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spikegifted.net - Archive Q1 2010

March 2010:
Home: The 32-week scan went really well. The twins were developing nicely and they were gaining weight. The only down side was the Ruler_of_spike's infection. May be it was the infection, but her blood pressure was elevated and it was a borderline signal. The doctors recommended her to have a follow-up check on the blood pressure, just in case it was caused by something else.
Home: The Ruler_of_spike was now into the 32nd week of her pregnancy and she was getting really big. Her hip was hurting and the bump was really making just about any movement difficult. The shortest of journey was taking forever. To add to this, her picked up a cold which turned into a nasty upper respiratory infection, which gave her a block nose and a nasty cough. The doctors could not prescribe her any antibiotics due to the pregnancy, so she has to rely on her depressed immune system to fight it out. It was not possible to imagine how much suffering this infection was causing her.
Home: The thing about damp proofing was that we had to wait until the material was completely dried until we could even consider redecorating the rooms. We were told that it would take upwards of five weeks to dry. That would mean the redecoration would have to take place very close to the expect arrival of the twins. Timing would be tight, but we hoped they could hang in there until after we had got the work completed, especially the solvents used in the paint won't be that great for the little ones.
Home: As we had now settled into our house for nearly four years, we had a certain amount of things in each room. Unfortunately this meant we had to move and to cover a lot of things: photo frames, pictures, furniture, etc. It was really surprising just how much stuff we have in our house - stuff that turned a mere house into a home. It took us a best of half a Sunday to complete this little task. The contractor arrived on Monday morning and it was immediately evident that they were very professional, but it was a long job. As things progressed, we found out that there was more damp around the exterior wall than we have originally anticipated. So, not only the amount of work went up, the cost also mounted. By the time they had finished, pretty much the all the external walls were damp proofed. The whole thing took the team nearly three days to complete. Then it took a further couple of days for the dust to settle. It was not until the weekend before we could get the vacuum cleaner out to get the place clear of dust. It was a right mess. During the week, we had to survive with just living in the upper floor of the house. It was difficult to imagine just living in half of the house, but we got through it by being flexible and pragmatic. You would not believe our relieve when the ground floor was freed from the coat of dust and we regained the use of that space.
Home: The work in our house just did not stop. When we first moved into our house, we had a contractor coming round to carry out damp proofing in a small number of areas of the house. The fact that I am mentioning this should be suggestive enough to know that something hasn't gone right with that job. As a matter of fact, those guys were a bunch of crooks. The survey was not done thoroughly and as a result the work was just half done. To make it work worse, it turned out that those guys were cutting corners and they were not using the right materials. So we had to hire a different firm to come in to re-do the work that the original contractor messed up and to complete the work they did not identify. All in all, this has been a very expensive lesson on who we can trust when hiring contractors. 
Home: As it turned out, it was a very small leak on a valve on one of the radiators upstairs. The leak was so small that it was not noticeable and what little water that leaked out was evaporated, leaving behind a white powdery residue which was not obvious unless we came to skin contact. At least we have now identified and fix the problem, so hopefully we are not going to encounter any more problems with the heating system.
February 2010:
Home: As part of the pregnancy monitoring, the Ruler_of_spike had to complete a glucose tolerance test. Basically to see if the pregnancy has induce diabetes. For the test, the Ruler_of_spike had to fast for at least twelve hours. In the morning, a blood test was carried out and she was asked to drink over 330ml of Lucozade, before having a second blood test two hours after the first one. Well, Lucozade contains a small amount of caffeine. Additionally, it contains a coloring substance called 'sunset yellow'. First of all, the Ruler_of_spike has never had Lucozade before. Given that she drank it with an empty stomach, the large amount of sugar, along with the caffeine, gave her a 'sugar rush' - palpitation, sweating and shaky hands. 'Sunset yellow', and this directly from the bottle label, 'may have an adverse effect on activity and attention on children', meaning hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder. Yet, this drink was given every pregnant woman around week 28 of her pregnancy. The twins went berserk! They were moving in the womb like the Ruler_of_spike has never experienced before. They were moving so much that the sonographer was having trouble making accurate measurements of the babies. I just could not understand why any medical professional would give this drink to pregnant women just to check their glucose tolerance. You could tell how bad this drink was just by reading the label. Anyway, what is wrong with a table spoon of sugar in some hot water?
