Author Archives: Swistle

Swim Leggings Report

Annoyingly, I often wake up around 4:30, needing to pee. This is somewhat okay on a normal weekday, because I need to get up between 5:00 and 5:30 anyway and it helps me not be so resentful about needing to get out of bed; I can doze a bit until right before the alarm. But on a weekend, I want to get up and go to the bathroom, but then be able to go back to sleep; sometimes this works and sometimes not. This morning, however, there was a spider on the toilet paper roll, and I didn’t see her at first, so I’m up, I’m up.

I finally swim-tested the swim leggings, and they are up there on the list of the best things I have ever owned. I’d worried the high-waisted bikini bottoms I wore under them would make me feel swathed in layers, but they did not: instead I felt snug and comfy and all held together. I didn’t worry about my tankini top rising up and exposing a circle of midsection, because the high-waisted bikini bottom went up to my ribcage (and I am long-torsoed—on a shorter-torsoed person, you might get coverage all the way to the bikini-top region). It was the first time in my post-adolescent life that I have walked in a swimsuit (the walk where you can’t have your towel around you anymore but you’re not in the water yet) without INTERNALLY DYING OF HORRIFIED SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS.

Some people asked last time about the length. For scale, I am between 5’8″ and 5’9″ but, as I mentioned, long-torsoed, which is the nice way to say short-legged; and I wear plus sizes. On me, the swim leggings fully covered my knees and went just a little bit below them—basically knee-breech length. I did go back and order the smaller size (my size is right between two sizes, so I ordered the larger ones first because it’s better for morale to try something on and have it too big rather than too small), and they’re exactly right; I’m keeping the larger size because people tend to put on weight with age, so one day I will likely put on the ones that fit now, be dismayed, and be glad to have the larger size all set to go. What I’m wondering now is if I should order MULTIPLE ADDITIONAL PAIRS. What if they don’t sell them anymore after this year? Then I need to buy a lifetime supply NOW.

Sticker Mosaics

I am back from a several-day trip hanging out with extended family in a pretty place, and there are happy things about being back home with all my usual things in all their usual places, but also I am feeling a little wan and sad. I made coffee this morning just for me, without the happy anticipatory feeling that soon other people would be coming into the kitchen stretching and saying “Mmmmm, COFFEE!” and then standing around chatting as we appreciate the view out the window.

Well. I have items to heartily, heartily recommend for mixed-age-group gatherings: STICKER-BY-NUMBER BOOKS. I brought some easier ones (marketed for kids) and some harder ones (marketed for adults), and they all got used. My six-year-old nephew found the easier ones completely doable on his own; my eight-year-old niece did a couple of the easier ones and then wanted to try a harder one; she found it difficult but doable. My sister-in-law and I both worked on difficult ones and found them mesmerizing; we also found it was good mental practice in letting things go when they can’t be perfect. Here are the ones I bought:

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Assorted (easier).


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Zoo Animals (easier).


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Under the Sea (easier).


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Assorted (harder).


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Masterpieces (harder).


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Vintage Travel Posters (harder).


I really do suggest going into it prepared for things not to line up PERFECTLY, or you could slightly lose your mind. But some of us could use that kind of practice, and the pleasing thing is that even when things didn’t line up exactly they still looked really good. My nephew was not bothered by things not lining up, and had many little white lines between stickers, and his finished results still looked great.

Cartilage Piercing: One-Year Update

I realized the other day that it has been more than a year since I got my first cartilage piercing. I put a few updates on that post, but just covering the first few weeks; after that I said nothing until I changed the earring six months ago. So I think it is time for an update.

The update is that I hardly ever have to think of it or do anything about it. I don’t have to treat it with saline spray anymore, though I do still rinse it after I finish washing my hair. It almost never looks puffy or pink in the mornings. I still notice it in the mirror and still like it. It is still a hassle when I get a haircut: I put a bandaid over it to protect it from the stylist’s vigorous brush.

The earring is still tipped, and I still care. The angle of the piercing itself is tipped, so there is nothing I can do except learn not to mind. Actually, what I plan to do is find a completely spherical earring, so that the tippage would be unnoticeable. My current earring is a “gold ball”—but it’s actually a tiny domed cylinder, so if it’s tipped you can tell. In the meantime, I tell myself that NO ONE BUT ME WOULD NOTICE OR CARE, and also that maybe the shape of my ear made tipping unavoidable. I don’t like to think that the piercing guy did it wrong, or that I squashed it to a different angle by sleeping on it.

I haven’t changed the earring since the first time. I change my lower-lobe piercing daily and take that earring out at night, but the upper lobe and cartilage earrings (these for both) I just leave in all the time.

