21 June 2018

No Baby Jails

If you're like me you've been deeply upset and shaken to the core by the news in the last week or so. I mean, the news has been bad for the last 18 months, but this was a new level of anxiety and terror and upset.

The Administration's "zero tolerance" policy for people coming to our border to be charged with a crime and jailed. Those traveling with children have the kids taken away and also jailed. There are CHILDREN IN CAGES who were put there by the U.S. government.

I've scrolled Twitter reading in horror and even seen a few posts on Facebook (my FB feed trends neutral since most people I know IRL are conservative to right wing and I've blocked most of their propaganda posts). I've had agitated conversations with my husband (just the awfulness/not that we disagree).

I know people in my life applaud the "zero tolerance" policy and separating families, and I honestly don't know how to reconcile that. It's been bad enough being family with people who celebrate white supremacy, bigotry, racism, sexism and hatred. Child abuse wasn't something I was expecting. How can you convince someone that other people matter?!?!?!

I do plan to gather the girls and take them with me to a protest next Saturday. I'm not sure how to explain this to Jane or what's really appropriate, but I also know we need to stand up for what's right. And this policy, even this backpedaling that's happened, just is not right. Families belong together (and NOT in jail for seeking asylum)!

Here are some of the tweets I've liked or retweeted over the past couple days:

And this one, which is so true in my experience as a full-time caregiver I can feel it in my teeth:
And basically this:

14 June 2018

Goodbye Fitness Tracking?

I really like my FitBit. I never connected with anyone on the app (I wasn't sure if other people could see my sleep patterns or weight inputs, etc.), but I thought it was fun to have the data and compare to myself, trying to motivate more movement.

I got the FitBit Flex as a gift from my mom in December 2015, just before Livia was born. It was exactly what I wanted and I loved it. I even wore it while in labor, to track my steps ... but it died. It OFTEN died, and there was never any warning or battery level indicator unless I connected to the app, which I didn't regularly do. So that was a negative, but I if charged it a couple times a week, it was enough so that it was usually working.

But the charger was not great. I complained on Twitter and got a replacement, but it wasn't any better. The design is just terrible. The actual FitBit doesn't fit snugly into the charger -- there's a tiny gap that prevents it from making contact with the charger without pressure. So I could push it in, hold it and it would start flashing that it was charging. But when I'd remove my hand it would lose the connection and stop. I would tap it in the charger and eventually get it to start charging, but it was always a several minute annoying routine.

I went through three of the plastic/rubber holder bracelets, and it was fun to order new ones. You can get knock off ones that work just as well as the more expensive FitBit branded ones. The connection for the bands is kind of weird -- a small metal piece that connects the two ends but is actually separate. So if it falls out (and sometimes it did) the band just comes off. I always noticed when that happened, and it didn't happen often, but just a weird design flaw.

I could connect to a FitBit app on my computer with the USB dongle. I liked that a lot, since I don't have the best phone (low memory and old/slow), although a phone connection was possible. I had to have WiFi for it to show me the steps even if it was connected via Bluetooth.

One of the deal blogs I read posted about a fitness tracker available on Amazon, this Wesoo Fitness Tracker. There was a coupon code so the tracker was only $20. (I know my refurbished Flex was more than that!) On paper it checked off a lot of boxes: the charging was direct USB -- just take the tracker off the band and plug it in, it showed the time (so I wouldn't also need to wear a separate watch) and had a battery indicator on the face of the watch, so I knew when to charge it. And its charging time was quick. The watch band works just like a normal watch, with the pin in the holes, so less likely to fall off.

The watch face was a great feature. It would come on MOST times that I moved my wrist in a "look at the time" motion. But I could not view it when in full sun, which happens more than I thought, since I have play group, field day and playgrounds, etc. So that was a drag.

The step count on the Wesoo was much higher than the FitBit. I'm not sure which was actually accurate. I know the FitBit will track "steps" when I crochet or rock, but it won't do steps when I'm pushing a cart or stroller (often), so I thought the Wesoo *might* be more accurate by counting the stroller steps, but some mornings the Wesoo would have steps counted before I got out of bed. (Up to 100!)

