Thursday, April 30, 2009

Preparing for Doomsday

My husband is extremely well adjusted and normal, with just a few little quirks to make him interesting.  One of those little quirks is an obsession with disaster preparedness.  Although that is probably just a symptom, the actual trait is more like extreme caution bordering on paranoia.  A couple of years ago, when Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff told the nation that although there was no definitive proof, he just had a funny feeling that a terrorist attack was imminent and gave us all a check list of items so we could "shelter in place," Kevin ran out immediately and bought every item of the checklist, including:
Surgical masks
Jugs of water
Massive jars of peanut butter (which Kevin explains packs the most punch, nutrition and calorie-wise)
Plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal windows and doors in the event of a dirty bomb
Latex gloves
We still have most of these items, except that I ate the PB already (duh) and used some of the masks in my own paranoid days, early in Charlotte's life.  

And now we have the swine flu. Kevin is once again at his vigilant best/worst.  He keeps me fully abreast of how serious the situation is so that I will not think him crazy when he arrives home with a car load of canned goods (Charlotte is too young to eat PB so there goes that brilliant plan).  I'm thinking, gee, it's a flu, it's not ebola.  I think we will be able to run to the store for some cereal.  But he argues that if people panic (um, like maybe he is?) and no one goes to work, the entire food distribution system in the United States will grind to a halt and there will be nothing on the store shelves and a piece of bread will buy a Mercedes Benz.  Did you know that New York City only has a one day food supply at any given time? Yes, and so this scenario could unfold within 24 hours and the entire city will then starve to death.  It's true.  

Now, there's really only one thing crazier than Kevin's reaction to the swine flu threat, and that is my reaction to Kevin's reaction to the swine flu threat.  For some reason, a swine flu pandemic doesn't have me up at night, but the prospect of my house being filled with canned goods that we will likely never need does.  When he broaches the subject with me, I go ballistic.  Even though he is not asking me to do anything--he is going to go to the store and haul around tons and tons of canned chicken soup.  He will put it all in the basement somewhere, and I can sit and file my nails.  There really is no reason for alarm.  Nevertheless, I go ballistic.  I myself have a difficult time understanding why, but I think in my mind, he will be introducing a large quantity of new "stuff" into the house, the order of which is my responsibility.  As it is, I spend large portions of every day managing all the stuff we already do have in the house, trying to keep it in its proper place and making sure it doesn't smother us in the night.  These canned goods--How do we know what they will do once they have access to the house?  Even if Kevin neatly boxes them up and puts them away somewhere, I have no doubt they will soon find a way to clutter up my house and my life.   What if they form an alliance with the Baby Gear?  Now THAT'S a doomsday scenario my friends.    

At the end of the day, we are all just a little, teeny bit insane.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Answer is NO

The last post ended with the burning question of whether I could go into Babies R Us and just buy the shade extender.  

No. No, I can't. And I didn't.  

In my defense, some of the other things I bought we did really really need.  Charlotte needed lighter PJs since the weather is now warm, and she needed a few more warmer weather clothes.  But did she need $100 worth?  Probably not.  

I also bought her a baby floaty thing for taking her in the pool.  We are going to Kevin's college reunion in a few weeks, and the hotel where we are staying has an indoor pool.  Introducing Charlotte to swimming is pretty much the only thing about this trip I'm looking forward to.  I spent the last reunion explaining over and over again to countless Ivy League graduates where the tiny little Baptist college I went to is located and why I went there.  Then I got to explain to them why I did my graduate work at a mediocre state school.  It was so much fun, I probably went on a giant shopping spree upon my return just to continue the high.  

I also bought the shade extender.  But now I can't figure out how to attach it to the stroller.  

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Call of the Baby Gear

I've already had my first major run-in with temptation since swearing off buying things I don't really really need.  Not surprisingly, it has come in the beguiling form of Baby Gear, the shopaholic's nightmare because the vast majority of it is definitely unnecessary but buying it can be so easily justified as good parenting.   Also, Baby Gear makes you think that if you just had this one toy or gadget, your child would be entertained for hours/would sleep for hours/would eat her vegetables/would poop where she's supposed to/would leave you alone for 5 minutes and you would be free to cook gourmet meals and do the Ab Sculptor Miracle Workout and read actual books and write a novel.  And maybe cure cancer.  

