Monday, December 5, 2011

A Very Merry Christmas Tree

We are a little late at putting up our Christmas tree this year. It's already December 5th. I had high hopes of decorating it as a family this year, but the hubs and I have strange schedules and the 4 of us are rarely in the same place, awake, at the same time. We had a small window of time yesterday morning, but Georgia lost (and badly lost. It was ugly.) the *big* game against LSU on Saturday, so the hubs spent the rest of the day trying to find some liquid recovery for the heartbreak. Sunday morning came fast and hard for the poor fella, and he was in no mood to be festive. So we let the big angry bear alone and did our own thing.

Besides, we hadn't really figured out the tree situation anyway. We usually buy a real tree. But we were waffling this year. Since Zane has an oral fixation (MAJOR!) we were nervous about the number of needles he would consume, and whether that would seriously pose a health risk to him. Can't you see the headline: "Baby overdoses on Douglas Fir needles, first case in years!". But then, did we really want to buy a fake tree? They are so ugly...unless you spend $200 on them, and in that case, I would assume you intend to use it for several years.

As always, Enter My Parents. They are always there for us, no matter what silly thing we need. So I asked my mom what we should do and we ultimately decided that we would borrow their small fake tree and they would put up their big one, even though it takes forever and is huge and seriously just a pain in the ass. They love us so much!

Kevin decided today was the day to decorate, so I shaped the tree up nicely and brought up a box of decorations from the basement. I'm not going all out this year. Zane is just too young and it would just be too insane. Now, if time/money/small hands were of no concern we would probably have a Georgia Bulldogs tree, and a Jon Bon Jovi tree, and a monster truck tree, and who knows what else. But one tree is more than enough this year.

I could spend hours drooling over beautiful magazine Christmas trees, or perfectly shaped and matched and gorgeous trees inside perfect homes. But this isn't a perfect home, and those trees aren't family trees. Now, if you have one and you've spent countless hours perfecting it, by all means, I am not trying to discount your work. It's just not what I expect from my tree. I expect my tree to be perfectly imperfect, and that's exactly what you get when you have a 3yr old project manager. Enjoy!

(disclaimer...I'm still learning how to perfect the use of my Nikon Coolpix for taking bloggie pics. If you have any suggestions, I'm more than happy to hear them!)

Zane is standing on his own A LOT these days. He even took 5 whole steps today!

And Kevin looks like he's 6 years old or something. Slow down kiddo!

He had his heart set on decorating with monster trucks. So he lined them all up and I let him choose 6 to become ornaments for the next month.

Finding a home for each one :)

He thought he could put the star on by himself, so I decided to let him give it a stretch.

I bought this when I found out I was pregnant with Kevin and it was on our Christmas tree in 2007.

This is Kevin. Yep. Can you believe it? Christmas 2008.

Grave Digger, of course, nestled into his branch.

Mark gave me this in the hospital last year :)

Yes! We have a Hot Light snow globe ornament from Krispy Kreme. And it's Kevin's favorite ornament on the tree!

My first Christmas away from home, in my apartment at college, I only had plastic shiny ornaments and I wasn't happy with my tree at all. So Mark bought me this one from a gas station. It's so ugly it's cute! :)

Kevin asked "Why is that Santa so ugly?" And I replied, "He isn't ugly. He's vintage." One of my cherished ornaments that belonged to my Gma.

Another of my very special Gma ornaments. It wouldn't be my Christmas tree without these!

Our Perfectly Imperfect Very Merry Christmas Tree!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rejected pants *upcycled* to Skinny pants

The first time I remember thinking, "I would like some pants that I can shove into my boots" was in December 2009 and I was probably already late to the style game at that point. The hubs and I went to a UFC fight in nearby Memphis and everyone had SUCH cute boots. I was envious. Plus, it was snowing and everyone else's boots looked much warmer than mine! Here's a picture of us in front of the FedEx Forum-

So then soon after this picture, we found out we were expecting baby boy #2 and summer came, then the baby came and it was pretty much an outstanding effort on my part just to be dressed, much less stylish, for about 6 months (some moms get it together faster...not me!) So now here we are again, winter upon us, and I still don't have any of these cute boots.

Enter Black Friday.

A tradition in our house, this year it was a little different. We were missing a person, and the stores messed everything up by opening at crazy times. We only wanted 2 things, but Target opened at midnight and Jo-Ann didn't open until 6 we had to find filler stops (including an inpromptu trip to Krispy Kreme. If you aren't from The South then you probably don't understand the magnetism of the HOT light. But, seriously.) We found ourselves at one point fighting the mob at Belk to catch some of the $19 boots. Mom and I each came away with 2 pair, and all of our appendages, so I consider that to be quite a success. I finally had some cute furry boots just like everyone else, and I was happy.

Until we got home and I realized some things:

1) The boots kind of look like they are lined with a Davy Crockett hat, fur around the top rim and fur down the backside, almost tail-like...

2) I'm not entirely sure I meet the age requirement to wear boots like this. I'm on the last half of my it still acceptable to dress in high school trends? Most of me says probably not, but part of me says I can squeeze it in for a few more years.

3) I still have no pants that I can shove into my boots, so having the boots does me no good.

As I considered each of these concerns, it was easy to rationalize away the first one. My husband didn't know whether it was Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone that wore the hat, and I'm banking on the No Child Left Behind Act to leave an open gap in the minds of those who are younger than me. So that means that only the older generations might think my boots are funny looking, but they probably think everyone's boots are funny looking, so it doesn't bother me as much.

Number Two wasn't as easy to overcome. BUT, I have a dear friend who rocks these types of boots and she is beautiful and graceful and I adore her personal style. And she is much nearer to my age, so I feel better about it because of her.

That leaves Number Three, and the purpose of this rant-blog. I'm not a physically balanced person. I think they call me "pear-shaped". So the whole skinny jeans/leggings/jeggings thing makes me a little nervous. A blog I read recently put it best "I don't want to look like a lollipop." So all of my jeans have straight legs, which Stacy and Clinton say are best for my figure. But damnit, I bought those boots, so I gotta do something now.

So I went into my "upcycle" bag and found a pair of jeans with a lot of stretch and oddly shaped legs that I *thought* were a little short for me. I tried them on. A little tight, but the legs sure did look crazy. They were perfect!

I turned them inside out, sat on the couch and pinned the excess jean away from my leg. Then carefully (VERY Carefully) I slid them off and took them to my sewing counter (which doubles as my kitchen counter). I drew a line along the pins, then removed them and lined up the other leg and made similar markings. Then I sewed the line. Simple enough, right?

Then I tried them on. I must have fat ankles. Stupid foot tiny. Plus I had some extra random baggy material up near the knee, so I adjusted my original line and re-sewed. This time they were nearly perfect, one foothole a little tight, but as good as I was going to get while both boys were up running around. I slid them on, put on the boots, and wore them all day.

I was so stinkin excited about it, although I'm not positive that I pulled it off. And my camera was MIA, so no pictures of the process. But I'm considering offering that as a service..turning old uncool jeans into new wearable ones. I also considered going into the show shop at Mom and Dad's and digging out all her late 80s jeans, which would be vintage and cool, without alterations. But I'm not ready to go acid wash just yet!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Handmade. From Scratch.

Last night, it occured to me how very lucky I am. My mother worked a 40 hours per week job, came home and cooked dinner for us. Occasionally, she would start meat in the crock-pot before leaving for work and maybe once every two or three weeks, we would eat leftovers. And then, even rarer, we would go out for dinner or my Dad would pick up pizza for us on a Friday night.

But, I think it's safe to say we had "homecooked" meals 99% of the time while we were growing up. Funny what you take for granted, until you are the one in charge of preparing meals for your own family. This thought came to me last night after a discussion with a young man who came into the store where I work.

He came around to the bakery and asked for a recomendation for a bread that would go well with "a handmade italian meal." He proudly professed to me that he was going to be making the entire meal by himself. From scratch.

I smiled politely as I thought to myself, "hey. kid. you can't buy handmade, from scratch, bread from the store. just fyi." Then I checked out the basket he was carrying. Bagged salad mix, ground beef, and Ragu. But I wouldn't dare suggest anything less than encouragement. I know that look in his eye. He was desperate to impress someone. So I sold him half a loaf of french bread and told him exactly what to do with it to make it go with, as I later discovered, spaghetti.

