Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Listen carefully... hear that sound of laughter?

That's my mom, half-way across the country, after I called to complain about my daughter springing the need for a full costume for a school presentation on me, the day before it was due... when she hadn't even started the speech yet.

Mom was kind enough to refrain from reminding me of all the times I did the same thing, since that would have kept us on the phone way too long to have started the project.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The family that runs together... is a pretty cranky bunch by 10 am

First off:

Look. At. This. Photo.

My eyes are open. I'm not obviously huffing and puffing... in fact, I'm almost smiling. No double chin mysteriously appeared, or odd flashes of stretchmarks from a shirt/safety pin/belt conflict. Better still, it looks like I'm running, not race-walking. (Granted, my legs look AWESOME in the other photo with the horrifying items mentioned above, but I'm going to look at this photo as almost as big of a WIN as running the 13.1 miles.)

Halloween was quite fun this year. Wet, cold and tiring too, but fun.

The Silver Comet Half Marathon & Fun Run were on October 31, and we all went. I ran the Half; kids ran in the 2 mile Fun Run - in just a little over 20 mins - and Dad supplied children with hot cocoa and crackers while they waited in the rain for me to finish.

Everyone was up and eating breakfast shortly after 5 am, and we made it out to Mableton with plenty of time to get a parking space at the race start this year. (Last year, we were half way along the shuttle route between start and finish, and had to walk a mile... and figure out which neighborhood side street we'd been directed down hours before, when it was too dark to see street signs.)

Other than the race starting 15-20 minutes after 7:30, I think it went so much better than last year. Number and chip pickup was speedy and well organized. The lines for the last minute pitstop were moving quickly - though that could just be my choice of the line that had to be short, since it was in the parking traffic pattern.

There were volunteers spread out with pace times, which helped the initial crush tremendously. Instructions for the fun run participants were called out with the HM race info from the "witches' station", which made getting family to the shuttle buses much less confusing than in 2008.

The rain started just about the same time as the race. Not droplets, drizzle or heavy mist. 20 minutes of actual rain. And it kept raining off-and-on, as the temperatures dropped.

Managed to maintain a pretty solid 10:00 pace, which I was pretty happy about. My watch time was 2:12. Chip time - 2:17:59. The 5-1/2 min difference was due to the line for the potty after the turnaround. (I didn't actually spend that much time in line, but saying it was a long line is better than talking about the struggle to pull up a wringing wet spandex running skort in the small space of a portalet... without bumping into anything too horrifying.)

Met my long suffering family members at the finish, lined up for food... and the rain started back up. At this point, we decided to stop at Starbucks on the way home, and headed for the shuttle bus.

By 11:00, we were all warm, dry, and very, VERY irritable. Fortunately, the kids were too tired to do any bickering, so we curled up with blankets on the sofas for television viewing and naps. By 6:30, they were fully recharged for an evening of trick-or-treating in the drizzle... a little over two hours of walking. Amazing, what kids will do for candy. (And what parents will do for their kids.)

My toes have (mostly) recovered from 13 miles in wet socks and squishy shoes, so this Sunday will be the Zooma Atlanta Women's Half Marathon & 5k. Just the half marathon though, and just me. I figure everyone else deserves to sleep in this weekend.

Seriously though... for as awesome as my legs look in this 2nd photo, the rest of me looks like there's some combination of seizure, violent death, asthma attack, and imminent explosion about to happen all at once.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I remember when the answer to "What should we carve this year?" elicited characters from Disney, various comic books, Nick Jr and Nickelodeon. Blue, Dexter (the labcoat wearing 1st grader, not the serial killer), Bob the Builder & Pilchard, Spiderman... even Bender & Zorak have been on the list, along with aliens, black cats and spiders. Not this year.



"Zombie cannibals... that eat baby pumpkins"

So, after a little bit of time on google, they presented me with a few options from ExtremePumpkins.com. Here's what happened:

And, I don't remember what was going on right at this particular moment, which is probably for the best...

After many hours, and a whole lot of squishing about in slimy pumpkin guts...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

There are no cows in space.

(***Nerd Alert***)

I had so much fun watching Monday night's episode of Castle on ABC. (Don't judge too harshly... it's a fun show. And, it has Nathan Fillion. The stories are clever and rather campy, which makes it a perfect show for kicking back and disconnecting from the chaos of a typical Monday.)

The show was everything you want a Halloween week episode to be. Supernatural references, graveyards, curious subcultures, hauntings, and extra camp. As much as I enjoyed the whole episode though, this opening made my day. From the brief flash of the gunbelt, I knew exactly what we were about to see.

And, in a brief follow up to yesterday's bookshelf post, I placed the show's tie-in novel Heat Wave in my Amazon shopping cart last weekend. With my next purchase, I'll be indulging in a bit of guilty pleasure reading about one Nikki Heat. Just out of curiousity, what do you call the fictional character in a book who is the fictional version of a fictional character?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bookshelf & Audible.com - What I'm Reading

I've been really bad about reading over the last few months. It's not that I'm not reading enough, though I don't think it's possible to read too much. It's having four, five, or more, books going simultaneously.

Where I used to have three books mid-read at all times (fiction, non-fiction, and read-aloud-to-kids book), Audible.com has made it possible for me to have a similar thing going on the iPod/iPhone at the same time. Audiobooks for long bicycle rides, housework, family car trips, etc... Makes it a little hard to keep track sometimes.

Started listening to Stumbling On Happiness during our cross-country trip this summer. Figured I'd have drive times with sleeping children and navigator and would appreciate the company of a book which kept my brain active. Fortunately (occasionally unfortunately), I had company for all those hours, so books from the Artemis Fowl series kept everyone entertained for much of the driving. At home with the kids, there was no way to listen. With the return to school, and more opportunities to steal away for an hour (or more) of cycling/running, I was able pick back up on the book by Daniel Gilbert, starting from the very beginning:

What would you do right now if you learned that you were going to die in ten minutes? Would you race upstairs and light that Marlboro you've been hiding in your sock drawer since the Ford administration? Would you waltz into your boss's office and present him with a detailed description of his personal defects? Would you drive out to that steakhouse near the new mall and order a T-bone, medium rare, with an extra side of the reallybad cholesterol? Hard to say, of course, but of all the things you might do in your final ten minutes, it's a pretty safe bet that few of them are things you actually did today.

Now, some people will bemoan this fact, wag their fingers in your direction, and tell you sternly that you should live every minute of your life as though it were your last, which only goes to show that some people would spend their final ten minutes giving other people dumb advice. The things we do when we expect our lives to continue are naturally and properly different than the things we might do if we expected them to end abruptly. We go easy on the lard and tobacco, smile dutifully at yet another of our supervisor's witless jokes, read books like this one when we could be wearing paper hats and eating pistachio macaroons in the bathtub, and we do each of these things in the charitable service of the people we will soon become. We treat our future selves as though they were our children, spending most of the hours of most of our days constructing tomorrows that we hope will make them happy. Rather than indulging in whatever strikes our momentary fancy, we take responsibility for the welfare of our future selves, squirreling away portions of our paychecks each month so they can enjoy their retirements on a putting green, jogging and flossing with some regularity so they can avoid coronaries and gum grafts, enduring dirty diapers and mind-numbing repetitions of The Cat in the Hat so that someday they will have fatcheeked grandchildren to bounce on their laps. Even plunking down a dollar at the convenience store is an act of charity intended to ensure that the person we are about to become will enjoy the Twinkie we are paying for now. In fact, just about any time we want something—a promotion, a marriage, an automobile, a cheeseburger—we are expecting that if we get it, then the person who has our fingerprints a second, minute, day, or decade from now will enjoy the world they inherit from us, honoring our sacrifices as they reap the harvest of our shrewd investment decisions and dietary forbearance.
I love reading about why and how people make decisions in their lives. I'm not sure if it's an off-shoot of looking at my life with the question "what the heck was I thinking?!" - which I'm not sure I like, as it seems terribly self-absorbed, or just a genuine interest in what makes people tick. (Of course I'd like to think it's the latter, and that the armchair quarterbacking of my own decisions is just the most convenient.)