Another negative was that I couldn't connect it to my computer. The app on my phone worked OK, but as soon as I installed it my phone wouldn't connect to my car anymore to play music. I uninstalled and still couldn't make it work. It wasn't until I uninstalled the fitness app and re-installed an Android Auto app that I got the phone and car talking again. But that was the end of my use of the fitness tracker, since there's not a way to view my steps or data over time.

Maybe I will try again when I get a new phone, or maybe this is really goodbye to fitness tracking. I really need to get back in a gym routine with weights and cardio...

10 May 2018

Read: Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible AgainInspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A new book from Rachel Held Evans? I'm in! I've read all her previous work, and I can't remember quite how I first heard of her writing. Probably through her blog.

This book approaches a lot of questions I wrestle with about the Bible (genocide, slavery and submissiveness for women to name a few). There are answers and more questions, but I'm especially drawn to the memoir parts, where Rachel writes about her life and faith journey. This book is so much more than that with lots of research and sources that could keep a person reading for ages! (Relate-able line in the book: "I know I can’t read my way out of this dilemma, but that won’t keep me from trying.")

"Inspired" is organized around different Bible story types, including familiar stories rewritten from various perspectives that are really engaging. The final chapter addressing Paul and his writings was particularly meaningful to me, but they're all, well, inspiring.

I would recommend "Inspired" to anyone wondering about the many contradictions in the Christian Bible and how to hold those while maintaining faith in a loving, good Creator. The Bible is a collection of stories that together point to an overarching story, a story that I cannot quit or dismiss. A story around which I try to build my life and in which I'm raising my girls.

I finished the book in tears (maybe because of the dedication to her family and son), and looking back at my blog about reading her previous books it seems that's a theme: crying my contacts out when I finish an RHE book! (Still waiting for a truly motherhood-focused book, although I'm sure I'd cry the entire way through that one!)

I received an Advance Reader Copy of the book from the publisher. The book will be released June 12. (I also bought myself a hard copy that will come next month!) You can pre-order here: https://rachelheldevans.com/inspired.

View all my reviews

23 April 2018

Lego Crayons: Treasure from Trash

A family who was also visiting "the U" left earlier this month and passed along some things they had acquired: crayons and books. The books were from a Little Free Library, so back there they will go. But the crayons were ROUGH, and we already had multiple bags of crayons, including a new box that we got at the Crayola Experience (so much fun). I had never seen so many broken crayons -- in this whole big bag I found three that were intact. The family is three boys (2, 4 and 12), but I was still surprised that most were snapped entirely. I knew my girls wouldn't use them, but what to do, what to do?

I'd made melted crayons before, when Jane was littler, and had just used a muffin tin. They'd turned into chunks that Jane played with as cookies and weren't that useful for coloring. It was a failed attempt at reusing old crayons. But after seeing the fun shapes we could make with melted wax at the Crayola Experience (bull, ring and car), I did some more googling and Amazon shopping and got some Lego-shaped silicone molds to give it another try. I did the first batch on my own, just to make sure it would work.

To unwrap the crayons I found that soaking them in warm water with dish soap worked best. I tried X-acto knife, but it wasn't as effective. Crayons from the Crayola Experience (with custom labels) wouldn't let go of their labels -- they were sticky all the way around, and normal labels are just sticky on the parts that touch the rest of the label and came off easily. So I had to trash some of the crayons anyway.

I separated the crayons by color and snapped them to fit into the molds, overfilling to allow the melted wax to fill the mold. I put the molds onto a cookie sheet for ease of in-out of the oven. The second batch I put foil on the pan to keep it clean. Important step!

I started with a low oven, about 200, but later found that higher, 250 or even 300, gave better results (and faster). It took about 30 minutes, and the smaller ones melted and filled faster than the large Lego guy (who is the favorite plaything!). I checked every 10 minutes, and stirring with a chopstick helped the last bits melt for the big guy. I let them cool completely -- I put one in the freezer and it definitely speeds things up but you need to pull them out of the freezer and let them come back to room temperature before you unmold because they're too old and will snap. (Ask me how I know... although I re-melted that guy in the next attempt and he was fine.)

Even Shawn was impressed and has been trying to think of whether we could make our own molds. We've taken what's basically trash (nubs and scrubs of crayons that we'd never use) into treasure, or at least some toys the girls will play with. They've "built" with the Lego bricks (they don't snap together since they're flat on the bottom) and had adventures with the little guys. They've colored with them a bit, mostly to smooth out the feet and make them more even. I think trying mixed colors and watching carefully before they swirl would be fun. We have a TON more crummy crayons at home in BR, so that's one more reason to look forward to going back! These would be so fun as birthday favors or just give-aways to classmates.

