9/15/12

Cheap Tricks

As promised, just a few days late, my top ten tricks for saving that kizzo for a rainy day (or a Nordstrom's Sale...). Love the One You're With: Check out your current accounts that may be hemoraging under your watch. #1) Examine that monthly trash bill. Do you really need the big trash can? In my town, the green waste and recycle bins are free-no matter how big. So the price is based on the size of your trash bin. We have the tiniest bin for a family of four and it dropped our cost to less than $10/month! RECYCLE MORE. #2) KILL YOUR CABLE I mean really, unplug yourself from mainstream America and think outside the box (the cable box, that is). With Netflix and Amazon Prime (free online streaming of zillions of tv shows and movies AND free 2 day shipping) all you really need is a Blu-Ray player for a little tv fix. The other benefit is that all that time wasted in front of the tv can be spent elsewhere-like on the lawn playing ball with your kiddos. #3) Cancel junk mail and catalogs, because every time I flip through those pages, I covet more stuff I need to spend money on. Sure, it's a little disheartening to stare into the gaping darkness of an empty mailbox, but think of all those trees you're saving! Go to https://www.catalogchoice.org/ and https://www.dmachoice.org/dma/member/regist.action to stop junk mail. #4) Make 30 of these burritos (Thanks Holly!) and freeze them for peace of mind, nutrition and a quick hearty meal whenever you need one. Kid friendly, too! INGRDIENTS: Scrambled Eggs, Bacon, Sauteed Veggie (like onion, zuchini, or red bell pepper), Black Beans, Shredded Cheese (lots), Giant Burrito Sized Tortillas. Directions: Set up an assembly line of the Ingredients, make a pile in the center of the tortilla and wrap into a burrito. Then seer each burrito in a little olive oil and butter on a hot pan, melting the cheese and crisping the tortilla. Then, wrap the tortilla in a sheet of tin foil. Pop into a freezer bag and stash in the freezer for future sanity. You'll thank me (and Holly) later. Feel free to substitute items like chicken or hot sauce or whatever else works for you. #4) Avoid Target and TJ Maxx. Just don't go in. Don't do it! #5) Buy 4 at a time. If you can store it, just get 3 or 4 of the following household staples-it will save you in driving trips to the store, fuel, time, and scattered craziness. Dish detergent, Toilet Paper, laundry detergents, Soaps, Tampons, Sunscreen, etc. You get the idea. Give yourself the green light on buying the hell out of this stuff. And you'll be sufficiently prepared for Armageddon. #6) If your car still runs, drive it. No new car will save you money-it just makes you look cooler (yeah, that IS jealousy in my voice). If you have to look at new cars, calculate the payment you will make plus the insurance....$500? $700? a month??? And start putting that amount in your savings account every month you drive your beater. #7) Reorganize your closet. Clean out the old shit you hate, iron the stuff that's wrinkly, color coordinate it, fold it, stack it and make it pretty. That old wardrobe will look so much more appealing when you sell it to yourself like a department store display.

#8) Avoid coffee shops-those $4 coffees will make you go broke. Instead, get yourself a cute mug that matches your purse and rock that homemade brew everywhere you go. Like froth and steamed milk but don't have the doohicky to make it? We bought a $19 frother we use for microwaved milk and ADORE every hoome cup of coffee! YUMMMY! #9) Buy used....craigslist, ebay, garage sales, and thrift shops. If you want it, it's out there. #10) Just say no. To your kids, to yourself. If all else fails, just buy it, hide it in the back of your closet and practice saying, "What THIS OLD THING?!? I've had this for Aaaggges!"

