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Friday, February 27, 2009

Who me? Use coupons?

NED Food Coupons Pictures, Images and Photos

I broke down and went to the grocery store today. I had the day off from work and the only thing left in the freezer were some frozen chicken breasts and two bags of vegetables. The refrigerator was equally bare, yielding a few oranges, two slices of deli turkey, a serving of yogurt and assorted condiments.

Early in January, I was at the grocery and watched a woman in front of me buy a cart full of groceries for only $27 after she'd used all of her coupons. I was amazed and felt guilty when the cashier asked me if I had any coupons. "Not today," I said, vowing that I sure would the next time.

Since then, I discovered Bargain Briana. Actually, I re-discovered her. I first became familiar with Briana in the Ridemakerz giveaway days. But I didn't really check out her site until recently. Intent on cutting my grocery bill, I've spent hours over the past few days on Briana's site trying to understand exactly how to get the best deal.

So today, I sat down with the grocery ad, Briana's site listing the store deals open on my computer, and my sparse collection of coupons in hand to make out my menu based on what's on sale this week. Then I headed out to shop.

First the dairy department. Shredded cheese on my list. It's on sale 2/$6. Plus there's an on-package coupon. Then Pillsbury Grands. 10/$10. I have a coupon for 50 cents off three. Oh wait, Grands Sweet Rolls don't count. Dig for the ones that do count.

Move on to the Italian aisle. $1 off /2 Prego. Oh, but not the size I usually get. The big size. Hmmm. Ok, I can use those still. Brownies. $1 off /4 -- but the ones I have a coupon for aren't the ones on sale. Which is cheaper? Do I really even need brownies?

I can feel myself starting to get slightly anxious. This whole couponing thing is hard work. Make sure I've got the right size, the right variety, the right number of items to get the discount. Boy, it sure was easier to go in with my list and ignorantly toss stuff into the cart without trying to match up to manufacturer requirements.

But still, I trudged on, consulting my list and my envelope of coupons. I was glad to get to the bottom of my list and head to the checkout. Once I got there, I watched the woman in front of my with a little bit of envy. Nothing in her cart was on the 10/$10 list and she had no coupons to redeem.

Then it was my turn. I piled my coupons on the checkout stand and waited for the cashier to scan and bag my items. After everything was rung up, my total was $162 and some change. I handed over the coupons.

I watched as 30 cents here and 50 cents there came off my total. When all was said and done, I saved almost $13! Small potatoes to the mega coupons queens out there, I'm sure. But enough to make me think that coupon ignorance may be bliss, but it sure is expensive.

Next up, I'm going to learn how to play the CVS game.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why do Catholics do that?


The other day in response to my "Givin' it up" entry, Momza asked me to explain the whole concept of Lent to her sweet little Mormon self. And thanks to the great homily by Fr. Paul on Ash Wednesday I can do just that!

Lent is the period of preparation before Easter. As Catholics, we're called to do 3 things during Lent:
  1. Pray
  2. Fast
  3. Give alms
Each one of these gives us the opportunity to work on our relationships -- with God, with ourselves and with others.

Pray: We're called to do something new or extra in our prayer life to strengthen our relationship with God. For some people that might be getting up 10 minutes earlier to read the Bible. Some may choose to pray the rosary daily. For me, I'm going to bed earlier and using the time to read/reflect using the book Reliving the Passion (written by Mike's Godfather, Walt Wangerin). Praying for a parking spot up close the entrance of the grocery store does not count.

Fast: This is where the giving up comes in. Each person chooses for him/herself what to give up for Lent, although universally Catholics do not eat meat (beef, chicken, pork, veal) on Ash Wednesday or on Fridays during Lent. When I was a kid, we always gave up candy which made an Easter basket full of jelly beans, marshmallow Peeps and Reese's peanut butter eggs extra special.

There are two ideas behind fasting. One is self-discipline. The other is rooting out things in our character that aren't good -- something that hopefully continues after Easter. So giving up pop is self-discipline; giving up cussing is about rooting out a yucky part of my character.

A third idea is just a myth, though it seems pretty plausible based on my experience. That is that we give up things during Lent so that our mothers can lay the guilt on us when we cave and sneak a tiny bite of brownie even though we've given up chocolate.

Give alms: This is about relating with others. Doing acts of charity -- donating money, working at soup kitchen, volunteering at a nursing home -- helps keep "do unto others" fresh in our minds. This is the one piece of Lent that I'm struggling with. Not that I don't want to do it, but I don't know what to do and where to schedule it in. I'd like to find a service activity that our whole family can participate in, so I'm still looking.

Lent is over on Easter Sunday. If you count the days, there are actually 46 days in the season, not 40. Which is where the confusion over Sundays comes in. Liturgically, Sundays are a day of celebration, so many people consider them "Little Easters" and allow themselves whatever they have otherwise given up. Other people stay true to their Lenten promises daily until Easter. This is a point of controversy in my house. As is why you can eat eggs on Friday, but not chicken.

There is no punishment for breaking your Lenten promise. It's between you and God -- and your children if they hear you accidentally say "$hit I forgot to thaw the meat for dinner!" and they know you gave up cussing for Lent.

And that, Momza, in a nutshell is Lent. Thanks for asking!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Biggest Loser: Sealed their fate

Tonight on the Biggest Loser, the Blue team lost the weigh in.

Ron argued that Dane should go home based on the assumption that Dane had the best chance to continue to do well at home (he'd lost a record 100 pounds in 8 weeks on the ranch). Dane countered with his assertion that the team should jettison weak link Ron whose knee and shoulder injuries keep him from working out at 100%.

