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Saturday, December 28, 2013

How to survive the last part of Christmas break

Christmas break from school (and work for me) is a wonderful thing. We all look forward to it every year. Days of sleeping in. Nights of watching TV past the usual bedtime. The glitter and color of Christmas celebrations. The laughter (and ok, sometimes, gritted teeth) of time spent with siblings and cousins we don't see all the time. And then.

And then Christmas is over. The celebrations are mere crumbs and crumpled paper in our memories and the kids still have 10 days at home before school starts again. So now what?

Now the "How to Survive the Last Part of Christmas Break" idea list, that's what. Here's what's rolling around in my head...
  1. Empty the backpacks. You can skip this if you've already done it, but I can tell you that my kids' backpacks are sitting on their bedroom floors, untouched since they were dumped there the last day of school. Time to drag those things out, toss all the stale and crushed snacks left over from the class Christmas party, smooth out the instructions for the over-the-break project that's probably lurking in there, and for good measure, toss the pack in the washing machine to remove a semester's worth of dirt and germs.
  2. Edit the toys. In with the new, out with the old. While it would have been a good idea to do this before Santa arrived, doing it with shiny new toys in the picture makes tossing the old ones less of a painful experience.
  3. Spend those gift cards. I made the mistake letting Robbie spend his Christmas money at Target the day after Christmas. Now that 1,000-piece Lego is built -- yes, it did take him a good 5 or 6 hours to do. I should have waited until next week when the "I'm boreds" have hit.
  4.  photo 49b72e72-3886-4a23-ba40-bf524094ad1a_zpsba43b66a.jpgCreate. Bake or paint or build a snowman if you're lucky enough to have snow. Santa brought us a Rainbow Loom for Christmas. So far, we've made one bracelet. So next week when the kids are whining about wanting something to do, we'll work on a matched set. Provided I get my hind end to the post office today, next week my niece can use her well-honed Rainbow Loom skills to take it to the next level. I was the lucky recipient of a review copy of Loom Magic, a new book filled with 25 loomtastic projects.* There are instructions to make a watchband, a cell phone cover, hair barrettes and even rubber nunchuks. Since we are newbies to the loom, I'm sending my copy to Camryn. I can't wait to see what she whips up.
  5. Phone a friend. A little too much family togetherness can spoil the soup (or something like that). ( call it "family fatigue syndrome." Now that all the planning and prepping for Christmas is behind us, this last week of vacation is the perfect time for the kids to hang out with friends. Bonus points if they go to the friend's house.
  6. Clean out the cabinets and closets. Much to my children's unknowing chagrin, this is indeed on our list of things to do this coming week. I have 2, maybe 3, closets in mind. They won't love the task, but a little character-building decluttering never hurt anyone.
  7. Enjoy! As much as my kids might argue differently, I am not all about cracking the whip. I do want to enjoy this unencumbered time. We will take in a movie or two (matinees on the cheap, of course). We will sleep in. We'll watch the Rose Parade and a bowl game or two.
What will you do to thrive and survive this last week of Christmas break? I'd love to have a few more ideas to add to my list.

*Loom Magic is published by Sky Pony Press, the company that provided me with my free copy. If you click the link in this post, it will take you to Amazon.com. If you buy the book from Amazon following my link, I will get a few pennies as a thanks for directing you there.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The love child with the funny name

Sing with me...

"On the 2nd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me..."

 photo 1C5AFCC3-BC39-41BA-B787-0FC24593EE14_zpswwpvyoy7.jpgA vintage-real-life-never-out-of-the-box-signature-on-her-bum-birth-certificate-included-Cabbage-Patch-Kid!

She was a little delayed on arrival, but given that she's been in a box since 1985, I'll cut her a break for not knowing about GPS.

The box came just as we were leaving for Charlie's basketball game. It was big, but light. I didn't have a sense of what was in it, but Mike was happy it had made it. So when we came home from the basketball game, we all sat in the family room as I opened the box. I'll admit to getting a little teary when I saw the yellow cardboard packaging with the chubby leafy baby logo.

Mike said he had tried to buy a doll with red pigtails, like the one my sister had, but I'm glad he didn't get that one. All those years ago, in the year without a Cabbage Patch Kid, I didn't want my sister's doll. I wanted my own. And now I have her.

She came, still affixed to the packaging with twisty wire, her birth certificate still glued to the cardboard next to her.

Her name: Elna Fanny.

Elna, which means "sun ray."

Fanny, which means, well, duh. Fanny, bum, bucket, buttocks.

My very own Cabbage Patch Kid and her name means, loosely translated of course, "sun shines out her arse!"

I wasted no time in opening the box. This is no collector's item doll. This is my doll. And I will love her and hug her and squeeze her...sorry to go John Steinbeck for a moment.

Anyway, it is pretty funny how maternal I felt toward Elna Fanny as soon as I freed her from her box. Even after 28 years encased in cardboard and cellophane (imagine the bedhead!), she has that baby powdery smell that I remember Cabbage Patch Kids having. Her birth certificate came with a form to fill out so I can send away for an official certificate suitable for framing, though I have a feeling that's a piece of mail that would go unanswered these days.

 photo F14671B8-ACA5-48E9-BB3E-3E99F5DBAA6F_zps95bydfsp.jpgI sat on the couch with her and smelled her chubby cheeks, finding myself talking in baby talk and allowing my mind to wander a bit about how it might be to have a REAL baby in the house again. Then I remembered real babies don't always smell like powder and they are not often content to sit in one place for 28 minutes, let alone years.

So, I thanked Mike with a kiss, and took Elna Fanny -- it's a must to use both names -- upstairs to bed with me. Oh, no worries. No co-sleeping here. She is tucked into her own call-it-a-bassinet-but-its-really-a-laundry-basket next to my bed, that just happened to be there in a handy spot.

She'll probably hang out in my room most of the time. Some days, maybe I'll pick her up just to smell her powdery sweetness. I might peek at her bum just to see the "real" Xavier Roberts signature again. And sometimes I'll just smile at the thought that Elna Fanny is the love child of my childhood dreams and my husband's desire to make them to come true.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

10 things you think to yourself when you're about to go under the knife


  1. Wait! I changed my mind.
  2. I hope the surgeon doesn't sneeze while he's cutting on my neck.
  3. Which will be better…sleeping a long time or watching movies for days on end?
  4. They really ought to re-think what qualifies as outpatient surgery.
  5. I wonder if the titanium in my neck will set off the metal detector at the airport?
  6. I hope the kids pick up the house a bit before my parents get here.
  7. Is it inappropriate to wear jammies to the surgery center? 
  8. I sure hope this works.
  9. I wish the kids were awake right now so I could give them one last squeeze.
  10. Wow. I could use a Diet Coke.
BONUS: This is going to be one epic game of Mommy's legs are broken.

See you on the flip side. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The year without a Cabbage Patch Kid

 photo bf8fde66-0227-4ff6-82da-f76e804bc817_zps179fabcb.jpgThe year was 1983. The hottest Christmas toy -- Cabbage Patch Kids -- were flying off the shelves and leaving parents all over scrambling to put one under the Christmas tree. I was 13, probably too old for dolls. I don't recall wanting a Cabbage Patch…that is until I didn't get one.

Christmas morning, my three siblings and I sat at the top of the stairs, waiting, as we did every year, for my dad to go downstairs to check if Santa had come. He made his way downstairs, started the coffee, and declared that we were up much too early, that Santa had not arrived yet.

We all hollered our objections and tore down the stairs into the living room, which we only really used for Christmas and for sitting in the green chair when we were in trouble. There, under the tree, was a so-ugly-it-was-cute, orange yarn-haired, chubby faced doll peeking out from behind a cellophane window. The doll's birth certificate showed through the window, proclaiming her name to be -- well, I don't remember what her name was, probably because I was distracted by another name on the box:

To Shelley. Love Santa.

This doll wasn't for me. She was for my 10-year old sister.  A wave of disappointment swept over me. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of another figure.

This one was a doll, too. She had a similar round face with wide eyes, though hers were brown, not blue. Similar, but there was something just a little off. Instead of two pigtails, this doll had dark brown hair pulled back into one pony tail.

She was just sitting by herself under the tree. No box. No birth certificate announcing her name. The only paper this doll came with was a sticker on her ugly white and seafoam green pajamas.

To Amy. Love Santa.

Santa had left me a fake doll. Of course by this time, I knew the truth about Santa, so I knew that my mother, my very own mother, had thrown me under the cabbage bus and left me with an inauthentic version of the best toy of Christmas.

