Sunday, September 30, 2007


I finally got my invite to Ravelry. I can't remember when I applied, before school started, so more than a month ago. I haven't done much yet. So far, I'm just looking around.

I think it's going to be a good thing and I hope to find some good ideas.

I need to load my stash into it and then I need to go search patterns. I'm not sure what I want to make next. I need something to take with me to soccer games, something that looks cool, but isn't hard to do.

Something that doesn't require $100 worth of yarn.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Financial Team

One year ago, Mr. Gaia was not my partner in the family finances. He abdicated that responsibility to me prior to our marriage.

I spent the first 11 years of our marriage feeling like the finance cop. Always feeling like I couldn't spend anything, because I knew he was and I felt like I needed to balance him. His constant phrase was "it's only $10/$20 per month".

Finally one day he stumbled upon a blog I had at another site where I was chronicling our financial life. I didn't write anything I hadn't said to him (multiple times), but seeing it written out like that was too much for him. We had a huge blow up fight and then he started getting involved, really involved.

Now I should say, in his defense, he has always been the best shopper I know. He finds the best deals. It was just that he couldn't pass up a good deal, so we often bought things we didn't need or particularly want because they were 90% off. Some of this stuff, I should say, was perfect for gifts for family and friends. It's just that a lot of it became clutter and a reminder to me of where all our money was going.

NOT that I was innocent, you understand. I encouraged him in some of his shopping and I would no sooner give up my high speed internet than I would give up breathing. Same with cable.

All that said, starting just about a year ago, Mr. Gaia came on as my full financial partner, and then some. He turned his skills at finding great deals to finding great bank accounts, great credit card rewards, good investment opportunities, a good refinance rate (at very little cost).

I am now much more relaxed about finances. I no longer check the bank balance every day. In fact, I logged on earlier today and almost couldn't remember my log on. Now, I'm in danger of fully abdicating my financial responsibilities to Mr. Gaia. Sigh.

This came clear to me tonight. We use rewards credit cards (always paying the balance in full each month). This enables us to earn interest on the money we spend for a few days/weeks longer and we get some cash back. It's never much, but it does add up over time. We realized that my credit card available credit isn't as high as it could be without hurting my credit score (and needed to be a bit higher so I'd have a lower utilization ratio), so we (he, remember I abdicated my responsibilities, sigh) decided I needed to apply for some more cards.

He directed me to We went through the list of cards they recommend, compared them with bonuses we could get through our current companies and picked 3 cards. Plus one with my credit union.

We're what credit card companies refer to as "deadbeats". We use their cards, pay off the balances and collect our rewards. How are they supposed to make money off of us (you know, besides what they charge the retailers)?

So my goal for October is to take back my partnership interest in our finances.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sad day in Bug Hill

So Humberto Leal has been deported. Who knew he wasn't here legally? He's legally married to Karen (Johnson) a legal marriage performed here in the US. They have a 4 year old girl, Claudia.

He was dumped across the border from Laredo. INS took his belt and his new boots. They took his ID. He was dumped with nothing but the clothes on his back (I'm not sure if it was his own clothes or a government issued outfit). He was able to borrow a phone to call Karen to wire him money, but without ID he couldn't pick it up.

He was finally able to get in touch with his family in Mexico and they were able to cobble together enough transportation to get him to their home. If he'd had his new boots, he could have traded those for some money and it would have been easier.

So now Claudia has pretty much lost her father. For at least a year, maybe longer. It's not like Karen makes enough money to pay for his transportation back, if he even manages to be allowed to come back. A 4 year old Daddy's girl is going to have to give up her father.


Please keep Claudia, Karen and Beto in your thoughts.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Well, isn't this surprising?

That it's reported, not what it is reporting. What it's reporting has been patently obvious to those of us who have followed birth trends for the last few years.

The C-section epidemic

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month released 2004 data
showing a rate of 13.1 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. For a country
that considers itself a leader in medical technology, this figure should be a
wake-up call. In Scandinavian countries, about 3 per 100,000 women die, which is
thought to be the irreducible minimum. The U.S. remains far from that. Even more
disturbing is the racial disparity: Black women are nearly four times as likely
to die during childbirth than white women, with a staggering rate of 34.7 deaths
per 100,000.
What's amazing about this report (other than that it's being reported at all) is the lengths people will go through to excuse the differences. Stuff like "new reporting measures" "advanced maternal age" etc. Because apparently only the US has advanced maternal age and new reporting methods really make that much diffrerence (especially in light of this bit from the article "Other reports by CDC epidemiologists have acknowledged that deaths related to childbirth are probably underreported by a factor of two to three.").