While hearing about how our brains look forward in time and use imagination to create a picture of what to expect, I got to see it happening right in front of me, in the way my children remember, and feel about, the same event in completely different ways. The different scenarios they play through in their minds before really did have more to do with their feelings about things in the longer term than the actual event itself. A school event my daughter gushed about for days in advance is now remembered as "so much fun", even if she had more fun running around with her friends after than in the auditorium. My son, who complained for days ahead of time about how lame the same event would be, had a blast. Maybe it was a subject he loves, or the activities suited his hands-on style... he loved it. But a few weeks later, if you ask him about it, he remembers as the whole evening as being "so lame." It was pretty cool to see the book in action. (Well, the kids do that all the time, but it was fascinating to notice it and watch the process take place.)

Stumbling On Happiness is one of those few audiobooks I plan to also buy in print. Okay, maybe not that few, once I consider the growing list of books which fit this category, including: Logic of Life, Predictably Irrational, Founding Brothers, The Undercover Economist, and the non-fiction audiobook I downloaded this month, Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers.

For the current books with pages:
On the end table by the sofa, for nightly reading to kidlets - The Hobbit, by Tolkien. So far, they seem to like it. Wasn't sure how it would go, since the attempt to read Fellowship of the Ring didn't sit so well a few years ago. Of course, that was when DD was in Kindergarten. Her restlessness at sitting still for something a bit beyond her was contagious. We aren't having the same trouble this time.

On the nightstand - The Weight of Silence, by Heather Gudenkauf. This isn't my normal type of book, but comes highly recommended from a friend. Just started reading this last night, and am already beginning to get sucked in to the story, so maybe it's time to break away from my typical book genres.

On the iPhone, for when I feel like something escapist - The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud, read by Simon Jones. I listened to this a couple years ago on a car trip with the kids. Started listening again last week, when I accidentally removed Outliers from my playlist during a sync. Bartimaeus & Nathaniel are just as much fun the second time around.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Supper Wars: Spaghetti with Sweet Potatoes & Ricotta

Another recipe from the Real Simple magazine Month of Easy Dinners. We've tried four or five over the past two weeks, and I'm sorting through photos to post while I can still remember what the kidlets had to say about them.

The first was the Gnocchi & Roasted Cauliflower, which garnered three positive reviews, one neutral, and one "why are you trying to kill me?" The good news is that all three children have now decided potatoes can be a part of pasta, and have asked if I'll make gnocchi again. (Though only one wants it served with the cauliflower next time.)

This time, Spaghetti With Sweet Potatoes & Ricotta. Stuck very close to the original, aside from making a little extra pasta, since I'm feeding more than four, and adding a few more dollops of ricotta at the end. Knew adding extra sweet potatoes would be pointless, since the two boys weren't going to eat more than one or two token bites of that ingredient.

It took 10-15 minutes to get the ingredients together and prepped.
While doing this, the water was heating for the pasta. Means this
recipe completely avoids pushing one of my big frustration buttons ofsupper-prep, the hurry-up-and-wait stage. Kept busy the whole time, and not just because I was being bombarded with homework questions from third, fifth and ninth grader.

Once the spaghetti was drained and set aside, I rinsed the pot and put it right back on the stove, with olive oil for the sweet potatoes & shallots. That's correct, same pot, which hits another high point of an "easy" meal... less cleanup!

While the potatoes & shallots cooked, I prepped broccoli for steaming, shaved parmesan, and chopped rosemary. (And came up with a 3rd grade level interpretation of wikipedia's entry on metamorphic rock, checked a math worksheet, and repeated "no, you may not watch tv" at least three times.)

By the time for adding pasta back to the pan, along with rosemary and scoops of ricotta, the kidlets were clearing away homework and setting the table. About the same time the last napkin was placed , the first plate was ready for the table.

Like with most meals which the adults like, this met with mixed reviews from the kidlets. B1 & B2 LOVED the ricotta, liked the flavor, but HATED the sweet potatoes. (This is after saying they liked the flavor of the pasta which had been tossed with the sweet potatoes... Ack!) DD was not a fan of the ricotta. Something about the texture when the ricotta is on it's own - she likes it as a filling for lasagna or in ravioli. She did like the sweet potatoes very much, though.

General kid consensus - neutral, leaning toward good-ish. If I want to make it again, that's okay, but could I please not give any of them the parts they don't like. Since this is a little difficult to do with something cooked all in the same pot, TOUGH. I will make it again, and they will eat exactly the same way as they did this time - token bite or two of the least favorite part, then scarfing down the rest.

The recipe in Real Simple says this meal takes 25 minutes. I didn't get it prepped and cooked in 25 minutes. In a perfect world, working in a perfectly ordered kitchen, quiet children studiously doing homework with nary a question, sure. But even at 35-40 minutes start-to-finish, this is still a keeper for easy suppers.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Morning Reads: A lazy post

Not quite together enough to edit the post I typed up over the weekend, so I'm taking the lazy way out and putting up a few things which did almost as much as my cup of coffee to get me moving this morning.

Followed a link from Slamdunks over to A Police Wife. PW's husband, aka Hot Fuzz, writes about his first death on the job. It's a very moving post. It was the death of an infant he'd performed CPR on. HF also writes about a young man whose late night concert wasn't quite what it seemed - and connecting with him over the experience of selling a much loved guitar. I am so thankful that HF was there to be a part of the lives of people in his community when they needed him, and that he shared the stories.

Then, there was Charlotte's post on How to be "Skinny Pregnant". I am not likely to be worrying about body image during pregnancy anytime soon... or ever again, but the book "Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?" she talks about sure would have come in handy back when I was. Memories are still fresh of month after month of insecurity during a time which you're constant hit with the dual message (from internal monologue, friends, family and the dreaded media) of the miracle of growing a miniature human being, and the much louder comments about prenatal weight gain... "Oh, my! You're huge!! Are you sure you're not due for another three months?!"

Years, and three children later, there's still the flashes of insecurity. I'm in better shape than I've been my whole life, but still see all the things which changed because of three pregnancies, instead of the positives in the mirror. I have to remind myself that the stretch marks, scars and smooshy bits are not something to be ashamed of. I am the happy and healthy mom of happy and healthy children - three unique people with different interests and developing personalities - and I love to be a part of who they're becoming. Stretch marks and couple of varicose veins are nothing in the face of that.

