Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Gah. Pass the coffee, I’ve had a rough night. It started with staying up too late because I had actual billable work to do – huzzah! By the time I’d tracked down the problem (which as it turned out was not my bad, HUZZAH!), mapped out the solution and sent an email to the client with my radical suggestions, it was eleven o’clock.

The Den was still buzzing with child-noise, too. Captain Adventure didn’t want to go to sleep, he wanted to play. The girls didn’t want to go to sleep either. They wanted to talk. The husband didn’t want to sleep either-either. He was watching one of the endless variety of Fight Nights out there.

I threatened the girls into semi-silence, rubbed Captain Adventure’s back until he finally gave up and went to sleep, then piled into bed myself for a few hours of HOLY CRAP WHAT IS THAT NOISE?!?!

The noise would be Captain Adventure, who was sitting up in bed howling like his little world was ending, ending I tell you!

Enter the fun of trying to figure out why he was howling. Since his communication is rather poor under the best of circumstances, and given that he tends to revert to infant-levels of word-usage under stress, you can imagine how fun it is to get him to tell you what’s wrong when he’s sitting up in his bed at 1:00 in the morning howling.

His own bed was apparently acid-coated, because I couldn’t even get him to lie down on it. He’d start to lie down, then bolt upright again and scream in my ear. (Owies.) (He is loud, people.)

I had no idea what his problem might be. Was he sick? Headache? Toothache? Nightmare? Sheer contrariness? Say something other than WaaAAAAAaaaaaAAAAAaaaaHH, kid!

Eventually, I bundled him into our bed – where he sighed happily, snuggled in, and proceeded to keep us awake most of the night in tag-team style. First he’s digging his feet under Daddy, then he’s head-butting me, then he’s climbing on top of Daddy’s head, then he’s shoving his feet into my stomach.

It was a long, long night.

Followed, of course, by the 5:30 wake-up call so that we could be ready in time for the bus to arrive.

Even the hot cocoa and chocolate breakfast cereal bar couldn’t make my boy happy this morning.

And needless to say, there is not enough coffee in the world to get my eyeballs all the way open.

Now, in the light of day and with a couple cups of coffee in me, I think the problem was fairly simple: Daddy left the ceiling fan on in the Man Cave, which is directly under his bed. When that fan is on, there is a distinct vibration that comes through the floor – his bed hums, and has a slight but noticeable quiver going. With his quirky way of processing sensations, I imagine something that seems pretty minor to us might indeed be like acid to him.

I am a very grumpy mommy this morning. Even the fourteen skeins of deliciously soft Merino ready for the dye pot can’t cheer me up, or motivate me to get off my backside.

Well. Maybe it can. Just a little bit. Got an idea for a Fall-ish kind of colorway, light and dark browns with some spruce and maybe a couple splashes of burnt orange…like late Fall in the foothills, right where the deciduous trees begin to mingle with the pines…should be fun to paint and make for a pretty cool finished skein…OK, OK, I’m moving, I’m moving…

Monday, June 29, 2009

Money Monday: June 29, 2009

OK, so right after I got done boasting about my thrift store scores…you know what my biggest peril is, at the thrift store?

The “scores.”

It’s not just the thrift store, of course – it’s the same trap we all face just about every time we emerge from our caves. “SALE PRICES!” “Best prices of the season!” “Buy three, get one free!” “Two-two-two for the price of ONE!”

Now, if you need four t-shirts, the buy three get one free deal might be awesome. If they’re going for ten bucks, you pay $30 instead of $40 and who doesn’t love that?!

If you only needed one, though, you’ve just paid $20 more than you intended or needed to spend.

And if you didn’t need any…ahem…you just spent $30 to save money on something You. Didn’t. NEED.

You see where I’m going here?

The ‘great deal, must snatch’ instinct runs strong in most humans. Oh sure, there are people out there who just buy-buy-buy regardless of price, but for most of us? We want a deal.

For some of us, the deal itself is more important than the goods it represents. Did I need this? Shoot no, but! I got a grrrrrreat deal on it!

I may have spent $200 I didn’t have, but by Gantry, I saved $50 doing it!

Usually, we talk ourselves into thinking we did need it. After all, who doesn’t need more t-shirts? The things have a way of shredding before our very eyes. Also they get “old” and kind of “blech” and furthermore this one has a cute little winking pirate princess skull on it! How cool is that?!

The thrift store is not unlike a minefield for me. The deals can be soooooo spectacular. A bread machine for $15! A crockpot for $5! An endless parade of dusty whatnots, fifty cents each! ohmygah, have you ever seen such an adorable…um…thing?! Only fifty cents, too! I simply MUST buy it!

The easiest way to resist is to never leave the cave. You know, just stay home, forever, and never go out there into the Big Bad World where all the deals are. There you go! Problem solved!

Oh, you’re welcome…you guys know I’m always here for you with the brilliant suggestions and all…

OK, right. So obviously, that can’t possibly work…any more than somebody with a food addiction can overcome their issues by never eating again. With very rare exceptions, we do not live in a world where we can live off the land and provide all of our needs without need for the filthy lucre and a store to spend it in.

I may technically know how to grow, spin, weave and sew (badly, because my poor sewing skills are legend around here) the cotton, but folks? Ain’t no way I’m going to be able to keep my family in t-shirts from the cotton fields of my backyard. Shoot, I can’t even keep them in socks, let alone Everything Else.

Most of us have to go shopping for the things we need. We must risk the perils of the deal-that-wasn’t, and the awful feeling later of what was I thinkin’, buying this?!

I keep my own horse trading instincts at least mostly in check when I brave the yard sales and thrift stores that I hold so dear to my heart with two simple things.

First, I keep a list. A real, physical list – not a list in my head (which is full of holes and subject to deciding that no, really! I needed a fourth crockpot!), but a physical piece of paper that stays on the fridge. It’s a pretty jumbled up thing, actually, because people add to it as we go through the week. Whenever something breaks or it occurs to one of us that it would make our lives a thousand times better if we just had a purple widget for the front room, we make a note of it on the list.

The list helps to keep me focused, and puts the brakes on my enthusiasm when I see some awesome! deal on something we just really neeeeeed, seriously, I mean, c’mon, it’s an awesome! deal!!!

Ya, OK, maybe so. But it isn’t on the list. Which means it isn’t something I needed before I left the house – it isn’t something I needed before I saw the deal.

Which means it probably isn’t something I need at all.

Now, if I’m just absolutely sure we did need it all along and just didn’t realize it earlier – I’ll put it on the new list and walk away from this deal.

I’m going to tell you guys a little secret, OK? No matter how good the deal is? You’ll probably find a similar – or even better – deal later.

Have you ever noticed, for example, that stores advertise the “lowest prices of the season” just about every weekend, on essentially the same things? They always swear that no, really!, this sale, this one right here, this one right here-and-now-only-for-a-few-days-so-act-fast, is the Best Possible Sale Which Shall Never Be Equaled Again, EVER!

Or how about this one: How often have you said, “Wow, what a great deal!” and bought the four t-shirts on the 4-for-3 deal…paying $30 for the four shirts, clever you…and then opened the circulars to find another store has the same basic deal for $5 each.

Could’ve gotten the four for only twenty bucks, yo.

And of course for those of us who haunt the thrift stores, we’ll immediately find four brand-new-with-tags t-shirts for fifty cents each and howl like somebody just jammed a credit card shard under our toenails. Oooooooh, I HATE that!!!

Even when it’s a “one of a kind” thing, like a sweet glide rocker at the thrift store or a PERFECT sleeper sofa on consignment…there will always be another one, down the line. Letting this one go doesn’t mean you’re letting all of them go.

So don’t be fooled into thinking a deal is the deal – there will be others, and they will likely be as good or better than the one that currently has you in a lather.

The second thing that keeps me honest with my spending is that I really do limit the number of times I leave the Den with my wallet a-blazing looking for deals and steals. I try for no more than twice weekly, once on the pickup day for the CSA basket (usually that day is for standard grocery store / mall / Target kind of trips), and then maybe a weekend cruise through the farmer’s market, yard sales and thrift stores. That second one is totally optional, and frequently skipped.

