Friday, September 29, 2006

Consignment sale confessions

I'm becoming a consignment sale junkie! I wouldn't yet call myself an addict - I don't get in line at 6.00 am, I don't have to be at EVERY sale and I don't haul away mountains of stuff. Perhaps, I should say I'm becoming a conisseur - I'm developing refined strategies, a critical eye, an ability to swoop & scoop with grace.

In reality, I only hit two (three, if you count that I went back to one!) sales: Divine Consign in Grapevine and Plano and the Rockinghorse Sale in Coppell. I do have one more in mind. This year I skipped the Just Between Friends sale because I found the one in Denton so small last time.

For Divine Consign in Grapevine, I arrived around 10 am on opening day. Good timing, no line, no mad rush, still plenty to look over the gear. This is the sale I also decided to visit again on 50% off day - just because it was close by and I wondered what would be left. Not a whole lot of high quality stuff. I did pick up a bag of toy cars for $0.50, a Fisher-Price Little People fire station for $2.00 and Little Tikes tool kit for $0.50.

Divine Consign in Plano was disappointing. Maybe I was late? But, I felt like the prices were higher and quality lower. I even saw some repeats from Grapevine. Won't make the drive there again!

The little Rockinghorse Sale in Coppell gave me the one big item I'd been searching for - table and chairs for Peanut. For $20, I got the cutest wooden giraffe and walrus back chairs for a matching table :-) Otherwise, its like a big garage sale, but just around the corner so I'll be back again! You can get in early to this sale on opening day with a $5.00 donation to the hosting church's youth group.

My hints for successful consignment shopping:

  • have a shopping list and focus on those items first - there were specific toys I wanted, everything else I skipped until I had looked for those first.
  • bring a few empty canvas bags to fill with shopping. Yes, some people drag an empty laundry basket around with them, but its not very practical.
  • there seemed to be tons of clothes available at all the sales so look over the other stuff first unless you are desparate for clothes.
  • if you MUST have a bigger item (stroller, beds, big plastic toys, bikes, etc) - you will have to be fanatical about being there first. Volunteer to get in on the pre-sales.
  • consign something yourself to get in early without the hours of volunteering - most sales let you shop at the first night as well. I suppose you are a consignor even if you only put one item up for sale!
  • peek around all the corners - both Divine Consign sales were spread over several unconnected rooms. One toy-filled and overlooked room was brimming with goodies because half the shoppers didn't even notice it!
  • move your big items into the roped off hold area - or better yet, have someone take them there for you - and continue shopping
  • I had Peanut with me. I also had lots of snacks and drinks for Peanut to keep her happy. She's a quiet, happy shopper so I knew it would be OK. If yours isn't, you'll be better off sans bebe.

Last two sales I know of for fall in the area both take place tomorrow!
North Dallas Mothers of Twins Club in Richardson and the
Metrocrest Parents of Multiples sale in Flower Mound.

Checking in on Tex

I've just had my third prenatal visit for Tex this week.

To catch up, at the second visit, which was around week 12, the nurse met us for the usual weight, blood pressure and urine check before we saw the doctor. This time we also had an ultrasound to make sure Tex's growth rate was on track. There was some confusion between the nurse and doctor so we ended up with just an external (on the belly) ultrasound since the doctor thought I was thin enough for it to suffice. Usually this ultrasound is internal (transv*ginal).

Indeed, we saw Tex waving around. The picture wasn't as clear as the internal would have been, but it allowed the doctor to make the needed measurements. All along, he continued in a very reassuring manner, telling us everything was very normal and on track.

This past visit - after a 40 minute wait in the waiting room - I again first met my usual nurse (whose name I still don't know!) and then my doctor. This time he measured the growth of my uterus and used a doppler device to listen to Tex's heartbeat. He summed up it was all fine, but didn't actually tell me any of the measurements.

I was offered an AFP screening test, something which is not offered in Finland, to screen for certain neural abnormalities, such as Down's Syndrome, spina bifida and anencephaly. It is an optional test, which he said about 50% of his patients opt for and didn't really make any recommendation for me to take or not take. It has a reputation for not being very accurate and
causing more worry than answers.

