Getting Decked Out

Getting Decked Out

Our biggest – and most costly – project of this summer is replacing our deck. We’re only two days into it, and I’ve already learned quite a few things.

  1. Make a plan upfront. We decided to replace our deck last winter, and since we live in the frozen tundra upstate New York, there’s a limited window of time when such a project can be done. To cut costs, my husband decided to dismantle the deck himself. Knowing this would take quite a while, he started in April. But we didn’t start the process of contacting contractors, gathering estimates, and selecting materials, until mid-May. At that point, we learned many contractors have already started filling their schedules. For a couple of weeks, it looked like we’d be spending the entire summer without a deck.  Now I know to allow plenty of time to find a contractor at the outset of a project.
  2. Contractors are not always as professional we might like. My husband spoke with five contractors about our deck, and four came to take measurements and provide estimates. Only three of them ever got back to him with their estimates. One of them eventually declined the job, and offered to provide the names of other contractors he would recommend. We never heard from him again. One gave a firm date by which he’d get his estimate to us, and missed it by five days. One scheduled a call to discuss the job with my husband and didn’t actually call until four hours later. My expectations for contractors have definitely been adjusted.
  3. Expect unanticipated costs. Anyone who’s spent more than a nanosecond watching HGTV knows that there are ALWAYS unexpected costs once a home building or renovation project has begun. We’ve been lucky thus far, but even two days into this project, demolition has taken twice as long as was estimated, and a couple of support pieces that we intended to save have turned out to be rotten and need to be replaced.

The deck is supposed to be finished at some time next week, and I can’t wait to set up my lounge chair, grab my summer reading list, and kick back with an iced tea.

Do you have big home projects planned for this summer? How have your experiences working with contractors been?

Weekly Recap

Happy weekend! With abundant heat and humidity, the July 4th holiday, and a full week of summer camp, this week felt like the first true week of summer. Here’s a recap of the highlights:

July 4th

As you know, July 4th was on a Monday this year. My husband’s uncle throws a big party at his house in New Jersey every year, and this year it took place on the preceding Saturday, the 2nd. It’s a great chance to catch up with his extended family, and there’s always a huge spread of food. This year was no exception, and even included a whole, roasted pig. (I like pork, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat it with the butchered corpse seeming to stare at me from the carving table. I stuck to burgers.)

The actual July 4th holiday felt kind of strange to me, since my daughter’s camp week started on Monday. As a result, we skipped the parade and other festivities in downtown Saratoga. Instead, my husband and I spent the day doing chores around the house. I did some cleaning – okay, and some reading – while my husband worked on dismantling our deck, which is being replaced next week. We finished the day with some delicious grilled fish at home.

Summer Reading Update

I finished reading Long Live the King while we were in New Jersey, and started reading The Nest. Long Live the King was pretty good, but I’m absolutely loving The Nest! I rarely read very new fiction, but I’m so glad I did this time. This book is about a group of dysfunctional siblings, who were planning to receive a substantial inheritance, until it was spent cleaning up a big mess made by the oldest brother. The other siblings desperately try to get him to pay them back, since they’ve basically dug themselves into financial holes, in anticipation of getting the inheritance. I plan to finish it this weekend, or early next week.

Summer Camp

Summer camp is a touchy subject in our house. My daughter is an only child, so it’s important for her to have socialization, especially over the summer. Also, camp gives her something to do, to help avoid the summer doldrums. She’s a shy kid, and it takes her a while to get comfortable in new environments, and with unfamiliar people. (This is one of many traits she inherited from me.)

We’ve tried a variety of different camps throughout the years, and she’s had fun at some, and disliked others. But no matter how much fun she has, she tends to insist that she didn’t like the camp in question, and refuse to return the following year. For example, last year she attended a very affordable, half-day camp in our town. It’s a pretty basic camp, with high school and college-age counselors, leading standard camp activities – crafts, games, and the like. Since it ended last year, my daughter has said she didn’t want to return to that camp this year because they “made me play tag.” She steadfastly maintained this resistance, even though almost all of her school friends are attending this camp this summer.

