Random Saturdays – The Fish Tank

Ben has been planning out his saltwater fish tank for four years.  When we started dating, he was looking over plans to build a fish tank stand.  He built the stand, but it was about half an inch off, so he ended up having to buy one instead.  For some reason, you can’t have a giant glass container of water sit on a crooked stand.  Whatever!  He shopped online and at a local fish stores for supplies.  To save alot of money, he also made his own saltwater, which is actually more complicated than pouring a bit of salt into the tank and stirring.  After all of that time, all of that effort, and all of that money, we finally have fish in the tank!

We have plants and snails in the refugium (where the water comes out of the tank to be cleaned out before recirculating back into the tank) and have snails in the tank itself.  We had a green hair algae problem, but our Mexican turbo snails have taken care of that.  We also have a black limpet snail.  He has cute lil antennae and a snout!  This little fella went halfway around the tank in just a few hours on his first night.  I have never heard of a snail going that quickly before.  I thought the turbo snail was fast, but this limpet dude took his snout and ran laps around the turbo snail.  There were some emerald crabs in there.  The smaller one, died. The bigger one ended up eating two of our fish and we think he killed the other crab.  We stuck him in the refugium and he ate all of the plants except the mangroves.  So, that jerk ended up going back to the store.

It’s only been during the time that I’ve been with Ben that I’ve really learned anything about fish tanks.  Until that, all of my knowledge came from biology classes about closed ecosystems and random nature shows that I watched.  Temika and I had a betta fish named Busker, once, but he died when she forgot to clean the fishbowl.  I’m learning more about fish now that we’re trying to figure out what kinds of fish to get when the tank is ready.  The kids want “Nemo” and “Dory” fish.  Minecraft really likes the dogface puffers, too.  Ben is partial to the tangs.  Apparently, you have to be careful about which tangs you put in the same tank, how much food you feed them, and how many rocks are in the tank.  Tangs are racist and can become aggressive depending on the color of other tangs in the tank, how hungry they are, and how big or small they are.  They made Disney movies about these killer racist fish!  Who knew?!

As for the fish that I want in the tank, I will need to get another job to afford them.  Everytime I see a fish that I like, it’s over $100.  Ben will say, “Oh yeah, those are hard to find, ” or, “We’ll have to see if we can find one on sale sometime,” when I show him the fish I like.  We currently have a banggai cardinal, cleaner wrasse, foxface rabbitfish, and a magnificent foxface.  The rabbit fish wants to kill the magnificent foxface, so we’re trying to find a new home for the rabbitfish.

Elska is still scared of the fish tank.  Pad Kee loves the fish tank, but doesn’t have a good ledge to watch them.  So, he mostly just follows Ben around when he’s working on the tank and ignores it otherwise.  I take care of the cats and Ben takes care of the fish.  I really got the easier and cheaper job, thank goodness!

Random Saturdays – Welcome Holidays!

The holiday season is here!  If you’re old like me, you find yourself saying, once again, “I can’t believe it’s already November.  Where did the year go?”  If you love the holiday season like me, you are also excited that the holiday season is here.  Canada has already celebrated Thanksgiving, and Halloween and Election Day have just passed in the U.S.  The next big U.S. holiday is, of course, Thanksgiving.

The holiday season is also the birthday season in my world.  From October – March it’s a non-stop birthday celebration.  I used to be one of the few summer birthday people that I knew.  Now that I’m married, half of the family have birthdays during birthday season, and the other half of the family has birthdays in the summer.  I’ve always felt sorry for people who had birthdays around the holidays because their birthdays are overshadowed by the big holidays, especially if you’re born around Christmastime.  That’s why I try to make a point of giving separate Christmas and birthday presents to Christmas babies.  Plus, there are so many great sales during the holiday season that it should be easier to shop for holiday season babies.

Oh and shopping.  There’s the neverending fight between shopping vs. meaningful holidays.  I really don’t think that they are mutually exclusive.  I believe you just have to be aware of the meaning in holidays and you have to try to share that meaning with others when you are giving gifts.  This is especially tricky with kids because they are naturally inclined to just want stuff, lots and lots of stuff.  If we don’t teach them to be grateful for what they have and to think about what they can give and do for others, then they turn into ungrateful adults who have the nerve to think they can actually criticize gifts given to them and favors done for them.  That is the type of attitude that kills the holiday spirit and turns everything into a debate about the “true” meaning of any given holiday in a bad way.

