November 29, 2010

HomeGoods Shopping Trip

(I was given a $25 gift card to HomeGoods. Because the value was less than $40 and I wasn't otherwise paid, BlogHer Ads is allowing me to do the post on my regular blog, instead of on the review blog. Normally I LIKE keeping the two areas separate, but this particular post involves a present for someone, and I wanted the someone to be "a reader of my regular blog," so I'm doing it here. If you are sort of like, "You know, if I wanted to read about reviews/giveaways, I would read that other blog of yours I'm not reading," I agree, which is why I normally like to keep them separate. This one is an exception, not a portent of bad things to come.)

The day before finding out I was going to be participating in the BlogHer/HomeGoods gift card program, I had a happy shopping trip at HomeGoods. I'd already taken the photos and written a shopping post ANYWAY, so that makes a nice intro to this now-partially-sponsored-via-gift-card-contribution post:

This set of wall stickers was marked down to $3. I copied the branch arrangement exactly as shown on the package, but I did the birds and the falling leaves differently. My sister-in-law did some bird wall stickers in my niece's room, and she put one of the birdies way over on top of a window, and I loved that idea so I put one of my birds on the little round mirror. Another bird was shown on the package coming in for a landing, and I just put him/her higher up in the air.

I don't put cream in a creamer, so this was a little bit of a silly purchase. But I plan to use this little pitcher decoratively, on a little shelf with other bird knick-knacks---AND, then if I ever DO have people over for coffee, I can call it into service! $4.

Cute magnetic turtle clips! (My dad: "Are those turtles, or are they green ladybugs?") I have a lot of stuff from this Animal House line, and I would have had these a lot sooner if I'd realized they existed. I use our fridge as an extension of my brain: I put up notices I have to remember to act on, or spelling words I have to remember to practice with one of the kids, or whatever. Clips are better than regular magnets for this, for a variety of dull reasons. $5.

Set of eight cards. I LOVE these. And I almost didn't get them, because the sunflower (my least favorite) was the top card and I assumed they were all the same. But then I was looking at a different set more closely, and saw THAT one had an assortment, so I went back and checked these and LOVED them. Clearance $3.

Ladybug paper assortment: one lined pad, one unlined pad, one square sticky note pad, two rectangular sticky-note pads. Clearance $3.

So I came home with a big bag of fun stuff to put all over the house, all for $18, and took photos to show you.

Then I got the gift card. The assignment was to buy one or two gifts, worth a total of $25, for anyone we wanted: teachers, mail carriers, family, friends. I went to Home Goods and looked around, and I decided it would be most fun to choose a present for one of YOU.

My first idea was to go back and buy all the things I had just bought for myself and give THOSE away---but when I went back the next day, everything was gone except the bird pitcher. So I looked a bit more, but I was getting overwhelmed by all the possibilities, so I went home to regroup and plan.

I made a list of possible gifts. I wanted it to be something that wouldn't be heavy or fragile, because of shipping it. I also wanted it to be something I thought a lot of people would want (as opposed to, say, a decorative item, which I might LOVE but maybe I'd be the only one), and something kind of FUN and interesting, and ideally something that the winner could keep OR might be able to give as a gift to someone on their own list, if things were tight for them this year. AND I wanted it to be something fun to buy. So you can see this was a Shopping Challenge.

I considered doing kitchen linens: oven mitts, dishtowels, hot pads---maybe holiday-themed. Or an assortment of stationery, maybe with a journal. Or a set of wrapping paper and ribbons and gift tags. Or a bunch of holiday paper plates and napkins. Or cloth napkins and napkin rings. Or whimsical kitchen things. Or a brownie pan plus oven mitts, or a muffin tin plus silicone muffin cups. Or a coffee/chocolate assortment. Or a throw blanket and throw pillow (MUST we throw them?). Or mixing bowls and measuring cups. Or a photo album and a frame. Or Spode serving utensils with Christmas trees on them. ....Are you beginning to sympathize with my mother, who was dragged along on this trip and subjected to many happy ditherings by someone in no hurry to make up her mind?

This is what we chose:

(I used my HomeGoods dark turquoise leather chair as the backdrop!)

My mom and I have been admiring that pink salt cube with grater, but it is THIRTEEN DOLLARS, which we're sure is totally worth it, but we are more accustomed to the 49-cent cylinder of Morton's salt, so this wouldn't be something we'd buy for ourselves---but we'd be delighted to get it as a gift so we could TRY IT! Furthermore, you would not believe how special and awesome this salt claims to be: "purest salt on earth," "primordial Himalayan sea salt," "unique, subtle flavors of HimalaSalt's essential minerals, created 250 million years ago during a time of pristine environmental integrity." PRISTINE ENVIRONMENTAL INTEGRITY. It goes on, too, with more praises of this salt.

I also got the refill container of more pink salt ("Ethically sourced. Artisan made."), which was $8. That left $4, so I bought a container of Aleppo Chile Finishing Salt that was on clearance down from $6 or $7.

All this fancy salt can be yours (er, as long as you want me to ship it to a U.S. or Canadian address), a holiday gift from me to you (or to a recipient of your choice: I can ship it directly, and in fact, heck, I will wrap it and stick on a gift tag if you like), and I will barely even taste it first, only if a little salt breaks off and falls out of the package!

To enter, leave a comment on this post by December 6, 2010. It doesn't have to be any particular comment, but if you need inspiration you can tell me if you normally spring for Morton's salt or if you save a dime and get the store brand, or if you have tried fancy salts before, or whether you would keep it yourself or give it as a gift. Pitiful-situation stories accepted, but will not increase odds of winning, which will be random.

FURTHERMORE, BlogHer is giving away a $100 HomeGoods gift card and twenty $25 HomeGoods gift cards, so even if you don't win the salt, you might win a card and can go buy your own thing. To get to the card giveaways, go to the BlogHer page. (But leave a comment HERE first if you want to win the salt.)

November 28, 2010

Reader Question: Who Should Be on the Christmas Card List?

Melissa writes:
What is the standard for sending Christmas cards? I send them to out-of-town friends and family, but I don't send them to people I see often (say on a weekly or even monthly basis). Is this rude? Should I send them to everyone? Of course, if an in-town friend or family member send a card (this happens VERY rarely), I send one back, but I don't have them pegged in my original Christmas card list. Thoughts?

My GUESS is that there is no standard at all: i.e., that every person you ask will have a different answer, ranging from "I don't even send one to my mother" all the way to "I also send one to each kid at our bus stop, and to the UPS guy, and to the grocery store manager." And I'll bet there are tons of different things like "I send to aunts/uncles but not to my cousins" and "I send to friends but not co-workers."

It probably depends a lot on a person's reasons for sending cards: a card can be a wish for a happy holiday, or a way to keep in touch, or way to meet an obligation, or a vehicle to transport new family photos, or all kinds of things. And it probably also depends on a person's feelings about cards: some people think of it as a holiday chore, and some people love it and look for excuses to add to the list. And it probably depends a lot on The Way Things Are Done in a person's circle of acquaintances.

