Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Busted by My 4 Year Old

After continuously trying to get the kids upstairs to get their pajamas on, I finally race them up the stairs then send them on their way. After getting her PJ's on, my 4 year old proclaims she is hungry and comes back downstairs. I sent her away with one of our typical bedtime snacks, a piece of cheese.

After she walked away, I raided the pumpkin and landed a mini Snickers bar. Just what I needed after a very hectic day. Perfect for a quick break before our bedtime ritual of brushing teeth, reading, singing then ultimately, tucking them in. I tore open the Snickers when a voice from around the corner asks:

"Are you eating candy?"

"Um, No."

"I heeaaarr it."

Hard to enjoy a Snickers when you're laughing so hard you're spitting it out. I was so busted.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

It's Halloween and I had planned to do a post on how DH and I typically spend Halloween. But it's my mom's birthday so she'll just have to deal with being the subject of my latest blog post. A bumpy trip down memory lane.

When we were young, I remember my mom used to make the neatest Halloween costumes for us. Even if I was creative and a seamstress, I doubt I could manage to pull off some of the costumes she whipped up for us. She used to dress as a witch and show up at our school with this big black kettle of smoking witch-brew. Before I was old enough for school, she even made a mini-me witch outfit exactly like hers for when I would assist her in my brothers' classes. Not many moms did that then and I'm not so sure many go to that extreme even now.

As with all the holidays, she always seemed to enjoy helping make Halloween special for us. Not an easy task since we lived in the country; walking to the next house to trick-or-treat was not an option, so she would drive us house to house. Oh yeah, and it's Iowa – where you usually have to bundle up in a winter jacket just to survive the night of candy caching. It wasn't until I got older that I realized that each year she had to sacrifice her birthday because Halloween is really a kids' day. I'm not sure if she has ever celebrated her birthday. Even as a Grandma, she always seems to show up to see the kids trick-or-treat. Maybe that's just how she likes to spend her birthday.

I never claimed to be a good daughter – after all, I was a teenage girl during part of my life… and an Italian redhead. Need I say more? So today, I'll point out a few of my memories.

When I was only a few years old, I remember my mom making an Easter bunny cake to celebrate my dad's birthday. It was the cutest cake with the licorice whiskers and all. I used to harp about it every year when my birthday just "barely" missed Easter. In one of my teenage years, my birthday DID fall on Easter Sunday – low and behold, my mom made the cake for me. It's been a long time, but I don't recall dropping any hints about it. I was a teenager, I'm pretty sure I didn't ask for a bunny birthday cake. But I have to say, that was one of the best cakes I ever had. Wonder if my eyes lit up when she unveiled it, because it was extremely special that she would remember something as trivial as a bunny cake. Licorice whiskers and all. I loved it.

When I was in high school, I recall a gift certificate for a color analysis at a charm and modeling school. I was young and didn't know what the paper was that she had wrapped up. It wasn't clothes or makeup, it wasn't electronic, it wasn't anything concrete – it was a piece of paper. Kids didn't get gift certificates in those days. Unappreciative little sh*t that I was – doubt that I ever said thanks. After I had the analysis done and got a lesson on how to properly apply makeup, I realized how cool a gift it was. I STILL use the same makeup theories and techniques to this day and occasionally get compliments on how my makeup looks natural. (That's on those days when I'm not rushing to apply it.)

Somewhere in those teenage years, I recall commenting on my brother trying to grow a beard or mustache. Although I remember it well, I'm not going to repeat the conversation. I'll just say that I looped my mom into it. Now that I'm in my late 30's, I realize that women at this age need to work to keep up our appearances. I think we all realize the necessity for a good pair of tweezers. At any rate, the sad look on my mom's face is imprinted in my brain – I really learned how harsh and hurtful such simple words and joking can actually be. For that, mom – I'm truly sorry.

