There was an error in this gadget

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ideas for 3 a.m.

I know it seems hard to believe, but sometimes I find myself awake in the middle of the night. 3ish in the morning seems to be my favorite witching hour. So last night, while I was awake at 3:41am, I started thinking that maybe I should make a list of things that can be done in the wee hours of the morning.
  1. Pack lunches.
  2. Move the stuff in the washing machine to the dryer.
  3. Fold the stuff you just took out of the dryer.
  4. Blog.
  5. Bake chicken.
  6. Catch up on DVR'd episodes of "Chopped" and "Drop Dead Diva."
  7. Count how many hours of actual sleep you got and fret about how many more hours are left until you have to wake up -- again.
  8. E-mail your co-workers so they can be uber-impressed with the hour at which you were up working.
  9. Pray.
  10. Hang out on Facebook and see which of your friends are insomniacs, too.
  11. Play online Scrabble.
  12. Check your work e-mail and calendar to see if you can call in "exhausted."
  13. Catch up on your blog reading.
  14. Check the kids' backpacks that you forgot to go through before bedtime.
  15. Pay bills.
  16. Initiate an amorous encounter -- unless the reason why you're awake at 3am is that there are kids sleeping in your bed, which kind of automatically kills the mood.
It seems like I'm forgetting something. I know there is at least one more thing you can do at 3am...

Oh yeah. Sleep.

'Bout sums it up

Saturday night we had a party to celebrate my 40th birthday. Initially, I didn't want a party. Then I thought ok, maybe something simple. Then it got BIG. But in the end, it turned out just right: family, friends, food, fun...

I was so amazed at some of the people who came to help me properly acknowledge this milestone. My aunt and uncle drove all the way from Cleveland! There were friends I've known for years and people I've been more recently lucky to meet. It felt a little bit like a wedding, trying to get around and visit with everyone and make sure they were having a good time.

The party was one of those events that left me enjoying the memories of it even as I woke up the next morning. And as I thought about it, I realized it captured a big part of who I am in just 4 words:

Diet Coke: (My sisters collaborated to create this Diet Coke "cake" made of 40 cans of the good stuff!)

Photobucket

A few other folks know me too well, too...
Photobucket

Chocolate: (This was just one of the representations of chocolate. There was another chocolate cake, ChocoVine wine, brownies and an entire gift pack of chocolate!)

Photobucket

Scrabble: (How did I miss this at Target? I LOVE Scrabble and I'm at Target all the time. But somehow I did, which made this beach towel Scrabble game a super fun surprise!)

Photobucket

For the record, we said "no gifts." But they were sure fun to receive anyway! But honestly, the most fun was just watching who was coming through the door and spending the evening with people I love being around.

If you want the recipe for my sister-in-law's Italian beef, which we served as mini-sandwiches, click on over to my FB fan page. She's a really good cook (unlike some of us) and you're gonna love it!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rocking the RAKs

A little over a week ago, I invited you all to help me celebrate my 40th birthday by doing a random act of kindness for someone else. Let me just say that you did not disappoint! More than a dozen people wrote to tell me what they had done in honor of my birthday.

Now, let me say that I'm sure that some (probably most) of you would have done these nice things anyway. But if my "invitation" encouraged you a little bit, then I am happy. As I promised, I won't tell who did what -- this celebration was not about recognition. But I do want to let you know all the wonderful ways you helped me recognize this milestone birthday:
  • Made cupcakes with her daughter and delivered them, along with a balloon, to single women who live in their building
  • Made several phone calls/e-mails to connect someone caring for her father with assisted living resources when the caregiver indicated she was struggling to find the right situation
  • Anonymously delivered a cold drink to a loved one who was getting her hair done at a salon
  • Allowed 2 people to go in front of her at the store because she had a return and didn't want them to have to wait
  • Donated $40 to the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Mary in honor of my 40th birthday
  • Fixed an extra serving of the family dinner and took it to the single guy living next door
  • Gave an extra $1 to the shuttle attendant so someone could ride the State Fair shuttle for free
  • Helped the maintenance/cleaning woman clean out the apartment building's garbage chute
  • Sent a birthday card to a soldier
  • Donated $40 worth of food and supplies to the local humane society (she even got a thank you note for me. Check it out below.)
  • Sent a necklace with a message of hope to a friend's young niece who is battling leukemia
  • Invited two people to dinner at the last minute when their previous dinner invitation was canceled
  • Gave someone a free coffee at Dunkin Donuts
Photobucket

How wonderful is that?! Thanks to everyone who joined in to make this a fabulous birthday celebration. And thanks to Joy for Your Journey for the inspiration.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

TGI-S?

I had intended for this to be a fragmentous post, but it's already Saturday where I live. Maybe because it is still Friday for two more hours in some parts of the U.S., Mrs. 4444s will let me sneak this one in. In fact, that could be her random act of kindness.

Mommy's Idea

Speaking of which...I've extended the deadline for 4th Frog's Fab 40 Fest until Sunday. If you want to participate, please feel free. Let me know either via a comment here or on the Facebook page or e-mail me at 4thfrog70 (at) gmail (dot) com. I've got some great random acts to share with you. For those of you who are a bit shy about sharing what you've done, please know that on Sunday when I wrap up the Fab 40 Fest, I'll just list the acts, not the people who did them.