Instead, this year she wanted to attend a theater camp, offered by a great local theater organization, Saratoga Children’s Theater. Each week has a theme, and the activities throughout the week all relate to the theme. At the end of the week, the campers put on a show for parents. Last week’s theme was Frozen, so we were deluged with snowflake and snowman crafts, and got to see her sing several songs from the movie at yesterday’s show. It was adorable, and I’m pleased to share that I managed to get through the show without crying. (An unusual feat for this weeper, indeed!) Best of all, she seemed to have a great time at this camp! She’s returning for two additional weeks, later in the summer.

Sneak Peek at Next Week

Starting on Monday, our deck is being replaced. I’m overjoyed about this, since reading, sitting, and eating on our deck is something I love doing in the warmer months. We’ve known for a while that it needed to be replaced, so my husband started dismantling it early in the spring. This means it’s been out-of-commission all season, and I’ve really missed it. After gathering quotes from several contractors, we’ve finally selected someone to do the work, ordered the materials, and scheduled the work to begin!

How was your week? Did you do anything special for July 4th? Are you planning any big home projects for this summer?

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The Trouble With Track Season

Signs at the Saratoga Springs city lines read, “Health History Horses.” Sure there was a pretty significant Revolutionary War battle here, and yes, the mineral-rich springs and spas have been enjoyed for centuries, but Saratoga is probably best known for its horse-racing track season.

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Every summer, Saratoga Springs hosts a seven-week meet, culminating with the Travers Stakes. Pretty much everything about the city changes during track season: The population swells, hotel and restaurant prices spike, parking becomes scarce, and everything becomes a lot more crowded. Can you tell how I feel about track season?

It’s undeniable that the people and businesses of Saratoga and the greater Capital Region benefit tremendously from the revenues generated during track season. The hotels and restaurants are jam-packed, area employment opportunities increase dramatically, and individual homeowners can earn enough money to cover their annual property taxes – and sometimes more! – by renting out their homes to visitors. According to a 2015 report from the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency, the summer season at the track generates $237 million and nearly 2,600 jobs throughout the Capital Region. Who am I to complain about that??

While I don’t dispute the many ways in which Saratoga Springs and the area benefit from track season, as a local resident, track season is my absolute least-favorite time of the year to be in Saratoga. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t enjoy attending the races at the track, or even horse-racing, in general. In the eight years that I’ve lived in the area, I’ve attended exactly one day of races at the track! It was hot and crowded, I don’t enjoy gambling, and while the (quick) races themselves are exciting, the approximately 30-minute wait-times in between the races are an absolute snoozefest.

The town that I love becomes so packed with people during track season, everything takes longer and becomes more complicated. Want to go out for a spontaneous, restaurant dinner? Good luck getting seated in under an hour. Meeting a friend for lunch? Leave an extra half hour for searching for a parking space. Love sitting quietly in Congress Park and enjoying the peace? Come back in mid-September.

For many good reasons, track season is here to stay in Saratoga. But on Travers Day 2016, you’ll find me hunkered down at home, and counting down the number of days until life returns to normal.

How many times have you been to the horse races in Saratoga?

Frogs Legs, Math, and Tears

Happy Monday! I hope you had a fantastic weekend!

Frogs Legs

We had a nice weekend at home. Friday was my husband’s birthday, so he left work a little early, and we went out to dinner to celebrate. We went to The Wishing Well, which is a lovely restaurant, with delicious food, and wonderful service. It’s a nicer restaurant than we would usually bring our daughter to, but they have a children’s menu, so we decided to give it a shot. I mentioned to the manager that it was our daughter’s first dinner at a “nice” restaurant, and he surprised her with a strawberry, followed by a plate of… frogs legs! He said he had been given frogs legs when he was a child and went to a nice restaurant for the first time, so he likes to do the same for children now. Needless to say, my daughter wanted no part of them. Ditto for my husband. I never would’ve ordered them, but I  was curious… I took two bites. They were served in an absolutely delicious sauce, and that’s basically all I tasted. The meat was tender, and, no, it did not taste like chicken.

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My delicious skillet cookie at The Wishing Well

Saturday, my husband took my daughter to Peerless Pool in Spa State Park, while I hung out at home to do some cleaning and read my second summer reading book. Later on, I took my daughter to the library to report on a book she had read, for the library’s summer reading program. (She decided to save the “book buck” she earned for a larger prize, likely a moustache key chain.)