On a happier note, I remember our first microwave being snuck into the kitchen via the deck… wow, that was a long time ago. One year, Santa got everyone in the family a pair of ice skates, and then we all actually used them TOGETHER. My folks both helped coach us at baseball and softball. And encouraged us at whatever we did. (and still do.) I had good parents and hope my girls eventually feel the same way.

I could go on and on but I'll wrap it up by saying "Happy Birthday, Mom. Thanks for all the good times and I'm sorry for all the rest. I love you."

Monday, October 29, 2007

What can YOU do with 60 Balloons?

Check it out:
What do you think? Cool, huh?

Did I do that? I WISH! Actually, it's the work of a woman I met at the gym. She was taking the same toning class that I was and she introduced herself. Her name is Janie. I later found out that she offers clowning classes (and other classes) at the gym under the moniker of "Zany Janie." Once I got to know her, I realized it is a completely appropriate name for her.

Since then, we have attended a couple of events and book readings with her. Miss K has developed quite a fondness for her. She's pretty cool… and does amazing work in both balloons and face painting.

When I saw the balloon witch at the gym today, I just had to post it because it's so awesome. I stood the kids in front of it to give some perspective on how tall it is, which you can also tell from the fact that it is in front of the door!

Even with balloon classes, I don't think I would ever be able to make anything THAT cool!

Edit: Janie forwarded me information about Balloon Manor, a charity event. They used approximately 130,000 balloons by 65 artists and 200 volunteers. Wow!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Where Did that Red Hair Come From?!

For some unknown reason, Los Angeles seems to be light in the area of natural redheads. Seeing a redheaded child is pretty uncommon. So when Miss M, my first, was born with hair so red it could be called orange, she stood out in a crowd. It was really cool that she was unlike most other kids because it made her the center of attention and I had fun with that. It also had its disadvantages because I was talked into the whole "we need redheads for commercials and print ads so we need to get her an agent." We spent quite a bit on photos and getting an agent through John Robert Powers as a result. Despite hubby's objections, I insisted; I didn't want to look back when she was older and ask "what if…?" What a heap of crap that ended up being. Needless to say, we have a stack of ZED cards to wallpaper her room when she's older and no contracts to show for it. (Shut up hubby, I know you've got that "I told you so" laugh going right now.) I prefer to focus on the advantages of her red hair when I can. Repeat. When I can.

When I was little, my hair was orange also. As I got older, it started to lighten up into more of a strawberry blonde. Apparently it doesn't look at all red anymore because people would look at Miss M, look at hubby, look at me then ask "WHERE did that red hair come from?!" Pfft. At first, I politely responded "Ooh, We get that a lot. My hair was that color when I was little." It was tolerable the first hundred times. After that, it progressed to "Mine was that color before the kids made me grey."

These days, the red in my hair is mostly gone and has been replaced with lots of grey/white hair. Everyone says they think it is blonde (how polite)… with the exception of Miss K. Last March, MIL was in town for a visit and we all decided to go to lunch while Miss M was at preschool. As we're sitting in the booth, Miss K – 2½ at the time – decided to strike up a conversation about color. She pointed at MIL and said "Grammy, Your hair is black." Then she pointed at DH and said "Daddy, Your hair is black." Then she point at me and said "Mommy, Your hair is white." I thought DH was going to die from laughing. Before the end of MIL's visit, I had my hair colored at a salon.

Miss M's hair has already started to lighten up some so it's closer to red than orange. That, coupled with the fact that redheaded children are in full supply here in the Midwest, I don't get nearly the amount of questions as when we lived in Los Angeles. At least now the comments are about her hair color in general as opposed to its origins… that's so much more bearable than being forced to admit I'm getting old and grey!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Handing out Pink Slips at the Gym

No, they are not firing people… they’re handing out evaluation forms that happen to be printed on pink paper. Management obviously has a twisted sense of humor. Evaluation time is our opportunity as members to critique the instructors anonymously. If we have anything to say, that is the time to say it. What I hate is that the forms are handed to us to fill out and return either before or after class – that’s really not much time to put your thoughts together if you want to say something substantial. More than just “I love/hate the instructor/class.”