Sure, making yourself resist temptation builds strength of character and all that – but avoiding temptation in the first place is equally valuable. I’ll admit it, I sometimes get bored around here. I wanna go do something, anything!...and when it’s 110 degrees outside (like it is today) and there’s no shade and Outside is just…darned unpleasant…and furthermore it is already 80 degrees in my bedroom/office at 10:00 in the morning and definitely climbing but turning up the AC is going to be like throwing snowballs at the sun until 4:00 when said sun finally stops glaring at my Den like we owe it money…and the mall…the mall will be 70-something because what do they care about the environment / electric bills? They just want me to be comfortable because they think if I’m comfortable I’ll stay longer and spend more money which more than makes up for the expense of the air conditioning…mmmmmm…aiiiiiiiir conditioning…

Now I know that if I go to the mall, I will spend money. Oh sure, it might not be much, I’m not going to be buying new appliances or re-outfitting the Denizens from bangs to toenails, but! Am I going to buy, say, a pretzel to munch? Or perhaps a frothy coffee drink? A chocolate cookie, or a steak sandwich?

And of course, there is a Barnes and Noble in my mall, which for me is like saying, “Hello, moth! Would you care to visit our lovely flame…?” {fffffffzzzz-POW! Tama’s wallet goes down in a blaze of glory and then she’s sheepishly trying to explain how she could spend two hundred dollars on books about Polish history, Eskimo philosophy and duh, fiber arts of every description…} {thank $DEITY for the library, y’all, otherwise I would be even further into the poor house than I already am…}

Right now, retailers are pretty desperate for your business. They’re coming up with promotion after promotion, designed to get you to buy NOW.

The deals have never been…louder. Not necessarily better than times past, but yeah…definitely louder. And with most of us either experiencing the recession directly or getting rocked by the waves of others, we’re possibly a bit more susceptible to the pressure than we might otherwise be.

It’s a great time to remember that the best way to save your money is to not spend it in the first place, and that no matter how great the price is, if you don’t need the darned thing, you aren’t saving a dime by buying it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lace, and a basket to keep it in…

One of my favorite thrift stores had a 50% off sale today. Needless to say, I was down there with freshly sharpened elbows and a double-espresso-sharpened mind right around opening time. I tried for a mean glint in my eye, but couldn’t quite pull it off.

Unfortunately, this particular shop doesn’t have a lot in the way of kid clothing – but I did grab a pair of tennis shoes for Captain Adventure (who still goes through a pair a month minimum - wears the toes right out in less time than it takes to lose the receipts), a pair of jeans and a t-shirt for me and a cookie jar to replace the one we broke last year and hello, what’s this…

knitting basket

I find this basket exciting for one simple reason: It has a sturdy lid. The open basket thing has become something of a problem for two reasons: One is that the kids tend to drop things into my open baskets (wrappers, crumbs, chewed gum) (GAH!), and the other is that dust and cat hair have a way of accumulating on my work-in-progress.

Oh sure, I’m going to no, REALLY wash it before I block and all, but you know what’s better than washing dust and cat hair out of your project? Not having it on there in the first place!

And at $3.50 $1.75, it was a serious woot!

Naturally, I immediately rescued my taking-too-long lace scarf from the floor (sigh…it was in the basket, but then Captain Adventure happened…) and put it and the rest of its yarn into it and then I cooed at it and told it was my best friend.

knitting in basket

And then it stuck it’s tongue out at me! Oh. Wait. No. That’s the scarf.

knitting leaving basket

And this is the scarf on Danger Mouse, who is obviously barely tolerating her Very Strange Mother.

danger mouse wearing knitting

This scarf is definitely taking too long to make, but I have fallen back in love with it so it’s all good. This is the Elfin Lace pattern from A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. The yarn is KnitPicks Shadow, a 100% Merino laceweight in Juniper Heather.

The reason it’s taking so conflabbed long is that I got fussy about the lace definition and went with #3 needles on this project. It would have gone much faster on, say, #7 needles…but I just didn’t like the way the lace looked so I kept going smaller and smaller and then Eureka!, the #3 hit the sweet spot. Sweet, and sloooooow…

Once I’ve gotten this to about 48” (which I figure should be sometime around January 2012), I’m planning to do a knitted on border all the way around. Because Lord Knows it isn’t fiddly enough as it is. Oh no, not nearly fiddly enough! It obviously is going to need some scalloped-diamond-shelled-whatnot knitted all the way around it!

So, see? I’m still knitting. Sometimes. Slowly.

One of these days, I swear I’m going to make a garter stitch baby blanket on #13 needles, just for the joy of speed

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mommy v. Buydoobah: The Smackdown

Captain Adventure has a…friend.

This friend’s name is Buydoobah.

Buydoobah…is a right stinker.

Who tore up the coloring book and flung the shreds all over the hall? Buydoobah.

Who splashed sixty gallons of water all over the bathroom floor? Buydoobah.

Who took the cap off a brand new tube of toothpaste and smeared the stuff all over the counters, walls, floor and yes, ceiling of the bathroom (no, I have no idea how it got all the way up there)? You guessed it: Buydoobah.

So far, I’m about 0 and 20 with Buydoobah. That little @*^&@ has been wrecking my house for weeks, and as Dog is my witness, I’m two seconds from wringing his invisible little neck.

This evening while I was trying to catch up on email, I heard rustling in my bathroom. Hmm. Triple Doppler Mommy Radar indicates heavy chances of Captain Adventure getting into something like band-aids…

“Whatcha doin’ in there?” I hollered.

“No!” Captain Adventure yelled back. Uh-oh. I got up and stalked to the bathroom door. Eh. Not band-aids – cough drops. Several of which were no longer individually wrapped, argh.

“Captain Adventure! Come out of there, right now!” I bellowed.

“NO! What Buydoobah say? He say, ‘Doan talk Captain Adventure right now!’”

“Excuse me?”

“Buydoobah say doan talk me right now, ‘bout dat.”

“Oh, I don’t think so. Buydoobah is not the boss of me, little man! You two get out of my bathroom right now.”

He came out in a high state of indignity, holding his hand cupped. Buydoobah is often very, very small – palm-sized, actually.

“Buydoobah,” he announced solemnly, holding up his hand so I could check out the invisible scowl Buydoobah was wearing. “Is not happy at you, Mommy. Him say ‘doan talk Captain Adventure ‘bout dat right now.’”

“Oh yeah? Well, now hear this, Buydoobah: You’d better drop the ‘tude, mister, or you are goin’ bye-bye.”

There was a long pause while Captain Adventure processed this announcement.

On the one hand, Buydoobah is above the law. What does Buydoobah care for Mommy’s rules? Pffft. If Buydoobah cared about such trivial things as Mommy’s wishes, there would be no toothpaste on the ceiling right now that Mommy can’t get off because she is not a tall woman, people.

On the other hand, Mommy has proven time and time again to have mythical powers. She can kiss a boo-boo and make it better. She knows when you’re tired, even though you think you’re not. She commands and Sisters obey, even though they are unruly creatures who seldom obey either their brother or Buydoobah.

Shoot, even Daddy wilts before the awesome power that is Mommy.

She is the Goddess incarnate. The Woman. Dark and Light, equally portioned. Maker of snacks, and time-outs. The Wound Healer. The Sayer Of It’s Bedtime Mister.

She giveth…she taketh away…


“Wellllllllll…wat…wat Buydoobah say? Him say…him sayyyyyyyyy…”

Have you ever feared you’re going to actually, physically pop from holding in laughter? The expression on his face was so priceless as he stared into his cupped hand, trying to decide which was the greater force: Mommy, or Buydoobah.

“Buydoobah sayyyyyyy…OK, Mommy. You talk Captain Adventure ‘bout stay outta that bath-oom.”

“Good choice, Buydoobah. Good choice.”

Mommy: 1.
Buydoobah: 20.

…I think I smell a come-from-behind victory coming on…

Monday, June 22, 2009

Money Monday: June 22, 2009

Today we have the garden report. Behold, we are fertile and have borne fruit vegetable!!!

first zucchini

This is the first zucchini, plucked from the garden yesterday. There are more, many, many more, tucked in around those wildly growing bushes…and this one was delicious. I ate about a quarter of it raw while making a fish curry with the rest of it. (Although frankly, the pound and a half of fish was dwarfed by the sheer volume of sliced zucchini, so really it was more of a zucchini curry with oh yeah some fish in it than fish curry.)

When I planted, I was really, really worried about my gardening attempts. I have no idea what I’m doing, I am easily distracted, I have a lot going on, I’m looking for a Real Job and if I get one what happens to my garden?, etc. etc. etc.

And then for those first few weeks, I went out there anxiously every day to note that nothing was happening. Was that a weed, or a plant? I froze in inexperienced panic, and refused to weed because how did I know I wasn’t pulling up the carrot babies?!

But then things started becoming plain. The corn was obviously corn, the carrots got those distinctive fuzzy tops, the difference between a cantaloupe and a weed became obvious and I spent about an hour every other day cussing at the weeds as I pulled them out.

