Jul 18, 2014 - family, life    4 Comments

Free Range in Real Life

Ingrid turned 8 this spring, and it seems that 8 is the age of learning independence. It’s the biggest shift in our family since having kids, learning to let her spread her wings, but it’s important to do so, and it’s interesting how it’s sort of come about naturally, and all at once.

At the end of the school year, I was walking her to school and we were talking about when a kid can walk to school on their own. Ing’s school is .2 miles from our house, and there is a crossing guard at the busiest intersection, but we’ve always walked with her. “Like those kids, over there,” I asked her, as I pointed to a group coming up the busy street. “How old are they?”

“Oh, I think those are fifth graders,” said Ingrid, but then we heard from one of them: INGRIDDD!

It was a friend in her grade. And in the group were two third graders, and a kindergartener, along with the 2nd grade friend. Walking alone, but together, to school. “Ingrid, do you want to walk with them?” And, she did, and off she went. It was a first, and kind of strange, and as I headed back to the house, I thought to take a photo for posterity.

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That was a Friday, and I saw the mom of her friend and told her how Ingrid had been so thrilled to walk on her own with friends, and the mom said that they’d be doing it the next week, too, and to watch for them. We can see the busier street between the houses across the street, so Ingrid was watching for them the next Monday, and didn’t see them, so Dave let her go on her own. We’d talked about it — really, our street she is on all the time anyway, and the crossing guard is the only street she needs to cross, so, even on her own she’d be fine… and of course, she was. The next few days were the last for the school year, but she walked every day, meeting the group of friends sometimes, and if she timed it wrong, she walked on her own. In the fall, she plans to do that by default.

The other free-range thing that’s cropped up is bike riding. Ingrid has fallen in love with her bike this summer, and we’ve gone on some long rides in the neighborhood, and when we ride together, I’m talking to her about what to watch out for – driveways and backing up cars, certain corners that are hard to see around, making sure to ride on the right “like a car” and pointing out why that’s important. (She can also use the sidewalks on the streets that have them, but I think it’s important to learn the rules, too.)

When she asked one day if she could go by herself, around the “horseshoe” (a rarely trafficked D shaped side street in our neighborhood) I thought for a minute, and said “if you follow the rules, yes.” Off she went, and she came back beaming. Then she asked to go farther, down to another neighborhood landmark, “bathtub guy,” which is a lawn ornament water feature in someone’s yard. Off she went. And I got nervous, I thought it was taking a while, too long, so maybe she saw a friend? So Willa and I started walking that route. I saw a woman walking her dogs — I don’t know her name, but I’ve seen her a million times — and she said “Is that yours on the bike?” I steeled myself up to defend my position, and said “yes…” and the woman said “Oh, I just think it’s wonderful! She’s doing so good, stopping at the stop signs, and I just love seeing kids out on their bikes like that!” Phew.

As almost an aside, when Ingrid and I have gone on long bike rides, I’ve let her strap my Garmin to her handlebars to keep track of our mileage and time, and she loved it, and asked if she could use the Garmin when she went on a solo ride, and I let her. A side bonus is that when  I uploaded the data, I could see in Player mode on Garmin Connect that she had followed the rules – it showed her stopping or slowing, and that she was on the right side of the road. Kind of a side benefit that I wasn’t thinking of! I can’t live track her or anything, but it was neat to see she was biking responsibly.

So, how did we get here? For one, I love Lenore Skenazy and her Free Range Kids book and the concept. I also have read “Protecting the Gift,” a great book about practical child safety, and teaching kids how to choose the right strangers to talk to (“look for a mom with kids”) and not just a flat “Don’t talk to strangers.” GREAT book. We’ve practiced in the grocery store — “oh, can you run to the next aisle and get the ketchup, Ing?” and even on our own street, where she’s been free to play in our yard for years without us out there supervising. We’ve practiced at the library — “I’m going upstairs to look for books, I’ll meet you down here when your program is over” and Ingrid browses for books until I return. We’ve also been active in our neighborhood all along. If Ingrid ever got in trouble, she knows where her friends live, she knows where my friends are, and the others that are in our neighborhood regularly, on bikes or walking dogs or running — while we don’t know each other’s names, I feel confident that if Ingrid was hurt, they would know whose house to go to (see above with all the playing in the yard.) And, the librarians know her, and we’ve talked about how if she needed help, to go to the librarians at the check out and they would help her.

And in all of this free-ranging this summer, I couldn’t help but be struck by a pair of articles that came out the same day this week.

In the first, a doctor in DC is prescribing “outdoor activity for his patients:

To Make Children Healthier, A Doctor Prescribes A Trip To The Park

And in the second, a mom was jailed and her child removed from her custody…. for letting her play in a park alone.

Working Mom Arrested, for Letting Her 9 Year old Play Alone at Park

And I would bet that the conflicting articles are why it’s hard to loosen those reins. I know it’s good for my kid, and good for society, and my biggest worry in letting Ingrid explore is that someone else is going to see it as neglect. Ingrid is loving her solo rides, and is noticing things in the world while learning to be independent. It’s my job as a parent to make sure she is independent as an adult, and practicing that is starting now for Ingrid. For other kids, it might start earlier or later, but it has felt surprisingly natural for it to be happening now, at 8. I would strongly recommend the two books linked above to help put nervous minds at ease, and I am glad to be in a neighborhood that is easily walkable and bikeable — that’s a big reason we live where we do. It’s thrilling to see my kid growing up to enjoy it.

 

 

May 12, 2014 - family, life    1 Comment

Ingrid’s Birthday Wish

Ingrid is turning 8 this month. (EIGHT? HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!) She is a pretty lucky kid, and doesn’t want for much, and this year her birthday wish is to raise money for the Bangor Public Library, which is about to go through an extensive renovation, including a full relocation of the children’s department. It’s not an entirely unselfish wish – her goal is $1000, because that is what a person needs to donate to get their name on the donor wall. We’ve looked at other donor walls, and Ingrid is thrilled with the idea of having her name as part of the library, forever.

