A Gift-Giving Plea From This Parent

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Consumer Info, Kids, Our Kids, Too Long For Twitter

This was the best Christmas in a very long time, and I think the only Christmas that will top it will be when we can finally have all three of our sons together on Christmas morning. Other than that one shortcoming, I could not imagine a better day. It was pure heaven, from beginning end, in spite of some pain and anxiety.

My motivation for this post is not to describe the day in more detail or pontificate on what the true meaning of the holidays or tell you how you should have spent yours (hint: it’s different for everyone, so there is no right or wrong).

No, the intention of this post is to serve The Greater Good. My hope is to inform those with the kindest and most generous of intentions of a gift trap that some of us parents find ourselves in year after year, after year, after year.

It’s gift cards. The loving and thoughtful family and friends that give gift cards to my sons that they so genuinely appreciate are a bane of my existence. The day after Christmas is spent online determining the value and then buying those same gift cards off of them so that the items they are saving up for (a set of cymbals for LT’s drum kit at a mom and pop store in his home town and the necessary bits for Naughty Bear to build his own kick-ass gaming rig from various vendors) can be achieved.

Yes, indeed. It’s possible that the gift card at Target or Best Buy or WalMart will instead get buried in the wallets of the parents of the children you bought them for, after they shell out the face value so the kids can attain their saving goals sooner.

Should I do this every year? Maybe not. But when your kids are miserly in their saving for these expensive goals and being careful with every expenditure to find their way to what their hearts desire, they can think of nothing else to spend money on and it feels almost frivolous with where their minds are to extensively search for something to spend the card on.

Please, I beg of you, on behalf of other parents that may be finding themselves in the same boat as I am again this year, find out if the kids would prefer cash towards a large purchase they are planning. Especially if they are older than 10 or 11, because they will definitely be starting to set their eyes on more and more costly items at those ages.

Yes, they may spend a small portion frivolously instead at a movie theater or buying a pair of red jeans. But it *is* the holidays and if you are giving them cash value to buy something, why not just give them cash and make it easier for them? And their parents?

Happy Holidays to all that celebrate at this time of year, and Happy Monday to those that don’t. I sincerely wish each of you Dear Readers the very best health and happiness as this year comes to a close and we await the New Year.

Move Update: Nothing to Update

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Consumer Info, Friends, No Whining, Too Long For Twitter

Since our price drop a little while ago, we’ve had renewed interest in the house but still no offers. I am continually tweaking out about this, but remind myself that it’s only been on the market 2 1/2 months. While it makes me stabby, it would’ve been remarkable to have sold before now.

It seems insane that it hasn’t been longer, but when you’re doing constant scrub-downs on a house with 4 bathrooms (3 used continuously), a kitchen, 4 bedrooms (2 used continuously) and living spaces it gets exhausting really quickly. Plus, the last minute tidying every time I get notice that someone is wants to view it.

We’ve no choice on the need for the move and will keep the house on the market until it sells. Our realtor is being less communicative with us, but I’m addressing that this week.

I am glad to say that I no longer have to worry about having to move while L.T. is here, but there is potential that the house will sell and we’ll have to move over the holidays. This only stresses me minimally, as we hope to be in California over Christmas. If we can fund the trip to visit Chooch’s son and other family, it won’t be an issue if the Christmas tree is packed up with no ability to decorate.

On a related note, I’m happy to say that I have friends that either just finished or are in the process of buying new homes. It’s a wonderful, although stressful experience, and I wish all of them the best of luck. This is a much better market and I’m sure you’re getting a great deal on a great new chapter in your life. May your purchases go quickly and without drama, and let no bad happen!

Move Update with Pictures

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Consumer Info, Family, Household, No Whining

Brace yourself, kittens. I held off on posting photos because I wanted to see friend MAinPA’s reaction to the changes firsthand. Since she has come and gone, here they are. If you’ve been to our house, you’ll notice a HUGE change, specifically in the former living room/now sitting room. And most of the belongings that display who we are and what our interests are now reside in a 10′ x 10′ storage space a few miles away.

Welcome to our shame of living in a home free of personality and color.

