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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

'Fessing up

Over at the Fit City Moms blog. Would love it if you read my post and left me some feedback there.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas past

Christmas 2010 is almost a thing of the past -- one more family Christmas celebration next weekend and theologically speaking, the Christmas season doesn't end until the Feast of the Epiphany when the three kings visited the Baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

It's been a good Christmas in the 4th Frog house. The boys each had a part in the Christmas play at church on Christmas Eve and we came home to enjoy slow cooker lasagna and let the kids open two gifts, as has  become our tradition.

I'm not sure when Santa arrived, though I couldn't have missed it very easily, considering I didn't fall asleep until 4am. From about midnight to 4, Annie was up keeping me company. Boy, did 5:30am come quickly when the boys were bouncing on the bed, shouting that Santa had come.

Santa came through with a new sled for Charlie, an Air Hogs helicopter for Robbie, Wicked tickets for Annie, and a Star Wars video game for Mike. Happily, Mr. Claus remembered my love for all things Scrabble and tucked the 2011 Scrabble calendar and the new Scrabble Flash game under the tree for me. Love that Scrabble Flash -- and so do the kids. I only wish it had 7 tiles instead of 5 so it would be more true to the real game of Scrabble.

We had a nice visit with Mike's family over the past day or so, though there was a little bit of sadness in the air knowing that this was most likely our last Christmas to be spent with his mom. More than melancholy, though, there was lots of laughter and good food. The kids were well-behaved and thoroughly spoiled.

Now we're back home and planning to enjoy a few days of R&R before the real world comes knocking again next week. I need to make a to do list of things I'd like to this week, otherwise the days will tumble by and I'll be scratching my head on January 3rd wondering what happened to all those good intentions.

Thanks for putting up with my re-posts from Christmases past. Hope you will indulge me in just one more. It involves Santa, Diet Coke, and riding nearly naked in the car (no worries, still rated G). Check it out here: Dear Santa.

Hope your Christmas was terrific, too!

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Procrastinator's Christmas

This is a guest post written by my baby brother, Nick. I know it's Christmas Eve and you have too much to do, but seriously, take the time to read this. It had me laughing until I was crying.

In all my 18 Christmases, this Christmas ranks up there with the best (and worst) of them, and it technically isn’t even Christmas yet. It is 11 p.m. on Dec. 23, just 25 hours away from the big day, and the Christmas tree is just now making its appearance in the house. Yes, you read correctly. There are some people out there who put up their tree the day after Thanksgiving. Heck, we live on a culdesac with three other houses and all three of them had their trees up the day after Thanksgiving! If you haven’t guessed it yet, we’re big-time procrastinators. My Dad hasn’t even begun his Christmas shopping, and we are now down to a mere 24 hours and 51 minutes ‘til Christmas! But that’s just who we are.

If you would look up the definition of procrastination in the dictionary a picture of our family would appear right underneath it. Granted that family picture would be extremely out-dated, missing at least three or four grandchildren because we always just say, “Oh, we will just get a family picture the next time all 22 just happen to be together.” (That rarely happens…)

I should have known that this would be an interesting Christmas right from the very beginning. I had just gotten home from my first semester away at college and the only thing I wanted to do was to lay in my own bed (which turned out to be worse than my bed in my dorm at UD). I quickly lugged all my clothes and bags into the house, dropped them off in the family room, and ran upstairs to get re-acquainted with my room. I didn’t even realize that there wasn’t a Christmas tree in house until I went back downstairs.

This puzzled me because I remembered my parents telling me that they bought one. So I started the search, which really wasn’t much of a search because I knew exactly where it had to be if it wasn’t standing in the family was. I opened the door to the garage and there it was. Not lying on the ground or propped up in a corner. No, it was hanging by twine on the garage door tracks. That should have been the first sign that this was going to be a Christmas to remember.

So there it hung in the garage for an entire week. But tonight we decided that we had procrastinated too long and it was finally time to put up the tree! I was thrilled! I, mean, you can’t have Christmas without a Christmas tree (although my Dad did threaten that one year, but that’s another story…) We got home from my niece’s birthday dinner right at 9 o’clock and shortly after started our plan of exactly how to get this tree into the house.

My Dad, Mom, and I were all out in the garage when the madness began. My Mom hit the garage door opener so we could take the tree out, however she failed to remember that the tree was tied to tracks and the whole tree almost snapped in half as the garage door came closer and closer to tree, pushing the top half farther and farther from the bottom. Luckily, Dad was on top of things and quickly reversed the door, stopping the door so it was half way open.

With the tree saved, I walked out the other garage door since I couldn’t make it through the miscellaneous junk we have piled up in there. I walked out the door, hurried around the brick pillar, ran right into the half open garage, nearly slipped on the ice and smacked my head on the ground.

After I pulled myself together I ducked underneath the door this time, cut the tree down, and opened the door fully so we didn’t have another victim on our hands. Shortly after, Dad and I carried the tree around the front of the house and through the front door. As we approached the door, Dad told me to “hold up” so I did, but he continued to keep moving at full speed…I guess “hold up” now means to keep going and not to stop…Anyway, there were more confusing commands thrown at me, but we eventually made it to family room and set it down.

Dad immediately got to work sawing off the end to make it straight and drilling a hole so we could put the tree in the stand. It didn’t take us too long to get that done, and before we knew it we were ready to pound the stand into the bottom of the tree. With the stand in the tree we were finally ready to stand the tree up. On the count of three we stood it up, wiped our hands off, and stepped back to see our Christmas tree...

Oh. $&*+!

Our tree is severely curved and crooked. It looks like it has scoliosis. Yes, that bad.

All three of us were in total shock. Apparently Mom and Dad didn’t see this slight flaw in the tree when they picked it out. It’s probably why no one else bought it. They all saw, but not Mom and Dad.

We weren’t exactly sure what to do, but then Dad had the idea of getting some books to prop underneath the legs of the stand to balance it out. It took a total of 8 books to get the tree look a little straighter and not so crooked, but even with the books the tree is still darting off in an awkward angle. Oh, and not only is our Christmas tree extremely crooked, but it also has a huge, gaping hole on side. The hole is actually something that Mom and Dad did see, and still proceeded to buy it.