This was our first holiday season together. The kids are about twice the size as they were then. My stomach is about twice the size s it was then. (From left to right: Dora, Lego, Ben, Minecraft)

I am American and I celebrate Thanksgiving.  I love the food.  I love time off from work.  I love spending time with my family and friends. When I plan Thanksgiving at my house, I always try to do it as low key as possible, but then find myself stressing myself out by trying to cook everything perfectly and make the house look immaculate.  I do it to myself.  Not once has anyone ever criticized me for not having enough food, the right food, a dirty home, ugly decorations, etc.  It’s all in my head.  With the kids, I’m trying to be more aware of that and remember that if I stress myself out over this crap that doesn’t matter, then they will learn to stress themselves out over crap that doesn’t matter as well.  Just as bad, they may start stressing others out about crap that doesn’t matter and think they are entitled to criticize the cooking and entertaining abilities of others.  So, I’m trying not to pass stress and judgement on to my kids.

Then there’s Christmas.  Let me say now that I am not Crhstian but I do celebrate Christmas.  I grew up Christian, spent many years in a crisis of faith, and have finally found myself in a good spiritual place, the details of which I am not going to delve into during this post.  I celebrate Christmas because it’s what I grew up with and it represents a time of giving and spending time with loved ones for me.  When I had the Great Santa Claus Crisis around the age of 10, my mother told me that she believed in Santa Claus because he was the spirit of giving.  So, no matter how old you were, you should always believe in Santa Claus.  No matter how much or how little you got in your stocking, you should always believe in Santa Claus.  I decided to adopt that belief as my own.

We just had the kids write their letters to Santa because we won’t see them much in November and we wanted to make sure that Santa had plenty of time to get their letters.  They asked for some surprising gifts, but also had interesting conversations with Santa.  Dora was concerned that Santa might not like the milk and cookies she wants to leave for him.  Minecraft told Santa that if he were lucky, he would get cookies and milk.  Lego just wanted to know if Santa and Mrs. Claus were doing okay up in the North Pole.  They all decorated their letters with colorful pictures and included phrases like, “Santa’s #1!”  Three years ago, their letters to Santa just told Santa what they wanted.  It might not seem like much, but to see their thought processes go from “Here’s what I want,” to “How are you. Here’s what I might do for you.  I think you’re great!” is pretty cool.  They also helped each other write their letters, with no help from Ben or me.  We did have to get onto them once for arguing over marker colors, but they worked together well otherwise.  Now, I can add cooperation, mental growth, and emotional growth to the great things that Santa represents for me.

As I typed this, it was about 6:30 AM and I had been awake for three hours with a terrible headache.  The kids were just picked up for school by their bio-mom and Ben had just left for work.  The cat was running circles around the house, chasing invisible toys.  The Excedrin has moved from making my head a bit numb to making me rather dizzy and the cat has begun her grooming routine, signaling that she is ready to curl up with me for her morning nap.  I’m going to take the cat’s advice to end this post and get some rest.  I hope that you are as excited about the holiday season as I am and that it holds as much meaningful promise for you as it does for me.  Happy Holidays!

Random Saturdays -School

I recently heard a coworker talking about his plans for getting his kids through college.  He was banking on mostly scholarships, even though neither of his kids are even average in school.  He did all this math to figure out the grades needed in classes to get a certain GPA that would get scholarships.

I have never in my life done math to figure out the least I could do to make the highest GPA.

I think I did school wrong.

In fact, I know I did because that sentence I just wrote bugs me (i.e. poor grammar).

Right now, we have three kids in elementary school and I’m frightened of what will happen when they reach college age.  There are plenty of non-school reasons for this, but I primarily wonder (1) What if they don’t go to college and (2) What if they all go to college?  If none of them go to college, we have failed as parents.  They probably won’t get good jobs.  They might not be upstanding members of society.  They will probably blame it all on us.  If they all go to college, how are we supposed to afford it?  Are we going to have to do a bunch of math to figure out what grades each child will need to get in order to get enough scholarships and grants to pay for school?  What if they all three want to go to very expensive schools with very crappy scholarship programs?  Or worse, what if they all want to go to very expensive schools with very incompetent student aid departments who leave applicants’ financial aid documentation sitting in the bottom of a pile of papers on the desk of someone who is on vacation for the summer?  (Uh, yeah, that really happened to me.)  How much will college even cost when they’re old enough to go?  It’s almost doubled since I graduated from high school 15-some years ago.

