Friday, October 24, 2014

The Ol' Autumn Switch

Even I'm kind of surprised at how behind I am with my autumn decorating this year. It's not like I go all-out crazy with this stuff (and I probably won't this year, especially), but I do like to add touches here and there of the season. This is especially true when it's autumn, which is not only my favorite season, but the Dorky Daddy's, as well. Craziness.

So, on a recent humid-yet-insanely-torrential afternoon, I sat down to sketch. One thing led to another, and I didn't hate what I created. Not perfect, but who really cares?

I used some day-glow colored pencils because clearly I'm hip like that. I mean, just check out my iPhone picture. Crooked 'n everythin'.

So, I decided to hunt for a place to sneak it. And, of course, it only worked on my living room wall (last seen, I believe, during Christmas). While I was at it, I switched out a piece or two and rearranged until I got this...

Yup, another insanely beautiful iPhone pic. Drives me nuts, too.

Since I'm lazy, I also like to use art that can kinda double for...say...a couple of months. So, you'd better know that pumpkin art will be there until the cows come home. Or Christmastime. Yeah. Probably Christmas.

I hope to return with a few more shots of autumny goodness. It's an interesting challenge to try to add touches of beauty in the midst of toddler mayhem. Like, there's no way I can really do much with the dining room table. It's his "cooking" spot. But, I do have a few spots he can't reach, so I'll have to live it up in those spaces while I can.

What about you? Do you do fall or Halloween decorating? Do you go literal (black cats, witches, zombies) or more "figurative"? I'm hoping to go with the less in-your-face, especially using what I've got laying around. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Teal Pumpkins and Losing the Candy

With just over a week left before Halloween, I'm scurrying around trying to get ready. Our pumpkins aren't carved/painted, Hadley's costume needs assembling (and altering!), and we haven't bought our treats to dole out yet. Considering he's only two and this isn't the big day that it is for the older kids, I have to laugh at myself a bit. Okay, a lot.

So, if you're a buddy on Facebook, you'll remember that I shared a post about the Teal Pumpkin Project. That link will give you the low-down, but in essence it's an idea for folks to hand out either allergen-free treats (um, near impossible to find, honestly) or non-food goodies and display a teal pumpkin. This way, kids with severe allergies (or diabetes, for that matter) will know that it's a safe house to trick-or-treat at. (The backlash to this, IMO, is I-N-S-A-N-I-T-Y!) Plus, who doesn't love teal?

Originally, I thought that it was an awesome idea, but that we'd buy crappy candy just like usual. Heck, that might still happen, but the more I thought...and thought...and thought...the more I loved the idea. So, it's late in the game, and I find myself scouring the internet for goodies that will a) not break the bank, b) get here by Halloween, and c) not get our house egged.

'Cause we all know that's what we're worried about with this thing. Not the raised eyebrows from parents. Nope. TP and soap and eggs EVERYWHERE. (We're also concerned with cat-related crimes, but that's a whole other topic for a whole other day.)

So, today I give you...

Yup! Now, I'm on the "I hate extra crap around our house" bandwagon as much as the next SIMPLIFY-SIMPLIFY-SIMPLIFY mama, but if we want to take part in the fun of Halloween (without turning off the lights and hunkering down like criminals on the lam; been there, done that, and it sucks), I'd like to do so with stuff that hopefully won't end up in a trash bin at the end of the night.

So, through years of watching kids either turn their noses up at or turn into immediate Jell-o mounds shouting, "That is soooo cooooool!!!" over the cheap birthday stuff I keep in a bin at school, I provide a list of what works. Seriously. This. Stuff. Works.

The stuff I'm sharing today can be found at Oriental Trading, but you can also try Amazon, Party Zone, or even your local dollar store (although it's cheaper to buy stuff in bulk).

Fake Lizards/Snakes - They may not wear white lab coats everyday, but kids are nothing if not scientists. Inquisitive, interested, and not easily grossed out, girls and boys alike can get behind finding a fake snake in their bags. Oh, and scaring their siblings with it, of course.

This assorted bag will last forever.
You may be able to hand them out next year, too!

Snakes for scaring little sisters (and maybe a mom or two).

Or combine some of these ideas for a winning combo:

Sticky Lizards?

Glow-in-the-Dark Anything - Not only is this idea an automatic "aw, cool!" for the kids, but it adds an extra element of protection and safety to the night. Who can't get behind that?

