of my (numerous) passions, but there's a limit to what my family and I can (and should) eat of my efforts. I enjoy sewing--clothes, crafts, the occasional quilt, drapes and home décor--but couldn't make it work either. Sewing in our office (the 4th bedroom) was out because it shared a wall with my daughter's room and the machine noise would keep her up. Sewing anywhere else in the house was a logistical nightmare because it would take me longer to set up and take down all the supplies (and pointy things) than I actually got to spend creating.

I tried my hand at something I've always kind of wanted to do but never felt brave enough for: writing. Not just blogging (was already doing that), but writing fiction. Romance. Book-length. I had always been afraid to try because I never knew where to start or whether I could do it. I was afraid to fail. But in 2007, I found NaNoWriMo and decided that I had nothing to lose but time. It is amazing how turning 30 and having a rather traumatic year with the health of my youngest child changed my perspective on "failing".

Wow is writing fun. Writing fiction is a big game of makebelieve that you act out with a keyboard. Yes, there is a lot more to it than that (like editing). I did have a background in literature (a whole college degree, just not in English, that was my "for-fun" degree while I learned my trade) and a massive love of books. I think I've read thousands of them by now, not including the kids' titles (of which we averaged 3 per child at bedtime until my daughter started in on chapter books). These days I've finished 3 different book-length manuscripts, am actively working on 2 more (I can never stick with one thing at a time, you know), and am working on improving my writing and trying to sell my work to a publisher. (No, you won't find my stuff in a bookstore. Hopefully some day).

Today, at the ripe old age of {mumblejumble}, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I am a software engineer, for now. I am a mother and a wife. I am a writer (though I don't feel comfortable calling that a career until, like, I earn a few $). I sew, I paint. I stare longingly out my kitchen window at the brilliantly glowing sign that reads Culinary Institute (No kidding..local tech college opened the building about a year ago and it has been taunting me ever since. I could walk to class...if I had time to enroll). Guess I'll add it to my list of things I want to be when I grow up.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I think it's dead

In case you’ve been wondering, the answer is No, Leapster Explorer System game systems are not waterproof.
Not even if you fish it out of the toilet within about 5 seconds of submersion and immediately yank the batteries, then drain it thoroughly for 24 hours before re-assembling.

As much as I like to tout my mantra of “If you break it, I won’t buy you another one”, I’m probably buying my son another one. With our little man’s potty training challenges (click on the label “VACTERL” over on the right if you want to know the whole, gory story), that Leapster has been wonderful. Trying to explain to an active 3-year old why he needs to spend an extended period of time on the potty every evening has been torture, but since he got the game system for Christmas, he has been taking himself. Voluntarily. Happily. Quietly. Productively.

I’m not sure I would recommend extended periods of video game time to parents under most circumstances, but it really has worked out well in our case, and his handwriting abilities have taken a giant leap forward too. He actually signed his own name on a birthday card the other day (we told him the letters, he drew them), with no dotted lines to trace. We had no idea he could do more than T and an O.

Anyway, maybe next time I should see if a store offers an extended service policy on the gaming system. A no-questions-asked free replacement should the next little console also have an unfortunate accident (no potty-training pun intended).

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Bright Ideas in Lightbulbs

Have you  made the switch? This morning's Post Dispatch reports that consumers have only replaced 1 in 5 light bulbs with energy efficient ones, and that when 100-watt bulbs are phased out of production starting next year, that 13 percent of consumers plan to stock up on the old ones rather than buy new.

That's crazy. CFL (and new LED) bulbs save you money. I have compared our electric bills for the past few years and I can prove it. We have replaced about 2/3 of the lightbulbs in our house with energy efficient ones. Next year, the Christmas tree is on the list (I calculate that we spent $25 to light our pre-lit incandescent tree this year, and we had no exterior lights hung).

If you're quick then you just caught the "but" clause to my post. Why, if we have seen actual money savings from replacing lightbulbs, have we not replaced 100% of all bulbs in our house with energy-efficient ones?