She loves the library – I first took her as an infant, to storytime, and while those visits stopped when I went back to work, we’ve still always loved the library. In the last year or so, that’s been an even bigger love, as she has grown as a reader at a faster pace than our home library (and our wallet) can keep up with. She’s done summer reading, and this year when they shifted after school activities to later in the day, she was able to join the Transformers and LEGO clubs, so we visit on most Wednesdays. She races off to her club meeting and I browse, and when she’s done, she looks for books for herself, and for her little sister.  This winter, when the library was robbed of money and electronics, she donated her “giving money” to the library (about $20 in ones), and she got such a positive response that she wants to do it again.

I emailed them several weeks ago to see if people could donate to her “name on the wall” fund AND get the tax deduction, and the person I talked with said “yes, of course!” and was really tickled to hear that Ingrid wanted to do this. She mentioned it to the Board of Managers and Trustees, and THEY were so excited, they have offered to match any money she donates (or is donated to her effort) up to a total of $500! (THAT made Ingrid’s day!)

Here’s what’s going out in her birthday invitations:

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Here’s what it says:

It is my birthday soon. For my birthday I would like money instead of presents. I want money because I want to support the Bangor Public Library. Giving money to the library will help build a new part of the library. I will get my name perminitly [sic] on the wall if I donate 1,000 dollars. The library is important to me because I LOVE books and the Bangor Public Library has tons, millions, trillions, really a LOT of Books.  
Thank you, 
Ingrid
If you would like to donate, you can do so here. In the “specified fund” field, you can mention “Ingrid’s Birthday” and your donation can be added to her goal. (You can also donate at the library in person, or by calling them.) The library is a nonprofit 501c3 organization, so your donation is tax deductible. If you were planning on donating to our library anyway (the new renovation will be amazing!) and NOT planning on donating enough to hit the wall level yourself, this would be a great way to make an (almost) 8 year old bookworm happy. Any gifts of money for her birthday, given directly TO her, will be donated to Bangor Public on the Wednesday following (since that’s when we go). We are pledging to reach her goal in two years, which is pretty doable, I think, especially with the generous match offer from the Board. (so by the time she’s 10, she will reach her goal. TEN? Unbelievable that that’s so close. I promise to teach her to spell awesome and permanently before that time.)
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Mar 31, 2014 - life    No Comments

A year with a heat pump

Here’s the TL;DR:

Heat pump: Fujitsu Halcyon 12RLS2 

Dealer/installer: Maine Alternative Comfort – they were awesome and I would totally recommend them and not just because I once got a credit for recommending them. Adam is more energy nerd than salesman (and that is a compliment!) and his crew was super nice, didn’t leave a mess or anything, and we’ve been very happy.

Price: $3000 before incentives, which were $600 from Bangor Hydro, $300 on 2013 taxes, and a $25 referral rebate from Bangor Hydro from referring a friend. Net cost: $2075.

Are we glad we did it? YES!

Our heating situation before the heat pump was that we have a Thermopride forced hot air furnace, that is relatively new (10 years) and really efficient, and well respected by our furnace cleaners. We have just one zone, and the thermostat is in the living room where we spend most of our awake time. Being conservative with the thermostat and liberal with the sweaters and fleece slippers, we had our oil consumption to under 400 gallons a year. In the ten years we’ve owned our house, though, the price of oil has almost quadrupled (I keep records – our first oil fill was at 1.57/gallon!) so we are always looking for ways to economize, even with what little we use. A few years ago, friends were getting rid of a propane fireplace, and we replaced a woodstove that we’d been advised not to use with the propane stove. We have a hearth, and it’s a direct vent stove, so we didn’t need the chimney (although we do have one in place, from the woodstove.) That kept us warmer, because we could heat the living room with it, and the way our house is laid out, the stairs acted like a chimney and pulled a lot of that warm air upstairs. However, we only ran the propane when we were home and in the room, because it is an open flame, and we are paranoid. Before we got the propane stove, we’d planned on doing pellets, but a con of pellets is that you need a place to store them, and that would be tough in our small house.

The heat pump came about when friends of my parents looked into one for a camp, and were impressed by the technology and the price, and in our area, they were offering incentives to install one. It happened pretty quickly — I filled out the form on the Bangor Hydro site for a heat pump rebate, and one was reserved for us, and then I had Adam from Maine Alternative Comfort come in to see if we could install one. His initial location idea was on the front of the house, but we were not comfortable with hanging it next to our windows, for aesthetic reasons. When he came back and said it could be installed on the side, we went for it.

The install took a little longer than most others, because they were using our house to show some people from the state (I think?) how an install works and why it would be good to fund incentives for more people to install. (I think, I know we were being used as sort of a “demo house” and that the explaining took longer, but I was fine with that.) Usually, an install is done in half a day. The install process was pretty straightforward – one team installed on the outside, another guy worked on the interior mounting, and an electrician ran wiring to our panel. You do have to have room for a 220v outlet (? Again, I’m fuzzy on the exact language, but I know that we had room on our panel, and sometimes people don’t have room  and it’s more electrical work.) We had ours mounted in the living room, on the same wall as the propane stove, just the other corner. There were some concerns about it being close to a propane tank, which we removed, because the heat pump was essentially going to replace the propane stove for heat. (We have kept the tank and the stove hasn’t moved, though, as it doesn’t need power to run it is our third form of heat, and if we ever needed it, it would be because the power was out and the heat pump doesn’t work without power!)

Once it was in, we shut down our furnace for the year. It was April, so only slightly earlier than normal. One of the perks of a heat pump over a pellet stove is that it also provides air conditioning, which is something we’d never had. Even with hot, sticky newborns clinging to my chest through a Maine summer, we only relied on fans, and it was awful (Dave wouldn’t say so but he also wasn’t the one with the newborns sticking to him.) The first time we used the AC, was  during the first hot spell and Dave had been dismissive of it as a feature, so I was certainly not going to be the one to try it out. I went out for a bit on a hot day, and when I returned, I opened the door and the whoosh of cool air was shocking. Dave was converted. We didn’t run the AC all the time, just when we had to, and interestingly, our power bill didn’t change hardly at all! In fact, it went DOWN in July. I now wonder of the fleet of fans costs more than the heat pump’s AC does.

