Monday, July 26, 2010

This Old House

I've been really antsy about the house lately.

Since the divorce, it has felt like I have just been marking time here, versus really living here. In case you have ever wondered, I can say with absolute certainty that it's hard to stay in a house after a divorce, especially if you keep all the same furniture, and all the same dishes, and all the same pictures on the walls, and all the same linens . . .

You get the idea.

What (I think) has been a comfort for the kids has been more than a bit uncomfortable for me.

By my choosing.

Since the divorce, I have worked hard to make sure that everything has stayed the same, physically, for them. At first, I thought that was supremely important. Somehow, I thought that maintaining their home and their neighborhood and their surroundings would make the divorce less difficult.

Maybe it has. Then again, maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part.

Consistency was my battle plan for getting my kids through this whole debacle. Of course, who could have imagined a year and a half ago that we would be sitting here in July 2010 in the situation we find ourselves in now. Matty is here with me, living in this house with me, the kids, the dogs and The Ghost of Marriage Past, battling cancer, and we are living across the street from my ex-husband and his family in a home that I have always loved but now somewhat resent.

Let's don't even talk about the housing crisis, or the economy, or the 2 chances we have for selling this home and walking away with a penny in our pocket (those two chances being slim and none.)

Even if we could sell, it would be a terrible time to try. We need to stay put and get through Matty's treatments, and keep the kids in the schools that they are used to, and I still think it's good for them to have their dad and grandparents closeby, even if that's not the most comfortable thing for the adults (them or us.)

All of these factors have kept me from doing, well . . . anything.

It's taken over a year for me to consider what I could do to this place to make it feel like a living, vibrant home, versus a marital graveyard. I know it's been hard on Matty, too, moving into a ready-made home.

In a perfect world, we would have sold this home, and disposed of the furnishings and found a new place.

But you know what they say . . . nothing's perfect.

But when you find yourself in the situation that we are currently in, you take stock of what's important, and what can be enjoyed in the here and now, and if having Matty here has taught me ANYTHING, it's that the day is what you make of it, and you can choose to enjoy life regardless of the circumstances.

I love him so much for that.

So, with that in mind, I found my mindset start to slowly change about the house.

I do still love it here. I love my kitchen, and I love my walk in closet, and I love my basement office, and my wooded backyard. I love my flowers out front, and I love my dining room, painted just the exact shade of blue as my beloved Pfaltzgraf stoneware.

I even love the neighborhood, and the pool, and the sidewalks.

All of the things that I loved about this house are still here. Everything that made it felt like I would shrivel up and die if we didn't get this house are still here.

That realization has been slow to catch fire in my head, but it's been smoldering for awhile now, and seems to have worked up a little flame. It's only been in the past month or so that I have begun to assess the situation and make plans to remake this home into one that feels less like a monument to what was, and more of a comforting place to enjoy what is.

It really started with a couple of small things, but I've learned that it's amazing how encouraging small changes can be.

Matty bought me a new gazebo for the deck (my old one had been destroyed in a bad storm last year.) Somehow, having him make that effort led me to want to make the deck as nice as I could for us to enjoy, so I ordered some solar light caps for the deck railings.

And, oh my sweet Home Depot . . . it took me FOREVER to pull the trigger on the damn lighting.

I looked online for DAYS, agonizing over every choice. It felt like I was making some kind of life-or-death decision, which is crazy.

Well, it is.

Anyway, I finally took a deep breath and clicked the "buy" button.

Then I noticed how neglected the deck was, and how badly it needed to be cleaned and stained and sealed, so we started collecting bids for that work, and it wasn't too long before I took a good look at my exterior porch and garage lights and ordered some that are as pretty as the deck lights. (Sea Gull Yorktown 1-Light Forged Iron Wall Lantern, retail $104, EBay new in box $54.00.)

They are in boxes at my front door now, and I am giddy with excitement to see them adorn the entrances.

We also picked up some new showerhead sets for our bathrooms. If you don't have a rainshower soaker/handheld shower combo, I can't recommend them highly enough.

This past weekend, we bought some beautiful forged iron pulls for my kitchen and bathroom cabinets ($1 apiece at a closeout of custom order kitchen hardware, retailed for $8ish each), and I've ordered some replacement lights for our bathrooms (this Kichler 3 light set was $225.00 retail, $39.00 new in the box on Ebay. Her 4-light sister was $295.00 retail, got two of those for $49.00 each!)