There are a few products out there that do deliver (my personal favorite: Kiddopotamus swaddle blankets.  Swaddling for Dummies is what they should be called, as they have been successfully tested on me and Kevin), but they are few and far between.  I have wasted my money on more baby crap than I can remember, including: the miraculous baby toothbrush, which your child will voluntarily chew on, making her entire mouth sparkle within seconds; these little net-thingies you put food in so your child can suck on/chew on food without choking (Charlotte's advice is don't buy them unless your child loves the taste of mesh, which she--apparently--does not); more types of sippy cups than I can count, all promising a easy transition from the bottle and "no leaking no kidding" (except they are kidding); a vibrating teether that Charlotte believes is a torture device.   

Knowing what I know now, you would think I would never again fall prey to The Call of the Baby Gear.  Yet this week I nearly, that's NEARLY, bought a diaper bag.  Not just any diaper bag mind you, the perfect diaper bag with little compartments for everything and so space-efficient you could pack the crib in there practically.  At least this is the claim.  But I resisted and plan to remain content with the diaper bag I have, which is the free, vinyl Similac bag I got in the hospital.  Hey, it works. And it was FREE.  

But there is one thing I think I will buy and really do need.  I plan to buy a shade extender for her stroller because the idiots that make strollers make the shades only big enough to cover 25% of the child so that you have to keep moving the shade back and forth as the sun angle changes (seriously, if you are going to make a shade, is it really that much trouble to make it big enough to cover a real human child as opposed to a like a Cabbage Patch doll?).  So I think it might be worth it, but I'm going to investigate further before I leap.  Then the real test will come--Can I go into Babies R Us and buy just that one thing?  It is a feat never accomplished by a mortal parent.  

Friday, April 24, 2009

Desperately Seeking a Hobby

I mentioned a couple posts ago a theory about there being two types of people in the world, the guilty and the screwed.  Well, there are actually more than two types because there are another two types of people in the world and combining the two sets of categories yields...4 types. Yes, 4 (pardon the delayed activation of my math skills, they aren't much in use).  The other two types are people who do stuff, a.k.a "active people," and people who do not do stuff, I'm not going to call them lazy, mainly because I am one of them, but you know what I mean.  

I was reminded of this recently as I looked at a new Facebook friend's photos.  This friend, a former classmate, comes from a large family, has 5 kids himself, and grew up with me in Africa, which seems to cultivate in boys in particular generalized outdoorsyness.  In his photos, with his 5 kids, he waterskis, he hunts, he fishes, he rides motorbikes, he rides bikes, he rides four wheelers, he plays soccer, he runs, he jumps, he does stuff. Lots of stuff.  Just looking at his photos wore me out.  Not so much because of the activities themselves, but for all of the organization/preparation that goes into the activities (especially with 5 kids!)  First you have to purchase or rent the proper equipment.  Then you have to choose a day, time, and place to do or find a scheduled event.  Then you have to either find child care or make preparations for children to come with you.  If they are small kids, that means you need more proper equipment just for their attendance (a baby backpack, baby kayak, papoose thingy, what have you).  Then you have to assemble food, water, clothing, equipment, whatever you will need for the duration for yourself and 5 (! I still can't imagine even birthing that number of kids, much less taking them anywhere) kids.  Then you have to get up, get yourself and your kids in the car and go and do.  Then you have to clean up the mess and tend to the injuries.  See, I'm absolutely in a coma right now just having typed it up, I'm so tired.  

The strange thing about these kinds of people is that very often they aren't actually very organized kinds of people, more like fly by the seat of your pants kinds of people.  Regarding this particular guy, I would never believe he in fact had the organizational skills to do all these activities if the photographic evidence weren't staring me in the face.  I, on the other hand, am fairly organized and don't do much stuff.  I feel pretty accomplished if I leave the house on any given day.  I would like to do stuff, I really would.  I am not terribly athletic--if you watched me and Kevin play tennis, one of the things we do actually do on occasion, you would swear you are at the Special Olympics, and, unlike Pres. Obama, I can say that because if anyone writes angry offended comments on here, I can just delete them--but I like to do stuff.  But I hate, HATE, HATE!!! to organize stuff to do.  This is one reason why I don't cook much.  I really don't mind cooking but I hate trying to decide what to cook, making a shopping list, and going to the store to buy the ingredients.  Maybe I over-think things (you think?).  I don't know.  