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Math

Speaking of summer challenges, my daughter got to work on her school’s summer math challenge on Saturday. To receive a certificate in the fall, she has to work on her math skills for at least 15 minutes, at least 30 days over the summer. In an attempt to make it a little more fun for her than simply completing math worksheets, I picked up the game, Math Dice, Jr. at Target. We cracked it open this weekend, and she absolutely loved it! (It may have had something to do with the fact that my husband and I let her win most of the rounds…)

Yesterday, we took my daughter to Spa State Park to practice riding her bike. (Our driveway is slanted and unpaved, requiring us to go elsewhere for bike lessons.) The lesson ended abruptly, with my daughter in tears, and my husband walking the bike back to the car by himself. We all recovered at the Spa City Farmer’s Market, though. I had a huge berry lemonade, my daughter had a smoothie, and we brought some pasties and summer squash home with us. (Summer squash balances out pastries, right??)

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Some fun before the tears….

Tears

Speaking of summer squash… we finally cracked open the grill for the first time, and my husband cleaned it for the season. Thank goodness!! I do not enjoy cooking in the slightest, but grilling seems so much more manageable to me. The planning, prep, and clean-up are all pretty minimal, and the food is always delicious. Our burgers and grilled squash last night did not disappoint!

How was your weekend? Did it include frogs legs, tears, and/or math games?

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She’s Up for a Challenge

My daughter is HIGHLY motivated by rewards. As a Girl Scout this year, she was pretty disinterested in how many boxes of cookies her parents she sold, but very interested in what prize level she had achieved. (My behavior plan for this summer is an attempt to harness this tendency to get her to make habits of things I’ve been pestering her about for years.) As a result, I’ve got her participating in not one, not two, not three, but FOUR summer reading challenges, plus a summer math challenge, as a way to keep her academic skills fresh while school is out.

The last two summers, she has participated in the New York State Summer Reading Program at the Saratoga Springs Library, and she’s doing so again this year. We I track and log how many minutes she reads daily. Once she’s read for a total of 60 minutes, she goes to the library and reports on one of the books she’s read to a “Book Buddy”. After each report, she receives a “book buck”, which can be redeemed right away, or saved for larger prizes. She reported for the first time this year today, and chose to spend her book buck on a peace sign eraser. (Because if there’s one thing we need fewer of, it’s erasers.) Kids who read for 1,500 or more minutes over the summer are eligible for a grand prize. She’s never achieved grand prize status, but this could be her year…

The other summer reading challenges she’s doing are:

  1. From her teacher next year. She records the books she reads this summer, and will receive a glitter stick for each. The glitter sticks are redeemable for prizes.
  2. New York State Assembly’s Summer Reading Program. She tracks the number of days she reads (or we read to her) in July and August, then submits the form to our Assemblyman’s office, and she receives a certificate.
  3. Northshire Book Store Summer Reading Bingo. Northshire is a fantastic independent bookstore in Saratoga, and this program looks really fun. They provide a bingo card filled with age-appropriate reading and reading-related activities. She checks the boxes once she’s completed them, and brings her card in for prizes.

While it may seem a little over-the-top to have my not-quite-seven-year-old daughter participating in four summer reading challenges, there’s tremendous overlap among them. Whatever she reads can count for three of othe four, and some will also count for the last one (Northshire). Having prizes to help motivate her will minimize the prodding and arguing my husband and I will have to do to keep her reading this summer.

Are you kids participating in any academic challenges this summer?

 

My Summer Reading List

Summer is officially here, which means it’s time to get started on my summer reading list. While I can’t guarantee I’ll get through all of these this summer, I’d really like to.

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Long Live the King, by Fay Wheldon. This is the second in a trilogy of books about a wealthy Earl’s family and his servants at the turn of the (twentieth) century. I read the first one several months ago, and really enjoyed it. I started reading this book about a week ago, but set it down to read…

41oyn7GqTRL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, by Sue Klebold. The second I learned about this book, I HAD to read it. I picked it up at the library yesterday, and I haven’t been able to put it down! (Except to blog about it, apparently.) I simply cannot think of a worse experience for a parent to live through. I’m in awe of Ms. Klebold’s ability to persevere through this experience, and her commitment to helping other families avoid similar horrors.

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The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. I read about this one in the most recent issue of Money Magazine. It’s a novel about dysfunctional, adult siblings trying to manage their inheritance, as well as their relationships. It sounds a bit like a guilty pleasure book, to me.

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The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849, by Cecil Woodham-Smith. This is a period of history about which I know next to nothing, and would like to learn more.