I've also begun to assemble all of the things that will be leaving our house. I plan to have the mother of all garage sales very very soon.

Once the house has been cleared of all of the unwanted items, the biggest project of all will commence: painting. It's the only project I am actually nervous about, which is silly, of course. I'm sure once I actually start applying the paint, it will be a breeze, but deciding on the colors, and preparing properly, all that . . . it feels like a big challenge.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Additional frugal wisdom from Dwight Schrute

Tough Times? Tough Noogies

The economic crisis began with mortgage lenders throwing money at dolts who couldn't afford their payments. Sad stuff. Lucky for me, I've lived my entire existence in an economized state. I'd like to share suggestions with all those super-sized Baconator chateau-living goons out there, who are making their first attempts at being resourceful and cutting back.

Dwelling
Your house can be more than just the spot where you rest your head or butcher your pigs - it can also be a vibrant moneymaker. The spare rooms at Schrute Farms have provided beautiful memories for excursionists, while bringing in gobs of additional cash for Mose and I. I also rent out my basement to a part-time dentist, which means even more money coming in, and free travel toothbrushes whenever I desire.

Clothing
I laugh in the face of your Goldie Hawns, your Diane Keatons, spending thousands on inane wardrobes that are hot one moment and offensive the next. I sport most of my dead grandfather's garb - classic, durable, free. And Mose knits our wintertime attire.

Sustenance
If you're 85 or younger and your appendages are still mobile, you should be hoeing your harvest every morning. I've been living off the land since I escaped the womb. It's not only cheaper than those preposterous yuppie grocery markets like A&P, but pasturing also gives you brawn. No need for a gym membership. Two birds, one garden stone.

Transportation
I bought a Pontiac Firebird in 1987 and haven't looked back since. No car payment in 19 years. Most of you halfwits forget that your vehicle is a machine, not an ornamental showboat to arouse the neighbors. So trade in your cutting edge Accords and Eclipses for something more affordable. If it has airbags, it's too good for you.

Take all of this advocacy and run with it. Or don't, and forever be a penniless idiot.

Alternative Consumption

So, lately I've been thinking about alternative consumption.

Is that a thing? If it's not, then I hereby claim that as of today, it is.

Finding cheaper ways to do things is nothing new for me - I am a longtime coupon user, thrift store shopper, and bargain seeker. I'm one of those people that turns a $200 grocery run into a $50.00 spree, with a crazed look in my eye, a sales paper in my left hand, and white-knuckle clutching a stack of coupons in the other.

Up to now, my consumption has all been cash-based. Granted, I use less cash than other people, but still . . . when I get things for my family, the bottom line is, cash changes hands.

I am attempting to teach my children the ways as well. They are well-versed in the ways of Play and Trade (game swapping store), Goodwill, yard sales, thrift stores, etc., so much so that I can proudly say that my 9 year old often walks through retail stores scoffing, "Yeah, right . . . I can get that for like a DOLLAR at a yard sale!"

It brings a tear to my eye. It really does.

This past week, I have been seeking out other ways to make my junk/stuff/assets work for me. It started innocently enough when I started taking stock of my "priceless treasures" (aka junk) in anticipation of a mammoth yard sale that I plan to have as soon as Atlanta reaches temperatures that WON'T melt my face off in my driveway.

See, I have a whole list of things that I want to do in the house. Painting, redecorating, fencing, sprucing up, yadda yadda yadda.

I also have lots of things that I no longer want, so that's where the yard sale comes in. Except yard sales are really just a way to throw things out. Generally, yard sales aren't a way to generate any real cash, they're just a way to free up real estate and eliminate clutter.

So I started thinking about that, too. This "clutter" is comprised of things that I purchased. Cash traded hands. Cash that was earned by my work, which is the fruit of my labor. My energy and labor are finite resources.

That made me look at the junk differently.

For instance, I looked at a bulging rack of DVDs that has amassed over the past several years. These days, we don't watch DVDs. We have streaming Netflix, so these movies are gathering dust. At a yardsale, I could reasonably expect to get a couple of dollars each for them.

Which is a shame, considering that they cost $15 apiece new.

Most of them have only been watched once.

Now, is it cheaper to buy a DVD than go to the movie? You bet. By the time you buy tickets, popcorn, candy and drinks, a movie costs a typical family of 4 about $60, so the DVD looks like a great buy in comparison.

But when you have watched the DVD and it takes up space in your house, it quickly turns into clutter, and appears to be of no value.

