Tuesday, July 29, 2008

There's a Bat in My Belfry, I Mean, My Bedroom....

Ever wake up to a strange little sound? Nothing big, just a small, little sound that jolts you from sleep, something that's not quite right. That happened this morning - actually it happened about half an hour ago. Both Mark and I were awakened (rudely, I might say), by what sounded like something hitting the screen in the window from the outside. I opened my eyes just in time to see the flutter of wings at the window, then closed my eyes to go back to sleep. Mark, however, was still looking around. "It was one of those big moths hitting the window", I told him, go back to sleep. "No", he said. "There's a bat in the room". I was like "Mark, are you crazy? I saw a big moth out there!", and he goes "No, I SEE the bat flying around the room." EEK. I opened my eyes just in time to see something flying and furry pass within about a foot of my face. Dove under the covers. Wondering what the heck we were going to do next, when Mark gets out of bed (!), grabs the screen from the window, and then, LEAVES THE ROOM. He shut the door behind him and LEFT ME THERE! MARK!! After that nice post about Mark a few days ago, I was ready to kill him. But I guess he had to use the bathroom, because he was back within a minute, again shutting the door behind him. So there we were. Me, him and the dog all in the room, bat still going crazy, me hiding under the covers, scared to move.

We were trying to use reason - maybe Mr. Bat was attracted to the ceiling fan - the whirring sound the blades make. But how did he get in the house in the first place and why wouldn't he leave? Mark turned off the fan. Bat still flying around. Should we turn on a light? Mark thought that might attract every insect in the neighborhood and give Mr. Bat good things to eat. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we didn't see him flying anymore. Did he land somewhere? Like in my closet? Or did he actually fly out the open window?

Well, the jury is still out on that one, because Mark finally persuaded me to leave the room, and he came out a few minutes later - he told me he checked every crevice and no bat. So we assume he flew out. But again, how in the world did he get in? And was he flying around in our room half the night? Yuck. We checked the fireplace flue, but it was shut. Strange.

I like wildlife, I do. I wouldn't survive up here if I didn't. And I guess in the coming years we'll get a chuckle out of this one. But wildlife needs to stay outside. Like spiders. They have 3 acres (and that's just OUR property) to roam around to their heart's content. Why do they need to come in the house? I have no patience for critters in the house, as my family can attest - my broom and my fly swatter have been hard at work in the four years we've lived here. Mr. Bat - you got away with one. Try it again, you might not be so lucky....but on the bright side, our house is curiously bug-free this morning.....

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Say Hello to My Political Ignorance

I was reading an Associated Press article online this morning, and ran across Obama's campaign schedule and noted he was in....Israel? And headed to the Palestinian region today. That was enough to give me pause. Gee, how many voters live there? Okay, like I said, I'm not that politically savvy - maybe it's a brilliant move, who knows. But then I read more. And I read how the Palestinian leader would like for Obama to get one thing out of their meeting which I believe is today. He would like Obama to "focus immediately on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if elected, or any gains made in peace talks could vanish." That's a direct quote. Um. Excuse me? So let's see, Obama gets elected, gets sworn into office in January, gives a speech, retreats immediately to the Oval Office and.....starts to proctor peace in that region? Hello? Could someone please tell me why this should be the top priority of whatever newly elected leader we'll have come January?

I understand that foreign policy, particularly Mid-East foreign policy does have some bearing on how folks over here will cast their vote, but c'mon! And actually, despite what I said above, I can see how Obama's reception in those regions of the world perhaps could influence our voters and how they feel about how he will handle those issues. But wow. For other world leaders to request and perhaps even expect that the US President be firmly entrenched in and give priority to a battle that has raged for centuries kind of makes the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up, know what I mean?

We would like our new President, whoever he may be, to place priority on some issues closer to home, thank you very much. And right now, we're in no direct conflict with Israel, quite the contrary, although I could never figure out why the US is so enamored with Israel, could someone explain that too, please? But back to those home issues - yes. We have issues. There's like, the energy crisis for one. I would've said "gas" crisis, but my husband corrected me this morning on that, so now it's "energy" crisis. Then there's like, oh, I don't know unemployment, drugs, national security, education, you know, those little things.