Mother-daughter team Cathy and Kristin voted with their hearts instead of their heads and followed Ron's vote for Dane. All they succeeded in doing was sealing the blue team's fate as losers next week. They really need Dane's big numbers and the team is going to find themselves continually hindered by Ron's injuries.

Kristin and Cathy are so tender-hearted. And I'm afraid that's going to haunt their team on the scale next week.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Givin' it up

Since tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, we talked at dinner last night about what we're all giving up for Lent.

Annie and Charlie had obviously been thinking about it. When I asked what they thought they might give up, Charlie didn't even try the "I'm giving up homework" line. Instead, he said he planned to give up his iPod. Impressive -- not as impressive as if he'd said his Nintendo DS, but pretty sacrificial for him nonetheless.

For her part, Annie is choosing to give up saying "Oh my God!" She gets corrected when she says it, but the fact that she recognizes it as something she wants to change about herself made me feel good.

Much to Mike's chagrin, I suggested that as a family we give up pop (that's soda to you Cheeseheads). So we let the kids have caffeine free Diet Coke with dinner tonight. Usually they only have pop when we are eating out, so the sacrifice will be mostly mine and especially Mike's.

After all that was decided, Charlie issued a challenge. "I think you and Dad should give up cussing," he said.

A little embarrassed that we must cuss enough for him to suggest we give it up, Mike and I both agreed. I couldn't help but notice Charlie's victorious grin.

I'm also going to try to abide by "no screens" after 10pm -- no TV, no computer. That will probably be my biggest challenge, more difficult by far than not cussing, dammit.

I don't expect that I'll make it through Lent perfectly sacrificial and we're still having an internal debate as to whether or not Sundays "count." But I'm going to give it my best shot.

Biggest Loser: Black vs. Blue

Biggest Loser logo

Tonight on the Biggest Loser was the night that the teams were split into Black (Jillian's team) and Blue (Bob's team).

Tara won the "up-down" challenge for the green team, so they got to choose their trainer; they chose to stay with Jillian. Helen (pink team) finished last, so she was forced to switch trainers and ended up with Jillian. The rest of the players were assigned to teams based on a black/blue coin toss. Although interestingly, they just happened to have exactly the right size shirt in the right color waiting for each person. Hmmm...

So the new line-up is:

Bob's Blue Team:

Jillian's Black Team:

There was plenty of disappointment to go around, but the most disappointing reaction was Bob's. I think he did both his former team and his new team a huge disservice by boohooing about how upset he was. He should have put on a strong face and embraced the new opportunity, helping the players do the same.

The second challenge was a 24-hour bike challenge. Tara really showed her street smarts by gathering the things that the black team would need to get the challenge done. Their strategy of 30 minutes on the bike, 2-1/2 hours off proved to be a winning one.

My favorite quote of the night was an exchange between Aubrey and Mandi during the 24-hour challenge:

Aubrey: "My a$$ is burning."
Mandi: “Uh huh. Don’t worry -- it will go numb.”

When the Blue team came and offered a cease-fire to conserve everyone's strength for the last chance workout, I thought the Black team would take it. But kudos to Sione who said no, he was there to finish what he started. Then Aubrey from the Blue team agreed and they all finished.

Dane was absolutely right when he said that they had all gotten there (fat enough to be on TBL) by not finishing what they started in terms of weight loss plans. I thought it was a high point for everyone still in the game.

Last chance workout with the new teams and the weigh-in are tomorrow night. I think someone on Bob's team is going home simply because he's not focused on pushing them as hard as they can go. What do you think?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Got pancakes?

Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday -- apparently known in some parts of the world as Pancake Day, which is new to me. But I can get behind Pancake Day.

I'm not a great cook, but I can do pancakes. Around here, pancakes = love. The kids are always excited when they come downstairs for breakfast and I've got the griddle hot and loaded up with batter. If it's pancakes for dinner, that's practically nirvana for them, which only happens when Mike is not home. For Mike, pancakes only = breakfast.

Robbie is probably my biggest pancake fan. He always wants one shaped like an "R." A few years ago, I went with a pancake theme for his birthday gift. He got dinosaur-shaped pancake molds -- which turned out to be a pain in the griddle, and three pancake books: Pancakes, Pancakes!, Hey! Pancakes, and my favorite Mr. Wolf's Pancakes.

Pancake day

Turns out IHOP has jumped on the Pancake Day bandwagon and is hosting it's own IHOP Pancake Day. IHOP goers (IHOPpers?) can get a free short stack (3 pancakes) tomorrow only. They do encourage a donation to the Children's Miracle Network; their goal is to raise $1 million this year.

Not too many IHOPs around here, but maybe there's one near you?

So what's the verdict on pancakes in your house? Breakfast only or great any time of the day? How do you like them -- with syrup? powdered sugar? chocolate chips? pecans?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Night at the movies


Last night I took Annie and four of her friends out for pizza and to see Confessions of a Shopaholic as a celebration of Annie's birthday.

Before we left for the restaurant, I hit Walgreens and stocked up on M&Ms and Twizzlers for the movie. Then it was off to meet Annie's friends.

Now, I am a grown woman. I am a wife and mother and professional communicator. So why is it that a group of 6th grade girls can make me feel insecure and thinking "I hope they like me?" Probably because I know that they do like Mike with his fashion sense and never-ending knowledge of popular music.

"Annie, your Dad is so cool!" I've heard on more than one occasion.