But you don't want to give it away, either, since you PAID for it.

This guilt has pretty much stopped me from purchasing movies, or music or books altogether. Between the notion of "Pffth, I can get that at a YARD SALE!" and the stash I have at home already, I can't really enjoy walking through a bookstore to contemplate purchasing anything.

But I do love books. And music. And movies.

Imagine my glee at my discovery of swaptree.com. This wonderful place allowed me to create an account and list all of my DVDs and books and games that would have either continued to sit dormant or be given away for pennies at a yard sale, and also create a wish list full of all of the DVDs and books and games that I wish I had instead. Instantly, this magic site matches MY unwanteds with others that have things that I covet, and facilitates a trade.

No money changes hands, yet I am supplied with new movies and books and games. It's like having a big circle of real friends that let you borrow things.

(LOL! Just kidding! I don't actually have a big circle of real friends, since I mostly live in my basement, and rarely go out, but I IMAGINE that this would be what it's like to have a circle of real friends that let you borrow things.)

I've already made 5 trades, and instead of dusty Scooby Doo and Barbie DVDs, I now have 4 really good books that I have wanted to read for a couple of years now.

It's a simple concept, I know, but I think it is going to revolutionize the way that I approach the "consumption" of media.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Swaptree - trade books, CDs, DVDs, and video games for free

Found a cool new site that lets you trade books, movies, CDs, games, etc. with other folks.

It will even import your Amazon wish list and find people that have what you want, and want what you have.

Neato.

Swaptree - trade books, CDs, DVDs, and video games for free

Friday, June 18, 2010

With apologies to Layne Staley. And eggs. And possibly toads.


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Who says Twitter's not good for anything?!?! Au contraire. You can learn many useful things on Twitter, like how to ruin a perfectly good bagel and a few innocent eggs.
Enter: Toad in a Hole.
It's known by many other names, evidently. According to the gospel Wikipedia,
Egg in the basket, also known by a variety of another names, including frogs in a hole, birds nest, cowboy eggs, etc, is an egg fried in a hole of a slice of bread.[1][2][3] The slice of bread can also be substituted with a waffle or bagel.[4][5]
Imagine my surprise that I had never heard of this delicacy until Twitter, and for a self-confessed foodie, that's saying something.
I had NO idea what it was when I saw the first mention, and after scuttling across the web like Charlotte, I was eager to try my hand at this interesting little breakfast tidbit.
From what I could gather, it was comprised of carved out bread that served as some kind of egg container while the egg softly cooked to near-done.
Sounded easy.
It was not.
My attempts were a bit shaky at first. What kind of bread? How much do you cut away and how much do you leave? How many eggs?
And in case you are wondering how hard I am able to make this process, I had no idea what to do with the part that you cut out of the middle?!
What I did know how to do, though, was turn a perfectly good song into a horrible breakfast ditty. In my head. While the eggs were scorching.
Maybe that's why I can't figure out the simple things, cause so much (like how to ruin music with a song about burning eggs) is rattling around in my head.
Anyway, please to enjoy . . .and if you need the tune to sing along, here you go!
Toad In A Hole
(An homage to Alice in Chains and eggs everywhere)

Bury my yolk in this bread toooomb
I cut a hole to make some rooooom
Salt rains down and here I sit
Holdin my fork, startin to droooool (on you)

Toad In A Hole, and I don't know if I can behaaaaaaaaaaaaave
It's taking too looong to get from the pan to my plaaaaaaaate
Aw, I don't understand what they thought this was supposed to be
Look at my bagel all carved out and full of debris

Toad in a hole
Mouth is the goal
Toad in a hooooole

Eggs in a bowl
I want to fryyyyyyyyy
But the heat in my pan's way to hiiiiiiiiiiiigh

Toad in a Hole and I put all the eggs in their plaaaaaaaaace
Took one little lick so my tongue has been burned of the taste
I have been guilty of getting egg stuck in my teeeeeeeeeeeeth
Grabbing the jelly and now gettin’ ready to eeeeat

Toad In A Hole
Might need a bowl
Toad In A Hole
Could use a roll
Toast’s always niiiiiiiiiice
And bagels are harder to sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice

Bury my yolk in this bread toooomb (all eggs want to be inside of you)
I cut a hole to make some rooooom (all eggs want to be inside of you)
Salt rains down and here I sit (all eggs want to be inside of you)
Holdin my fork, startin to droooool (all eggs want to be inside … )

Toad In A Hole
Hard to control
Toad In A Hole
Eggs start to roll
Toad In A Hole
Sellin my soul
Toad In A Hole
Might need a bowl
I'll eat a sliiiiiiiiiice
But French toast sure would have been niiiiiiiiiiiiiice

P.S. I love you Layne. You can stop spinning in your grave now.