So, Obama, here's the deal. I haven't made up my mind yet. I'm watching you closely. I'm not sure what to make of your little trip this week, paid for with campaign funding, no less. And no, I'm not politically-inclined. At all. And I don't understand all the issues, all the time. And frankly, I don't have time to follow it all. Which makes me, let's see, very, very average. But I'm an American. And I vote. So you'd better start impressing me. I'm a Republican, so you MUST impress me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

And The Gold Star Goes To.....

My husband! I meant to write this yesterday, but I got so behind....Monday mornings kill me. But I got up yesterday morning pretty beat - it had been a long, frustrating weekend. First of all, we were all kind of wiped out from coming back from my mom and dad's the day before. Nobody seems to sleep well there - Jonathan gets to bed late, Matthew is in a pack and play in our room and if he wakes in the night and sees us in bed, he crawls out and joins us on the bed and does NOT go back to sleep. So we have to put him back in the crib and leave and come back only when he's back to sleep....which sometimes takes an hour. And then when we have to get up early, he usually wakes up. So we were all a little sleep-deprived. Then when we got home, the toilet broke. We think it had been on it's way out for some time, but this time, some little plastic piece on something called a ballcock broke completely off. Uh oh.
So here we were, Friday night, just home from an impromptu dinner on the road, unpacking suitcases and laptops and pool toys and I have to run to Lowe's for a replacement part while Mark started baths. I got home in time for bedtimes, but realized I bought the wrong part. So first thing in the morning, I'd have to go back to Lowe's, plus make a trip to the grocery since we had just gotten back. Did I mention it was about 1000 degrees this weekend?
The next morning, a quick trip to Lowe's and the market turned into an all-morning affair, and I didn't get back until almost noon and had to make everyone lunch. Then onto the toilet, and I realized for the second time that I had bought the wrong part again. This is after about 5 phone calls to my dad, who knows how to repair a toilet, let me tell you. So he finally convinced me to quit trying to replace the old part; just buy a totally new valve and install it.
I'll spare you the rest of the details, and the two more subsequent trips to Lowe's, but we finally got the toilet working again. Just in time for me to get dinner on the table. Still Saturday. Sunday was better - we actually got in the pool as a family and had a great time! But I was still tired out and bogged down with the heat and having to cook so much and plan meals - it takes so darn long to do all that sometimes!
But back to that Gold Star Award. Why am I giving it to my hubby? Because yesterday morning, upon reflection, I realized something. I had not changed one diaper the entire weekend. I had not dressed one child the entire weekend, in either day clothes or night clothes. I fed them their meals, but not their snacks, and I may have prepared one drink. While I was running around, sweating, fixing toilets and in general feeling sorry for myself, Mark had completely taken over with the kiddos and saw to their needs. True, the British Open was on in the background keeping him happy, but I'll let that slide - he rocked. Thanks, Mark. I needed THAT break!

Friday, July 18, 2008

So, You Want Kids?

Well, it's been a long couple of days. We just got back from a 2 night stay at my mom and dad's house; both Mark and I had work meetings near Annapolis, so we spent a few days down in the area. Today was actually my meeting - and I had to be there at 7am. Which meant that I had to get up around 5:30, which I was dreading. But somewhere in between showering and getting dressed, I had this amazing revelation. Everyone was asleep (well, everyone except my sister who was up getting ready to go to HER job). But everyone else was sacked out - which meant I didn't have to change any diapers, I didn't have to make anyone breakfast. I didn't have to break up any fights, I didn't have to search through 300 channels before I figured out which one was the one with cartoons at my parents house, where cable is all different. I didn't have anybody pulling aside the shower curtain saying "Mommy, what are you doing?" I didn't have to match up sippy cup lids and valves and cups. I didn't have to find the "red car" that got lost somewhere in the backyard the night before. I didn't have to rush. And I didn't have to think of one person's needs...except my own. No. All I had to do was shower, get dressed and walk out to the car and drive away. It was.....refreshing. Now would I want to do this every day? No way. As a matter of fact, that's why I was so excited about this new job - working from home, allowing me to keep much of my own schedule and NOT having to get up early, to shower, to get dressed in something other than shorts and a tshirt, to drive. But on this one day, I had some freedom from the usual drudgery, and it really felt good. But coming home after a long day to sticky kisses and warm little hugs made me forget all about the freedom of my morning...I had missed my little guys. They were in good hands - I left them with my mom and dad for the day so I wasn't worried....but I just missed them. Can't have it both ways! And so I leave you with this, which I copied off Michelle's blog, and I think she copied it from someone else. But it is so true - I had to laugh out loud several times reading this thing. Enjoy! And thanks, Michelle for the laughs, and for the blog fodder, and by the way, yes, we know ALL about 2 year olds who don't want to sit in their stroller. It's not fun. Not fun for us, and horrifically not fun for anyone within a 25 yard radius.

