Thursday, February 26, 2009

6 months, more or less

I don't know what it is, but people don't like to see a cheerful, pregnant woman. It is, apparently, irksome. I get asked, "How are you feeling?" and when I reply, "Great!", everybody says the same thing: "Just wait!" Wait until next month, the next trimester, labor, birth, parenthood. Nobody ever seems to say, "That's wonderful!" or "How nice." Why try to bring me down? Does my feeling good somehow, in their eyes, make me so deluded as to think that I will always feel good, and so they must warn me otherwise? It's too hard (and private) to explain that "great" is short-hand for, "After everything that I've been through to get to this point, after four miscarriages and six months of specialists, after thinking that I would never get to have a healthy pregnancy, how could this be anything BUT great? Sure, I'm not sleeping at night, my hips and back have been killing me for months, and I've peed on myself twice, at work, with no idea how it happened. But I DON'T CARE because there is a BABY INSIDE OF ME and s/he is ALIVE. That, people, is GREAT. Period."

Similarly, someone that comes to where I work has been commenting on the fact that I'm "getting big!" Well, yeah, that's kind of supposed to happen, you know? I'm six months pregnant, and pretty much right on-track for weight gain, fetus size, and overall "look"-- that is, I look about six months along, not much more or much less. Am I supposed to be upset over getting bigger? There is a baby growing in there, after all. I guess I don't get it... I just say, "I sure am! Can't wait to see what I look like in May!" which so far has shut her up.

Two wonderful things happened yesterday. The first is that I discovered this movement that relieves almost all of the pain in my hips. You stand with legs a bit apart and knees bent, and then move your hips around in a huge circle several times, and then the other way. Then the first way again. Etc. I figured this out by accident in the shower, trying to get the hot water to land on my back the right way. It's awesome. I wouldn't recommend doing it in public, though, because it looks like something half-way between hula-hooping and what a cat does right before it hacks up a hairball. I did this so much last night that I have that post-work-out burn in my thighs today-- but my hips don't hurt. The other thing was that, somehow, I slept almost all night long. I woke up this morning and remembered, this is what it feels like to be rested. I'd forgotten.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tips for Better Banking

First: If your bank requires deposit slips to make a deposit, then you generally have two options: use your own, pre-printed deposit tickets, or fill out the generic form offered at the bank. USE YOUR OWN SLIPS. Seriously.

Much faster. They already have your name, address, and account number printed on them, so all you have to do is fill in the date and the money. You get to smugly slide by all the poor saps standing around the counter, laboriously printing out their address for the millionth time.

More accurate: Mistakes happen. Deposit slips have to be read by multiple sets of eyes, and messy handwriting or transposed digits on a hand-written slip can derail a deposit. Hand-filled deposit tickets have to be typed by hand into the computer system, first by the teller and later by a proof-work operator. Your pre-printed slips are read through a machine: more accurate, and again, faster for you.

Cons: None. They're free to order, so why on earth not, right? There are a few at the back of every book of checks, and you can order deposit slips separately... at no cost. This is because the bank WANTS you to use them.

Second: Take some of that time you're saving by using pre-printed tickets, and write your account number on the back of every check. Some banks require this. Some don't. It doesn't matter-- this is for YOU, not the bank. This comes back to the "mistakes happen" concept. Sometimes a check gets separated from the herd... ah, from the deposit. Bank paperwork equals big stacks of deposits, rubber-banded together and sent elsewhere. 99.999% of the time, every check in every deposit gets where it needs to be-- the system works. But for that one check that doesn't, it ends up in a "homeless items" bin somewhere, waiting to be matched back to the account it belongs with. If that account number is written on the back, then the check can get back where it needs to be so fast, you may never notice that anything went awry. If there's no account number, though, it can take a long time: long enough to cause major problems for you. By labeling the checks in your deposit, you are only protecting yourself!

Third: Writing your account number on every check does something else for you: it helps you learn or memorize your account number. No, you don't need to know the whole thing, but memorizing at least the last four digits of each account is very useful. For one thing, when you look at your receipt and the last four numbers on it, you may notice if the teller screwed up your deposit.