In other bits of randomness:
  • I am happy to report that it's been a great start to the school year. Robbie, especially, is doing particularly well. I've had several staff members at the school comment to me about how much he's matured. That feels good!
  • I think I broke my foot. Or I have gout. Or maybe a touch of hypochondria. But whatever it is, my foot hurts from the bottom of my big toe to about midway on the top of my foot. Not in an excruciating way, more in an annoying way.
  • Our cat Dungy is missing. We last saw him on Saturday morning. We've left food out for him, but he's not come back for it. Seeing as I always assume the worst, I think he might have become coyote food. But we haven't hung any "missing cat" signs yet, so maybe there's still hope? Or maybe he just decided the house wasn't big enough for both him and the dog?
  • Let's talk about stress and food. Do you feed your stress with Dunkin' Donuts, McD's french fries, Chipotle burritos, brownies, honey nut Cheerios, baked Cheetos and other junk? Or are you one of those "I can't eat b/c I'm stressed out" kind of people? Guess which one I am. I think I need to go on a carrot and ice water cleanse.
  • You know you have to click a link that promises to tell The Secret Life of Boobies. Go ahead, click it. It's safe.The worst that thing that could happen is that you might wet yourself laughing at Nancy C's description of a breastfeeding support group.
For my last TGI-S fragment, I'll leave you with this: Sometimes when I blow my nose, air leaks out my right eye. Is that weird? Does it happen to anyone else?

Have a terrific weekend, people!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

RAK anyone?

Last Saturday, which happened to be the 40th anniversary of the day I was born, I invited you all to help me celebrate by performing a random act of kindness in honor of the occasion and reporting back to me. I'm calling it 4th Frog's Fab 40 Fest.

I've heard from a few people who did things that ranged from small to big. One of them made a bit teary. One was absolutely heart-felt. And another was so simple, yet I know so appreciated. I heard from a lot of other people who said they loved the idea and definitely wanted to participate. So how's it coming on your end? (In case you're shy, when I share the RAKs that were done, I won't share names of who did it.)

As for me, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to do. And I have to admit that I'm not finding it so easy to commit a random act of kindness. It's not that I'm not nice to people, because I think that I am. But one thing I'm learning about myself through this is that maybe I'm not as other-centered as I should be. It seems that it's after I've pulled away from the drive-thru, after I've made it to my desk at work, after other opportunities have passed me by, that I think "Oh! I could have done that."

This eye toward myself has been something that I've kind of been feeling has been out of whack in my life for a while. I used to be the one who was constantly volunteering, always busy at church or with social groups, doing, doing, doing. But in the past several years, that's not been the case. I've become absorbed in my own life and haven't really sought out opportunities to look beyond myself.

Some of that is an occupational hazard for a mom of three kids who are busy with their own activities. Some of that is the result of having a job, where I didn't when the kids were younger. And some of it is the lack of effort on my part to see past my own family and my own circumstances.

The result of this focus on myself, my life, my trials and even my successes is that I think I'm not as patient, joyful, grateful, giving, happy as I could be.

So, I will do something to contribute to the Fab 40 Fest. But more importantly, I think this exercise has been a gift to myself -- the gift of realizing how internally focused I've been and much richer life can be if I just look past my own nose.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

untitled

Syrup is on the shirt, dripping off the table, sticking to the floor.
"I was just having a snack, Mom."

Week-old, old-school metal lunchbox is crunched beyond usability.
"I was trying to make it fit, Mom."

Dog is off and running, leash-free, through the neighborhood.
"I didn't mean to, Mom."

Possible titles for this post:
  • 7-year-old for sale
  • Lovable deep down
  • Where is the Margarita Fairy when you need her?
Got any other suggestions?

Some days

Some days, I want to come here and be funny and entertaining.
And some days I do.
But some days, even when I want to be funny, I can't find it.
Because some days my funny is buried under all the crappy.
Some days crappy feels like it's taking over.
Some days crappy kidnaps my thoughts and steals my breath.
Giving in to the crappy is called for some days.
Fighting back, making room for the happy & the funny, also happens some days.
Some days, I can't decide.
So maybe I'll do both.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

No kissing

Robbie and Annie have always been especially close. I like to think it's because they share a birthday. However, in recent weeks, he has had a short fuse when it comes to his sister. He doesn't want her to hug him. Saying he's cute is an offense worthy of severe punishment.

PhotobucketPersonal boundaries must have been on Robbie's mind tonight at church. He leaned over to me and asked me how to spell "kissing." I told him and watched as he started to write something on a piece of paper. Here was his finished product:

When I showed it to Annie, she -- of course -- leaned over and kissed him on the head. In retaliation, he reached up to my ear and whispered, "Tell Annie she is grounded from Justin Bieber for the rest of the day!"

This kid means business.

*******
Don't forget to join me in the 4th Frog Fab 40 Fest where you can help celebrate my birthday by helping someone else. Between now and Friday, do one random act of kindness for someone else and let me know about it. I'll share all my "gifts" in one wrap-up post. Get the details here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

4th Frog's Fab 40 Fest

Photobucket

I've been thinking about how to celebrate my 40th birthday for quite some time now. If you read my earlier post today, you've seen that I tried the blue hair thing. But that didn't feel quite right. I've contemplated getting a tattoo, but I'm not convinced that's the way to go either.

I think part of the reason I've had trouble deciding how to mark this occasion is that I'm not lamenting the loss of my youth. I don't mind being 40. Mostly, I'm in a mild state of disbelief that I could have reached this milestone already.

It wasn't until Momza directed me to the best 40th birthday party ever, that I figured out how I wanted to celebrate. And I need your help!

You are hereby officially invited to attend 4th Frog's Fab 40 Fest. Participating is easy...

Step 1: Wherever you are, wherever you live, work or play, I invite you to perform at least one random act of kindness in honor of my birthday. Involve your family if you wish. You can tell the recipient why you're doing it. Or you can just think a good thought for me while you're doing it anonymously. Complete your task between now and Friday Sunday, August 29.

