Monday, September 28, 2009

My Drabby to Fabby Feet

Tamara over at Mad Boastings of a Cheapskate Mom has a new feature called Drabby to Fabby Friday. And yes, I know it's almost Tuesday. But cut me some slack here. Frankly, I'm lucky I made it to within a week!
Having had a distracting last couple of weeks, I didn't read the instructions quite right and thought I had to fab up my feet. It turns out I didn't, but I figure it was still a good start. This week, I'll do my feet, next week maybe I'll move upwards and shave my legs. And before you know it, I'll be showing off my rock hard abs! Why do I hear hysterical laughter coming from somewhere...

Anyway, Drabby to Fabby Friday served as a timely reminder that if I want to be the best I can be for my family, I have to take care of myself first. We moms always say that, but then our needs are the first to hit the road when time is at a premium. So I got strict and forced myself to toss the piles of laundry aside last night and get working on my gross, crypt-keeper feet. Here's the before pic (try not to cringe!):

Note the peeling nail polish, dry skin, broken nail, and the dirt from the daily trek through the vegetable patch under and around every single nail. Disgusting! Be thankful you can't see that my heels are so dry and dead and callused that I could walk over hot coals and not feel a thing. My feet have been ignored for too long!

I like to make do with what I have around the house, so nothing special was used in prettying things up down there. I filled a plastic tub with warm water and added some bath oil that was given to me in, I think, 2002, and never used until now. I soaked my feet for about 15 minutes, and then went to work on those nasty heels with a pumice stone. It really did the trick.

Next, I dried off my feet, and rubbed in some vaseline and then some cheap apricot facial scrub (this is my cheap version of the Mary Kay Satin Hands set--I'm too cheap to buy the real thing!). Then I used some bath gel to wash that off and then dealt with all that dirt using more bath gel and a nail brush. When that was done, I dried off again and moisturized with some Bath and Body Works Orange Ginger lotion the Captain brought home from a recent hotel stay. Then I clipped and filed my nails, removed the old nail polish and re-painted my toes (for the last time this year, I'm sure).

Here are my new-and-improved feet:

I know, I know. Can you even see a difference?! But they feel so much better!
One tip I should share is something I learned from Sister #2 a couple of years ago. If, like me, you find in the winter that the bottoms of your feet get so dry, you can walk across a carpet and stick to it like velcro, go to the dollar store and buy a cheap 3-pack of lip gloss (the stuff that you roll up like ChapStick) and rub that all over the bottoms of your feet before bed. It keeps them surprisingly moisturized. Just make sure not to mix them up with your regular lip gloss...

And there you have it. My feet look, or at least feel better, and I didn't have to spend a dime!

Friday, September 25, 2009

One Year!

Today is my one-year blog-iversary! What does this mean? That I'm a nerd who celebrates made-up holidays... But it's an excuse to eat cake--or at least those dried-up old donuts that have been sitting in my fridge for a few days now. And since it falls on a Friday, it means that after the kids go to bed, I'll make some cheesy popcorn and the Captain and I (and possibly my new purse which, I admit, I've been cuddling and stroking like a small dog) will have a glass of wine and watch a movie. Date night! Woo hoo!
In the past year, life has changed a lot, and stayed the same as well. I've made some great friends in the blog community, and found so many awesome blogs that make me laugh, or drool, or feel inspired. I've also spent way too much time online. Some of my worries have been resolved, but they've made way for new, sometimes bigger worries. But I guess when it comes down to it, no matter how brutal life gets, if no one dies, you'll probably be alright in the end. And even if you aren't, it's the people you connect with who lift you back up and dust you off and remind you that you are not alone.
So I thank you, my blog buddies, for floating around out here in cyberspace with me. Here's to 365 more days of insanity, purses, messy children, absent husbands, stinky dogs, garden adventures (I still hear growling...) and friendship in the 21st century!

