Sunday, December 1, 2013

Needlework Zombie

Need sleep.  I've been making custom Christmas stockings for several years now, but each year they seem to get more elaborate and eat up more of my Advent with desperate late nights and entire days spent with needle in hand.  I stayed up until 3:30 AM this morning, powered by Rockstar, and now the tips of my right thumb and index finger feel like I've bruised the bone squeezing the tiny beading needle all night and all day yesterday . . . and all the day before, etc.

Here are some of the finished results for this year.  These were for some cousins in Montana, made to match one I made for their son two years ago.  These are all just craft felt on denim, cut by hand, assembled by hand, painted by hand, and sewn down along every edge by hand.  Even the letters are cut by hand from printed templates and hand beaded.








I'm starting to feel like it's giving me carpal tunnel issues.  I wouldn't recommend this kind of minute hand-stitching to anyone who has a life.  These were actually finished a few weeks ago, but I had a hard time getting decent pictures with the lighting around here.  Now I'm frantically working on two more which are even more elaborate, each with several celtic knots.  Imagine sewing all along the borders of a celtic knot.  
Yeah, it takes about 12-24 man-hours each.  We haven't quite figured out when during the course of all this the housework is supposed to get done.  The dog feels neglected.

It's not that I mind doing it, but deadlines are a killer.  Sometimes I would just rather do something else for a while.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Class It Up

I used to love classical music.  I still like it, but my weary brain generally prefers pop as its drug of choice, so naturally I love a pop-classical remix.  Here's a smattering of songs which I think are improved by a touch of Old World class.










Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Random Domestic Thought of the Day, Vol. I

While combing Netflix for my background TV entertainment while crafting, I came across TLC's "Extreme Cheapskates."  I clicked on it because I consider myself a sort of soft-core cheapskate, and I'm always looking for reasonable tips.  Some of them are doing things I've done in the past when we had barely enough money to live on, such as picking up spare change on the street and reusing paper towels.  I still unplug most appliances when not in use and tear my dryer sheets in half.  Not extreme measures by any means, but every little bit counts.

In many instances, the show reveals some of the affluent snobbery of the first world.  People who would rather vomit than pick the meat off the head of a cooked salmon have never been truly hungry.  I wish more establishments would set out the slightly abused produce and yesterday's bread with proper signage and a reasonable discount.  I abhor waste.  However, I'm probably not likely to make salad dressing by pouring apple cider vinegar into the dregs of a jelly jar, nor to use a wad of old tin foil inside a plastic onion bag as a dish scrubber.  More power to them.

I have no problem with cultivating slightly unusual habits to save money in the privacy of your own home, but when the fixation becomes highly inconvenient and/or publicly obnoxious, it's time to reevaluate the reason behind the behavior.  Are you really trying to get by, or would you just rather have a free ride?  There's a fine line between frugality and outright theft; fast food restaurants don't put out ketchup packets so you can leave with a pocketful and refill your ketchup bottle on their dime.  It is incredibly rude to pay a large restaurant tab with a huge bag of small change.  It is unreasonable for a man of means to have his wife (who has exhibited good financial judgment) on an allowance of $20 a week.

Today's random thought, however, deals with a cost-cutting measure which is neither rude nor unreasonable, but neither is it incredibly effective.  That thought is reusable cloth toilet "paper."

Toilet paper is tricky.  Buy cheap, and you're likely to need to use more in order for it to be effective.  Buy better and need less, but spend more.  There's a point after which effective toilet paper cannot be cheaper.  Anything more expensive is like buying a disposable quilted memory foam pillow for your butt -- extravagant and (in my book) unnecessary.  Your butt can suck it up.

The first world reels in shock and horror at the thought of reusable toilet paper.  Eew, urine and feces!  The family in question used old rags and cut up clothes for this purpose, a basket of clean pieces hanging from the toilet paper rod, a plastic trash can below collecting the dirties for washing.  It may not be as far-fetched as it seems, but it probably isn't worth the effort.

PROS:

Allegedly, using reusable toilet paper is "free," eliminating that expense from the budget entirely.  One of the appalled neighbors replied that she could never "contaminate her washing machine" like that.  Why not?  What about those reusable diapers that are making such a come-back?  What about reusable puppy pads like the ones I use?  There's at least one or two loads of dirty doggie laundry done around here each day.  When the washer smells a little funky, we run a cycle with one of those washer cleaner packets.  Not so shocking after all.  This is a real trend.  It's called "family cloth."

CONS:

Reusable cloth toilet "paper" isn't actually free, so I find it hard to believe it's worth the effort from a purely financial perspective.  The cost of toilet paper is negligible at best, especially when considered against the electricity, water, detergent and man hours required to maintain a clean supply of the cloth alternative.  If you can throw them in with a batch of cloth diapers being washed anyway, that's great.  Otherwise, I can't see washing them with anything else (except maybe doggie laundry).  I can see approaching it from an ecological standpoint, but I simply choose to pay a little extra for recycled toilet paper.  Two ply, of course.  In the end all the fuss and bother doesn't really seem worthwhile.

Hey, maybe you don't do it for frugality's sake.  Maybe you just like the idea.  In that case, there are lots of fancy options on Etsy.  These snap together for a look-alike toilet roll.  Might as well pay for the good stuff, right?  Brown is probably a prudent color choice.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Products Natural AND Domestic

While we're talking about toxic Chinese products, I thought I'd highlight some of my favorite natural consumables I have in the house right now.  I prefer a natural alternative when I can get it, and the great thing about these products is that they're pretty mainstream.  I found most of them in the specialty section of Food Lion.  The other perk is that most natural products don't seem to come from China.  Long live the resistance.

1. Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap 

Yeah, it's the pantheistic soap with the ranting label.  Just ignore that part.  It's a very mild natural soap with no detergents or extra foaming agents.  However, it is very effective.  The short list of ingredients includes coconut oil, olive oil, hemp oil and jojoba oil, all of which are organic.  It is very proud of being certified fair trade and packaged in a 100% recycled plastic bottle.  Even better, it comes in two of my favorite scents of all time, peppermint and almond.  The liquid soap is concentrated, so I keep some diluted by half in a little travel bottle in our shower caddy.  It also comes in bar form.    I had to search the label for a while, but eventually I found the stamp: "Made in U.S.A."

2. Jason Aloe Vera Shampoo and Deodorant

I've been searching for years for the perfect shampoo and conditioner combination for my hair.  I've tried wash-out treatments, leave-in treatments, the vitamin shampoos, the exotic oil shampoos.  I finally gave it up in favor of a shampoo with no carcinogens.  This moisturizing 84% aloe vera shampoo has no parabens, SLS or phthalates, and my hair has never felt better.  Many of the ingredients are organic, and the product has never been tested on animals (for those who are concerned about such things).  It's such a great natural shampoo, though, I've considered testing it on my dog.  Again, "Made
in USA."

I also use a deodorant of the same organic aloe vera line for sensitive skin.  It is a deodorant but not an antiperspirant, so it is aluminum free and paraben free, with no animal by-products or testing.  One of the active ingredients seems to be a derivative of Chamomile.  "Made in USA."

3. Tom's of Maine Toothpaste

I like that Tom's has a fluoride-free option.  I have mixed feelings about fluoride.  When we were kids our teeth were yellow because there was too much fluoride in the water, a fact that was apparently explained on our water bill.  Anyway, fluoride-free, antiplaque and whitening is the trifecta for my toothpaste.  Available in classic peppermint.  No artificial colors, flavors, fragrance, or preservatives.  Packaged in a recycled BPA-free plastic tube.  "Made in U.S.A."

4. Petco Natural Dog Toothpaste

While we're talking about toothpaste, I noticed that the dog's toothpaste was also "Made in USA."  It's a natural enzymatic toothpaste that doesn't require rinsing, thank God.  It's hard enough to just get the brushing done.  Supposed to whiten teeth and freshen breath, also highly desirable.  I never thought I'd actually be brushing a dog's teeth, but at least I know I'm not poisoning her.

5. Anything Burt's Bees

I love Burt's Bees.  If nothing else, I always have some of their lip balm around.  Gotta love the peppermint.  The primary ingredient is, of course, beeswax, but it also contains coconut oil, sunflower seed oil, peppermint oil, rosemary leaf extract, soybean oil, canola oil, and vitamin E.  No animal testing.  35% post-consumer content in the packaging.  No parabens, phthalates, or petrochemicals.  I've just realized that Burt's Bees has an entire line of pet care products.  "Made in USA."

6. Earth Friendly Products Ultra Dishmate Soap

I was initially drawn to this product because they had an almond-scented option.  I love almond.  The very short list of ingredients is water, coconut oil derived surfactants, and almond oil.  Of these coconut oil derived surfactants, it claims they do not contain 1,4-Dioxane or Cocamide DEA.  I'm not even sure what that is, but ok.  It says it's biodegradable and recyclable, the latter of which I assume refers to the bottle. Smells fabulous.  I also remember an orange and a pear variety.  "Made in the USA."

7. Vitafusion PreNatal Gummy Vitamins

I am not a natural pill-swallower, so I finally went looking for some grown-up gummy vitamins.  I found these at Food Lion for the last pregnancy, and I still take them now even though I don't need them for prenatal purposes.  They are the multivitamin and the DHA supplement combined, made with naturally sourced colors and flavors.  These natural colors are apparently purple carrot juice concentrate, black carrot juice concentrate, blueberry and carrot concentrates.  The fish oil used has been tested for mercury and PCBs and comes from sustainable fisheries.  Comes in a BPA-free plastic bottle.  Best of all, they're "Made in the USA" with a proud little picture of an American flag on the label.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Death By China

I've been watching documentaries again.  Here's a goodie, available on Netflix and YouTube.

I knew the situation in China was terrible, I knew the cheap stuff was inferior quality and possibly dangerous, and growing up I had some vague notion that if everything was made in China our economy would probably suffer.  For a while I was just apathetic, because there didn't seem to be too many ways around it.  There aren't too many products out there with a "Made in USA" alternative.  But now I'm just mad, and determined to look for an alternative whenever one might possibly exist.  This will tie in with that later post wherein I will scour Target and Wal-Mart for those elusive "Made in USA" items and compare the two.

Oh, and I'll never order fish at a restaurant again, at least not unless I can verify it came from this hemisphere.  Not that fish farming anywhere is AMAZINGLY healthy.  Bah.  Fish are difficult.



Thursday, October 31, 2013

Weigh-In Success!!!

With combination crash dieting, killer workouts, weight loss supplements, compression belts and a LOT of prayer, Dave lost twenty pounds and passed his weigh-in this morning with two inches to spare!  So, he is safely employed for at least another six months (barring another government shutdown or the collapse of the entire system, of course).  Thank you, Jesus!!!

