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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 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
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.