As I was labeling his bread, I asked if he was making the pasta himself, to which he immediately responded, "yes", under a wide smile. So proud. It was adorable. I looked at the clock, 7:49 pm. There is no way this young man was going home and handmaking pasta. Or cheese. He was carting around pre-bagged salad for crying out loud.

My assistant manager and I decided that he would probably be boiling pasta from a box, dumping in the Ragu, and calling it his own special recipe, without the slightest intention of fooling anyone. He would really consider it to be "handmade." I'm not making fun, or looking down on him, I just find it incredible that my generation's sense of "handmade. from scratch." is so far skewed that is resembles nothing of the sort.

Don't get me wrong, I love convenience foods. I sometimes enjoy cooking from scratch. But with two small children, it can be anything but enjoyable at times. As I type, I'm struggling with the decision of whether or not to grab an incredible deal on Pop Tarts tonight at the grocery store. I'm not trying to disallusion anyone by pretending that I cook from scratch meals every night of the week. But, I know...and I can appreciate...the difference.

Cooking from scratch is a labor of love, often taking much more time and effort than money. It's not easy, although my mother did a great job of making it look so. It requires all sorts of things you don't think about. Patience, the ability to follow directions, concentration, and most importantly...motivation to clean up your mess. Gag. That's my least favorite part of cooking from scratch. Soooo many dishes!

I hope that his dinner was fantastic and that he was praised greatly for his efforts. Maybe he enjoyed himself and intends to dive deeper into this world of actual preparing meals. What a unique skill to have in his arsenal of "ways to impress women". My sweet and precious Markie Poo has cooked dinner for me (discounting frozen meals from the microwave OR drive-thru fare) all of twice in our near 8 years. Neither time was during pregnancy or right after childbirth. Quiche and Turkey Burgers. Hmph.

I decided to make some handmade. from scratch. spaghetti for my family soon. This afternoon will be my 3rd attempt at making mozzarella cheese, so why not use it (assuming it actually works this time...) I'll admit, the idea of making the pasta sort of freaks me out, but I'm up for the challenge. Are you?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Greene Thumb Thursday: Water Conservation

One day last week we were outside, knee deep in chalk on the sidewalk when the mailman came by. Kevin loves to see the mailman. Naturally, we rushed to the box to see what awaits. My sweet innocent toddler, always the optimist said, "Maybe there is a magazine!", but as I am much older and wiser (?), I knew the truth. Junk and bills. Ha. Among the papers was a little postcard that I normally do not pay attention to in the least: our water bill.

Now, I know that many people have much larger utility costs than we do, but when we first purchased this home, our water bill averaged about $35 each month. Last month's bill was $50. So what, a $15 dollar jump in 3 years? NBD, right? Maybe. But I am an analyst, and I need to understand why it keeps going up. The rate is staying the same, so how are we using more water?

I quickly scanned my memory for additional water usage last month: I washed my mom's car after borrowing it (but I think that will be relfected on this month's bill), Mark watered our yard after throwing out some grass seed, and I stripped diapers once. I guess that's it. But I don't want it to keep going up!

Now, with summer in full swing a serious 2 weeks before the official start of the season, this above 90 degree heat is seriously threatening our meager boxes of plants. My dad, the garden master, has informed that if I intend to get anything out of my tiny little experiment, I have to water it once, and sometimes twice, a day. Sheesh! More water?

With no rain in sight, I started trying to figure out ways to cut back on our in-house water usage to offset what I'll be using on the "garden". Wash larger loads of clothes. Take 10-minute showers. Bathe the boys together (now that Z can sit on his own, I think this will be fine). Let Oscar keep drinking from the toilet rather than refill his water bowl (okaayy...I'm not going to do that. But seriously, if his water bowl happens to be empty, our fat cat will drink from the toilet like a dog!)

Then, while I was crunching some numbers and daydreaming about my sometime-in-the-future finished basement, I remembered a very important appliance we have. The dehumidifier! That thing pulls 2 gallons of water out of the air in our basement every single day. Ta-da. There is my extra water for the garden! Yay! The best part is that the water collected in our dehumidifier is that it is untreated and doesn't have added chemical "purifiers" that we pay this lovely county to add to the rest of our household water.

Now...if I could just convince Kevin to stop flushing the toilet a thousand times a day, maybe we could level-off or, dare I suggest, lower our bill...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Greene Thumb Thursday: Outside chores

After a month's absence on this blog, I decided in a meditative moment that I needed to get back to writing. It helps clear my mind and reminds me of things I want to tell my husband (when I see him!). 

This 'meditative moment' happened while I was in the middle of an outside chore with which I have a love/hate relationship. Mowing the grass. When I was finished, I changed my Facebook status to reflect how happy I am that God has given me two little boys who will one day be strapping young teenagers, with nothing better to do on summer break than mow the grass. Oh sweet days of the future! 

But, I really don't mind mowing the grass, I've been doing it for years. As it turns out, when you have several acres of "lawn" to mow on a weekly basis and God blesses you with two daughters...guess what? The girls learn to mow too! Along with many chores I don't care for, I learned a while back that it's best to just suck it up and get it over with (hmm...remind me to write that on a post-it and put it on the dishwasher. Why I put off emptying and re-filling the dishwasher until I just can't stand it any longer is beyond me!) My dad always did the intricate mowing; around the house, among the trees, and near the driveway. I was responsible for the larger, clear stretches of land we titled "the road bed, the field, the side yard, and the back yard". All in all, my share of the mowing took about 2 hours or so. I thought it was torture, but my dad now singularly spends about 2 hours a night for 3 straight nights (or, an entire Saturday) mowing the grass. Ugh. I actually grew to enjoy it somewhat. I spent the time clearing my thoughts, planning my days, or just daydreaming. It was really relaxing. And a job well done (ok, so more like...just done, ha!) was always punctuated with a jump in the pool. 

I once turned down a date with the reason, "I can't. I have to go home and mow grass." It WAS the 100% truth, I swear! I was still in high school, and it was summertime, which meant I was working two jobs. Monday-Friday from 6:45 am until 3:15 pm at Nashville Tent and Awning, then 4pm - 9pm at H.G. Hills 4 days a week plus weekends. The night in question happened to be my night off from the grocery store, and it was the only chance I would get to mow the grass....unless I wanted to spend my entire Saturday (until work) on the mower. My friend was really hurt by this, because he thought I was surely lying. But to me, mowing the grass was a normal chore. 

But, I said this was love/hate, right? Well, you see, I don't mind mowing, but I am terrified of it. I have two incredibly irrational fears associated with cutting the yard. The first one is that I am extremely worried that the mower is going to blow up while I am on it. Actually, just at the beginning, when I'm starting it up...and at the end, when I'm parking it. I *assume* this fear was born out of parking my Dad's mower for years and running wildly toward the stairs with my hands over my ears, waiting for it to backfire. I know there is pretty much NO WAY it can blow up just from trying to start it, but it doesn't change the fact that my hands still shake wildly when I turn the key. 

The second fear is that I will run over a ground nest of stinging wasps and be immediately swarmed and stung to my pitiful death. I think this fear comes from the fact that this has happened to me, twice (not the death part, just the swarmed part). The first time, I was innocently bending to tie my cousin's shoe when my foot covered the hole of a yellow jacket nest. I was stung 17 times. The second time it happened, I was mowing "the back yard" and noticed the hole just as I was going over it with the mower. I am from TN. I know what a nest hole looks like. I jumped off the mower and ran to the house, narrowly escaping the swarm coming out to attack the noise maker. The lawn mower continued going, right into the woods, and finally came to rest on a tree (Later that day, I secretly wished I had let the hornets attack me, because it would have been easier to deal with than the wrath of my Dad over the messed up mower). 

I am not the best person to be driving a mower. I run over sticks, rocks, toys, anything that I think the blades will chop, I just run over it. I mow fast and leave small trails of dandelions and long weeds that escape my hurried pattern. I mow around large objects (garden hose, bicycle, etc) rather than get off the mower and move them (see fear #1) and mow wide circles around trees (fear #2). But for the most part, I do a decent job, and I'm happy to do it. My husband works hard, and my "job" is to take care of the house and home. This includes the yard, right? Plus, he is taking a summer class on-campus that does not end until 9:15 pm, two nights a week. I work in the Bakery two more nights a week. That only leaves one weeknight or the weekend for my hubby to do the lawn care. I don't like giving up my time with him to something that I can handle during the daytime, so my little sister comes over and plays with the boys for about an hour (only about an acre of our land is "yard", so it takes considerably less time than what I dealt with in my younger years.)

