Splurging for Mental Sanity

June 16, 2014

I hate paying more for something than I have to.  I guess you could call it cheap or frugal, but that’s not exactly right.  If I think I need something that is expensive, I will buy it as long as there is no workable, less expensive substitute, but I am definitely not one to get a Mercedes when a Honda will do.

For the last 5 years, I’ve been using/cursing/struggling with an entry level sewing machine.  I break it out once or twice a year and my projects often involve some machine-generated frustration.  Since I don’t really know much about sewing, I never know if it’s my technique or the machine that is to blame and since I sew so infrequently, it hardly seems worth it to get a really fancy one.  I am generally able to struggle through and finish my projects, so I never truly considered investing 3xs as much on a better one until last week.

I’ve been sewing backpacks for my toddlers and decided to sew an applique on the front of each one.  Sewing the backpacks actually went amazingly well, but when it came time to applique, I almost lost my mind.  I mean, really, really, almost just started the backpacks all over without the applique.  I was ready to post on Craigslist for someone I could pay to finish the appliques.  Then, upon the kind, supportive suggestion of a friend, I got a new sewing machine and I cannot tell you how much of a relief it was to turn that sucker on and have it just work.  I still am no expert sewer, but this thing is so empowering that I am pretty sure I will use it more often.  I feel ready to tackle any project now and know that I will not spend 50% of my project time googling youtube videos for why my stitches are bunchy or backwards.

I have found sewing machine peace.

I’m Breaking Up With Amazon

May 7, 2014

Remember when Amazon meant good customer service and prime meant two day shipping? Those were the days.

My latest frustrating experience (see this post for others) with Amazon was trying to order stay dry carseat pads for my potty-training-in-progress boys. I ordered them Friday and they should have been delivered by Monday.  Today (Wednesday), I got an email saying there’s a problem and they are not available.  “We’re writing about the order you placed on May 02, 2014 … Unfortunately, we are unable to ship the item(s) as soon as we expected and need to provide you with a new estimate of when the item(s) may be delivered … We’ll make every effort to get the delayed item(s) to you as soon as possible.”  The email didn’t have an estimated delivery date, but when I logged into my account, the estimate was almost 2 weeks after I ordered, which won’t work because we’re going on a road trip and need these before we leave.

I initiated an Amazon customer service chat to figure out whether the estimated delivery date was an overestimate and was told the seat protectors are actually 2-4 months away!  I don’t actually know which estimate was correct, but obviously I had to cancel my order. Now I have to find somewhere else to order from and will probably have to pay for rushed shipping. Ugh.

Ordering from Amazon has become akin to playing russian roulette.  Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but seriously, you never know when/whether your items will arrive. It’s usually fine, but sometimes it’s very inconveniently not fine at all.  The prices aren’t always cheaper than other places and even when they are, it’s not by much.  Plus, in situations like this one, you might end up paying even more when Amazon doesn’t actually deliver the items.  It’s no longer assuredly more convenient and reliable than ordering from somewhere else.  I think it’s time for me to move on from this relationship.  I must admit, though, like with many long term relationships, I have a little hope that this one can be saved, but my logical self says it’s time to move on.

Adventures in Berkeley Building Permits (aka Hell)

April 22, 2014

We want to build a deck in the back of our house.  The four people we got estimates from, all who have done a lot of work in Berkeley for many years, have said we don’t need a permit if the deck is 30″ or less, but because I am very law abiding, I emailed the City of Berkeley Permit Department just to make sure.  An architect there told me that I need a permit because the deck will be bigger than 120 sq ft.

I’ve heard that the permit process can be terrible in Berkeley, but this is a low to the ground, rectangular structure that plenty of people build themselves.  How hard could the process be?  So, I dutifully made an appointment during my lunch hour to talk to the architect who assured me it was a simple process.