Then things got crazy. The pumpkins and the zucchini exploded and are plotting world domination. This pumpkin is actually about to die, because this vine is not in the bed but is encroaching on the neighbor’s yard and will have to be cut back before it destroys the fence. Which probably says more about the state of the fence than the strength of pumpkin vines.


I swear, the corn is growing like a kid. One minute it was barely at my hip, the next?


Taller than me. And bearded up. My babies, they growin’ up so fast… {sniff, sniff!}

We have carrots…


…and tomatoes like these (except that some are cherries and some are beefsteak and some are heirloom) on every bush…


I didn’t take picture of them because they aren’t fruiting up yet, but the cucumbers and watermelons and cantaloupes are also doing great. The onions are coming right along.

However, we need a moment of silence for the leeks and the broccoli. Instead, we are cultivating a fine crop of fresh, organic weeds while I ponder what to put in there instead. (I’m thinking herbs.)

fresh organic weeds

HOWEVER. One of the most exciting things in the backyard right now is something I actually planted about seven years ago. I have watered it, pruned it, fertilized and spoken lovingly to it from then on, and it has given me precisely nada. It’s cousin the lemon tree has cheerfully begun providing waaaaaaay too many lemons (I’ve got about three gallons of lemon juice in the freezer from the last go-round), but my little orange tree?

It was like a recalcitrant teenager. (Aside: I can’t believe I know how to spell recalcitrant.) It sulked in the backyard, always looking somewhat pathetic no matter what I did. No matter how I pruned, primped, tied or otherwise attempted to make it look like a healthy orange tree, it just languished. Each year it bloomed, but nothing came of it. (I knew it wasn’t an ornamental, because it actually had an orange on it when I bought it.)

Well…look at this:


more oranges
(Sorry, it’s blurry…I was excited…)

The tree is covered in oranges, and frankly I’ve been kind of ignoring this tree so far this year. Obligatory citrus food every three months, that’s it.

I suspect sibling rivalry. It has a clear view of the garden beds, and I think it saw me cooing to the corn and wanted my attention back so :pop!:, out come the baby oranges.

I dragged my husband out to see. He doesn’t get out there much at all, and hadn’t seen the wild growth that has happened back there. He was duly impressed, and given the relative ease of success on this smaller, experimental patch we talked about expanding things next year.

We talked about going big enough to actually get to the point where we are making a significant dent in our food bill by growing a lot of what we need.

It’s a nice feeling. It feels like we’re wresting back a little of our own power, taking back some of our power over our own lives.

It’s a tiny step, but it feels almighty good right now.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Friday afternoon, the cat threw up in my closet.


Captain Adventure happened to be in my bedroom at the time. Because I happened to be in my bedroom, and whither I go, there likewise go-eth The Boy.

Someday, I shall look back on these days with fondness, sigh heavily and say, “I surely do miss those days, when he was semi-permanently attached to my hip and lo! I could not go forth even unto le potty without his constant loving attention, his sweet little arms wrapped around my neck, his shrill tender voice screeching crooning, ‘Good job, mommy! You go POTTY!’ in my ear!”

And I shall conveniently forget that actually, it was a royal pain in the neck.

But I digress. SO, the cat was in my closet making with the lovely noises. HrrrrrUCK! HrrrrrUCK! HrrrrrrrrUCK-uck-uck-{ack!}-glooooop {repeat, repeat, repeat…}

Captain Adventure started to run to her, bellowing, “Oh! Wat HE doin’, mommy?!”

I tackled him, because the only thing worst than a cat puking in your closet is a cat puking while running through the house in an attempt to escape the four year old. Ask me how I know. (If you dare.)

And then we stood there and watched her bring up several pieces of houseplant. (Grrrrrr…!)

Captain Adventure asked about ten times what the cat was doing. I would say, “She is throwing up, honey. She ate some of my house plants (grrrrr!), so now she’s throwing up.”

The part where I said, “You dumb-ass!” to the cat was purely inside my head, you understand. But as she speaks mental telepathy just fine, she heard me loud and clear. (And probably went to puke under some piece of furniture on the carpet downstairs, because she also speaks fluent @*^&@ You, Human.)

Each time I’d answer in this way, Captain Adventure would immediately say, “Nooooooo…wat HE doin’, mommy?”

And then…just when I was about to snarl, “She. Is. Too. Throwing. Up. Sweetie!”…

…he said…

“Nooooo, mommy! He had him song in him tummy! And now it come’d out!”

{blink, blink} Wait, him, er, she had a what-now in her which-where?

And then…it hit me…

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… Not, ahem, not exactly, honey…

(I love Laurie Berkner. I’ve loved her stuff since I first saw her stuff on Noggin back in 19-I-forget. Her albums are on the very short list of things the kids will want to listen to in the car that doesn’t make me want to pack my ear canals with floor-score French fries. Also, she was good to my favorite Queen Teen, which is a great way to get on my “Awesome People” list.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

There's just no wind in the sails

I’ve hit the knitting doldrums, I think. I just haven’t been feeling the love for any project I’ve picked up lately.

I was making a pretty little lace scarf, but decided it was too slow moving and the colors didn’t please me and then I started arguing with myself about whether or not the wool was “too scratchy for somebody’s delicate little neck area” (it is, straight off the cone…once washed, though, it’s beautifully soft, which I know full well because a) I tested a swatch and b) I’ve used this same yarn before with excellent results), and then I started an inner war about what knitted on border to use (because I am all about the knitted on borders lately) and then I got disgusted and set it aside because no, seriously, it was too slow moving. An inch a day? GAH. Where’s the gratification in that?!

Then I cast on a small “make it up as you go along” baby blanket and, now that I’m within spitting distance of the beginning of the end (half a pattern repeat left, then a knitted on border), I look at it and kind of go…{shrug}. It’s cute, sure. But it doesn’t fill my heart with smug satisfaction about my own cleverness song. To finish it would require the iron will of a Finisher, and, uh, well…OH LOOK, A SQUIRREL!!!!


I’ve been wandering through my stash like a mindless zombie. Wool? Nah, too hot. Silk? Nah, too nice, the pattern has to be perfect and I got nothing right now. Alpaca! Mmm, welllllllll…maybe later. FINE. Be that way! Cotton! Plain white cotton! Soft, practical, makes great coasters, towels, washcloths, HEY! You’ve got that cute little circular pattern you got all fiddly with, with the provisional cast-on so you could seamlessly graft the…hey, where are you going? This would be fun, right? COME BACK HERE, ooooooh no you dinnit just turn your back on me…!

I think I want a new drug hobby.

Oh, not for good. Please. I’ve had these fits before. Other things, they come…they go. A small latch hook rug or a few sets of taper candles later (dip…lift…pause (drip,drip,drip)…dip… lift…pause (drip,drip,drip)…dip…lift…hand-dipped taper candles are not exactly the most thrilling thing in the universe to make) and I’m ready to get back to some nice, safe knitting.

Which I’m pretty good at, which also tends to help with the allure. Nothing kills your love of a hobby like the end result being “oooooh, it’s a rug, you say? I thought it was a horribly disfigured, very large basket…”

Of course, I have no idea what I want to put into the void left by my sudden “meh” attitude toward knitting. I don’t want to spend any money, for one thing; and for another, it has to be something I can do in small fits. My available time is extremely tight, and highly interrupted right now.

I don’t think I’ve gone five minutes without somebody bursting in on me on week. Curse you, summer vacation!!

(It’s the bursting that bugs me. They don’t “walk into” a room, they skid into it, usually yelling urgently, and then it’s something like, “MOMMY! I SAW A BUG!!” which, you know, hel-LO, we live in Bug Central, get used to the concept of seeing bugs…)

(And then, after the Big Announcement is made and my suggestion [if any] given…they just stand there. Right in my Personal Space. Breathing their kid breath [not as bad as cat breath, but close] into my air and staring at either me, or whatever is on my computer screen. GAH! Go do something! Something else! GAH!!!!)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It can be used for goods and services…

A few weeks ago, the girls got their Den Dollars in full view of their little brother, who was given a couple quarters so he wouldn’t feel left out. He promptly joined the jamboree, trading the quarters for a candy selection from the reward box. Oh happy day.

The light went on in his mind: Money can be used to purchase goods and services, by which we mean CANDY. Like his mother, the child has a robust sweet tooth. Anything that results in candy is a good thing.

Yesterday, he ran up to me with a fistful of Den Dollars and bellowed, “Mommy! I wannit candy! From in DERE!” – pointing at the cabinet where the full-sized dollar-priced candy bars are kept.