Then, I think about how I spent the first half of my life measuring my self-worth entirely by numbers – my grades, my weight, my income (or lack thereof).  I think about how depressed I was about being dumb, fat, and poor.  I think about how much time and effort I wasted on being anxious about how I would explain a B in statistics to any of my future employers.

Still, I turned out just fine.  I don’t have a big-paying job, but I do have a job that pays my bills.  I started saving for retirement.  I have affordable health insurance.  My husband is great.  My step-kids are loving.  My family is supportive.  My friends are like family.  I never got into drugs.  I don’t have a drinking problem.  I’ve never been to jail.  I have excellent credit.  I’m really good at finding discounts and rarely purchase anything full price.  I recycle.  I Pinterest. I get my 10,000 steps in a few times a week.

In short, life is good and so am I.  Life and I are both also short, but that’s beside the point.

The point is, when I sit back and really think about it, I realize that I don’t actually have to stress out about the kids’ educational futures.  We’ll just keep working with them, helping them in any way that we can, and will hope for the best.  It’s hard to plan for something so far away with so many unknown factors over which you have no control.  Hopefully, they will all want to go to college for the sake of learning, bettering themselves, making lifelong connections, increasing their chances for getting good jobs, etc.  Hopefully, they’ll also learn that having a degree is not a requirement of having good life and being a good person, that those things depend on your actions way before you get into college.  I hope that my kids are able to understand the importance of arithmetic without torturing themselves with numbers.

Random Saturdays – Random Saturdays

As I write this, I am working on a Saturday morning, or rather, waiting for someone else to do his job so that I can finish working.  We have on-call rotations at work and this is my week.  It used to not be a big deal.  It was usually a matter of logging in, working for 15 – 30 minutes, and logging off.  You maybe got five calls during the whole week.  Now, it is a nightmare.  We all dread it.  Just because of the organization of the company, being on-call has become a thing that we all hate.  I think the company should start giving a week’s worth of valium to each person as she rolls into on-call.

Surprisingly, Ben is the one who got the 4 AM wakeup call this morning.  He’s not on-call;  he’s backup on-call.  For his company and his team, that really means that he’s on-call.  So, he got up this morning and went into the office at home to work.  Needless to say, he wanted to sleep in more than me this morning.

Oh, and the kids.  They’re not on-call, but they are busy little buggers.  Dora is in cheer.  Lego is in basketball.  Minecraft is in football.  Normally, I’d be excited about this, but since they live so far away, our weekends have been eaten up with driving them to all of their games.  Let me remind you that they live over an hour away from us.  So, some of the games they have at other school are even further than that.  Today, we have a football game from 2 PM – 4 PM and then we have a basketball game at 5 PM.  So, we’ll be spending the entire day driving out to Nowheresville, shuttling 3 kids between two games.  Then we have to drive exhausted and sweaty kids back home.  We also need to make sure they do homework at some point this weekend.

Ben and I are also on-call during all of this.  *STRESS*

Also, per the divorce papers, the kids’ mom can decide that she doesn’t want to take them to games or practices if, for example, she decides to plan one of the kid’s birthday parties at the same time.  We do not have that choice.  Per the papers, we have to take the kids to every practice and game, even if the kid is so sick that he can barely stand.  This was decided after Ben tried to appeal a few times.  This is what the courts think is best for the kids, I guess.

It’s really difficult to make any plans when you have no idea what will be going on.  They changed the times of Minecraft’s game at least five times in the past two weeks.  Lego knows he has a game today, but had no idea what time it was or where it was.  Once again, since we’re not the primary caregivers and we live so far away, it’s harder for us to stay in the loop on the kids’ schedules.  We end up being the annoying parents who text coaches constantly to verify the information.  Then, we have to bring phones and laptops to the games in case we get calls.  Lately, because of the weather in North Texas, we also have to deal with whatever last minute crazy weather is thrown at us.  The other day, we had to flee from a pending tornado, and thankfully missed the tornado that we were driving towards.

I wish we could just take the kids up the street to the local schools and enjoy a weekend in our neighborhood with the kids.  I wish that most of our time with the kids wasn’t spent driving.  I wish that I didn’t have to hear comments from the kids like, “Oh, you’re working again?  You’re always working.”  If I did hear comments like that, it’d be nice if I actually had a comeback like, “Well, if you want to live in this big house and wear designer clothes and have your stepmom be one of the only female CEOs in the tech industry, then I’m going to have to continue to work and I wish you would be more patient and understanding with me.”  No, no.  I have to say, “Yes, I’m sorry, and by the way, we can’t afford to do anything else since all of this driving is eating up money on fuel.  So, I’m sorry that I have to work again and your dad and I still can’t afford to get you a new desk that won’t collapse on you or new clothes to keep up with your growth spurts.”  It makes you feel like a terrible parent, a bad person, and a horrible employee all in one go.  Ben and I both feel completely hopeless in so many regards when it comes to the kids.