The GOAL, I think, is for both people in each relationship to be pleased with whether they exchange cards or not. I have some people I see often that I DO send cards to, and some I don't. I definitely don't think there's anything rude about NOT sending a card to someone.

But now I am VERY INTERESTED to hear how everyone else handles holiday card lists: who's on it, who's not, and do you have categories of people you send to or don't send to?

November 27, 2010

Black Saturday

I have two main projects for Thanksgiving vacation. One is to start baking for all the school bake sales I donate to (I'm not going to chaperon any field trips but BY GUM I can bake some stuff). I'm starting with stuff that freezes well. After much deliberation I made a batch of salt brownies for this year: I labeled each baggie "SALT BROWNIES" so I hope no small child chooses them and is disappointed. I also made plain chocolate brownies.

My second project is to get a Christmas card picture of the five kids. Every year I'm SO GLAD I did it, but WHILE I'm doing it I wish I didn't even HAVE kids. Or at least not THESE kids. Next year, remind me to have several stiff drinks before the photography session---the pictures might end up blurry or tilted, but at least I will not blow a gasket. I've been going through the pictures I took (336 of them) and some of them are comically awful, some of them MIGHT work, and most of them make me ruin my dental work: four children looking perfect, one child choosing that exact moment to make a dumb face on purpose; four children looking perfect, one child wiping his nose with his sleeve; three children looking perfect and two pretending not to know the difference between "smiling" and "baring teeth"; etc.


I love Unofficial Mom's story about how a baby dropped into their laps. I was trying to tell my mom about it in the car, and I had tears (OF HAPPY) dripping onto my shirt, and thank goodness I was using the drive-up ATM instead of a teller window. Then my mom tried to make me tell it again at Thanksgiving, because "making Swistle cry" is her party trick, and I declined to tell it but teared up ANYWAY.

Kelsey is doing her annual Christmas Mix CD giveway, and I highly recommend you enter: she sent me one of her non-Christmas mix CDs awhile back, and I have it in my kitchen CD player and I listen to it pretty much every day as I'm making dinner or cleaning it up, and I lovvvve it. When it's NOT actually on, I have it going through my head.


New gift-related post at Milk and Cookies: Gift ideas for people who don't want anything.


Review blog stuff:

Smarty Ants and Phonics Reading Pup, through December 17th. The giveaway is for your own Phonics Reading Pup ($30) plus a year's subscription to the Smarty Pants reading game ($50) plus a Visa gift card ($100), and the entry comment is an easy one: saying which of the two Pups you like better.

A third Text Ed post, with the same "comment = 50c donation" deal, except that BlogHer is matching it, for a total donation of $1.00 per comment---and that's for EVERY comment, even if you comment several times and/or have nothing on-topic to say. This is the second of a 2-parter: in the first part we gathered questions to ask an on-the-scene tween, and in this part I get his answers.

November 24, 2010

Reader Question: Hospital Bag for a C-Section

Tara writes:
I need some assistance packing my hospital bag! My c-section is scheduled for the morning of December 22 (28 days!). Is there a difference in a c-section hospital bag from a regular hospital bag? Do you have a maxipad recommendation? Pajama/nightgown/slipper situation? Recommendations for in-room entertainment for 3 days at the hospital? Since we'll be checking out to go home on Christmas, should I bring my husband's Christmas present to the hospital or wait till we get home? We don't currently have any other children, so my husband will be with me at the hospital for the most part; will he need a separate bag or will he go home to shower/brush teeth/change clothes? I'm just at a loss here and kind of frazzled. :) Any help you can provide would be MUCH appreciated.

You have probably noticed while shopping for baby things that some people will say "OMG GET A SWING YOU MUST HAVE A SWING!!!!" and other people will say, "All I can say is definitely don't waste money on a swing---totally useless!" It is the same with hospital bags: one woman will say that for the love of all that is holy, bring your own pajamas---and the next woman will say DEFINITELY use the hospital pajamas.

I can tell you what I brought, but I think it would be more useful to do it in General Principles rather than in Specific Checklist:

1. Hospitals and couples vary, but at the hospital where I delivered, the spouse wasn't allowed to use the hospital's shower and was discouraged ("discouraged" = the intake nurse saying to Paul "If we can see the patient in the room, we know it's safe to barge into the bathroom without knocking. Just so you know") from using the room's bathroom (it was strongly suggested that everyone except the patient keep their germs out of there, and there was even a separate sink for non-patient hand-washing). So if it's the same at your hospital (you can ask on the tour, if you're taking the tour and haven't taken it already), this means your husband will be going home once a day. This FURTHER means that if there is anything you suddenly realize you need, he can get it for you. I remember feeling as if I were packing for a deep-woods isolation trip, but if you forget something, there are ways to get it. (Most ways = spouse fetching.)

2. I liked using the hospital's garments. They had nightgowns with nursing panels, and robes, and they were made of this cotton stuff I thought was EXCELLENT---kind of ROUGH but in a very cozy pleasing way. And that way I didn't have to worry about various blood/disinfectant stains on my own clothing, or about the nurses fussing at how inconvenient it was to check me. But I DID pack a lot more socks and underwear the second time around, because I found I wanted to change the socks more often than I would have thought, and I hated hated hated the net-stocking underwear the hospital used. And I didn't mind throwing socks and underwear out if necessary. I also brought slippers, because the nurses LOSE THEIR MINDS at the idea of anyone getting into the beds with socks that were just on the floors.

3. My hospital provided pads: HUGE ones for at first, and slightly-less-huge-but-still-freakishly-huge for when things slowed up a bit. I made sure to open a fresh bag of pads shortly before leaving: you can bring home any opened bags.

4. I always managed to overpack entertainment. I don't know where the time goes, but I'd somehow manage to spend 3 days in a hospital room and read about one article in a People magazine---and books were too heavy, even if they were light. I found that what we needed was stuff for PAUL to do: I was on pain meds and hormone surges, and gazing at the baby and learning to nurse and taking naps and getting my vital signs checked and answering embarrassing questions, but he was his normal self and so time was moving normally for him. He set up a jigsaw puzzle, and he brought books, and he brought some DVDs but I don't even remember what they were. If you DO finish your magazine, your spouse can bring you another; if you find you want to watch DVDs, again the spouse can fetch.

5. This is something else that varies from hospital to hospital: FOOD. At the first hospital where I delivered, patient meals were provided but everyone else had to eat in the cafeteria. At the hospital where the other children were born, each patient was allowed one free extra meal (per mealtime) for the spouse or other guest. So depending on how your hospital does it, you may want to have your husband pack snacks.

6. I wanted my own pillow.

7. Another thing that varies from hospital to hospital is toiletries. Both hospitals I've been in had shampoo, conditioner, body wash (or, more accurately, a 3-in-1 that claimed to do all those things), bar soap, toothpaste, and toothbrush. But I preferred to have my own (not only because I preferred them, but also so the baby could get used to my usual scents), so I brought travel sizes and my own toothbrush, and also deodorant because they didn't have that. They had lip balm but again, I preferred my own. They also had little tubes of Lansinoh, but I brought my own so I'd have it even if they forgot to offer. And I brought a brush, and some ponytail holders, and my pouf because I prefer it to washcloths.