Now, I do not use the weed-eater. I have not yet conquered irrational fear number 3: that I will cut my leg off. Maybe someday, but not today. :)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Greene Thumb Thursday: Planting Procrastination

The most stressful part (thus far) of growing our own food has been trying to get the plants in the ground! We have tentatively declared this year as the trial run of our eating local project and next year to be a strict(er) version of the goal. So our garden attempt for this year is basically a trial-and-error run also.

But, just because I already have acknowledged that we will for sure be going to the grocery store still at least once per week this year, that doesn't mean I'm okay with haphazardly going about raising a garden. I'm pretty adament about maximizing our production and minimizing waste through various different ways of preserving our (hopeful) extras. I'm fairly stubborn, and although I work well with others, I generally do appreciate when things go my way.

When you attend a liberal arts college pursuing a degree in Communications, there is a ton of emphasis focused on learning to work in a group. Which, obviously, is helpful when you get into the working world and have similar responsibilities. And thus far, in my initial plan to start a garden, I have realized that this...unfortunately...cannot be a one-woman show. It's not that I don't like working with other people, I just simply don't like my success to depend on another person. And just as getting a so-so average grade on a presentation (due to the halfassery by classmates) didn't sit well with me, neither does the idea that our garden production will be limited by people who may not take this as seriously as I do.

To illustrate this point, let me talk briefly about the last month. We knew early this year (February-ish) that we wanted a garden and started planning for one. Tending the ground in our chosen location was pushed back far past the last possible planting for the cool weather crops (good-bye lettuce, broccoli, and spinach...maybe in the fall?) and was encroaching on the first planting dates of the summer crops. That's when we realized why it kept getting pushed back and quickly moved to plan B: the raised beds.

We have yet to find the right place in our yard for the new garden beds. It's May (or might as well be). It's time to PLANT, but I can't. My devoted loving husband dreams big...real big. Rather than allow me to construct the beds in an area of the yard that we don't actually use (at all) so I could actually plant them, he decided to clear an area of our wooded land for me to use instead. I think the idea is wonderful, I just don't see our timeline allowing for that much earth-moving right now. And I'm big on schedules and timelines.

I have been known, on occasion, to be up until 2 am the night before a project is due. Usually, I'm not cranking it out, but fussing over tiny details until the wee hours of the morning. I'm not perfect, and am admitting here to self-plagiarism on 3 occasions within one month in high school (It's not MY fault that everyone wanted an essay on pretty much the same topic. Also, one of those counts did involve translating my essay into Spanish, so I don't think it counts). However, I think it goes without saying that procrastination has no place in gardening. And we've been waiting around long enough. Tune in next Thursday to see if we have come any closer to seeds in soil.

PS...just for kicks, here is a commercial from a few years ago that seriously sums up "group work" for what it (more often than not) tends to really be.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Charlie's Fate

Meet Charlie. He could, actually, be a Charlotte, but considering that our house is full of rough n' tough testosterone, we assume he is a boy. Charlie lives in the window above my kitchen sink, spending his days traveling from one side to the other, occasionally "napping" up near the edge. Kevin and I spend a great deal of time watching him poke along with his little hairy legs moving purposely along the screen lining of the storm window.

I grew up here in Tennessee, and spiders do not scare me. If you do not live here, or if you have recently moved here, google "wolf spider" and you'll understand why this little guy doesn't bother me in the least. I don't like spiders and am by all accounts going to stomp anything that resembles a brown recluse or a black widow. But, I know how important spiders are to ecology in general. You don't have to be a Biology major to know their role.

So, as long as this little guy stays on his side of the window, I vow to do him no harm. He is welcome to capture and devour any stray fruit fly or ant that trys to infiltrate my home through this important portal to the motherload for insects: the kitchen. But as I was washing dishes yesterday, watching him scurry up towards the top of his perch, I wondered: am I going to kill Charlie, accidentally?

You see, this thought occured to me because I noticed a few dead ants at my back door earlier in the day. We have a pest control company come once a quarter and spray our house. I may not care about spiders, but I despise millipedes and centipedes, which are also unfortunately in abundance here in the wooded south. Oscar slaughtered one of these squirmy nasty creatures in Kevin's bedroom once soon after we moved in, and I would not have any more of them in the house. So I invite a man with a jug of pesticide into my house and I pay him $75 to spray like mad around...our doors and WINDOWS. When I saw the ants, I was so thankful that the "bug man" was here last month. Springtime comes and everything wants in the house. Yuck. But then, while watching Charlie, I I killing his food supply? Surely he would not be munching on those ants, even if they did survive long enough to make it into the kitchen.

Am I purposely limiting his role in our world? Why even let him live in his little nook if I don't trust him to do his job? And what's to come of him? I routinely open this window to let in the breeze and thus far, Charlie has preferred to stay hidden at the top while it was open. But what if he decided to venture out, crossing the line of pesticide residue on the windowsill? That would be the end for him. Or what if some rogue insect managed to get across that chemical tripwire and into his territory? He would surely be posioned for doing nothing more than his natural obligation.

And, I get it. So what? He's a spider. A tiny little spider. He can't hurt anything, and he can't kill a millipede or a centipede, so who cares if he is here or not? The point is not whether I readily see his worth (which, I do!) but whether I am caring that my actions affect him at all. While Kevin is not quite old enough to understand the whole scenario, we do talk about Charlie and how he has a happy life (maybe? since he's starving...) and we need to respect that, since he is of no harm to us.

I can't help but project this situation onto some of the stories I hear of bullying now prevalent in schools. I often wonder about these bullies, as I'm sure you are aware, who are no longer just the "abused, neglected children" but often children from loving homes, with happy lives, and a bewildering lack of respect for other people. Simple teasing (think: boys chasing girls around playgrounds with some happy country song playing in the background) happens everwhere, but malicious tormenting of another child is beyond my comprehension. The best I can do is continue to teach my child to see that everything in God's world has worth, no creature was put here by mistake. And conversely to teach him that we need to protect ourselves from the ones that can harm us, and not simply allow them to do so just because they can.

The next time our "bug man" comes by, I will ask him NOT to spray the window above my kitchen sink. I think Charlie can handle that little area for now.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Greene Thumb Thursday: Feeding our Family

It's officially past "tax day" and here in Tennessee, that means it's time to plant our gardens! In honor of finally making it to this point in the spring planting season, I'm starting a new series that will follow my efforts to grow our own food this summer. This should provide some very interesting posts, considering that I have grown nothing but two small children and one obese cat in my quarter-century of occupancy here on Earth.

So for today's post, I thought it would be appropriate to outline my reasons behind starting a garden and lay out my ambitions for the coming months. I hate making New Year's resolutions, but I find that time is good for slate-wiping and attempting to change things, even by just a little bit. However, having a one-month old at New Year's makes it hard to concentrate on anything but taking a shower and trying to eat at least 2x a day. So this past January, Mark and I decided to make a healthy change in the way we eat. "Diet" is a four-letter word. But we both wanted to get healthy and hopefully, as a consequence, lose some of our spare flesh at the same time.

We started with a trip to our family practitioner's office for some advice. The answer? KISS (keep it simple, stupid). Fresh foods with fewer than 3 ingredients. That, literally, along with some vitamin supplements, was her answer. It's a lot harder than it seems. Our lives are so dominated with packaged foods, and until you really start looking at them, you just take it for granted that they are fine to consume. (Which, they are. This is NOT a "you need to eat healthy or we can't be friends" kind of lifestyle change for us. It's personal, and we aren't trying to project on anyone.) A quick comparison of homemade bread vs bagged bread from the store is a great example. When I make bread, I use 5 ingredients (water, flour, yeast, sugar, salt). The average bread label includes over 15. What IS all that other stuff?

So as a natural progression of trying to eat fresh foods, the idea came about to have a little garden this summer. We decided to ask Mark's grandparents if we could use a little space on their land to plant our crops, in turn being able to hopefully also provide them with fresh foods to eat during the summer months. As we talked about our initial plans, we decided that we should grow "enough" to be able to preserve a lot of it to eat during the winter months as well. As this is our first attempt, we are incredibly unsure of what "enough" really translates into as far as plants go. For the past few months we have been making preparations and getting ready for April.