And tomorrow is another (blogging) day...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Glimmer of Light in the Dark

I'm not really up to blogging at the moment, so bear with me here. But I thought I should confess that my plan to not buy anything unnecessary has hit a sort of grey area. The Captain has aided and abetted my shopping habit by buying me this:

Now, here's the dilemma. The Captain bought it. I didn't. BUT, we have a joint bank account. And I did not, in any way, need a new purse. So, did I cheat? Or is it all his fault?

Either way, I'm not too bothered if I cheated right now. This bag has been the very best part of what has, without doubt, been the worst week of my life. It is also absolutely the most beautiful, buttery-soft, high-quality purse I have ever owned.

I always wondered if having a really nice purse would turn me off the allure of something cheap-and-cheerful forever.

The verdict's in. Cheapness will never beat out quality again!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Military Life 101

6 years ago this week, I began my journey as a military wife.

The Captain and I had already been married for 6 years, and we had never, during that entire time, spent a night apart. But when the Captain decided he needed to make a career change and try something he had always wanted to do, like the devoted wife I am, I shrugged my shoulders and said "okay".

Our timing was terrible.

My sister was getting married at the other end of the country when Firstborn was due, so family members were simply not available to come down for the birth. Most of my friends were teachers who had just started the new school year and couldn't possibly take any time off. In the end, I had one awesome friend, a stay-at-home mom who kept her phone on night and day for me, and a doula we hired just to ensure I had a ride to the hospital. I owe these two a debt of eternal gratitude.

On the morning of September 19th, a week after the Captain had flown across the country to begin his new career, Firstborn started to cause me some pain. He did, of course, wait until I was pushing a cart through Safeway. So, as I was walking around the frozen foods aisle, and having to stop every 10 minutes or so to double over in pain, it occurred to me that this must be it. Finally, the gargantuan alien in my stomach was ready to come out! But, remembering the tales of 50-hour first labours in my (almost completely useless) birthing classes, I decided to finish shopping, so there would at least be milk in the house when I got home from the hospital.

After an uncomfortable drive home (ladies, do NOT try to drive while in labour!), I went about the business of timing the contractions. To make a long story short (because isn't it the most tiresome thing in the world to hear a person tell their whole nightmare birth story in detail?!), my labour ended up lasting about 26 hours, with 4 horrific hours of pushing. The labour, and the three months of single parenting that followed were, shall we say, a bit of a learning experience. Here are some highlights:

  • The first 8 hours of labour were spent alone at home, timing contractions and wondering why no one had warned me it was so painful (little did I know what was to come!). At about hour four, Father-In-Law called and asked me how I was. I told him my contractions were 4 minutes apart and I was trying to time them, thinking it'd get him off the phone faster. Father-In-Law's response? "Oh great!" and then fifteen minutes of non-stop talking about himself. This kind of thing is why we prefer to live far, far away from them...

  • During hour three of the pushing stage, the doula, who was used to being hired because someone wanted a natural birth experience, decided it was time to start doing things the hippie-dippy-crunchy-granola way. I'd have preferred to stay on my back, but I'm wimpy so I really didn't want to argue, and before I knew it, I found myself (prepare for WAY too much information here, people!) on my hands and knees, buck naked (no idea where my backless gown had gone by this point, but it was gone) with my giant butt in the air. When that proved unsuccessful, she then had me hanging on what they called a "squatting bar" trying to push my giant-headed baby out using the birthing-in-the-potato-field method. In the end, I flopped back down on my back and waited for a doctor to become available to retrieve what turned out to be an almost ten-pound baby, using something that looked like a toilet plunger. That's when the doula pulled out the camera...
    I won't horrify you with those pictures, but seriously, check out this noggin!

  • After Firstborn spent 5 days in NICU (fetal distress from being stuck in my birth canal for FOUR HOURS! Go figure!), we then spent a few days sleeping in my friend's guest room, until I insisted that I needed to get myself home and figure out how to do this on my own. It wasn't easy, but I didn't end up jumping off a bridge either. My mom came out twice to help, and was wonderful. My in-laws came out once to be served cups of tea and meals prepared by me between breastfeedings, and almost put me over the edge. Monster-In-Law (who is the Captain's stepmother and never actually raised any kids of her own) was the first to run back to Ontario and viciously tell any family member who would listen what a terrible job I was doing. I look forward to one day "helping" her down a flight of stairs.

