Friday, January 30, 2009

Thankful Friday

(Part of a new series wherein Tama refuses to leave a work-week on an angry, depressing, ranting or otherwise ‘dark’ note.) (Because I think maybe Tuesday is a better day for such things. Monday has troubles enough of its own, but Tuesday seems like a get-it-done kind of day, plenty of work-week left to make angry phone calls or email Senators and stuff like that.) (But…I digress.) (Try to act surprised about that.)

The thing I am most thankful for this week is that our new business is actually working. We may be launching with all the grace of a drunken pelican, but we are actually getting some air here. We’re paying our bills and keeping food on the table, and we haven’t gotten a single difficult or slow-paying client yet.

I am thankful that Eldest is charged up about her GATE (gifted and talented education) test tomorrow. That she can rock this thing is, well, you know…duh. Whether or not she will is another matter altogether. She is, after all, an artiste…a term which here means, “moody as heck.”

I am thankful for our reverse-osmosis water system, which eliminates at least 95% of the chlorine smell and taste from our tap water. Because, ew. (I swear my eyes were watering from the chlorine in the shower this morning.) (And we are supposed to drink that?! EW.)

I am thankful for Imodium. ‘Nuff (or perhaps too much) said.

I am thankful to be standing with a hot cup of coffee in a reasonably warm house as I gaze out my window over ice-fringed grass to watch a neighbor struggling to scrape the ice off her windshield.

I am doubly thankful that we finally got the garage cleared out enough that we can park Homer the Odyssey in there. No more credit-card ice-scraping five minutes before the kids are supposed to be at school!

I am thankful that y’all drop by to read my ramblings. Because otherwise I’d just be, you know, talkin’ to myself in public.

Which could get embarrassing.

So…thanks for being something to be thankful for, and have a thanks-worthy weekend.

My ship is finally here!

In mere days, I should be living the good life! I finally got the email I've been waiting for all my life! Check it out...

Dear Friend,

I need your services in a confidential matter regarding money out of a beneficiary deposit for investment in your country as such I decided to establish contact with you for assistance. This requires a private arrangement, as you will receive these funds under legal claims; all legal documents will be carefully worked out to ensure a risky free claim.

I am willing to share the funds 50/50 as soon as this transaction is completed. I have all the details, which I would provide with your corresponding email. The funds in question amounts to about $30 million United States dollars. I will expect a straight answer from you. Yes or No. If yes, Kindly furnish me with your full names and telephone/fax numbers.

Please Send me an e-mail as soon as you receive this letter for further discussion and more clarification

HA! And y'all thought I'd never amount to anything! My Friend here is about to give me $15 MILLION DOLLARS for funds I receive under legal claims carefully worked out to ensure a risky free claim...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sun trips

Well, I’ve taken another full trip around the sun. On this day forty{mumble} years ago, The Lady My Mother went through an awful lot of misery to have me…it’s a wonder she didn’t immediately toss me off the Golden Gate Bridge, all things considered.

But she didn’t, and in fact she and my father sheltered, protected, fed and clothed me for a ridiculously long time before I finally left the nest. A solid twenty-four trips around the sun they put up with…it’s a wonder they still speak to me, let alone come over to watch my children who alas, take after their mother in large degree.

These last two trips around the sun haven’t been particularly great. Between one thing (joint pain) and another (job/financial situation), between this (major remodeling job) and that (housing market swoon right after we refinanced to pay for the major remodeling job), there have been times when I’ve testily thought that I was pretty tired of this constant journeying around the sun.

I’ve wished I could get off the ride. Stretch my legs, maybe. Breathe a little. Not be constantly moving-moving-moving.

But of course, the journey is the whole point. It’s about enjoying where I am. Not dwelling on where I’ve been or worrying about where I’m going…although a little worry about that whole future-thing tends to avert a whole lot of disaster when today becomes tomorrow which then becomes holy crap I’ve got four kids in college at the same time.

This last year has been one wild ride. There have been highs and lows. The next one is probably going to be even wilder. So many things are being set into motion, so many balls are going up into the air, so many new frontiers to explore…so many new mistakes to make, so many new victories to claim…

We live, we learn, we grow, we stumble, we fall, we pick ourselves up and try again.

And I’m going to do my best to enjoy the trip…skinned knees and all.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Two people did the right thing today

Boo Bug was the first person. Her sister Danger Mouse had told her a secret that troubled and upset her. She stewed about it all night and most of the morning. And then she did the right thing: She told her teacher.

Her teacher then stopped what she was doing, went to Danger Mouse’s classroom, confirmed what Boo Bug had said, and took Danger Mouse to the office. They called us to come take a look.

A few days ago, she had wrestled a bent-up ring she’d found on a playground onto her finger. It was damaged, so it began digging into the flesh at the base of her finger. She ignored it long enough that her finger began to swell, at which point she couldn’t get it off. It hurt an awful lot, but she was so afraid of how much more it would hurt to have it taken off that she intentionally hid the problem from us.

We might not have noticed on our own that something was wrong until it was really, REALLY wrong.

We’ve told our kids that there are times when a secret needs to be kept, and times when it needs to be told. It’s a delicate subject…another person’s trust is a sacred thing, and going around telling the secrets of others does not win any popularity contests.

But there are times when narking out your sister is completely appropriate. And I am so very, very proud of my Boo Bug for making the right call on this one.

And her teacher…you know, the more I think about it, the more grateful I am to her. How often have I brushed off one of my kids who was trying to tell me something…and she’s got a classroom full of six and seven year olds, all yammering and nattering and “and you know what else”-ing…but she not only listened, but took action on what she heard.

She didn’t pass it off to someone else, or make a note to tell somebody about it later, or tell Boo Bug that she should tell us, tonight…she took action. Right there, right then. Walked across the campus to Danger Mouse’s classroom, looked at the problem and marched her to the office for help.

Between them, they saved Danger Mouse from a lot more pain.

Oh, it hurt when daddy cut off the ring, it hurt a lot. I’ll be honest, the way she cried made me feel sick to my stomach. We just thought she had a bent ring that was making her finger swell because of cut-off circulation. A little split in the skin, that’s what we thought we had.

It wasn’t until the ring was off that we saw how bad the wound underneath it was. We bundled her home, put it in some cold water and quizzed her about how it had gotten this way. A few days? It’s been hurting for a few days?!

How many bacteria can breed in a wound over the course of a few untreated days…?

We took her to the doctor, who examined it carefully and said she was pretty sure we’d caught it in time. It is definitely infected, and the infection is in an ugly place, a place where it could easily dig in deeply and spread.

While we like to think it would be impossible that she could have gone much longer without one of us noticing…it isn’t as unlikely as we’d like.

That infection could have gone absolutely wild before it would have been so obvious that we couldn’t possibly miss it.

Caught now, it’s a simple course of antibiotics.

Left to grow…who knows. Maybe still no big deal.

Maybe a bone-deep infection.

Maybe getting the ring off would have been surgery. Maybe she would have needed more surgery to clean out the infection.

Maybe more of it to remove flesh or even bone killed by colonizing intruders.

Maybe…even worse.

But. Two people did the right thing, in rapid succession…and all she had to endure was twenty seconds of intense pain while daddy got the damned thing off, and a few pokes at it by her pediatrician. A swipe of peroxide, a new band aid…and the rest of the day has been bliss, a day of Taco Bell meals and ice cream while prescriptions were filled, of lounging on the couch eating grapes and watching cartoons while her parents dissolved with worry over things that did not happen, but MIGHT have happened got back to work.

Seem like such simple things, don’t they? To tell a secret, and to look at a child’s finger and take her to the office.

But together, they spared a child who knows how many hours of pain…or worse.

I’m so proud of my Boo Bug, for knowing when to tattle.

And I am eternally grateful to her teacher, for not just saying, “Well, you should tell your parents what you just told me” and leaving it at that. For not making a note to send a note to somebody saying someone should think about doing something.

For not just ignoring the whole thing.

She saved our girl a lot of pain.

May the favor be returned to her, three-fold.

dm ring

The offending ring…you see how gnarly that bent-in part is?! It just DUG itself into the bottom of her finger…OUCH!

Money Monday: January 26

Well. Today is actually the day where the rubber meets the road for me in terms of ‘do I have anything to put into savings this month.’


