Tuesday, September 24, 2013

September Shopping Challenge - The Final Countdown

So September is about to wrap up, and some of you may wonder how my September Shopping Challenge went.

It went about 75% good. Or 25% bad if you're a glass-half-empty kinda guy.

Most weeks I stayed away from the shops except on Fridays. One week (last week) I did not. Considering September only has four weeks, that meant I really only did three-quarters of a good job.

Last week was terrible. Well, okay, not terrible. "Terrible" would be scandalous shopping til dropping, throwing money in the air, spending out of control. That didn't happen. But I did hit the shops like four days last week. Considering a week only has seven days, and only one day was allowed, that meant I did 50% bad. Or 50% good if you're a glass-half-full kinda guy.

It started with a trip to the mall last Friday - surprise surprise! An oversized building full of overpriced items actually caused me to overspend! I went because I wanted to hit Old Navy to find a dress for the October Dress Project, but got lulled into Claire's (which is so much more pricey here than in the UK!) and then I got stopped by one of those pushy salespeople running a kiosk. And then, the worst thing happened: I liked his product. Like, a freaking lot. And he kept going down in price for me until I buckled and, well, bought it. Epic Fail, but my kids love their new curling iron that actually keeps curl in their hair for days.

Pretty, Expensive or Pretty Expensive Curls

That was Friday. Technically speaking it was allowed. And I did find my dress (which shall henceforth be known as The Dress, because come a week from today, you'll be seeing a lot of this baby), which was a win.

Behold The Dress O' Stripes

But after that, I ended up at Walmart several more times last week, because last week was the true kick-start of my new Pampered Chef business. (Exclamation points! Yay!) I had my first Cooking Show last Wednesday, hosted by myself at my home as my Grand Opening, and I needed so many things last week. Expensive things like a printer and ink.  Technically all expenses came out of my business, but considering as of this moment, I have not actually made any money to go INTO the business, there's no real money to spend OUT of my business. That's how start up costs work, of course, but it does make for a couple of rough weeks before the income starts incoming.

Excited New Consultant Face
(Before I run off back on the Shopping Challenge thing, let me just say I LOVE my new business. I mean, I LOVE it. I have always thought of doing this, selling Pampered Chef, but the time was never right. Now, somehow, in this new world where I don't know anyone - an unlikely starting place - I know this IS the right time, and I am loving it. What could be more fun in a job than helping throw parties and getting to show off products that I personally love and believe in and getting to eat delicious food? This is what I get PAID for! I am so happy right now, I can't wait to see what this business has in store for me!)

Soooo, back to my fail of a week, I'm back on even keel now with my last week to go. It will probably prove to be a little difficult too, as I have four more Pampered Chef Cooking Shows before the end of the month, which may require another trip to the supermarket or the office supply, and also my WONDERFUL MOTHER-IN-LAW ARRIVES ON THURSDAY!!!! which might mean I need to get some extra vittles and whatnot before she arrives. But all in all, my thoughts on the September Shopping Challenge?

It was so good.

It was not that hard.

I saved so much money, even though I had fail days.

If I could avoid fail days, I could save even MORE money.

Yes, I am all about the Shopping Challenge and have decided it doesn't stop in October. While I won't have stringent guidelines to stick to (which didn't always work anyway), I am going to continue avoiding supermarkets, drive thrus, Amazon.com and stores during the week on through October too. I want to see how good this Shopping Challenge can be. I've already gotten so much better at shopping by my list, but I know I can get better. It's become a personal challenge to me. Can I resist that Dr Pepper at the check out? (Sometimes.) Can I resist walking through the clothing section? (Often.) Can I resist those Pop Tarts? (As long as it's not that time of the month.) Can I convince Lolly to stop asking for everything she sees with Dora on it? (No, but I can ignore her. At least until my brain explodes.)

Let the challenge continue! Hey, Mister Christmas Shopping, you better watch your back!

What I imagine Mister Christmas Shopping to look like.  Not really, I just wanted to post my cute cupcake.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Most Depressing Anniversary Post Ever, For Which I Apologize

When I was newly engaged, I had these couple-friends who had been married for five years. I remember thinking five years was so long. In fact, for Valentine's that year, we had actually tried to organize a Newlyweds Game, but it never came to anything. I was kind of glad too, because I thought people who'd been married for five years were totally not newlyweds.

And I was also glad it never happened, because Scott was in Scotland, and so we wouldn't have gotten to play.

Then before I knew it, WE had been married for five years. We had two children by then, but I by then I kind of realized 'Whoa, five years is NOT a long time.'

It's been four more years since then, and in those four years, I've seen so many marriages fall apart or crack up, and so many marriages stick together, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

And that's where I got really stumped. How can marriages that stick together actually be a bad thing? Surely anyone who stays in a marriage through the bad stuff is doing a really great job?

Oh, the innocence of being raised in a totally Christian home where 'bad' stuff in marriage is like, disagreeing about stuff. Things like abuse and adultery seemed like things that happen only every once in a while.

My, what I have learned in the past several years...

But this post is not about that. Not really. Well, actually maybe it is, but not for another few paragraphs.

This week, on Wednesday, Scott and I celebrated our nine-year-anniversary. We are just getting re-established here in America, so going out on a fancy anniversary weekend just wasn't on the cards. So on the night of our anniversary, I hosted a Pampered Chef party, and Scott played ping-pong with the neighbors.