For some ideas, read the best 40th birthday party link above or consider one of these:
  1. Pick up the tab for someone's lunch or parking garage ticket.
  2. Go to the local cemetery and tend to a grave that looks like it doesn't get much attention.
  3. Thank a soldier in uniform for his or her service.
  4. Write a letter to a soldier or a prison inmate.
  5. Smile and offer some help to a mom who looks like she's frazzled by her kids at the mall.
  6. Donate boxed or canned goods to the local food pantry.
  7. Leave bowls of wrapped candy or fresh fruit in the waiting room of the ICU at a nearby hospital.
  8. Stop by a nursing home and visit with someone who doesn't often get visitors.
  9. Drop a bag of groceries to someone standing on the street corner begging for food or money.
  10. Set aside some time to specifically pray for someone who is struggling or sick or in trouble, maybe someone you see on the news. 
Step 2: Come back to this post or go to the 4th Frog Fan Page on Facebook and tell us what you did. What was the reaction of the recipient? How did you feel? If you feel ok about it, take some photos of your RAK. Post them on the 4th Frog Facebook page or e-mail them to me at 4thfrog70 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Step 3: On Friday, August 27, I'll conclude the 4th Frog's Fab 40 Fest by sharing some of the wonderful stories and pictures you share with me.

Optional Step 4: Share this on your blog, FB page or Twitter account. Link back to this post. This is one party where there can't be too many guests!

I've gotten birthday greetings from more than 50 people on Facebook alone (and its only noon), plus multiple phone calls and IRL well wishes. Think about all the good that could be done if even 1/2 of those people were to join in 4th Frog's Fab 40 Fest! I hope you'll be one of them.

Blue and back

I said I would do it. On the occasion of my 40th birthday, I decided to color my hair blue. In the absence of a stylist willing to bleach my dark brown locks white and then dye them blue, I resorted to a can of blue hair spray.

Photobucket 

Annie told me I was sabotaging her social life. Robbie asked me if I could please take a shower because my hair was creepy. Charlie didn't appear to notice. Mike just laughed. 

I did it because I'm 40 and I can do what I want to. Which is also why I washed it out four hours later:

Photobucket

To be honest, I liked the color. But my hair was the consistency of straw, my head smelled like an AquaNet factory, and my scalp was starting to burn and itch, which just wouldn't do at all. So I washed it out and am left contemplating just how I want to greet this new decade of my life.

Maybe a tattoo isn't such a crazy idea after all...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Off to a good start

The kids started back to school this week. Robbie had been counting down the days 'til school since there were still 62 days left. Annie, being part of the ruling class in the school this year, was thrilled to go back. Charlie, however, did not get excited until the day before school started -- when he got a new pair of Nike high tops (on sale 50%, of course).

Getting everyone moving on the first day was no trouble. In fact, Annie woke up at 4:30am. Even Charlie popped right up when I woke him, which will be the last day that happens for the rest of the school year, I'm sure. The clothes were laid out, lunches packed and backpacks lined up at the front door the night before -- all of which probably won't happen again anytime soon either.

Once breakfast was finished, I sent the kids back upstairs to brush their teeth. Annie and Charlie returned and were ready to go when Robbie yelled downstairs, "Mom? What am I doing upstairs?" Note to Robbie's teacher: he may have some issues with short-term memory.

Finally, with Robbie's teeth brushed and the other two anxious to leave, it was time for the obligatory 1st day of school picture:

Photobucket

In the car, Annie chattered, Robbie drew a picture and Charlie improved new lyrics to the song "Hey" by Mitchell Musso all about how excited he was to go to school, but only because it was a half-day.

When we got to school, I parked in the back to walk the kids in. Well, really, to walk Robbie in. I asked Charlie if he wanted me to come to his classroom. Surprisingly, he said yes. Before I could even ask Annie, she told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to stop by her homeroom.

Robbie was thrilled to find his desk next to two friends and couldn't wait to show the teacher his new lunchbox. I felt downright joyful walking out of his classroom, seeing how confident and assured he was. It was a great start to the school year.

Photobucket

Next, I stopped by Charlie's class, said hello to his teacher and went to his desk to wish him a good day. I thought I might be pushing my luck by asking him if I could take his picture. But I was feeling lucky, so I asked anyway. This was the result:

Photobucket

From there, I needed to go to the school office. The path I followed to get there took me past Annie's classroom. I saw her homeroom teacher in the hallway and said, "I've been forbidden to stop in." He replied, "Oh, go in and give her a big kiss!"

Not wanting to embarrass her completely, I opted not to do that. But I did peek my head in the door and said, "Have a good day, Annie."

She gave me an icy stare and curtly said, "Ok, Mom. BYE!"

I giggled a little on the way to the office.And that's how we started the 2010-2011 school year!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A beautiful thing

There's an application on Facebook called "God wants you to know..." Each day there is a new message and often, the message is eerily applicable to my life.

A few weeks ago, this was the message I received:


... that God loves in you even that which you dislike. God doesn't partition you into pieces and loves some and not loves others. That's what people do. That's what you do. God, who created you, accepts and loves every little part of you, even those you deny and hate in yourself. So next time you try to dislike a part of you, just pause, look and remember that God loves it.

I was reminded of that message as I was looking in the mirror at the zits on my nose that seem to have mistaken me for a 13-year-old and the gray hairs on my head that have pegged me as being in my 60s.  It's a good reminder when I am being hard on myself for being disorganized or indecisive or having eaten 1/2 a package of refrigerated cookie dough. God loves in me even that which I dislike!

That's not to say that God doesn't see any room for improvement, that he wouldn't be honored by more effort on my part in some areas of my life. But believing that God loves me right where I am, right now -- that, my friends, is a beautiful thing. 


What about you do you need to look at through God's eyes?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

10 things I learned before 6am

  1. No matter how big the bed, the small boy will find it necessary to be within 1/4" of me.
  2. I need to put pull-ups on the shopping list...and wash the sheets.
  3. The dog must sleep in her crate, otherwise when I can't sleep and get up at 4:30am, the dog will think she can, too.
  4. Not very many people are on Facebook at 5am.
  5. It is possible to sleep while walking the dog.
  6.  I can run for longer than I thought I could.
  7. It's not cool enough to wear long sleeves for a morning walk yet.
  8. I love people who have automatic sprinklers that offer a refreshing mist. The dog does not. Love those people that is. Although the dog also does not offer a refreshing mist.
  9. We're out of Diet Coke.
  10. I really should go to bed earlier.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bag lady

For the past several weeks, there has been a laundry basket sitting in the entryway of my house, filled with things that belonged other places. (Thanks to my mother-in-law who passed on that piece of organizational advice.) Sunday night I decided enough was enough -- in part because the collection had grown bigger than the basket and was spilling over onto the floor.