Fake Tattoos - As the unproud owner of not one but two tattoos, these drive me nuts. But, me knows what the kids likey, and temp tats are it. (Sigh.)
  Seriously. Any of these assortments will do.

No Stickers - Unless they're a mustache. (Note: Same rule applies to pencils.) Make it a glow-in-the-dark one and rule the night.

Spider Rings
- Okay, okay. This is actually one I remember quite well from my youth. Can't you still feel how cheap and scratchy those little spider legs felt on your fingers? Every kid needs that in his/her life.

Sticky Stuff - Remember the sticky stuff you could get for 25 cents that would climb the wall or that you could whack your annoying sibling with? Yeah. It's still tops, and with good reason.

Not Your Mama's Rubber Duckies - Duckies can definitely be on the lame side (don't tell Ernie, that's usually Bert's schtick), but toss on some zombie makeup or a mummy wrap and they're downright cool.

Witches and Vampires and Ducks, Oh My!
(These are cute enough to hand out to the really little trick-or-treaters.)

A New "Disguise" - It's weird because they're already dressed in Halloween costumes, but kids are not averse to adding on to the affect. Those parents who put good time (and money) into creating the perfect Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle might be dismayed, but kids are totally fine sticking on glasses with a funny nose.

Anything with Bugged-Out Eyes - At our annual book fair, the crap wonderful merchandise often includes stuff you can squeeze or bend or sniff or...whatever. It never fails, though. Anything that's squeezable with pop-out eyes is a popular go-to. So, I suggest these zombies. 

Comics - I don't have a link for this one, just a husband. Dave stocks up on the super cheap comics over the year, usually in two stacks by age appropriateness (younger and older). I think he usually offers candy or the comic, but I don't believe he's super strict about it. It's to the point where we have kids who see him and say, "Oh! I remember this house! Comics!" He's even had parents say, "Hey, can I get one of those?" (My favorite, LOL.)

Which goes to show you right there - is the choice not to hand out candy so sacrilegious? The point of the night is fun, no matter what form it takes.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Love Triangle of Luis, Maria and David

We've been watching a tonload of old Sesame Street episodes lately. When I say "old," I mean OLD. Like, 1970s and early '80s old. And we love them.

Hadley sings the theme song (has yet to say the words "Sesame Street" although he knows ALL the characters, most of the humans included) to let us know he'd like to watch. So, since Netflix took the newer episodes off, we pull up some that we've saved...ahem...I won't say how. ;-) I kinda love that it's not Elmo and Abby Cadabby-centric. No offense to them, but it's more watchable this way.

When Hadley watches, enthralled, it's neat to see it through his eyes; he's a first-time watcher. For Dave and I, it's complete nostalgia (and you know how we feel about nostalgia). I'll shout out, "Ohh! This was my favorite song!!" or Dave will exclaim, "I remember this one!" It's fun, even if there's the occasional, "Wow, was that appropriate for us to watch as kids?" moments. The new DVD versions of these shows actually have a warning in them, that they're not up to today's standards and shouldn't be used as a learning tool today...but, seriously, I wouldn't have known my alphabet, numbers (in English and Spanish), and been able to skip our equivalent of pre-K if not for an incredible babysitter and "Sesame Street." I'm fine with him watching it.

As adults watching, though, we start to look into things more. This show's been on SO long, and we may not have realized it as kids, but there are full-on storylines that are subtly strung throughout the years. Dave even read a behind-the-scenes book about the goings-on, then to now, at the Children's Television Workshop. It's neat stuff. And, in a weird way, the more we watch it, the more we see a quiet little soap opera of adult levels developing.

Relationship triangles were a thing. Maria and David were an item from the time that he started in 1971. By 1988, David was on his way out (depending on what you read, he was suffering from stomach cancer, or, according to insiders, severe mental illness and possible drug abuse, dying months after he left the show) and Maria was suddenly in love with the kinder, gentler Luis. I think Dave and I kind of laugh at the push-over that Luis seems to be, but in real life I would imagine that Maria and David's high-strung, LOUD personalities would probably create for a volatile relationship.

Don'tchya think? Either way, the inter-racial relationship was HUGE for its day, so it's fun to see a kids' show, of all things, breaking down these huge barriers. (If it had been a relationship between an African American individual and a white person, though, I'm not sure it would've gone over as well.)