Fourth: If you have multiple accounts, have some mental system for knowing which is which. The best, as stated above, is to know at least the last four digits of each. Otherwise, know (for example) whether one is in your name only but the other is jointly held, or the approximate balances in each if the balances are relatively stable. That way, if you walk up to the teller window and ask to withdraw from an account, or transfer from a checking account to a credit card to make a payment, or close an account, and the teller asks, "OK, which account?"... you have a good answer. This will keep you from getting your stuff in trouble by using the wrong account for the wrong thing. Again, account numbers are best because they are concrete.

Fifth: Speaking of credit cards, if you have any, set your PINs. While every debit card holder has a PIN to use at the ATM or at stores as "debit", most credit card holders have no idea what their PIN is. Working with the theory that credit cards are for emergencies, it is imperative that you be able to use one for cash if need be. To get a cash advance off of a credit card at an ATM, you need that PIN. Hopefully, this will be something you never, ever have to do, since the interest rates and fees for cash advances are awful. But you never know*, so be prepared! To set a new PIN, call the customer service number on the back of the card. It's usually one of the first options offered in the automated menu.

Fifth-A: PIN advice: I set the PIN for all of my credit cards and my debit card to the same number. Now it doesn't matter how seldom I use it, it's that number for everything. Also, do not use any part of your date of birth or your social security number. Hello, obvious?

Sixth: Research what your bank offers, so that you can take advantage of everything. Chances are, you're already paying for it one way or another. Free online banking? Free savings if you have a checking? Free checking if you direct-deposit your paycheck? Free text-message alerts if your balance drops below (x) dollars? Savings services that make matching contributions? Debit cards linked to charitable organizations? For brand-new customers, all of this is spelled out in the account set-up, but if you've had your account for years, you may be missing out. When you're in the bank, look around at the promotional materials; if your friend banks where you do and his debit card has the Habitat for Humanity logo on it, ask how he got it and why; or just sit down with someone at the bank, and ask if your accounts are still the best thing going. Banks are constantly rolling out new programs, trying to attract new customers, but old customers can really get the shaft if they aren't paying attention.

*Last summer, the day I found out I was going to miscarry our fourth pregnancy, was such a time. Don was out of town, my car was in the shop, I was driving his truck, his truck got towed, and I was stranded. I was without cash and without my debit card (it was in a pants pocket at home), I was at the doctor's office and fairly nuts from grief from what I'd just seen on the ultrasound (i.e. another failed pregnancy). All I had was my Discover card and my cellphone. Luckily I was able to use the phone to get a ride from a friend (back to the impound lot where the truck was), and borrow cash from her, too. But that day I called Discover and re-set my PIN so that should I ever need to, I can withdraw from it, and started carrying cash in my wallet at all times.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Paper Hoarder

There is one part of this whole cleaning/de-cluttering that I'd been putting off for as long as possible, until every other major task had been completed... the PAPER. Piles of paper. Mounds of paper. Drawers, boxes, files full of paper. Important papers mixed with junk mail mixed with sentimental stuff. Like most pack rats, Don and I hold onto stuff like paperwork "in case we need it someday", while still managing to lose or misplace the bits we really do need. We had years' worth of bank statements, electric bills, and pay stubs, since I had no clear idea what needed to be kept for how long, and what could be tossed.

Last weekend, I jumped in head first and just tackled it. This was my system: grab a mountain of papers from somewhere (I ended up working in roughly reverse-chronological order, since the most recent paper-junk was the easiest to reach, rather like an archaeological dig) and sort into three categories: keep (actual, important documents), toss (non-personal items without identifying information), and shred (stuff with our names, addresses, socials, whatever). Needless to say, the "keep" pile ended up being the smallest. Once I was done with that arm-load of paper, I sorted the "keep" into actual, labeled files: tax returns, W2 forms, 10-99s, mortgage documents, everything. I had a separate "keep" stack for things that were sentimental: snapshots, letters, cards. Once the first armload was done, I'd grab another pile, do the same. Repeat. Stop periodically to shred. Here's what my work-table looked like at one, random point in the process:

