Monday, March 30, 2009

Poll Time

I've spent the last few days wondering if blogging honestly is really just a cry for attention. When things are going badly, it seems self-serving to blog about it, as if all I'm seeking is a pat on the back and some sympathy. Sure that's a nice benefit if you can get it, but sometimes I think it's worthwhile to simply get all the worries off my chest.

So, is silence golden?

Or do you prefer the voyeurism of reading all about other people's worries & fears?

Vote to the right, please - as many times as you want.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fab Friday: March 27

Today's Fab Friday is all about one of my favorite beverages.


Little known fact about me: I love stuff with mint in it. Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies, Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream, York peppermint patties. Love them all. And one of my favorite drinks is Tazo's Refresh tea.


It is a caffeine-free beverage, and is fragrant with the unmistakable scent of mint. Imbibed on a cold winter's morning, or used to settle an upset stomach, Refresh is always, well, refreshing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'd like a do-over, please

Some days are memorable for the amount of sheer irritation they generate.

Today was one such day.

I have been exhausted lately (cause TBD), and my sweet boy decided 5:21am was a FANTASTIC time to begin the day. I'm sorry Big J, 6 hours of sleep simply isn't enough time for mommy to consider herself a functional human being.

Thankfully I was able to cuddle him back into his bed an hour later, and returned to my own comfortable sheets and fitful dreams. Nothing like visions of Amazonian ponds filled with stinging, slithering, biting, be-fanged creatures to create an unrestful environment. I crawled out of bed more exhausted than when I had returned to it.

I felt behind all day - missing phone calls, wrestling with a dying computer, sending incomplete emails, and preparing less than nutritionally balanced meals for my young ones. Ah well, one meal of hot dog, apple, and cheese won't kill them, will it?

I also spent time being frustrated with healthcare. From a doctor's office who promised to make a referral 5 days ago - and still hasn't done it, to folks who won't return phone calls after repeated messages, and lab results that STILL aren't in..... What happened to common courtesy? I say please and thank you, address you with a pleasant tone, and leave all the information you need. Is it really so hard to do what you say you're going to do? To take 3 minutes and call me back? Is it necessary to snap at me when I'm following up because I gave you the benefit of the doubt and called again only after giving you 4 additional days to phone in my referral and you STILL didn't do it? No, no, I don't think so.

The cherry on the cake of my day is that boss #7 is leaving. While I suppose this offers a marginal amount of additional job security for me, I am genuinely sad to see him go after such a short amount of time.

I'm going to go pull the covers over my head for a while. Can someone please pass the Ben & Jerry's?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fab Friday

Some of you have seen Big J with this before, but it's called a Paci Plushie. They come in a variety of animals, are lightweight, and have a stretchy silicone ring that will fit ANY pacifer. Seriously, this thing is a lifesaver. He can grasp it in the middle of the night & find his paci - so I don't have to get up 14 times to do it for him. For any new or expecting moms who think their kid won't need a paci, I suggest you reserve your judgement. I've had a thumbsucker & a paci baby, and while each has its advantages and pitfalls, I say that if your kid needs the paci, make it easier on yourself and pick up a few of these. The great thing is that when you are both ready, Mr. Monkey can be taken away by the Paci Fairy & disappear forever.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Detroit

We left Saturday, packing the car while Big Sis enjoyed herself at a birthday party & Big J napped (recovering from birthday excitement).

We made it to the Indiana border, then stopped for the night.

We finally headed into the Detroit suburbs early Sunday afternoon. We checked in, unpacked, and headed right over to Mt. Clemens to see what it's all about.
The hospital is small, but looks like it stays busy.
We spent Monday checking out the areas that seemed as though they had potential for a good place to live - Grosse Pointe, Mt. Clemens, Clinton Township. It was eye opening.

Our impression of Detroit itself is that it's a dying city. I've visited many a big city in my day - NYC, Dallas, Miami, LA, San Fran, Seattle, Denver, Houston, New Orleans, Las Vegas.... but they were nothing like this. I've never seen so many abandoned houses, falling-down manufacturing plants, trash, and broken everything. Unemployment is at 18%+. The roads are in terrible condition - all over the metro area.