We should've been quarantined

Well, not really, but it sure seemed like last week wherever you looked around our home, you saw sick Peanut, sick mama, sick papa. Perhaps even the kitties were sick, but we were just too sick to tell.

Fortunately, Peanut was the healthiest of all. She made it through the week with just one little vomit episode and a couple of loose diapers. (Too much info?! Watch out - there's more coming). She barfed on our bed, into our awaiting hands cupped to catch her vomit. Then papa quickly scooped up a little vomit covered Peanut and snuggled with her to help her get over the nasty surprise. The things you do without even blinking an eye for your children. Amazing.

I spent much of the week on the sofa or in the bathroom, thanks to a stomach virus followed by a fever and sore throat. Papa had to go out of town after he recovered enough to get on a plane.

I was at a loss as to how to get through the days with Peanut. I was so tired and completely lacked any will to make/eat food, play games or go anywhere.

So, I turned on the TV for Peanut. We never have the TV on during the day so I didn't know if it would amuse her, but I needed some help. I didn't want to take her anywhere cause I thought she might be contagious, too. No family in town and I only know one babysitter. What else to do?

Well, Peanut just LOVED PBS Kids. She LOVED Curious George. She followed Clifford the Big Red Dog through all his adventures. And, some computer animated looking show about a tree sloth, monkeys and a green tropical frog was just fab. I tried to be involved - what's the monkey say? Oh, did he go into the tree? Dogs like bones......

Peanut could have cared less where I was or what I had to say. She lay down on the floor, tucked her thumb in and did not move for the entire show.

I felt a bit sorry for her. She usually wanders around the house and finds something to do, but also likes to do many of these things with mama, who could not this week.

Today, when I felt better, Peanut took the TV remote, pushed the red on button and waited. I had to explain how the TV is sleeping today and there will be no monkey show. Maybe, she'll forget Curious George....maybe not. TV is powerful stuff. Now, I really know why its recommended to limit TV viewing for little ones.

Some other activities I did manage to do with Peanut from the sofa were:
> blowing bubbles - fun for her, the kitties chased them and I didn't have to move
> sticker book - again, very little effort on my part, just handing her stickers
> coloring book
> hiding toys under the blanket
> reading
> puzzles

And, for next time, I've hidden away a Mr. Potato Head toy that will come out as a surprise. Its kinda like planning for a long flight - new toys, easy to play with while fixed in one spot, and kid-friendly snacks all packed up and ready to take out.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Prescription Prenatal Vitamins + DHA supplement

At the very first prenatal visit here in Texas, my doctor gave me a prescription for Citrical prenatal vitamins that included a DHA supplement. A prescription prenatal? Why? It costs $20 for a 30 day supply -- and that's with health insurance!

I had been taking a generic prenatal vitamin from the time we started thinking about having Tex since its important to get at least three months of folic acid in your system before pregnancy to help prevent some neural birth defects. With Peanut, I had taken the LadyVita vitamin for pregnant and nursing mothers which was available at the apteekki.

In the beginning, I asked the OB/GYN I had seen in Finland for a pre-pregnancy check-up which folic acid supplement to take. She looked confused and didn't understand why I wanted to take it. Hmmmm???

Then, once pregnant, I asked my midwife in Finland which brand of prenatal vitamin she recommended. She wondered why I would even be taking a prenatal vitamin. In her opinion, as long as I ate a healthy and proper diet, I didn't need any additional vitamins. "Those Americans just eat hamburgers and french fries so they are not healthy enough without vitamins," she scoffed.

Yes, that's probably true, but a pregnancy diet needs to be very carefully balanced and followed everyday in order to get the needed vitamins and minerals consistently. However, my philosophy during my pregnancy was to do everything in moderation and to continue doing those things I had prior to pregnancy (within guidelines of course!). I have virtually always taken vitamin supplements so that's what I planned to continue to do. I do follow a pregnancy diet and eat well, but know that I'm no nutrition expert and sometimes given to laziness in the kitchen.