Home: Although the boiler was fixed, it was not the end of the heating problem in our house. It was determined that there was in fact a leak in the central heating system. The problem was that my insurance only covered the remedy of problems but did not cover the investigation of leaks. So, while a plumber was called, unless we managed to find the leak, there was little he could do. We simply didn't have the tools to lift the floor boards in our house - you would need a crow bar to that. I managed to lift one small section of a floor board which was actually screwed down and managed to locate one of the pipes, but I could not find anything leaking. So when the plumber arrived, it was difficult for him to get anything done. He got his big torch below the floor board and made a quick inspection. It turned out that there was a leak immediately in front of us, right where that single pipe I have located. He actually managed to change the elbow joint which was leaking without lifting more boards. 
Home: Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!!! This was unbelievable!! Our boiler was causing us problems again! This was not very happening at all. This has been the coldest winter for over 30 years and we were having trouble with our boiler. For those who remember, we have been having trouble with various problems with our boiler for the past 18 months. Given the number of times something has gone wrong in it, various engineers have effectively replace all the parts of the boiler during their visits. The only thing that has not been changed was the heat exchanger. Believe it or not, it was exactly that part that has failed. To cut a long story short, the servicing company has to order the new part and it was taking a long time. They eventually managed to locate a new unit that wasn't being used, but by then we have been surviving without central heating or hot water for nearly a week. It was lucky that I managed to buy a couple fan heaters to keep the room warm in a temporary basis and our neighbor offered their shower for our use. I was chatting to the engineer while he was working and found out that someone he has worked on earlier in the week had been without the user of the boiler since Christmas! How did they expect people to survive without heating in the winter? It turned out that the parts were made aboard and their production has been so finely tuned that there were simply no spare parts around to deal with breakdowns. It took the engineer nearly four hours to replace the part, which was effectively the heart of the boiler. 
Home: Happy Chinese New Year!!
Home: We had a bit of a scare... As you would understand, being first time expecting parents, and not having many friends and family around us, we have been trying our best to supplement our knowledge through reading, both books as well as resources on the internet. We have found some really useful websites. However, as we later discovered, reading too much of these materials can be misleading. One Saturday morning, the Ruler_of_spike mentioned to me that she hasn't felt the little ones moving for over 24 hours. Given how frequent those movements she has been experiencing and how strong some of those movements have been, not feeling them for over 24 hours was a course for concern, especially when those websites recommend counting them on an hourly basis. I did not hesitate and call the community midwife immediately who asked us to go the day assessment center of the maternity unit. Since the Ruler_of_spike was carrying two babies, the only way to ascertain that they were ok was an ultrasound scan. Fortunately, to the relieve of both of us, both babies were doing just find. The sonographer commented that the Ruler_of_spike was the third woman carrying twins who mentioned that they did not feel their movements in that week. We were greatly reassured. We later heard from a friend who was an obstetrician and she confirmed that such situation was not uncommon. In fact, women carrying twins often do not feel fetal movements at times because of the positions they are in. Now, if only someone mentioned that on those websites. On the other hand, it is understandable that those websites would advise contacting health professionals as they do not want to provide incorrect information or recommendations which lead to unnecessary suffering. This episode taught us two things: take what we read with a grain of salt and go with our instincts.
Home: We left Cheshire to go back to London the next afternoon. The beginning of the journey was just fine, except for the usual road works. However, after around a third of the way, we suddenly hit some thick fog and it was restricted to the valleys. It was amazing how sudden these fog patches came and went and how thick some of those were. One moment visibility was fine and the next it was down to less than twenty meters. Shockingly, some vehicles were still being driven at great speeds down the busy motorway. It was just another sign of the selfishness of some of the drivers. I don't care if they kill themselves for going too fast in difficult road conditions, but high speed accidents on motorways usually have collateral damage over and above the likelihood of causing a traffic jam. These selfish folks just thought that they were just such good drivers that normal, sensible driving precautions did not applied to them. Stupid!
