Friday, August 27, 2010

The No Dining Out Challenge

In the month of July, I was lazy.

Well, to be fair, I was busy. And lazy.

You see, when things got crazy at work or at home with kids activities, I'd forget about creating a menu for the week and sticking to it. If I didn't feel like making something for dinner, I'd tell The Husband to order some pizza or we'd go out for 'cheap Mexican'. Which really isn't that cheap, but at about $40 to feed the 5 of us, it's cheaper than our usual restaurant that can run almost twice that amount.

I pulled my 'I don't feel like cooking' routine so much in July that we spent six hundred dollars on restaurants.

Six hundred freaking dollars. When I was analyzing my spending for the month I thought it had to be a mistake. But it wasn't. It really was that bad. Six hundred dollars!

After I got done puking my guts out in disgust, I told The Husband that we were not resorting to takeout or restaurant food at all in the month of August. The only exception to this would be when we went to the state fair. Of course we'd eat there. And TH and I would be allowed the occasional lunches out while we're working. (Our normal lunch spending wasn't included in July's $600 anyway.)

So here it is. August 27th. We have four days left in the month and have stuck with the challenge. We haven't had takeout pizza or Chinese. We haven't gone out for dinner even once.

And you know what? There's money left over in the checking account. Amazing.

It has been an interesting test. Most days I've made the dinner I planned for, even if I had to force myself to do it, while my mind was screaming "I don't wanna!" like an overtired three-year-old. Remembering that $600 usually motivated me enough to get up off the couch to start dinner. In my mind, I visualized the money, displayed in a neat accounting ledger, in bright red ink with brackets around it to indicate that it's money spent, not money earned.

You know, like this:


ACK! That's horrible.

Last night I was tired from all the running (football practice, a cross country meet, and a cheer-leading clinic all in one evening after a 4:30 a.m. start and a long work day) and not hungry at all, so The Husband threw some burgers on the grill. Easy stuff.

So we're going to complete this challenge. September is only a few days away. I do miss having a nice family dinner out at a restaurant. I think in the future we'll limit dining out or ordering takeout to once every other week. Unless there's some kind of occasion to celebrate, that is.

So tell me, how are you finding ways to cut back and stretch your money a little bit further?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Words of Wisdom

I like to go back and look at old blog posts. Mostly because my memory is stinky and it reminds me of cute/funny/sad things that happened with the kids.

I was reading a post from a couple of years ago about how Hollywood did something that made me reflect on how difficult parenting is. I can't even remember what it was that she did to earn a two week super grounding, my memory is that bad. As I was reading the post, I clicked through to the comments section. My mom wrote this comment in response:

It is said that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. All kids need the space to exercise bad judgment, hopefully in small matters, so they can gain the experience they need to have good judgment. And all you can do at those points is love them through and keep on swimming.

Your grandmother used to say that when your children are little, they will step on your toes, and when they are bigger, they will step on your heart. I believe that the greatest gift a parent can give a child—and I think only the parents can really give this gift whole, is the bedrock belief deep within a child that she is loved. Standing on that foundation, she can experiment, make mistakes, and gain experience. Everything else is secondary to that foundation, and naturally flows from that love.

So keep on swimming, and love her through. She’s going to be almost as fantastic a human being as her mother by the time you get done with her—which, by the way, will be never.
I've read this comment over and over again. It's so true. Every word. Parenting is tough, yes. But I've been given a pretty solid advantage by being raised by someone with that amount of wisdom, don't you think?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cancer Chronicles - Update

I haven't given an update on my step-mom lately. For the past several weeks, the status quo has been to talk with her and Dad about once a week and to text throughout the week.

Through most of the summer she's been holding steady, and her outlook has been sunny and cheerful. When I talked with her the other night, it became obvious that things are becoming more difficult for her.

Her voice is much lighter now, and raspy. Her speech is interrupted with coughing. It's the kind of coughing that sounds incomplete. You know when you have bronchitis and you feel the urge to cough? You know that if you can bring yourself to plow through the deep pain in your chest caused by the cough, you would be able to expel a mouthful of goo, but it would be worth it because you could spit it out and get it out of you.

But then remember having that cough and needing to suppress it so that you could talk, or watch TV, or sit quietly somewhere? That's what she was doing. Her body felt the need to cough, but she was trying to suppress it, whether from fear of pain or because she didn't want to go into a coughing spell that would go on and on, I'm not sure.

All of this talk of coughing might not make sense, but when she was talking to me, I found it hard not to think of those tumors pressing on her windpipe. The ones in her lungs, making it hard for her to breathe.

MJ is the curious type. She decided that she wanted to see how much pain she would be having if she wasn't on the morphine. (She's on continual morphine and additional pain meds now.) She told me that once the pain wore off, her back hurt worse than any pain she'd ever felt. She said it was very stupid of her to test that out. But I get her. I totally do; I'd want to know the same thing. The tumor on her left kidney is the size of a football and that's where her pain is located.