Yes, the 65″ tv is in storage. And it was Chooch’s idea! The first reaction we typically get when folks enter the house is, “I had no idea you had windows there!” since the tv was placed in front of the windows in the now sitting room.

It doesn’t seem fitting to continue to call it “Our Big Paradise,” now it feels like we’re staying in a hotel that we have to constantly clean.

Ah, well. At least we have memories and pictures of how it used to be. And it will be much easier to move, whenever that is.

Home Ec 101 – Help For Your Housekeeping

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Consumer Info, Cooking, Cool Links / Clicky Linky, Household, No Whining

The majority of the house prep is done and our home has been listed for sale. Now it’s just a matter of knocking out the yard sale to clear the garage and we can sit back and wait for the offers to come rolling in. Oh, I forgot, we have to keep the house pristine for potential buyers while living in it with a large dog that drools and sheds a lot. No big deal, right?

The site Home Ec 101 first came to my attention, guessing here, when author Mur Lafferty tweeted about it at some point in 2010.  I looked into it and was immediately sucked in. It provides all sorts of information for those that may have never learned how to do the basics of cooking and cleaning and find themselves in need of guidance. The site also gives guidance on home repairs and laundry solutions. The site is not just for beginners, as I’ve been maintaining a home of my own for over 20 years and still find lots of useful information. There is even a section on cooking, with information for beginners, along with recipes and food safety.

From the site, “Home-Ec 101 is an attempt to reach average people and teach them the domestic arts that make life a little less expensive, a little easier, and a little more enjoyable.”  Blogger Heather Solos gives a slightly different take on how to get things done, and I enjoy it. You don’t get beaten up for not being Martha Stewart and it casts a realistic eye on the availability of time and funds of American families.

My very favorite thing about the site? The cleaning schedule. When I first perused the site I jumped at a pre-made, no thought needed schedule for keeping the house clean. I fell off the schedule during the Christmas rush, but now that my home is clean and needs to stay that way, I’m back on the program.

It’s simple and straight-forward, although not easy. Yesterday was laundry catch-up and bedding day, and since I was otherwise occupied for most of the weekend, that means pretty a LOT of laundry had to be caught-up. I didn’t finish (four bedrooms and not being well), so I’m rolling it in to today’s tasks, which includes cleaning the floors and a 15 minute quick pick-up and smudge patrol.

There is a standard set of tasks to do every day, along with items like those listed above added on top. I really enjoyed the results when I did it before, and like everything else, consistency is what will make it a success or a failure. Miss one or two days and you can catch up easily without a major re-cleaning. More than that and you’d better put some real time aside. Being back on this schedule will also prevent me from feeling like I have to obsess for hours every day, just in case we’re lucky enough to have someone interested in viewing our house.

And while customization of the list may be needed to fit your individual households, it’s a great place to get into the mind set of keeping things tidy.

**Thanks to Mia for noticing the schedule posted in my kitchen, as it reminded me to share the site here. I hope you find it as useful as I have.**

Move Update ~ House Prep

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: 5k, Consumer Info, Household, No Whining

I’ve been working like mad, mad I tell you, trying to get the house ready for the arrival of the Realtor at 2 pm today, which you know if you follow me on Twitter. I’ve been a pain in the butt complaining about it, so you have my apologies. Doing what I can to stay sane with the accompanying dizziness, migraines and nausea for such high stress levels as I’m running.

I’ve had no exercise since Saturday’s 5k run. Did I write about that? I’ll check later. I know that’s seriously impacting my mood and I crave a good long run.

I’ve been eating all the right food, but am on a weird schedule and haven’t been tracking my Weight Watcher points. I only eat when I’m hungry, no more than once every four hours and I stop at a regular serving. Easy to do since I’m home and it’s all the same stuff. Weird thing is, I feel squishy and think I’ve gained weight this week. Again, no run since Saturday morning, and even with all this hard physical labor, it doesn’t seem to be maintaining me, let alone helping me lose.

I’ve only been able to nap the last few days, and wake in a panic to start working again. It’s kinda working, in that it’s the only thing I can manage right now. But, I’m sure that’s thrown my metabolism way out of whack.