I don't remember my reaction. I hope I was gracious, but I'm sure my disappointment showed. There was my sister playing with her real deal doll, straight from the Cabbage Patch, while I was left holding a square-bodied imposter that did not have Xavier Roberts' signature on its butt.

Looking back as an adult, I can appreciate that my mom took the time to actually make my doll. Sure, she may have risked bodily harm to snag my sister's authentic Cabbage Patch Kid, but she gave up hours of her own time to make mine. I think that doll, whose name I don't remember either, is still in my parent's basement.

I laugh about it now and tell the story to point out how my sister was always the most favored child. I have an appreciation of stretching the Christmas budget and trying to make the kids happy without breaking the bank. Yet somehow, there is still a sting in the memory of the year without a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Earlier this week, I was at #PLAYIndy, hosted by Indy With Kids. There was a Cabbage Patch doll there available for winning. I held out a secret hope that my name would be called. That I would be the one to walk away with the real deal doll.

I'm not sure what I would have done with the doll if I'd won it. Perhaps I would have donated it to the Giving Tree at church. Maybe I would have sold it on the Facebook garage sales. But just maybe, I would have brought her home, taken her out of the box and enjoyed my very own Cabbage Patch Kid.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

KitchenAid Mixer on your wish list? Enter to win one!

One of the greatest things about being a blogger in Indiana is having the opportunity to get to know and work with several of Indiana's farming families. Much of that opportunity has come from the Indiana Family of Farmers. I've learned so much about where our food comes from and how dedicated these farm families are to bringing nutritious food to my table.

Now IFOF wants to learn from you -- and they'll give you a shot at winning a 5 Quart Artisan KitchenAid Mixer just for sharing your thoughts on food safety and nutrition.

IFOF Kitchenaid Giveaway photo KitchenAidGiveawaycopy_zpsf39d1f6f.jpg

What's required of you?

Click the survey link, then answer just 10 questions (click, click, click) about your perceptions of food safety and nutrition. Once you complete the survey, you'll click "DONE" and be taken to the entry page for the KitchenAid. Simple as that. 

Do you have to live in Indiana to complete the survey? 

NO. If you eat, or feed other people, and you have opinions about food safety and nutrition, you're eligible to participate.

When can you enter? 

Well, NOW would be good. But the survey will be available until December 20. But seriously, don't procrastinate. You're thinking about it now. Just do it. Now. Please.

Ready? Set? Opinionate: IFOF Survey.

-- Contest is open to U.S. residents ages 18 and over and ends 12/20/13. --

This post was sponsored by the Indiana Family of Farmers; I received compensation in exchange for sharing this survey opportunity. I did not receive a KitchenAid Stand Mixer, which, given my culinary history, is probably a very good thing.

Friday, December 6, 2013

I said "milk, bread, hot dogs..."

We're getting our first big snowstorm of the season tonight. Earlier today, while I was still at work, I texted Mike and said "I'll pick up the boys, but could you run to the store and pick up some milk, bread, hot dogs and hot chocolate?"

You know, the basics.

So when I checked Facebook shortly before I was ready leave work and saw this:

 photo Targetcart_zps6fc108a4.jpg

I quite honestly LOL'd. I think it's the funniest Facebook post my husband has ever made. I'm not sure if it was the caption that got me or the fact that he had strayed so far from my suggested list of items.

This is what a man-cart looks like...at least a cart for my men.
  • Six different kinds of frozen pizza
  • Lean Pockets
  • Protein shakes and protein bars
  • Hot dogs 
  • Bread
  • Waffles & frozen French toast (Who buys that? Even I can make that!)
  • Syrup
  • Two kinds of Oreos
  • 3 kinds of crappy cereal 
  • Milk
  • And of course, Diet Coke
I think the only green he managed to pick up was the green on the Lean Pockets box. He does get points for going generic on many items and for using the Target Cartwheel

Charlie and Robbie were in heaven seeing the groceries unpacked, which means all of that food will last approximately 3-1/2 hours.

Mike hasn't caught on yet that you have to buy some food that they will only eat if they are really hungry -- things like carrots, apples, bananas, you know, the good-for-you stuff and things that require some work on your part and can't just be snarfed down straight out of the box.  Otherwise, the kids blow through it all like they haven't eaten in weeks.

I'm not complaining. Honestly. I'm glad to have been freed from the chaos that is a pre-snowpocalypse grocery store. But seriously, have you ever tried to warm up with a mug of Oreos?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Happy pills

 photo 82320686-01f5-4adc-b73a-7133f9fcf019_zps0ff75c35.png

I think my first encounter with depression happened when I was a junior in high school. No one called it "depression" then, but that's what it was. I don't recall all the details, but I do remember a succession of disappointments -- cut from the soccer team, not being selected for yearbook -- had something to do with the overwhelming sadness I felt. My parents sent me to the school counselor and I got through it.

I don't recall being especially depressed during college, though the self-medication I did at weekend fraternity parties during my freshman and senior years might have been an indication of something going on. Or that could have just been my own personal "girls gone not-quite-wild" endeavor.

My first major depression as an adult came in the form of post-partum depression after Charlie was born. It wasn't depression in the long crying jags, sort of way. It was post-partum OCD, which was characterized by what they call "intrusive thoughts" and is really not something I'm ready to write about in detail yet (yes, 15 years later), but suffice it to say, those 15 months were the darkest of my days, ever.

It was during that time that the most-wonderful-woman-in-the-world-who-quite-honestly-saved-my-life encouraged me to look at depression as a disease like diabetes. There is treatment available and it improves health and quality of life, so use it. And mostly I do.

Sometimes, though, I think "I've been doing so well, maybe I'm 'over' it." So I stop taking the antidpressant I've been on for years. And usually, I do ok...for a little while. And then my view of the world begins to change. Sometimes I get sad. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed that all I want to do is stay in my bed, or once out get back in it. Mostly, I get very irritable and the world is full of idiots who don't know what they are doing.

So duh, just take the meds, right? Well, it's not actually that easy.

When I don't take the antidepressant for several weeks, or a month or longer, I feel things I don't usually feel when the drugs are managing the chemicals in my brain. I cry at situations where normal human beings would cry, when, medicated, I find tears hard to come by. I'm a little more spontaneous and free to be silly with my kids. I actually have a sex drive. (TMI?) Is it any wonder that many of the most famous artists and thinkers in history have also been classified as a little crazy?

That's where I am right now. I didn't make a conscious decision to stop taking my antidepressant. I thought it was on auto-fill at the pharmacy and I just didn't pay attention to the fact that I'd run out and hadn't gotten a call that a new prescription was ready. A week or two went by and I thought, "Hey, I'm doing pretty well. Maybe I can handle this." Then another week or two went by and people around me kept getting more and more irritating. I could hear myself being unnecessarily snappy. Mike commented that I seemed to be on edge. I do find myself tearing up with greater ease. But I am kind of enjoying the thought of being "free." I'm not paralyzed by sadness. I'm not feeling a magnetic pull to my bed. I'm not having any crazy thoughts.

So I'm here, trying to decide where to move from here. Go back to the antidepressant which has served me well and which resolves the world of so much of its idiocy (as I perceive it to be) and takes the biting edge off my anger? Or stay drug-free? If I choose Plan B, I know I'll need to employ some other techniques for dealing with it -- things like exercise, meditation, etc. (For the record, Mike is all for Plan A.)

I'm not sure why I felt compelled to write about this. Maybe that's part of the unmedicated inhibition that I'm experiencing? Maybe because I suspect others know where I'm coming from. Who knows? I guess you can just call me crazy.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I'm not cooking for Thanksgiving (and my family is thankful)

turkey photo: Turkey turkey_zps424f649d.jpgI'm not cooking this Thanksgiving. The truth is I've never cooked Thanksgiving dinner. I feel kind of guilty admitting that.

I'm not a total slacker. I have brought side dishes to share on Thanksgiving -- I'm pretty good at Jello pretzel salad and green bean casserole. But I've never cooked a turkey. Never even bought a turkey. I have no secret family recipes that I slave over. Mike's grandmother once gave me her recipe for sausage stuffing and swore me to secrecy over its contents, but I don't think "Brown the sausage, mix it with Stove Top" is really mum-worthy.

This year we are celebrating Thanksgiving dinner with Mike's dad. He is taking care of all the food (and by "taking care" I mean "ordering and picking up from the country club") I feel guilty. If I were a good daughter-in-law, I probably would have offered to cook. Although, given my culinary history, perhaps not cooking is really more of a gift.

