Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in review

So—the end of the year blog post.

2016 has been a tough year for me, I won’t lie about that. I thought 2009 was the toughest year I’d had so far, but 2016 is its equal if not a bit worse. I’ve been thinking about why that’s so, and honestly, I think Kent and I were a little too far down the sunshine and lollipop path in 2009 and heading into 2010. For example, we didn’t realize at the end of 2009 that we would be displaced from our home for five months (yeah, we were crazy optimists about that rehab timeline!).

This year I finally realized that I was being bullied at work, and had been bullied since I started in May 2015. It took me eight months to put that together, and I thought I was crazy the entire time. I finally started speaking up to my direct manager (not my bully) and talked with HR and used our Employee Relations Services to get counseling for tips and tricking on how to cope. Just using the term “bullying” helped open people’s eyes and you’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many people told me privately that my bully had also bullied them. That part of 2016 has a decent ending in that my bully ended up finding another job and leaving the company at the beginning of November. Thank God.

In April, my company went through a pretty drastic round of reorganization and layoffs. Because the person who’d been bullying me had been with the company for years and was very knowledgeable in a specific area that the company absolutely needed (and was the only person with that knowledge), I fully believed I would lose my job. I was so sure, in fact, that I’d cleaned out my desk. As it turned out, I didn’t lose my job, which was a relief—but then the presidential campaigns started and our incoming president called out the company I work for as one he wants to put out of business.

I would characterize this year as being death by ten thousand cuts rather than having one great looming catastrophe. I am looking forward to putting this year behind me—I am, at my core, an optimist.

  • In June, an old Army buddy of mine died from a very specific kind of cancer directly linked to his exposure to Agent Orange when he served in Vietnam. Dave was a great guy, wonderful musician and very kind to me when I was young and immature.
  • In July, Kent was laid off and we lost 2/3 of our income.
  • In August, we had a lightning strike at the house which fried some appliances, and our cats racked up nearly $3,000 in vet bills.
  • Also this summer, two friends who are important to me had their husbands walk out.
  • In September, my younger son was deployed for the second time.
  • In October, on a positive note, I picked up another team to manage (which I am evilly pleased to think annoyed my bully to no end).
  • Also in October, we learned that Kent’s mother’s health had taken a nose dive. She is 80, so it’s not unexpected. Kent’s been to visit her five or six times since, and in early December it became clear that she needs to be in an assisted living facility.
  • In November, we were able to spend a great Thanksgiving with our daughter-in-law, the grandchildren and our older son—and did some video calls with the younger son.
  • In December, Kent’s been mostly in Tulsa helping his mother. In fact, he will leave again early this next week and I will join him on Thursday to help move his mother into her new apartment. She’s in good spirits about the move although she’s sad about leaving her house.

So with all of that out of the way, here are my answers to the usual end of year blog questions I’ve been doing for a few years now.

What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before? My answer goes back to what I wrote at the beginning of this post—I think in 2009 and early 2010, I didn’t realize how close to the edge of utter financial ruin we actually were, nor did Kent. When Kent was laid off in July, we both knew immediately that we were on lock down for spending and that his job search was likely to take a very long time (the more senior you are in an organization, the fewer positions are available). While we’ve had his unemployment since August, it’s not a lot of money and we are living on what I earn. That’s both cool and terrifying—cool that I am able to do this and terrifying that it has to be this way.

Did anyone close to you give birth? Not this year.

Did anyone close to you die? I already mentioned my friend, Dave.

What countries did you visit? Sadly, none. We did get to Miami again over Memorial weekend, and Jordan joined it for a great get away. We had a lot of fun, but it wasn’t international travel.

What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016? I would love a little more stability across my professional life. Our incoming president makes that very difficult.

What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? To be honest, I would rather not honor the dates of bad shit happening.
.
What was your biggest achievement of the year? I essentially got a promotion when my manager asked me to take on a second team. With my bully out of the picture, I like what I do and I’m quite good at it.

Did you suffer illness or injury? No—my health is good.

What was the best thing you bought? We got an Instant Pot (love it!) and also took our daughter-in-law’s recommendation and bought a steam mop. That thing is amazing and cleans our wood floors really well.

Where did most of your money go? Home repair from the lighting strike and vet bills. Oh and also repairing cracks from the foundation work we did in 2015, plus rebuilding the built in storage in our dining room (blogged about here).

What did you get really excited about? We got an electric leaf blower that has an attachment you use to clean leaves out of gutters. It’s amazing.

What book(s) did you love this year? I finished Justin Cronin's trilogy (City of Mirrors) and also read two books by a new to me author (N. K. Jemisin) and enjoyed them both. I hope she writes more.

What song will always remind you of 2015? While I liked David Bowie, none of his songs defines 2016 for me. Honestly I think the song I will remember is a George Michael song Jesus to a Child.

Bye, 2016. I won’t miss you.



Saturday, December 24, 2016

On this Christmas Eve

We are in Oklahoma for Christmas; Kent has been here since Tuesday. This is his third or fourth trip since October—his mother has been having some health issues and he’s been here to help her with the house, her doctor’s appointments and so forth.

But it’s time for her to leave this house. She’s been a widow for nearly 20 years, and has downsized a couple times. The first house where I met her was huge and had a gigantic yard. So, then she moved into a smaller house, although I had to laugh—it was still about 3000 square feet! But the yard was smaller, which helped, and the house was definitely smaller than the first one.