But no matter, because last night they got me, not him. So I decided my strategy would be to observe. Give the girls room to be silly (as most 'tween girls in a group setting are) and offer slight direction when needed. Turned out to be a good plan.

I listened as they talked about school, volleyball and Robert Pattison (of the Twilight movie fame). I bit my tongue when they referred to certain pop stars as "hot" -- why does the word "cute" seem so much more innocent? I wondered if they even heard each other as they all tried to tell stories on top of one another. And I was amazed that one pizza and one family order of breadsticks was enough to feed them all!

I guess they were saving room for snacks at the movie, because when we got there, no one took me up on my offer of the sneaked-in candy. Instead, they all spent their own money on popcorn and slushies -- and then ate my candy half-way through the movie when they'd had their fill of the treats they'd bought.

Though we'd chosen the movie purely for fun -- and for its PG rating, I found myself thinking (from my seat behind Annie and her friends) that it could provide a good lesson for my Uggs-coveting daughter and her friends that "stuff" does not lead to happiness. That spending beyond your means can lead to lies and heartache.

On the way home, I listened as one of Annie's friends said, "That movie inspired me!"

"Yes! She got the message," I thought, waiting to hear how the movie inspired her to save her money.

"It inspired me to dress fabulously!"

At which point I delivered my one mini-lecture of the night about saving and avoiding reliance on credit cards. No longer worried about fitting in, I figured if "you can't join 'em, teach 'em."

Of course they paid as much attention to me as they would to a math teacher trying to fit in one more lesson at 2:00pm on the Friday before Spring Break starts. Before the breath of my last word on the subject evaporated, they were already talking about who cried when Luke and Rebecca parted ways in the movie.

All in all it was a fun night. Who knows if the girls got the moral of the movie? And probably they aren't waking up in their own homes today thinking "Annie's mom is so cool." But I consider it a victory that I don't think anyone is thinking "Poor Annie, her mom is such a dork."

At least I hope they're not.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What was my mother thinking?!

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Word association for my Peeps


Ash Wednesday is next week.

Which makes me think of Lent.

Lent leads me to think of Easter.

The word Easter brings to mind marshmallow Peeps.

Which reminds me to tell you about a Peeps Easter Candy giveaway over at Joanie's Random Ramblings. Entering is easy -- just leave Joanie a note about why you love Peeps or if (unbelievably) you've never tried Peeps, how much you want the chance to try Peeps for yourself.

My own Cake Wreck story

castle cake

Over at Cake Wrecks the other day, Jen showcased some Barbie cake wrecks. Immediately, my mind jumped to my own wreckish incident with a Barbie cake.

When Annie turned 4 years old, she wanted a Barbie Cinderella cake. For Annie's first three birthdays, my mom came over to help me make the cake. But I was feeling pretty confident and decided I could handle this one on my own.

The plan was to make a castle cake and a Barbie cake with the dress decorated like Cinderella's ball gown. I went to the cake store to buy the castle pan and a cake doll. But the store didn't have any cake dolls in stock. So I decided I would just use one of Annie's Barbie dolls to make the Cinderella cake.

I went home, baked the cake in my large Pampered Chef batter bowl, washed the Barbie and wrapped her legs in Saran wrap.

When the cake was finished and cooled, I turned it out on a cookie sheet and cut a large hole down the center for the Barbie to stand in.

She was too tall! The tops of her legs stuck out of the top of the cake. No problem, I thought. I'll just bake a round cake to stand the skirt on, giving Barbie another inch or so to sink into. Because the cake mix made two rounds and I only needed one, I decided to bake one round and a dozen cupcakes so the kids could have a little treat.

Once that baking was done, I put the skirt cake on the round cake, extended the hole into the round cake and slipped Barbie back in the hole.

For crying out loud, that Barbie has legs that just don't quit -- she was still too tall! If I only I had made two round cakes. But I didn't.

"Think Amy..." I told myself. "A ha!" In a flash of creativity, I decided to give the skirt a ruffle on the top by putting a cupcake on top of the skirt, cutting a hole in it and sliding Barbie through all three cakes -- the cupcake, the skirt cake and the round cake.

That's when I discovered Barbie's physical flaw -- her hips were too wide and cracked open the cupcake. Now what to do? About that time, my sister Angie stopped by. Her idea was to cut off Barbie's legs.

Annie overheard the suggestion and was mortified. "No!," she screamed. "You can't cut off Barbie's legs!"

Hmmm....but maybe I could just temporarily pop them off for the purposes of finishing the cake and then put them back on after the party? So I sent Annie to the basement to play and tried to pry Barbie's legs from her hips.


Barbie's legs were not meant to come off and trying to get them to do so snapped the hip sockets.

At this point, there was really only one thing to do. So laughing, I called my mom and left her a very short message:

"Three words: Double Amputee Barbie!"

Looking on the bright side, I figured at least Barbie's height was no longer a problem. I removed the cracked cupcake from the skirt and gently place Barbie into the hole in the skirt cake. Well, Barbie certainly wasn't too tall -- she was too short and fell all the way through to the bottom of the stacked cakes.

Shoot! Now what? Not about to let a still perky though legless doll and some homemade dessert defeat me, I thought for minute. Genius!

Remember those cupcakes? Yep -- I shoved them into the cakes to plug up the long tube I'd hollowed out for Barbie to fit in, leaving just enough room for a half Barbie to fit. Finally, the cake was ready to frost to look like Cinderella.

Just as I was finishing, Annie came upstairs and said "Mommy, that is the most beautiful Cinderella cake I have ever seen!" I was beaming.