Grosse Pointe is a really nice area, which borders on the not-so-nice Detroit city limit. You can clearly see where the town starts to move towards Detroit. The houses get progressively more rundown and abandoned. We saw the most police cars there - 5 in about 15 minutes. Gotta keep the Pointe safe, you know. I had thought we might find a place to live there, and Big Daddy could commute up to Mt. Clemens. Unfortunately, it's really just too far to justify the distance and the cost. (But it has a Trader Joe's! We'll be back, I can feel it).


Mt. Clemens is a small town, with a thriving downtown driven by County business. We didn't see much that inspired us, but went back on Tuesday and found a cute neighborhood close to the hospital. It looks like there may be several houses for rent there. It's also within walking distance of a decent school for Big Sis.



Posing with Big Boy - this is totally a childhood memory for me.

Too bad the food is no longer as good as I remember it.

Tuesday we visited the Henry Ford Museum. It was awesome! It's near one of the big Ford plants, and driving through the area really gave me a sense of how much the auto industry must have impacted Detroit (for good and for bad). The museum was auto-centered, but also contained a random assortment of Americana, including enormous trains, a restored 1940's diner, a full scale replica of the Wright Bros. plane, the Weinermobile, the chair Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot, and the Rosa Parks bus. It was eclectic, unusual, and really fascinating. We spent almost 6 hours there, and are looking forward to taking visitors there (for anyone who is brave enough to come see us while we live in "The D").


President Kennedy's Limo - the one he was riding in when he was assassinated.



Driving the train.




One of the original Weinermobiles.


The bus Rosa Parks was riding when she refused to give up her seat.

We hit Ikea on Wednesday morning (I think I exercised admirable restraint by only purchasing picture frames), and then decided to cut our trip short & head home. Big Daddy and I slept horribly during the trip - a combination of hard bed, weak pillows, & slight colds, and we saw no reason to prolong the agony.


Net/net: It's going to be a long 2 years. I am sure that once we get there and get into our routine, we'll be fine. The 15 mile commute to church will take some getting used to, as will the trash, graffiti, potholes, bad drivers, and lack of sidewalks. I have definitely been spoiled by our time in Des Moines. On the upside, there is Ikea, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, REI, Nordstrom, Cranbrook, Detroit Institute of Art, 4 major league sport teams, and a 4% personal income tax.

First Birthday

Big J turned ONE last Saturday.

The Birthday Boy - not so bright-eyed (still recovering from a cold).
He ate a delicious breakfast of pancakes and banana.
Then it was time to open a few presents.

Big Daddy worked hard to put together his fire engine.
He loves ringing that bell!



Lots of things to turn, spin, and move.

Grandpa M made him his own plane, helicopter and truck.

After lunch, it was time for cake!


It took a few minutes for him to warm up to the idea of actually eating the cake, but after that he took several big bites.

Favorite Foods: Banana, turkey, ham, potato, grapes, cheese "poofs", apples + cherries, pancakes, waffles, toast. Will eat eggs, apples, tomato, beef jerky....

Favorite Beverage: Milk. Drinks water from a sippy cup (by himself).

Sleeping habits: 2 naps a day, bedtime around 7:30, usually sleeps until 7am. Sleeps with paci monkey & dinosaur blanket.

Favorite toy: Anything that makes music. Likes things that turn or spin.

Words: Mama, Daddy

Activity: Likes to roll all over the place. Turns in a circle while sitting. No crawling yet, but is making pre-crawling motions. Likes to mimic clapping hands, sticking out tongue, waving. Loves to be bounced on the bed by Big Daddy. Enjoys being outside.

Demeanor: Generally very happy. Smiles often & giggles lots.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Party Prep

Big J is One Today!

I'm going to post all the birthday shenanigans late next week, but wanted to share his cake. I made an Alligator Cupcake Cake from Hello Cupcake.

I made a few modifications - using mini cupcakes instead of regular size (it calls for 24 cupcakes), and I couldn't find the Newman's chocolate cookies they call for, so I subbed in chocolate covered graham crackers.