And thanks to everyone who sent prayers!  I'm sure they helped.  I'm going to go blow out the altar candles now before I burn the apartment down, and then go decompress in a lovely hot shower.  Oh, the relief!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Weigh-In Crisis, Part 2

Ok, apparently we have a week less time than we thought we had.  The weigh-in to end all weigh-ins will be this Thursday.  If that goes well, the actual PT test will be on Friday, but we aren't worried about that part.  All the hard work he's been putting in has been paying off, but we're right there at the borderline.

I'm trying not to freak out about it.  I know it isn't always a catastrophe when life doesn't go as planned, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me nervous.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Obamapocolypse Now

I hope all the Sandra Flukes of the world can rest easy knowing they enjoy free birth control at the expense of a young boy with a life-threatening milk allergy who can now barely afford his EpiPens, the family of ten who now live on ramen noodles with limited utilities in a futile attempt to afford medical supplies for their two children with Type 1 Diabetes, the self-employed chiropractor who can no longer afford his home and had to move his family of five into a friend's house, the families who are proactively quitting their jobs and declaring bankruptcy to qualify for Medicaid rather than face even more devastating financial ruin, the small business owners who are closing their doors because their healthcare plans will now negate their profits, the single mothers who now must work two part-time jobs because government regulations slashed their hours, and the doctors who are seeking early retirement or considering leaving the country because they feel the new government standards of limited care violate the Hippocratic Oath.

What a wonderful enlightened world we live in.  Many thanks to Matt Walsh for putting this compilation together.  People need to be aware of the real human cost.  For some reason, the Affordable Car Act has left millions of Americans out of work, out of money, out of options, and still unable to afford what used to be basic healthcare.

It used to be an option to just do without what you cannot afford.  Now if we try to do without, we are fined for our trouble.  They will get you either way.  Unless you actually quit trying to make ends meet, give up attempting to maintain a legitimate income, you will be hounded for everything you have.  I've been saying for a while that the real collapse won't come until the average American realizes he has nothing left to lose.  This could very well be the final ruin of the middle-class.

In the words of Emily from Iowa:
Recently our 2 year-old daughter had an ear infection. Went to the doc, got a prescription for an antibiotic. Went to the pharmacy to fill said prescription. I was expecting it to cost around 5 dollars because that’s what it cost the last time we had it filled. Wrong. It now costs 75 dollars. I paid 75 dollars for an antibiotic that used to cost us 5 dollars. When I asked the pharmacist, “Why the huge increase?” She replied, “Obamacare. And this is just the beginning.”
For more stories which will be detrimental to your blood-pressure, follow the link to The Matt Walsh Blog.  I read each and every one.  We're still covered by military health insurance, and I dread the day we'll have to face off with Obamacare.  With any luck, maybe we could join one of those religious co-ops if they're still exempt.  Shoot, at this point I'm considering settling in on welfare in an attempt to pull the whole edifice down sooner.  If we all give up at once, maybe we could just burn this administration to the ground and start from scratch.

This is one of the very few things that can make me stop and think, "Thank God we don't have kids."

America is essentially dead.  What on earth do we have now?






Friday, October 18, 2013

Andy's Raw Food, the Follow-up

So, after weeks of looking for a simple outdoor thermometer in all the wrong places, we have finally determined that our freezer has not been cold enough to render the raw food safe.  When I turned the settings down to make the freezer cold enough, everything in the fridge froze.  So, until we have a freezer and refrigerator that have independent settings, or enough disposable income to acquire a little chest freezer, Andy will have to make due with med-rare hamburger.  She's not a happy camper today, enduring the 24-hour fast between food types.  Fortunately, eggs are an ingredient in both types.  Maybe I'll scramble a few for her.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October 15

"When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan.  When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower.  When parents lose their child, there isn't a word to describe them.  This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world.  It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes."  - President Ronald Reagan, 1988
 Until recently, I wasn't even aware there was an official "Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance" month or day.  Now of course I can't let it go by without posting something.  The good news is that our situation rarely upsets me anymore; it's just become a fact of our lives.  We have each other and the dog and three personal saints, and we're happy.  I do credit the dog with cheering us up until we can acquire children by other means.  However, the next best thing to fur therapy is music.

Over the years, I've been compiling a playlist of songs about loss which helped get me through some tough times.  Some are sadder than others, but I thought I'd highlight a few of the best ones today.  Someday I'll post a comprehensive list.

1. Daughtry, "Gone Too Soon"


2. Plumb, "I Want You Here"


3. RyanDan, "Tears of an Angel"


4. Canadian Tenors, "Watching Over Me" (because we don't want to end on a downer)




Thursday, October 10, 2013

Everyday Dog Training

I used to think I was a decent dog trainer.  Now that my sister knows how to do it professionally, I realize I am actually pretty lousy at it.  Most of that is just laziness, or not being able to see around the seeming pointlessness of some of the standard tricks.  What really is the point of teaching a dog to roll over?  Is this a precaution against her ever catching fire?

Fortunately, we have a smart dog who catches on quickly.  We've had the best success in "everyday training," which is basically about learning to communicate.  She's picked up several vocabulary words in the short three months we've been working with her.

Basic tricks down cold, by voice or hand command:

  • sit
  • down
  • stand
  • "sit pretty" (like a circus dog)

What more do you really need?  Maybe "come" and "stay."  Both of those are still a little tenuous, but the foundation is there.