Monday, June 7, 2010

For the love of puppets

I love puppets.

I know that's creepy. And unusual.

I've just always loved them.

Back in '66, when I was born, TV was fast becoming the babysitter of choice for my generation, but the choices for kids' TV were still pretty limited. Moms were working more, and staying home less (at least mine was), adults were preoccupied with the world that the TV brought into their living room at night, and while they maintained a front row seat for the war, and the moon landing, and the rising national debt, and the climbing divorce rate, and women's lib and bra burning and hippie uprisings and desegregation, TV also (and rather insidiously) filled in large blocks of kids' time that would have otherwise been spent interacting with the big people in their house.

Looking back, my early years (66 - 76) were a kind of golden era for kids' TV, and in those days before CGI and cheap cartoon rendering, puppets often filled in the gap between reality and imagination.

My first puppet was a Romper Room Do-Bee puppet, and I remember being absolutely mesmerized by having the Do-Bee puppet ON MY HAND while I was WATCHING IT ON TV! I was not quite 2, I think, and was pretty convinced that the people I saw on the screen lived IN the screen, and I remember excitedly showing my Do-Bee puppet to Ms. Bonnie (who NEVER saw Rita through her magic mirror, by the way).

No matter, I spent countless hours happily animating my Do-Bee puppet and playing with my Scoop-A-Loop and occasionally tottering around on my Romper Stompers.


I was also already pretty heavily invested in Mr. Rogers by this time, too. Anyone that knows me knows how much I loved Picture Picture, and the trolley, and the Land of Make-Believe. It seemed completely seamless, the transition from real life in Mr. Rogers house to the land where puppets lived and worked and played and ran kingdoms and lived in clocks and talked even though they were platypuses or tigers.

By the time I was 3, the wonder that was (and is) Sesame Street flooded my little world with bright happy friends that taught me how to read, and count, and begin to understand humor, and see kids that looked different than I did. I felt a kinship with Big Bird, being able to see his imaginary friend when those around him couldn't, and I always wanted to see what Oscar had in his trashcan, and I wondered a lot about what it was like IN the trash can, whether he had a chair, or a bed, and I remember feeling a scary-but-not-too-scary thrill when The Count came on to exclaim his glee and conjure lightning with his laughter. It felt ok to think that the puppets were my friends, since Mr. Hooper and Maria and the other big people on the show visited and talked with them every day. Ernie and Bert and Cookie Monster and even that guy that wore a raincoat and asked in a whisper if you'd like to buy an "O" were real to me.

Wonder of wonders, I received an honest-to-goodness Ernie hand puppet for Christmas when I was 5. It looked EXACTLY like Ernie, with his striped shirt, and his crazy hair, and his three-fingered hands. It even had a little rod that you could attach to his arm so that you could make him point and gesture at things. Never has a child loved a toy more than I loved my Ernie puppet.

As the late 60s gave way to the 70s, my tastes matured just a bit, and my show preferences began to expand. While I still loved Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street, I began to become enamored with all things Krofft. I distinctly remember watching The Banana Splits and assuming that they lived at Six Flags (it was filmed at Six Flags over Texas, as were some of the intros for the Kroffts' other shows, like Lidsville.) It was about this time that I actually got to GO to Six Flags over Georgia for the first time, and lo and behold, there were actual Krofft characters at the park, greeting us as we entered the gates - more proof that the people that lived on TV were real! Whee!

This coincided with my entry into public school. To be honest, I wasn't crazy about school. I had served time in crappy daycares, and this seemed like just another flavor of that, but one thing that I DO remember with great fondness are the magical days when The Vagabond Marionettes visited our school! How lucky I was to live in metro Atlanta, where the great Vincent Anthony (who later formed the Center for Puppetry Arts here in ATL) had chosen to come after the 1966 World's Fair in New York City where he had worked on Sid and Marty Krofft's Les Pupees de Paris and began the Vagabond Marionettes. I remember sitting on the cool linoleum floor of our elementary school's lunchroom, breathlessly watching the stage curtains draw back and hearing the music starting as those magic stringed puppets brought stories to life.