  • And three months later, just before Christmas, Firstborn met his dad in a crowded airport. A lady standing nearby was driven to tears at the sight of a man in uniform meeting his baby for the first time, and kindly took a family photo for us.

A lot of people have heard me tell of this experience and asked how I survived, saying they couldn't possibly do it. And my answer to them is always the same. When you have no choice, you do whatever you have to. This was my introduction to military life--and what an introduction! But it taught me that I'm capable and independent, and that if I should someday have to handle life on my own, I can.

And in the end, whatever our loved ones do for a living, that's something we should all be able to say.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Shopping Game

I've made it safely through another trip to Wal Mart! Yes, I had to go back already. Rosemary's Baby had a medical appointment this morning and we needed a few grocery items and a couple of things for Firstborn's upcoming birthday party, so I killed two birds with one stone and went to the home of everything you could ever need in life, and then some. And once again, I made no impulse purchases!

A few people have been asking how I'm managing this not-making-any-unnecessary-purchases-for-the-rest-of-the-year business. Truly, it isn't easy. But it's not as hard as I expected either. Of course, I'm only a month in, and there are almost 4 months left of temptation, so we'll see what happens when I finally have reason to set foot inside my ultimate nemesis, the thrift store.

But I do have a few tips to share for others out there who are trying to save their money and their sanity by not buying any more clutter.

1. If You Must Shop, Make a List. The advantage to living almost an hour outside of a real city is that I can't reasonably think to myself in the middle of the afternoon "Hmmm...I'm bored. Maybe I'll go for a browse around Winners." So reality dictates that I don't shop much, and by the time I am heading to Booming Metropolis, I have a long list of things I need to pick up. Having the list, and focussing on only filling my cart with what is on that list actually helps keep my attention off of the displays of $3 bras and bargain bins of yarn that always seem to dance around in circles and call out loudly when they see me coming.

2. Time Yourself. This sounds totally lame, I know. And If I hadn't been in a hurry this morning because we had an appointment to keep, I'd never have thought of this as a viable way of controlling myself, but it works! I had exactly 30 minutes today from the time I pulled into the parking lot to the time I pulled out again to get everything on my list. So I plopped Rosemary's Baby into the cart and made it my mission to get in and out of there on time. And I did. I was like one of those guards at Buckingham Palace. NOTHING was going to distract me from my mission! My tight schedule kept me absolutely on-task, and on-time.

3. Keep Track. I'm trying to keep a general tally of how much I'm saving each month. When I get to the end of this, I have a choice. I can take some percentage of what I saved and buy myself something of a better quality than I'd generally buy myself. Maybe a really nice leather purse? Oh, who am I kidding--I've already got the darned thing picked out! But there's also the chance that I'll decide I'm just happy to have accomplished this feat and I won't even need my little reward (what do you think the odds are of THAT happening? Heh heh). Either way, I've still saved some money. And either way, I still feel good about it.

4. Shop at Home. No, I don't mean online shopping. That'll sometimes get you into more trouble than if you just took yourself to the outlet mall. Whenever I have something to attend, I automatically assume I need a fancier pair of shoes or a new top, when really I have everything I could possibly ever need for any occasion inside my own closet. A recent rummage through my dresser drawers made me realize exactly how much stuff I do have, and it really turned me off the idea of adding more to the pile (this also works in the craft room, the kitchen, the linen closet etc etc etc). So if I find myself wanting new clothes, I will head straight for my wardrobe and an "at home" shopping experience. It totally curbs the urge.

5. Redefine Fun. More than one person has been confused as to how I can restrain myself in a big box store and still make it a fun experience. My answer is that I can't. That's not to say that committing strictly to a list is a miserable experience, just a very utilitarian one. But part of the point of this for me is to not confuse shopping with happiness. This doesn't mean that I want to be someone who no longer loves shopping. That would just be wrong! But I want to enjoy buying things--nice things--that I've wanted for perhaps a long time. Remember as a kid when you had to actually save for something you wanted? And how great it was when you finally got it? I want shopping to be more like that. Because as fun as it is to find a $5 handbag, or a t-shirt marked down six times until it's finally only two bucks, and to buy it solely because of the price, I find I'm generally left with irritation or guilt over not having needed it AT ALL and, in most cases, that it was probably made by a poverty-ridden child in a sweatshop. That's really no fun.