I arrived at 12:20PM for my 12:30PM appointment, which the architect told me to make so I wouldn’t have to wait.  I check in and am told that the architect will be right with me.  I wait for 25 minutes, so 15 minutes after my schedule appointment, and check back at the counter to see if there is a problem.  The person says, “Oh, I’ll tell him you’re here.  He hasn’t come out yet?”  Did he not tell the architect that I was there?  It’s unclear.  I sit back down.  A few minutes later, the check in person says, he was eating his lunch, he’ll be right out.  What?  Why would you make an appointment during your lunch?  A few minutes later, the architect comes out – no apologies or explanations for being 25 minutes late.  Oh well, he’s going to explain this simple process to me, so I can pay my city some money and be law abiding even though I’m pretty sure most people would not go through this process for a simple deck like the one we’re planning.

He starts explaining all the drawings I am going to have to submit, but assures me I can just draw them myself on pieces of 11″ x 17″ paper.  He’s using words like ledger, joist, anchorage, tension ties that aren’t exactly common terms for someone who isn’t an architect or contractor.  I am starting to get overwhelmed, so want to revisit the size of deck that doesn’t require a permit.  He poo poos this and doesn’t want to discuss it at all.  He suggests I might want to hire someone to draw up the plans.

I ask about Simpson anchors and what the rules are around using them and tells me to just do it with concrete piers.  It seems like he doesn’t really understand what the requirements would be to allow the use of the anchors, which seems odd considering he is the city’s architect in the permit department.  When I ask how much the permit will cost, he conveniently “doesn’t deal with the fees” and tells me I can “ask over there”.

I go “over there” and wait a few minutes behind a man filling out some paperwork.  I say, “excuse me” and ask the woman behind the counter if this is where I can find out about fees.  She brusquely tells me that yes, after she helps this other person (who is still filling out a form), she can talk to me.  She’s acting as if I was trying to cut ahead, which I clearly was not.  When it is my turn, I ask her how to determine the cost of fees and she gives me a chart that is based on the amount you pay to build the deck.  I then ask what you do if you are building some or all of it yourself and she laughs rudely and tells me I need to get a contractor’s estimate.  Well, seeing as I have now gotten four estimates that vary widely, by a factor of 3, I am not entirely sure how to provide this information.  Do I just give her the cheapest one?  She doesn’t seem to understand how or why this might be confusing.

Then she says, “these are only the permit fees.  There could be other fees like zoning or other things.”  So I ask how I am supposed to determine what those other fees might be or whether I will have to pay them since I am not going to build a deck if I have to pay $1,000 in fees.  She says she can’t tell me until I submit my plans (the 11″ x 17″ ones that will be “so simple” for me to draw up).  I tell her what my plans are will depend on how much it will cost since we don’t have an unlimited budget, so I ask if there is any way to estimate the fees before I make the plans.  I understand it might not be 100% accurate, but I want some idea – are we talking hundreds, thousands, what?

She keeps repeating what she’s already told me and then obviously notices for the first time that I am near tears, so she tells me to go back to the check in desk and get a number.  Excuse me, what?!  There is no one else waiting to be helped.  I have been here now for over an hour and have gotten very little information and now she wants me to get a number so she can call it and I will come back to this same desk to speak to this same woman?  I’ve had enough and walk out the door.

I immediately called my partner exasperated to explain what happened.  I decided being law abiding was not worth the risk of trauma that I would almost surely be exposed to trying to go through this process, especially since I’m pregnant and the stress is probably not good for my child.  My partner tries to convince me otherwise because he is also very law abiding.  I will probably just let him deal with it.

I can’t even imagine what this process will look like when we eventually renovate our kitchen.  Ugh, it feels like moving would be easier than dealing with the permit office again!