I started at the gym early last summer when we moved back to Iowa. Out of shape from years of infertility treatments, stress, pregnancy, kids and life in general, I committed to a few days per week on the elliptical and some of the weight machines. After a few months, the only thing I noticed was that my pants were getting tighter. Translation, elliptical = bigger butt. At least for me, it did.

A friend talked me into taking the Cardio/Strength class and I swear I thought she was nuts. After one class, that was confirmed – anyone willing to endure that class was crazy. It was ridiculously difficult, overwhelming, exhausting… Guess I wasn't working as hard on that elliptical as I thought I was. Despite being in pain after just one class, I felt energized and hopeful. I returned for the next class and since then have only missed when I have to. The instructor is Leah, and she is why I keep coming back to the class. Leah instructs this particular class two days per week but she constantly changes the workout. In the year-plus that I have been attending her class, the most we have repeated the same workout is three or four times. I can’t speak for anyone else in my class, but she pushes me to do my best. She’s encouraging when I need it but tough when she knows I can handle it. I recall saying “can’t” once in her class and the whole group was instructed to do push ups as a result. It was good for a laugh, that’s for sure. Her class is as hard as I make it for myself and nobody criticizes me when I’m having an off day. We’re all there to better ourselves.

After a handful of Leah’s classes, I realized that I enjoyed the group fitness thing and started attending step classes the additional three days per week. Eventually, the schedule was changed and I ended up with Leah (Cardio/Strength) and Jayne for (Total Body/Toning) two days each per week and Stacia for step class. Between the three of them (and great encouragement from DH), I’m feeling much better about myself. For a recent baptism, I was able to fit into a dress that I haven’t worn in several years. I’m not one for tight fitting clothes, but I’m starting to see there’s a difference between “tight” and “fitted”; occasionally wearing a shirt that shows that I'm making headway.

For me, it has been a positive experience across the board. There is absolutely no way that I could have conveyed all that in the time allotted in class. Let alone give thought to areas for improvement. When the next wave of evaluations come around, I'm just going to put a note on the pink slip directing them here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Up the Creek Without My Camera!

When my first child was born, I vowed to take a picture of her every day for the first year of her life. I think I only missed two or three days and that’s not bad considering at least one of those days was on video. Everyone scolded me about it saying “You’ll never be able to do that for your second child.” Since it took eight years for the first to come along, I wasn’t going to make decisions based on equity for each child. Years of unsuccessful fertility treatments taught me to constantly ask myself “What if there is never a second child?” I committed to the picture idea knowing that it was a one-time thing and I was okay with that. We put together a really cool website for her – complete with crib webcam - and updated the pictures when I could (or when I would send enough pictures to MIL to do it.) If a second child came along, I would just be grateful and would do my best to take pictures when I could.

My oldest is now 4 (soon to be 5) and the youngest just turned 3. I was obviously blessed with a second… Although I don’t get a picture a day, when submitting surveys that request information about how often I take pictures, I can comfortably check the box “50 or more per month.” These days, I tend to carry my camera with me when we’re heading someplace new, exciting or noteworthy. For example, when my daughter started gymnastics, I took it with to get a few pictures of her first day. They didn’t turn out too hot because the parents were all outside the room looking through a window… but I got pictures none-the-less!

We try to expose the kids to a lot of different activities. They are starting swim lessons next week. Today was my 3-year old's last day of gymnastics; I even skipped my workout to be able to watch her. DH is working on a project that I thought he would need the camera for, so I didn’t bring it along. She’s only three and she’ll probably rotate back to gymnastics after the swim lessons end in a few months since she’s really too small for much else. I felt completely lost but figured I would get by. But wait! There were three other moms there watching their kids on the last day.
♫"One of these things is not like the others, ♪ one of these things just doesn’t belong."♫
I was the only mom there without a camera! There were three digital cameras and one video camera between the three of them. Needless to say, I inherited one part-time to help take some pictures while the video was rolling. I handed each of them my email and asked if they could send me photos that my daughter might show up in. Shortly after arriving home from the gym, I found two emails in my mailbox containing eight pictures of my daughter. Only one was a group picture, the rest were photographs of her by herself doing somersaults or whatever. Those were all from Meg, one of the other moms. She had taken pictures specifically for me because I didn’t have my camera. I know the other two took single shots of my daughter also because they told me. It's great to know people who are so considerate!