Having said that, next year, I am making Thanksgiving dinner. All of it. Well, most of it. At least the turkey. And the cranberries with orange zest. In fact, the menu for Turkey Day 2014 that is rolling around in my head is already making my mouth water:
  • Turkey (duh) -- and I even know to take out those yucky inside parts
  • The afore mentioned cranberries with orange zest
  • Mashed potatoes and gravy (which might come from a jar. I don't think I can handle scratch gravy the first year)
  • Green bean casserole (the Durkee French Fried Onions recipe, no fancified version)
  • Mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top - Charlie's favorite
  • King's Hawaiian Rolls
  • Honeyed carrots (after I ask my friend Jane how to make them again)
  • Fall fruit salad (another Jane creation that involves apples, pears, raisins, honey and ginger)
  • Roasted root vegetable stew -- This one I might have to buy. I tasted it from Killer Tofu at the Edible Indy launch party 10 days ago and I'm still thinking about how good it was. Amazingly, it had beets in it and I loved it.
  • Some lentil-pea-pebble crockpot something or other that I don't remember what it's called from U-Relish Farms, but that I tried at Edible Indy and is another one I'm still thinking about.
  • Pumpkin pie (Robbie's favorite)
  • Chocolate chip pecan pie. Not sure where that came from, but it just popped into my head and it sounds SO good, doesn't it?
Wow. Writing all that down makes the prospect of having pizza for dinner tonight so, so very sad. Sigh. Anyway, I have one year to learn how to cook all this stuff and my family has one year to secure an invitation to dinner elsewhere.

Are you cooking for Thanksgiving? What's on the menu?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

This is not your mother's Happy Meal. #giveaway

When I was a kid, going to McDonald's was a special treat, not a regular occurrence. On the rare occasions that we did go to the Golden Arches, we were never allowed to order a Happy Meal.

"It's cheaper to just get a hamburger and fries," my mom would say. "You don't need a crappy toy and we have pop at home."

Let me tell you, friends, today's Happy Meals are NOT your mother's (or your childhood's) kids meals. (Can you say kid-size fries and apple slices?) In fact, right now McDonald's Happy Meals will not come with a crappy toy. Instead, children will receive one of four different original books featuring characters from McD's latest advertising campaigns that encourage kids to eat right and exercise.

(Have you seen the commercial with the goat? I'm lovin' it!)

 photo mcd-happy-meal-books-usa-november-2013-goat-ant-doddi-deana_zps42915e48.jpg


The 4 books that are offered as part of the series are:
  • "The Goat Who Ate Everything"
  • "Deana's Big Dreams"
  • "Ant, Can't"
  • "Doddi the Dodo Goes to Orlando"
In conjunction with what I'll refer to as the Happy McBooks offer, McDonald's of Central Indiana is leading a "Give a Book, Get a Book" campaign. When you donate a new or gently used children's book at one of these locations, you will get a "Be Our Guest" card for a free Happy Meal. The donated books will be distributed to the Ronald McDonald House at Riley Children's Hospital, Indy Reads bookstore, School on Wheels and other organizations in need of children's books.

And now, for the McGiveaway!

Because I agreed to work with Indy With Kids and McDonald's of Central Indiana, I have the opportunity to host (again, my words) a Happy McBooks McGiveaway.

One lucky winner will receive a week of 5 happy meal coupons (good at Central Indiana McD's), a $10 Amazon gift card and a copy of a Happy Meal Book. If you don't live in Central Indiana, go ahead and enter. It's worth it for the Amazon gift card alone.

To enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For my participation in this campaign, Indy with Kids and McDonald's of Central Indiana have given me Happy Meal coupons and a Target gift card. Opinions about crappy toys and awesome goat commercials are all mine.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Answering the call, 14yo boy style

 photo priest_collar_zps2513bfe2.jpgIt's not a secret that I have had a long-held belief that Charlie, my now 14-year-old, would make a good priest. Everyone who knows this and who also knows Charlie believes there is no hope that this might happen. But as his mother, I still gently offer the idea from time to time.

Today Charlie had a friend over to work on a school project. When they were finished, the boys tossed the football for a while and played video games. I invited the friend to stay for dinner, then after he accepted sprang it on him that we were having breakfast for dinner. (C'mon, who doesn't love eggs, sausage links and English muffins on a chilly, dark evening?)

At one point during dinner, I looked over and saw Charlie shoving an entire sausage link in his mouth.

"Charlie," I said, half joking, " you're gonna have to be a priest because no girl is going to want to marry you with those terrible table manners."

Therran (the friend) laughed a bit and I said, "Don't you think Charlie would make a good priest? I mean think about it, 'Fr. Charlie.'"

Now I had Therran between a rock and a hard place. He didn't want to pigeon-hole his friend into the priesthood, even hypothetically, but he didn't want to disagree with an adult either. So after I let him squirm for a minute, I said "Maybe you could be a priest, too. Fr. Charlie and Fr. Therran. You guys could be coolest priests around."

They both began a bit of a protest so I lightened up.

"What I really want for you guys -- for all you boys -- is that you will just be open to hearing God's call in your life wherever that might take you. Whether that's being a priest or getting married or..."

Charlie interrupted and said, "Right now I hear God calling us to the basement to play video games." With that Charlie jumped up, Therran following him, and called "I'm coming Lord!"

I'm not worried. That story will make a great homily some day.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wake up, parents

 photo wake_up_zps7c200d6e.jpg

Yesterday, I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw that my daughter and a friend of hers had posted about a false Instagram account someone had started to say cruel and untrue things about certain kids who go to their school.

It took me a minute to find the Instagram app on my cell phone. I have an Instagram account, but I don't really use it. The app is mainly on my phone because Charlie has an account that he posts to using my phone sometimes.

Once I found the app, it took me another minute or two to find the offensive account. I was really sickened when I did. How could someone think it's funny or even remotely okay to say terrible, malicious things about someone else? Worse, the account was falsely ID'd as being owned by another student.

I blocked the user. But that was all I knew to do. I figured there was probably a way to forward the offensive material to Instagram for further action, but I didn't know how. Why? Because I've always fallen on the excuse, "I don't do Instagram."

What a crock of crap. Please, listen up, parents. If your kids are on social media, you better be on social media too. If they are on Facebook, get an account. Have their passwords. Log in under their accounts from time to time. Randomly post comments on their stuff, just so they know you are aware.

If they are on Instagram, be there. Yes, I had an account, but not a presence. You can bet I will now. The same for Twitter. And sorry, Annie, but I'll be signing up for Tumblr, too.

It's a lot to manage, so tag team it. Let your friends know where your kids hang out on social media and ask them to keep an eye out. I hope that if someone see my kids posting inappropriate or troubling statuses, one of my friends who sees it will let me know.

I'm keeping an eye on this Instagram bullying mess going on and I keep thinking to myself, "His (or her) parents would probably be devastated if they knew this was happening." And then I wonder to myself if they have any clue? I want to tell every parent to sit down with their kids' phones, laptops and tablets and walk through the activity of the past day or two.

Maybe the person who is responsible for all of this would be found? Maybe a parent would find that his or her child has been a target of the bullying. I would want to know that as much as I'd want to know what kind of stuff my child has been posting. What if someone posted some awful untruths about my beautiful child and I didn't know. Would she come to me? Or would she suffer in silence?

Should our kids expect some measure of privacy in their social media interactions? I suppose. But sometimes, a parent has to sacrifice some privacy in the best interests of the child.

This whole series of events has made me angry. And ill. At the same time, the fact that so many students have rallied behind the people who have been singled out makes me proud. And hopeful.

But above all, this situation has made me aware. Awake. If you are a parent, I hope you wake up too.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My friend, her book, your bank account

My friend
One of the great fringe benefits of blogging is getting to know other bloggers, mostly incredible women who I likely would not have met if it weren't for the blogosphere. Cherie Lowe, AKA, the Queen of Free is one of those women. So when Cherie asked if I would be interested in reading and reviewing her new e-book, "Inspiration to Pay Off Debt," I was all in.

I said yes in part because I wanted to help my friend. But I also said yes because we are one of those families whose bills outweigh the bank account. We've taken the Dave Ramsey course, but haven't quite gotten ourselves to the point of action. We have stopped using credit cards (though we still owe on a couple), but we have a long way to go in the area of financial management.