Things to Do Before You Have Kids

March 27, 2014

Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but there are some things I really wish I had done or done more of before I had mine.  Here is some advice I have for my kidless friends:

  • Watch a lot of movies in theaters.  You will only get to do this once a year after you have kids.
  • Eat dinner in restaurants after 5PM.
  • Sleep in every weekend.  “Sleeping in” after you have kids is sleeping until 8AM.
  • Go on vacation, especially abroad.  Save your road trips for when you have kids and can’t afford plane tickets anymore.  If you go on road trips, drive for 6 hours without stopping because you can.
  • Go on vacation whenever you want, not when you are forced to because your daycare is closed and you can’t afford coverage.
  • Sleep on planes.  Relish that no one is sitting on your lap, poking you, or asking you for stuff.  Appreciate that you don’t have to worry if other passengers are annoyed by anything you or your kids are doing.
  • Get to the airport one hour before your flight is going to leave.  Bring only a carryon and buy food at the airport because you know you’re going to eat it.
  • Finish your home improvement projects now or prepare to spend a lot of money to pay someone else to do it after you have kids.
  • Ride your bike to work.  You can’t fit two kids, their stuff, and your work stuff in a bike trailer.
  • Go to happy hour.
  • Go dancing with adults to music by Outkast instead of Music Together.
  • Shop in stores.  You will soon be limited to online shopping.
  • Make plans with friends and be on time or even early.
  • Care about what you wear and what you look like.  Maybe even wear makeup or perfume.
  • Call friends up and make impromptu plans for that night.
  • Enjoy going to gym classes at scheduled times and don’t fall asleep while you’re kickboxing (Oh wait, I used to do that when I was a teacher and only slept 3 hours a night … well, that was similar to having a newborn except I was much younger and more energetic!)
  • Read books, actual physical books.  You’ll be relegated to audiobooks while you’re driving to work after dropping your kids off at daycare soon enough.

I’m sure there’s more, but I’m too tired to think of them right now.

Is Yogurt Junk Food?

March 25, 2014

In my mind, yogurt and Cheerios go hand in hand when it comes to baby foods – healthy, almost universally loved, and always stocked in our house.  A few months ago, I was looking at yogurt labels to compare protein and noticed that plain yogurt has sugar in it! straus-family-creamery I don’t know why this never occurred to me, but I assumed plain yogurt was sugarfree since it doesn’t taste sweet, but Strauss Organic plain yogurt has 7g of sugar in 1 cup.  That’s almost 2 tsp.  I guess that isn’t that bad, though it is about the same as a regular sized cookie (6g), which I don’t let my kids eat, but once you start getting into the flavors, one cup of yogurt has about the same amount of sugar as a can of soda!  And oddly, lowfat yogurt typically has more sugar than full fat yogurt.  Here’s a list of how much sugar is in 1 cup/8 ounces of the following foods:

  • Cheerios – 1g
  • Strauss plain – whole milk – 7g
  • Strauss plain greek – whole milk – 9gsugar
  • Strauss plain – lowfat and nonfat – 10g
  • Whole/reduced fat milk – 12 g
  • Strauss plain greek – low fat – 12g
  • Fruit Loops – 12g (This is just here for comparison, I am not suggesting that anyone give their kids Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, or Coke!)
  • Frosted Flakes – 15g
  • Strauss blueberry pomegranate- whole milk – 25g
  • Coke – 26g
  • Strauss maple – whole milk – 27g
  • Strauss vanilla – whole milk – 32g
  • Strauss vanilla – nonfat – 33g

Obviously there are good things about yogurt that cookies, sugar cereal, and soda don’t have – calcium, protein, good bacteria – but is it worth the sugar?  I’m inclined to think it’s not worth the sugar in flavored yogurt.  Since my boys don’t drink a lot of milk or eat a lot of meat, we’ll stick with plain greek yogurt for calcium and protein for now, but 2-3 tsp still seems like a lot of sugar to me.  Maybe I should be encouraging cheese eating over yogurt eating/milk drinking.

Has anyone else thought about this?  Am I the only one who didn’t know yogurt and milk has lots of sugar in it?  Am I being totally nuts?

Update: Milk sugar is natural, like sugar in fruit, so I guess it’s not as bad as soda or sugar cereal, but something to keep your eye on as your kid suck down bowls of yogurt, especially when those bowls often proceed bowls of fruit!