The time has come to plant the garden. Only, our plans have changed a little. Mark's gparents are the sweetest in the world and they would never say "no" to any request by their family members. While this quality has given them some amount of worry and grief over the years, they are hardened in their resolve to provide anything they can for their family (did you read yesterday how his Granny still packs a lunch for his grown cousin living with them? She did the same for Mark when he was living with them, and insisted on doing so). But, as the time drew nearer to planting, we became accutely aware that possibly, they did not exactly like the idea of us having a garden there. So rather than go ahead and do it anyway (they would NEVER tell us that we couldn't), we started looking for other options.

So on to plan B. Have it at our house? While we do have a little over 3 acres of land, most of it is wooded and our yard is a wonderful rocky red clay mud mixture that has trouble growing grass. Asking it to grow veggies is probably out of the question. The solution, we think, is to build raised beds for our crops. I've been reading like mad about the square foot gardening method and I think this will work for us. Hopefully so.

As I learned in school and then really learned from experience in the "working world"...a project is only worth what the outcome proves. So, from the get-go, you need to have measurable goals to really tell if something is successful. There are 2 main goals for this adventure:

1) To grow "enough" food to supply our family through the summer months AND provide for preservation through the winter months. (This is not yet measurable, as we have yet to determine what "enough" really is. That's this weekend's chore)

2) To save money by growing our food instead of purchasing it. This seemed easily within reach when we were planning to have a row-by-row garden at Mark's grandparents' house. Now, we have to calculate the cost of the materials to build and fill our beds, and the added cost of the water throughout the summer to keep them moist. Keeping an expense journal as well as a weekly price estimate (based on grocery prices and farmer's market prices) for the veggies is a must. So is recording the amount of produce we actually harvest and use.

Will we meet these goals? Stay tuned for the weekly play-by-play and please feel free to comment and leave suggestions or tips for success!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

About couponing

I've tried 3 times to write this posting. Each time, I have wound up with what I feel like is "information overload", something I am critically guilty of on numerous occasions. I was inspired to write this by my many friends who have begged me to share my "secrets" to couponing success. After writing it several times, I opted not to share the step-by-step directions for becomming a couponing queen (or king). You can, however, find these instructions over at Southern Savers in the "Getting Started" section.

But, in a nutshell, here is the basic concept:
*Say an item is regularly priced $2.99 at Publix.
*It's on-sale BOGO, which means it is half-price (you DO NOT have to get 2 to get the sale price at Publix), so $1.49
*There is a manufacturer's coupon in the paper for $.50, which Publix will double to $1.00, bringing the price down to $.49 +tax.
*Often, in the best deals, a Publix coupon will stack with the manu' coupon, making an item free PLUS an additional few cents off your total bill.

I decided, rather than fill this with scenarios like that, I would share my opinions and most useful tips for couponers. These are not time-tested and are extremely limited to MY specific life situation (1 income family, 2 kids, living in rural TN), but I feel like they do apply on a wide scale, with some imagination. I promise to try to keep them short, but I have a napping baby in my lap so I'm not going anywhere anytime soon...

Know where you are getting your coupons
First things first, right? You have to have the coupons in hand before you can use them. I prefer to use coupons that I don't have to print, but I will print high-value (over $1) ones (lots of them offered on Facebook these days). I have a pretty set collection process. I purchase 2 Sunday papers, Mark's gma gives me hers, and my sweet sweet 82 year old Nanny keeps them under a couch cushion for me until I can come pick them up. I would suggest doing something similiar with family and friends. And pay-it-forward (or...backward, in this case). We don't use the coupons much for food anymore (more about that in a later tip), so when I can get something useful for free, I will, and I give it back to our grandparents, or donate it to a food bank.

Buy only what you (or someone you know) might need
Sales very often are on a 6-week cycle. So....even if you randomly have 25 coupons for mustard, you probably shouldn't clear the shelf without good reason. This is a bit rude to other couponers. For example, in my rural part of life, we have a Rite-Aid and I know if I'm not there when the store opens on Sunday morning, I'll have zero chance of catching a sale item in stock, because of another couponer who clears the shelves. Now...I don't see the problem with going to buy what you need, then swinging back around on Saturday night near closing time to see what, if anything, is still left on the shelf. This is the time to buy "extra" items. I don't buy pasta every time it is free because we don't eat THAT much pasta, and generally, even without the coupon, it is very often on sale for less than $1 at my favorite grocery store (Publix).

Don't make unhealthy trades in an effort to save money.
It's a wonderful and often necessary thing to save money. And the most common place to start cutting back is the grocery budget. While you can get lots and lots of healthy snacks and other meal components with coupons, it can be very tempting to get the free mac and cheese and eat it with every meal, just because you have it. Often, you can get free frozen veggies at Publix, which is a great deal. And it is smart to plan your meals around what is on sale. But, while a dinner of mac n cheese with hotdogs (ever seen this supposedly "kid friendly" dinner idea??) may cost less than $1 after coupons, it will cost a lot more in the long run. Go ahead and get the mac n cheese for free (dare I say throw a bag of frozen veggies in too?), but opt for the $2 salad mix, throw some breadcrumbs on the mac n cheese, put it under the broiler and have side salads with it. We have moved to the outer perimeter of the grocery store, and as the summer season gets started, we will soon be only visiting the dairy, frozen, and baking aisles in Publix, opting instead to buy local produce and meat, and *hopefully* harvesting our own fair share of veggies in June, July, and August. This really limits our usefulness for couponing, but we have plenty of family members who can still benefit (Mark's sweet Granny still packs lunch for her 19-year-old grandson to take to work with him, so this week, I'm picking up some free cracker snacks for his lunches.)

Pick your stores and be loyal
This is a time-effort thing for me. Couponing can take up a big chunk of your life if you let it. And with two kids, grocery store hopping is just not something I want to do. So we stick to Publix for groceries and often Rite-Aid for toiletries. On the rare occasion, there is something just too good to pass up at another store, so I'll visit or ask Mark to stop on his way home from work. Plus, when you go to the same places, you will find that cashiers and others know you and know what to expect when you are in line. On the same note, DO NOT try to slyly cheat on something. While some cashiers will occasionally let something slide, it's never a good idea to demand that they make an exception to the rules just for you. Which brings me to my last tip for the day...

DO NOT watch "Extreme Couponing" on TLC.
This show purposely searches for souls without lives and an unnatural need to hoard or take opportunity from other people. They then exploit the routines of these rare individuals and cast the stereotype upon all couponers, which is not true in the least. Stores on the show have AGREED to abandon their policies in exchange for appearing on the show, making this just like any other "reality" TV series...just a theoretical reality. I promise, you would not ever be allowed to purchase 1400 boxes of cereal with 1400 coupons, at any store. Ever.

I'm still more than willing to answer any questions my lovely compadres may have, so don't hesitate to ask. I love the thrill of saving money and getting things for free, but we have finally figured out where the idea fits best in our lives. And that's the true secret to success...making it work with your life and your family.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cookies for Jenaleigh

My good friend Martha is anxiously awaiting the arrival of her baby girl, Jenaleigh Kate, due in May. Along the way, she has come to a point where she needs to stay in the hospital for a time so the medical staff can keep an eye and a monitor on little Jenaleigh until she is ready to meet the world in a few weeks. In an effort to keep her sane, I'm sending her a little kit to make some cookies for Jenaleigh to (eventually) play with and enjoy. Maybe someday, someone (wonder who?) will make her a little felt tea set so that she and mommy (and Daddy!) can imagine that they are having tea and eating sugar cookies in a far away palace....

Back from "dreaming I had a girl" land, I realized that she would also need directions for how to make these cookies from felt cutouts. I had initally imagined this posting to be a tutorial for how to make felt strawberries, but that must be set aside for another day. Cookies are more fun anyway!

First, I'm going to share another piece of sewing advice from my Gma. Patterns are great tools, but much like defined toys, they limit the amount of creativity and imagination that can be built into each project. Gma taught me to see something and imagine how it was created, and then to re-create the process in a way that makes sense to me. This is why I dread making clothes and rarely do so. Simplicity, McCalls, etc patterns confuse me and require a great deal of concentration...which is usually in short supply at my house! So, often, I will look around and see what I can use to help me bring my idea to life.