They set a great example for me today. With all the places I have my camera, I guess I need to make a better effort to capture some memories for the moms who don’t bring theirs along.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

It's Going to Bee A Bzzy Halloween!

Sorry for the brag spot, but I couldn't resist posting a picture of my BzzAgents-in-training!

My folks took the girls to a fall festival event today and costumes were encouraged. Was nice to dress the girls in their costumes early since Halloween is usually so cold. The kids had a great time at the festival and I sure hope my parents did too! DH and I enjoyed being able to eat lunch at a restaurant and carry on a conversation at the same time.

I don't typically like to dress them alike, but not only did they both like the same costume, but DH and I loved them too. Unfortunately the little one thinks that if she dresses like a bee that she should be able to fly!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Stuffed Mushrooms - No breadcrumbs!

Several years ago, I was a Pampered Chef consultant. I absolutely loved the products and being a consultant rewarded me with just that. Since I enjoy being around people and talking, it was a perfect fit for me and a nice offset to the usual monotony of the accounting world I lived in. Unfortunately, the strains, stresses and time required for the annual audit and financial statement preparation forced me to drop Pampered Chef from my agenda.

Along the way, I met a lot of great people and sampled some fabulous recipes. Although I only occasionally requested a recipe from a hostess, there is one that has stood out over the years. It was hands-down the best stuffed mushroom recipe I have ever encountered. Mushrooms stuffed with sausage - with cream cheese that made it rich and creamy. Unlike many stuffed mushroom recipes, this one didn't contain breadcrumbs.

I went back through my old hostess list and I believe I acquired the recipe from a woman named Cindy Platt of Lancaster, CA. Visually, I can still see the layout of her home and recall how the cream cheese melted like butter in the hot sausage mix. She verbally told me the recipe and it was so simple, I never bothered to write it down. I made it several times shortly thereafter, but eventually I stopped having the opportunity to serve such an appetizer. As a result, the recipe has faded. I know most of it, but I’m missing something. What I’m hoping is that someone will recognize the recipe and clarify for me. Maybe I’ll get lucky and my original source (believed to be Cindy Platt of Lancaster, CA) will come forward! I’m not positive if she’s the person and I really hope that someday someone will email me and tell me if I’m right or wrong. Not only do I want to give credit where it is due but I also need the formal recipe!

Last week, we were invited to a neighborhood backyard party. Everyone brought along an appetizer or dessert (or both for the ambitious) and I decided it would be a great opportunity to retest the recipe. When I lived in California, the sausage available was Jimmy Dean and it was a smaller package than the Bob Evans I found here. I’m hoping that the increased sausage in the recipe is all that is different. Next time I make it, I’ll be sure to use the smaller Jimmy Dean sausages. Here’s the (rough) recipe:

Stuffed Mushrooms
2 packages medium sized “button” mushrooms
1 package Jimmy Dean sausage – regular flavor
1 package Jimmy Dean sausage – hot flavor
1 brick cream cheese
1 onion
Salt and pepper to taste
*Parmesan cheese

Clean the mushrooms and remove the stem. Set aside.
Sauté the onions and garlic.
Brown the sausage, drain.
Stir cream cheese into sausage/onion mixture.
Add salt and pepper to taste
Stuff mushrooms and broil until desired consistency.

*Note: We topped them with parmesan cheese before broiling to provide a pretty browning, but I don't think that was part of the original recipe.