Romantic, isn't it?

That's not to say the romance is gone though; not even at all. In fact, I started writing several posts several times this week about how happy Scott and I are even to this day, and how much I love him more now than I ever loved him before and how he still makes me feel safe and secure and beautiful... but something kept stopping me.

I realized it was something like sensitivity.

You see, there are a lot of posts out there by people who love and love and love their spouses, and that's awesome! Because there are a lot out there about how people DON'T love their spouses any more and about how marriage is a failing institution, and all that. There is a lot of negativity about marriage, so yay for the people who speak out about its successes!

But you see, I know too many people who are currently going through NOT so good marriages, and I suddenly felt that bragging about mine might come across as insensitive. Maybe not, maybe it would be an encouragement to someone. But I couldn't help feeling like it wasn't the right thing to do, not right now.

I might be wrong. Maybe I need to add to that collection of Happy Marriage Web Literature, because I certainly am happy, even if working and playing ping-pong on our anniversary night doesn't imply it. It's just that, I've learned that marriage isn't what I thought it was when I was young and naive.

It's not something everyone can stay in.

It's not something everyone SHOULD stay in.

I struggled with this so much from a religious standpoint... after all the Bible says DON'T GET DIVORCED so DON'T GET DIVORCED, right? But when you start to see marriages in real life, ones that are broken from deep down in the inside, how can a strict one-size-fits-all rule apply?

I think that can be answered religiously too. We are in a fallen world that has broken something that was intended to be good. The Gold Standard of 'Til Death Do Us Part' has been tarnished by just how fallen this world is. Physical and emotional abuse, manipulation, cheating - the big ones - and certainly 'smaller' things that are harder to put your finger on, can scratch and tear from the outside or can eat away from the inside something that is supposed to be good and beautiful and can destroy it beyond repair. That's the reality of it. The sad, painful, non-churchy reality of it.

Scott and I say the only reason we are still in love is because of a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. We still have a long way to go. Nine years, though it's actually longer than a lot of relationships last, isn't a very long time. We have a lot more work ahead of us, and need a lot more luck to go along with it. I can tell you how much we love each other and enjoy each other and laugh together, and it would all be true. Yet it would be glossing over the fact that it has taken - and will continue to take - a lot of self-sacrifice, a lot of tears, a lot of giving up of our own wants, and a lot of self-reflection to get us where we currently are. We have to work at this love thing... and we are lucky that we still click, and that we don't have any psychological issues that could come between us, like violence or depression.

I recognize this is probably a real downer of a 'Happy Anniversary, Honey!' post. I just feel like it should be said that sometimes life doesn't work out the way you plan. You can put in all the hard work, but sometimes, what's missing is luck. And that's not your fault. I know this isn't the 'right' answer, but in my heart, I think it needs to be acknowledged.


(But since I'd be remiss if I didn't say SOMETHING to build my good man up, I'll end with a positive note - Scott, you are still my world, my rock, my best friend, my handsome stud and an incredible pain in the ass. Here's to a gazillion more years, darling! I love you.)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Because 'Fitba Maw' Doesn't Have the Same Ring To It

I like to imagine myself as a pretty hip mum; you know, red hair, nose ring, tattoos. But since moving to America, I am quickly and frighteningly turning into a total....



I mean, dudes, I drive a freaking MINI-VAN. It even has a plate on the front that SAYS 'Soccer Mom'. Yes, it's tongue-in-cheek, but is it? And my kids actually DO play soccer, so it's kind of official. I even got called a soccer mom at Fifi's Girl Scouts meeting. Yeah, because my daughter is in Girl Scouts too. What else could I possibly do to be even more Soccer Mom-y?

(I don't know, maybe start selling Pampered Chef as an Independent Consultant, and post the link for you to follow?)

(Like how I did that, there?)

Well, today was my little girlies' first soccer games.

Lolly's team kicked the other team's butts, while Fifi's team got their butts kicked. But it was all in good fun.

Lolly's team, the Lil Red Banans, played great. They may be a bunch of four year olds, but there are seriously some good players on her team. Lolly is more interested in just running around and helping up the kids who have gotten knocked over, than actually scoring a goal, but she played well. She even got in a few really good tackles and set up some nice goals.

And it was fun shouting, 'Go Bananas!!' the whole time.

Fifi's team was at a slight disadvantage. Being in the U8 division, her team somehow ended up being all 6 and 7 year olds, and they played against a team of all 8 year olds. And that team just happens to also be the team with a drill sergeant coach who works those girls as if they were playing for the Women's Internationals. Our coach is doing a good job, but he coaches like he's coaching, well, a girls' U8 team.

Regardless, Fifi's team tried hard, and Fifi even scored a goal and showed some real promise as a keeper.

Most importantly, those girls had fun today. We treated them afterwards to lunch at The Mean Pig. (September Shopping Challenge aside, as I planned this meal into our budget.)

Being a Soccer Mom (or 'Soccer Mum' with a faux English accent, as I prefer to call myself) isn't so bad when you see your kids learning a new skill, getting some exercise AND having a blast all at the same time. And besides, it could be worse; they could be playing AMERICAN FOOTBALL. Hashtag Shudder.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Christians: How To Turn Away Seekers In Eight Easy Steps!

