Tuesday, June 12, 2018

On the brink of "The Summer of Vitamin D"

I haven’t posted a blog since my birthday post, 3 months ago. Ugh, that makes me disappointed in myself. I even had to look it up to see when the last post was. I also had to check my blog a few weeks ago to remind myself what my 18 goals for 2018 are. It’s been that kind of a year. Or maybe that kind of spring.
So, rather than waiting for a fantastic idea for a blog, I thought I should just write something while I have the house to myself on this lovely Tuesday afternoon. After all, my blog will be how I remember when stuff happened in the future. As in 3 months from now. So a quick rewind:
1) Rye had his tumor diagnosis and surgery on April 10! After months of limping and pain that would wake him in the middle of the night, we finally got a diagnosis of osteoid osteoma, a benign tumor in his femoral neck. The surgery used radiofrequency ablation to blast it out, but we were warned that if even a single cell was left behind, it would probably grow back. Within 6 months. After the surgery, Rye immediately stopped having pain, but he kept limping. It makes sense, because even without the inflammation, he had developed new muscle memory for walking with a limp. The doctors said he’s a kid, let him just be a kid, and if no improvement in a month or two, start doing physical therapy. We watched for 2 weeks and he seemed to be worse, so we decided to start doing the physical therapy exercises he had learned from professionals (before we had a diagnosis) at home, as many mornings as we could remember. We realized his right leg was severely weaker than his left, and the exercises did help him get the right leg stronger, if not as strong as the left. The limp would get a little better, then you’d miss 3 days of exercises because of busyness, and he would get worse. Over Memorial Weekend, he developed a completely new limp on his right leg that consisted of walking tippy toe on just his right leg. We started freaking out, and decided that we would give him another month to see if the middle of the night pain came back, and even if it didn’t, we would take him back to the surgeon and ask for another CAT scan. But then a week later that limp was gone. When he’s one-on-one with a parent, he walks better. When he’s playing with older kids, he tends to run better. He has good days and bad days. We’re still praying and just don’t know which direction this is going to go.
2) Rye has been doing gymnastics class for the past 7 weeks, once a week. He likes it, but it’s an evening class and he’s always pretty tired by the evening, because he seems to wake up at 5:50 a.m. and sometimes he naps and sometimes he doesn’t. If he does nap, he seems to stay up until 9:30/10 p.m. So he is both a morning lark and a night owl. I’m a little worried about how grumpy he is going to be this summer and how little sleep I’m going to be getting.

Granted, he doesn't know how to do a cartwheel yet, 
but he looks pretty tired to me.

3) Our basement renovation took a break for March and I think most of April, but Scott of Nailed It Improvement came back and knocked out the rest of the sub-flooring and framing in like a week. Electric has been roughed-in, and we’re getting the final bid for plumbing tomorrow, then we should make the decisions on hiring HVAC and plumbing and hopefully will get those jobs roughed in by the end of June. Which means drywalling, cabinet installation, flooring and all the finish work can go on in July! (And maybe even be finished by the end of July, but I don’t want to get my hopes up yet.) Having the walls framed in, it feels smaller than I thought it would, and the ceiling looks like it’s going to be 6’5”, so it might feel kind of hobbit-ish to tall people, but I’m really excited about it. Home renovation projects can be really stressful, but this has gone really smoothly, knock on wood. And Scott has been the perfect contractor for us, not just as a contractor, but almost as a passive marriage counselor in the context of renovation-based decision making. Josh and I love houses and care passionately about decisions. Renovations the last time around, in 2008/2009, were tense. This time we have Scott as our general contractor, instead of us doing most of the managing on our own, and he is a deep researcher, considering all worst-case-scenarios like Josh does, and completely wants everything done the right way like we do, instead of the easy/cheap/temporary way. He and Josh will discuss every angle of an aspect, allowing Josh to feel like his worries have been respected and addressed, and yet Scott appreciates my quick decision making and lets Josh know when a door to a decision has been closed and should stay closed.
One of our last dangling decisions has been flooring. We originally wanted engineered hardwood, which is made from multiple layers of real wood, but it withstands moisture much better than hardwood, which is not recommended for basements. We installed the subflooring in a way specific for laying engineered hardwood on top, but then the price of the engineered hardwood went up and we decided we didn’t value it at a 40% higher cost. So we decided to go with luxury vinyl planks, which look like hardwood but are actually stickers over a very dense foam or something like that. These can get wet, to the point that if your basement floods, you can pick them up, dry them out and re-install them. We’re not really into fake things, but the primary purpose for the basement is for a children’s playroom and to get the toys out of our first-floor grown-up spaces. Plus it looks really nice. But we’d have to compromise our floating subfloor by drilling down the boards and through the foam insulation, and that just seems like undoing a lot of work that was already done. It’s like laying down solid hardwood floors and then installing carpet over it. Then the engineered hardwood came back down a little in price, so I feel like we should go back to it. Josh is still not sure. Then we went to a different flooring store yesterday because Scott said we really need to pick out a wood for our steps. We asked the saleslady for help and looked at a few samples and compared prices, then made the quick decision to go for the cheapest option (unfinished red oak that I will poly coat myself once they’re installed). We could have looked at the whole store for all new flooring options, but we didn’t. We decided to stick with the two options we have decided on, and just choose one of them. We’ll see in a few weeks which one we actually choose.

Vintage hickory engineered hardwood 
Trail oak luxury vinyl plank

   So that’s the catching up stuff. Looking ahead, I feel like summer is already slipping away, but it’s only June 12, and kids don’t even get out of school until the end of the week. I’ve been thinking about why I’m so anxious about the length of summer, and the reasons why it feels like summer is slipping away are: a) we’ve had more cold days than hot days; b) my school-year weekly meetings (weekly book club and bi-weekly MOPS group) ended in mid-May, and I already miss them; and c) everyone else’s schedule changes in summer and it just feels way harder to get together with friends, even though theoretically we all have more time. I don’t know if I should be planning more events so I feel like I’m making the most of summer or if I should chill out and enjoy the slowness of the season. I think the former. Without planned activities, the kids get bored and fight and whine and beg and hit and cry. I’ve made a list of about 100 things to do, simple things like “roast marshmallows, collect rocks, wash the car,” and I think we’ll randomly choose 5 out of a hat at the start of each week and shoot to actually do 3 of them each week. I also plan to make homemade ice cream every week or every other week. And get the kids together with their cousins more. And go to pools with friends. Ice cream and pools—this shall be “The Summer of Vitamin D.”
I like it.