Thinking of Having Kids?
Do This 10 Step Program First

Lesson 1
Before you finally go ahead and have children, find a couple who already are parents and berate them about their…
1. Methods of discipline
2. Lack of patience
3. Appallingly low tolerance levels
4. Allowing their children to run wild
5. Suggest ways in which they might improve their child’s breastfeeding, sleep habits, toilet training, table manners, and overall behavior.
Enjoy it because it will be the last time in your life you will have all the answers.

Lesson 2
A really good way to discover how the nights might feel…
1. Get home from work and immediately begin walking around the living room from 5pm to 10pm carrying a wet bag weighing approx. 8-12 pounds, with a radio turned to static (or some other obnoxious sound) playing loudly.
2. At 10pm, put the bag down gently, set the alarm for midnight, and go to sleep.
3. Get up at midnight and walk around the living room again, with the bag, until 1am.
4. Set alarm for 3am.
5. As you can’t get back to sleep, get up at 2am and watch an infomercial.
6. Go to bed at 2:45.
7. Get up at 3am when alarm goes off.
8. Sing songs quietly in the dark until 4am.
9. Get up. Make breakfast. Get ready for work and go to work (work hard and be productive.)
Repeat steps 1-9 each night. Keep this up for 3-5 years. Look cheerful and together.

Lesson 3
Can you stand the mess children make? To find out…
1. Smear peanut butter onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains.
2. Hide a piece of raw chicken behind the stereo and leave it there all summer.
3. Stick your fingers in the flower bed.
4. Then rub them on the clean walls.
5. Take your favorite book, photo album, etc. Wreck it.
6. Spill milk on your new pillows. Cover the stains with crayons. How does that look?

Lesson 4
Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems.
1. Buy an octopus and a small bag made out of loose mesh.
2. Attempt to put the octopus in the bag so that none of the arms hang out.
Time allowed for this- all morning.

Lesson 5
Forget the BMW and buy a mini-van. And don’t think that you can leave it out in the driveway spotless and shining. Family cars don’t look like that.
1. Buy a chocolate ice cream cone and put it in the glove compartment. Leave it there.
2. Get a dime. Stick it in the CD player.
3. Take a family size package of chocolate cookies. Mash them into the back seat. Sprinkle Cheerios all over the floor, them smash them with your foot.
4. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car.

Lesson 6
Go to the grocery store. Take the closest thing you can find to a pre-school child. (A full-grown goat is an excellent choice). If you intend to have more than one child, then definitely take more than one goat. Buy your week’s groceries without letting the goats out of your sight. Pay for everything the goats eat or destroy. Until you can easily accomplish this, do not even contemplate having children.

Lesson 7
1. Hollow out a melon.
2. Make a small hole in the side.
3. Suspend it from the ceiling and swing it from side to side.
4. Now get a bowl of soggy Cheerios and attempt to spoon them into the swaying melon by pretending to be an airplane.
5. Continue until half the Cheerios are gone.
6. Tip half into your lap. The other half, just throw up in the air.
You are now ready to feed a 9 month-old baby.

Lesson 8
Learn the names of every character from all shows on PBS, the Disney Channel and Noggin. Watch nothing else on TV but shows from these channels for at least 5 years. (I know, you’re thinking “what’s Noggin?”) Exactly the point.

Lesson 9
Make a recording of Fran Drescher saying ‘mommy’ repeatedly. (Important: no more than a four second delay between each ‘mommy’; occasional crescendo to the level of supersonic jet is required). Play this tape in your car everywhere you go for the next four years. You are now ready to take a long trip with a toddler.