Humph. Well, that usually works on me

Oh well. No, I’m not putting even one thin dime aside this month. Having paid the annual homeowners insurance and the business insurance this month, plus the quarterly payment for the girls’ after school program…I’m lucky I have enough left over to keep the lights on around here.

Grumble, grouse, gripe…

In terms of non-business-related stuff, things also got a little crazy in the food category, and just to add a full measure of insult to injury, much of it wasn’t for the Den. It was mostly for our share of potluck parties and charity programs, and they all sucked an impressive amount of coinage out of our budget in January. We also had some lingering gifts to purchase for aforementioned parties, which managed to also get way out of control.

Thank Dog Christmas comes but once a year, you know?

Still, what did stay in the Den has rounded out my supplies nicely. There was a trip to the local meat market involved, and I finally went to Costco last week to flesh out the basic supplies…flour, butter, milk, eggs, pork chops (I had a coupon! Yay, coupons!), potatoes, onions and vodka. (What? It’s one of the basic food groups, right? Starch, sugar, fat, and alcohol…)

As I’m looking over all the things I spent money on this month, I have to say that even though overall all we’re really doing is treading water, I’m pretty pleased. Nothing jumps out as a regret, or even a particularly poor choice. There is nothing I purchased that I wish I could take back now. Everything makes sense to me.

It’s a lot easier to be OK with operating right on the very edge of your margins when you can say that. Looking back at your rationalizations later and thinking, Oh. That was a baaaaaad idea…rather stinks.

I have high hopes for next month, since I not only have been getting some actual business phone calls this week (be still my beating heart!) asking about rates and turnaround times, but was also blessed with permission to assist my husband on one of his projects. Yay, I get to play with actual SQL again!

I’ve been sidelined for most of the year so far (yes, I know, that’s only a few weeks…it only feels like six months), relegated to handling administrivia and advertising. Most of “my” clients are bogged down by slashed budgets and similar insanity, which means that I just sit here kicking my heels and waiting for this @*^&@ing recession to start receding.

I’m really looking forward to getting back on my horse, y’all.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue trying to keep our grocery costs lower by eating what we already have rather than buying new stuff, and work on reducing our other spending by never leaving the house, no matter WHAT showing restraint and maturity when faced with temptation. Like insane sales or the fact that the chiropractor’s office parking lot forces me to ‘right turn only’ which then drops me right into the line of the drive-thru Starbucks. How did THAT happen?!

…I’m pretty sure there’s a nefarious coffee-scented plot involved on that deal…

Anyway! For this next week, I thought I’d go with Food Network for my ‘new’ meal ideas. While my kids would prefer I make the same three things (spaghetti, Kraft and ONLY Kraft macaroni and cheese and Meat, Potatoes and Corn, all separate and not touching each other under any circumstances), the husband and I rather prefer a certain amount of variety.

Like last week, generic ‘vegetables’ will be whatever is on sale at the supermarket that looks edible, or canned / frozen vegetables if it sounds better. (Because I am all about the specifics on the side dishes.)

I just realized that I try to have a protein, a starch, and a non-starchy vegetable in each meal. I wonder where I picked that habit up? Probably some ancient version of how to cook a proper meal from the 1934 edition of Joy of Cooking or something. Oh well, whatever. Here we go.

Monday: Grilled pork chops (if it isn’t pouring rain on us…if it is, we’ll have to broil them or something instead), rice and vegetables.

Tuesday: Spaghetti and garlic bread. (this is to lull them into a false sense of security, bwahahaha) (did I mention how much the Denizens hate to have their food lumped together in casserole or slow cooker form?) (I don’t know, either…I’ve made this kind of food since they were babies each and every one, and yet they all flipped a switch at around two years old and got all crazy-picky on me!)

Wednesday: Flemish Beef Stew, with homemade sweet dinner rolls. (This is admittedly easier to pull off when you’ve been doing that whole baking-bread-from-scratch thing for a while…I’ll be putting together the rolls in the morning and keeping them in the fridge until shortly before dinner. The fridge slows down the rising considerably.)

Thursday: Chicken Cacciatore with pasta and vegetables. One substitution I’ll be making is that I’ll use a whole chicken cut into serving-sized pieces instead of chicken breasts. It’s less ‘healthy’ and all, but it’s what I have on hand.

Friday: Roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and vegetables. Possibly a dual-starch deal, since I love canned corn with my chicken and smashed spuds. I may not be the healthiest meal around, but dang is it good!

Saturday: Kind of an intensely crazy day around here…I’m thinking we might stimulate the local economy with a call to our favorite pizza place Saturday night…have I ever told you that I am a pizza fanatic? Oh my dawg. I suspect I could happily eat pizza for dinner every single night for the next fifteen years and not find myself wishing I had something else. Which is probably not at all true, but still…it’s how I feel at the moment.

Sunday: Leftover Casserole – this is where you take pretty much any leftover meat, dice it up and drop it into a white sauce. If you have leftover rice, you can put that in the bottom of your casserole dish and ladle the Leftover Surprise over the top of it and leave it at that…or you can top it with leftover mashed potatoes and call it a Shepherd’s Pie Of Sorts…or you can top it with cheese and/or biscuit dough and/or buttered bread crumbs, bake it for a while (usually around 20 to 30 minutes at 375), and then present it to your horrified children as dinner. Makes for great theatrics from the kids, who will immediately fall to the ground clutching their throats and feigning their deaths. Which is fine, as it leaves all the more for We The Parents, bwa-hahahahaha.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The perfect gift for the enraged ex…

I laughed so hard I almost hurt myself. Check out the Ex Knife Set Collection.

I love their description: Depending on your point of view, the Ex set is either tasteless, entertaining, or therapeutic-and quite possibly, all three.

It made me laugh super-hard…but at the same time…erm, I don’t think it would fit in with my fluffy-bunny decorating tastes…

…wait…do I have decorating tastes? Other than “anything I don’t have to pay retail for”?...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Barbarian crossing…

A longish while ago, in a galaxy far, far away, in a land where I had disposable income…I bought a Viking Hat kit. (Along with perhaps a Dale of Norway pattern book or two.)

As is often the case with these things, the kit went into the “pending” file…and then a few other things piled on top of it…and then volcanoes erupted and created new land forms…and then the super-continent broke apart and there was upheaval and stuff, and things that used to be on the bottom went to the top and there were some shawls knit and some sweaters cranked out and sock after sock after sock…and then there was some kind of earthquake or something and lo! The kit was pushed to the surface again!

So I knit it.

Viking Hat

This was a really fun project. It went fast, and has produced a hat that is good and warm. Since the barbarian I intend to give it to lives in the Arctic Lands of the Sierras, good and warm is highly desirable.

Since the horns are created separately and sewn on, you can also just leave ‘em off…if, you know, your resident barbarian is trying to go incognito and such. Personally, if I did them again, I think I’d make the horns a little bit bigger. But then, I long ago gave up such things as dignity and pride.

I’m back to working on the Old Lady Jacket Rustic Jacket, but I confess I’m having motivational issues on it. SEE, the sleeves? They’re, like, enormously wide? I mean, really, they are…designed for lots and lots and lots of freedom of movement.

Which, taken all by itself is a good thing. Who likes a jacket that binds your arms to your sides? Nobody. So the fact that these sleeves are kind of extra wide at the top and going into armholes that practically go from shoulder to hip isn’t such a bad thing. It’s a jacket that would go over a sweater. Good thing.

The bad thing is, they’re done in double moss stitch, which I have decided is a kind of knitting purgatory. Yards and yards and yards of knit, purl, knit, purl, knit, purl…yarn forward, yarn back, yarn forward, yarn back…yawn…I’m about an inch from being done with the first sleeve, BUT THEN, I have to do the other sleeve.

And it’s taking for-ev-ah.

And I’m just sort of in an instant gratification kind of mood lately.

But I’m also in a finishing things up mood. First of all, I have no available #6 needles, because they are all attached to in-progress projects. Secondly, most of my canvas bags (which are supposed to be for shopping) are likewise unavailable because they have been pressed into project storage.

And thirdly, finishing up projects that are already well underway should be fairly close to instant gratification, shouldn’t they? I mean, when you’ve got the front, back and most of one sleeve done, you’re practically there, right?

…except for that conflabbed double moss stitch thing, with the k1-p1-k1-p1 on and on and on

But! Nevertheless! I knit on bravely! Because I need my needles and my bags back, and also I would like to get this finished before it becomes shorts and tank top weather again.