Here are the cupcakes (baked without wrappers) laid out in the form of the 'gator.


Whipping the color into the buttercream frosting. It called for a 'murky green' color. I mixed leaf green, willow green, a little blue, and a little red - all in the Wilton gel colorings.



Partially frosted. Yes, you see 2 colors of frosting there. No idea what happened. I only made one batch, but did divide it into 2 bags. I thought maybe the heat from my hands warmed up the buttercream, making it absorb more color?

Almost done! The eyes are a marshmallow covered in frosting & dotted with Jr. Mints. The tail looks darker because I scraped off the first round of frosting & repiped it to look a little more uniform. That bothered me much more than the difference in color.


Chocolate covered graham cracker scales, marshmallow teeth, Runts for claws, & Jelly Belly nostrils. You can hardly see the color difference with the other stuff on him.

Happy Birthday to our Big J!

Friday, March 13, 2009

TGIF

I could not be happier that it is Friday.

This means we are ONE day from Big J's first birthday. (this also means I have much to do to get ready)

It is now after 12:30pm, so I am officially on vacation, too. Detroit here we come (OK, maybe not until tomorrow, but I am still excited).

And my kiddos are feeling healthy again, so that is definitely a reason to shout hooray!

In celebration of the end of a long week, Big J's upcoming birthday, and a whole week of vacation, the kids & I met some friends for a late breakfast/ early lunch at La Mie.

O

M

G

I did not know such a place existed in the DSM. The location is tucked into an unobtrusive strip mall facing 42nd street, a block from the freeway. The decor is concrete floors and white walls - very bare and industrial-chic (which means it was a little cold & quite loud from all the hard surfaces).

But the Food! Indeed, it warrants a capital letter! But more of an 'A' than an 'F'. It's primarily a French-y bakery with an expanded menu. Lots of crusty breads, flaky croissants, and gorgeous, shiny tarts. They are open from 7am-9pm (I hear there is an interesting dinner menu), do a brunch on Sunday, and have a limited breakfast the rest of the week. This includes omelets, egg sandwiches, salads, and open face sandwiches. And the usual barista beverages, too. I had an 'omelet' (really just two eggs scrambled, cooked flat & folded), topped with creme fraiche, and accompanied by toast, applewood bacon and sauteed spinach - all for a whopping $5.50! The portions were just right, and the food was all of good quality, cooked well, and plated with care. It was so good I may drag Big Daddy there tomorrow morning. I'm sure this place is busy all the time - but 10 am on a Friday was exactly the right time to visit. There were only a few other patrons in there, and our food was delivered in about 5 minutes.

I can't wait to go back again......

Au Revoir!

ps- I didn't intend for this to be my Fab Friday post, but it is. Oh, it is.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Portraits of an Economy

I hesitated to blog about this, but in the interest of making this a true and honest online journal, full disclosure is the way to go.

It's a scary time in the economy and doesn't look to be improving any time soon. Student families can often be a bit insulated from rough patches such as this - money in & out is pretty well fixed, but the slightest change can also throw those budgets into a tailspin. The price of everything seems to be on the rise, forcing cutbacks in areas that were once sacred. From date night to cell phones to name brand diapers, belts are being tightened from coast to coast.

Portraits of an Economy showcases reader stories of how the unstable economy is affecting them. The tales are both depressing and inspiring. When I read them, I feel a mixture of gratitude for our current place in the economy (knowing that student loan money is coming in August and January), and sadness that so many are struggling to hang on to what they have left. If nothing else, a time like this certainly can level the playing field - there's no more 'Keeping Up With The Joneses'. Now we're sharing resume tips, recipes, coupons, and baby clothes with them.

I've mentioned before that I work part-time. I still do, but recently I've begun mentally preparing myself to be laid off. No, there's been no real writing on the wall. But my company is approaching the beginning of a new fiscal year, and historically this is when layoffs have occurred. My part-time, home office status doesn't help my case. I also have health benefits, and although we pay an enormous amount out of pocket (and even more now that we switched health plans), I know that having the company pay any portion of our policy is a black mark against me.