Lesson 10
Start talking to an adult of your choice. Have someone else continually tug on your skirt hem, shirt sleeve, or elbow while playing the ‘mommy’ tape made from lesson 9 above. You are now ready to have a conversation with an adult while there is a child in the room

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lots and Lots of Waterfalls, Mommy!

Well, we made it to Blackwater Falls in West Virginia over the weekend. Packed the car, packed a picnic lunch and hit the road early Saturday morning. And it was well worth the trip! Escaped the 90 degrees in Cumberland and arrived to a lovely, clear 78 or so in Davis, WVA. Did some hiking, saw the falls. Ate some lunch at a shady picnic table. Did another hike. Saw a snake. Followed blazes along the trees (Jonathan is Blaze-Master). Stopped at the local brewpub (hey, Mom and Dad have to have SOME fun!), stopped for ice cream, then pointed the car toward home. All in all, a great day. Except for the brewpub. Brews were most definitely not up to par. To say we were disappointed was an understatement. Oh well, can't win them all - we've been to brewpubs from Alaska to Florida and Maine to California - they all can't be great!
So, what's on my mind today? Well, under the category of "kids say the darndest things...", we have the following story: Yesterday, I stopped by Jonathan's new school - the one where he will be starting pre-k in the fall - to chat about the error they made in our tuition bill and to talk about the tuition buy-down program because I was a little confused on a few points. I left Matthew with Mark at his office while I did this so I could at least concentrate a little on the subject at hand, but took Jonathan with me. So here we are, chatting with the nice ladies. When all the sudden, Jonathan takes it upon himself to mention to one of the women that she has "something" on her hand. Well, that "something" turns out to be a patch of pretty good eczema, from what I could tell. The woman handled it well - she tells him "oh, that's just some dry skin, honey..." But Jonathan wasn't done. "Hey, you have some on your leg, too!" And then: "And there's some on your foot! And more on your elbow!!!" He was really getting going now. At this point, my kid is standing there roving his eyes all over this woman, having taken it upon himself to inform her of every inch of eczema she had. Now I give this woman some credit. She was in her 40's, tanned, fit, attractive. She obviously didn't have too much anxiety about her condition, but believe me, once Jonathan started in, she pretty quickly removed herself from the room. And there I sat. Mortified. For the record, I corrected him the first time he mentioned anything. But I guess I didn't say the right thing - I quietly said to him something along the lines of "Yes Jonathan, you get that sometimes in the wintertime - we have to use that special cream, remember?" Which wasn't exactly true - he did get some seasonal eczema TWO winters ago, but hasn't had it since. I was just hoping he'd shut up! But he didn't. And the woman got away before I could really apologize. But then, to apologize would've perhaps brought more attention to it than need be, making her more embarrassed?
Ugh. Something new everyday. I guess we're at the age when I have to sit down with Jonathan and explain to him that it's not really polite to point out people's differences to them, no matter what it is. But will he get it at 4 years old? I'm waiting for him to walk up to some stranger and say "You're fat" or "Your skin is all brown" or "You don't have an arm!" And unfortunately, Jonathan will do this, because one thing he is not, is shy. A month or two ago in the grocery store, he found a penny. A nice, shiny, new penny. Let me tell you, he told everyone we passed, everyone we saw and everyone we came in contact with all about his penny, all about how he was 4 years old and how his brother kicked him in the head that morning. Most people thought he was just this little charming kid. I thought it was a nightmare. Now all the sudden, we've moved beyond talking to strangers. We not only talk to them, but we point out their medical conditions to the embarrassment of everyone in the room.
So now I have to teach him not to talk to strangers. Another shred of innocence lost. It makes me sad.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Trip to Some Waterfalls