So I started sorting through what was gathered there. I threw away a fair amount; made a Goodwill pile; a take to work pile and piles for each member of the family. My pile turned out to be a bag pile. I had no idea I had so many bags.

There was the collapsible carry-all bag:

Photobucket

The old L.L. Bean handprint beach bag:
Photobucket

Photobucket

A couple of free-with-makeup-purchase bags from Mike's grandmother. The striped one went with me to the Dominican Republic:
Photobucket Photobucket

And an awesome 1-strap Mustard Sprout backpack that is perfect for trips to the zoo or other places I need to carry a bunch of stuff but still want to be hands-free:
Photobucket

Finding all those bags told me two things about myself:
  1. I like red.
  2. I like bags. I think that has something to do with the fact that no matter what size I am, bags always fit. And they hold a lot of stuff, which I tend to collect.
Bet someone could do quite a psychological evaluation with those bits of info.

So, are you a bag lady? Big bags? Small bags? Or are you a minimalist and just carry a small wallet with your id and credit card? Is the number of bags you own directly proportional to the number of children you have? Do you fellas carry a man-bag? Inquiring minds want to know...

Creature of habit

While I like to think of myself as adventurous and willing to try new things, the truth is I'm mostly a creature of habit. I do think it's good to break out of our molds once in a while, which is what I did when I agreed to "test drive" the Motorola Droid X, a smart phone from Verizon Wireless. I didn't receive any compensation for doing this or for blogging about it. I just agreed to do it because I thought it sounded like fun.

I'm a pretty big fan of my iPhone, so the Droid X was up against some tough competition. The first thing I noticed is that the screen size on the Droid X is about 1/2-inch taller than on the iPhone and when I powered up the phone, the resolution on the screen was crystal clear.

Droid X bot Mike was with me when I received the tester phone. He was pretty excited about the fact that you can hook the phone up to a computer or TV screen and watch whatever is on your phone screen.

I was more interested in the cute little green bot that showed up on screen when I first turned the phone on. Though I have to say that the "Droid" voice that tones whenever a new e-mail or message comes in sounds like it would fit with a menacing storm trooper than with that little green guy.

Probably my favorite feature of the phone was the "talk to text" feature. Instead of clicking out a text message, you can talk into the phone, which will then translate your voice into text and send it. That's very handy if you are tempted to text and drive (which I of course never do. I make Annie do all my in-car texting for me from the shotgun seat.)

The size of the phone turned out to be a little difficult. It is too large for me to handle and dial with one hand, which I find myself doing with the iPhone if I'm trying to multi-task. The selection of apps was decent, though the kids were disappointed there was no "Angry Birds" app. They made do with pinball and Poke-a-Mole.

One of the cool apps I didn't get to really try was the Blockbuster app. Because I was using a guest account, I couldn't try paid apps. While the Blockbuster app is free, you have to pay to download movies to the phone. It would have been cool to try, but even without trying I could see where that big screen would make movie viewing enjoyable. I'm as much a Netflix fan as I am an iPhone fan and I wish the two of them would follow Verizon and Blockbuster and offer something like that on the iPhone.

I may not have been able to rent movies, but I could shoot my own using the Droid X's HD videocamera. I gave that a whirl at the Indiana State Fair. The video of  Robbie singing about the fair was shot on the Droid X. So was this racing pigs video:


What was even more cool than shooting the video with the phone was that I could do some minor editing right on the phone. Unfortunately, the saving and uploading to my You Tube account proved to be a little frustrating and not as intuitive as I would have liked. I finally figured out how to do it with Robbie's video, but then couldn't remember what I'd done when I wanted to shorten another video. The resizing is important if you intend to e-mail videos.

I'm sure if I would have had the instruction manual or taken the time to Google the trouble I was having, I could have worked it out in no time. And to be fair, the Verizon rep called me to offer assistance, but I didn't have a chance to get back in touch.

In general, I found the Droid X to be less intuitive than the iPhone. For somethings you scroll across the screen to move forward or back, for others you have to go off-screen to the back button at the bottom. The search function doesn't search the phone, but does an internet search instead.

I think I was a little at a disadvantage -- or maybe it was the phone's disadvantage because I am an iPhone user. If I'd been testing the Droid X and did not already have the iPhone patterns ingrained in my head, I probably would have found it less frustrating. But in this case, being a creature of habit probably didn't help me too much. If you're in the market for a smart phone, the Droid X is certainly one to try. Then you could have your own cute little green bot.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Nice to meetcha

One thing that I quickly learned about the blogosphere is that linking makes the blogs go 'round.

Of course, there's the blogroll over there on the right (which really needs to be updated to add some more blogs worth reading). But I also try to link to other blogs when I read something I really enjoy or when I refer to other bloggers as part of a particular post.

Recently, I've been really lucky to be on the receiving end of the linking.
Mostly, I blog for me. But it sure does feel good to have other people think my time blogging is time well spent.

So if you're here from Beth's, Mrs. 4444s', or Doreen's site, welcome! So nice to have you here -- hope you'll come back often. And be sure to check out the links to my blogging friends above.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The baby gets everything

I'm the oldest of 5 kids. For all of my childhood there were only 4 of us. But six weeks after my college graduation, my youngest brother arrived on the scene.

The preferential treatment for the baby of the family began pretty much right away. My dad ordered a big wooden stork for the front yard announcing Nick's arrival. Guess how many of the other four of us got a larger-than-life avian welcome home? Yep, you got it. None of us.

Back in the day, going to McDonald's was a big treat. We very rarely ate inside the restaurant. And we weren't allowed to get a Happy Meal because "you don't need a junky toy and we have pop at home."