A couple of times, usually after getting too worked up about the tippage, I have thought maybe I’ll just take the earring out and never mind about this cartilage piercing idea. Each time, I’ve thought: I lose nothing by leaving it in awhile longer, so why don’t I just leave it in for now. Each time, I’ve been glad.

College Expenses Spreadsheet

I see I was not sufficiently clear: when I said in my last post that I wanted to know what you thought about what kind of sedation I should use for a tooth extraction, what I MEANT was that I wanted you to all AGREE on ONE answer, to make things easier for ME.

Part of the issue is that none of us know what the actual alternative to the laughing gas is in this situation, and it makes a big difference. On the billing estimate it says “deep sedation / general anesthesia”—but those may be two different things that just happen to be on the same line of billing, and online searching shows me that both terms have varying meanings anyway, depending on which particular medications are used. Another difficulty is that we’re all so different in how much dental anxiety and dental pain we feel, and in the way medications affect us.

Let’s talk about college stuff some more, because that is increasingly on my mind and also because this way I have something to look back on when we are doing this same thing for William in two years.

One of our financial concerns is that we don’t want to end up paying pretty much all of Rob and William’s college expenses and then having nothing left for the three littler ones. (The worst will be poor Henry, who starts college two years after a pair of TWINS.) We want to divide what we can contribute EVENLY and FAIRLY (based on many, many factors, since they won’t all get the same scholarships to colleges that all cost the same amount). But colleges and financial aid care not one whit about fairness: if we have a savings account, they won’t let us divide it by five in anticipation (for all they know, none of the other four WILL go to college). We HAVE to pay out everything we have: they will feel sorry for poor Henry later, but they won’t let us budget for him now. We have an investment account my grandfather set up when Rob was born, to be used toward college; my grandfather put it in Rob’s name, but told me it was to be divided among any children we had. But because it’s in Rob’s name, it all counts as Rob’s for financial aid purposes; we MUST drain that account for Rob and CAN’T save four-fifths of it for the other kids.

We don’t really know how to handle this fairly or how to make it work; we’ll have to figure things out as we go. But what I DO know to do, in complicated situations like this, is keep DETAILED RECORDS: there are a lot of things that can be figured out LATER, as long as we know what we did THEN. So the minute we sent off the deposit to Rob’s chosen college (we’re not going to include application fees in this), I started a spreadsheet. I made it a Google Docs spreadsheet so that I could invite Paul and Rob to view it. It’s tentative because we haven’t had to use it much yet, but here are the column headings so far:

For Whom [this will be unnecessary if we make separate spreadsheets for each kid]
How Much
For What
Notes, if any

So for example, when we paid the deposit with his college decision, I put in the date we paid it, and I put that Paul and I had paid it, and I put that it was for Rob, and I put the dollar amount, and I put that it was for registration; I didn’t have any notes. When we paid for the fall tuition/room/board/fees, I put the date, and then for “Who” I put “Grampa’s investment account,” and then I put how much and that it was for fall tuition/room/board/fees; under “Notes, if any,” I put “this account was intended to be divided evenly among all five children.” I don’t think we’re going to forget, but I want it all down: we basically took money out of the other four children’s savings, and used it to pay for Rob’s college.

We were not sure how to count scholarship funds. For now we put it in as Rob paying it, but we noted that it was scholarship funds, and which organizations gave him the scholarships.

[Edited to add: A lot of people are mentioning dividing my grandpa’s money into five 529 accounts, which is a great idea—but it isn’t enough money for that: we’ll use it up completely in Rob’s first year. Also, the financial aid eligibility forms take into account all money (including 529s) owned by all children in the family. This seems ridiculous to me: what business is it of THEIRS what Rob’s younger brother earned this summer?? But apparently it’s to prevent the exact clever idea some of you are having or are on the verge of having, which is that we could hide the family savings in an account in Henry’s name or whatever. Colleges are hip to that game.]

Tooth Extraction and Implant: Nitrous Oxide vs. General Anesthesia

There will be more on this later YOU CAN JUST BET ON IT, but for now I will just say that I am finally having a top front tooth pulled and an implant put in, and I am conceptually horrified by this whole thing, and soon I will need to choose between having laughing gas during the procedure or being knocked out (I’m saying “knocked out” because I’m not sure what it actually is: on the estimate it says “deep sedation / general anesthesia”). Either way, it all takes place right in the oral surgeon’s chair (no hospital or anything). Either way, the procedure takes about the same amount of time. Here are the considerations, for me:

1. Anxiety. I’m not worried I’ll freak out to a can’t-do-the-procedure extent, at all. But the concepts involved are, as I said before, conceptually horrifying: it’s a front tooth, and it will presumably be removed from my mouth using some degree of force, and then a METAL THING will be SCREWED INTO THE UNDERLYING BONE, but maybe first they will need to DRILL OUT SOME BONE or else ADD SOME BONE. There would be some comfort in thinking I can just check out of the whole thing. See you when it’s over, let me know how it went.

