Christmas 2012

We had a wonderful Christmas but it felt a little strange this year not having Nanny Karen in town. We hope that she will be back with us next year.

Liam just managed to keep himself off the naughty list and got both of the Santa gifts he wanted: an Imaginext Batcave and a Lego Batman airplane & Joker helicopter set. The only thing missing was a white Christmas, tho we did have a cold one.

I’ve enjoyed my time off from work and Liam & I’ve both quickly become very accustomed to sleeping in late each morning, so it’s gonna be tough going back to real life again!

I’ll leave you with a few pics from Christmas:

Liam tub Santa

A Russian “Onion Dome” Christmas ornament

Sprinkling out reindeer food on Christmas Eve

(And making quite a fashion statement with the Agent P hoodie and Lightning McQueen slippers!)

Playing with the awesome Imaginext Batcave

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and I’m looking for 2013 to be a great year for all of us!

Thanksgiving 2012

Wow, I am so behind, two holidays have already come and gone since my last post! I’ll start catching up with Thanksgiving.

For Thanksgiving week our original plans were to meet up with some friends in Orlando for a week of Disney fun. On the morning we were to leave, I woke up feeling dizzy and could barely walk because the room was spinning so badly. I worked my way into the shower only to make things worse. As soon as the water hit me, I started throwing up and couldn’t stop. Rob took me to the doctor’s office and I’m still thinking the doctor can fix me and we can make our flight in 3 hours. Boy was I wrong!

His diagnosis was an inner ear infection and he gave me a shot for the nausea, antibiotics and steroids. He told me there was no way I could fly with my ear infection. Rob broke the news to Liam and he was so sweet about it and was just worried about me and not missing the trip. Best kid ever, more worried about his Momma than missing Disney!

I was out of it for the next few days. My ear was not feeling any better by the weekend so I went to an urgent care center. The doctor there confirmed that I had an inner ear infection and just needed to give the meds time to work.

On Monday, I returned to my regular doctor and told him it had been a week and my ear wasn’t any better and I had finished all my meds. He gave me different steroids to take and told me it would take time. I just knew something wasn’t right because I have had ear infections before and this one wasn’t the same.

I scheduled an appointment with an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) doctor and couldn’t get an appointment for 2 weeks. Luckily, a week later, the ENT office called and said they had a cancellation. The doctor examined me and told me that I did not have an inner ear infection. His diagnosis was sudden sensorineural hearing loss. What? He said that it was unfortunate that I hadn’t been diagnosed sooner because the best chance of recovering my hearing was within the first 72 hours after it occurred. I was now 14 days out and he said he wouldn’t even treat me if I was 21 days out. He also said that it is common for general doctors to misdiagnose this as an inner ear infection because it is not that common and has all the same symptoms.

Over the next week, I did 3 treatments of cortisone injections thru my eardrum into the middle ear. Yeah, it was as pleasant as it sounds. None of the treatments had any effect on my hearing and I had to persuade the doctor to even do the 3rd treatment. I figured I had nothing to lose doing all 3 treatments. In the end, the treatments didn’t help but I would’ve always wondered had I not done the 3rd one.

He is not certain what caused it, my blood tests and MRI did not show anything, but his best guess is that it was some sort of viral infection that I had that attacked my ear. I now have only about 10-20% of hearing in my left ear and constantly hear a high-pitched hissing in that ear that is called tinnitus.

A few days before Christmas they made a mold of my ear for a hearing aid fitting. He is hoping that the TransEar type hearing aid will allow me to regain my ability to distinguish sound direction again. It should be ready for me to test sometime after the new year.

I still can’t believe this happened and I hold out hope that my hearing will return on its own one day. In the meantime, I hope that reading this post will help someone else if it happens to them. If you ever wake up dizzy, throwing up and have problems with your ear, RUSH to the emergency room and request an ENT. The faster they start the treatments, the better chance you have of regaining your hearing. If anyone reading this has had sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSD), I would love to hear about year experience and outcome.

Up next…Christmas post!

Halloween 2012

I’m a little late getting our Halloween post out here and I know all of you that are still reading our blog have been eagerly awaiting this. 😉

In keeping with the superhero theme that Liam began last year as Spiderman, this year we moved from red to green as in The Hulk. I must say he made a pretty scary-looking Hulk and he was a bit obsessed with his muscles.

The costume was enough to frighten a few of the smaller kids that he encountered until he took his mask off so I guess you would call that a successful Halloween costume!

I did a little Halloweening myself at work. I dressed up with a couple of my co-workers and put together a quick costume as Dr. Seuss’ Thing 2 from “Cat in the Hat.”

We didn’t win any awards for our costume but it made for a fun day at work. I think we might have even motivated a few others to dress up next year.

