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Saturday, December 13, 2014

I know it's just hair, but I still might cry.

I was wandering Target last night (a perfectly acceptable Friday night activity) when Annie sent me a text. It was a brief conversation:
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It was not one of my most open-minded moments, but her hair -- her natural-grows-out-of-her-head hair -- is so pretty. Dye her hair black? My mind immediately went to a pasty-white-faced girl wearing a safety pin through her ear and black combat boots on her feet. 

Honestly, look at this senior picture Mike took of her: 

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I know I'm terribly biased, but I think she is beautiful and her hair is just gorgeous. So why in the world would she want to go and dye it at all, but especially why would she want to dye it black? 

She had an answer for that:

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It was late, pushing 11:00pm. I didn't really have a good argument other than "because I said so." It is only hair. I was too tired to argue and figured in 6 weeks she will be 18 and technically able to make her own decisions anyway, barring "my house, my rules." And I'm trying to be less of a control freak. So I waved the white flag of surrender:

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And because I'm still a work in progress on the whole control freak thing:

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A mother can hope, right?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Where would you be?

I feel like I am losing my mind. But really, I'm just losing my stuff. I've tried the prayer to St. Anthony:

 photo StA_KeepCalm_zps355c1098.jpgTony, Tony look around.
Something's lost and can't be found.
Please help me find...

Either St. Anthony is sleeping on the job or he's trying to teach me a lesson about taking care of my things. I have cleaned out more than one closet with no luck. So now I'm here enlisting your help (and hoping that at least one person who reads my blog is psychic).

Where would you be if you were...
  • one black El Naturalista clog with cute swirly white stitching 
  • one silver Dr. Scholl flat 
  • my favorite pair of Vera Wang jammies (from Kohl's) that my husband bought me for Christmas last year
  • the security card that lets me into my office building (don't worry boss, it's been gone a while)
  • a cute little vintage-looking Santa pin that I swear was on the counter next to the refrigerator
  • 3 green mini bungee cords that are used to hang stockings with care
  • a red cardigan sweater that will go perfectly with my "Believe" bling holiday shirt
  • the "bit" part of my Fitbit Flex that somehow got separated from the charge
I'm serious, give me some ideas where these things might be. What is the strangest place you've ever found something you've lost? 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

To be young and in...fatuated

I should have known I was in trouble when, at 11 years old, Charlie told me there was no way he could be a priest. "Why?" I asked. "Mom, do you really expect me to live without a woman for the rest of my life?!"

Fast forward four years and we are -- well, he is (Mike & I are just occasionally intervening observers) -- in the girlfriend zone. Charlie loves to be in LUV. Sometimes the speed at which he barrels into a relationship scares me a little bit. I don't mean in the physical sense. We've had plenty of conversations about "S," as Robbie calls it, but Charlie is emotionally all in when it comes to teenage romance.

So far, his taste in girls has been very good. Both nice Catholic girls. Both good students. His first girlfriend was super sweet and had a dad who is a police officer. I told Charlie he was either going to have to marry her or wait for her to break up with him, neither of which happened. We were all fairly traumatized by that break-up. Robbie still talks about Girl #1 and how much he liked her.

 photo Charlie_Ameliah2_zps1b05fcf6.jpgNow there is Girl #2. They met at church -- yay God! -- and go to different high schools. It seems like Charlie enjoys being "free" during the day at school. The extent of the "dating" has been a couple of PG-13 movies, a Butler basketball game with her parents, hanging out at her house, and lots of text messages. His current girlfriend has got him playing marathon games of Hanging with Friends, so that makes me happy. The fact that she makes him want to go to church, if only to see her, is also a good thing.

Charlie and Girl #2 have been dating for somewhere around two months and Christmas is just around the corner. So what did my lover-of-girls want to give his sweetheart? Well, he started thinking about a giant teddy bear. Sweet, though a little cliche. I suggested a photo of the two of them in a frame. It's inexpensive, personal, and she can re-use the frame for a picture of her and her next boyfriend. You know, just in case.

He wasn't on board with that idea. Then he said that Girl #2 loves the TV show "The Office" (score another point for Girl #2), so he thought maybe he would give her the ENTIRE SERIES on DVD. In addition to being young and infatuated, Charlie is also a bit delusional about how much things cost. Did I mention he doesn't have a job and will be working off the cost of this gift in dishwashing and laundry?

Needless to say, I sent him back to the drawing board, where he and Girl #2 came up with what they determined to be the PERFECT gift for each other. Anyone care to guess? I'll give you a's cheesy, but as Annie declared "it's so cheesy it's sweet."

Couples sweatshirts.

 photo BeautyBeast_zps1cd2f731.jpgAs the kids today say, "I can't even..."