9/10/12

Six Degrees or less

A local surfer in our little town passed away yesterday. He was the father of 4 and had suffered the loss of their mother in a tragic car accident years ago. I wouldn't call myself a friend, just an acquaintance if that. But just the same, I feel heavy with this news because it's just....sad. Any parent with young kids has to find something about this that resonates with them. It got me thinking about the school where his children go and all the families who share their daily life on the campus, in the carpool, and in the classroom. All of which will share this heavy burden of grief with his kids' today and in their future. I never realized just how interwoven we become as parents at a school just by doing the daily carpool and volunteering in the classrooms. I've realized that I know a lot about the kids my children go to school with, and I've learned a lot about the story of their families over the years. I learned about Mailie's new baby sister who's been in the NICU for 5 weeks waiting to grow big enough to come home. I celebrated the final chemo treatment of a kindergarten classmate (why do these things have to happen to kids???). I've had the pleasure of meeting grandparents and big brothers, stepmoms and neighbors who run carpool. These are all people who are shaping the environment my daughters learn and live in every day by the way they choose to parent and interact with their own kids. It's amazing how small the world gets when you begin to think this way. When you put your child in a social situation where they interact, play and learn together with other people's kids....wait, it's almost like-REAL LIFE! It's like the way we choose to treat eachother actually matters.... Hm, I'm going to chew on that one for a little while. Back to my point about DRay.. I hope, as members of a community, and humans, that we can comfort his kids with open arms, plates of food, and plenty of help, happiness and encouragement along their path of life. R.I.P Dustin Ray

9/6/12

Frugal? What, Me?!

I've been hanging out in random parking lots with makeshift beds in my car, half a week's worth of groceries and luggage strewn from the front seat to the trunk. No, I am not homeless. I'm just a mom who's kids suddenly lead active afterschool lives. And I'm trying to plan ahead, eliminate extra trips around town, and not spend the last of our savings on gas station snacks and overpriced water bottles. I know, I know, I've said it a million times, "Why don't they have drive-through everythings?" And I still believe in that motto....I just don't want to pay for it these days. Instead, I'm packing up piles of tupperware with leftovers and lugging coolers of snacks from place to place. Anyone hungry for a slab of enchilada? Call it an epiphany, call it confession, but I have some serious issues with overusing those handy little plastic rectangles I have bulging in my wallet! John came home the other day and asked me to set a savings goal. "Are you planning on quitting your job?!" I mused. He snickered. I took the bait, just the same, and did a little research. The idea of a well padded savings account gave me a sudden sense of calm, like a good massage, no rainy day could rock my world if I had already saved for it, right? And just like that, I was off on a new mission to "Save and Protect" my sanity and that of my family's. I discovered that my bank offers a Personal Finance Manager on their website and boy does it expose some unholy truths about my spending habits. Don't tell John, but I couldn't believe how often I swiped, charged and debited our account for little things like a trip to the icecream store for an afterschool snack (every day for a whole week in a row!?), an extra spin around Rite Aid for all sorts of fun creams and soaps and new French Manicure polish (totalling $94.67). Not only was I going to make my kiddos fatter than Santa with all that icecream, but our bank account was looking pretty anorexic. So, that's how I found myself in a parking lot living like a homeless person with my kids in our car. No more quick trips to Target to skim the Clearance Aisles, or Costco hotdogs, no more daily Jamba Juice. Nope, we are exercising our right to public property and "spend-safe" parking lots where Mommy can't use her credit cards. The girls think our new "camp" is fantastic. When do we ever get to hang out with the trunk open, curl up together with blankets and pillows and read books, eat snacks and watch movies? Yeah, we look homeless and to be honest, we kind of are during our school days in another town a little too far from home. But, I'm padding the bank account this way, I'm earning my worth as a spend thrift mommy who's actually spending more face time with her kids and less time pushing them in a shopping cart. Tune in next week for my top 10 NEW tips on saving money! And feel free to chime in with any thrift worthy tricks you have, too.