Finally, a just pretty darn cool link, from Cranky Fitness:

I'm sure there's all sorts of reasons for property owners not to install these stairs in malls, airports, and bus/train stations. Installation costs, maintenance costs, liability issues if anyone's hurt while "playing" on stairs... but wouldn't it be fun if they did?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Word for the Day: Pica

Pica is defined as a compulsive craving for eating, chewing or licking non-food items or foods containing no nutrition. These can include such things as chalk, plaster, paint chips, baking soda, starch, glue, rust, ice, coffee grounds, and cigarette ashes. It may sometimes be linked to certain mineral deficiencies (i.e., iron or zinc).

What I'd like to know is which mineral deficiency is linked to the disappearance of scissors in my home, because I am pretty sure one (or more) of my children have been eating them.
Or burying them in the yard. Or hiding them in an attempt to make me question my sanity.

I know there must be half a dozen pairs of adult size scissors in this house. And at least twice as many junior and child sized safety scissors. Yet I can't find a single pair. Even the kitchen shears are missing from the knife block. My fabric scissors, which are kept out of reach with the sewing machine, are the only pair I've been able to find in two days.

Which reminds me - now that I'm finished with the sunflower curtains for my daughter's classroom, I'd better get the fabric scissors put away ASAP. Pretty sure titanium is not a mineral the kids need, but I'd rather not take any chances.

*Scissor Buddha photo is from TreeHugger.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where's the AT-HOME in Stay-At-Home-Mom?

I'm going through a bit of a transition right now... becoming the SAHM I've never been, aside from time right around the births of the children. The current state of the economy has many of my clients deciding to make-do with older maps or more generic versions they can get on line. This made the last six months very good for scaling back as the contract income dwindled.

I started to worry a bit during the last couple of projects about what I'd do with myself when I didn't have to answer to clients or meet deadlines. Figured once the house was clean, I'd have big chunks of time each day for running, riding or studying. (My version of bon-bons & soaps.) Also figured it would be a great time to start figuring out what would be next. (Enrolling in school - either for personal growth or future dream career?)


Turns out keeping myself busy shouldn't have been on the list at all. I don't think I've had a full day at home since the beginning of the school year.

First there's the move, and some changes in the family dynamics causing good deal of upheaval. (Some of this should be dying down soon, once the boxes are unpacked, the rain stops long enough to seal crack in basement floor, and the teen is enrolled in the HS down the street.)

Second, third & fourth, there's the three children in two different schools. (Next year, it will be three - ES/MS/HS.) Charter schools, which require volunteer time. One hour at one school, three hours at the other may sound like only four hours, but it's really a full day commitment, by the time you figure in travel time between, along with being in the right place at the right time for regular school pickup. Then there's the volunteer opportunities which pop-up unexpectedly. Once you volunteer last minute for a couple of different things, then you're known as being "flexible" about hours. Being "flexible" puts you on email lists.

Maybe all this running about is a good thing for making the transition. When things finally calm down enough that there are stay-at-home days, it'll feel more like a blissful mini-vacation, and less like a time to panic about losing a sense of purpose. Contemplating the future in a relaxed state of mind ought to make coming up with ideas more a creative process of figuring "want to do" without as much worry about what I "need to do." (MizFit's posts so far this week have me thinking about making those future plans with the What would you do if you couldn't fail? question in mind.)

That's the future. For today, I'm getting the fans and wet/dry vac ready for the next 24 hours of heavy rain. Tomorrow's cross training workout will be bailing out the basement and pulling carpet... should that count as cardio, or weights?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Supper Wars: Gnocchi & Roasted Cauliflower

Real Simple magazine had a feature this month with four weeks of easy meals. There are some things on the menu which don't appeal to me, and many which will spark a dinner table battle with the kids, but there are a few I really think we should try. This is one of those.

"What's a g-notchee?" was the question from a younger child. They wouldn't remember the last disasterous attempt at serving the puffy little potato pasta. B2 was a toddler, and DD wasn't even born. B1 was VERY PICKY about textures, and the experience was so bad that gnocchi hasn't crossed my mind, outside of restaurants, in almost a decade.

The kids were less than thrilled about the stack of ingredients on the counter. I did have two children sneaking raw cauliflower off the cutting board. (I had to pretend to be cross about the swiping, but... Yea! They were eating it like chips, and enjoying the crunch.)

My quantities were a little different than the original, since I was making this for more than four.

Gnocchi with Roasted Cauliflower
2/3 head of cauliflower, trimmed to florets
(I used the orange cauliflower, it turns a lovely color in oven)
12-16 sage leaves
3 Tbs Olive Oil
Sea salt
Cracked pepper
24 oz Gnocchi
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Toss cauliflower with oil, salt, pepper and sage leaves. Roast on baking sheet for 25-30 minutes at 400F.

While roasting veggies, start water heating for gnocchi. Cook according to package directions, then drain and toss with butter. (Original recipe I read didn't call for it, but I like it sooooo much more with butter.)

Place gnocchi on plates. Top with roasted cauliflower. Sprinkle with cheese.

It was so very good. Not only from a taste standpoint - the textures of the slightly crunchy cauliflower and soft, puffy gnocchi were fun. The kids gave mixed reviews, of course:
  1. B1 thought it tolerable, but liked the gnocchi, and asked if we can do more with that.
  2. B2 felt this was the best supper ever, had seconds, and let me know I could fix the same meal for him the next night, seeing as how there was a little bit of cauliflower left in the veggie bin.
  3. DD announced she only likes food with "colorful flavors" and that this meal was not colorful enough for her. (Obviously, this is the child targeted in the decision to avoid plain white cauliflower. She ate it, but only because there were chocolate-dipped biscuits at stake.
From a convenience standpoint, this was great recipe for a night where afterschool activities and carpooling led to a later supper than usual. Start to finish, less than 45 minutes. Easy meal for kids to help prepare, and not a lot of mess to clean up after. With the side of steamed green beans, tossed with butter, the cost per person was about $1.45, making it far less expensive, and more nutritious than any fast food option... or any of the "healthy" prepared meals at the grocery stores. (Plus, I didn't have to sit in traffic for 30 minutes plus to get it.)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Silly ol' dog

Bought Peter T. Dog a new cushion for curling up on the hard floors downstairs during the day. He likes it, except for when he's sleepy. When he's ready for a nap, he prefers the flattened old dog bed, and paces restlessly until I get it for him.

As you can see from the photo though, he doesn't want to completely give up the new dog bed to let Clifford fully claim it, so he lays on both mats, and snoozes happily.

I love my big dumb dog.


Digital cable & high speed internet up & running.

Just in time, too. I've had quite enough of talk radio for a while. It's so nice to be able to pull up weather, news and/or traffic without having to sit through 15-30 minutes of other stuff. It did give me time to start formulating a schedule for cleaning this monstrously large house. (I love the house, this isn't a complaint. More than double the space on 2-1/2 floors just requires a different plan than a 1600sf ranch.)

I'm tackling two rooms today, to see if I can have completely set up - all boxes removed - before school pickup.

Hopefully, that will make for a relatively "normal" day tomorrow, including time to post thoughts on the two audiobooks finished while I was offline. I'm very thankful for Audible - without it, I'd have been stuck with only NPR and talk radio last week. Or, worse yet, my own thoughts.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

95% Complete

All moved in to new house. Tiny little bits of order are popping up around house.
They're random, and not in the final state, but it's quite nice to see in the warehouse.

Window seat - perfect for kid's reading time and for Peter T. Dog's important duties of neighborhood watch.

