Friday, September 14, 2012

Phone Etiquette -- My Way

Ways to get your phone call completely ignored (or else blocked):

If you call once and I don't recognize the name on the caller id, 99 times out of 100, the call goes to our voicemail. If you don't leave a message, I don't call back. Ever.

If you call more than once, I don't recognize the name on the caller ID, and you never leave a voicemail, I will likely block your call.

If you call, ask me if I have a security system in the house, and then refuse to take my "I am not interested and please remove my name from your system" answer seriously, you will get blocked. Or else reported.

If you call and try to sell me anything, I will say no.

If you call and ask me to donate to your charity, I will tell you to snail mail me your information for me to peruse at my leisure. No snail mail campaign? Shucks. You're SOL. (Or else a scammer and I'm sure as honey not going to give you my credit card number and mailing address on your word alone).  In fact, if you have my home phone number, you probably already have my mailing address (and various other pieces of publicly available information that could be easily collected with a few minutes of internet research).

I don't give out my address over the phone.

And no, I am not single.

If you are a computer and you somehow got through my "recognize the name" check (or else got lucky), you will be hung up on. Don't call back. It doesn't help.

I don't answer political questionnaires (trust me, you wouldn't want to hear my answers if I did--somehow I doubt that my political leanings and my current demographic line up).

I don't speak Fax.

I am not involved with any obscure dancing associations in Missouri. (Try this for fun: Google your phone number to see what kind of strange hobbies its previous owner used to have. Then start sending emails to web admins to update their sites).

Oh, yeah, our phone line sucks. The sound quality is abysmal. We never have settled whether it is an external or internal wiring problem (likely internal since it comes into the house with the internet/tv access and that reception is just fine).  We will fix it at some point. Using that as an excuse not to leave a message on my answering machine doesn't fly--I've called my own number and left a message; it buzzes pretty badly but still works.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It Runneth Over

Last week, our next door neighbor had a problem with their outside faucet. The kind of problem where a landscaper turns it on in order to water newly planted shrubs, and then fails to shut it off all the way, leaving it gushing water for some unknown amount of time during the day.

Our house has a (thankfully) unfinished basement, with a sump pump. Its proper functioning depends on its access to electricity. And a cord. That is plugged in about seven feet up the basement wall.

Did you know we have cats who like to jump and climb? I can't really blame them without proof, and we have none. Just a plug that came loose somehow and reminded us that we've been terribly lazy about sorting and storing a large number of cardboard boxes that are around the basement.

Most of the contents survived, for whatever that is worth. Which isn't much since we're talking about the boxes that we packed over twelve months ago and, by and large, have not opened. Clearly not our most treasured possessions. We did lose a leftover bag of grout--more like a bag-shaped concrete block.

Did you know that concrete boxes melt when they get wet? Just like the Wicked Witch, only swampy-smelling.

We now own half a dozen additional sets of plastic utility shelves and another dozen new plastic storage boxes. And of course, I forgot to ensure that the plastic storage boxes actually fit on the new plastic utility shelves. But we can start putting paper, fabric, cardboard, etc on the shelves. And stack the plastic boxes amongst themselves.

We never had a problem in our old house, but then, we lived at the top of a hill on the highest street of the neighborhood on one of the highest parts of the local area (what realtors like to say are Breathtaking Views). It also had a sump pump, but it would have taken quite an effort by the Power Above (aka rainclouds) and the Power Below (soil drainage) to get water into that basement.

If we ever finish our new basement, we are definitely looking into some sort of fail-safe for the sump pump.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mom Guilt, Rainbow Brite, Justin Bieber, and Acid Wash Jeans

For Charlotte’s eight birthday recently, I bought her a gift card for Justice, a popular girls clothing store. They sell a lot of bright colors, and nearly everything has glitter or sequins. And lately they have a continual video feed of Justin Bieber music videos (plus t-shirts).
At this point, some moms are cringing, and others are getting themselves worked up about the appropriateness of dressing little girls like little girls.
My daughter wears a uniform to school. Every day, she has a white blouse plus her choice of blue school-plaid jumper, blue school-approved shorts, or blue school-approved uniform pants. When it gets cold, she’s got a couple of school logo sweaters and sweatshirts to choose from. Shoes are either plain black/brown casual ones or else all-white sneakers. Getting dressed is a total no-brainer (nevermind that she still drags her feet about it). It is also pretty limiting for her self expression.
Left to her own devices, she dresses like Rainbow Brite (remember her? Every stitch of clothing, and possibly her hair, was a different color). Yep. That’s Charlotte.  On Sunday she had on a florescent yellow ruffled skirt, fluorescent orange top, red and green knee socks, and purple shoes.  My husband and I raise our eyebrows at her color selections, but as long as the occasion isn’t too formal (it wasn’t), and the clothes are appropriately sized and for the weather (they were), then we just let it go.
So back to Justice and her gift card. The store is one of her favorites because everything in the place is glittery and rainbow-y, and, lately, looks like what I wore as a kid in the 80’s. Lots of fluorescents. Big boxy shirts over leggings (though they haven’t re-instituted stirrups yet). Denim skirts (these days the manufacturers are sewing shorts into them, so really they are denim skorts—much more playground friendly). Definitely a Who’s That Girl (Madonna? Crazy 80’s movie?) kind of vibe. Perfect for a girl who loves rainbows and needs outfits for playtime after school and on weekends.
Yesterday she walked in the door, gift card in hand, and had no idea where to start shopping. And then came the Mom Guilt. I don’t take her shopping very often. I am horrible at shopping with other people, and even worse at shopping with my kids. I tend to panic picking out Christmas gifts because there are too many choices. And I get easily frustrated with the kids changing their minds or just not making up their minds when looking for birthday party gifts.  In other words, I’ve never taught my daughter how to shop. I usually just come home with a bag full of cute outfits in her size and hope she likes them. That used to be a good strategy.
Ok, she’s only eight. She doesn’t need to know how to build a wardrobe. And she has just last year mastered multiple digit addition and subtraction—calculating percent-off sales is still too much for her. So she needs guidance. And I am not good at guiding without outright
controlling the end result. I do math in my head, have a clear picture of what I think she needs in her closet, have a decent eye for fit before getting to the dressing room.  But the whole point of a gift card is to give her more control, more say, more choice. And to let her experience the fun of browsing, trying on clothes, matching up outfits.
It was frustrating. There were multiple rounds of picking out clothes, calculating prices, putting clothes back, major disappointment when she realized that the black acid-washed stretch jeans (hello 80’s) didn’t come in her size, and so on. And then, at checkout, when she had just a little more picked out than her gift card could handle (and I’d already agreed to kick in a few extra $ for sake of keeping an outfit together), she spotted the Accessories. Buy 2 Get 2 Free plus 40% off. But she was out of money. And I was out of patience. And we both nearly had a meltdown right there at the register.
*deep breath*
The major lesson for me is that my daughter needs to be taken shopping more often. Not outrageous, no “Here honey, take Daddy’s credit card” or anything. But she does need control and some freedom to choose within limits. And she needs to learn to save a little money, and to deal with delayed gratification. I tried to suggest (demand) that she work on earning her allowance and plan to come back in a few weeks to pick out a necklace or bracelet. She needs to actually do that and see the whole cycle through—from chores to allowance to shopping.
Also, I need to not take Trystan with us. He likes to spin the clothes racks, has no idea why he isn’t allowed to pick out matching pink-and-purple “Best Friends” necklaces for himself, or green leggings, and thinks it’s funny to peek under the curtain of the dressing area.  On the bright side, he loves Justin Bieber as much as his sister, and was content to dance to the music videos for a good stretch of time.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

