Sunday, February 28, 2010

We Will Pinch Our Pennies Until the Cows Come Home

This post captures why I'd like to have our finances in the best order possible by the time our daughter comes home. Because while I have the option to take her to work with me, if she needs more of me than what I can give while working, that needs to be what we make happen.

If you'd like to be part of making that happen for our daughter, opportunities are here and here.

Thank you. Lots.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Nine

I'm with my big kids this afternoon. It's serendipitous, really. A certain girl is turning nine today, so I had planned to be with them anyway, and it just so happened that they got done with school early and needed a sitter. So we are having mac and cheese for lunch and treats at Starbucks and who knows what else. I keep looking at her and thinking, "Wait, what happened to the little girl?" I still remember her like this:

a favorite

The headphones fit better now.

Happy Birthday, Mary Liz. Even though we don't hang out as often anymore, you will always be my girl.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

This Tuesday with Old Lady Mary

I not only wore an outfit that Old Lady Mary adored, but I also had a fresh haircut, which she declared to be "the perfect length." Double points for me!

tuesday, february 23, 2010

Mary just couldn't get enough of my plaid top. She kept exclaiming that it was just like what she has, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what she meant since I'd seen all her clothing and couldn't recall a shirt that was similar. She rifled through her closet and produced the shirt in question with a look of joy; indeed, she also owns a plaid shirt. That's where the similarities end, but yes, we both own plaid shirts. In addition, I was wearing a black cardigan, and she only wears black jackets, so you see? We are just the same. We also both like chocolate. And things on sale. And kitty cats.

OH NO, WE ARE JUST THE SAME.

HELP.

Mary really loves these boots, and didn't miss the opportunity to point out how good they are in this weather. I also love these boots, but let me tell you, I am getting sick of wearing them because the weather leaves me few other options. Still, if it delights Mary, I will wear them from time to time in the heat of August. With knee socks. She is eccentric and particular and a bit of a crackpot, but oh, is she ever a peach. I just love her. I can't wait until next Tuesday.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Make it Work Monday: Keep Your Shoes Tied

I currently have three pairs of sneakers in rotation for everyday wear, as they're cute and functional and less likely to slip on all this ice that seems to have descended on our street. One of my biggest pet peeves is having to tie and retie my laces, and I'm not particularly fond of having to double knot either, as it doesn't always keep them tied, and the bow looks crappy besides. (I realize not all of you care about how your shoelace bow looks, but ladies, how about bows you tie on apparel? This will work for that, too, and you'll end up with balanced bows that won't slip out.) Some time ago, I read about the Ian Knot in Runner's World. It took a bit for me to get it down, but now I can tie my shoes quicker than I ever did before, and they don't come untied unless A) I step on one of the laces, or B) a little person unties my shoes to be funny. I never, ever have to retie my shoes if neither of those scenarios occurs, and furthermore, all the bows I tie on my clothes now look balanced and straight without a lot of extra effort.

This very short video is the most pleasant of the Ian Knot lot; you may need to watch it several times to get it, but once you do, it will be a shoe-tying miracle.



If you're the sort that prefers diagrams to videos, clicking here will get you what you need.

It may take time to get the tension right; I did find that in the beginning I still needed to tie a conventional double knot on my running sneakers to have them tied tightly enough. Keep at it, though, and you'll never tie your shoes (or belts or whathaveyou) any other way again.

Well, unless you're strange and difficult. If that's the case, I cannot help you further.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Do What You Can: Two Small Miracles

We're a little broke this month. I've got some aggressive financial goals related to adoption and the family life we hope to give Magnolia, which would have been just fine, but then we had some unexpected medical expenses and now, well, now we're scraping a little bit. It's not the end of the world, and things will be looking up in March, but for the next few weeks, the budget is a little bit squeaky. Of course there are a number of ways we can conserve our dollars, and I am not above robbing our jackelope bank and paying in change. There's one area, however, in which I refuse to skimp, and that's in generosity to others. Sure, we can't give to new charities or add big sums to our usual gifts, but I am of the opinion that when times are tight for us, it's even more important to keep giving to those who are less fortunate.