Looking forward to hearing some replies!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

DH's Been Hanging out with Other Women

I am often asked what I do for a living, followed by the question of what hubby does. DH and I have a unique working situation – both of us are stay at home parents. That's a blog for some other time so I'm not going to go into detail. We both feel it's great that the kids have the opportunity to get to know him so well so early in life. While my day consists of taking care of the usual kid/family stuff, going to the gym, BzzAgent and my blog, his follows the more geek/tech route.

His interests typically revolve around things that are computer related. Sometimes he’s doing graphics stuff or tech support for family, other times it’s website related. But since he isn’t “working”, he tends to look for projects to keep his graphics skills from disintegrating (not to mention to keep his brain in check).

Recently, he found something a little different to occupy his time, put his graphics skills to work and help a bunch of people. He started off by examining family crests for our genealogy research. One thing led to another and he ended up on a forum for people who do embroidery using one of those fancy computerized sewing machines.

What he discovered is that the regulars on those boards aren’t really graphics people. They have limited access to free patterns for embroidery – custom patterns typically cost quite a bit. Then comes hubby… he started converting clipart into the file format needed for the machines. He posted a few samples to the boards and was blown away with the response he received. He progressed into designing new patterns and uploading them and was overwhelmed by how many people liked them, downloaded them or just plain appreciated them. It’s a completely win/win situation because he is able to keep his graphics skills sharp and the embroidery forum members are able to get some very cool new patterns for their hobby.

A few have mailed the designs stitched on scraps of material; one even sent us a baby bib with one of his designs on it. Most designers charge for their patterns, so I asked him why he doesn’t do the same. After all, he’s putting in a lot of time on those patterns and the people he’s giving them to are accustomed to paying. He said he doesn’t want to. I guess it’s because he is enjoying what he’s doing and likes being able to offer this to such a welcoming community. All I can do is sit here and smile – because I spend hours on the blog for no other reason than that I enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Results are in – Pieceless Jigsaw Puzzle!

As I mentioned in my prior post, “A New Kind of Jigsaw Puzzle – Pieceless”, I requested a sample of Ceaco’s new pieceless jigsaw puzzle. While skeptical at the idea of how easy a puzzle would be if all pieces are connected, I also was completely intrigued.

On Sunday, the girls and I jointly completed one of the many Princess puzzles in their inventory. In this case, a 100-piece puzzle. As is traditional, it remains “on display” on the table in my sitting room until I put it away or until we pick a new one to work on. I was on pins and needles when my Pieceless puzzle arrived in Monday’s mail. I waited for the girls to be busy with something else so I could examine it without their interference. I pushed the princess puzzle to the side and tore open the newest addition to my puzzle collection. What I did was lay it out, then connect the ends to form the edge. That left a huge tangled mess in the middle, which actually was kind of fun to undo. Putting the puzzle together became more like a craft project and less like a traditional puzzle. I enjoy the hunt for that one particular piece – over and over. For anyone who has ever done a puzzle with me, they know that to put the edge together first is completely taboo. I always look at the photo and pick what I’m going to work on, then work my way out to the edges and assemble them when their portion of the picture is ready. With the pieceless puzzle, I methodically put all the strands of puzzle into place until it was done. Interesting. So as I’m admiring it, I start to read the insert inside the box, as well as the directions on the outside. The instructions say “Flatten the puzzle and begin connecting the branches.” Oh. Okay, guess we’ll do it that way when the girls help on round two of testing.

I decided to show the girls the new puzzle and get their take. I laid it out flat, per the instructions, when the doorbell rang. The local energy company is installing new meters, so I talked to the meter guy before returning back to the kids, who by now had turned into pre-nap gremlins. In that short amount of time that I was at the door, they decided to clear the princess puzzle off of the table. All of the pieces were now under the table. I let them finish the new pieceless puzzle, then sent them for their naps. When they were finally asleep, I reassembled the princess puzzle to make sure all pieces were present and accounted for. Of course, a hole remained in the middle where one lone piece belonged. I searched the floor, the furniture, the other room for no less than five minutes before finally locating that stupid piece. In hindsight, I believe that Ceaco must have put some kind of subliminal message inside their puzzle box to make sure that my kids helped illustrate another advantage of the pieceless puzzle.