For heat, it’s been great. It’s been a very, very cold winter, and the pump will run into below-0 temps, but it is definitely working harder and not getting as warm then. Our biggest concern is our basement pipes, the one place the heat pump does not reach. We have temp sensors all over our house, and know that our basement sill can get to below freezing when it’s bitter cold out. When it gets close to freezing, we bump the furnace on to warm the basement. We’d like to insulate that cold wall by pipes a little better and see if that helps for next year, since it does seem strange to use oil to heat one space when we are humming along at 68-70 upstairs without oil. One challenge was accepting that it’s more efficient to set-and-forget, as opposed to tweaking out a custom program on our old thermostat to conserve energy. It operates very quietly, especially the milder it is. When it’s very cold, you can hear it working harder, but in general it’s a quiet white noise when you can hear it. Our house is 1000sf above grade, and set at 70, it keeps the first floor around 68-70 and the upstairs bedrooms, about 64 – much warmer than we’d allow on oil.

So, what does it cost to RUN? Well, back to the spreadsheets again. (And by the way, Emera Maine/Bangor Hydro has a great feature where you can see data at several levels – daily, weekly, monthly, annually, AND compare it to other variables, and see the temps for those times as well – definitely worth checking out, even if you don’t have a heat pump in your future.) For instance:

Here’s a comparison between 2012 and 2013. The heat pump was installed in April, and we didn’t turn our furnace on until near Christmas, I believe.

yearly

Now, look at Jan-March, which anyone around here will tell you has been cold (and the graphs agree). The blue and gold are 2014 numbers, red and green are 2013. So, yes, we are using quite a bit more electricity.

13_14comparison

 

But here’s the daily view, from a random day in March that was about the same as the year before:

Dailyusage

The temps were still colder, but there were parts of the day last year where our energy use was more than double from THIS year. I have no idea why – maybe I did laundry, for instance, but it provides a decent weekday comparison.

Dollar wise:

Well, I have a spreadsheet. 

This winter is probably a worst case scenario for running a heat pump because of the prolonged and extreme cold. If I look at the average monthly temps, for instance, January: in 2012 it was 23, last year 21, and this year 18. February: 27,24,21. and March: 38, 34, 18 (!!!). So, basically our March was like a cold January (isn’t that depressing), and our usage reflects that. If I assumed that March was 34, on average, that puts us closer to December 2013′s average, where we only spent $125 on power. kWh-wise, we should see less usage in a more ‘normal’ year.

On that spreadsheet you can see our power use by month for 2012, 2013 and current 2014 figures, along with average monthly temp. (Thanks, Emera!) While we’ve definitely spent more on power (and I’m not accounting for power supply rate increases if they’ve happened, etc) I look at it as gallons of oil. The most we spent beyond past bills is $139.39, and we last got oil last month. (We were actually worried that our gauge was wrong, and with the unrelenting polar vortex bearing down on us, we decided to get 100 gallons to be safe – we’d planned on waiting til June to fill up) We paid 3.89/gallon, so if I calculate that extra power expense as oil, we spent 35.8 gallons of oil on electric. Assuming we use our super frugal estimate of 350/gal a season, and we only heat from October-April (6 months) then that means we would normally use 58.3 gallons of oil per month, so we are ahead by more than 20 gallons. AND we are warmer. (I’m not even factoring in propane for the fireplace in these numbers, which made us warmer, but also cost over $100 for last winter to do so. (And remember, last winter was warmer!)

So, that is my super-geeky number crunching on our heat pump purchase. I’m not even calculating carbon footprint, etc etc into that, just the bare numbers. I figure our ROI will happen next year, since the install cost 520 gallons of oil (so about a season and a half), but comfort wise I think we were pretty close to ROI when we first fired up the AC part, long before we got to heating season!

Also! We were slackers on cleaning the filter and when Dave finally did (months into using it) the difference was astounding, so now he does it every 2 weeks, like clockwork. The manual says to do so, but it really HELPS to do so. Often manuals say to do lots of things that don’t make a difference, but cleaning the filter is easy and helps efficiency, so do it.

 

Feb 27, 2014 - life    No Comments

Sewing Stuff

I posted about my sewing club a little while ago, and I’m still having fun with my projects. In fact, last week I’d mentioned to Dave that I was keeping my eyes open for something to use a sewing table in the dining room, because the situation was that I had the table extended to it’s full length with all of my stuff on it, and to eat dinner, everything had to be cleaned up, and then I had a pile in the corner of all my STUFF.  I had been pinning examples of what I wanted — something that could hide the machine and be a surface if I needed it for a party or something, but I wanted it to put the machine at surface level, and I wanted drawers on the left so that I could have space on the left. I don’t need much on the right of my machine, but I do on the left, and MOST sewing tables seem to orient the drawers on the right which makes no sense to me. I knew what I wanted, and I knew that even ugly sewing tables cost an arm and a leg, so I was hoping to find something in other ways.

Last week, on Thursday, our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore posted a sewing table on Facebook. It had drawers on the left! And appeared to not be made of laminate/pressboard! And they were asking — not kidding — $34.99. It was the end of my workday, so I grabbed my keys and started to leave to lay claim to it, but I paused — that was a steal. I turned around and called them. “Will you hold that sewing table? I am on my way.” (FTR, they will hold an item for 2 hours!) When I got there, I checked it out — solid wood, even the back! (so many pieces that go against a wall have cardboard backs these days, but this would look great facing out, even.) It was originally made to hide away the machine by swinging it down, and then there was a panel that went into the top to make it a flat surface. Because I take my machine to my sewing club, I decided I didn’t care about it swinging down, if I ever need to use the surface I can pop it out and put in the panel. But other than that, it met my needs! I plan on sanding and painting it when the weather warms.