Friday, March 9, 2018

20 year time capsule: a birthday playlist

Saturday is my birthday, which is always a time of reflection for me, and this year, as I turn 38, I feel like I am especially flooded with memories of my past. Thirty-eight is not a milestone year, but it is the 20th anniversary of something momentous that happened two decades ago: I started college.
Did you think I was going to say “graduated high school?” That’s the 20-year anniversary most of my peers have been nonchalantly bringing up lately, in this weird way where they act like they don’t want to talk about it because it makes them feel old but they aren’t going to let the anniversary go unnoticed either.
Graduating high school just wasn’t a big deal to me. I remember telling my mom that during graduation week, probably when she remarked how calm I was. I didn’t hate high school or anything, I just knew that “graduating high school” was not going to be my Everest. To me, it was just the end of being in this ridiculously coddled environment, the end of being a big, smart fish in a small pond of stoned carnival goldfish, and the end of spending half of every class just goofing off and being a pain in the teacher’s ass.
I had outgrown that. I was ready to move onto a bigger pond. I think my high school graduating class had 210 kids in it. I was ready to move down to College Park where UMD had about 24,000 undergraduate students, if I remember correctly. At the end of my summer, I would move into a dormitory high-rise that can house 607 students alone (according to the current webpage for Ellicott Hall).
When it came to college choices, I was really only interested in attending a big school. I remember touring Loyola College in Baltimore just for the experience of it and the tour guide told us “you can’t cross campus without seeing someone you know” and my gut reaction was “that sounds awful.” People might think that as an introvert I would be more interested in a small school, but I looked at it like this: I only like about 10 percent of people; I needed to go to a big school so that 10 percent could net me a decent number of friends. I also really wanted a school with a big sports team, which is funny, because I hated sports at the time. But sports and “going to the game” was just wrapped up in my head as something you do at college. That probably had something to do with my dad’s expectations for me and college.
Since the tenth grade I knew I wanted to go to journalism school, and was interested in Northwestern, Penn State, Syracuse, UNC Chapel Hill, and UMD College Park. Northwestern is ridiculously expensive, so I let that one fall to the wayside early. Penn State was in the middle of nowhere and students we met during a visit to the college told us they would go to Walmart to hang out (dude, you don’t have to go to college to do that). Syracuse specialized in broadcast journalism, which I didn’t realize until touring it, plus the town is filled with horrible hills that would make riding my bike most unpleasant (and I had made up my mind that I was going to be a biker in college, and I bought a sweet red-orange Trek bike that I really did rely on, at least the first two years of college). Plus our student tour guide at Syracuse confused “astrology” with “astronomy,” so that was a serious concern. And Chapel Hill felt really far so I never seriously looked into it.
And after all, UMD had already caught my heart during a tenth or eleventh grade visit for a high school literary magazine convention or something like that. I got off that school bus and I saw that Georgian architecture and thought “this is what a college is supposed to look like.” The campus was gigantic. The students were really diverse and looked like normal people (versus preppy and rich like the Johns Hopkins kids I saw when visiting my mom at work). It had a great journalism school that was NOT easy to get into, and a high school newspaper mentor of mine who was a year ahead of me was already there and could vouch for it. I could get in-state tuition, and I was received into the honors program. And it was just a metro ride from D.C., where any imaginable kind of fun could be had—except for going to a Walmart.
Sidenote, this is how I took advantage of being in D.C. during college: 1) Frequently visiting the National Zoo, 2) Going to Penn Station to eat at all the mini restaurants 3) Going to federal/international buildings to be a protester 4) Getting a paid internship on a nonprofit election website for my last semester in college. I went to D.C. for “night life” an official zero number of times. But I did go to a decent number of museums, got quite familiar with the metro system, and learned to feel comfortable just walking around a big city. I may be just 5’0”, but when I’m walking in a city, I look like someone not to be messed with.
When it came time to actually move into college at the end of August, I admit, I was pretty terrified. I was moving in with two female roommates I didn’t know. (And in the weirdest of coincidences, my roommate Jenny’s best friend was going to UMBC and was dating a guy I semi-dated in high school and he was still mad at me, and here I was seeing his new girlfriend every couple of weeks when she came to College Park to visit her best friend/my roommate. It’s a small world.)  I think I got to our room last and just happily accepted the top bunk. I literally climbed on my desk chair, onto my desk, and into my twin top-bunk every night. In a way, it felt like I was 10.
But back to move in: my parents and brother had all come down with me, helped me unload my stuff and take it up the elevators to the 8th floor—the penthouse, where thankfully I was just two doors down from the elevator. My dorm window faced the great Byrd Stadium, which has since been renamed, generically, Maryland Stadium. I only went to two football games, I think, but I could hear the games (and the marching band practices) from my room whether I went or not, and I was glad—even if I wasn’t going to the football games, I could talk to my dad about whether it had been a good game or not based on the cheering.
We set up my personal computer for the first time. My mom had ordered one through the tech office at JHU, and while I knew nothing about computers, this guy had set me up in style. It wasn’t a Dell or other brand name computer, but it was fast and my monitor was huge and I had this funky ergonomic keyboard that we had not asked for but it ended up being totally necessary, because with all the typing a journalism major/American studies minor does, I developed carpal tunnel, or something like it. When people visited my room, they complimented my computer, and I just shrugged and smiled.
Personal computers were still new in 1998. Not like brand new, but new to the masses. Pretty new for EVERY college student to be having one. I remember my new friends asking me what kind of music I had, like on my computer, and I just gave them a look. I believe it was Steve who set me up with WINAMP, a program to play MP3s on, and showed me how to find friends on our dorm’s network (and other dorms’ networks), and the wider internet, and how all the music you could ever want was findable and free.
And I want to pause on this part: the fact that music was suddenly so available. I had grown up in rural Harford County. We could get the Baltimore radio stations, but for my family that meant the classic rock station (WGRX) and 98 Rock, which was playing stuff like Metallica and AC/DC, so I didn’t really listen to that. We could just barely get 99.1WHFS out of D.C. if the weather was good—and their “alternative” was what my friends and I were really into. (We also listened to 98.5 out of York, which played a mix of alternative and pop, but everyone agreed this station was way less cool.) I also was a heavy consumer of MTV from 1993 to 1996, which is when I got my driver’s license and got a job and got out of the house and stopped watching TV. But MTV was formative to my musical tastes, and the spectrum of musical offerings that I took in every Saturday morning for the Top 20 countdown gave me a good exposure to pop, hip-hop, alternative, grunge, and even the occasional country song in there now and then (though thankfully usually they just showed the first 15 seconds and then moved on).
But when I got to college, and discovered MP3s and how to find them with the internet, it was a big deal. I was not aware that this existed. No more trying to catch a song on the radio or MTV or taking a risk on buying the CD. Like that song you heard in a friend’s room? Download the whole folder they created of similar music. Never heard of that artist? Here is their whole recorded catalog, plus bootlegs. It was amazing. And overwhelming.
A picture from first semester of college. I know it's first
semester, because by second semester we had lost the other
girl, Angela, who I had forgotten about until I saw this photo.
By second semester it was just me and these 5 dudes plus 1,
Joe, who was not pictured. Love you guys!