Back onto a normal schedule after we get past this hurdle, and hopefully I can salvage the week, weight-wise. But if not, I’m cutting myself a damned break. I deserve it.

Useful Find for Travelers with Style

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Consumer Info, Convention Attendance, Cool Links / Clicky Linky, Friends

My husband and I have been overnight guests of friends quite a lot recently. At this point, the most time consuming part of packing is getting my usual grooming needs organized, partly because the big bottles take up so much space. I’ve gotten the cheap mini-bottles from Target before, but they aren’t labeled clearly enough to be useful or are cheap and fall apart quickly.

For a separate reason, I was wandering about in my dear friend’s nineteenOthree Etsy Store. She crafts beautiful boxes and travel cases, and I was hoping to have a peek at what she’s preparing for her booth at Balticon. While there, I discovered these bottles, and treated myself to them.

They are beautifully designed, but more importantly the full set of six manages all of my beauty product mischief. The labels are waterproof and clearly labeled, so even with soap in my eyes I should be able to tell the conditioner from the facial cleanser.

The photo below shows the set that I ordered, and they are perfectly sized for a long weekend away at a convention and even meet FAA requirements for liquid container size.  The care in packing and wrapping made it a treat to open, and although I’ve not yet used them, I’m already impressed with the quality of the product and recommend to any with such a need.

Click on the photo to go to Mia's Etsy Shop

 

I suggest you head over to nineteenOthree Etsy Store to peruse Mia’s beautiful inventory of cases, bottles and boxes, especially if steampunk or the Edwardian age call to your sense of style.

You will also find her selling her beautifully embellished wares at Balticon, Memorial Day Weekend. Bon voyage!

 

Relocating Casa de Blender

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Chooch, Consumer Info, Household, No Whining

We’ve been talking about moving for a long while now, but have been putting it off for a multitude of reasons. The biggest being our hopes that some treatment would actually work for me, that I’d be able to return to work, and our money problems would be eased. Since that hasn’t happened, and since I’m still seeking effective and/or consistent relief, we no longer have a choice. Our finances just can’t bear the situation we find ourselves in. No, you won’t find a chip-in donation site at the end of this, nor is this a plea for sympathy. I realize our situation is very similar to one that many find themselves in. I just wanted to update near and far friends on our situation since we’ve been tweeting about interviewing realtors and getting the house ready to sell.

I’ve found that since we plan on getting a house roughly half the size of our current home, we’ll very likely be able to live much closer to Chooch’s job. Besides a cheaper housing payment, it would save a substantial amount of money on gas (based on current and projected gas costs for this year and next), as well as wear and tear on the cars. Plus, the time he would recoup is astonishing. Not only will he be going from a 3 hour a day commute to less than an hour, he won’t have to miss a full day’s worth of work to take me to doctor appointments. Win!

Our bank/insurance company has a great program for buying/selling, so I contacted them and got referrals. I spoke with three realtors and spent Wednesday through Saturday morning purging junk and cleaning house. I was slowed by a few migraines and a dizzy spell, but still managed to make some decent progress. First steps anyway, we’ve still a ton to do.

We interviewed two realtors today, and have another scheduled tomorrow. After that, we select our realtor and begin the serious purge to empty out the house and get to staging it for showing. I’m a bit overwhelmed working on all this, but am rewarding myself with brief glimpses at potential properties closer to hubby’s work. I’m the type of mule that is very much motivated by a carrot at the end of a stick and seeing what’s out there in our lower price range is definitely helping. It won’t be huge or grand, but we’ll make it a home.

We’ll definitely be renting and not buying. You can’t feel trapped in a house the way we do (because of the current market) and immediately jump into another 30 year commitment. Plus, it will be nice to not have to pay for all the surprise repairs, such as the roof tiles and other stuff that cost us over $600 last month. And our happy surprise moments before Realtor 1 arrived? The dryer is not working now.

So if I seem extra cranky or tired, bear with me a bit. The reason we moved into our current home is five years gone, and this empty nest is too expensive to keep. For those in a similar situation, I wish you the best of luck. As we are now learning first hand just how nasty things are out there, we are also learning that there is hope. We’ve got our fingers, toes and eyes crossed on this one and we’re hoping for the best.