After at least a half hour of maneuvering the tree to hide both the hole and in the insane curve, we came to an agreement of the tree’s placement. It doesn’t look too bad, as long as you don’t look directly at the tree.

And now it’s 12:39 a.m. on Christmas Eve, and we have yet to begin decorating the tree. I think this is a sure sign that the unexpected will most definitely take place these next couple of days, and even into next week when all 22 of us gather around this special tree to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s together.

I guess this is just a sign from God telling us not to procrastinate any longer.

Scoliosis tree
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Post-op tree
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The 8 books of Christmas
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas reprise: And a little child shall lead them

One of my favorite Christmas stories...

Did anyone notice anything unusual about the photo of the Fontanini Nativity in the entry I made on Tuesday? No? Look again:

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See the #1 candle in the back of the stable? That's been a permanent fixture in this Nativity scene for the past five or six years. The story of how it got there is one of my favorite Christmas stories:

I had put out all the Christmas decorations and had them arranged just as I liked them. One day I walked past the Fontanini Nativity and saw the candle I'd used on the kids' first birthday cakes standing against the wall in the stable.

I took the candle out and put it in the junk drawer. A day or so later, it was back in the stable. Again, I put it in the junk drawer. The next day, I saw Annie putting it in the stable again.

"Annie! Stop messing with my Nativity," I said. "Get that candle out of there."

Setting her up to see how clever she was, I went on...

"That candle does not belong in the Nativity," I goaded, waiting for her to refute me with the reminder that Christmas is indeed the birthday of Jesus.

"Yes it does," she said as she took the bait.

"Oh yeah? Why?"

"I put that candle in the stable because Jesus is number one!"

And so every year, that polka-dotted candle takes its place in the stable behind the Baby Jesus to help us remember that whether the gifts are bought, the cookies are baked, the cards are sent, what really matters is that Jesus is, indeed, #1.

Originally posted on December 24, 2008.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Santa brought you what?

Every year at our house, Santa leaves a box of bandaids in each kid's stocking. Not plain, boring bandaids. I'm talking fun ones -- Batman, Spongebob, Hello Kitty, etc. It's a fun and inexpensive tradition and I'm pretty sure Santa will be bringing bandaids until the kids move out and take their stockings with them.

Ours is not the only house where quirky stuff is left under the tree. I know one mom who doesn't allow her kids to eat what she calls "crappy" cereal. But each year at Christmas, she buys every kid their own box of crappy cereal, wraps it up and puts it under the tree. She said it's one of their favorite gifts.

Then last week at the bookstore where I was working, a teenager came in with her mom. We got to talking about fun and silly presents. The daughter said, "My mom is totally a weird gift giver." It turns out that she wasn't kidding. The mom -- who has three daughters -- only buys generic feminine hygiene supplies for herself and her girls. So, you guessed it, at Christmas she buys the good stuff (Tampax, if you must know), wraps it up and puts it under the tree!

What unusual stuff does Santa leave at your house?

Christmas reprise: O come let us adore Him

Another post from back when the only people who read my blog were my mother and amphibian lovers who accidentally found it via a Google search.

One of my favorite parts of decorating for Christmas is unpacking and displaying my Nativity collection. It started when we got married and someone gave us the Fontanini collection Holy Family. Since then, we've added a new piece every year or two to that set.

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And I've added other Nativities to the collection. I love having Nativity sets around as a reminder of the reason for the season. And because the collection gets packed away in January every year, I don't have to continually dust it, which is definitely a bonus.

Since this is my blog and I can do what I want to, I thought I'd share with you some of my favorites from the collection...

There's the Peruvian Nativity:

Peruvian nativity

the George Carruth stone-carved Nativity from my friend Claire:

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the fireplace Nativity screen I bought as a gift to myself for my 35th birthday:

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the "Rita" Nativity, a collection handbuilt by artist Rita Jackson and given to me by Mike's grandmother:

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though several of the pieces are broken and are waiting for me to fix them with Mighty Putty.

And of course the Fisher Price Nativity. Though in our version, Joseph has gone to the local watering hole with a shepherd and a couple of wise men, leaving Mary to look after the Savior of the World and a bunch of animals by herself:

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There are more, but I didn't have the energy to unpack them all this year. I'll be scouring the after Christmas sales for my next favorite and maybe next year I'll put them all out.

What is your favorite part of Christmas decorating?

Originally posted December 23, 2008.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas reprise: 'Twas the night before Christmas and I'm all out of breath

In these final days before Christmas, I thought I'd re-post a few of my past Christmas season posts for you to enjoy.

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house 
the Mommy was blogging with the click of the mouse. 

The stockings were filled, busting the seams 
the tree bore the fruits of holiday dreams. 

The Daddy was futzing with a last minute gift 
and poor Mommy's eyelids needed a lift. 

Mommy in her jammies about to log off for the night, 
when a noise upstairs caused her feet to take flight. 

The stumble of footsteps above was the sound 
and Mommy ran straight up the stairs in a bound. 

The wee one who sleeps like his Mom -- or does not, 
was standing there peering down at the lot. 

Mommy raced up the stairs, body blocking the view 
before the young boy could see one stocking shoe. 

"Oh honey, c'mon we must be in bed, 
or Santa won't find us," to the bedroom she led.
 
Together they fell into bed very quick, 
Mommy breathing so heavily she thought she'd be sick. 

Huffing and puffing she thought to herself, 
"I should have left those cookies alone on the shelf." 

"And the ice cream and candy, the burgers and fries. 
It's just that it looks so good in my eyes." 

The young little lad fell quickly to sleep,
while Mommy gained breath -- just enough for a peep.
"Dear Santa, one favor -- just one wish more
I'd like to lose some pounds, maybe one hundred and four."

And so in the morning when Mommy arises 
she'll run to the mirror to see her transformed thighs-es. 

And if the reflection shows a figure robust, 
well dear old Santa, he won't be cussed. 

Because Mommy knows that Santa may not grant a wish so airy. 
So next year she'll ask the Hanukkah Fairy.