2. After-effects/recovery. When I am put under, I usually have trouble afterward with nausea/barfing. I hate that. (And when I had my wisdom teeth removed, I threw up blood. BLOOD. Without knowing ahead of time that that would happen. It was a memorable experience.) I know there are pills/medicines for that, but still. There’s a waking-up time that I hate, and the whole thing is much more complicated. With laughing gas, they just turn it off and I’d be back to normal in a few minutes.

3. Risk. Going completely out is more dangerous.

4. Expense. Going completely out is much more expensive. This is my least concern—except I think that afterwards, when it’s all over, I might feel differently. Also, it feels babyish to pay so much more for such a relatively minor procedure: I’m not having a LIMB amputated. In earlier times, people used to just drink a pint of whiskey, maybe swab a little more of it on the gums! (The oral surgeon says that is no longer one of the options.)


I was basically set on the knockout until my friend Jillian heard the story and said that she personally would go with the laughing gas. “I LOVE that stuff,” she said. She says you can still feel things and hear things, and you’re basically aware of what’s going on, but you do not care one single bit. Everything is just PEACHY. Like, “Oh! I think there is some pain happening over there! Neat!” She says it takes away allllll the anxiety and stress, and that it’s a good thing it’s not available on the open market or she’d be on it constantly. Well. That sounds like what I might need.

But then I think of how nice it would be to just skip this, mentally. There are so few unpleasant experiences that include the “Wake up when it’s all over” option; perhaps I should go ahead and take this one. But then maybe I’m just postponing the unpleasantness to AFTER the procedure.

Or perhaps I should do the laughing gas to get a better story out of the whole thing, and because Jillian’s review really did make it sound pretty fun. I could do some added incentive thing, like, “If I save $X by going with laughing gas, I can spend $X on _______.”

Plus, I had two permanent teeth pulled when I was about 10 years old, to make room for the rest of my teeth. I didn’t have laughing gas OR get knocked out for that, and I don’t remember it being a huge deal. (To be fair to my current quaking self, back then I was at an age when having gaps in my mouth was familiar, and also looked normal to other people.)

I am leaning toward the laughing gas. I would like to know what you think, especially if you’ve had experience with this.

Rob Puts His Foot Down About College Shopping

Rob has had to gently put his foot down, again, on the topic of college shopping. But first, I want to draw your attention to this great article HKS mentioned in the comments section of the last post: Sending Sons Off to College, and Finding Solace in a Big-Box Store. The little animation is distracting, but I found it worth it. (I held up a hand so I couldn’t see it.)

One reason I mention this is that a lot of you are on the same page as me: adding MORE items to the list, wanting to make the list LONGER and MORE COMPREHENSIVE. Like the mother in the article, we find it soothing: making lists, being prepared, Thinking of Everything. But that is not what Rob wants. When I came home yesterday with more things for his college stash, and one of those things was duct tape, he said, “What is this for?,” and I said, “…I don’t know, I saw it on a list, I’m sure it would be useful for…something; duct tape is always useful for something!,” and he said, not unkindly, “Okay. Yeah. If neither of us can think of anything I need something for, then I’d rather not bring it. If I find out I need it, I’ll buy it there.”

I never used duct tape in college, not once. I don’t know why I bought it for Rob, except that I saw a list online where it was written in all-caps. I used regular scotch tape in college, though, and he uses it regularly, so he will bring a roll. And packing tape, to remake his broken-down packing boxes when he needs them again. And scissors.

He does not want a tool kit. I wanted Paul to make him a small tool kit anyway—until Paul and I realized that neither of us had a tool kit in college. I know I took apart bed frames, and Paul and his roommate built a loft—but neither of us owned tools. Where did we get tools? Neither of us remembers. I think my dorm floor had a communal supply, or maybe the R.A. had some? Paul thinks his dorm’s desk clerk had them and you could check them out like a library book.

Rob is willing to take along all the medicines I think might be necessary, so I included even some he’s never taken in his whole life, because it makes me feel less anxious to think of him texting me with some illness that’s left him bedridden, and me being able to say, “FIND THE X IN YOUR FIRST AID KIT AND TAKE SOME.” It also makes me feel better to know there’s a Student Health Center he can go to for anything a basic first-aid kit isn’t prepared for.

He will take along the bottle of multivitamins, but he will not promise to remember to take them. I asked would he TRY, and he sighed and said yes. I accept that compromise. I will not text him every day to remind him to take one.