8. You'll want an outfit to bring the baby home in, and you also need clothes for yourself. I bring lounge pants (or yoga pants, or flannel pajama pants) and a t-shirt and slip-on shoes---in fact, I usually wear home the same clothes I wore to the hospital.

9. And the car seat, and a blanket for babykins.

10. I wouldn't bring the Christmas presents: anything you bring, you'll need to lug home again, and you'll be home for Christmas anyway. And thinking back to how I felt in the hospital, I think trying to celebrate a holiday there would have been too overwhelming and hard to concentrate on.

11. CAMERA. (Thanks, Alyssa!) And that reminds me, I brought my journal.

What have I forgotten? What did you guys want/need or NOT want/need?

November 22, 2010

Sweet Potatoes

One of my Thanksgiving tasks in recent years (if "years" can be used to refer to last year plus this year) is making sweet potatoes with marshmallows. No one likes sweet potatoes with marshmallows except my dad, so I make one single sweet potato (with marshmallows). I was at the store today to buy my sweet potato, and there were two options: yams, sold individually, and sweet potatoes, sold in bags of many.

I found a produce clerk and I said, "If I wanted to buy a single sweet potato...could I buy a single sweet potato? or no?" And she said, "Here are the single ones, over here!" and I said, "Those have a sign over them that says 'YAMS'" and she said, "They come to us in a crate that says 'YAMS' but they're sweet potatoes" and I said, "..." and she said, "Some people say they're different; some people say they're the same. Maybe it's regional?" And I said thank you, and I looked at the yams, and I looked at the bags of sweet potatoes, and they looked different, and the bag of sweet potatoes was not much more expensive than a single yam, so I bought a bag of sweet potatoes.

So! Here is how many sweet potatoes I need for Thanksgiving: one. And here is how many sweet potatoes I have: eight. you have some ideas? Elizabeth and Henry both still like baby food sweet potatoes, so for one sweet potato I plan to boil it and mash it and see if they like it. (My prediction: no.) For another, I will bake it and eat it like a potato, and see if I like it. (My prediction: no.)

I had heard lots of talk about sweet potato fries, so I got some once at a restaurant, and I thought they were awful. What ELSE is there to do with sweet potatoes?

November 21, 2010

Reader Question: Group Teacher Gifts

Laura writes:
I turn to you in the hopes that you will be able to give me your opinion on this gift giving question. Will you please, if you are inclined, let me know what you think of this pitch from the kindergarten room parents at my daughter's school?

One of the standard practices at Blank Elementary is to collect money from parents to pay for gifts for Ms Smith during Teacher Appreciation week, around the holidays, and at the end of the school year. Parents find that doing a group collection is an efficient way to handle gifts. The Room Parents put together an budget for how the money will be spent during the year and determined that $35 per child is the right amount. As each event comes up, we'll ask for ideas and and opinions so the gift-giving will be a group decision. If you'd prefer not to take part, that's perfectly fine, but please let us know so we can plan accordingly.

I have never heard of such a thing, but I am new to Massachusetts and perhaps they really -do- have a "standard practice" like this. However, this is Ms. Smith's first year at the school, and so I am skeptical (in addition to being slightly appalled).

Oh, I'll tell you what I think all right: ACK. That is what I think: ACK. My coloring is HIGH PINK right now. I don't like the tone of it; I don't like the wording of it; and I think $35 per child is a ridiculous amount. If there are ten students, that's THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS for teacher gifts in a single year---and in my kids' kindergarten classes there have been more like fifteen (FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS) or twenty (SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS).

Furthermore, "group decisions" on gifts tend to SUCK. If my previous experience with such things is a guide, what will happen is that the room parents will come up with several ideas nobody likes (including the teacher), and no one will be up to arguing about it, and so the room parents will just make all the decisions and everyone will feel dismayed at the way their money is being wasted.

I would absolutely "prefer not to take part." I would say, "No, thanks, we'd prefer to do our own shopping for gifts!" in a cheery voice. I would also talk with other parents if I knew them: I've found that with things like this, sometimes everyone thinks everyone else is okay with it and they don't want to be the only one "preferring not to take part." I don't mean starting a bitchfest behind the room parents' backs---just a casual, "Did you get the thing about $35 per kid? I'm not doing it, are you?" Some parents probably WOULD find it easier (and even a relief) to just write a check for the whole year, but a lot of parents are going to be thinking what we're thinking, which is "WHUH???"

If the suggestion were, "Look, we all know the teacher would rather have a $100 Target gift card than twenty $5 ornaments and boxes of chocolate, so let's pool our dough," I would be IN---and also HAPPY, because this seems sensible. But that's not what this is. This is the room parents asking for, say, six hundred dollars of other people's money, which they will then have control over---and in the process removing the actual feelings of generosity and appreciation from the gift-giving occasions. DO NOT LIKE.

November 20, 2010

All Links

Would you like to make the kind of noises that cause the other adult in your household to come in from the other room saying worriedly, "Are those happy noises or sad noises?" Then read Shauna's Me Vs. the Color Printer.

Or/and, read Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving by Allie, which made my stomach muscles literally hurt. Literally. Hurt.


This is the first of many weeks of gift ideas. Coming up with gift ideas is one of my FAVORITE THINGS OF THE WHOLE ENTIRE YEAR. This week at Milk and Cookies it's Gifts for People Having Financial Problems, which is perhaps not the CHEERIEST of topics but was nevertheless fun to think of solutions for.


Review blog stuff:

Smarty Ants and Phonics Reading Pup, through December 17th. The giveaway is for your own Phonics Reading Pup ($30) plus a year's subscription to the Smarty Pants reading game ($50) plus a Visa gift card ($100), and the entry comment is an easy one: saying which of the two Pups you like better.

In which I have an idea about controlling teenager cell phone use, despite not having any teenagers to test the idea out on. This one doesn't have anything in it for you, but each comment left on this post donates $.50 to, and that is awesome, so I hope you'll do it.

A second Text Ed post, with the same "comment = 50c donation" deal, except that BlogHer is matching it, for a total donation of $1.00 per comment. This is the first of a 2-parter: in the first part we gather questions to ask an on-the-scene tween, and in the next part I'll get his answers. Last chance for this one: I'll be interviewing Rob today.

So Hard to Explain

I've been wanting to talk about this for weeks but, you know, there's Personal and then there's PERSONAL, and it's so hard to figure out which is the kind of personal that's good to blog about and which is the kind of personal that should go in a diary. But it's the middle of the night and I can't sleep, and the middle of the night is such a good time for confiding things.

I'm feeling moody and upset, and it's because I think it's time for Paul and me to move on to The Snip stage of life. And I realize from previous discussions on this topic that for some of you it's unfathomable that I would want another child or feel sad about being done after five. In real-life discussions with other moms, eyes bug out of heads when I say I'd like another.

What I want to emphasize is that for me, this is NORMAL LIFE: when someone says "How do you do it?," I don't have an answer for that (other than "It's not as bad/hard as you'd think") because this is just ORDINARY. Having one baby felt ordinary, having two felt ordinary, having four felt ordinary, having five feels ordinary---and I would like another child, and to me that's no weirder than someone with one child wanting a second. And this is not because I am a freak of nature: a few generations ago, we all would have been like, "Only five kids? Do they know...problems-if-you-know-what-I-mean?"