…but I think I will make a point of avoiding things with moss or seed stitch bases for a while…

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Deep imprints

Today as I entered my closet, I did something I do with a frequency that is somewhat embarrassing: I swept my hand insistently up and down an interior wall seeking the light switch that is not there, which refuses to be there…and being a little puzzled as the lights stubbornly do not flash into warm, glowing life.

I do the same thing in my kitchen. There are two entries to my kitchen, one from the dining room and the other from the playroom.

There is a switch, a-one-singular-only-one-that’s-all-you-get-switch, on the playroom side of the kitchen.

NOT the dining room side.

And. Yet.

I came downstairs this morning in the dark (meh), went through the dining room entry (which is the quickest way to the coffee maker), and stood there like an idiot trying to find the light switch which, again, is not there.

Today I was pondering why it is that, after having lived in this Den for ten full years now, I still do things like that. I still somehow expect there to be one more stair, a light switch where no light switch is, I expect the piano to be on a wall where it has never been…and then it hit me.

I’m superimposing the house I grew up in over this one.

There are quite a few similarities, sure. The basic layout is mostly-kind-of the same…if you stretched the old house here and squashed this one there.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in “the” house. We moved only twice that I know of in my childhood: Once from the apartment in San Francisco to a house in San Rafael when I was very-very young; and then from that house to The House in San Ramon when I was about, oh, eight-ish.

And there we stayed until I was in my twenties and getting an apartment of my own.

So I suppose I shouldn’t really be surprised to find that I think there should be a light switch in a place the old house had one…especially considering that I feel it was a major oversight on the part of the builder not to have a switch there.

You know. There. Closer. To. The. Coffee. Maker.

I wonder what kinds of imprints my Denizens will have. Will they always walk down a flight of stairs hugging the right banister, because they expect a large pile of crap waiting to be brought up to be scattered on the left of the stairs? Will they try to hang towels on hooks that don’t exist? Will they be confused when their new bathroom only has one medicine cabinet?

These sorts of things can, apparently, run very, very deep indeed.

…and I still feel as though there should be a room just inside my front door, stuffed with all the junk we don’t quite know what to do with so we’ll just put it in here for now

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Good luck, Mr. President

I watched the inauguration this morning.

Let me rephrase that.

I watched the new President’s daughters this morning. Oh my gawd, how cute are they?! There was one point when Tim and I were laughing because it so totally looked like Sasha was getting a little antsy and Michelle was saying in that sweet way we moms do under these circumstances, “Honey, you need to settle down because this not O.K., are you listening to me? Do not make me raise my voice, sweetheart…sit up and be-HAVE.” {smile! kisses!}

Of course, their Sasha is our Boo Bug’s age. OK, OK, she’s six months older. And Malia is three months younger than Eldest that is not the point. The point is (oh, there was one?) that perhaps we were projecting what would have been happening if those had been our kids up there on that stage.

Eldest would, yes, have been fiddling with a camera or iPhone or something, recording everything. If we hadn’t given her a camera, she’d’ve been all, “Can’t I bring my Gameboy? Siiiiiiiiiiigh…this stuff is so booooooooring…{eye roll eye roll eye roll}” –she would have been gracious while in public, followed by more {eye roll eye roll eye roll} siiiiiiiiiiiigh once she got us home.

And Boo Bug would have been twitchy, especially if it were at all cold or if there were interesting people around. Plus also, she is a talker-girl. A mile-a-minute and changing subjects with little or no warning kind of talker-girl. The only warning you get that the subject may be changing is a breathless, “An’ you know what else?”

Getting her to not only sit still, but still and not putting several oars into the conversation? Whew. That’s a Herculean task for you, right there.

ANYWAY. I did manage to pull myself together enough to listen to his inaugural address. I’m not going to pick apart content because, dudes, seriously?, there are way more than enough people doing that, already. Better qualified people, too.

So I’ll just content myself with saying that it feels absolutely awesome to have a President who is an orator. A man with not merely an impressive command of our language, but the ability to deliver it to the waiting ears of the masses in a way that keeps them listening.

Even if the words are basically saying “rough road ahead.”

This is in stark contrast to some (perhaps many or even most) previous presidents, who couldn’t deliver the news that you’d just won the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes in a way that didn’t make you want to throw something at him.

Good luck, Mr. President. This is a mighty big herd of cats you’ve been elected to drive toward better times – we’re rooting for you out here in the Den of Chaos.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Money Monday 01/19/2009

This week, I’m still fixated on our emergency fund, or, as I like to call it, our whatever happened to that emergency fund thing we used to have?

There are lots of ways to build an emergency fund. There’s the time-honored “make it a bill and pay it” method – this is where you decide on a set amount each month and set it aside. Nice if you’re already operating with a little extra each month, and an excellent thing to do with that hoped-for annual raise.

There’s the “scrimp and save like crazy until you’ve got one” method. This is where you curtail your spending so sharply you about cut yourself on it, and shovel the money you save into a savings account. It can be remarkably effective, especially if you ask yourself, “Will I actually physically die without {consumer good you’re about to buy}?” and only buy those things to which the answer is yes. Most of us have far more “disposable” income than we realize, when we really stop and think about what we’re buying and why.

You might not want to do without iTunes for the rest of your life and all, but for the sake of adding a layer of protection between yourself and homelessness…it might be worth considering giving up for a while, huh?

Then there’s the “holy smokes, a miracle happened and money fell right out of the sky into my lap! I know! Let’s save it!” method. The miracle might be in the form of an annual bonus, a tax refund, a sudden check because some rich uncle you never met died and left you a gift…whatever the source, it’s unexpected and therefore putting it into savings instead of spending it on Stuff shouldn’t be that hard…right? Right?

I’m going to be combining the second and third options (because frankly, as things stand we don’t have a dime of excess income) to start rebuilding our emergency fund.

The actual physical method is painfully simple, and also rather groovy. One thing we have managed to hold onto around here is our monthly-draw accounting method. Whether we are paid weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly, whether we get a whack of random tiny checks or just one big one…we put them all into a holding account for the month, then take one (1) monthly draw into the household checking account.

Ideally, with a good emergency fund forming the foundation of the holding account, you don’t have to worry excessively about this week’s income. The bumper crop months cover for the drought-scorched ones, and you get to just kind of clump along spending the same amount as always. If you get a pay raise, it simply saves up. If you get a windfall, it likewise saves up.

Put it on autopilot, with the transfer an automatic thing from holding account to checking account, and you can just ignore that money indefinitely. To spend it requires action on your part, which hopefully involves thought…thought that will slow you down and make you really ponder whether or not you need whatever it is you’re about to blow that hard-earned money on.

This week, I’ll be working on just how tight a budget I think I can work within. There’s no sense in making it too tight because then I’ll just be constantly going over it…but at the same time, well, setting a budget higher than our income isn’t going to work either, now, is it.

But whatever I end up going with, the transfer is supposed to happen next week…so I’ve got to get on it. No matter how interesting everybody else’s blog is this week. Not, uh, that I get distracted that way. Much. Or anything. (Ahem. Moving on…)

We’ve got a crazy week ahead, so I’m keeping the meals super-easy. (Because again – I know the entire world is fascinated with how I feed my family…)

The term “vegetables” throughout is defined as “whatever fresh stuff looks good and is on special at the supermarket when I get off my behind and go shopping tomorrow.” All the meats are coming out of the freezer and we’ll be using powdered milk until my next Costco run, so my tab at the supermarket ought to be pretty darned low this week…really just some fresh vegetables to help me feel like I’m just an awesome! parent in spite of not being too regular about bathing my children or supervising their tooth-brushing techniques. (I recently discovered that Danger Mouse considers putting toothpaste on the brush, sticking it into her mouth and sort of sucking the paste off while wriggling the brush a little bit perfectly good tooth-brushing technique. Ay yi yi…)

Monday: Meatloaf, potatoes and mixed vegetables.

Tuesday: Curried-Honey Roasted Chicken, chicken-stock rice (exactly what you think it is, rice made with chicken stock instead of water) and vegetables.

Wednesday: Slow-cooker pork loin with potatoes and carrots. These are small skinless boneless pork loin roasts I get from Costco for under $2 a pound – put them in the old Crockpot with a slice or two of bacon over them for the day. If you like them kind of mushy, you can add your potatoes and carrots at the beginning of the day…I like mine a little less cooked, so I’ll put them in about an hour or so before we’re going to eat.