8/30/12

Smart Small Moments and Stupid Commitments

Aging has it's drawbacks: the wrinkles, gravity, gray hair, the wrinkles. But lately I'm savoring those little moments in my hectic life as an "almost stay at home mom" (though I'm NEVER home!)with an older and wiser perspective. Like the first day of school when I watched Ana and her new class sing the morning's goodbye song to an anxious crowd of parents. She turned to say "Adios! Goodbye" with the broadest grin and just then I realized I was saying goodbye to my baby and hello to my kindergartener. Our whole world as a family was changing in that very moment. I'd love to think that I'll remember that image forever but as I write this, I'd bet dollars to donuts my memory fails me in nanoseconds. I can't recall the way the morning went 3 years ago when I hugged Shelby, my oldest, on her first day of Kinder. I do, however, remember crying in the car the whole way home that day! But this year, I'm older and wiser, and I only cried on the playground before realizing that mommy's "me time" clock was ticking and 3 hours of kindergarten would go fast! I wish I could cement the image of Shelby in my mind on her first day of school this year; perfect pig tails, bright blue sweater, grinning nervously as she found her "big girl" desk in the third grade classroom-finally a desk that isn't 10 inches off the ground! Upon seeing her own name, and then her best friend's name on the connecting desk, she plopped right down, straightened her back and folded her hands. "Bye Mommy!" she smiled. Well, I guess that does it... This wisened perspective is predicting future burnout, too. Annually, I over commit myself and my kids before September first. Trying out new gymnastics classes, piano lessons, dance. I've managed to cram every morning with classroom volunteering, cooking meals, for the harvest crew, and work. Ever the ambitious family who predictably approaches collosal meltdown phase by week 4 of the school year when we can't manage our hectic life anymore. And then I hate the world. And the best part is, I'm doing it all over again this year with a giddy ignorance. Yay! Sure we'll try that twice a week dance class and, ooh, let's add an art class before school-grrrreeaatt idea! And maybe we can even donate our time to the soup kitchen every Friday night well past a reasonable bedtime because I can't think of any better way to throw my family's sanity to the wolves. I'll check in with reality next week and let you know how Stupidity and The Beast of Commitment are doing.

8/22/12

I'm Not Ready For Kindergarten!

Dear Ana,
You've grown so fast in just five years and I can hardly believe you're walking into Kindergarten tomorrow morning.  I thought this day would never arrive, and now I find that I'm completely unprepared. 
We have talked all summer about this big step in your life, you becoming a big kid.   We've read the library books, stocked your closet, picked your outfit and packed your lunch.  We've even talked about how you're feeling a little scared for what tomorrow will bring.
Tonight, you chatted about making plans for your kinder preparedness, "Maybe Shelby can get me and Caroline (your friend) and teach us all about kindergarten in some lessons, Mommy."
I realized I wasn't ready as soon as we walked into the Kinder Round-Up yesterday.  You leaned against me as we met your teacher.  And I found myself nervously fiddling with your tiny blonde french braids.  I found your hand and held on tight as we wandered the room, decorating your cubby, putting up your picture, observing the play yard. 
I've done this before, I did kindergarten with your sister, Shelby, 3 years ago.  And that time, it was me that was completely nervous about kindergarten.  Not Shelby, she never looked back.  This time, you and I are partners, equally apprehensive about the start of this new school year.  But you're more prepared and me, I'm Not Ready For Kindergarten.   