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The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It Every Time, by Maria KonnikovaThis is another one I read about in Money Magazine. It’s about cons and Ponzi schemes, and, well, why we fall for them.

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The New Countess, By Fay Wheldon. This is the third book in the trilogy I mentioned above. Finishing the set should help fill the void left by the loss of Downton Abbey

What are you reading this summer?

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To Pooch, or Not To Pooch

Last winter, we said goodbye to one of my first babies, Tony. He was a very special cat, and he and I had a very strong bond. His 16 year-old sister, Sophie, is still with us, limping along with kidney disease and inflammatory bowel disease.  (I’m certain these two cats have paid for at least one year of college for our vet’s children.) I love her, but she’s more sterotypical-cat than Tony was; she loves me, but she shows it when she feels like it.

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Wasn’t he a handsome fella??

For behavioral reasons I won’t bother to go into here, Sophie is confined to the master bedroom. Between this and her age, I’m starting to think about getting another pet. In order of preference, here’s what I’d like to get:

  1. A llama (See my Facebook profile picture.)
  2. A (litterbox-trained) rabbit
  3. Ten cats (I could SO be a crazy cat lady, if my husband let me!)
  4. A dog

A llama isn’t particularly practical for our yard, my husband thinks rabbits aren’t interactive enough, and a cat (or 10) seems kind of mean, while Sophie is still alive. Both my husband and my daughter would love to get a dog, but I’m not sold on one yet.

I like dogs, I really do, but that doesn’t mean I want to own one. (It’s kind of like how me liking babies doesn’t mean I want to have another child…) Sure, they’re man’s best friend, they’re adorable, and having one would force me to get more exercise. But I have some reservations:

  1. Dogs smell. I’m sorry dog-lovers, but they do. Every time I pet a dog, my hand reeks of dog afterwards. Unless a dog has just been bathed, they smell.
  2. (Most) dogs bark. When I go to people’s homes and a dog starts barking its head off, it’s a little off-putting. So is the thought of having to haul a barking and/or jumping creature into a closed-off room or a crate whenever people come to my home.
  3. Picking up dog poop. Enough said.
  4. Dogs are high-maintenance. When we go away for a weekend, we leave out extra food and water for our cat, and she’s fine on her own for a few days. (For all I know, she may even prefer it this way!) But dogs require dogsitting or boarding arrangements, which I understand are pretty costly.
  5. Smart dogs tend to be high-energy, and who wants a dumb dog?? We would walk a dog daily, but between our jobs, school, activities, and life in general, we won’t have a lot of time to provide intellectual stimulation for a smart dog. And based on my limited understanding of animal behavior, under-stimulated dogs can wreck havoc on things like coaches and chairs.

All that said, I know I’m going to acquiese, eventually. I love furry creatures, and stinky dogs are no exception. But I’m never picking up the poop.

Do you have one or more dogs? (Or cats? Or llamas??) What do you think are the best and worst parts of being a dog parent?

Where Exactly IS Upstate New York??

I identify as a resident of “upstate New York”, but what exactly does that mean?? There are many different views on what comprises upstate New York, and where its boundaries lie. Having lived in New York City (definitely NOT upstate), about 60 miles north of New York City (upstate to anyone in NYC), and now in the Capital Region (undeniably upstate), I’m comfortable with this definition from Wikipedia:

“The region includes most of the state of New York, excluding New York City and its environs, as well as Long Island, though the precise boundary is debated. Upstate New York includes the major cities of BuffaloRochester, Albany, and Syracuse.”

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(If you’re particularly interested in this topic and would like to read what some other people think about it, there have recently been articles on it in the Gothamist, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.)

To me, one crosses into upstate New York around the southern border of Dutchess County, or the northern border of Orange County, as you head north along the Hudson River. I feel this way less because of geography, and more because the vibe of these places starts to feel very different from the “downstate” vibe. For starters, very few residents of these areas commute into New York City for work, whereas quite a few people in the areas south of them do. Upstate feels much more outdoorsy to me, and much less urban. (And I don’t just mean the land, but also the lifestyle.) I won’t say much on this difference I’ve noticed, but – and I realize this statement is something of a generalization – the overall political leanings of many residents seem to be different in upstate New York. (When my husband and I moved upstate in 2008, we went for a drive and passed a white bedsheet hanging from two trees in someone’s front yard, with, “Go Home Foreigners”, painted on it. While I don’t think this is reflective of how MANY upstate residents feel, it’s certainly not something one would see in the five boroughs of New York City.)