School Supplies

Pre-packaged school supply "kits". Exactly the items, sizes, brands that each teacher wants. Delivered right to a child's desk on the first day of school. No running from store to store. No stores running out of a coveted item. Sounds like a working mom's dream, right?

I severely dislike the pre-packaged school supply kits. (Hate is a strong word).

Both schools that our kids have attended have offered them. The previous school tried at first to talk up the idea as supporting a local business, and a time saver, and all that.  By last year they went so far as to not handing out school supply lists--just a link to a website (and if you wanted to "roll your own" you had to decipher the third-party company's cryptic descriptions of the items in the kit).  New year, new school, same routine. Well, they did provide us with a list (using fully spelled out words instead of product codes). Though, as we found out today, there were one or two items left off the list that came in the pre-assembled pack.

But I'm still not buying.

Call me crazy (maybe). Call me stingy (frequently).  Call me a control freak (uh...)

I like shopping for my kids' school supplies. When the giant bins of folders and crayons and glue sticks go up in the big box stores, I rub my hands together with glee. Hey, shopping is fun.

But it's more than that. Those kits are not a good deal. At both schools, the packaged kit costs about double what I spend buying the exact same items from a local big box store. For the last school, several of the items in the kits didn't need to be replaced every year. Scissors, rulers, pencil cases (mileage may vary on that one). Even some of the heavy-duty plastic folders were in like-new shape at the end of the year--the ones that stayed in the classroom and out of the backpack.

I guess when you try to work the whole "support local cottage industry" angle, it sounds very politically correct to pay up. But it is NOT local business if they have to ship the kits from a warehouse in another state.

I know that big box stores sell their packs of crayons for a quarter and pocket folders for a dime at back-to-school-time in order to drive foot traffic to the stores to buy higher-priced goods like clothes and shoes. It's a loss leader, designed to make a buck elsewhere and buy customer loyalty. 

But I can buy half a dozen packs of crayons at their loss (and throw a few in the "Books and Backpacks" charity bin at work, or donate them to the scout troop, or just keep them on hand for rainy days and the middle of winter when the school demands a replacement and the stores are once again charging $2.79).

I don't need a personal shopper to go dig through the back-to-school-sale aisles, I don't need to pay shipping costs to get pencils from the store to the school, and I don't like having to pay a premium for those services. Maybe next I should pay someone to eat some chocolate for me. (Ok, shopping for school supplies isn't that fun, but still...maybe if the school supply kits would slip me an extra pack of graph paper to doodle on, or a pretty purple notebook for scribbling notes to myself, or one of the other little perks of doing my own shopping then I wouldn't feel so grumpy about it).

I would feel better about the price of the school supply kits if 1) the school themselves, or the PTA or parent volunteers were assembling them as a fundraiser for the school or 2) The cost of the kit was similar to what I would spend at the big box store. After all, the big (and not terribly local) school supply kit companies should be buying crayons and pencils by the pallet at a serious discount, so they ought to be less than $2.79 a pack.

Better yet, just hide the cost of the school supplies in the tuition fees (we're only talking $25-40 at the elementary school level--my kids go to a parish school, so I already pay tuition), and quit sending home a list at all. Then the schools can support whatever business they want to with their dollars, choose whatever supplies they prefer, and no kid shows up at school with 10 markers when they should have 8, or, worse, with none.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The First Days

I find myself facing the new school year with a bit of relief for the first time in four years. Although my daughter's former school had much to recommend it, there was a certain unrealistically hight level of expectation to which we as parents were held.

The problem may be all in my head (no doubut it was at least partly in my head). But a simple set of rules was never quite enough--the rules were rigidly, strictly enforced. And a simple call for volunteers was never enough. There was constant pressure, reminder emails, surveys, committees that needed help. And nor was a hefty tuition payment sufficient. No, there were as many phone calls and emails and hand-written letters and postcards all asking for donations. The uniforms were policed to the level where there were exactly two specific styles of shoes in the whole school: one for the girls, one for the boys. We were expected to label every pencil, every marker, every crayon in the box of school supplies. And it was rare that a nightly homework assignment came home that did not require an equal amount of active participation from the parent as well the child.

It was a lot of work. The school prides itself on the level of achievement of its pupils. No doubt. Any kid with the sheer amount of resources and energy behind them cannot help but succeed. (At least until they are set free and required to achieve their own goals using only their own energy and resources).

I don't expect parenthood to be easy. And I don't expect our new school to be lax where they need to be strict. They still have uniforms, they still need volunteers, there will still be hopeful requests for donations (though so far I have seen more information on applying for scholarships than on demands to fund them). There will still be homework that will still require our help.

But I hope there will also be some breathing room. Some expectation that we as parents have multiple responsibilities, and those responsibilities are not all focused on our children. We have jobs and other commitments too. Our money only goes so far. Our label makers only print so fast. And our children need to learn to keep track of their crayons without relying on a nametag. And to be able to choose from an appropriate set of choices when getting dressed in the morning, instead of always donning the one prescribed option.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rain, Rain...come again another day

It is so dry here lately that two of my neighbors recently commented that they spent more on their water bills last month than their electric bills. That is impressive given the sheer number of 100+ degree days and the fact that AC aint cheap in that kind of weather.

We haven't crossed that line, as evidenced by the color of our lawn. Or what is left of our lawn. We have an inground sprinkler system, but large swaths of our grass are still dying because we water for only 15 minutes every other day (an excessive amount, in my opinion...if I have to have grass I would prefer it stay nice with maybe one sprinkling a week...stop laughing...)