As amazing as all of this was for me, it paled in comparison to the day that I heard that The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft was opening at the Omni International in Atlanta.

Here. In Atlanta. Opening May 26, 1976. An amusement park with ALL THE PUPPETS!

It was almost unimaginable . . . I remember nearly stuttering with amazement as we gripped the handrail of the HIGHEST ESCALATOR KNOWN TO MAN and rode seemingly up to the heavens to witness The World atop the breathtaking Omni International. The experience was very nearly like arriving at the gates of heaven . . . the glass ceiling illuminating the cloudless sky, the whole place abuzz with happy, busy characters. Billy Barty himself was there to greet us, and I remember standing there eye to eye with him and realizing I was exactly as tall as he!

You'd think I would have grown out of the fascination as I got older, but I didn't. When PeeWee's Playhouse hit the airwaves in 1981, I was just as enchanted at 15 as I was at 5. Globey, Chairry, Randy, Pterri, Magic Screen, the singing flowers, The Puppetland Band, I loved them all. My Saturday mornings were spoken for (this was in the days before DVR). I had a standing date to discover the secret word (AHHHHHHHHHHHH!) and disappear into the Playhouse, where real people and puppets were equally awesome.

I'm not sure I would like puppets if I had been born sooner or later than I was. Any sooner, and I would have likely written off puppets as silly and childish. Any later, and I would have rolled my eyes at the low-tech experience of seeing a puppet brought to life and suspending my disbelief long enough to step into another world for awhile, courtesy of some wood and string.

Glad I was at the right place at the right time.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Summertime!

Lazy blogger here.

Some folks are probably visiting for the first time via my Twitter ramblings. If so, welcome to my museum of old blog posts! I promise to try to jot something here more often so that everyone knows I am alive and an actual person, and not a spambot.

Kids have begun their summer vacation today, and we are preparing for quite a summer, with a pending stem cell transplant for my sweet Matt, and hopefully lots of improvement for his multiple myeloma.

Some things suck, but there is still lots to be thankful for. Love, healthy kids, stable job (for now), and supportive family.

And Twitter!

Friday, March 12, 2010

March madness

Man - how much can happen in 3 months?

You'd be surprised.

Since Christmas:
My mom came out of remission. Her cancer has become active again, and new lesions have appeared on her liver and kidneys. She's on a new chemo regimen, and she seems to be tolerating it for now. She initially said that she didn't want to go on chemo, that when that time came, she would opt out, but her doctor advised her that she had a better than decent chance of beating the cancer back into remission, so she is trying the meds (for our sake, I think.) I don't know how I feel about it. I don't want her to suffer through a horrible regimen on my account, and I hope I am strong enough to back her decision to stop if it comes down to it.

I hope I am strong enough for a lot of things lately, actually.

I'm nursing some wicked stitches at the moment. At my annual exam, my skin doc noticed some suspicious looking moles, and 3 biopsies later, I was notified that I needed 3 surgical extractions, and that the moles were INDEED suspicious, bordering on malignant, but that they were still on the safe side of the spectrum. Scary stuff, but I am just thankful that they were caught early.

Wear your sunscreen, kids.

Most devastatingly, my dear Matty has been diagnosed with cancer. The holidays were a bit of a struggle for him, and after visiting the doc for some unexplained pain and a scheduled physical, the alarm bells went off and we embarked on a whirlwind of tests and doctor visits, only to land in the office of my mother's oncologist to be given the news that he has multiple myeloma (blood plasma cancer.)

He started treatment, and almost immediately was hit with debilitating pain. He's been in the hospital now for 2 weeks, struggling with the regimen and the excruciating pain that seemed determined to continue regardless of what meds he was given. It's been a hard road, but the docs finally came up with an aggressive treatment plan, and the pain finally seems to be coming under control.

The docs are preparing him for a stem cell transplant later this spring, and they are confident that he will do well, and achieve a long remission, which is the best you can hope for with this kind of cancer. It's not curable, but it's treatable.

In the midst of all of this, I'm still working, and taking care of the kids and the dogs and the every day life stuff. The kids have been so good. I'm so proud of the way they have handled themselves over this past year. Feels like they have gone through 5 years of growing up in less than one year's time, and although I feel guilty that they have been put through so much, I couldn't be prouder of the way that they have handled all of the changes with good humor and optimism.

So - what's that Chinese wish/curse "may you have an INTERESTING life"?

In spades.
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