Photos from St Charles Santa Parade

Saturday, December 20, 2008

One of our favorite Christmas traditions is spending a December Saturday in St Charles MO. It's officially called "Christmas Traditions" but we call it the Santa Parade, as it's easier to explain. Basically, Christmas characters from different parts of the world roam the streets, passing out trading cards, and posing for photos. Then, there's a parade and performance later in the afternoon. Here are a few photos of our fun day. More are posted on Facebook.

Lights Fantastic

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Here are photos from Carbondale's annual Lights Fantastic Parade. It was a bitterly cold night--we'll be better prepared next year.

More Thanksgiving Weekend Fun

Friday, November 28, 2008

We're enjoying our time away from our normal routine at Trout Lodge. Sadly, we leave tomorrow.

We started Thanksgiving Day with pony rides for the girls. CeCee and Doodle are already plotting their first trail ride once they turn seven.

Later, Princess the Clown visited the lodge for more face painting.

Dinner was the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, stuffing, cranberry sauces, rolls, and pumpkin pie. Each table had our own spread, and they even gave me ziplock freezer bags to take home the leftovers. (Yes, how I love leftover turkey sandwiches!)

This morning, we went to Mrs. Claus' tea party, and of course Santa visited us. These pics are just the highlights; you can find more on my Facebook album.

Over the River and Thru the Woods...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Today, we crossed the Mississippi River and drove through the Ozarks to reach Trout Lodge in Potosi, MO, our family's traditional Thanksgiving hideout. Although we don't live much farther away than in St Louis, we had to snake through the backroads to get here, so it seemed to take twice as long!

We've been coming to Trout Lodge for Thanksgiving (and also Memorial Day weekend) ever since Louie was born. We eat the same foods and enjoy the same activities, but because we only come here twice a year, it's always exciting.

Today was pretty low key--pack, drive, and relax. The girls had their faces painted and played. We're resting up for the big day tomorrow.

Here are the girls modeling their face art. Doodle has a seahorse, CeCee a full butterfly face, and Louie has a dolphin.

Is it Really a Sale if You Have to Buy 8 of Them?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In finishing up my Christmas shopping yesterday, I visited Bath & Body Works to get a couple of lotions to stuff inside another present. Now I admit that I'm an infrequent customer; I like their products, but their sales model annoys the (insert the hot place of your choice here) out of me. This visit only reinforced my opinion of them.

Kanani, I love coupons, and I have one for $10 off a $30 purchase. I figure I can buy my gifts and maybe a little something for me. But then I start looking at the prices. I remember pulling an $8 price sticker off a bottle of lotion to use as a gift I mailed off last month (I bought the lotion a while ago, on sale, but still). Now that same lotion is listed at $10.50. My favorite body butter used to be $9, and now it lists at $14! I know inflation is hurting everyone, but I fail to see how this improves business. Next to the overpriced signature collection, there is a promotional sign: "Sale! 7 for $35". I only need two or three bottles, but at $10.50 each, it's obviously "cheaper" to buy seven. I suppose I can stock up for future gifts and for the all of next year. I pick seven of my favorites.

At the register, the clerk informs me that the body butters and washes are not part of the promotion, even though they are on the same display :-(. I go back and have another look; the sign does say that, but in very small, faint print. Guess I'll stock up on still more lotion. I also find a cute, tinted lip gloss, so I add it to the armload and head back to the register.

When I reach the counter, I can't find my coupon! I see a stack of $10 off coupons sitting right next to the clerk at the register.

"I have a $10 off $30 purchase coupon, but I can't find it," I say. I drop my bags and dig through my purse full of receipts, gum wrappers, and tic tacs. I find some fruit snacks and an unopened sucker from Halloween, but no coupon. Maybe if I bribe her, she'll give me one from her stack.

She is just standing there, looking at me. I can't believe she isn't going to offer me one of her coupons sitting just inches from my hand!

"Guess I'll have to come back after I find my coupon," I say. I close my purse and gather up the other shopping bags.

She finally caves, "Actually, today, we're giving out $10 off coupons with every purchase. If you buy just the lip gloss, I can give you a coupon to use on the lotions."

"Okay." I smile and hand her the gloss. She rings it up, then hands me the coupon. I half expect her to ask me if I want a bag for that! As she rings up the seven bottles of lotion, she adds, "Would you like another bottle of lotion. With this promotion, it's buy 7, get 1 free."

Of course I want my free one. Now I have eight bottles of lotion for $27.70, including tax. If I get invited to a gift swap this holiday season, I'm ready. Oh, and I found another $10 off a $30 purchase coupon in the bottom of my shopping bag; I might have to go back for some Fredric Fekkai.

A Colbert Christmas -- A New Tradition?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

James and I watched this on Sunday night. It might not have been the best Sabbath activity, but it had us rolling with laughter. Here are a couple of our favorite songs; you can see the rest on Comedy Central's Website.

Deer Season

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I've seen a few SUVs with this "camo-wrap" driving around. I wonder if they make one for the Toyota Prius--what a great Christmas present for James :-)

It's the opening weekend of Deer Season in Illinois. On Friday, Walmart was full of small groups of men pushing shopping carts full of assortments of snacks, ammo and camo-style clothes. I've never seen anything like it. I overheard a discussion of whether anyone could open a can of soda quietly. ("Ain't no way I'm drinking water out there," one guy said. The consensus was he could drink "pop" if he brought a bottle and opened it before going out into the field so the fizz wouldn't make any noise.) Surprisingly, no one had any beer in their carts.

We've seen a lot of hunters around our "neighborhood," scoping out places to hunt. I'm a little glad it's freezing cold outside--I don't really want my kids playing outside this week. Some of these hunters were scoping land much too close to houses, IMO.