Then about four or five years ago, she moved into her current house. It’s smaller than the second house, it’s in a small, gated community and yard care is included with the homeowner’s fees. She’s done well here but in the last year, she’s realized it’s gotten to be a little much.

Our arts & crafts project
Kent and I have been helping her sort out her options and she’s found a place that’s quite nice—it’s a one bedroom apartment that faces south so it’s got lots of light. It’s also near where Kent’s brother works so it will be very easy for him to drop by also. Today, Kent's made a floor plan of the apartment and drawn the furniture she thinks she'd like to take. It looks like her gigantic couch won't make it, but pretty much everything else she'd like to have will fit just fine.

Looking ahead, we’ll need to help her pick the furniture she’ll want with her and then help her with selling the rest. It’s a little overwhelming, to be honest. While she’s not a hoarder by any means, she has a lot of stuff and it will take some serious work.

Thinking back to my grandfather, I remember how he purged nearly everything after my grandmother died. At the time, I found it a little weird and depressing. Now, though, I get it. And more than that, it’s how I see myself being as I get older. I’ve always had the urge to pare down. I think that will only increase as we help Kent’s mother.

Raspberry almond tart
For now, we are working to make this a good Christmas for her and for us. I’ve cooked a lot of savory food that she’s been enjoying (like this tomato soup, and this blueberry oatmeal bake). Tonight, we’ll have spaghetti pie, which is a recipe from my own mother. And tomorrow we’ll have my mother’s pork, mashed potatoes, peas, and applesauce. Oh and raspberry tart for dessert.

I hope you are spending this holiday season with people you love.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why I like this song

Have you seen the contest on Facebook about getting through the holiday season without hearing Little Drummer Boy?

I have a special fondness for that song. When I first switched from playing flute to oboe the fall of 7th grade, I felt like I found my true instrument. I've seen this with other people too: when you find the on that fits your personality and lets you do things you want to do, it becomes more than just being in band.

All seventh graders played in what our conductor called beginner band (we were all so miffed--beginner band was that thing we played in last year and this year we were big bad seventh graders!) But because I switched to oboe, I got to play in the advanced band for our winter concert. That band always played an arrangement of the Little Drummer Boy that had a oboe duet. Normally Mr. Connally tried to have two oboists in each band (partly, it must be said, so they could encourage each other). That year, he had only one in the advanced band so had me play second oboe. Well I was flattered and scared and confident and so excited. This was a Very Big Deal as far as I was concerned.

I managed to get through the song and not totally embarrass myself, although I'm sure the other girl and I probably sounded like dying ducks. After all, oboe is one of the hardest woodwind instruments to play and I had a whopping six or eight weeks of experience by the time we performed that song. She had a year more than me but as I recall, she quit after that year. Oboe will do that to you, you either love it or you hate it.

Anyway, ever since that concert I've sort of considered that song mine. Silly, I know, but I think that's true of every piece I've ever performed, even the ones I didn't like playing.

I leave you with Pentatonix' version of Little Drummer Boy, which is light years better than my debut as an oboist way back when.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Of pins and hope

I have a group of friends, some of whom I know face to face, and some only virtually. There are eight of us altogether and for the fourth year, we’ve had secret Santa gift exchange. It’s lots of silly fun, and the gifts are sort of beside the point. It’s the friendship that counts.

Glass head pins
This year, my secret Santa was Harriet. She sent a collection of things—some of her favorite hand lotion, an ornament in the shape of a sewing machine, the pins you see in this photo (glass heads are essential in sewing, the plastic ones are useless because they will melt and ruin your project).

What got me was what she said about these gifts:
“These things are from one of my favorite local shops. They also sell clothes -- some handmade by the owner --and teach sewing. Next time you're here, I'll take you there!”
Next time I’m there in New York—which means there will be a next time.

I won’t lie, this has been an extremely tough year, maybe the toughest of my life. It’s been harder in many ways than 2009. We’ve been dealing with a lot, all external and most are out of our control. Kent’s mother has some very serious health issues and he’s been there three or four times in the last two months and he’s been managing all the decision making and sorting out of options long distance. I watch him worry and stress about making the right choices for her, and being a good son. He does make good choices and he is a good son, but it’s very hard.

So to hear from my friend that she will share a favorite place with me the next time I’m there? Well it’s like one of those clich├ęd Thomas Kinkade paintings where the sunbeam pierces the doom and gloom. Frankly I can use the hope. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Everything I know about cats—for Julia

Disclaimer: I’m not a vet. Always listen to your vet over anything I say.

Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they can’t really digest grains or fruit and that their entire diet needs to be meat. This link takes you to an article on PetMD and here's a quote from the article:
The cat cannot sustain its life unless it consumes meat in some form.
Cats are also actually lactose-intolerant. While they will drink milk, they shouldn’t.

Vitamin D capsules are deadly for cats. At least one of mine loves those capsules so if you take vitamin D, don’t let your kitties near them (just in case).

Not all cats like cat nip. It’s sort of like cilantro—some people love the taste, others think it tastes like soap. All three of my current kitties love nip but I’ve had others just look at it and walk away.

In the wild, cats get most of their water from eating their prey (mice, birds etc.). So drinking water isn’t their first preference and cats tend to not drink enough. This is especially true for male cats, who can end up with kidney issues. I use a CatIt fountain, and it’s made a real difference in how much water they drink.




Cats are territorial but it’s different from the way dogs are. Dogs will have a spot they consider theirs and that spot doesn’t change. Cats will have areas and they’ll shift their spots. Some prefer to climb (Wally is our big climber right now) and others just want a soft, warm spot to curl up on.