He does not want more than one set of sheets, or more than one set of towels. I didn’t have more than one of each, either, when I was in college: on laundry day, I put the sheets and towels in with everything else. He says if he runs into problems with this, he will acquire more sheets and/or towels at that point.

He doesn’t want a mattress pad. I didn’t have one either in college. I’m sure the mattress wasn’t particularly deluxe, but I don’t remember noticing it at all. He says if it gives him trouble, he’ll acquire a mattress pad at that point; he can certainly survive with the provided mattress until he can figure out how to get to a Target, or while waiting two days for Amazon Prime. And his college has banned some types of mattress pads anyway, for flammability reasons.

His dorm is not air-conditioned, so he will take a little fan. He will take the shower caddy he thinks is wrong (BUT IS RIGHT), and he will take the shower shoes everyone agrees he needs. If he noticed the box of condoms I put in with the shampoo and body wash and razors and deodorant, he did not comment or protest.

But he will not bring the hole-punch, even though I saw it on a list. He says he has used a hole-punch approximately twice in his life, and that in a pinch he can borrow one or cut a hole with scissors or poke a hole with a pencil; and if he finds he uses one regularly, he will buy one there. He will not bring a bathrobe: he plans to walk to the showers in his pajamas and get dressed after the shower before going back to his room; if he finds shower protocol makes this an uncomfortable or unworkable plan, he will acquire a bathrobe then. He will bring an umbrella, but not rainboots or a raincoat: “I have never worn either of those things.” (He is wrong—but to be fair, the last time he did so they had little froggies on them.) I didn’t have rainboots or a raincoat in college, either; I had and used an umbrella.

He has agreed that it seems like a good idea to bring a microwave plate and bowl and mug, and I am happy because those are HIGHLY FUN to choose: Target has a ton of by-the-piece options, and I am going to get him to agree to indulge me by considering and discussing each possibility rather than choosing the first acceptable one. So I’m glad he doesn’t know that what we all did in college was swipe some from the dining hall. The dining hall put a big empty bin in each dorm at the end of the year, with a wry note from the kitchen staff asking if on our way out we could please drop off all the dishes for a good cleaning before we re-borrowed them next year.

I’m guessing I can sneak one of those tiny sewing kits into his gear. But he is not bringing a doorstop, even though we’ve seen it on a lot of lists: he says if he wants to prop the door open, he’s pretty sure he can use a textbook or a half-full laundry bag or a pair of shoes or something.

He’s not bringing cleaning supplies, or an iron. I didn’t bring those things, either: in my dorm we had to clean our own bathrooms (in his dorm he does not), but the college had a closet on each floor with bulk custodial cleaning supplies. If he needs something the college doesn’t provide, he can buy it there. But I’m not sure what in his room he’s going to clean: a vacuum system is available to use, and the rest of the room is just cement blocks, some desks, some beds. I can’t picture him putting a careful Windex shine on the windows, or using Lemon Pledge on his desk.

College Drop-Off Plan and the Related Panic

I am not panicking, I am NOT panicking. But. We have four children who are not going to be coming with us to drop Rob off at college and so we kept a close eye on Rob’s college’s freshman move-in date: we had to know as far ahead of time as possible, so that we could figure out where to PUT all those children.

For months the college website still showed the 2016 information. Then, suddenly, in early July it showed the 2017 information! There it was: the move-in date, and the times: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.! We made a plan to drive up the day before, stay overnight at a motel, drop him off fairly early the next morning, and then drive back home that same day. My brother and sister-in-law agreed to take four (FOUR!) extra children for a day and a half (FOUR!). I immediately phoned and booked our motel, figuring that demand might be high for that date. We were ALL SET.

Then, two days ago, an email from the college: it turns out the check-in time frame is DIVIDED INTO ASSIGNED SEGMENTS. This was not mentioned before. I LOOKED CAREFULLY. IT WAS NOT MENTIONED. IT JUST SAID DROP-OFF WAS 9:00 TO 5:00. Our segment is 12:30-2:30. That…does not work. We need to fit in approximately eight-and-a-half hours of driving (distance between us and my brother/sister-in-law’s house + distance from there to Rob’s college) on that same day, either BEFORE or AFTER the drop-off (and if “before,” we need to change our motel reservation). This is why I had it all planned for an EARLY drop-off: so we could fit this whole thing in and get back at a reasonable time, ideally before my brother and sister-in-law were regretting not only this favor but also their own births.