Home: It was great to spend some time with these friends of family up north. There was a lot of catching up to do as it has been over a year since we last went up north to see them. Of course, having spent so much of my youth with these folks, they are more like family than anything else. Also, it was great to get the Ruler_of_spike out of London for a short while. Also, it was the first time she went into the car for an out-of-town journey. It was good to know that she found the new car comfortable, despite the fact that it was a smaller model than the old car. More encouragingly, because it was a smaller car, she would find it easier to handle than the old one. That was an unexpected benefit.
Home: We went up north in our car again... Certainly, the new car has covered more mileage in the first three weeks than we typically would travel in three months, except when we headed off to France. After my trip up to Nottinghamshire, I knew there was the potential of having lots of delays on the motorway. The trip was 185 miles each way and I would estimate that at least a third of the way was affected by speed restrictions due to road works of some sort, which made driving quite a painful experience. What I have noticed on these two trips was that there were a lot of very selfish drivers on the motorway. I was sure this was nothing new to the more experienced drivers on the road, but there were some real jerks! For example, some drivers liked to drive slowly on the middle lane despite the fact that there were no vehicles on the slow lane. They must think that they were driving so fast that they didn't deserve to be on the slow lane. Then there were those who thought that motorways are their private race track. They jumped across lanes without even taking into consideration of other drivers on other lane - just cut them up. It was like they were playing a video game. What they didn't realize was that every time they cut in front of someone, it has a knock on effect on all the traffic behind. I guessed that was not something they would even pass their brains, if they have one. Finally, there were the 'egos on wheels'. They have massively powerful cars and they thought they have a right to go fast, even though it was evident that there was slow traffic ahead. They would drive right up to the back of the car in front and just stay there. They thought that by driving aggressively other people would simply move out of their way. What these behaviors told people was that they were immature, inconsiderate, selfish and a danger to other road users.
January 2010:
Home: As we are expecting two little ones to join us in the near future, we need to plan! Every parent would be able to tell us of all the things we would need to survive the initial few weeks after their arrival: pram, car seats, cots, clothes, bottles, etc... The list just goes on and on. We have some very definite ideas as to what we wanted for our little ones and how much we wanted to pay for them. We were looking around for a twin stroller that could be converted to be a twin pram which will allow the little ones to be facing us when they lay down in the pram. This seemed like an easy request, but there were actually very few models that actually allowed that for twins, and the few that were suitable were just plain expensive. The one model that appears to fit all our requirements costs GBP350 for the basic unit, which is the frame and two seats. Then the carrying cots are GBP150 each. So, imagine my relieve when I found one on eBay which has all the added extras that we are looking for for less than GBP400! The only down side was that the seller was located in Nottinghamshire. As it turned out, it was very good timing - I picked up our new car on Wednesday and on Saturday, I spent the day going up north to pick up the twin pram and the get to know the car. The trip costs me a tank of petrol which was around GBP65, so in total, the twin pram from eBay was still a saving of over 30%. 
Home: In the end, the decision was not a hard one... As mentioned before, our car was not in good shape and cost of getting it road-worthy was just too high as cutting corners was not an alternative. Luckily, a friend put me in touch with a friend of his who works in a manufacturer authorized used car dealership. He managed to give us a very favorable value for the old car for the part exchange. We are not really demanding user of the car, all we wanted was one that is safe and trouble-free. In less than two days, he had found a suitable car for us. It was a smaller model and has a smaller engine, but all the features were right up to date. The cost of fixing the old car would be enough to pay for nearly nine months of financing for the new one. Also as it has a smaller engine, the road tax and insurance should be cheaper. After I took delivery of the new car, I realize that fixing the old car was just false economy. While this was not a complaint, the new car is a smaller model than the old one and we could feel the difference in the amount of space inside and the luggage space at the back. As with any new car, it would take a little while to get use to it. But right now it was just a joy to have a car and not having to worry about what might go wrong next.