We have ceiling fans installed in six rooms in our house, each with 4 or 5 lightbulbs. And every last one of them has a dimmer switch for the light fixture (because you don't always need 5 60-watt lightbulbs blazing in a room, and in the olden days of incandescent bulbs, dimmers would help save a bit of energy). 

If you install a regular CFL into a socket on a dimmer switch, then set the switch anywhere but completely "on" or completely "off",  your CFLbecomes a strobe light. Nice for Halloween. Not so nice for reading bedtime stories to the kids. And if you have one (or, say, 4) of those dusk-to-dawn light sensing exterior light fixtures, then local cops stop by your house occasionally to make sure that your flashing lights aren't due to a security alarm.

If you can find a dimmable CFL for sale (an arduous task in itself...they are not universally stocked outside of hardware stores), then you fix the strobe light problem. But the bulbs don't so much "dim" as they do "turn off" about half way between the top and bottom of the dimmer. I have one installed in the kitchen, and its "dimmability" is a large party of why I have one installed in the kitchen and not five.

Then there's the price.  They cost roughly $8 apiece, and my local Home Depot tends to have about 4 on the shelf at any one time. But we would need something like 30 of them.  That's a total of $240 plus tax for dimmable bulbs that don't actually dim.

Or, we could go remove all the dimmer switches that my husband installed. That is, I suppose, the answer to our dilemma. Or we join the ranks of those 13% of folks who just stockpile incandescent bulbs once they stop selling them.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Remind Me Why I Can't Throw Anything Away Anymore

One of my goals for the year has been to organize and sort out more of the stuff we have in our house. We have big closets but they've been crammed full of things we're no longer using. Unfortunately for us, both my husband and I are bad about keeping things that we no longer need. For my husband, the problem is a (possibly genetic) packrat mentality. His family doesn't seem to ever get rid of anything (as evidenced by some of the items unearthed from his parents' basement upon their move a few years ago).

For me, the problem is about the sheer amount of time required to get rid of things. Sounds crazy, right? How hard can it be to just throw something away? If it were a problem of putting trash in a trash can this would be no problem. We don't have a sanitation or a rubbish problem. But the stuff we have accumulated is supposed to be useful to someone (reference husband and packrat family), and it is wasteful to throw away useful items and heaven forbid something might go to a landfill instead of being re-used or re-cycled or that needs to be safely disposed of. And lets not talk about garage sales, re-sale shops, charity clothing drives, craigslist, and ebay. There are just too many options for how to get rid of something.

I've done garage sales and they take way too much time for too little reward. Why spend 3 days preparing and 5 hours sitting to make $50? Besides, it's not about the money for me. If I want extra money, I'd do better picking up a few extra hours at work. There are a few Goodwill spots around town, but we're about 20 minutes away from all of them and none of them are enroute to anywhere we ever go. There are charities who will pick items up at your house, but I don't have time to sit around and wait for them and am not a fan of asking strangers to show up at my house when I'm not home.

Yep, sounds like a crazy problem. But crazy as I am, I still have closets to clean and junk to get rid of. My most recent project involved my almost-4-year-old's closet. It's a nice-sized walk-in closet where we've installed extra shelving, but the shelves have been stuffed full of boxes of out-grown clothes for the better part of two years. Somewhere in the 12-18 month size, we ran out of friends and relatives with little boys who were still littler than our son. As Trystan finally outgrew things, we had no easy way to give them away. So they accumulated. And accumulated.

Friday was a day off school for Charlotte (but Trystan went preschool), so I seized the opportunity to haul the boxes out to my car. I filled my trunk. And the backseat. And the front passenger seat. And the floor under Charlotte's booster. We took it all to Once Upon a Child, a local resale shop. They spent about 45 minutes digging through my things and picked a few things they wanted. 35 items, $35. Well, $25 after Charlotte chose a few things off the racks for herself. Except 35 items barely made a dent in the stash.