By the time Nick was two-and-a-half years old, he could name by sight not only McDonald's, but also Burger King and Wendy's as well. And he could tell you what he wanted at each place. Needless to say, there were junky toys aplenty around when Nick was little.

When he graduated from high school, my dad had a life-size Fathead made of Nick doing a jump serve in volleyball. Then he hung the likeness in the window at my brother's graduation party. I was looking at it when my sister came up and said, "Don't you remember the Fathead Dad had made of us when we graduated?," the point being that there was nothing remotely like it when any of the four of us older kids graduated.

Because I never lived at home when Nick was little, I'm sure there are several other examples of inconsistent and preferential treatment he was given. But what I learned today takes the cake.

The kids wanted to watch TV in my parents' basement and Nick said they couldn't because there was no cable down there. Mom said she thought there was. That's when Nick said that no, the basement TV was too old for the cable so they'd installed the cable in his room instead.

WHAT??? Cable in his bedroom? I had to practically beg to get a phone in my room. Just a TV would have been out of question, nevermind a TV with cable -- that would be downright laughable!

Geez o Pete! It sures pays to be the youngest...as I'm sure Robbie will attest to in about 10 years.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A good morning

Today I had a good morning. I left the house about 6:30am to take Gabby for a walk. Though I would have liked for the humidity to have been lower, I was grateful for the quiet time to start the day.

Morning walks give me a chance to think and to pray about the day ahead, the people I love and the challenges that may be in front of me. Sometimes I even sing out loud while I'm walking -- though I try to make sure no one else is around. At 6:30 on a Saturday morning, you can be pretty assured of solitude. And if the dog minds my singing, she's never let me know.

On this morning's walk, I had plenty on my mind. Most of it involved turning the numbers of our budget over and over in my head, thinking about where we could make sacrifices and where it is money well spent. I could feel my anxiety level rising, so I just prayed "God, help me to trust that it will all be ok. Give me the strength to make the hard decisions where they need to be made."

As Gabby and I continued on our walk, I decided to take a different route than normal, in part to just change up the routine and in part because I wanted to go by the strip mall that burned to the ground earlier this summer and see the progress of the demolition that is underway. Nearing the grocery store, I decided to walk behind it so as to avoid Gabby sneaking up on anyone with a bag full of groceries, as unlikely as that would be so early in the morning.

Thinking again about credits and debits in our bank account, I walked down the alley behind the store and happened upon the dumpsters sitting out back. Several noises drew my attention (and Gabby's) and I encountered a man standing in the dumpster, looking for something. He didn't appear to notice me and I, a little embarrassed to have seen him there, walked on without saying anything. But inside, I was saying plenty.

"Ok God," I said to myself. "Things could be much worse. I know."

Who knows what that guy was dumpster diving for. Maybe it was food. Maybe he accidentally threw away his watch in the store's trash? It doesn't really matter. What matters is that seeing him there, standing in the dumpster and going through bags of who knows what, gave me some perspective.

I was still thinking about that man and the message that finding him there held for me when Gabby and I reached the fencing that barricades off what is left of the strip mall. I was curious to see how far the demolition crews have gotten, how much of the strip is recognizable. But as we approached, my first view was this:

Photobucket

I was struck by the color of the unattended flowers against the backdrop of soot and dirt and concrete rubble. And I was reminded of God's grace, which does not assure us that our lives will be without despair and difficulty, but which does provide the promise of His presence and comfort even as we are standing in the mess.

It was a very good morning.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Why pay for private education?

Momza asked a question in response to my last post about why people would choose to pay for private education. I started to reply to her in the comments, but it was getting long. Plus I thought if Momza asked it, chances are other people are thinking it. So I decided to just give it it's own post.

Our decision to send our kids to Catholic school is based on several things.

1. Tradition. My dh and I are both products of private education (me Catholic schools and him just private and expensive).

2. School size. The public elementary school my kids would go to is a good one. But it's also very large. Not sure of the current numbers, but I know when Annie was in the 3rd grade in a school with 3 classes of 20 kids each, the public school 3rd grade had 210 kids split among 7 classrooms. It just seems too big for a little person. The high school has over 4,100 students. Having attended small schools my whole life (there were 212 kids in my high school graduating class), that is just overwhelming to me.

3. Family atmosphere. I've explained it this way: I want my kids to attend a school where they know most everyone and most everyone knows them. If they are messing around in the hallway, I want any teacher or staff person to be able to call them out on it by name. Similarly, if they are doing something good, I'd like someone to be able to say "Thanks Charlie! That was great," even if it isn't a teacher Charlie has had. In addition, the people we see at church on Sunday are many of the same people we see in the pick-up line at the end of every school day. I like the consistency of that.

4. Faith experiences. I probably would have put this one first if I didn't worry about rubbing people the wrong way. (Some evangelist I would make, huh?). My children attend Mass on a weekly basis with the entire student body. Once a month, they go to Mass with their own classroom. The school prays together (via the announcements) in the morning and at the end of the day. There is prayer before lunch.

I think the value of sending the kids to a religiously-based school was really driven home to me several years ago when a student died of leukemia. The school prayed for her daily as she was fighting her battle. And when she died, the school was able to respond by gathering the entire student body together for prayer. As a parent struggling to understand the unfairness of a child's death, I was comforted by the opportunity to gather with the students, faculty and staff to grieve and support one another. This is an extreme example and possibly less important than the daily and weekly faith opportunities. But it's something for which I'm grateful.

All of that is not to say that sending my kids to private school absolves us of our responsibilities as parents. Although my kids go to Mass and have daily religion class, the formation of their faith and their moral character is still up to us. I also don't want to give the impression that I consider private education categorically superior. We have several friends whose children attend public schools who are smart, well-behaved, great kids.