And so yesterday at the grocery, when I saw some extra things that Old Lady Mary would like, which would please her that I bought since they were on sale (her favorite kind of thing and mine), I bought them. When the total came up at the register, I breathed deeply and hung onto my belief that my giving would be provided for, and prayed a little prayer that went something like, "I could use a little help here; please let us not become overdrawn." I also held tightly to my belief that we should not use a credit card, no matter how dire the circumstances.

This morning, my husband sent me a text telling me that one of our medical co-pays had been billed incorrectly, and we were being given back $60. This is roughly twice the amount I spent on Mary's groceries yesterday, and enough to fill our car with gas, which we need within the next twenty-four hours.

...

Lately a dear friend of mine has been going through a rough time, and I wanted very much to be there for her in person, though she lives more than 1500 miles away. I asked my husband to scour our frequent flyer accounts for anything we'd missed and tried to rework my schedule, but it wasn't working out on either front for me to make it to her. That day, she called and said she wanted to come to Kansas City, and could she stay with us? We don't have any money, but we have a bedroom that isn't being used right now. I said yes, of course. Jarod's parents brought a futon, sheets, a comforter, and pillows over so she has a place to sleep. My mom delivered food items and a little bit of money so we can take her out for a nice meal.

We don't have much, but together we have everything we need.

That last part's true not just now, but always. I am grateful for the help, and grateful that we can give even when it seems like we cannot. I hope you feel this truth in your life, too.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This Tuesday with Old Lady Mary

It's Tuesday, and that only means one thing: I picked out a special outfit to wear to visit my friend Mary.

tuesday, february 16, 2010

I wore a coat for the photo today because my time was limited today, and I didn't plan on taking it off while I was visiting. Even though I had the coat and a turtleneck sweater on, she was still worried that I'd underdressed. Considering that she wears a stocking cap well into July, I probably shouldn't have been surprised. She kept tugging at the coat and saying, "This isn't very thick. Are you sure you're warm?" I got more mother hen talk than compliments today, which was a shame because do you see that hat? I really feel like she should have commented on that. I blame myself, really, putting on so many things to look at when I knew she'd be fretting about the cold. I'm hoping for warmer weather next week. And when it's spring? This is going to be a full on party. I've got dresses you've never even seen, and oh, I can't wait to dress like Mary's fabled "summer birds."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Make it Work Monday: Dinner in a Hurry

More often than I like to admit, I come in from the day with a growling stomach and not much time between getting something decent and my mouth and just shoving in whatever is lying around. When I was single, this translated into cereal for dinner, and no one was the wiser, but now I have a husband who asks things like, "What do we have to eat?" and expects some sort of meal type answer. Cheese and crackers can cut it as snack foods, but he likes meals. The truth is that I like meals, too, and it's probably better for me that I now have external motivation to make and eat them. But the problem of time (not to mention energy or lack thereof) still exists. What to do? Frozen pizza? Mac and cheese from a box? While both of those are options I have used when necessary, if I have just a bit more energy than it takes to preheat the oven and open the pizza box, I like to make something that is a little more satisfying.

Enter the pasta dinner. Of course I could tell you to cook some pasta, add a jar of sauce, and be done with it, but in the time it takes to cook the pasta, you can do something far more impressive that doesn't take a lot of effort. Your base is a pound of pasta, any pasta, just pick a pasta!, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and chopped onion. Your variables are as numberless as the stars, or at least as numberless as what you can get from the grocery store, the farmer's market, or your own freezer. Because this meal offers so many possible variations, you can eat it once a week and probably not get tired of it too quickly. I put pasta on my grocery list every week and choose a different variety each time. Other things I keep in my pantry or fridge to keep my options for this dish open are frozen spinach, diced tomatoes, cheese (any variety, as long as it's not an American single individually wrapped in plastic, or, heaven help us, Velveeta), onions, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and whatever vegetables are fresh and in season.