Thursday: Pork (leftover from yesterday, of course) in gravy, homemade biscuits and vegetables.

Friday: Roasted whole chicken, mashed potatoes and oh my goodness, there’s those vegetables again…

Saturday: Warmed up leftover chicken, cornbread, vegetables.

Sunday: Pasta, either spaghetti or whatever else I’ve got on hand, with plain old sauce-sauce. This will be the one meal all week the kids will eat without complaining about the “vegetables.” Argh.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Now WE are the stinky ones…

Dharma came home from the groomers Tuesday a much silkier and sweet-smelling kitty. However. She thinks we stink and should be taken to the groomers. AND SHAVED.

dharma is not pleased

It’s a funny thing, cat-stink. Cats are self-cleaning, by and large. Sure, the longer-haired cats need our opposable thumbs and a brush to prevent ugly matting…and sometimes a sick cat will just stop grooming and need more frequent bathing…and outdoor cats, well. They get into all kinds of nasty things no amount of licking (ew! ew! ew!) can remove entirely.

But indoor, short-haired cats like Dharma tend to (ahem) offend far less than their outdoor cousins, because they don’t get to roll around in, erm, stuff.

But still…eventually…It Happens. Bath time!

Might take months and months. The average around here for our previous cats was six months or even a year for Silverfish (short haired, fastidious), versus about every three months for Briana (long hair, not a bit vain) (unfortunately) if we were brushing her religiously…MONTHLY if we got lazy.

It wasn’t smell with Bree, though – it was mats, which would get bad no matter what we did eventually. If we stayed 110% on top of it, we could keep them at bay enough that a professional could tease out what we couldn’t handle.

If we didn’t (and I’m ashamed to confess that ‘didn’t’ happened an awful lot), that poor girl would get mats so bad that the groomer would have to shave her…she came home looking like natasha’s cat Pasha, only Briana was a lovely silver-gray all over. (You have to read this. Seriously. I about died laughing, it reminded me sooooo much of Briana – who also hated being brushed, especially in the way you had to brush her to prevent the dreaded mats.)

Anyway, with the short-haired, indoor cats who are only bathed / groomed because of the smell…well, it’s the darnedest things. One day, she’s in your lap purring and you’re stroking her sweet, silky fur and all is well with the world…the next day, she jumps into your lap and she smells like a poop-and-tuna sandwich with mud dressing, and her fur feels kind of rough. WTF?!

With an outdoor cat, you can understand this. They get out there in the big bad world, they roll in stuff, they chase down woodland creatures and eat them (which can be a very messy business, believe me), they play in fertilized rose beds (grrrrr…), etc. etc. etc.

No surprise that an outdoor cat might come home smelling like low tide at the sewage treatment plant.

But something I really don’t get is the suddenness with which our indoor cats will tip from “I don’t smell anything” to “holy @*&^@, what have you gotten into?!?!”

Dharma spends 85% of her daylight hours asleep on one of the six beds in this house. 10% she spends sitting on a convenient lap, and 5% on sunny ledges throughout the Den – especially in the early morning, when a very convenient ledge in a relatively quiet part of the Den receives the first warm rays of the sun. She has trained her human slave (that’s me) to leave that shade up enough for her to lounge full-length with her head and ears alertly raised.

It took some doing to get the point across, though…one morning she stood next to me yowling as I made coffee, making short dashes out the kitchen door toward (I thought, silly me) her food dish. I kept going out and shaking the dish. She kept yowling. Finally, she went over and showed me what she wanted: She stretched out and pawed at the heavy wooden blinds blocking her sunny ledge, HELLO!!!!, then turned, looked me in the eye, and let out the most piteous yowl you ever heard. My sun! My beautiful Suuuuuuuun! Let it in! LET IT IN!!!

But she doesn’t like the shade all the way up. That’s too much light, and furthermore makes it hard to skulk on the ledge. Denizens are attracted to the window when the blinds are all the way up. No. They should be up just enough for Her Most Royal Self to stretch out full length, head and ears up, without brushing the tips of her ears on the blinds. No more, no less. Or there shall be yowling, and repeated dashing from between my legs to the ledge at @*^&@ o’clock in the morning.

She is a real character, this cat.

But anyway, that’s her life in a nutshell. Beds, laps or ledges, that’s about it. The occasional brief romp with a rubber band somebody accidentally left on the floor (I’m nervous about the cat playing with a rubber band…I have visions of her swallowing it and then having it do Very Bad Things to her innards) or the yarn I’m working with (but never, you know, a cat-toy-on-a-string, PLEASE! How crass! Common, cheap, commercially-made thing, for ME? ‘Tis to laugh! Ha! Ha! Ha! Now, about that cashmere you were working with yesterday…)…running away from That Horrid Boy…trying to kill the humans by running between their legs on the stairs…but as far as I know, she spends none of her time digging through the trash looking for a nasty Pull-Up to roll in, or sneaking out into the garage to have a frolic in the worm composter. She doesn’t play in her litter box or deposit her goods anywhere else and then roll in it.

And yet, after six months of sweetness…PEEEEEEEE-YEW! Dude, what’s in your FUR?!

Now, it is entirely possible that changing poopy diapers for going on eleven years straight may have dulled my senses a bit, such that I don’t notice a slowly growing odor coming from the cat. Maybe I don’t smell anything until it gets to the point of actually being a visible aura around the animal. What’s what wavering line all around her body? Wait…is that…STINK?!

And then there is the undignified process of confirmation, where I pick up the cat, shove her under my husband’s nose and demand, “Does she stink?!”

And then upon confirmation, well. Bath time, princess!

And then we have a most displeased cat stalking through the house plotting revenge.

Well. She’s going to be even more annoyed with me soon. I just got the reminder in the mail today that she’s due for her six month checkup. Given her age and medical history, she’s going to be seeing her vet Johnny On The Spot for these, too. With a kitten or a young, healthy adult cat? Nah, we’ll see the vet annually, that’s fine.

For her twelve year old self with her bladder issues and her tummy issues and an owner who abruptly lost one of her last fur-babies (Briana) to renal failure and I mean it was like one day I noticed she was maybe getting a little skinny and within a month she was dead?

Sorry kiddo. You’re seeing TED* every six months, whether you like it or not.

You’ll thank me in the end.

(No, no she won’t. In the end she will probably leave me a nice slug of poo in my sneakers. But that’s OK, because she will be as healthy and happy as we poor humans can arrange for however much more time we get to have with her, hallelujah, amen.)

*TED: The Evil Doctor

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Creepy coincidence du jour…

Right after I get done talking about how my “thrift” thing sometimes edges into “packrat,” I get a Daily OM entitled Clearing a Space for Change: The Weight of Objects.

In life, we tend to have an easier time acquiring possessions than we do getting rid of them. Just as we harbor emotional baggage that is difficult to let go of, our lives can tend to be filled with material objects that we may feel compelled to hold on to…{major snip}…It’s easy to convince ourselves that unused possessions might come in handy someday or that parting with them will cause you emotional pain. However, when your personal space is filled with objects, there is no room for anything new to enter and stay in your life.

What? Why is everybody staring at me?

OK, OK, it’s true. I hold onto way too much stuff “in case.” And sometimes I even worry that if I get rid of something I haven’t used in a decade, I will immediately need to replace it and that will be a Waste Of Money.

As we were doing all that remodeling and I was forced to do things like move my yarn stash several times, clean out our whole, entire, ALL OF IT closet AND dresser AND armoire, and remove everything from the linen cupboards, I was also forced to realize just how much stuff I owned that I had flat-out forgotten I even had.

Stuff that hadn’t seen the light of day for literally years churned to the surface. Stuff I was holding onto “in case,” stuff (some of it pretty darned ugly) I kept only because it had been a gift and well, it was a gift, you don’t get rid of gifts

Sifting through all of it was an incredible experience.

Donating and/or Freecycling bag after bag of the stuff was…invigorating.

Once I got over the nausea, anyway.

I have to say, it feels awfully good to be able to actually put things away…as opposed to finding somewhere to cram it until I can figure out where it actually belongs.

Also, this statement from the article is sooooo true: Clearing your personal space can lead to mental clarity and an improved memory.

