Friday, January 27, 2012

Seven Wonders of My Life (So Far)

This last week the sun experienced spectacular, unprecedented radiation storms. At least we were told they were unprecedented. I'm going to have to take "their" word for it. These radiation storms resulted in stunning displays of northern lights in the northern latitudes. And that reminded me of seeing the northern lights firsthand when I lived in Alaska. And remembering what an awe inspiring experience that was made me remember the seven coolest things I've seen. 

Today, as I begin my 44th year on this earth, I'd like to share them with you. This list is not static. I hope that things will get pushed off the list as my mind continues to be blown. But for now, this is my list. 

Childbirth - I don't care how many biology lessons I had on mitosis and human reproduction. I could have read "What to Expect When You're Expecting" 20 times and nothing could have prepared me for the sheer surprise of having a whole other person come out of me. Yes, I felt the kicks, saw the ultra sound pictures and understood everything logically. But my first thoughts after hearing my son cry for the first time were of disbelief. I am pretty certain I uttered the word, "really?" several times. 

Northern Lights - No photo can do the northern lights justice. That is why I was so delighted and overwhelmed to see them first hand. What the picture doesn't show is how the northern lights move, like a curtain fluttered by a slight breeze. And they make a soft popping noise too--at least that's how I remember them. I never saw red northern lights--only green. But in Alaska, it was understood that when the northern lights came out, you called your neighbors so they could go outside to see, regardless of time of day. Gratefully, I was once on the receiving end of one such call at 2am.

Bald Eagles, Homer, Alaska - I did not take this picture, but easily could have if I'd had a better camera in 1990. This is a beach in Homer, Alaska where a woman fed bald eagles during the winter. There were signs posted that kept people back a certain distance and most everyone respected it. To see this many bald eagles in one place was surreal. (p.s. I've just learned that Jean Keene, the bald eagle lady, died in 2009 and now feeding eagles is prohibited in Homer city limits.)

Humpback Whale, Alaska - We were fishing for halibut and a humpback whale appeared and got closer and closer to our boat. It was so close I could hear the squeak and hiss from his blowhole. I believe it even swam right under the boat. 

Beluga Whales, Kenai, Alaska - We were driving over the Kenai River when I noticed the river full of white caps and a bunch of people stopped, and watching. Once I got out, I could plainly see, it wasn't white caps on the river, but beluga whales swimming up river, no doubt following some fish. There must have been 20 or 30 whales that day and I stood there, not believing what I was seeing. Truly spectacular.

M-13 - This made my list because I couldn't find a satisfactory picture of freezing fog. But the more I think about this globular star cluster, I realize how mind blowing it is that I can see something 25,100 light years away. But most incredible, is the feeling I get when I remember Robert showing it to me through a telescope. Then I realize what a wonder it is to be married to such a magnificent man. He's not perfect, but he's perfect for me.

Orca Whales, San Juan Island - I was able to see Orcas several times while living on San Juan Island, but my favorite time was the day I went to Deadman Cove with Ethan and Jonah, just to let them play and throw rocks into the sea and do whatever else they could do to work off a little energy. I was sitting on the beach, just thinking of how fun it would be to see Orcas. We'd lived there 5 months and hadn't seen one yet. And then, they just started swimming by, like they heard my wish. There must have been at least 8. Of course this orca sighting comes in a very close second.

In conclusion, I'd like to thank my computer's thesaurus for providing me lots of alternative words for "amazing." I hope that one day my seven wonders will include this, this, and this

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mediocre Couponing

This is how I do coupons: The JoAnn's flyer comes in the mail. I remove the coupon and set it in the special Coupon Place. The next day I go to JoAnn's and buy a lot of stuff. At the checkout, however, I realize I've left the coupon at home. 

Or . . . 

At the checkout, I realize I brought the coupon, but it's expired.

Or . . .

At the checkout, I bring the right coupon, but it works on everything except the thing I'm buying.

I am just unlucky in couponing.