I'm learning just how widespread the hunting culture is. I saw a little of it growing up in Arizona and Idaho, but because my dad wasn't a hunter, I guess I didn't notice the excitement surrounding deer season beyond getting a four-day weekend off school for the opening weekend. The pic on the side came in a catalog addressed to the former owner of our home (the USPS doesn't forward catalogs, so we can peer into Fred's shopping habits). I can't imagine anyone wearing this in a thicket for 12 hours waiting for a buck, but who knows? Or maybe this is for the gal who is waiting for her man to bring home a 12-point rack and wants to have fun later--no idea.

Updates on the House

Friday, November 21, 2008

I've meant to post photos of some of the work I've done on the house, but never seem to think about it until a room is too messy. Yesterday, CeCee was home with me being sick (Wednesday, she was genuinely sick with the stomach flu, this time it was the not-really-sick-but-not-quite-well-enough-to-go-to-school-until-the-bus-has already-left kind of sick), so her job was to clean the toy room. And luckily, I remembered to take a photo during the 5 minutes or so that it was tidy.

My biggest project this month has been window treatments. The previous owner built this house himself, and gave the house some lovely, large windows. Unfortunately, he was also a single guy and he loved vertical blinds. I HATE vertical blinds. They're ugly, they're flimsy, and they have no insulating value at all. When our recent cold spell (please tell me it's just a cold spell and not that will suffer through this all winter) hit, we learned that we need more than vertical blinds to keep the house comfortable, so I had the license I needed to drape the whole house. The big windows in the great room presented some challenges. There are two french doors flanking the fireplace, with no room for a panel in the middle. With decorator's fabric being so expensive, I chose to buy lined panels, then rip out the seams and customize them to fit the windows. It was about the same amount of work as sewing them from scratch, but I do like the end result. The pics below are the great room, but I've done the same process with the bedroom and basement windows--all are oversized.

Our New Baby

Thursday, November 20, 2008

One of the wonderful perks of my job has been that I've never been without a laptop computer. In fact, earlier this year, I had 4 Thinkpads and a MacBook Pro. Talk about spoiled, I know, but I really used them--okay most of them--for work. Even during my leave of absence (or LOA in IBM-speak), I have the use of a T-60, so that I can connect to work email, the intranet, and such.

With that ending, I had to buy my first personal computer ever. I wanted another laptop (because I have that bad habit of surfing in front of the television), but realistically I knew this purchase needs to be a family computer, and a laptop simply isn't sturdy enough for that.

The runner-up choice was the new Sony Vaio. The idea of an all-in-one TV and computer really appeals to me, and if this was going to be a kitchen computer, it would certainly have one. Unfortunately, my friend, Gene, warned me that the Vaio has a bad repair record, so it lost.

As a result, I want to introduct you the newest addition to our family, Daisy. She's a 24 inch iMac. Of course I maxed out everything in options, because who knows when we're going to splurge on another computer, and I won't get the IBM discount next time.

The girls are in love with Daisy. This is the first they've realized that you can play games on a home computer--before that they could only play at the library or school because the computers at home were for work only.

Unlike Swishy, I'm not having a rough time adjusting to the Mac, though I already miss a few things from my PC. I purchased VMWare Fusion; I just need to find time to install it and can switch between PC and Mac as needed (or so I hope).

The "Resource Action"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On October 30, my manager, Pablo, called me at my house. I asked if I could phone him back, as I was on speaker and couldn't find a handset. He awkwardly said he was traveling and would call again in a couple of minutes. As I found the handset, I remembered ,"Pablo doesn't know my home phone number." Sure enough, he had tried calling the cell phone, but I hadn't heard it. I realized what was up just as the phone rang again. I answered and he started with the script, "Due to the need to rebalance skills, eliminate redundancies, and deliver greater efficiencies, the North America Sales and Distribution is announcing a resource action...including you."

Happy Halloween! Except, this scary thing was real. I tried to listen as he finished his script, but it really was a blur, and his reading was very monotone. I didn't have any questions, and the packet he overnighted me had all the details spelled out. It even has its own acronym: USRA (US Sales Resource Action), so it must be official.

In thinking about things, I can see why I was included in they layoffs. I hadn't been happy with my job ever since Pablo took over as my manager a year ago, and now as a non-contributing (although non-paid as well) employee, I would be the most logical choice to bump off the team. Sadly, I was one of three (from a team of eight) who were "resourced." The resource action includes 230 employees from Software Sales. We have 30 days to find a new position inside the company, or to accept the package of 2 weeks pay for every year with the company, to a maximum of 26 weeks.

In my situation, all the reasons I decided to take a leave of absence are still in place. I'm not at all ready to work full-time again, much less start a new position right now. I'll take the package and consider it a nice windfall, then look for a new job somewhere when I'm ready to enter the workforce again. Unfortunately, I keep learning of friends/coworkers who are also losing their jobs, and they aren't in as good a position.

My biggest loss is my identity as a Lotus/IBM employee. 12 years is a huge chunk of my life. I'm still a stockholder, but it's going to take a little while to get the Lotus Yellow out of my blood, if you know what I mean. If nothing else, my house is full of IBM gear I've accumulated. Without checking, I could only guarantee that the kids' bathrooms are free of stuff I've accumulated courtesy of work. On second thought, I do have hotel soaps and shampoos in there from business trips.

So, that's the news that I've needed to get out there. Unfortunately, it's prevented me from keeping up on postings, but I needed to muse on things a while before I could type this out.

My Worst Nightmare...