Barbie Cinderella cake

She went on..."Tomorrow, I'll have to give Julie (the Barbie's name) a bath because her legs will be all sticky!"

"Oh, they might not be as sticky as you think," I said knowingly.

The next day, I had to confess that in the pursuit of the perfect cake, I had broken Julie's legs. Annie was traumatized. Even a drama queen back then, she threw her arm across her eyes and sobbed.

"Can I see her?," she asked?

So I pulled the half-doll out of sink and handed to her.

"No!" She wailed with such anguish that I immediately promised to take her to Target and buy her a replacement.

In the checkout lane at Target, the cashier remarked how nice it was that I was buying Annie a new Barbie, to which Annie replied,

"Well, she had to because she broke off my Barbie's legs!"

As the cashier looked at me like I was the most evil mother on earth, I wished there was a giant cake with a hole in the middle that I could crawl into.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This cracks me up!

Have you see this commercial? It's sure to make you laugh:

Mike is a big butt dialer. I mean, he is a frequent butt dialer. Obviously, he's not the only one!

Contest update


Despite the fact that four boxes of Girl Scout cookies arrived at my house today and that 4 more are on their way, the 4th Frog Biggest Loser Contest is still underway.

The past couple of weeks have been good ones for me on the the food front -- amazing considering I've been doing lots of traveling. But I am NOT the biggest loser this week.

That honor goes to Michelle, who lost 1.89% of her total body weight last week! Congratulations, Michelle! Let us know what you're doing right.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Not quirky enough


A few weeks ago, I wrote about my reservations regarding Robbie's upcoming school conference and how I worried that he would be saddled with some label that he doesn't deserve. That conference was postponed by a snowstorm. Then my frolicking travel schedule got in the way of re-scheduling. Today, we finally met to discuss my little cub.

I arrived at school feeling nervous and defensive, fearful that these professionals who'd only spent 30 minutes or so with my son would try to tell me something that I knew was not right. So I said a little prayer, asking God to help me remember that we were all there to look out for what is best for Robbie and what we can do to help him be successful in school.

As we went around the table and each evaluator had her say, I heard a lot of what I already know. "Difficulty attending to tasks." "Does better in one-one-one situations." "Likes the attention of being the class clown."

Some things were shared surprised me, including that he is within acceptable limits in language expression and comprehension. We all got a chuckle when the director of the school resource center said that when Robbie is working with a resource teacher and is asked if he is working hard, he answers honestly.

"Robbie, are you working hard?"

"No. Not really," replies my truthful George Washington.

His most significant deficits are in the area of fine motor skills, though the occupational therapist indicated he might need some work on his core strength. She recommended that he receive OT services.

"Ok," I thought. "That's a start."

But not so fast. Turns out that occupational therapy is considered a "related" service and is only available to students who qualify for academically-linked services. Apparently, fine motor control -- which you need for coloring, writing, and cutting among other things -- is not considered critical to academic success.

So we continued the discussion and went through an "Autism Spectrum Checklist," which he "passed," indicating he does not have enough characteristics on the autism spectrum to qualify for services through the school.

And suddenly, I found myself at once both thankful and frustrated. Thankful that he does not fall onto that spectrum (which was confirmed by another evaluation by the children's hospital last year) and frustrated that, despite the clear recommendations that he needs some level of service and intervention, he isn't "quirky enough" (my words) to qualify for it. Actually what the evaluators said is that our state guidelines don't include services for kids with sensory processing disorder. Anyone have the energy to take on that legislative agenda?

My hopefulness that the conference would lead us to some useful services for him evaporated right in front of my eyes. That's the point at which I started crying, which just made me mad. I had promised myself I wouldn't do that.

The conference ended ok. The resource director said they would start implementing some of the evaluators' recommendations. The occupational therapist offered to meet with us separately to give us some suggestions of how to work with him at home. But I couldn't help but feel disappointed and, quite frankly, emotionally exhausted.

Of course we'll investigate other avenues for assistance, although going through the school would have been easier on our schedule and cheaper. But you can bet we'll do whatever we need to for our quirky little cub.

Keep your words soft and sweet

Last night at Annie's volleyball game, I overheard two mothers from the other team talking about the kids' homework. One mother said to the other:

"Well, she finished everything except her math. I told her she'd have to wait until her dad came home because Mom doesn't help with math after the third grade."

Sitting behind them, I rolled my eyes and thought "What a nice role model for your daughter! Let's teach her that women aren't capable of intellectual pursuits like higher math (as if fourth or fifth grad math is that difficult.)"

Fast forward to after the game. We were back home and Annie was working on her homework. She came to me for some help on her math. They're studying probabilities.

If there are 24 prizes in a box -- 13 small, 8 medium and 3 large, what's the probability that Biff will get a medium prize if he gets to choose twice?

Huh?! So we started scratching down numbers in various equations -- 8/24 x2. Cross multiply. Simplify the fraction. Find X.

"Annie, I think you better wait until Daddy gets home to work on this."

And I was reminded of that favorite phrase of my mother-in-law: "Keep your words soft and sweet. You never know which ones you'll have to eat."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Biggest Loser: Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!

BL upside down

Remember how boring last week's Biggest Loser episode was? Well, I thought tonight's flipped the show on its head. It was funny and interesting and fun to watch.

First of all, the challenges were way better. I loved the mountain/key challenge, even if my knees were hurting just watching Ron try to make it to the top and back down again. The rowing challenge was also better than last week's "watching people stand around" events. I did have a hard time figuring out what would throw someone into yellow. Was it speed? Or force? or something else?