To start, put your pot of water on to boil, and while you are waiting for that to happen, heat enough oil to just barely coat the bottom of the pan in a medium skillet. Chop the onion and put it in; for us, half of a medium onion is usually a good amount, and I put the rest in a container in the fridge for later use. At some point your water will begin boiling, whether that's now or in a few minutes, just keep an eye on it so that you can toss your pasta in when it's ready. Your pasta won't take much attention to cook, so direct your attention to what you'd like to put in the skillet with your onion. I generally add a couple more vegetables. If I am using something frozen, such as spinach (a favorite!), put it in at the same time as your onion. If it's thawed or canned, such as roasted red peppers or diced tomatoes, you can wait until the onions are mostly done before you put it in. Add salt, pepper, and garlic to taste. If you've got fresh garlic and you're willing to peel and mince it, good for you! If you're lazy like me, garlic powder works marvelously. You can also throw in some chili flakes if you'd like a nice kick. Stir occasionally to make sure that everything is evenly heated and cooked. While this and your pasta are cooking, now is the time to grate some cheese if you'd like to add that. I recently received one of these mouse graters as a gift, and I find that the fine grating it does makes cheese mix in evenly and melt nicely as I stir. I highly recommend a finer grating to a coarser one if you use cheese.

Once your past is done, drain it, return it to the pasta pot, and add a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You can use as little or as much as you want, but I'd advise that moderation is best here, as you can always add more if you find your pasta isn't fully coated, and use slightly more oil than vinegar. Stir it up to coat all the pasta in the oil, then add in your vegetables. If you're using cheese, put that in next and stir vigorously until it's all evenly combined. Serve and enjoy. If you're really on your toes, you might have picked up a baguette or some ciabatta during the day, but if not, I find that the pasta dish alone is plenty to satisfy the hungriest stomachs. The last time I made this, start to finish cook time was fifteen minutes. That's quicker than cooking a pizza!

You really can use any variation you want for this. When it's summertime and there are fresh tomatoes and basil in the garden, I like to add both and either skip the cheese or add chunks of fresh mozzarella when the pasta has cooled a bit. For winter, when I want heartier fare, my favorite is frozen spinach (about half a bag is good, if you're wondering) with slow roasted tomatoes from my own freezer, plus a creamy cheese like goat cheese. This past week I was on a "use up the small bits of cheese in the drawer" campaign, so I used spinach as the vegetable and then grated gouda and New Zealand cheddar to make a pasta with cheese and spinach dish. I find for something more cheesy, I prefer a firmer, heartier pasta, such as ziti, and for lighter pasta dishes in the summer, I like something more fine, like angel hair or plain spaghetti.

We are a little broke lately, so I am trying to use things I froze from the garden. This week's pasta will feature roasted butternut squash and who knows what else. I'm thinking of getting all crazy and adding some nutmeg. See? You really can use anything in this.

I will, however, caution against the use of chocolate chips.

Enjoy!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A New Method of Water Conservation

I fear the Waldo rapist most when I am in the shower, with my face all lathered up so I can't open my eyes. If one of the cats makes a noise, it makes it worse. Of course it's unlikely that the door is unlocked, and that's how he's entered homes. He wasn't one to break and enter, just enter. As a matter of habit, I lock the door before I reach for the alarm panel to punch in the code. However, from time to time, I'll run a load of compost out to the backyard and have my hands so full of sticky containers that sat too long in the fridge that I'll fail to do more than shut the door with my hip. Or I'll be too intent on getting the groceries to the kitchen to set them down to lock up right away. Still, since he struck in our neighborhood, it's been rare that I don't think of the sketch posted all over our local utility poles and do a double check. And generally a double check is easy to do, but not when one is wet and naked with a face full of gentle facial cleanser, or even worse, a scrub that is nature's alternative to microdermabrasion. In those instances, I rinse as quickly as possible, shut the water off with haste, grab my robe, and bolt into the living room to make sure everything is still secure.

It always is.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

This Tuesday with Old Lady Mary

Every Tuesday I now have a standing date with Old Lady Mary, a woman with a disheveled air about her, a fear of the toilet, and a heart of gold. For some reason, she has decided that I look like a model, and as I do not like to disappoint, I now do my best to put together an outfit worthy of her delusions. I have rarely been disappointed by her reaction to what I'm wearing, and have decided to document both what I wear each Tuesday and her thoughts on my apparel. Here's what I wore today:

tuesday, february 9, 2010

Old Lady Mary looooves holidays, and I knew that she would have a handmade construction paper valentine for me, so I should have an outfit worthy of the holiday for her. The red blazer was easy, and the heart wellies were an easy call, and beyond that I just had to put on pants and accessories. Naturally, a heart earrings and necklace were in order, and the jeans were both clean and easy to tuck into the boots, so that was that.