Hanukkah Fairy

Originally posted December 25, 2008.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

He gets it

Yesterday, Annie was at the kitchen table singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." She got to the part that says "Christ is born in Bethlehem," -- go ahead, sing it to yourself so you can hear it -- and Robbie, who was on the floor painting a snake habitat (don't ask), suddenly became indignant.

"Annie! Don't say that!"

"What did I say?," asked Annie, perplexed by what could be wrong with the words of a Christmas carol.

"Bethlehem is NOT boring," Robbie schooled her. "Bethlehem is AWESOME!"

Giggling a little at what her brother misheard, Annie asked, "Why is Bethlehem awesome?"

"Because of JESUS!," Robbie hollered back in a "duh, don't you know anything" sort of voice.

He may need his ears cleaned out, but the boy gets it. Word to the Savior.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Are you ready?

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Christmas is just seven days away. The question we ask each other at this time in the season is "are you ready?"

I wrapped gifts yesterday.

I still have several things to purchase.

Cookies have been baked, and eaten, and are waiting to be baked again.

I haven't begun to think about Christmas cards (and judging by the emptiness of my Christmas card basket, a lot of people are in the same boat).

But those things don't begin to answer the question "am I ready?" That realization came to me as I posted the question on the 4th Frog Facebook page.

We tell our children that Christmas isn't about getting presents. Christmas is about the greatest gift of all -- the birth of Jesus. We remind them that we are called to help those less fortunate; we take tags off the Giving Tree at church to fill their Christmas  wishes.

Are those the things that prepare us for Christmas? For me, those things often become just another "to do" to be checked off my master list. Here we are, a week before the holiday and I have so much to do to get my heart ready for Christmas.

For me, Christmas readiness will really begin with some quiet time. Not hours of it, but perhaps a few minutes each day where I can reflect on the true gift of Christmas. My preparation will be helped by thinking, as our priest suggested we do last week, about my heart, my home, my workplace as an empty manger. How am I preparing those places to receive Jesus?

When I am impatient in the line at the store, that is not necessarily lining the manger with softness.

When I dismiss the kids' request to sit with them and watch a Christmas movie because I have too many other things to do, I'm leaving the creche open to drafts and chill rather than creating a place of embracing warmth.

When I allow myself to become overwhelmed with the "to do's" and checklists, I am missing the opportunity to use my heart as a blanket in which to receive the infant Jesus and all that his birth promises.

In that light, the answer to the question "are you ready" takes on a whole different significance.

Friday, December 17, 2010

From munchies to frags


Eight days before Christmas seems like the perfect time to de-frag. Thanks to Mrs. 4444s for hosting Friday Fragments.

The thing most pressing on my mind right now is actually pressing on my esophagus. Holy acid reflux, Batman! I didn't take my Nexium -- make that generic omeprazole -- this morning and boy am I hurting now.

Thanks for all your prayers/positive thoughts for Robbie's dental surgery yesterday. My sister and sister-in-law didn't realize he was having oral surgery until they saw it online. Guess that's because there's an element of "my kid's teeth are rotting and I'm an awful parent" that I just didn't feel like calling everyone to share.

All went very well. They didn't have the IV clotting factor he was supposed to get, so the hematologist ordered a nasal spray instead. Woohoo! Saved him from having the IV poke and infusion. The clotting factor makes him flushed in the face and kind of hyper. Mike and I were laughing at how wound up he was after the spray. When it was go time, he walked down the hall into the OR with the nurse like it was no big deal. Of course, he wasn't quite as happy 2 hours later -- 4 fillings, 3 extractions, 2 silver crowns. The only thing missing was a partridge in a pear tree. I kept him home from school today (Thursday), but he'll be good to go tomorrow.

I'm finding there is benefit to putting off Christmas shopping until late -- Amazon.com is having some BIG discounts. Some of what I'm finding will go into hiding for birthday gifts later.

We still have to go see Santa, which we'll do on Saturday. Our options are bowling with Santa, Christmas at the farm or the Indiana State Museum. Robbie would vote for bowling with Santa, but I'm thinking Christmas at the farm sounds so festive. Of course, I might feel differently when my bones are so cold from being outside that I can't actually feel anything.

I am absolutely thankful for my job, but I so wish I didn't have work next week. The kids are on Christmas break and will be home all day, every day next week...hmmm...on second thought, I'm so lucky I get to go to work next week!

'Tis the season for great movies in the theater. It's been a while since I've seen one -- The Social Network -- was the last one. Little Fockers is on my list. Not sure what else is coming out in the next few weeks. What do you plan to go see?

Off to do something about this heartburn...Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mid-week munchies

So Tuesday night might not exactly be mid-week, but since most of you won't read this until Wednesday and since it's my blog, I'm going with it. Several small bits for you to munch on...
  • Robbie is having dental surgery tomorrow morning -- three teeth pulled, five fillings, several silver caps on the rear lower molars. It's a combination of tooth grinding, sensory issues that made tooth brushing a losing battle, and probably weak parenting. Because he has a clotting disorder (his blood doesn't clot very quickly), he'll start in the hematology clinic for a clotting factor infusion, then head to the OR for the 2-hour operation. Your prayers are appreciated.

  • I think this is the latest into the Christmas season that I've ever still had shopping to do. I'm trying to pay for it all with money from my seasonal job, so I'm doing just a little bit each week. I'm hoping one benefit will be big mark-downs when I go to wrap up the last bits next week.

  • We had our office Christmas party on Monday. I gave The Daily Mood flipchart. I wish I could have kept it for myself! But I was quite happy with the McAlister's Deli gift card and Life is Good fuzzy socks that I took home.

  • I love Netflix. Really, I do. But I have two suggestions for those Netflix people. 1. Add a category called "Holiday Movies" to make them easier to find. 2. Make more of the Christmas movies available on instant download. Having said that, Robbie and I watched the Veggie Tales "St. Nicholas" movie the other day. It was surprisingly enjoyable.