For this project, you will need:

*Cookie-colored felt (I'm sending Martha light khaki and tan to make sugar and chocolate chip cookies)

*Icing-colored felt (Martha's kit includes pink and purple icing "blobs", red hearts, and dark brown strips for the chocolate pieces)

*Coordinating thread (I primarily use 2 strands of embroidery floss on all my felt projects, but any type of thread will work)

*Stuffing (optional)

First, look around and find yourself a good circle. Or, bust out your compass from elementary school to make a perfect one. I usually gather up a couple and then decide which will work best. I decided that the oatmeal lid was a smidge too big and the mason jar was a little small for this project. The glass was just about "right" for cookie making.

Next, you'll use your sample circle to make 2 felt circles for each cookie you want to make. I like using these disappearing ink pens on light colored felt, but regular pens work too.

Now, it's time to pick the decoration on top. I chose to do a heart shape on the top of this cookie, other options include: chocolate chips, icing "blobs", small beads for sprinkles, etc.

Next, you will attach your icing to one felt cookie circle. I used a simple running stitch here (in-and-out) for the purpose of saving time, but a blanket stitch would look nice as well.

Once your decoration is attached, choose another thread color and you are ready to connect the two circles. I always start my thread so that the knot will be on the inside of the layers and not visible on the outside.

I used a very simple whip stitch on this cookie, again in an effort to save time. A whip stitch is an edge stitch where the needle goes into the fabric, then around the edge to another point on the opposite side of the fabric.

When making these types of projects, a blanket stitch looks very "finished." To find a good tutorial on creating a blanket stitch and it's various uses, visit Stitch School. In an attempt to crank this tutorial out during naptime, I only did a few blanket stitches so you could see the difference.

When you are near the start of your stitches, stop sewing and stuff your cookie with a little fiberfil (if you want). The cookies work fine without any stuffing, but I like for them to be a little fluffy!

Finish stitching the remainder of the edge, knot your ends, and you're done!

See Martha? I promised it would be easy! For some great insight into Martha's pregnancy and unexpected hospital stay, follow her blog Bedrest, Blessings, & Baby.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hi, my name is Chuck...

and I'm a DUMP truck! Anyone who has a toddler son probably has a good idea of who Chuck is. Kevin adores Chuck the dump truck and his dirty little crew of friends.

Now, I know it is unusual for me to write two blogs in one week, let alone one day! But I realized something tonight that amazes me, and I wanted to share.

In my journey of discovery in all things Waldorf, I've made some real interesting connections between toys and the way children play. Now, I've always been a big fan of anything educational...shapes, letters, numbers, etc. And I haven't really cared too awful much about the rest. But I've always wondered why Kevin doesn't like to play with most of his toys.

When I say "most of his toys" I really mean, like...90% of them. He likes them, on occasion, but he only enjoys playing with certain things and the rest just clutters the room, waiting for my bare foot to come down unexpectedly on it (why can't there ever be a stuffed animal under that stinkin blanket? Why does it always have to be blocks, trucks, or some otherwise jagged object?). Lately, I've been really examining which toys he chooses to play with and trying to wrap my mind around why he chose them.

A basic principle in Waldorf philosophy for child's play is well, to keep it simple stupid. Warm, inviting open ended toys are highly encouraged. Say...dolls without clothes or faces, or small wooden vehicles with wheels. Then it is up to the imagination of the child to decide what the toy is on any given day. When I first heard of this, I thought..."oh, that's neat. But not really. I mean, seriously? Do kids really do that? Yeah...right." This was a few years ago before Kevin could even play with anything. Leap Frog has the best, innovative teaching toys out there, right? Bright lights, cool sounds, all kids would adore those. And don't get me wrong, Kevin has truly enjoyed his fair share of hard plastic. At the rate of 10 minutes at a time.

Ever watched a child tear into a birthday present only to seem more interested in the packaging than the toy itself? We all think, "aw, how cute, why even spend the money on the toy, yada yada yada." Well, it finally dawned on me that maybe the kids don't want the toy because all it can be is what it is. But the that can be anything. Seems more fun already, doesn't it?

In much frustration, I have walked into our living room on more than one occasion to find Kevin dipping his hot wheels into my large hospital water cup (taking them to the car wash) or bringing several boxes out of the recycling at once (to build a garage for these cars). Then on any other given day, he is at Publix (his words, I swear!) buying groceries...rather...those same recycled boxes...when I'm not looking.

So tonight, he took a book to my mom to read to him. I have not read this particular book to him and I really have no idea from where he retrieved it, actually. But it was a Chuck book. It came with his Chuck stunt park playset his adoring GiGi and PaPa got him for Christmas this year. In true PaPa form, one of the sets just wouldn't do, the boy NEEDS them all! Each set came with its own book and has some special feature, a fire truck stunt, garbage truck stunt, etc. if the track isn't explanatory enough, the books literally spell out the story behind the playset, step by step. Like an instruction guide with pretty pictures for how to use this toy. Really...? Does my son need to know that Chuck wasn't being safe and that's how he ended up upside down on the bridge and only Rowdy (maybe?) can save him? What about the other friends? Why can't they save him? Why does he have to be stuck? Why can't he just fly down? Oh...because dump trucks can't fly? Who says?

Isn't that the point of imaginative play?

And what does it say for us when we take that role away from the child? Should we be surprised when they seem bored among a sea of definitive toys? Maybe new toys are not the answer, but different ones alltogether...

A breath of fresh air

To celebrate our 7th anniversary as a couple and our 2nd anniversary as a married union, the hubs and I decided to finally "do something" for a change. We never make a fuss of celebrating our anniversary, but a few weeks ago, The Captain (a new name awarded to Daddy this weekend by Kevin...which we have decided is his official alter-ego/trail name/online alias) had a scary panic attack and we decided a little break would be a welcomed thing.

As coincidence would be, Fall Creek Falls (a highly popular state park) was also celebrating something fun on the weekend we wanted to do a little getting away. An annual event spotlighting one of the most spectacular instances in nature was taking place just a few hours away from home. And the price was just right, so we didn't hesitate to book a room and pack a bag.

Just a few days...a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday return, but it was something to look forward to. I'll admit, in my research on the park, I found many a disgruntled visitor complaining about the lack of cell phone service...and I was so intrigued. A weekend in the woods, without calls, without texting, without interuption? And no, we don't even have teenagers living in our house (yet!). But both The Captain and I are extremely attached to our technology (a piece of me really wants another smart phone...a luxery I gave up in my decision to become a SAHM); and I am guilty of feeling the urge to update my Facebook status a thousand times a day. So a full weekend without the technology was going to be interesting, but very welcomed.

I couldn't sleep on Thursday night, it was like Christmas Eve. I was so excited to go and be with my boys. On Friday morning I woke up early to start packing the car and when we were all ready to hit the road, as I shut the door and stepped out on our porch, I took a deep breath. Fresh Air. I needed it.

This particular moment, a breath of air in the early morning of what will likely be a warm day, when it is still a little chilly out, ignites my senses and a rush of memories flash through my mind. It is all those mornings, walking out the door of my Gma's house on the way to a neighborhood yardsale. It is the morning that my Kevin was born, stepping out of the car at the hospital. It is so many of my favorite moments rolled into that one, single breath. When I take that first breath of fresh air and this particular scene occurs, I know it's going to be a great day.

As we drove along, The Captain and I talked about everything under the sun. As anyone who is in a long-term committed relationship knows, this can be difficult sometimes. Silence isn't always a bad thing, sometimes you just don't have anything to discuss. But, it's always much better (for me, anyway) to have a conversation about anyrandomthing. On our way, MapQuest (yeah, we still don't have a GPS. If a 3" box knows more about where you are than you do, you probably shouldn't be driving. Just sayin') decided the quickest route would be to enjoy the interstate for a short bit and then wind our way through several rural counties, not unlike the one in which we reside.

Near the end of our journey, both boys had given in to sleep and I was trying to spot another one of the most beautiful trees I had ever seen to point out to The Captain. In my attempt to see the trees, I had indeed missed the forrest. When I finally looked straight ahead again, there they were: the Cumberland Mountains. While relatively small in comparsion to the Appalachian counterparts just a few miles to the east, they are still grand upon first impression. The Mountains. We're here!

The fleeting little feeling that came over me was akin to the feeling I had night after night a mere 7 years ago when I would catch that first glimpse of The Captain walking into the grocery store where I worked. Ah, true love. :) And a breath of fresh air.