Extra words, phrases, and general communication:
  • get in your crate (works best at bedtime)
  • breakfast
  • hungry
  • food (a favorite)
  • eggs
  • eggs for food (the best of all worlds)
  • squirrel (actually looks where I'm pointing now)
  • in the chair (when her toy "disappears")
  • outside
  • inside
  • c'mon (she's a slow walker on leash)
  • baby (referring to her)
  • good girl

It's always exciting to see that glimmer of understanding when we talk to the little critter.  It makes me wonder if she draws any other conclusions about her world.  She knows what happens when she goes outside; does she assume that's what we're doing when we leave her here?  The jingly keys mean going outside.  When we leave with the jingly keys, does she imagine we're going for a car ride or taking a stroll around the neighborhood without her?  I guess we'll never know.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Repreave!

Thank you for all the prayers!  St. Joseph, St. Jude, and St. Joan of Arc have pulled through for us.  A desperate appeal to his chief last night has resulted in not just a week, but a month's grace for Dave's lettuce diet to work it's magic.  It's already had a significant effect, so he should be able to be boot camp skinny in a month.  If that doesn't work, there's really no helping it.

What a load of stress relief!



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Urgent Prayer Request

If anyone can spare a few moments today, or tomorrow, or Thursday morning, we could certainly use a few extra prayers.

Here's the deal in a nutshell.  After several years of skating by in the spirit of the law, we've been caught by the new draconian regime in the PT office which has begun enforcing the letter of the law.  Despite being able to perform at Navy standards in the gym, Dave has run afoul of their ridiculous weight limits and neck-to-waist ratio.  The numbers say he is supposed to be under 200 pounds at his height, which would be borderline anorexic for his body type.  He's lost ten pounds in the past five weeks in an attempt to meet these requirements, and is now living on lettuce and apples and weight loss supplements, but the outcome is still uncertain.  The issue is that we've had this kind of trouble a few times before, and this would be the last strike.

If he passes, he gets promoted and we're set for at least another year.  If not, the Navy will disregard the rest of his contract and release him back into the wild.  Basically, on Thursday we'll know whether we're staying here or organizing a fire sale of our worldly goods and embarking on a new and exciting semi-homeless phase of our lives.

I know God has a plan, but right now I really wish He would let me in on a few details.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Congrats!

Congratulations to my brother, who had enough ambition to leave home for a tiny apartment and earn a private helicopter pilot's license!  The picture is courtesy of his flight school's website. :)


Friday, October 4, 2013

This Month's Magic Number Is . . .

200.  It's been turning up a lot in this first week.

  • $200 for student loan
  • $200 for credit card #1
  • $200 for credit card #2
  • -$200 in pay while the government is "shut down"

and finally, the surprise of the morning .  .  .

  • $200+ in emergency veterinary care for vomiting and bloody diarrhea. 
Really, puppy?  Credit card #2 was just a fraction of the payoff for her spay, and now it's right back up there where we started.  Stop being sick!  :(

Fortunately for her, I was just reflecting yesterday on how much I like our dog and how great it is to have her around.  The expense is worth it in the end, but seriously, that's enough for now.  

With any luck, I can finish a few commissions soon which should be worth about $200.  Should be able to get a lot of work done while the doggie is sick/napping in her quarantine pen.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I Want You Here

I am always on the lookout for emotionally powerful songs to add to my collection.  I found this one randomly on YouTube while listening to another Plumb song.  Based on the title, "I Want You Here," I assumed it would be just another one of those pining love songs.  To my surprise, I eventually realized I had stumbled upon a song about child loss.  Everyone who has ever lost a child should know about this.  It isn't often we come across music specifically tailored to our situation.

The first video is Plumb's live explanation of the song's significance, and the second is the studio recording for those who prefer it to the live version.  I'll be putting this one on my miscarriage survival playlist for sure.




Sunday, September 29, 2013

The D-word

We've been talking about it for a long time.  We pretend we can actually avoid it indefinitely.  I've been hearing it a lot more often lately.  It's the D-word.  DEFAULT.

Based on everything I've read, the United States of America will inevitably default on it's enormous financial obligations some day.  Forgive us for being human, but Dave and I are really hoping that day isn't Monday.  We have just under $13,000 in personal debt left after cars, student loans, and credit cards, and - all things being equal - I'd rather face the catastrophic economic downturn with no debt at all.  But I guess we're better prepared than most.

All the same, I'd rather eek out another year . . .

I keep posting this trailer, but it is an excellent documentary.  If they raise the debt ceiling again, all that will buy us is time.  Use it wisely.



Friday, September 27, 2013

Igor's American Dream

What is the American Dream?  Most Americans today don't know what it is, inflating the idea to proportions which would make the third world choke.  We drop everything we're doing to chase it, we bury ourselves in debt to buy it.  Is it having all the latest gadgets and all the best clothes?  Is it a better job, a pay raise and more vacation time?  I used to think it was a sprawling house in the suburbs with a shiny new car and a fancy pantry full of the fancy name-brand groceries.

How about just being able to have the opportunity to work hard and put food on the table?  How about being happy to just scrape by?

We could all stand to be more like this guy.  Igor knows how to appreciate the good things in life.


For those who are unfamiliar with the show, "Undercover Boss" features CEOs who are willing to go undercover for a short time to experience life in their companies.  This episode originally aired in 2010.  Igor's passenger is Joe DePinto, undercover CEO of 7-11.  By the time this whole little experiment was over, 7-11 arranged for Igor and his wife to have a nice vacation and their own 7-11 franchise in Richardson, TX.  According to the Yelp reviews, it is the cleanest, friendliest convenience store on the planet.

Be grateful for the little things, America.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Andy, Raw Food, and Transitional Motherhood

Sampling the goods.