The neighbors who are taking out mortgages with the water company? The ones with the lush green grass? Probably twice a day. (One was actively sowing grass seed while we chatted. Not sure he had any bare patches or that it would germinate in this heat, but what do I know). One side of our house benefits nicely from the runoff from our next door neighbor's daily watering (and probably the runoff of their fertilizer too, and the shadiness provided by two houses), so some of our grass is lush and green.

I just can't do it. Parts of St. Louis have been under mandatory or voluntary water conservation for a month or more. Not our little town, but still. I can't justify making my lawn lush during a severe drought so bad I've driven past huge fields of corn that are already brown in the field. What is the point? Green it up so I can have the pleasure of looking at it? So my son can trample through it and possibly dig it up with a toy shovel? So that we can have the pleasure of mowing more often in 90+ degree heat?

Sure, our part of the county tends to be floodprone and has some nearby natural wetlands (We have blue and white herons who regularly visit the pond that is behind our neighborhood). Living so close to confluence of three rivers (Missouri, Mississippi, and the Meramac) generally keeps the whole metro area humid and green even in the triple-digits temperatures of July and August. I imagine that water rationing seems kind of foreign with so much water around us.

I have been trying a few techniques for conserving some water. Silly, minor things like emptying the kids camp water bottles onto my flowers out front instead of down the sink (I figure that whatever gunk Trystan gets into his every day might even fertilize the plants). I put a bucket in the shower the other day and easily filled it with the excess water just from starting up the shower. But I am not sure that shower-temperature water was a good idea for the garden (too hot), and my husband objects to the bucket for aesthetic reasons (somewhere, perhaps, I have a less unsightly one that I used in college for toting shampoo to the dorm bathroom).

I have a water barrel sitting next to my veggie garden, and a kit to hook it into the closest downspout. (The kit is in the kitchen, still in the box) In our last house, I got my veggie garden to self-water with water barrel, soaker hose, and an automatic garden timer. I should feel guilty about not yet installing the one at the new house, except it hasn't rained anyway. I guess I could pour my shower water into that instead of straight on the plants.

Some small-minded part of me is half-hoping for mandatory water conservation to go into effect for us, just to watch those coddled lawns wither and die the day they shut off the sprinklers. Not because I dislike my neighbors, but because I think their watering choices are a tad selfish and short-sighted and that they won't recognize that until they are forced to face the reality of it. (Though I doubt they'd go down without a fight).

But really, I'm just hoping for rain. For all of us.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A House With Character

Subtitle: Defending New Suburban Construction

When we first began toying with the idea of moving last year, there were three main possibilities:

1) find a home near to our existing neighborhood with the features we were looking for (a bigger, flatter lot, nicer kitchen or good "bones" in which to add a nicer kitchen, and a bigger garage and/or more storage for stuff like lawn mowers and bikes)

2) Look for a house roughly equivalent to what we already had (which was not really too small and did have plenty of good points) but in a much upgraded school district (for the STL-area readers, I mean something like Clayton or Ladue schools)


3) Get a nicer house, nicer yard and a school district upgrade by moving to St. Charles County.

When we decided on option 3, we got a few raised eyebrows from our college friends. We tend to run with a fairly progressive crowd, by far and large more Democrat than Republican, more liberal than conservative, more urban re-development than suburban settlement. And my husband and I tend to agree with most of those principles as well.

So why did we contribute to suburban sprawl?

1. Lot size. In the St. Louis inner-suburban areas that we would have considered, in general you get tiny houses on tiny lots. Or you spend a cool million or more on something more. Comfortable as our salaries are, we are nowhere near that "cool million" level. There are not-as-inner suburbs where a middle-class family can afford more than three blades of grass, and the ones that appealed most to us were in St. Charles County.

2. Patchwork houses.  Lovers of old houses call this "character". I looked at pictures of aqua carpet, green countertops, pink tile, and other assorted "character" as work to be done.

We had a very brief flirtation with a massive fixer-upper house near the border of U City and Clayton. Good square footage, all brick, double lot, "charm" and "character", a great asking price, a kitchen out of the 80's, bathrooms whose grout was well beyond cleanable, and a basement full of asbestos.

We looked at another one near our neighborhood that had the lot size and square footage we were looking for, plus the price was reasonable. And every room in the place had a different style/color/species of flooring and a different color of paint. The former owners had added on here, tacked on there, re-worked this into that.  The result? Franken-house.

A brand-new house is a blank slate. Walls do not need wallpaper stripped or multiple layers of primer to cover strange paint colors. Floors are level, free of stains and wear. Cabinetry has not been damaged. Basements have never been flooded. Walls do not have a million nail holes or patch marks. Maybe those things add character. But I like that I don't have to remove unwanted character prior to adding my own.

3. Funny smells.  Maybe I'm too picky.  Or maybe I have a thing with smells. But other people's houses smell funny. They smell like people, like pets, like sewer gasses, like cooking spices. Like sweaty feet. You can walk into a house and tell right away if a dog lives there, or if the occupants ever smoked in the house (it seeps into the paint and the ceilings and the ductwork and the dust.) You can tell if they eat a lot of curry, wear a lot of perfume, think fresh cut flowers liven up a place (cut flowers make me sad, and also make my nose run and my chest constrict).

 I'm sure my house smells funny too. But it smells like us. And a newly-built house is wonderfully strange-smell-free.

4. The "cookie cutter" myth. Why do anti-suburbanites claim that in the suburbs, all houses look alike? I've driven through streets in south St. Louis, Creve Coeur, Clayton, U.City, the Central West End, etc where every house looks alike. Not identical--there are variations in siding and landscaping, and over time the subtle differences get amplified with additions, outbuildings, screen porches, new window styles, etc. But anytime there is a neighborhood where houses were built at a similar time, by a similar group of builders, then the houses tend to resemble each other.  In some neighborhoods, you can guess by the outside what the inside layout looks like.

The same is true in planned subdivisions in the suburbs. I don't think its a bad thing. It is merely a predictable thing. Houses are single story, multiple stories, different colors, different yards. I don't actually want my house to stand out from the crowd.

5. Maturity of landscapes. Unless we move (again), my kids will never have a treehouse. We have no trees that large. Even in the 12-year-old house we moved out of, the largest tree on our lot would barely have supported any climbing. The new house has (half-dead) grass, and a few dozen seedling trees. Hopefully in the next year or two we will add some larger trees to that list. I do not consider our lack of mature landscaping to be a downside. In fact, it gives us a blank slate. If we want to keep the middle of our backyard free of obstacles for playing volleyball, we can.

There is a certain appeal to being the caretaker of towering trees. It also brings the risks of strong winds, messy cleanup, and extra expense for changing a home's outdoor spaces.  And we have hopes of at some point adding some solar power to our home. Had we bought a house shaded by mature trees, that would be an impossibility. This way, we can be smart about our planting.