I’m not a super music person. If I like 10 percent of people, I must only like .02 percent of music. And that’s within the genres I actually like. So my collection never grew that large, but I did branch out, and often times I traced down specific songs I had always wanted for just that song and not the whole album, or a song I had heard at like 6 a.m. on the radio and then never heard again or even knew what it was.
And so it is with all that history that I present you with this year’s birthday playlist on Spotify, from a little time capsule I have carried around for almost 20 years—“First Mix CD.” Because along with learning how to find MP3s at college, I learned how to burn CDs of them so I could listen to them on my car or at my parents’ house. And this crazy mixture of music was what I first burned a hard copy of, and have been listening to over and over and over again ever since.
I thought it would be fun to write about every song and why it made it on the cd, but this post is already long enough. I’ll keep that as a separate post right HERE, and you’re welcome to read it or not.
Happy 38th birthday and 20th anniversaries to all my other 1980 friends out there! And may this music playlist HERE make your Friday more fantastic.

"First Mix CD" playlist and notes

           I didn't realize I would be listening to this playlist for decades to come, because if I had, some of these songs wouldn't have made it. But I'm more naturally a journalist than a blogger, so I have not edited the list or cut out embarrassing choices or songs I'm just tired of hearing. This is a time capsule, and I'm exposing it just as it was preserved. So here are my notes as I relistened to it just last week. Listen along for yourself via Spotify HERE

1.       “That’s Just What You Are” by Aimee Mann: I’m pretty sure I opened with this one because of its build-up opening, plus it’s one of those songs that I heard for a few weeks on MTV and then never heard again. Why was it on MTV, you may be wondering? Because it was on the Melrose Place soundtrack in 1995. But I do dig Aimee Mann. In small doses.
2.       “Laid” by James: This song was released in 1993 but I don’t think I heard it until 1995, but then it was everywhere. Except on the radio, or MTV. And I didn’t want to buy the album because I had never heard of any other songs by James. So when I got this MP3, it made it on my first mix cd. Now it’s the song I roll my eyes at some days and belt out on other days.
3.       “Perfect” by Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dreams remains one of my favorite albums of all time (though I never listen to it), but I was kind of done with the Smashing Pumpkins by 1998 when this gem came out. I do like the softer side of Billy Corgan, though he’s still a dick.
4.       “Polyester Bride” by Liz Phair: Liz Phair was one of those super cool female rockers of the 90s, and though “Supernova” was her big song, this one is much better. The music, the lyrics, the essence: so 90s.
5.       “Angels of the Silences” by Counting Crows: I never owned “Recovering the Satelites,” perhaps because the singles were so regularly played on the radio. This one was my favorite, and I still haven’t tired of it. I like the way the Counting Crows do it, but I feel like this would make a great punk song too.
6.       “Coffee and TV” by Blur: Everyone knows Blur’s famous “Song 2” (“whoo-hooo!”), but did you know Blur has OTHER songs too? I didn’t, until I heard this one. I like its mellow vibe. And it had a cool music video about a milk carton that goes on an adventure looking for the missing kid whose picture is on the carton. 
7.       “Cut Your Hair” by Pavement: This definitely came from one of my friend’s folders, but I liked this kind of “safe punk” sound, you know, where people aren’t screaming. I feel like there are a lot of inside jokes in this song too and all the digs at drummers. It still amuses me.
8.       “Roulette Girl” by Mary Prankster: Mary Prankster is a Baltimore gal, and she came and played a tiny concert in Stamp Student Union at College Park, and I loved her stuff, like “The World is Full of Bastards and I’ve Dated Every One,” and some other one I used to have but have since lost. But this one has great build up and is a great play on words, and I love it.
9.       “Here Comes Your Man” by the Pixies: This is one of those songs that dates back before my modern musical consciousness, to 1989, but I had heard it once or twice in the middle of the night on WHFS and didn’t know who or what it was, so when I rediscovered it in college, I was ecstatic. And then I discovered how much I really do like the Pixies, especially Doolittle.
10.    “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” by the Eels: I had forgotten the name of this song until I had to look it up for this playlist. I thought it was called “Beautiful Day.” Wrong. Do you know the Eels? They are depressing as can be, so again, small doses, but this song is catchy, and creepy. When I listen to it in the car, I turn down the volume so the kids can’t hear “GD right it’s a beautiful day” and instead sing “Got that right, it’s a beautiful day.”
11.    “Circles” by Soul Coughing: This is such a catchy song, and while it got decent play on the radio, it faded within a year or two. Not in my mind! In fact, this is one of Rye’s favorite songs. Behind “Runaway Train.”
12.    “(Rock) Superstar” by Cypress Hill: This one doesn’t fit the vibe as much, but I loved this song, and so does Josh, and you should see us car dance to this. Yes, we know most of the lyrics. And we think it’s pretty corny, like a Vanilla Ice song, but we still love it. “People see rock stars, you know what I'm sayin'? But you still try to get out… Move like everybody else, you know, it’s a fun job, but it’s still a job.”
13.    “Arlington” by Emmet Swimming: If you didn’t grow up with a D.C. station, you probably don’t know this one. They were a local band and this was a big song in 1996, and then it disappeared. But I didn’t forget! This is so classic 90s, both musically and culturally speaking. Such a time capsule.
14.    “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” by The Mr. T Experience: Again, some of that safe punk sound. A story about a boy in love with his teacher/growing up. And a band called The Mr. T Experience? Love it.
15.    “Scooby Snacks” by Fun Lovin Criminals: A storyline about robbing a bank, audio clips from Quentin Tarantino movies, the circular groove: classic.
16.    “Doll Parts” by Hole: I kind of liked some Hole songs, you know, because Kurt Cobain probably wrote them, but I would never buy a Hole album. But I do like this song. “I want to be the girl with the most cake.” For real.
17.    “California” by Wax: More safe punk! And this was one of the coolest music videos I’ve ever seen: just a guy on fire running in slow-mo down a street. This was a song that disappeared from the public that I was again happy to rediscover.
18.    “Jump Around” by House of Pain: Again, doesn’t make much sense on this cd, but I think I realized I had 70 or 80 minutes of space to use and I have always loved this song, since middle school dances.
19.    “Dammit” by Blink 182: I kind of hate Blink 182, more now than I did in the 90s, but this song came out as I was going through a bad break-up and I held onto it. And captured it for all time.
20.    “Into the Void” by NIN: Another surprise. I’m like magnetically attracted to Trent Reznor’s sadness but not vulgarity, and this song keeps the vulgarity at bay. I like the groove. But I can leave this song now.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