Have been able to walk kids to & from school most days. Two miles for them, four for me. Keeps us all getting a bare minimum of exercise. And makes for very little time in the truck each week. LOVE IT!

Everything seems to be here... except internet service.
Cable company working to install new line to house.

Didn't miss it much the first few days, but trying to handle all the normal email, online bill pay and news / blog reading on the iPhone has gotten quite tedious.

Half marathon tomorrow morning. 7am. In Kennesaw.
Ugh. 5am seems a whole lot earlier tonight than it did when I signed up last month.
Especially when I haven't trained, and plan to lazy my way through the course.

That's enough of the screen tap typing for one evening. I'm off to bed.

Enjoy the beautiful beginnings of crisp Autumn breezes!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Packing Up: The Chaos

The new house is official. The final walk-through had been eagerly and fearfully anticipated, as I was terrified of finding the basement flooded, and having to put the whole thing off until after cleanup, or to start from scratch on one of the backup house choices in the neighborhood. Beyond a little bit of seepage through the door into the unfinished portion of the daylight basement, the house was high and dry.

Closing was Thursday. Beyond a snafu with the wire transfer, it went very smoothly. (Thank you, monster mega-bank, for noting that a large transfer of funds to a real estate attorney's escrow account is an "unusual transaction," and taking the extra precaution to place a hold on the "suspicious activity" until the next day. And an extra thank you for sending notification of the hold AFTER the day had ended for your customer service folks.)

With the movers coming on Tuesday, it's been crazy busy around here since this past Tuesday. Even with the packing, cleaning and closet purging, there's been time for a little bit of fun.

DD attended a Japanese themed birthday party, in a beautiful vintage kimono we purchased on eBay.

B1's first 10k - the Big Peach Sizzler 10k. He finished in 58:24, and I'm super proud of him. (Plus, for beating my time, and breaking 60 minutes, $10.)

Will be heading over soon to the local festival, where B2 and I will be serving up lemon twists in the 5th grade booth. That's not so much the fun part, but wandering around after our shift and trying food from the different restaurant booths will be.

Then, it's time to pull holiday decorations from the attic, and make a trip over to the new house with the rest of the toys and games I bribed (frozen yogurt) the kids into packing up early last week. It needs to be out of this house, before they decide they need to open the boxes back up.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Grocery Budgets

I'm weeks behind in getting the information typed up. No good reasons, just excuses. I started keeping the lists on Google Documents, instead of in AppleWorks, and I really like it. At least I think I like it - I'm lousy with spreadsheets. Odd, because I'm quite good at working with the data once it's in there, but I can mess up a template and formulas during setup faster than my 3rd grader.

Average weekly grocery bills for my family of five has continued to drop. As of the end of this week (39), it's down to $125.69. Means the per person is roughly $25/week, and that is not too shabby. (It can get better though, especially once I have the pantry for bulk rice, oat, and flour purchases, beginning in two weeks.) The totals for a couple of weeks are going to be great for pulling down my average for a week of groceries for a family of five. In getting ready to move, the fridge, freezer and pantry emptied out. The new house is only 5-10 minutes away, but still don't want to carry anything we don't have to.

I'm still figuring out the whole sharing thing on google docs. In theory, I can set these nifty links, and anyone can click over to see the shopping list.

The more interesting part of my catch-up will have to go up tomorrow. We've built up a decent number of kid-approved recipes during the 8-9 months of Try Something New Dinner, aka Supper Wars. We're not trying new recipes quite as many days each week, but there have been three pretty successful new additions over the last couple weeks. Want to take the time to post links, as they are really well worth trying. As of this moment, I need to get to bed. Have to make up my long run tomorrow morning, since I didn't get out in the heavy rain after B1's cross country meet.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Good Idea, Bad Idea

Waaaaay back when my teen was a tot, he and I would spend a little time on Saturday mornings watching Animaniacs. We both loved it, though for different reasons. General zaniness appealed to a four year old, and the clever songs and writing roped me in. How could you not relish the opportunity to sing along with Wakko during the 50 States & Capitols, Cheese Roll Call, Parts of the Brain, or Schnitzelbank?

There are a couple of things from the show which seeped into the family traditions:
  • Before DD was born, B1 & B2 were known affectionately as Yakko & Wakko, so it was only natural for a baby girl to become Dot.
  • For the last decade, any action taken which leads to a Doh! moment is greeted with the words Good Idea, Bad Idea

Today's Good Idea, Bad Idea moment for Joy?

Good Idea:
Taking photos of pretty flowers to send loved ones from a long run route.
Bad Idea:
Taking photos of bloody kneecap to send loved ones from a long run route.

As I learned today, that second type of photo tends to cause a panic. I tripped in spot where a missing chunk of sidewalk was masked by a few leaves. Narrowly averted face plant. Scraped up both hands, both knees, and jammed two fingers by bending them the wrong direction while trying to roll to one side... and scraped right shoulder & elbow when I got there.

No head trauma or bones protruding from skin, so my old tomboy mindset kicked in. The soon-to-be-swollen-purple fingers, road rash, scraps of skin dangling from kneecap, and all the blood... well, it's kind of cool. Helluva way to kick off the official fall half marathon training schedule, eh?

Just call me Grace.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tourism by Detours - Capulin Volcano, NM

Now that I've managed to recover most of the vacation photos lost during the unfortunate home invasion and electronics theft, I'm able to pick back up with some of the "off the beaten path" stops along the cross country trip. There are a few things I'll need to dig up other people's photos for, since not everything was recovered, but there's enough to get started.

We're big fans of exploring. Simply going to someplace and back may be fine for some folks, but not this family. We like to scour maps and read the state guides picked up at welcome centers to find interesting stuff along the way. Sometimes, it takes just a roadside marker to pull us off course. When we headed out for the Summer 2009 Road Trip, we had a few specific destinations firmly set:
  • The Gateway Arch in St. Louis
  • Grandma's house in Alma, NE
  • Grandpa's house, Garden of the Gods, and Pike's Peak in Colorado Springs, CO
  • Capulin Volcano, NM
That last destination was a roadside marker which screamed interesting stuff during the last trip home from Colorado. We saw the marker for Capulin Volcano just before dusk on a very chilly evening in late December. There was no time to stop then, but it did go down on the mental checklist for our next trip.

This time, we planned for the Volcano and built an extra day or two into the drive home along a southern route (CO-NM-TX-LA-MS-AL-GA).

From Sangres.com:

Capulin Volcano is the cone of a volcano that was last active about 56,000 to 62,000 years ago. This volcano represents the last stage of a great period of volcanism that had begun about 7 million years earlier. Evidence of this activity can be seen in the scores of nearby volcanic hills and peaks. The largest of these is Sierra Grande, an extinct volcano rising some 2,200 feet above the surrounding plain, about 10 miles to the southeast. To the northwest of Capulin are a number of mesas that are capped with lava, the three largest of which are Barela, Raton and Johnson Mesas.

Lava erupted in four flows, each separated by long periods of inactivity. The last series of eruptions created Capulin Volcano, whose conical form rises more than 1,000 feet above its base to 8,182 feet above sea level. The mountain consists chiefly of loose cinders, ash and other rock debris. These materials were spewed out by successive eruptions and fell back on the vent, piling up to form the conical mound. The lava, though, flowed mostly from a boca (spanish for mouth) on the lower west side of the cinder cone.
Sounds pretty darn cool, especially if you have boys who like rocks and a girl who likes to carry a camera. Plus, in keeping with the current fun on a budget that is so important, $5 gets you a pass for the whole family. The pass is good for seven days, but even if you're only using it for one day, it's a heck of a deal for a family of five.