I am beginning to see Bob as a puppet master with candy. He lures folks in with his sweet and sensitive ways and then pulls their strings to make them do what he wants them to do. I was surprised how peeved he was to find out that his team did not vote Dane off the ranch.

Jillian was cracking me up -- "We're gonna keep this up until someone drowns or until I can see you lose weight before my eyes!" And I think she was dead serious.

And you know what else happened this week? I found myself liking Tara. Don't get me wrong -- the purple team is still my favorite. But for the first time, I could see Tara as intense, rather than obnoxious. I do still find it a little curious how she is always the one throwing up.

As a mother, I totally would have given up my spot for my daughter and can't believe that Helen and Shanon made the decision they did. At the elimination, Shanon seemed like she regretted that decision. I was quite frankly surprised that the other players honored her wish, although part of me wonders if that was a little scripted to accommodate some required court appearance.

This was definitely an episode that I could watch and enjoy again.

A footnote to the birthday blog

Not only is my friend Clara such a good friend that she took care of Annie on the day Robbie was born, but she also is a faithful reader of my blog, which is how she knew that I didn't have the whole story right:

Hi, thanks for mentioning me in your blog! Here's a correction:

I picked up Charlie at preschool; another mom in Annie's class brought her home. Between the time that I picked up Charlie and Annie came home, C and I raced to the Marsh to get the cake, ice cream, hats/plates/napkins and some balloons. I also picked up a little gift on my way to get Charlie so Annie would have something to open with her cake. She was only six and this was the first birthday that you and her dad had "missed" so she was a little sad about that. We went to the Chinese restaurant and the kids were on their very best behavior. Charlie and I did our best to make the day special for Annie. The cake and the balloons and a new baby brother were nice, but she missed her parents. They're the most important part of every birthday.


Isn't that an awesome friend? And aren't I a horrid mother for forgetting in the re-telling of that day that Charlie must have been somewhere?!

I guess just one more reason that Charlie will get the biggest inheritance (don't worry Annie and Robbie, by the time your dad and I are done, they'll probably only be $5 left!)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why first-born Catholic Leos should not blog

When I first started this blog almost seven months ago, it was really to give myself a space to write more often. Honestly.

Figuring that if I am going to take the time to write, it would be nice if a few people read my blog, I sent the link to a few family and friends. From time to time, someone would comment on something I'd written -- and that was fun.

Then I figured out that I could publicize my blog on my Facebook page and in a couple of internet communities where I hang out. About the same time, I learned about "followers" and how to give folks the opportunity to subscribe to the 4th Frog.

That's where the egotistical craziness began. I started keeping an eye on the number of followers my blog has. I was over them moon when that number hit double digits.

Shortly after, I found out about Google Analytics, which allows me to tell on a daily basis how many visits I've had to my blog on any given day (not by whom, just how many). And the prideful Leo in me started fluffing its mane.

Then the other day, I noticed that I had inched up to 43 followers! Certainly 50 cannot be far away. However, the next day my bubble burst when I opened the page and saw only 42 followers.

Immediately the people pleasing first-born in me teamed up with the easily guilted Catholic in me and began to wonder "what did I do wrong?" Why did someone decide to unfollow me?

Maybe the picture of me in a bathing suit in the Punta Cana post was too much to handle? Perhaps the defector hates Jodi Picoult and anyone who likes her writing? Maybe he or she feels, as I have been lately, that I've gotten away from my humorous voice? What could it have been?

As if I am not awake at night enough, the worry and the guilt just might disrupt my sleep. So, as I see it, I have one of two choices to make.

I can go back to remembering that this blog is, at its root, for me. A place for me to creatively stretch my brain muscles. Or, I can arrogantly suggest that each one of you invite a friend to check out the Fourth Frog and consider joining the ranks of Frog Followers.

What's a people pleasing first-born, guilty feeling Catholic, proud Leo to do?

Look familiar?

Sanibel palm

Nope. Not Punta Cana.

We just got back from an extended weekend on Sanibel Island, Florida. We left Thursday afternoon and arrived back home around dinner time tonight. For Christmas, Mike's mom and dad gave us plane tickets to come visit them. Unfortunately, Mike's Mom wasn't able to join us, so we spent the time with Poppo.

Here are some of my favorite pics from the past few days:


Look at those big blue eyes!

Too much cake

How am I gonna eat all this cheesecake?


My boys -- too bad Robbie messed up the picture.


The girls.

Bobo kids

A must-take photo op at The Bubble Room on Captiva Island.

Monkey kids

My little monkeys.


The 4th Frog

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I gave in

For years, friends have been telling me that I should read books by Jodi Picoult. And for years, I've dismissed them, though I'm not sure exactly why. Some of it has to do with book snobbery -- I like to pick my own books and favorite authors and don't necessarily trust others to do it for me.

Despite that, I did pick up Picoult's My Sister's Keeper last night around 8:30pm. I read for about two hours and went to bed, only because my eyes wouldn't stay open wide enough to let me follow the words on the pages.

I woke up at 1am and had to start reading again. I read until 4:30am, hopeful that today will yield some opportunity for a nap. At 7:45am, Robbie stood over me asking for breakfast. I fixed his and mine along with it, reading as I ate.

Somewhere around 10:15am, I finished. But I am not happy. First, I kind of pride myself on being able to anticipate where a storyline is going. It's not often that I'm surprised by a plot. But I was definitely surprised by this book. And I am mad. I absolutely do not like the way it ended.