The whole thing was a hit. She even asked to see the lining of the jacket (also red, with white leaves) and kept leaning down to look more closely at the boots. It seemed to delight her that I own boots with hearts, and I left with the directive to wear them every single day this week.

Noted.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Make It Work Monday*: A Wardrobe You'll Love

For most of my teens and much of my twenties, I didn't dress very well. This was partly due to lack of information, but in large part to a lack of confidence, not to mention that it takes time to know yourself and develop your own sense of style. I don't purport to be a maven of style or fashion by any means, but these days I find that I finally have a wardrobe that I feel good about. I can put together an outfit that I love to suit any situation. This wasn't always true in the past, when my wardrobe consisted mainly of heather grey shirts, turtleneck sweaters, and jeans which were mostly too large. It's taken time to get to this point, but I've found that there are some key steps I've taken to get this far, that I still rely upon to keep my wardrobe fresh and fun. No matter your budget, it is possible to build a wardrobe that will allow you to put together outfits that will suit your situation and that will make you feel pretty. Having a sizable clothing budget is nice, but it's not realistic for most of us. The good news is that with a little extra work (and it's easy, I promise--no DIY if you're not crafty and no hours and hours of searching unless you feel like it) we can all build a wardrobe of items we truly enjoy putting on. Here are the rules I've followed to create the wardrobe I currently have and love.


1. Let go of your body hangups, and find styles that fit and flatter you. This is the part that takes the most time and effort, but once you know what styles and shapes and cuts look good, you'll begin to recognize those and make a beeline for them in the store.

2. Decide what you like. This might sound silly, but it's key. Are you the girl who can rock the trendy clothes? Go for it. Are well-fitted trousers and blazers more your thing? No problem. You get to choose what you like; just don't make the mistake of confusing what you like with what feels safe to wear. It's okay to take risks!

3. Visit clearance racks briefly every time you're in a store that has them. That's the extra work I was talking about. That's it! Easy, right? My wardrobe is a mix of full price items that are well made and clearance favorites that I lucked into; however, I find my luck is better if I actually look at what is available. Even if I've got only a few extra minutes, I make a quick sweep of the clearance rack. If it's a store I'm in frequently (*ahem*Target*ahem*), I note which items I like at full price and watch for them to make it to clearance. (The same is true for online shopping sites, particularly Boden.)

4. Try it on. If you don't have time to try it on in the store, make sure the return policy is favorable and go ahead and take it home. If you're ordering online or from a catalog, find free shipping and free returns deals in order to ensure that you won't spend money for shipping on items you may or may not keep.

5. Evaluate. Does it fit well? Is there gapping or bunching that is unflattering? Does it look like I've put on a big sack? How do I feel in this item? Do not remove tags or toss out receipts until you are certain that you look and feel good wearing the item. If you don't feel good in it, you won't wear it. I don't care how cheap it was on clearance; if you won't wear it or it looks terrible, it's a waste of money. Period. Take your time with this step and the next one; most stores allow 90 days for returns, so take advantage of that.

6. If you're unsure of how to wear it or what to wear it with or if it looks good on you at all, ask a friend whose style you love to weigh in. I find this is also handy if I like something but don't feel confident in it. The kind words of a stylish friend can go a long way towards making me feel like I can pull of something I might have doubted, and more than once I've ended up wearing and feeling fabulous in something I previously would have eschewed in favor of something safe.

7. If you truly like the item, remove the tags and wear it! If you are unsure or think you won't wear it, take it back. There are cute clothes coming out all the time, and you will find something you'll like sooner or later.

8. Once you have a good selection of items you look and feel good wearing, start to eliminate the items that don't work. I still sometimes buy things I think will be fabulous and later discover aren't so much. My rule is this: If I wear it once and feel iffy about it, I'll set it aside but not eliminate it immediately. If I wear it twice and still don't feel fantastic wearing it, it exits the premises. There is nothing wrong with passing on something that doesn't work for you to someone who will wear it and love it.