The weekend was full of moments of peace in nature, with the first colors of spring all around and the warm sun peeping through the green tunnel of the trails. I am still quite amazed to see Fall Creek, a mere trickle in the ground in some places, come to head at the tallest falls in the Eastern US with such a powerful force that it caused a rain-like atmosphere on the trail to the bottom, even a few hundred feet away. We were lucky enough to witness the Falls when they were full of life, in an abundance of water. Summer visitors are often not as fortunate (the park actually shuts down flow to the Falls to water the golf course during a drought).

Each overlook we came to provided its own unique view of the Plateau's natural delights, and pictures that are not done justice by the lens of a camera. It's a "see it to believe it" kind of image. Even on Sunday morning, when we all were tired and slightly grumpy to be going home, we hiked a short distance to see Piney Creek Falls before we ventured home. The lookout was on a large rock stone and standing there, I believe it would be possible for someone to convince themselves that if they leapt, they could fly.

It occured to me that if I was having this thought as a rational adult, we should probably get the toddler back away from the edge of the rock. The Captain agreed, and we departed for home. Our last breath of fresh air of the weekend.

Just as I poured over each detail of our first dates, I have sat many days this week recapturing moments from our trip. We have discovered since coming home that there are a few hidden trails of nature exploration within short drives of our house, and we would love to have some friends and family come enjoy them with us!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

2011 Mark + Robin

A good friend recently mailed me a picture of my hubby and myself at my high school senior prom. I took some time to look at it closely the other day, reflecting on the past 7 years we have spent together. Our two-year wedding anniversary is this Saturday and as I sat, staring at that picture, I began to count the ways we have changed. Would 2004 Mark and Robin even recognize us as we are today? I doubt it.

I can promise 2004 Mark would never believe he had one child, let alone 2. 2004 Robin would never buy into the fact that she would be a stay-at-home-mommy. To be perfectly honest, neither 2004 Mark or Robin would probably believe that they were still together in 2011. Because, 2004 Robin was moving to Alabama in the fall and that would be the end of the relationship. 2004 Mark supposedly understood this fact and was okay with it. Or so the story goes...

Anyhow, here we are, 7 glorious years later. We've gone from a high school kid and a $10/hr delivery truck driver to what we are today. The big question for me while having a moment of reflection in that picture, however, was...who, in fact, are we today?

And then, through a series of revelations, I realized it...we are hippies. Yeah, us. We don't smoke weed, and we don't vote for we probably wouldn't be whole-heartily accepted by the hippie congregation, but I've discovered we meet quite a bit of the criteria.

The culminating event occured this past Saturday, while we were on a trip out to REI (yeah, as if that's not a big enough sign). We were driving along when we passed what looked like a dead animal on the road. But then, its head moved. And its feet. So it was not dead. I knew without looking at Mark that we would be turning the car around. And so it was true. When we returned to the point of impact on the animal, it looked like it had regained most of its surroundings and would probably be ok., we (Mark) decided to pull the car over on the shoulder and at least make sure it got out of the road. A large dump truck was coming down the road and the concern in my husband's eye was real and eerily worrisome. I did not want to see my husband get squished by a dump truck to save a little groundhog.

Actually, Mark corrected me, it was a fox squirrel, and "you don't see many of them around here anymore". Mark popped the trunk to see if he could find a box to put it in. Yes...he by all means necessary was going to rescue this animal. Luckily for all involved, the squirrel jumped up and scattered off to the side of the road. His tail looked broken, but he was hobbling away at a quick enough speed, we both agreed it was ok. That, or he had rabies and it was probably best that Mark didn't get that close.

But then, we stalked it. In our car. We drove 1 mile per hour, moving as it moved from tree to tree, both silently watching this rare gift of nature. It was then, that it hit me. We are such hippies.

So, are you a closet-hippie too? I decided to compose this Jeff Foxworthy type list of things that, by themselves don't signify anything important. But, when combined, certainly endanger someone of being labeled. Here we might be a hippie if (give yourself 1 pt for each yes)...

*You use cloth diapers
*You have a degree, or are pursuing a degree, in any type of wildlife biology
*You have more hiking shoes than any other type of shoe in your closet
*You are, or have considered becoming, a locavore
*You have or are planning to build a greenhouse on your property
*You (and your kids) see a non-traditional doctor and take herbal supplements as opposed to prescription meds
*You and your spouse are saving money and counting days until you can go on the perfect anniversary trip: a trip to Springer Mountain
*If you know why anyone would want to visit Springer Mountain
*You have googled any of the following, ever: recipes for sourdough leaven, slow food movement, raw foods diet, or any other freaky-sounding terminology related to food
*You have a stroller for your small children, but it's only been used a select few times and is more trouble than it's worth. Instead, you wear your little ones everywhere.
*You grow your own food
*You know what a bobbin is, and how to change it
*Your kids have lifetime hunting/fishing licenses
*You know what the abbreviation "AT" stands for
*Your kids are getting a Waldorf inspired education

Go ahead and label yourself right now if you own or would like to own a pair of FiveFingers, it doesn't matter how many other characteristics you have, only hippies could pull those off.

If you have less than 5 - probably safe from being labeled. 5-10 and maybe you are leaning, people might raise eyebrows about some of the things you do. More than 10 and you are a bonafide hippie, for sure.

It's not so bad, in fact, we rather enjoy it! Just for giggles, here's that picture I mentioned earlier:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A chance to win some AH-MAZING goodies!

I am so excited about this giveaway promotion from The Magic Onions. I have recently become addicted to searching old postings for ideas for projects to do with Kevin and I am mesmerized by the blog owner's etsy shop. Today, she introduced a new sponsor to her blog, Stubby Pencil Studio, which has given her $100 for one lucky blog reader.

Here's hoping that's me!!

Take some time to look around the website, it is really wonderful. If I had $100 to spend with Stubby Pencil Studio, here's what I would buy:

A fingerprinting stamp kit to make all sorts of cuteness. It would be great for Kevin, but also, since Zane is so wittle, it would be nice to have some artwork from him too!

This pirate ship is TOO adorable. The boys would love it!

Yay for educational toys! Kevin loves to play with the clock at the pediatrician's office, and I know he's like one of his own.

Rock crayons! Perfect for my little guys!

And of course, something for mommy too! ;) I love the reusable bags on this site!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Couponing vs Shopping the Perimeter

Shortly after I decided to become a stay-at-home mommy, Mark and I decided that we needed to take a hard look at our budget and make some adjustments. I am a product of my father, for sure. If our savings account drops below a certain amount, it's like a red siren is going off in my head continually until that number is back to the "safety" minimum. I go crazy. I start eliminating the slightest purchases, say...the irresistable $1 large Dr. Pepper from McDonald's and move up from there, to say, not buying cold-weather maternity clothes when clearly, I needed them!

It became critically obvious that something had to change. So, I dug deep into the world of couponing and found a wonderful little hobby. It saved us tons and tons of money. Ok, not really. I thought it did. And theoretically, it did. I was getting a lot more for our weekly grocery allowance of $75, but I was still spending the full $75. But the extra stuff was not exactly stuff we needed or used on a regular basis.

And now, as our lives are evolving, we are challenging ourselves to find even more savings in our modest income. Grad school ain't cheap, people...and if I want to start in the fall, we need to be thinking this far ahead. Currently, our grocery budget is $300/month. I would love to see that reduced to $150 or less by the end of the summer. The big question, however,

So now, here I am, with a hardened resolve to live a simpler life, pondering my soon-to-be harvests of fresh produce and our larger bulk purchases of beef and pork, wondering now which is the better method for saving money at the grocery store: couponing or shopping the perimeter? If I can get myself back in the habit of cooking meals from scratch and from pure ingredients, would that in turn reduce our grocery cost more than couponing already does?

If you are unfamiliar with the term, shopping the perimeter is exactly as it sounds: going around the walls of the store and purchasing fresh items vs the packaged shelf stable ones usually found in the aisles of the store. When I first heard of this concept, I instantly thought, how could you go into the store and not need stuff from the aisles? But, when you examine the layout of a traditional grocery store, it really opens your eyes. For example, in my store (I work part-time in the bakery of my favorite grocery store) STP would include: Bakery, Deli, Produce, Seafood, Meat, and Dairy. In the simplest forms of groceries, what else do you need?