Until two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago my newly converted extreme-couponing sister made ardent attempts at bringing me into the couponing fold. "Go to Walgreens," she said. "Buy 8 boxes of Granola Thins in two transactions, 4 boxes each transaction. Use the coupon in the store circular. Receive two coupons for $3 off your next visit. Enjoy eating Granola Thins for the next two months."

I figured I could go to Walgreens. It's a mile from my house. I followed her directions, used a $5 rewards certificate, and called from the car, thrilled, to tell her I'd just paid only 50 cents per box of Granola Thins. I was super excited. Extreme couponing was fun!

"Here's what you do next," she said the following week. "Go to Walgreens and use your Monopoly Money (that's what the insiders call those $3 coupons) to buy Diet Protien Bars."

"But I don't want Diet Protien Bars." I said. "I'm out of Comet. Can't I get some of that?"

But Comet didn't get me Monopoly Money, I'd have to get the Diet Protien Bars if I wanted more Monopoly Money.

So I passed, saving the Monopoly Money for another purchase. Maybe next week Comet would be on sale.

A few days later I got my next assignment. "Go to Walgreens," (I was getting good at this!) "buy 8 bags of Chex Mix in two separate transactions with coupons you print off the internet."

After getting special directions for how to print coupons off the internet (because you have to hit the back button if you want two) I headed over to Walgreens, grabbed my 8 bags, flipped through the in-store coupon booklet to the appropriate page, and headed to the check out. I told the cashier I'd like to do two separate transactions. 

She huffed. HUFFED!

"You can't get more than four when things are on sale," she said as a couple more people got in line behind me.

"Okay, well, I don't want to break the rules. I'll just get four."

"No. That's okay," she said, her words saying one thing, but her eye roll saying another. "I'll go ask the manager."

Another person got in line as the cashier made her way over to the Valentine's aisle and said loud enough for everyone to hear, "This lady wants to buy eight bags of Chex Mix, but they're on sale. Do we have enough to sell her eight?" The manager said something I couldn't hear, because he was talking at regular volume. "Okay, I just wanted to make sure," she said as she took her sweet time coming back.

By the time she'd returned to the cash register, two more people at joined the line. "He says you can do it, but you're not supposed to buy this many when an item is on sale. We need to have enough for everyone who wants to buy some." 

She began scanning the bags, but stopped to direct someone to the cosmetic counter for a return. She scanned bag number three, but paused to answer the phone. She scanned bag number four and then five. 

"Wait. I wanted to do it in two transactions" I said. 

See, the only way to get two, $2 Monopoly Money things was to do two transactions of four bags each. Otherwise I would just get one, $2 Monopoly Money thing. That's why I'd asked for two transactions. 

Another huff. "I just asked the manager if we could do this and he said yes. It's okay for you to get eight bags in one transaction." Her look said, what's the problem now?

I said nothing, mindful of the line of people behind me. I didn't want to find out how six, home-printed coupons would fluster her, so I kept them deep in my purse. Just get me out of this store, I thought. I don't even like Chex Mix.

Feeling completely humiliated, I figured I'd wait a few days until I'd regained my courage, use my now $10 in Monopoly Money on something useful and call my foray into extreme couponing finis.

But before I could do that, $6 of my Monopoly Money had expired.

So today I went to Walgreens and spent my remaining $4 of Monopoly Money on a diet Dr. Pepper and a box of Cheez-Its. 

I'll leave extreme couponing to the professionals.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I Can Quit Any Time

I remember mentioning that I would give up Pinterest in 2012, and I will. Just not yet. I'm having too much fun seeing all the interesting, brilliant and yes, sometimes crazy things people do. Here are a few things I've tried recently and my take on the outcome.

Before I admit that I tried putting a sock in my hair to create a full, fabulous-looking bun, I should mention that I have pretty serious hair insecurity. The thought of having a full, fabulous-looking bun on the back of my head was too much to resist. This website had pictures of each step, but I found a six-minute you-tube video to make sure I understood everything completely. The result: even greater hair insecurity which will require a 2 week emotional healing period before I try this again.