  • Charlie and I have been reading The Family Under the Bridge. I bought it three years ago and its been sitting on the bookshelf ever since. It's a sweet story about a hobo in Paris who takes 3 homeless children and their mother under his wing. I can't tell you anymore about it because we're only on chapter 3. But it's been really fun to see how much Charlie (who is not a big reader) is enjoying this story.
Hope this mid-week finds you happy, healthy and WARM (It's literally 2 degrees here as I type this!). I'll update about Robbie's surgery on the 4th Frog Facebook page tomorrow.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

324.5 reasons to pay attention

I've mentioned that we dropped our cable television service last fall in an effort to reign in our family budget. Since, then, however, our AT&T bill really hasn't seemed that much lower. Last month, it came in at over $400! That includes the home phone, three cell phones (two of which are iPhones with data plans), and home internet.

I've mentioned to Mike that we really need to do something because even without the cable, the bill is still outrageous. He reasoned that for all the services we're using, it was probably about right. Still, I thought there has to be a way we can lower this expense. So the other day, I went to the AT&T website and printed out the entire bill.

Now, I realize that most sane and responsible people probably do this on a monthly basis. However, I'm willing to bet that there are plenty of people like us who have the bill sent to their e-mail and have it set up to auto-pay online. Anyhow, I printed the bill and sat down with it, hoping to find a solution to this money-sucking problem.

I looked at the number of minutes we're buying on our cell phones each month. There's some room for cutting back there, as we have plenty of rollover minutes, which will expire on December 31. Unlimited texting, which is pretty much a must for someone living in a house with a teen who has a cell phone.

The charges for my cell phone line were pretty much what I expected. $9.99 for the phone service, $30 for the data plan. No other charges associated with my line. Then I moved on to Annie's cell phone line.

The first charge I see is "AT&T Navigator, $9.99." I don't even know what that is.

Then, the real epiphany began. "Personal Psychic, $2.13." What the blue blazes?! A personal psychic? Oh, and it wasn't just one encounter with this psychic. I counted. In November alone there were 48 charges to the personal psychic at $2.13 a pop!

My first call was to Mike, who was picking the kids up from school. "You are not going to believe this," I told him. He got the fun of talking to Annie about it. Then I called AT&T to see how this happened.

The woman on the other end of the phone -- Tina was her name -- is a mom like me. When I told her what I'd found, she said "Oh no...she didn't..." followed by "oh yes...she did!" as Tina went through the phone records. I told her that I was pretty certain that Annie didn't realize that she was being charged for this "service." I assumed it was something she'd clicked to see and then was roped into some daily recurring thing.

After looking at the account, Tina found that the psychic thing is a text service and that the charges happen when you text them. So my lovely daughter was deliberately consulting a "psychic." Tina also told me that AT&T Navigator I'd seen was a GPS subscription that cost $10/month and that Annie had signed up for that in July! Plus, there was some quiz alert service -- another $10/month -- that she had just signed up for in November.

Trying to figure out how much Annie was going to owe us to cover the cost of all this mess, I asked Tina if she could look up how many psychic consultations there were. Because each one was a separate charge, she said it would take a little while to do. So while her computer was churning that, Tina set up a purchase blocker on Annie's phone line which will not allow her to do anything that will incur a charge. Novel idea, huh? I wish the guy at Best Buy who set up the account for us would have clued me into that one.

In the meantime, I got a text from Annie that said, "I talked to Dad and gave him $200. I didn't know they were charging me and I canceled my psychic account."

Ninety minutes later (yep, 90), I was still on the phone with AT&T. Tina said that she was going to have to finish up the process the next day and would call me back to let me know the grand total. 

And that, my friends, is where I got the title of today's post. Three hundred twenty-four and half reasons to pay attention to what your kids are doing and to your phone bill -- that's one reason for every dollar in charges Annie racked up.

Now before you pass out from the shock, which is what I almost did, there is a happy ending to this story. That wonderful Tina from AT&T credited our account for all $324.50. I'm not sure why she did it. Maybe it's because Annie is a minor. Maybe it's because for every one customer like me who complains, there are 10 others who grumble about their bill, but pay it anyway without looking to see what is being added to their account. Whatever the reason, I am grateful...and wiser.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pop Art

You all know that I am a Diet Coke girl through and through. But these Pepsi-brand displays at the grocery store near my house do make me smile. The guys at the bank told me the store manager designs the display, then the Pepsi guys come and build it out of 12-pack cases.

There's no mistake this Santa is watching:

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Now that's talking turkey:
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I thought I'd snapped a picture of other ones, but I can't find them. I think there was a jack-o-lantern and maybe an Easter bunny. Hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Not my story to tell

There is a post that I've had rolling around my head for a few weeks. It concerns my mother-in-law and her physical condition, which is declining and terminal.

I want to talk about how difficult it is to watch her slip away physically and how unfair it is that mentally she is absolutely aware of all the ways that her body is betraying her. I want to share about the dedication of my father-in-law as her life's partner and her caregiver.

But my in-laws are fairly private people. I'm pretty sure they would not share details about their lives to the extent that I've shared about mine on this blog. And so I hesitate to write the post I really want to write because it's just not my story to tell. 

There is an offshoot of this situation that is mine, however. I can share my unease at how to support my husband in this transition, this long good-bye to his mom. I can confess that I have miserably failed at sending my mother-in-law cards and pictures of the kids and artwork that they've made. I can attempt to earn some redemption by revealing that I do call her, two to three times a week to give her a glimpse of her grandchildren's lives.

I know that plenty of times in the past 17 years of my marriage, my mother-in-law has been the cause of many an eye roll, an impatient toe tap, a passing of the phone as it's ringing because "it's YOUR mother." But I can count just as many times that she has been the source of laughter and joy and relief. She once came for a visit and a paid by the pound to have the dry cleaner do all the laundry I was behind on. (We're talking several trash bags full of clothes!)

I can look back objectively and see how she has supported me in my role as wife and mother, how she has only wanted to the best for us and done what she could to help bring that about. I can even look at myself and see that in many ways, she and I are very similar (though I am considerably less busty).

At 40 years old, I still have three grandparents living. It seems absolutely unfair that my children will lose one of theirs before Charlie and Robbie even reach their teen years. So, while the story of my mother-in-law's illness is not mine to tell, the story of her life is...and will be so that my kids are always aware of what a remarkable woman their GoGo is.