If you wonder whether a location on our official trip plan should really count as a detour, not only was this destination inspired by a roadside marker, we had to wait on two separate occasions along the two lane highway for cows to clear the road. Any travel that can be delayed by livestock automatically counts on my detour destination list. Now...

'Too windy, but really cool' is how the kids would describe it now, but the hike around the rim of the crater and into the center was actually filled with many exclamations of wonder.
  • Swarming ladybugs
  • Scrub trees that were completely engulfed in silk and blue caterpillars.
  • Rounding the top of the crater rim to be smacked by the wind so hard you swayed on your feet.
  • The bench with hole and scorch marks from lightning strikes at the top of the rim trail.
  • Time Stains (Lichen) - discussion about this tied back into what we'd learned about which colors are edible on the trip up to Pike's Peak.
  • The many lizards, too fast to be caught on camera, and
  • Finding so much color & life, smack in the middle of an ancient volcano in the desert.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Crayola Hike

Finally got a chance to upgrade to Flickr Pro and load up the photos I mentioned last evening.

This past Sunday, we went for a mini-hike at one of the trails in the Chattahoochee NRA. $25 buys an annual parking pass that covers all 16 locations along the river in the Metro area. Since some combination of family members can be found along the river at least once or twice each week, it's quite a bargain. (Single pass is $3.00, which adds up quickly.)

DottieB is branching out. Instead of sticking with our normal nature walk scavenger hunt, collecting the colors of the rainbow , she and Bugsy decided to collect what you'd find in a crayon box.

In addition to good old ROY G. BIV, they snapped shots of muddy reddish-brown creekbeds, white mushrooms, black-eyed susans, brown acorns, gray tree trunks with blue trail markers, pink puffs, lilac/lavender flowers (there was a lengthy debate on that last color designation)...

...until the battery ran out.

In the car on the way home, I heard plans to bring extra batteries next time, and a 24-pack of Crayola, just to make sure they don't miss any.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where did the week go?

Between meetings with teachers about one child (yes, THOSE types of meetings), completely insane destructive puppy antics (4 months is apparently "normal" time for it), Open House at the HS, Parent University at the ES, and three-out-of-five family members spending a day or two at home with a cold, I just looked at the calendar and noticed tomorrow is Friday!

I know time is supposed to fly when you're having fun, but I'm not so sure the person who came up with that gem had this kind of fun in mind at the time. Think I'll choose another old saying for this week. Thanks to how quickly it ripped by, it was like taking off a band-aid.

I have a great set of photos to post from this past Sunday. By great, I'm speaking as the proud parent of the eight year old who is experimenting with angles, zoom and light. The photos are not as good as some of the shots she took at the Atlanta Botanical Garden last month, but that has a lot to do with being knocked about by a puppy who is quickly approaching her weight division.

Eek! I've exceeded my flickr uploads for September. Will have to add the pictures as a short slide show AFTER I sign up for the pay service. That'll be in the morning. Right now, I'm going to bed.

But before I do...
Waiting to hear the word about the last couple pieces falling into place on the house. Closing in two weeks, moving in three. Should Clifford and his canine equivalent of the terrible twos not be a thing of the past by then, we're all looking forward to opening the kitchen door and shooing both dogs outside for 20-30 minutes of Peter's favorite game. No name for the game yet, but here's the playbook:
  1. Peter T. Dog runs as fast as he can in a circle.
  2. Almost lets Clifford catch up.
  3. Turns around and runs directly at the puppy.
  4. Clifford stops short, and goes tail over head.
  5. Peter leaps over him in a graceful arc.
  6. Prance happily away, while Clifford looks around in confused state.
  7. Repeat.
I can post a single photo directly to blogger, even if flickr hates my little batch of photos. With the larger, FENCED, yard, frequent intervals of the game ought to wear Clifford out better than the 1.5-2 mile walk/run or 10 minutes of tag on a leash.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Am I from Georgia? Nope, never even heard of the place.

Once again, Georgia is in the news for all the best reasons. If the low, low placement on the rankings for education (41?), the high placement on obesity (12) and horrible commutes weren't enough, there's the Michael Vick dogfighting thing, the Kathryn Johnston shooting, and... yet another story of death by drug bust gone awry.

Octagenarians and Pastors. Lovely.

Well, I guess Georgians can always look at things the same way as we do for the obesity and education stats, and keep thanking heaven we're not as bad as Mississipi. (Radley Balko's reports on Cory Maye and Steven Hayne)

Thanks to a link sent via comment by Slamdunks, I'm now able to add to my list today's story from ABC News on Roger Stephens, a gem of a man here in the Atlanta metro area who slaps other people's toddlers in the store. To make it even better, guess which store. It happened in a Wal-Mart, of course.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Supper Wars: Moroccan Beef Stew

Try this recipe from Mike's Table.

Scale back on the peppers, if you are catering to those with mild tastes, like my kidlets, but simmer up this stew.



The recipe is a bit long, which can seem daunting at first, but only until you realize the steps are written with loads of detail. There's plenty of beautiful photos to show you how it should look along the way (like the lovely one shown here). Substitutions are pretty easy, and he's great about suggesting ways to adjust the spices to suit your flavor preferences.

I didn't have any preserved lemons, so my helper squeezed some fresh lemon juice in when adding the broth and red wine. It was delicious. The boys weren't fans of the chickpeas, but DD thought they were pretty good.

Promised the kidlets pizza tomorrow, but I can't wait to eat the leftovers with brown rice crisps (Rice Works - picked up at Costco), topped with fresh chopped cilantro.

We get it, already - kids are expensive!

What the heck is going on out there that I am finding so many articles and opinion pieces about children being too costly? Yesterday, the Ben Stein column in Fortune. Today, I read two posts in a row at Boston Gal's blog with links to stories on the opportunity costs of children.

Finances Before Family
The Boston Globe story: Money before baby? has reporter Jessica Cerretani confessing that the great recession has done more than just shrink her 401(k) balance or jeopardize her financial security. It may have torpedoed her plans to ever have a biological child.


Advice given through lens of economic principles
The NPR story: Priceless Advice From 'The Undercover Economist' interviews Financial Times advice columnist Tim Harford who answers readers questions from a ruthless economic-consideration-first perspective. The interview provides a excerpt from his book (based on six years of advice columns)and below is one column that seemed to go along with yesterday's post.

Dear Economist,

I'm an ambitious woman in my midtwenties, just starting what I hope will be a stellar career in business. But I also very much want to have at least one child. How long should I wait?

Yours sincerely,

Ms. E. Jones

Dear Ms. Jones,

Mothers seem to do worse in the labor market than women without children, but that might not be simple cause and effect. For instance, it might indicate that women who expected successful careers delayed having children, but the delay was not the cause of the success.

It all seems imponderable, but it isn't. Amalia Miller, an economist at the University of Virginia, studied the timing of maternity and its effect on earnings. That effect is large: delay maternity by just one year, and you can expect your career earnings to rise by 10 percent, partly because you will work longer hours and partly because you will enjoy a better wage rate. For professionals like you, the wage effect is even higher.