18 goals for 2018

As I wrote in my last column, rather than having “resolutions” this year, I wanted to have 18 goals for 2018. I kept putting off taking the time to actually think about my goals, but today, when schools were closed and my plans with friends got cancelled and I had to get out of the house before I went crazy, I decided to take advantage of the free daycare at my gym and use that time on the treadmill to finally start writing down my ideas, and there were more of them in my head than I had realized. Sixteen of them came quite quickly, and the last two came along as I sat at my computer to formally write up my list. So here it goes:

1.       Have 1 date night per month. This idea was my first one and the one that kept floating around in my head and making me want to commit to actually putting my goals on paper. I think 1 date night a month is pretty doable. I also want to make a list of fun ideas, so that when we have time for the date night, we don’t get in a rut of just doing what’s convenient. So I’m looking forward to having some fun dates this year. The kind of stuff we would do if we were still dating and not yet married.
2.       Have 1 Carrie Day per month. This was a Christmas gift from Josh! And it’s the best thing that I never would have asked for. Becoming a parent completely changes you, in a similar way that getting married changes you. With marriage, you cease being a “me” and become a “we.” With parenthood, that configuration of commitment grows exponentially, because not only do you now have to think of your whole family as a group, but you’re incredibly responsible for all life functions of your “dependents,” because depend on you they most assuredly do. Josh, God love him, is prone to push for “family day” when he has off, but now he realizes I need some alone time as well. And not just to go to the grocery store. I need days of FULL AUTONOMY. (If this need isn’t clicking with you, consider yourself BLESSED, my friend.) My first Carrie Day, last week, was spent with me out of the house from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. I met my dear friend Pat from high school (and college, and adulthood) at a park-and-ride outside Baltimore, then we rode down to D.C. together to see the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture and had dinner at a Mexican/Honduran place on our way home. It was a great day! (Anyone else who wants a visit from me on a Carrie Day, please place your order now. I am willing to travel!)
3.       Buy a new watch. This is a weird one, but I am a watch person. I grew up wearing a watch, and even though I have a really good sense of time, I always want to know exactly what time it is. Looking at my cell phone, no matter how often I do it, is not at all satisfying in this department. I had a Citizen Eco-Drive that I love, but stopped wearing it while nursing the kids because the band pressed into them while holding them, and then the battery went wonky, and even though Josh took it somewhere to get fixed, they said it didn’t need fixing because they got it working again, but it just won’t keep time accurately. But this is not purely about functionality. Watches can be beautiful. They are part fashion, part function, and tell other people that time is important to me. I started looking with passion at the very start of January, but got indecisive and gave up, thinking that I’ll know the right one when I see it. What am I looking for? The face can’t be too big, probably 34mm or less (I have a petite wrist), I like the skeleton watch style (where you can see the gears) and I like rose gold, but I’m starting to think maybe I should stick with stainless steel because it’s more timeless. We’ll see.
4.       Try a new exercise class. I’ve belonged to my gym for over a decade, even though I’m not an “athletic” person. I did just the treadmill for years. Then I branched out to weightlifting. Then the elliptical. And then last year I tried a barre class, not sure at all what it was going to be like, but I was looking for a way to stretch without standing next to the treadmill and stretching and looking dorky. Last March, I took a chance and went to a barre class with one instructor, and it was OK, but then I tried another instructor who teaches the class in more of a ballet style than a Pilates style, and I LOVED it. It kicked my butt for the first month, but then I didn’t feel like I was going to die anymore, and now if I miss a week, I’ll be sore the day after I come back, but I can still do it. I am so much more flexible and I have a reason to look forward to going to the gym. I really regret not having tried it sooner. So now I’m challenging myself to try another class, because if they’re so popular, other people must really be enjoying them too, right? I’m not going to make myself stick to a new class, but I’ll be proud of myself for trying it.
5.       Simplify our junk and sell our unused stuff. This kind of started last year as we started emptying out our basement for the renovation, and it gives me such a high! It’s addictive. I sell something that we haven’t used in 10 years and then start looking around for the next thing I can sell. And not only do you get money for your stuff, but you know it’s going to someone who is going to value it, if not actually use it (good luck lady who bought all my stained glass supplies), plus you get your space back! I’ve gone through our basement and posted the last of the useful stuff from down there, but I believe the upstairs will have more. Which leads me to…
6.       Clean out all our closets. Josh and I lived here for years and had 4 bedroom closets to fill with whatever we didn’t want to look at, plus we built a fifth walk-in closet for my clothes. Josh is using the in-room closet in the master bedroom, but the other three bedrooms’ closets are filled with more of our stuff, not the kids’ stuff. At some point, they’re going to want to use their own closets. Plus the organizer in me hates knowing that all my craft supplies are in Knox’s closet, and a ton of weird clothes I’ve never seen Josh wear are in Rye’s closet. So I want to go through all of that and have everyone’s own stuff in their own closet. And stuff that doesn’t belong in a bedroom closet, like our camping gear, will have to find a new home. Which leads me to…
