Blog-o! Notes from

Sat, 18 Feb 2012

About a week and a half ago our cheap little washing machine started making an alarming grindy noise when it was draining, and then the day before Blake left on business it decided it wasn't going to drain at all; the clothes were left to wallow in a puddle of soapy water at the end of the load.

There's a drain outlet with a filter on the front of the machine which catches little bits of crap you've left in your pockets, fluff and soapy slime; we opened that and a whole wash-load of water flooded out. Fortunately the washer lives in our unfinished basement right by a drain, so the water found a good home without destroying anything on the way. The filter had caught a whole lot of safety pins, beads and bobby pins (damn you, ballet); I guess they mean it when they say you have to clear it out every month.

I did some Googling and found some suggestions, some helpful and some not so helpful. From our information, we deduced that the problem was somewhere in the pump and drain system (we're brilliant).

So we headed downstairs and starting taking the thing apart; we removed the back panel, disconnected all the bits of drain pipe we could make sense of, and failed to find any obvious blockages or other visible problems. That left the pump, which looked okay, but then that's the nature of pumps. Having eliminated everything else, we ordered a new pump.

It arrived a couple of days later (I love PartSelect) but Blake was away and I didn't fancy trying to screw the pump to the bottom of the machine without someone to hold it up. So I waited until he got home, and we installed the new pump today. It was tricky and a bit annoying, but not spend-my-debt-paying-money-for-someone-else-to-do-it tricky.

And guess what? It works! The machine is purring happily away, draining like never before, and Blake and I are full of the smug satisfaction that comes from fixing something yourself instead of being suckers and paying someone to unscrew some screws and disconnect some hoses.

The next thing, of course, is to fix the stove...

[Posted at 22:33 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 12 Feb 2012
Doing Science

This afternoon we all went down to the U of T Child Studies Lab (I could be totally making up that name) to participate in some science. We've been on their list since Delphine was a baby, and have participated in a few studies; they're usually fun and interesting—the girls love being guinea pigs. (Except on the way home when they're tired and cranky and hate everything, especially each other.)

Today's study was at a special lab with hidden cameras, in one of those fantastic red brick Victorian (Edwardian?) houses on Spadina.

The study was on lying and tattling. The girls took turns going into the hidden camera room with one of the researchers—I've forgotten all their names because I suck, so let's call her Jenny. Jenny and the girl started drawing pictures, and then another researcher (Michelle!) came in to tell Jenny she had a phone call. Jenny left but not before telling Michelle not to use the paper from the book with stars on it! Only use the paper from the book with the fish on it! Don't forget!

Well, you see where this is going. Sure enough, good old Michelle figured she liked the star paper better, and drew a picture on it; then she decided she didn't like her picture, and threw it out. After all this, Jenny came back into the room and, after Michelle left, asked the girl what had happened when she was away.

(Meanwhile Blake and I were in another room with eight thousand computers, including the monitors for the hidden cameras. We watched the girls while filling out a huge stack of forms and questionnaires on the girls' personalities and our parenting styles.)

Delphine went first. She immediately put her head down and started working intently on her picture. (The kids were asked to draw a picture of their most favourite place; she drew a beach.) She didn't look up or show any sign of noticing the researchers' exchange, to the point that Jenny was very certain to remind Michelle loudly not to use the star paper on the way out the door.

When Michelle used the star paper, Delphine didn't say anything either, and when Jenny later asked what had happened the exchange went something like this:

J: So what happened when I was gone?
D: I just drew a picture.
J: Did Michelle draw anything?
D: Yes, she drew a picture but she threw it away.
J: Did she use the star paper?
D: Yes.

Cordelia was a little different. (Cordelia is a little different.) She also set to work drawing a picture of her favourite place—she drew our house. (*melt*) She was much more voluble and animated, though, talking through what she was drawing and why. When Michelle came in, she looked up and paid attention to the whole conversation. Then when Michelle started to use the star paper, Cordelia was quick to remind her that she wasn't supposed to use it.

After Jenny was back in the room, she asked Cordelia the same questions she had asked Delphine:

J: So what happened when I was gone?
C: I just drew my picture! (She still talks all in exclamations, with lots of body language.)
J: Did Michelle draw a picture?
C: Nope!
J: She didn't draw anything?
C: She didn't draw anything! (This said with a great big "Who can figure?!" shrug.)