You can (and should) trim your kitty’s nails. Start doing it now when they are kittens and it will be no big deal for them.

Cats are also crespucular, which means they are most active at twilight, morning and evening. That's why you may get demands to get up and play, or feed or generally interact with your kittens.

Cats scratch. Some scratch horizontally and some prefer to scratch vertically. We have this “lounger” that all three love, and there are lots of other scratching pad/post options out there.

Hope that helps!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

December's cat--last one!

My mother has given me lots of really cool cat calendars over the last 15 years or so. She inadvertently created a tradition for me with the first one, which was of cats in Greece. The light there is so incredible and of course when you add in cats, it's just that much better.

That photographer either moved on from cats or else the publisher stopped publishing them. So Mom found another line of cat calendars which I also enjoyed. But as I mentioned way back in January, this calendar is the best of all because my mom either took the photos herself in Greece or else friends /family gave them to her just for this calendar.

Normally I recycle my calendars but this one is one I'm going to keep. Thank you, Mom, this calendar has been amazing.

Here's December:


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Our Thanksgiving visit

So Google is both creepy and helpful. Creepy because it created this video and helpful because it created this video.

video

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Vote!


I voted by mail two weeks ago. I hope you've already voted, or will make the time today.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

November's kitty

I find looking at cats far more enjoyable than reading all the political rantings and ravings online. And this cat is especially soothing.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

About fashion, clothing and me

In the last six weeks, I’ve read the following:


There’s a slow fashion movement going on that urges us to only purchase clothing that can be worn 30 or more times. Obviously, if your clothes are going to be worn that many times, they can’t wear out. So equally obviously, most fast fashion items won’t make the cut.

I think the part that’s missing from all of this is the emotional component. Thinking back over my clothing purchase over my lifetime, need is almost never the driver. In my 20s, I shopped like a good little consumer because all the media influences in my life suggested that shopping was a worthwhile activity (almost like a hobby) or because of the thrill of the hunt. Never mind that I didn’t need what I was hunting, the thrill was still there.

I’m not the only one who’s felt that way. Most of the people I know have done much the same thing. If we are very honest about what’s needed in our closets, I think we’d all agree that we don’t actually need anything.

But again, shopping for clothes every year or every fashion season is also part of how we fit in. Every year, Pantone announces the color of the year and boom! All of last year’s clothing in last year’s color of the year look dated and frumpy (here's the colors for right now). Same thing with the cut of pants or blouses or coats. Think about bell bottom jeans from the 70s, or the 80s peg leg jeans. Sure, you can find variations on those themes but they don’t look the same and the older versions look dated.

Case in point—the unfortunately named pussy bow blouse. I remember those in the 80s, when Margaret Thatcher wore them. They were practically the essential piece for women in business back then. They’re back now but the lines are subtly different and for sure the shoulders are cut differently. If you wore one of the 1980s ones today, you’d look strange.

Lots of bloggers who are far more articulate than I am have talked about capsule wardrobes that end up being uniforms. Some like it, some don’t (I fall on the “like it” side myself).  I suspect those who don’t like the idea of a uniform end up feeling constricted and confined at the thought that their clothing would be so similar, day in and day out.

Which brings me to my last thought. A month or so ago, I read an article about food and eating; the article said something about how people generally fall into one of two camps: those who like to have really full bellies (think post-Thanksgiving dinner) and those who don’t. I wonder if clothing falls into the same sort of grouping. Maybe the people with super stuffed closets and lots and lots of shoes absolutely love that full feeling.

This entire train of thought was sparked the day my son was deployed. I’ve lost a fair amount of weight this year (not on purpose, it’s from stress). Almost everything in my closet was way too big, unwearably big. I can’t even describe the mental burden of all that stuff—every time I opened the closet to get dressed, there they all were bugging the daylights out of me. But I felt obligated to keep them and make them work somehow; I felt so much guilt at the idea of purging those clothes.

The day Ben deployed, I was a mess. I needed to feel some control somewhere in my life so I purged my closet. Weird, I know. But I was careful as I did it. I do have a uniform of sorts, I have items that no matter what I will always repurchase:

  • Jeans
  • A white fitted shirt
  • Sweaters
  • A black skirt
  • Black dress pants
  • Some sort of geometric black pants (current iteration is checks, the one I saved is diamonds)

I kept those in a plastic bin under my bed. I kept the underwear that’s too big, and the bras too. Also the workout gear (running clothes mostly). All of those are things I have no matter what size I am. And I felt peaceful about the whole thing. I also realized that I’m one of those people who doesn’t like the super full belly after a meal, nor do I like a super full closet. Instead, I want everything in there to work for me right now, to fit me today.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

All the way from Glengerry, Victoria

Which is in Australia.

I fell down the Etsy rabbit hole a couple of weeks ago, sparked by a blog post about patterns and capsule wardrobes best suited for traveling. I have more to say about that in another blog post, but for now I wanted to share the three patterns I got and how amazing it is to me that I could look online at vintage patterns that were the right size and reasonably priced—in Glengerry, Victoria, Australia!—and have them show up in my mail box not two weeks later.

It’s a small world, after all.

Here are the patterns (yes, the last one is most definitely a child of the 80s, don’t say anything mean about it, I love it and can’t wait to make it up):






Monday, October 3, 2016

Playing around with a new app

Well it's new to me, anyway.

Original photos are on the left, the Prisma versions on the right. Link takes you to the Google Play store, it's also available on iTunes but you'll have to find that stinky link on your own.