Monday, October 27, 2008

I got this from a girlfriend least I THINK she's still my friend :-)

Luckily, both James and I have already voted absentee, in MO. Next week, we can stoke up the fireplace, get out the popcorn, and watch CNN for the results.

Vulture Fest

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

We attended Makanda's premier (meaning only) fall event, Vulture Fest, last weekend.

Today, I had my own vulture fest. I was driving along our road when I came across more than a dozen vutures (I"m not exaggerating), feasting on a deer by the side of the road. My first thought was of the Brown family's roadkill game, The second was that I needed my camera.

I drove back, but when I got out, those wily vultures flew into the trees. I hid about twenty yards away behind a neighbor's trees, but they knew I was nearby. (How could they smell me over the rank deer?) Most of them glared at me from the trees and wouldn't come back down, while a few circled angrily overhead. After about 5 minutes (poor Louie was waiting inside the van and even the Backyardigans CD can only entertain her for a so long), I got impatient and snapped what I could. The photos aren't gory because 1-- I wasn't interested in getting closer for a photo of a nasty, partially consumed carcass, and 2-- I couldn't get the vultures to flock over it again. It looked like something out of Animal Planet, but it was just down the street. It's hard to tell from the pictures, but the black vultures and turkey vultures here have a wingspan of about 5-6 feet; they're very big birds.


Monday, October 20, 2008

I believe in "hands off" parenting, but wonder if I use it to excuse neglecting my children sometimes.

Today, I arrived to pick up Louie from pre-k just as the kindergarten classes marched outside for recess. I lurked in the van and spied on my twins. CeCee skipped and happily bumped into her girlfriends, but Doodle was the last one, walking with her head downturned. I decided to surprise her with a hug and went out to "bump into" her on my way to the building. As I approached, I heard sobs and saw the playground monitor send her back inside.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"My tooth is bleeding," Doodle sobbed.

Unprepared me had left my purse in the van. Doodle didn't want to wait for a tissue and went back to her teacher for comfort. The monitor told me she had been bothered by the tooth all day. I vaguely remembered that she had been complaining that a tooth hurt last night and this morning when she brushed her teeth. I'd told her I couldn't do anything for hurt teeth (I didn't even pause to look at her mouth--I was more concerned about catching the bus). As loose as the tooth was, I probably could've extracted it last night and saved her from a miserable day, and she wanted her teacher to help her instead of me :-(

I have memories of the techniques my own dad used to remove our teeth. He was proud of his extraction skills. One time he pinned me down and used pliers on me, despite my worries of germs. Another time, he tied a string around the tooth and slammed a door to pull it out. He even reached in with his own fingers and yanked out a tooth before I could protest (and despite all this, I was never wise enough to keep my loose teeth a secret from him). I worried whether I would be able to even get my hands into her sore mouth, or if it was overkill to make a dentist appointment.

While waiting for the bus to bring Doodle and CeCee home, I Googled the best way to extract loose tooth, and found a handy home dentist kit. Unfortunately, I didn't find any method to easily remove the tooth myself--the best advice I found was the neglectful approach I'd already taken.

The bus brought home a very happy Doodle, minus one tooth. Her teacher (no doubt very experienced with loose teeth), looked in Doodle's mouth and asked her to wiggle it. Then, the teacher gave it a quick tug with a tissue and out it came.

As Doodle proudly showed me her mouth, the new tooth was already well on its way into the space--it's a wonder it hadn't pushed out the baby tooth sooner.

Guess the tooth fairy will be making her debut to our house tonight.

School Carnival

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Our next-door neighbors from St Louis came to visit for the weekend, and we had a great time. It was also the night of the school carnival, their first chance to wear their Halloween costumes.

At the Pumpkin Patch

Saturday, October 11, 2008

James' parents are visiting, and we have a four-day weekend from school (woohoo!). We visited the local pumpkin patch today, and here are some pics for you to enjoy!

Having fun sitting on pumpkins.

They had these giant tubs of corn, similar to sand boxes, perfect for playing in.

And we even wandered through the corn maze.

Having a D'Oh Day.

Friday, October 3, 2008

In preparing for our first house guests (James' parents), one of the most important and necessary repairs involved installing a hand rail on our open stairs. I read up about how to install, and went to the home improvement store to buy the parts. Unfortunately, I didn't think about how I would haul two 12 foot hand rails home. When I got to the van, I put them in at an angle, and they fit "perfectly", with no room to spare. Smugly I shut the back hatch and went to drive home. That was my first d'oh moment.

I drove home and made an appointment with the Glass Doctor (their real name) for a new windshield (sigh).

The second very needed item was a bed for them to sleep in. Because I waited until the last moment, that meant a trip to Sam's so I could haul the bed home myself rather than wait for a store to take their sweet time to deliver. I maneuvered through the store with my full mattress, box spring and other necessities and paid, then went out to the car and had my second d'oh moment. It didn't fit!

Mind you, I'm the sort of person who MAKES things fit. I fit a family of 5 in a 1080 square foot house for way too many years. I even carry a tape measure in my purse--fat lot of good it did me today since I didn't use it!

Luckily, the mattress bent into the bed of the van, but I had to tie the box spring on top using rope I keep in my emergency kit, and luckily I paid attention to the knot certificiation courses I took at girls' camp years ago, since the stock guys who "helped" me load this didn't know the first thing about how to tie it on.

The 20-mile drive home from Sam's took me nearly an hour. I had this horrible mental image of the box spring flying off the top of the van and striking the car behind me, so I didn't dare drive faster than 40 the whole way. I was probably a traffic menace--on the back roads here, even tractors would have passed me (luckily, I didn't encounter any).