8/16/12

Well Deserved

I'm locked in the garage furiously folding laundry.  Wait, I don't do that! WTF?! 
And my daughters (ages 8 and turning 5 today)don't usually earn themselves repeated time outs for back talking, fighting and biting (biting?!? I thought we were past that!).
So far, the birthday girl-on her birthday-has lost the privilege to open her gifts....who the hell offered that punishment????  Shelby, her older sister, has spent more time today screaming from her time outs than she has functioning in the household.  WHAT HAPPENED????
So, I'm locked in the garage folding laundry like a possessed housewife evaluating the word "Deserve".  My kids have always deserved things because they're (almost) always well behaved, follow my directions, live up to my expectations with their public behavior and are generally enjoyable children.  So, yes, I bought them new school clothes and a few new shoes.  It's summer time so okay, I've taken them to the water park, and to horse camp and gymnastics camp.  And, I admit, we've had ice cream practically every day over the past 5 weeks, but hey, it's summer and let's face it-my kids are pretty awesome.  They deserve that...
Well, they "were" awesome up until today.  As a parent, it's important to always examine the bigger picture, so let's rewind a few days: We had a big weekend.  Their cousins stayed overnight (for the first time) and we hung out at a fundraiser/bounce house and then attended a birthday party (okay, a HUGE weekend).  Needless to say, by Monday morning the girls were downright pooped.  And unfortunately for us all, this day would allow zero down time.   It was a day of celebration. It was Ana's 5th birthday and that's when my well-deserving children went perfectly wonky.
That's when I found myself resisting the urge to physically shake them into shape in a pleasant little waterfront cafe at Ana's birthday lunch with Mimi.  Instead, I sat stabbing at my salad while my daughters lay completely prone across the bench seats kicking one another and pulling each other's hair.  I will not freak out.  I will not freak out.
So now I'm asking myself, as I load the 6th pile of pinks in the washer,did I spoil them?  Did I create these devil children?  Have I given them too much?  Do I deserve this behavior from my kids in public?
The word deserve means to be entitled to or worthy of.  Does this mean that I am entitled to foul and rotten treatment from my children for what I've given them?  Do we deserve an entire day like this? 
Tomorrow, I've decided that we will all suffer the day together in solitary confinement-no play dates, no ice cream, no presents, no nothing.  The theme for the day is "Breaking Bad" as it will be my personal mission to break any bad behaviors I witnessed today by the end of tomorrow. 
"John," I declare, with my hand held in oath, "I swear to you by the time you arrive home from work tomorrow I will have rehabilitated our children to their normal pleasant selves.  Tomorrow we will be 'Breaking Bad.'"
Wish me luck. 

8/9/12

Lonesome Mom

Okay, I have a confession to make: ever since I became a mom I've been secretly daydreaming of my freedom...of having two free hands to eat a meal....going to the bathroom alone....finishing a sentence without being interrupted.....IT FINALLY HAPPENED TODAY!  ALL DAY!!  And I was "with" my kiddos at the local water park for 6 hours.  I finished complete conversations to the point of boredom with my friends, I ate entirely too much because my hands were free and empty, and yes, I even went to the bathroom all by myself, twice.
And halfway through the day I noticed a sinking feeling in my stomach-was it from that giant slice of cheese pizza?  No, it felt different than indigestion, it felt like a pang of lonely, it felt like....WHAM!  I nearly fell out of my lounge chair when I zeroed in on the fact that my children were totally independent of me.  That my days as a doting mother were over, my kids can swim, they can go to the bathroom (albeit in the pool, but still!), they can carry their own tubes up the stairs to the top of the water slide, and they know how to check in with me. 
"Shelby!  Sheellllbyyy!" I shouted over the crashing water of the wave pool.  She was happily chatting away to a group of her girlfriends while bobbing up and down in a sea of swimmers.  We had floated around the lazy river together, not because she asked me to go with her, but because my nephew needed me to help him into an inter tube (thank you, L!).  When we emerged from the river ride, Shelby and her friends floated right out into the next pool. 
"Shheellllby!" I tried once more to no avail.  I realized it was futile and that all I really wanted was her acknowledgement.  I wanted her to know where I was...in case she needed me....but it was apparent that she didn't need me at all.  And she was perfectly happy not needing me.  I AM NOT NEEDED.  Stop screaming at your daughter who does not need you, you crazy goon.
In an embarrassed flourish, I sped over to the kiddie pools where my baby, my nearly 5 year old Ana was swimming in a pod of toddlers, no, not toddlers....kids.  I needed a mommy hug.  Expecting an open armed hug from Ana, I made a beeline for her.  Surely she would want me to swirl her around or help her up the slide....and just as I closed in on her she swam away.  She never looked back. 
I watched her hustle up the path to the water slide and giggle her way down.  When she landed, I stepped in to swoop her up but she splashed past me and up the path to the slide again.
Dejected, I trudged back to my lounge chair.  With my daydream fully realized, I used both of my free hands to shove a sympathy piece of pizza in my mouth.  This wasn't how it was supposed to feel.  This feels sad and bitter.  I'm digging deep for that joyous feeling of freedom and happiness and I'm asking my friends for some help.
"Don't worry, they'll need you later today," says Karen.
But I don't want to be needed when they're tired and whining and demanding!  I want to enjoy them while they're happy, while they're fun, when I can get some sense of reward for being their mommy!  I want my babies back!
As I look at my very pregnant sister-in-law I have a radical thought...."Maybe I should get pregnant again so I can have a baby who needs me." 
POOF!  And just like that, I've officially snapped myself into crazy.  The thought is gone, the urge to procreate left just as soon as it arrived.  I'll take the whiny kiddos later in the day but just know that this is not the way I planned things.  This isn't how it was supposed to turn out.  