I've spent the last few weeks trying to plan for any potential change in my employment. I've been looking into housing in Michigan, trying to determine the most cost-effective option without forcing Big Daddy to commute too far (we all know gas prices are not going to hold for long). I've scoured the internet to find information about Section 8, WIC, food stamps, and unemployment benefits. I NEVER thought I'd be in a position where I'd even consider government assistance, but if it can help feed & shelter my family, I will cheerfully swallow my reservations and apply with a smile on my face.

I pray every night that my fears are unfounded. I do what I can to show that I continue to be a dedicated employee - trying to remain available at all times, scheduling after hours calls as needed, and responding to emails and calls long after my day should be done.

There's still a little fluff in our expenses, but with work in question and the move approaching, I hesitate to make any major changes until I have a full grasp on the situation. I should have a better idea of what's happening at the end of the month. In the meantime, does anyone have money-saving or budgeting tips to share? Have you changed cell phone plans, found cheaper internet service, or figured out how to cut way back on your grocery bill? Do you know a great resale clothing shop or have a secret source for coupons? Any words of advice are appreciated.

I'm a very private person, and type the above with a mixture of embarrassment and relief. I know there's nothing wrong in looking for help when help is needed. I have always considered myself an independent person, and swallowing my pride and admitting that things are scary and uncertain, and just might turn really bad is hard for me to admit. I know we're not the only ones out there who are feeling this way or close to scraping by - but sometimes it feels like it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Adventures in Cooking

This week Big Sis' preschool class focused on rhyming words.

For sharing time, she brought a PLANE and a TRAIN.

And who is the king of rhyming words?

Dr. Seuss, of course.

On Wednesday, her teacher made Green Eggs & Ham for snack time. Big Sis could not stop talking about it.

She assured me she knew how to do it herself, and could not wait to fix me a big plate of green eggs & ham for my breakfast the next day.

The next morning, we woke at the usual time, and after a bit, I prepared to exercise. Big Sis frantically asked me if I wanted my breakfast before I left. I assured her I needed to wait (stomach rolling at the thought of a plate of green eggs).

Post-workout, she could hardly contain herself - pulling out the carton of eggs & assuring me she knew exactly what to do. With a pit in my stomach, I heated up the frying pan, and watched her crack an egg. A drop of blue food coloring later, a whipped greenish mass stared at me from the bottom of her mixing bowl. I dumped it into the pan, and we watched it cook.


I tried to back out - frantically thinking of an excuse, any excuse, to avoid eating what was on that plate. Finally, Big Daddy chimes in with "I think Mama missed the point of that story....".

I sighed, took a breath, and ate my green eggs & ham. As long as I didn't look at what I was eating, I was OK.


I have a feeling this will not be the last time I have to do this.

Fab Friday, March 6th

Welcome to the second edition of Fab Friday! I've been thinking hard about what to post today, as I find myself surrounded by Fabness this week! What's been FAB about this week?

Let's see.....

  • We've had beautiful sunshine and WARM weather in Iowa. This means good moods for all + outdoor playtime.
  • I've gotten myself moving 3 times so far, and hope to make it 4 tomorrow morning.
  • I found some awesome bargains this week, including Baby Gap stuff for Big Sis: shirt - a whopping 47 cents, and summer sandals for $1.97. Love, love, love those finds! PS - Gymboree still has a ton of winter stuff on sale, with shirts as low as $3.99. Cute, and perfect for those of us who like to stock up for next fall.
  • Ben & Jerry's mini ice creams on sale for $1 each at Hy-Vee. A yummy treat, especially when enjoying an episode of The Office on Thursday night (my exciting life).

Although the above is great, it's still not what I intended to share for Fab Friday. So here goes:


This is probably my very favorite salad dressing in the world: Brianna's New American Dressing.


It's a creamy balsamic vinaigrette, and it is FANTASTIC. It's light, just the right amount of sweet & tart, and a few drops goes a long way. I've found it locally at Target, and I think it runs about $3.79. Look for the bottle with the red grapes on it.



