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Jul 13, 2015 - life    No Comments

Sewing update

Over the winter, I did even more sewing, and in the late fall, I decided that a new machine would be a great way to mark my 40th birthday, in July. I had researched several machines, and had decided initially on a Juki F600, because it met all the requirements I was looking for (I had a spreadsheet. Of course.) but then I tried a Viking at the local dealer, which is inside a Joann Fabrics, and that was pretty nice – and I would not be able to test drive the Juki, but just go on what the internet reviews said. I had looked at Janomes, but their basic models were too basic, and their next step up was a giant leap up and too much machine and way out of my price range. BUT THEN. Janome introduced a new machine in late fall, that seemed exactly what I wanted. My $150 Brother had served me well as I learned, but I also knew exactly what I wanted in my next machine – a bigger harp space, better lighting, thread cutters, and a knee lift (or other hands free ability). I also wanted it to be solid and sturdy, and quiet – my Brother was prone to having to be chased across the table when I worked on bigger projects, and that could get annoying.

I loved the hover foot on the Viking, but dealer reviews left me a little leery. Janome had a fantastic dealer at the Fabric Garden, a LQS that was on my way to the mountain, so a place I passed and stopped at pretty often , and they were always a great place to visit, and after a couple of missed opportunities, in February I FINALLY got time to stop in and test drive the Skyline S5. It was exactly what I wanted, in all ways. I went to the mountain and told my parents, and Dave, that all I wanted for the next few occasions were gift cards to the Fabric Garden, so that I could buy the Skyline. I was sold.

Later in February, less than a week later, actually, an email came through from Janome about a contest – I read the details: submit a picture, unlimited entries, winner chosen from a random drawing. It sounds a little woo, but I read that and had a feeling wash over me of “I am going to win this.” I immediately found one of my pictures on Flickr and uploaded, and shared the contest with my sewing group. I decided I’d make an entry for each day. The contest ended March 31, and I missed some days in the middle, so I did a big push at the end, but in the end I think I had posted 35 pictures. It seemed like the other entrants thought it was a ‘get the most likes/comments/shares’ contest, but it wasn’t – the terms and conditions clearly said it was a random drawing, with unlimited entries, so odds are better when you enter more. The terms also said that the winner would be notified by 10 am on April 1.

All month as I took pictures, Ingrid was excited to help, and she knew that I was entering a contest, and on the morning of April 1, when I left for work she knew that was the day of the drawing and she was very excited, gave me a big hug and said “I’m crossing EVERYTHING hoping you win!!” I went to work, and watched the clock. 10 am came…. and went. Oh well, I figured, there were still 85% OTHER entries, so I did what I could, and would keep entering contests if they showed up. And then, at 10:06, an email popped into my inbox. Subject: Congratulations on winning a Janome Skyline S5 Sewing Machine!


I was floored. I went back to that day I first entered, and how I’d just had this sense that this was going to be mine, and couldn’t believe I was RIGHT! A flurry of emails, and the machine was backordered from the company, so I FINALLY managed to get it on April 24…. from the Fabric Garden! Not only did I win the exact machine I wanted, I was able to get it from the exact dealer I wanted, so I get those dealer benefits, too. Kala and her staff there were so great, and almost as excited as I was that I won. We took photos for the company, and I got a lesson and bought some accessories, and since it was the month of the Maine Quilt Shop Hop, Ingrid and I spent the rest of the day driving through Maine to get our stamps and spend the day together. She inherited my old machine, which was just as exciting for her.



Fall is when I usually get the sewing itch, but with the new machine I have been trying to scratch it earlier. The very first thing I made was a weighted blanket for Willa – we had picked out the material on March 31, HOURS before being notified I’d won, and once I knew my dream machine was on its way, I couldn’t bear to use my old one, so she got her birthday blanket almost a month late. It was a simple project to start with, but also a good one to start with, because I found that when I accidentally hit a bead, the machine just basically stopped feeding until I noticed, and cleared the bead, and then it would go on. No loud noises or error codes or broken needles, just a “hey there, something in the road, mind checking it out for me?” pause in the action.


When Willa’s dance pants needed to be hemmed (by a LOT), the Skyline handled the stretchy lycra with no problems. And I made my first Hour Basket, and the thick seams didn’t slow down the Skyline for a second. I LOVE this machine.



One of the things I felt bad about was that by my winning a machine, the Fabric Garden ‘lost’ an actual sale – but the week after I got my machine, I took it to my sewing group and a week after THAT, a member of the group went to the Fabric Garden and bought one for herself!

I plan on doing a full review (and comparison to my Brother, which was a great machine to learn on) but I also wanted to get the story of winning my machine written down. I know that so many contest winners smile for the pictures and then turn around to sell their prize for money, which is fine, but this was a prize I REALLY wanted, and am so thrilled to have received.