8/2/12

It's been a long time since I rock n rolled

"Do you know anything about the SUCH AND SUCH School District?" my friend, Karey, asked as we mulled over fashion magazines while drinking beer in the summer sun.  Her kids were happily entertaining my kids in the yard with a sword fighting routine to LMFAO's "Party Rock!" at deafening levels (to the neighbor's dismay).  Karey and I were doing what we do best, surviving summer parenting with frequent play dates...usually accompanied by beer.  She and I were readily anticipating the start of school in a few weeks as both of our daughters would be plunging into kindergarten this year while our oldest would begin third grade.
"Oh no!" I panicked, "You're not thinking about going back to work, are you?!?!?"
My heart rate skyrocketed and I felt myself doing this squinchy thing with my knees to keep myself from ejecting out of my seat in horror.
And in that moment, as she calmly explained that yes, she was considering going back to work, I realized that we were approaching the end of an era.  That my job as a stay at home mom was being restructured, merged into reality and quickly phased out, "I'M GOING EXTINCT!!!!!"
I feel like a college graduate the day after her commencement ceremony, boxing up books and tossing out the backpack and realizing that, "Holy Shit,  I've catapulted into the real world.  Now what?!?"
Eight years ago, I happily left my classroom teaching job with a swelling belly and an eagerness for life as a mommy. Over the next 4 years I welcomed both of our daughters into the world with joy and pride, I nurtured and guided them, and stood by my husband as he plowed through his daily life as the career man, bringing home the....well, it was more like corned beef before it evolved into bacon these last few years.  Back then life was penny pinching and making sacrifices and it was exciting and new learning to grow into parents and foster ourselves as a budding young family. And more recently, as the girls have become older and more independent, needing us both a little less, our lives, my life has become.... well, it's just NICE!!! My day is slow and fairly smooth, unless you count a little sibling rivalry or a few mounds of laundry.  I can go for a run while the girls are at gymnastics, do the dishes, clean the house and at the end of the day collect my family, make a nice meal, bathe my kids, listen to my husband over a glass of wine and dare I say it, feel good about my calm and rewarding day of being a mom, being a homemaker, and being a wife.  And that's it...
I didn't realize until Karey shared her newest plans that somehow, over the last few years, one by one my friends....ALL of my friends have made their way back to the working world.  I didn't notice until now.  No wonder my knees were smashed together and my blood pressure was soaring as she babbled on about this part time counseling job she's interested in.  Is that the sound of my beer bottle cracking? 
Somehow, I missed the memo and didn't recognize that nagging loneliness that haunts my day-oh, come on, you know The Lonely I'm talking about when you dial up everyone you know in hopes of having a chat and just maybe they'll have two minutes for a quick coffee or a pedicure-was actually stemming from the fact that everyone was busier than me.  That everyone else (while I had my head in brownie mix or sewing buttons on fairy costumes) had opened other doors, stepped through, shook hands with a job and was gradually picking up more work and setting down their parenting life.  They were letting go of one phase and welcoming the new act, and then there's me....pink frilly pillow over head, curled up in my daughter's bunk bed singing nursery rhymes and playing Barbies.
Well, I guess that explains the nightmare I had last night about falling down an elevator shaft....
Okay, so I am dead last in this race we call life right now and I am feeling left out.  Ok, check.
And I'm aware that my last child will be full time in school this year and I'll have more hours in my day to myself.  Ok, check. (isn't that what malls and nail salons are for????)
But what I don't know is how to fill those hours!!!  NOT check!!
What do I want to be when I grow up?  What door was I supposed to open, who's hand was I supposed to shake when everyone else was signing contracts and hiring nannies?  Where did I go wrong?