Birth in the US is a war zone. The OBs are terrified they will be sued and so they operate (no pun intended) under the idea that "you only get sued for the c-section you DIDN'T do". Patients just want time to talk to their OBs and feel like they're on an assembly line (because they are). So many people have said they just want to feel like their OB listens to them and takes the time to explain what is going on. There's a reason midwives are rarely sued for malpractice - even when they have the same outcomes. Midwives take the time to talk to their clients (and there's a difference - clients v patients) and schedule 30 minutes to an hour with each patient. They limit their patients each month to be sure they will be able to be at the births.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Breastfeeding while working

A commenter in the Feministe thread on Bill Maher doesn't think she will be able to exclusively nurse and work full time.

I thought I'd open a post for people to post their tips for working and nursing.

I worked from when Oceanus was 5.5 weeks old until he was 2. He was nursed exclusively - no formula whatsoever. I'll admit that I had an edge - Mr. Gaia was a SAHD and was able to bring the baby to me during lunch hours and occasional breaks. But a mother who has childcare reasonably close to her office could accomplish the lunch hour fairly easily. And I ended up dumping over 200 ounces of breastmilk by the end of our nursing relationship.

Here's how I did it. I realized that pumping was difficult and sucked, so I turned to my LLL friends for tips. The BEST tip I got was to pump while the baby was nursing. Nurse on one side and pump on the other. And to start this fairly early (about 3 weeks for me) so the baby would get used to the sound of the pump.

When I pumped at work to relieve engorgement, I would get maybe 1 ounce in 15 minutes. When I pumped while nursing, I would get 5 ounces in about 10 minutes. The letdown caused by the baby worked in my favor. So, I would pump a couple of times a day at work to relieve engorgement and then pump a couple of times at home and have enough to carry him for the 2 feedings he would need while I was at work.

I also took advantage of a natural tendency of some babies to "reverse-cycle". He cut way back on his feedings during the day (2 or so for 8 hours) and increased them when I was home (every 1-2 hours for the first part of the night).

I also co-slept. I know this is considered controversial and I understand the controversy - but let me point out that most adults know where the edge of the bed is even while they are asleep and don't roll out of bed. If you do roll out of bed - DON'T co-sleep without safety gear (a bassinet for the bed or a side-car, for instance). And it should go without saying that you should never co-sleep without safety gear if you are taking sleeping pills or drinking. What co-sleeping did for me was to allow me to nurse the baby while I slept with no worries about falling asleep in the chair and dropping him.

I know a lot of people who have worked and exclusively nursed. Please share your tips so we can help wishy-washy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

So much to blog about

So little gray matter left.

First, feministe reports that Bill Maher is a misogynistic asshole who thinks that breastfeeding in public is somehow special treatment for women. Nevermind that men go topless all the time. Nevermind that it's about feeding a baby. It's about tits being used for something other than turning him on.

Apparently this is in response to the nurse-in at Applebee's. I'm so ashamed, I knew about this nurse-in and failed to report it. My old LLL group had a nurse-in in Oklahoma City.

I'm so pissed. I nursed for years and never had a nurse-in - unless you count my own private nurse-ins. I was that woman who nursed in public all the time and without using a blanket. I figured the only way to have nursing viewed as normal would be for more people to see it.

Then out of Australian comes this story about a woman who went through IVF to have a child with her partner. Her story is she told them all along she only wanted one child, period. She was advised to put "up to two" on the form and that she couldn't tell them until the procedure based on quality issues. Sounds like she got extremely bad advice from the nurse and was pretty candid all along that she only wanted one child.

It's probably no surprise to most people who know me that I'm on her side on this. Doctors are in too big of a rush and have stopped listening to their patients. Patients are told to sign documents they don't agree with or told they will have the doctor-patient relationship severed. My birth was much more stressful than it had to be because I refused to sign a blanket consent form and marked it up. They didn't want to accept the form and threatened me with child services for putting my baby in danger.

And that's all the brain matter I can squeeze out today.

I'm a mean mom

Oceanus is now old enough to join the Nature Club at his school. He's been a little lukewarm about the idea, while Mr. Gaia and I have been pushing him to get more information.

Well, he finally brought home the information and has to write an essay. The essay he wrote showed he clearly didn't want to be in the Club. Being the mean mom I am, I asked why. Apparently it's because it is after school on Friday and that would mean he would miss TV for a part of that time.

Oooh. Yeah. That brought on the TV lecture. "If TV is so important to you that you're giving up activities you would find interesting, then it's time for the TV to go away" (expand from there).

So, they all went to soccer practice and I took a much needed nap (my jaw stopped hurting for 2 full hours after my nap!!!). When I woke up, they were back and Oceanus had had a change of attitude and re-written his essay.