7.       Remodel the basement! We are officially remodeling our basement, which used to be an apartment, but then we ripped the kitchen out, most of the bathroom features out, and used the main room as our workroom for the other two floors’ renovations and to store our leftover renovation supplies (hello, remainders of heart pine flooring and pile of unused drywall), home maintenance supplies and general junk. We’re going to gain at least one new closet in the new layout of the basement, as well as cabinets in the new laundry room, and I plan to be an organizational guru with all this new space. I might need to buy a label gun.
8.       Give a purpose to our back porch room. Last entry I posted a picture of our 5’ by 7’ back porch room and how it was a ridiculous mess but was the first step (and an unrelated step) in our remodeling. Well, the room has all its drywall up now, and while it won’t realize its long-term purpose for several more years (the entryway to a future screened in back porch), I want to find a short-term purpose for it. This may be my future writing room. Or just a general computer room that Josh and I can share. I just don’t want it to be a junk overflow room anymore.
9.       Teach Rye to read. Rye is quite a smart little guy. He knew all his letters by 2, his letter sounds by 2 ½, and then he got stuck. Or rather, he dug in his heels. He refuses to try to sound out words, and prefers to just look at the first letter and then guess. I realize the English language is terribly difficult and inconsistent. Frankly, it’s a wonder that so many people ARE literate. But if the average kid can learn to read, then I think our kid can do it too. He’s turning 5 in two months. So I need to suck it up, find a curriculum to use and just start doing it with him.
10.    Write for fun. Last year I said I wanted to write a blog every month and I failed. So I’m not committing to a hard number or frequency, but I am going to encourage myself to take the time to write something down when I have a fun idea. Even if I don’t finish it, there’s value in the process, of taking the time to acknowledge an idea and seeing where it goes, of exploring and encouraging my creativity.
11.    Pursue publishing. One of my goals of last year was to write a children’s book. I did. What could it hurt to try and find a publisher? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
12.    Lead my book club through a book. I’m part of a weekly book club with some other moms from my church and my friend Jess is always the leader, and she is great at it. And I’m her back up, because 99 times out of 100, I’ve done the reading and I’m going to show up. I’m not as good at drawing conversation out of others as she is, but I’m pretty good at walking people who didn’t read the chapter through it so they can stay on course with the rest of us. I know it’s exhausting to always be the one in charge of something, so I’ve told Jess that when she wants a break, I’d be happy to lead a whole study. Not exactly because I’m dying to do it, but because it’s another way to challenge myself and help a good friend.
13.    Keep up with my relationships that rely on letters. I have a handful of friends that I might see once or twice a year, or who have moved so far that it’s not even every year, but that I still want to keep in touch with and so we do so by email. I used to write their names down on my calendar to make sure I was touching base at regular intervals, but last year, I let a lot of those letters (or emails) fall by the wayside. This year I want to get back on track with that.
14.    Ride a bike. Every time Josh and I go on a trip somewhere, I think how fun it would be to rent and ride a bike while we’re there. But guess what, I OWN a bike! I don’t want to ride on roads, but I could take it to trails if I wanted to. My goal is to get on a bike this year, at least once. Summer vacation in Lewes might be a good opportunity, if I can convince Josh to strap my bike to the top of the Highlander. (What’s the point of having a luggage rack if you never use it?)
15.    Start having regular family dinners. And by that, I mean extended family. Our family members are all about an hour away, give or take 10 minutes, and so Josh and I sometimes feel like the outsiders in the family. I was thinking about how when I was growing up and my grandmother was alive, all her kids (and we young grandkids) would go to her house every Friday night, because that’s what the family did. There was no need to schedule a time to get together, because you had a scheduled time to get together: every Friday night. That hour of distance and fluctuating job schedules would make it unrealistic to get together weekly, but I’m proposing to our families that we have regular family dinners scheduled so we can get together without having to TRY to get together. I realize this isn’t entirely in our power, since everyone has to set their own priorities and mesh things with their schedules, but I’m at least going to get the conversation started.
16.    Take a class in something. This is different than the exercise class thing. I used to take classes for fun because before kids, and with a flexible work schedule, I had a lot of free time. I’m the kind of person who would rather know a little about everything than a lot about one thing. Most of these classes were in crafts, and many were one-session deals, for things like making German feather trees or basket-weaving, though crochet and stained glass were several weeks. I like to learn, and learn by experience, so I think it would be refreshing to learn something new this year, even if it doesn’t become a hobby I continue with.
17.    Use my Instant Pot once a week. I got an Instant Pot for Christmas, and people love them, though in my first few weeks I’m finding it interesting but over-rated. It takes up a lot of space, so to justify that space, my goal is to use it once a week, and hopefully through this find the passion that others have for it. I’m in a couple of Facebook groups for it to find recipes and “did you know…” facts about it, and I think that will help.
18.    Be more present. I’m terribly guilty of looking ahead and putting all my hope and expectations in the great thing/time ahead. Most days feel like I’m just punching the clock on parenting, and existence. I want better than that. I know not every moment is going to be great, but I want to see the beauty in all those moments, even the mundane. I’m hoping my gratitude journal will help with this too.
   So there you have it, my 18 goals for 2018. I like it. This feels like a fun list, an empowering list. I feel like it’s going to help me to “Be Carrie,” which is one of the most satisfying feats I can hope to accomplish. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Getting back in the groove for 2018