Pros/Cons for me: The puzzle we were working on is the mid-level puzzle for ages 8 and up. Assembly for me, like I said, wasn’t the same as a regular jigsaw puzzle. Granted, I was working on a children’s puzzle, so it’s an unfair conclusion until I test one a little more age appropriate. As I explained to DH, it does present that “once you start it, you have to finish it” feeling. I’ve racked my brain but haven’t been able to come up with the exact analogy. This is as close as I can get - my MIL has a throw-blanket that has tassels on the ends that constantly get tangled. While vacationing at her house one time, I remember sitting on the couch watching TV and working on ‘fixing’ all the tangles. She kept telling me it wasn’t important since she was planning on cutting the tassels off, but I insisted. Maybe I’m the only person in the world who would spend time trying to untangle a senseless knot. I’m anxious to try out the “12 and up” version of the puzzle to see if it lends itself more to the feel of a standard puzzle. Luckily, our local Farm & Fleet is having their annual Toy Sale this weekend and I already noticed the Pieceless Puzzles in the ad!

Pros/Cons for the kids: Considering my girls are 4 and 3, I think they fared quite well with an “8 and up” puzzle. I definitely saw advantages for them. Aside from the aforementioned puzzle piece scavenger hunt advantage, I did find a few things noteworthy. First, this puzzle really put their fine motor skills to the test, not to mention their focus. Once they started working on a strand, they stuck with it until it was done, then moved on to others that had fallen into place along the way. Because of the nature of how the puzzle is designed (you find where a strand goes, then work it until it’s completely in place), it forced the kids to stay in their own area of the puzzle. With a traditional puzzle, there’s always that “No, it’s MY piece” issue. I needed to help them a few times by saying things like “Can you find the part that’s this color and looks like a hand with fingers?” I also helped untangle pieces when they would overlap funny. – Things that were only an issue because of their age.

For anyone who travels with kids, this would be great for killing that lull time in a hotel. The puzzle would pack easily and there’s no concern about losing pieces. It’s also double sided so it’s two puzzles in one. There’s also the option of working with a flat puzzle as the directions state or closing the edges off and working with the ‘tangled mess’ in the middle. The two puzzle strategies provide different working conditions and a different overall experience. My only concern is that since the puzzle is cut in a particular way, there is no “mixing up the pieces” to make it different from the time before. If you’re laying it flat, it’s more or less always going to be the same. I think it’s a unique twist on a classic idea and have already recommended it to my daughter’s preschool teacher, as well as my sister-in-law who teaches 3rd grade. I’m planning on picking up another one at Farm & Fleet this weekend!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Learning What : and ) Mean Together

Yesterday was one of those days when I began to feel really old and really stupid. To fully understand it, we need to go back many years…

Shortly after my husband and I met in 1990, we started investing in and selling baseball cards, along with my older brother. We also started up a fantasy football league around the same time. Working on one of the two projects, we were all sitting in my brother’s office one night, chatting on an online service. I don’t recall if it was CompuServe or if it was UseNet or what. I just remember we would type something and then get a response back. It was my first experience with the Internet and it’s interesting to think back about it and feel so inexperienced. Anyway, I remember when one of the messages came back, it had a : and a ) side by side. It’s pretty familiar now, but at the time, it was totally foreign to us. We quickly asked the guy on the other end – “What’s that mean?” He responded “Tilt your head to the left” then typed it again. We all cocked our heads to the left and had an “a-ha” moment. I never realized how natural it would become and how ingrained into society those two characters would end up being.