So, the quest continues. Coming up with new ways to behave myself when I see the word "Clearance" is turning out to be kind of fun. It's like a game! Level One: Grocery Store, Level Two: Wal Mart, Level Three: Mall. And so on and so forth. By Christmas I'll be fighting off the sales girl at Michael's with a paper cutter.

Hmmm...I think I may have just figured out the first feasible video game idea designed exclusively for women...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Zucchini Recipes

Behold! The Bounty!!

I was starting to think we weren't going to get anything out of the garden this year. Things have ripened up very, very late due to the weird weather. But the veggies are starting to roll in now, and as always, we have more summer squash than we could ever possibly use or eat. This year, I have been determined that none of it is going to end up on the compost pile simply because we can't keep up.

We all know about zucchini muffins and zucchini cake with chocolate and spices and all sorts of other creative things (if you don't know about them, click here, and it will become all too familiar in no time). And the first zucchini recipe I ever tried was the popular southern technique of dipping slices in egg and then bread crumbs or cornmeal and frying them. This is tasty on its own or in a sandwich, and is a great alternative to meat if you're into that.

One of the issues I have with most zucchini recipes, though, is that they call for a mere 1 cup of zucchini, or maybe two zucchinis, sliced. What am I? Some kind of lightweight?! At this very moment, I have a minimum of six full-sized summer squash on my kitchen counter, and another six ready to come in from the garden tomorrow. I need recipes that push the envelope! Recipes that call for the absolute maximum zucchini coverage per square inch! Recipes so crazy in their overuse of this vegetable that they could only have originated in an insane asylum!

I have found two recipes that fit the bill.

First up is a recipe I learned from an old friend, and it's not even really a "recipe" because anyone who knows how to make lasagna can do this. I call it "Zucchini Bake", but it's actually just lasagna with slices of summer squash instead of pasta (you may note that I use the terms zucchini and summer squash interchangeably, and this is because I use them in recipes interchangeably.). You make it exactly as you would your favourite lasagna, except you need a less wet sauce (I use a big can of tomato paste with herbs etc added instead of regular sauce) because the zucchini will let a fair bit of water out. I also overlap the zucchini so that I don't get to the end of a plate of it and find myself with a load of leftover sauce. You can go as crazy on the squash here as you like. This dish intrigues me because I have not been able to stomach lasagna since I was pregnant with Rosemary's Baby, and yet I can eat plate after plate of this stuff. In any case, it's a swell way to use up all kinds of extra things from the garden including tomatoes, basil and spinach, as well as a tonne of your summer squash.

The other recipe I love comes from a cookbook given to the Captain by his late grandmother, who was lovely, and as grandmotherly as they come, except that, ironically, she didn't do much cooking. One time we went for lunch and she served us Eggo waffles with syrup. Adorable! She was an active member of her local curling club, so in 1992 when they put out a fundraiser cookbook filled with recipes submitted by members (these kinds of cookbooks are my favourite, by the way. You know every recipe was made in a real kitchen, by a real person, and served to a real family, most likely full of real picky eaters!), she bought one for each of her grandkids. In the interests of ethics, I should mention that the original recipe came from The Guelph Curling Club Collection of Favourite Recipes book from 1992, and was submitted by a woman named Carol McKinnell. I had to adapt things a bit to fit what I had on hand, so this is not the original recipe, but it's close enough to still be delicious.

Zucchini Squares (originally called Zucchini Bites, but I cut mine way too big to get away with calling them "Bites"!)

3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp onion powder
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup oil
4 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients and spread into two greased 8" pans. Bake 25 to 30 mins and cut into squares. The bonus? They freeze well too! Woo hoo! The originator of this dish was one smart cookie!