Now that we have a child--and now that I am trying to stop shopping of course!--it is becoming more imperative that I find stuff to do.  Whereas I can easily laze in front of the computer or TV for hours on end perfectly contented, she gets really bored with that.  She wants to Seize the Day!!! So I actually have been forced to schedule play dates and even enroll in a class (gasp!)  It is getting to where it takes more energy to stay home and do nothing than it does to go somewhere and do something because Charlotte will be relatively content in the latter scenario  whereas she will be screaming and crying and writhing on the ground like a demon-possessed person in the former one.  

I think the bottom line is that, other than having a child/dictator, it is good to have some kind of activity that you are passionate about, that you will get up in the morning for, that you will go through the pain of planning and organizing for.  Maybe the two types of people aren't active people and non-active people, but people with passionate hobbies and people without.  I have just got to get me a hobby.  Other than shopping.  

Another solution would be to just tie my wagon to an active person and let them plan my life for me.  Any volunteers? Seriously, just tell me when and where to show up, I'm there.  And bring me a packed lunch, you don't want to see me hungry.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Breaking the Addiction

I just came from my weekly Bible study group where we discussed materialism, always a downer.  I was convicted, not necessarily on a moral or biblical plane, although those dimensions are part of the issue of course--what one spends their money on is an ethical/religious issue.  But my disgust with myself as a consumer has more to do with a) Poor use of my time b) A general lack of discipline and c) My hatred of clutter.   

On point a), I have come to realize that one of the primary reasons why I shop is out of boredom.  These days, now that it is harder to get out of the house, it is internet shopping that is my hobby.  I watch Charlotte with one eye and cruise ebay with the other (incidentally, this kind impaired shopping is quite dangerous, especially on ebay where you can't return a lot of things; I have probably wasted $100 in the last year on things that are the wrong size or not quite what I want because I wasn't paying close attention. I also bought the new U2 album twice on iTunes, not because I just love Bono that much and want to give him all my money--which I do actually--but because Charlotte was screaming at me).    Or at work, if I am procrastinating, I am invariably cruising the J Crew sale (which isn't what it used to be, by the way. They need to wake up and smell the recession). It used to be against company policy to actually buy things on work computers, but they changed that and now it's a no-holds-barred shopathon.  Shopping out of boredom would be fine if I was content just gaze, but I am a goal-oriented person, and I don't feel accomplished unless i actually make a purchase.  Some people run marathons; I find the perfect black pants (and then I find the more perfect black pants).   

This bleeds into point b).  I used to think I was quite a disciplined person.  In fact, I used to BE a disciplined person.  In college, I worked out every day, I studied like mad, I lived pretty frugally.  Then I finished graduate school and got divorced.  After 8 years of forcing myself to do things I really didn't want to do, both in school and in marriage, I pretty much wanted life to be a party.  And it has been for the most part.  Until I had Charlotte, my existence was ridiculously easy.  I had to invent stress just for the drama of it (which I am really great at doing.  Who knew, for instance, that having weeds in one's yard was a life-or-death struggle, as if the weeds might invade your home and strangle you in the night if you didn't find time to pull them up?)  Now that I am a mother, which is actually kind of hard for real, I realize that I have lost all discipline.  I hardly work out, I spend almost no time on my spiritual growth (I mainly go to the Bible study to socialize), I eat a bunch of crap, I watch a bunch of crap on TV (including Oprah, who, as it turns out, doesn't flood your life with meaning as advertised), and yes, I buy a bunch of crap. Some of it is on sale, this is true, but it is still a bunch of crap that I don't really need, and even a lot of it, unbelievably, I don't really want at the end of the day (see point c)). I have come to lead a very thoughtless and accidental life.  And I whine endlessly about the smallest about of hardship.  It's really pathetic.  I disgust myself!  Like really, I'm sitting here with myself and feeling quite nauseous.  

My lack of discipline with time and money leads me to point c).  Much of what I buy I end up loathing on some level because it takes over my house, stares me in the face, and becomes an obvious display of how little discipline I do have.  And it makes my house messier, which I can't stand.  I hate clutter!  I hate it so much, I do regular purges where I just can't take it anymore and start compulsively throwing things in the car for a Goodwill run.    Then, incomprehensibly, I turn right around and go buy more.  It really does blow my mind when I sit down to think about it.  Some people binge and purge; I shop and donate.