9. Look in the mirror and feel good! You look amazing!

*Make It Work Monday is a new thing I'm working on every Monday. I'll cover topics that range from wardrobe to cooking to energy efficiency and beyond. The goal is to give you tricks and hints to make life work better. I find that even a small change sometimes does me a world of good, and I'll be passing on some of the changes I've made in my life that have worked out well. I hope that you'll feel free to use the comments section to add to what I've posted or offer tips of your own.

Friday, February 05, 2010

I Just Need to Get This Off My Chest

To me, the point of using a crock pot for cooking is so that you don't have to do much to what you're preparing. So when a recipe directs that I brown something in a separate pan, on my stove, I just go, "REALLY?" and plop it into the crock pot unbrowned. I'm sure I'm missing out on some essential layers of flavor or something, but if I'm using the crock pot, it's because I've got little time and want something that can cook while I am not in the house. If I want to actually cook, I'll use my oven.

Thank you.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Standby

Mostly I find that lately I'm tired and somewhat unreasonable. Not that I didn't want to eat brownies for breakfast before, but right now I'm not only planning on it for tomorrow's bright start to the day, but wondering how many might be appropriate. Maybe half a dozen, if they're small? I also plan to drink a veritable vat of coffee. Decaf, though, so I don't experience a crash later. And I fully intend to wear my pajamas until it's time to workout. I might leave the pants on for the workout, but that remains to be seen.

What's going on around here is tedious, but not the end of the world, at least not yet. And it's not even happening directly to me, so that's a plus...you know, for me. Sorry to the rest of you suckers! I'll continue to be vague about this, but I will offer that more than one person who is close to me is experiencing upheaval of some sort or another, and my job in all of this is to be available to be supportive in whatever way possible. My energy has been so intensely focused on these needs that I find I have very little patience for anyone else. My introversion is bursting at the seams, asking me if it might be nice to have a vacation somewhere tropical, all by myself, and I can only offer the relief of ending non-essential phone calls as soon as possible and reservung my energies for where they are most needed. So if you are someone I've cut off mid-sentence during a phone call, or if you feel like I'm brushing you off, please don't take it to heart. I'm just trying to take the part of me that is available to people and make it most available to those who really need me. When this is all said and done and worked out, I promise we'll get coffee and chat or do whatever it is we do when I am not needing the occasional solace of my own quiet company.

Thank you for standing by.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Warning to my Mother, This is Laced with Expletives

I've been thinking a lot about faith and dreams and hope and all that comes with it, partly as a result of taking the Mondo Beyondo course, but partly as a result of life, which is why I think now is the perfect time to be taking the course. It's like all the stars aligned to put me in this right place at this right time, and the only problem is that I don't really know where I am. What I do know is that when things seem to be going really, really well, something shit-tastic often happens. I speak from my own experience and the experience of others. Perhaps you know what I mean? Everything is going well, you've just made it through some hard times, things are looking up, you think that finally, finally!, you can let go of the breath you've been half holding, and you do, and it is then that things take a turn for the seriously fucked.

I'm not sure why this happens, only that it does, and that after it happens, sometimes things look better almost immediately, and sometimes they don't. What I do know is that eventually everything gets sorted out, and more often than not, there is something incredibly good and perfect and right in store. I find myself hesitating to say that because what if I'm wrong? What if saying that out loud jinxes everything and we are destined for lives of not-so-quiet desperation and tragedy and loss? What if this all remains in the realm of seriously fucked forever and ever and it doesn't get better until we are old and infirm and finally die?

I won't spill my own secrets or the secrets of others, but things have certainly taken a turn for the shit-tastic for a lot of us lately, so my guess is that something good is about to get born. We just have to hang in there an wait for it.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Shiny and New

Isn't she pretty? Her name is Carmen.

her name is carmen

Much to my shock, I was able to help move both our old, crusty couch and Carmen. Jarod and I hoisted both through the front door with minimal issues. I guess those workout videos are effective. Who knew?

You might also notice something else shiny and new, which is this here blog thing. I hope you like it; I did it just for you. I kind of miss the doughnut photo, but not really. This suits me much better. After all, I'd rather eat doughnuts than look at them. Wouldn't you?