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My sewing kit is a set of 3 little trays that snap together with a cover with a handle, and it’s great – I’ve been spreading it across the dining room table as I work. But with the new table, I have put the layers into the drawers. They are now keeping the drawers organized, and when it’s time to go to my meeting, I can snap them back together! The drawer stack is three drawers, with the bottom being the double deep one, where I’ve stashed a bunch of fabric.

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The other thing I did (before the table) was make this awesome ironing/cutting mat, and bought a small travel iron, so that I don’t need to set up the ironing board and big iron.

IMG_0932 IMG_0933 IMG_1029That is the current state of my sewing space!

 

Jan 25, 2014 - life    No Comments

LASIK

24 hours ago, I had LASIK surgery.

I first got glasses in the middle of 2nd grade, so I’ve been wearing glasses or contacts for almost 32 years. As LASIK technology improved, my curiosity was piqued, but I decided to wait til I had kids because I had a totally irrational fear that something would go wrong and I wanted to be able to see me future kids. (This is TOTALLY irrational — no one has ever been blinded by LASIK, by the way.) Also, I have a major ick factor with eyes. I remember a 3-2-1-Contact episode from when I was a kid, where they dissected a cow eye, and it just grossed me right out. Eyes are gross! Lasers in my eyes? EGAAADDS.

I asked my regular optometrist about it, and she recommended the doctor in Waterville, which is about an hour from my home. I made an appointment for the evaluation in October, and my concerns were about whether or not I was a candidate, and if I should do PRK or LASIK. (PRK has a longer recovery time and no flap, LASIK  is a shorter recovery with a flap. If you don’t qualify for LASIK, you might qualify for PRK.)

The evaluation was about an hour, and required having a driver because they dilate your eyes. I did several tests, and watched an informational video, and was told that I qualified for either PRK or LASIK, and that it was my choice. I signed up to do LASIK, but picked a January date so that I could plan for it with my FSA.  (Note: an individual FSA is maxed at $2500, but as a married couple we could each have a $2500 FSA that could be used for either of us, so Dave maxed his as well. We typically go through about 1k in FSA a year, anyway, so the max was my LASIK and our general FSA expenses. Many practices offer financing, but this saves us at tax time and I just consider the FSA deduction from the paycheck our ‘payment.’) I also wanted January because I have allergies, and January is about the best time to avoid itchy allergy eyes, and by doing it now, I’ll be healed for allergy season and summer swimming, etc.

The cost of the evaluation was $150, and the surgery was going to be $1800 per eye, and follow up care (which I am doing with my own doctor) will be about $225. The surgical method I had was Intralase bladeless wavefront LASIK, where they map your eye and use lasers for the whole thing – no cutting with a physical object. This method has been shown to have less problems with halos and starbursts, one of the most common side effects. (However, I get halos and starbursts with my glasses, so I’ll be interested to see how it is with LASIK.)

My appointment was scheduled for Friday, and on Monday I had to return to have my eyes re-mapped, to make sure it was the same as the October visit (there was no addtional charge for this. Most people do everything in the same month, but I had split my visits up to see if I could, and then to take advantage of my FSA.) I had five prescriptions to fill — 2 for eye drops, and 3 pills — a valium, a restoril, and a percocet. With my insurance, that cost about $60.

Yesterday was the surgery. I had read a LOT of LASIK stories beforehand. (Whcn I told a friend I’d read “about 100″ she replied “you probably left off a 0 or two” — I am known as an over-researcher. I had also talked to people that had had it done, and even a few that used the practice I was going to. One person had had the side effects of halos and starbursts, and said it was tough to drive at night, but that even with those complications she’s still glad she had it done.

Here’s how it all worked:

2pm, I arrive, and am taken to the back room, where there are three ‘stations’ separated by curtains in a big room, with a central desk. In the first bay I see a woman with a hairnet on, waiting her turn, and I sat in the middle.  A nurse seated me and looked over the prescriptions (I was told to bring them all with me)and then went over the aftercare instructions, which seemed complex to remember, so I was glad she told me that they had been written down for me. She told me the restoril and percocet were optional (and I was told the valium was, too, but for ME, an anti-anxiety was an option I was going to exercise), and she took my blood pressure, and reviewed the risks and had me sign another form there. Once I had signed, I was given the valium. Dave was able to hang out with me while I waited. I didn’t feel like the valium was doing anything (and I never really felt weird or anything, but I also didn’t freak out, so I guess it worked), and then they came and put my hair in a net, and put booties over my shoes. They also took my glasses — for the last time!!  I was given a series of eyedrops – at least two, but maybe three — I can’t remember – and then they swabbed my eye area with iodine or betadine. I could hear the laser clicking away in another room, but that’s about it.

Lasik1upright

The doctor came out and looked at my eyes, to make sure they were free from infection, etc, and then it was time to go. Dave went to the waiting room, and I went with the surgery coordinator to a large room, where there were several people — 6 or 8. Definitely more than I expected. Between the two lasers was a chair like a dentist’s chair, reclined. I got on that and laid down, and had to scoot back (this was actually made harder by the shoe covers on my feet, I couldn’t get traction) and I was given a stuffed dog (named Seymour, har har) to hold on to. That sounds hokey, but they have you hold it so you don’t reactively reach up to the laser, and it definitely helped.

I knew from reading that the “suction eyeball into place” was the most uncomfortable part, and I’d agree. As you look up you see something coming toward your eye (which is TOTALLY numb from the drops) that reminded me of those little handheld microscopes from a kid’s science kit, clear plastic. The instinct is to “squeeze it out,” which they told me, but I didn’t quite get what they meant til it was in, and I was tensing my cheek up when it went in. Once he pointed out that that’s where I had to relax, it was easy to do, I relaxed my face and breathed through my mouth (which, from reading I’d heard that you can smell your eyeball tissue being lasered away, and I wasn’t interested in that.)