Back at home, I moved all of the clothes out of the plastic storage boxes and into trash bags and loaded them into my husband's SUV so that I could safely transport children again. Then we lucked out. He was prepared to drive it all to a goodwill drop off site when I saw a sign at my daughter's school for a clothing drive. We unloaded them Tuesday morning.

I am happy to know that Trystan's outgrown clothes will good to a good cause. And I am even happier that my son can now choose his own clothes in the morning because I have room to hang them all low enough for him to reach (previously, the low rack was mostly crowded with boxes so his clothes were high up in the closet). We might even be able to store a few of his toys in his closet now and can make our basement family room a little less of a chaotic kid-mess. Well, maybe after we get the crib and changing table out of his room.

Anyone need a crib?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mrs Fix-It: Window Screens

Over eleven years, our house has seen a few hail storms. I've been ignoring a few holes in our window screens for the past two or three years, but lately we're looking at our house with new eyes, and having holes in some of our screens large enough to let large wasps in the house is not particularly attractive.
I am a bit of an HGTV addict (though over the past 2-3 years I've watched little or no TV that didn't involve dancing singing vegetables and animals). But I've watched enough home improvement shows to know that fixing window screens is not that hard. So today, we're tackling two of the worst offenders. You know what? It isn't that hard.

We started with the kitchen window, a monstrous 4'x4' window over the sink. My husband had to hand the window out to me on the deck. The old screen is held in to a channel by a thin rubber strip, so removing the screen is a matter of digging one end out and pulling. Once that is done, you cut a new piece of screen fabric a little larger than the frame, and go about cramming a new piece of rubber divider into the channel to hold it in place. Then put the screen back in the window. Et voila.
There is a 2-ended tool that we picked up at Lowes specifically for screens that cost about $7. One end is like a hooked utility knife, and the other is a roller that will push the rubber channel into the groove. The channel itself comes in different sizes. You take apart your window then go shopping with a scrap of the original. I didn't realize about the size thing until we were standing in the store aisle, so I bought a kit that had 3 sizes of channel and compared it to the real window once we got home. We already had the screening material sitting in the basement from an abandoned craft project. My new screens are a bit of an upgrade, as the old screens were a nylon-y fabric mesh and the new screening  is actually metal. Maybe the new metal screen will better withstand the next hail storm.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Shall We Stay or Shall We Go?

When my husband and I bought our house 11 years ago, it was my dream house. It is much bigger than the house I grew up in, with a bigger kitchen and more than twice as many bathrooms and just so much space. And oh the closets. Our house has lovely closets.

But time changes and expectations change and occupants change. When we moved in as a newly engaged couple, four bedrooms meant we had a master suite for the two of us, a guest room for visiting family, and we each had our own office. So what if my kitchen cabinets were filled not long after we moved in, there was still room at the top of the little pantry cupboard for extra serving platters. And once we bought dining room furniture, our good china could move out of storage and into display.

11 years is a long time, I think. And since then we have added two children and two cats and more dishes and bicycles and a lawn mower and have I mentioned toys? Our two-car garage is really just a two-car garage. Not a two-car plus two bicycle plus lawn mower plus trashcans and power tools garage. Our guest room is now my son's room, and my office is my daughter's bedroom. The dishes that don't fit in the kitchen are stored partially in the basement and partially in our closet. The one unfinished storage room in the basement is bursting at the seams. And I keep running over the wheel of the lawn mower (since it's either that or I hit my husband's car trying to squeeze mine into the garage.

We are at a crossroads. Do we stay where we are at, or do we move to a bigger house?

We have no room to expand. The basement is finished and the lot is too small to add on. I might be able to squeeze a few more square feet of cabinet space into the kitchen, but it will likely never hold the double-oven that I really want for the big family dinners I like to cook. And our house was one of the bigger floorplans in the neighborhood. We are already at the top end of what a buyer in the area might be willing to spend. If we remodel, we will simply be spending our money and not investing it.