Okay, so this totally deserves a preface. This was written during a pretty dark time in my life not too long ago. It's been sitting in my unpublished folder for some time now. I wanted to wait until the right time to post it, when I knew I wasn't doing it out of malice or bitterness. I'm posting it now though, because, all snark aside, it's totally true.

Christians: How To Turn Away Seekers In Eight Easy Steps!

8. Keep digging in your heels.
Never change your stance or concede a point. No matter how good the counter-argument, never give an inch, never accept the other side's view as possibly valid. You wouldn't want to appear shifty, now would you?

7. Ignore reason.
Repeat after me: Reason is the opposite of faith. Faith and logic are not to be reconciled! If you try to reconcile, say, science, with faith, you obviously don't have real faith. They are mutually exclusive.

6. Try to be relevant.
If you don't have to try to be relevant, you aren't trying hard enough! Relevance doesn't come naturally.

5. Judge lest you be judged first.
Keep a steady lookout for people who are bigger sinners than you, and judge harshly! That way, should someone notice you are a sinner too, you can distract them with how much sinnier the sinfuller guy is.

4. Talk the talk.
Every good group has it's special inside words and phrases, and having your own special language helps define you as an exclusive group. The more exclusive the language, the less anyone knows what you're talking about. Clanging cymbals and resounding gongs. (You know what I'm talking about.)

3. Always have an answer.
And may that answer never be 'I don't know'! To admit you aren't sure about something regarding your faith is a sign of weakness. So even if you don't know the answer, make up one, and make it sound good. But never - I repeat never - admit to not knowing.

2. Cushion all conversation in spiritual terms.
Whether discussing football, family life or even the weather, keep it Christian. Phrases like Lord willing, Praise the Lord!, Amen, brother, and Preach it! thrown in willy-nilly help identify your faith to the world, and make you sound seriously holy. You want everyone to know what you believe, and that you believe everything has everything to do with everything you believe.

And finally...

1. Hide your hypocrisy.
This is the toughest one but yields the highest results. By keeping your hypocrisy a secret, there's a risk no one will find out about it. But the pay-off is when it is discovered, and everyone realises you've been hiding it! It's effective enough that it's worth the risk.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Forgive Me, Internet, For I Have Sinned: September Shopping Challenge Confession

So how has the September Shopping Challenge been going for all of you? Anyone still doing it?

This week has had a few bumps, but in general, nothing to be horribly ashamed of.

I did my shopping on Friday, as I said. But on Saturday, I ran out of dishwashing detergent. I had a $5 off coupon for Dollar General, so I headed back into the store, feeling very guilty-slash-giddy. The kicker for the coupon is I had to spend $30 to get the $5 off. Tricky, eh? So I decided to get things I'd need anyway eventually to make it worth the $25 I'd have to spend in the end. I bought my dishwashing detergent, some breakfast cereal, some canned goods, and then... a $5 lamp shade. Well, I just got a bed and a new room, and I had a lamp with no shade! So sue me! I also bought 3 $2 picture frames for the mantle. I know, it wasn't necessary, and I felt guilty about buying them, but I'm not sad now when I look at my three kids all framed and sweet looking above my fireplace!

Sunday, after church, Fifi asked if we could get Shipley's Donuts. This was starting to become our little Sunday after-church treat, but I was strong and said 'Not this week.' (Or any other week this month.) We had to make an exchange at Walmart, and I did it without purchasing any other item. We came home and had homemade lunch like good boys and girls. No money spent.

Monday and Tuesday went by without a penny spent. Then came Wednesday, and I was cooking dinner for my dad and step-mum. I was using a fabulous Greek burgers recipe given to me by the lovely Judith (my bento partner in crime), and I realized I was short several key ingredients. With a sigh, I finished up what I could in preparation, and hauled the kids down to the grocery store again. I went with a list of six ingredients: a lemon, a cucumber, Greek salad dressing, oregano, cream cheese and Cool Whip. (The latter two were for the impromptu cheesecake I'd decided to make for dessert about three and a half minutes before leaving the house.) I came home with this:

The only extras I bought were an oil pourer and a glass jar. The oil pourer (if that's even what it's called) has been on my mental list for ages. When we moved into our new house, I bought lots of cupboard items to get us started, including a mammoth-sized metal container of olive oil. It was cheaper by the fluid ounce, you see. However, it's impossible to use. I've been avoiding using anything calling for olive oil since I bought it. So spending the extra $1.59 on the oil pourer seemed reasonable. The glass jar was for my icing sugar (powdered sugar, whatever). I keep all my dry ingredients in glass jars to keep them sealed and tidy in the cupboards and the giant 2lb bag of icing sugar lying in front of my other jars was driving me bonkers. So, no, it wasn't really totally necessary, but again, I don't feel guilty when I open my baking cupboard and see my icing sugar jar resting neatly beside the brown sugar and the cocoa powder jars. It actually makes me want to sing.

One day my glass jar collection will be complete.

So that was Wednesday. And by the way, the Greek dinner was delicious.

Today is Thursday. One more day until shopping day again. I was doing well today. I even had to run some errands in town right before lunch time, and I successfully passed McDonald's (milkshakes!) and Taco Bell (tacos!) without stopping. It wasn't until right before I went to pick up Fifi that I noticed on the calendar that tonight was my night to bring snacks to soccer practice.