Thanks to Shell at Things I Can't Say 
for giving me space to share what I can't say.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

As seen on TV under the tree

'Tis the season for all those crazy commercials hawking various and sundry useless and overpriced items. But they can't all be useless and overpriced, can they? Santa, if you're watching (and I know you are!), here are a few "as seen on TV" products I wouldn't mind finding under my Christmas tree this year:

  1. Chia Herb Garden -- Maybe I'd be inspired to cook?
  2. The Perfect Brownie Pan -- Edge pieces in every bite.
  3. The Clapper -- for Annie's room. She is forever leaving her lamp on.
  4. Foot Detox Patches -- in the so gross it's intriguing category
  5. Bendaroos -- Have you have played with those things? They are fun!
  6. Magic Bullet -- Sure, I'll be cursing it's million pieces to put away, but at least I'll be enjoying homemade salsa while I'm doing it.
What "As Seen on TV" product would you secretly love to find under your Christmas tree this year?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas presence

Last week I drove 300+ miles to Cleveland, Ohio to go Christmas shopping at Target, JC Penney, Sears, and Bed Bath & Beyond -- all stores that I could drive to before 2 songs pass on the radio at home.

Mike pointed out that fact when I called him from my Aunt Susie and Uncle Howie's house to update him on my progress on the annual Christmas shopping trip with my mom and her sisters in my Aunt Susie's town of Strongsville, Ohio.


I'm guessing this tradition started about 25 years ago as a way to help my NaNa shop for the kids, grandkids and eventually the great grands. Since NaNa passed away three years ago, my PaPa goes instead. Anyone who has graduated from high school or who is not walking yet is welcome to come.

We figured the most number of people who've ever been on the trip is 11. That must have been NaNa; my mom; aunts Connie, Susie, Bonni; me, my sisters Angie & Shelley; and my cousins Teresa and Tina. I'm still one short, but I'm not sure who I'm missing. Anyway, this year was a pretty small group. Aunt Susie, Uncle Howie, PaPa, my mom and I. (I should note that Howie is always there, but he tries to avoid most of the shopping part). My Aunt Connie is undergoing chemo and didn't feel up to the trip and Aunt Bonni couldn't get the time off work.

When I heard that the group was going to be so small this year, I gave some thought to not going. I wasn't planning to buy that much anyway. Up until about an hour or so before I was supposed to leave, I was still debating whether or not to go. I'm so glad I did.

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I drove to my folks' house in Dayton, Ohio on Wednesday night. I stayed up too late talking to my mom, as usual. Then in the morning, she and I headed to pick up PaPa. When we arrived at his house around 9am, he was waiting -- with Schuler's chocolate bismarck donuts! This is definitely part of the tradition.

In the first five minutes at PaPa's house, I was so happy that I decided to come on the trip. I felt overwhelmingly grateful to be there with my 86-year-old grandfather who is the sweetest person I know. I got teary just feeling my heart swell up with love for him, though some of those tears were also for how much being with PaPa made me miss my NaNa.

The time away also gave me a chance to spend time with my mom, which I don't get to do often enough, and my Aunt Susie and Uncle Howie. They came to Indianapolis for my 40th birthday party in August, but with so many people there I didn't have much time to spend visiting with them.

So yes, I did drive more than 600 miles (roundtrip) to go to stores I could have reached in about 5 minutes. But this trip was not just about buying Christmas presents. It was really about savoring Christmas presence.

Who would you like to give some Christmas presence to? Can you make that happen?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fa la la la la la Friday Fragments

Mommy's Idea

Today's Friday Fragments (graciously hosted by Mrs. 4444s) are brought to you from the retail mecca that is Strongsville, Ohio. That can only mean one thing. It's time for the annual shopping trip with my mom, my Aunt Susie and my PaPa. We're a small group this year. Only 4 of us -- and my Uncle Howie, who uncharacteristically stuck around the the mall with us through both JC Penney's and Sears, though he did have a few things to say when my mom went back to the children's department at Penney's for the third time. I'll have more to say about the trip later, but you can read some of the updates about the trip on the 4th Frog Facebook page.

Do you have a Christmas Fairy? I do -- and it's wonderful! When I came home from working a shift at a friend's store last Sunday, Annie was out in the front yard putting lights in the bushes. I went inside to find that she had hauled the Christmas tree (sadly artificial because Charlie is allergic to pretty much every tree on earth) and put it up in the family room. Mike and I had tickets to the Colts game (thanks Mark & Shannon!) and when we returned, the tree was decorated, the stockings were hung, and the nativities were in place. Thank you Christmas Fairy!

Speaking of holiday fairies, I just came across this underappreciated oldie!

I told the kids after church last week to pick a couple of tags off the Giving Tree. Charlie, bless his heart, picked the tag of an 11-year-old boy. I was happy to see that he had chosen someone like himself (at least in gender and age). Then I looked at the wish. VIDEO GAME. Crud. That's all it said. No system identified, such as Wii or Playstation, though the odds are that this child doesn't have either, and I can't buy them one. I considered one of those plug and play games, but that assumes there is a compatible TV in house and I'm not sure that's a safe assumption. So Charlie and I went to look at some of the inexpensive handheld games at Target. Unfortunately, most of those were casino or poker themed. "Here little boy, let me help you start a gambling habit..." So I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I can't afford to go buy this kid a DS, but I also don't want him to be disappointed. I considered re-hanging the tag on the tree, but it's a little late now. I'm sure I'll figure something out, but I am open to suggestions.

The boys are going to be in the Christmas pageant at church this year. Robbie wants to be the baby Jesus. This could be interesting...

Since my insomnia has worn off, I'm headed back to bed -- click here for a post I recently wrote for Fit City on the importance of sleep. In the meantime, 'tis the season for festive fragments. Find more here. Then check out other great finds at Design it Chic for Boost My Blog Friday:

BoostMyBlogFriday

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The verbose spam mystery

When I logged into write a post today, I saw that I had a few comments to be moderated. Generally, comments to my blog automatically appear, but if they are on a post that was written a while ago, they're saved for my review and approval.