6. Communities planned for the way we live. I have no desire to walk to a grocery store. I'd be limited to bringing home only what I could carry, and have to shop several times a week to keep the fridge stocked for the family. I do not have that kind of time.

And I do not care to live near where I work. If I had a community-focused career (something like a doctor or a teacher), then the idea would be great. But I have a career that supports working for large corporations. Large corporations do not make good neighbors, and I have no desire to move next door to an industrial park. I want to live in a nice residential area.

Maybe someday in the future, hubby and I will revisit the idea of a fixer-upper, or a down-sized house with lots of charm in a older, established neighborhood. But for our lives now, I'm pretty happy with our choice: a blank slate in the suburbs where we can add our own charm, plan our own landscape, make our own memories (and strange smells, lol). We got a good school district, a reasonable house payment, a nice community, and room to grow. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Voice of an Individual

I hesitate to join big political debates. You might think that's funny as I have no problem talking about baby poop and breast feeding and other, more personal topics. That's the thing. When I talk about a personal experience, I'm the expert. It is my experience. But if I try to offer an opinion on something bigger than me, I open myself up to all kinds of potential criticism, arguments, ubiquitous internet trolls, and opinionated family members.

I'm not a lawyer, a politician, a policymaker, or even a dabbler in any of those fields. My expertise is in making stuff out of nothing. I write fiction, I write software, I cook, I have babies. And I get more than enough negative feedback on the way I do all of those things already. Why bother stepping into a debate where I have no expertise, no platform, no big organization backing me up. But that's my whole point. I am just one person. And I wish to speak out on behalf of all the other "just one persons" out there.

Every article I read lately about religious freedom pits a large organization against an individual. The Churches and employers want "freedom of religion" in picking and choosing what kinds of healthcare its employees can choose. It makes no sense to me.

When people found companies, organizations, churches, and the like, they form something separate from people. Something different. Something new. Organizations become beings unto themselves, with agendas and motivations of their own. They even become legal entities that can act in courts similar to how individual people can. Some companies like to tout how connected they are with their employees,  but that doesn't make the company human. Quite the opposite. In order to need a "connection" with human beings, the company admits that it is not one.

Why do companies and religious organizations have rights that equal or supercede those of human beings? Why would anyone allow them to claim that they do?

How does an organization--a complex combination of money, assets, bylaws, and activities that depends on people and yet is not a person--how does such a thing require religious freedom? The individuals who are employed by it, who run it, who speak for it, who guide it--they are the ones for whom the protection should be afforded. 

A church defines a religion, it doesn't practice one itself. A company might be made up of warehouses or office equipment, intellectual property, money--the company does not go to church. How could it? The company, the church, the club or non-profit, or whatever other category of organization--none of these entities require medical care. None will ever develop cancer, appendicitis, have a baby, require a living will. Only the people that belong to such organizations--as patrons, employees, investors, owners, donors--only the people require the protection of religious freedom.

The biggest danger at election time is that the individuals running for office can be easily swayed by big organizations with big checkbooks. Big organizations who claim to speak for individuals, but really speak for only themselves. And the winners of the elections stand in a precarious position. They themselves will become the spokespeople for not just themselves, but for the people they represent. It is a position that teeters on the line between representing a collection of individuals, and representing some larger organization. A "State". A "City". A "Nation".

My hope for the election year, and for all election years, is that the individuals who end up in office will remember that individuals put them there. And that lawmakers will remember to protect people over companies, human beings over organizations. Individuals vote, not companies.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

All Our Moments Are Sharp

So, early last week I started a post about the various things we've been up to this summer. Some various new experiences for the kids (Cardinals game, Six Flags, fishing). Some non-news (we still own two houses). We celebrated our eleventh anniversary with an indoor barbeque (because it was 108 outside and we're just not that mean to our friends).  We've been busy at work with looming deadlines. I'm totally not writing any fiction (which sucks because I would like to but can't seem to string together more than ten minutes in a week and it takes that long to get my ancient laptop booted up anymore).

Then Monday night at dinner time, my husband got an upset stomach. We had eaten BBQ leftovers for dinner, so I immediately suspected food poisoning and began cleaning out the fridge. Tuesday he stayed home and barely answered the phone. By the time the kids and I got home from work and camp, he hurt too bad to sit up or walk.

We have now visited the nearby hospital's emergency room. And hubby has had his appendix privileges revoked. (Or maybe I should say that he had the most painful and least effective form of weight loss surgery. Or that he had a useless organ removed, though that sort of wording tends to lead to lewd jokes).

Happily, we got him there before the thing ruptured, and nowadays appendectomies are done laproscopically. So he is now the tummy-scar-winner of the family, with three individual incisions vs my single (though twice-used) C-section one and Trystan's dual scars from colostomy and his own emergency laproscopic bowel surgery at age 3 months. I hope to God that Charlotte never attempts to follow the rest of the family's lead and get any of her own. Her unblemished belly is quite nice as it is.

This is the first time I've had to deal with an adult in the hosptial besides myself. I had a funny moment when I realized that every doctor, nurse, aide, anesthesiologist, etc were directing their questions to my husband instead of me, and that I didn't need to answer anything. Which makes sense, of course, as I am married to a competent adult who is capable of taking charge of his own healthcare. But prior to Tuesday/Wednesday we had a total of eight surgeries in the family over eight years that involved either me or my children. I'm always the one answering the questions. Now that I think about it, my husband did have one outpatient procedure a couple of years ago, but I wasn't really there for it.

He is home and doing really well. We are both just tired--me from staying up all night in the hospital and doing a crazy amount of driving to keep the kids on a normal-ish schedule. And hubby because he actually had all the pain, inflammation, and surgery and all that.

So, hopefully soon we will be back to our regularly-scheduled crazy lives. We have a groupon for Rascals tickets that we haven't yet managed to use. And a new roof and hopefully siding (plus a bonus ceiling repair due to leaky roof) coming soon on our old house. I guess I need to hire a landscaper to start mowing it, as I have proven myself incapable of doing the hill, and my husband is barred from doing that sort of thing for a few weeks. And, of course, the stores are starting to get school supplies in so I guess I need to start thinking about class lists, school uniforms, and backpacks.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Let there be lights

In general I love the color choices that were made by the builder in our new house. Dark wood floors, wrought iron, darker glazed cabinetry, warm-colored walls. Overall it was a refreshing change from the plain white walls, white carpets, and medium-toned maple of many of the newer houses that we looked at. 