Ugh. I feel the compelling need at this point to defend my three children and the pre-30s timing by pointing out the non-monetary compensation they bring to my life. Call it silly, but there is something quite wonderful about the social, emotional and spiritual richness of my life which I'd not have had without them. There's plenty of time for career and travel later. After all, 50 might just turn out to be the new 25 by the time I get there.

It looks like a new house

Things are moving along smoothly so far, plus that's what the home inspector said about the house today. He said all of the updates were very well done, and that everything is clean & well maintained. In some ways, the inspector said this house is better than a new home, because of the higher quality of foundation and walls back when the home was originally built. There'll be a few things in the report, but nothing major. The highlights are:
  • Downspouts should be extended so they drain a few feet farther out from foundation.
  • Two outlets in front of house are not grounded.
  • At some point, an access panel will need to be cut for the master tub
  • He couldn't find the pressure valve for the water, but figures it's tucked in the middle of new ductwork
  • There are a few boards of siding which should have 1/2-1" shaved off, to get them to full inch away from shingles.
None of those are things which will require major fixes, so closing in three weeks shouldn't be a problem, especially since the paperwork & transferring of funds is done. Keeping fingers crossed the appraisal doesn't come out too far off where it had been appraised back in April.

I'm not a fan of buying a bunch of furniture for a new house, as that is one sure way to blow the budget and open the door for all kinds of unforeseen disaster. I also think it takes time to settle in and figure out what we really want / need for the new space. But - you knew that was coming - I am seriously considering this set of six mahogany chairs, to make a complete dining table. Right now, I move kitchen chairs to the dining table for the kidlets, and use the 4 chairs which are usually set around the table for adults. These are around 125 years old (dealer says possibly 150-meh), and are pretty darn sturdy, without any sway or creaking. Price is marked down to $350 from $500, which was already marked down from original $750... and I like them, so maybe this will be my one rule-breaking purchase?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Assessing the net value of children

I saw the link to a Fortune article by Ben Stein at Wenchypoo's site. She quoted the article:
"People in a free society will choose to have more of something if its return exceeds its cost. On the other hand, people in a free society will choose to have less of a good or service if its value is less than its cost."
Having become increasingly interested over the past few years in those things related to the dismal science of economics, this is not the first time I've seen a statement like that. Having read about falling birth rates in western nations, the concept of applying the phrase to child rearing wasn't new, either. And Ben Stein often manages to get me to think about things in a slightly different light. What? Can I place a value on the kidlets? I was intrigued. So I read.
"What is the value of a child in modern Western industrial society? More specifically, what is the value of a middle-class or upper-middle-class or upper-class child in America? And does this have anything to do with the fact that the birth rate among American women has been falling for decades and that the age of first childbirth among educated women is far higher than among less-well-educated women?

Start with economics. People in a free society will choose to have more of something if its return exceeds its cost. On the other hand, people in a free society will choose to have less of a good or service if its value is less than its cost.

Now, what is a modern child? Obviously, not a good or service, but something more and also something less. Long ago, as we all know, humans had children because they liked having sex and because children had some value as assistant hunters and gatherers and keepers of the hearth."

Goes on into the evolution of society, the move past needing many additional hands for hunting or farming, and the modern day wonders of contraception. Then, Stein gets into what makes modern middle-upper class children so costly:
"...raising modern children is such a major pain in the neck. For one thing, thanks to a variety of factors, often parents have to struggle like galley slaves to get their offspring into private schools and pay for them.

The private school parent also has to pony up for every kind of lesson -- ballet, horse, and music lessons, math tutoring, and chess club. The parent also has to drive the little ones to all of these events as well as to the "play dates" that lurk like unanesthetized colonoscopies in modern life. Then there is the most horrible event a healthy upper-middle-class American can have: social engagements with the parents of Junior's classmates.

In other words, we are talking about child rearing as part unpaid chauffeur, part torture."

One thing I'd like to clarify - it's not just private school parents. Parents utilizing the charter and magnet public schools pay for the private lessons, buy uniforms, buy/sell fundraising merchandise, join countless groups which ask for donations from members often, meet volunteer requirements at the school, drive to all the events... and are expected to all of this cheerfully, because we're not paying private school tuition.

"...part unpaid chauffeur, part torture." I love that line. Then there's college. After four (or more) years of paying lots of money to institutions of higher learning, what do you end up with?
"a son with a law degree who cannot get a job, a daughter with a film-school degree who works as a masseuse, or a musician who keeps you up all night with his drums."
Ooh. Goody. I have three children, so could potentially end up with all three of those hypotheticals trying to move back home in their 20s. Can't wait.

To be fair, Stein does point out that not all children grow up to be complete ingrates, with the sense of entitlement of a two year old's "MINE!" phase. His son, of course, is the exception. I may not disagree with his conclusions in the article, but I can't say it brings many pleasant thoughts, either:
"The costs and benefits of having children in affluent America are wildly off kilter. Too much cost, too little reward. Often the cost-benefit analysis of children prints out "Get a German shorthaired pointer instead."

Many people are doing that, and the birth rate is collapsing. But if we stop having enough children, because their value is so low relative to their cost, the society grinds down. It's happening right now. The native-born upper middle class barely replace themselves in America, if they do at all. In a way we are committing suicide as a class, possibly in part because of the burdens of child rearing in modern life.

What is the net present value of a child in modern America? Often, it's difficult to find much, and thereby hangs a question mark over our future as a nation, at least as we have known it."

Best laid (race) plans

That autumn schedule of races I'd carefully put together? Two or three events each month for September, October and November.

It's gone. Out the window. Kaput.

Most have been dropped due to B1's cross country schedule, which every Saturday but one filled through the first half of November. Two have been dropped because of new house and move plans. Both are extremely good reasons, so I can't complain. Wait. Yes, I can complain, but I won't. Except for a brief whine about one.

I'm not exactly thrilled about dropping the Midnight Flight 5k/10k off my calendar. (With all the last minute documents to find for the loan paperwork, the home inspection and contingency back-and-forth, it's just not a great idea to head out early on Friday for that first race on the schedule.) It's a fun night race, just far enough out of town that I have to spend the night and take Saturday morning to sleep in, soak in the tub, and take myself to a lazy brunch before the drive back to Atlanta. I'd planned to run the two races back-to-back, using the 5k as a warm up for the 10k. (The first mile or two of any run are always the blah miles, so I figured I'd be fully coordinated by the 11pm start time of the 10k.)

Depending on how the birthday parties, end-of-summer pool parties and requested sleep overs shake out over the next few days, I may still fit in a race this Labor Day weekend. The 10k Classic is on Labor Day, just a few miles from here, and is supposed to be a challenging, hilly course.

And, until something else pops up, here's the scaled back schedule. There may be a couple of 5k races added with the kidlets, during the off-week for cross country, or on Saturdays when B1's events are in the afternoon.

9/7 - 10k Classic (Maybe)
10/4 - Locomotive Half & 5k, Kennesaw
10/31 - Silver Comet Half Marathon
11/26 - Atlanta Half Marathon

A few hours over the next week will go into making a training plan with the October 31 and Thanksgiving Day half marathons as the main focus. The Locomotive HM on October 4th is going to be a practice run (in place of long run for the week) for the other two HMs. Treated Run the Reagan that way back in February, and it turned out to be a great race.