Her book
So, in mid-September, Cherie sent me a free pdf copy of "Inspiration to Pay Off Debt." Here it is, mid-October and I'm just now reading it and sharing my thoughts with you. No, I wasn't kidnapped by a band of ninjas. No, I wasn't trapped by mountains of laundry. I wasn't even delayed by something altruistic like walking miles for charity. The truth is that the e-book sat untouched in my e-mail because I was afraid.

Afraid to take an honest look at what our income vs. expenses is. Afraid to have to lead my family in making uncomfortable choices.

Then yesterday, Annie and I were in Chicago and because of some short-sighted planning on my part, we found ourselves with less than $20 to spend for the entire day. Our hotel and transportation home were already paid for, so our money needed to go for food and entertainment.

The entertainment part was pretty easy. We walked 2+ miles to Millennium Park (in very cute, but not very practical shoes). The walk was enjoyable -- except for the shoes and for the part where I turned my ankle and sprawled in front of the Hilton on Michigan Avenue. I was so stressed about the money that I fleetingly thought, "If I have to go to the emergency room, they would probably give us jello and crackers."

We survived the day, thanks to 55-cent, day-old Jimmy John's bread (Annie's brilliant idea), a crazy-big slice of pizza that we split, and a shared McDonald's value meal. But by the time we got home, I'd had enough. I was ready to make some changes on the financial front, but I needed some inspiration to do it.

Enter Cherie's book.

 photo CL-inspiration-pic_zpscbd082d3.jpg"Inspiration to Pay Off Debt" is written in a 30-day format. Kind of like "Power of a Praying Wife," it's not a book to read it once and put away. At least that's not how I plan to use it. I anticipate reading it in order. Then maybe I'll go to a specific page when I need specific inspiration. Then I'll probably go back to reading it in order.

Honestly, it was hard to read it through quickly so that I could write this post. I wanted to sit with each day and give it some specific thought.Plus, I kind of like being referred to as a "Royal Lady." Finally, someone recognizes me for the royalty that I (think that I) am.

I scanned the pages, making note of things Cherie said in the book that resonated with or inspired me.

"Paying off debt is not complex, it’s just not easy."

"You can do it.
It will be hard.
You will still have fun."

"Face it Lords and Ladies, no matter how much debt you have, no matter how much you think you’re sacrificing, compared to the rest of humanity, most of you are rich."

"A lot of little bills were sucking the life out of us. Every. Single. Month."

There were some instances where I just marked down entire entries:

Day 10
Day 17
Day 23

Day 27 (In which Cherie took a page from the priest's message at our wedding -- "Getting on the same page financially could take weeks, months, or even years. But it can’t begin at all if you don’t open the lines of communication.")

Your bank account
So how does your bank account figure into this post? Well, if you are seeing something of your own lives in the lines here, considering downloading a copy of "Inspiration to Pay Off Debt."

Ordinarily, the e-book is $4.99. However, Cherie recently submitted another book to the ReWrite Conference Writing Contest. She won! (Watch for her new book to be published by Tynedale Momentum sometime in the next year.) To celebrate, Cherie is offering FREE downloads of "Inspiration to Pay Off Debt" for the next two days -- October 20 & 21.

If you download it, I hope you'll let me know what you think.

Monday, October 14, 2013

I get you a little better now, Austin Collie.

In 2009, Austin Collie, a wide receiver, signed with the Indianapolis Colts. He quickly became Charlie's favorite player. In fact, when we ordered Charlie a Collie jersey for Christmas that year, I had to special order one because he was too new and not proven enough in the NFL to justify an inventory of jerseys bearing the name "Collie."

In 2010, Austin Collie suffered two bell-ringer concussions. During a 2012 preseason game, he got clocked again and recorded his third concussion in 3 seasons. A lot of people, me included, thought Collie should hang up the pigskin. But he was determined to play. It was during the third game of the 2012 season that Collie suffered a season-ending knee injury. I was pretty vocal to the people that I kibbutz about football with that the injury was probably divine intervention, delivered as a loud and clear message that Austin Collie should not be playing football.

Austin Collie photo colliehurt_zps44eb84ae.jpg

I argued that he should quit for the benefit of his wife and kids, although I wasn't entirely sure (and still am not) he has a wife and kids. I said that surely he had enough money and all the money in the world wasn't worth living with a jello brain. I just could not understand why he would even consider getting back on the field.

Then 3 weeks ago, Charlie got a concussion playing soccer. I wasn't there when it happened and was a little skeptical when the coach told me that Charlie couldn't tell them his address or phone number when he came off the field. Still, after calls from two parents and the coach, I opted to take him to urgent care to be checked out. From an emergent standpoint, he was ok, but our pediatrician told us to take him to the sports medicine doc for ImPACT testing the next day.

The neurological exam the sports med doc gave him was pretty interesting. He asked him to remember a list of six words and then would randomly ask him to recall the list during the appointment. He gave Charlie a string of numbers 1-9-3-8-2-7-4 and asked Charlie to repeat those backwards. (At that point, I was beginning to think I was concussed, as I don't think I could have done it.) Say the months of the year backwards.

It was the balance exercises that really shocked me. He asked Charlie to stand with his feet together and close his eyes. With his eyes open, he was a little wobbly. With his eyes closed, Charlie couldn't stand up straight for more than a few seconds.

The Rx for concussion: brain rest. I listened as the doc told Charlie, "If you wake up and you have a headache, dizziness or nausea, you can't go to school. If you are at school and you start to get a headache, dizziness, or nauseated, you have to go home." There were also limitations to note taking and homework as well.

As Charlie tried to contain his smile, I was shooting daggers at the doctor. Seriously, please don't tell my kid all that. I was envisioning him home from school for a week. Then it was my turn to smile...in addition to all the "good" things (in Charlie's mind), the doctor also said no TV, video games, computers or texting and no physical activity for a week. I could see it on Charlie's face. Suddenly, this concussion wasn't such a sweet deal.

Truthfully, the restrictions weren't too hard for Charlie. His collision happened on a Sunday. It wasn't until the following Saturday that the fog seemed to lift from his brain and his personality. We could just tell he was a half-step behind and he slept...a lot.

But the next two weeks were harder. Each week, we took Charlie back to the doctor for the neuro exam and for the computerized IMPACT testing. Each week, his scores on the IMPACT test were not high enough to be considered "recovered."

Meanwhile -- and this is where I'm finally getting back to Austin Collie -- Charlie's team's soccer season was marching on. He was resigned to the fact that he wouldn't make it back to the field in time for any of the remaining regular season games, but he was -- and Mike, I and the coach were -- hopeful he'd be cleared in time for the tournament.

Charlie was feeling better and not having any concussion symptoms. He was following the graduated physical activities the doctor had prescribed. He. was. READY. Except he wasn't. At least not as far as that darn IMPACT test was concerned.

The morning of the first tournament game, Charlie pleaded with us. "Please. Call the doctor. Tell him I don't have symptoms. Tell him to clear me."

"Charlie, if you get hurt again, you will miss basketball tryouts and probably the whole basketball season."

He wasn't happy, but he took his lumps.

The next day, his team was geared up for the two final tournament games. The first game was a slugfest. Charlie dutifully sat on the bench in street clothes, cheering his team on. I sat with the other parents and made mental notes of places where Charlie could have made plays. Finally, the ref blew the final whistle and Charlie's team had won 5-4. On to the championships!

The championship game was against the Lightning's league rivals, the team that always wins the tournament. I thought to myself that I wished I'd put Charlie's soccer uniform and gear in the car, that maybe he could have played just a few minutes.

It was a very physical game. Our team played good defense, but had a hard time mounting a coordinated offense. I would glance from time to time at Charlie sitting on the bench, symptom-free, and think of what he could have brought to the field. I'm not trying to overestimate Charlie's skills, but last season he did score twice in one game on this team's goalie, a kid who had only given up six goals all season.

I daydreamed a little about telling the coach that Charlie was ok to go in. That he was symptom-free and the doctor was being too conservative. That's when I began to understand Austin Collie just a little bit better. I was having these thoughts about a kid's soccer game, when all that was at stake was a cheap plastic trophy and my 14-year-old's immediate gratification over getting a chance to play.

Collie had a decision to make -- to play or not to play -- from the vantage point of looking out over his career, his livelihood, not just over some rec league game. Ultimately, I know we made the right decision in keeping Charlie on the bench. And I still think Collie would have served his body and his family better if he'd bowed out of the NFL. But at least now I understand the wide receiver a little bit better.