Janome has hit the sweet spot for a sewist like me – someone who has learned some, but wants to go farther, with a quality machine. Before the Skyline, there was a big gap between the 4160 and the Horizons, and this machine bridges that gap PERFECTLY. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to go a little farther with their sewing – the convenience features mean I spend more time sewing and less time doing maintenance, and that is just amazing to me – I feel so lucky to have won.


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.



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:

photo (12)

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, 
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.)
photo (14)
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.


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.



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


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.



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.






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


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.


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.


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.


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.

Sep 22, 2013 - life    12 Comments

How to fit an IKEA sectional into a minivan

When I started to look for a new sofa for our living room, one of my friends suggested the IKEA Ektorp sectional. She suggested it because SHE has it, and she knows I love it, but I answered with a “ha ha, right, it needs to fit in the van!” But then I googled, and I found a few posts that mentioned being able to fit the Ektorp into a minivan, (like here and here) but I found NO pictures of how that worked, and unlike just about every other product IKEA sells, the box dimensions are not listed on their website. So, when we went to IKEA today with fingers crossed, I vowed to take pictures and measurements so that other people would have this info if they googled. Here is how we fit the sofa into a 2005 Honda Odyssey, with all seats removed. It took us a couple tries to figure it out, so here’s the guide for those looking to do the same.

I’ll start with the measurements. The Ektorp comes in four boxes. One is the cover, and that’s a small free-floating box, and the other three are shrink wrapped together. Pro tip: when you go to the sofa section of IKEA, you place your order there, but they don’t pull it til you pay. Once we’d paid, we had to wait about half an hour or so to have them fetch the thing, so if I were doing it again, I’d have placed the order, gone right down and paid, and THEN done my other shopping.


Cover: 15″ x 5.5″ X 30″ (this one isn’t a concern. Your passenger could hold this if they had to.)

Corner: 36″x36″x27″

Arm ends: 2 @ 15.5″ x 36.5″ x 59″

How to fit them in:

Bring a box cutter or leatherman (or go back in and buy some sort of sharp object) and cut away all the shrink wrap. Be careful when you do it, because the way ours was loaded, dividing the load made each end go to the pavement. We also parked off to the side of the loading area, and I don’t know if that was cool or not but we were out of the way and no one made us move, and it worked much easier.

Use the side sliding to put the corner piece in so that it’s 27″ side is the width, so set the square on its side.

Corner piece

Load the two arm ends from the hatch, flat, one on top of the other.

End arms


And then put the cover wherever. (You can see it on top of the end arms above.)

The hardest fit was behind the seats, because of the grab bars. We adjusted so the driver had more room, but the passenger seat was all the way forward and upright, which in an Ody isn’t terrible, but know that going in. We obviously had removed the center chairs, and hidden the 3rd row, before our trip.

Now I’m going to put in all the search terms I used to try to find this, so that other people can find it. IKEA sectional ektorp minivan odyssey pic sofa couch 2+2 corner sofa size of boxes

May 23, 2013 - education, life, technology    No Comments

Twitter in my classroom

Last year when I taught this course, I tried to roll Twitter into it, but after the initial setup, most students didn’t keep up the way I had hoped. This year, I made it an actual assignment. Three, actually, I divided the semester into thirds and required that everyone meet a minimum standard. They had to post at least twice a week, and in each time period they had to have shared 2 resources, had 2 @ messages and 2 retweets. That’s all you had to do for full credit. The objective was to keep them going back, and hope that they started going back without prompting. I also always offer to work out an alternative for those that really, truly do not wish to use social media in my course, but no one has asked to exercise that option yet. We also go over the privacy expectations when we are getting started. Having this as an actual assignment definitely made a difference.

Top 5 benefits of using Twitter in the classroom, as according to Gretchen:

1) Relationship building. I have two class sessions each week, and it’s hard to build relationships in those two 1:15 periods. The students that engaged in the Twitter exercise built deeper relationships than those that didn’t. For instance, I have never given much thought to the sports programs here, but having two softball players tweeting about their victories made me much more interested – I noticed headlines in the paper that I would’ve skipped, because I was looking to see if my students were mentioned. In addition, my students know more about ME through Twitter, more than they probably know about any of their other instructors. I do not have a special ‘work’ twitter account, I’ve rolled everything together as a “Gretchen” twitter account, because I am a teacher AND a geek AND a mom, AND a runner, AND a citizen of Maine AND AND AND. I can’t compartmentalize my love of teaching and technology as separate from the rest of the things that make up who I am.

2) Beyond the class connections. I have two students that are former students, but have stayed in touch on Twitter, and have sought assistance in their other classes by sending an @message or DM to schedule an office visit. I am certain that they have appreciated this level of access.

3) Modeling connected learning and teaching. Our Skype with the 8th graders came about because of a Twitter connection. We participated in the lipdub because of Twitter, too.