I was going through some photos, trying to get an order ready to get some prints, and I ran across these -- these were taken when we went hiking up at Swallow Falls State Park here in Maryland last month. We try to get up there about once a year, and this visit was particularly nice because for some reason, hardly anyone was there. The weather wasn't great - at one point we had to duck under some hemlocks to avoid a passing shower and some thunder rumbled in the distance, but we escaped the worst of it, luckily and were able to do the whole trail, and see both Swallow Falls (that's the one Matthew is looking at), and Muddy Creek Falls, which at a whopping 53 feet, is actually the highest falls in Maryland. They're running high in these photos because we had such a wet spring. Usually, the water's not quite this high - but it's always nice to see a waterfall at it's peak!
It's a nice spot - Garrett County is Maryland's westernmost county out in the panhandle, and is the county just west of where we live. There's lots of nice parks up there, lots of public land. Lots of places to go hiking and camping, or rent a cabin for a few nights if you wanted. We're pretty fortunate to have all that practically in our backyard - we love to pack a little picnic lunch and drive up there for the day. And because of the elevation, it tends to be cooler so in the hot summer months, it can be a cool escape, especially if you find a trail under some of the old, towering hemlocks. Nothing beats a hemlock forest on a hot summer's day - it's Mother Nature's air conditioning!
Anyway, we were pretty proud of our boys - although Matthew spent very little time in the stroller (Mark folded it up and put it on his shoulder for most of the hike!). He's sort of at the stage where we can't trust him to walk with us, but he won't be restrained! But Jonathan's getting to be a regular woodsman! The kid loves trails, loves to hike. He WANTS to go off on side trails and go to the water's edge and throw rocks. We try to gently discourage this, but his sense of adventure just runs non-stop, and we have a hard time not letting him just go and explore - after all, how else do they learn?
There's nothing like taking a kid outside and exposing him to all nature has to offer. Recently we took a drive close to home doing a little birding, mostly from the car, and Jonathan had a fit because we forgot his binoculars. He loves to be outside and explore, and I think Matthew's going to be much the same way.
Stay tuned for more pics along this theme: we've been trying to get up to Blackwater Falls in West Virginia for several weeks now, but life keeps getting in the way. Maybe this weekend!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Small Town Livin' (Part 2)

So a few posts ago, I talked about my current hometown. But it was all demographics and geography. Today I have a few words about culture.

I've heard the stories about life a few generations back. People trusting people. A slower way of life. A friendliness brought about simply by proximity. This doesn't exist any more in big cities, sad to say. Maybe in a few leftover pocket neighborhoods, but as a whole, it CAN'T exist anymore. But I will say that this town I live in still has some of that, and I'm getting really, really used to it.

First of all, the town is small enough so that you do get recognized a lot. This works both for us and against us at times, if you've ever sat next to us at church, you'd see the absolute worst side of Matthew, and there has been the occassional need to physically leave the table at a restaurant for a few minutes... But for the most part, people recognize us and our kids fondly, and this does surprise us at times, but that's the town. I'll be at the mall, and some high-school kid will approach me and start this big conversation and I'll have no idea who I'm talking to. Big, friendly smile, nice conversation....then she'll say goodbye and "see you at D'Atri's" and then it hits me - our waitress from the other night at one of the most popular restaurants in the area. And this isn't a one-time occurrence - this happens all the time. I see people at the library, at the farmer's market, everywhere. The other day at the farmer's market, a woman approached us and started a conversation with Jonathan....again I was clueless, but eventually she told us she knew us from church. Uh Oh. Cringe.

But then, the shop owners recognize you also. In the strangest ways. We moved here 4 years ago this month, and ever since then, we've been taking Bella (the dog) to get groomed about 5 times a year to a local groomer. They stay pretty busy there, but even so I called them a few weeks ago, and simply said "I need to bring my dog by....", and the woman says "Oh, let's see when we can fit Bella in." Now I know she must have caller ID, but to remember my dog's name too right off the bat?

Or when we go to one of our favorite places for Sunday morning breakfast after church - the waitstaff there never seems to change! They love the boys, and always talk to us. One time, we hadn't been there for months - life circumstances, I guess got in the way. When our waitress appeared, her mouth dropped open - "Well where have you guys been? We thought you were mad at us! So good to see you, let's see, an unsweetened tea for you and a coffee, right?" Amazing.

The people in this town are just plain friendly. They like each other. They like to help you. They appreciate your business and go out of their way to make you feel welcome and it feels genuine.