Suctioned eyeball in place, the doctor had me look straight up and held up his finger as a focal point, and then slip me under the laser that does the flap. He told me to look at the ceiling, and this was hard because it was dark, no focal point under that laser, or light, or anything, so I was nervous that I wasn’t looking in the right place, but after just a few seconds, it was done, and the flap was created. He repeated it with my left eye, and then swiveled the chair about 15 degrees to the right for the corrective laser.

For that, there was no suction, but a clamp was in place to hold the eye open. Again, there was no feeling — it looked maybe like tweezers coming at me (even though I know they aren’t) and it didn’t hurt, and I didn’t feel the same pressure to squeeze it out like I had with the suction. They rearranged the pillow under my head to be wrapped around it more (I think there were wires or some structural elements to the pillow to help with that, it wasn’t a standard pillow.) There was an orange light I was to stare at, and at one point it became very dim and I told him I couldn’t see it but he said it was okay, that was what was supposed to happen. It quickly came back and it was much easier to focus under this laser because there WAS a laser to focus on. My right eye, someone in the room announced “19 seconds….. 10 seconds….. 5…… done.” I found that really reassuring to know when it was over. Then they smooth the flap back over, but all it looked like was somebody waving a toothpick in front of me, no sensation, and a really small instrument. He rinsed or added drops, and then let it ‘dry’ for a minute, before moving the left eye. Same for the left (only it was 21 seconds for that one.) Toothpicks, rinse, dry, etc.

Then it was done! They sat me up and asked if I was lightheaded, and I was, just a tiny bit, but I think it was because I hardly drew a breath through the surgery. They didn’t do any big reveal like most seem to do —  “READ THAT CLOCK!” — but I did notice I could see the time on the clock across the wall. I could see, but it was cloudy, which was explained that it was because of the eyedrops (which are milky looking) and the fact that I’d basically just had ‘eye trauma.’ (Not that anything went wrong, just that surgery is a big deal!) They taped on my plastic shields and put on the sunglasses and gave Dave my bag of stuff, and we were done! We walked out at 3:15.

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They told me I should sleep, but I really wasn’t very tired. I did nap for about half an hour in the car while Dave went to a record store, and I had preloaded a bunch of podcasts on my phone, knowing I was going to be spending the rest of the day with my eyes closed. When we got home, I hung out in our room and tried to rest, listened to podcasts, and Dave took care of my eyedrops when necessary. I did take the Restoril to sleep, since I hadn’t had the nap they’d told me to have, and I slept great all night.

This morning we headed back for an 8:40 checkup, where they took off my shields and tested my vision, and I was 20/20 in both eyes! The doctor looked at the flaps again and said it was great, and we were on our way. I brought my own sunglasses for the return trip, and we went to a store and out for breakfast and it was just wild to just… see. I keep wanting to compare my old vision and my new vision by moving my glasses, but I don’t have my old vision to compare – I just have this vision, which is 20/20. So strange.

My left eye feels like nothing at all has happened, and my right eye feels a little like I have a dry contact or eyelash in it, but that’s it, and is alleviated by drops. I will need to wear the shields at night for a week (honestly, I’ll probably do 2 weeks because I am an eyerubber ANYWAY and am paranoid) and follow the drop schedule. My right eye is more bloodshot than my left (this comes from the suction machine) and that might also be why I feel more sensitive in that one. I can see up close and at distance — at 38, I know I will likely need reading glasses in a few years, but that’s common for any adult, LASIK or contacts or perfect vision or not.

I’m so excited to be able to just see. I didn’t mind my glasses vanity wise — I actually have had some fun specs over the years — but to be able to know I can see in an emergency, without fumbling for my glasses. Or to be able to go running and not have them bounce, or fog, or get wet, or compete with my headphones for real estate. To be able to just SEE is pretty incredible. I’m only 24 hours out, but apparently it improves over the week, so I am looking forward to my next check up to see how I’m doing. (I plan to update this post as my recovery progresses.)

Update: I’m now on day 3, and things are going great!

Everyone asks “what’s it like to wake up and just see?” and for that, I really don’t have an answer yet because I am still sleeping in the plastic shields. They have a clear spot that you should be able to see through, but my eyes don’t line up with them so I am looking through the perforated areas, so when I wake up it’s more like “waking up and just seeing through scratched safety goggles.” I’ve also been wearing the plastic sunglasses they gave me when I left to keep water out of my eyes in the shower. I am VERY paranoid about rubbing my eyes, and I want to get some clear safety glasses but my attempts to get to a store that might sell them have been thwarted by weather and other things.

I drove at night for the first time last night, and it was great. When I wore glasses, I would get glare and see long vertical lines of glare when I looked at streetlights or oncoming headlights, etc, so those are gone, but there is a slight halo around lights now. I don’t know if that’s how normal people see lights, or if it’s a side effect, but even if it’s a side effect it doesn’t impair my driving – I keep looking at lights to see what I see, not because I am distracted. I definitely do not have starbursts — those I know from having dilated eyes, and that would make it very difficult to drive at night, etc. On this halo simulator, I’d say that what I am seeing is about a size 29/density 49.

I am being religious about my drops, and using the tears at least once an hour, even if I don’t think I need to. Side note – your tear ducts are connected to your throat, so you can taste the drops.

My eyes are still red from the suction, but that will go away in a few weeks.

Update: It’s been one month and things are great. I switched to wearing just the sunglasses to bed by about day 3, because the tape was irritating on the shields, and since the reason for them was to keep from rubbing the eyes, I figured the shades would work fine for that (and they did.) I’ve been pretty good about the artificial tears, and haven’t had the dry eye issues that many complain of. Night driving is fine – perhaps improved. I do find that when my eyes are tired at the end of the day, I have a little shadowing in my vision, where I might look at white text on a black screen and see a ghost of the text hovering below it, like a drop shadow. But, this happened even before I had LASIK, so I’m not sure if I’m just noticing more because I am more aware of how my vision has changed. It is never in both eyes at once, and only at the end of the day — 9pm or so. I spend a LOT of time in front of a screen, so I’m sure that doesn’t help.