But we have friends in the neighborhood, and a subdivision pool, and a quiet little park in walking distance. We are not in a high-traffic area and we are convenient to major highways. We have generous sized rooms and generous-sized closets and we have already painted and re-arranged it all to our liking. (Ok, so we've painted and re-arranged most of it to our liking, sometimes more than once). And planted trees. And built a beautiful deck. And upgraded the kitchen/greatroom floor and replaced a sliding door with a french one.  We have taken care of our house like people expecting to live here forever.

The things we don't have in our house and can't get in our house are easily another part of the metro area. We would have to sell our house and move. Probably move up in cost, a bit, too.

So, we have a decision to make. Our daughter goes to private school, so a move will not uproot her from her friends. It would, in all likelihood, move us closer to them. We would have longer commutes to work. We might position ourselves in the middle of the housing price spectrum instead of at the far end. We might not be able to sell our house.

Thinking about moving is scary. Thinking about staying and doing enough minor remodelling to make do is exhausting.  Adding up the cost of a move or a remodel is not as horrifying as I feared. Either way, I'm hoping that over the next year or so, our housing situation will improve in some form or another. Whether we're just doing massive closet clean-outs or trying to re-purpose the laundry room as a mudroom/pantry, or whether we're spending hours in the car with a realtor, or in various showrooms with a builder or general contractor. It will be an improvement. Won't it?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hit the Road, Jack

I really don't mind snow, but Jack Frost is trying to make an enemy of my daughter.

Right before Christmas, she had her first snow day of the year. That incident was a fairly paltry snowfall and the roads were clear by 10am, so the two of us spent the afternoon Christmas shopping. Unfortunately, it was also the scheduled day for her class Christmas party. The next day was only a half day and most of it was taken by one of their feast day Masses and was the last day before break, so the Christmas parties were just plain cancelled. Charlotte was so upset about that Christmas party.

We had another snow day last week, which was no big deal. It was a lot of snow, and there was a sledding play date and hot cocoa and all was well.

Yesterday's snowfall was a doozy. We had right about a foot of snow on our driveway. Possibly the most I've seen since moving to St. Louis 17 years ago. Clearly, there was no school. And once again, Jack Frost decided to pick on my daughter. Yesterday her class was scheduled to take a field trip to see a play of Junie B Jones. With school buses and everything. (Hey, for a private school kid who drives in a car every day, school buses are a big deal). Guess what? The field trip is cancelled. The play is only running through this weekend, and the mid-day showing was a special arrangement just for schools.

I did go ahead and buy a pair of tickets for tonight's showing (it's a small civic center theater, the prices are less than the movie theater, and Junie B Jones is one of her favorite series of books right now).  Plus she got to play in the snow, watch movies, play on the Wii, and sleep in yesterday. So it's not all bad. But really, can we quit with the whole "snow day = missing out" thing already? Because some of us really look forward to an unexpected break from the regular routine, and having to deal with a pouty kid is no fun at all.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I think that I have changed my rss feed to Feedburner.  To subscribe via the new feed, click the orange square on the right, or copy this: into your RSS reader.

I'm not entirely sure I've done this right, or that I've improved matters (or that they needed improving).

Testing again

Please ignore :)

Testing 1 2 3

Please ignore the woman behind the curtain.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Disney Wrap-up

The Epic Vacation of Christmas 2010 ended much less eventfully than it began. We drove home by way of the same Atlanta-area hotel, avoiding all ditches en route.  On Sunday, we made a pit stop at a place called Patti's 1800's Settlement in Kentucky which is a crazy set of shops and restaurants that seems to be located near a popular mountain/lake resort type area.  We arrived in between meals, so we didn't eat at the restaurant. Instead, we browsed several of the gift shops and admired the extensive Christmas lights and displays.