Nonetheless, I was not wholly sold on the idea of prescription prenatal vitamin. My doctor explained its valuable because of the lower amounts of vitamin A and higher amounts of calcium as compared to generics. Most importantly, it came with the DHA supplement. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid considered to be key to healthy brain, eye and nervous system development. My usual source has been salmon, but I know I don't eat it frequently enough.

Though there is no official FDA recommended daily allowance for DHA, the concensus (I found on the Internet) seems fall between 200 - 350 mg/day for pregnant women.

So, my current solution is this: continue with my generic prenatal because its so much cheaper, drink some extra milk/fortified OJ for more calcium and pick up the a separate DHA supplement available OTC for less the $20 I would pay a month for the prescription vitamin. As a bonus, each box of the Expecta brand DHA supplement comes with a coupon for $1.50 off your next purchase.

I miss my maternity neuvola card

When I was expecting Peanut in Helsinki, I was given a "Maternity Health Clinic" card. Really a small booklet where at each midwife and doctor's visit my vital stats were recorded. The midwife and doctor also made the same notes into their own file. All by hand. I remember being surprised that the Katiloopisto hospital where Peanut would be born had no access to the information electronically - they, too, would have to decipher the hand-written notes from my maternity card.

I was told I should keep my Finnish Maternity card with me at all times so in essence I'd have my pregnancy health record on hand if I ever had to go to a different clinic or hospital. But, I liked it so I could keep track of how things were developing: my weight, blood pressure, blood test results, protein, glucose and iron tests, height of the uterus, Peanut's heart rate and position. It was fun to pull it out every once in a while at home to see how far we had progressed.

Here in the US, the notes are made by the nurse and my doctor into the folder kept at his office. A few times, I've even had to ask if I gained weight or how my blood pressure was as the nurse silently made her notes. I try to recall the details and write them down for myself in my own notebook. I suppose the idea is that if I need care, I will go only to his office and my selected hospital where my doctor will be available and aware of my condition.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"Tex" -- arriving early 2007!

The latest news here is that Peanut will become a big sister next year! "Tex" will make his/her appearance in early spring 2007! We thought "Tex" was appropriate as the hospital forms pointed out, we will not just be having a baby, but a new Texan.

We're excited all around and, blogwise, I'm excited about lots of posting ideas comparing pregnancy in the US and Finland.

Its already been a vastly different experience even though we're only a few months along.

To begin with, the doctor wanted to see us as soon as we thought we might be pregnant. In our case that was barely 6.5 weeks along when the tell-tale signs were confirmed with an at-home pregnancy test.

In Finland, I had been advised to wait a bit later before contacting the neuvola - I called around 9 weeks. When I did call, the first question was "Was this a wanted pregnancy?" so they could determine which side of the health clinic to connect me to.

Here, we met the doctor right away. At our first visit, I gave up at least 6 viles of blood for a variety of standard tests: blood type, Rh, blood count, immunity for Rubella, screen for antibodies, hepatitis, syphilis and HIV.

Then, the doctor did a sonogram. I was amazed that you could see/hear anything so early! But, "Tex" was there - a little blurry blob with no distinguishable features, except a strong and clear heartbeat. It was the heartbeat the doctor was after. He was very enthusiastic and explained that once you hear a heartbeat the chance for miscarriage already diminishes to just around 5%.

In Finland, our first meeting with the doctor and a sonogram was at 12 weeks. Before then, we just assumed everything was normal and met with our midwife.

So far, we've paid $15 as our insurance co-pay. However, I've seen what the doctor's office is billing the insurance company:
$960 for blood tests
another $960 for sonograms and doctor's consultations.


Curing ear infections by waiting & seeing

From news, it seems many cases of ear infections actually cure themselves over the course of a few days without the use of antibiotics.

This was also the response of the doctor we visited in the Netherlands when Peanut got her ear infection during the last days of our vacation. Our local Texas pediatrician would have been willing to also wait & see for a few days if Peanut had been a bit older when she got her first ear infection just shy of her one year birthday.

Wanna pay less for your cable TV & Internet? Just ask!

You have to love being a customer in the US.

You aren't always treated like royalty, but most smart companies would rather keep you than lose you.