So here's what I am going to do.  I've just made my last internet purchase (one needs a parting fix after all), and now I am going cold turkey.  That's right.  I am going to stop buying stuff I don't really need.  I'm going to start with a 30 day stretch to make it more palatable.  So watch out American Economy! You are about to take a severe hit.  

Friday, April 10, 2009

Who are you and What have you done with me?

Kevin had a friend in graduate school who claimed there were only two kinds of people in the world, those who feel guilty and those who feel screwed (which, incidentally, is one of the more brilliant insights I have ever heard).  I definitely fit into the former category.  I have many faults, but at least I am aware of the fact.  Still, while I think people who feel guilty a lot and therefore take responsibility for their characters are generally the better half of humanity, feeling guilty and being self aware does not necessarily prevent bad behavior.   

Believe me, I know.  I have been feeling guilty A LOT lately, because I have been screwing up A LOT.  I've never been particularly "sweet" or "nice." Many people think that I am, but that's only because they don't know me very well.   Patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control--these are the fruits of the Spirit, and the Spirit is working his butt off with this soul.  He apparently even needs to take frequent vacations to Fiji because I swear there are times when there is no sign of him anywhere.  But Holly Post-Charlotte makes the pre-Charlotte version look like Mother Teresa.  Post-Charlotte Holly it seems uses up 99% of her patience and goodness and unselfishness on Charlotte, leaving the world, and especially Kevin, to suffer.  Kevin and I used to be the most nauseating couple on the planet.  We never fought about anything.  Now it seems like hardly a day passes that I don't bite his head off for some egregious offense, like asking me where my W-2 is (because the 10 seconds it takes me to find it for him is so much more of a burden than the 10 hours he spends actually doing our taxes).  

I don't know what it is about motherhood that makes me so angry and crazed.  It seems I am not alone either; in talking to many of my Mom Friends (which are more akin to fellow support group members than just regular friends), they also are angry and crazed.  Especially at men, and especially at the father of your child.   If this is some kind of evolutionary thing, it is really counterproductive, because if you are now mothering a child, you should probably try to be a better person, not a more evil person, and you probably need to love your baby's daddy more, not less.  Maybe in caveman times, instinctually treating your man like crap was a primitive form of birth control (although it works only about half the time, I find. While men like to be treated with respect, it turns out they like to have sex even more).  

I think it's just that we women end up managing all the little bitty details of parenting a child, whereas men kind of just show up.   For instance, this is my thought process getting ready for church: OK I need to feed Charlotte, change her diaper before we go so they won't have to do anything in nursery but if I give her a snack now she won't be hungry for dinner before we leave so I better just give her a few goldfish crackers now, then about 15 minutes before we leave, I'll feed her dinner then I'll just have like a Nutrigrain bar in the diaper bag in case she gets hungry in the nursery because Nutrigrain counts as a fruit and she's only really had one fruit today whereas goldfish count as a protein oh and I had better wash her coat now because she got mud all over it this morning at the park and the other coat really isn't warm enough for this weather and I'd really better put a change of clothes in the diaper bag because her poop has been a little runny since she discovered shredded wheat and I don't want her to have a blow out at church.  Oh and I need to dress myself. Note to self: Don't forget to put on clothing.

Whereas this is Kevin's thought process: Looks like it's time for church. Let me put my shoes on.

So when Kevin needs something, like my W-2, my knee jerk reaction is, Are you freaking kidding me? Can't you do one thing yourself?  

But there really is no excuse.  Kevin, I'm really sorry. But the least you can do is forgive me after all the trouble I continue to go through to birth and rear you child!  See, I can't be helped....

Thursday, April 9, 2009

That's right, this isn't a free speech zone

I am hiding the comments section for now because some real estate agents decided to use my blog to shame me and to put their side of the story on here.  Guess what? This is my blog, where I can speak freely without shame and MY side of EVERY story gets its due, because there is nowhere else where that is true.  So there.  Sorry to those who like to leave pro-Holly comments, I will put that feature back once the realtors have lost interest.  