Opinion: The President of the US, Barack Obama, has found a way to get banks to repay for the US$117bn the state spent to stabilize the sector by slapping a levy over ten years. This, I think, was probably the best approach I have heard so far regarding making banks pay for the taxpayer guarantee during the darkest days and months of 2008 and 2009. There was no point in arguing the need to pay back some money in some shape or form, the question is how and how much, and in a way that can be considered 'fair'. Clearly, in a totally free market, given the events of September 2008 and the subsequent collapse of confidence in all banks, not many banks would have survived without government support. On the other hand, some banks saw themselves as being so important to 'the system' that they expected public money to come and save them from the abyss, at least temporarily. You can't have it both ways - free market when the times are good and public money when times are bad. The question was how much does public money worth to the banks, this bridge that was extended? Not in terms of short-term money, which nearly all of them have repaid, but how much does the support/bail out worth to the banks in the long-term, given not many of them would be around to argue their case if there was no government support. So the cost of support is now out in the open, which is good, in that we now have a figure to work with. Not for the sake of argument, but to allow banks to absorb this cost, 'learn the lessons' and move on. Personally, I see little point in putting up a fight, the world is against us. It is time to shut up, pay up and get on with the job of making money.
Home: Our car was not well... Just before Christmas, I took it in to a service which in itself was not cheap. However, the manufacturer service center came back with a 2-page 'rap sheet' which meant spending a further GBP1,500 on it to pass the M.O.T. Ouch! I didn't expect that. So, nothing was done as I wanted a second opinion. I still had plenty of time before the existing M.O.T. expires. At least the car was winter-safe. Given the weather we've had since Christmas and our trip to France, that first bit of money was money well spent. I took the car to an independent service shop that specialized in our make of car and hoped they'd come back with a more reasonable figure. Sadly, that was not the case. These guys came back with an even longer list which would cost GBP1,700 to fix. And that was just things that had to be done. There were other things that needed attention in the near future. That just wasn't possible. I have seen cars that were literally wrecks, yet they were being driven on all manners of places. My car appeared to be in good shape, yet I would have to spend more than it was worth just to make it road legal. That just made no sense. There were alternatives, the most obvious was to take it to some small garage and somehow get an M.O.T. However, in the not too distant future, there will be two additional passengers in the car. Do I dare having them in there knowing that there are a list of things that need fixing in the car? Decisions; decisions...
Home: With weather like that, it was difficult to do anything. The most basic things like walking to the train station became a long track through snow and ice. My pair of Timberland walking shoes, which have served me very well for the past few years were really struggling - it was literally sliding on ice. I tried to seek out snow that has not been compacted which afforded a little more grip than the ice. The Ruler_of_spike was also finding the going difficult and with the roads covered in ice, her company offered to pay for taxi rides to take her to the station. However, there were days when even taxis refused to come down the side roads owing to the difficult conditions and the likelihood of accidents.
Home: Big Snow!! Just when we thought the snow before Christmas was a one-off, it came with a vengeance. In the twenty years since arriving in London, I have never experience so much snow. I am talking amount that exceeded we had back in February last year. There were some places up north that had over thirty centimeters of the stuff. Of course, as always, the snow made all the public transport grind to a halt. More problematic was the fact that it had snowed quite a lot before Christmas last year and local councils had used up a good amount of their stores of grit. With this fresh snow, our council decided it was not going to grit any of the side streets. Once the snow has been compacted by passing cars, it quickly turned into ice. So although the major roads were open to traffic, it was impossible to even get out of our front drive as there was a layer of ice running almost the entire length of the street. To add to the problem, our street is on an incline and the council has installed a whole collection of bumps to slow the traffic. I saw a number of cars trying to get through and some of them were literally going sideways after hitting their brakes. It was dangerous and foolish.
Home: After our break in Brittany, we came back to London on the first weekend of the new year. During the week we were away, the Ruler_of_spike picked up an extra kilogram of weight! I have been told by other people who have had twins that by the end of pregnancy, the mothers typically put on an average of twenty five kilograms. Well, the Ruler_of_spike is petit. Twenty five kilos is nearly half of her body weight before she got pregnant! Ouch!!
Home: Happy New Year!!