 Monday, January 2nd was a school day for Charlotte. We made good time on the way home, but still only had about an hour to unload suitcases before the kids headed to bed.

All in all, it was a crazy exhausting vacation. It was long. It was expensive. And our travel dates were beyond awkward for us. I don't think we'll be doing that again for a good long time.

But, if or when we do go back that way (and likely, we will), we will have learned a few lessons:

1) Do not travel during times prone to ice and snow storms. Years ago I had vowed that we would never again vacation around Christmas unless we were specifically visiting family. I think this year's ditch experience has reinforced that point.

2) Attempt to choose hotel/motels with indoor pools. There is nothing like a swim to work the wiggles out of kids who have been forced to be sedentary all day. At least, I think that might have been the case, had we stayed in such a place :)

3) Deliberately plan for downtime during the trip. We had none. Our day-to-day lives are rush-rush-rush, and this vacation was more of the same. When arriving at work feels like a respite, that probably means the vacation was too busy. It was a fun busy. But it was busy.

4) Having a washer and dryer in the hotel/timeshare room was a godsend. We kept up on the laundry and only had a small pile of dirty clothes to handle once we got home. Which was great because we had no time to do laundry once we got home.

5) Do ask the kids for their opinions on activities. Some of the best family times and biggest smiles came from the rides and shows that the kids chose.

6) Thinking about a fitness bootcamp? Need to jumpstart your New Year's exercise goals? I highly suggest taking two small kids to Disney for 6 days. After all that walking and lifting, it was bye-bye to the Christmas fudge and hello super-buff biceps.

7) Provide for a recovery day before starting school. The past week has been murder on both kids' attitudes. On the bright side, their bedtime routines have been great. They've both been sacked out by 8:30 every night since we've been home.

8) The four of us have worked out a good car routine. I'm sure things will change again by the next big roadtrip, but this time we did seem to have a good mix of games, movies, coloring books, and snacks, and the kids were not terribly whiny during the drives. 

9) Gretchen the Google Navigation GPS Goddess is awesome. She never led us wrong, had great updates on traffic, made it super easy to find upcoming restaurants and pitstop locations..wait, she almost never led us wrong. She was terribly upset with us leaving one of the parks one night and kept insisting that we take streets that had been closed down. But once we found a mutually agreeable street, she led us right back to the hotel.

10) Schedule an entire post-vacation day for sorting photos. Between my camera, my husband's camera, each child's camera, and a pair of camera phones, we took nearly 1300 photos.  One thousand three hundred.

Lucky me I have a coupon code for a Shutterfly photo album.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Days 6, 7, 8

On Wednesday, we took a fairly easy day and visited the Disney Hollywood Studios park. By then, everyone in the extended family group had sore feet (and hubby and I had sore shoulders from hefting children to see shows and fireworks and parades). We probably saw very little of the full park. We did catch a live Playhouse Disney show, the Beauty and the Beast show, and Fantasmic (for which we earned decent seats by arriving insanely early and snacking on caramel corn and roasted nuts). 

Thursday, we returned to the Magic Kingdom to visit more of the areas that we'd skipped before. We checked out Tom Sawyer's island, and Charlotte and I nearly rode another roller coaster (except it had technical difficulties and was shut down shortly before our turn to ride).

Friday was New Years Eve, and the entire state of Florida, including us, went to Epcot.  The temperature had finally warmed into the 70s and the sun was out and we were able to leave coats and heavy sweaters in the hotel. It was literally shoulder-to-shoulder people in the park.

Totally, completely insane. We ate one of our more expensive meals there at the restaurant in the Mexico area and rode the Three Amigos boat ride. Charlotte spent much of the day in search of the perfect souvenir, finally settling on a Chinese umbrella and a beaded bracelet. Trystan had chosen a huge sucker and some scented pens with fluffy koosh balls on the ends.

