Saturday, May 30, 2009

Embrace Your Life!

I am addicted to getting rid of my stuff.

3 weekends ago, I hauled all my stuff to my friend's place on the base and we had a yard sale. When that was over, I grabbed the two laundry baskets of things I figured I could still sell and dumped the rest on the poor folks at Value Village. Apparently they were expecting me, because they had a designated drop-off point at the back of the store with two real-live attendants to help me purge my junk. The other stuff got listed on our local free classified site, and I sold one exersaucer and five stamp sets. To date, I have made $190.

Yesterday, after getting almost all the vegetables we've started into the ground, I removed the Captain's grow operation out of our bedroom forever. Rosemary's Baby is finally past the point where he wants to dump the soil every which way, so next year it can go in a hallway somewhere. So, the big, ugly work table covered in foil, with grow lights hanging from every available surface is now out in the potting shed, and will not reappear in the room that is supposed to be my sanctuary from barking dogs and evil children. I can walk around my bedroom now without having to worry about knocking over plants or bumping into a table corner. It's heaven!

And, as always, I have a donation pile going, and now also a try-to-sell-first pile so that when I come across something that no longer has a use for me, I have somewhere to swiftly throw it. It's absolutely liberating.

I think it's taken me 35 years to know--and I mean really know, in my heart and deep down in the recesses of my brain, as opposed to logically knowing but not really believing--that the key to my own happiness does not lie in my stuff. We've become this society that tries to console itself, to solve its inevitable problems--of a crappy economy, our various relationship woes, and the ongoing mess of life in general--by taking ourselves to Wal Mart and buying a large-screen TV or a trendy, made-in-a-sweatshop wardrobe. And it doesn't make us happy. We know that, but we don't know what else to do, so we settle for that temporary high of having something new and shiny to distract us from our problems, then feel even worse than we did in the first place when the credit card bill rolls in.

I read in a magazine yesterday that studies have shown that people who spend their money on experiences--concerts, vacations, nights out etc etc--are happier than those of us who spend it on material possessions. And it makes perfect sense. I have to be honest, I'm lucky enough to already be pretty reigned-in when it comes to spending, but I do have my lapses. So, from here on out, my plan is to be more conscious of what I'm doing at the stores and why, and to focus harder on enjoying every minute I'm getting on this planet. I want to experience new things, and enjoy the things I already know I like doing. Of course this won't stop me from shopping altogether, but I hope it'll help me really reflect on what I'm buying and why. I don't need any more clutter around here, and this past month of purging has introduced me to a new sense of calm.

So yes, I will make the occasional purchase of something I love (my new-used ring is now being referred to around here as "The Pink Panther"--that alone is worth the $6 price tag!), but my plan is to continue to spend less and less, and to focus on experiencing life.

Because, as it turns out, there's a good chance I'm only going to get one of them.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Reluctant Gardener

If I had my way, the Captain--who loves his garden more than he loves me, Rusty and Jerome combined--would take care of all the tilling, planting, weeding and watering until August, and then I'd come out and pick all the perfectly-formed vegetables for salads and canning and freezing for the winter.

Unfortunately, the military schedule doesn't really allow for that, so some years, I end up doing the vast majority of it myself, usually taking care of it all after the kids are in bed because those are my only free hours. And sometimes--I admit--I complain bitterly.

I was lucky this year. The Captain just happened to be home long enough to start the seeds, prepare the soil, deal with the first batch of weeds and plant some of the hardier vegetables, as well as setting up the irrigation system. I've spent this week putting in the rest. And I'm far from done.

Our garden plot is so big that if it were any bigger, we'd probably have to declare ourselves farmers on our income tax forms. We grow almost enough food to last us through the winter without having to shell out for produce from California. There's a lot to be done out there, and a lot to be kept up, which is where I tend to get behind. Last year, I got everything planted okay, but the weeds totally did me in.

I'm learning a lot by being forced to do this stuff on my own, but I still need a bit of help when it comes to identifying different plants. And because of this, I'm always a little leery of yanking something out of the ground if I'm not absolutely positive it's a weed. So in the end, I wait and watch to see what bears flowers and fruit and what ends up obviously not serving any purpose at all. Of course, by that point, the garden is so overrun with weeds, I can't possibly get them all pulled during Rosemary's Baby's hour-long naptime. And then the Captain comes home and lets out a horrified shriek when he sees what I've done to his garden. Then I don't see him for about a week, while he spends every waking second trying to rectify my negligence.