But, being the child of missionaries with a hyper-active conscience, I do feel guilty about bashing ALL real estate agents.  I am sure there are a number of nice people in the business who speak the truth and honestly put their clients' interests first even when it costs them money.  I have at least one friend who is a realtor, and I am sure he would fit this description.  I just think the business model is a little off.  Not so much for agents representing sellers--in that case both the agent and the owner want the house to sell as quickly as possible for as much money as possible.  But with buyers, I think it doesn't work. The agent's interest is for the client to buy as expensive a house as possible and as soon as possible, whereas the buyer's interest might be to looks for months and months for just the right house at the right price.  Realtors are only human.  So I think as a buyer, Redfin is definitely the way to go.  We certainly have been pleased with Redfin in our recent home purchase.   

And to the realtor who left the "Shame on you" comment--It is true that B and N weren't representing me. Apparently you think that means they are then at liberty to lie to and about me and treat me like crap when all I did was ask B for a smidgeon of consideration and in the case of N break some kind of  realtor rule that I had no idea even existed that cost her nothing (and in fact saved her a ton of time and effort and made her a boat load of money because I bought her house without her having to put it on the market).  Anyway, you aren't making your profession look good, you are only proving my point.  

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why real estate agents suck (except for Redfin)

Disclaimer: If you are a real estate agent or love a real estate agent, stop reading this now.  You will be insulted.  If you choose to read on, don't come complaining to me.  You will only add to my long list of why I hate real estate agents.  

We have unfortunately had a lot of contact with realtors lately.  We have just bought a house, and worse, we are living as renters in a house that is for sale.  On the latter issue, we have had the joy of dealing with B, who despite endless schmoozing attempts, has come to reside squarely on my blacklist.  B's sins have been many and continuous.  First she asked if she could start showing our house a month earlier than we were contractually obligated.  We said OK, provided the owner agree to a few demands.  We never heard back, except to be informed that the open house would be two days hence.  We took that to mean the owner had agreed to the demands, and we didn't put up a fight.  We sat in our house with our baby for 3 hours while dozens and dozens of people stomped through and stared and us and our baby.  After which it became apparent that the owner had no intention of honoring our demands.  Nice, very nice. B promised us we would have 24 hours notice for showings then proceeded to repeatedly ask for showings at an hour's notice.  We accommodated when we could, we aren't bastards.  But now I refuse a showing for maybe only the 3rd time out of about 100 and B goes all ballistic and contacts the owner, to threaten us with revocation of the free month's rent she had earlier offered.  You know what B? Your owner can keep her pathetic month's rent if it means I don't have to be nice to you.  So there.  

Then we have the charming selling agent of the place we just bought.  We contacted N about our new house when it was off the market--we originally saw it last summer when it was on the market and we went to the open house.  She showed us the house this winter without us having our agent present (which is apparently against stupid realtor protocol). When our agent contacted her about us putting in a bid, she insisted that we wanted dual representation and proceeded to make up lies about how many times she had showed us the house.  When we told her that he was our agent, not her, N continued to give him trouble and even tried some under the table double dealing.  And this in a BUYERS (hello, N!) market and a house that had not sold for a year.  She is lucky we didn't just have enough of her and move on.  We are suckers, what can I say.  

In fact, the whole problem with the real estate business and real estate "agents" is that in reality, no one is really working for your best interest. It is in the realtor's interest that you buy something, anything, as quickly as possible and at the highest price possible because that way they get more money.  It doesn't matter what the market is doing, they will always give you a load of crap about why "it is a GREAT time to buy," etc.  In 2004, when we were last on the market as potential buyers, the jerk we were working with then just went on and on about how the DC housing market was perpetually strong and the federal government is the most stable employer and the value of whatever we would buy would just go up and up and up.  Fast forward 5 years and prices have collapsed 20% as part of a nation-wide crisis.  Thank goodness we didn't listen to him and decided to rent.

Which is why Redfin is so awesome.  Everyone, listen up, because you want to know about Redfin, and you want to use them if you live where they operate, if for no other reason than they will eventually put the conventional realtors out of business and score one for humanity.  Redfin agents do not work on commission, they are salaried, and when you buy a house with Redfin, they SPLIT THE COMMISSION with you. That is right folks.  AND you get the same service, only without the self interest and annoying salesmanship, since your agent gets paid their salary regardless.  So you get actual, objective advice from a real estate professional. Unheard of!  And of course you get 1.5% of the value of your home purchase back, not bad either.

Incidentally, what do you think the realtors did when Redfin began? Of course they tried to put them out of business. Redfin had to sue for access to the MLS system of listings.  They won, because this is America, and the better business model will eventually triumph.   

So watch out real estate agents!  Your days are numbered. There is a God.