I’ve since been skiing, and back to the gym with my new vision and it’s great. For skiing, I can now wear any goggles I want (although I’m still wearing my glasses friendly ones) and I’m not dealing with foggy lenses when I come inside. For the gym, I can wear my headphones and not have to stack them with my glasses and deal with things bouncing around both sides of my head. I’m really looking forward to running outside in the spring and not having to deal with fog and mist clouding my vision!

Photo (11)

Jan 16, 2014 - life    No Comments

Social Sewing

A few months ago, I hauled out my sewing machine to work on some projects for a few new babies that were due in my world. I posted on social media a photo of Ingrid learning on my machine, which led to this series of comments from some friends:

Sewing pic

(If it’s hard to read, it’s a friend asking if she could have lessons with Ingrid, and others chiming in.)

Now, I am NOT an expert seamstress/quilter/anything,  but I have dabbled in sewing for years. I actually got a machine when I was a kid that never worked right, ever, so I gave up, and then when I quit smoking over a decade ago, I invested maybe $100 in a very, very basic mechanical Brother machine at Walmart, and with that and fabric from Marden’s, I channeled all of that “oh my god, I want to smoke” energy into making quilts, which I gave away as I made them. (And it worked, by the way, so if you are looking for a distraction to quit smoking, I highly recommend it.) When I was expecting Ingrid, I made her a quilt using flannel in a citrus theme, because I craved citrus with her, and because orange and lime are good gender neutral colors, as we didn’t find out before delivery what we were having. Then it sat dormant for about 4 years, when I was expecting baby #2, and wanted to make a quilt for the new arrival. I started with the Brother I’d had all along, but was becoming frustrated, and I ended up buying a new machine on Amazon when I was about 36 weeks pregnant – the Brother CS6000i. At the time, it was $200 (which was what I had just earned from a blogging gig), but now I see it for under $150 regularly (and see that the XR9500PRW is basically the same machine with a few more stitches, so if I were buying now, It would be worth the extra $10 or so, I think.) It was such a huge leap forward from the basic machine I started with. Anyway, I made the blanket for the baby that ended up being Willa, and now I had TWO kids, and, yeah, the sewing machine went back to the basement, for, oh, about 3.5 years. So when I pulled it out, and shared this pic, it started a conversation!

Pretty quickly, people were chiming in that they had a machine but didn’t know how to use it, and we’d all run into there being a lack of classes or events that worked with any schedule other than “retired grandma.” I suggested we try to form our own sewing club and crowdsource what we were trying to learn, and the idea took off.

Our first meeting was in November, at a friend’s home — she had a big enough space and enough outlets to accommodate us, and I brought a box of wine and some cheese and crackers, and the Social Sewing club was born. It was great! We laughed, and we chatted, and most importantly, we got people actually using their machines! Note: If you are having a problem with your machine, we’ve learned that It’s Always the Bobbin.

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We’ve met twice more since then, and have meeting number four next month. In addition to getting others sewing, I’ve rekindled my love of sewing as well. I made some projects for those new babies, and have one in progress and one on deck for myself. My dining room has been taken over, which just makes me long for a dedicated space even more, but… someday. And even better, I have no babies in my future to stall me for another four years! In fact, now the babies want to help me with my projects, which sometimes works.

I know that social media so often gets a bad rap, but it’s important to remember what good can come from it. I had NO IDEA that any of these people were trying to figure out their machine, or had given up on figuring out their machine, until I posted that photo. And others may not have had any idea that I liked to sew until I posted.

Nov 26, 2013 - education, technology    1 Comment

US vs Canadian schools

I grew up on the Canadian border. The border between Maine and New Brunswick in that area is the St Croix River, and any time you went from one country to another, it was “going over the river.” Some things about growing up on the border (particulary in the 90s):

  • You know the difference between M&M’s and Smarties, and know that Smarties are superior
  • You know the difference between American Smarties and Canadian Smarties, and know that Canadian Smarties are superior
  • Tim Horton’s > Dunkin Donuts
  • Nanaimo bars. That’s all.
  • You know that if your friend takes a serious header on his skateboard in the US, you drive him over the river before seeking medical attention.
  • You get Sesame Street in the US version AND the Canadian version. (or, you did when all you had was a rooftop antenna.)
  • Mr Dressup. 
  • Everyone you know has been to another country, but some of those kids have never been to another US state.

I could go on, but growing up on the border has given me a slightly different perspective on a lot of things. So, when I find myself following lots of Canadian educators on Twitter, I can’t help but wonder how their great ideas and practices translate to American schools. This post was inspired by finding this Tedx Vancouver talk by Dean Shareski: Whatever Happened to Joy in Education?

Dean is a Canadian educator, that now works for the Discovery Education Network. Most (all?) of the people he features in this video are Canadian educators, and it brings up the questions about the border differences that I have now, 20 years removed from my own public school education and deep into my career as an instructional technologist working to prepare the next wave of American teachers.

The question I have for the Canadians, particularly those that spend time with teachers on both sides of the border, what are the differences that you see between your schools and American schools? Do you think that you have more freedom to find joy in education? Do you have more freedom to connect your students with others via social media?  Is there more freedom to inject your own style into your teaching? What are your perceptions of American schools?

 

Nov 24, 2013 - fitness    No Comments

Turkey Trot, 2013

I did the Turkey Trot last year, and after the hottest race of 2013 being the other 3 miler of the year, the Race for GLS, I HAD been looking forward to having better running weather this year to see how I could do. Instead, this ended up being the COLDEST race I’ve ever done. The temp was 23 degrees. Winds of 23mph and gusts of 40-45mph which is why the whole area was under a wind advisory. Those two combined made a “feels like” temp of around, oh, 7 degrees. SEVEN. Not missing a digit there, it was frigid. I was really NOT looking forward to racing in those temps, but one of my friends knew I was registered, and when we chatted about it on Facebook, honestly, that’s what made me show up. It’s crazy how just knowing someone will be expecting you can affect things like that! (It works for me with the gym, too.)