And they trust you. And this is the amazing part about this place - I've never seen so much trust with businesses. When we first moved up, we needed furniture. We went to a local place in Westernport, which is about 15-20 miles away from us. A family-owned operation, but big. Big showroom stuffed with furniture, not flashy, no pressure, exactly what we wanted. We picked out a few things. Went to the desk. They said it would be a few weeks. They'd deliver for free. "Want a deposit?" I asked. No. A few weeks later, a truck pulls up. Furniture hauled up the steps. Bella bit one of the guys. He laughed. Furniture arranged in the room. "Can I pay you guys?" No. They'd rather not deal with payments. "Just call them and give them a credit card number or stop by the showroom sometime." I was stunned. I mean, sure, they know where I live and all, but um, did they just front me cash or what? Needless to say, we've bought LOTS more furniture from them since then, even one time when I had a choice of the exact same loveseat from a more local dealer for slightly cheaper, I still bought it at the original place because I like the way they do business. When I told them that, they promptly knocked off a percentage of the love seat, just in appreciation for what I said. Say WHAT?

I could go on and on with all this, I've only been here 4 years, but things like this happen all the time. There aren't any big corporations making the rules, and I guess the business owners treat people how they want and it pays off in the end.

Of course I'm not saying it's all wonderful. Choices are limited here. I've talked about the shopping, the dining, the lack of big retailers. Now that I think about it, I wonder what those big retailers would do to the mom-and-pops....hmmmm, rather not consider that right now. The libaries aren't great - there are lots of branches but they're rather small. A new book hits the shelves and the hold list for the one copy they get is like 12 patrons long. There's not a lot of cultural diversity. There's not a lot of fine art type stuff, although that is changing a bit with the appearence of some nice art galleries downtown, and with the local college holding concerts, etc...

Previously, I'd lived in the big cities - the Baltimore-Washington corridor - my whole life. So had Mark. So moving up here was a big, big change. But the slower way of life grabs ahold of you and doesn't let go. If you sit more than a nanosecond at a light that just turned green, you don't get the finger, or the blast of a horn or even an impatient sigh from the guy behind you. But if you don't get started soon, he might just get out of his truck and come to see if you're okay. And there's the chatty check-out lady at the Fruit Bowl - a local produce and candy market. If you're in a rush, which DOES happen, you do NOT want to get in her line. She'd be fired in a minute if she worked within a 50 mile radius of anwhere with 100,000+ population. But everyone seems to love her.

So yeah, it's a trade off. But there's something about friendliness, trust and feeling welcome that touches your heart and soul. And that's more valuable than the best shopping, dining and culture any day of the week.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Matthew's Birthday Weekend

As promised, some pics of Matthew's birthday weekend a few weeks ago. We started out on Friday when Daddy took the day off work so we could take the boys to the amusement park. They loved riding all the little rides - and Matthew got to ride for the very first time! (But we still got him in for free, since he didn't turn 2 until 2 days later! Score 1 for Mom and Dad, Amusement Park - 0. Don't worry, they'll get us back next year!)

Matthew seems to share Jonathan's fascination with the balls that hover in mid-air. Jonathan was obsessed with this last year and I think Matthew is not far behind. Actually, it's pretty cool. And the whole area is contained so that meant that Mom and Dad could have a moment of sanity (and a bathroom break) and not worry about them running off anywhere....

And here's Jonathan, looking out from "The Little Engine That Could" - part of Storybook Land" which, on paper sounds really cool for little kids, but in the flesh wasn't really "all that." We didn't spend much time there - once Jonathan remembered about the rides, we were off to the other side of the park!
The next day, Grandma, Poppy and Aunt Rachel came up for an overnight visit to celebrate the real birthday on Sunday. Jonathan loved having his grandmother and aunt around to read to him and play with him - he likes it when they come for what he calls a "sleepover".
And Matthew scored all kinds of cool presents. The kid digs balls. He's already catching and throwing like a champ. My poor house. So far all such activities have been relegated to the basement. But every once in awhile, another ball sneaks up the steps until I banish it again.
And Matthew also got this cool new road carpet....hmmmmm, why is JONATHAN playing on it? Because he'd already thrown Matthew off of it. Not a very nice older brother!
Time for cake. Yes, I made it. Yes, that's black granulated sugar making the road in the shape of a 2. Yes, it was a big mistake.
Because by the time JONATHAN blew out the candles, Matthew had already found his way into the sugar, making a huge, huge mess. And once the cake hit our mouths, everyone's mouth turned greenish-black for hours. Teeth, lips, gums, tongue. Even the dog. No more black sugar. Or dark purple, green, blue or anything else. It LOOKED good. It even tasted good.