Hi. So it’s been a while. I had to look up when my last entry was — July! And then I took a six-month break. Without preschool, I had both kids on my hands and my brain was filled with focusing on other people’s needs and didn’t have much room for fanciful things that I would want to write about. I’m sure I could have done a certain amount of complaining, but who wants to read 1,000 words of that? I try to keep my complaining to 1 or 2 sentences at a time and leave them on Facebook.
I remember last spring telling my friends that things were going so well, I felt like bad thing must be lurking ahead, just around the corner. Then somehow the kids and I lost whatever good groove we had gotten in, and the days became torturous and the monotony of day-to-day parenting had me really wanting to work again, or just have SOME PURPOSE outside of wiping noses and butts and cooking delicious meals and then throwing away half of them because the kids won’t eat them (but we WILL NOT be a family that caters to mac and cheese and chicken nugget tastes every single day). And then Josh got sick, with colds and sore throats and fevers and chills and tiny breaks in between for like 3 months. And the kids and I were sick with the stomach bug and then chest colds for all of December.
So yeah, with all of that going on, I didn’t write a single fun thing for myself.
But it’s January, and while I’m not making a resolution for writing this year, it seemed like a good time to at least put something out there. The one resolution I made for this year was to keep a gratitude journal, and 8 days in, I’ve done it every day so far. I could have just used any of a dozen old journals I have lying around upstairs but I wanted something with room for daily entries and a pretty cover, so I bought this one on Amazon. I’m hoping it’s making me less whiny inside my head, and I PRAY that I’m not being as whiny to my friends as I am on the inside.
I also adopted a phrase for this year, a mantra of sorts. I am prone to being dragged down by my kids’ bad moods, which seem to occur 6 days a week. On average. Apparently kids don’t know how to handle their emotions, and it’s like an adult’s version of being “hangry” times 12. There are a lot of kids’ tears over things like “I want that train and he took it from me” and a look in Knox’s eyes that says “why are you offering me yogurt when you know all I want to eat is blueberries for the rest of my life?” And I’m just not every sympathetic to these problems. I hate playing referee all day. I hate having to say the same things all day like “you need to share with your brother,” “please put your shoes on,” and “you need to do your responsibilities, I can’t do them for you.” They can’t control their emotions and they lash out and after about the 4th episode of this in the day (sometimes as early as 9 a.m.), I’m losing it myself.
So that’s what I’m working on, trying to keep my positivity and patience throughout the day, regardless of how the kids are reacting. The mantra is “Teflon Mom.” As in, whatever shitty attitude you kids are throwing my way, I’m not going to let it get to me. It slides right off, just like that non-stick coating on my waffle maker that I wish I used more. Say it out loud, “Teflon Mom.” It has a very good sound to it. I recite it several times inside my head while I’m taking deep breaths before responding to the kids in their moments of breakdown. I’ll let you know if this works.
I heard on the Happier podcast with Gretchen Rubin (one of my favorite authors) the suggestion to set 18 goals for 2018, and I’m planning to do it! By the 18th of January! So that’s my first goal. I’ll try to write another blog about them when I do.
And another big thing: we have started another phase of renovations on our house! My last blog from July was about how we were getting a new furnace (oil burning, not gas), and that installation finally happened in November. Since then, we’ve been finalizing plans for the layout of our basement PLAYROOM (holla!), my gourmet laundry room (unless we run out of money before we get to that), putting the bathroom back together down there, and creating a sort of mudroom entranceway at the back of the house in the old laundry room.
It is a really big undertaking because we’re insulating the basement, putting up new walls, leveling the floor and putting down nice floors, adding a radon mitigation system, etc.; and I plan to take before and after pictures and write about it along the way (Josh is estimating this could take the next 6 months, considering the extent of work, permitting process, and the rate at which we make decisions). But as of today, work is happening! Not actually in the basement though. A somewhat unrelated problem that we have, which has been extremely highlighted with this horrendous cold spell that has gone on for like 2 weeks now, is that we have an enclosed back porch room that is like 5 by 7 feet, with no heat in it, and the pipes in the master bathroom above are subject to freezing because of it. Well our contractor figured he could fix that in a day, by like, adding interior walls and a complete ceiling and a vent so that a heat source could allow the heat to rise up into that area and not freeze. And then later this week an electrician is coming in and adding a heat source so the room will stay warm.
The state of the tiny room as repairs started today.

I’m actually really excited about this tiny project, because it’s going to be FINISHED. This room has been in suspension for SEVEN YEARS, and it made me so mad that I put wrapping paper over the window in the door to this room so I couldn’t see in there and get angry every day. But now it’s going to have drywall walls, instead of only external walls with insulation and polyurethane sheeting over them—and the windows—and then crammed with excess kid stuff like strollers and play tents and stuff you take away from them when they’re being punished. We have this metal shelf that we’re supposed to put back in there with stuff we have nowhere else to go right now (especially with the basement cleared out and off limits), but I’m tempted to put my desk in there instead and make it an adjunct room just for me. Right now my computer sits on the countertop which is great for cooking, but not for looking things up on Amazon or reading a friend’s blog, or you know, WRITING. If the kids can see me on the computer, they are coming at me with a million questions (Knox asks questions with his eyebrows and grunts). I think I’m even going to paint it and buy a special tiny rug for in there. Ahh, rugs.
So that’s what I’m up to now, if not a very good explanation for my silence over the past six months. If you have a good suggestion for one of my 18 goals for this year, shoot me a message!