“Whoa up there, kiddo, where did you get all this?” He had something like forty bucks worth of Den Dollars, which I thought was more than all three of his sisters had combined. The main stash is kept in a locked cash box, and furthermore two of his sisters keep their purses in the box as well.

“I gotted it,” he said proudly.

“Yes, but where did you gotted…augh, get it?”

“Mine oom!!”

“Your room?”

“Yeh-t! Candy, pweese!!!” (Let’s keep focus, here, mom…)

“Wait. Why was there money in your room?”

“I gotted it!” Impatience lined his entire form. Several minutes later, I had nothing further from him. He had gotted it from his oom, and that was that.

I traded him all forty bucks for a Bit-o-Honey bar, then went to see if I could track down the girls’ stashes.

They were all intact. What the heck? The cash box was still firmly locked…where on earth

And then I saw him running up the stairs, candy in one hand, Den Dollars in the other, talking to himself all the way.

“I get da money, an’I put it away, an’I get-it candy…da money is for candy…”

And then, I realized exactly where it had come from.

The girls are allowed to buy one thing per day with their money; this is to prevent them from buying, say, five candy bars all at once on Allowance Day. Frequently, they’ll run up to me at some inconvenient moment, and I’ll take their cash and stick it somewhere random. In a drawer, in my purse, in the back pocket of my jeans.

Someone around here, someone who is extremely bright and more than a little bit cunning, someone we often overlook because he talks like a baby and therefore we have this habit of thinking he is baby-unaware of the world around him, has been cheerfully dipping straight in when he sees me do that and squirreling the Den Dollars away in the bottom drawer in his closet.

Needless to say, he was not pleased when I took it all back again. He was, in fact, quite put out about it.

“But it MY monies!!” he wailed. No matter how I tried to explain how this deal worked, he was just devastated.

He had plans for that cash! Plans! And now, oh alas!, ruined, ruuuuineed, you’re soooooo meeeeeaaaaaannnnnnn…

After I got him redirected into something else, I sat down and laughed myself about sick over it. It’s the combination of guile and innocence that just kills me, you know? He’s stealing, out and out stealing…and it is shameless, not as in brazen but as in devoid of shame. He has no shame about it, because he sees nothing wrong with it at all.

I traded you the money for a candy bar, then I took the money back out of the drawer and I’m going to get more candy, later. What? Why are you pitchin’ a hissy fit about it? You obviously didn’t want it, and I did…

Ah, life and its lessons. Ownership is a more complicated thing than he thought.

And Mommy needs to be a little less lazy about putting away the Den Dollars when sisters buy things.

…you know, why is it that everything around here always seems to have the phrase ‘mommy needs to be a little less lazy about {whatever}’ attached to it…?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What a ride

I have a shameless episode of self-absorbed whining to share with you. I know! Awesome!!

Monday was Captain Adventure’s first day of summer school – and it didn’t come a moment too soon because after two weeks without the consistent structure of preschool, he was already starting to go feral on us.

His program is in the next town over, about a forty minute drive away. Can I get a ‘hallelujah’ for the free bus program? (Amen!)

Now, three different people having told me last month that we were “all set” for the summer school thing, I assumed (ha ha ha!) that we were all set. So I got him up at 6:00 in the morning, fed him breakfast, got him dressed, and then we perched anxiously in the front room waiting for the bus, which should have arrived between 6:45 and 7:15 that morning.

At 7:20, I tried to call the bus company. Their line was busy. And it stayed busy until 8:10 (ten minutes after his program starts) (and an hour and a half after I’d begun forcing him to hang out with me in the most boring room in the house, saying, “Your bus will be here any minute, honey…noooo, no cartoons, your bus will be here any minute; nooooo, no coloring, your bus blah blah blah no no no bus bus bus where where where argh argh argh”), at which point I was told, “I don’t have a Captain Adventure on our list…”

A couple primal screams later, I had the boy in the car and was driving to the school.

This is where I start the shameless self-absorbed whining: I was supposed to have the whole day all to myself Monday. Danger Mouse was off on an RV Adventure with Grandma and Grandpa. My husband had Eldest and Boo Bug in Los Angeles, for a combo trip involving birthday parties, Disneyland and a few other social calls. I didn’t go because I was waiting (on pins and needles) for a call-back on an interview (which didn’t come, because HAHAHAHA, that would have been great good fortune for us, which apparently we are not allowed to have at this particular time because the Universe is saving something even better than financial stability and emotional sanity for us!) (hello, my name is Pollyanna, and you are…?)

ANYWAY. Those of you good at math will note that this means it was just me and the boy knocking around the Den of Chaos. Everybody was going to be home yesterday, but Monday, aaaaah, Monday! I would put the boy on the bus at 7:00-ish, and then he would be arriving home on the bus at 3:00-ish.

That would be eight whole hours at home without any other humans. Why, a person could actually make a cup of coffee and drink it while it was still hot, under such conditions! Or put something away and have it stay put away! Or play a video game, without having to jump up every eight seconds to find out what that noise was!

Or take a nap. The excitement, it is never ending!!!!

Instead, I drove the boy to school, dropping him off a full hour and something late for his program. Obviously, since the bus company denies ever knowing he existed, I also had to return to pick him up at the end of the day.

And as we were careening down the freeway, one of us belting out Laurie Birkner songs at the top of his lungs and the other one muttering foul words under her breath, I realized that the car felt funny. There was a disturbance in the Force, a vibration, a strange hum, a distinct pulling toward the right, hmmmm…

Then we hit a construction zone. The detour took us through Tijuana and also the Canadian Rockies before dropping us back at the school. What should be a two block jaunt was, I kid you not, a sixteen block detour. Complete with missing direction signs and a wander through a community that is probably very much tired of lost people wandering around wondering how they’re supposed to get back to Main.

Arriving at the school at last, I peered at the front right tire. Wow. It’s not exactly flat, but it’s definitely sagging, there. AWESOME!!!

SO, after dropping him off, I went to a gas station, filled the tank ($30 to fill up a Civic, holy crap…), and then went to the air machine...which wanted $0.75 for air. Unless, of course, you’d bought gas, because that would be against California law. If you bought gas and want free air, please see the attendant. Hell yes, I want free air!

So I marched into the store and announced that I wanted free air, to which the kid behind the counter announced that he needed to see my gas receipt.

I didn’t have one, because I said, “No, I don’t want a receipt” when the machine asked if I wanted one, because I have enough paper in my life already thank you all the same.

“How do I know you’re not just stealing air from us?” he sneered at me. Because air theft is, as we all know, a crippling issue to the gas station economy and all.

Little Pimple, do not @*^&@ with The Momma right now, I thought grimly. She is already pissy and will pop you like the zit you are and apply a thick coat of Clearasil to your quivering remains…

I smiled sweetly (y’all know that smile, right?) and said, “Sooooo, what you’re telling me to do is, get my credit card statement, highlight the purchase of gas I just made, and send that to the State with my complaint, so you can get fined $50 for breaking the law today…Brad, is it?” I poised my fingers over my Treo, prepared to take his name, driver’s license number, age, girlfriend’s phone number so I could call her mother and tell her she shouldn’t let her sweet girl date this creep and furthermore while we’re at it, give me your grandma’s number because she should be appalled by your lack of respect for your elders, sonny-boy!

Rolling his eyes and sighing heavily like any good teenager, he flipped the switch to turn on the air.

Which did nothing.

Twenty minutes and a four-employee-huddle later, nobody could figure out how to turn on the air without putting three quarters in the slot. Nobody had three quarters, and nobody was willing to take them out of the drawer because the boss would fire them for being three quarters short at the end of the day.

It was now going on 11:00. I had a forty minute drive home, and then I had to get back in the car at 1:00 to ensure I could make it through traffic, construction zones and pick-up congestion in time to grab my son.

I stomped out, dug three quarters out of the ash tray in the car (what, isn’t that what ash trays are for?) and paid for air. Muttering vague threats around reporting them to the State, or suing them for my time. Let’s see, at my old job, my employer billed my time out at $140 an hour, so I make that $70 you bastards owe me for this little fiasco… (No, I didn’t make anything near that…let’s just say there was a healthy profit margin for the consultancy firm at my last gig…)

ANYWAY. I finally peeled myself out of the car, ran into the house and stood there admiring the silence for a moment. I have a little less than an hour remaining before I have to go back and get the boy, let’s see...Oh-oh-oh! I know! I can boot up the laptop and write! Yes! In silence! Without little voices demanding snacks, and tape, and crayons, and and and mommy mommy mommy it’ll be awesome!