Can you tell I'm feeling a little rough around the edges about this? I feel so stuck, trying to communicate the way things are, and the way they're NOT. It's so frustrating to feel the bugged-out eyes all the time. I know, I DO KNOW, that five children is not the norm in this generation and in this culture, but it's the norm IN MY HOUSE and IN MY LIFE. In a household with two children it would be odd to suddenly go to six children, yes, but in a household with five children, it would NOT be. And because we're already a one-income household, and because we bought our house and our car as a one-income household, adding another child doesn't make much difference financially, either: one more plate at the table, one more use for the handmedowns, that's all. Maybe a small increase in the water bill for the laundry.

Anyway. Anyway. YOU know all this. It's not a financial decision at our house, not even a little. It's that Paul says he is at his maximum capacity for spending quality time with individual children. He says he doesn't have room in his heart for another baby. Whether or not that's true (he thought the same about Henry, and that has not turned out to be the case---to a degree that is almost comical) is irrelevant: it's his reason, and he's not backing down no matter what I say or want or think or feel or WHATEVER.

And as time goes on, the convenience factor has started to help me adjust to this. Henry is potty-trained now, and Elizabeth can put on her own seatbelt. Henry is the only one who still does things like draw on the walls, and he's due to stop that crap any day now. It's nice not to have to carry anyone. It's nice that no one's in a 5-point car seat anymore. It's nice that everyone can feed himself/herself. It's nice to be able to get rid of clothes Henry outgrows, instead of saving them. It's nice that half the kids can make their own breakfasts and lunches.

And I can see more and more freedoms ahead: soon no one will need a hand held. Soon everyone will be able to pull up his own pants. Soon everyone will be able to tie his or her own shoes. Soon everyone will be able to bathe himself. Soon I will be able to close the office door when I'm working. In two years Henry will start kindergarten, and the year after that all five will be in school all day. (But this is like your boss telling you don't worry, soon you won't have to do Task A and Task B anymore---when actually Task A and Task B are your favorite parts of your job.)

Reading Marie Green's posts on the topic have also helped me adjust, by making me think day and night and very intensely about the topic. And at this point...hey, are we two full years past my own Big Crisis? I think we are, but I don't want to look it up, even to link to it. I just remember it was near Christmas. Let's say two years, and not only has that been some time to get used to the idea, it's been some time for our family to settle into its state of Being Seven of Us. I'd wanted Henry to have a buddy, since it's Rob and William, and then the twins, and then Henry alone---but Henry has joined up with the twins. Another baby at this point would be born when he was four, which would mean we'd have Rob and William, and then the twins and Henry, and then a lone baby.

But just because I can see the upside of not having more children, it doesn't mean this isn't a big deal in our marriage. It was a matter of one of us wanting things one way, and one of us wanting things the other way---and only one of us could have it the way we wanted it, and Paul is the one who gets it, at the cost of what I wanted so badly. There could have been another person in our family, and he decided on his own that there would not be, and I had to submit to that. I think it leaves scar tissue, when one spouse lets his or her preferences trump the other spouse's. When the stakes are very very high (a PERSON, a whole person who won't exist), there's more scarring than when it's a matter of one person getting to make the decision about which car the couple will drive.

May I interject here that in the past when I've said such things, commenters have acted as if I got MY way with five kids and then Paul finally gets to make a decision by saying no to a sixth---when GOODNESS that is an icky and untrue way of looking at things. Paul and I BOTH wanted and planned on four children, and without getting into details let's just say that Henry was the result of Paul's decision as well. It's not those five children on my side of the scales, versus poor Paul getting only the decision to stop; it's the two of us wanting and having a large family, and now differing in whether our family could handle another member. It would be the same decision/situation if we'd both wanted the first child, but then I wanted a second child and he didn't: the number of children agreed upon by both parties before the disagreement is irrelevant.

So. I told Paul that if he was really really really definitely sure he would never change his mind about another child, he could make an appointment. And because recently he implied (possibly only carelessly) that if I made the appointment it would be "my decision," I added that he would need to make the appointment himself. Now I guess we will see what happens. I feel sometimes panicky and upset and sometimes impatient and irritated, and I wish very much that we really did have "child lines" on the palms of our hands that would tell us the fated number of children for us to have. I feel like by telling Paul he can go ahead and live our lives his way, I'm giving up on a person who could have been here but now won't be. Also, I think he totally owes me as many cats as I want.

November 19, 2010

Assorted Pleasant Pre-Holiday Fussings

I know these things can vary regionally, but my Target has a good sale this week on the kinds of chocolate gifts I'd buy for teachers, mail carriers, bus drivers, etc., if I hadn't decided to go the gift card route instead. Like, they have the hard plastic Christmas-tree-shaped and rectangular boxes of Ferrero Rocher, $4 down from $5.99, or maybe it was down from $6.99, in any case it was down to $4. And so were the pretty metallic cardboard triangular boxes of Lindt truffles. I stood there agitating for a lonnnnng time: So pretty! And so yummy! And such a good sale! But I'd already decided to do gift cards! Should I do candy AND gift card? No, too expensive. And they'd probably prefer the gift card. But the chocolate is exactly what I would have chosen if I didn't want to do a gift card. And a $5 or even $10 gift card really doesn't look like as much as a $6-7 box of chocolate. And maybe I should rethink the whole thing? Agitate agitate agitate.

Then Edward wanted to buy ME one of the boxes of Ferrero Rocher for Christmas, and I suggested he should go shopping closer to Christmas with Daddy instead, and he declined that idea, and I suggested a little more forcefully, and he DECLINED! THAT! IDEA!!!1! for me, especially since both Paul and Edward are likely to forget all about it and purchase me ANOTHER gift from him.


It is time! to! shop! This year, as every year, I am going to try not to over-buy. I love gift-shopping so! much! and what happens is I keep seeing little things for everyone, and really it works better to have a few big things than a thousand tiny ones, and so then I cram the tiny ones into the stockings, and then THOSE are overfilled, and gah. So this year! I will try to be better! PLANNING is required. (But spontaneous buying is so fun!)


I just ordered holiday stamps. This is one of my favorite things, and even better now that I do Postcrossing. I go online so I can take a long time to make up my mind and so I don't have to make the clerk impatient and exasperated. Some of the clerks even act as if it DOESN'T MATTER what the stamps look like! I KNOW!!

For my own holiday cards I ordered Holiday Evergreens. For Postcrossing I ordered one book each of all the holiday ones: a book of angels, a book of Hanukkah, a book of Kwanzaa, a book of assorted (reindeer/snowman/nutcracker/gingerbread), a book of Madonna and child, a book of holiday evergreens, and a book of the ones that say CELEBRATE. Most international postcards need two stamps (plus a 10c stamp), so I like putting a combination: like, if I use a Christmas postcard, I put on a Kwanzaa and a Hanukkah stamp. If the card is more winter-holiday-neutral, I pick whichever two look nicest with it.