Then yesterday, while typing an email to a friend (/wave Nyssa), I typed the common : ) without even giving it a thought. My 4-year old walked up, pointed at my monitor and said “Mom, that’s a smile face.” I laughed and said “It sure is, honey!” After she left, I realized that someone had to TELL me how to see the smiley; she just walked up and saw it. As I said… I’m feeling really old and really stupid right now.

Do YOU remember when and how you found out about the smiley?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fast Food Hospitality?

For any company to be truly successful, they need to understand customer service. Usually, the level of customer service you get depends on who you're talking to... and whether they've had a bad day or not. How Red Robin responded to some issues we had (as mentioned in my September post) is an example of good customer service. I am certain no explanation is required for bad customer service.

But customer service and hospitality are not one in the same. In my experiences, while fast food companies typically have excellent policies and training on customer service, they don't usually demonstrate much in the way of hospitality. Today, I learned a valuable lesson about that.

My grandmother is 92 and loves when the kids stop by to play. I called last night and asked if she would mind some company for lunch today and naturally, she welcomed the idea. Since we invited ourselves over for lunch, I decided it would be best if we picked up something on the way. No reason for her to cook for all of us! I know that one of her favorite foods is coleslaw and also that she loves gravy. The only fast food restaurant I could think of that carried both is KFC. Chicken and the fixings it is so KFC is where we stopped.

I checked my stash of coupons and sure enough there was a sheet for KFC. The 8 piece meal came with one large coleslaw and one large mashed potato. That would be more than enough food for us, but not exactly designed to meet the palate of my 3 and 4 year old kids. So I asked "Would it be possible to get two small sides in place of one of the larges?" One of the employees behind the counter confirmed "That's not a problem, you want two small sides instead of two large?" I figured it would make more sense if I painted a picture so I explained "We're bringing lunch to my 92 year old grandma. She loves coleslaw and mashed potatoes and gravy, but there isn't a chance in he*& that these two are going to eat it. I was just hoping to get a small mashed potato and a small…" I totally went brain-dead trying to figure out what their fry-things are called, so as I stumbled the guy said “Mac and cheese? Potato Wedges?” Bingo! “Yeah, either of those the kids would eat.” The guy said he would take care of it and instructed the girl to ring me up.

As I was gathering my bag of goodies, I quickly peeked in and asked “So what did we end up getting?” He smiled and said “Large coleslaw, small mashed potatoes and gravy, small mac and cheese and wedges.” Completely more than I asked for and undoubtedly more than I expected. Now THAT’S a fine example of hospitality. I didn’t know fast food companies had it but I guess I was mistaken. Sometimes it’s great to be wrong. Thanks KFC.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Is the Ice Cream Man Overpriced?

Picture this... You're sitting in the front yard, playing with the sidewalk chalk when your child hears that familiar noise waaayyy off in the distance. If you're a parent, you know exactly what sound it is. Since I don't want music to load on my blog page, I'll just spell it out for anyone who hasn't figured it out yet. The Ice Cream Truck. We sit quietly and listen - patiently trying to determine which direction the sound is coming from and whether it is getting closer.

For us, it's also one of those things that comes with living in the Midwest. When we lived in Los Angeles, we never saw an ice cream truck drive by. There were ice cream merchants pushing hand carts, but they usually didn't operate legally (but I'll not elaborate on that.) The only trucks we saw driving around were the "Roach Coaches" that parked at office buildings and events and sold sandwiches, salads and burritos. When I first moved there, I turned up my nose and couldn't believe how many people would flock to those things when they arrived daily during break. One day, I was talked into trying a polish sausage sandwich... I was sold. I have yet to find one that compares. Although their horn played a musical tune upon arrival each day, it can't compare to the lingering sounds that an ice cream truck sends echoing through the air.