4) Sharing current events with the class. I do a tech survey at the start of each semester, and very few students are reading or watching traditional news anymore, so I can’t assume they will see things that impact teaching and technology and local politics surrounding education. I try to share news and information that they might otherwise miss. (By tagging it with #ed307, it shows up in a special widget in our Canvas course as well.)

5) Modeling the digital footprint. My students know a lot about me (see #1) but they also see how I can be authentic without being rude or unprofessional. I talk about this openly in class — they will never see me complain about work or my family online. Ever. I will never tweet bullying comments about peers or students, or share things inappropriately. I also think it helps my students to remember that professionals use twitter, too, and maybe they will think before they tweet if they know their teacher is reading along. I am clear that I understand that they are college students and in a different station of life, but that they should still be thinking about the impression they make using social media. I would rather have them learn in my class, which is a safe space, than learn in the ‘real world,’ where it might jeopardize a job opportunity or other relationships.

Here’s my favorite twitter story from the spring semester, though. And it really ties to the “building relationships” piece. One of my students had to unexpectedly miss class and drive halfway across the country. On her drive, she tweeted:



And I followed with:



That was at 6 pm, and I didn’t hear anything again until an hour and a half later, when the student tweeted this:


The farm my mom grew up on. THE farm. Not just a farm nearby, THE FARM, 750 miles away from here. On the left is the house and on the right is the barn. The vineyard is between the highway and the buildings. I couldn’t believe it! I tweeted right back at her:



And I sent the pic to my mom, who was on vacation, and she emailed back:

“Amazing. That your student captured a photo so clearly showing the old farmhouse and barn.  It was a moment to remember good times there…and especially onMay Day.  I think that was a gift from Mom….Alesa and I used to celebrate May Day by picking violets from the pond, putting them in Dixie cup bouquets,  sneaking up on Felton’s porch, knock loudly, leave the cup of flowers and run and hide while Loretta discovered her surprise.  Thanks for bringing back happy memories for me.”

So, why does this matter in teaching? A good teacher builds strong relationships with their students. I strongly believe that Twitter helps me foster those relationships beyond the classroom. Without twitter, I’d have never known that my student was going to be passing through, and without that relationship, my student wouldn’t have felt compelled to try to take the pic. But because she did, it set off this little chain reaction of good stuff — I shared it on facebook and my mom’s childhood friends were liking the photo and commenting. My grandmother has been gone for 27 years, but whenever these small miracles happen, we call it “a Nana thing.” That my student grabbed this photo, and brought back so many good memories, and (I think) lightened her own spirit a bit, was totally a Nana thing, but it would never have happened if not for making Twitter part of my teaching practice.

Two side notes that came up since I started working on this post:

First, I’ve been nominated for the Hashtagger award from Social Media Breakfast: Bangor, for my use of twitter in education. I’d love to get your vote!

Second, my evals for this term arrived while I was finishing up. They were overwhelmingly positive, and jumped up from previous semesters, and the two things I did differently this term were that I required Twitter and used Canvas. I am convinced that both of those things are what made the difference.

Apr 16, 2013 - fitness, life    No Comments


Yesterday, my friend and I took our afternoon walk and when I came back, I was scrolling through my twitter stream and saw the first mention of “the tragedy in Boston.” I thought it was probably one of those situations where a runner dies of a heart attack on the course, but as I kept scrolling, I saw that it was much bigger than that. I told my intern, and we both huddled over a live video feed for a while, trying to understand what was going on.

Whenever a tragedy like this happens, it is human nature to personalize it. When I was a kid, going to Boston for April vacation happened quite often. It’s a great time to go — springy temps, the Red Sox are playing by then, and the hotel we always stayed at is on Beacon Street in Brookline, and we could see the racers go by. I could picture what that day looks and feels like, and even on our walk just before, my friend and I were marveling that spring seemed to have (finally!) shown up.

But since I’ve started running, I have a new way to personalize it, to try to imagine what kind of awfulness that would be. I have NO plans to ever run Boston, or a marathon, but even my slow-as-hell 5ks are the result of working toward a goal and challenging myself, and the finish line is a place of joy, and nothing else. When I read that the boy killed had just hugged his dad at the finish line and walked back to his mom and sisters, that just makes my heart hurt. One of my favorite memories of the last Freaky 5k was that Ingrid ran with me at the end, and I cannot, I cannot even begin to imagine the terror of finishing Boston, or any race, and having your family blown.up. Horrifying.

When Newtown happened, I had similar feelings — I KNOW what a 1st grade classroom is like, I know what a first grader is like —  I have one. I know that 1st grade is a place of joy, that kids still love going to school in first grade, that they are wicked excited for Christmas by mid December, and the shooting there happened, it was too easy to imagine what it would look and feel like in the moments before. Same with this one, a finish line is a happy, happy place. When these acts happen in places that are  just pure and joyful, it is heartbreaking.

And for all the runners who worked so hard, for so long, to have a perfect day for a marathon marred by this, I hope your next finish line is a joyful one.