Ranch House Crock-pot Pork Chops - Win! The kids liked it, I liked it. The best part? Three ingredients. (Not including the mashed potatoes, which had like a cup of parmesan cheese in them. So they were awesome.)

My friend Carole's blog, Cupcake Theory, is filled with quick, easy, super-delicious recipes and this was one of them. Marshmallow popcorn. It's like making Rice Crispy treats, except with popcorn. (And a cup of brown sugar. Yum!)

I followed the suggestions from this gal to take what I think were some of the best Christmas morning pictures in a long time. See for yourself. I don't have a DSLR, but I figured out how to adjust the settings on my little point-and-shoot to get a pretty great result.

I'm not quite happy with the way this look turned out. I bought the various pieces from the Gap, Fred Meyer and Target. Someone asked me if the shoes were slippers, which wasn't the feedback I was looking for. The outfit looks much better on the invisible model than it did on me. However, I've been able to use the separate parts of this outfit in other ensembles, so it's all good.

Luckily I happened to have three bananas in the freezer when I got the hankering for this banana cake. (The fourth banana was on the counter). It's probably my lack of experience with cakes that don't come in a box, but I found this cake to be a tad dry. Also, I forgot to put the walnuts on top, which was a-okay with my kids. Will probably just make banana bread next time.

These little yummies are sitting on the counter as I speak. The kids say they just taste like chocolate chip cookies, but their palates are unrefined, so you can't trust what they say. There is a distinct, yet not overpowering Oreo taste that sets these cookies apart from regular chocolate chip. It helps if you don't crush the Oreos to oblivion so there are plenty of big chunks. The only downside is they do require buying a bag of Oreo cookies. And you will have left over Oreos, which is not a good thing. Mostly because something I call Oreo gluttony. I'm fairly certain there is an addictive chemical in Oreos that make you crave them fortnightly.

I need to quit Pinterest. But how can justify quitting I when I'm clearly getting so many great ideas? Maybe they have pin on how to be more productive and stop wasting time on Pinterest?

I better go check.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dinner: Don't Throw a Fit

I'm organized because I'm lazy. In order to achieve the lazy person's ultimate goal--free time--I need to be efficient and quick about everything I do. The LEGOS are sorted by color, my pantry is filled with neatly stacked and filled storage containers, I know exactly what is in my fridge at all times, and I've even reached laundry Nirvana

But please, please, don't ask me what's for dinner.

My mind draws a blank. I can't think of a single thing to make. Not one person in the family every has any helpful suggestions, and suddenly I'm making my third trip to the grocery store in one day. It's enough to make anyone hate, hate, hate making dinner.

But, thanks to Samurai Mom and Pinterest, I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel. First, the ideas that didn't work.

A clothespin for every day of the week, cute scrapbook paper background, little envelopes to hold the names of main dishes and Voila! dinner is organized. I like keeping track of the meals for a week, and I like having a list of go-to meals, but this is a little too cute for me. 

I love me some color coding. I also love having a night called "scrounge night." Recipe cards hang on little rings just below the calendar. This is organization on steroids. Like my first example, however, this system requires extra wall space, which I don't really have.

Lots of magnets with a built in shopping list, color coding up the wazoo. I'm not Martha Stewart people.

This chalkboard gives off a restaurant vibe and that is not the vibe I'm going for. This isn't a restaurant, and I'm not a waitress. You get what you get and you don't throw a fit. Besides, why broadcast to the family what I'm making? It just gives everyone a head start on the complaining. 

This binder has dinners planed out for a whole year with corresponding recipes. That's 365 dinners. And bless her heart, the gal who came up with this cute idea has downloadable calendars, tab dividers and shopping lists you can print at home. But going from no dinner organization to a full year of planned meals is a big leap. 

Too big.

So I took baby steps.