There can be certain disadvantages to private education. No buses to transport kids to and from school. Smaller class sizes can sometimes mean that if a kid is labeled one way (nerdy or a trouble maker), it's hard to break away from that. Some private schools may not offer the racial and economic diversity that is a reality in today's world -- though my children's school does. Public schools may offer a wider range of special needs services and extracurricular activities. Those are all things to consider.

And we are not opposed to considering public education. We've talked about several times since Annie started kindergarten, most seriously this spring. But at this point, Annie only has one year left before high school and I wouldn't move her now. Sending her to the big, public high school from a school where there are only 60 kids in her class seems like not a good idea. But she has asked if she could look at a smaller, public charter school and we will.

Charlie would love to go to public school -- because they don't wear uniforms and he's convinced they don't have as much homework. We're going to see how this year goes and consider sending him to the public middle school. Though quite honestly, I plan to send him to Catholic high school because I want him to be able to play competitive sports and the public school is so large that only the most elite players make the teams.

Finally, our Catholic school has been so supportive of Robbie and his various issues. We've worked closely with them for the past two years to make sure he's getting best education and the best support. I can't imagine starting that all over with a new school.

So Momza, that's why we choose to pay for private education. And I hope my Currency Crunch post didn't make it sound like I was whining about the expense. Because we are members of the parish, our tuition is about $3,000/child. I think it's an investment worth sacrificing for.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Well, this is awkward...

Right after I posted Currency Crunch, her blogness the Queen of Free posted a guest post I wrote on making private school more affordable.

Compared to the Queen of Free and her compatriot, Bargain Briana, and likely lots of you who read the 4th Frog Blog, I am a virtual infant when it comes to saving money and snagging good deals. But thanks to the two of them and my own desire make a change in the way we handle our money, I'm making strides in the right direction.

I'm strategically using coupons with regularity. I'm comparison shopping via online ads. I'm socking away Amazon.com gift cards from Swagbucks to use for Christmas shopping. And when I can, I'm passing along what I'm learning.

Which is why it's ok that I have a money-saving guest post up at the Queen of Free. It's what I know about how to make private education affordable and I'm happy to share it. Check it out, tune in tomorrow for part 2, and leave your suggestions for ideas I may have left out.

Currency crunch



Earlier this summer, we made the decision to sell our Honda Pilot. It was a perfectly good car that was newer and had fewer miles than our mini van. But we sold it to use the proceeds to pay off some bills that were coming due. At the time it seemed like a good idea and frankly, I'd make the same decision again.

In place of the Pilot, we bought a used Volvo wagon that has been a pretty good car. That is until I pulled too far forward at the bank and drove the front end up over the sidewalk, knocking off some big plastic valance and damaging the radiator. It's not a cheap fix, but we're opting to turn it in to our insurance so we only have to pay the deductible.

Then, on the way home from Holiday World last month, the air conditioning went out in the mini van. Mike drove it that way for a while, but when the check engine light came on, he took it in. A glitch in the transmission. The mechanics said we could do a $90 fix and see if that took care of the problem. Plus, we paid $300 to have the air conditioning fixed.

Ok. That bullet only grazed us. Until last night when the transmission on the van started doing some really weird stuff, leaving us no choice but to drive it back to the mechanic to see what's going on. We're waiting for the bad news and I'm pretty sure "bad" would be welcome compared to what's in store. The van isn't worth what it would cost to put in a new transmission.

I know I'm not alone, but I just feel so cash-strapped that I can't breathe. Mike's bouts of unemployment over the past two years, combined with the expense of living separately, some indulgent instant-gratification habits, and a desire to give the kids certain experiences, have left us with not a lot of reserve.

I'm not trying to whine about money. No one put us in the situation. Believe me, I'm the first person who will stand up and say that we have not been the best stewards of our finances. Plus, we've encountered some significant medical bills over the past several years (three surgeries in the past 9 months alone). And, as Mike is quick to point out, we are in better shape than a lot of people. Still, we're not in the shape I want to be in.

We've signed up for the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University, which will start later this month. We say that we're ready to tackle this head-on. But, when I think about what sacrifices we'll need to make, I think that we can't cut the cable because how will we watch the Colts games? And it's good for the kids to be involved in extra-curricular activities (only one per kid). Of course, it won't hurt to keep going to my pricey salon because I'm worth the pampering, right? And I'd rather cut off my arm than give up my iPhone.

I have a feeling we're going to be our own worst enemies in this effort. But we're going to do it -- or die trying.

Thanks for listening while I "poured my heart out." Click here to connect to other PYHO posts.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Missing

Is it possible that something which inspired an original song could be missing something?

Yep. Click here to find out what was missing at the Indiana State Fair.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A day worth singing about

We did indeed go to the great Indiana State Fair yesterday and had a terrific time. The boys and I stayed for 9 hours -- a family record!. (Annie and Mike petered out about 2 hours before we did.) I have so much to say about our day, but I'll save it for the Indiana Insider blog.

Instead, I want to share with you Robbie's response to our excursion. We got in the car, tired and dusty. I asked if they had a good time. Rob said, "Yep! We should sing a song!"

Now, I love to sing in the car. But my kids don't love for me to sing, so his suggestion took me completely by surprise. When I asked him what he wanted to sing, he came up with this impromptu little ditty, which he then sang again for the camera.

(Make sure your volume is turned up. He was so tired, it's a little quiet.)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I'm dreaming of...

...fresh roasted corn on the cob
...ice cream from the Dairy Bar
...blue ribbon 4H projects
...newborn calves
...the world's largest hog
...racing pigs
...Percheron horses
...sheep being shorn
...the petting zoo
...tractor pulls
...watermelon seed spitting
...airborne dogs
...giant cheese carvings
...crazy-big pumpkins
...sword-swallowing men
...Japanese gardens
...Zumba classes
...sumo wrestling
...interactive robots

It'll be a dream come true at the Indiana State Fair.