So that’s about it. I may detail our process in more detail, I may not. I’m not expecting it to be something I will ever want to read again, but if others can learn from us then I guess it would be worth it.

I’d love to be moved by the time LT gets here in June so we can maximize fun and minimize moving chaos during his time here, but I’m sure that’s just wishful thinking. A gal’s gotta hope, right?

Joyful After Losing My iPod

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Chooch, Consumer Info, Droid, Household, Podcast

When I searched repeatedly and couldn’t find my Nano a few weeks ago, I finally took up the initiative to start using my new Droid X as my mp3 player. I was willing to do so because Chooch related he was having so much luck with his. I’m using the app he recommended, called “Listen” in the Droid store, and it is so simple even a techtard like me can use it. It uses Google Reader to manage the individual RSS feeds (subscriptions to text, video and audio posts) and syncs immediately without needing to connect to your computer. It’s managed remotely, updated as often as you tell it and the episodes are either streamed or downloaded to your device.

With Google Reader, I still have a desktop option for loading the X with all the tasty podcasts and novels that I listen to. Even better, I no longer have to wait until I’m home to add something. This has already proven useful as I always had trouble remembering what I wanted to add by the time I made it back to iTunes on my desktop, and my phone is almost always at hand.

By the way, it turns out that “lost” was an overstatement. I later found my iPod in my purse even though I’d searched it several times. Yes, my purse is too big but comes in handy when I need a notebook to track things for my failing memory; when I need to drag the H4N recorder around and when I taking the better and larger digital camera. Plus, batteries for the last two items.

Since finding it almost immediately after loading up the X, I’ve only used it a handful of times. I won’t be going back. Until I get a secure strap of some sort for running, I’ll continue to use my iPod. Beyond that, I can really see no reason for switching back. By streaming podcasts instead of downloading them, I have TONS of space available for music, at least as much as is available on the iPod.

So farewell, Uncle Steve. This old girl is finally able to move on from well over five years of crappy experiences in iTunes. You’ve made plenty of money off of us and our kids, and now it’s time to say goodbye.

*waves gleefully*

Medication Dilemma

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Consumer Info, Dizzy, Health

I’ve had a lot of tests for my health issues, which include dizziness, migraines, fatigue, nausea, impaired cognitive function, stuttering, and did I mention fatigue? I’ve got a few other symptoms, but these are the ones that most dramatically have impacted my life. Only one test came back positive, and that was for something that is reportedly unrelated to all this, indicating that, like about 70% of the population, I’m susceptible to fainting under duress. This adds to what I’m jokingly calling my “delicate constitution.” (This was said by someone in my Tweet stream, and I can’t find the original tweet. Tweetdeck has been unreliable with Favoriting them. Speak up if it was you!)

As I’ve posted before, I’ve got a diagnosis by default, at least in my opinion. I’m on my second and third preventative medication and it’s been wreaking havoc on my system. The second has been ineffective to providing real relief and has given ridonkulous side effects. The third preventative added what I called the “drunkies” as I’ve mentioned before. I have mostly adapted to the meds and am waiting to see if there is improvement, then I’ll wean off the other meds and just take this one.

To be honest, with all the medication in my system, many of them having dizziness as a side effect, I don’t know how much is me and how much is resulting from taking the pills. The neurologist suggested taking Migrevent, which is an herbal remedy that has shown great promise. As my finger twitches over the “Add To Cart” button, I find myself hesitating. If I add it to the mound of pills I’m currently taking, including this new preventative, how will I know which is effective? I’ve already decided that if this latest doesn’t work that I’m going off preventatives for a period of time to get a feel for what my symptoms are naturally. I doubt my neurologist will agree, but it seems foolish after a year not to, since I’ve found no relief.

So my dilemma is, do I follow his recommendation and try the herbal remedy or do I wait until after I see the effectiveness of what I’m already on? If Migrevent does end up being the winner, I don’t want to be taking two other pills unnecessarily. Especially since their side effects are … shall we say, extremely uncool. This is the reason for the dilemma after all – wanting to know that I’m taking exactly what is working without extra meds tagging along.