Sunday, October 2, 2016

No, I really can’t lift it (and you probably can’t either)

See the broken belt hanging down?
I was heading out the door this morning for the 9:30 service at church. I greet there the first and third Sundays and of course today is the first Sunday in October.

I pressed the garage door opening, and it made the normal noise for about a second, then stopped. Huh, I thought, maybe I didn’t really press the button? So I tried again and got the same results. This time, I knew for sure I’d pushed the button properly and when it didn’t open again, I sort of stood there staring at the door. I tried one more time, realized that nope, it wasn’t going to open so I ran inside and emailed the woman who coordinates all the greeters to let her know I was stuck at home.

You might remember that I’ve tried before to open the garage door manually—I tried after the lightning strike that fried the motor but couldn’t even budge it. We have just the one garage door across a two car garage. It’s solid wood, and original from 1958.

Fortunately, I brought my work laptop home on Friday, the way I always do. Here’s hoping that the company that just installed this new motor can get out to our place tomorrow.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

October's cat (with bonus real cat)

This may be my favorite photo so far. I love how the cat's just sitting there, coolly observing the world. But that's cats for you.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

An idea from a friend

I have a friend—M—who’s imaginary only in the sense that I have not yet met her face to face. We’re part of a small group of friends, eight in all, and we’ve been mailing cards and postcards to each other for going on five or six years.

A couple of weeks ago, M sent me a card and when I got it, I thought it was perfect for a friend at work. That friend, Jane, has accepted a job with another company and is leaving her current job this week. While I’m sad for me (Jane and I have the best conversations about everything under the sun), I am ecstatic for her. The new position is a promotion and will let her move her career in a direction more in keeping with her interests and her abilities.

I told my imaginary friend, M, that the card was perfect for Jane. She said well you should figure out a way to give it to her. Here’s what I did.


This photo makes the card look much bigger than it is, it's actually fairly small. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dining room is back to normal (at last)

This is one of those projects that took a long time. It started with the foundation work we did in April, 2015; the house had nearly a three inch drop toward the street side and before we could make any other changes, that had to be fixed.

Getting started
Then we had to wait . . . and wait . . . until everything settled into the new position and any cracking that was going to happen did happen. So then we needed to find someone to repair the cracks, which we did in July. The guy we used suggested that rather than getting rid of those built in cabinets, we reuse them in the garage.

So we did.

Bye bye built in cabinets.

Repurposed cabinets in their new home.

Then we asked him to come back because we knew we were going to use the Billy bookcases from Ikea and wanted them to look as built in as possible. So he did.


Kent assembled the bookcases. 

You can see the framing John added around the bookcases.

Kent stained the framing
and put a coat of poly on too.
In a way, this project reminded me of the kitchen renovation we did when we lived in Crush House. That kitchen had a peninsula that just made no sense at all. We were stymied about what to do until one night (while on strong pain medication after major surgery), I told Kent he should just get out his circular saw and take that sucker out. He warned me we might have to live with the hole in the floor for a while, and we did; it was nearly a year later before we were positive we didn't miss the storage and had a good idea of what we wanted to do.

Ugly peninsula (and counter top).

Hole in the floor tile.

An after picture; I'm really proud of this project.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

We figured it out

Well—Kent did, actually.

Wally’s got a wound on his upper lip on the right side of his face. That’s the same side as where he had the upper canine removed. Since the wound appeared after the tooth removal, we knew they were related but weren’t sure why. We’d seen his upper lip catch on his upper gum in that spot but that didn’t seem like enough contact to create the wound.

Kent's been watching him off and on during the day and realized Wally is catching his upper lip on the point of his lower canine. He’s basically stabbing himself in his lip a little every time that happens.

Since it’s not infected, and it doesn’t appear to be inflamed or particularly bothering him (although it sure bothers me), we haven’t called the vet. We’re continuing to watch it, though. I don’t want anything else to go wrong with our kitties’ health so if it doesn’t show signs of healing in a week or so, we’ll have to decide which of the vet recommendations we’ll use and then endure the pain of taking him to another vet.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

This instead of that

As we’ve run the numbers and scrutinized our budget on just my income, we’ve figured out that we’ll need to tighten up by about $300 a month when unemployment runs out.

Here’s an interesting side note: in Kansas, the length of time you can be on unemployment is tied to the state unemployment rate. Right now, the unemployment rate is 4.3% and that means you can get 16 weeks. If it rises to 4.5% over a rolling three-month average, then that time would increase to a total of 20 weeks. We probably won’t get there in time for Kent to have the longer amount of time and honestly I don’t actually want unemployment to rise (not to mention that unemployment pays very little).

Going back to our budget, we don’t actually do a lot of discretionary spending, Crazy Trips notwithstanding and also we haven’t gone on one in well over a year. Where we did spend like that, we stopped: we dropped my contribution to my 401K down to 10% and may drop it more after the first of the year, and we stopped paying extra on the principle for our mortgage and now just pay the mortgage.

I have one professional membership I’d already decided not to renew so that’s confirmed as money I won’t spend (I will keep my membership to SIOP, however, as that’s important to my career). But the rest of that shortfall will need to be made up in tiny savings, not big obvious ones.

We compare prices between Amazon, Walmart and whatever store we’d normally have gone to for the item. Walmart almost always has the lowest price (not in cat food because they don’t carry what we use), followed by Amazon. I know some folks who won’t shop at Walmart and to them, I would say that’s a choice you can make. Right now, we can’t (and honestly where do you think the employees of Walmart would work if all the stores shut down?), and I made no apology for that. 