I think I am going to buy a new fake tree. We have one I bought on sale at Target for $16.99 ten years ago, and it bothers me every year: it's 6 feet tall (if the single branch at the top sticking up a foot above the rest counts) and it's "slimline" so it hardly holds any ornaments, and although it DOES look pretty when heavily decorated so you can't see the metal parts sticking out, I want BIGGER and more room for ornaments. Every year I wait for trees to go on clearance, but by the time they DO, I'm not in the mood to buy one. AND, I'm picky.

AND, remember when I finally DID buy one on clearance, and I put it away for the next year, and when we set it up the next year it gave me vibrating electrical shocks? and Target handled the situation super-suckily so that I felt not only cheated but also put-upon and "I WILL NOT BE IGNORED"-ish? So this year I think maybe I'll buy one just on SALE, so I can set it up right away and see if Target is trying to kill me (AGAIN). Sure, sure, I shouldn't buy it from Target, I should vote my dollars and etc., but the thing is I like their trees best so there it is. And then I can give the old one away on Freecycle BEFORE Christmas, so someone else can use it.

November 16, 2010

Salt Brownie Recipe and SALT CARAMEL Toffee Brownie Recipe

I need to start by giving you my Salt Brownies recipe, because I originally published it on a web site that is now defunct. These brownies are particularly good for hormone-based chocolate/salt cravings, but I make these pretty much every time I make brownies, emotional uproar or no. The salt is definitely noticeable: the last time I published it, someone commented that they were good brownies but she could "taste the salt." HA HA HA! Oh really? You can taste the salt in something called "Salt Brownies"?

A note to non-U.S. peeps: whenever I post a recipe calling for baking chocolate, someone asks what that is. It's a solid chunk of chocolate, in this case without sugar though it also comes in semi-sweet (kind of like dark chocolate). In the last discussion on the topic, someone from...somewhere else (England? my memory is fuzzy) concluded there was no equivalent there---or at least nothing worth eating. If you have unsweetened cocoa powder, you can reportedly substitute 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of cocoa plus 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of butter for each 1 ounce of baking chocolate---in this recipe, you'd need about a cup (225 ml) of cocoa plus 5 tablespoons (75 ml, or about 70 grams) of butter (in addition to the butter already in the recipe). I don't know AT ALL if it would work, but that's the theory.

Also, I feel dumb saying "ml" for dry ingredients. Is that...right? Should I be using grams? What do metric measuring utensils say on them? (I'll bet ml, since non-metric measuring cups are in liquid ounces, which makes sense because dry ounces can't be measured in consistent volumes.) And what about butter, how is that measured? Grams or ml? Probably can be either, just like in non-metric where it can be measured in ounces (dry) or tablespoons (liquid).

Swistle's Salt Brownies Recipe

5 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1.5 sticks (12 tablespoons, or 3/4 cup, or 170 g) butter
2 cups (480 ml) sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) flour
rounded 1/2 t. kosher (big crystals) salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C) and butter a 9 x 13 baking pan (that's like 23 x 33 centimeters, but I don't know what sizes standard metric baking pans are). In a large saucepan (mine is 3 quarts or about 3 liters), melt the baking chocolate and butter. When melted, remove pan from heat and add sugar. Stir, then add eggs and vanilla and stir, then add flour and stir. Add salt and stir as little as possible (you don't want the salt to start dissolving---you want big pieces). Put in pan and bake 30 minutes.


So then I saw Heath bar bits at the store and wanted to try them on something, and I made THESE:

Swistle's Salt Caramel (or Toffee) Brownies Recipe

5 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1.5 sticks (12 tablespoons, or 3/4 cup, or 170 g) butter
2 cups (480 ml) sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) flour
rounded 1/2 t. kosher (big crystals) salt
8 ounce (225 gram) bag Heath Bar bits (1 and 1/3 cups, if you want/need to crush your own)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C) and butter a 9 x 13 baking pan (that's like 23 x 33 centimeters, but I don't know what sizes standard metric baking pans are). In a large saucepan (mine is 3 quarts or about 3 liters), melt the baking chocolate and butter. When melted, remove pan from heat and add sugar. Stir, then add eggs and vanilla and stir, then add flour and stir. Add salt and stir as little as possible (you don't want the salt to start dissolving---you want big pieces). Put in pan and bake 30 minutes.

As soon as the pan comes out of the oven, empty the whole bag of Heath bits evenly over the hot brownies. Allow to cool. Die of love.

If you want regular toffee brownies, you can leave out the salt. But the salt PLUS the toffee gives them the coveted salt caramel flavor.

November 15, 2010

Your Wish for My Promotional Products = My Command

The Holiday Card Scoring Guide in 11x11 poster form (there is also an 11x14 version):

(as you can see from the watermark, this screenshot is from
(the watermark is not on the poster itself)
(click to biggify)
(it might still not be biggified enough to read)

Merry Promotional and Happy Commission!

Yesterday I was all bleh and muh and "How come there's never anything GOOD to do?" and so I went and made a Swistle Holiday Card featuring the Holiday Card Scoring System. It looks like this:

(as you can see from the watermark, this screenshot is from
(the watermark is not on the card itself)
(click to biggify)
(it might still not be biggified enough to read)

On the inside it says:

(and again, as you can see from the watermark, this screenshot is from
(and again, the giant Z watermark is not on the card itself)

I consulted with my buddy The Gori Wife to find out how to say the Muslim holiday, too (and in fact, how to say "the Muslim holiday," because I wasn't sure if that was right or if it should be "the Islamic holiday," and I can't believe I'm confessing this instead of pretending I knew the right way all along), but she reminded me that the Muslim calendar is lunar (which of course I totally knew) (no I did not) and so although I could say "Happy Eid!" if I wanted to, it would soon be weird to be saying it in winter, and in fact even this year it would be a little weird since in mid-December it would be, like, a month too late for Eid cards. So! That is the explanation for why we have Festivus but not Eid, and why does the spell-checker reject BOTH holidays? COEXIST, spell-checker.

ANYWAY, then I wanted to buy some of my cards, not only to send them but also to see how they look in person, but I thought I'd wait until there was a sale---and this morning I got an email about a today-only today-and-tomorrow-only sale. It's 50% off all cards (which means the Hey Pinehole! postcards are included so I got some of those too), plus free shipping with no minimum, and the code is ZAZZLECARD50. And I'm telling you because hey, maybe you want to pay what is still a very high per-card price to send Swistle cards. OR, more likely, maybe you want to design your OWN cards and save 50% and get free shipping (as long as you get them done by the end of today).

If you buy anything Swistley, I get a 10% commission, which they won't let me refuse: I dialed the adjustable commission percentage as low as it would go. I'm putting that money into the care package and/or "buying one of each thing I design to make sure it looks okay in person" fund.

And if you are asking, "So, was it fun to design a self-promoting holiday card and then pay too much for them?": yes. Yes, it was. So I also made some Christmas ornaments, though I have not yet ordered any because they're not on sale. (FUN.) (TRY IT.) (And if you do, link from the comments section so I can go see what you made!)