I don't know that he will get in, his essay still isn't as good as it could be (it's clearly half-hearted to anyone who knows how smart this kid is) but he did at least make an effort. I hope he gets in because I know he will really enjoy this club. The kid says he wants to be a scientist, after all.

But Mr. Gaia and I are going to have to have some long discussions with them and work on limiting TV time.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I'm in pain

Stupid TMJ.

My whole head hurts, but mainly my jaw and behind my ears.

My tinnitis has been really, really bad lately (as in contributing to keeping me awake at night).

I AM not grinding or clenching my jaw, I swear. I'm not chewing gum (as much as I love gum). I'm not eating particularly chewy foods.

It's stress. I know it and I swear I'm ready to quit my job because it's too much. I'm a minimum of 3 weeks behind. I will never ever get caught up. And it's not like these are cases I can ignore, these are some of our biggest cases ever (or at least since I've been there). We just happen to have 4 of them at one time. One would be enough to cause a lot of stress while I tried to get my other duties done. 4? Well - TMJ, canker sores, tinnitis, irritability and extreme snappishness.

I'm not sure that a nightguard would help, really. I'm not grinding or clenching - so what good would it do? I have issues with things in my mouth (they make me gag, seriously if I hold a pencil in my mouth I start gagging).

Just a bit of Monday night venting.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I'm watching the musical Oklahoma (for the first time). I know it's not really filmed in Oklahoma, but there are a few scenes that look like home. I've also been reading Foxfire and some of the pics there look like home.

I haven't been back home since July, I'm starting to miss the landscape.

I love where I live. I have wild parrots to wake me up. I have flowers blooming year round. I can see me living here for a good number of years. Even if Mr. Gaia gets transferred, I can see us keeping this house and renting it out (for the first time ever) so that we have a place to retire to.

But, I am an Oklahoma girl through and through. I will always get homesick for Oklahoma. When I see pics that remind me of home, I'm going to miss it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

More whole wheat cooking

Another birthday, another cake.

This time a whole wheat chocolate cake recipe. Again, a modification. First, we started with this recipe:


2 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. cocoa
1 c. water
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, sugar and cinnamon together in large bowl. Bring cocoa, water and oil to boil. Pour over flour mixture and mix 1 minute. Dissolve baking soda in buttermilk; add with eggs and vanilla to mixture in bowl. Mix 2 minutes. Pour into greased and floured 10 x 15 x 1-inch jelly roll pan. Bake 20 minutes. Makes 24 servings.

Then, I left out the cinnamon (I'm aware that it would perfectly fit our culture here, but I'm not into cinnamon and chocolate together) and doubled the cocoa. It still needs more cocoa. I used buttermilk powder, because I don't use enough buttermilk to justify buying a whole container of it.

We baked two cakes, cut them in half and then made a 4 layer cake, using a chocolate ganache (made, I think, from chocolate chips and milk). We iced it with generic cool whip decorated with blue buttercream icing.

It was very rich and 4 layers was way too big. The kids couldn't eat their whole piece, even though I tried to cut small.

The secret to cooking with whole wheat flour, I've learned, is to start with the freshest flour possible. We ground this flour last night (a result of having used almost all the flour last week baking bread), it was still warm from the grinder.

Eventually, I will figure out a per item cost to my recipes.

Friday, September 14, 2007

How is everyone doing it?

I've been thinking about this since the Bitch Ph.D. post about finances.

I think she was very brave to put her financial info out there. So, I thought I'd do the same (to the extent that I can, so much of our stuff goes on credit cards and I don't have the statements in front of me or easy access to them).

Following her format:

Monthly income: $3900/month

Monthly Expenses:
Mortgage: $555
Insurance and taxes: $250
Car insurance: $80
Gas (water heater only now): $20
Electric: $125
Cells: $75
Cable/Internet: $130
Water/Sewer/Garbage: $40
Gas (car): $120
Groceries: $500
Student Loan: $175
Car payment: $200
Debt repayment: $200
Personal Loan repayment (grandparents): $500
Timeshare maintenance fee: $25

What's leftover, per month, to pay for school related stuff, summer camps, books, eating out, clothes, and stupid shit we don't really need: $905.

These are averages, of course. Most months we manage to put about $1,000 in savings even after discretionary spending. Of course, there is precious little of that. It gets swept into the $500/month grocery budget most of the time. We've almost paid back all that we borrowed from the grandparents, so that expense will go away in a few months (yay!). The debt repayment is money on a 0% credit card that we could pay off, but choose not to because we're earning 5% in the bank.