We wandered through various "countries" enjoying their displays and mini-movies. Towards the end of the evening, we met up with my husband's family and watched the fireworks show. Trystan, by the way, hates fireworks.And pyrotechnics in stage shows. That made for a lovely week. He actually slept through the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. He hid through most of Fantasmic. And he buried his head on my shoulder during Friday night's show at Epcot.

The Disney staff had been hard at work passing out hats and noisemakers and opening extra exit paths to handle the crowds. They handle crowds with an efficiency that could probably teach the armed forces a thing or two.  But not only are crowds calmly and politely  managed, but they decorate the temporary passageways with bushes and trees to make them pleasing to the eye. You can't help but feel handled by the time you have experienced Disney in all its Magic.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Day 5: Magic Kingdom

I promise that soon I will quit writing an entire blog post about each day of our vacation. Really, the last few are not quite that interesting. But no visit to Walt Disney World is complete without a visit to the Magic Kingdom. And Disney makes good on their promise of Magic, especially during the holiday season.

Tuesday was another early morning for us, for good reason. We had breakfast at the castle with Cinderella and the other princesses. Technically, we had breakfast with each other (our family of four, plus my husband's parents and his sister, brother-in-law, and their two children). The princesses do not eat. They flit from table to table for photo ops. And no I don't have copies of any of those photo ops yet. I think my sister in law had her camera at the ready because mine was buried under a pile of coats during the meal.

 At Disney, neither a broken leaf nor a wilted flower nor a discarded scrap of paper goes unnoticed. There is an army of workers at the ready to clean up your trash almost before you are finished with it. Its scary, really.

Something that surprised me during our visit was the cost of food. I was (sort of) mentally prepared for the trapped-in-the-park shakedown on meal prices. But really, everything was very reasonable. The princess breakfast was not exactly Denny's, and we did tend to avoid sit-down dining (as much for our own sanity as for our checkbook--our kids do not handle sit-down dining with easily).

You are allowed to bring snacks and drinks into the parks, so every day we packed water bottles and an assortment of munchies (crackers, fruit, granola bars, etc). And we spend as much if not more money at Subway than we did for some of the meals we purchased. Kids meals usually ran around $5 and included veggie sticks and/or fruit and the adult meals around $7-12.  Thank you Disney.

Tuesday marked Charlotte's first time on a roller coaster (sorry, no photos). She and I rode the Barnstormer, a short kid-friendly one in the smaller-kid section of town. Trystan would have been tall enough also, but he chickened out at the last minute and waited with my husband at the end of the line.  Charlotte loved it so much that she burst into tears when it was done. She wanted to ride a second time, and I had to explain that she had to wait in the hour-long line a second time if she wanted to ride again. That's my girl.

Tuesday was a very long day for us. We arrived early and stayed until after the light parade and fireworks at 9:30 or so. By then we were all exhausted and frozen. And we still had three days of Disney left to go.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day 4: Epcot

 On Monday, we went to Epcot Center. Of my only visit to Disney as a kid, this was the park I remembered the least. I don't know if we skipped it, or skipped part of it, or if I just plain forget. Because the whole place was brand new to both me and my children.

 Monday was also cold, though not nearly as bad as Sunday had been. With the afternoon sunshine, we were even able to take off our coats briefly. We got a slightly later start than we had the day before. The four of us were exhausted from having a couple of late nights and early mornings in a row. It was nice to let the kids sleep until they were ready to stir rather than throw clothes on their snoring bodies. And we knew that we could come back to Epcot for a second day if we wanted to.

 One of our big concerns with the trip had been Trystan and potty training. Through some combination of physical issues and stubborn-three-year-old issues, he is about 80-98% potty trained. 98% when he is eating well and sticking to a schedule and not sick and not testing every boundary. 80% the rest of the time. We knew from our other family trip that travel is especially hard on the kid with so much time spent sitting still in the car, and eating restaurant food, and not being near to a restroom at exactly the right time every day. (If this is too much information, feel free to skim down past the poop paragraphs). My husband reports that most of the men's rooms in Disney had child-sized urinals, so Trystan enjoyed the opportunity to practice his standing techniques. Of course, standing is not sitting, and it's the sitting activities that trip Trystan up.