So Cordelia fully lied to a quasi-authority figure, to protect someone she had barely met. It was almost just lying for the sake of it. There was a chart in the room we were in that showed the percentage of kids who lie from ages three to, I think, eight, and almost 100% of six-year-olds lie. I call it "peak lying".

This study was interestingly timed, because I've noticed Cordelia lying more lately. The thing is she's much better at it than Delphine. She tends to lie when it's plausible, and she sticks to her story, often with a touch of righteous indignation to make you feel like a jerk for not trusting her. Hopefully she'll either grow out of it or learn to use her power for good, not evil.

After the study was over, the researchers sat everyone down and explained what had happened, and then sent the girls on a hidden camera hunt. Delphine revealed that she had been a bit suspicious about all the fuss over the paper, and Cordelia looked a bit sheepish.

The end of the story is that the girls got to choose a gift out of a treasure chest to thank them for participating. Delphine chose a "make your own bouncy balls" kit, and Cordelia picked through the entire box before finally seeing and pouncing on a ninja action figure with light-up eyes. ($1.25 at Dollarama!)

[Posted at 22:49 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 11 Feb 2012
Money (It's a Gas)

Back in 2008 when we moved into this house, we secured a line of credit to use for renovating. It was a deal we made with ourselves—we would spend less money on a house that wasn't "done", and then use secure credit to fund renovations.

And that's exactly what we did. Soon after we moved in, we took down some walls and totally redid the kitchen. And then we gradually paid the loan down; not all the way, but a lot of the way.

Then last year we redid the bathroom and added a powder room in the basement, and now we're in debt again, deep enough that I'm pretty uncomfortable. I'm not a futurist or an economist, but I don't think now is a good time to be deep in debt, even secured debt; jobs are scarce, housing prices are in a bubble, and the economy is in flux. I would rather be in the black.

So we put together an aggressive plan to pay off debt. It took us four months to get into debt; it's going to take us four years to get out of it, assuming we keep to our plan. And as I said, it's aggressive, quite probably unrealistically so; no vacations, no household maintenance, repairs or new furniture; no clothing; no gifts (except the girls' birthdays and Christmas); no veterinary care for Thomas the cat. When we spend on any of those things, it will either be from the $70/week not-otherwise-specified fund, or it will slow down our debt repayment.

Inevitably, mere days after making this plan, the stove and the washer broke and Thomas had to go to the vet.

But we have cast off our North Toronto helplessness; instead of calling a repairman for the appliances we consulted various websites, and there are shiny and complicated parts being shipped here as I type. When they get here we will get our hands greasy, or sticky, or whatever it is, and install them ourselves.

(I know, the thought of amateurs messing around with water and electricity or natural gas is alarming, but I'm confident that helpful YouTube videos will ensure our safety. Unfortunately there is no YouTube video for how to do expensive bloodwork on a domestic cat, so the professionals still have the upper hand in that one. For now.)

As for money in; well, Blake is making as much as is feasible at the moment (with occasional large and surprising bonuses). Now it's up to me to bring in some bacon of my own—or at least tofu. I took a baby step towards that goal this week by getting an IRS EIN, a magical number which allows me to charge Americans money. (Or more specifically, to charge them money and not have them withhold 30% of it.) This is exciting because so far almost all my clients have been American.

The other thing I'm doing is trying to fit more work hours into my week. I had been using my "work" time (i.e., 9:00 am to 3:00 pm) to run errands and do chores, but I've moved a few errands to the weekend and after school. I really like my work-life balance as it is now, but the fact is when you're freelance, only about half your hours are billable. I need to make the number of hours as big as possible, without making myself or the family miserable.

Sometimes I think it would have been better to have bought a house which was all renovated and shiny, and just suffered (in our shiny, renovated house) with a bigger mortgage. But we didn't, and now we have this shabby little house with no family room, and a huge debt. It is what it is, and at least we're fairly young and have a chance of pulling ourselves out of this mess before it's time to retire!

[Posted at 23:27 by Amy Brown] link