November 14, 2010

Recipe: My Version of the Dunkin' Donuts Gingerbread Coffee

Sometimes I like to blow my children's minds by suddenly stopping to get them an unexpected treat. I was out with Rob and Henry (of the five, they are the highest maintenance right now, so I take them out pretty much every Sunday to give Paul a break). I saw a Dunkin' Donuts and before they knew what was happening we were turning in.

I wanted a treat too, but I wasn't in the mood for a doughnut. Which made it perfect: one of the combo options is a medium coffee and two doughnuts. Each child got to pick a doughnut, and I got a coffee in a fun flavor (gingerbread) plus got cream and sugar in it.

Side note: did you know that a medium regular coffee at Dunkin' Donuts is 3 creams and 3 sugars? I found this HUGELY USEFUL, because even though I know we are now a nation of Perfectly Acceptable Coffee Pickiness, I still have trouble when I don't know what it is I'm asking for. The regular is both creamier and sweeter than I like, and I was in a particularly confident mood, so I said to the clerk, "I want cream and sugar, but, like, half to three quarters of the usual amount?" And she said, "Er, well, it's 3 creams and 3 sugars," and I said "PERFECT: 2 creams and 2 sugars, then," because those of us with math medals have instantly noticed that 2/3rds is right between 1/2 and 3/4ths. (Hey: why don't we put letters after 1/2?)

Where was I? Oh yes! The gingerbread coffee was good. I liked it. And I noticed the sign said that the gingerbread flavoring was pre-sweetened, which made me wonder if some flavorings were just simple syrups with spices in them.

Before I give the recipe I tinkered together, I need to warn you that this is not meant to be a COPY of the Dunkin' Donuts flavor: I'd only had one single cup of it, so I wasn't familiar enough with it to try to duplicate it. What I DID do was make a version that would please me if I ordered a gingerbread coffee at a coffee shop.

Swistle's Version of Gingerbread Coffee Flavoring

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 T. molasses
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 t. ginger
1/8 t. cloves

First, the simple syrup, which is just as simple as it sounds: 1 part sugar to 1 part water. Put 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan, bring it to a boil, and then turn off the heat. (In metric, 1/2 cup is about 120 ml. But it doesn't matter the precise ml as long as it's close to 120 and you're using one measuring cup of sugar and one of the same measuring cup of water.)

Add 2 tablespoons (30 ml) molasses. If you don't want to have to scoop the sticky molasses out of the measuring spoon with your finger, use the measuring spoon to stir the hot simple syrup and the molasses will dissolve off.

Add the spices: 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) of ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of ground ginger, 1/8 teaspoon (er, just over half a ml?) of ground cloves. Stir until they're evenly mixed in.

In a mug of coffee (my mug holds 1.25 cups, or about 300 ml), I used 1/2 tablespoon (7.5 ml) of syrup. Then I added a slosh of 2% milk, which is how I usually drink my coffee. It was still a little too sweet for me, but approximated the sweetness I remembered from the Dunkin' Donuts kind. If it's too sweet for you, too, you can half-again the spices in the same amount of syrup and then use a teaspoon (5 ml) or even half a teaspoon of it in the coffee.

The extra can be stored in a little container in the fridge, though you will need to stir like the charles dickens to make sure the spices aren't just hanging around on the bottom. And it'll be thicker, so again: to make measuring less messy, you can use the measuring spoon to stir the mixture, then use it again to stir the syrup into the coffee.

November 13, 2010

Saturday and Links

I know I keep linking to these, but Marie Green's latest in the "she would like another baby but her husband would not" series is killing me, and I think I've checked the comments section two dozen times: An Appointment to Erase Hope.

To counteract the sad, I love Anne's post about Holiday Percentages and How to Make It Merry. Not only did I like her points about how to improve the holidays by choosing the parts you LIKE and doing THOSE, but she's doing a giveaway of her holiday cookies and I am VERY FOND of holiday cookies. You can enter as many times as you want, as long as each entry includes something you love about the holidays.


Review blog stuff:

In which I have an idea about controlling teenager cell phone use, despite not having any teenagers to test the idea out on. This one doesn't have anything in it for you, but each comment left on this post donates $.50 to, and that is awesome, so I hope you'll do it.

A second Text Ed post, with the same "comment = 50c donation" deal. This is the first of a 2-parter: in the first part we gather questions to ask an on-the-scene tween, and in the next part I'll get his answers.

Similasan, through November 18, about soothing and cheering sick children (or about how you were soothed/cheered when YOU were the sick child). Ends on Thursday the 18th, so this is the last reminder. Giveaway: $100 Visa gift card.

November 12, 2010

Reader Question: Labeling Clothes

Rachel writes:
My first son has just started preschool and I'm supposed to label his extra clothes, jackets, etc. However, some of his clothes are hand me downs (mostly labeled with sharpies) AND I have a second son who will be wearing all of these items in a year or two. Any great suggestions for labeling clothes that can then be "relabeled" for a future child???

Thank you so much for any tips.

ACK, I KNOW, this drives me NUTS!! My eldest went on a one-week sleepaway trip and they wanted Every! Single! Item! labeled, including SOCKS, I am not even kidding. And some clothes have no tags for writing on, or the labels are black or whatever, and some stuff (sleeping bags, pillow cases) belongs to the whole family so I don't want just one person's name on it.

What I do for most stuff is write with fine-tip permanent marker our surname only, no first name so it can work for handmedowns, on the label or even on the fabric itself if there's no label or if the label has already been written on and I needed to scribble it out.

For things with no place to write (or things I don't want written on), I use a strip of masking tape and write on THAT---but then that has to be replaced a few times as it curls up and/or peels off, or if the item needs to be laundered.

For spare clothes, I put them in a gallon-size Ziploc baggie and I write on the baggie instead of the clothes.

Can anyone add some more tips? And has anyone tried iron-on labels or other solutions?

November 11, 2010

Veteran's Discounts and Under the Dome

There are so many embarrassing Veterans Day discounts today. Have you seen any? I saw "10% off earrings for all our servicepeople!" and "Veterans: show ID and get $5 off oil change!" *WINCE* It would be far better to have NO discount. "Thanks for risking your life in other countries far away from your families! Here, have a free value-size fries (when you pay full price for the burger and drink) (must show military ID)!"

I finished all 1,000 pages of Under the Dome, and I am ready to report:

1. It felt like a recipe: one part apocalyptic scenario, one part bad cops, one part crazy religion, one part descending into madness, one part power corrupts, one part supernatural, one part social/environmental lecture. I've read a lot of Stephen King books, so it's not really HIS fault I kept recognizing his recurring themes.

2. It didn't seem real. It felt like he was saying, "Okay, now I guess we should have a supermarket riot," "Okay, now there should be a nasty murder," "Okay, now there should be the discovery of something gross," and bringing people out of their houses to participate. I felt like most of the characters were in their houses in a state of suspended animation, waiting for him to need them for a scene. Why weren't more of them hanging around at the edge of the dome? Why didn't we hear more about the agitation of the family members stuck outside? Why didn't people make arrangements for their dog before killing themselves? Why DIDN'T people buy up everything at the supermarket, considering that's what they do if even HEAVY RAIN is in the forecast? And you know, if you (the author) keep having to have people shake their heads in astonishment at how FAST everything happened, then maybe that is a clue that it IS IN FACT happening too fast.