They make a number of Brianna's dressings, and based on my love of the New American, I dare say they would all be quite tasty. But I am a creature of habit, and completely wedded to my old favorite. For now.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cora Paige on Etsy

I don't usually solicit people to take action, but I am a sucker for a baby story, so here goes:

Cora Paige McClenahan was born in a small town in Kansas a year ago. She was her parent's first child. At the age of 10 months, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. She passed away only 3 short weeks after her diagnosis.

I can't imagine the pain and grief this family is experiencing right now. A parent should never have to outlive their child.

In lieu of flowers at her funeral, her family requested that donations be made to create a playground in her memory. A blogger and etsy seller picked up on the idea, and there is now a full etsy store dedicated to Cora. You can see more here: Cora Paige on etsy

I know this is last minute, but please go look and possibly buy something. There are items as low as a dollar or two! The majority of sellers are donating EVERY DOLLAR to Cora's playground project. The donations will be gathered and sent tomorrow - Cora's birthday. I can't think of a more worthy cause than this, and am proud to know my purchase will go towards helping the McClenahans create a memorial that can be shared by so many.

Monday, March 2, 2009

And For My Next Trick.....

Well, as yesterday's post was a monumental downer, I give you a little Monday simplicity.

Now that we are leaving Iowa, we must make the rounds of that which is fabulous about Iowa. So we drove out to Winterset.

Winterset is the birthplace of John Wayne.

For you quilting fans, Winterset is the home of Fons and Porter's quilt shop (closed on Sunday & Monday).

Winterset is also the heart of the famed Madison County - yes, THAT Madison County.

I wanted to check out the city park, which has a cool looking tower monument, and also encloses a covered bridge. What else to do on a beautiful weekend day?

Unfortunately, I forgot the cardinal rule of Midwest living - if it's winter, it's closed. And that included the city park.

So we circled the 4 square blocks of downtown, I made note of the quilt shop, and we headed out to find at least ONE bridge.

We came upon the Hogsback Bridge, built in 1884.




This is my new favorite picture. I may have to frame it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Inner Voice

Is your inner voice more cheerleader or critic?


Mine is critic.

Critic to the point that I think it is overtly cruel. Sometimes it says things to me that if I repeated them aloud to another person, would probably get me pushed, slapped, or at a bare minimum, faced with gushing tears.

Why are we so hard on ourselves? Why, no matter how competent, capable, and mature we grow to be, do we continue to carry around those same fears & insecurities that felt crippling in junior high?

How do we change that inner monologue to reflect that which we've allowed ourselves to be blinded to?


Think you're too tall?

{sigh} I would love to have your long legs and lean physique.

Too fat?

There is someone out there who wishes they could be as skinny as you.

Too much junk in the trunk?

Bet your husband loves it - and tells you so.

Scared to quit your job and pursue your dream career because you are sure to fail?


All or nothing is not the only option. Start doing your research about your field of choice. Take a workshop, a class, strike up a conversation with someone who does what you'd like to do.


This all seems like a simple matter of perspective - and maybe it is. The inner voice does serve as rational thinker, but so very often veers into naysayer and doomsdayer. I often think I'm going to outgrow this harshest of critics, but if it hasn't happened yet, it's not looking like it ever will.

I found a little snippet online about the inner voice, and a theory on how to alter it:

"...the parts of our brain that learn from experience are far more capable than the parts that learn from talking through it. We think we need to tell ourselves things like, "keep your weight over your front, don't press so hard on the violin bow..." when we're trying to learn something new or improve our performance, when that's exactly the thing that inhibits learning and improvement.

We did learn to walk, after all. And we did it with virtually no explicit "talking" instruction. Nobody compared our first steps to the steps of an expert (i.e. a parent) and "told" us how to adjust. Nobody outside or inside our head was evaluating, judging, or correcting. Think about times when people are telling you what to do when you're trying to concentrate and you finally yell at them to stop. All we need to do is take that attitude we have to people outside our head and apply it to the chattering inside our head.....the answer is focus of attention. In tennis, for example, he has people learn to focus on the ball--the seams turning, the way it bounces, and the moment at which someone hits it. Bounce-hit. Bounce-hit. Nothing about feet, arms, rackets, weight shifts. Nothing talking to--or about--you."


Try it. I'm going to.