I've decided to finally ditch the kibble and put Andy on a raw diet.  The recipe I found uses raw hamburger, cooked rice and boiled eggs (shells on).  She has recently discovered that she LOVES boiled eggs, so much so that we probably should have named her Joanna.


Anyhow, the first batch is done, packaged, dated and in the freezer, awaiting it's 14-day parasite quarantine.  I'll have to find a real thermometer to be sure it's at least -4F in there.

But I digress.  She costs a fortune, but having Andy around finally seems worth the trouble.  Rationally, we knew the puppy phase wouldn't last forever, and that ultimately it was about investing the time and resources necessary to have exactly the dog we wanted around for 10+ years.  

But despite the fact that we just really wanted a dog, and that she just makes us happy, it was the nearest thing to having kids we could manage at the moment.  It's almost like being a real family, not just emotionally but practically.

We tell our friends we got a dog for "practice" before having children.  Some laugh it off, but others who have infants and toddlers of various ages dismiss the idea out of hand.  "Pets are NOTHING like kids," they say.  "It's completely different."  Well, that may be so, but there are several important transitions which pet ownership has in common with parenthood, fundamental transitions which many young families may have forgotten about by now.

We planned on having kids right away.  Clearly that didn't happen, and that's a story for another post.  Now, four years later, we were actually quite comfortable in our childless existence, being able to go where we wanted to go and do what we wanted to do whenever we wanted.  Romantic evenings alone were the rule rather than the exception.  We could go see movies, take trips, and had a very flexible schedule.  Dave had his work and his books, I had my crafts and hobbies, and we managed to occupy all our time.

The master plan for most of the last four years was to look into adopting a few kids once we were settled and debt-free.  By our original schedule, we were set to begin that process in a year or so.  But despite all the financial preparation, we were in no way psychologically prepared.  That's where the dog comes in.

We committed to getting a dog, a very specific kind of dog, a small poodle or doodle suited for apartment life and the real possibility of getting kids with allergies.  Dog acquired.  Happiness shall follow, right?

Not so much.  We were first acutely aware of our lost freedom.  We couldn't go anywhere for very long and had to be back at a certain time.  We had to stick to a schedule.  Somebody besides me needed to be cleaned up and fed in the morning.  Somebody else needed her laundry done.  There was no more sleeping in.  Everything was a choking hazard.  There was much more unpredictable excrement and bodily fluid.  Parents, does this sound familiar?

Personally, I was already swamped.  I was trying to redesign the apartment and start a business, I had a long list of backorders for Christmas stockings and was working an early-morning part-time job.  Cooking and housekeeping had been forgotten long ago.  Now I was following a three-month-old puppy around the house, fishing her out from behind the furniture, designing makeshift barricades, and generally spending my entire waking life doubled over picking crap up off the floor, literal and otherwise.

Many times I considered - sometimes as long as a few seconds - getting rid of the puppy.  She was clearly a mistake, a lapse in judgment, and we would all be better off without such an expensive distraction.  But each time I realized that if I couldn't cope with a puppy now, I would stand no chance coping with toddlers later.  At least I could put the puppy in her crate when I needed some space.

Now, on the other side of puppyhood and house-breaking, we've achieved a very harmonious existence.  We still don't have our freedom back, but that isn't as big a deal as it used to be.  Sometimes she walks off her potty pad before the poo falls where it should, and she howls and cries bloody murder from the other room whenever she detects any marital romance, but we're glad to have her.

Overall, I think we're better prepared than we were before.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New Stuff in the Store!

I've updated the Etsy store with some fresh selections once again.  Seriously, tell your friends.  :)


Disney Souvenirs

I found this on the backside of Pirates of the Caribbean.  Sometimes it's an accurate reflection of the mood around here.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Pampered Pooch

Andy went in to be spayed this morning.  She seems to be getting the best treatment there is, but I'm starting to wish we'd gone to some back alley shelter for this procedure.

"Little Bundles" special rate: $300

Modern laser surgery: $200

Post-surgical accessories: $50

Last minute removal of entrenched baby teeth: $200

The little princess' $700+ bill right on the heels of family vacation and the purchase of a huge new computer is finally testing the limits of our checking account.  Oh, yeah, and the energy bill for that last hot month was another $200.  Then there's the internet bill.  And phones.  And rent.

Yeah, we're broke.  For the first time, the credit cards will have to carry over into next month.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Is Wal-Mart Coming Around?

I've never been a huge fan of Wal-Mart, and after watching various documentaries of years past exposing their cut-rate exploitation of their employees and the overseas production workforce, I decided never to shop there again.

But then I saw a segment on the news about Wal-Mart's new "made in America" campaign while waiting on an oil change.  They claimed to already carry many items made stateside, and plan to add more.  Apparently the rising cost of fuel makes it more worthwhile to invest in domestic production than to go overseas.  Maybe the mantra about Wal-Mart's "cheap Chinese crap" no longer applies.

Just to see for myself, I put Wal-Mart to the test yesterday before our big road trip.  I was originally planning to go by three different stores - Petco, for disposable puppy pads, Target, for a travel cooler, and Trader Joe's, for healthy snack food.  Instead, I swung into the Wal-Mart lot to see what I could find.  

The disposable eco-friendly puppy pads AND the cooler were quite affordable and both stamped with "Made in USA."  While I was at it, I picked up some chewing gum and 100-calorie nut packets.  Shopping done.