Well. I have emailed the college. Probably one of fifty thousand emails they are going to receive on this topic. My hope is that however strict they act in the presentation of the schedule and how crucial it is that everyone follow it, their response will be, “Sure, no big!” Surely with families traveling from literally all over the world, they will realize an assigned two-hour window won’t work for everyone. Some people will have FLIGHTS booked. Surely just as we REALLY NEED a drop-off time that is either EARLY or LATE, there are OTHER families who REALLY NEED a mid-day drop-off time, and it will all work out. Surely.

And if they WON’T bend, they are making things so unnecessarily stressful for already-stressed parents of freshmen, it’s hard to believe this would be their established plan, and it would considerably affect my feelings about them. But the first-semester payment has already been made, so we have Plan B1 and Plan B2. Plan B1 is Paul’s idea, which is that in situations like this, you just show up at the time that works well for you and you shrug off the disapproval. “Sorry, I didn’t realize we weren’t supposed to be here for four more hours, but we’re here now and we’ve got to get back to our other kids, so…*deposits student and all his stuff on the lawn*.” This is not a plan I feel I can psychologically handle.

I don’t know how Paul and I were both firstborns and yet he lacks the stereotypical firstborn respect for authority and rules. I think the difference is that he was raised as an Indulged Male. Over the years I have thought repeatedly of a story his mother told me, about how she’d tell him to go mow the lawn, and he’d mow for a little while and then she’d find him inside reading a book. And here is the part of the story that makes me feel lightheaded: SO SHE WOULD ROLL HER EYES AND GO FINISH THE LAWN FOR HIM. I will pause to let you really let this sink in.

She told me this story with fond, proud exasperation. Do you know that tone? Like when a parent is pretending to complain, but they’re actually bragging. Anyway. I think of her when I wonder why Paul is the way he is.

Where was I? Oh yes: Plan B2 is my plan. I don’t know why I’m calling it B2 when it should be B1. In fact, it’s B. Paul’s plan is C now. Or D. Let’s just call it Plan P. My plan is we suck it up and do it how the college wants us to: it’ll be one inconvenient day and then it’ll be over. We’ll drop him off right at 12:30 and we’ll leave when that’s done, and we’ll drive late into the night and we’ll pick up the kids very late and we’ll drive the rest of the way very late, and everyone will be tired the next day, and then some of us will take naps and some of us will just be cranky, and then the day after that everything will be normal again except for my lingering simmering resentment.

…Paul and I are evidently thinking about the same thing this morning, because while I’ve been criticizing his upbringing and dissing his mother, he’s been researching a Reddit forum dedicated to questions about this particular college. He just sent me an email with a screenshot of a question about the move-in times, and the answer is that the schedule is really just a suggestion in order to keep everyone from showing up at the same time, and that nobody cares if you come at a different time. Well.

…Oh, and here is a email reply from the college to me, saying the times are flexible and students can check in any time. Well. Well. Good thing I did not panic.

College Student Finances and First-Aid Kits

It’s less than four weeks now until Rob leaves for college. There are two ways I am currently finishing that sentence, and the alternation between the two is fairly rapid:

1. …and he grows up and moves away and remembers only the times we were bad at parenting and only visits his spouse’s family.

2. …and I am pleased to see preparations are getting done one after another despite me feeling as if the number of things to be done was insurmountable.

Our most recent accomplishment was figuring out how he’ll handle money. He needs to have access to his personal savings and also to his college savings, but without getting them mixed up; and there are still many expenses we’ll be paying for; and we would like to put something in place for “emergencies” despite being unable to think of any examples of emergencies we wouldn’t be able to handle over the phone, over the internet, or by driving there.

We were hindered in this decision by being a little behind the times, financially-speaking: I haven’t used a debit card before; I pay bills by writing/mailing physical checks; the only “online baking” I do is transferring money between checking and savings; I don’t do any banking with my phone. Meanwhile, Rob is taking photos of his paychecks with his phone to deposit them, and doesn’t even have a checkbook. So we talked with him about what he thought would work in These Modern Times, and also about what he’d find easiest and most comfortable, and together we came up with this plan:

1. His current bank does not have any branches or ATMs where he’s going. I found out which banks had ATMs on campus, and one of them has branches here in town. He’ll open a student account with that bank and move his money there, closing his old account after that’s all set.

2. He’ll keep his personal money in his checking account, and spend it using his debit card and/or by withdrawing cash from the ATM.

3. He’ll keep his college savings in his savings account, and each semester we’ll discuss how much of it to use to pay tuition.

4. He’ll apply for a credit card with no annual fees and no other costs if it’s paid off in full each month. If he is approved, he will use this credit card for books and other miscellaneous college expenses of the sort that aren’t covered by the tuition bill. And he can use it in situations where he can’t use his debit card but can use a credit card, if those occur. The card will be in his name and will come to our address and we will pay it in full each month; he will reimburse us from his personal account for any non-school expenses he charges (the hope is that that will be rare). Meanwhile, the card will be working to build his credit, and it will be soothing his parents by being available for unknown emergencies. At some point, we will transfer full responsibility for the card over to him.