(Note: Austin Collie no longer plays for the Indianapolis Colts. He was signed this season to the New England Pat......" )

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dear Becca & Jake:

I don't know you, but I know you recently got married. I've watched a 2-minute video of your wedding about 10 times. Really, I'm not a creepy stalker. In fact, I really wasn't that interested in the video images of you. I hit "play" so many times because I was moved by the words of Fr. Todd's homily. That's how I found your video in the first place. Fr. Todd shared it on his Facebook page and being the good Catholic that I am, I watched it because my priest shared it.

He spoke about the decision to get married being a decision to deepen your love. He talked about it being a commitment. He said you were choosing to move beyond love being just a feeling, that by saying "I do," the two of you were making a decision to live in love. Not in gushy, fluttery, sweep you off your feet love. But in covenant love.

Today is my 20th wedding anniversary. I know that officially makes me old in your eyes and that's ok. With age comes wisdom. So let me share some wisdom about covenant love with you.

Covenant love is hard work. That doesn't mean it's not worth it, but some days you will question whether it is. Covenant love may ask you to give up a piece of yourself with the faith that what will fill the hole will be stronger and better than that which occupied it before. Covenant love might mean turning the other cheek. It certainly requires forgiveness and it might make you do things -- or not do things -- for which your friends and family might call you crazy, or even foolish.

If you look at that from a single-minded perspective, it might look like you're getting the short end of the stick, you might wonder why anyone would ever choose to get married. But if you both are committed to covenant love, the equation should be equal on both sides.

Fr. Todd pointed out in his homily that the wedding vows don't even say "I love you." When I heard that, I had to stop and repeat the vows my husband and I shared on our wedding day 20 years ago.

"I take you to be my spouse. In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life."

Wow. From where I sit, that is powerful stuff. We promised, as did the two of you, that "I WILL love you." On your wedding day when both of you are glowing and joyful, that might be an easy enough promise to make.

I will love you...when you bring me flowers.
I will love you...when you make me laugh.
I will love you...when you let me wear your coat because I am cold and I left mine at home.
I will love you...when you get a new job.
I will love you...when we are on vacation and all the cares of the world are hundreds of miles away.

Twenty years down the road, that promise is heavy with the gravity of what that really means.

I will love you...when the bank account is stretched.
I will love you...when the laundry is backed up, the grass needs cut and dinner has not even been thought of.
I will love you...when you disappoint me.
I will love you...when you don't believe in me.
I will love you...when I am embarrassed by you.
I will love you...when you hurt me.

I will love you. I will love you. I will love you...

If I were you, I would print out those words: "I will love you." and put them somewhere you see them often. (Maybe over the toilet so Becca, you can remember them when Jake leaves the seat up.) Remind yourself, every day, of the promise you made. "I will love you." Then there is no question. You said you would. Now do.

As for my husband and I, we are. It hasn't been a decision that's been easy every day. And quite frankly, we probably haven't lived that decision, those words every day. We've considered taking those four words and stuffing them somewhere to never be seen again. But we haven't, because they are more than just words. They are the mark of the covenant we made to each other before God.

So, to you Becca & Jake, I say blessings on your new life together.

And to you, Mike, my huzzzband of 20 years, let me say once again, I will love you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

10 crazy things that happened in September

Holy cow! It's October 1 already. September pretty much kicked my butt. It was a good month (no one died or was arrested), but a crazy, wacky one.

1. I'm working full-time. Yes, I've already reported that. Yes, I started working full-time in August. But it was in September that the reality hit and boy, oh boy am I one tired pup.

2. In one week's time I had a mammogram (all clear!), an MRI (more on that in a minute), and a root canal (I hate dentists, but I LOVE nitrous oxide!). Seriously, I should get a medal for that.

3. As I was in the waiting room to get the root canal, my family doc called and said she had the results of my MRI and I needed to see a neurosurgeon about the pain in my neck and the numbness in my arm.
4. Six days after the root canal, the dang tooth pretty much crumbled and ended up having to be pulled anyway. Thank God for friends who are oral surgeons and for endodontists who are willing to waive your fee.  (The man is no dummy. He's seen my x-rays. He knows I'll be back.)

5. My car got a flat tire. Somehow I managed to drive over a nail in just the right way that (of course) the tire couldn't be repaired and had to be replaced.

6.  The neurosurgeon said I have a herniated disk and should have a discectomy. I opted for a round of steroids first. The symptoms (a numb arm) haven't improved much, but I'm hopeful maybe a second round might do the trick.

7. Charlie got a concussion at the ONE soccer game all season that neither Mike or I were at. And of course it was an hour away. That was 10 days ago. He's feeling better, but is still on physical and academic restrictions.

8. The day after Charlie's concussion, we got rear-ended. We were all ok, with the exception of Annie who had some mild whiplash. The other driver has Progressive insurance. They have been terrific to work with.

9. If you read #1-8 and thought that even the most sane person on Earth would have been driven to drink over all that, you would be right. I've picked up the Diet Coke habit again. Not to the extent I once drank it, but one or two a day. Being a Diet Coke brand ambassador might have had something to do with that, too.

10. I survived the in better (mental & emotional) shape than I expected. I've been investing some time in myself and in my own sanity and it is paying off. I find myself better equipped to handle unexpected occurrences and able to sidestep chaos to take a minute to take a deep breath and get a grip. That's not to say I don't lose it from time to time, but still, I'm pretty happy with myself.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

My scary date with a younger man

Last night I went on a date with a younger man. Much younger. Like 32 years younger. Robbie and I went to the St. Lawrence Fall Festival. I won ride and food tickets from an Indy with Kids giveaway hosted by Rebeca at The Average Parent. If there is one thing Robbie loves, its amusement rides. Unfortunately, we didn't make it to Holiday World this year, so I thought this might be a small consolation. Plus, while we spend a lot of time in the car together driving people from place to place, it had been a while since Robbie and I had done something fun, just the two of us.

So we headed to the Fall Festival. Once we were there, we circled the carny rides one, kind of getting the lay of the land. Then Robbie decided he wanted to try the Fun House. Although I hadn't planned to do any of the rides, the Fun House wasn't really a ride and I thought he might have more fun if I went with him. It was pretty lame. But we made the most of it.

Then he went on that roulette wheel ride where you stand up against the sides and it spins around, the raises to an upright position, still standing. I couldn't even watch without getting queasy.

 photo ferris_wheel1_zps9f9c2097.jpgBy then, we had 1 ride ticket left. Although I had told myself I wasn't going to buy anything while we were there, I did shell out $5 for another 5 tickets so he could ride two more rides. We circled the area once again, when he stopped in front of the Ferris wheel. He pointed and said, "I want to go on that."

"Ok. You get in line and I'll wait right here."

"But Mom, I think it says you have to have a parent with you."

It didn't. But it was sweet that he wanted me to go with him. Clearly he was unaware how I feel about being high in the air with my feet dangling over the edge of my seat. "I don't think it says that," I said, trying to weasel out of the experience.

He was unconvinced. So I tried to touch his compassionate side. "Robbie, I am REALLY afraid of heights. I don't like to be way up there," pointing to the top of the wheel.

"It'll be ok, Mom," he assured me. "Just think of it like there are Peppermint Patties all around you."

He's no dummy. Knowing that Peppermint Patties are one of my favorite candies, he was trying his best confectionary psychology on me. Who could say no to that?

Not me...which is how I ended up sitting next to him in an orange bucket on the Ferris wheel. I really must love that kid a lot.

My hands gripped the bar like a baby grabs your hoop earring in the middle of church. Locked in tight, the guy running the wheel sent us backwards on our way. I was ok for 20 seconds until we got higher than 10 feet in the air.

That is the point at which Robbie's lesson in fear-induced colorful language began.

Because this is a family-friendly blog, I won't repeat here what I repeated with insistence up in that death trap Ferris wheel bench. For his part, Robbie kept saying "Open your eyes, Mom. Think of Peppermint Patties."

What I was thinking about was trying to get the attention of the ride operator. "Stop this thing!" I yelled as we spun by. Unfortuntely he didn't hear me, so we were on the way up again. Cue the colorful language.

When we came around again, I got the guy's attention, having let go of the death grip I had on the lock bar so I could wave my arms at him.

"Can I get off and let him keep riding?"