I ended up filling more than 5 paper grocery bags with shredded paper. Unfortunately, I didn't think to document this amazing feat until the first batch or two had already gone on the compost heap, so this is only the last of it:

I don't know if every bit of paper is sorted, I can't find any more, but with our housekeeping skills that is no guarantee. I read in a book about organization, that the only kind of filing system that works for paper is vertical storage. Anything horizontal is just a stack. I really didn't get that before, strange as it probably sounds. Several years ago, I built myself a desk with a cabinet. The bottom drawer was supposed to be a file-drawer, but I didn't size it quite right, and it was too shallow to hold files vertically. I still ended up throwing all the paperwork in there, but horizontally. Stacked. That drawer was one of the last areas to be attacked, and it was a bitch to clean out. Now, I have this:
And that's all that's left of the paper. It took me an entire weekend and several evenings. My room is still a mess from the aftermath. The compost heap will be out-of-whack for awhile, trying to absorb all that paper. But it is finished. It's such a relief, for several reasons. For one, I have a system now. As of now, our entire life-on-paper fits neatly into 25 hanging folders. If something new comes up, I can make a new folder, but currently there is a place for everything. I know now what we can just get rid of immediately; going through this process has really helped with my sense of what to keep and what not to. This really synchronizes with my new policy of dealing with the mail right away, every day. No new piles! Second, I know where everything important is now. All those things I knew "were in a pile around here someplace" like our homeowners insurance policy, or the title to Don's truck, are piled no more. We are planning to get a safety deposit box at the bank soon for the really important, hard to replace documents, but for now, at least they're all in one place and I know where that is. Third, I know that there will be back-sliding. Twenty-eight years of messy doesn't go all organized in three months flat and stay that way. I will most likely fall off the wagon at some point. But it will never be as bad as it was before, because all that stuff is gone. We're starting with a clean slate right now. If I let all the paper go again for a month, or even for a year, at least I will never be shredding bank statements from 2004 again.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Although it is a dietary staple

Don: So I was thinking about names today.

Me: And...?

Don: How about Benjamin for a boy, or Geraldine for a girl?


Don: If only it were twins and we could do both...

Me: ... We are NOT naming our baby after the ice cream!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


We have passed the 24-week mark, a big milestone, the earliest age of viability. It means that if this little Passenger was for some reason (God forbid) born now, s/he would have a chance of surviving. It also means, more practically, that should something threaten the pregnancy at this point, doctors will do everything in their power to fix it and save the baby. (There seems to be a sliding scale here, from the early days when they tell you, "Yep, you're going to have a miscarriage, might as well go home and be comfortable" to performing life-saving heroics-- in-utero surgeries, major drugs to stop contractions, things like that-- based on the baby's viability. We're on the good side of that scale now.) I am now pregnant enough to have total strangers ask me when I'm due, if I know what I'm having. I am also now wider front-to-back than I am from side-to-side, for the first time ever. I found this out in a narrow corridor in a restaurant; I was exiting the bathroom as a waitress was coming by with an armload of dishes... I did that instinctive thing where you turn sideways to let someone pass by, only to find that it made the situation worse, not better. Whoops. I discovered this weekend that the problem with a normally very active fetus is that, occasionally, it will try to freak you out by taking a few really long naps. I'm so used to this constant, reassuring tumble-kick-slam, that when my little rugby player wouldn't move for what felt like hours at a time on Sunday, I panicked. Then Sunday night s/he started right back up again. Stop messing with mommy's mind, little one. All I want is for you to be alive, is that so much to ask? Speaking of my mind, I'm losing it. I didn't believe in "pregnancy brain" until today... maybe I still don't, since I can also blame the never-ending insomnia. But I accidentally left my purse at work, the work that is a 1/4-mile walk from the bank where we park. I had to walk back and forth, again, to get it.