This took HOURS. If right now you’re thinking anything that starts with “Why don’t you just…?,” I think it’s safe to say that someone thought of it and that someone else had a reason they didn’t like it. “Why doesn’t he just have two accounts?” “Why don’t you just do a joint account?” “Why don’t you just transfer his college savings to your account?” “Why don’t you just use a pre-paid card?” “Why don’t you just use the campus account?” “Why don’t you just keep some money in the bank account for emergencies?” “Why doesn’t he just handle the credit card payments himself?” Forgive me in advance for virtually muzzling you, but you will have to trust me that all three people involved have with great effort come to this decision, and that it would not be helpful to disrupt it. I suppose I can conceive of a situation in which one of you, someone with kids currently or recently in college, might say, “WAIT!!! You need to know something we learned the hard way!!” But otherwise: this is what we’re starting with, and all the parts of the decision are changeable if any parts of it turn out not to work for us.

Also! I have had some fun putting together a little first-aid kit for him. Target had a deal where if you bought three first-aid supplies you got a free cute little kit, bright red with a plus-sign on it! But I correctly guessed that Rob would find that embarrassing. Instead I bought him an oversized pencil box from the school-supply section. Then I bought these things:

1. an assorted-sizes box of Band-aids
2. antibiotic ointment
3. hydrocortisone cream
4. Benadryl tablets
5. ibuprofen tablets
6. cough syrup
7. cough drops
8. Tums
9. there might be something else I’m forgetting

It all fit in the box, after a few Tetris-reminiscent tries.

What It Was Like To Buy a Used Car

This was our third time buying a used car, so I feel as if I am really getting the hang of this now. The first time was when I was pregnant with the twins and we KNEW we HAD to buy a minivan, but I was so nervous: how could we know we were getting a GOOD used car rather than a lemon? and what if we got cheated because we didn’t know how to haggle?? All of our previous cars had been handmedowns from my parents, who take meticulous care of their cars. My friend Melissa was the nudge I needed: she said something like, “Look, you just have to go into it knowing you’re going to get a little screwed on the deal. But what’s the alternative? Going to school to be an auto mechanic, just so you can evaluate each car? Then going through the process to become a car salesperson, so you know how to haggle with one? No. You need a minivan, so go buy one and lose a little money and hope for the best.”

The second used car we bought was one for Paul’s commute. We were looking for something older but with relatively low mileage and relatively long expected future use. I hate his car. It has a sun roof, which I knew he’d accidentally leave open in the rain, and he has indeed done so. Also, we have owned four of this same make/model, and this is the only one I have a hard time getting into: the roof is LOWER. I am between 5’8 and 5’9″, and I feel SQUISHED. I am shorter than the average U.S. man; I should not have a hard time getting my height into a car. Also, I can’t figure out how to turn on the radio, let alone select a station; there’s some complicated computer-screen display. But it is a success because he likes it and he is the only one who has to drive it.

This time we were buying a car to replace our dear old 1999 sedan, which has over 230,000 miles on it. It was Paul’s commuting car before we replaced it. We’ve kept it on as a car for Rob and William to use, because if they were to smash it up, it would be no big deal to lose it. But nearly a year ago, our trusted mechanic told me that it was time to say our long goodbyes: he doubted the car would last another year. This is the same mechanic who has kept it running for so long and has resisted previous hesitant suggestions that it might be time to let it go, so I accepted that it really was Time.

Here is the first thing you need to know about buying a used car, if your circumstances match ours: it takes four hours, and there is no good reason for it to take that long. You just have to go into it expecting to lose that time. We bring fully-charged phones, a back-up battery, snacks, and books.

I start by going online to the dealership’s site, and making a list of cars I’m interested in. When we were shopping for the minivan, I found two minivans on the site, and only one was actually available, and we bought it. When we were shopping for Paul’s commuting car, I found five cars on the site, and only one was actually available but they also had two others not on the site. When we were shopping for this car, I found six cars on the site, and three were available, and they didn’t offer any others. So I don’t know if I’d recommend the pre-shopping or not. Maybe you should just show up.

The second step is to find a salesperson, but worry not: a salesperson will absolutely find YOU. Sometimes before you are all the way out of your car.

The third step is to say what you want (in this most recent case, “a car of this make/model but before the 2012 redesign”), and maybe shove your careful list of color/mileage/stock# toward the salesperson. The salesperson then goes to search for availability/keys, while you stand awkwardly in the middle of the sales floor wondering if you should move or if you’re okay where you are.