I have no idea how much time she has left, but something in her has changed. She used to laugh all the time; sometimes as a nervous reaction, but often because she has always taken notice of the irony and humor in life. She told me that she watches TV - anything on TV - that makes her laugh. She wants to forget her troubles and smile for a while. And who can blame her?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Iowa State Fair Picture Journal

I love our state fair.

The sights! (Where else can you see a Dr Seuss scene sculpted out of butter?)
*photo of the Seuss butter sculpture:
Butter Dr Seuss

The sounds! (We sat and listened to the singers at the talent show for a long time!)
*photo of a young man playing his harmonica:
talent show contestant

The smells! (Yes, that really is an enormous bull's ass. The cattle barn smelled just like you can imagine it would.)
*photo of the giant bull:
world super bull

The tastes! (Mmmmmm, corn dogs!)
*photo of Bumblebee and The Boy eating corn dogs:
Corn dogs state fair

But my absolute favorite part of the fair is the people watching.

I could sit on a bench for the entire day and do nothing but watch mullet-sporting folks stroll on by with their kid leashes and fanny packs. And the fashionistas -I love watching them too. Cowboy boots paired with flirty little sundresses was a theme this year. It looked cute.

While I'm people watching at the fair, I like to make up stories about the strangers I'm gawking at.

Take this crowd picture, for example:
*photo of a giant crowd of people from the fair:
Iowans at the fair

I'm actually disappointed because I don't think there's a mullet in this entire crowd of people.

I like to scan the crowd and focus in on a couple and decide what their story is. This little girl with her gumball t-shirt and her sunglasses is adorable. Seriously. I want to squish her, she's so cute. It looks like she sees something up in the sky and is asking her dad about it:
*photo of the girl and her dad:
Iowans at the fair-2

"Hey Daddy. Daddy! Look! There's a balloon in the sky! Can I get one? Please??"

"Sorry, sweetie. Not now. Daddy's not feeling well. Perhaps it's because my camera strap is acting like a tourniquet around my neck and armpit. Maybe later. After we get another corn dog."

Or, let's look at this group, shall we?
*photo of another group:
Iowans at the fair-3

Lady in blue: "My goodness, Mary Beth. That's Norma Godfrey over there. See her? Tsk, tsk. I haven't seen her since she showed up in at the bridge club couples party with that young man half her age. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk."

Lady in peach: "Now Frank, I want you to bring me a beer from the bud tent. I'll stand RIGHT HERE while you go get it for me. Chop, chop."
*photo of two girls in the crowd:
Iowans at the fair-4

Girl in black: "Oh my GAWD, Ashley, what is with that guy's hat?"
Girl in green: "My dad has a hat like that. My mom won't let him wear it in public."
GiB: "Well is your dad eighty bazillion years old like this guy?"
GiG: "No, but he dresses like he is. You should see the hawaiian shirt he has. Instead of flowers it has fish all over it. Grownups are redonk."
GiB: "I know, right?"

*photo of an exhausted looking woman on a bench at the fair:
Iowans at the fair-5

I don't even have to make up a story for this lady. She's wiped out. Too much fair food and walking all over the place will do that to you.

It was a great year for the fair - we never miss it. Here are some random photos of us enjoying our day:

State Fair sky glider

Honey Lemonade!

DSCN4042 (3)

Face paint at the fair

Face Paint Fair

state fair kids only

DSCN4041 (2)

How tall?

Big Slide - state fair

Giant slide - state fair

Now that the fair is over, it's back to school for the kids this week. I'll post pictures of that soon. It's hard to believe that this summer has come to an end.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Talent Show

Can you guess what's captured Bumblebee's interest so fully?
*photo of Bumblebee sitting on a bench watching something:
Vali watching talent show

Why, it's a harmonica and keyboard playing kid in a talent contest at the state fair!
*photo of random contestant:
talent show contestant

I took the kids to the state fair today. We sat and watched the talent show for quite a while. But then the rest of the sights were calling us. The food. The people watching. A cow made out of butter. A giant slide. Dirty feet. And most of all, fun. I'll post pictures soon, but first I'm going to take a nap. The fair is exhausting!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Junior Pictures?

Hollywood is going to be a junior this year. I decided that instead of paying a ginormous amount of money on senior pictures next year, I'll buy myself a new camera and take them myself.

But I want to do it right. So I've been researching and practicing and trying new things with my brother's camera. He has a nice one that he loaned to me for a while. Hollywood and I went out to the lake tonight for some pictures. Not all of them were good. Some were bad, and I had to experiment with lighting and posing and background, etc. I'm also playing around with photoshop and editing. Some of these pictures are a bit heavy-handed but like I said, they're experiments.