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Stay-cation with Glamping

So we had an interesting week. Last Friday evening, as I was giving Knox his bath, I realized that no matter how long I let the bathroom faucet go, the water wasn’t getting warm. I told Josh about the problem and he disappeared to the basement. Five minutes later, he confirmed my suspicion: we had run out of heating oil (which fuels our boiler, which supplies hot water to our radiators AND our faucets, taking the place of a hot water heater).
We knew this was going to happen. But we thought we had until August.
Back in March, we told our heating oil company to cut off deliveries. The plan at the time was we wanted to convert our house to be heated by natural gas, get rid of the indoor oil tank in the basement, and finally patch the crumbling foundation wall behind it (the joys of owning an old house!). In the past month, we had called BGE and found out it would basically be free to get reconnected to the natural gas grid, and had one contractor come out and price out the interior connections and a new boiler for the radiators and a separate hot water heater for the faucets. And that price was like $10,000.
No thank you, we thought. We’ll stick with oil. But we still needed to temporarily move the oil tank so we could fix the wall behind it, and this would require an empty tank, because the steel alone was going to be pretty darn heavy to move. We thought we would still put in a separate hot water heater though, to save money on oil during the times of the year when we don’t need the boiler to heat the radiators. (I’m secretly now an expert on this stuff, guys.)
But somehow, on June 30, we had already run out of oil. I blame that cold May, when I may have turned the heat back on once or twice after swearing we were no longer using the heat. Or there could be so much sludge at the bottom of our tank (which a contractor estimated was probably about 60 years old). While it had looked like we had an eighth of a tank back in April, a significant part of that could have been dirt particles or oil fungus (not making that up—I told you, I’m secretly a heating system expert).
Josh felt really bad that we had run out so early, and said, “Well, maybe they can deliver just 100 gallons.”
“No way,” I said. Who knows how long it would take to use up 100 gallons in the summer—and the heating oil company likely wouldn’t come out for any smaller of a delivery, and we already had our mason lined up to do the foundation work. Any new delivery of oil would setback the progress of “fixing” the basement (there are a lot of problems we’re hoping to have fixed by September) and I didn’t want to take any more steps backward. Instead, I saw this as the impetus to finally make up our minds about what we wanted the future floor plan to look like in the basement (potentially a new/moved laundry room, restore the full bathroom, create new closets, convert old laundry room to a mudroom, and use the open living space as a kids’ playroom, as in “you’re driving me crazy, go down to the playroom!”). We also needed to determine to what extent we would need a plumber: to move some pipes in the mudroom, extend some pipes in the new laundry room, and maybe add a hot water heater or not add a hot water heater (I didn’t want one because you hear so many stories about them breaking down and flooding people’s basements, so they rather seem like a ticking time bomb of water to me). With Rye away visiting his grandmother, we had the next 48 hours (minus sleeping and Josh’s work time) to really discuss our plans (with fewer interruptions) and figure this thing out.
And in the meantime, if that meant cold showers, cold water laundry and cold water for doing dishes, so be it.
“At least it’s not the air conditioning,” I said.
We had to wait until Monday before we could call any contractors, and with that being the day before the Fourth of July, we realized it was unlikely we would make much progress. Still, Josh got in touch with the mason on Monday and asked him if he would recommend his plumbing contractor and if the two could work on the basement project together. But then we never did hear back from him about setting an actual day up for them to visit and view the plumbing problems together. Josh did get in touch with our new oil supplier and discussed the overall issues and the oil versus natural gas debate with one of their representatives. Sensing that this guy Keith really knew his stuff, Josh set up for Keith to visit us Thursday to determine 1) whether it would be possible to move our oil tank, re-hook it up, and then refill it so we could use it ASAP; and 2) if the oil tank can’t be moved (it kind of looked cemented into the floor, yikes) whether we should just switch to natural gas (which their company supports and could still be our supplier for and thus could give an honest opinion).
Josh was working Thursday so I met Keith at the door, and he greeted me with “So you guys must be real romantics.” I gave him a puzzled look. “You know, to buy an old house.” And I laughed. After a quick tour of the basement and some peeking around the house at the radiators and baseboards upstairs, Keith gave his opinion: 1) we have some fabulous, gigantic radiators; and 2) because they’re so gigantic, it wouldn’t save us money to switch to natural gas because it would take more natural gas and thus more money to still get enough BTUs to actually heat them up and keep our house warm. The tank should not be moved and reconnected, he said, but a new tank is only like $2,000. And while our boiler system is functional, it’s on its last legs, a sort of ticking time bomb on its own, so he would give us a proposal on what a new and more modern oil burning boiler would cost. (He also recommended against installing a separate hot water heater because using a boiler 12 months a year can extend its life by ten years.) He called Josh on Friday to discuss more specifics (though not a price yet, needed more info from us on linear feet of radiators and baseboards), and asked Josh how much oil we had left.
“None?” Keith repeated. “So you’re taking cold showers?”
Josh confirmed we had indeed been taking cold showers for a week.
“There’s no way my wife would have put up with that,” Keith said.
And there, I think I earned myself the “Miss Low Maintenance of 2017” award. I was prepared to continue using cold water for the next month and a half if that was what it was going to take to do the rights steps in the right order to get our basement closer to its end goal. Cold showers are not fun; I found its best to take one immediately after being outside, and to not expect to wash your hair and body at the same time because it just takes too much time. I started washing my hair under the faucet instead of in the shower. I even got a haircut and went back to having shoulder-length hair to make it easier to wash under the faucet. In the 8 days we did not have hot water, I took three showers and washed my hair twice.
Evidence of haircut
And on day eight, Keith told Josh that “heating oil” is the same as “off road diesel,” which is available at some gas stations. He told Josh to buy five or ten gallons, pour them in the tank, prime the pump to get the fuel suction restarted to get it to the boiler, and then we’d have at least a few more weeks of hot water while our new tank and boiler system were being priced, scheduled and later installed. So Josh did it! He bought ten gallons of the diesel, watched a video on YouTube, and got our hot water back.
I’m not going to lie, that first hot shower felt goooooood.
But I think I could have stuck it out the six weeks (an arbitrary estimate of how long it would take to get a new boiler and/or hot water heater). Josh had already taken one hot shower at a friends’ house, but I was thinking of making a challenge out of it (you know, and maybe raising money for a charity or something, haha) and just sticking to cold water until all the problems were fixed. But once the hot water was there, I wasn’t going to refuse it.
For the past two days, every time I turn the faucet on and the water is warmer than cool, it catches me off guard. Trying to rinse cantaloupe off Knox’s hands, I was surprised to find the water was too hot, and quickly had to turn it down. I can’t find my sweet spot on the shower dial of where the perfectly warm water is.
It’s crazy how quickly you can adjust, and it’s kind of reassuring too. Instead of being irritated or down in the dumps about not having hot water, I thought of it as a week of glamping (which is “glamorous camping,” in case you’re unfamiliar with that term). Our glamping cabin had 1800 square feet; rich, wood floors and wood trimmed windows and doors; comfortable beds just like at home; air conditioning; a fabulous kitchen; and indoor plumbing—all the modern amenities, with the exception of hot water.
And we’ll probably get to do some more glamping at home later this summer, once we make up our minds about getting the new boiler and oil tank and have the foundation wall repaired and the plumbing changes made. I hope it’s another hot week then so that the cold showers will feel just as refreshing. And I hope it only takes a week once the work starts. We’ll see.