It's not that it was a bad ending or lacking in literary skill. But it's not what I wanted. I won't say anymore than that because I don't want to ruin it for anyone else who might choose to read it.

Regardless, I'm glad that I finally listened to the Picoult posse and picked up one of her books. For those of you who have read her before -- what's the next one I should try? If you've read My Sister's Keeper, were you satisified with the ending?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Punta Cana, finally

I haven't blogged much about my trip to Punta Cana, mostly because it was really a quiet trip, which is exactly what I needed.

Flying in to Punta Cana was so different than anywhere else I've flown. Never before I have seen such vast expanses of wild vegetation. When I looked out of the airplane window, it was green and native for as far as the eye could see with maybe one road on the horizon. Unfortunately, I don't think I have any good pictures of that.

From the air2

The Punta Cana airport has a grass/straw roof which was pretty cool and was completely empty on the Tuesday we arrived.


The drive to the resort was winding and spine-shocking and about an hour long. The bus was moving too quickly to get any good pictures, but we passed some really impoverished looking concrete dwellings where people were gathered in mismatched chairs on the porches. We also passed some elaborate and posh homes that were protected by concrete walls and high gates.

The Dreams Resort where we stayed was gorgeous. The entry stairs led to a large open lobby.

Hotel lobby

The pool stretched almost the entire length of the grounds and never felt crowded. There was a spa and beach access and several restaurants on-site.


The resort was all-inclusive, which was nice when I wanted a drink on the beach or a late night snack delivered to the room. The food was just ok, although our dinners at the onsite French and Japanese restaurants were excellent. The morning omlette station was also quite good.

On our first night there, we were headed to a cocktail reception. For the first time in months, I saw my arms in short sleeves. Boy did they look like gorilla arms! So, I bit the bullet and shaved them. That was certainly a new experience. Which is how I learned that arm hair must have something to do with temperature regulation, because after I did it I was sweaty and chilled at the same time. For the first 24 hours or so of the trip, I couldn't seem to regulate my temperature right. But it all evened out. That's the price I pay for vanity, I suppose.

Speaking of vanity, I didn't have time to get a pedicure before I left, so I took advantage of the spa and scheduled one. The pedicure stations looked ultra comfy, big boxy platforms covered in soft, thick pillows. However, the average Dominican must be taller than my 5 feet, 3 inches because when I sat up on the chair for my pedicure, my feet barely submerged in the foot bath below me. So instead of reclining comfortably, I was stretched a bit awkwardly with about 6 pillows behind me. No matter -- in the end my toes did look mah-velous!

I really didn't pack enough dress up clothes. I guess I had my mind on laying around, relaxing. I packed one "dress for dinner" outfit, a pair of brown capris and an orange peasant top. Let me tell you, those clothes got quite the workout, though I was able to change up the shirt a few times. I'm sure that my sister Angie's co-workers -- most of whom are much younger than me and who must have brought ginormous suitcases of totally hip clothes to ensure no repeated outfits -- were wondering why I kept wearing the same thing over and over again.


But if they wondered, they didn't say anything. Even if they did make me feel (all of my own doing) old and a bit frumpy, they were very nice and good company.

Dressed to kill

I read two books -- One More Day by Mitch Albom and The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I started to read, again, Quiet Strength by Tony Dungy, but just couldn't get into it. One afternoon, I sat in the hammock on our porch and read. Reading was such a luxury to me and definitely one of the benefits of leaving the laptop at home.


(Excuse the ashtray. It was a little weird to be in a place where smoking was allowed and ashtrays were everywhere. Trust me, the one on our porch went unused.)

After two days of gorgeous weather during which we sat poolside (or swim-up barside) and at the beach --


Beach view

Friday was gray and rainy. We decided to walk to a local market just outside the resort grounds. We got down the long drive and out the gates when we decided we were getting too wet. So we walked back up to the hotel lobby and asked the bellman to get us a cab. He did -- after he stopped laughing at our wet rat appearance.

Wet rat

Our 90-second, $7 US taxi ride told us that in the time it took us to head back to the hotel, we could have arrived at the market. Oh well, live and learn. The market was just a couple of concrete buildings with garage-like openings in them. No electricity and most each of the shops sold the same thing. We saw wild turkeys walking through the grassy center of the market.

Market exterior

Market turkeys

In the first store, I picked out a dress for Annie. The owner of the shop asked where we were from. I said the U.S. and he said, "I give you Walmart prices. Cheapie, cheapie." When I asked how much for the dress, the guy told me $35. No way, I said. So he handed me a calculator and asked me to make an offer. $10, I offered. He countered at $20. I said I'll take the dress and a coordinating necklace for $20. Deal.

In another shop, I found a necklace I wanted for Charlie. $25, Mr. Nicholas GoodDeal told me. (That's how he introduced himself. "Good morning! I am Nicholas GoodDeal. What's you're name?") C'mon, Nick...I'm not paying more than $2. After acting put out, he agreed to $5. Let me tell you I'm glad that I didn't pay anymore than that because when I got home and gave it to Charlie, there was a sticker on the necklace that said "Made in the Philippines." I probably could have ordered the same thing from the Oriental Trading catalog!

Here's my sister in the shop of Mr. Bargain (boy, they have weird names in the Dominican Republic!)

Ang @ market

Despite the warnings not to drink the water, several people in our group ended up sick. I got a bit a of an intestinal bug on our last night there. When I went to the gift shop to buy Immodium, the clerk sold it to me, then opened the box and gave me just one of the two blister packs of pills in the box. I thought that was a little weird, but the language barrier between us didn't allow us to resolve the situation and I took my one pack and hoped it would be enough. Thankfully, it was.