Fortunately, the day ended well. My in-laws will have a place to sleep and won't fall down the stairs. I have to post a picture of my (not quite finished) stair well, as I'm so pleased with the way it turned out. It previously had the typical ugly fake wood paneling on the wall. I primed and applied knock-down texture to it, then painted it a dark orange. In this picture, you can see the primed, but not yet textured and painted wall below the stairs, where the kids have their "cave".

Fine Dining

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This is the closest "eating establishment" to our new home (about 4 miles north). It shares a parking lot with McDonalds and is attached to a gas station. That should've clued me in, but yesterday I was filling up the car and decided to go in to check the place out.

Swishy would be excited to know that the place has free Wifi, and there were even a couple of people sitting in booths with laptops. The place had the honest, greasy smell of a KFC or Popeyes.

Then I went to the counter and looked at the menu.

Chicken Livers and Gizzards? No thanks. I'll just have a Diet Coke. Unfortunately, the gal at the counter wasn't very excited that I snapped a picture of the menu and only purchased a drink. Like I'm going to send it to the competition! I didn't think she noticed the camera as there was a long line at the register.


Monday, September 22, 2008

On September 3rd, while we were still homeless and staying at the Hampton Inn, I took the girls and our cat, Cricket, to visit the new house for our walkthrough and to let the piano movers in.

I had hoped to let Cricket get some much needed fresh air while the maid cleaned our room, but as soon as we got out of the car, a black kitten was crying in the bushes. He ran out to greet us, and was rubbing our legs, just begging for love. He had flea bites all over his ears and looked very hungry.

Fred said, "I see you've met Dammit. I saw him just after the workers stepped through the attic floor and fell through the garage ceiling (He'd already fixed the ceiling, but we need to paint it.), so the name seemed appropriate." Fred thought someone had dumped the cat here, and as much as he didn't want a pet, he felt sorry for it and fed it. Once you feed a cat, well, it's not going to leave.

We moved in and the kitten stuck around. After a flea/tick treatment, I let the girls play with him. We named him Tangle, after the way he always manages to get underfoot (with my cast, it was nearly impossible to walk without kicking him). He's a sweet cat--unfortunately Cricket still hates him. She's become an inside cat; she pretty much refuses to go outside with him around, and hisses whenever she sees him.

Our girls absolutely love Tangle. He's the most tolerant cat I've ever seen. He lets them maul him and haul him around, and he always comes back for more. He even walks with them to the bus stop.

James isn't keen on our new pet (neither is Cricket--first time those two have agreed on anything), but like it or not, we have a new family member!

Pictures: 1- First day of school, when
Tangle was still "that stray kitten." 2- Ready for a bike ride. 3- On the back deck.

Back to Blogging

Sunday, September 21, 2008

After a month away from my blog, I suppose I should get back to blogging, or I'll get so far behind I'll never catch up.

This move was more difficult than I expected it to be. Note to self--next time we are hiring movers! After 8 years in our old house, I just didn't realize how much STUFF we (more realistically, I) had accumulated. We rented a 24-foot truck (the largest truck available) and it didn't begin to hold everything. Most frustrating--we loaded it and misjudged the amount of room needed for our mattress. It had to stay in our neighbor's garage for two weeks until James rented another truck to retrieve the rest of our stuff from storage. We slept on an airmattress during that time.

For the most part, we're no longer living out of boxes, but there are still plenty of boxes of things I need to find homes for. Our living room furniture so far consists of our piano, coffee table, and rug. We've ordered a sofa and loveseat, which will hopefully arrive in a month or so.

The girls are all in school and having a great time. The best part of this is that it gives me a few hours of alone time to work on projects. Now I just need to carve out time to blog as well.

Last Day of Work...

Friday, August 22, 2008

I've worked at the same IT company for 12+ years! I never thought I would stay anywhere for so long. I still remember when I went to Cambridge for my interview--they asked me what I saw myself doing 10 years from then, and what my goals where. I replied, "I don't know. I always just worked somewhere as long as I like it, then when I don't like it anymore, I find something else." Since James was going to grad school, I told them I expected to work there four years.

I did stay there four years, but when it came time to move, I didn't end up leaving the company. My hiring manager, Peter, had a fit when he found out I was planning to accept a job at MasterCard and he found me an internal job in St Louis. I remember having a phone interview, but I also remember the manager, Jacques, telling me he was going to hire me (during the interview!), so it was really a formality. I also remember Jacques asking would I working from home, as St Louis only had a mobility center?

For the past 8 years, I've been a mobile employee--the greatest blessing for a working mom, but a curse of its own making. I could fold laundry during team meetings and load the dishwasher while talking with a coworker. I could change a diaper between instant message chats. I could cook dinner and not sign off while I waited for someone in Asia to start their day and get updates from them. The flexibility to work at all hours sometimes meant I was finishing up work at 2 am. Our house is so small that the living room sofa has been my office, which meant that my Thinkpad would beckon me to log on and check email when I came home from the movies, or just before going to bed, which would crept into an extra hour or two online. My work-life balance was out of whack, and I was largely to blame. I would lie awake at night, unable to shut off work. I drew a line with the Blackberry; I couldn't avoid my cell phone and laptop so I knew with the Blackberry things would only be worse.

As my girls got older, they started to resent my job, particularly business trips. They learned about my telephone and headset and that it was useless to try and talk to me if I was typing or on the phone. They asked why other mommies watched their children at gymnastics and ballet lessons while they had a nanny and later attended full-day preschool, and I didn't have a good answer for them. I tried to explain how some other mommies have to work in an office all day, and they are lucky to have a mom that gets to be home with them (when she isn't leaving on an airplane to go on business trips). I don't think they felt very lucky.