So I flicked the button, and my laptop began its slow grind into life. (It’s on the old side, and has begun developing personality quirks that even a complete rebuild didn’t cure…one of those quirks is that it takes literally ten minutes for it to wake up to the point where I can open Word and start sharing my keen wit with y’all…) (stop laughing, I’m delicate right now…)

And then suddenly, it started winking at me. Boxes came up. Boxes vanished. Wink. Wink. Wink.

And then it said, “Preparing Outlook for its first use…”

And I said, “Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?!”

Over an hour later, it was still locked down, preparing various Office programs for their “first” use. A major update went down Sunday, and the dumb machine felt All Was New Again.

I zapped a frozen burrito for lunch, and sat there burning my tongue on it as I watched the hourglasses and progress bars.

And then, it was one o’clock.

Time to get the boy.


The first day in I don’t know how long that I had the whole house to myself. A day I should have had a good eight hours of peace and quiet in my own space. I could have gotten a whole lot of something or nothing done.

Instead, I spent nearly three hours in the car ferrying the boy back and forth from his program, wrestled with Idiocy at the gas station, beat my head against Mandatory Updates, ate a reheated frozen meal and then brought home a boy who was practically having seizures of hyperactivity because he was that unique combination of stimulated and exhausted that the first day of school can bring a young autistic lad. Awesome!!!

There are times when I really do find myself just…kind of resenting things. I know a lot of things go just right for me and that really, in the cosmic scheme of things, I’ve got it pretty darned good.

But I was really looking forward to that time. As you might guess, time at home alone is incredibly rare…usually, if I want to be alone, I have to get in the car and drive somewhere.

And then I’m surrounded by strangers.

So, wah. Poor me. Life is sooooo hard. Boo hoo.

Oh, you think this whining is bad? HA! In a couple weeks, I’ll be entering my first-ever pie competition!

…I expect the blow to my ego when my AWESOMEST EV-AH pie loses out to some [to my way of thinking at the time] nasty lumpy bit of gah! THAT isn’t PIE! That’s just Jell-O pudding in a refrigerated crust!! will be truly epic, and the whining and crying will go on for weeks

…(why do I do these things to myself? Why?! WHY?!?!)…

Monday, June 15, 2009

Money Monday: June 15, 2009

I was going over some old notes not long ago, and I found a journal entry that sent me down Memory Lane. It was 1998. I had just started back to work after several months home with Eldest…who had just started going to daycare. My journal was full of whining about the high cost of disposable diapers, which were required by the daycare center.

I had $140 a week left after we paid bills. From this, I had to buy groceries, gasoline, formula and now diapers, oooooh, the humanity.

I started thinking about then v. now. I tried to imagine getting by on that $140 now, with a family of six to feed, clothe, and entertain.

At first I was thinking, Sure, I could get by on $140 a week…for a while…but the caveats began coming pretty fast. Except of course when the quarterly CSA payment was due, that'd have to be Off Radar…and the semi-annual Freezer Restocking, ya, that'd have to be not part of that $140 thing…oh, and I guess I'd need a "free pass" for the every-six-weeks Costco trip…

Which brings me to my Sermon Du Jour, which is around budgetary sustainability.

When I take our actual spending over the last twelve months and average it out – ignoring the "buts" and "wells" and "One Time Deal" excuses – I find that we spend $400 in the average week in the anything that isn't an automatic bill payment category.

The fascinating thing about that is…technically, my budget is a little over half that.

I usually give myself $240 a week for Everything Else, and before this weekend I would have smugly said that I'm darned good at keeping to it.

But obviously, I'm not.

When I dig into why my actual spending is so much higher, on average, than my budget…well. It's all Extraordinary Stuff, each individual Event some combination of spontaneous, obligatory, and urgent.

Weddings, funerals, parties with large cash outlays we can't gracefully get out of, broken water mains, sudden announcements that Mom will watch the Denizens for a few days…discovering that none of the winter things I so carefully packed up last April will fit anybody as we headed into what passes for cold weather around here.

And when these things happen, well, what do I do? I end up either siphoning money out of savings to cover it, or I charge it and scrambling like crazy to come up with the money before the bill comes in…or I end up floating the charges for a month or ten, clamping down my budget to the point of no-fun-at-all until I've caught it up.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my current budget really isn't sustainable…and getting less so with each passing day.

It's not just those Extraordinary Events, either. I'm also a bit stuck in the past, with ideas around how much things should cost entrenched in 198-something, and twenty-something years of inflation utterly ignored.

Perfect example: I filled up the Civic today. If you'd asked me this morning how much it costs to fill up that little economy car, I would have first thought what, twelve bucks?, reconsidered, adjusted for inflation (haha) and said twenty bucks.

It cost a hair over thirty dollars to fill it up – and it wasn't even completely empty.

Between that kind of things cost more than I think they do and we buy more than I think we do, I'm constantly setting myself up for failure.

And then beating myself up when the inevitable happens.

My action item for the week is to spend a little time going over those actual numbers, and to come up with a budget that is a little more in line with reality.

The emergency fund is supposed to be covering true emergencies – job loss, fires, floods, famines, pestilence, the end of civilized life as we know it. It is NOT there to cover lack of foresight, or to make up budgetary shortfalls I totally should have known were coming.

The fact that I'm constantly dipping into it just a bit, just a touch, just $50 to cover regular budgetary items is a pretty clear hint that my budget is out of whack.

Bottom line, it just isn't going to work…whether I like it or not, my budget can't be based entirely on what I'd like to be spending.

It also has to reflect what things actually cost, and how much we're going to be spending on them.

Even if that means I have to {steady! You can do this…} slow down on debt reduction, or retirement savings.

(Ouch. That hurt. Owies. {…whimper…} )

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I meant to do my work today…

…oh, who am I kidding, anyway? I have absolutely no intention whatsoever of working today, unless you count the work involved in taking Captain Adventure out for a day of, well, Adventures. There is a kite festival in the neighboring town of Mountain House today, as well as our local farmer's market and maybe if we're not all funned out after those two things we could trundle up to Pixie Woods in Stockton.

I'm just not really in the mood to stay home today, somehow.

I'm restless. Got that anywhere but here would be good feeling.

I want to go do something, something different.

The girls are all profoundly not interested in hanging out with their momma today. Danger Mouse is actually off with grandma, Eldest has a friend over, Boo Bug is getting ready for a birthday party…I am definitely freeze-dried chopped liver right now as far as they are concerned. "Hey, wanna go to the farmer's market with me?" was met with the kind of cool disdain you would get from a Fifth Avenue shopper if you asked her if she wanted to hit up the sales at Goodwill.

Yay, 50% Off All Red and Blue Tagged Items Day at Goodwill! Eeeeeeeeeee!!!!


ANYWAY. Yesterday I was busy with all kinds of things, none of them on the computer. That's right! I went a full twenty-four hours without flicking the 'on' switch on my laptop! And the world did not end!! Amazing!!!

I did laundry, cleaned things, and tackled the garage, which thanks to our bestial habit of dropping whatever we've knocked on the head with our clubs in the wilderness wherever it falls on our way in the door around here had gotten into what might be terms a right state.

If a right state means we couldn't open the fridge OR the freezer OR get to the cupboards OR the filing cabinets where all the mailing supplies are.

Hmm. Perhaps wrong state would be a more apt term to use here.

Today, there's more of the same kind of life-enhancing things I could/should be doing.

But I'm not in the mood.

Which is kind of a curious thing with me. When most people say they "aren't in the mood" for something, there's still room for negotiation. They can jolly themselves out of it. "I'm not in the mood for this today," they growl…and then they proceed to do whatever it is anyway, with or without additional kvetching about it.

I don't generally say "I'm not in the mood for this" when I'm merely disinclined to do it, or ambivalent about it, or am thinking of things like video games, reading or knitting when what lies before me is hosing out the garbage tote or formatting an Excel spreadsheet.

OH yeah. "I can't figure out how to make the lines appear on this, I want darker lines, not lighter lines like these but more manly lines [you laugh, but I swear to Dog, one of my clients actually wanted "manly" lines on his spreadsheet…sigh…sometimes, my life is just…kinda surreal, actually…]…and I'd like it to be blue, can you make it blue? Except this part. That needs to be green, with little yellow dots…NOnonononono, not that blue, a darker one…no, now, that's too dark…"

Ah yes. Fiddly Excel spreadsheet formatting jobs. My favorite!!

ANYWAY. I'll be disinclined or meh about it…but when I find myself saying that I am not in the mood to do something, I've moved way past the phase where I can be jollied into doing it. I'm like a cat being offered substandard tuna (excuse me? this is packed in oil, and I believe I ordered the spring water…?). I'll just sit there and stare at the offending task, all day if need be! I ain't gonna do it, no way, no how…! I ZAP you with my Laser-Guided Disdain! ZAP! ZAP! ZAP!!