There is room for improvement, though.  The day we first saw the house, I cringed a few light fixtures. There were three lights with yellow glass in one hallway, a matching fan in the master bedroom, and I swear the dining room chandelier is supposed to hang in the breakfast room.  We have been slow to make changes because we are still paying on the other house (yes still), so replacing brand new light fixtures with different brand new light fixtures is kinda low on the priority list.

When we were spiffing up the old house last year, we replaced a few lights and re-finished a couple more to change out some of the shiny brass that we put in when the house was originally built.(*) So recently we were at the other house for some errand (probably related to the baseball sized hail, or else the various bird attacks, not sure which), and I had a revelation.

We had, in that garage, three small round ceiling lights, completely unused. They're what I call "boob lights", because of the shape. Fairly normal lights, nice white frosted glass.  Despite their shiny brass, I actually like the lights. Hey, I did pick them out. And not only did we have three, but one was still brand-new-in-box. We managed to miscount when the house was being built and the builder had nowhere to install it.

Three lights. Whose glass and shape I like. I have three lights in my new house whose shape is OK but whose glass is a gawd-awful mottled yellow that makes the light look dim (my eyes and yellow light do NOT get along). And we know how to refinish light fixtures.

One $7 can of Rustoleum paint-plus-primer spray in Venetian Bronze, and we went from:


Beautiful, if I do say so myself.  Which I shouldn't as my husband actually did all the hard work both painting them and installing them.  (My apologies if they are a bit hard to really see on the dark countertop--sorry. Photographing them installed on the ceiling is even harder--too much light with them turned on, too little with them off).

(*) When we were building our last house, I wanted antique brass light fixtures. I was very very sure that I wanted antique brass fixtures throughout the house. The builder's "lighting allowance" was all of $300 for 3300 square feet of house--4 ceiling fans, 5 bathroom vanity lights, kitchen island, kitchen sink, hallways, dining room chandelier, breakfast room fan, entry way, etc. That silly lighting allowance would not have afforded a single ceiling fan at the overpriced store they sent us to, let alone enough lights for the whole house. And asking for antique brass involved special order. As in, minimum $100 each for a basic "boob light".

Don't get me started on how they gouged us on light bulbs (seriously? $6 each? For a 50cent incandescent? Did I mention that the builder told us that we had no choice in the matter? I know better now...).

After the sticker shock wore off, I decided I could live with cutting our bill down to about a quarter of the original estimate by choosing shiny brass over the antique look (and by buying and installing our own ceiling fans after we moved in).  I never was happy with that color, and by the time we moved out, there were few original light fixtures left in the place. (I never got to changing out shiny brass door knobs, though I'd priced out new ones several times...)

Funny how that worked out so well for the new house.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Birds II and Birds III

We only thought our bird adventures were finished last month with the discovery (and subsequent removal of) a dead bird from our house-for-sale.

We were wrong.

About a week later, we got a phone call from our realtor, on a Friday evening. I got a little excited. I shouldn't have. She had just finished a showing of our house in which she and the show-ees found three more birds in our house. One was still alive.

So the nice couple helped to shoo the live bird out before resuming their tour. (They may have liked the house, but have a house of their own to sell and have not made us any offers. I'm not sure the presence of dead birds helped speed up the process.)

When my husband went to investigate and clean up (again), he found that the birds devised an alternate means of entry. The first one came in through the bathroom vent and pushed his way through the ceiling vent cover (it was hanging loose and the bathroom facilities had clearly been utilized by an avian visitor).

This time, the bathroom vent cover was intact. But they used the same outside vent entrance (my attempts at covering it had been pecked through and they had used some of the netting for a new nest). Instead of coming down the vent, they came through the side of the duct and into the unfinished side of our basement.

So that was fun. My husband did a much more extensive repair job than my attempt. He had to replace a section of vent tubing, and found a vent cover that should be more bird-proof than window screening. I had tried to buy a vent cover, but I couldn't fit a cover over the opening because of the deck ledger board. He used a Dremmel.

So far, so good. So on Thursday night, we were all in the car and kept hearing a funny chirping sound. When we got home, hubby checked his car, found his spare tire had been installed upside down, righted it, and thought all was good.

The car chirped again the next morning. You guessed it. Another bird. In the car.

You'd think these things would learn by now. We own cats. We barbeque chicken. We have power tools. When we talk about "nest eggs" in our house, we mean the financial type! (Or else scrambled).


Friday, May 25, 2012

Choosing Schools

When we started our house search last year, we narrowed down the search areas in order to keep our kids in the same school. Ironically, it is that decision to move that has ultimately prompted us to change schools for next year.

The home we ended up falling in love with is in a wonderful community in a consistently top-rated public school district, with a large, growing, and vibrant parish school nearby. The closest public elementary is about two minutes from our house. The parish school is three minutes away (almost exactly one mile). Add another six minutes worth of drive time and we come to two more good parish schools. The independent Catholic school our kids have attended is about 20 minutes away, closer to 30 in rush hour. But for the first half of the school year, we didn't seriously consider moving schools.

We knew our youngest would have a rough transition from daycare into a highly-structured pre-k program. Add the house move during the second week of school, and I'm impressed the kid didn't implode. He actually held up really well, in my opinion. We had some potty challenges to overcome. He is potty trained, but due to his assortment of bowel surgeries and non-standard musculature "down there", he has more trouble than the average kid. That is never a good start.

Then his pre-k teacher told us that he was hard to understand and probably needed speech therapy. That was a bit of a shocker to me, personally. I could understand my son perfectly. In fact, he had been speaking in long paragraphs with multi-syllable words for quite a while. But after I thought about it, I realized that I was frequently repeating his words to others so they could understand him. Our school district evaluated his hearing and speech and found that he did, indeed, qualify for speech therapy. He also failed their hearing screening.

He eventually failed three hearing screenings from the school district. We didn't fully count the first two results because of ear infections (our little guy has a history of many, hard-to-kill ear infections). But the results were confirmed by our pediatrician, who referred us to an ENT, who diagnosed him with temporary hearing loss due to persistent fluid build up behind the ear drums. In four months of speech lessons, his intelligibility has markedly improved.

Meanwhile, we had another conference with the pre-k teacher who began the conversation with "Would you give him the gift of another year in pre-k?".  That just floored me. She went on to show us his "academic" work--he knew every letter, every sound, every number, could count to 30 or higher...can you see my confusion?

I have a child who is, in all likelihood, gifted. He had been evaluated by Parents as Teachers since babyhood and consistently tracked as a kid one or two years older than himself. When I started researching the characteristics and needs of gifted kids, it was like a chorus of angels singing (hokey, I know, but when you get one of those "aha" moments, sometimes those silly cliches are true). And I wasn't grasping at straws here--as a kid, I personally was evaluated and deemed "gifted", my husband likely is too, as are all four of my sisters (if not officially across the gifted mark, then certainly way up there on the IQ scale). I'm not qualified to make that determination for my children, but I read articles like this, and am pretty convinced.