When we learned that James was hired at SIUC last April, I knew this move and the resulting changes in our lifestyle over the next year would be too much for me to juggle with the load I already carry. The thought of leaving my 12 years of seniority (and the 5 weeks off each year) was daunting. I realistically need only 1 or 2 years off, and I don't want to start over here, or anywhere, but I thought I'd have to quit anyway. I was wrong.

I learned that my company has a personal leave of absence option. Several of my friends explained the process to me, and encouraged me to take this option. Basically, I take a period of unpaid time off from work, then when it's time to come back, I look for a new job inside the company and continue where I left off. I get to keep my email address and my intranet access, so I don't have to be completely out of the industry and anyone hiring me gets the benefits of an internal hire, rather than having to get approval to hire outside the company. I even get my health benefits while I'm out.

I explained to my kids about my not working after we move, and Doodle's response was "Then why are we going to kindergarten? We can just stay home with you!"

Fast forward to the title of this post. This was the big, last day before I take a week of vacation (yeah right--packing to move is NOT vacation), and slip off into the sunset. I thought about just going on leave without any announcement--so much easier than explaining why I'm leaving. I put a little post on our internal team blog, and then decided I should at least write a semi-personal "so long", just to my closer work friends so they don't wonder what's up when they get an out-of-office response to their emails. I started thinking of who needs a notice, and 63 names later, sent out the post. I'm sure I managed to forget someone.

Today has been a very emotional day--so many positive wishes from friends and coworkers. I even cried a little. This is a big, scary step for me, but I know it's the right decision, and I'm so grateful to have this option. I can take a year to be a good mom/wife and get my family in a good place. Plus, I'll have the luxury of taking the time to figure out what I really want to be when I "grow up", rather than just taking the next open position or flitting to the next project because I can do it. Then I'll come back a much happier, and productive employee.

Things are better...

Fred read our ultimatum about the septic tank, and decided that if we give him the storage shed in the yard, he would pay the balance of the cost to replace the system.

Dee found out that James was living in a campground and kindly offered him a free place to stay in a rental house she's rehabbing (just in time as it's rained the past 3 days).

Things are moving along. We won't be homeless except for the one night I booked at the Hampton Inn.

I'm feeling much better now.

Our Septic System, a.k.a. The Pit of Disrepair

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I keep reminding myself; I'm excited for our upcoming move. Really. Just 15 days to go. Unfortunately, the stresses of work, broken foot, single parenthood (James has started working; he's living in a tent at a campground outside Carbondale and comes home on weekends), selling this home, packing, getting the kids ready for school in Carbondale, moving, and buying the new home are starting to wear on me. Amazingly, today was the first time I've been truly angry (okay, the second if you count PAH), and so far I've managed to not lose my temper.

Our realtor, Dee, has been great. This is our first full-blown homebuying/selling at the same time experience. (We rented our current home before we bought it from the landlord--so easy!) She was very reserved while we were shopping, but once we made an offer on this house, she has driven the whole process and we just couldn't have made it this far without her.

One new aspect of our impending rural life is having a septic tank, since we won't be living in an incorporated town, with a sewer system. No big deal, I thought. I was wrong.

We paid $175 for the Jackson County Health Department to do a septic inspection. Unfortunately, the system flunked completely. The septic system is 30 years old; not only did it fail the inspection, but we learned that this system was sized for a 4 bedroom house. It was even repaired to make it smaller than the standard 4 bedroom system. The home we offered money on was listed as a 6 bedroom house. The seller, Fred, had to have been stunned, as he built this house himself, and has kept it in very good condition. He's been living alone in the home, so one guy isn't going to tax the system to the extent that a family of 5 will. (As part of this whole buying/selling game, the owners and sellers don't talk to each other directly--we go through our realtors. It's silly, but I guess it keeps us from calling one another nasty names in person.) Of course, our lender won't let us buy a home where the septic has failed, so this has to be addressed before we can close on the house.

After some thinking and discussion, we realized we want a new system. We don't want to inherit an undersized, 30-year-old system that has been repaired, only to have the headache and expense of replacing it next time it fails.

The next stage of the game was waiting to hear what Fred was going to do about the septic system. Dee spoke to Fred's realtor, Lyn, and we learned that Fred planned to just repair the old system. He had recently spent $500 to fix the septic system, but he used an unlicensed contractor who had done sub-standard work. Dee said that we want a new system to comply with a 5 bedroom house (a compromise on our part, but we felt badly about the septic failing), and she reminded Lyn that this house was listed as a 6 bedroom house. "Well, a 4-6 bedroom house," Lyn replied. "No, a 6 bedroom house. We owe it to these buyers to deliver what was advertised" Dee answered.

In the meantime, we waited for estimates for the repair and replace options. The estimate we received for a 5 bedroom compliant system was $4875. We wrote a letter, rejecting Fred's repair offer, and countered that we want a new septic system that is the correct size. We even offered to pay $2500 of the replacement cost, to try and soften the blow.

Today we received two frustrating pieces of news. First, the estimate was incomplete--it didn't include removing and disposing of the old septic system (like we want to have that sitting around) or filling in the old hole (we don't want a giant hole in our yard--we already have one pond!). Dee asked what the full cost would be, and got another incomplete estimate of $5585; doing the math, we think it's going to be ~$6000. Second, Fred countered that he would only spend up to $2500 towards replacing the septic system.

We have to have this septic disaster fixed within two weeks, and during good weather (of course the forecast is 4 days of rain starting on Thursday), and we're wrangling over dollar amounts for something that is the seller's responsibility to begin with!