"Well, I have to keep the weight balanced," he said. "Areyoufreakingkiddingme," I thought. I wasn't going to let my very real fear stand in the way of Robbie having fun. Lucky for me, just as I was settling in to the idea that I was going to have to stay on the ride, two boys walked up and the ride operator decided it would work for them to sit with Robbie for the rest of the ride.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I stood close by and waved big at him every time that orange bucket came around, which was about 10 more times. I honestly am not sure I would have survived that!

Once his turn on the Ferris wheel was over, I apologized for bailing early. "That's ok, Mom," he said. "Let's get something to eat."

Now there was a festival activity I could get behind.



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mid-afternoon thoughts on turning 43

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It's my 43rd birthday. Here's what I think about that...
  1. I'm not sure I feel 43, though I'm not sure what 43 is supposed to feel like. My spirit feels younger, not super young, but maybe 38. Or 40. My body? Well, that feels 57. (see #2)
  2. Today I called to schedule an MRI of my neck and my mammogram. Nothing says "Happy Birthday to me" like a little controlled radiation.
  3. When someone asks what I want for my birthday, I finally understand why my dad always answered that question with "nothing." There's really nothing I am coveting. A few things I would enjoy, but I'm more interested in getting rid of stuff than acquiring more.
  4. OK, if I have to name one thing, I'd say a mani-pedi. It feels great, lasts a while and doesn't have to be stored or dusted.
  5. Mom's birthday is an excellent behavior modification tool. When Charlie was slow to get out of bed this morning, Robbie said "Get up! It's Mom's birthday." Annie used it to get the boys to stop fighting -- "Knock it off, it's Mom's birthday!"
  6. In the order of priorities, the hierarchy today is Robbie & Mike's soccer practice, Annie's play, Mom's birthday.
  7. It's much better when your birthday falls just after payday instead of just before. That's ok. I can wait to celebrate tomorrow.
  8. Every time there is a card-giving occasion, Mike puts a York Peppermint Patty in the card for me. It's a small gesture, but I love it.
  9. I'm 43 and I'm having a mid-life hair crisis. Is there really any point to keep growing it out? 
  10. Being wished a happy birthday still feels good -- after all these years. So far, I've gotten 3 birthday phone calls, more than 150 birthday Facebook messages, and a little personal birthday greeting from Mike. (Blush.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Well, I haven't done this for about 16 years

I've thought about it off and on. Years ago, I was sure one day I'd be ready for it. As time went by, I wanted it more and more, but at the same time I was afraid to do it.

I wasn't sure my body could handle it. I worried that I wouldn't have the mental stamina for it.

I worried it wouldn't be fair to my kids. I wondered if Mike would be jealous and or feel insecure in any way.

But I did it and I like it (so far)...besides it would be pretty hard to turn back now.

9 to 5 movie photo: 9 to 5 movieclue25.jpgI took a full-time job.

It's actually a great situation. I'm still working at the 30-hour/week job I've been at for almost 8 years -- the job where I love my co-workers and where I believe in the work we do. Now, I've added another 10 hours each week working for another department at the university. (For the record, neither of my bosses is in any way like Dabney Coleman or his alter ego, Frank Hart.)

I've been part of the my new department since early August. So far, all the people I've met have been welcoming and seem like they will be fun to work with. There have been tales of lively practical jokes and lots of offers to tell stories on the boss I've worked for since day one.

I did make one, non-fatal, we-can-laugh-about-it mistake on the first day, so I'm glad to have gotten that one out of the way: I updated the cover photo of the department's Facebook page with a picture of a student who recently left the program involuntarily. Luckily, it was caught quickly and the director had a good chuckle over it.

By the end of the first day, my head was aching and my mind was swimming with new facts, images of faces I could finally put with names, and ideas for how to get started on the task at hand. Today was just as busy, maybe more so because students arrive on campus tomorrow, but I had more of the hang of things. Tomorrow, I go back to the familiarity of my "old" job until next week, when I spend my one day down on campus.

Since I became a mom and had my own freelance writing business and then went back to work 20 hours a week, I've said working part-time is ideal. I still think it probably is. However, working full-time will obviously bring in some much needed money -- hello Dave Ramsey's debt snowball. Bonus: Working full-time at a university opens a whole world of free college tuition, perfect timing since Annie just started her junior year of high school.

I'm sure there will be some things to get used to, like working on Fridays. Wow. People really do that? And getting haircuts in the evening instead of mid-day when the salon is quiet. Oh, there are probably a zillion things I haven't even thought of yet. I'll just deal with them as they come.

If I won mega millions in the lottery, would I still work? Hmmm...maybe part-time. But until then (which will be quite a while, since I don't play the lottery), I'll happily take the full-time gig I've been lucky enough to get.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury

 photo judge-judy_zps1e216844.jpgI have never been on a jury. In fact, I've only been called for jury duty twice. Once was just a few weeks after Annie was born, which allowed me to defer. The second time was a few years ago, when I answered a few questions, sat around for several hours and was then dismissed. But for the past two days, I was part of a mock jury.

My spot in this exercise came when I answered an e-mail from a local survey company. The compensation offered was enough to make me take the 5-minute pre-qualification survey, after which a person from the survey company called to ask me additional questions. I must have answered those right because the next thing I knew, I had been selected. 

The only information I had was that I would be required to give my opinion and my time for a total of almost 20 hours over two days. Seriously? Two days to spout off my opinion -- I was born for this!

It wasn't until I arrived at the survey center yesterday that I learned that my fellow volunteers and I would be hearing plaintiff and defense testimony in a court case. (Which I can't tell you about because I signed an agreement that I wouldn't.) We heard live opening statements from the lawyers and settled in to hear witness testimony.
It was tedious because we honestly sat all day and watched testimony, filled out a survey, watch testimony, filled out a survey, lather, rinse, repeat all day long. Today, after only a few hours of videotaped testimony and live closing remarks from the attorneys in the case, we were broken up into two juries and sent off to deliberate. 

As the facilitator was calling the names of Jury 1, I was praying that a.) I was assigned to the jury that got to convene in the conference room with the cushy chairs and b.) I would not be sentenced to an afternoon with the blowhard know-it-all or the juror who said "Whew! Thank you Jesus!" every time a witness testimony wrapped up.

Happily, I got both my wishes, although it turned out there was another blowhard, who'd flown under my radar, assigned to the group I was in.

When our self-appointed jury foreperson took a poll of the room, we were split about 9-3 in favor of the defense. I promised myself that I was just going to (mostly) listen. Well, you can probably guess how that turned out. 

Despite the fact that one juror started her thoughts on the case with "You know, I watch a whole lot of 'Judge Judy,'" we had really positive discussions. We pored over the exhibits, asked for clarification of the law, and very civilly came to a unanimous agreement on each of the counts we'd been asked to consider. 

The other jury, the members of which all saw and heard the same exhibits and testimony my jury did, made opposite determinations on the counts than my group had. Kind of amazing, huh?


I learned a few things:
  1. I am so glad I never had an inclination to be a lawyer.
  2. It is possible to ask the same person the same question 27 different ways and get the 32 different answers. 
  3. Nice guys may not always finish last, but they sure come off better as witnesses than hostile and evasive people do.
  4. It is entirely possible to change your mind about something every 45 minutes and still be confused when you finally make a decision. 
  5. If you want the good snacks, you have to snag them early.
One other thing that I learned from this experience is that being a juror (or in this case, a mock juror) is important -- and hard -- work.  I prayed my way into the jury room, asking that I might have humility and wisdom to make the right decision. If we had been a real jury, making decisions about real millions of dollars, I might have been overwhelmed by the task. 

Even so, I would love to be seated on a real jury someday, blowhards and "Judge Judy" fans and all.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Good news from the gas station

No really. I meant it. "Good news" and "gas station" in the same sentence. What good news can be coming from a gas station today? Prices are flirting with $4/gallon. Facebook is abuzz with warnings that thieves may steal your purse from the front seat while you are at the pump. And despite what my husband says, gas station food -- GROSS. But I'm here to deliver a bit of good gas news.

Tonight after Charlie's soccer practice, I had to get gas in the car; the handy dashboard computer was reading FUEL RANGE: 0 miles. So I pulled in to a Circle K station, swiped my debit card and selected the "Regular" gas, selling for $3.48/gallon. The pump screen instructed me to lift the nozzle and begin pumping the gas. So that's what I did. Only nothing happened. As I waited, another driver came out of the gas station and told me that the station was out of regular gas.