Anyone else willing to put their information out there?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Yesterday was a bad day at work. It started when I got there and my desk was covered with notes and files from other people and I couldn't even see my own files. Then a note said "couldn't find this file, blah, blah, blah". I walked over to the file cabinet and it was EXACTLY where it was supposed to be. Her excuse? Your desk is scary and I couldn't find it there. Well, yeah, because it wasn't there. It was where it was supposed to be.

So another coworker made a snippy comment to me in front of the boss and I lost it. I sniped back and we had a snipe fest in front of the boss. I think he was shocked and amused. I tend to really roll with the punches and the abuse at work. But I just couldn't take it. He treated me very well for the rest of the day. Alas, it didn't carry over until today.

I'm really burned out at my job. I have too much to do and not enough time to do it. I've explained that and I've shown them my to do list and asked them to priortize it. They know I'm that busy, but they are so concerned with bringing in money (which I'm sure is a valid concern) that they keep taking on new cases. Part of that is that the main source of income (real estate) has slowed down to the point where it's no longer the main source of income. So they pile the work on my and one other worker while the rest of the employees do less and less. Now, my work is for the most part plug and chug. With a little bit of training, anyone could pretty much do 90% of my work. But will they start training some of the real estate workers to do some of my more simple (and real estate related) tasks? Nope. Because they will complain about how busy they are.

Mr. Gaia might have the opportunity to be transferred. If he does get transferred, I will have an excuse to abandon this job. I hate it because there are parts of it I LOVE and find stimulating. It just gets bogged down by all the secretarial crap (they really need to hire someone to handle the simplest tasks so I can concentrate on the stuff that needs specialized training). And I'm getting bogged down by the petty office behavior. Standing outside of my cubicle talking VERY loudly while I'm trying to talk on the phone. Taking 30-45 minutes every morning for a breakfast break. All this while claiming to be sooo much busier than everyone else.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

I survived

Not everyone showed up - thank goodness.

My house has an echo and a dozen kids or more are really, really loud in a house that echoes.

Mr. Gaia invited some really, really conservative people and I ended up not mingling much with them. To be honest, I was worried that I'd drink too much to keep from telling them off. I did pop off with "well, no great loss" when they mentioned Dr. Laura was no longer aired here in the Valley. I mentioned I listened to NPR and they went nuts with how liberal NPR is. Okay.

I now have a ton of food in my house. And a little less liquor. We'll be eating leftovers for the next week.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Party at my house!

Just kill me now. After dithering back and forth for over a year (since we moved into the house) Mr. Gaia came home on Saturday and told me that we are having a party this Saturday (I guess that's today).

OMG. My house wasn't even every day clean, much less having company over clean. So, I've been cleaning all week (which is why I've been so silent). I have 33 confirmed yes RSVPs, 5 maybes and 26 non-responders.

So, being environmentally minded, Mr. Gaia and I have been discussing our options for feeding people. We decided to buy the cheap, restaurant grade flatware at Sam's so that it can be reused. We've discussed plates ad infinitum and still haven't decided. I think we're going to go with Chinet that is made from recycled paper and then put it in our compost pile.

We've bought natural sodas, organic veggies, baked bread, brownies and mixed up dips.

I'll report back if I survive.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

How are people doing it

Several bloggers have recently had some interesting financial posts.

First up we have BitchPhD with her two posts - But, but, I thought we were rich and Fuck all y'all, how have we been doing it?!? These are an interesting take on how someone making well over the median income still can't afford to buy a house in much of the US.

Then we have Pandagon with Poverty study brings the spin.

Over 36 million people in the US live in poverty. Over THIRTY-SIX MILLION. This doesn't include the working poor who are one small hiccup away from being in poverty. Or the rest of us who are one setback away from being working poor or in poverty.

Here in the Valley we have the colonias. Whole "subdivisions" that live without access to electricity, potable water and sewage systems. On property that is so worthless they can't even grow a veggie garden (if they could manage to somehow irrigate it when it doesn't rain here - which is more often than not).

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Wage study

For a good portion of the population, wages aren't meeting needs in even low cost of living areas.

This article is about the Rio Grande Valley of Texas ("The Valley"):

Report: Valley familes’ salaries too meager
AUSTIN — Families in the Rio Grande Valley routinely earn less than what they need to buy life’s basic necessities, a report released on Thursday found.

The study from the Center for Public Policy and Priorities, an Austin-based nonprofit that advocates for working families, studied what it takes to live in 26 metropolitan areas in Texas.
It found that in Texas, a family with two parents and two children must earn between $9,000 and $25,000 above the federal poverty level of $20,650 to stay on top of life’s routine bills.