Back to the Ice Cream Man - Once the kids conclude that he's close, they get even more excited. So what do we do? How should we handle this? We could tell the kids "No" but we say that so often anyway. It's nice to every once in a while just give in to impulse for the sheer benefit of making them smile. The cost of a typical popsicle is a few bucks, equivalent to an entire box on sale at the grocery store. On the other hand, I can buy each of our kids their choice from the ice cream truck for less than it costs to buy myself one iced mocha. Sure, we have identical popsicles in the freezer, but it's just not the same. They get so thrilled, jumping up and down and waving as the truck gets closer. DH and I conveniently ignore the cost of what we're buying because that anticipation until the ice cream truck actually turns on our street is priceless.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

How to Save Money on Bloodwork

With the upcoming election, the issue of health care is constantly making headlines. It is a problem, there is no doubt about that. Corporations are starting to charge employees more if they are overweight, smoke or have other health issues. It is a topic that has been buzzing around for a while now and was finally explained well in a recent Tribune Article. For those with limited or no insurance coverage, a little creativity is in order...

For several years, I have needed to monitor what is covered (or should I say not covered) by my health insurance. It has forced me to ask more questions about what kinds of tests, bloodwork, screenings are done and why. The result has been positive in that I've become a lot more educated about my own health, as well as that of the rest of my family.

About a year ago, my husband mentioned an article about how the Internet has opened the door to direct access to laboratories. When I had an upcoming exam, I researched whether this was an option for me but unfortunately, there weren't any local labs participating. When it came time for DH to have some bloodwork done, I checked again and was thrilled to see that there was now a lab to do this at. From what I understand, by providing a payment up-front, the labs are willing to offer a deeply discounted price. When we lived in Los Angeles, doctor's offices often offered a deep discount, as well. I guess labs and doctor's offices don't like dealing with insurance companies any more than the rest of us do!

So how does it work? Log on to any number of the direct access websites such as
Direct Laboratory Services (my personal favorite), HealthCheckUSA or LabSafe. Browse the different tests available to find the one appropriate for your needs, then purchase the labwork online. Like I said, you become more aware of your own health situation because it creates a dialogue with the doctor to determine what test(s) you'll need. Since every lab names their panels differently, you actually have to ask WHAT you'll need, specifically. As an example, it's not just a test for thyroid, it's one or any combination of the following: T-3 Uptake, T4, T7, TSH, Free T3, T4-Free and Reverse T3. Eventually, you learn why the doctor is checking one and not another and what the purpose of each is.

After you order you labwork online, you go to their designated laboratory like you normally would. When you're done, the test results are sent directly to the doctor of your choice, just as would happen if you went through the normal route for bloodwork.

In the end, not only do you pay less, but you become a more informed patient!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

An unforseen value of being thrifty

DH and I are not lavish people. While we fall prey to our collections and sometimes spend frivolously on those, we aren't compulsive shoppers. We're actually very conservative with our spending.

In the early days of eBay (when it was still in Beta until shortly after it went public), we would shop yard/garage sales for items to resell on eBay. We both had full time jobs, it was a hobby for us, not a business and we only did it when we felt like it. When the rest of the world starting doing it, it wasn't fun any more and we found other things to focus on.

I still hit the sales on occasion, but find myself refocused. I used to walk straight to the trinkets and collectable stuff, now I hunt almost exclusively for kids' clothes, shoes and books. Books for a quarter are great, but a Gymboree outfit for $5 is the best. Since the kids are usually with me when I stop, they know that a short visit to a yard sale will typically net them at least one 'new' book.

Today, on the way to drop my three year old off at preschool, I received the ultimate bargain-hunter bonus. She said "Mom, I want to stop at a yard sale first." It's Tuesday, we're a few days away from finding a garage sale, but I hit the jackpot... knowing that my kids are open to the idea of one man's trash is a new treasure for us.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Every 'mom' quote rolled into one song

My mother-in-law has become quite the YouTube junkie. I think it's hilarious... but it's actually pretty cool. She sent me a video today that had me laughing. It's one of those things that all moms can relate to. Although my kids aren't old enough for me to say most of this yet, several hit really close to home. As an added bonus, I watched it with my mom and caught her giggling too. Hope you enjoy it!