I hit "cancel" on the pump and contemplated paying the higher price for the "Plus" gas. But then I noticed another gas station across the street and decided to go there to get the cheaper fuel. It took me just a minute to drive across the street and pull up to the pump of the Whitestown Marathon.

 photo MarathonLogo_zpsff44b30a.pngI got out of the car, swiped my card, and got ready to pump the gas. I looked up to see "Please See Cashier" flash at me on the screen. Frustrated, I went into the station where they told me my card had been declined.

"Ugh...I know what it is, I just tried to get gas across the street and they must have placed a big hold on my account."

The clerk very nicely suggested that I call the 1-800 number on the back of my card to ask my back to release the hold. So I headed back to the car to make the call...which would have been simple, if Robbie hadn't killed the battery on my phone playing "Wipeout."  I should be given a gold medal for not flipping out at this point. Instead, I just took the phone back and plugged it in, pulled into a parking spot, and waited for the phone to charge. About 6 minutes later (it was REALLY dead), I was on the line with my bank and feeling cranky.

After answering 72 security questions, the guy from the bank confirmed that I did indeed have sufficient funds and that there were now no holds on my card. Awesome.

So I pulled back up to the pump, swiped my card, and "Please See Cashier" appeared in front of me again.

Seriously? So, I went back inside the gas station, presented my card again and waited while the cashier swiped it again, using it as a debit card. Declined. So he ran it as credit. Declined.

At this point, I was frustrated and embarrassed and just ready to go home. "I just got off the phone with the bank," I told him in what I'm sure sounded like a big fat lie (but it wasn't). "He said there were no holds on the account and there are funds in the account."

"I have zero gas and no cash," I continued, already thinking about the earful I was going to give the bank when I got back in the car.

Here's the good part. A lady came up behind the counter and asked how far I needed to go. I told her just about 5 miles. She said to the cashier, "Give her $10; that should get her home." Then she turned to me and said, "I'm the manager here. We'll take care of you." She took $10 out of her own purse, handed it to the cashier and said "Pay it back when you can or pay it forward."

I know it sounds completely cheesy to say this, but I left the Whitestown Marathon feeling happy to know that there are good, kind people in this world. So, if you find yourself in need of gas near Exit 130 on I-65 North, please think about stopping at the Whitestown Marathon. Tell Tammy that the 4th Frog sent you.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

My Diet Coke risk that paid off

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A couple of weeks ago, I received this e-mail:

Dear Amy,

Is Diet Coke always the first thing on your shopping list? Do you take a daily Diet Coke break?  Is Diet Coke your go-to drink? If you answered yes to any of these questions, I have quite the opportunity for you.

Diet Coke is kicking off a trial Brand Ambassador Program designed for extraordinary fans like you and we want you to be first in line. The program will consist of several campaigns that will help enlighten and educate you about Diet Coke and give you first look at some behind-the-scenes developments with the brand. We want you to help us spread the good word about a product that you already love.


Waaaahhhhhh! Where was this e-mail 5 months ago, before I gave up Diet Coke?! A chance to work with the Diet Coke brand? Holy carbonated, zero-calorie nirvana!

It was too painful to pass up the opportunity, but not really worth picking up my Diet Coke habit again. (I cut my consumption for a combination of economic and health reasons.) As I thought about it, the truth is that I've mostly given up Diet Coke, but sometimes it's just what I need. So, after several days of thinking, I replied with this:


Here is where I am with Diet Coke. I love the brand. But I cut back my consumption about 5 months ago, based on the idea that it's not good for me.

I still drink it 2-3 times/week. I love the brand itself. I still have my Diet Coke bottle from a NYC visit in my office, a  Diet Coke bracelet and will definitely hang my Diet Coke ornament from my Christmas tree this year.

I'm interested in participating primarily because I'd love to have the health info, but I'm not sure if I still fit your brand ambassador profile. If you'd be on board with an "I love it, but I want to make informed decisions" perspective, I'd love to be part.

It was a risk to answer this way, but I figured I had nothing to lose. I was honest, not compromising my integrity. If I didn't fit what they were looking for, they'd let me know.

Extraordinarily, the answer was yes, they'd still love to have me! It's a short-term, trial brand ambassador program, so there will be some #MyDietCoke posts coming from me in the next few weeks. I'd love to hear your thoughts on Diet Coke, pro and con, too.

So, how do I drink my Diet Coke now? As I said, I indulge in Diet Coke maybe 2 to 3 times per week. Almost always, if I'm going to enjoy a Diet Coke, it's in the morning on my way to work and it comes to me via the McDonald's drive-thru window.

I'm not a coffee drinker. I've been learning to drink iced tea, but on days when my eyes stay bleary longer than normal, when I need a little oomph to push me into the world of the functioning awake, nothing does the trick like Diet Coke. And for some reason, no one does Diet Coke better than McDonald's. The order is always the same -- 1 large Diet Coke for $1.09. Cheaper, and tastier, than a fancy schmancy latte from Starbucks.

Occasionally on the weekend, Mike will buy a fridge pack of Diet Coke and I might have one. If I'm drinking the bubbly stuff at home, it's over crushed ice, preferably in my Butler University or Indianapolis Colts Tervis Tumbler, and closely guarded so no one can steal a swig of it.

So how do I enjoy my Diet Coke? Like all good things in life...in moderation.

How about you?

Disclosure: M80 contacted me on behalf of The Coca-Cola Company to participate in this brand ambassador program. I said yes all by myself.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

4th Frog presents "Baked potato soup & other kitchen disasters"

If you've been following along this blog for a while, it will not come as a surprise to you that I am not a great cook. I don't like to cook because I'm not very good at it. So where will you find me this Saturday, August 10 at 3pm and 5pm? On the Red Gold Cooking Stage at the Indiana State Fair of course.

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Picture me here!
Fear not, there will be no actual cooking going on. Instead, I will be presenting 20-30 minutes worth of go-ahead-and-laugh-real-life-stories of my own kitchen missteps. By the end, you'll probably agree that it's a misstep just to let me set foot in the kitchen.

What can you expect to hear? Classics such as "Double Amputee Barbie," "Cajun Tuna Surprise," and of course "Baked Potato Soup...or How I Almost Burned the House Down."

Those who gather to have their funny bones tickled at my expense (or let's be honest, who just happen to sit down to enjoy the air conditioning in the Dupont Food Pavilion) will also be treated to tales of "Cookies for the Mean Lady" and "Graham Cracker Steak"and more.

I have to thank Indiana Family of Farmers (IFOF) for the heads up about this opportunity and the Indiana State Fair for its willingness to let a hot mess like me step onto its cooking stage.

Again, I'll be there on Saturday, August 10 at 3pm and 5pm.

As if the chance to laugh at, er...with me is not enough, here are some other reasons you'll want to be at the Indiana State Fair:

Note: Thanks to IFOF for the tickets and hosting us at the Fair on Monday, when these pictures were taken. We can't wait to be back in a few days!

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World's largest popcorn ball


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Can-structions made with canned goods to be donated to Gleaners Food Bank
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Free catch & release fishing for the kids

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Cheese carving!

And of course the food! There's nothing quite like eating a Hoosier Ribeye Sandwich downwind from the cattle barn. My other personal must-haves are the pork burger (from Indiana Pork, of course), hot buttered corn from the Lions Club booth, ice cream from Indiana Dairy's red barn Dairy Bar and, if I'm being truthful, one funnel cake from any number of pop-up shops set up on the grounds.

Seriously, I love the Indiana State Fair...and I'd love it if you were there on Saturday to cheer on my small piece of it.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Life's too short for sucky blog posts -- let me make it up to you (#GIVEAWAY)

I don't really like to publish sucky blog posts, but it happens sometimes. (Fortunately, I think, once in a great while.) My last post -- Cereal for lunch?  -- definitely wasn't one of my best. Trust me, that's not the way I intended it.

When the big box arrived at home, I had great plans for an awesome post, one that would do me and General Mills proud. I shot probably 12 minutes of video for the post. It turns out, I'm not a very good videographer. The sound and light was too low. I cut off words and images of the Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme cereal. It was, as they say, a "hot mess."

So my enthusiasm for writing the post went from rocket high to submarine low. I just kept putting it off...until I was literally on top of the deadline. So what I wrote and what you got was a less than stellar post. I didn't even include a giveaway because I had misplaced the giveaway information.

HOWEVER...I am prepared to make it up to you. Thanks to the uber-organized and super helpful people at MyBlogSpark, I am once again in possession of the information I need to to be able to give away a Hershey's Cookies & Creme cereal prize pack!