Friday, April 28, 2017

My skin may not be perfect, but it's nearly free

For years, my skincare regime has been free. Sure, during the teen years, I got pimples and used a range of acne-fighting products, but no single product probably cost more than $6. And then I grew out of that stage, and my skin seemed to have a natural balancing act. Showering daily prevented breakouts. Extreme exercise and sweating occasionally led to a few pimples here and there. I used no face soap and no lotions, except for some Bath & Body Works delicious smelling body lotions, just for fun.
And then as I reached my mid-30s, I realized that natural balancing act of my skin wasn’t really working out as well. Not that my skin was getting oily, but it was getting dry. Everywhere. My face suddenly was aging (though I blame the introduction of children and lack of sleep on that more than anything). I didn’t really feel like I needed daily face moisturizer, but on the two or three days a week I did get a morning shower and remember to put it on, a few people actually complimented me. (I am very suspicious of compliments—I’d rather assume I look OK all the time rather than have someone tell me that on this one particular day I ACTUALLY look good.)
This year for my birthday, I suggested to my brother and my sister-in-law that I needed some new face lotion, and since Julie and I had had a conversation similar to the above-stated paragraph, I thought maybe she would have some insight on a product she could buy me or recommend. But instead, they got me a 3-month subscription to Birchbox, which really surprised me and has been both fun and eye-opening.
If you’re unfamiliar with Birchbox, it’s a subscription service that for $10 a month, will send you 5 sample-sized beauty products. They can tailor the items to you based on a survey you fill out, or you can choose to pick one specific item per month and they supply the rest, but generally you’re getting salon-quality products you haven’t heard of before, and then you can buy a full-size item from them if you’re interested.
These products have been astounding, because I have as much experience with beauty products as an Amish woman. In addition to not buying beauty products, I skip the pages of all my magazines on beauty products (and downright wish that wasn’t a part of what seems like every single magazine geared to women). I’ve been taking my time using my little samples, partially because I don’t always understand what they are, and also because I’m guilty of feeling like I need to “save” my special products for a special occasion. But sometimes that special occasion just needs to be celebrating a shower after skipping one for two days. Or more.
The first product I used was Real Chemistry’s Luminous 3-Minute Peel. I got the kids to bed early, Josh was working late, and it seemed like a girly thing to do: put on a face mask and then pull it off and feel my pores totally cleansed. But this product is a peel, not a mask. Apparently one is not always the other. Instead, this was a gel that you put on a damp face, sort of massage into your skin, let sit for 2 ½ minutes while (using “Real Chemistry”) the gel bonds to your excess proteins (i.e., dead skin) and then you wash it off. Oh. My. Goodness. My skin felt AMAZING afterwards. My neck felt like baby skin. I pulled out the sheet that came with the box to see how much this product costs, imagining myself getting weekly at-home face peels. And the cost is $48. Yeah. Not gonna happen.
I’ve also been using this tiny little bottle of Beauty Protector’s Protect & Detangle. The bottle makes 23 promises on how it improves your hair, but basically it’s a leave-in conditioner/detangler. I like it better than the children’s Suave detangler (in green apple scent) that I was previously using, but this is $23.50 for a full bottle versus $3.99. And it doesn’t even smell like green apple. It smells like a fancy-pants salon, which is not me.
I haven’t used anything from my second box yet, mostly because of their intimidating nature. For example, the amika Nourishing Mask, which the description card says is “packed with sea buckthorn berry (which is chock-full of omegas) and jojoba oil, this paraben-free mask intensely hydrates strands while repairing damage and sealing frayed ends.” A mask for hair? I had no idea. I had to read that one about three times before my brain figured out it was a hair product and not a face product. One of these nights I’ll get around to trying it. There’s also a BB cream, which I feel like I saw a lot of commercials for BB creams during daytime television while at the gym like three years ago, but I’m still not sure what the BB means. Is this a moisturizer? Because that’s what I’ve been looking for. A full-size bottle, at 1.6 ounces, costs $29. But I suppose if it lasts me a full year, as did my last night-time moisturizer (that I usually used a few mornings a week because I don’t even bother to wash my face at night), then that’s probably not so bad. (Though I don’t think 1.6 ounces would last a year.)
For my third and final box, I decided to take advantage of the option to pick one item specifically after they give you descriptions of three possible products you could receive. When I saw this one, I thought it seemed like a good fit. Read this description of Living Proof PhD In-Shower Styler: “Air-drying doesn't mean you have to go product-free. Enhance your strands with this convenient in-shower styling cream that adds texture and definition with magnetic texturizers and cationic resins while also making hair easier to manage without looking or feeling like you put any product in it. Formulated with a hydrophobic resin to control flyaways and the brand's patented thickening molecule, PBAE, for fullness, it gives your locks effortless movement and body that everyone will think is natural.” What are “cationic resins?” What does “PBAE” stand for? I have no idea, but since I do air-dry my hair 99% of the time, I figured I should give it a try.
I don’t mean to knock on anyone who does use beauty products and enjoys them, but I’m just flabbergasted that this is what we’re doing with our science. Can’t these great minds pursue real problems? Are taming hair flyaways and intensely hydrating strands really of utter importance?
It’s been a fun gift, and just crazy to think that there are people out there using $48 dead-skin removal products (and who knows what else!), but it’s not the life for me. When I’m 40, I’ll look 40, and when I’m 50, I’ll probably look 50. But not that phony kind of 50; Real 50. 
I will miss getting these beautiful little boxes