(For more reasons why I love the great Indiana State Fair, click here.)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Four Fragment Friday

It's Friday and you know what that means...Friday Fragments with Mrs. 4444s! I'm gonna keep it short and sweet today. (Gotta hop in the shower and then we're off to pick up Annie. PTL! because the estrogen has been in short supply at my house this week.)

1. I'm going to make a confession. Maybe it's embarrassing, maybe you all will say "Me too!" I like to watch "Say Yes to the Dress" on TLC. So I was really jazzed to find Tales from a Dressing Room, a blog written by an anonymous wedding dress consultant. It's like SYttD without the cable bill.

2. Read this. Share this. It's important enough that I am giving you the link twice.

3. Do you Swag? I'm coming up on $40 in free Amazon.com gift cards. It's easy. You search on SwagBucks.com like you would on Google or any other search engine. You randomly win SwagBucks. You can earn SB by answering the daily poll and finding daily codes (get them easily at Swagcodes.org) Then you save them until you have enough to buy a prize -- gift cards, t-shirts. I know there is more, but I just go for the Amazon.com gift cards. Anyway, if you want to Swag, click my link here and I'll get a bonus for the referral: http://www.swagbucks.com/refer/4thFrog

4. Is this a mellow dog or what?

Mellow dog

Have a terrific weekend!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Guilt and a dead guy

I'm enjoying a glass of wine while writing this post. We don't usually have alcohol in the house, but this was left over from a movie night I had with a friend earlier in the week and I'd hate for it to go to waste.

Tonight was to be a movie night as well. A very fun, very BIG movie night. I had the opportunity to see a sneak preview of "The Wildest Dream," an IMAX movie about two men who attempted to climb Mt. Everest, 75 years apart.

While I was really looking forward to the movie, I was feeling guilty about leaving the boys with a babysitter. They'd been with a sitter all day while I was at work. I wrestled with what to do for most of the day. Go and make it up to them tomorrow? Or not go and miss the chance to see the film for free and to turn it into a post for the Indiana Insider?

After unsuccessfully trying to give away the tickets to another Visit Indiana blogger, I asked about bringing the boys with me. Turns out, that was just fine.

Sweet! I could see the movie that I wanted to and that I'd planned to blog about later without feeling guilty about leaving the boys home with a second babysitter for the day.

So I picked them up from the sitter and told them we had a special night planned. We drove downtown, keeping our eyes open for any strangely dressed folk attending the massive Gen Con gaming conference. (The boys were disappointed that there weren't very many in costume.)

We took advantage of the free parking at TGI Fridays/Marriott complex (I thought about you, Joanie!) and went there for dinner. After dinner, we walked around the grounds of White River State Park for a bit, including walking along the canal, where I just KNEW that Robbie was going to fall in. Ok, sometimes I'm wrong...

Safely away from the water, we checked out the county sculptures built into the facade of the Indiana State Museum (never did find our county), and then finally -- much to the boys' delight -- headed in to get our seats for the film.

Before the movie started, Robbie was a little antsy and I wondered if we would make it through the whole thing. He was quite fidgety as Indianapolis native and Mt. Everest conqueror David Carter spoke for about 10 minutes before the film.

While Robbie was busy being bored, I was fascinated with the history of George Mallory, the 1924 Everest climber who died, along with his hiking companion Sandy Irvine, on the face of the mountain, never to be found until 75 years later.

With Robbie bored and me fascinated, Charlie was getting anxious. He's in a phase right now where he has some anxieties about death. He said, "Mom, if they start talking about dying in the movie, can I go out?" No, I told him, but he could pull his sweatshirt hood over his eyes.

Soon the movie began with some gorgeous shots of Mt. Everest, big as anything on the IMAX screen. Within a minute or two the word "died" was spoken. I looked over and Charlie was hunched under his sweatshirt.

The film went on to begin to explain how, in 1999, climber Conrad Anker found Mallory's body, still intact, frozen on the mountainside. Only it didn't just explain the finding. It showed, in recreation, Mallory's partially exposed body, face-down in the rock. I looked over and the opening of Charlie's sweatshirt hood was pulled tightly closed over his whole face.

I watched another 5 or 10 minutes of the film, casting frequent glances in Charlie's direction to see if he was warming up to the story. Nope. Not even a little bit. I leaned over and asked him if he was all right. He shakily said, "Not really..."

Poor kid. I felt bad about trying to make him stick it out, even for just that short time. So, it was guilt that got me to take them to the theater with me and guilt (ok, and love) that got me to take them out.

I tapped Robbie and told him that we were going to leave. Not really being a documentary-type of fellow, Robbie was more than happy to get up and asked if we could watch Bugs Bunny when we got home.

At least that's not something I feel guilty about.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Taking the heat

Photobucket

See that picture up there? That's the external thermometer in my car when I left Target this afternoon. When I first got in the car, it read 104 degrees, then cooled off to the much better 102 degrees once I started driving.

This kind of heat makes me remember things.

Things like that quote from the movie Biloxi Blues: "Man it's hot. It's like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn't take this kind of hot."

And the one from Good Morning Vietnam (warning, a little adult language ahead): "It's hot! Damn hot! Real hot! Hottest things is my shorts. I could cook things in it. A little crotch pot cooking." Well, tell me what it feels like. "Fool, it's hot! I told you again! Were you born on the sun? It's damn hot! It's so damn hot, I saw little guys, their orange robes burst into flames. It's that hot! Do you know what I'm talking about?"

This kind of heat makes me remember days when I was about Charlie's age. We'd frequently visit my grandparents whose house didn't have air condition. The windows on the back of the house were hinged on the top and tilted up to open. I would go in my Aunt Molly's room with the lights off. I would lie on the bed, as perfectly still as possible, and try to catch any wisp of breeze that might come through, as well as any snippet of conversation from the adults sitting on the back porch near my aunt's windows.

This kind of heat makes me remember last summer when I weighed 30 pounds more than I do now and how I could not even imagine going outside for longer than a minute or two because the heat was just so unbearable. Yet tonight, I took Gabby for a 20-minute walk before both of us gave up and came inside to icy cool air and cold gulps of water.