In the end, it all works out fine though. Last year, our 24 tomato plants yielded about 175 lbs of delicious romas and beefsteaks, and we're still working on the last of the canned sauce now. This year, we planted 35 plants, so I foresee lots of homemade soup and salsa being added to the pantry as well. If you've never used home or locally-produced tomatoes, I highly recommend them. They beat the pants off those anemic, mealy pink things your local grocery store ships in from the next continent over.

And while tomatoes are my favourite score from the garden, summer squash, cukes, peppers and beans are right up there too. And there's nothing quite like digging down into the dirt in mid-September and hauling away a cartload of potatoes.

So, while I moan about being "stuck" dealing with the Captain's garden all by myself year after year, and worry every year that I'm doing it wrong without him here to watch over my shoulder, I think that even if he wouldn't divorce me for not helping him out with this one little thing, I'd still want to do it. As much as the beginning stages are hard, back-breaking work, the end result is nothing short of a miracle. You stick a few seeds into the ground (or in our case into a block of soil under the grow lights weeks before the last frost), add water, and God does the rest.

And really, how cool is that?!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Vet Visit

Years ago, I worked with a gym teacher. She was the mother of two teenagers who kept bringing home stray animals, and she'd inevitably end up being the one to look after these new family members for the rest of their natural lives. One morning, she told me she was really looking forward to when all the pets finally died.

At the time, I just had Rusty and Jerome and I loved them like they were my own children. So, while I found this statement funny, I also found it horrifying. But these days I can kind of see where she was coming from.

The Captain and I took the dogs to the vet last week. Usually I have to do this job on my own, or wait until my parents are coming for a visit so I have an extra pair of hands to help. I have to schedule the trip for when both kids are at school or can be babysat. With two large, boisterous dogs, it can be quite a job. The last time I left Jerome, my overzealous border collie, alone in the car while Rusty reluctantly got her shots (bringing them in together usually results in a lot of barking, fussing and excitedly competing for the vet's attention that just isn't worth the trouble), he got so excited, he completely chewed up Rosemary's Baby's car seat cover. Luckily, the baby wasn't in it at the time.

So, it was quite a luxury to have the Captain around to sit in the car with the spare dog this time. It didn't curb anyone's natural canine zest for life, but at least I knew that when I got back, the car would still be there.

As it turns out, my dogs are exceptionally healthy. If things go on like this, Jerome may make the Guiness Book of World Records for oldest living dog. And really, of course, that's great news. He's a big ball of undiluted joy, he keeps me safe when the Captain's away, and my life wouldn't be quite right without him. But when he's chasing his tail while the vet wants to stick his back end with a needle, and Rusty is in the car getting up to goodness-knows-what, you can't help but imagine how much easier this would be with just one dog.

Bathing them is kind of the same thing. One of them is trapped with me in the bathroom getting the dreaded lathering, while the other races around the house barking, knowing something terribly unusual is going on in there and wanting to announce it to the world. I actually look forward to summer because I can do that miserable chore on the front lawn with the garden hose and then just let them run around shaking themselves off afterwards. But we're not quite there yet in Manitoba, so I've been putting it off. And when I apologized for their stinkiness last week, the vet, who had already shown amazement that I brush my dogs' teeth and clean out their ears regularly, reminded me again that he wasn't our garden-variety city vet, clipping the nails of poodles and treating hairless cats with organic skin tonics.

"Aw, that's okay. I just had my arm up the back of a cow all morning."

So, we're hopefully done with the vet visit for another shuddersome year. Jerome should live to be about a hundred, and we need to keep an eye on Rusty's broken tooth for signs of pain, but otherwise, it looks like I'm stuck with them for a few years more.

I guess I can handle that.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Inner Rebellious Teenager is Alive and Kicking!

Firstborn had a dental appointment in Booming Metropolis this morning (no cavities!). So naturally, afterwards we ran a few errands before heading home again.

For the most part, the errand-running was uneventful, unless you count Wal Mart running out of fig newtons as noteworthy. But when we dropped off a donation bag at Value Village and grabbed the opportunity to do a little treasure-hunting, all that changed.

As I was passing the jewellery counter, a large piece of cheap-and-cheerful costume jewellery caught my eye. It was a ring with a big pink stone and some little crystals surrounding it. Not everyone's cup of tea, I admit, but I like a chunky cocktail ring and I'm not apologizing. There was no one there to pull it out from under the glass, so I made a mental note to swing back around when I was done browsing.