Things I thought wouldn't happen to me that I was wrong about:

pregnancy brain
urinary incontinence AKA sneeze-pee-damn!
waddling (not yet but I can feel it coming, my walk is changing)
constantly touching belly

I'm wondering what else is going to make that list...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Little steps

Part of my cleaning/organizing marathon includes trying to get rid of anything we don't use anymore. Sounds totally obvious, I know, but it's like doing the dishes after dinner every night: what seems perfectly obvious and normal to normal people just doesn't occur to us, and when it does it's an inspiration.

WHY do I still have a bridesmaid dress (with matching shoes) from a wedding I was in three years ago? Storage in our home is very limited; we have two bedrooms, each with one reach-in closet. The closet in our "master bedroom" (in quoties because HA! hahahaha) is really small, maybe five feet long, so Don uses that one. The closet in the spare bedroom is a lot longer, so I've been using that one for my clothes, and one million other things. Now we have a baby coming, and I've been told you have to dress THEM in clothes, too, at least most of the time. More stuff is coming in, and yet no new closets have magically made themselves available. I don't understand this at all. To make the most of our closet, I have obtained* one of these closet organizer thingies. I hope it's as efficient as it looks, because we really can't bring in much more furniture. And have I mentioned that we're going with the cloth diapers? Oy. Hence, me getting rid of everything I don't wear, like bridesmaid dresses. A lot of it was easy, since I can't fit into any of my existing wardrobe, all I had to do is ask myself, "When I'm this size again, which will be at least a year from now, will I still want this?" "NO." Right now the organizer is still in the box. Getting Don to install it will be my reward for getting that room clean, I think, although finishing up downstairs comes first.

Speaking of downstairs, did I mention that we drove to IKEA last weekend-- about 2 1/2 hours away-- and cleaned out the rest of our renovation account for cabinets, counters, et al? I don't think the folks there are used to people buying an entire kitchen, from drawer pulls to faucets, at once. I can't wait until the apartment is totally finished, I'm just sick of dealing with it already. Honestly, we had no idea when we bought this place last summer, that we'd end up having to completely gut the kitchen and rebuild it from the wall studs on... New lumber, insulation, drywall, electric and plumbing, everything. it's really the kind of thing you want to plan on ahead of time, you know? Don has the next week off of work, and hopefully that is all it will take.

*I didn't buy it, I redeemed my "points" at work. We get them for random things like winning contests; I've been here for four years and had racked up quite a few and never used up any. Part of the changes for 2009 include no more points system: any we have we have to cash out by the end of the month. So I bought a closet system with them.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Doctor's visit

I had my prenatal appointment this morning, the one I'm supposed to have every four weeks but haven't had since October. You know you dislike your job when a doctor's appointment is actually exciting and fun: when the idea of peeing in a cup and having your blood pressure taken is a distinct improvement over a conference call.

There are three or four different obstetricians in the practice that I'm seeing, and their policy is to rotate each patient through each doctor several times for office visits; that way when it comes time to deliver, there's no "Hi, I'm your OB today!" conversation between contractions. I think it makes sense, although it means you're never seeing the same dude twice in a row. Today's doctor is the practice's New Guy, and his accent is surprisingly similar to Dr. Zoidberg's of Futurama, making me wonder if Dr. Zoidberg's accent (which I'd always assumed was made up) is based on some authentic dialect. It it going to be very difficult to NOT think of this doctor as Dr. Zoidberg in my mind, sadly. I like him so far, though, because he seems very diet-and-lifestyle oriented. When I mentioned my insomnia, he talked about what to do and not do before bed; when the prenatal-vitamin-constipation issue came up, he listed prunes, yogurt, fruits and vegetables, instead of medications. I'm more used to doctors throwing prescriptions or samples at me, so it's rather refreshing. He asked me maybe six times if I had any questions, but I don't. Except for the insomnia, I feel fantastic. (Actually, considering the amount of sleep I'm averaging, I feel amazing, like if I got seven hours of sleep sometime, I'd probably be able to fly.) He asked me if I'd had any bleeding or discharge (nope) and then asked, "Is there any reason I should do a cervical check?" Well if I'm not having any bleeding or discharge, why would we need to do that, right? Are there some women that just don't feel like it's a successful doctor's visit if they don't have a gloved hand up their privates?