3. He needs help naming his characters. Their names often don't fit their ages, and it happens often enough to be confusing. In fiction, names can be a valuable way to help the reader keep track of who's who. And it's nice to give the characters names that are different enough from each other that the reader doesn't get the characters confused. Oh, sure, I know that in real life there can be a girl in her twenties named Barbara and co-workers named Bill Borfen and Bob Biffan, but in FICTION we can CHOOSE the names, so LET'S DO A CAREFUL JOB SHALL WE?

4. The only part of the ending that was a surprise to me was in the afterword where he thanks his editor. His EDITOR. I mean, I knew he MUST have one but there are so many jokes about him NOT having one, I guess I just thought....and besides, if I were extremely successful I would not want much editing, either. And gosh, would you want the job of telling an internationally-bestselling author that if his character said "clustermug" ONE MORE TIME you were QUITTING?

5. I read it, all the way through, and enjoyed reading it. It wasn't my favorite, but it was a good book if you like Stephen King books, which I often do.

November 9, 2010


I got tired of my hair being long. It was fun for awhile, and fun when it grew long enough for braids, and fun when it grew long enough to be rolled into a nice smooth bun. But the way I REALLY like to wear my hair is in a sproingy (i.e., ends fountaining instead of tucked) French twist, and that stopped working sometime last spring. That's when I started the process of Intending to Make a Hair Appointment, and please note that today is a day in November---six to eight months past spring.

The other day I caught a glimpse of myself in a store mirror, and I SIGHED about my hair: I don't have bangs, so a bun can look kind of severe, especially with my glasses and not wearing much make-up. I pulled out the bun so it was a ponytail instead, but it looked long and draggy and I didn't feel cute.

Yesterday I tried wearing it down but it wasn't a flattering look, so then I tried to put it in a bun but it was too dry for that to work right, so then I tried a ponytail and it looked wavy in some places and straight in others and the general effect was "got out of bed and put hair right into ponytail" combined with "way overdue for a haircut."

And this kind of thing has been going on for MONTHS. make an appointment, I'd have to use the phone, and I'd have to find a time that worked for the stylist and for me, and it would have to be a time when I didn't have children with me and GAH. So this morning I cut it myself.

Practical, sensible, and economical? Or disturbing manifestation of increasing mental illness? I think as a culture we decide such things by the RESULT: if Britney Spears had looked gorgeous with a shaved head we would have been wowed by her nerve and style.

(Doesn't my face look kind of naked without my glasses?
You can tell I can't see you.)

The ends are not as crisp as when my stylist does it (I have good haircutting scissors I use for the kids' haircuts, but they're not PROFESSIONAL-good scissors, just regular good) (er, plus I don't know what I'm doing like a trained haircutter does), and it's a plain blunt cut with no shaping or layering so it'll be a little triangular when it dries. It still could use an actual appointment with an actual person who knows how to cut hair.

But as a haircut that was meant to remove 5-6 inches of extra length until I get around to making such an appointment, I am very pleased with it. I only had to go around the perimeter once for the main removal part: no "Oops, this side is longer. Oops, now the other side is longer. Oops, CRAP." And now it's short enough to avoid ouchie tangles, short enough to use one box of hair color instead of two, and short enough for a flippy French twist. HAPPY.

November 8, 2010

Ah HA!

I THINK I have solved The Puzzle of the Capitulating Sister-in-Law. You remember that she was all "Hey, my plan for splitting the estate is that I will take the house, the car, the money (to fix the house), and the stocks (for my retirement), and YOUR share will be that you get to pay half for all future house repairs, decade after decade, and if you're lucky I'll die before you and you'll get back some of the money you sank into the money pit!" And we were all, "Uh, no, we're not taking out a mortgage to pay for what would be your house," and she was all "SIGH FINE I will also pay the property taxes GEEZ, NOW are you happy?!" And then we were like, okay, one more email before we consult a lawyer, and, "Hey, how about we split everything 50-50 but the house is in your half and we don't pay any repairs?" and she said "Okay, sure!" And we were all "....???"

The theories for this sudden capitulation included:

1. She was operating on the "Can't hurt to ask for what I want!" principle, and backed down when Paul declined.

2. She complained to a friend about the situation and the friend said, "Are you NUTS???"

3. She had a sudden flash of awareness and insight.

4. She had a stroke.

5. The spirit of my late mother-in-law left her body.

6. She went back on her meds.

7. She found gold coins in the back yard or made some other discovery about the $25,000 house being actually worth much, much more---or had an offer on the house for much, much more.

8. She has a wily plan.

9. She has failed to understand our counteroffer and thinks we agreed to her plan.

10. It's a trap.

11. She reads my blog.

But now we have more information, and I THINK I know what happened. This whole issue started, if you recall, or rather if I told you so you CAN recall, because the lawyer handling the estate wrote to Paul and Paul's sister, saying "Time to let me know what you're doing about the house." And Paul kept waiting several days between emails to his sister. And when, after his sister unexpectedly capitulated, Paul contacted the lawyer to say, "Okay, here's how we're dividing things up," the lawyer sent back a letter saying that we should be aware that in this situation where there is no will, the court will insist that the estate is divided 50-50 TO THE PENNY, and that the court will need to grant separate permissions for each item that will be kept rather than sold, because cash is so much easier to divide.

So first of all, here is my theory: that AFTER Paul's sister emailed us with her plan, but BEFORE Paul emailed back to say "FORGET IT SISTER," Paul's sister emailed the lawyer to tell him the plan she assumed we were accepting. And the lawyer told her about the 50-50 thing. And so then when Paul said forget it, she had already been forced to abandon her plan.

And second of all, this is AWESOME. The court is MAKING SURE.

And third of all, couldn't the lawyer have mentioned this EARLIER, BEFORE I ground my molars into flour?

November 6, 2010


Laughter and distraction have been HIGHLY VALUED this week as I've been stressing over the situation with Paul's mom's estate.

I laughed all the way through Kacy's Candy Policy. AND I changed my candy policy as a result: the bigs can now monitor their own candy consumption. (The littles all voted against it for some reason; perhaps they didn't understand?)

I also laughed all the way through Temerity Jane's The Last 12 Weeks, which caught us up to date on the part of her recently-revealed pregnancy we'd missed before she revealed it.

And I've been fully enjoying the Fakesgiving updates (Thanksgiving dinner rehearsals) by Life of a Doctor's Wife.

For distraction, I'm using the method I discovered in high school when trying not to die of over-thinking the end of a romantic relationship: read horror novels. I'm working on Stephen King's Under the Dome, even though I haven't been able to get past 50 pages in the last two Stephen King books I tried. My main problem is the way each main character has about 5 words they say/think again and Again and AGAIN until I feel like I need to strangle. Another problem is the "view from inside the mind of someone going crazy," which I don't mind in one occasionally-visited character but don't want to read 900 pages of, especially if the method for indicating mental slippage is going to be gross words for things and endless flits into italics.