Most comments that are on old posts are spam. I mark them as such and forget about them. But the one awaiting me today really got me thinking. It was on the Office Bathroom Etiquette post (one of my most viewed).

This was the comment:

I give birth to read a insufficient of the articles on your website trendy, and I extremely like your fashionableness of blogging. I added it to my favorites net stage muster and last will and testament be checking stand behind soon. Please check out my position as highly and vindicate me conscious what you think. Thanks. 

Huh? I'm used to the spammers who say stuff like "Nice blog you have here. I like to read such themes and everything connected with it. By the way Viagra cheap!"

But wordy verse makes absolutely no sense. First of all, the words "trendy" and "fashionableness" are not frequently associated with me. That's when I got to thinking that maybe it was military or drug cartel secret hidden in the comment section of my blog. Like the real message is in every 5th word or something:

I give birth to read a insufficient of the articles on your website trendy, and I extremely like your fashionableness of blogging. I added it to my favorites net stage muster and last will and testament be checking stand behind soon. Please check out my position as highly and vindicate me conscious what you think. Thanks.


Well, or something like that. Or maybe the message was intended to be read backwards. "Think you what conscious me vindicate and highly as position my..." 

That's not it either.  I don't really know what it's supposed to say because of course the comment came from Anonymous. I wish I did know, though, because if I really have been added to his/her last will and testament, I'd like to be contacted at the time of his/her passing -- especially if there is lots of money or jewelry involved. 


So, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, if you really are some wealthy benefactor who thinks my blog is trendy and full of fashionableness, please visit again soon. If you're a terrorist or mobster or some other thug, I've given your message more than its fair share of spotlight. Don't bother coming back. Your next comment won't see the light of day.


The rest of you lovely readers? Comment at will!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Losing my resolve

I decided several weeks ago that I was not going to go Black Friday shopping this year. This is a definite deviation from the norm for me. I always participate in the madness that is Black Friday. I go for the deals and for the social experience -- the thrill of the hunt.

But this year, I'd looked at several of the sneak peek Black Friday ads online and just didn't see anything that I had to have...or at least that I was willing to lose good sleep over. I consulted my Christmas spreadsheet and realized that there wasn't much on there that matched up with the big sales. So I decided to forgo Black Friday shopping; and I was quite content with my decision.

Then someone shared with me the link to one of Target's funny Black Friday how-to videos. That's when I began to feel like everybody who's anybody is going to be at the stores at o'dark a.m. A trip to Target for groceries on Wednesday night only made my Black Friday juices flow even more. They were prepping the store for the big sale -- large spaces had been cleared and pallets of mystery items stood concealed in boxes waiting for their big Friday morning reveal.

Deep breath, Amy. It's not a bargain if you don't need it. Do not get caught up in the madness. Enjoy the slow pace of family time.

The self-talk worked. When I looked at the Target ad this morning -- I'd seen it online already but there's something different about holding it in your hands -- I was largely untempted. I should have stopped there. But no...I had to go on to the Kohl's ad. Holy cow! Those Kohl's people have some amazing discounts happening. And they open at 3am! And KMart has a great deal on a trampoline with enclosure. The kids would love one of those.

Slow breathing...consult the spreadsheet...right, nothing on my list that I have to find at Kohl's. Let alone at 3am. Although, Toys 'R Us is opening in just a few minutes. And Meijer has been open all day.

Stop it! Resist the urge. Call a sponsor. Go to a meeting.

Ok, ok. I can do this. I can enjoy Black Friday as a family day. I will not go to a store in search of unbelievable deals. Although, I did see something in the Walgreens ad and a drugstore doesn't really count, does it?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

9 rotten things I'm thankful for

  1. Rush hour traffic -- Thank you, God, that I have a job to go to and a car to get myself there and back.
  2. Extra weight -- Thank you, God, that I am not one of those many who go hungry.
  3. Insomnia -- Thank you, God, for the quiet spaces that I find, even when they are at 4am.
  4. Long lines at the grocery store -- Thank you, God, for the blessing of being able to feed my family.
  5. Road construction -- Thank you, God, for paved roads instead of rocky, rutty paths and for jobs for all those people who work on them.
  6. Notes from the teacher -- I long ago discovered that an e-mail from the teacher with just your child's name in the subject line is almost never good news. But thank you, God, my children have teachers who care about their success.
  7. Mountains of laundry -- Thank you, God, that we have clothes to wear and a washer/dryer at home.
  8. That time of the month -- Thank you, God, for the amazing workings of my body.
  9. Bills -- Thank you God, for electricity and heat, wireless internet and modern medicine.
What rotten things are you thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    The blog posts that weren't

    I've spent too much time tonight trying to decide what to blog about. Here are the topics that didn't make the cut:
    1. Movies to fold laundry by. Been there, blogged that.
    2. As seen on TV products I'd like to own
    3. Black Friday black out -- no crazy shopping for me this year.
    4. On being a boy Mom
    5. Hanging on for dear life -- A video I shot from my office today of squirrels in a tree. This one might appear later.
    If you blog, feel free to borrow one of these ideas. Got any other brilliant blog topics you'd like to read here? I'm all ears!

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Seasons of love


    525,600 minutes in a year. That means as of tomorrow, my grandparents will have been married for 34,187,040 minutes (if I accounted for the leap years correctly).

    To save you from having whip out your calculators or engage in mental math, that is 65 years.

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    SIXTY-FIVE YEARS!

    13 children. More than 30 grandchildren (I've lost count). Who knows how many great-grandchildren, but probably more than 2 dozen.

    I asked them at their celebration last night what the secret to 65 years of marriage is. My grandpa said "Lots of love." My grandma said "I fed him lots of good food."

    I'm pretty sure both responses are resounding truth.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Bucket filler

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    At the beginning of each school year, the kids' school reads a book about being a bucket filler -- being helpful and kind, essentially filling someone else's bucket. The converse is being a bucket dipper, definitely frowned upon.