All in all, the trip was good. It wasn't the best resort I've stayed in. No pay-per-view movies, spotty TV reception, no poolside food service. I had to keep reminding myself that despite all the attempts to disguise it at the resort, I still was in a Third World country. But I did come back rested. I got spend a lot of time with my sister, who despite being eight years younger than me, is way better at hair and makeup and helped me look decent -- even if I was wearing the same clothes night after night!

And, besides my passport renewal and the $100 I spent on tips and gifts, it was a free trip. And who can complain about that?

The many names of Mom

When they were little and first learning to talk, I was Ma Ma Ma.

When they were toddling around wanting more milk in the sippy cup, I was Mommy.

When they were confidently walking in the door to preschool, it was "Bye Mom."

Today, when I am asking them to mind their manners at lunch and keep their voices to an indoor level, I am..."The Fun Ruiner."

Wonder if I can get that on a personalized license plate?

Friday, February 13, 2009

12 and 6 years ago...


Twelve and six years ago, a mother brought forth on this continent two new children, conceived in passion, and dedicated to the proposition that they should spend their time on making sure that all gifts, chores and affections shown to them be created equal.

Today is Annie's 12th and Robbie's 6th birthday. They were born six years and 39 minutes apart -- she at 9:12pm and he at 9:51pm. We didn't plan it to happen that way, but it did. Bear with me, I've got two birth stories to share, so this is a bit long.

Welcome Annie
With Annie, I went into the hospital at 7am to be induced. Only 3 days past my due date, I wanted to wait a bit, but my doctor was going out of town and I didn't want to deliver without her. So we made a party out of the occasion. My parents and Mike's came to wait out the labor with us. Both of my sisters and my oldest brother stopped by too. We took bets on the time the baby would be born, the gender, the weight.

My nurse's name was Rowena. I remember that because she came in and said "Hi-ah! I'm Rowena and you're my very first patient. I just finished nursin' school!" Not exactly what you want to hear when you're having your very first baby.

The day went on. I chatted with my a good friend from high school who was in a hospital in Ohio being induced with her first baby, too. I sent Mike and his parents to go get some lunch. The pitocin was making the contractions a bit uncomfortable, so I got an epidural.

I sent Mike and his parents to go get some dinner. Still no baby. The doctor came in and mentioned a c-section. I panicked a bit because I hadn't read that chapter of What to Expect When You're Expecting. Mike unpacked it from my bag, I read it quickly and waited for the re-dose of the epidural, which went the wrong direction and numbed me from the chest up. Talk about scary!

Soon enough -- with the right parts numbed -- we headed to the OR to have our baby. I got to watch the operation in a mirror placed next to my head. When the doctor pulled her out, Mike said "It's a girl!" and I don't remember much else -- except that she was 10 lbs. 4oz.

On the way to recovery, someone put her in my arms and I remember thinking, "This is the dumbest place for a new baby!" I was so loopy on pain meds by then. Mike asked what I wanted to name her -- Anna or Elizabeth. I picked Anna and the rest is history.

Hey there, Robbie!
Robbie's birth was a little different. Again I was overdue, but my plan was to have a VBAC -- it had worked beautifully with Charlie. We woke up on Annie's birthday, had breakfast together and let her open a gift. I told her that we'd go to her favorite Chinese place for dinner that night and sent her off to school with her birthday treats in hand.

Two hours later, I was talking to a friend on the phone, stood up from the couch and realized that my water had broken. I wasn't really in a hurry -- we were going for the same "new age" doula-assisted birth and I didn't want to get to the hospital until I was dilated 5cm. Don't ask me how I was gonna know when that was.

But there was meconium in the fluid and the doctor said to head on in. I called my friend Clara, asked her to meet Annie after school, take her to Chinese and wait for Mike's parents. I called the school to ask them to tell Annie and then called Mike who was just dropping Charlie off at preschool. Finally, I called the doula -- who said she wasn't sure she could make it because she thought she had strep.

A few hours later, we were at the hospital and dang if I wasn't in some serious pain! The doctor came in to say she was leaving for vacation (what is it with docs and February vacations?) and was handing me over to another doctor. The doula called to say that she really wasn't coming because yes, she did have strep and her toddler was projectile vomiting, but she was looking for a replacement to send.

Mike was great, trying to help me and get me to hang on until the replacement doula could arrive. But at some point, I just hollered "Forget the doula and get me an epidural!" (Only I didn't say f..."orget," but this is a family-friendly blog.)

About 8 hours later, with a monitor on the baby's head and Friends on the TV, I realized that the drumbeats of the baby's heart were getting faster and faster. Up over 200 beats/minute. Not long after, we were on our way to the OR again. No mirror this time, despite my request. But Mike got to call "It's a boy!" and away Robbie was whisked to the NICU to be treated for some distress and to have his blood sugar monitored because of my gestational diabetes.

At some point I learned he weighed 9 lbs., 1 oz. and we named him. Though I don't remember when all that happened. He looked so much like Annie -- round faced and chubby. So we named him Robert. If he had looked like Charlie -- long, lean and like a little old man, he would have been named William.

Annie later said that when her teacher told her that Mommy was having the baby on her birthday, she cried "tears in happiness" and that her new brother was "as cute as a plumberry."

A lot of people ask if they mind sharing a birthday. And they don't. The only one who used to mind is Charlie -- because the cake and the presents aren't for him. But Mike's parents always celebrate his "unbirthday" and give him a gift too. Plus, he thinks it's cool that he doesn't have to share his day.