After picking Firstborn up a pair of pants and a VHS copy of The Empire Strikes Back (we have this movie on my still-missing, still-broken laptop, but he insisted this was what he wanted as his treat for being good for the hygientist and, at $2.99, I didn't care enough to argue), I returned to the jewellery counter where there was now an employee showing a woman maybe a little older than my mom several of the rings from under the counter. I stood back for a minute or two and minded my own business until the employee saw me and asked if she could help. And I asked to see the ring.

No sooner had I gotten the thing on my hand, than this other customer looked down her nose at me, put on a tone that suggested she was an old school-marm scolding a 7 year-old girl, and said, "You know that's just play jewellery, right?"

Not one to immediately get snarky when someone states the obvious (the ring was $5.99. I was not under the impression I was about to purchase something from the Tudor dynasty), I smiled politely and replied ,"Oh, I know. But it's cute for six bucks."

And then came her pompous retort.

"Well, there's cute and then there's ostentatious!"

But it didn't end there. Because after saying that, she let out a loud and self-important SNORT!

And boy, did I want to put her in her place. Two immediate appropriate responses popped straight into my head, too.

"Do you have an untreated neurological disorder, or are you just naturally obnoxious?"

"Don't worry. I'm sure when I'm as old as you, I'll be less showy."

But I couldn't do it. Partly because it would be terribly rude. Also because I could feel something coming up my throat--a giggle. A big one. And it's even more rude to laugh in someone's face, even if they were rude first.

So, without even giving this horrible woman a sideways glance, I held up my new spite-purchase and gave the now mortified employee a big, toothy grin.

"Yeah, I'm gonna take that."

Then I turned on my heel and headed for the nearest open cash register. Now that ring sits on my right middle finger, sparkling away and making me as happy as if it were the real thing.

Feel free to call me ostentatious.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pink Makes Me Think!

My brain's been working overtime. Not that that's a bad thing. Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, there have been moments when I've wondered if it's even still there.
Last night we decided to connect with the outside world and actually turn on the TV. We are still under the mistaken impression we can survive indefinitely without cable, so we have our rabbit ears and 2 static-ridden channels to choose from.

Last night, we chose CBC. And in a shocking stroke of luck, the home of such stink-o-saurs as Sophie was showing The Pink Panther. I haven't seen this film since I was about seven, and I have to say, I got a lot more out of it at 35. It was absurdly funny, and Robert Wagner was so adorable that it's almost impossible to believe that he spent almost another half-century afterwards becoming MORE adorable! But enough about that. For now.

What has thrown me right off is what my brain started doing just a few minutes into the movie. You know when you hear a musician you like doing a live version of a song you know really well from the album? And you know how your brain sort of automatically adds in all the extra Oh-Yeahs and Ooh-Ohhs that get left out of the live version? Well, that's what my brain kept doing during this movie. Every time Peter Sellers walked into a wall or got doused with water, my brain kept suddenly conjuring up the sound of my father laughing loudly. My dad likes the physical comedy. Just a little.

But my brain has also been helpful this week! Remember my utterly useless homemade pink ball gown? And how I wanted to make several more because it was so easy and flattering? It took a few days, but this weekend my brain suddenly realized that I could use the same general pattern to make several (thousand) tunic-length tops! Ones that could realistically be worn with jeans, and cover up my flabby mid-section! My formal dress pattern is suddenly a functional pattern for a stay-at-home mom! And I owe it all to my brain! I have a feeling no housework will be happening here until I get this out of my system.

I tested my theory on the pink dress, cutting it down to a tunic length, and I'm happy with the result. Also, cutting off most of the skirt left me with enough fabric to make myself another top, which I've pictured here (no more horrifying boob shots. That's my written guarantee.). I'm really happy with my new discovery because there's nothing more satyisfying than taking something completely useless and re-crafting it into something that can actually be utilized.
And somewhere out there in the universe, Molly Ringwald is feeling a confusing, inexplicable sense of pride right now...
Happy Long Weekend, my fellow Canadians!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Project Runway

My apologies for the gratuitous boob shot, but this was the best picture I could get of my new dress. I need to get one of those dressmaker's dummies (anything with the word dummy in it was MADE for me!) to avoid these horrors. But anyhow, today I am a designer!

I was wasting time ogling other people's creations on Burda and I noticed a whole lot of contributors have made something called an "infinity dress". So I did some research and discovered that this is one of those dresses you could buy at places like Sears and all sorts of mall clothing stores a year or two back that converted itself via the straps so it could be worn several ways, for several looks. If I recall correctly, these dresses went for something outrageous like $60 or $80. And seeing so many people having success with this, I set out to make one of my own. It seemed so simple (and believe me, a monkey could've whipped this thing up--there are about four pieces to it), I decided to try making it without a pattern (shriek!!). And here is the result!