So, knowing it was colder than cold, I did what they always say NOT to do and changed up my running clothes. Instead of the Frosty tights and coldgear shirt, I first put on my polypro base layers that I use for skiing, THEN the coldgear shirt and tights, and THEN on top of that, a fleece that zips. I wanted that mostly for the pockets, because the cold air can be hard on my asthma, and I wanted my inhaler near. Then a wool buff to pull up over my face to warm my breath, a fleece hat pulled down over my headphones (which are padded, over the ear kind, and work like earmuffs in weather like this) and my cheapie magic gloves. Instead of running socks, I wore my thickest smartwools. Even then, my toes were the coldest.

When I headed out to the start line, the kids were all returning from the fun run, which is a mile, and so.many.kids. were sobbing. “Mommy, I’m so c-c-c-cold!” That did not make me feel better. But, by that point I had the timer tags attached to my shoes, my bib pinned on, and, well, I would’ve felt really dumb bailing at that point. At the start, I ran into another friend, whose daughter had braved the kids run. We laughed as we looked at the crowd, all of us bobbing as we tried to stay warm by jumping up and down. The gun fired, and we were off.

I ran the entire first mile, which was pretty awesome, and I ran it fairly fast, for me, especially considering how freaking cold I was, and that my toes had been numb, but were getting hot from the blood returning. I took a little walk break and kept going, and as I ran to the turnaround — it’s an out and back course — I could see the faster runners returning and could just tell that the return was going to be a headwind. I even saw a spectator with a baby stroller, walking backwards to keep the wind at their backs. That was… telling. After I turned around, it was ROUGH. The wind was so sharp that it was literally taking my breath away, and I alternated between breathing through the wool, and having to turn my head to the side to be able to draw a breath. A ‘real runner’ was pacing a friend and he said it was like “running in a pool.” It was really, really windy. At mile 2, I just kept thinking “finish to be done, finish to be done” but there was way more walking than I expected, although I didn’t need to use my inhaler, I didn’t want to get to that point.

This fall has been rough for my running, our family has had the Longest Cold Ever (which is apparently the 2013 version, as lots of people NOT living in my house have reported the same, this fall’s cold is a lingerer) and now that I’ve moved into the gym and am using the treadmill, well, I never like that. (Nerd alert: I always feel like any run I can’t record on a device “counts less.” My garmin is GPS only and I put my phone in the cupholder of the ‘mill, so I just end up staring at the display, which is TERRIBLE for me. I digress.) I also tweaked my back doing a planks challenge, and have just felt… meh… for most of the fall. But, this is why I register for races, knowing there is one means I DO go on the treadmill, even though I hate it, etc.

So, like the Race for GLS, I was just running to finish because of the weather conditions. And I ended up setting yet another PR — 37:23. (6 seconds better than the GLS race and more than 2 minutes better than this same race last year, and that race was PERFECT conditions! I just wonder what it would have been like if the years were reversed…)

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When I finished, I saw my friend Sarah and let her know that she was the biggest reason I showed up today – it makes such a difference to have someone expecting you, so I thanked her for that, and her dad got a lovely photo of us. I felt like I had a raging ice cream headache, so I hung out in the gym for the drawings — when you finish, you turn in your bag tag and they drew for a ton of prizes, giftcards, etc, and the grand prize is one dollar from each registration is a cash prize. I didn’t win (but I did learn you must be present to win, so that’s good intel) and the time sheets came out and had every page except for the one with ME on it, so I went home and was glad to snuggle down into the couch with a cup of coffee.

The thing that I am continuously amazed by is that, even when I figure the race is my WORST EVER and I’m just pushing out out of spite/pride, I am STILL PR’ing my races! Today’s was SO MISERABLE, but more than 2 minutes faster than last year. That’s part of why I keep registering for races, it helps me see that my baseline fitness level is steadily improving, even when I feel sick or tired or am running against a 23mph headwind, I am still getting fitter and faster. And I am certainly not FAST! I am always at the back of the finishers (there were 12 pages of results, and I would’ve been on page 10, for instance), but I am still pushing myself to do better, even when I think I’m phoning it in.

Nov 21, 2013 - technology    No Comments

I love my Roku.

I have never paid for cable, or satellite, ever. When I lived in apartments, I relied on bunny ears or the cable jack as antenna trick, and my last two apartments had cable because it never actually went away when the previous tenants moved out and cancelled it (which still makes me wonder if the cable companies just leave it on assuming the next tenants will be calling to hook up service, but that was also wow, a dozen years ago that I was moving into an apartment for the last time…) When we bought our house, we relied on antenna and a netflix subscription, which worked great. In 2008, I heard about the Roku through my various tech blogs that I keep up on, and I was instantly enamored — this was the perfect solution. Dave didn’t agree, but my friend Jamie did, and she bought one for her husband, and they loved it. a few months later, we were installing our Roku, and it’s only gotten better. I have probably ‘sold’ a dozen Rokus in the last five years to others who want something easier for streaming, and they have all been just as happy with the purchase as I have.

What does a Roku do? It streams content from a variety of sources, most notably, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu+, Pandora, and others. They also have a ton of private channels, but the ones we use most are Netflix, Pandora, and Amazon. We’ve used the NASA channel to watch various launches and spacewalks, etc, too. If you DO have cable, you can access some of your channels via the Roku, by providing your account info from your cable provider. There are also games available to play on it, but it would never suffice for a heavy gamer.

What doesn’t it do? It doesn’t record programs like a DVR would. You can’t download them to watch later, it is solely for streaming. It doesn’t connect straight to a web browser, or to YouTube.