Very interesting.  I will have to investigate this further. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Our Concert Experience

Overall, it was a lot less intimidating than I expected.  Rather than a huge crowd of hard-rockers, it was a moderate crowd of assorted geeks and nerds like us.  Nobody was mugged, trampled or otherwise injured, so I call the evening a success.

I was amazed by the enthusiasm of the other fans.  We just bought tickets on a whim because the event was in the neighborhood, but some of these other people were practically modern-day camp followers, crossing state lines and some even the Atlantic just to be in Baltimore.  Some were following the tour down from Philadelphia.  There was one guy from France wearing a Delain t-shirt and at least four old concert armbands.  Somehow we felt like we weren't talking the experience seriously enough.

The venue was so small that there wasn't really a bad place to stand, but we managed to be almost right up front.  The only downside was that after waiting all night to see Kamelot and lead singer Tommy Karevik (definite eye-candy), the moment they walked out on stage a sudden thicket of camera phones sprouted overhead along with the distinct oder of at least sixty sweaty armpits.  Fortunately, that didn't last forever, and there were so many other people taking video I knew I would have several good clips to choose from on YouTube this morning.  I found this one which pretty much accurately describes our view.




Dave bought a t-shirt and I came away with a hoodie.  We got home around 1 AM and felt very irresponsible.  :)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Type-Casting

We were celebrating the beginning of our mutual vacation last night with a longer than normal marathon of "CSI: NY," which resembles "Bones" and "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" enough to be much less annoying than "CSI: Miami."  Anyhow, it seems we watched one episode too many, and we ended up going to bed depressed.

The episode in question featured a plot device I've seen before, the mentally unstable housewife who has failed to have children of her own and resorts to stealing them out of other pregnant women.

Why do I always have to be type-cast as the crazy person?  Is the public perception of women like me really becoming so suspicious?  We've all noticed the growing tendency of the populace at large to assume all veterans are ticking PTSD time-bombs.  Apparently aspiring mothers who are for whatever reason unable to produce like normal women are supposed to develop a dangerous and slightly psychotic obsession with getting a child, any child from anywhere.

Which isn't to say it hasn't happened, and just goes to show the depth of feeling and strength of the instincts involved.  I am all for bringing miscarriage back into the social consciousness, because no matter how early or how physically painless it might be, it still messes us up emotionally.  We might be less stereotypically crazy if we weren't so repressed.

I've mentioned it before, but secret first trimesters should not be socially mandatory.  Why did that become the norm?  Is it just to spare our friends and neighbors the awkwardness of hearing about miscarriage and not knowing what to say?  It might be awkward for them, but it's life-changing for me, so they can just deal with it.  Real friends will want to know what's going on in our lives regardless, good or bad.

Maybe we just need some kind of acknowledgement that there may be something other than a pastel-colored paradise on the other side of a positive pregnancy test.  Maybe it will be nothing but emergency rooms, IVs and blood tests.  Maybe it will be days on end of sitting as still as possible and praying there won't be any bleeding.  Maybe it will be chronic disappointment and a special colander under the bathroom sink.  Maybe you'll end up right back where you started with nothing to show for it but a ragged scar, hospital invoices and a bottle of oxycodone.  We aren't allowed to even mention it, because somehow it's considered bad taste.  But, seriously, every woman should consider the possibility and have a plan so she won't be broadsided the way we were the first time.

If we'd had a plan, maybe we would have been coherent enough to ask for Alexis' body rather than letting him/her be thrown out with the medical waste.  Maybe we would have known about conditional baptism in case of miscarriage.  Maybe we would not have felt so completely alone and defective.

This last time we were joking darkly that we'd only really start freaking out if the unthinkable happened and we actually ended up with an infant.  We were just starting to get hopeful when it all fell apart, and then we wondered why we had ever expected anything different.  I received my soulless paperwork diagnosing miscarriage in the mail the same day as the congratulatory pastel packet from Johns Hopkins covered pictures with happy pregnant women.  The former went into the medical file, the latter into the shredder.  For a brief shining moment, I was a member of the happily pregnant club, but once I inevitably miscarry I'm supposed to retire quietly to grieve in the privacy of my own home so as not to rain on anybody else's pregnancy parade.

That could just be my perception, but it's hard to shake.  Fortunately many of my friends, not all of whom have experienced miscarriage for themselves, manage to not be obnoxious to me while they are pregnant.  Better, they don't seem to mind me talking about it.  It needs to be talked about.

When I was sending our wedding invitations, I did not imagine that almost four years later we would still be living the extended honeymoon phase, pet-parents to a toy poodle.  This was not the plan.  If anything, I have learned to have alternative plans, or at least to expect the unexpected and plan for the unplanned.


Alexis Constans
25 June 2010
13 weeks

David Edward, Jr.
6-8 March 2011
24 weeks

Celestine Michel
13 August 2013
6 weeks


Our Concert Adventure

We're off to see our first concert today.  So long as we're forced to live the childless life, we might as well do something crazy and fun.  On the menu tonight are Kamelot, Delain and Eklipse, three of our favorite (what I believe are called) symphonic metal bands.  Being cautious people, we're going to take to heart all the advice we get, namely to not sit too close and to bring ear plugs.

My new favorite song is a collaboration between Kamelot, the head-banging guys, and Eklipse, the lovely ladies of the string quartet.  It looks darker than it really is.  I find the lyrics grimly encouraging, and thankfully not theologically problematic.



Give me a sign.
Sing the words of innocence and broken pride.
Make my conclusions fail.
Send me a sign, heal this broken melody,
'Cause each night I die in hell.