Here are some of the choices we’re making:


I’m sure there are other, similar choices we’ll be making—but those are the ones we’ve identified already. Got any suggestions? 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

September's cat

Yes, I waited until today—happy birthday, Mom! Also, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for black and white kitties. They seem to have such large, friendly personalities. 


Monday, September 5, 2016

The economics of sewing

One of the maternity dresses I made
Thinking back to how I got into sewing as an adult, well it was mostly to save money and partly due to not finding what I needed when I was pregnant and living in (then West) Germany. Sure, I could have bought maternity clothes from German stores, but they were expensive. I could have also mail ordered from Sears (remember when we did that?), but again, the options were limited and cost more than I wanted to pay, plus shipping to Europe took weeks. So I made my maternity clothes—a couple of dresses, some tops, some pants—nothing elaborate and not a whole lot of them either. I figured I didn’t need a lot of clothes since pregnancy isn’t all that long anyway.

I'm second from the right,
in a dress I made
I kept sewing in my 20s and 30s because it was still cheaper. I remember making dresses for myself that cost between $10 and $25, including the pattern and notions. This was also when you bought patterns by the size, no multi-sizes printed on the same sheets of tissue the way they’re printed today. I was a straightforward size and didn’t need to make any alternations (nor did I learn how).

The first time I bought fabric that cost over $10 a yard, I was very nearly sick with nerves cutting it out. I was horrified by that high price, although today I’d think it was a good bargain.

This is the jacket & skirt I made
from the expensive stuff
I’ve sewed off and on ever since. Kent and I got into sewing in a pretty big way in Boston and now we own two sewing machines and a combo serger/cover stitch machine. And we have a fair amount of fabric. We joined Julie’s Club through Fabric Mart and let me tell you, fabric buying can be pretty impulsive especially when you can touch and see the little swatches they send you every month.

I felt a little guilty about having bought all that fabric and not using it, until the last couple of weeks. The clothes I’ve made this weekend definitely aren’t cheaper than what I could buy at places like H&M or Uniqlo (more about that in a second), but I already had the fabric on hand. Oh and the thread, patterns, zipper and interfacing.

So here’s what I’ve made the last few days.

First up is a dress which is meant to replace the one on my dress form. That dress is a lovely Eileen Fisher dress made of a soft merino wool. You may not be able to tell in this photo, but the Eileen Fisher dress drapes beautifully and absolutely doesn’t look like a sack when worn. My copy is from a sweater knit I got when we were in NYC a couple of years ago, and I used Butterick 6258. I'm pretty pleased with this one, it's got the same body skimming style of the Eileen Fisher one.






This outfit is completely me-made, skirt and top. The skirt is a very simple knit skirt, also from Butterick 6258. The top is another Burda pattern, 7051. I’ve made this one before too, but a different view. This time I made view A and I absolutely love it.


Next up is a sweater I made to replace the one you see in the dress form (another lovely Eileen Fisher sweater). My new one is from a merino wool knit and I used Burda 6990 (view A). I’ve made this pattern before and fortunately I’d traced it and not cut the tissue. That meant I could cut a smaller size and not have to re-purchase the pattern. The skirt is the same knit skirt from the photo above. Also ignore the cheesy expression, I blink super fast when my photo's being taken so I end up concentrating really hard and I look kind of strange but it's better than blinking.





And this skirt is a pattern hack. I want to make a couple of pencil skirts but don’t have a pencil skirt pattern. I do have this New Look pattern (6123, no link because it's out of print but you can see it in the photo), This dress is basically a bodice (top part) attached to a pencil skirt. I’ve got some lovely Italian wool I got when Kent and I were in Rome a few years ago, but I sure didn’t want to experiment with that! So I used this ponte knit. To be honest, I have no idea what I was thinking I’d make with this but pretty clearly I had something in mind because I bought three and a quarter yards of it. As it turns out, I like the fabric a lot and it feels amazing on.


Cheesy expression

Close up of fabric


Dress pattern I hacked


Finally, back to Uniqlo. If you’ve never heard of Uniglo, well they’re a Japanese clothing company and I love their styles and their prices. They tip toe just this side of fast fashion (i.e. cheap fabric), and since we don’t have a brick & mortar store in the area, returns are often more of a pain than they’re worth. But when the clothing works, it’s pretty amazing.

Ignore the scowl on my face, I was in a great mood when Kent took this—but I wanted to show you why it’s not always the cheaper option to sew my clothes. This coat is made of a felted wool knit and cost $69. I can’t buy fabric to make it at that price; I know because I looked.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Well this is weird

I’m not entirely sure how Fitbit calculates steps. You put in your height and your weight in the dashboard, and pick the hand you’re wearing the Fitbit on (dominant or non-dominant hand).

The reason I bring this up is I’ve noticed a difference between the results from my old Fitbit and my new one. It might be that they’re just slightly different in how they read steps.

I also wondered if weight is part of the calculation, maybe more than I realized. When I got my first Fitbit, I picked a likely number for my weight (I don’t weigh myself, since knowing the actual pounds I weigh tends to trigger my eating disorder—no thanks on that!).

Last month, right before a medical test that required sedation, the person gathering my health information told me what I weigh (I’ve been doing my best to forget ever since). So I put that weight in the dashboard for my Fitbit when I set it up.