Under the Gun

gun wordcloud

I’ve had a host of diverse, sometimes-conflicting thoughts about guns swirling around in my brain for some time but the recent shootings in Colorado & Wisconsin have kicked that into overdrive:

 

  • My late Father-In-Law learned to shoot a rifle (a simple .22 that he kept all of his life) as a child and used that rifle to hunt for small animals and birds. He knew how to clean and make the most of what he killed. It was often the only means with which his very poor rural family could add meat to their dinner plates. His rifle was, in a very literal sense, a necessary survival tool. But the time when guns were commonly needed and used as tools is long since gone. Guns now only serve to kill or destroy things.

 

  • There’s such rampant careless, neglectful gun ownership now that very few Americans really have to fear criminals. No, instead we have more to fear from our law-abiding neighbors. You know, the ones who have an unsecured, loaded .45 on their nightstand. Kids who take guns to school or playgrounds didn’t score those in a seedy back alley deal with some shady lowlife; children get guns right out of their parents’ bedroom or den!

 

  • Yes, I know of highly-skilled marksmen, for whom shooting handguns is a serious sport and their skill & accuracy are things of great pride. But by and large, I don’t believe most handgun owners fall into that category. Instead, I suspect that the vast majority of handgun owners would cite the need for possessing those weapons as “self-protection.”

 

  • If we’ve learned nothing else from the George Zimmerman case this year, it’s that while we may applaud the idea of “Dirty Harry” style vigilantism where some swift, finite—and preferably painful—street justice is doled out, our society doesn’t have the stomach for it. Sure, Zimmerman may still be alive because he took action and shot Trayvon Martin, but the event has undoubtedly destroyed his life and those of his entire family permanently. I wonder how many concealed carry zealots who fantasize about putting a hole in some would-be burglar are even remotely prepared for—or have ever even truly considered—the incalculable emotional, financial, and legal toll that their handguns could cost them and their families?

 

  • I believe there’s a strong case to be made that outlawing handguns would ultimately make us more safe, not less because of the lack of ease in concealing and spontaneously wielding a rifle. Wouldn’t the basic form factor—the size & shape of a rifle versus a handgun—make random, unplanned violence and/or accidental shootings (by legal gun owners) much less likely? Maybe it’s time that handguns be restricted to only military, police, or other civic groups charged with protecting their communities or country…

 

  • What does it say about our society when we don’t bat an eye at the prospect of restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter children’s cough medicines yet people march in the streets at the very mention of gun control?

 

  • 2nd Amendment supporters usually go berserk over the notion of limiting what they can possess, yet hardware such as sawed-off shotguns, fully-automatic firearms, rocket launchers, bazookas, and countless other “dangerous weapons” are already illegal to own. Why do they bristle so about new gun controls yet at the same time, calmly accept and willfully comply with those other restrictions?

 

  • Gun-rights groups argue that handgun prohibition would prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves, but I have to wonder what percentage of handgun owners have ever—even once—fired their firearms for the sake of protecting themselves or their families. Perhaps it’s more the idea of self-protection rather than any actual need for said, that drives gun supporters. But wouldn’t the far greater accuracy that most rifles provide or the greater sheer destructive force of a shotgun make either of these a far better choice for self-protection? If you’re going to claim to own a gun for protection, why wouldn’t you opt for the most effective tool for that task?

 

  • If we cannot tolerate the idea of placing any limits on guns themselves, why not at least place strong restrictions on the sales of large quantities of ammunition, large capacity magazines, and tactical assault gear to civilians?

 

  • And finally, I read a quote from Austin American-Statesman this past weekend that really summed up how short-sighted gun control opponents are being: “While [control] measures might not prevent the next Aurora, they would make it hard for the shooter to […] kill so many people in such a short period of time. The alternative—to continue to shrug off America’s outsize gun violence as an inevitable risk in a free society—is helplessness.”

 

What’s your take on this? Do you believe outlawing handguns could reduce senseless gun-related violence? Is there some compelling reason why citizens should be able to purchase tactical gear like body armor? Is it possible to put in place some limits without voiding our 2nd Amendment right?

First Grade

I can’t believe my baby is already a 1st Grader!

first day of 1st grade

He’s off to a great start on the new school year. We made the decision over the summer to move him to a private school this year. Although we loved the elementary school he went to last year — especially the principal Mrs. Voss — we were not happy with the after school options (or lack of) and we were not happy with all the other problems associated with public school. With the population growth of our city in the past year, the public school class sizes continue to rise. Since school started 2 weeks ago, 2 of the elementary campuses are already at full capacity. So we felt that Liam would benefit from a smaller class setting and since we aren’t the best parents at getting him to church, we are very happy that he attends chapel and Bible studies are incorporated into his curriculum.