I had nothing at all snack-worthy for four year olds ('Here, kids, who wants a leftover Greek burger!'), so sadly, with head hung low, I drove back into town.

I could have just bought boring old boring gummy snacks or Cheez-its packets, but the thought occurred to me: 'This is their last practice before their first game!' I wanted to do something extra special, so I went to Kroger and picked out some cupcakes. Kroger has lots of cupcakes covered in E numbers and various themed plastic rings; I was sure to find soccer balls. Well, they didn't have any soccer balls. I was just choosing between Wreck-It Ralph and Dora the Explorer when the bakery assistant asked if I needed any help. I put on a disappointed face and said in a pathetic voice that I was really hoping to find some soccer balls, but alas, there are none. Customer service being kick-A in America, she immediately offered to give me twelve soccer rings from the back to replace whichever other cupcakes I chose. So I left Kroger $8 poorer but with red-icinged, chocolate cupcakes and soccer rings.

Then about an hour later, soccer practice got cancelled due to the rain.

So I took the soccer balls off the cupcakes to use another day, and we ate the cupcakes for dessert.

Happy shopping day to me tomorrow! (Let me just first lick the rest of this red icing off my fingers before they are permanently stained the color of a fire hydrant.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11: Is There Any Good Left in the World?

I don't watch the news.  First, because I don't have television access, but also because I find the news depressing.  Aside from a once in a while little 'feel good' slot about a puppy who rescues a family from fire, it's all just doom and gloom:  murders, wars, economic collapse, corruption.

I half think maybe I'm just burying my head in the sand.  Maybe I don't want to face what is happening in the world, and avoiding the  news helps me avoid the truth.  I also think I'm protecting myself from the negativity in the world and surrounding myself with positive experiences and thoughts instead.  I'm not sure which is true; maybe both are. 

I feel guilty for not knowing what is going on all the time. I feel guilty for learning about current events via friends' posts on Facebook.  I feel guilty for not knowing.

But when I do take the time to read up on things, I feel guilty that I'm not involved or active. I feel guilty that I can't do anything to help.  I feel guilty when I don't feel guilty enough.  When everyone is talking about the horrors happening in other places, I feel guilty for not feeling so stirred up emotionally that I go into action.  Then I feel cynical towards all the people who I perceive to be just paying lip service, when they also are not doing anything about the terrible things they are so supposedly passionate about.  Then I feel guily all over again for judging them.

Today, however, there is just something I can't avoid thinking about or mentioning.

As everyone in the world knows, today marks yet another anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Never will I forget the moment I turned on my TV in my college dorm room and watched in horror as those planes flew into the World Trade Center.  I'll never forget the worry I felt for my friends then living in NYC, and the fear I felt for the rest of the country, and the pain I witnessed in the tears of my Muslim friends who were just as horrified, if not even more so, at what was happening.

Every year since, the horrors have increased. It wasn't just what happened that day that still affects me; the aftermath has been a long twelve years of even more sadness. Two of my friends have lost brothers to the war.  I prayed and worried over my cousin for the two years he was fighting.  The whole world has been a different place because of what happened that day.  It's something I can't avoid thinking about, especially on this day, every year.

I have nothing impressive to say about it. I have nothing thought-provoking to add to the millions of thoughts already out there, most of which are far more intelligent and knowledgeable than anything I could conceive of (and some of it a lot less).  I just feel that it ought to be mentioned, and remembered.  I'm not just sad for the USA; I am sad for the whole world.  I am sad for the Muslim people who do not want this fight.  I am sad for the innocent people who have died or been permanently injured.  I am sad for the families on both sides of the war who have dealt with loss and grief.  I am sad for the world our children have to grow up in, one that has been full of conflict and hatred for as long as they have been alive.  I am sad that the gap between the West and the East has deepened and widened so far that reconciliation seems an idealistic fantasy.

There are so many sad things happening in the world that I cannot control.  So much grief, pain, anger, hatred, and helplessness.  So much that I can't face.

But there is so much good too.

The good always gets overlooked because it seems to weigh in so much lighter on the scale of Good and Evil, not worthy of the six o' clock news.  Still the good is there just the same, humbly existing in its simplicity and unobtrusiveness. 

In honour of all the people who have lost their lives trying to make the world a better place, not a guiltier, sadder one, I want to take a few moments to reflect on some of the good in the world.  Even while the bad is always hovering on the flip side, desperately trying to overshadow it, the good is still firmly there, and it is what keeps us all going day after day.

Let's remember that:

People donate their precious spare time to people with special needs, often times for free.

Parents listen to their kids talk, read them books, and play noisy games with them, just to show they care.

Friends help friends out.

Organizations work hard to raise money for important causes.  Some of those organizations are even honest.

People do both big and small things to help the environment.

Libraries still exist.

Sometimes, people love their enemies.

People forgive people who have hurt them.

Families celebrate births and birthdays.

People who need jobs get hired.

Children are adopted, and foster children are placed in loving homes.

People experiencing tragedy meet others in the same situation and make a connection.

Alcoholics and addicts get clean.

Some churches still show grace and acceptance and love.

Some non-religious organizations still show grace and acceptance and love.

People laugh.

Friendships are formed.

Kids feel proud of their achievements.

Adults feel proud of their achievements.

Public and private grants and scholarships make impossible things possible.

Companies act ethically.

People are generous.

Vulnerable people get protection.

Dogs and cats are returned to their owners. 