But oh boy, what a mess!
Anyway, that was the birthday. All wrapped up now, of course. Since then, I gave most of the leftover cake to my friends' boys who came over to swim the next day....suckers! I warned them, but I think they thought it was cool.
In other news, we revised our "eating out" plan the other night. I'm not sure if I ever posted this since it was instituted before I started my blog, but shortly after Matthew was born, we made a decision to cut back, way back on eating out. Mostly because I quit work and we were looking for ways to cut some corners, financially speaking. So our plan was to limit our meals out to one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner per week. And for two solid years, this plan has worked great. We didn't count trips - if we were on the road, we didn't keep track. And sometimes we traded a breakfast for a lunch, etc... But for the most part, we followed our plan, and although I was now cooking at least 18 meals a week, it was okay. It worked.
But lately, we've noticed that we've been sneaking in a few more meals here and there....like Mark would leave for work without a packed lunch, and I would take the kids to the mall and meet up with some friends and we'd all have pizza at the food court. Then Mark would walk up to the sub shop. Since we weren't eating together, we didn't count those meals. You see where this is going.
So we sat down the other night and, even though I'm working again, we decided that in the name of high-priced gas and other expenditures, we would cut back on eating out even more. Besides. Restaurant food is getting out of hand. Entirely too much food. Entirely too expensive (um, a few months ago, Ruby Tuesday charged me $3.19 for an ICED TEA. A plain one. Not one of those fancy fruity ones.) And ridiculously priced kids meals. Why on earth are the charging $4.99 for a grilled cheese and fries when I can make it at home for like 85 cents? If that? And in addition, eating out only 3 times a week over the past 2 years has helped me hone my cooking skills. Leftovers never go to waste anymore because we eat at home so much, and buying stuff in bulk, like boneless chicken breasts makes it so much cheaper in the long run.
So here's our plan. Whereas previously, we figured we were eating out anywhere from 12-15 times a month, now it's down to 11. If any of those 11 meals goes over $25-30 before tax and tip, it counts as two meals. And as further incentive, if we eat LESS than our allotted meals per month, MARK has to cook the make-up meals. HA! I'm loving that one. Because at this point, the only reason to go out is because I'm so busy I can't cook, or because I just need a break, thank you very much.
Yeah, it takes a little planning ahead, and a lot of time on my part, but in the end, I really think it's worth it. Restaurants are raising prices just like everyone else. And I just really hate to pay $5 for grilled cheese!

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Few Notes For Mr. Grisham

Wow. I just finished reading John Grisham's latest offering: The Appeal. I have to admit, I'd seen a few reviews by others who thought it wasn't his best work - they didn't like the ending, blah, blah, blah. To me, the ending was fine. Actually, the whole read was pretty good - if you like books that appeal to the masses, are easy to follow and have a bit of intrigue to keep you going. None of Grisham's books are earth-shattering, and yet, they are bestsellers. But I digress... ANYWAY.

I have to hand it to him - the guy knows how to weave a plot. I think his characterization could use a little more work, but I'm not a critic, what do I know? Oh, wait, I was going to talk about The Appeal!

Okay - here it is: that book scared the crap out of me. I'm almost afraid to consider the possibility that our government, our justice system, and our elected officials are THAT influenced. Basically, in a nutshell, a heavy-hitter corporation loses big in a liability trial, and throws around the mega-bucks to make sure the appeal goes the opposite direction. This includes both legal and illegal methods, and implies that big, big money is what really runs our nation.

So what can one say? "That's not fair!" Well, it isn't, but what can we do about it? Get out and vote? Ummmm, that's what the people in the great state of Mississippi did (in the book). They came out and voted in droves. For the bought candidate. The one with the funding to run a wink-wink campaign. The one who smeared the incumbent with falsehoods and misleading propaganda. The one who didn't even know he even wanted to be an elected official until big business coerced him with an offer he couldn't refuse.