Just thinking about it and how excited Charlie was (for me) to buy this gift for Girl #2 makes me smile. Do you want to see the sweatshirts? Of course you do!

Girl #2 is a beauty. But Charlie a beast? Only if you are talking about his ferocity on the soccer field, or more likely his table manners.

Truthfully, the sweatshirts make so much sense for how Charlie views the world, romance included. He wants to someone or something. He's a person who needs people and I love that about him, even if that means he probably won't be a priest.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Who made this mess?

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For the past few years, I've been attending weekly meetings of a group for recovering control freaks, fixers and people pleasers. It's been a slow but steady path and from time to time I can look at a situation and see how much I've changed (and sometimes how far I still have to go).

Earlier this week, I made plans to go straight from work to the meeting. I arranged a ride home from school for Charlie and told Mike he would have to pick Robbie up from school. Annie had rehearsal and would be driving herself home. That's it. Easy peasy. Until...

We had a Thanksgiving pitch-in at lunch. Seriously some of the best southern cooking I've ever had (My contribution? Apples & caramel dip.) and there was plenty leftover, including home made mac and cheese. I knew the boys would love to be on the receiving end of those leftovers...and, if I'm really honest with myself, I didn't want Mike to order pizza for dinner because we are on a tight budget until payday.

So I told Mike that I would meet him at Robbie's school to hand off dinner. Then I would go on to my meeting. Only, when I got to the school, Mike wasn't there. He was still a good 15 minutes away. I went in, picked up Robbie and called Mike.

"I've got Rob. I'll just meet you at St. Luke's on 86th Street and then I'll go on to the meeting." He agreed.

Robbie and I arrived at the St. Luke's parking lot at 5:48pm. I had 12 minutes to get to the meeting on time, which was kind of important because I was supposed to lead the discussion.

5:50pm. No Mike.

5:51pm. My phone died so I could no longer track where my husband was using the "Find my iPhone" app.

I could feel my blood pressure rising and my jaw setting itself in "angry" mode. I took a deep breath and thought to myself "I cannot change this situation. There is no point in getting upset." I was pretty proud of myself for that.

Mike arrived somewhere around 5:56pm, although I don't know exactly what time it was because I'd given up staring down the clock. He took Robbie and the dinner and I sat in the parking lot trying to decide if it was worth showing up late to the meeting.

As I considered the option of arriving late, not totally happy with Mike for making me late, I heard a friend's voice in my head (not really, Mom), asking what was my part in this situation.

So I asked myself that. "What was my part in this debacle of a plan?"

It didn't take long to recognize that it was really all my part. There had been a plan in place that would have taken me directly from work to the meeting without having to stop for anything. Who changed that plan? Me.

Mike is completely capable of picking up Robbie and making dinner for himself and the boys. We could have eaten the yummy leftovers for dinner the next day. But I was both trying to be nice (hello, people pleasing fixer) and to control the situation (control freak!) by devising the leftover drop off/kid exchange plan. Mike teases that I am addicted to chaos. Looking at this situation, he might not be wrong.

I smiled to myself, even laughed a little, as I came to the realization that this mess was all my fault. So, I may not have come far enough to not create the situation in the first place, but I have grown enough to recognize how my actions led to the outcome. That gives me hope.

(And yes, I still went to the meeting and it was worth it.)

Pre-holiday reality check

 photo Keep-the-Happy-in-Your-Holidays_zpsa03b2a4d.jpg About two weeks ago, my one remaining freelance writing gig came to an abrupt end. With no warning, my client told all of us writing for him to stop. I was counting on the weekly check from that job to finance Christmas this year. Then a few days ago, we got a rather big bill in the mail that I wasn't expecting. I could feel the anxiety begin to set in. It seemed like the perfect time to read the new e-book Cherie Lowe, aka The Queen of Free, asked if I would review. The book is called Keep the Happy in Your Holidays: 21 Ways to Save Time, Money and Your Sanity this Christmas Season and is available via download for $1.99.

I'll admit that reading books about saving money and budgeting ranks in my mind right above going to the dentist. But, frankly, I was looking for someone to tell me we could have a great Christmas season without spending a lot of money. At 122 pages, the book was a quick read.

Keep the Happy in Your Holidays is broken down into 21 tips, beginning with a pledge to make it a debt-free Christmas. That's not a hard one for us; we operate on a cash-only basis. From advice on what is really a good deal on Black Friday (Tip #4) to creative ideas for gifts that cost $5 or less (Tip #11), the e-book is full of practical ideas for a variety of situations and scenarios related to the holiday season, including gift giving, travel and even wrapping presents.