My God has shown His sympathy for all the spirits lost.
I'll pray for salvation and peace for ages.
Standing in the summer breeze, inhaling life again.
A new day has come,
A chance to relive,
Forget and forgive.

Somehow I wasted all.
They sealed my voice and wisdom,
But my soul was born on the battleground.
Justice in blood, long awaited victory,
And tonight you die in hell.

My God has shown His sympathy for all the spirits lost.
I'll pray for salvation and peace for ages.
Standing in the summer breeze inhaling life again.
A new day has come,
A chance to relive,
Forget and forgive.

Somebody hides inside my mind.
We're bound together,
But this is my confession.
Soulmate or enemy,
A thorn in my religion.
Release my heart, unfold my tongue.

Save a place for me in heaven.  We'll meet another day.
I found forgiveness and the meaning of it all.
My fear is gone.
Gone.

My God has shown His sympathy for all the spirits lost.
I'll pray for salvation and peace for ages.
Standing in the summer breeze inhaling life again.
A new day has come,
A chance to relive,
Forget and forgive.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tech-Savvy Dog

We have doggie gates in place in our apartment to keep Andromache contained in the main living space while she's out and about.  Our bedroom is off limits because it usually isn't clean enough to be puppy-safe.  Despite being a very quiet dog, Andy does NOT appreciate us leaving her alone while we disappear into the bedroom or bathroom, and inevitably treats us to a (largely ineffective) chorus of whines, moans and groans until we come back.

Today we took a few minutes to change out of our church clothes and just talk on the bed.  Despite being vocal, Andy is generally much too busy pining at the gate to get into much trouble, so we ignored her.

We might have stayed in the bedroom longer, but my phone started ringing and vibrating on the dresser.  Dave checked it, and was baffled to see that he was calling me.  We returned to the living room to find the dog standing over Dave's phone and wagging her tail, delighted we had received her call.

They told me poodles were smart, but this is ridiculous.





She would not oblige me by playing with the laundry detergent bottle like she had been before, but she's still cute.

video

Monday, August 19, 2013

Invisible Babies

Why is it socially unacceptable to talk about miscarriages?  Why are we supposed to keep early pregnancies a secret?  These are important life events every bit as deserving of acknowledgment as a live birth.  If the possibility of pregnancy loss wasn't considered so awkward to talk about, those of us who go through it probably wouldn't feel so alone.  The burden of feeling obliged to be quiet just makes a bad situation worse.

That being said, losing baby Celestine last week wasn't so traumatic as it was exhausting.  The pregnancy wasn't technically planned, but after two years of carefully avoiding the possibility, we scraped up enough optimism to be excited.  Maybe this time it would be different.  All the circumstances seemed too providential for it to not end well.

I admit, my first instinct was to keep this one under our hats for several months, just because of all the drama which had accompanied our first two losses.  Unfortunately, we had to tell almost everyone.  I had to immediately give notice at my job because all my pregnancies are high-risk and usually involve bed rest of some kind.  Dave had to inform his command of the situation just because of all the drama which might possibly ensue given our history.  We had to tell Dave's family because we had to cancel the trip to Disney World we were supposed to take with them in September.  We had to tell my family because we had told Dave's family and also because they were supposed to watch our dog during this Disney trip.  Everybody at work was ecstatic and started making all kinds of plans for me and the baby, despite my attempts to maintain a healthy strain of pessimism.

Everything went well until the sixth week.  I started bleeding Tuesday morning at work.  They let me go home early and I ended up calling out the rest of the week.  I was convinced it was over at that point and called Dave at work just to let him know.  They let him come home, too, and he brought a bag of doughnuts.  We broke the news to our respective families, and apparently the trip to Disney was once again a go.

I called my OB's office and they sent me out for blood tests.  The results of those tests on Wednesday showed a healthy level of hormones despite all the bleeding, and another round was ordered for Thursday.  On Friday the new results showed a doubling of the hormone levels, exactly as would be expected in a healthy pregnancy.  I was a bit in denial at this point because I couldn't see how anything could be hanging on in there after four days of full-on menstrual bleeding.  However, the Internet said it was possible and that it happens all the time.  All I had been trying to do for those four days was prove I was in fact having a miscarriage so I could pop some painkillers and have a drink, but it didn't seem to be working out that way.  After my initial disappointment that I couldn't just complete the brief grieving process and then get on with my life, we were once again optimistic that we might make it through.  Disney was cancelled again.

The bleeding carried on at a steady pace, but then started to taper off.  I'd been having cramps, but nothing to write home about.  Sometimes it only hurt around my cesarean scar.  I asked the Internet about that too, and apparently it's not uncommon for cesarean scar tissue to adhere to the bladder or abdominal wall and cause chronic pain throughout pregnancy.  Oh, hooray.

Sunday started out well enough.  There was some more cramping, but since the bleeding had stopped, I didn't think much of it.  I was scheduled for another blood test on Monday, but by 3 PM the pain had become impossible to ignore and was worst in one very specific area on my right side.  All the symptoms made me suspect an ectopic, so rather than wait for a late night adventure we went ahead to the ER.

The ultrasound couldn't find any evidence of an ectopic pregnancy, or indeed of any pregnancy at all.  However, the tech could point out all the cesarean scaring, that bothersome septum in the middle of everything, and some suspicious spots she thought were probably fibroids.  The doctor popped in and out of our room and explained that my hormone levels had not doubled again, but had instead begun to decline.  He also expressed some confusion about my changing blood-type, which he then went to go resolve. He promised me some pain meds, which I was more than happy to have, not just because the cramps were killing me but because I didn't want to have endured that stupid IV in my arm all evening for no reason.