Now I know this is a work of fiction...but really, how much is truly fiction, and how much of this could (and did and DOES) really happen? Congressmen hosting $1000 a plate dinners for a heavily guarded list of attendees, Gulfstream 5's paid for by the mega-rich hauling around our elected officials, hush-hush meetings taking place in the oldest and most elegantly decorated steakhouses that have private, red-boothed rooms that only a fraction of a fraction of a percent of our citizenry even know about.

Or maybe this truly is just a work of fiction and I'm a damned fool. Maybe Grisham's a better writer than I give him credit for.

Nah. I don't believe it. Why? Because of the underlying premise. Money. Read the book. Every one of the characters, from the lawyers, the judges, the plaintiffs, the corporate stiffs, heck, even the PREACHERS; all they cared about, all they laid their lives on the line for, all the sacrifices: Money. And lots of it. And here's where maybe Grisham is a genius. He never has them admit it openly, but at the mere mention of big bucks, his characters show it. I'm not going to give examples. There are too many. But the way these characters seem to respond to the idea that big money is coming their way reminds me of the Grinch when he gets the idea to raid Who-ville, and he smiles that smile: that evil, twisting, self-satisfied grin.

I never had a doubt that money is what really runs this country, from the top on down. But to read such a chilling example of how EXACTLY money can (and probably has) done this makes me nervous. And it makes my skin crawl.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Can You Really Fall Off the Face of the Earth?

Boy my blog suffers when I get busy. I hate that. I hate not having time to open up blogger and furiously type whatever comes to mind that day, or share some pics with friends and relatives, or relive a funny or happy moment. But life took a turn for the busy lately, and my blog took the brunt of it.

So rather than bore you all with endless details, I'll fill you in briefly, and try to get back on track soon.

First of all, despite my recent post where my "blog-sense" fell under some scrutiny, I am still perfectly comfortable divulging details of my personal life - just maybe I'll be a bit more careful in the future.

A day or two after my last blog entry, my great hubbie took a day off work so we could take the boys to Idlewild Park - sort of a kick-off to Matthew's birthday weekend. After frolicking in the park for a few hours, we left when a thunderstorm came up, and drove out to the nearby Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, PA. Despite ANOTHER thunderstorm, we were able to hang out there for a few minutes - a very powerful place. The kids didn't get it, of course, but maybe in the years to come, we'll take them back. We had no idea it was only about an hour from our house.

The next day, my parents and sister were coming to spend the night and celebrate Matthew's birthday. Which meant that after a long day at the park and the memorial, I had to go home and start cooking and cleaning. Amazingly, it all got done and they arrived the next day after lunch. From then on, things were a blur. Except for the fact that Matthew's birthday cake turned everyone's teeth and tongue black. More on that....later.

My family left on Sunday afternoon, and I had two days to pack up because we were then headed to my mom's for a solid week. Oy. It's tough to leave in the summer - the pool needs almost daily attention, the plants need to be watered, the grass grows like the weeds that are mixed in.....but luckily my wonderful friends volunteered to do all this dirty work for us while we were gone, so we COULD leave with no worries.

Why'd we go? Meetings. Classes. Celebrating Matthew's birthday with his other grandparents. You know, life. Mark had a two-day class and some meetings at his HQ office in Annapolis. And I, yes, previously little, old SAHM me, am now a working woman. I signed my contract with my new employer on Monday and am now earning wages to contribute to our household funds, which, admittedly, have suffered a bit since I went on my 2 year hiatus after having Matthew.

I have it good - I have a great job that pays well, and I get to work at home, set my own hours, and my HQ is about 120 miles away - so at 58.5 cents a mile, even a meeting there every once in awhile can be profitable.

In this day and age, I got lucky. An old colleague I worked with about 10 years ago remembered me and contacted me last Fall. It's taken this long to get work, get a contract and get started, but in this case, patience paid off. Thanks "old-colleague", I am forever in your debt.

Anyway, we came back home last night, and right as I type, hubbie is on his way home for the long holiday weekend. Don't blame me if I don't blog all weekend....I'll try, but I make no promises! Happy 4th, Americans!