Fortunately for both myself and those who rely on me for stuff, it's pretty darned rare. My usual response to having to deal with things I'm not feeling much love for doing is to get them over with ASAP but also CONSCIENTIOUSLY so I don't have to deal with this @*^&@ again later.

Nothing will suck your will to live like rushing through something you'd really rather not do, only to have it boomerang back onto your desk twenty minutes later because you skipped a few steps or something.

But today…I am not in the mood for anything that even remotely smacks of housework. That's right, I mean meals, too. I'm pretty sure I'll be paying insane markups on some hot dogs or something while we're out today, because I am that kind of rebel, people!!

I don't want to cook, clean, shop or even think about even the most basic of human needs today.

And I can't pretend I don't know why I'm in such a semi-foul mood. It's been one of those unsettling kind of weeks around here. A week where good and bad news jumbled together – it was not unlike making an omelet with a bunch of stuff out of the fridge, and only when you're halfway through do you realize that something in there was a bit "off."

Except that you don't have the "just chuck it" option, so you have no choice but to keep nibbling, with no idea whether the next bite is going to be delicious, or just plain nasty.

Every time my phone rang this week, it was one or the other. And sometimes when it didn't ring, well, that was awesome or nasty, too.

I'm ready for something that isn't cooking, cleaning, working or trying to get work to do.

A little time in the Out, doing things that have no purpose really, things that surely don't need doing.

I'm going to go see if I can't get my Adventure Buddy into a pair of reasonably clean pants so we can go-go-go.

(Hey, speak of the devil…the boy just came skidding in here [pantless] [two words, people: potty training] [three more words: PRAY FOR US] [and our carpets, furniture, cat (don't ask) (let's just say she REALLY wishes this kitten of ours would figure out HIS litter box and leave it at that), washing machine…] yelling, "Mommy! I read-it book twice and noooooooow…I wannit go-go-go someplaces wif, uhhhhhh, someplaces…" Couldn't have said it better m'self, buddy…LET'S GO-GO-GO!!!!!)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The fork goes ever on and on

This has been a helluva turn-of-the-wheel, huh? The last twelve months have been some of the roughest, toughest, most upsetting times we've gone through around here. Not since I first left the parental nest have I felt so off-balance, unsure and frankly scared. And I had a lot less to lose, back then. Just me, and a bit later a boyfriend and two cats.

With four little ones confidently expecting that mommy knows just what to do, always, well. There's a certain pressure to get things, if not right, at least OK.

This last year has been full of interviews, micro-projects (things that take less time to do than it took to chase down the signature on the scope of work) (all of that time being, of course, not billable), and frankly, disappointments. Phrases such as "we've decided to take this a different direction" and "we're going with someone a little {more, less} qualified" and "{dead silence}" have become all too common.

I work ten times harder for a tenth the actual money while paying the highest taxes I've ever paid in spite of having expenses that have never been rivaled in my life for things like healthcare and costs of business (licenses, permits, fees, insurances of various types, additional taxes, blah blah blah)…and you know what?

I have the distinct feeling that I'm either waiting for Godot (surely he will be here tomorrow) (or the next day at the latest), or giving the class a parable-like lesson in what insanity is: I'm just going to keep doing the same thing, which always results in the same thing happening, but I'm going to continue to expect something else to happen.

A few weeks ago, I had about thirty irons in the fire (bids, proposals, contract possibilities, etc.). It's kind of the usual way of doing things for me these days – have a whack of things in there at once, and see what catches fire. Usually at least one thing will come back a money-winner.

But then they all came out of the fire cold enough to make ice cubes.

Feh. (Hmm…maybe if I stuck them in some Kool-Aid, I could make popsicles…)

I threw them all down and just sort of sat down for a rest. I haven't been scouring the job boards or chasing down bid opportunities or pestering people for their Final Answers on things, dyeing the laceweight that is supposed to be the next batch of stuff to go up on my Etsy shop, or researching any of the other things Tama Could Be Doing With Her Life Right Now.

Frankly, I've been spending a lot of time futzing around with knitting (but not actually getting much done there, either) (started a simple lace scarf I'm promptly complicating in my head because now I think it needs a knitted-on border) and playing with the Denizens.

It feels a bit like I've come to a fork in the road, and instead of just choosing either the busy road I've been following for lo these many years -or- tightening up my backpack straps and charging down the road less traveled, I'm kind of sitting at the triangle between them waiting for…Something.

A sign, I guess.

Both roads have their charms and perils. The one is well-traveled, which means it has been smoothed by thousands of feet before me. Fewer potholes, well-established inns along the way – pleasures and palaces to reward me for the hard work of the traveling. It's also crowded, polluted and somewhat devoid of self-direction. There are rules on that road, and deviating from them gets your permits revoked.

Might even find yourself dropped back at the beginning of the road, if you stray from the Accepted Path.

The other is a wilderness. Not a lot of people on it. No guides to lead you, and what sign posts there are lean drunkenly and point randomly. The path meanders and changes, but nobody is in charge of keeping the signs up to date…but you can make your own way. The view is fresh and new. Nobody can say you've strayed, because the path is not "time honored" or "well marked."

There really isn't a right or wrong direction to go…only what seems best at the moment. Where the road more traveled is pretty straight and clear, this other one is basically a series of forks, each one just as vague as the one before it. And being less-traveled, well shoot.

For all I know, I'd be turning off the road and onto a deer trail in no time. (Done that while hiking more than once…it can really suck. Deer go places human really can't or shouldn't, hi, tick-laden bushes I can't get through and narrow ledges holy CRAP how can a 200-pound animal transverse this thing on HOOVES?!)

The well-traveled road is profitable most of the time.

The wilderness…promises nothing. Could find riches. Could find nothing but poison ivy from start to finish. And ticks. Lots and lots of blood-sucking, lyme-disease-transmitting ticks.

They both have their own appeal, but I don't think I can actually choose both at this point. I've spent some time on one, and then been on the other for a while, stepping from one to the other constantly over the years.

Which is breaking the rules when it comes to the well-traveled one, actually. It's a jealous master, and views those breaks to go see what the other path was up to as sins against the Master Plan. (In other words, it's getting harder and harder to explain the gaps in my work experience…and "I was herding camels on the plains of the Mojave" is not exactly met with "wow, that surely puts you ahead of the competition for this job!")

There's a part of me that wants this to be a carefully thought out, rational decision – based on facts and, uh, junk like that.

And another part that says, "Hey, just toss a coin. Put it in the hand of Fate. How about this: If you get the job you interviewed for this week, call that heads and we stay on the well-traveled road. If not, it's tails and we see where this one goes, and leave the well-traveled path to others."

It's not so much feeling helpless as feeling somewhat overwhelmed by possibilities. So many ways to go, and so few of them feeling like bad choices. Some make more money than others, some are higher on peace and quiet, some are exciting but stressful, some are tried and true, some are saying, "You know what I bet would work in this brave new world…" knowing full well that we have no idea what this brave new world even looks like yet.

Don't tell the Denizens, but mommy has no idea which way to go at this point. No idea what would be "best" or "safest" or "most sane."

Every time I weigh the pros and cons, the damned scales come out about even.

So I'm just sitting here at the fork in the road, waiting for something to make things a little more plain to me. Waiting for some new fact to drop into the bowl and give one or the other a final push.

A coin toss is looking more and more appealing.

Hmm. Maybe a chocolate coin.


Mmmm…rum-filled chocolate…

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Crispy goodness

{Empty space where there WOULD have been a picture if certain people (*cough-husband-cough*) hadn't eaten the ENTIRE remaining portion before I could get the camera}

The kids were loafing around today in states of advanced lethargy telling me how great Grandma's place was, because Resort et Spa d'Grandmere has potato chips. How come we don't have potato chips? Would it kill you, mother dearest, to buy us potato chips once in a danged while…?

Now, I don't buy potato chips for two reasons. One, they are expensive – look at the cost per pound sometime, it'll give you heebie-jeebies. And two, they are a nutritional black hole. Some are comparatively healthier than others, but let's face it: They're just not the best snack out there.

Now, I can make potato chips, sure. Heat up the fat, do the whole slice/soak/dry/fry/cool/fry/salt thing. But that's a lot of bother and mess and furthermore frying in oil, TWICE really doesn't make me feel all that good about what is slithering down our throats.