Wallets are returned to their owners.

Missing persons are found safe.

Neighbours help neighbours.

Prisoners of war are released.

Oppressed people are freed.

Innocent people are acquitted.

Guilty people are sentenced. Sometimes fairly.

People open their homes to others who have lost theirs.

Babies say their first words.

Couples get married.

Couples stay married.

People in unhealthy or abusive relationships get out and start over.

Racial reconciliation happens.

Most schools have always been and will always be school-shooting-free.

Sick people get well.

Estranged family members reconnect.

People win the lottery.

Gay people are accepted and loved by their families and friends.

Homeless people find homes.

Schools are started in villages with no schools.

Hospitals are started in villages with no hospitals.

Clean drinking water is made available.

Students who studied pass their tests.

Students who didn't study pass their tests!

Honest people help strangers in need.

People change for the better.

Babies sleep through the night for the first time.

Children learn to be good citizens.

Airplanes land safely. 

Car accidents are narrowly missed, to everyone's relief.

Rescue animals find good homes.

Peace treaties are signed. And followed.

People fall in love.

............the list goes on forever.

When we are powerless to do anything to impact the pain and suffering in the world at large, we still have the power to impact the world we are directly connected to... for the good.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Shopping, Lunching, Spending, Selling, Dining

It's Friday! I got to go shopping today!

It wasn't all that exciting.

I mean, I was really excited about it, really looking forward to it.  I had a grocery list, and then a 'want' list.  I knew how much money I had to spend and was pretty excited about the prospect of doing a whole day's shopping.  So after walking Fifi to school, me and the younger two hopped in the minivan (I still can't believe I drive a freaking minivan) and drove to Kroger.  My shopping list was actually pretty short, so I didn't expect to spend much in there.  But prices are still deceiving me, and I spent my budget.  Still, I had money left over and a list of things to get at Walmart.  That is, until I got back in the minivan and realised it was nearly on empty.

My minivan guzzled my last $70.


I looked at my Walmart list.  Only three things were really kind of needed, so I went to Walmart and only bought those three things.  It was boring. It wasn't fun.  I didn't get to 'shop'. 

This challenge sucks.


It's doing what it's supposed to do - making me save money.  That was the point.  And so there's that.


I promised Fifi we'd come eat lunch with her today.  Her school allows parents to sign in and eat lunch with their children in the cafeteria.  I intended to buy cafeteria trays for Fifi, Lolly and myself, but at the last minute, decided to use some Subway vouchers I had and bring Fifi a special surprise.  We met her in the cafeteria line; I said, 'Out of the line, you aren't getting a school dinner.  I brought you something!'  Fifi was delighted!

It was really sweet seeing Fifi on her own turf.  She introduced me to half her class, and they all seemed really excited to be her friend.  One boy (who looks exactly like Lyle Beag from her Scottish school) said, 'You're Fifi's mom!  Can Fifi come over to my house to play?' 

Fifi enjoyed showing off her brother and sister to her classmates and really enjoyed her special lunch.  She clung to my arm and kept hugging me and kissing me and smiling.  It probably made my day just as much as hers.

She then asked if I could come once every week.  I suggested once a month might be a little more practical. She was cool with that.



I have two technical Shopping Challenge failures to confess to.

First, on Tuesday, we bought something besides some offensive pizza crusts (they really did taste like an eighth grade science project) and Bat Brownies from the DG;  we bought a mattress. 

FINALLY we have a mattress. FINALLY we have our own room.  Our mattress is a massive, comfortable King size mattress.  It's like sleeping on our own private island. 

The other purchase was made yesterday, a Thursday.

I purchased a Pampered Chef Consultant Starter Kit.

As of yesterday afternoon, I officially became a Pampered Chef consultant.  I am really excited-slash-scared about this, but it's happening.  I have my first Cooking Show booked (with myself) in two weeks and my second, third and fourth shows booked for the next consecutive weeks.  I know I'll be really good at presenting these shows, but I'm also really nervous about it.  I want to make a good job of it, I want to make some money out of it, and I want to make it worth the cost of starting up.  I think I'll accomplish all three, but I'm still pretty much freaking out about it.  Mainly because I don't know enough people around here yet to get shows booked with, but I'm sure each party will open up more and more opportunities for me.  It's always frightening taking on a new responsibility, but I think I can handle it.  No, in fact, I KNOW I can.  I can do this!

I am totally going to rock my new job, one silicone spatula at a time.


Tonight I went out to dinner with my high school BFF Devon.  We went to one of the only places in this town that serves alcohol, a Mexican restaurant-slash-gas station. It was pretty much awesome.

The hilarity began early, when Devon's tire got stuck in an unseen hole in the parking lot. She couldn't drive out of it, so I told her I'd push.  She didn't believe me.  But I got out, got behind her SUV, and pushed that baby out of the hole.  I hate to brag, but I'm kind of a super hero.

It was a great night out.  We reminisced, we caught up on each other's lives, and we laughed until we had tears and salsa falling down our faces. I drank two huge strawberry margaritas.  We made a Bucket List.  We are going to accomplish that Bucket List.  Even the part about winning a pig at the county fair. It's happening.

I loved just kicking back and having a pressure-free, easy, fun-filled night out with a close friend who's known me approximately two-thirds of my life. It also made me miss some of my Scottish friends, though.  I miss having pressure-free, easy, fun-filled nights with them too. 