Review blog stuff:

In which I have an idea about controlling teenager cell phone use, despite not having any teenagers to test the idea out on. This one doesn't have anything in it for you, but each comment left on this post donates $.50 to, and that is awesome, so I hope you'll do it.

Similasan, through November 18, about soothing and cheering sick children (or about how you were soothed/cheered when YOU were the sick child). Giveaway: $100 Visa gift card.

November 5, 2010


For those who don't follow me on Twitter (and for heaven's sake, why NOT? I alternately bore you and stress you!), here is a recap of what happened:

Paul's Mother: *dies*

Paul's sister Beth: Awesome, I'll keep living in the Mother's 3-bedroom house, but now I don't have to pay her rent anymore! Also, I'll keep her 2-year-old Camry, because in addition to having my roommates kick me out, I never bought a car!

(A year goes by.)

Paul: Hey, Beth, the lawyer says it's time to figure out how to divide the estate!

Beth: Okay! How about I keep the house but you take out a mortgage with me to pay for the repairs?

Swistle: *reads appraisal* *realizes repairs will FAR EXCEED value of house* *panics*

Paul: Wait. How about you keep the house and the car and I keep the stocks and cash? My half will be much less, but I'd like you to have what you need.

Beth: But it would be beneficial for me to keep the house and also the stocks and also the cash, plus have you paying for half the repairs on the house, even though those repairs will cost more than the value of the house. You'll get half the selling price of the house, but we won't sell it until I die! Plus, you can get a really good rate on a mortgage right now!

Paul: We're not co-owning the house. Either you take it as part of your half of the estate, or we sell it.

Beth: Okay, fine, I'll pay the taxes, because I'm sure that's your issue with co-owning the house, and we'll co-own the house, and you'll pay half the repairs but get no benefit. Also, I'll keep the stocks, because those would be beneficial for me in my retirement. Also, don't worry, we'll use the cash from the estate to pay to make the house better for me, so you can wait to take out that mortgage!

Swistle: *panics*

Paul: I realize it would be beneficial for you to have half the stocks AND live in the house I'm half-paying for, but that's would not be in ANY WAY "beneficial" for ME, dumbass.

Swistle: *realizes sister-in-law is out of her head, and that a lawyer will probably need to be involved*

Beth: Okay! I'm suddenly and inexplicably being reasonable! I'll take the house and the car as my half!


Paul's interpretation of these inexplicable events: She wasn't DELIBERATELY cheesing us, she just hadn't thought it through! But now she has!

Swistle's interpretation: She is THIRTY-FOUR. She is able to comprehend these things. So either this is a trap (eg., she found gold buried in the back yard, or discovered the crazily low appraisal (($25,000 for house and property)) was dramatically wrong), or there is something unpleasant coming (eg., it will turn out she still thinks she gets the estate cash to repair the house and/or that we'll pay for future repairs), or she vented to someone who said to her "ARE YOU NUTS??," or she's had a stroke, or she thought there was no harm in TRYING to get the entire inheritance but backed off as soon as Paul showed backbone.


In any case, it's not over until the estate is settled. I'm not counting ANY chickens.

November 3, 2010

Vote for the Fish, I Highly Recommend It

I hope all you U.S. peeps managed to vote yesterday without me personally reminding you to do it, because I forgot. I mean, I forgot to remind, not I forgot to vote. I have trouble working up the oomph to do a non-presidential election, so I'm glad Paul is gung-ho about it. My mom came over to watch the kids, and we voted and then went out to dinner.

This was a nice way to do it because then we could go off to dinner feeling all happy and dutiful to have voted, and I felt relieved to be done with the worst part, which is the long walk past the line of candidates and campaigners. I don't know what to do with my EYES. I don't want them to TALK to me, and I don't want them to read anything into my eye contact or lack thereof. This time I tried a new strategy, which was to smile hugely at everyone. That worked pretty well.

So we voted, and I lingered a bit in the voting booth so it wouldn't look like I was treating this responsibility lightly, and then we went to a restaurant we've been to twice before, and we ordered exactly what we ordered on the two previous occasions. We got a chip dip that is probably cheese soup with a huge chunk of Velveeta melted into it and spicy sausage bits sprinkled on top, and then Paul got the chicken tacos and I got the fish. The fish looks HORRIBLE, and in fact the first time I ordered it I was dismayed---until I started eating it. It's just haddock with stir-fried zucchini and bell peppers and onions piled on it, so it shouldn't be anything special but it's SO GOOD. And with the dip, which is HEARTY and PLENTIFUL, I only have room for half the fish, so I have the other half for lunch the next day (though then I feel the absence of the dip and wish for more).

Where was I? Oh yes! Voting! Did you? Or do you feel deadened to the election process, as I often do until I'm walking to the booth with my ballot and hearing stately patriotic music playing in my head?

November 1, 2010

I Will Take That Coffee With a Side of Coffee

Last night was poorer quality sleep than I'm used to these days. At 12:30 there was Inexplicable Crying from Elizabeth, the kind where she isn't wailing but just low-grade crying that doesn't stop and she won't answer questions about what's wrong. I lay down with her for awhile but that didn't help either, so finally I took her up to our room. Then she stopped crying and went right to sleep, while I lay awake thinking about how my sister-in-law responded that no, she wants to jointly own the house with us AND take half the cash inheritance "for her financial stability," and she says the good news is we can get a really great deal on a home equity loan to pour money into the money pit.

You will be glad to know that Paul's comment to me was "Screw that!," but it still means continuing to deal with this. (We're going to say, "Okay, then, let's sell the house as-is, because LIKE BLELL we're going to have ANOTHER mortgage to pay off, and this one on a house SOMEONE ELSE lives in, and for repairs that will not increase the value of the house by as much as they cost.") (This will not go over well, I suspect, to someone who would even think to make such a suggestion to begin with.) (And in any case now we have to deal with real estate and Waiting For the House to Maybe Sell, and also with Prying the Sister-in-Law Out of It and so forth.) (Groan.)

So anyway I lay awake for quite awhile, thinking thoughts such as, "Oh, you'd rather do it that way, would you? Wouldn't we ALL prefer to have someone else pay half our mortgage!!" and "Don't you realize that if we decline your Awesome Plan you will need to pay RENT elsewhere, and that if you add up those years of rent payments you will get a number that EXPONENTIALLY EXCEEDS the piddling cash inheritance?" and feeling angry at the tone of her email and many of her word choices. And then I fell asleep, and at 4:30 I heard William call out. I went in, and he said he had a really bad headache, and he indicated one temple. I said "Just on one side?" and immediately started the Fret Process (have I heard Something Bad about headaches that are only on one side? or that start at night? or in children this age?). I got him up and gave him some acetaminophen, and this involved going downstairs to see if we had another box of it, but we didn't, but I was sure we did, so then I went back upstairs to root around in the upstairs bathroom some more, and then finally gave him the liquid kind and put him back to bed. And then I just stayed up, because I was wide awake and would have to get up in an hour anyway. It was a good decision: Henry called out at 5:00, saying he "NEEDA PEE!!"