Thank God for the military channel, because we probably would have gone stir crazy otherwise.  As it turned out, the nurse who put in the order for my morphine went to lunch and her replacement forgot about me.  We were hanging on the call button when she came back later with a standard dose.  I eagerly awaited some relief, but it never really happened.  She came back later and gave me twice the standard dose.  That made me a little groggy and nauseous, but just made the cramps spread.  Seriously, three shots of morphine had less effect than one Ibuprofen tablet.

They managed to roust one of my OBs from the delivery room around 9 PM and bring her down to evaluate my strange situation.  She wasn't willing to rule out an ectopic just yet, but ordered another round of blood tests for Tuesday just to see if the trend was continuing.  Basically it would be a matter of follow-up at this point.  They asked if I was comfortable going home with the kind of pain I was in, and I said yes, trusting my Ibuprofen to do a better job.  I tried to stop by the bathroom before we left, but I was literally unable to do anything because all my sphincters were cramped shut.  No more morphine for me, please.

Dave made a food run to McDonald's, but I was too sick to eat anything.  Fortunately this morning I woke up with no pain whatsoever, so I'll take that as a good sign.  It looks like the Disney trip is back on.

Once again I feel like I've been chewed up and spit out by the situation.  Dave asked me if I wanted to try again, and honestly my answer right now is no, not again, not ever.  Maybe we can revisit the possibility next year.  It just seems so medically hopeless that it's hard to see much point in making the effort.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I Am Puppy - Hear Me Roar

So, apparently it's just a toy poodle thing, and Andromache isn't the only one who sounds like a baby cougar with a smoking habit.  She isn't toy possessive at all, so it's hard to capture her doing it.  Usually it only happens when she's super excited or hears her food bowl being filled.  But she sounds just like this. :)




Sunday, July 14, 2013

Achilles

Meet Achilles, Andromache's new all-natural cotton dog toy.  He squeaks.


So far, she really likes chewing on him.







Crazy eyes!


Sprouts!

Surprise!  We finally have an avocado sprout.  Hopefully it won't die like the oak sapling.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Retail Therapy

My cheap shoes are falling apart, so I sneaked out to do some shopping while the dog was already crated at home.  Normally I hate shoe shopping and never have much luck.  I was mainly in the market for casual black canvas flats for wear with skirts and capris.  That's just about the only thing I didn't find.

This was the closest thing I came up with.  But, man, are they comfortable.

Dr. Scholl's Women's Joliet



While I was there, I browsed through the high heels.  I've been looking for a successor pair to the ones I've been wearing for the last 4+ years.  I love them, but they won't last forever.  Unfortunately, finding an attractive classic heel amidst all the wedges and stilettos is almost always a losing prospect.  However . . .

Naturalizer Berta (not actually pictured above)


Score!  Actually this was the runner-up pair.  The ones I did get apparently don't exist on the Internet.  They are the same shape and style, just with better decoration.  Awesome, secret shoes.  You'll just have to see them in person.

ALSO, I never go barefoot around the house, but my cheap flip-flops always seem to get raggedy before the next summer.  So, risking Dave's wrath upon his return, I finally bought some Crocs.  Hey, don't laugh.

Crocs Patricia II

Stylish Crocs.  Who knew?!  I love 'em already.


Friday, July 5, 2013

War on Debt V

Family debt report!  I'm actually really excited about this one.  We were able to liquidate some family inheritance that turned out to be worth more than I expected.  After paying off all the credit cards (doggie expenses), there was still plenty to put toward the loan, which is a really good thing now that there are rumblings about the student interest rates rising.  The last report in April was 27.2% paid.  As of today, we've jumped to 49%.  Party!


We are six years paid ahead by the original payment schedule, and at long last our on-hand cash almost equals our obligations.  Not that we're going to empty the bank, or anything.  

I finally feel like we're making some real progress.  Just thinking about all the interest we're avoiding makes me happy.  Someday our adoption fund won't be in the red.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Curse of Cute

I think we should have gotten an ugly dog.  You know those stuffy modern neighborhoods where the kids don't ever play outside?  This isn't one of them.  And they've all figured out where we live.


Being only three pounds, Andy's not a huge fan of strangers, let alone loud excitable ones.  But every time we take her out to poop there's a chorus of screams and a swarm of bicycles comes over the hill.  

"Can we pet your dog?!"  "Does he bite?!"  "What's his name?!"  "Is he boy or girl?!"  "HE LICKED ME!!!!!!!!"  "Put him down!"  "Can I walk him?!"  "Can I hold him?!"  "What kind of dog is that?!"  "Can he run fast?!"  "Will he run away?!"  "OOO, I SAW HIS TEETH!!!"

By this point, she has usually jumped into my arms, climbed onto my shoulder, and seems to be contemplating a flying leap in the other direction.  Pooping has been entirely forgotten.  Eventually we escape into the apartment, and she poops on the floor.

Now they've actually started following us home, inviting themselves inside, and peering through the sliding glass when the other door is locked.

"Hey, I know where you live!"  "I see her cage!"  "Is that where she sleeps?"  "Is she shy?"  "Will she bite?"

I think I'm going to start saying she does bite.  We've started checking through the blinds before going out to do her business.   Her new favorite position for walks is hanging around my neck like some kind of Cruella de Vil fashion accessory, keeping an eye out in all directions.  Maybe we'll just get a litter box.