This is my first attempt at making something without a pattern, and the fact that it's actually wearable (assuming you have anywhere to wear it, which I don't) has left me feeling awfully successful. I used a heavier jersey, which I found for $2/metre in a discount bin at Wal Mart, and I made the skirt full-length, so whichever way I choose to wear it, it's not really something I can use for anything but a gala or ball. But now that I know how to do it, I'm thinking I could get something lighter and make a shorter skirt for a more casual look. Not that I ever wear dresses. But this was such a quick project (seriously, it took a little over an hour from start to finish) that I'm tempted to talk myself into believing I could wear more dresses. At a total cost of $6 for this one, I could perhaps be convinced to make myself a running-the-kids-to-school dress, a puttering-in-the-garden gown, and a whipping-up-a-pot-of-spaghetti frock (that one will have to be dark, with a pattern on it to hide the inevitable stains).

So basically, laziness and cheapness have become my reason for adopting a more feminine style out here in the back of beyond.

Now, that's my kind of fashion trend.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Mother of all Yard Sales

I did have a shot of the card I made my mom this year, but of course, it's on my broken computer, which I still haven't gotten back two weeks after telling them just to get it back to me and I'll fix it myself. I'd better call them about that on Monday.
This weekend, I hauled a couple of loads of baby stuff to my friend`s place on base and we had a yard sale. While I`m a seasoned buyer at these things, it was my first attempt at selling my own junk. My parents (who have enough stuff to host a garage sale EVERY WEEKEND) don`t like the idea of strangers rummaging through their junk, and that thought has kind of stuck with me through the years.
Admittedly, there were a few minor annoyances that alerted me to the fact that the human race does, indeed, have some serious problems. For those of you new to scouring yard sales, bartering over something that is marked at 25 cents is seriously not worth the 3 seconds you lose in the haggling. But all-in-all the whole thing was an exhausting, but liberating success. And now my potting shed and workshop are roomier than ever, and I have an extra $115 to spend any way I please!
Okay, technically, I only have about $80 because my friend had some great stuff for sale that I simply couldn`t let pass me by, but you know what I`m saying here.
When I got home, the Captain was waiting for me. He`s on an almost 2-week leave between stints in the field, and arrived home just after I left to make my fortune early yesterday morning. So, my Mother`s Day is complete. I have my little family together here and I have some cash to spend the next time I head over to Booming Metropolis. Life is good.
My Mother`s Day gift to myself was skipping taking a photo of my cash for blogging purposes. I`ll just let you picture it in your head.
Just remember, that $80 I have left is in Canadian dollars. So those of you south of the border will want to adjust accordingly.
Happy Mother`s Day!!

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Little Topical Correspondence

Dear Economy,
Feel free to bounce back any time now. Just because my husband is a public servant, it doesn't mean I'm not affected. I have a whole lot of family and friends out there stressing and suffering over this situation. So, come on! Boom again! Or at least bang! I think we'd all settle for a mild pop at this point. No one likes a show-off anyway.
Best Regards,
Someone who never thought she'd be nostalgic for the 80's.

Dear Swine Flu,
Please go away now. Every time my kid coughs, I want to call 911. If he gets a fever, I'm consulting the internet to calm myself with the suggestion that it's probably just dysentery. You're making me crazy, and frankly, I don't need any extra help.
Yours Truly,
A 35 year-old with granny hands

Dear Kiefer Sutherland,
You're dreamy. Soooo dreamy. But this drunk-driving/headbutting business has got to stop. If it doesn't, you're going to start looking your age, and that won't be good for any of us. Speaking of which, exactly how is a 42 year-old man mustering up enough energy to spend his evenings at trendy nightclubs, drinking and getting into fights? I'm 35 and can barely stay up late enough to catch the tail end of Grey's Anatomy. Any insight you could give me into this would be greatly appreciated.
Someone who doesn't think you could handle prison

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Barbecue, the Final Frontier!

As you may be sick of hearing, military life offers me many opportunities for personal growth.

Last week, I lived through the crazy onslaught of bad luck with non-working computers, broken plumbing and unsettled digestive systems. My one awesome customer service experience turned out to be almost as bad as everything else. Our broken satellite radio, it turned out, was exhanged for an inferior model. I won't die from the inconvenience, but with no Artist Alert feature, I'm needlessly missing out on a lot of Foreigner. I know, I know. Call Lifetime. Someone should be making a weepy made-for-tv movie based on my life.