James and I wrote our last letter to Fred this afternoon. $2500 is our final offer, to get us a new, 5-bedroom-compliant septic system. In the letter, we asked him to let us know soon if he rejects this, as we will need to go home shopping again. It's scary to think that we may be homeless in two weeks. If we don't close on 9/3, our loan approval is invalid and we'll have to apply again for a loan. It's also sickening to think of the money we will have wasted on a house we didn't buy.

As for Fred, his septic system will still have failed; he'll have to fix it/replace it before he can put it on the market, AND he will have to (if he's ethical) relist the house as a 4 bedroom property, which will significantly lower the market value. His home has been on the market since March 1st, and he's had it off the market for a month while we've tried to buy the place. He has already built himself a new home, so right now he's paying two mortgages. Talk about a lose-lose situation if this septic system breaks our agreement.

The Pyscho Appraiser from Hades

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ok, the psycho appraiser really lives in Marion, but he acts like he's from Hades...

One of the gazillion things that goes into buying a home is that it needs to be appraised so the lender knows the house is worth the amount they're loaning you (go figure).

We had the new house in Makanda appraised last week, and expect to hear the results today. So we were suprized to get a phone call at 7:20 am yesterday from an appraiser asking us how he could get into the house to appraise it. James told him he needed to call our realtor, (I'll call her Dee)--it's not like we have a key, and we live 2 hours away.

Later, Dee called to tell me we had a problem. It turns out that appraiser was not the one who appraised ths house last week, but a second one. Since each appraisal costs upwards of $300 and we have to pay for this, we certainly don't want to get another bill.

The first thing I did was call my lender, to see if they had ordered this second appraisal. They said no, that the first one was complete and was due tomorrow (now today).

Then, I used caller ID to call the appraiser directly (I'll call him PAH since"Pscyho Appraiser from Hades" and Mephistopheles take too long to type). What a rude shock. I identified myself as the home buyer and asked why he was trying to appraise the house, also telling him that our lender had not ordered a second appraisal. In short, he told me that there was nothing I could do about it, to not "take it personal", but he had an order and was going to appraise it, and I would pay for it regardless. "That's life." he told me.

He shouldn't have told me there was nothing I could do about it.

I called Dee again, and found out this appraiser has a history of causing problems for realtors in the area (in fact, he was the only realtor Dee specifically didn't want to deal with, and we had asked our lender to not use him. Regardless of the agreed on selling price, PAH wants to make a statement, and always assesses the home value as $15K less. This often creates problems in securing a loan on the house. He has a personal quest to lower the "inflated" property values in Carbondale.

I wasted a good portion of the day, hearing from Dee that PAH was repeatedly calling her and the seller's agent to get into the house. The seller's agent actually went to the house and removed the lock box so he couldn't get into the house, and all of Dee's agency were under strict orders to not give him a key to the place. PAH even phoned later that afternoon and pretended to be a buyer who wanted to tour the house (he fessed up when Dee told him it was under contract and not open for showings) while I tried to reach my lender to find out exactly what was going on, and to make sure I wasn't going to pay for a second appraisal.

Finally, the lender called me back. It turns out PAH had originally won the bid to assess our house, but when our loan agent found out about his history, she canceled his order and gave it to a different assesssor (this was back on 8/4). Why he had waited this long after the canceled order to try and assess the house is a mystery. I told the loan agent about his attitude with me, and how he was trying to trick my agent into letting him in, she said she was going to make sure he would never get any business from their company again. She wrote an email and told me that he had been contacted and told to stop.

I guess there was something I could do after all.

Relearning How to Walk

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Yesterday, I visited the doctor to have the purple cast removed. Unfortunately, the broken bone STILL hasn't healed, so I have ANOTHER six weeks in a walking boot.

This time, the nurse who removed my cast, actually managed to cut my skin! I told her it felt like the cutter was cutting me, and she stopped, but told me the cutter couldn't cut skin and not to worry. When she pried the cast apart, we discovered an inch-long razor-thin line on my calf. It stings about like a paper cut. She felt so bad, but I think more than anything, she was afraid that Bones would notice it. (I think he intimidates her too.) She said he'd give her a lot of grief if he found out. I told her he wasn't even going to be looking at my calf. I was right--he never noticed, and the nurse was so grateful that I didn't tell him.

I'll spare you the icky photo I took of my two feet together, but let me say that I simply don't recognize my broken foot anymore. I can't believe that it's possible for a foot to be both shrunken and swollen at the same time, but that's what has happened.

Now that I have the walking boot or Aircast, (here it is, looking like an off-color Stormtrooper boot) I'm supposed to begin walking. Problem is, after six weeks of not walking, I can't manage to let myself put any weight on the broken foot. I get all strapped up, and I can trust myself to stand on both feet, but as soon as I go to take a real step and put significant weight on the broken foot, I freeze up. My mind just won't let me walk and I end up doing a modified step-hop. As a compromise, I'm still using the crutches to hold half of my weight and "walking" while I crutch around. Eventually I'll get over this aversion, but especially knowing the bone is still fractured, I just can't bear it yet.

Another problem I have is the height of the walking boot sole. At the doctor's office, Bones said that ordinary sneakers would be fine, but that it's important for the heels to be the same height to avoid messing up my walking gait. Unfortunately, going through my closet, I've discovered that nothing is the right height. I have 3 pairs of sneakers--all are too low. I'm not about to try and wear heels, and my flip-flops won't work either. My sister, Karen, had a walking cast last winter, and she recommends Dansko clogs. (Clumsiness runs in my family--we have a total of 8 broken bones among us, although I have the others beat as this is my 3rd fracture.) Guess I get to go shoe shopping, but it's a bummer that it will have to be for "sensible" shoes.