Oven-baked crisps, on the other hand, can provide a similar satisfying salty crunch, with a lot less oil and prep work. Just because they're made from scratch out of real potatoes with "less" oil and salt doesn't automatically make these a delicious and healthy snack fit to be eaten night and day…but they are definitely cheaper and making them just one or two potatoes at a time for immediate consumption helps cut down the idle snacking that is so deadly to our best of dietary intentions.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and lightly oil one or two baking sheets, depending on how many potato slices you're about to bake up.

Take one or two potatoes, depending on the size of your crowd and your ovens. (I used two fairly good sized ones, because all six of us were home complaining about the lack of salty goodness.) Scrub them well, but don't peel them. Slice them to about 1/8" thickness – thicker than most potato chips, but thin enough that you can see the light through them. A food processor makes this go incredibly fast.

Toss them in a bowl with just enough olive oil to lightly coat them. Add seasoning if you like – salt is the usual, but you can also add onion or garlic powder, any variety of your favorite dried herbs, Parmesan cheese, pepper…the list goes on. I just did salt today because my children are horrible picky eaters who recoil in horror from anything that is interesting unexpected.

Deal out the potato slices onto your pan. Now, if you want crispy-crisps, make sure they are each an island unto themselves (no snuggling or overlapping going on); if you want a combination of crispy and chewy, overlap them slightly.

Into the oven for between 15 and 20 minutes. By the way, there may be a lot of moisture coming out of the oven, as though you were steaming something in there – don't be alarmed. That's normal. (Can you tell I was alarmed the first time?)

When they are your desired level of browned and crispy, take them out of the oven and let them cool slightly in the pan – that way they won't just roll up and get silly on you when you're trying to get the spatula under them. They're best when they're still warm, so you'll want them hitting the plates within a couple minutes of coming out of the oven.

And don't leave them unguarded if you think you're going to take a picture of them. Sigh

Monday, June 08, 2009

Money Monday: June 8, 2009

Last week, I started to feel really, really bad. It wasn't just the cold (although that didn't help one bit) – it was a bone-deep exhaustion, coupled with steadily increasing back and throat pain. I was irritable and had a lot of trouble concentrating. Every time I stood up, I felt dizzy.

At first I thought it was just the cold working its wicked wiles on me. Then I started thinking, This is no ordinary cold! and thought of all kinds of wonderfully rare and horrible diseases that could be causing all this grief.

I was clearing my schedule for an all-day visit to the doctor (and bracing myself for a good $800 in lab work and office visit expenses) (not to mention the swine flu quarantine) when my brain suddenly decided to remind me that I suffer from chronic anemia.

Normally it's very mild, and all I really need to do is eat a well-balanced diet with a fair number of things like oatmeal, broccoli, chard, spinach, etc. (ummm…rut-roh…)

As I sheepishly broke out my iron supplements (which, by the way, swept 99% of my malaise out of my life within two hours), I found myself thinking about how often we spend months and years setting ourselves up for high medical expenses, and then are stunned when they come home to roost.

We don't watch or diet or exercise, and then we're stunned and upset when we're hit with the high cost of diabetes, hypertension and heart treatments. We smoke and are shocked to find that lung cancer is kinda costly. We refuse to exercise and then want a Magic Pill to cure our stiff, aching joints – what? You want $300 a month for that, are ya crazy?!?!

There are lots of things we can't control when it comes to our healthcare. We can't control our own genetics, or some parts of our environment. Accidents will happen, and it's hard to be thinking about controlling costs when you've just been battered by a car crash.

But where there are things that are in our control, we're fools not to seize hold of them.

It can be hard, though, because the danger isn't immediate. You don't eat a single McMega burger and drop dead of heart failure, any more than the first extra five pounds immediately causes diabetes. It's a slow process, getting to expensive self-imposed conditions…and it's easy to forget they ever were preventable once they arrive.

It's an invisible gift to give your older self, a healthier lifestyle now. It's easy to discount the benefits until the consequences are actually upon you; and triply hard, if not impossible, to undo the damage done one triple sundae at a time over the course of years and years.

This week, I'm going to take a hard look at my (rather sloppy) lifestyle choices. Obviously, I need to make sure I take my stupid iron supplements…but my diet has also gotten a bit on the haphazard side lately, and my "exercising" has been limited to some morning stretches and the occasional midday pause to repeat them.

I don't want to be setting myself up for more arthritis pain later; I don't want to be dragging around feeling miserable because I can't remember to take a stupid iron pill, or find myself with hypertension because I couldn't be bothered to watch my sodium intake and get some daily exercise.

I'd feel like a pretty big fool, if some simple changes now could have prevented all that misery in five, ten years.

Life is busy. It always feels like too much trouble to watch my weight, or my diet, or my exercise levels. I've got way too much to do, and when I'm done doing it all I'm tired and I don't wanna worry about portion sizes and healthy balances among food groups. Wah.

But it may well be that I'm avoiding tens of thousands of dollars in medical costs down the road, simply by taking command of my health now, in whatever ways I can; by working toward maintaining a healthy weight, keeping my body nutritionally balanced and physically agile, and my mind focused on my inherent worth – I deserve to be healthy, and happy, and to live long and prosper.

We all do…and we all need to do what we can to do so.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Just to prove I still know how

Hey look, some finished knitting!

Lorikeet Set

This is the Blackrose pattern from Knitty, and guess what? One skein of my sock yarn was plenty to make both socks and the wrist warmers. Which I kind of figured seeing as how, you know, I'm in charge of the yardage and such on them – but still. There's being pretty sure it has that kind of legs in it, and then actually having enough to finish them both.

I think if I were going to do these socks again, I would do two things: I'd use a darker variegated (or solid) (you know, like the designer recommends, ahem), and I'd throw in an extra repeat or two of the pattern on the leg. But that's because I like longer socks, and now I know I'd have enough yarn to do it, if I had yarn that was on the "generous" side of the yardage scale.

This was another good pattern – not too hard, not mind-numbingly simple (like the men's socks I'm making right now for my husband, with the straight stockinette for approximately eighteen feet around and around and arounzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…). It has a great combination of "pretty detail" and "letting the variegated do its thing," which was what I really wanted for these.

Lorikeet Detail

My knitting has been full of stops and starts lately. The ripping-out fates have been against me. Or with me. Hmm. Well, whichever it is when it seems like all you ever do is knit a swatch, and tear it out, and knit a swatch, and tear it out too, and knit a third and then, weeping and gnashing your teeth in rage, return it likewise unto the ball from which it came. Hence finally casting on a simple men's sock in size Orangutan – it's boring, but at least I'm not too likely to find myself tearing it out because the gauge isn't right or the color is pooling funny or it doesn't look at all like a bird, it looks like a vomiting bat…(I'm trying to design my own lace. It still isn't going particularly well. Possibly I am a little too stuck on what I want it to look like, and thus am being entirely too persnickety and it serves me right that I keep thinking my birds look like vomiting bats and my horses look like a very young child's drawing of a bloated sheep. Whatever! I refuse to actually give up! Because if there is any advantage to never learning, it is that you have no memory of why you probably should just give up.)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


One of our clients arranged a day trip for his employees and subcontractors on Adventure Cat last weekend. This is a 55-foot catamaran, which takes a 90-minute sail around the San Francisco Bay – from Pier 39 to the Golden Gate Bridge and back. After a great deal of discussion, we decided to leave Captain Adventure with Grandma (which kept my blood pressure at reasonable levels), bundled up the girls and headed out to Pier 39 for the cruise.

You know, some clients really make you want to keep working for them forever.

Arriving a bit early due to well-documented paranoia around running late (which is our normal – either thirty minutes early, or thirty minutes late, minimum), we first found an artist's rendition of how our Wait, When Did This Become A Family Bed?! looks on the average Saturday morning the sea lions, lounging around on docks set aside for their exclusive use.

Seal lion bed

I totally do feel like the sea lion on the bottom of that pile sometimes. The kids don't sleep on their father, ooooooh no, they pile on me

Anyway. In due course, we boarded the catamaran and headed out into the Bay.

Much to my surprise, Boo Bug went out on the bow and stayed there during most of the cruise. She's my shiest, most-nervous kid, the one who clings to my leg and whimpers that whatever it is, it is scary. But there she was, right out in the wind and waves, walking on the net.

And then, she drove the boat. The captain asked Danger Mouse if she wanted to drive, but she'd just taken a wall of water that had drenched her from bangs to toenails and wanted to just sit quietly in her chair sipping hot cocoa and wishing she were warmer. Boo Bug immediately started jumping up and down saying, "Me! Me! ME!"

So she took the wheel and we did not run onto any rocks on her watch, way to go, Boo!