Normally on non-run days, I’ll get between 5 and 6 thousand steps just going about my normal day. Now I get in the high 4 thousands. Runs are clocking in slightly less also, but my running route hasn’t changed.

In a way, I don’t care—I use the Fitbit as a relative scale that I’m staying active (and I rely on the silent alarm every work day, love that gentle buzz). But I do find it kind of strange that weight—if that’s the reason—changes my step count so much.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Just talk to me

We're changing veterinarians and here's why.

It’s not that the cost for two of the kitties exceeded the estimate for all three by 30% (and meant that one cat—Chloe—didn’t get sedated, have an IV started, have any x-rays or have her teeth cleaned).

It’s not even that Chloe’s procedure wasn’t done. I get it that you don’t know how complicated a procedure will truly be until you’re actually in there doing it. I do appreciate that Wally and Eddie took longer than anticipated.

And it’s (sort of but not fully) not that four teeth were removed (two from each cat), instead of the one we knew about. Again ,I get that things can end up being in worse shape than preliminary exams indicated.

It’s about the utter lack of communication.

I expect to hear if something’s more complicated, going to take longer and going to cost a lot more money as it’s happening. Not at the end of the day when it’s a done deal, and not when I’m told the bill.

I expect that once it’s obvious that all three cats won’t have their procedures done that the one who’s not getting sedation would get at least water and preferably some food too.

She never does this.
She drank for a full three minutes.
We followed directions and picked up the food and water at 9 PM Wednesday night. That means that Chloe, who is 17, was without food or water for over 18 hours. It shouldn’t take a phone call from me asking if she’s had water for veterinary health care providers to think, gosh, she might need water.

And it’s about the lack of partnership. Eddie had one blood test come back in July with a slightly unusual value. We weren’t interested in tracking it down, but Thursday when we picked up the cats, the vet told us she’d run that test. No touching base with us, no “hey remember that one blood value, I’d like to run another test,” nothing.

I want any health care provider (whether for animals or humans) to work with me, tell me what’s going on, what to expect, any alternatives and then let me make an educated decision. It’s clear from our two experiences with this vet that we won’t get a collaborative partnership.

That’s fine. I’m voting with my wallet and my feet (paws?) and looking through the recommendations I got from my friends.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

It's electric

If we’re connected on Facebook, you already know we had some damage last night from the fierce storms that swept through the Kansas City area. I was curious, so I just looked up the data for yesterday. We got nearly 2 ½ inches of rain with wind gusts of 49 MPH, plus all the normal lightning and thunder you’d expect in a Kansas thunderstorm.

The lightning that got us didn’t actually sound all that bad; in fact, we now suspect our damage wasn’t from the strike but from the power surge. We thought the router was fried, but the GFI outlet saved it and also saved Kent’s X box and the TV. Our amplifier wasn’t so fortunate.

Our garage door motor is also fried. We were able to get a repairman out today to look at it (yes, he agreed, it’s fried) but he can’t actually replace it until Monday. I’m glad Kent is home because it’s a big door (just one for the two car garage) and very heavy. Lifting it manually is no joke

The biggest loss in terms of cash, though, is our oven. It’s a wall-mounted oven and an unusual size. Even though the oven isn’t anything special, it’s expensive. You can see it on the left, it's on the bottom. The top is a microwave (which wasn't damaged—isn't that weird?). We’ve got an appliance person coming out tomorrow in hopes that the service call will result in replacing the circuit board (boards? Might have more than one) rather than the entire oven. Otherwise we're looking at $4k or more.

Then a friend surprised me today with this—she knows it’s been a tough couple of months for us and wanted to send something as a show of support:


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The value of long friendships

I met P in 1988; I was married to my first husband then, and my kids were five and seven. She and I connected immediately and became very close friends. She was there with me through all sorts of major life events, good and bad, and she’s said I did the same for her.

We drifted apart in the mid-90s, partly because I wasn’t in a good place and also I moved from Lawrence to Kansas City. But a few years ago, she found me on Facebook and we reconnected. She doesn’t live all that close by any more (it’s a three-hour drive, much of it on two lane roads). Saturday she got married and I was there.

I was very nearly late, which always stresses me out inordinately, so I was a little anxious as I slipped into a pew in the back of the church. Then a door behind me and to my right opened, and I caught a glimpse of her dress—nothing but a flash of fabric—and to my surprise, I immediately started crying.

Now I am not a crier. Yes, I have feelings, but generally speaking I don’t express them with tears. I teared up at my own wedding just once, not at all at my younger son’s wedding and once at my older son’s wedding. Tears aren’t my normal way of expressing my feelings. But Saturday was different.

And she cried too. To be honest, I knew she would cry (she is a crier); what got me was that she cried because she saw me.

I had a lot of time to think over all of that the drive home and I think I know why we both cried. You don’t have that deep of a friendship and not carry the love forward even if the daily contact is no longer there. You can’t have the kind of shared experiences we did and not have that kind of emotional response.

Before I left the reception Saturday night, I hugged her and told her that I had never stopped loving her. I wish we lived a little closer to each other, but I’m so glad to have reconnected with her and so very glad she wanted me there at her wedding.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

My Fitbit and me

I got my Fitbit in June, 2013—I wasn’t sure how much I’d use it, or if it would change my workout behavior or activity levels. But I was willing to spend $100 to find out.

Turns out I loved it. I like the days when I hit the 10k mark for steps and get the light display and buzzing wrist, I like seeing my friends and where they are in their steps (I’m always third), and I love, love, love that I can set a daily alarm. There’s something far more civilized about waking up to a buzzing wrist rather than the abrupt loud blatting of an alarm clock.