Back to T-man and the question of holding him back from entering Kindergarten. He has a March birthday, so is "young". We realized that much of his pre-k class are actually old for the year. Many turned five before the school year started (our son just turned five this spring). My son is also small, physically. That's not due to developmental reasons. Its pure genetics.  My son has been consistently bigger and taller than his older sister when you compare their growth charts, but he is still at the bottom of the scale for boys.

So his classmates were taller, older, heard better, and spoke better than he did.  The teachers called his social/emotional development immature. There might be a good reason for that. He is difficult to motivate if he isn't excited about an activity, but when he gets engaged in an activity, it is difficult to get him to let it go before he has mastered it to his own satisfaction. I can well understand why he is a handful when sitting in a classroom full of children who are eager to please the teacher.

Eventually, the current school decided that they would accept our son for Kindergarten next year. But the whole conflict had already sent us researching our options. From the local highly-rated public school system (with actual gifted education options), to multiple nearby religious and independent schools, we have lots of options. Lots. I toured the nearby parish school. They do have an out-of-classroom program for advanced kids. They also have a big student body and still offer the option of half-day or full-day kindergarten, expecting that some of their youngest students will need extra social/emotional nurturing the first year. They have band and art and sports and after-school foreign language classes, and really most of the same offerings that our existing school has. 

And they are three minutes from our house. Our children spend most of an hour every day in the car, commuting to/from school. Next year, they will have about 10 minutes a day. And the parish school draws from the local neighborhoods, where the independent school drew kids from a much wider area, making playdates difficult to arrange.

Our daughter has done wonderfully at her current school and is sad to leave. She had her First Communion this year, and got to dance the Maypole during the May Crowning at school and I've been her Girl Scout leader for the year (something for me, personally, to feel sad about leaving behind). She has bloomed academically this year too--I suspect she is also gifted, though in slightly different ways than her brother. Her talents include a lot of deep insightful thinking, which tends to work really well in a classroom setting.

This is the right decision for our whole family for now.

I can't predict whether this will be our last choice of school. Perhaps we will be with the parish school until both children have moved on to high school. Perhaps we will re-evaluate after only a few years. I hope that we will not regret the decision, but somehow it seems that the events of the past year keep leading us down this path. Yes, I do believe that sometimes there are larger forces at work in our lives, leading us to where we belong.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kids and Technology

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who treat technology like a tool to be manipulated and used to accomplish their goals, and those who treat it like a ticking time bomb, who are afraid to make any sudden moves for fear that it will send them into the beyond.

My husband and I are both software engineers who grew up with some of the earliest personal computers in our homes. For us, tech is a tool, much like a whisk or a hammer or a pencil. We are not afraid to use it, to occasionally abuse it, to remake it or rework it into something useful or necessary or entertaining. After all, that's what we are paid to do.

Our kids see us on the computer, on our phones, wiring up speakers and game consoles and MP3 players. Their father likes to mod computers, adding water cooling or lights and fans and paint and who knows what else. I'm more likely to be updating a website, creating craft projects in Photoshop or Acrobat, or sorting my ebook collection in Calibre. I think that our kids, too, treat technology as a toolset that they can pull from to solve life's challenges.

But lately, I keep hearing from other parents who are both appalled at the amount of technology that "kids these days" use. They want to limit the use of phones, gaming consoles, tablets, and so on. "Screen time". They say it isn't healthy.

Funny, some of the same people type as though each key contains a syringe, ready to draw blood. They call the Geek Squad every time they need to find a file on the hard drive because they aren't brave enough to start clicking on those little folder icons for fear they will break something. The are horrified and awed when I demonstrate how few clicks with the phone it takes to google a product, find a store that carries it, and pass the store address to the GPS navigation program which begins giving verbal directions on how to get there. How I can stand in one store, scan a barcode on a toy, and see who has it on sale (and sometimes go ahead and order, right there in the store, before I move on to the next aisle).

I was reading a blog post just now where a thirty-something mother mentioned being appalled that a three-year old was proficient at playing games on an iPhone. When my son was three, he liked to use my phone to take pictures and post them to FaceBook, and could dial or text his grandmother by finding her picture in the contact list (his texts were always something like zxxcvyyy but he frequently spelled out his name at the end). His Speech Therapy teacher uses games on an iPad in parts of their one-on-one sessions. Both of our kids have been allowed to play educational games from the time they could hold a mouse or a Leapster.

Not all technology is "screen time". When my 7-year old daughter wants to spend three hours on the computer watching tv show recordings, then yes, it is screen time. But I've given her hours on end to spend researching green sea turtles for school, and taught her how to save bits of text and photos with Microsoft's One Note that she later sorted and re-arranged to help design a poster and write paragraphs. When my son takes pictures and send them to people, he isn't just dumbly sitting and watching some inanimate object entertain him. He is using the information, synthesizing, coming up with new applications for it. This is exactly the sort of time, experience, and play that we should be encouraging our children to do. They need to learn not only to navigate devices, but to come up with new uses for them.

I want to teach my kids to program. I think I was around second or third grade when I found my dad's book on TI Basic for our ancient (Atari-era) computer and began drawing hearts and flowers on the screen with code. Charlotte is plenty old enough. Trystan needs a bit more reading, but he is already a creative problem solver.

People of all ages need to stop fearing technology. Start reading the manuals. Start pushing the buttons. Figure out what works, what doesn't, what you can do with something, why you might want to do it. And parents should stop being afraid to let their kids explore. Like with every other aspect of their growth, give them a safe, controlled environment to start (i.e. don't hand over an unlocked phone where the kid can spend hundreds of $ and spam your boss with photos in moments). This is no different than teaching them to tumble on a gym mat instead of concrete, or to wear a helmut when on their bike. But as the kids grow, make sure their virtual playgrounds grow with them. Sure, control the couch-potato aspects of their technology time, but encourage the creative problem-solving.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

A bird in the hand is worth...

Every time my husband goes out of town, there is a minor family disaster. Last time, it involved back-to-back fevers by my kids that took me out of work for most of a week, using up more vacation and sick time than I could afford.

This time, instead of Mother Kristi, it was Mother Nature. Hail. Baseball sized hail fell on our old neighborhood last Saturday night. By "old neighborhood", I mean "location of our previous residence, which we still own and desperately wish to sell". Yeah, thinking that the holes in the roof, siding, deck, landscape lighting, and trees are not going to be highlights of the home tour.