The fourth step may or may not be to give some information about yourself and show your license. This didn’t happen on occasions 1 and 3 for us, but did on occasion 2.

The fifth step is the test drives. Especially when they ask no information from you, it is a little surprising to be handed the key to a car and have them say “See you back here in 10-15 minutes, okay?” Sometimes the prep for this step takes awhile: they have to put a temporary license plate on the car, and they have to find the key, and they have to make sure the car has gas in it. Our most recent experience was pretty great: she got all three keys at once, and while we were testing each car she got the next car all set to go—even left it running with the a/c on so it would be nice inside. Last time, we got a newbie and he had to walk through the lot with us trying with mixed success to find each car.

Fifth step, sub-category: It can be a little difficult to do a test drive. I mean, what are you looking for? It drives, yes? Good. This most recent time, when we drove the first car Paul said it drove a little rough/loud, and I said I didn’t notice anything. But then when we drove the second car, it was much quieter and there was less vibration, so then I saw what he meant. You can also be like, “Ug/yay, I hate/love the sunroof,” and/or “Wait, what is that stain?,” and/or “I have no idea how to work these buttons,” and/or “These seats are extremely slippery, and this headrest is worn down to the fluff,” or WHATEVER.

Sixth step is choosing one—or leaving, if you don’t find anything. But all three times we HAVE found something.

Wait, the real first step is financing, if you are not going to be paying by check or by paper bag full of cash. When we need financing, we get a loan ahead of time online (we used the same site we’d used for our mortgage); the lender sends us a blank check to use to pay for the car. We have seen fellow customers getting financing through the dealership, and it seems to involve a very long additional session.

The seventh step is sitting down at the salesperson’s desk. This is the start of the unbelievably long process. Why does it take so long? Maybe one among us is a car salesperson or related to a car salesperson and can tell us. Because from the customer point of view, it seems like a lot of waiting. The salesperson takes some information: whose name will the car be in? Okay, let’s see your license. What’s your address? phone number? How will you be paying? How will the car be used—commuting? scooting about town? Sign here that you understand this. Sign here that you understand that. Sign here that you understand privacy. There is some small-talk about children, and about a recent day when things were so crazy here. Meanwhile we are “just waiting for the…” paperwork/inspection/cleaning/title/keys, and for the options guy to be available.

There is apparently no way to avoid the eighth step, which is “seeing the options guy.” In our experience he is always the slickest, highest-pressurey, salespersonyish person of all. He will try to sell you a three-year parts/repairs plan for $3400: it covers parts and repairs! I mean, not all repairs. And not all parts. But lots of them! It’s such a good deal, even though it costs a third of what you’re paying for the car. He has a booklet with a semi-transparent overlay that shows you how great this plan is. When you say no, he will ask if he can ask why. You’ll tell him it’s because these are such great cars: you’ve bought two of them before at this very dealership, and neither one gave you any trouble for YEARS. He will then say, listen, you’ve bought cars here, you’re valued customers, he just wants to see you happy: he can give it to you for $2900. He’ll underline it AND circle it. You will say no again, and he will say he is not trying to make a profit here, he just cares about you and your car. He doesn’t want to see you stuck with the costs. Look at the costs! He will show you a chart of a car with arrows pointing to the expensive places. You will say no again. He will sigh. Listen. He can offer it to you at HIS cost, $2300. He’s not making any money here. Listen, as a former mechanic, he can tell you: car repairs are expensive. He would hate to see you stuck with that. He’s not trying to sell you anything unreasonable—he’s not going to suggest the theft insurance, not in our nice city! and you don’t need the nick-and-ding insurance, not for a used car. But he can see you’re smart consumers and you know even one visit to a mechanic can cost what three years of insurance cost, amirite? …Still no? Are you sure? Okay. Sign here, and please write out longhand that you are declining all the available safeguards at your own risk. He’ll shake his head, feeling sorry for your future expenses. He’ll print out the final paperwork. And then, he will turn to your husband: “I know you’re the one who really makes the decisions” (he’ll say it like it’s a winking joke, but it will not fly)—and he’ll show him a paper with $1900 written on it; he’ll slide it furtively, as if he is really not supposed to be doing this but he LIKES you(r husband), even after only a few minutes’ acquaintance. This is after YOU have signed something saying no to $2300, which he said was “his cost.” Oh, so he is going to take a personal $400 loss so that you can have this plan? Your husband is not going for it, and you are not pleased with these shenanigans. Sign here and here.