I just had our current cable TV and Internet provider (Time Warner Cable) lower our monthly bill by $20 without lowering any levels of service.

It just took a quick call to customer service to ask if they could offer us anything to entice to keep from switching to their competition, Verizon.

"No problem, I can help you with that!"

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Carnival in Coppell!

This past weekend, the St. Ann's Catholic Church in Coppell filled its front parking lot with carnival rides, foods and arts& crafts.

We took Peanut one evening not so much for the rides, but just to see the action, lights and people. And, interesting carnival people were there. The rides half of the event was run by a professional group who evidently go from event-to-event with their rather junky looking equipment and charge outrageous carnival prices (like $5 for funnel cake with powdered sugar!! from a mix!!! I saw the mix on the counter - they just add water!!!).

That all aside, it was a really nice atmosphere. It made me happy to live in a city that hold such events attended by families with children in strollers, toddler shoes and baseball caps. Pre-teen/teens also were there sitting in circles, chatting on mobile phones and standing in line for the wilder rides. All of it feeling very wholesome, safe and cozy.

A special tent for smaller carnival goers reminded me of my own elementary school fall fairs. The games where everyone is always a winner of some small trinket: Go Fish, Bean Bag Toss, Picking Plastic Ducks.

Peanut really enjoyed the open-air performance area and clapped along with the clubby music of young boys dancing like their favorite pop stars.

FIRE -- ants!

Poor Peanut got bitten by several fire ants yesterday in our backyard.

The recent rains (it has hardly rained since early Spring here) evidently brought out the little biters usually hidden far underground.

The last time I saw a fire ant mound in our backyard was late April and had forgotten all about them. Peanut & I were out barefoot; I was surverying the damage to our backyard cloth gazebo when Peanut came over to grab my hand. Looking down, I saw her right leg covered in little black ants and immediately knew they were fire ants. About the same time, I felt a little sting on my own leg.

We got the ants off of Peanut very quickly and her papa took her inside to run cold water over the bites while I hit the Internet to see what else we should do. I know some people have very severe reactions so we watched her closely for the next 10 mins. Fortunately, she remained calm and normal, not even really in any pain.

I applied some hydrocortison cream to the bites to help ward off the itch and inflammation.

This morning the bites had developed into raised bumps with white pustles surrounded by red skin. Still Peanut didn't bother with them, but I put her in loose pants anyway to cover them up so she wouldn't get curious. (The picture is not of Peanut).

Monday, September 11, 2006

Freddy and Fredericka

As we spent the empty hours before we departed Dallas -Ft Worth for our vacation, I snagged Mark Helprin's latest book, Freddy and Fredericka , thinking that I'd never get to read it. I wasn't even sure I would like it. The back cover made it sound quite dull and simple - the prince and princess of Wales go on an adventure. But, I've read plenty of other Helprin and am always swallowed up by his tales.

There were plenty of nights I snuck off to bed early so I could read. Peanut's papa would poke his head in several times wondering what on earth I was laughing about so hard. A few times, I actually had to catch my breath before I could just and just get it out before I cracked up again. Beyond the outright hiliarious fun of the story, there are plenty of big issues to think about and wonder, just how did our world become so odd.

Before I knew it, I was reading while Peanut played with her toys outside, when papa and Peanut were in the bath and even early in the mornings before anyone else woke up.

I won't review the book or its story - plenty of others have - but, I do highly recommend it for anyone who like Helprin or has never even heard of him.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Maastrict - a little gem in the South

We spent two days in the southern city of Maastricht in hopes of edging away from the rain front and getting a peek at a part of the country we usually don't see.

The drive was a quick 2 hours into countryside that no longer looked typically like the Netherlands. There were more farms, fields and forests; virtually no windmills, sheep grazing or road level dykes full of water.

Maastricht was very approachable and friendly. We stayed at the very comfy Best Western by the railway station and only a few minutes walk from all the main attractions. Peanut didn't find it so comfy and thought our room to be too confining - she would start to cry as we approached the door :-( The swimming pool downstairs did cheer her up, but we'll think twice before trying for a city weekend in a hotel with a busy little girl again!