    To encourage bucket filling behaviors, teachers and staff can "catch" students in acts of helpfulness and issue them an orange "bucket filler" slip of paper. The student then gets to take the paper to the school office, where they are thanked for their behavior and the paper is put into a bucket where all the records of kindness for that week are kept. Then on Fridays, four or five names are drawn from the office's bucket and those students are recognized after Mass.

    Robbie has been obsessed with bucket fillers. For several weeks, he's come home from school and said something along these lines:

    "Mom, I let Ty in front of me in the lunch line today. Was that a bucket filler?" 

    "Mom, Hannah dropped her crayons today and I helped her pick them up. Was that a bucket filler?"

    Then I explain to him that you don't have get the orange slip of paper for something to be a bucket filler, that if you do something that makes someone else feel good and you probably feel good about helping, that's indeed a bucket filler. But he was waiting for the paper.

    The wait was over yesterday. Robbie got a bucket filler slip for helping a friend who dropped something. He was so excited. So today, I went to school for Mass and to see if he would be one of those recognized after Mass. 

    OK -- really, I went to the office to see if I could ensure that his name would be called at Mass because I knew how much it would mean to him. But when I got there, the names had already been drawn and his was one of them (I think maybe his teacher had something to do with that.), so it was legit.

    After Mass was over, the student council president (an 8th grade boy who was filling in for the principal),  began announcing the bucket filler honorees. The first student came forward, shook the student council president's hand, and accepted a small charm. Then Robbie's name was called. 

    I watched as he jumped up as though he'd just been called to come on down to Contestant's Row on The Price is Right. He ran down the aisle to the front of the church, where the student council president stood waiting to shake his hand. Instead, Robbie ran right up to him, wrapped his arms around the kid's waist and gave him a big, joyful hug. 

    I know I'm biased and all, but it was so cute! In fact, it went a long way to fill my bucket today.

    Facebook, I thought we were friends


    I love Facebook -- probably a little too much. But it's been such a great way for me to keep connected to my brothers and sisters, my bazillion cousins, friends I used to hang out at Mom's group with (before we got too busy being moms that we don't have time to see each other), old high school friends and 500+ other people that I've felt a need to be connected to. What can I say? I'm a social creature.

    And probably like most Facebook users, I click those links to find out which Harry Potter character I am, what color my personality is, and tonight, who has deleted me as a friend. Turns out that last one was spam. I figured that out once it took me to some page that wanted me to complete a survey before it would show me my results. I didn't take the survey and clicked out of the app. But by then, I'd already given it permission to access my information, make posts to my wall and who knows what else.

    Fast forward to a few hours later, after I woke up from my evening nap, and I realized that the stupid app had posted the spammy link on my personal page, on the 4th Frog page and on the page I manage for work. I clicked delete on those posts, but knew I needed to go in and remove the entire application.

    This is where I started feeling icky about Facebook. Let me be clear, it's not Facebook's fault. I (half) read  those agreements about allowing access to my profile, my high school SAT scores, and my last performance review when I clicked on "how much do you know about Spongebob Squarepants" and "which Glee character would you mash up best with" and others. What I didn't realize -- or at least pay attention to -- is that fact that long after I clicked "allow" on those applications, they would live on in my Facebook account and had my permission to access my information.

    When I went in to my account privacy settings to delete the "who deleted you" app, I saw the list of all those stupid quizzes I've taken. There were actually fewer than I would have expected. What was really unsettling, though, were the apps that had accessed my information and data long after I figured out that my personality is green and I'm Ron Weasley. I could also see that some of the apps, like my favorites Scrabble and "God Wants You to Know," had never accessed my data.

    So I removed about 30 apps I'd previously granted access to, ignored requests for 40 more, and changed my Facebook password for good measure. I'm still a fan of Facebook. But I'm also a more cautious and more aware one as well.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Aw, potatoes!

    The last time I went to the grocery store, I was on a mission. I had a set amount of cash in my wallet and I didn't want to spend more than that amount. So I took out my trusty iPhone (calculator included) and started adding up my total as I dropped things into the cart.

    Boy, it's amazing how much more I think about things like fruit snacks and tortilla chips when I'm shopping that way. Anyway...I made my way to the produce section. There was a big bag of potatoes -- 5 or 10lbs., I can't remember which, for some ridiculously low price. $2 or so, I think.

    I thought "Potatoes. Inexpensive. Versatile. Chock full o' vitamins." and slung the bag into the cart.

    Last night I opened the bag to make oven baked fries to go with our dinner. I was feeling triumphantly Martha Stewart in a frugal sort of way. I even got out my fancy Pampered Chef wavy slicer thing (I'm sure it has a more sophisticated name) and cut the potatoes with that.

    I placed the slices on my Pampered Chef baking stone, sprinkled them with salt, popped them into the oven and...

    VOILA!
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    I am SO hiring a personal chef when I win the lottery! And now what am I going to do with the other 9-1/2 pounds of potatoes?

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    It's all my mom's fault

    Last week I broke a tooth -- or broke off a filling that was on the tooth, I'm not quite sure which -- and it's all my mom's fault.

    I broke the tooth when I was chewing on ice.

    I was chewing on ice because I'm anemic.

    I'm anemic because I take Nexium, which inhibits iron absorption.

    I take Nexium for esophagus-searing acid reflux. Seriously, I'd give up the internet before I gave up my Nexium.

    I get my esophagus-searing acid reflux from my mother. Not that she gives me heartburn. I mean that her genes cursed my esophagus. My brother's too.

    And that is why it's my mother's fault that I broke my tooth.

    Unless you want to argue it's bad teeth. Those are my dad's fault.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    In my best Oprah voice...

    it's time for Fridaaaay FraaaghMENTS!

    Mommy's Idea


    This week has just zipped by. I much prefer that to those weeks where Tuesday feels like it should be Friday.


    Now that I've got my hair squared away, I'm thinking of giving my blog a makeover. It's had the same look for about 2 years. Well, my froggy does get a hat and scarf in the winter time. But I'm thinking maybe something to freshen up the place a bit. What do you think? Got any good ideas?