Ya. Especially when the answer to, “Where have my keys gotten to now?!” isn’t “Have you tried looking under that pile of magazines? Oh. How about that stack of cardboard that needs to go out to the recycling, hint-hint? Oh. Among the jumble of shoes? Oh. How about under all those jackets? You did, huh…wellllllllll, you can try shifting that stack of mail to check under it, but you might want to put on a hardhat, first…”

Knitting on

Well, actually, to be honest…my knitting time has been badly impacted these last couple weeks by This and That. There’s been so much going on and going down and spinning around. Literally spinning around, since I lost my mind and told Danger Mouse’s teacher that SURE! I could totally bring my spinning wheel and some wool in to the classroom and do a demonstration for Prairie Days, coming up in March!

…and then it occurs to me that my spinning skills are not exactly what could be termed mad skilz and that while I can produce (somewhat) useable yarn, I do so like this: “Whirr, whirr, whirr DAMN! {fiddle, fiddle, splice, smooth, smooth, fiddle} whirr whirr whirr DAMN! {fiddle, fiddle, splice, smooth, smooth, fiddle} whirr whirr…@*^&@ it, I need a drink…”

At the very least, I need to practice not yelling “DAMN!” every time the thread breaks. Because, you know, not every parent appreciates having their child come home with excited stories about how when you spin? It goes whirr whirr whirr DAMN!

But I do have The Most Awesome! Fleece to bring in for the demonstration. It comes from Meridian Jacobs, and is just…a rainbow. OK, not a rainbow-rainbow…but it has all these patches of black, white, red, brown. It’s gorgeous. I haven’t dared touch it yet (despite all kinds of dreams about how cool a sweater I could make from it) (eventually) because my spinning is so “eh”…but it’s a whole fleece and a great thing to show kids who have probably never seen such a thing.

I also have sliver for the actual spinning demonstration, and a whack of ‘eh’ raw fiber to ruin use to show how you wash, card and spin from raw fleece. I’m bringing a ton of drop spindles and of course will let the kids try their hand at the wheel.

I did a similar thing a few years ago at a preschool, and one of the teachers was extremely nervous about the kids touching the wheel and the skein-winder and so forth. “Aren’t they antiques? What if they get broken?”

Well, my wheel is not an antique. It’s a modern Ashford. The skein-winder I had brought was an antique, but it’s not that kind of antique. Abraham Lincoln didn’t use it as a foot-rest or anything…it’s a working tool made about a hundred years ago to do a job that darn it – it’s still good for today. It’s fairly indestructible, and anything they did break, my husband can fix. Since it’s not a “for show” antique but a working tool in my collection of tool, I don’t mind if it has been glued here or there, or if an old hand-carved wooden peg has been replaced with a new hand-carved wooden peg.

That’s just how I roll, people.

Nothing I own is so precious that children aren’t allowed to lay their grimy little hands on it…not even my harp, which is very unusual in the “harping” world. I once had another harpist literally recoil in horror when she saw children pressing around me on my break at a restaurant Touching! The! Harp! She thought I was crazy, and didn’t hesitate to tell me so.

How often do children get to touch a harp? They read about them, some of them even dream about them, but they don’t get to touch. Sure, I have to really monitor and make sure they don’t get too hyper-crazy with the glissandos (that’s the thing where you just “whoosh!” your hands up and down all the strings), I know the grime on their little unwashed fingers makes the strings break sooner, and yeah, I’d better be sure to give the old girl a good rub-down with polish afterward to keep the inevitable dirt, grease and whatnot kids have on their little bodies from damaging the wood…but heck, keep some Handi-Wipes in your gig bag to get the worst of the ketchup and French fry grease off and then let ‘em have at it, sez I.

Just don’t forget to turn the mike off before they start. Trust me on that one.

Who knows what beautiful dreams you might plant, in that ten minutes between sets…who knows what magnificent trees those children might grow in their souls.

…who knows how many parents may take out contracts on your life after listening to “PUH-LEEEEEEZE, can I have a harp, daddy? Please? PLEASE? PRETTY PLEASE? Harp harp harp me me me want want want…” for a few months…

ANYWAY. Undaunted by mere lack of time, I am wedging some time into my day to work on some knitting-things. Right now, I’m a couple fins short of finishing yet another Fish Hat…what? You don’t know about the Fish Hat?

Where. Have. You. BEEN?!

It comes from the latest issue of Knitty, right here. And I am going to humbly submit a couple of my “learnings” on the pattern: It tells you to break the yarn after the ‘mouth’ to begin the short rows that form the mouth. I found that doing one round in the new color before beginning the short rows makes the turning points much less obvious, but doesn’t seem to impact the overall look at all.

Also, when doing the stripes, I moved the starting part of the color to the point under the belly (where it hangs down over the wearer’s head, instead of being on the side in plain sight). Even using Meg’s Jogless Jog, the hiccup between colors was just a bit obvious to be sitting there on the side – especially when I started doing smaller bands of color.

Other than those nit-picking points, it’s an easy pattern that works up pretty quickly. The short rows aren’t nearly as intimidating as they might sound to someone who has never done them – this is a great project to get your feet wet on that whole ‘wrap and turn’ groove. I made this one to give as a gift to a sixteen year old boy man:

dead fish

That’s not the sixteen year old. That’s Boo Bug. And this is Danger Mouse.

aaaah it ate her

OH NO!!!!! IT ATE HER WHOLE HEAD!!!! (OK, yes, we’re easily amused around here…your point being…?)

The hat was actually a gag gift – we taped an iTunes card in its belly, attached the card to a fishing line and makeshift pole (big branch from outside), stuck the fish into a gift bag and made said sixteen year old boy man go fishing.

You should have seen his face when he pulled that dead knitted fish out of the bag. And then we told him it was a hat, and the look was even more precious.

He was way not sure how he felt about a dead fish hat. (He warmed up to it a bit before the end of the party. A bit. I don’t expect he will actually wear it, but he has a small sister who will probably lurve it.)

Be warned: if you make even one of these and a child between the ages of 2 and about 14 sees it, you will be making one for not only that child, but every child s/he knows because these things? They tickle their little funny bones something fierce.

Boo Bug wore the “practice” one I made out of the Ugliest Yarn Imaginable from my stash, the yarn that I kept almost throwing away due to sheer hideousness, but then I’d say, “Who knows? Someday, I might stumble across a contest where whoever makes the ugliest afghan with vintage 70s acrylic wins $10,000! It could happen! And if I’ve thrown away that ugly vintage 70s acrylic, WELL! Where will I be, huh?

(This right here is the one real downside I’ve found to this whole Yankee-thrift thing of mine: I tend to packrat an awful lot of stuff I probably will not ever actually use, but YOU JUST NEVER KNOW. It takes serious concentration and willpower for me to throw away anything, even tiny balls of leftover sock yarn that I swear you couldn’t even make a 2x2” square from…you never know, I might someday want to make an afghan out of 1x1” squares of sock yarn IT COULD HAPPEN!!!)

(And then, of course, when I do go through the forty hours of meditation-confirmation thing and the repeated mantra of less is more, less is more and I weed out the special pans I haven’t used in fifteen years and the strange kitchen utensils whose purpose I can’t even remember and the sheets we haven’t used since Noah was a pup…I promptly have a pressing need for them again, thereby reaffirming my unfortunate belief that I need to keep everything I ever get, “in case.”)

ANYWAY. Where the heck was I? Oh yeah. So Boo Bug wore the UGLY! (which actually increases the hilarity) dead fish on her head to school one (1) day.

I have about forty kids sucking up to my kids now in the hopes of getting their very own dead fish for their heads. Because who doesn’t want to walk around school all day with a dead fish on their head?! Especially when you can pull it down like that and it looks like the fish ate your head?! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

The other gift I made for that same party was this blue scarf, made from really soft hand-dyed alpaca from Brentwood, California:

alpaca scarf

I almost didn’t give it away. I almost gave her some little bracelets I unexpectedly won at an auction. Y’all know that “thing” I have for alpaca anyway…this was so soft, and so sweet on my hands, and it just flew into shape on the needle…when I was checking it for length I started loving it and then it blocked so nicely and I was saying, “Wellllllllll…after all, it’s not like she’s going to know I stole her present…”

But then I had a stern word with myself about the value of friendship and I put it in the box, handed the box to my husband and said, “Wrap it quick, and put it away somewhere so that I don’t have to look at it!”