Peanut was much more interested in walking the cobblestoned streets than bouncing along in her stroller . Her little Ballerina Duck kept her company - she always has a little soft friend with her wherever we go. Luckily, she isn't overly attached to any one (except Pooh to sleep with) that as long as its fuzzy and cute, Peanut is happy to take Ballerina Duck, Lion, Crinkly Dog, Raggedy Anne, Pooh, little Penguin the fingerpuppet or Frog with her.

We did manage to get in a cup of nice hot chocolate at one of the cafes lining the main church square, the Vrijthof. It was closed off as that weekend kicked off their largest gastronomic affair featuring hundreds of booths of food, wine and other delights.

It was a refreshing detour on our vacation and I hope we can spend more time in this part of the country again someday.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Its a grand ole flag

We enjoyed a cool Labor Day weekend in Dallas. It even rained all day Monday! The weather showed us that it can once again become bearable and inviting outside - you could get the tiniest whiff of Fall in the air if you breathed in deeply and closed your eyes.

Papa fired up the grill and we enjoyed a tasty meal on our patio as Peanut played with her collection of cars in her sandbox. Ahhh...

Out in the front yard, there were flags planted here and there in our neighbor's yards. I was a bit confused the first time the flags appeared seemingly from nowhere and without rhyme or reason. Our immediate neighbor had one, then no flags for 5 - 6 houses and then suddenly two in row.

It turns out the flags are part of service sold by a local high school group. For a small amount each year, they will come place a flag in your yard on flag flying holidays.

In Helsinki where most of us lived in apartments, the flagging was taken care of by the building maintenance staff. I also enjoyed the days when I walked out the front door and suddenly was surprised by the flags gracing all entry ways and public poles. While I didn't always know why a certain day was a flag day, it made it a bit special -- and worthwhile of finding out as a few holidays come with a special pastry - yum :-) - like Runebergintorttu is a Finnish pastry that is seasoned with almonds and rum. There is usually raspberry jam in a sugar ring on the tart.The tart has got its name from the Finnish poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg who liked to enjoy the tart with punch according to the legend. Runeberg's tarts are available on Runeberg's birthday on 5 February.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Tummy troubles and ear infections

It seems no vacation of ours is ever complete without someone getting sick!

This time around it was Peanut's papa. Though this is the second time he has come down with similar symptoms on vacation. Poor guy - it just seems his body goes on break when we go on holiday! During our first week in the Netherlands he came down with a low grade fever and some tummy rumbles which quickly progressed to stomach cramps and diarrhea. They had him down on the sofa and moaning in bed for three days. When the imodium didn't work, we went to a local pharmacy for good old fashioned carbon tablets which seemed to finally do the trick.

Peanut and I fortunately stayed healthy that week.

Two days before we were set to head back home, Peanut wakes up with a fever of 39.2C. She had called out for mama a few times during the night, but always quickly fell asleep so I didn't realize anything was wrong until she cried early in the morning.

We decided to take her to the doctor since her fever kept rising after Tylenol doses. In the Netherlands, most doctors are "family doctors" who have office hours until noon and then spend the afternoon making house calls to very ill patients. Oma & Opa weren't sure that a short fever in toddler would be considered 'very ill' yet. Luckily they lived in a small village and were able to call their family doctor and convince her to take us in that afternoon.

It was a quiet little office where we spent just a short time waiting. The doctor saw us in her office. She was very laid back. After we told her about how Peanut was feeling, she checked her ears and confirmed that one of them was inflamed. She said usually they do not medicate for ear infections believing that they pass in 2 - 3 days, but since we were traveling back home so soon she agreed to write us a prescription.

Peanut got the classic Amox. Penicillin treatment and nose drops for the plane. The Dutch Penicillin is not pink - it was a yellowish fruity flavor Peanut didn't like at first. We had to dose her 3x/day with 4 ml.

Since we didn't have much choice as to the doctor, we didn't check that it was covered by our insurance and were a bit worried about what it all might cost. No need to have been. Even with no insurance, the total bill for drs visit and medications was only EUR 39.92 (barely $50.00).

By the time we set off for home, Peanut was already feeling better and Papa was enjoying regular meals, too!