Some people ask what's so special in early May that we ended up with two kids born on the same day. Well, duh! Mother's Day!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Biggest Loser: Help Wanted

Biggest Loser logo

Help Wanted: Popular prime time television show seeking creative thinker to develop fitness challenges that will capture and maintain the interest of viewers. If your idea of a great challenge is having contestants stand around for more than 10 consecutive minutes, this is not the job for you.

Oh my gosh! I don't think I can handle one more of these freaking boring challenges. Seriously, are these contestants so out of shape that they can't handle a challenge that includes more movement than switching arms? Take tonight's hold-the-bar up challenge and put it in any sorority house and you'd have people calling hazing by the end of the first hour -- fuhgeddabout 4+ hours.

But boring or not, my gals in purple prevailed and won immunity. And thank goodness they did. What the heck happened to them this week? Maybe knowing they had immunity had them snitch a few extra bites at lunch and work out just a little less hard in the gym? I'm hoping next week they rebound with some good-enough-to-keep-them-here numbers.

Kudos to Blaine and Filipe for the gentlemanly gesture of letting Mandi have the visit from her family, even though her weepy plea was more than a little annoying.

I have to say that I'm not upset with the show's outcome tonight. Blaine has done a great job and obviously is keeping up the good work at home. Besides, with four little kids -- including a newborn -- at home, that's really where he should be. And how cute was that little bald-headed baby?!

So, back to the topic of ho-hum Annie has suggested a grocery carry. Contestants would bag and carry groceries. The one who gets the most groceries across the finish line when time is up wins that amount of groceries when they go home. I thought that was a great idea!

If you were a producer for The Biggest Loser, what challenge would you include in upcoming episodes?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A little whisper

Ok, so I said there'd be a "Great Silence." Just consider this a little whisper.

I paid $7 for 30 minutes of internet time so I could e-mail my kids. Now I have 8 minutes left, so thought I'd pop in here quickly.

After sitting on the plane for two hours and watching them de-ice and anti-ice the wings, we were definitely on our way to a little bit of island paradise called Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

The flight was pretty smooth, which is more than I can say for the bus ride from the airport to the resort. My poor sister got bus-sick (no surprise, she once puked her way from Ohio to Myrtle Beach). Thank goodness for the bathroom on the bus; though while she was in there tossing her breakfast (we kind of flew past lunch), we hit a big bump and her butt hit the bathroom door, flinging the door wide open and my sitting flying out. one used the bathroom after she exited...

Uh oh! Less than 3 minutes on my time. Let me just say crystal blue skies, gorgeous sun, temps in the 80s, and no agendas other than be at dinner at 6:30pm. Now this is my kind of vacation!

Thursday: Apparently, this didn't post before my internet time got cut off. We hit the beach this morning. It was one of those dangerous kind of beach days because the breeze masked how really warm it was. But I was well covered in my SPF 30. We laid out and read books and drank cranberry vodka for a few hours. (Ok, I had 1 cranberry vodka that I didn't even finish entirely.) Then after lunch, I decided a little snooze was in order -- turned into a 3 hour nap!

The afternoon turned cloudy, but it's still warm. Much warmer than the single and low double digit highs at home.

I'll post pictures and more details when I return home.

Monday, February 2, 2009

To entertain you while I'm gone...

Puxatawney Phil saw his what? By this time tomorrow, I'll be on a plane to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Leaving behind all the cold and snow, at least until Saturday night.

In case I don't get back here this week to post, I thought I'd leave you with links to some of my favorite previous posts:


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Warnings ahead


I'm going on a trip to the Dominican Republic this week with my sister. Yesterday, I had all my prescriptions refilled (too many for a woman my age, really) so I have them to take with me. Today, I have spent the morning (yes, after church Mom) going through the itinerary and getting my clothes and toiletries packed.

In all my preparations, I keep running into warnings:

On the prescriptions:
  • Do NOT eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice at any time while taking this medication. (So much for the lure of tropical fruit.)
  • Do NOT use if you are pregnant, suspect that you are pregnant, or while breastfeeding. (Whew! Safe there.)
  • May cause drowsiness and dizziness. Alcohol may intensify this effect. Use care when operating a car or dangerous machines.
  • Avoid prolonged or excessive exposure to direct and or artificial sunlight. (Guess I'm leaving that one home.)
  • Do NOT drink alcoholic beverages when taking this medication. (So no mimosas with my morning meds?)
But it's not just the FDA looking out for my well-being. So is the travel company:
  • Do NOT do a currency exchange with a stranger on the street, unless you want to get scammed and ripped off.
  • Tap water in the Dominican Republic is NOT safe to drink.
  • Only eat fruit you can peel yourself (Except, in my case, grapefruit).
  • Do NOT stand under coconut palm trees. Falling coconuts are responsible for several deaths each year. This is not a joke. (Then why does this make me laugh?)
So I thought I'd better issue a few warnings myself:
  • To the 4th Frog readers: Prepare for what I'm calling "The Great Silence." Internet access where we are going is "available for a fee in public areas." So I'm not sure how much I'm going to be online if I can't be blogging in my jammies, which is how I like to do it.

  • To the teachers of my children: I will be out of the country this week. My husband will be in charge. Which means we are going for basic survival. If my children show up to school without their backpacks, lunchboxes or wearing mismatched or ill-fitting shoes, please excuse them. As Charlie said the last time I went away for a few days, "Things just don't go well when Mom's not home."

  • To the Donato's pizza guys: He's got you on speed dial. Better order extra supplies.