I started by writing down my repertoire. I was surprised to come up with 40 entrees. (It feels more like 10) Then I polled the family to find out what their favorites were. This way, I could mix favorites with not-so-favorites each week and only have 4 or 5 days of complaining instead of 7.

One of the things I learned by making this list was that all three boys' favorite meal was spaghetti. (Really, spaghetti?)

Then I went to the calendar I keep on the fridge. With a list of 40 meals in front of me, I still didn't know what to write down. So I wrote in the things we ate last week--just to feel extra organized. 

It helped. 

Finally, I was able to decide what to have for dinner for the next 7 days. It wasn't easy, but today I went grocery shopping and got everything I'll need to make my meals. 

Although chances are good that I'm forgetting something. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Here's What Crazy Looks Like (More Fun With Pinterest)

I have a pin board on Pinterest for stuff I will never do. Some of the stuff I admire and just know that I'll never do it. But some stuff is just so insanely crazy, I'd have to be out of my mind to attempt it. I keep those items on my pinboards just so I can know what crazy looks like--mostly so I can avoid the pitfalls of crazy. But  a small part is so I will be able to identify the crazy when it descends upon me.

Knowledge is power people.

Have you ever wanted to make your very own Goldfish crackers? Of course you haven't. Because you are not crazy. Because they are $2 a bag at the grocery store and any toddler worth their snot can chow down half a bag in two fistfulls. If you or someone you love makes their own Goldfish crackers from scratch, it's probably already too late.

These sheep cupcakes are darling, but might I point out that the mini marshmallows are CUT IN HALF. Do you see how many mini marshmallows are on each sheep. If it was one sheep, for just one person, I might let this pass. But as you can plainly see, there is a whole flock of half-cut mini marshmallow sheep!! I won't even get into other parts of these sheep's anatomy, like the head. (What is that? Marzipan?)

These are miniature letters from . . . wait for it . . . the tooth fairy. That's right. Not only does the tooth fairy wait until you've fallen asleep, sneak into your room, and trade you money for your disgusting tooth, she also will leave you a teeny, tiny letter on teeny, tiny stationary and put it in a teeny, tiny envelope with a teeny, tiny stamp and teeny, tiny wax seal. I'm certain our tooth fairy wouldn't even know how to write that small, let alone where to find a teeny, tiny stamp. (Teeny, tiny post office perhaps?) 

Our tooth fairy always hides the tooth money in my purse anyway. (At least she's consistent.)

Now this is the kind of crazy I can aspire to. Toilet paper origami, on the roll. I would love to do this at parties: ask to use the restroom and casually fold a rose into the TP before I finished up. Then again, this art form does imply that one had lots of time to just . . . sit around. If you catch my drift.

See this wall art? Cute, no? It's shoebox lids covered in fabric. I am all for thrifty decor, but I don't think I could live with myself if I knew I had shoebox lids on my wall, as art. Although, it would require me to buy some shoes to get the boxes. And one of those lids looks like it came from a boot box . . .

You know all those old sweaters you have hanging around that you don't want to wear anymore? No? Me either. Because I don't save old sweaters I don't want to wear anymore. I give them all to Goodwill. But you can still make these bracelets. Just go to Goodwill, buy back your old sweaters, bring them home and cut them up and--quick!--before they unravel, glue them onto cheap bracelets from the Dollar Tree. (p.s. you will never find bracelets at your Dollar Tree.)

What a lovely wreath made from toilet paper tubes. I have nothing else to add*.

If you've ever made homemade goldfish crackers or written teeny, tiny letters from the tooth fairy I just want to be clear. I don't think you're crazy. I simply think I, personally, would be crazy if I attempted any of those things. 

To be fair, you might find some of the things I do to be crazy. For example, I don't save things. Not shoe boxes or toilet paper tubes. And I've already established that I don't save old sweaters. I don't save much of anything. And to some people, that is really crazy.

So maybe I already am crazy.


(But probably not. Have you seen the show Hoarders?)