Finally, finally, you are released from the grips of the options guy and sent back to your salesperson and the ninth step. She has you sign a few more things. She offers you water. She leaves to find the spare key. She leaves with your credit card. She leaves to get a manager’s signature. She offers you water. She leaves with your credit card signature. She leaves to check on the progress of the cleaning. She leaves to find out how the final inspection is going. She leaves with your check. She leaves to find a piece of paperwork she needs. She leaves to check again on the inspection; are you sure she can’t bring you a water? or a ginger ale? You catch Pok√©mon and read your book in five-minute segments between her visits.

Tenth step: What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long?

Now things finally look promising; maybe we are at the eleventh step? Papers and copies of papers are being put in a folder. You are being handed a business card and a form that explains that if you refer anyone to this dealership you will get $100 per referral—she hopes you’ll refer to her, ha ha! And then: THE KEY! It’s THE KEY! The car is yours and you can LEAVE! …Oh, but call and make an appointment to come back for the inspection, because they didn’t actually do that yet because they were so backed up.

Peter Cetera II; College Shopping Begins

I would like to continue to push you to listen to the Peter Cetera Pandora station. Look at what it played for me last night while I was making dinner:

1. Arthur’s Theme, by Christopher Cross.

2. She’s Like the Wind, by Patrick Swayze. If you had given me a list of songs and asked me which ones I liked, and She’s Like the Wind was on it, I would have given a little eye-roll laugh and not chosen it. But…that’s a really pretty song! I DO like it! Very much! And I knew more of the words than I would have guessed.

3. All Out of Love, by Air Supply. I listened to so much Air Supply in childhood. And I have been to an Air Supply concert. It was cheesy and fun. Like, they pulled a girl up on stage and sang cheesily to her. They pointed at the audience and winked while singing. So much cheese. I am making fun of them because I am a little embarrassed about how much I like them.

4. Don’t Know Much, by Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt. How many times did I listen to this song in high school? SO MANY TIMES.

5. Will You Still Love Me, by Chicago. I heard the first few seconds and got immediately sentimental. I was singing (and doing inaccurate air drums) when Rob and William came home from work. William said, “Sure sounds like [decade] in here.” He did air brackets.

6. I’ll Be Over You, by Toto.


In short: I think you should like what I like.


In other news, Rob and I have been doing some college shopping. Alchemizing stress into purchasing decisions is exactly how I naturally roll, so it’s nice when that works out in a practical, necessary way. Rob is being…somewhat cooperative, somewhat eye-rolly/it-doesn’t-mattery. I especially wanted the quest for The Right Comforter and Sheets to be a prolonged, multi-store event, perhaps with comparison photos and pro/con lists, but he wanted to go to Target and just pick from whatever they had. So, fine.

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Room Essentials Solid Comforter in Olive.


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Room Essentials Sheets in Cactus.


The drawings on the sheets look black in this photo, but they’re the same green as the comforter. I didn’t notice until we got home that the sheets are microfiber. I don’t know if he will like that or not; I always buy cotton or sometimes cotton-with-some-polyester. By the time he knows if he likes it or not, all the extra-long-twin stuff will be on clearance and I can get him something different. I also bought this mattress protector:

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Some lists recommend some sort of nice pad to make the mattress more comfy, but he wants to try out the mattress first; I can Amazon-Prime him one if he wants it once he gets there.

He and I ran into a conflict about what the college list meant by “shower caddy.” His dorm has big multi-shower bathrooms at the ends of the halls, so I thought shower caddy meant something like this:

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Something you can carry with you to the showers, and then carry back to your room and put down somewhere. ROB wanted this:

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It snaps with difficulty onto the shower-curtain rod, and it doesn’t have a flat bottom so it can’t be put down. It’s not even MEANT for showers, it’s meant for CABINETS. (1) We don’t know what kind of shower curtain rods and shower curtains, if any, are in the bathrooms. (2) He HAS to be able to put it DOWN when it’s in his room. His response: “I’ll lean it against a wall or something.” I was starting to get a little mad. I am ALMOST 100% certain that I am right and he is wrong, but I was not quite certain enough to force him to bend to my will: I have not, after all, seen the actual bathrooms. We “compromised” by me buying this without consulting him:

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It’s collapsible, so it takes up almost no space for packing; and it wasn’t very expensive, so it’s no big deal if Rob is right and I am wrong. He can use it temporarily while he evaluates the actual shower situation, and then he can go out and purchase something different if he wants to. I almost wish I’d let him purchase the wrong thing just so he could think every morning about how right I was, but it was $20 and I’m not spending $20 on something I’m almost 100% certain is wrong.

We also got shower shoes:

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And a new hairbrush, because he’s had his since his middle-school-not-washing-his-hair stage, and it is gross.

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I asked if he needed new socks or underwear and he said “MOM, NO.” So I guess he can buy those for himself or maybe I’ll put some in a care package or in his Christmas stocking.