Yes, we have insurance. No, we don't have contractors working yet. Yes, the insurance companies are massively overbooked with the damage. Yes, I could start setting up appointments before an adjuster gets a chance to total it up. No, I don't have time.

I do have a job. And two kids. And running drop-off and pickup singlehandedly all week, plus morning and evening routines, packing all the lunches, etc takes a lot of time when there aren't any extra credit assignments to complete. (Single parents, please stop throwing tomatoes. Yes, I'm whining. But most of you don't have to deal with a dead bird).

Yes, I said dead bird. Inside the house. Inside the hail-damaged house-for-sale. Dead. Inside. (All together now: eeewwwww!)

At least the thing had the presence of mind to keel over on the laminate floor instead of the carpet. Never fear, though, he did nail the carpet pretty good. And the bathroom. His method of entry: bathroom vent. I know this because the bathroom was by far the smelliest place in the house, because the vent cover was hanging down from the ceiling, and because we've had trouble with birds attempting to make nests in that vent before.

So Thursday I spend a precious "vacation" day (of which I have like 2 left, no exaggeration) to drive all over town, meeting with my son's speech pathologist about transitioning to Kindergarten, going to the eye doctor for new glasses, and doing a little yard cleanup at the old house. That's when I found the bird. If I had to guess, he got freaked by the storm and flew into the nice, safe-looking hidey-hole of the vent, found his way into the house, and wasn't smart enough to reverse course after the sirens stopped. And then died of some combination of starvation, dehydration, and banging his head desperately on the window in an attempt at escaping.

I have scrubbed the bathroom from top to bottom (most of a bottle of disinfectant), cleaned every window sill in the house (I think he checked them all), cleaned the kitchen (just in case), mopped the entire family/kitchen/breakfast room laminate floor, and steam cleaned the rest of the carpet in that house. I still need to go back and vacuum up the chunks of fuzz that the steam cleaner left behind (why does it always do that?)

I have also rigged up a bird-proofing system on the external vent cover that involved window screening and a staple gun. The hardware stores sell nice-looking plastic vent covers specifically for this purpose. Alas, the vent in question is in a tight spot under the deck and the pre-fabricated ones don't work without leaving a gap wide enough to keep out, say, a bird-who's-scared-sh*tless-by-killer-hail. (Engineering friends will not be impressed with my handiwork as I neglected to include duct tape in the final solution).

My husband is now home. My house-with-furniture is a mess. My tummy is full of a yummy steak dinner. And we have two yards to mow and a million errands to run. Plus the likelihood of arranging for new roof, gutters, siding, window screens, and deck railings and post caps.

I guess the minor family disaster is over and we are back to our regularly scheduled chaos.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cruzing Down the Highway

I have owned two cars in my life: A 1998 Honda Civic and a 2003 Honda Accord. I learned how to drive in a (1992?) Honda Civic, and hubby currently drives a Toyota.  His previous cars were American models (an enormous Delta 88 in college followed by a Pontiac, another Oldsmobile, and another Pontiac). I hated all of them before the Toyota. I felt like Goldilocks driving Papa Bear's car. Seatbelt connections always blocked my blindspots, seats didn't adjust right, steering wheels and gas pedals felt like they were miles away from me. I'm 5'4"--pretty average for a woman, and my husband is not tall for a man, so the size problem has always annoyed me (who are the giants buying Pontiac's anyway?).  I decided that I'll just stick to Hondas. They are, like Momma Bear's porridge, just right.

So when I got rear ended last week and the rental company told me they had a Chevy Cruze for me to drive, I cringed.

I have to say, it's not all bad. For starters, the car isn't a horrendously stripped-down one like rental cars I've had in the past. It has a keyless entry remote and automatic door locks. There's nothing worse than climbing over seats to push down manual door locks, or worse--forgetting to do it at all.  The stereo is nicer than my 2003 one--if I owned an auxiliary cable for my phone,  I could actually use it to play my MP3s. And if I had time to figure out the radio to reprogram the all-talk and country stations that the car came with, I could try out XM radio for the first time.  And bluetooth--it has built-in hands free bluetooth. Not that I talk on the phone in the car, but I did figure out how to pair it to my phone just in case. And, best of all, I can adjust the seat and actually see over the dashboard.

I do thoroughly hate two of the Cruze's features: the rear seatbelts and the childproof lock mechanism.  My kids can't buckle their own seatbelts because the bottom buckles sit too low in the seat cushion. I can barely buckle their seatbelts because the bottom buckles sit too low in the seat cushion. And when you lock the backseat passengers out of rolling their windows up and down (as certain button-happy 5-year old boys are wont to do), you also lock them into the car. As in, it locks the back doors where they can't be opened from the inside just like a police car (a Cruze-er?). I have now left both of my kids stuck inside my car more than once as I walked into the house, completely forgetting that they are helpless to let themselves out. (Actually, my daughter correctly guessed that she could climb to the front seat and open the driver's door).

Also, I have never found a trunk latch button inside the car. I have one on the key, but it only works if the key is unplugged from the ignition. But then, I can seem to open the trunk by hand without the key. I'm glad I don't carry valuables in my car.

I'm looking forward to getting my Accord back, all shiny and fixed. Though I am making a wish list for my next car. It won't be a Cruze.  But I will remember to have the kids test out the seatbelts, just in case.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


Every time I complain about moving and the housing market here on my blog, I hope that it will be my last time. The only other thing in my life that has been so utterly frustrating is selling a manuscript to a publisher, and for much the same reason: there is absolutely nothing I can do to control the process.

I wish there were straightforward steps I could take to make a difference in selling the house. I can't stage it (its empty, and I can't afford a second house full of furniture). I can't remodel more than I have (no $ left after paying the mortgage every month, and certainly no hope of recovering the $ at sale). We have already done paint, new carpet, new appliances, some light fixture updates, new patio doors. Short of winning the lottery and making a gift of an expensive remodel to the next owner, we're out of things to do on this house. I can't change the slope of the yard, or the width of the lot (thus, the size of the garage). I can't change its placement in the neighborhood (sorry we don't have a flat corner lot or a cul-de-sac spot). We have an agent, MLS listing, open houses, craigslist ads. We could place an ad in the ever-shrinking-newspapaer, but to what end? What other options are there? Goodyear blimp?

We could drop the price. But we've already dropped the price. And dropped the price some more. And the only official offer we've had was way, way under our dropped price. Way under. Way under what some of the smaller houses in our neighborhood cost to build. There is a range, below our current low asking price, where we would definitely entertain offers just to get rid of the darned thing (and its accompanying mortgage payment). But no one is offering.