Update 2: In case you’re not reading the comments, the fiber in fruit and the fat/protein in dairy slow the absorption of natural sugar, so stick with plain yogurt and everything will be a-ok.

Simply Beautiful

March 20, 2014

Every mom should read this.  So obvious in retrospective, so simple, so beautiful.  I think there’s some dust in my eyes.

BPA-Free is Not Worry-Free

March 18, 2014

Remember when BPA was the big, bad wolf and then modern technology saved the day with BPA-free plastic?  Well, it turns out BPA-free might be the new big, bad wolf.  Check out this Mother Jones article for the basics.

Ikea PokalSo what’s a mom to do?  At home, we mostly use these Pokal glasses from Ikea for our kids.  They are perfectly sized for little hands.  We’ve been using them since a little after my boys turned one and only one has broken.  Before that, we used shot glasses to teach our boys to drink from open cups.  This is obviously not practical for outside the house, though, so we had been using the Camelbak Eddy and the Nalgena OTF for travel.  Nalgene OTF Cambekbak Eddy

After I read the Mother Jones article, I freaked out since these are both made of Tritan copolyester, so I started the search for better travel options.  Here’s my roundup:

mason jar 1. Mason Jars – glass, inexpensive, but there aren’t great spillproof lid options.  The lids they come with rust, so that’s no good.  You can buy BPA-free ones, but that defeats the purpose of getting away from BPA-free.  Also, not great for travel unless you have a protective sleeve of some sort (Built NY makes nice ones of different sizes).

weck jar2. Weck Canning Jars – glass w/glass tops.  The metal clips don’t come in contact with your drink, but the clips don’t seem secure enough for travel.

glass bottle3. Glass water bottles with a sleeve – I don’t really like the ones with the tight sleeve because it seems like it would be hard to clean and easy to get moldy.  I like the idea of a glass water bottle with a sleeve like from Built NY, but I’m a little afraid of my kids dropping these when we’re out of the house and then we’d be bottle-less, not to mention having to clean up glass wherever we are.  Camelbak makes their Eddy bottle in glass now, but it has the tight silicone sleeve, so I think I’ll skip it.  These lids are also generally made with BPA-free plastic.

4. Kleen Kanteen – food grade stainless steel, including the interior (no aluminum or plastic lining).  I like these and they are spillproof if you get the screw cap.  kleen kanteenNot great for little kids who need a straw, but this will work perfectly for my two year olds who prefer drinking from an open spout.  I am a little worried that some day there will be an article about how stainless steel is bad for you, but I guess I will have to have a little faith.  It’s not like stainless steel is a new material like Tritan copolyester.  They are really expensive, but hopefully this will be the last water bottle I have to buy for a while.  My only concern is that the screw top seems like it might be made of all polypropylene.  If that’s the case, I might splurge for the all stainless steel tops, but they are pricey at $10 each!  (Update: Someone at REI told me that people have complained about metal shavings when using the stainless steel tops, so I guess I’ll just take my chances with the plastic one.  I am not going to put it in the dishwasher though.)

So, I will be ordering one adult size Kleen Kanteen for my kids to share when we go out (though I’ll probably have to get two smaller ones when I have to start packing their lunch), bringing some big mason jars to work for my own water (I like to guzzle water and regular glasses mean I have to refill my glass every hour), and buying some more Ikea Pokal glasses for home.  Phew, I feel relieved.  (Huzzah!  The 27 oz Kleen Kanteens were on sale at REI for $10, so I bought two – one for the kids and one to keep in my car.)

Next on my list to worry about- the polypropylene plates that I thought were safer than melamine – I ordered two of these Corelle glass divided plates (left), but the sections seem a little shallow.  I’ll try to remember to give an update about how my kids do with those.  I really like these BIA tv plates (right), but the reviews were mixed.  I might try them if the ones I ordered are too shallow.  Stay tuned.

corelleBIA White Divided TV Tray