So, on to couponing. There is such a thrill that comes with getting $100 worth of stuff for say, $10. It's awesome knowing that I'm saving so much money. But, in reality, I'm still spending money on things I wouldn't ordinarily buy. Granted, some things, like free body wash and shampoo will always be welcome here. But, often, I'm left with a cart full of misc. stuff that I still need to purchase companion items for in order to make meals. Thus bringing in the rest of my budgeted money. So now, I'm able to buy more items, but those items may not make up desirable meals.

This finally clicked a few weeks ago when I opened the fridge to reveal 2 boxes of cream cheese, 2 containers of hummus, and as many condiments as you can imagine. In the freezer: 3 boxes of broccoli and cheese, some Gorton's fish fillets, and garlic texas toast. Yuck. On to the cabinet. 3 jars of peanut butter, 6 boxes of various dried pastas, and 4 packs of tuna fish (among other randomness). No bread. No meat. No milk. No eggs. I distinctly remember those aforementioned items costing around $10. I could have spent that $10 in a meal plan following STP and made a full meal, with leftovers for another meal or lunch.

So, a bunch of food that we don't eat or a little food that we do eat and can stretch?

If I get used to cooking with fresh ingredients now, will it be much easier (and much cheaper) to make meals out of what I harvest with little supplementing from the grocery store? Or will I still be buying convenience foods and ignoring my stockpile (like all the stuff I canned this past summer)?

Anyone else want to take on this challenge with me? Do you think STP/fresh cooking would work for your family? Why or why not?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Finding Waldorf

Just FYI, this is not a posting about a skinny guy in a red/white striped shirt or some mystical LOTR journey. For whatever reason, when I see "Waldorf" I instantly think of Frodo, even though *gasp* I have never read or watched any of the LOTR series. I don't know why, but I assumed you needed the heads up.

The term "Waldorf" as it pertains to education stems from a non-traditional approach to learning and teaching developed by Rudolf Steiner in pre-WWII Germany. Generally speaking, it focuses on education of the whole child rather than just one part. For example, while traditional public school puts the most emphasis on the brain and sheer knowledge a given child possesses (think: standardized testing, numbered grading systems, etc), a Waldorf school will focus on teaching the entire child. While factual and logical knowledge is obviously a key element, the artistic and humanistic sides of life are highlighted in a child's journey to adulthood.

While I have known about Waldorf philosophy for some time, I am just now beginning to study it and determine its useful application in my home with my kids. My motivation to bring the Waldorf philosophy into our lives revolves around my oldest son, Kevin. He is so young (a mere 2 1/2 years old) but I have a feeling I know what is coming. He was blessed with my learning abilities and non-linear thinking and his daddy's infamous attention span and never-slows-down personality. Translation = he gets bored easy and fast and doesn't sit quietly for others to catch up.

I know what happens to children like this in public school. And I hate it for that first grade teacher who dares mention medication to either of us. S/he might need a stiff drink after having that conversation. He will need to be challenged in other ways, to be allowed to explore learning in more forms than just paper and pen. While repetition of facts may work well for some children, I can already tell that Kevin will need to experience learning to really enjoy it. And honestly, shouldn't that be the goal anyway? For children to enjoy learning?

Another aspect of the Waldorf education that appeals to us is the focus on nature and seeing yourself as a part of an equal creature of being rather than a dominator of the environment. Kevin has a facination and true love for the world outdoors, just like his daddy. I want to foster that as much as possible, encourage him to explore nature as often as we can, and pray that he will always have that passion.

Just today, when we got home from a playdate with our little buddies, he wandered over to a tuft of grass (the first few blades are starting to sprout), squatted near it and ran his fingers over the strands of green. Then he patted it down and squealed when the grass sprung back to attention. He buried a few leaves in the small patch of springtime and came running to tell me that he had given the grass some food so it could grow really tall.

He is the inspiration for this journey and I am so thrilled to be taking it with him and sharing it with you!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Living & loving a life of humility

I have come to the conclusion that to live Greene, you have to live a life of humility, with a complete disregard for what others think. This rule of thumb has recently presented itself to me recently in a number of ways, and as per the usual, it requires somewhat of a back story.

I suppose it all started about a year ago, really. My career at the cookie mogul was in a downward spiral. Awkward leadership had been replaced with Clueless leadership and many other changes were made that caused me to question my alignment with "real" mission of the organization vs the "public" mission. My regional office was closed and moved into the larger, communal Nashville office. At the same time this controversial change was taking place, Mark was named as the manager of a completely brand new branch of his company. At this point, I was already beginning to think the Universe was trying to tell me something.

The final straw came in early July, when a purely innocent (seriously, it was *nothing* of importance) act on my part was somehow twisted into a sabotage-like conspiracy theory and I was labeled as the sole perpetrator. Yes, me. I am an evil deviant, apparently. Mark and I decided with almost zero consideration that it was time to move on. But, to what?

(Enter) Stay at Home Mommy.

After Zane was born and with a lot of conversation on the topic, we decided that we needed to find an extra $500/month to pay for school (Mark started his journey to a degree in August). But where does a family of four living on one income find $500? It's not in the couch, I promise. I looked. So the logical decision was for me to go to work part-time. Anything where childcare has a cost is almost not worth doing. If I were still at my old job, I would be making a little over $200/week after the extra gas and childcare came out of my paycheck. So the obvious solution is for me to work when Mark can watch the boys. But, he has homework through the week AND he works full time as well, so we decided that anything over 2 nights a week would be too much. And I do love my husband, so I'm not giving up both of our weekend days together. So what kind of place is going to hire someone to work a few nights a week and one weekend day?

(Enter) Publix.

I love shopping there, and I like the atmosphere of the store, and a brand spanking new one is opening up 15 minutes from my house. I asked a friend about the schedule and she promised it was very workable. So I applied, interviewed, background checked, oriented (?), and finally, had my first day. I work in the bakery, bagging stuff...helping customers. You could train a monkey to do it. And I barely make minimum wage. pays right around $125/week, which is our $500...and the hours are perfect for our life. And I'm an exemplary employee (ahem...they don't know I'm a deviant...yet), so it's a win-win for all involved.

(Enter) Judgement.

So here I am, a college graduate with a degree in Corporate Communications, working for a little over federal minimum wage in the bakery of a grocery store. I'm fine with it, my husband is more than fine with it, and when my boys are adults...ask them. I think they will say they were happy about it. More accurately, ask ME when my boys are adults, because I'm pretty sure I'll never regret spending my late 20s as a SAHM.

But this isn't sitting well with the rest of the world, for some reason. People have been questioning this move all along. Several people I know have said they would never work at a Wal-Mart/fast food place/grocery store. Why? Having a degree doesn't make me unqualified to work there. I'm not somehow "lowering" myself to work in a grocery store. I have already discovered that some days, I am truly thankful to get out and do something mindless and to have conversations with adults. It's like going to work is a mini mid-week vaycay for me.

Living Greene is being perfectly happy to clean the drains in the bakery floor, knowing that while it doesn't pay much, it pays enough. And while I don't work often, I have the hours that fit my family. It's understanding why I'm doing this and not caring what other people think of me for it. I already have the best job in the world, being a mommy to two wonderful little guys. And I'm perfectly content to bag bread on the side ;)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Goodwill Hunting

Get it? Good Will Hunting? Man...I'm terrible.

Updating this blog is something that I really want to do often. I have so many ideas to share with everyone, but finding the time is the trouble. I'm hoping to write on more topics soon (re-learning the value of a $ and why we choose to cloth diaper are two in the forefront of my mind) and share my pattern/process for making a Kindle cover. But for today, during naptime, I want to share my recent findings at Goodwill.

Here in Middle TN, the first Saturday of every month is 1/2 off day at Goodwill. For years, I had a standing date with my Gma to be at her house at 7 am to leave for Franklin. On these special days, Goodwill opens an hour early, at 8 am. If you want a decent place in line, you need to be there no later than 7:45. She and I would get our carts (a lesson my sis learned the hard way this past Saturday...always put your hand on a cart, because they WILL run out of them), and stand in the line that forms quickly down the side of the building. We would chat with familiar faces...the same people tend to turn out, and you get to "know" the crowd and wait for the doors to open. During the summer of 2007, when she was in the midst of her battle, she would sit in the car and I would hold two spots in line for us. At around 7:55, she would feebly walk up to stand in line with me. Even now, I can clearly see the weakness in her body being overthrown by the life in her eyes...the excitement of finding "something neat" as she would say.