This kind of heat makes me remember last winter, when the neighborhood streets were deserted -- no one playing outside, kept in then by blizzard-ish winds, not blistering heat.

This is the kind of heat that makes me expect that on some city street somewhere, firefighters might open the hydrant and invite all the neighbor kids to splash in it for some short relief.

It's the kind of heat that makes me think that the only possible thing I might serve for dinner is popsicles, that makes me thankful for central air, and has me counting down the days to crisp, jeans and sweater weather of fall.

It's that hot.

Gone camping

Photobucket

Annie is away at camp until Friday. We dropped her off around 2:45pm on Sunday and by 5:30pm that same day, I was missing her.

It could have had something to do with the fact that the boys (all 3 of them!) were driving me straight up the banana tree with their over-the-top energy, their boy humor -- think burps and farts -- and Star Wars/Spongebob quote fest. But mostly I think it was that not being able to talk to her for five days just seems like so long.

Curiously, the way I'm feeling is a little how I felt when she went to kindergarten. In preschool, when I picked her up there was always a sign outside the door telling me of all the day's activities. I could chat with the teachers about how her day was. When she went to kindergarten, no one sent home a daily note with a list of what they did in art and whether they had math or reading centers and if she ate a good lunch that day. I felt a little bit lost and disconnected, kind of like I'm feeling not having a chance to talk or text or e-mail her until the close of camp on Friday.

Annie's been to sleep-away camp once before. But at that camp, they would post pictures each night of what had happened throughout the camp, so I could at least look for her among all the other girls. For this camp, we can send letters and e-mails, which are printed out and given to our camper. But it's a one-way street. There's no writing back. That's ok because she is most likely too busy swimming and canoeing and all those things you go to camp to do.

As ok as it is, it's a little hard for this Mom-of-oldest-child-at-camp to get used to. I think of her several times a day, wondering what's she's doing right then. She was a little nervous when we dropped her off; so I worry a bit that she's homesick, though she's there with a friend and I'm sure having a great time.

I don't consider myself a hovering, overprotective parent, so I'm kind of surprised that I'm feeling this way. I guess it's just one of those million little separations we help our kids make on their way to one day leaving the nest. I'll get over it, or maybe just get used to it, I'm sure.

And next year, when I send the boys off to camp with her (they were begging to stay when we dropped off Annie), instead of being sad, I'll probably throw a party underneath that banana tree.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Word to the Wide 5.0

When going for a walk with the family, if you have even the slightest indication that your 7-year-old son will want to race you -- repeatedly -- be sure to wear your sports bra and underwear that is not likely to roll down as you run.

For more Word to the Wide (from one highly experienced wide woman), check out these earlier versions:

Sundays in my City: Hidden Treasure

I love the idea of farmer's markets. All that fresh, home-grown produce set out in friendly spaces. Card tables full of delicious goodies that I love to eat, but am ill-equipped (or too lazy) to grow myself. But the problem with most farmer's markets is that they take place on Saturday mornings when I want to be sleeping or at least still lounging in my jammies.

My friend Ann told me about Your Neighbor's Garden, a farmer's market just off the path I drive on a daily basis. I'd seen the simple "Farmer's Market" signs with arrows pointing the way, but had never followed them. But one day last week, I had the hankering for some fresh fruits and veggies and decided to check it out.

I knew I was at the right place, when I saw this sign in front of the house:

Photobucket

But when I'll pulled up to the market at the end of the driveway, I was surprised to not find picnic tables or card tables piled with produce and someone sitting with a small cash box. Instead, this sign, posted on the side of a small building greeted Robbie and me.

Your Neighbors' Garden

We walked inside and found...air conditioning, which was amazingly welcome on the 90+ degree day that we were there! The walls were lined with white-painted shelves offering fruits and veggies, each section tagged with the name of the produce and its price. There was a scale for weighing your selections and that was it. No one else was there. It turns out that Your Neighbor's Garden is a self-serve operation. You add up your purchases and leave your cash or check or a Visa voucher in the safebox.

Robbie-YNG

Robbie and I looked around at all we had to choose from. I picked up some zucchini because Annie has wanted to make zucchini bread. Five ears of corn for that night's dinner. At 40 cents each, they were slightly more expensive than the ears I'd bought at the grocery store. But I found when we cooked them that they were 10 times better in taste! A couple of big tomatoes because something is eating the few tomato plants I managed to get in the ground this year. A pint of cherry tomatoes for Charlie.

Robbie asked if we could get blueberries. I went with the pint for $2.50. I wish I'd bought the quart for $4.25. They were so juicy and sweet. Of course Robbie wouldn't know, because when I offered him a few when we got back to the car, he said "Eww! Yuck! I don't like that stuff!"

He also asked for cabbage. I said no, I didn't think we'd buy cabbage today. But he insisted. "Please Mom? I love cabbage!" So now I have a head of cabbage I don't know what to do with. Any easy suggestions (my reputation should precede me) are welcome.

The last thing I slipped into my sack was a beet. I had never bought a beet before, but I was inspired by Eternal Lizdom's recent experience with beets. So I selected just one beet and promptly called Liz to tell her that I bought a beet because of her and what the heck was I supposed to do now. (Peel and quarter it. Drizzle it with oil, sprinkle it with some lemon pepper seasoning. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes. It was good! Kind of had a bit of a sweet potato taste.)

Maybe next time I'll try the rhubarb.

Then I weighed what was sold by weight, added up my total and left $15 in the safebox. Here's what my money got me:

Spoils

Your Neighbor's Garden does sell at some of the farmer's markets around town. But there's something about going to this hidden gem that appeals to me. This week they'll have lots of new stuff including peaches, raspberries and green tomatoes. If you go, leave some for me.

Unknown Mami


Note: I'm linking this up to Unknown Mami's Sundays in My City. Click here to visit cool finds in other cities.