And then I went upstairs and consoled myself by embracing some Atacama hand dyed (variegated brown alpaca, which was going to become a hat for my shivering little pointed head until I suddenly developed a love for lace scarves) and rubbed a skein of Schaefer Andrea (100% cultivated silk) on my face until I felt better. (Reason #152 why makeup and I do not get along: you can’t rub hand-painted silk on your face if you’re wearing makeup. And if you can’t rub hand-painted silk on your face when you’re feeling a little bereft, what is the point of living?!)

I’ve got another fish hat on the needles (because World War III has broken out around here over who “owns” the Ugly Fish hat), and then I need to move on to the The Viking Hat for The Boy Who Is Staying With Us, because I promised (and forgot) (whoops).

Oh well. At least I can honestly say, I am never, but never, bored.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Just call me Benedict Arnold…

Dharma has begun to…how can I put this gently?

Well, she’s stinky.

There, I said it. She smells like a porta-potty on a hot day. And since she is a sweet and also very loving kind of cat who just lurves to spend all of her time snuggled up on an accommodating lap…this is what might be called A Problem.

She needs a bath, is what I’m getting at, here. And I just made an appointment with a groomer who will give her a nice spa-style pampering (stop laughing) (OK, that’s not fair of me…I’m still laughing m’self… “spa-style pampering”? Dude…it’s a cat, she really doesn’t “do” the whole spa-thing…) with nail trim and capping (which only lasts a couple weeks at best but in that time will keep her nails from shredding the carpet on the stairs any further) for forty bucks.

I was going to bathe her myself. (STOP LAUGHING.) No really, I was! I wasn’t going to pay forty bucks to have somebody else torture the cat with soap and warm water. C’mon. I can totally handle this, right?

Wrong. It turns out that I (still, because I have to admit that I have always ended up taking my cats to the groomers for anything other than brushing and maybe that quick tip-of-nail trim thing) lack three important things when it comes to giving my cat a bath.

One is the ability to hold onto a cat while wearing thick leather gloves. I can either bathe the cat, or wear the gloves. Not both.

The other, related thing is that I can’t say, “Oh well, skin heals!” in a casual, devil-may-care sort of way. I have a thing about my hands. I am fond of them. I like them in their current state, which is mostly whole with perhaps just a slight dry skin problem. I don’t like them grated.

And the third thing I just don’t have is the ability to instill enough fear into the cat that she will freeze and let me do whatever I’m about to do. Cats, even other people’s cats, generally have me figured out in about six seconds flat. “Pushover…prone to doling out treats…worries about ‘hurting me’ (hahahahahaha!) and thus will not hold tight enough at bath or nail-trimming time…”

Cats can get away from me in less than a second. I’m holding her paw preparing to clip, and {squirm – pssssshooooooow!} the cat is in the Caribbean with a fruity cocktail playing with the umbrella and laughing about how inept I am. “Yesh, purrrrr…I figurrrrrre I’ll stay herrrrrrre for a week or two…she will be so worrrrrrrried she’ll forrrget all about that grrrrrrroooming…purrrrrr…”

“You need to hold that paw really tight,” my husband will say, reprovingly. (By the way…he also can’t make himself hold it or her tight enough to prevent escape. Just sayin’, Mr. “You need to really HOLD that cat if you want to keep her from getting away.”)

“I DID!” I squeak in protest.

“Did not, look, the cat is totally gone. We’ll never find her.”

“Yes. Yes we will. You check under the bed, I’ll go see if she’s booked a ticket to Cancun on my Mastercard…”

In short (in what again, Tama?) (shut up), there are people in this world who bathe their own cats. There are people who, upon hearing that I am willing to pay someone else forty dollars to bathe and trim the nails of my cat, recoil in horror and then try to tell me how easy it is to DIY the cat-grooming thing.

And I’m sure they are correct.

However. The last time we tried to take the tips off her nails, just a wee tiny bit off the tip, I lost a t-shirt and a pair of my good jeans, along with a fair amount of the skin under them. She put a quarter-sized hole in my t-shirt (right over the nipple, and may I just say thank GOD for well-padded bras!?) and then proceeded to rake her claws along my jeans like a rototiller at full speed. Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! I had dozens of tiny holes and what seemed like thousands of runs in my jeans. Good thick 100% cotton denim jeans, too, not those whimpy “stretch” jeans that seem to be made of mostly tissue paper with a little cotton just for the sake of tradition.

I was not amused. And then my husband suggested I take off all my clothes before we tried it next time.

You can imagine the look he got.

So…I am going to find her carrier, sneak up on her, and wrangle her into the carrier, probably by unfair play. She will be royally pissed about it, but in the end…she will be clean, and her claw will no longer click on the Pergo or shred the humans she’s trying to snuggle…or drive them away with her powerful miasma of unwashed animal.

She will be a happier cat, in the end.


And hopefully, I will still have enough fingers left to continue blogging, when we’re through. (She doesn’t like the carrier either. She really doesn’t like it. She resists the carrier with the strength of ten thousand cats. Sigh. Right…be strong, Tama…it’s for the common good…)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Money Monday, 1/12/09

TODAY! (she declared, boldly!) Is the first day of the rest of my life!!

Which sounds sooooo much better than, “Sigh…okay, holidays are over, we’re back to work, and I’ve got to start dealing with my issues rather than continually saying, ‘Meh, I’ll deal with that after the holidays…’”

I’ll admit there’s a part of me that just doesn’t even wanna deal with it. A part of me that just wants to curl up on the couch and pretend the whole thing away. Working is overrated, why can’t he just work and I’ll just sit here, besides, as long as we’re not actually in foreclosure, we’re doing pretty good all things considered…right?

You can imagine the blistering retorts I come with up when I start pulling that kind of baloney on myself.

For right now, my focus is all about the emergency fund. Even paying down debts comes second to that, because we are now operating on highly unstable income. Could be nothing, could thousands – we just don’t know.

So whenever I’ve got a dime to spare, I’m tucking it into the old emergency fund account like a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. Once I’ve got a full three months of average household spending in there, I’ll start turning my attention to the debts – because frankly, each of those I get paid off reduces how much I need to get through a month. Paying off all of them would turn what was a three month supply into almost five month’s worth…and save me interest payments, and improve our FICO score.

It truly is the gift to yourself that keeps on giving, debt reduction.

So, where am I getting all these thousands and thousands of dollars needed to beef up the emergency fund, pay off the debts and perhaps even (dare I say it?) continue to grow our business from something which merely gets us along to something that helps us not merely weather this storm, but the inevitable storms yet to come?

First, we’re hoping that we’ll be having a few of those awesome! months. A couple windfalls would go a long way toward repairing our scuttled e-fund…and if my calculations are correct (and they usually are, uh, well, give or take a grand or two) the IRS will be sending us back a fair chunk of change this year. Instant e-fund, just add screwed up payroll calculations!

And second, obviously, here’s a shocker: I’ll be applying the LBYMs thumbscrews to our household spending. I foresee a lot of Goodwill shopping and “creative” meal plans in our near future…

I started this week by inventorying the freezer and pantry, to make sure I had a good idea what I already had. That way, as I’m making menu plans I can design meals around what I’ve already got instead of buying all new stuff; I also reduce waste by getting things used up before they turn into science experiments.

Below is what’s on the menu for the week. You know, because I’m sure everybody is just dying to know what we’re serving up around here “on the cheap.” Which is really only “cheap” in the sense that it was a sunk cost, being as how all the meat and a lot of the sides were already on hand and therefore cost nothing new out of pocket…never mind! Here it is! I’m going to go cook something, now…

Monday: Winter Chicken Bake. All in one dish, with winter vegetables my mutant alien children will undoubtedly squeal, “I DON”T LIKE THAT!” about but oh well, more for me, you little runts.

Tuesday: Barbequed Beef Steak with Orange Marinade, mashed potatoes, fresh steamed broccoli.

Wednesday: Spaghetti. (Fast, easy and cheap. Also gets a full servings of vegetables into the kids without their knowledge, since for some reason spaghetti sauce is as acceptable as ketchup, while tomato sauce in about any other form other than pizza topping is “gross.”)

Thursday: Diced Lamb with Roasted Vegetables and Couscous . Another all-in-one dish. I still have about four pounds of lamb left from the locker lamb I got from Meridian Jacob’s farm last year…it’s rapidly getting to the ‘use it or lose it’ state.