We tested the waters over the summer by enrolling him in the school’s Summer Camp to see if it was a good fit for him. It worked out well and it was nice to see some of the bad influence that he had picked up from the kids at Kindergarten and the after school daycare he was going to last year disappear. And especially after meeting his teacher and hearing all about what the Carden curriculum is going to cover, we’re looking forward to what we hope will be a very successful year of learning!

No Trouble At All

Trouble board gameRemember the old board game Trouble with the “pop-o-matic” die-rolling bubble in the middle?

Dede bought Liam this game for his birthday back in April and we’ve been playing a couple or three times per week as time permits.

Initially of course, he moved his pegs (painfully) slowly around the board, stopping at every hole and often losing count. It was all new to him, so his plays were random and not goal-oriented. Honestly, it was a bit of a chore to get through a game.

But now…

Now, he jumps his pegs in increments around the board rather than 1 hole at a time. He’s always looking ahead to what his next optimal dice roll should be to land on another player’s peg, and putting some genuine critical thought into which piece is the best to move depending on each roll of the die. And of course, he’s talking trash to intimidate the other players along the way!

Sure, we’ve always been big believers in playing analog (not electronic) games and encouraging tactile activities, so ok, maybe this is nothing truly miraculous and shouldn’t come as such a great surprise to me, but it’s just such an unexpected thrill when you actually see firsthand how much this has boosted his math and decision-making skills. You can practically see synapses forming, his dexterity improving, and of course, the big confidence boost he gets when he wins.

All that, from playing a simple little board game. Genius!

There may not necessarily be anything wrong with digital games—Liam sure loves to play Angry Birds and Cut the Rope on the iPad—but I believe huddling around the table, playing a physical board game has to potential to be so much more enriching. It’s a shared experience with all sorts of social, practical, and cognitive lessons lurking just out of sight. It’s fascinating to watch as your child develops new skills and masters new concepts. And it’s just fun!

This makes me nostalgic for the days when all of us cousins would play board games at Pampaw or Uncle Truett’s during holidays. And it reminds me of Rich schooling me on Monopoly.

So, now it’s your turn… Are there board games that you’d recommend for those with young children? What were some of your all-time favorite board games?

Mango Mania

Until a couple of years ago, I had no idea how terrific the mango is. No, not that Mango.

I mean this mango:

Mango [mang-goh]: the oblong, fleshy stone fruit belonging to the genus Mangifera, consisting of numerous tropical fruiting trees in the flowering plant family Anacardiaceae (a member of the cashew family).

Right, the tropical, edible fruit!

However, I would never have bought, known how to prepare, or learned what I might use them for if I hadn’t discovered Erin’s Homemade Coconut Mango popsicles recipe on her $5 Dinners blog a couple of years ago. Once I tried ’em, mango popsicles immediately became one of our Summertime staples! Liam loves these cold treats during the often triple-digit Texas Summer days. And I feel great about being able to get more fresh foods into our diets, especially at a time of the year when we’re outside more and doing less from-scratch cooking. Mangoes are tangy without being overly-sweet, have a better than average shelf life for a fresh fruit, and are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and the powerful antioxidant beta carotene.

Mango Ice CreamBut I’ve been remiss and hadn’t even bothered to make these this Summer until I stumbled across Holly Baker’s Mango Ice Cream last week, realized how much we’ve missed ’em, and got inspired all over again. I also liked the idea of using our neglected electric ice cream maker, so I sorta combined the best parts of both of those recipes, doubled the ingredient amounts, and added about a half cup more heavy cream to make it freeze smoother. Really, you can tinker & adjust any which way you like and still come up with something that’s awesome, but I think the banana & coconut milk makes the tropical flavor soar!

Note: Mangoes are incredibly slippery devils! Cutting out the oblong seed in the middle with a knife can be quite a hazardous affair so even as much as I’m usually opposed to unitasker tools in the kitchen, I highly recommend something like the OXO Good Grips Mango Splitter for making that task easy. Once you’ve used the splitter to remove the seed, there’s still the trick of how to get all of the fruit out of the halves and here’s a crazy-simple & fast “inside out” technique for doing just that:


By the way, if you get a little carried away at the grocery store with those 3 / $1 mangoes, you can also use a leftover spare to whip up a very easy marinade for chicken. Mush up some very ripe mango with a little pineapple juice, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, some sea salt, a splash of lime, sprig of cilantro a squirt of honey or agave syrup and a quarter cup or so of olive oil. Let your chicken marinade in that mixture for an hour or so and you’ll have a tangy, spicy but still subtle flavor. Again, this is just the sort of recipe that lends itself to endless individual interpretation—go crazy!

Master Bedroom Overhaul, Part 3: Odds & Ends

New Closet Interior

After the dust settled and the paint dried (in Dolphin Fin grey, per my earlier mention that all of our paint color selections have names that “speak” to Dede), I finally got busy with outfitting the interior of the new closet with a ClosetMaid shelving system.