In the meantime, I'm enjoying getting to know a few new people, particularly my fellow 'soccer moms' and a couple of my neighbors.  It's nice to have people around, people I feel comfortable with and click with.  The kids are enjoying the new-found friendships too.  It's all coming together.

We're all pretty happy.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Oh Temptress, Thy Name Is Little Debbie

Today was the first difficult day of the September Shopping Challenge.

Last night I realised I was on my last can of dog food, which meant I needed to go today for my mid-week emergency stop.  I was dreading it, because I have been working on a list all week of things I need to get eventually, and knowing I was going into the store for dog food was like sneaking out of my teenage bedroom window to go raving while grounded.  I started thinking of all the things I could buy on my one mid-week shopping trip and had to keep reminding myself I wasn't allowed.  Finally, instead of going to Walmart where the brand of dog food I usually buy is sold, I decided to make a quick stop into Dollar General instead and just get one or two cans of the generic stuff to get me by until Friday.

But even Dollar General seemed to be curling her sexy manicured finger at me, alluring me into her chamber and tempting me with all kinds of naughty delights.

I tried to go directly to the pet section in the back but accidentally took the toy aisle, a dangerous route for Lolly.  Luckily we made it through that valley of darkness and arrived safely in Pets.  I found a can of what seemed the most similar to what Gracie is used to and picked up two.

Then came the problem I always have when I'm just wanting to get one thing; I never carry any cash.  So for two cans of dog food, at 75 cents a piece, I was going to have to use my debit card.... what?  No.  It's just wrong on principle.  But I needed dog food, I couldn't leave without it, and I wasn't going to buy lots of the rubbish dog food just to justify using my card.  So I thought, 'What else do I need?' and I walked through the Halloween aisle.  I caressed a bag of candy corn, but thoughts of the Challenge reminded me candy corn isn't a necessity.  I quickly ushered Lolly out of the Halloween section to the food.  I didn't need milk or cereal or chips or...

Pizza crust!

There on the shelf was pizza crust with sauce.  Pizza crust (mix) and sauce had been on my shopping list last Friday but for the life of me I couldn't find them in Kroger.  Pizza is on our menu for this week, and I'd forgotten I hadn't been able to find any.  So even though they looked cheap and will probably taste like a plimsol, I bought the ready-made pizza crusts with their individual sachets of sauce and felt that purchase justified using my debit card and met the criteria for the challenge.

I made it all the way to the check out when I saw them... Little Debbie's Bat Brownies.  Suddenly my growling stomach reminded me I'd missed breakfast this morning and wouldn't be home until lunch, since Lolly had her monthly homeschool get together right after, and my impulse got the better of me before my reason had time to counter. The Little Debbies were tossed onto the conveyor belt just in time for them to be scanned and bagged.

I spent $8.77 in Dollar General today, $1.75 of which were Bat Brownies, the best brownies ever.  Actually, they taste pretty crap, but anything tastes better with a little sprinkling of something illicit.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Jelly Orange Slices

From my other blog, Lunch Is Boring

jelly orange 7

I saw a picture of these on Facebook and just had to try them.  They are super easy and don’t take a lot of time.  In fact, they are so easy, they don’t really need the following step-by-step, but since I bothered to photograph the process, I might as well share it.

This recipe took between four and five navel oranges.  It depends on the size of your orange.  I started with four and had just enough jelly (jello) left for one half more.

jelly orange 1 
 jelly orange 2

The orange pieces we managed not to eat on the spot will feature in tomorrow’s lunches.

jelly orange 3

One word of caution – don’t pierce your peel at all.  Or pull out the navel leaving a hole.  It ruins everything.

jelly orange 4 
 jelly orange 5

You don’t want your jelly/o to fall apart so make it thicker by adding only 3/4 cup of cold water to your 1 cup of boiled water and dissolved jelly mixture, instead of a full cup of cold water.

jelly orange 6

Big tip – use a muffin pan to hold your peels.  I don’t have a muffin pan yet in my new home, and this was the most precarious part.  The peels kept tipping over and pouring out my jelly.  I had to prop them all up together to keep them upright, and still they spilled when I transferred them to the fridge for chilling.

jelly orange 7

After they are fully chilled, quarter and hey presto!  I can’t wait to put these in tomorrow’s lunches.  They’d be good for parties too.  I’m going to try it with lemons, limes, any fruit with a firm peel! Ooh, and if you use sugar-free jelly, they are keto-friendly too.

Edible Pencils: School Packed Lunch Ideas

From my other blog, Lunch Is Boring

For Fi’s first day of school after the summer holidays, I wanted to have a really cute Back To School lunch ready for her. I thought for a week what to put into it, and came up with this cute (and delicious) idea: Edible Colored Pencils!

These turned out to be really, really easy and really, really tasty. All you need is any kind of breadsticks and some colored candy melts.

I used these Wheat Thins, and they turned out to be perfect, but any breadstick or even pretzel would do. I wanted to use blue, red and yellow candy melts so that I could mix the colours and make a full set, but my local craft store didn’t have any yellow in, so I went with blue, red and green.

Start out by melting a few candy melts in the microwave in small containers. I used cupcake holders which were the perfect size.