Still, I’m glad the kids have found activities that they enjoy, even if I wonder how much they enjoy them with some of the lack of interest they show the day of the games.  I’m glad that I do have a job that allows me to drive across the state to go to the kids’ games.  I’m glad that I don’t have to drive into work if I get a call, which is what my dad always had to do when I was a kid.  I’m grateful for any time I do get with the kids.  Not having much say over how we spend time with the kids makes me grateful for any bit of freedom we do get.  I’m thankful that Ben understands my work situation and doesn’t make me feel any more guilty any time I have to choose work over the kids.  We just have to take what we can get sometimes.

Random Saturdays – Am I an adult?

I think I’m an adult.  As far as my age goes, I’ve been an adult for awhile.  I’m relatively mature and responsible, I guess.  I’ve never felt like I was doing adulty things until recently.  All I ever talk about nowadays is work, the house, and the kids.  I’m so friggin’ adult now and it’s really weird.

Worse than that, I’m an old adult.  My mother-in-law recently had eye surgery and was telling us about all of these treatments she has to use for her eyes and for scars and whatnot.  I have to use those same things just so I can see and so that my skin doesn’t fall off of my face.  I get injured anytime I do anything, and I do mean anything.  I pulled a leg muscle walking around the couch.  A few weeks before that, I pulled the same muscle while walking upstairs.  WALKING!!!  I mean, come on!  I’m always tired and I’m always in pain.  I peek through the blinds when I hear people outside, trying to figure out if they’re messing with my lawn or the mailbox.  I am forgetful and easily confused.  I complain about anyone under the age of 35 who doesn’t have the exact same pop culture knowledge as I do.  I am an old, crotchety, and sickly adult.  I’m grateful that there’s an old folks home at the end of our street.  Ben and the kids have already promised to visit me when they have to admit me to the place in the next 10 years.  They’re so sweet!

Right now, my priorities include not screwing up at work, house training the puppy, working with the puppy on her food aggression, and unpacking the house.

Work – Ugh, work.  It’s killing my soul.  I hate my job so much right now.  Most everyone there does.  The company is just making some terrible decisions that are causing us all to work more for terrible results.  I need a new job, but I have too many other things going on right now.  There will be another round of layoffs before the end of the year, so my schedule might allow for some job searching soon enough.

House Training – She’s a puppy.  She’s about 4 months old.  She’s gotten so much better, but is scared of the new doggie door that we had to install after she broke the first one. Ahem  We’re still trying to get her not to pee out of excitement or submission the first time she sees you each day.

Food Aggression – My god.  She had shown no signs of food aggression other than gobbling her food down so quickly that she often chokes.  As a test, I stuck my hand in the puppy’s food bowl while she was eating, which you should be able to do if your dog has no food aggression.  She started with a growl and it just escalated from there.  The second day, she went absolutely nuts – biting, jumping, and scratching me.  Ben confirmed that she’s more aggressive with me than him.  I’ve read up on it and am going to try some behavioral training.  If there’s no improvement after a couple of months, we might need to consult an expert.  I don’t want to have to worry about the kids looking at her the wrong way while she’s eating and getting their faces chewed off because of some ingrained primal dog instinct.

Unpacking – Yes, we’re still unpacking.  Ben has been focused on getting our internet, cable, and electricity specified to our needs.  I’m focused on setting up the rest of the house.  Between work, injuries, and the Texas heat, I’m usually too exhausted or in too much pain to do much.  We did get the entryway halfway done this weekend.  So, that was pretty exciting.  I wanted to get it set up before the kids went back to school.  You can see my entryway inspirations on my Pinterest page.  I’ll post some photos once it’s all done.

Yeah, so that’s what I’ve been up to.  I also weigh more than I ever have in my life because I bounce between eating nothing and eating everything depending on my levels of stress, exhaustion, and tummy troubles.  The doctor told me she wants me to lose 10 lbs before my next check up.  I told her that I had too many other things to focus on right now and would deal with my weight later.  She told me again to lose 10 lbs before my next check up.  *sigh*  At least my blood pressure is great, right?  The little things do matter!