I was able to make use of nearly every square inch of the space inside the new closet so I ended up with almost 20′ of angled shoe storage, about 20′ of hanging clothes rod space, and almost 14′ of open shelving. The shelves up top are a bit of a stretch to reach and only have about 12″ of clearance below the ceiling, but there’s a ton of storage inside that small space! Here’s a peek:

ClosetMaid angled shoe shelves   ClosetMaid hanging rods

New Fan Control Knob

One of the more bizarre things left behind by the previous owners of Kirkwood Manor was the big honkin’ circa 1970s ceiling fan control box in our Master Bedroom. Since we were going to have to do some re-texturing anyway with the new closet construction, I took the opportunity to replace that limping scrod (Thanks, Rich!). Extending and snaking the wires for this through the wall stud just to the left of the original switch was a real challenge, but the end result was certainly worth the effort:

new ceiling fan control knob

Landscaping

Knowing that our door project was coming up, I had intentionally neglected the flowerbed/planter off of the patio area just outside the Master Bedroom. Once things were wrapped up with the new door install, I was ready to spring into action to rehab this area:

flowerbed before planting

With some expert guidance (Thanks Dave!) I settled on a interesting mix of perennial plants that seemed like a good fit for the area, given its size and the amount of direct sunlight it receives. So here’s what we ended up with:

flowerbed after planting

Door Hardware

As is often the case, once I had found a terrific deal on a handleset for the new Master Bedroom patio door, I couldn’t just let it go at that single purchase…

brass handleset   new nickel handleset

nickel handleset detail photo

So since I had found the Kellington double-cylinder door hardware at HandleSets.com for a fraction of what the local home store charge, I opted to also replace the brass lever/deadbolt combo on the other patio door (coming out of the kitchen) and the brass handleset & kickplate on the front door with matching nickel handlesets so they’d all look and be keyed alike. And I got all 3 for less than what I would’ve spent for a single handleset at retail price!

I ran into a slight problem with the new brushed nickel kickplate looking much more “aluminum-y” than “nickel-y” and therefore not quite matching the finish on the handleset. But I’ve since seen some other homes where this is slightly off too, so that’s kinda comforting. And most people may not even notice the difference…

Be sure to also read parts 1 and 2 of our sprawling Master Bedroom overhaul project!

Master Bedroom Overhaul, Part 2: New Patio Door

Although I mentioned the new closet first, that was really the lesser of the changes to be made with our overhaul of the Master Bedroom. No, the big ticket change, the driving force behind the whole thing, was all about a new door.

Our bedroom had a large 6′ x 9′ bank of old windows that looked out onto the patio. Since we spend a great deal of our time during late-Spring to early-Fall out back, we longed for direct access to the patio. The windows were original to the house (meaning they were the old, inefficient single-pane variety) and looked like this on the exterior (apologies for the late-night, low-quality photo):

Exterior view of Master Bedroom windows

…and on the inside they were covered with the same terrific Plantation shutters that the home’s previous owners had installed on the guest bedroom, den, and living room windows.

Plantation shutters on Master Bedroom windows

Earlier this year, we got kind of serious about this project and started calling around for estimates from “window and door” companies. But we ultimately discovered that we could get exactly what we wanted at a much lower price by purchasing the door independently and paying a contractor to install them. We had found a contractor thru our friend Donna P. who we felt we could trust to do the job right and I lucked into a great sale on a Jeld-Wen fiberglass-clad unit that featured two fixed panels and one hinged door in the middle (all with integral mini-blinds within the panes of Low-E glass) at Home Depot.

So 18 days later, the custom-ordered “triple” arrived—in one piece that was too big to even fit through any of our gates to get to the back of the house. So thanks to my contractor Roger, his helper Caleb, and two very cooperative & helpful Home Depot delivery guys, we brought the 81″ x 110″ door unit over the fence instead:

new patio door arrival

Once eased off the forklift and brought gently to the ground, we wrestled the behemoth to an area just beside the existing windows:

new patio door staged on site

In a single, action-packed day, the guys tore out the old windows and bricks, a plumber capped off the exterior hose bib that had been just beneath the old windows, and for a harrowing couple of hours, there was nothing but a huge hole in the side of the house:

hole in the wall

But by late that afternoon, the new door was tacked in place. The following day, they secured the unit, added casings to finish the exterior, and added tile to cap off the bottom row of existing brick and dress up the threshold area:

hinged triple patio door

What a thing of beauty! And we were especially pleased with the very budget-friendly and sturdy Kellington Double-Cylinder Handleset door hardware from HandleSets.com!

Finally, they trimmed out the interior in a regal fashion befitting such a king-sized door and I got busy with more Behr Azul Tequila paint:

Be sure to read part 3 of the Master Bedroom overhaul to see some of the odds & ends finishing details.