Our original Roku was a fixture in our living room until we got a new tv a few years ago, a Samsung that came free with a streaming stick. When we got that, we relocated the Roku upstairs, and relied on the stick for Netflix and Pandora. It also will stream Amazon and other channels, but the interface is really clunky — for instance, Netflix is one panel, but you have to go to a totally different area to find Amazon, and in Amazon you can’t search easily.  Recently, our streaming stick has gotten more and more fiddly, so we brought the Roku back downstairs, and even though it is now five years old, it is still a better experience than our streaming stick (although the stick was nice in that it just plugged into the back of the tv and used the same remote.)

What do we watch? A LOT. On Netflix, my kids like seeing the usual kids fare – Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Good Luck, Charlie, Caillou, etc. They also like movie nights, when we stream movies like Lilo & Stitch or Mulan. My husband loves horror movies, and there are plenty of those. I like documentaries and we all like comedy, so those show up a lot, too. On Amazon Prime, there are shows that aren’t available on Netflix. For the kids, iCarly and Dora and the original Mr Roger’s Neighborhood, and for me, there are a lot of HGTV shows to see. Pandora is great, especially during the holidays, I’ve found.

What don’t we watch? We have a giant antenna mounted in our garage and connected to our tvs with coax, so we get our local stations in HD, and use that for network stuff. If you don’t have good reception for the networks, and want local news, etc, you’d need a cable package of some type. We also aren’t huge sports fans – we love watching the Sox on tv, but we are limited to what shows on Fox, and we are okay with that. There is an MLBtv package one can buy, but in Maine, all Sox games are blacked out because they are considered ‘local.’ If your favorite sports team is somewhere else, then MLBtv might be a great option for you. (There are similar premium services for other sports as well.)

While our original just won’t die, I am really hoping to next own a Roku3. Why the 3? So many reasons.

First, the original’s processor means that you can’t use all of the services that are available for Roku now, and the storage on the Roku has quadrupled. Because ours is an older one, we can’t add certain channels, like PBS and PBS Kids, for lack of processing power. The Roku3 fixes that. (For comparison, our original is 400mhz, and the 3 is “5x faster [than [the last processor, which was 600 mhz, which means it's almost 8x faster than our original].”

Second, the remote has a headphone jack. THE REMOTE HAS A HEADPHONE JACK. I don’t know why Roku seems to be the first for this ingenius mashup, but it is, and I want it.

Third, the integrated search option seems really great — I use a website and app to look to see if a certain show or movie is streamable on any of my services ( www.canistream.it ) which is great, but having it on screen would be cool, too. It also would take advantage of the Netflix profiles, which would mean our suggestions and recently watched wouldn’t be a bizarre-looking mix of horror flicks and kids shows.

On top of all that, it’s a lot smaller.

Here’s a photo  from Amazon of my Roku, and one from TechHive of the Roku3:

   

What does all this cost? Well, on Amazon right now the Roku3 is 94.99, which is $5 less than the regular price of $99. To use Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming, we pay 7.99/month and 79.00/year respectively. That works out to less than $15/month (and that’s if I ONLY used my Prime for streaming, and not for the free 2 day shipping, and other Prime deals, which I use all the time.) which is much less than cable. We also need to have high speed internet, which is about $50/month, but we’d pay that anyway. Using the camelcamelcamel service, I can see that the lowest the Roku3 has been on Amazon is $84.99. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see another price drop during the holidays, either.)

There are other options in the set top box arena, and most people that know me are surprised to hear that I don’t use the AppleTV, since I use the AppleEverythingElse. I do have an AppleTV for work, that I use for the airplay function, as that’s what Maine schools are using in their new MLTI setups, so I have played with that before. AppleTV doesn’t have the Amazon Prime offerings, unless you watch on an iPad and stream to the tv via airplay, which is another cumbersome step. For the same price, I would much rather have the Roku. The Google Chromecast is a new offering, and at $35 the cheapest, but it still involves streaming from a device to a tv, and I like the seamless approach of the Roku better.

Oct 21, 2013 - fitness    3 Comments

Freaky 5k 2013

Once again, I ran the Hardy Girls, Healthy Women Freaky 5k this year. I registered a while ago, and then have spent much of October feeling crummy. Allergies, a cold, etc, just crummy, and have hardly even run because of it. But, I knew I’d go to the race no matter what, because a) I’d registered and paid b) my friend was going to be there, too and c) Ingrid was signed up for the kids fun run — her first ‘race.’ I even told my friend on Friday that I was feeling bummed that I couldn’t compete with my past times, because of the general malaise, and that my sole goal was just to finish and call it a day.

Ingrid’s race wasn’t timed, and it was inside, but she was really proud of how fast she ran and I was really proud that she did it at all, as she can be quite shy in new situations.

Ingrid start line

 

You can also read about the race (and see Ingrid again in the photo gallery — and if you look closely, you’ll see her sister and dad and our friends as blurs in the background) at the KJOnline: Waterville fun run fights negative sexuality.

After Ingrid’s race and the costume contest, it was time for the actual 5k, and I lined up and ran when they said go and listened to my music and just headed out, with zero expectations, just hoping to finish. It was perfect running weather, and  when I headed up the hill (this course ends on this HORRIBLE HILL) I was feeling prickly (could’ve been better hydrated) and I had to pee SO BAD that running was killing me. But Tami led the girls down to run with me, and I was fast-walking and making sure Willa didn’t run into traffic (it’s not a closed course) and was just DONE with the race so I ran up and across the finish line and honestly didn’t even check the clock (I really had to go.)

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So, off I went, and my watch had a weird time – it showed the distance as 3.08 and my ‘moving time as 36:14, and my total time as 37:35, which is all fine, and still better than last year, but then when I looked up my official time — well, I really can’t believe it, and I still don’t believe it but Tami told me to own it and believe it, but my official time was 35:39. Which would be not only 4 minutes better than last year, but a PR all on its own. So much for phoning it in.

In 2011, my time was 43:12   and in 2012, it was 39:47. Now I almost feel like I should set a goal of 31:30 for 2014!

 

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