Two weeks ago, my beloved Fitbit quit taking a charge. I went through all the recommended steps to troubleshoot the issue, and ended by calling customer service (the last step when nothing else works). The conversation was a bit surreal. The customer service rep didn’t speak American English as a first language so the tone of the exchange was beyond polite, especially the way he said my name (Ee LIZ ah beth, very precisely).

He walked through all the trouble shooting options and then looked up my account. There was a longish pause (long being relative when you are talking to a call center employee and they are measured by call handling times).

Customer service rep: Elizabeth, you bought your Fitbit in June of 2013.
Me: That’s correct.

Pause

CS: So you have had your Fitbit, Elizabeth, since June of 2013.
Me: Yes, that’s correct

Pause

CS: Elizabeth, the warranty period for the Fitbit Flex is three hundred sixty-five days.
Me: OK

Pause

CS: Elizabeth, that means your Fitbit is no longer covered by a warranty.
Me: OK

Longer pause

CS: Because the warranty is for three hundred sixty-five days, Elizabeth.
Me: Yes, I understand.

I think he thought I was going to get mad. But honestly I called because the website said if you do all these troubleshooting steps and still have issues, then call us.

Long story short (with much more exquisitely polite conversation), he offered me 25% off the purchase of a new Fitbit. I hadn’t asked for that, or asked for anything actually, but I was sure pleased to get it.

Thank you and good-bye
Once the new one got here, I told Kent I felt a little sad just tossing the old dead one. After all, I’ve traveled to three continents with it, and gone to seven countries and a whole bunch of states. He asked if I needed to thank it for its service a la Konmari and I realized that yes, actually, I did.

So that’s what I did, I thanked my dead Fitbit for its service and moved on. My new Fitbit is performing like a champ, my wrist no longer feels inappropriately naked and I’ve got my preferred morning alarm all set up.

Friday, August 5, 2016

In which I don't look so good

I manage a large team at work, and we are in our extremely busy season. All of us are putting in 60 to 80 hours a week and will be doing that until nearly the end of October. Last year when things were this crazy, I’d sometimes bring snacks. I couldn’t ease the workload but I could provide something to nibble on. The company didn’t pay for these goodies, I did, and it was no big deal.

Now we are down to the lesser of two incomes. Right before Kent got laid off, I’d brought in snacks—about $30 worth of clementines and a large package of those individual sized bags of assorted chips. We have a fairly open seating plan at work, and my team isn’t isolated. In fact, three other teams sit in the general vicinity. That means others not on my team saw the snacks and (as happened last year) helped themselves. Last year, I didn’t care. This year . . . yeah, it bothered me.

So I’ve been wrestling with that ugliness in myself for the last week or so. I brought the snacks in to be eaten. They were eaten. That some of the people who participants weren’t on my team shouldn’t matter. Yet I felt that internal stinginess.

I’ve struggled with this off and on throughout my life, always when times are tight or trending that way or I think it will be that way. I remember worrying (yes actually worrying) in high school how I would earn enough money to pay for rent and food and of all things tampons once I graduated from high school and moved out.

In my 20s, my ex and I made very little money. We couldn’t afford things like cable TV or two cars or air conditioning in the house and I worried about money all the time.

In my late 20s and early 30s, I worked with a man in the Army Reserves who had a very different attitude toward money than I did. I came at it from a position of scarcity, as though it were an extremely limited and hard to get thing. His attitude was this: it’s just money and I’ll make more.

That blew my mind. To have that kind of confidence that I could earn more any time I needed to was not how I felt at all. But I wanted to have that confidence, that knowledge that I could take care of myself no matter what.

In the years since then, I’ve mostly been able to stay in that frame of mind, except when one of us gets laid off. Then my old fears come right back. This time those fears aren’t based in fact. We have enough. We’ve run the numbers and can scale down enough to fit my salary. Sure, Crazy Trips™ are off the table but we can have the occasional date night at our favorite place. We won’t lose the house. I can afford to occasionally bring in snacks (although probably cheaper ones).

It’s easy to be generous in times of plenty, when the cost is minute in the overall scheme of things. I want to be generous, full stop, no qualifiers. That means I need to stay grounded in reality, not in my fears from the past.

Monday, August 1, 2016

August's cat

For my mom, here's the cat from August.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

An average of seven times

A blog I occasionally read cited a study that says on average, we wear our clothes seven times before we discard them one way or another.*

At first I thought no way, that’s not what I do! I wear my clothes way more than seven times before they’re gone. As Kent pointed out, if you buy a season-specific item of clothing (say, a light sleeveless top), you’d have to wear it at least once a week for the entire season to hit seven wearings. If you chose ultra-cheap clothing (think H&M or the like), chances are good that the top might not last more than one season.

I was still skeptical. After all, I have a Gap jean jacket I bought at an outlet mall in Nashville, TN in September 2006 that I still wear almost every week. I have shoes from before our flood in October 2009 that I still wear—or what about that leather jacket I got at that one high end consignment store in Boston (think it was 2008)?

I also have a really lovely long dress I got earlier this year; I planned to take it to Jamaica only we didn’t go and I still haven’t worn it. It’s still got the tags on it. A couple of years ago, I got a maxi skirt—black with white polka dots. Super cute and totally not me. I wore it maybe four times before I donated it.