I can probably sum the week's potty experience up as not great. We have dealt with worse, but his system got all out of whack and by the end of the week he was almost exclusively back in pull-ups because there are just so many changes of clothes we can carry around in a given day (and even if you double-bag it, poopy underwear smells really bad). Did I mention that our room had a washer/dryer? We used it. Nightly.

One of the funnier parts of the day had to do with Trystan and pottying but not with poopy underwear. After one of the rides, we asked the kids if they needed to take a potty break. I guess Trystan thought we meant *right here, right now*, because he pulled down his pants and peed on a bush. Bad parent that I am, instead of reprimanding the kid I laughed. And posted it to Facebook.

I think my favorite part of the day was watching Captain EO. Yes, the 80's era Michael Jackson Star Wars knock off mini-flick. He saves the day by dancing. It was hilarious but timeless enough to still be entertaining.

That night, we had an extremely cold dinner at one of the Japanese restaurants where Charlotte eagerly tried her first sushi. We actually ate on the patio because there was no room inside. It was a little surreal eating in 30 degree cold with our gloves on, surrounded by paper lanterns and Japanese style gardens, with Christmas choral music playing in the background. It turned out we were really close to the big Candelight Dinner Show.

After dinner, we wandered through some of the shops and then stopped at the big silver ball for one last ride. On the way out, you pass through an arcade-like area with video driving games. The game is pretty fixed, you pretty much win every time you play as there is almost no driver input. And yet, Trystan and my husband managed to break their game. Trystan found the one spot in the game where he could flip his car over, which left the game completely confused about what to do next.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day 3 : Sunshine State my A$$

 On the day after Christmas, we dragged our rear ends out of bed early to go to Disney's Animal Kingdom, expecting the holiday masses to arrive with us.

 Apparently Orlandons and other assorted visitors decided that Boxing Day would be better celebrated indoors. Where the temperature was above freezing the entire day and not just for a few hours in the afternoon.

It was cold. Very cold. And windy. And a little rainy.

On the bright side, there were no crowds. All day we were able to walk right up to rides and attractions. And walk, we did. We haven't used a stroller for Trystan in well over a year and didn't even pack our one remaining (mostly broken and probably covered in cobwebs) umbrella stroller. My husband and I are evil, evil parents who made our children walk. Helped them stay warm :)

 We had fun, despite the cold. We all got to try out our cameras on the safari ride, and caught the Finding Nemo and Lion King shows. Trystan went to town taking photos in both shows though his little camera doesn't handle low-light situations that well. We had playtime in the Dinosaur area where there was a huge (and relatively well-contained) play area with slides and stairs and rope ladders and a giant sandbox. After a long (and warm) lunch in the Rainforest Café, we rode the train.

In the conservation area, our kids got their first close-up view of some of the Disney characters. Pocahontas, Jiminy Cricket, and Rafiki were all there. Charlotte and I nearly ran over Pocahontas in fact. But the kids were too scared to meet any of them in person. I'm not sure I blame them--Pocahontas is one of the few Disney movies we don't own, and man-sized crickets and monkeys are kind of freaky.

 Towards the end of the day, Charlotte and I rode Dinosaur the Ride. In retrospect, that was not a good idea. But, though I think I have ridden it before (on my one trip to Disney nearly 20 years ago), I didn't remember it at all until we were actually on the ride. The motion wasn't a problem so much as the emotion. There were too many scary dinosaurs and an asteroid and she may not forgive me for that for a few years. And it freaked her out for half the week--she kept her face hidden on a little mermaid ride in Epcot the next day, even though cartoon fish are very far from scary.

By the time we left, Trystan did not even make it out of the parking lot before falling sound asleep. I call that a successful day.