Yes, we may have to accept the fact that things beyond our control (i.e. the elevation of the yard, the number of houses nearby also on the market, the number of buyers, the economy) have driven the price way down.  And things beyond our control are preventing potential buyers from offering, or possibly even looking.I just wish there were some things within our control.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Cost of Custom Window Treatments

My husband and I had our first home "custom" built. By "custom", I mean that we chose the lot from a dozen or so available options in the neighborhood, chose the basic floor plan from a dozen or so available from the builder, and then paid through the nose for anything other than the cheapest-possible-finishes-and-fixtures.

Everything cost extra.

I think I lived through two or three months of constant sticker shock. I remember one moment in particular that nearly made me faint in horror. The helpful salesperson offered to set us up with an appointment with a local custom drapery shop. Any draperies we ordered through the custom shop could be added to the cost of the home, and paid for by the mortgage instead of out-of-pocket. I probably looked at him funny about the financing, because he patiently explained to me that it can cost $1000 or more per window for window treatments.

One thousand dollars to decorate a window.

Now, I'm not an idiot, and I'd been shopping before. Basic mini-blinds at the time cost about $25 a piece, maybe $100 for fancy wood-look ones. What the heck costs a grand? (I was also mentally calculating the number of windows in the house...19 altogether if memory serves...meaning curtains would cost more than my car).

Clearly, we declined to talk to the custom drapery service.

Now, more than a decade later, I am beginning to understand why custom drapes might require their own mortgage, or at least the surrender of a firstborn child. Not, mind you, that I've ever paid anywhere near ten Benjamins for some cloth and a couple of poles.

We only ever bought two sets of mini-blinds for that first house, one for a closet and one for the basement storage room. Everything else got fabric. The house had relatively common-sized windows, and I sew. Over the years I did and re-did several rooms, spending between $10 and $200 per window. Some windows, like the 48"x48" bathroom window, got a $5 café rod and about $5 of crushed voile yardage (plus about 20 minutes of sewing time, and butterfly-themed shower curtain holders that were a wedding gift). Truly custom drapes for $10, installed.

Some, like the old kitchen sliding door, got a more expensive setup with a ~$100 decorative traverse rod plus a ~$100 premade pinch-pleat patio-panel (the $100 was with a sale and a coupon). We later replaced that slider with a French door and ditched the drapes altogether, and were happier for the trade.

Our newer house is a bit more complex. Our window sizes vary widely, and we have some fancier ones. Half-rounds, bays, extra-tall windows in the 2-story family room (with a second pair of arch-topped ones above the first set). And we are spending a tad more upfront on the window hardware because changing that part later on can be very frustrating and generally bad for the integrity of drywall (holes can only take so much spackle). And some windows are just more of a challenge. The bay window rod "system" for the master bedroom alone was around $300 (after a series of coupons and a sale).

We have been able to re-use many of our non-neutral drapes from the old house (Purple! Red!), so I haven't needed to buy a lot of new fabric (kudos to my re-decorating-and-packrat habits). Still, I'm all about the sales, the coupons, the comparison shopping. And the DIY factor.

Ironically, we have recently installed a new decorative traverse rod over our new kitchen sliding door. Onto it, I hung our old premade pinch-pleat patio-panel. (I really want to change the new door for a French door too, but that would cost me a grand. Or more.). I have yet to make a new custom curtain for the new, 48"x48" window in our new master bathroom, but we have made do for the moment with a concoction that involves two shower curtain rods and a pair of sheer curtains tucked and excess fabric rolled around the rods (it looks better than it sounds).

Lucky for my husband, I decided to only coverthe two lower windows in the 2-story family room. Lucky because the 108" tall windows were more than enough of a challenge. They look lovely with (sale-priced) off-the-shelf sheers and the red fringed window scarves we removed from our previous living/dining room. Adding fabric to odd-shaped upper windows sixteen feet off the ground is not high on our priority list at the moment.

Including installation, with all of the trickiness of window sizes and heights, I can actually understand a $1000 price tag for complicated hardware, lots of fabrics, custom design and sewing, and the risk of installation mishaps. But armed with a ladder, a drill, a level, a sewing machine, and bargain hunting instincts, I didn't have to donate a limb in order to cover my windows.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


After 5 months in the new house, I hereby announce that our decorating style is no longer "Neo-Cardboard with Touches of Dust and Bare Windows". Instead we are back to our "Neo-Traditional with Touches of Barbie and Zhu Zhu Pets".

It seriously took us until Christmas to unpack all the moving boxes (or carry them down to the basement and out of living areas). After Christmas, there was a secondary wave of box invaders from gift shipping and packaging (and the inevitable un-packing and re-packing in order to decorate). Cardboard is like an infection. It spreads if not treated aggressively.

Most of our windows now have window coverings. We were able to move a lot of drapes from our old house because red and deep purple are not considered to be "neutral" tones. I have a fondness for fabric window treatments, coupled with bargain-hunting instincts and sewing skills. What that means is that I left the old house properly-draped in neutral tones (primarily in sheers to allow for maximum light), and I also own at least two large storage tubs of drapes that did not find rods in the new house. The few windows that aren't yet dressed are odd-sizes (like the 2-story windows flanking the fireplace in the living room—those are gonna need a lot of fabric). I don't do blinds, except in very limited circumstances (namely, inside closets or other areas where I don't have to look at them).

The kids' rooms look properly kid-like. Charlotte is already lobbying to paint her room, but she has shelves and pictures hung, plus fuchsia curtains to brighten the place. Trystan's room got a brand-new bunk bed set that gives us a little extra sleeping space for guests. Since out-growing his crib, he had been sleeping on a queen-sized bed that I had dubbed the Once and Future Guest Bed. I could have let him keep it, but it's really hard to find kids bedding in queen size, and the bunks are a lot more fun to climb. The queen bed has resumed duty in the guest room. (We have a guest room!)

We haven't done a lot else to the new house. We have grand plans. And a second house payment. The old house is still on the market, and is annoying the crap out of me. We have had several offers to rent the place, but we really don't want to be landlords. We don't have the time, and I don't have the heart to see what kinds of horrors a renter could potentially inflict upon my former home.

The old house is looking pretty nice. We painted our dining room white (it had been a conversation- and appetite-stimulating golden color). We painted our laundry room white (it had been bubble-gum pink). We have removed additional nails and patched and painted the walls. The landscape is in its winter-dormant state, though some of the spring bulbs are starting to come up due to the warm weather. The price is about as good as it gets (less than what we paid for it, and we are throwing in a free deck, flooring upgrades, and appliance upgrades with purchase). We are just waiting on a buyer.

I hate the words "bad economy".

But I have a wealth of ideas for gardening, decorating, and basement finishing. As we frequently say, "When the house sells."