I melted each color individually, so the others wouldn’t harden while I was working. Once melted, I spread the color over the stick, almost to the end, but leaving the last centimeter uncolored. I might have gotten a more even coat if I’d made enough melted candy to dip the sticks into, or if I’d used a pastry brush. As it was, I just used a spoon. I then rested each pencil on plastic to let them dry and harden completely.

(Yes, that was a blurry shot.)

After they dried, I made the last finishing touch to make them really look like little pencils. I dipped the uncovered tip just barely in the colored melts to make the tip of the pencil. I laid them back down to dry.

And voila! They looked remarkably like little colored pencils and turned out really cute! But the most important thing was yet to be checked… Did they taste good?

In short, OH YEAH.

I can’t wait to see the look on Fifi’s face when she sees these tomorrow in her lunch! I made enough for Lolly’s lunch too.

These took a little bit of time but they were really worth it. These would be great to make in bulk for a class party or for just, well, your kid’s packed lunch!

All Moments

The following is a post I wrote many months ago in a huge fluster of emotion. After writing it, I was so embarrassed of the deepness of feeling in which it was written that I couldn't bring myself to read it again. I never hit publish. I never read it over again, embarrassed of what I may have said.

Until today. And upon reading it for the first time, I deemed it worthy of sharing.


Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

Frederick Buechner Now and Then

I'm lying in a steamy still bath with my book, Soul Survivor, given to me with gentleness and quiet, unobtrusive wisdom from a friend who until that day had only met me once, if not twice, but was somehow connected to my deepest spiritual wastelands. Like each person the author, Phillip Yancey, introduces me to chapter by chapter, I am stirred emotionally, spiritually, and creatively. Today it is the words of Frederick Buechner, novelist-preacher.

I do not claim to be a great writer; I know that I am an undisciplined writer, a writer with too many friends and social functions to be a good writer - but in that moment, as I read those words, I have to get up and write.

I don't know what I have to write, only that I must do it, and now. I pull the drain plug, grab my towel and proceed to write.

"All moments are key moments." Buechner wrote a whole book about the mundane moments of life. If Buechner can find God in his breakfast and shaving his face, where might I find God?

I wake up each morning - about eight times between 5.30 and 6.30 - to my Samsung S3 crying, "Here we come to the turning of the seasons, witnessed to the arc towards the sun!" by The Decemberists. When I finally decide to stop snoozing and eke myself out from between my warm covers, my warm son and my warm husband, I stumble, with or without glasses, into the kitchen to pour cereal for my daughters. Often this is accompanied with an impatient 'HUSH! Your brother is sleeping!' I flick on the kettle, though it is very rare I ever get around to making or drinking that desired cup of tea. I unload the dishwasher. Sometimes I am surprised to see it has already been done. (These mornings I might then get my cup of tea.) I sometimes hang a load of laundry.

This is the start of my fathomless mystery? These are my key moments? Is God hiding somewhere in the Weetabix or the boiled, unused kettle? Is a surprise empty dishwasher a metaphor for God's miracles, or by not putting on my glasses, is that illustrative of how bleary our vision of the world is?

I wonder what I would find if I tried to attribute meaning to the boring and mundane aspects of my daily life. I'm sure I'd come up with some cheesy, churchy answers, but I'm not looking for churchy answers. I've had enough of churchy answers; I want to know if I'd find any real key moments worth investigating.

"Listen to your life." I like that. I really do. Buechner seems to be a writer they way I in some minuscule way I think of myself as a writer. I scour the remote inner corners of my memory and my mind and my emotions for inspiration and answers. I can't look out into nature, though I wish I were that kind of person and writer, but I can listen to my life. It's what I do anyway, it's where I spend most of my brain space, reflecting on who I am in the deepest, darkest sense, and how who I am affects everything I do and touch. I can listen to my life, though I'm not sure I quite believe it to be a fathomless mystery.

"All moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."

If we are anything more than freaks of nature, products of some cataclysmic phenomenon, then there is some hope for a Meaning of Life. And if we are very lucky, we may be able to just sweep our fingertips down the flashing coattails of that meaning as it darts past us in a flurry of almost-attainable glorious fulfilment. But maybe it isn't luck; maybe it is intentional; maybe it is found in the looking, the waiting, like a photographer waits with finger on the shutter button for the butterfly to stop fluttering its wings for the one second needed to get a perfect, clear shot. If all this is possible, if there is even just the hope of hope, and if we can catch glints of it by waiting and listening, then life is grace, because we have been given a chance to find something we have no right to find.

I wonder what I'd find in the morning, between the 5.30 music alarm and the laundry and the un-made cups of tea... if I looked. If I listened. If I examined every moment as a key moment in the story of my life. If I viewed my whole life as grace itself. Would I glimpse God?

If God speaks to me, I think he must do it in sign language. I certainly don't 'hear God' and he has certainly never 'told me' anything. However if he is truly there, and truly has something to say, I'd like to know about it. God is silent with me, and I don't know why God is silent with me when all anyone else says is that he won't be. But just as we have no right to glimpse the meaning of life, we have no right to hear from God.

Still, I wonder... wonder what I might find if I look behind the mask of everything, in hopes of finding an answer or two?

I am an undisciplined writer and an undisciplined watcher. I am an undisciplined seeker.

I need to open my eyes wider and see what there is to see. I need to be on look-out for meaning and answers and questions and key moments that are defining my life without my knowing it. Life itself is grace. It's a heavy concept...