Ever since I read that article, I’ve been mentally tracking how often I wear the things in my closet. Some of them are total work horses. I wear them frequently and year-round. In fact, a lot of my clothes are that way.

I’ve also got some things that I don’t wear as often. This summer, I’ve been reaching for those items deliberately, wearing them again. After all, I paid for them so I might as well get the cost per wearing down while increasing my average number of times wearing the darn things.

*Despite searching, I couldn’t find the blog post I mentioned. This takes you to the one article I could find. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

It’s the small things

In keeping with my strong desire to focus on the positive (rather than freak out which does no good anyway), here’s a list of random things for which I’m grateful:

  • We deliberately chose to buy a less expensive house, one that we could pay for with the smaller of our two salaries
  • We left Verizon last month and switched to Google Fi which cut our cell phone bill in half (we did have to get new phones but we were on the hook for new phones anyway)
  • We don’t have any recurring subscriptions to anything—no cable, no Netflix, no Hulu, nothing
  • We both know how to cook and are quite good at it (sounds snotty but it’s true)
  • We don’t have a habit of eating out (with the exception of our date night on Friday nights—we’ll be dialing those back but not cutting them out altogether)—I bring my lunch every day to work
  • We have a good emergency fund saved up
  • We paid cash for our cars so we don’t have car payments
  • (This will sound weird) I recently bought new underwear—because of the stress at work, I’ve dropped four to five clothing sizes and those didn’t fit anymore. The good part here is I already bought them.

So there’s my list of random goodness. Also here's another cat picture to sooth us all.

Taken on my lap just now


Sunday, July 24, 2016

We’ve done this before (or I hope this is like riding a bike)

Several years ago, I wrote a series of three posts about how we’d managed on a single income in a very high cost of living area. You can read them here, here, and here.

I've been rereading them because we are back to one income again since Kent was laid off on Friday effective immediately.

In looking back over my blog posts from then, I don’t think I ever posted how that went down.

He got the news mid-morning at work. I was at home (we were living in a temporary apartment while reconstruction was—well it wasn’t happening yet but the insurance company mulling things over) because I still hadn’t found a job. He waited until he got home and we were sitting together so that he could be with me when he shared the news. He knew I would be completely undone and didn’t want me to be alone. That right there is what love looks like in our house. I was blown away that he held that news to himself and waited to share.

That night, we were both pretty anxious. I’d say freaked out but that’s not exactly right. Suffice it to say that we drank a bottle of wine pretty quickly as we watched a movie (I don’t even remember what we saw) and then a second bottle as we watched a second movie (again I have no idea what it was) and then I turned into a complete chatter box and thought we should open a third bottle of wine and maybe watch a third movie. By that point, Kent was nearly asleep on the couch. He managed to tell me that it was already midnight and that a third bottle of wine and a third movie didn’t sound like great ideas and could we please go to bed. If you know me, you know I rarely see midnight by choice so that tells you a lot about my state of mind.

The next day, I told my mother I’d earned every bit of that hangover, and I had.

So fast forward to the last couple of years. The company Kent worked for got spun off from another company two and a half years ago and has just never gained much traction. I told Kent two years ago that I was pretty surprised they hadn’t let remote employees go already. Having people work remotely in other states is expensive because the company has to pay state unemployment insurance and account for all the state, regional, city and local taxes. That all comes at a high price tag so for a company to pay for one employee in Arizona, one in Kansas, a couple in Ohio etc., well you’re not talking small change.

I guess they finally figured it out, since from the sounds of things all remote employees were laid off on Friday.

I will admit that my first reaction on Friday was gut churning fear. We came so close to losing everything we owned six years ago; even though we are in better shape today, that fear lingers. I’m still pretty anxious to be honest. Yes, I have a job with benefits (and I’m very thankful), and we should be OK (tight, but OK). But I’ve been here before and now I’m sort of waiting to see what else (bad) might happen.

Edited to add a soothing photo of Eddie from this morning. That way, when I reread these posts later on, I'll have something calming to look at.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Quit changing the shoes!

I’m not hard on my shoes. I think I’ve had one pair that needed actual repairs and it was because the tip of the heel came off (pointy heels). Usually, though, I wear them for years.

And that goes for my running shoes too. I know, I know, you’re supposed to switch running shoes every six months which has always struck me as ridiculous. I don’t put massive miles on my shoes and I’m not at all hard on them. I wore my Nike Free shoes, which I got when we lived in Boston, for years. Sure, toward the end I could tell it was time to replace them . . . but it took a while.

Since I don’t buy running shoes all that often, I end up having to find whatever is the most current version of the version I bought before. Sometimes that works out, but not always. Case in point, those Nike Free shoes I mentioned? Nike changed the last so much that they didn’t work for me any more. That’s when I switched to Brooks.

That was three years ago. I got smart, though, and after I’d been running in the Brooks for a couple of months, I ordered another pair so that when the current pair wore out, I’d have a pair ready to go.

Two weeks ago, I knew it was time. I was getting some twinges in my knee which generally means I’m not running correctly, so I got out the new shoes and ooo. Yes, the old ones were worn out.

Then I looked online, thinking I’d order another pair. Only guess what? Brooks doesn’t make that version any more. Mine are PureCadence 2 and now the model is PureCadence 5. Ugh.

I guess I should mark my calendar for a couple of years from now so I can start searching then for the next pair of running shoes.

New shoes on the left, old shoes on the right. Same model.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

I'm late, I'm late

But here's July's cat for my mom.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Amazing beauty

These photos are all from this week in Yuma, AZ.