Flash forward to this past Saturday, and I somehow convinced my little sister to drag out of bed and go with me. She is not a morning person, so I was thrilled to have her along, because it's really not her "thing". We were late, we got to the store at about 8:10, which was fine because the weather was wet and cold and I would not have gotten Zane out of the car to stand in line anyway. We had to make a quick run of it (I have been known to stay in the same Goodwill from 8 am until well past lunchtime) since we had other errands to run in Franklin and still make it home at a decent time. Before Kevin was born, I followed this system on 1/2 off days: Furniture - Shoes - Tops - Pants - Dresses - Men's clothing - Linens - Household - Books.'s pretty much the same, only with Infants/Childrens in the forefront. I decided to skip over the women's section this time around for two reasons A) I'm still losing weight, so I'm not buying clothes that fit the "current" me unless I need to and B) Zane was wrapped and strapped and snoozing and I was not about to disturb him to try on clothes. I did need to find a dress to wear to a friend's wedding and also at least 1 pair of jeans...the maternity ones are starting to sag really bad and I am not that cool...or that gangsta.

So, in the spirit of tradition, I came home, unloaded all my stuff and took stock. Gma and I used to guesstimate retail cost of our goodies and be thrilled at how much $$ we had saved. I spent $47 at Goodwill and bought several things for all my boys and a few things for me. I've picked the best bargains to highlight, and I did a quick internet search to determine retail price comparisons.
Clothes for Zanie:
Small Wonders "Happy Camper" onesie - $3.50 retail, $.99 Goodwill
Mighty Politey "Stud Muffin" baby tee - $19.95 retail, $.99 Goodwill
Gymboree "Lil' Bully" onesie - $16.95 retail, $.99 Goodwill
Clothes for Kevin:
I Still Live With My Parents tee - $5.99 retail, $.99 Goodwill
Old Navy "vintage" Hotwheels tee - $12.50 retail, $1.25 Goodwill
Ann Taylor Dress for Naomi's Wedding - $88 - $110 retail, $3.99 Goodwill
Various Linens for sewing projects:
Purple - approx 5.5 yards...retail @ 7.99/yd = $44 Goodwill = $1.99 (loved the pattern, see below for project)
Blue - approx 5.5 yards...retail @ 5.99/yd = $33 Goodwill = $1.99 (going to use some of this on a shopping cart cover for Zane)
Dots - approx 2 yards...retail @ 5.99/yd = $12 Goodwill = $.99 (thinking of making reusable shopping totes out of this)
Yellow - approx 1 yard...retail @ 4.99/yd = $5 Goodwill = $.50 (will make an adorable pillowcase dress for a little girl)
I already used some of the purple to make this neat-o sling for Zanie.

And here are my biggest thrills from Saturday:

A pair of Ahnu trail shoes, brand spanking new! $90 retail, $1.99 Goodwill

A pair of North Face hiking shoes, worn but still in good condition. $110 retail, $1.99 Goodwill

I'll save you the trouble of the math, because I already did it! These items have a new retail value of approx $436. I paid $19 for all of it! I did buy some other things, a pair of jeans from the Gap for me...trail pants for Mark...more clothes for both kiddos, and that made up the rest of my $47. One of the best things is that all the clothes are tax-free at Goodwill, so that makes it even better. Had a great time this trip, can't wait for next month!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The opposite of living Greene = living with CHAOS

As someone with a planner personality, there are many things I can't be comfortable with. One of those things is unannounced visitors. Tonight, my neighbor rang our doorbell about 15 minutes after we got home from a day out of the house (grocery shopping and the like). When Mark answered the door, I was instantly mortified. You see, our house suffers from CHAOS (can't-have-anyone-over-syndrome) more often than not. I first read about this affliction on, a fun little website to help you be more organized in the home. We chatted a bit, then he walked back next door to his lovely wife Sherry, who keeps a spotless home.

My house isn't It is just cluttered so badly with things. Things everywhere. For example, a quick scan of my living room from the couch where I am sitting reveals the following things:

  • A bag of randomness that came out of the Jeep this morning (some metallic tissue paper that I *think* I need for a sewing project, monster trucks, 2 jackets, a blanket, and an empty sippy cup)
  • Zane's Moses basket, full of toys that Kevin put in there "for him to play with"
  • 2 empty cups and an empty box of Goldfish from our pre-dinner snack (we skipped lunch today)
  • 3 separate piles of clothes to be washed (still catching up from the washer/dryer failure)
  • An empty Build-A-Bear box
  • 2 gym bags
  • house shoes, flip flops, and 2 pair of tennis shoes (that have a home about 15 ft from where they lay now)
  • Zane's carseat, taking up space on one of our big chairs
  • A mass amount of random toys/books/crayons/ziploc baggies/whatever else Kevin decided he needed to play with in the 3 hours we were here today

When our friendly neighbor left, Mark said..."Holy cow this house is trashed...I hate that he came in here." Meee too Baby Doll...mee too. And that's when I remembered the CHAOS acronym from Flylady. This can't be anymore. I can't deal with it properly. I've never been the best at keeping house, but the house does not stay dirty...I clean my floors, my dishes, the bathrooms, take out the trash, etc. etc. But since we have been blessed with Zane in our lives, I have somehow lost total control of the things inside of my home. It is beyond critical that we get back into the swing of order and much less CHAOS around here.

So what's my plan? I like the ideas on, but not all of them are for me. First of all, I have limited bouts of time (15-20 minutes each) where Zane and Kevin are both happy campers and I can clean/organize my things. So...I can't spare one of those times to be shining my sink. I also hate wearing shoes in general, so I do not "get dressed to lace up shoes" every morning. Kev and I both change out of our jammies and brush our teeth, and then we are ready to face the day. But only shoes if we are leaving.

My first solution is to create a list in Excel, with responsibilities in rows and days of the week in columns across the top. There will be three groupings of the rows: daily items, weekly items, and meals. I feel like this visual list will be critical to my house remaining intact in the coming weeks, as my dear husband gets an honest feel for what it's like to care for a 2 year and a 2 month old for hours on end, all while trying to accomplish a few things around the house. I will post this list here if anyone thinks it may help them too.

My second solution is to get rid of many of our things. We are both collectors, and some things do have some use for us. I feel like I really NEED that metallic tissue paper left over from a gift at a baby shower for a project I have in my head. And I don't want to lose it, so it would normally go into a bin of craft things that I keep stacked in our dining area. Mark feels like he really NEEDS to collect pieces for his projects and keep them handy at all times (on the hutch in the corner of our dining area) just in case he decided he needs to work on them in the next 3-4 months. But in reality, there are many many things that we are just holding onto for those "in case I need it" moments which more than likely will never come. Yard Sale anyone?

I don't like living in CHAOS because I can't think in a cluttered house. I can't relax, I am constantly gauging how much time organizing/cleaning a certain area will take. Maybe you are saying, "just get started and work at it little by little when you can." Initially, this seems like the perfect solution. However, let me come to your house, dump out your junk drawer on the kitchen table, say I'll be back in 30 minutes to start sorting, then let my two-year old linger in your kitchen while I run to the bathroom/feed my infant/put away a load of clothes. Exactly...

Now, it is 11 pm and I am typing this posting from my couch, with my fat cat napping by my side. The hubs, the toddler, and the infant are all asleep. So wouldn't this be the perfect time to get some work done? Sure, but I forgot to mention that one foot is on a bouncy seat, pumping up and down, keeping that infant asleep. Once it stops bouncing, it's over for sleepy time. And this is my biggest obstacle, my adorable, chunky ball of love whose only wish is for mommy to hold him. And after having one chunky ball of love grow overnight into a spicy handful of toddler attitude, I happily grant his little request.

And you know, I'm working towards regaining control of this house and eliminating the CHAOS. But one thing that I know for sure...years from now, I will not recall the dryer that is sitting right in the middle of the living room, waiting for someone to come collect it. I hope, rather, to remember the little dimpled hands of my Zanie, clinging to my fingers, giving me a huge crazy baby grin in his sleep. Even for the planner/organizer personality that I am, going crazy in the middle of all this stuff, looking into those big baby eyes fills me instantly with peace and happiness. :)