Getting weighed was really funny. I've gained a good bit of weight (enough where I think I need to start paying more attention or else hit 50 pounds by June, I'm afraid), but that increase is since my 8-week appointment three months ago, the last they have on record for me. The nurse weighs me and starts to record the number, and I watch as her eyes get huge (clearly thinking that I've somehow gained 20 pounds in four weeks-- is that even possible?) then furrowed, as she compares the dates, then relaxed again as she realizes that my chart is just really screwed up. "Haven't been here in awhile, huh?" "Nope."

The problem with watching my weight or my diet, is that food has become amazingly wonderful. ALL food. My appetite is amazing, I think about food and eating fairly constantly. Everything tastes so good, even mundane things like apples or hard-boiled eggs. I have almost said out loud, "Be QUIET, I am concentrating on this apple! MMMmmm... apple." but luckily did not, as I was at work at the time. But it's like that with everything. I distinctly remember having a conversation with a friend who told me about this second-trimester eat-a-thon (she compared it to being stoned, I do believe) and now I'm experiencing it for myself. Well, how hard can it be to lose fifty pounds, anyway? I must go, we're having eggs and sausages for dinner, and they aren't going to cook themselves.... Mmmmm sausages.

Monday, February 02, 2009


All in all January was a fantastic month for getting stuff done. I have scared my husband, who is not used to so much productivity, activity. But he is enjoying the food and the house.

My new bill-paying system is this: When I come home from work, I immediately check the mail. I go through it, recycle the junk, shred the junk with personal information, and then immediately pay any bill. Go to the computer, pay the bill through online banking. If there's not enough money, then put it on a credit card, because staying current on bills trumps the no-debt policy. My problem is that almost all of our bills are paid automatically: the mortgage, electricity, cable, cell phone, Netflix, etc, are all automatically drafted; all I have to do is keep enough money in the bank accounts to cover them. But medical bills keep messing me up. First the hospital sends an "insurance billed" notice, then the insurance sends a "hospital paid" notice, then FINALLY I'll get a bill for whatever is left from the hospital. When your bill-paying system involves throwing all the mail in a big pile and vowing to look at it later, certain things escape... like that last important letter.

I brought my lunch to work almost every day in January, saving about $100.00. Saved a lot of money by meal-planning, making a shopping list, and only buying groceries once a month. It's not that there were NO impulsive purchases, but it's a lot less than when I'm at the store every other day. Also, a lot less of that food is wasted, because I have a plan for any leftovers. Saved some by cutting way back on trips to Starbucks and Barnes & Noble: I still get my morning walk-the-dog mocha but that's it for the day.

This next part will only make sense to fellow messy people: neat folks just won't understand.