Random Saturdays – Hot Springs, Arkansas

The last weekend in July, I went on vacation with Ben, the kids, his brother, his brother’s kids, and their parents.  We decided on Hot Springs, Arkansas because it was a relatively short drive and the weather would be decent.  I’d only driven through Arkansas before, but had never really visited it.  Ben’s parents took the family on vacation there years ago.  Even though it was a miserable experience, they agreed to give it another try.  Ben said that this was really the first vacation he’d been on with his parents and brother since 1999.  I think the last family vacation I went on was Christmas of 1994.  Though I wasn’t going on a vacation with my family, per se, it was still nice to be going on a family vacation.

Now, if you’re not from The South, then you just assume everyone in The South is stupid and that the food is good (i.e. battered and fried or covered in butter.)  If you are from The South, then you know that we argue about which of us is dumber and which of us has better bad-for-you food.  If you are from Texas, then you know that we live in our own world and don’t understand why any of the other states do any of the stuff that they do at all.  Even when we do think that other states have a better idea about something, we still have plenty of reasons why that would never work in Texas, and those reasons mostly involve statements like, ” Because it’s Texas.”

I say all this because when I make some of the following statements about Arkansas, I don’t want you to think that I’m states-ist or anything.  It’s part of Southern Culture to do this.

The hotel was nice. The people working there were great. The landscape was beautiful. Everyone smoked (thankfully, outside), but it was still bothersome to have to hold my breath going in the building. Most of the locals were rude. Most of the places we visited were a disappointment. Downtown was strange because it was very hipster-ish while also being run down while also having the cleanest hobos I ever did see. The clean hobos were due to the numerous hot springs fountains in the downtown area. Hobos and tourists alike gathered free water from the fountains in plastic milk jugs. At one point, while driving through the mountains, we passed a group of men by the side of the road who waved to us. Minecraft commented that he would like to live there someday. Ben told him that it’d be difficult for him to find a job to support himself. Minecraft said, “I’ll work in construction or something like those men back there.” We had to explain to Austin that those men were not construction workers, but homeless people who lived in the mountains and that they were not dark from tanning, but from dirt. They were not as clean as the homeless people in downtown. It was funny, but sad.

I think the kids had the most fun mining for rocks. We came home with four bags of various quartz crystals and geodes, most of them from Ben’s efforts. I was most looking forward to the Mountain Tower, but didn’t make it (that’s a whole other story of miscommunication + hurt feelings = unnecessary stress). Ben brought a mug back for me, though, and it’s a pretty good one. By that point, we hadn’t really been anywhere with very good gift shops. I kept thinking that the National Park Aquarium would be a good place for souvenirs for people, but it ended up being more like a run down pet store. The tiny gift shop had shirts with sharks on them, but should have had shirts with anxious fish and dirty fish tanks.

Arkansas is a beautiful state, though. Hot Springs, in particular, has some impressive man made lakes, plenty of greenery, and places to eat while enjoying the view. I’m glad we went when the weather was okay because I would have hated to be trapped indoors with a migraine rather than enjoying ice cream on the lake.  It was a really great way to end the summer.

Random Saturdays – Birthday Post

My birthday was a few weeks ago.  I’m always torn on my birthday.  The natural planner in me wants to plan a party, but the weirdo in me wants to sleep in the bottom of a dark closet until the day has passed so that I don’t have to think about my lack of accomplishments in life.  Mostly, I try not to make a big deal about it and focus on cake and ice cream.

Ben and his friend wanted to coordinate a weekend to take all the kids on vacation somewhere.  This year, my birthday fell on the one weekend where both sets of adults would have both sets of kids and had no other obligations.  We went to Houston to visit the Space Center and the Downtown Aquarium.  It was fun, but very exhausting because of the heat.  Half of the aquarium is outside.  So, I spent most of the trip to the aquarium in the darkest, quietest (read:  not really dark or quiet at all) corners, waiting for migraine pills to work.  Between walking from the parking lot, waiting in line for tickets, and waiting in line for the kids to ride outdoor rides, the heat got the better of me and I had to be the party pooper.  Nobody else got sick, though, so that was good.

While in Houston, Olga texted me.  Her mom was visiting her in New York.

Birthday Coke

Birthday Coke

The folks at work waited for the week after my birthday to throw a little birthday shindig for me.  After seeing this prime Nailed It example, Carla made an Ariel cake for me that actually nailed it.

Ariel Cake

Ariel Cake

 All in all, it was a pretty good birthday and I appreciated all of the efforts that everyone made to make me feel special.