“There’s a big gap between what people are earning and what it really costs to live,” said Frances Deviney, co-author of the study and a senior research associate with CPPP.

The cheapest place to live in Texas is the Brownsville-Harlingen area, requiring $29,982 to make ends meet, the study found. But half of Brownsville households make less than $26,000, leaving many without enough money to live with stability, according to the center.

The McAllen-Edinburg area is more expensive, about $35,000, primarily because housing is slightly more expensive than in Brownsville, Deviney said. Census data shows the median household income in McAllen is $28,660.

The most expensive area to live is Texas was Fort Worth, costing $45,770 a year, the study found.

Just because it’s cheaper to live in the Valley doesn’t mean it’s easier for those with low incomes, Deviney said.

“When wages correspond to the cost of living, you’re actually no better off,” she said.

Preliminary attempts to compare statewide Census data with the study have found that the median incomes, on average, are slightly higher than the salaries the study determined to be necessary, Deviney said.

“Probably over half the families are making what they need, but there’s a good chunk who are not,” she said.

Deviney said the study’s authors used conservative figures. They assumed families would buy food in bulk, buy little meat and never eat out. Housing costs were figured based on the fair market rate of public housing, which is often less than what families pay for apartments.

The authors also assumed families have health insurance on par with those of a state employee, which is often not the case.

The study did not figure that families might want to save for college, a home or retirement. It did not account for unforeseen expenses like a car accident or extra school supplies, Deviney said.

“When you’re living hand to mouth, on a monthly basis, you’re never going to have the opportunity to get ahead,” Deviney said. “You’re kind of on a hamster wheel.”

Becky Sanchez has a good idea of the feel of that wheel. The 36-year-old mother of two from San Juan earns $10 an hour as a teacher’s aide at a charter school. She would like to work full-time, but the school doesn’t have those positions open right now, she said.

To get by, she sometimes relies on help from her mother or her church, she said.

On Thursday the 1992 Buick Sentry she had driven for six years caught fire on U.S. Highway 281. Now she’ll have to think about a car payment in addition to household bills and credit card debt, she said.

The single mother has no health insurance. Her children, ages 12 and 14, are on Medicaid, which she says “is a blessing.”

“Sometimes I deal one day at a time,” Sanchez said.

Although the Valley has some of the poorest communities in the state, the study found low-income workers statewide face the same problems.

Deviney cited the decline of the real value of wages in recent years, less employer-sponsored health care and regressive tax policies as reasons for the gap between wages and what it takes to live.

To close the gap, the state should increase access to community college, make sure families have government aid until they are self-sufficient and attach economic development aid for companies with workforce training for workers, she said.

This is where I live. Salaries are low here. The article says that median incomes tend to be a little higher than the amount needed, but I'm not sure that actually holds true here. I thought it was interesting to see what figures they used. Government housing prices, only the most standard of household expenses (no school supplies, for example). Only what a family HAS to have for the most basic needs.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Cooking from scratch

Tonight we baked a carrot cake, completely from scratch. We started with wheat berries, carrots (and a zucchini for filler), added eggs, honey, agave sweetener, molasses, cinnamon, butter, vanilla, etc and ended up with a delicious cake. We wanted to bake it in the solar oven, but there was no sun.

I used a basic recipe with a few minor variations. I started with this recipe:


2 c. whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. toasted wheat germ
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1-1/4 c. honey
1/2 c. butter, melted
1 tsp. molasses (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs
3 c. finely shredded carrots
1 c. chopped pecans
Cream Cheese Frosting
Grease and flour two 8- or 9-inch round baking pans. In a mixer bowl combine flour, wheat germ, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon. Add honey, butter, molasses and vanilla. Beat with electric mixer on low speed until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in carrots and pecans. Pour into prepared pans.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and cool completely. Frost between layers and top with Cream Cheese Frosting. Store covered in the refrigerator.

I left out the wheat germ (I didn't have it and didn't want to buy it), substituted a cup or so of zucchini for some of the carrot, and went about half and half with local honey and agave sweetener (both light and amber).

I used their frosting recipe:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. butter
2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. molasses or honey
1/4 c. pecans, chopped
Beat cream cheese and butter with a mixer until fluffy. Beat in powdered sugar, vanilla, and molasses or honey. Stir in pecans. If necessary, chill until it is of spreading consistency (about 30 minutes).

But I left out the honey and the pecans. It was really, really sweet already. It turned out kind of cream colored. If I had been thinking, I would have used the clear vanilla we got in Mexico. But it would still have been a little brown because I used an organic powdered sugar that's slightly tannish.

Even Oceanus liked it. We didn't tell him what it was until he said he really liked it.