Then Eldest took a turn. Wearing my jacket, because her jacket wasn't warm enough. It was Musical Jackets! Boo Bug was wearing Danger Mouse's and her own, Danger Mouse had a new one, Eldest wore mine over hers and I wore a new one! QUICK! EVERYBODY GRAB A JACKET!! Oooooh, too bad, you didn't grab fast enough, guess you're gonna be cold, kid…

Eldest Drives

Then, just when everybody was so cold and wind-whipped and otherwise really ready to stay in the cabin…my husband started yelling, "Let's get a picture! C'mon, everybody outside, let's get a picture!"

Which is why Danger Mouse and Boo Bug are clinging to us looking like they are having the most miserable time of their little lives, when actually they were having so much fun that they went straight to bed when we got home without bothering to protest at all.


It was an awesome trip, and not something I would have done on my own. We've been talking about needing to do things like this more with the girls, because frankly they get a bit short changed when it comes to Family Outings. It's all about what their brother can or can't handle, or what their parents can or can't handle when it comes to dealing with him in public. So we tend to stick with things close to hand, and things that aren't too exciting / dangerous, and places where if he melts down we have a quick exit, and keep the overall time short.

It's not fair, and it's not right. They're awfully good kids, and put up with a lot of crap just in general. The usual Large Family crap, where getting your slice of attention can take a lot of work. The Working Parents crap, where they forget to turn in your permission slips or can't come to your 10:30 performance of Sing A Little Flower Song because they're working. The Special Needs Brother crap, with the public meltdowns and the questions from your friends…uh, how come your brother is flapping his hands like that and making that weird barking noise…?

They handle it all with grace and class, and (mostly) sweet and loving patience. (And mommy doesn't fault them for the occasional impatient and angry outburst – first of all, that would be the pot calling the kettle black, and furthermore they're right! It isn't fair and it isn't right and even if Life is often neither fair nor right, it still sucks when things fall out that way!)

They deserve a lot more Adventures like this…and respite care / Grandma / babysitters willing, we'll try to get them going until he's ready to join us.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Money Monday: June 1, 2009

Welcome to Summer Vacation – where Monday, Tuesday, Friday, eh, whatever! is the new normal! (In other words…it's not Monday. I know it isn't Monday. But soon, well, I may not know what day it is because summer vacation around here is kind of like falling down a rabbit hole. Yesterday vanished into today so fast that just before it happened I was all, "Wha? How can it be 11:00? Why is that boy still running up and down the hall playing with trucks, if it's an hour until midnight? Did the kids eat dinner? Or, uh, lunch?!")

ANYWAY. I have kind of a peculiar sermon today. It comes out of a rather otherworldly encounter I had last week during the last day of school festivities. Our school is one of those 'heavy parental involvement' schools, where a ton of us will show up for an envelope opening – cameras blazing. So it was no surprise that a group of the regular offenders were having a kind of impromptu farewell party at the school, as we watched our children run and scream and be silly on this, the most glorious day of the Whole! School! Year!

Now, there is a couple in this group that I've gotten to know a little better this year – especially the father. Before last year, we never saw the dude because he was the typical working father. He came to games, events and shows occasionally and almost always only the evening affairs.

He was let go from his job between Christmas and New Years, 2007 – seventeen months ago now, and definitely counting. The situation has gone from bummer, dude to holy crap, dude! in fairly short order. At first, things went about the way they always go under the circumstances. He received a three month severance package and began looking for work. Didn't find anything he was willing to take. He didn't just want to replace his former income, he wanted more. Turned down the first few offers because they were "insultingly low bids" and then was surprised to find the first few were also the last few.

Welcome to the recession in San Joaquin, where the job market is so tight that over a thousand people lined up to interview for ten part-time waitstaff jobs at a new Olive Garden…

More time passed. Contacts began to distance themselves, stopped returning phone calls, started being too busy to have lunch. Even recruiting firms wouldn't call him back. Health insurance and unemployment benefits dried up. Retirement accounts were liquidated. Tax bills were received, totaling nearly half what they had taken out of tax-sheltered accounts. Ouch.

And then, because insult loves injury, within a week of their insurance lapsing, their daughter fell off the damned slide and broke her arm (again, by the way – she broke the same arm two years ago, on the same playground!). Couldn't do it just one week before, when they had coverage ooooooooh no. Without insurance, the cost for a trip to the ER, x-rays and a cast ran to nearly $20,000.

…and because they'd cashed out the retirement funds, their tax return showed solidly six figure income. Sorry, no hardship adjustment for YOU…

See what I mean? Holy crap, dude!!

So that's the background. Then, last week, he stood there and went on a rant that honestly…I didn't know whether to hug him, or smack the living daylights out of him.

It went something like this: He is not going to let this recession-thing ruin his family's lives. He is not going to allow even the slightest change to their lifestyle. They will have their two-three vacations this year, they will get new clothes, they will do all the extra-curricular activities they want, the children will get video games and ice cream and furthermore, they will continue hitting up Applebee's every Friday night and god!damn!it!, they will have everything they need to be happy because he is not going to fail his family…!!!!!

We all kind of stood there and took this in. His wife had the kind of pained, plastic smile that clearly said, Humor him, for my sake, please…just…humor him…with a hint of…ohmygah, Momclub, CALL ME LATER! I NEED HUGS!!...

So we dutifully made sympathetic noises and changed the subject as fast as we could.

Which brings me, at long last, to my sermon today, which is around CHANGE

Most human beings resist change. We like things to stay in pattern. We like to have golden, holy Truths we can rely upon in good times and bad. We like to have rules, and we like exceptions to those rules to stay in their neatly defined boxes.

Here are some of the rules that this economy, giggling maniacally, is tearing to shreds:

  • Housing prices never go down, only up.
  • Salaries never go down, only up.
  • The more experience I have, the more I'll be paid.
  • If I have a college degree, I will earn back what I paid for the education within three years (which makes it totally OK to graduate with any amount of student loan debt, for any degree)
  • I will never earn less, only more.
  • I will never have a problem getting health insurance, because I will never have a problem getting a job that provides them.
  • I will have more stuff, vacations and money than my parents had. My children will have even more than that.
  • Goods and services will all cost less and deliver more.

In some ways, resisting change isn't necessarily a bad thing. Resisting change is how we rebuild, for example. If we didn't resist change, we'd just walk away from charred buildings and flooded basements – but we don't. We grab shovels, hammers and saws and rebuild, resisting the change Fate just put on us. We try to build it smarter and better, so that next time it doesn't burn so fast, or hot, or flood so thoroughly.

But there also comes a point where you've got to cut and run. You've got to realize that change is here, cold, uncaring, inexorable change, and you are either going to adapt to the new conditions and survive, or you're going to die resisting it…and then you're going to miss out on What's Next, which might not be as bad as it seems while you're going through the searing pain of change.

When I listen to people raving on and on about how they can't find a job "at an acceptable pay rate," or how they "refuse to give up" their luxuries, I really feel as though I'm watching people stubbornly sitting on their couch as the house burns down around them. "It is not acceptable to me that this house is burning down. I will not let the fact that there is a fire cost me this house."

Uh…dude? Fire really doesn't care whether you find it "acceptable." It's there, it's burning, and it's going to take you with it if you don't get off your arse and get the hell out of there.

Come back and rebuild, don't burn to death refusing to acknowledge that it's happening.

This week, I want to take some time to think about where I might be resisting what is for no good reason. Am I buying stuff I think is a "need," when actually it's just sort of vaguely connected to my actual need? For example, I need to feel important and stable, so…I'm buying a new iPod? How does that actually make me important and/or stable?!

Am I holding on too tightly to the way things were, ignoring the new opportunities because they don't look as good as the old ones? Am I so busy refusing to accept the unpleasant parts that I'm missing bright new beautiful things Life is trying to offer me?

There is always opportunity out there. While we still breathe, there is always a way to grow through adversity and come out stronger and better than we were before. And frankly, I've always found that the worse I think a situation is, the more I think there just ain't nothin' good about it…the more I look back later and think, Wow…I'm so glad that happened…I learned so much, gained so much, because that happened…

I woke up on this side of the dirt this morning. That means things can still work out not merely OK, but awesome for me. Things are different, and some of those differences are not a whole lot of fun (having my hourly pay rate slashed back to 1994 levels definitely doesn't make me all tingly-happy inside)…but if I don't wrench my eyeballs off the regrets, I'm going to miss the hallelujahs.

And that would suck.

So! Chin up, eyes high, expect great things and don't be surprised when they come your way. They are there, waiting for us to realize what they are and grab them. New joys and triumphs await…let's get out there and make them our own!