Monday, September 02, 2013

Special Things

Scott and I had to be very strict (ruthless even) when we packed our bags and moved away from Scotland. So many things we loved and cared about had to be given away. Yet there were still a handful of items that just held too much sentimental value or reminded us of special people that we decided were worth keeping. These photos don't show them all; some things are still in a box, waiting for us to get some more shelves on which to display them, or some nails on which to hang them. I thought perhaps people would like to see though some of what they gave us that we couldn't part with. These things remind us of you every time we look at them.

This beaded loveheart was a 30th birthday gift from my friend Julie. It hung on our front door back in our Scottish flat. It reminds me of Julie, our flat, my wonderful party, and all my am-dram friends.

This candlestick (and its partner) were literally one of the only wedding gifts Scott and I received. Because we were moving to Scotland immediately after the wedding, we asked for people to give money instead of gifts. Yet a couple of people gave us small gifts, and these Moroccan candlesticks were from Kristen and Joshua. They remind us of, well, our wedding.

This canvas photo was a present from our dearest friends Sarah and Ian. The photo was taken by Ian on our trip to the Tain a few years ago. Scott and I had won a free three-day stay in the Glenmorangie House and could bring six other people. We invited Sarah and Ian, Maria and Simon, and Kate and Faisal. This photo reminds me of that weekend and of our friends, especially Sarah and Ian. It was one of the best weekends ever.

There are three things here in my kitchen window. First is a little blue wooden apple that Morag gave me at the Friday TinyTalk's going away party for me. It says 'Thank you for helping me grow.' It, along with the cuff and the lavender pouch the group gave me, remind me of my TinyTalk days, of my wonderful babies and mummy friends, and how much of a huge part of my life TinyTalk was. It also gives me a glimpse of what a part I played in their lives too, which is a wonderful feeling. It particularly reminds me of Morag and her two gorgeous children.

The angel suncatcher was from my friend Elaine and her family. It is believed to help create positive Chi Energy. I love it, because Chi Energy and angels are so Elaine and I think of her every time I look at it. In extension, it also reminds me of Craft Night, where I saw Elaine and Heather and Paula nearly every Tuesday night for four years, where hippy ideas, natural remedies, and Eastern thoughts were quite often the topics of discussion!

The plaque is one of my favourites. This was a present from Lorna, or as my kids refer to her, Auntie Lorna. Auntie Lorna is one of those rare people who love unconditionally, give generously, and care genuinely. She has always been in Scott's life, and for as long as I was in Scotland, mine. She's always been one of the kids' favourite people. I love Lorna, and miss her. This funny little saying is so Her, and it makes me and everyone who reads it smile.

These little angels were a going away gift to Fifi and Lolly from Mollie and Rosie, two girls I used to child mind. They remind me of those two sweet girls, and their lovely mummy and daddy. I also have from them a tile in Jaguar's room with a painting of the Waverly. It reminds me very much of Greenock, and I love it.

The first cross, a white ceramic one with the inscription 'For this child I have prayed' came from my sister-in-law Rebekkah when I was pregnant with Fifi. It has been hanging in Fifi and Lolly's room ever since until moving here, when I decided it needed a more prominent display place. It reminds me of her and the family she now has with Pete and her two daughters, my beautiful nieces.

The other cross is a heavy clay cross which has made it through two cross-Atlantic moves. This was a present from my old best friend Amanda in college. She worked in a florist shop and they sold these crosses. I loved it because it had a Celtic feel to it, and I had a boyfriend who was Scottish. She bought it for me for my birthday, and I kept it when I moved to Scotland. And I've kept it moving back. I can genuinely say now, it's probably one of the longest-owned things I have. Kind of weird. And it reminds me of Amanda and all those years pre-Scotland too.

The wooden plaque has a bit of a textured past, but I love it all the same. It was a handmade gift from my ex-sister-in-law. It says 'As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.' At the bottom is says 'Est 2004'. It is a symbol to me of our marriage and the way our family has changed since 2004, and of my commitment to serve the Lord with my family in spite of my struggle with unbelief.

These were a few handmade baby gifts.

The crocheted building block has Lolly's name sewn on its sides. This was a baby gift from my friend Debbie. I've known Debbie since Fifi and her son were babies, and we've been through a whole lot together. Also from Debbie I have a painting of the Cloch Lighthouse in Gourock which is just awaiting a frame before I hang it it. These things remind me of her and her little Lyle.

The cross-stitched pillow and cross-stitched framed duck were from Cheryl. Cheryl and I also go way back, and she's one of my oldest Scottish friends. We met one year after I moved to Scotland. On mine and Scott's first visit to the Greenock church, which would become our church for the next seven years, she and her husband Matthew were the first people to greet us and then invite us out to lunch afterwards. Matt and Scott have been good friends since, and so have Cheryl and I. Our kids are close too; Lolly has every intention of marrying her son one day (because he has a 'life-sized' battery operated car). These two gifts, lovingly stitched by Cheryl are very special to me, and remind me of our (short-lived) Sunday Sisters Sewing Circle, where for about four weeks we met up to embroider, cross-stitch, or in Lorna's case, fold laundry.


On the September Shopping Challenge front, I made it through Day 1. I avoided Shipley's Donuts on the way home from church, and Scott went in for the ribs for our Labor Day barbecue, so I wouldn't have to. On to Day 2!