These are a little like a cheesy, herby, not-so-puffy yorkshire pudding with a bit of added crunch. They're great with soup, or on the side of anything really.

So, do any of you out there have any great zucchini recipes you want to share with me? If the enormous plants out there are any indication, I have a feeling I'll be needing them.

Friday, September 4, 2009

My Own Personal Awards Ceremony

How Exciting! I got an award! Thanks to Allison at the wonderful blog, Life of a Tater Tot Mom for this:

I'm tempted to put on an evening gown and make an acceptance speech for the dogs!

This is like the blog equivalent of a forward. I have to pick 4 bloggers to pass this on to. Frankly, I could pick 40. I'm now following, officially and not (I often forget to hit the "follow" button and just keep coming back on my own), so many blogs, I can't keep my head on straight anymore. There are many, many great blogs out there!

But I'm going to pass this on to some bloggers who have been hanging out with me from way back when I was only getting three hits a day! So, without further adieu, here are the awesome, crafty blogs that inspire and amaze me:

2BKrafty: This is one of the first blogs I followed when I was a newbie, and Janine generously devoted some of her own blog space to introduce her readers to my little blog. Before that, my mom and my sister were my only readers, and since then I've met so many fantastic people whose comments and messages and blogs enrich my life. Like all the blogs I'm focussing on today, 2BKrafty is devoted to the art (and it is an ART!) of paper crafting. Janine is a superior talent and you really shouldn't take another breath without seeing some of her work.

Chris Scrappin' and Stampin' in Texas: She's a working mom, she's a stamper, and just like all of us, she's living her life! Her work with paper is amazing, her words are honest, and I'm lucky to have found her blog! What more can I say?!

Paper, Ink, Scissors & Stamps: Now here's a girl who knows how to do it! She makes the most gorgeous cards you've ever seen, and leaves you giggling like a 12 year-old girl. If I lived a little closer (and, believe me, Florida is mighty tempting!), I'd be at Deb's place 24/7, spending my husband's hard-earned cash on Stampin' Up stuff and laughing at her jokes!

Windstar Creations: Nancy is another busy mom who finds time to make gorgeous cards. She's not afraid of pattern, she's not afraid to mix it up, and she's not afraid of fiddly cutting. This woman is fearless--and that's what got her through this hideous economy!

So there you have it. For those of you who are receiving this award, don't feel any pressure to pass it on if that's not your thing. When my old friends send me a silly joke via email, I rarely send it forward. I read it and enjoy it and know they were thinking of me, and that's really all I wanted to express by passing on this award.

Happy long weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Food Fight!

Because I'm afraid to put ingredients I can't pronounce into my children, I've been trying to make as much as I can from scratch. So, last night, I decided it was time to take an old favourite of ours, Cornflake Chicken (which is exactly what it sounds like--a chicken breast dipped in egg and then into seasoned, crushed cornflakes and baked) and adapt it so that my kids thought they were eating chicken nuggets.

It didn't fly. So to speak.

We've long since learned that battling with Rosemary's Baby over food is a waste of time. So when he doesn't eat, he just doesn't eat. We don't offer an alternate meal, and dessert isn't a regular thing around here anyway, so he sometimes goes to bed on an empty stomach. He's never given us any indication that he's bothered by this, and he's a pudgy little thing, so we're not worried about an occasional missed meal.

Firstborn, on the other hand, is old enough that we sometimes think we can persuade him just to try something new that he's refusing to touch. So last night, when he ate his french fries with gusto, but wouldn't eat the chicken, the old parenting tools came out.

First we implored him just to take a bite. When that didn't work, we started telling him about all the gross things our parents used to make us eat (sorry, Mom. Boxed fish cakes were vile!), and how he should be thankful we didn't do such things to him. Again, no dice. Then the Captain pulled out the big guns.

"Did you know that when we were kids, we had to eat everything on our plates, or there was no dessert?"

Firstborn, who is a little too smart for his own good, had an answer for this too.

"Yeah, well, it's not the olden days anymore."

For the record, bursting out laughing before your brain has the chance to start screaming "DON'T ENCOURAGE HIM!" doesn't help with these matters at all.