First in Google

Friday, August 8, 2008

I'm so excited--I just learned that Googling myself (it sounds obscene doesn't it?), finally lists this blog first!

It used to be that searching for my name gave a bunch of boring technical papers and presentations I gave for work. More recently, my Facebook profile came first.

Seeing this new change, I feel like my blog has finally "arrived". I heart Google. I don't understand the algorithms it uses, but it sure is smart.

Elec-Trak and the Mystery of the Missing Mail Box

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

We're getting very excited about our upcoming move (just 28 more days), making all kinds of crazy plans for our new digs. My tree-hugging husband bought a non-working, 30 year old electric tractor off ebay (he's really sad that our current rechargeable electric mower can't handle 2 acres, and can't bear to go back to a gas-guzzling mover), so I guess I know what he'll be doing all winter--hanging out in the barn, pretending to fix his toy, and shopping online for the add-ons that go with it..

Here it is on the left. I can't wait til it
runs, and I hope it doesn't give anyone tetanus in the meantime.

During our visits to the new place, I haven't found a mailbox--anywhere. No house numbers either. Perhaps the current owner has always used a PO box, but I needed to know if I could actually forward mail to the new address and put up a mailbox, or if not, I need to rent a PO Box so I can start the process of forwarding, etc.

I called the Makanda Post Office this morning, and explained that I'm moving to Makanda, to a house that doesn't currently have a mailbox. The woman on the other end of the phone asked "Where are you moving?" I gave her the address and she said, "Oh, Fred's house. I think he does have a mailbox, you probably just couldn't find it."

I thought, how could I have missed the mailbox--was it hiding in the grass, or in the trees somewhere? In the meantime, she was talking with someone at the post office, and she said, "Here, let me give you to the mail carrier for that route; he can explain." Wow. I call a phone number for a government building, immediately get a live person on the other end (no automated menu), who knows not only where I'm talking about, but the person who lives there, AND I get to talk to the mail carrier directly?

Then the mail carrier explained that the mailbox for our house is around the corner and down the street. "It's the one on the furthest left," he said. "If you go there, you'll be able to find it; it's labeled. If you want to move your mailbox to the street in front of your house, you can do that, but then you'll have to call the Carbondale post office and tell them to start delivering your mail, as your side of the street is a Carbondale rural route."

This is so strange--apparently we get to choose which town and which ZIP code to deliver our mail. The spot the mailman described is only about 50 feet from our driveway, so I think we'll survive the walk. Still, I'm entertained that we're moving to an area where everyone knows one another.

If you want something done right, ask a nurse

Monday, August 4, 2008

A week ago, I told you the saga of my STD. First, here's the way NOT to get things fixed.

I called Bones's office and asked for him to call me back. 3 hours later he did and his answer was "I filled out the report according to my assessment of your injuries; it's not my problem if your employer decided you have to take disability."

When I talked with my manager, Pablo, he obviously didn't like this answer. He reminded me that going on disability means that the work I've done for the past month won't be able to officially count, meaning I will not get any quarterly bonus. He said I need to have Bones revise the report, and he acted skeptical that a doctor wouldn't want to fill out more paperwork. I really wanted to invite him to talk to Bones himself, but decided against it.

After that, I called the Employee Services Center nurse (the one who wrote me the letter about my STD :-) ), who assured me that this kind of mess happens all the time. If it happens all the time, that doesn't reassure me; it tells me there is a problem with the process. She advised me to go back and this time, talk to Bones's nurse--she could write up a note detailing that I'm okay to do basic office work, just no business-related travel. Then all Bones has to do is sign it.

Feeling very sneaky, I called the office back, and this time I asked to talk to the nurse. I explained the predicament to her, and feeling much less intimidated, asked if she could write up the letter, have Bones sign it and then fax it to corporate. She kindly agreed.

I haven't heard back from corporate, but it looks like my "recovery" is well underway.

UPDATE ON 8/5: I just got another note from corporate--apparently the note did NOT work. Now I have the worst of both scenarios--I am on STD until today, meaning my work for the past month didn't count AND I'm expected to be working from here on out. Of course both the doctor's office and the Employee Services Center are closed, so this will AGAIN have to wait until tomorrow.

UPDATE ON 8/6: I wrote a note to the corporate nurse, saying I have been working for the past month, so obviously I never took the STD that this letter indicates. The new end date seems completely arbitrary, since I still have a cast on my foot. Surely there's some way we can fix this on our end, rather than depend on a doctor who is uncooperative and doesn't know what to write to satisfy the small modification I need for work.

This morning I logged in to find a reply: "I have made a notation in your file indicating you have been working at home w/approval from management. Your case is closed."


My MTR gave me a STD, and my ADD

Monday, July 28, 2008

Exactly one month ago, I broke my foot (curse you, cute sandals!!!). The following workday, I send an email to my manager (I'll call him Pablo--the poor guy is on vacation), telling him of the broken foot and that I'd be OOO (out of the office) that day to see the orthopedic surgeon (I'll call him Bones). He calls me (from vacation--yes, he's a crackberry addict) with the appropriate shock and sympathy, but terrible timing; I am searching for a parking spot outside Bones's office. I promise to call him back after the appointment, when I have more news.

I come out of the Bones's office with a cast and a handicap parking permit (I have my priorities straight--you bet I'm milking this), and phone Pablo with the update--6 weeks in a hard cast followed by 4 weeks in a walking boot. After giving me the appropriate amount of sympathy, he asks what limitations this will have on my work. The obvious limitation is that I won't be going on business trips, but other than that, I really don't know. At this point, I'm still a new cripple. I say that I expect to be more tired than usual, and will likely be a little slower getting things done as I adjust. Pablo replies that I need to have my doctor fill out an MTR, "just to CYA, if a vice president starts wondering about your workload."