My favorite tip was Tip #9: Cultivate a Culture of Contentment in Your Kids. I want my kids to have happy memories of Christmastime and I don't believe that money = memories. Cherie offers these suggestions:
  1. Begin with a thankful list (instead of a list of wants).
  2. Conduct an ongoing discussion about wants and needs.
  3. Invest in your child's faith.
  4. Serve together. This is on my list of to do's this holiday season.
  5. Ask for or give experiences. Maybe Grandma would like to pay for a few months of piano lessons?
  6. Set limits. In our house, Santa brings 3 gifts and a stocking and mom & dad give 1 gift for each kid. We've done this since Annie's second Christmas, so our kids are used to it.
  7. Reflect what you want to see. Cherie writes "If we are worried, hurried, or frazzled, we shouldn’t be surprised if they [our kids] are too. If we are consumed with our desire for the next big thing or are constantly dissatisfied, then they will be too."
Nowhere in the book does Cherie tell you what to do. She gives suggestions and examples of strategies that worked to help Cherie and her husband pay off $127,000 in debt in just four years. The e-book includes several free printables, including printable gift tags. She also does a nice job gently circling the reader back to the real reason for the Christmas season. 

Readers of Keep the Happy in Your Holidays also get the introduction and first chapter of Cherie's book, Slaying the Debt Dragon, which tells the Lowe's story of battling their mountain of debt and the lessons they learned along the way. That book will be available in bookstores in early January 2015.

How to get the books:
  1. You can get both Keep the Happy in Your Holidays and Slaying the Debt Dragon on Amazon. If you use the links in this post to make your purchase, I'll get a few cents from your purchase. 
  2. Beginning December 1, if you pre-order Slaying the Debt Dragon (available in paperback and e- book), you'll get a copy of Keep the Happy in Your Holidays for FREE.
To learn more about the books and hear what others have said about them, visit the book website.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From grump to grateful

When I woke up this morning, it was 10 degrees outside. Windchill brought the "feels like" temp down to -8. I was crabby at the thought of getting out of my warm bed and put it off as long as possible. 

After hitting the snooze twice, I reluctantly got out of bed -- only after I checked my email and the local news websites to see if, by some grace, school was canceled or delayed on account of the cold. I sleepily walked to the bathroom and started the shower, giving the water a few minutes to warm up. I grumbled to the boys to get up and get moving. I told them they HAD to wear long pants and sweatshirts today. 

I got in the shower and dared the water to wake me up. It wasn't just my body that was awakened as the hot water streamed over me. My attitude got a wake up call as well.
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I realized that I have a warm bed to crawl out of (and yes, to stay snuggled into). I have a warm house to wander in, waking sleeping people each morning. I have three wonderful children to argue with me about weather-appropriate clothing. I have a hot shower to step into. I have a job to go to that not only calls me out of bed but that pays for my heat and water and other things.  

And I have a God to thank for my many blessings, including the blessing of a new perspective to start my day.


Monday, November 17, 2014

It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without...

thanksgiving photo: Garfield Thanksgiving 62c7e04a.jpgThanksgiving is a favorite holiday around here. As Charlie said tonight, "all you do is eat and watch football, how could a day get any better?" It's still 9 days away, so to pass the time I've made a list of all the things that make Thanksgiving Thanksgiving in my book:
  1. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sitting in jammies all morning long, watching the parade and hollering at the kids randomly. "Garfield is coming! Right after this commercial (and the next and the next and the next). Who wants to see Garfield?"
  2. Black Friday ads. It doesn't matter that I will have checked out the ads online several times since mid-November. There is nothing like paging through ad after ad of deals so good even sane people consider heading to the stores at 3am. My favorites are the Target and Kohl's ad, but Walgreen's is usually a place for some good deals, too.
  3. Green bean casserole. If it's not the original recipe from the can of Durkee's French Fried Onions, it's not green bean casserole. 
  4. Falling asleep to football. I like to watch football. Really. But I like a nap during a football game even more.
  5. Cranberry relish. This is new on my list of must-haves for Thanksgiving. Growing up, cranberry sauce always came out of a can, bearing the telltale ridges of the inside of the can. Yuck. But Mike's mom introduced me to cranberry relish made with whole cooked cranberries and little bits of orange zest. Delicious! 
  6. Fat pants. My brother-in-law taught this to my kids. Either wear or bring with you big stretchy pants for post-meal bloat. And if Mom wants to take pictures of the family, better do it before dinner when everyone still looks decent. Otherwise she will get a picture of people in a varied assortment of sweats, sleepwear and perhaps even old maternity leggings.
  7. Spending time with family. In the 21 years that Mike and I have been married, we have only not been with extended family once. And that's the way I like it.
What makes it Thanksgiving for you?