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The lucky winner of this prize pack, which is provided by General Mills through MyBlogSpark, will receive:
  • 1 Box of Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme Cereal
  • 1 Cereal storage container (my kids' favorite part of the pack)
  • 2 Cereal-To-Go containers
TO ENTER:
Entering to win is easy -- Visit the General Mills website and leave a comment here, telling what your favorite General Mills cereal is.

If you'd like a second entry, visit the 4th Frog Facebook page and comment on the link to this post  that you'll forgive me for not working up to my potential in the original Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme post.

This giveaway will be open until 5pm EST Friday, August 9.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cereal for lunch? Why not!

Cereal is a staple in our house. Well, it's more than a staple. It's practically its own food group. Robbie and Charlie are the biggest inhalers, er, consumers of the cereal and with them home more in the summer than during the school year, we've been going through about 4 boxes a week (doing the math, that's a little over 1/2 a box a day).

When My Blog Spark contacted me with an opportunity from General Mills to get a free Hershey's Cookies & Creme cereal gift pack, including a free box of the cereal, it didn't take me long to say yes.

 photo giftset_zps1cedb8d0.jpgThe package arrived in a pretty big box, which intrigued all the kids. Honestly, they were just as excited to receive the cereal dispenser as they were to get the free box of cereal. I mean, really, all the cereal that comes in this house seems free to them, right?

"It's just like they have at a hotel," Charlie said.

Of course they all wanted to try the cereal right away and because it was 11:30 in the morning, I decided that we could call it "lunch." Aren't I a great mom? The kids sure thought so.

Hershey's Cookies & Creme cereal IS made from 100% whole grains and only has 9g of sugar per serving -- which is WAY LESS than the amount of sugar that would be ingested if I let Robbie put his own sugar on his cereal.

So, the kids had Cookies & Creme cereal for lunch. I'm pretty sure they liked it ok because each of them had two bowls of it and that was the end of that!

Tonight at Target, a box of Hershey's Cookies & Creme cereal was $2.99. When I went to In Good Cents, my favorite coupon database, I found several coupons for $1 off Hershey's Cookies & Creme. Once I factor in my Red Card discount and an Rx Rewards discount, I can get a box for $1.80.

That's good enough for me -- and that's who the next box will be for: ME. The next time I buy Hershey's Cookies & Creme cereal, I'm bringing it home and promptly hiding it from the kids. I can do that. I'm the mom.

As for the kids, they say "thank you" to:


Disclosure: The information and prize pack have been provided by General Mills through MyBlogSpark.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What's in that purse?

 photo null_zpsd840d8e5.jpgA few months ago, I bought a new purse. The price was right ($20), the purse was cute (turquoise!), and my old one was dirty and fraying. I love this new purse. It's kind of like Mary Poppins' carpet bag -- seemingly bottomless. It's that capacity for carrying everything that is the purse's one drawback. Carting around a bunch of stuff can get heavy. Yesterday when I picked it up, I thought "No wonder my arm is all jacked up."

How heavy is heavy? I took the purse upstairs and set it on the bathroom scale. It weighed nearly 6 pounds! Truthfully, I expected it to be more than that. But still, 6 pounds is the size of some newborn humans.

So exactly what is in a purse that weighs 6 pounds? This:

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  • 1 box of generic allergy medicine
  • 2 bottles of ibuprofen (the shoulder, you know)
  • 2 different kinds of lip gloss
  • Foundation (ironic, because I rarely wear makeup)
  • Blush
  • A broken mechanical pencil
  • Lip balm, free from a exhibit booth at a trade show
  • Binder clip (to pull back my hair)
  • A Diet Coke cap waiting for me to enter the code for Coke Rewards (drunk by someone else)
  • Wallet (sadly, the emptiest of all)
  • Pool key
  • 3 maxi pads
  • 1 pack of Splenda
  • 1 pack of Pure Via
  • Acne medication samples
  • Sunglasses
  • 2 hardback books -- one biography and one daily inspirations
  • 35 cents in loose change
  • A pen that I told the kids absolutely must not leave the kitchen calendar area
  • An envelope of coupons
  • Random register coupons from Target and Walgreens
  • 2 expired Walgreens monthly savings booklets
  • Numerous old receipts that just got shoved in the purse as soon as the cashier handed them over
  • Bag of box tops someone at the office gave me to turn into school
  • A ticket I saved from Annie's last show
  • An Rx for bloodwork
So, what's in YOUR purse?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

At long last! #LTYM videos are up!

On May 2 of this year, I had the great honor of being part of the inaugural "Listen to Your Mother" cast in Indianapolis. On May 3, I was more than ready for the videos of the show to be uploaded to You Tube. Imagine my disappointment when I found out the videos wouldn't be posted until sometime this summer. Well, folks, SOMETIME is NOW!

You can watch the entire "Listen to Your Mother -- Indianapolis" on You Tube. Do it tonight. Pop some popcorn, pour yourself a favorite beverage, grab some tissues, get ready to laugh and have a grand old time watching the show. Seriously, this group of women is smart, honest, talented, funny.

If you just can't wait, maybe you could watch this video, you know, kind of like a trailer.


Of course, that was me. Hey, it IS my blog. I didn't actually hate watching myself, although I have definitely decided to cut my hair short again now that I see it in front of me. And that blouse? The one that my mother said before the show that she didn't like? Yeah, it's going in the Goodwill pile. Hello, saggy boobs!

But on the whole, I'm proud of that moment in my life. Thanks for sharing it with me.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sidelined

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It's pretty hard to call myself a blogger given that I haven't blogged in about 3 weeks. But it's not without good -- but painful -- reason. Somehow, I've done something to my shoulder. Well, if you ask the physical therapist, I've done something to my neck, but it's my shoulder that's bearing the brunt of the pain.

Sitting at a desk all day, working on the computer has been killer on my wherever-it-is injury. So by the time I get home, the last thing I want to do is sit down at the computer longer -- hence my long absence from the blogosphere.

I wish I had talk-to-type software because I've written plenty of blog posts in my head. Maybe I'll get them written soon.

The whole pain in the whatever started in April. I went to the chiropractor and her massage therapist and got some decent relief. But when it came back just a few weeks later my boss, who is a physical therapist, suggested that if I wanted to get more permanent relief, I should see a physical therapist.

First I had to go to my doctor, who ordered an x-ray of my shoulder. When that came back fine, she write me the PT order. I've been seeing the PT for about 3 weeks. I'll admit that the physical therapy is making progress....S-L-O-O-O-O-W progress. I'm not in debilitating pain anymore, which is good. But discomfort and I becoming too comfortable with each other.

My arm feels heavy as it hangs at my side, like the rubber bands of muscle are stretching long out of the socket. The PT fixed me up with some tape that helps tremendously. You know, the kind the Olympic volleyball players wear. Except my tape is white and flesh-colored and the only Olympic event I'm worthy to compete in is Olympic whining. Anyway, it seems like I've just traded the crazy pain for another problem. Now instead of just my shoulder hurting, the inside of my whole right arm all the way down to the tip of my thumb just lapses into numbness without much coaxing.

I have been faithfully doing my PT exercises, often in the car because that's where I spend much of my time. So if you drive by and see a plump woman who looks like she has tortocollis driving a minivan, try not to stare. It's just me, working on the neck stretches. Or if you see me and I appear to be serving an imaginary tray of imaginary drinks, I've not lost my marbles. I'm just doing some casual cervical neck flossing.

Of course I've near convinced myself that somewhere in my neckish/shoulderish region there is some tumor crushing my nerves. But in all reality, what Mike says is probably true: You turn 42 and things start going out on you.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Mormon-umental Giveaway (#MoTab)

I don't actually have a bucket list, but if I did, seeing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform would probably be on it. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have my pencil in hand because this particular wish is about to come true. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir with the Orchestra at Temple Square is coming to Indianapolis and I'm going to see them...and you can too!

How do you know if you want to see and hear one of the most famous choirs in the world? Well, either you just know or you watch this video preview and get goose bumps:



I got my tickets by offering to host this giveaway and you can get yours if you win it. Thanks to Moosh in Indy and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for hooking me up with this opportunity.

Here's the 411:

The Choir will perform at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis on Friday, June 14 at 7:30pm. The winner of my giveaway will pick up his or her tickets at Will Call. If you are the winner, you'll need to e-mail me your full name and phone number.

To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me the name of your favorite hymn. All entries must be received by 8pm on Wednesday, June 12.

For more chances to win, check out the giveaways at these other blogs:

Basilmomma

Family Fun in Indy