I have spent what feels like 1,000 hours cleaning and organizing the house. Have I ever mentioned that it's only 850 square feet or so, and that I've barely touched the living room or spare room? Crazy. I didn't really have a strategy to start with, just jumped in and started scouring the kitchen. But I have a plan now, sort of. First, I'm trying to get rid of more stuff. Like probably everybody, we have too much stuff. Two huge boxes of clothing and a Mr. Coffee have gone to Goodwill, with a lot more to follow. I plan on unloading our VHS player (still works, haven't used it in over two years), getting rid of all of our VHS tapes, and my Agatha Christie collection. (I have almost everything she wrote, and they're not "re-reads".) Second, I'm trying to create a home for every practical thing that we use. Our house is not great with storage, and in trying to clean, I realize that we have no set "place" for a lot of things: light bulbs, batteries, important paperwork, hats and gloves, clean towels, extra toilet paper... The list goes on. I want to get to the point where, no matter what I pick up, it has a place where it belongs: a drawer, a cabinet, a file, a hook, something. I think that the combination of these two concepts will do more in the long run to keep the place clean and clean-able, than all scrubbing and vacuuming. The last bit of my strategy is kind of weird and redundant, but it's working for me so far. Before I start cleaning in a new area, I re-do what is already (mostly) clean. I started this whole project in the kitchen, naturally, so before I clean in the bathroom or bedroom, I go back to the kitchen and do whatever little thing needs to be done to keep it nice-- clean the stove, empty the dish drainer, sweep the floor. That way, what has been cleaned stays pretty, which bolsters my feeling of making progress. When I walk back into the kitchen, everything there is finished. Also, it is starting to get me in the habit of cleaning a little bit every day, which (believe it or not) I've never done. I've been more of a let-it-go-completely-for-three-months-then-do-a-marathon-scrub-and-vacuum-session cleaner. I'm starting to realize how much easier it is to keep a clean space clean, then to start from scratch every time. For example, the first time I cleaned the stove this month, it was hard scrubbing. The second time was also hard, but only because I went deeper, cleaning the black spider-thingies and under the hood where the pilot lights are. But the past few times, I just spray-and-wipe, and it's clean again, just like that. Same thing with everything else. When I tackled the Laundry Monster, it took a full week plus a weekend to get everything washed, dried, folded or hung up, and the stuff we don't wear anymore either donated or thrown away. Since then, the laundry has been ridiculously easy, and the Monster has shrunk to a single basket of hand-wash/dry-clean-onlies. Maintenance. Who knew?

This time, I'm not falling into the trap of what's happened before, of moving from room to room over time, and having the first rooms get trashed again. As of now, my kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, and bedroom are clean, and I will do what needs to be done to keep them that way before moving forward. This is probably why I haven't made a whole lot of progress on the last two rooms, (plus this weekend NOTHING got done due to being bed-ridden with an awful headache all day Saturday, and going to IKEA Sunday) but I know that when I finally get them done, it won't be at the expense of what should already be nice: the whole house can stay clean.

2009 Goals Checkup: January


1. Finish lower apartment: NOT done, but tons of progress. Don finished all the drywall and priming, and we bought all the cabinets and counter tops: it should be done within two weeks or so... (but where have I heard that before?) But, we DO have a renter coming, so that's good.

2. Financial system: not yet. But, I have made a few decisions that should make it easier: to pay bills a new way, and to get a real file cabinet, with files in it. (Do NOT ask what we've been using.)

3. Taxes: Haven't filed yet, but are on track to do so. We have all of our paperwork together, and are just getting a rec for a good tax person.

4. Credit cards: Progress! Made a full payment in January (no interest, ha!) to the Discover card, and will again next week. Will use my 4th quarter bonus coming on the 13th to start paying down Don's card, which will leave my Visa.

4A. Do NOT get more debt: Unfortunately had to put a past-due medical bill on my Visa, so no.

5. Start working with Don re: combining finances, reducing spending, and living off of one income. YES! We've had several very productive conversations, and I am already seeing results.

6. Cutting expenses: YES,YES, YES! Saved LOTS of money in January! Details to follow.


1. Clean: Yes. I'm not totally done, but after four weekends and many evenings, it is SO much better than before. The only rooms not clean and organized are the living room and the spare room. I could have people over, seriously!

2. Rearrange spare room: not yet, but I'm thinking about it.

3. Garden and new chickens: not yet. But I'm really waiting for spring anyway.


1. Cook dinners at home: Huge yes! We had only one dinner out in January, my birthday. This is literally the most at-home, from-scratch dinners we've ever had in a row.

2. Plan menus and shop only weekly: Yes. This is really working out well.

3. Keep the dishes done/ kitchen clean: Pretty much. Don is showing some resistance to doing the dishes every night, but he's getting there.

4. Stock freezer: have added 3 meals and some chicken broth.


1. Walk every day: yep.

2. Yoga class: No, too expensive and difficult to schedule. But I did get some DVDs and have been trying them out, instead.

3. Special tea: Maybe half the days.

4. Panic less often: doing pretty good.