On a what the heck am I thinking? note, I took advantage of the discount for super-early registration for the ING on March 21, 2010. I signed up for the full marathon this time around. After all, I have 199 days, 22 hours and 14 minutes to prepare. What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

It's time for a haircut. Really, REALLY time.

My hair is past the halfway point between shoulder & waist again. Ponytails are no longer adequate to control tangles & helmet hair. And you don't want to know what kind of a birdsnest I wake up to each morning, though my daughter finds it quite entertaining. I'm back to twisting hair up with a pencil while working, and braiding for exercise and sleep.

Though one might also suspect I've been watching old episodes of Little House on the Prairie while folding laundry, which I have most definitely not been doing. Well... not today, at least.

And now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to ride. Stumbling on Happiness is the audiobook on tap today. Started it over summer vacation, but found little time to listen while surrounded by little people.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Since a tweet changed my outlook last week, should I say I had a good tweek? (a.k.a. Big Darn Week, part two)

It was a no good, terrible, horrible, very bad day or two to start the week last week. Super busy. Trying to put together offer on house. Spacey children who kept leaving lunches at home in the morning, and homework at school in the afternoon. A puppy in a combination of growth spurt & teething phase, leading to regressive behavior.

My heart wasn't really into any exercise that wasn't two-wheeled, and even that was only because of the escape into audiobooks & podcasts I enjoy on rides. My running continued to stink, as it has since getting back to hot & humid Atlanta from vacation, in June.

I was following my normal early morning routine (lunch packing / breakfast rush, stretching, coffee, blog reading, weather checking), when I thought I don't really want to do any of this stuff today. Then I saw an early morning (for her, since she's in TX) tweet from MizFitOnline. It was something about taking on the day with open arms.

It struck a chord with me. What the heck did I really have to complain about? Nothing on my list of grievances was beyond the level of minor annoyance. So, I scrapped all the plans which weren't possible to work out, opened up, and took on the day.

Strapped leashes to my pups for the morning upper body workout - I mean walk. Laughed my butt off at the ability of my lovable little idiot to tangle everybody up in the leash, and at the look on the face my sweetheart of a Peter T. Dog. I would swear he rolls his eyes at Clifford, and that the head tilt & lolling tongue is his own brand of laughter.

Dropped off the forgotten lunch at the elementary school, and took my lunch down to Riverside Park for a ride. Realized my helmet was hanging from the roadster back at the house, so went to a less heavily traveled road, with bicycle lanes for my ride. 10 miles or so, listening to the Adam Smith episode of The Thomas Jefferson Hour (fantastic episode, btw - almost enough to make me start a 3rd attempt to make it through The Wealth of Nations)

Hopped off the bike, changed shoes, and headed down the trail by the Chattahoochee River. Before I'd lost sight of the parking lot, the heavens opened, and I was completely drenched. Ugh. So much for that.

But, wait. That's the kind of thinking that put me into a funk in the first place. Mopped off my face, and started into the woods. Everything was lush and green, and the rain quickly dropped the temperature and cleared away the general pea soup humidity we'd been having for days.

It was the best time I've had running in months. Jumping over rocks and roots. Ducking under branches. Splashing through the runoff streams the trails had turned into. It. Was. So. Much. FUN!

While leaping over a particularly deep & mucky puddle, I was reminded of MizFit's recent posts about being your own superhero... and I definitely felt like one. Pulled out the iPhone, risking water logging, snapped a few pix and moved Mighty Little Man to the top of the playlist.

I'm not sure what my superpowers are yet, but do know that kid chaos and weather are not going to be my downfall. (The photo is of my super soaked feet, as light blue speed silk singlet & white sports bra are better suited for dry, sunny day superhero activities.)

That one tweet was just the nudge I needed. With the improvement in attitude came a big improvement in my workouts. Running is fun again.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

BDW: The Big Darn* Week, Part 1

*Note my toned-down language, lest I be forced to drop a dollar in the jar. (It's quarters for most people, but I had to make it expensive enough to hurt.)

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start...

Of the three open houses on Sunday - when we saw the peacock - one house had the right number of bedrooms, plus an extra. It has a two car garage, with extra space for the stable of bicycles. It has recently (last 3-5 years) replaced HVAC, water heater, and roof. It's brick. All of the appliances were part of the remodel a few years ago, so stay with the house. It's on an acre (1.05, to be precise), and about a third of of that is fenced with a solid privacy fence.

It had also been on the market for six months or more, with two price drops. The owners moved to their new home a couple months ago, so were carrying two houses. There had been no offers, as any interested parties had existing homes to sell first. We're heading into autumn, and then to the s-l-o-w winter months.

Made an offer. They countered with a slightly lower price. Made a new offer. Same price, but closing by the end of September. They dropped the price to meet halfway between, and a deal was struck. In roughly five weeks - assuming everything goes well with inspection, of course - this will be where I spend my days:

Note that while there is a desk in the kitchen, for my recipe-checking, bill-paying and blogging convenience, there is not a washer or dryer in the kitchen. I have been "okay" with the layout of the 1950s kitchen in our rented house for three years now, but have never quite gotten used to washing socks, underwear and towels in such clothes (ooh! I'm keeping that accidental word choice) quarters to food prep surfaces.

There's a great deal of excitement among the other family members, too, because of a permanent playhouse in the backyard, proximity to school friends and the playroom in the basement where the second TV will be hooked up to the older gaming systems.... but this isn't their slice of the web now, is it?

More about the week later. B1's first cross country event. The scramble to reschedule B2's birthday party.
An absolutely horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad morning which was turned completely around, thanks to a tweet from MizFit, and the realization that I'm now the thing which I never imagined myself becoming. One of those people. You know, the mom of a teen, approaching 40... middle-aged.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Holy crap, a peacock!

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to monitor your language around the kids, it just slips out.

Driving to an open house Sunday afternoon, in a very ordinary suburban neighborhood of 1960's brick ranch houses, green lawns, kids and dogs, was one of those times. The kids were shocked out of their general state of back seat lolling and lazy bickering, and readying their rebuke for word choice when they noticed...

That's right. Holy crap, a peacock.


Trying to sneak off for a morning bike ride, before anything can pop up on my [currently] open schedule. Is cool and beautiful in an early Autumn way, so staying inside would be torture. Have my audiobook (The Color of Magic, Terry Pratchett) for this week all queued up, along with an episode of The Thomas Jefferson Hour and the latest Liberty Conspiracy - just in case I don't feel like a book - and the iPhone fully charged.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Extreme Frugality

I've been pretty proud of my efforts to cut the grocery bills from the highs of a couple of years ago - a little over $200/week. And that $200/week was when I was shopping the sales at the big grocers, and taking advantage of coupons from the Sunday paper.

I'm not a coupon shopper anymore, and generally do the shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joes, with less frequent trips to the big grocers, costco and the farmers market. Doing things this way, you don't exactly have a Sunday sales flyer to use while building your weekly menu and shopping list. It's working better than I'd thought when I started changing the way I shopped.

With the couple of months, I've been able to pull the average weekly spending to under $130/week for our family of five. As the temps cool, and baking all of our bread becomes practical again, it'll keep dropping. In fact, if I can keep my $110 & under weeks going, we should be on track for a below $120/week average by the end of the year. Being below the USDA "frugal" spending levels was - I thought - quite the accomplishment.

Until I read about the Z-day Challenge. W. Hodding Carter, a writer for Gourmet, has spent the summer growing vegetables, stocking the freezer with a quarter-cow, and prepping for a month with Zero Spending.