I’ve always been one to avoid medications because of all the side effects and damage they can cause, and I am currently taking 15 pills a day, 16 every other day. I went from taking two pills a day (vitamins)  a year ago to 15/16 a day! And I have to split them into 4 times a day, so I feel like I’m constantly taking pills. If I add the Migrevent, that’s 2 more. 18 pills a day? No thanks. (Note: Not all of the meds are for migraines. After all this started, I now have high cholesterol and a Vitamin D deficiency so am taking stuff for those issues, too.)

Now, I’m extremely grateful for modern medicine AND my insurance company, but I find this situation to be a bit ridiculous. I even had to break down and buy one of those 7 day pill reminder cases, and as of my last appointment I can just barely fit all the pills in it. It makes me feel older than my gray hair, but I was unable to keep track of things with my memory issues and “brain fog” becoming more and more prevalent.

The end result is that I’ve not ordered the herbal yet. It’s expensive and I don’t want to pay for it before I am ready to take it. Hubby seems to be in agreement, although he just wants improvement for me as quickly as possible. But as long as this has gone on, I also need to think of the big picture and my life down the road.

I know some folks with migraines, has anyone tried or heard of Migrevent? It has CoQ10, Butterbur, Riboflavin and Magnesium. All of them reportedly show improvement in migraines, so I’m hopeful that the quadfecta (is that even a word?) will be even more effective.

Breast Cancer Promotion Rant

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Breast Cancer, Breast Health, Consumer Info, Cool Links / Clicky Linky, Health

In recent years, there has been a tremendous pink ribbon marketing push starting around the middle of September. It’s great that corporate America has taken an interest, and now you can’t go anywhere in October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) without being inundated by pink ribbons and pink, well, everything.

The cynic in me says the corporations only real motivation to do this is because they will make more money by offering spatulas and kitchen knives that people already own, but will buy again because they want to support the cause. At this point, you can buy nearly everything tinted pink or with the pink ribbon on it. I myself bought a chef’s knife with a pink handle a few years ago, even though I had plenty at home. I bought it for cathartic reasons, but still. *chop*chop*

As I did last year, I ask you to take a moment before plunking down money for yet another set of shears or pen set. Read the fine print on the item to see how much they are actually donating to charity from the cost of the item. In my experience, it’s been between 2-5% and rarely, if ever, higher.  So if you spend $100 in October on breast cancer awareness stamped items, you’ll likely only have $2 to $5 actually going to the charity that the faceless corporation chooses.

My preference is to instead find a charity that I think is reputable and trust-worthy. Care should be taken to ensure that a majority of your funds go toward the cause itself, rather than overhead. Charity Navigator seems to be a good site, as they evaluate over 5,500 charities from a financial management aspect. There are other sites, simply search on “charity overhead percentage” or other terms that are of concern in your decision making.

The reason I have always preferred to give my money directly to the charity itself is quite selfish. I want to make sure that every penny leaving my hands is going to make a difference. Yes, it stimulates the economy to buy stuff. It also fills your home with things that you, in some cases, don’t need duplicates of, or don’t need at all. Another point on selfishness, is that you don’t get to claim the cost of a waffle iron with a pink ribbon on your taxes. You do get to claim a deduction to a non-profit organization, if you itemize. And make sure you get a receipt to document it, in case you are ever audited.

If you still want to buy the items, go for it! I particularly like clothing items or car magnets, as they serve as a reminder to others of the needs of women and men suffering from this particularly devastating disease.

Another favorite is items that are already on the shopping list, like yogurt or cereal, that support the cause. Yoplait has been a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure sponsor for ages, and their pink lid promotion has raised over $25 million dollars over the years. (Warning for those that care, they do still have HFCS in their yogurt, the last time I checked.)

And no, I don’t feel this way only over pink ribbon items. In this tough economy, I believe that most, if not all, charities are feeling the squeeze as folks have less money to share. So even if your cause of choice isn’t breast cancer awareness, make sure you spend your donation dollars smartly.

Watch this site for a tax deductible and highly recommended charity that you can donate to with a few mouse clicks and keystrokes.