Friday: Quick pockets: assorted cooked meats and veggies wrapped in Pillsbury crescent roll dough, brushed with butter and baked. This is junk food at its finest, kind of like American dim-sum. Examples of fillings include chopped chicken, green onion and cream cheese; crumbled up meatloaf with cheddar cheese; just cheese; lunchmeat. It’s not exactly healthy but it is fast and delicious.

Saturday: Roasted chicken, rice, frozen peas and carrots (steamed, though…still-frozen ones can be hard on your teeth.)

Sunday: Individual chicken pot pies. Uses up leftover chicken, padded out with more peas and carrots and a lovely creamy white sauce. The “individual” part makes it more entertaining for the children, although even this is not enough to make them eat the carrots and peas. Their ability to eat everything but those items is astounding.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Dithering or procrastinating

What is up with this, anyway? When I have nothing to do, you know, just say two things on tap for the whole entire day…I dither around goofing off with other stuff until suddenly I realize that I didn’t do either of those two things I needed to do. Whoops.

When I have tons to do, I procrastinate. I’m going to take care of filing that quarterly tax payment (which involves math and looking things up, and a lot of double checking and stuff) after I check my Bloglines, update my Facebook status, check out what’s new at KnitPicks and oh yeah, maybe there’s a new Dale of Norway book out, let’s go see, tra la tra la…

And then I get to the end of the day and realize I haven’t even started the tax filing process and I’m all, “@*^&@!!!! It’s due by the fifteenth! What is wrong with me! AH! AH! AAAAAAAAH!!!!!!”

I confess that I usually work best under some pressure. Nothing lights a fire under me like a looming deadline. But at the same time, that same pressure sets off some kind of “I need to relax, I’m getting too anxious here” lever and I start granting myself permission to look at the LOLCats “real quick” or to spend a little time reading through knitting magazines or perhaps I just need to grab a soda and watch the last half of CSI:Anywhere.

The thing that irks me about it is that I know I’m doing it. It isn’t that I’m not aware I’m being stupid procrastinating and/or dithering…it’s just that I can’t seem to stop doing it.

In fact, I’m doing it now. I have errands I need to be running right now. I need to pick up my business check binder, drop off my daily allotment of empty ink cartridges (I get $3 per cartridge and up to three cartridges per day at Staples, and have an insane number of the things that have been building up for the last couple YEARS in a drawer) (see? Procrastination at work, right there…), finish shopping for a party tomorrow, HELLO, get a nail fill/file (they’re a little too long, so I’m buzzing more than ringing on the old harp strings).

Then I need to install my new accounting software, prepare the 2008 tax forms for the business, pay the bills, take out the recycling, change the sheets on the beds and iron labels into the middle two kids’ clothes so that they will quit fighting about who got which shirt for Christmas.

But instead…I’m checking out the Friday sale at Amazon and puttering around with website design and going back over old statistics books trying to remember how that formula worked…you know, the one for that thing, with the three parameters and then you figured out maximum profits given you could make X widgets in Y time for Z dollars, versus blah blah blah?


Right. OK. I’m going. Errands. Here we go.

…but first I need to grab a soda. And check my email one more time. And…

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Happiness is…

…Christmas candy on sale at the supermarket. 12 ounce bags of York peppermint patties, fifty cents each, just because the wrappers are red, green and silver. WOO HOO!!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Fixing up holes

When my husband first lost his steady job, I sprang into action and began looking for insurance. I knew the COBRA was going to be a killer, and furthermore that coverage had already been murdering us when the employer was picking up not only the premium, but funding the $4,800 into our HSA.

I was a little surprised by how hard it was to get insurance. Sure, I figured it was going to be a lot more expensive than the last time I had to provide my own coverage; I believe I paid something like $120 a month for an HMO back in the early 90s.

But I was stunned to find that we were simply flat-out denied coverage. No amount of money was going to get us an insurance plan. Based on her prescriptions (which are also used for asthma), Boo Bug was declined. Because once in 2007 he saw the doctor complaining of ‘shortness of breath’ (turned out to be seasonal allergies), my husband was declined. Danger Mouse, ADHD. Captain Adventure, PDD-NOS (which is laughable, because they refuse 99% of anything related to treatment of same as being ‘experimental’ or ‘not usual and customary treatment for this condition’).

And of course, my back/hips/knees were an automatic NO!, but thanks for calling hokay buh-bye!

The only person in this family who could easily get medical coverage is Eldest.

We were turned away from Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Kaiser and Sutter. We were told to try San Joaquin Delta because they were “forgiving” – we were too big a group of bashed up cackles for even them to stomach.

We looked into the state’s emergency coverage, designed for “uninsurable” folks like us. Yeah, uh-huh, the $3,000+ monthly premium was a tad much for us.

Finally, I put two very important pieces of information together.

One was that when it comes to group health insurance, you can’t be declined insurance based on preexisting conditions – in other words, if I had gone to work for roughly a third my usual pay and double my usual (already brutal) commute for Company X, we would have gotten automatic enrollment in their group health plan.

The other was that a group can be as small as two employees. Like, say…a partnership

It took two months of work, the collection of all forms and paperwork related to the business, a great deal of faxing followed by paying top dollar for a thick package of same being overnighted to the broker…but as of January 1, our Enterprises offers its employees a comprehensive medical, dental and vision plan, HSA-compatible. The Enterprises picks up the full tab of the premium, and funds the HSA for its employees each year.

If my calculations are correct, I just saved us over $15,000 this year.

My husband will finally get the new glasses he’s been needing but putting off because, well, we’re perpetually over-budget as it is, and the two Denizens who need them will be able to get braces (I’m sure they’ll be beside themselves with joy), and I will quietly enjoy paying nada out of pocket for cleanings, x-rays and fluoride treatments instead of $800 twice a year.

It’s a great way to start the new year, getting at least a partial patch on the medical care hole.

Now I suppose I should get on with collecting the income that pays for the coverage, huh…?

A big surprise? Not so much.

There was a note stapled to the outside of Captain Adventure’s backpack this afternoon when he arrived home. Uh-oh.

As I followed my half-asleep boy into the house, nestled against his daddy’s shoulder, listening to his slurred insistence that he wanted no nap…wash kurtohns…on doh-fah…, I totally knew what it was going to say.

Sure enough, it began with Captain Adventure had a bad day today…

My first impulse was to dash off a quick apologetic note.

“Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear that…but I suppose it is to be expected, after the excitement of the winter break…”

My second impulse was to roll that note up tightly and smoke it as I dashed off a different one.

“What precisely did we expect, Einstein? You send an autistic boy, a.k.a. His Royal Highness, home to his mother and sisters for two whole weeks of hedonistic delights, including but not limited to HELLO, CHRISTMAS!!!, not to mention too much sugar and being fed all his favorite things on demand plus he got in way too much video game playing because he is apparently quite charming when required and can con his sisters out of their turns simply by smiling adoringly at them and saying, “Pweez I pway it yer game-uh?” and because no force can withstand his beautiful doe-like eyes they say, “Oh, sure, Captain Adventure!” and the next thing I know I’m yelling, “WHO LET THAT KID GET BACK ON THE COMPUTER?!”

All this in addition to staying up far too late on more than one (OK, just about every) night and sleeping in until we feared he might be dead in there for all we knew and woke him.

And then suddenly hey look, first day back to school! So by command of the school district we yank him out of his bed at 6:30 in the morning, hand him a muffin and a cup of milk then just as he’s waking up enough to realize that he likes muffins we yell, “YOUR BUS IS HERE!”, shove him into the cold, rainy morning without so much as a by-your-leave and none of us realize until the bus is pulling away that he’s dropped his muffin on the sidewalk, what kind of day do you THINK he’s going to have?!”

“P.S., Every Monday is bad. And I have it good authority that it is bad for ALL your students. Suck it up, you pansy.”

“P.P.S. Sorry about the pansy comment. That was uncalled for. He is also having what might be called a bad evening. Good luck tomorrow, and may your God go with you.”

But I resisted. First of all, I gave up smoking long, long ago and attempting to smoke notepaper would probably just make me sick. Secondly, the note isn’t supposed to be an attack on my son or my parenting – it’s just a statement of fact. He had a bad day today, a day when he resisted joining the group, a day when he made it quite clear that he would much rather be eating raw kelp in a cave somewhere in Nantucket – nekkid. In the sand.

Most of the kids in his class have a rough time with Monday. Even a return to routine is a change, and a lot of autistic kids have trouble with that.