That's right. ZERO spending.
I realized the moment of truth had arrived. The Z-Day Challenge, our personal anti-stimulus project. For the entire month of September, we’re spending ZERO dollars. We’re ready. Our garden’s ready.

It’s our civic duty.

As some of you may remember, I’ve theorized (read ranted) that spending our way out of this current mess is wrong. To me, it’s like putting an overweight person on a 1,000 calorie-a-day diet of ice cream. It may work in the short term, but it’s definitely not healthy in the long run. We need to remember—or in most cases, learn—how to save money, pay off our debts, and become one with reality: The party has now been over for quite a while.

So, on August 31, after topping off the cars and stocking up on groceries and a month’s worth of animal feed, we’re migrating to Unamerica—a land where misers are heroes and spendthrifts are scorned. A land of limited horizons and very little opportunity. A land where … well, you get the idea. I know this sounds like a gimmick since we have a fairly full pantry, nearly a quarter of a cow in our freezer, and we will still pay our monthly bills, but answer this: What’s the longest you’ve ever gone while living your normal daily life without buying something? Think about it. Be honest. A month? A week? A day? For me, during this frugal year, I’ve lasted around two to three days. But I want to do better. It’s time to shake off the shackles and see what it’s like without consuming.


At first glance it seems like a big plunge. Heck, it seems like a big plunge at second & third glance, too. But, I've started reading the beginning of the Extreme Frugality series, published back in February.

For years, Lisa had been telling me we were living beyond our means. “Please, please, Hodding, don’t buy that hand-carved black walnut countertop!” she’d implore. In fact, once she even kicked me out of the house for nine months in hopes that I’d wake up. But like that alcoholic who downs yet another Two-Buck-Chuck, I wasn’t ready. I knew that my next book was going to be an international bestseller and I felt entitled to live as did my father (although he was 25 years older than I) and all those successful, happy people in ads and on TV. Here I was, though, finally seeing the raw truth. Our average combined income—drum roll, please—for the past decade had been … $41,000. Thanks to those heady days of refinancing, deft shuffling of credit-card debt, deceased grandparents, and a lucrative house sale, however, we had lived, year after year, as if we were making $120,000. Like 70 percent of our fellow Americans, we were living off our VISA cards with no means of paying them off any time soon. As a result, we had $75,000 in credit-card debt and owed $245,000 on a $289,000 house. What had I been thinking?

Never mind. I’ll sort out the “why” on my therapist’s couch. Right now, it’s time to do the unthinkable. It’s time for us to be more like our grandparents and less like our neighbors. (Ninety percent of us buy something we don’t need every month, and Americans in all walks of life—except the very rich—carry $961 billion of credit-card debt at any given moment, paying $1.22 for every $1 they spend.) For the first time ever, my family is going to do the unthinkable. We’re going to live within our means. No matter what we actually make, we’re only going to spend $41,000 for the entire year. In other words, after paying our mortgage, taxes, insurance, and the $500 to service our credit-card debt, our family of six is going to live on $550 a month.

After mortgage and credit card payments, $550, for a family of six. Again, Wow.

I am a lightweight, a pansy, in comparison to this family. I intend to keep reading my way through the year, and see which lessons I can carry over into my family's habits. (Not raising chickens for eggs though. Even if there weren't zoning laws about livestock intown, I do not want to clean up a henhouse. Been there, done that, and glad to buy my veggie-fed, no-cage eggs at the store.)

Still, there's probably a lot more I can do, and next month is probably a good time to try it. After all, it was last September that I embarked on trying out a variation of the $100 Grocery Challenge, where I upped the amount to $125, to reflect the five members of my family, rather than the four in the original article. Maybe, if I can spend the next week doing some serious planning and sensible stocking up, I can try a month of Semi-Extreme Frugality. It won't be zero spending, but maybe I can treat it like a limbo... how low can you go?

Being your own superhero

Carla, aka MizFit has an excellent post today which asks the question "How have you acted as your own superhero lately?" She opens it with a story about her toddler tornado daughter at the park which is just marvelous. It's one of those snippets which bring to mind all the breakthrough moments with my kids as I saw them growing into their personalities.

I love that MizFit keeps coming back around to the topic of self-image. Being your own superhero is a great message for me to repeat to the kids. All three have strengths, and I'd like them to focus on those as they head into the awkward years of middle and high school. I don't want to overdo it, and build a Stuart Smalley self-affirmation into their heads, but I do want them all to think of things in terms of balance, and bringing their best to the effort in whatever they try.

It's not going to be easy. With my daughter, it's an external thing - she's worried about what other girls think about her. From coming home in tears because a friend thought her bookbag was ugly, to being upset that she has a tougher time with multiplication facts than a couple of her other friends... it's a challenge.

In the case of the bookbag, I reminded her that she likes the bag, and picked it because it makes her happy to see the little bird & tree stitched on it. It's okay if somebody else doesn't like it, because it's not theirs. And, when she thought about it, DD admitted she didn't really care for the other girl's backpack, because it wasn't a color she likes as well. It gave me a chance to point out that one of DDs strengths is that she doesn't judge others based on silly things like backpack patterns.

With anything she brings up as a failing, I try not to patronize her by giving her the automatic "you're great" speech. If she's having a tough time with math, or with running, or art class - I remind her that she's great with science and language arts. She may not be able to run longer distances, but she can sprint like crazy, is a strong swimmer, and is a fantastic companion on long(ish) bike rides. With drawing, multiplication tables, and piano it takes practice. She'll keep getting better, or figure out she likes something else better - like photography and flute.

With the boys, it's more of an internal thing. They are their own worst critics. With them, it's a matter of reminding them they need to keep trying at the tough things - in school, sports and in plain old life. One of two things will happen. They'll either improve through practice to kick butt & love what they used to struggle with, OR find some other aspect of it they do love, and kick butt at that, instead.

B2 will beat himself up about anything less than perfect, and can talk himself into giving up before ever trying. He often has to be shoved - I mean gently nudged - into things. I can't count the times I've said "You're right - you might suck at [fill in the blank]. But you might not. You might even really be great at it. If you don't try, you'll never know."

B1 has a healthier attitude, and tends to shrug off his doom-n-gloom after a few minutes, then try - or try again. He's also very encouraging of others, and is always willing to throw in 110% to help out. (I love this about him.)

Oh, dear - I ended up rambling all over the place. What I was trying to get at is that MizFit's superhero approach is perfect for helping the kids shape their outlook on life. It's great for me, too. Just like comic book superheroes, we all have abilities and strengths that make us great at some things. With the areas in which we excel, there's also our fatal flaws and weaknesses. The trick is to focus on the things that make you super, and use those strengths to help you work on the other stuff.

And, if you're completely stuck... that's what a league of Superfriends are for.


Along this theme, MizFit's post reminded me of a song by Steve Burns, Mighty Little Man. It's from his album Songs for Dustmites, and it always makes me smile.

When the kidlets were smaller, there would be a victory run through the house anytime this song popped up in the playlist. Sometimes, the 1st grader (B1) would lead the laps around the house, sometimes not. The toddler B2 would run around, arms over his head, like he was crossing the finish line, singing the chorus at the top of his little voice. The not-yet-walking DD would bounce in her high chair, walker, or spot on the living room floor, waving her arms and "singing" along.