Here are a few. There are more on my flickr photostream, which you can click to over on the right side of the blog.


*photos of Hollywood:
tire swing

silver wall

blue wall

over the shoulder

Water scene

Soft smile

Big laugh


White flowers

I have so many ideas. I want to take pictures by my mom's barn, in a cornfield, with her guitar, by this really cool railroad tie bridge near our house, etc. I'll keep working at it, and by the time she's really a senior, I might have it down.

So tell me, what's your favorite photo in this group?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why does Summer have to end?

Have I mentioned how much I love Summer?

Days like today. Soft, puffy clouds. Bright blue sky. Electric green grass.
*photo of the back yard on a beautiful day:
August Day

We spent today doing very important things.

Bumblebee learned to ride her bike without training wheels. We started on a hill in the grass, and then moved to the driveway where she took off without much help. By the end of the day, she was able to ride around the neighborhood with me! She only fell once, and it was down into a mud puddle, but she wasn't hurt.

Earlier today, we went to the beach where there was some serious work to be done:
*photo of Hollywood, Bumblebee, and H's boyfriend making a sand castle:
Sand at the beach

It took them a LONG time...
*photo of Hollywood, her beau, and Bumblebee:
Day at the beach

But the finished product was pretty cool:
*photo of them with the sand castle:
Sand Castle

That adorable boy with the nice tan and the curly blonde hair is Hollywood's boyfriend. She has good taste, don't you think? He's not just adorable, though. He's a really great kid too.

Later in the day, we goofed around in the yard. Reggie was handing out kisses, as usual:
*photo of Reggie giving Bumblebee a kiss:
puppy kisses

The Boy dutifully posed for some pictures for me. It frightens me how quickly he is growing up:
*photo of The Boy:
Someone's growing up too quickly...

This is what I say to my kids growing up and Summer passing too quickly:
*photo of Bumblebee sticking out her tongue:
That looks like it hurts.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How we celebrated Bumblebee's birthday

We had a nice day on Friday. Bumblebee woke up before the sun to a table full of presents:
*photo of Bumblebee with her presents:
Vali presents

We made her wait for a bit to open them. She enjoyed this lamp. I ironed on a peace decal made out of shiny 'gemstones'. She loved it:
*photo of Bumblebee holding her lamp:
She loved her lamp w/ a peace sign.

After a breakfast of pancakes (with extra syrup), Hollywood, Bumblebee and I were off on a girl's day.

First stop: Pedicures!
*photo of Hollywood and Bumblebee in the pedicure chairs:

I didn't get an appointment, so we went to a walk in nail salon and it was questionable. One of the nail techs (is that what they're called?) had her little boy in there and he was watching a shockingly violent movie. It was making me uncomfortable to have Bumblebee there with that movie on, but she was engrossed in her massage chair and the pedicure, and paid little attention to the movie.

The outcome of the pedicures was great, though. Don't our toes look pretty?
*photo of our feet with the pretty toenails:

The boys met us for lunch at Applebees, Bumblebee's favorite restaurant:
*photo of the fam at Applebees:

Here's the birthday girl with me:


After lunch, we went back on our girl's adventure. We went to Target - the best store in the universe! We were there just to kill some time before a movie and walked out of there with way more than we ever needed. Which, of course, is exactly Target's business plan.
*photo of the girls outside of Target:

After Target, we went to the movie "Ramona and Beezus".
*photo of Bumblebee sitting in the movie theater:
Movie theater

The movie was so sweet. Hollywood and I cried. A lot. We're not sure why; it wasn't sad. But we're wusses. I'm glad that I'm not alone.

Later in the day, I made dinner. Bumblebee's meal selection? Sausage egg bake. You know, that breakfast casserole that everyone makes? Weird choice, but it was tasty.

Then Grandma and Larry came to visit. They brought more presents, of course:
*photo of Grandma, Larry, and Bumblebee:
Grandma and Larry

After that it was time for cake.

Mmm... cake. For years I have enjoyed decorating cakes for Bumblebee. This year she didn't want a decorated cake. She wanted a 'delicious' cake instead. This is what she requested:
*photo of a pineapple upside down cake:
Birthday cake

It was as ooey and gooey as it looks.
*photo of Bumblebee with the cake and lit candles:
Birthday cake

Make a wish!
*photo of Bumblebee blowing out the candles:
make a wish!

I think she got them!
*photo of the candles blown out:
got 'em!

It was a busy day, and we were all pretty sleepy at the end of it. Bumblebee and The Boy hung out on the couch with her new hand held video game console. She was happy that The Boy was teaching her some tricks of the trade:
*photo of The Boy and Bumblebee snuggling together on the couch:

If you count through the photos, you can see that Bumblebee had on five different outfits (including her pajamas). No wonder I'm always doing laundry!

She had a wonderful seventh birthday, but it sure is hard to believe how fast my kids are growing up.