And then there was the comment from one of my husband’s former coworkers in NYC, as he organized a going-away party, just before our move upstate: “Let’s toast Pete and his move to Canada!”

For a more (or less) scientific definition of how one knows if they’re from upstate New York, check out this fun list of 49 Things People from Upstate New York Love. (Yep on Stewart’s ice cream, apple picking, SPAC, and arguing about where upstate New York starts, for me!)

Where does upstate New York start to you? What’s you favorite thing from upstate New York?

Summer Behavior Plan

My daughter is very well-behaved. I don’t say this to brag or take credit, because I really can’t; it’s just who she is. She’s very rule-bound and risk-averse – both of which are generally good personality traits, but pose challenges, too.

Despite her typically good beahvior, there are a few things I’ve literally been telling her to do FOR YEARS, to no avail. These include:

  1. Sit correctly at the dinner table.
  2. Bring your dishes into the kitchen when you finish a meal or snack.
  3. Clean up after yourself, before moving onto another project or activity.
  4. Tidy your room every day.
  5. Put your clothing/pajamas away or into the laundry after you take them off.

With summer vacation beginning next week, I’m thinking about things I’d like to accomplish before September. Getting my daughter to make habits out of these behaviors is at the top of that list. As a result, I’ve been thinking about a plan for doing so, that will also keep frustration and conflict to a minimum.  I found some good ideas here, and I’m sure Pinterest is full of great ideas, too. Ultimately, I opted to borrow what my daughter’s kindergarten and first-grade teachers used for classroom behavior. They each had a glass bowl into which pom-poms were placed whenever a student or group of students was “caught” behaving well. I like this idea because it rewards – and hopefully reinforces – good behavior, rather than punishing bad behavior.

I’ll also have an accompanying prize bin, filled with dollar-store type items. When my daughter receives 10 pom-poms, she can choose a prize from the bin. She’s strongly motivated by rewards, so I think this will work well for us. I told her about it last night, and she liked the idea. She even suggested adding a “grand prize” reward for the end of the summer. That would involve tracking pom-poms earned throughout the entire summer, which may be more than I want to take on, but I’ll keep thinking about it…

Do you have summer behavior goals for your kid(s)? What are your favorite positive reinforcement systems?

Summer Break is Right Around the Corner

I work (very) part-time as career counselor at a local college. My sole responsibility is to meet with students individually, and help them with various aspects of their job and internship searches. I don’t attend meetings, participate in events, or teach classes. But because I only meet with students, I only work when they’re on-campus and coming into the career center. I’m off during their six-week winter break, their spring break, and summers. As I write this in mid-June, I’ve already been on summer break for almost six weeks.

Here in our part of upstate New York, school gets out in late June, which means my daughter will be starting her summer break in a matter of days. This fills me with both excitement and terror. On the one hand, my daughter is at a great age – 6 ½ – and is a lot of fun to do things with. I love chatting with her, watching her learn new things, and creating memories together. On the other hand, she’s an only child, which means she often looks to her parents for companionship and entertainment. I can only play so many hands of Go Fish!, make so many crafts, and watch so many of her performances, before I need a break. So being home together for approximately 10 weeks can get dicey.

However, I’m pretty proud of how I handled her recent April break week, and plan to model our summer break on it. During that week, I planned one “fun thing” every day. We went to several events at the awesome Saratoga Springs library, had several playdates (at our house and other people’s), and went into the “big city” of Albany to meet my husband for lunch near his office one day. There was something for her to look forward to every day, but we weren’t so over-scheduled that I felt like I was running around too much. We both got appropriate amounts of socialization and quiet time. (We’re introverts, so quiet time is a priority!)

This summer will be a little different because she’ll be attending several weeks of camps, plus we’ll be taking a week-long family vacation. But there will be plenty of unstructured time to fill with more library events, playdates galore, visits to local attractions like Adirondack Animal Land, several state parks, and the farmers’ market, and performances at the wonderful Saratoga Performing Arts Center. I’m feeling ready; bring it on, summer!

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Fun at SPAC last year

How are your family’s summer days and weeks? Do you create a lot of structure, or keep things loose?