Most of my friends haven't discovered what many of my coworkers have long known; I suffer from ADD. Not the ADD you generally think of (though I'm probably guilty of that as well); in this case the diagnosis is Acronym Deficiency Disorder. And because I work for the largest computer company in the world (its common name is even an acronym), those acronyms fly fast and furiously around the workplace. We talk about TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) and FLAs (Four Letter Acronyms) and sadly, even our acronyms may have more than one meaning. I generally compensate for this by using a Sametime bot called "What is" that automatically lists all the possibilities for a given acronym (CYA spelled out = Cover Your Backside while "cya" in texting means goodbye; I won't tell you what I thought the first time someone ended a chat with BFN :-) ) Unfortunately, I am not a Blackberry user (despite many coworkers' and managers' attempts to assimilate me), and don't have a laptop available, so I just write down the acronym on my xray envelope so I can follow up later.

Back in my "office" (okay, it's really my livingroom sofa), I look up the MTR (Medical Treatment Report) I have to ask Bones to fill out. Unfortunately, it's not a well-written form. It's vague, and has large blank spaces where the Bones is supposed to describe my medical situation and work limitations. Bones's office is 40 minutes away with traffic (thanks to MoDot for closing the main freeway through town), and I don't feel very ambulatory, so I decide this can wait until my followup visit. Three weeks pass, I see the Bones for a new cast and give him the MTR to fill out and fax to corporate. Task complete.

Today, I get an email with my name, serial number and STD in the subject line. I don't THINK I have an STD. I open it to see that it's a CF (Certified Form) from from GWBS (Global Well Being Services) with notice that I have been approved for STD from 6/28/08 through 8/14/08. Trouble is, I don't WANT approval for an STD. Reading further, I see that STD means Short Term Disability. If I read this right, I haven't worked for the past month, and won't be returning to work for at least two weeks. Everyone knows that a broken leg wouldn't prevent me from stretching out on my sofa to type on my laptop and talk on the phone. I'm a mobile employee and work from home; it's just that I'm not very mobile right now. While I'm reading this and before I can process what it means, I get a ping from Pablo, "Can you talk?"

On the phone, I learn that this STD means I'm not only allowed to take time off, but not allowed to work until August 14th. Bones's recommendations are private (I'm not allowed to see what he wrote, and Pablo can't either). This can't be right. Can't I just say I'm happy to work even though Bones wrote otherwise? Aparently not. Pablo says that unless I have Bones revise the MTR, I'm on STD, and he will have to find someone to handle my work. He can't ask me to change that, but he knows this is ridiculous to think that I can't work.

But the problem is, well, Bones is ITSTL (Intimidating, To Say The Least). His examination rooms are full of degrees, certificates, and pictures of him operating on solders in Iraq. He has a handshake that can break your hand (and then he could set and cast that broken hand, if need be). Visits to Bones's office (I won't shorten that to BO, promise) consist of a friendly 15 minutes with a nurse, followed by 5 very efficient minutes with Bones. He can cast my whole foot and lower leg in less than 2 minutes! I come prepared with questions that seem important at the time I think of them, but in Bones's presence seem downright silly, and end up not getting asked. Shortly after getting my cast, I had an attack of CC (Cast Claustrophobia)--the cast was closing in on the foot, and I was feeling genuine panic; the toes were purple and cold and numb and I couldn't wiggle my foot into a comfortable position, and the itch was unbearable. After Googling my symptoms I worried that maybe I needed the cast refitted so I called the office. Bones response (with a large sigh): "You have a broken foot--what did you expect? If you have a problem with the cast, make an appointment and I'll cut you out and refit it." I haven't called back since. When I gave Bones the MTR, I nervously said that even though I know I can work, I need this to verify that I have a broken leg and can't go on business trips. It was sooo hard to get the guts together to ask him to fill out the MTR the first time, I just can't bear to ask him to revise it. I imagine him asking me what was wrong with it--since I didn't see it, I don't even know what was wrong with the report. I just know that I don't need an STD. What if Bones decides to revise the MTR to say that I made up the whole broken foot thing, or to say that I've become an excellent one-footed hopper (would that be an OFH?) and could fly to customer meetings on demand?

I ping my BFF coworker and tell her about my problem. She says I should suddenly decide I don't feel well, and that it has been a terrible struggle to try to work this past month. She does have a point--normally, I would love to have any extra time off. It's just the illegitimate time off thing that bugs me. I try calling the ESC (Employee Services Center--sadly, I'm not making these acronyms up, well, except for the ITSTL one). It's after hours and I'm stuck in a loop of recordings and menus. Like most things involving corporate, this isn't going to be resolved today.

PS: one fun thing about tagging this post is that anyone who Googles STD just might stumble across my blog :-)

New House

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Now that we have a signed offer on our house in St Louis, James and I finally feel ready to buy a house. On Friday, we made an offer on a house in Makanda, just about 5 miles south of the SIUC campus.

Here are some realtor images of the place:

Front of the house

Back Yard


Great Room

Basement family room.

If all goes according to plan, we'll close on this house on September 3rd (the twins' birthday). There are a bunch of things we'll need/want to fix in the house, but we're excited to have found a good house and to get started on our next adventure.

Caprice and Darcy have already started asking about their birthday; we told them they get new bedrooms and personal toilets for their presents this year (this house has 3 1/2 baths where our current home has just 1 tiny one).