But I digress...

Over the past few years, I've had a baby by myself, orchestrated several moves on my own, learned to use the riding mower and the weed whacker, dealt with car troubles, house troubles and technology troubles, and nursed myself and my kids through numerous battles with illness, sadness and separation anxiety. None of this was fun, but all of it was educational.

But there is one area of my life where I have stubbornly left the man-job to the man, and when he hasn't been around, that job simply hasn't gotten done. I am talking, of course, about manning the barbecue.

I am a really big fan of barbecue. Meat, vegetables, fruit, pizza. You name it, I could eat it year-round above anything else. So, when the Captain comes home and tells me he's going to be away for x number of weeks, from this date to that, my first reaction is not to contemplate the misery of the separation. It's to mentally calculate how many of those weeks fall into the spring and summer months, and exactly how much barbecue am I going to be missing out on here?!

Well, no more! This week, I researched how NOT to burn off my eyebrows, and set out to fire up the grill! It was a roaring success, though I think I may buy frozen burgers next time since my homemade ones, though delicious, were more of a hamburger hash by the time they made it to the bun. But, as my dad used to tell us when we were kids, it all ends up in the same place!

Last night's hot dogs came out looking better, and I even grilled some pineapple afterwards to eat with ice cream. It all sounds rather tame, I know, but I figured I'd start out simply and work my way up to harder things. Tomorrow I'll marinate some chicken, and before you know it, I'll be enjoying perfectly grilled steaks. If you can't tell, I'm rather pleased with myself.

And now that I've learned this new skill, there is a sister-skill I feel almost equipped to tackle...the smoker. If I can uncover the secrets of perfect, slow-smoked ribs and brisket, I will have no more need for the Captain's services.

Well, not where summer grilling is concerned, anyway.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Four Eyes

Does anyone else out there think they look better in glasses?
I have been wearing my specs now since I was 15, so that's 20 years of four-eyed nerdery. And honestly, I think I look more agreeable in them than not.

Case in point: back when I taught third grade, I was sitting at the carpet with my students at the end of a long day and one of them asked me to take off my glasses so they could see what I looked like without them. I did, and there was dead silence for a full minute. Then, as only a child can, one little girl piped up with a pure and honest response.

"You look plain."

I appreciated this genuine reaction because, really, I knew it all along. My glasses have somehow, after all these years, become a part of my face. Granted, I see myself in the mirror every day for at least a few minutes without them and I can still recognize myself, but they're almost like makeup now. I wouldn't go out of the house without them.

A few years back, I tried contacts. Sister #1 has been wearing them for years and doesn't even notice them anymore. I could never get past the point where they made my eyes feel itchy. But every now and again, I think perhaps I'll look better, or hotter, or younger without glasses, so I try them again. And every time, I remember why I hated them.

My face isn't interesting enough on its own to make much of an impression. But when I wear my glasses, people always remember who I am. Plus, when I decided to wear my contacts to the Captain's last mess dinner, the lack of specs, combined with the humidity that caused my hair to fall flat and limp, but still nicely frizzy, made me look like I was going home to my 14 cats and aluminum foil helmet. A pair of glasses would have at least sent people the message that I was just kooky, not completely crazy.

The Captain's eyesight was always much worse than mine, until he decided to join the army. It turns out that when your eyesight is THAT bad, organizations that rely on you shooting at things really feel safer without you. So, he got LASIK.

It worked out great for him and he looks rather handsome without the big, round coke-bottles he wore in our wedding picture (Firstborn compares his look in that photo to Harry Potter). But having gotten a first-hand account from him on what is involved in that surgery, it gives me one more great reason to embrace my glasses. I'd need a lot more than a little valium to have my eyeballs held steady in a suction cup while someone slices and dices their way in there to laser whatever it is that makes me near-sighted in the first place. YUK!

So, I maintain that my glasses improve my overall look. They hide those unsightly wrinkles under my eyes, and give people something to focus on while listening to me blabber on about something no one could ever possibly find interesting. They're the perfect fashion accessory, they keep me from being arrested for reckless driving AND they give off the completely false illusion that I'm smart! Plus, whenever I feel like it, I can pull off my glasses with one hand, pull down my conservative up-do with the other, shake out my hair glamourously and dazzle people with my sudden transformation from mousy housewife to movie star.

Okay, I've never done that last one. But I could. And that alone makes my glasses worth their weight in gold.