    I had the opportunity to interview for a new job at work recently. It would have been full-time (I work 3/4 time now.) There were a lot of good reasons to go for it. But in the end, I decided that now is just not the time. While Annie is pretty independent, the boys still need a lot of guidance and hand-holding when it comes to after school and homework. So I declined the interview, though the extra money would have been handy. Since then, Mike has been approached about a new freelance opportunity and I had one drop in my lap today. Together, these won't make up what I could have earned by going full-time, but I do feel like these opportunities are validation that I made the right decision and the patience and family focus is paying off.

    This internet stuff can just get you sucked in, can't it? But I have to think that anyone with internet access probably never pays full price for anything ever again. I've been doing the Swagbucks thing for a while and have earned about $150 worth of credit at Amazon. Then I became familiar with Groupon, which offers great deals on restaurants, spa services, museum and recreation admissions, etc. Some of the deals are city-specific, others are web-based deals. Now there's Eversave. Very similar to Groupon, but with deals that seem to be a bit more eclectic. My best Eversave deal so far? $19 for a mani-pedi at a local salon. Even better, I got it free because someone I referred to Eversave made a purchase. Woohoo! 

    I'm going holiday bazaaring with my mom and sister on Saturday. It's become our own little tradition. (SMB -- are you sure you don't want to join us?). I don't usually buy much, but it's fun to browse and count how many times my mom picks up something, then whispers to me..."I could make that," even though we both know she won't.

    A Facebook friend of mine posted a picture of a skillet with white powdery stuff in it. Her 7 year old son tried to make pancakes and started by dumping the pancake mix right into the pan. That was funny. But what was REALLY funny was the story one of the guys who commented on it told about his son. He gave me permission to repeat it here:

    Try taking your 15 year old son to the DMV to get his learners permit. I have told him all along that he is responsible for having everything he needs to get this done. We show up to the DMV and get out of my truck to go in and he has NOTHING in his hands, no birth certificate, no SS card, no NOTHING... so I ask my young Generation 'next' genius if he brought anything with him as proof of i.d. and do you know what he said? He looked at me like I was the dumbest person ever thought of and said, and I freaking quote..."can't they just google me?"

    Hope you have a great weekend. Mine is quite full, but I'm hoping to find some time to reclaim my office space in the basement. I used to do all my work there when I used a desktop computer. With the laptop I can work from the couch, the bed, the kitchen table...and I do. But I'm not nearly as productive. So back to the basement and the laser-focused productivity...(as soon as I check Facebook...)!

    PS -- Popping back in because I forgot that I wanted to add a link to a post about the Veterans History Project. If you know and love a veteran, please check it out. What a great way to honor our U.S. veterans. 

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    7 + 1 = 10

    Some days I collapse into bed and think, "hopefully tomorrow will be better." In a few minutes, I'll climb under the covers and think, "hopefully tomorrow will be just as good as today."

    7 good things from my day:
    1. I didn't have to drive the kids to school, so I enjoyed and extra 20-30 minutes lounging around.
    2. I found a packet of instant oatmeal in my desk at work just as I was getting hungry for a snack.
    3. I had a really easy going conference about Robbie with his teacher, the resource director and the township school representatives. He's having a great year, which made this conference far better than previous ones.
    4. I had a long overdue lunch with a friend I've known for 11 years. We've been trying to get together for about two months and today we finally made it work. Plus, I was introduced to a great restaurant I'd never been to.
    5. No one complained about what I served for dinner. That alone could warrant its own blog post.
    6. Mike was contacted out of the blue about doing some freelance work that could bring in some nice extra money each month.
    7. Mike and I ditched a meeting tonight and opted for some family togetherness instead. We had fudgesicles and watched the movie "Annie."
    Seven good things in one day makes a perfect 10 in my book!

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Bang

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    Ahhh...much better. This morning I reached the limits of my patience with my hair. It was heavy and hanging in my eyes and just not working for me. That, plus the fact that my eyebrows looks liked wild caterpillars, was enough to move me from whining about my hair to doing something about it.

    PhotobucketI decided to take up the local Supercuts on the invitation they left in the comments on my hair rant. Just for good measure, I arrived wearing my signature binder clip, wondering if they would recognize me by the accessory. It turns out that Kim, one of the stylists recommended to me, hadn't seen my rant, so mostly she just thought I was a bit strange for sporting office supplies in my tresses.

    PhotobucketSitting in the chair, I told Kim what was frustrating me about my hair and she offered a few thoughts about what direction we could go in. She didn't dislike the longish bang look, but heard me about not loving it. I showed her a few pictures of me with bangs (like the one in my profile here) and she was ready to get to work. She was even a good sport when I asked if I could snap a pic of the two of us before we got started.

    I opted for the Supercut III -- a wash, cut and blow dry. First we tackled the eyebrows. Well, she did. I just closed my eyes and wondered if mine were the most overgrown set of brows she's seen in a while. Then it was on to the wash. After the shampoo and conditioner, Kim spent a few minutes massaging my scalp. I could have fallen asleep right there; it was so relaxing.

    After I sat back in the chair, Kim clipped up the back of my hair and took a quick swipe with the scissors. Then she said, "Are you ready for this?" Good move asking after she'd already made the first cut! I got a laugh about that.

    PhotobucketWe chatted about kids and Christmas shopping as Kim snipped away at my locks. She gently stacked the back and trimmed off the crazy, flippy, Carole Brady pieces under my ears. She took baby steps with the bangs and thinned out the heaviest parts with little stabs of the scissors.

    Then she took her time blowing it dry with a round brush -- which I assured her I would never do. She promised it wouldn't matter, that this simple and easy style was as wash and wear as I requested. But it's always nice to leave the salon with that coiffed look.

    PhotobucketOnce the cut and style was finished, she put a little waxy pomade on my bangs -- woo wee! I have bangs! -- and we both took a look at the final product. Kim even suggested that my hair would look cute even shorter.

    If Mike hadn't arrived and was waiting to have lunch I might have taken her up on it and told her to keep going. But I decided to live with the new cut for a while and save the shorter style for a day when I feel more up to facing my sisters who might disown me if I go short again.

    The best part came when it was time to pay -- my total for the wash, cut, style and eyebrow wax was just $31 (after a $2 off coupon that I got by signing up for the Supercuts e-mail list)!