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


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.

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.