Captain Adventure doesn’t actually mind change all that much (it’s one of his anti-autism behaviors). He rather thrives on it, loves to do things that are new and different and out of the box.

But Mondays…Mondays stink. I understand all about how and why Monday stinks. I spent a large part of today (a Monday, you may have noticed) resenting having to get back on the old horse myself. I loathed my alarm clock for nearly half an hour, was angry at the world that I had to get up so early, not to mention irritated that I don’t have a personal assistant to handle all these flippin’ forms and faxes for me (what’s up with that, anyway? where is that kid, and where’s my triple extra hot two pump no-whip lowfat mocha?! …oh…wait, that’s right, I’m not rich and/or famous, I don’t have a personal assistant who brings me insanely complicated caffeinated beverages at my whim…damn, foiled again…).

I spent nearly an entire working day today dealing with insurance-related things that needed faxing here, there or somewhere.

And I didn’t wanna.

It was a bad day for me, too.

It was, well, a Monday.

The only difference is, they’ve worn me down, Mondays have. I’ve been forced to accept their dominion over me. It is Monday, and the business world is moving…calling me, asking questions, looking for answers, expecting me to have them by end of business today…sigh…yeah, yeah, I know, let’s get it done today, let’s focus our lives on having that easy-breezy Friday…

I don’t cry for my mother anymore (much). I don’t kick my feet against the wall at nap time, or throw Goldfish crackers at my friend because he looked at me when I didn’t want him to, I don’t tell teacher, “POOPIE HEAD!” and then run laughing like a maniac to the other side of the room.

I don’t combine disdain with showing off when I decide to go ahead and make them all shut up by pointing to all those ‘G’ words, the Giraffe and the Goat and the Girl and the Gorilla and the Gate, not serially with one delicately pointing finger, but by spreading my hand into a claw and slamming one digit firmly down on each of them and going, “UNNNG!” instead of gently saying “Dere dey are!” the way I do when I’m being more tractable about things.

No. I don’t do such things anymore. I’m older. Beaten. Or to use a kinder word, taught. Repeated experience has taught me that I get my way faster, more consistently, and often with unlooked for reward (although I suppose since I’m secretly looking for it, it’s hardly “unlooked for”) by pretending Monday and its return to the strict regime of business life doesn’t bother me. That the best thing to do is knuckle down and barrel through it.

That if I do it with a smile, it makes those around me more pleasant to deal with, and can sometimes even trick me into thinking I’m having a superific day, yessir.

I hope they can forgive me for admiring my bad day son, just a little bit. For being envious of his wild rebellious streak, his angry refusal to tow anybody’s line if he don’t wanna, for his ability to simply end the stupid “find the letter ‘G’” game in a way that makes it very clear that he had it all figured out the whole time, and probably a whole lot more wouldn’t you like to know?!

I don’t want to destroy that. All I want is for him to control it, to loose it when it serves him, and leash it when it harms him. For him to be the lion tamer, not the lion’s prey.

Ah well. The alarm goes off in five hours now, to start another day. If I’m going to keep up with my Denizens one and all, I’d better stop worrying about bad days and whether or not anyone can be blamed for disliking those transitions from leisure to work.

Insanity…it really is what passes for normal around this place…

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Let us care for each other

I am having a really hard time writing this. I keep starting, and stopping. Page upon page written, and then I review it and think, Nooooooo…

It’s too dark, or too weird, or too preachy, or too pathetic, or too angry…none of which (well, with the possible exception of ‘weird’, because this is me we’re talking about here) is an accurate expression of what I’m trying to put out, here.

2008 was a rotten year. 2007 was also a rotten year. In a lot of ways, those two years were like going through a hurricane for us, complete with an eye passing over. There was a nice peaceful and prosperous lull in the storm right around the summer of 2008, when we had really good cash flow and said to ourselves, “Whew! Glad that’s over!”

Aaaaaand then the eye passed, and the second half of the storm hit, and because we had set some expensive things in motion during the eye (thinking, remember, that the storm was over and we had two decent incomes to work with again)…well, the second half took out whatever the first half had so graciously left us.

And then when I catalog what-all our challenges are, it seems even worse. Ten years of equity in Den, erased. Emergency savings whittled to a mere $426.27. With already burdensome medical costs now enhanced with a $905 monthly premium charge (Insult, meet Injury! Injury, this is Insult!), we then cheerfully went on to have no steady paycheck whatsoever, and then 95% of what little work I had evaporated along with the remainder of the hope and optimism of local business in San Joaquin. Yay us! We have among the highest foreclosure AND joblessness rates in the nation! GO TEAM!!!!

I took a $10,000 loan to pay off medical bills in July, and then took another $15,000 in November to pay, well, everything. These are the sorts of things you get into, when you go a month without income because your one steady paycheck evaporated…and in so doing saddled you with a sudden need to acquire general business liability insurance and professional negligence coverage (in case his coding brings down the entire Internet or something), PLUS you had to run around re-filing all your paperwork because now you are a partnership rather than a sole proprietor, AND BY THE WAY you have to pay us $905 in COBRA for the insurance that doesn’t cover diddly-squat and no, you can’t charge it. Check only, thank you!

See what I mean? Dark, pessimistic, angry, pathetic writing, right there.

But that’s not actually how I feel.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I had some pretty dark days there. When I found myself taking out that loan to get the medical monkeys off my back and buy us enough time to get through yet another ten day hold, I was about ready to just…I don’t know. Crying wasn’t extreme enough, but getting good and drunk never really helps.

But when I looked around my trashed-out post-hurricane yard…I don’t feel as bad as you’d expect.

In fact, I find a lot to be grateful about.

I’m grateful that we had our own personal credit crisis way back in the mid-90s. It was only because of the lessons we learned then that we aren’t loading up the kids and whatever we can carry into Homer the Odyssey and heading forth on a sofa-surfing quest. We knew better than to refinance beyond our means to repay; we knew to say “this much we can do, and the rest will have to wait.”

When the situation changed, we didn’t have a lengthy period of mental readjustment to undergo. We had a good long run of prosperity, in which we indulged an awful lot of our wants…it’s over for now, and we don’t have a big problem with that.

We’re not mourning the vacations we won’t have, I’m not crying (much) about the yarn I won’t be buying or the steaks I won’t be eating.

Instead, we’re grateful we can still do the things we can still do. We’re enjoying the toys we already have, and thankful that we’re not still making payments on them.

LBYMs 2009 is definitely on. It’s a far more serious business than it was last year. We don’t have a reliable income anymore, I can’t budget around a paycheck and say that everything else is gravy…we’ll have good months and bad ones, we’ll have times when I’m able to pack away savings like there’s nothing but tomorrow, and times when I’m having to draw almost our entire month’s needs out of that same savings because the invoices are low or our clients are being slow to pay.

We’re going to have to be tighter than ever with those nickels and dimes.

But I know that we’re going to be OK. We’re doing what we have to do to make it so.

We’re not victims, unless we decide to be. (This is where I start wandering into being preachy.)

So! I’m putting together my list of things I want to accomplish in 2009, financially speaking. How about you guys? Needing or wanting to work on whittling things down, getting rid of some debts, building up some immediate cash to sleep easier on at night? I know this economy has got a lot of folks feeling downright anxious…are we ready to stop being victims of it, and start reclaiming our rights to everything we need, and maybe just a little bit extra?

I suspect it’s going to be a long, hard slog…but let me share the words of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s friend Andy, which she shared on her blog not too long ago:

"As we head off into a year of uncertainty, there is one thing I know is true. Things will be better if we all take care of each other than they will be if we don't take care of each other."

Brilliant man, huh?

Let’s take care of each other out there. Let’s hope for the best, plan for the worst, and pull together toward a better tomorrow. Let’s cry together, hope together, advise each other (but not get preachy, because nobody likes a bossy-betty), forgive each other and try to shine light into the world. Let’s laugh and love and take joy in all the good things we have – most of us have far more than we realize, especially when we’re in the middle of a crisis.

Speaking of which, my healthy, happy Denizens are demanding food. Which I have in the pantry to give them on plates which are clean because I have a dishwasher that does that for me, while I am off doing other things (like writing lengthy blog posts).

The blessings, they just never stop coming…

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!!!!!

Bright blessings shower down upon you, love and laughter and light surround you, may you receive in full measure the bounty of Life in this coming year, and all that follow.