Edit to add: Washable crayons don't work as well. They work, but the washable part will separate and float to the top, leaving a milky top layer that won't color at all. We have a few guys with that on their back, and Jane's solution is to shave it away (in theory ... we haven't done it yet). 

24 March 2018


We weren't able to march today, but we support March for Our Lives and gun control reforms.

We will continue to resist. Also: Black Lives Matter.

(Fun aside: marching has been a theme in our house lately, as we've fallen in love with the Laurie Berkner Band, especially her song We Are the Dinosaurs.)

12 March 2018

Laundry Cycles

I still read a lot of blogs (praise be to Feedly for filling in after Google Reader died - RIP). Recently one savings/couponing blog wrote a post about a not-worth-it product. It was about a laundry divider that ended up not working (too big, so heavy when full of laundry and not breathable so got mold on the inside). She ended the post with a question for readers to share their laundry basket tips because she threw that one to the curb!

I went to post my comment and saw there were already 99 comments! Who knew laundry would be such a conversation starter?! Instead of writing out a comment I decided to hold the idea and just write my own post about it, as it ties into my ongoing struggle with laundry here in our sabbatical apartment.

My system at home is great. My husband built a wooden rolling cart that holds a mesh divided-in-two pop up laundry hamper. We sort lights and darks there (undies kept separate for their own load, a tip from my sister that I never would have done otherwise). Then I can wheel the whole cart to our laundry room for weekly washing, almost always Saturday -- four loads with lights, darks, jeans and undies. I have a separate regular plastic basket for towels (dirties only) and do that wash about twice a week (after my breastfeeding yeast stuff I go through a LOT of towels). Each girl has her own smaller pop-up mesh hamper and I wash their clothes separately -- a load per girl, also about once a week, sometimes on Saturdays but also other days -- they each have a lot of clothes and could easily go 2-3 weeks before NEEDING clean laundry.

Laundry never felt daunting, per se, at home, although the folding and putting away is never my favorite chore. Hanging up stuff is the worst, and I keep a lot of things hanging because I hate ironing even more. We have a huge washer and dryer -- side by side and front loading, and they're raised on pedestal drawers, so the strain on my back is minimal even moving wet towels or jeans from washer to dryer. I can do huge loads, and get almost all the laundry done in one long day of washing.

In this little apartment things are different. I get the lamenting and struggle of "the laundry is never done"! We are also in a colder climate, which means more layers, effectively doubling or tripling the laundry output! (Although we don't wash the outer layers often, and even the middle layers can be worn two or three times before washing ... except for the girls who are prone to spill ... who are we kidding, I spill a lot on myself too!)

The washer and dryer here are in the unit, which is a blessing, as I remember lugging laundry up and down to the basement in NYC (don't get me started about the bed bugs!) and to a completely different building during undergrad and grad school apartment living! They are stackable front loaders here, and in a small closet. But they're not at an outside wall, which means the dryer is "self-venting." This also means that the clothes don't get dry quickly ... and sometimes at all. The dryer has some kind of moisture sensor and if it thinks things are dry it won't dry anymore even if they feel slightly damp to the touch. At that point I have to shake them out and hang them or hope for the best. (At least the air is dry here and mold isn't really an issue like it is at home in the swampy south.)

The actual machines are very small, which means about half-size loads that I'm used to at home. I'm washing the girls clothes 2-3 times per week to stay ahead of it. They have fewer clothes here (although I'm always shopping ... at first to get more warmer clothes and now to give Jane more choices and to size up for Liv who keeps hulking out of her pants!).

Basically I'm ALWAYS doing laundry now. It's not the end of the world, of course, and I can stay on top of it without a whole lot of effort. But it's still a constant hum in my brain. And I regret ever scoffing at the memes or comments of complaint. Also, before we know it I'll be back in my big suburban lifestyle and missing all the brilliant parts of apartment and city living...

10 March 2018

One Third

We are just over a third of the way thru our six month sabbatical. We've seen a lot and done many things in our time in the Twin Cities, but there still feels like so much more to go, and so many more things I want to check off my list.