Bob and Linda are one of our favorite couples (and characters, separately), but why didn't they get married? And seeing the ever-patient Bob we think of today losing his $%#& when Gordon suggested changing Woof-Woof's name to the pup we all know and love, Barkley? He's still my favorite, but I never thought he raised his voice. Ever! And his reactions to the never-seen-by-adults Snuffleupagus (see? Things WERE different) were downright snarky. Kinda humorous to see, but still.

Oh, and speaking of Snuffy, Dave looked into it and discovered the reason that they finally revealed Snuffy to the adults. Apparently with a rise in child abuse cases, the idea that a child (in this case, Big Bird) telling adults about something important and having the adults blow him off and not believe him sent the wrong message. What a sad thing to think about, but I'm glad that Sesame Street has remained sensitive to the voices of children and is willing to make changes for the better. (Still waiting for a gay character, though. Well. Openly gay. Has that happened yet?)

My favorite part, however, of the entire series has a very personal connection. Dave hasn't found the episode yet, and I'm not really sure I want him to, but it was when Mr. Hooper died. They re-aired the episode throughout the years (it aired originally in 1983, after the actor who played him actually passed), and I was incredibly lucky that it aired about a month or two after my father passed away in 1986.

I was four, laying on my stomach at my babysitter's house, as Big Bird came to grips with the loss of his dear friend. Suddenly, all of the emotions I had witnessed and thoughts that hadn't quite sunk into my little brain made sense. Simultaneously, I was hit with a ton of bricks yet comforted by the knowledge of it all. Finally understanding. All of the puzzle pieces fit, although the puzzle was still very much fractured.

I floated out to the kitchen where our super strict sitter was making lunches, and as she sternly turned around to me, with the confidence of an adult, I asked if my daddy had got into heaven. She was a close, close friend of the family and loved my father, too, so she broke down and grabbed me with the tenderest of hugs. She said yes, and that he loved me very much. I simply nodded, with tears streaming down my face, and rejoined my friends watching the show.

It was an integral moment of my life. I still am not resigned to the idea of heaven, or what happens post-death, but the understanding of the "forever separation" that is death and the fact that it doesn't diminish the experiences and feelings you shared with the person before the loss was, simply, profound.

Thanks, Big Bird. I'll never forget that.

On that sullen note, did "Sesame Street" have an impact on your life? Do you have any favorite moments, simple or funny or profound or educational, you'd like to share? Or were you more of an "Electric Company" kid?

Friday, October 17, 2014

So Fresh and So Clean Clean

I'm sure there are about eleventy billion blog posts with that title since, say, 2001. Make this eleventy (For not being a math person, I'm annoyed to no end when people say "one hundred AND one"; "and" means decimal point, people! Anal much? ;-))

So, anyhoo, cleaning sucks. The only person I can remember encountering who LOVED cleaning was...hmm...Danny Tanner. And he was fictional. Highly doubt Bob Saget's even remotely like that in real life.

So, while my house is far from perfect, I thought I'd share a handful of simple tips that I use to keep the Monster of Filth from overtaking our lives. They definitely also act as a stress reliever.

Invite someone over every two weeks. (Or at least pretend like someone might stop by at some point.) You know that one big whirlwind clean that you do when company's coming? The one that feels a bit like a workout? Y'know, before your MIL (or, in my case, mother) drops by? This is it.

Do it once, then do it again in two weeks (one week if you can; my average us two, and there's nothin' wrong with that). You'll notice that it won't be as huge of a challenge when you do some of the other tips below; it'll get easier. 

Plus, it feels nice to sit back and enjoy the cleanliness (and friendship, of course) at the start of a weekend, which is usually when we have folks over. (I clearly don't subscribe to the "you're my friend, I don't have to clean before you come over" theory. I will, at the very least, pick up and vacuum for you. It's the least I can do!)

Slow and steady wins the race. It sounds contradictory to the last point, but after that one big cleanfest, pick out the chores that you need to complete more regularly. Daily, a couple of times a week, and weekly. 

Maybe you need to dust and vacuum more often (vacuuming is a common thing for us with a toddler dropping food and playing on the floor where cats may be traipsing litter). Maybe your bathroom can use a quick once-over weekly, or more. Stretch these jobs out over the course of a week. Toilet and wipe down of all bathroom surfaces Monday, vacuum Tuesday, etc. Then when it's time for your "company clean," you'll only have some of the deep-cleaning stuff to do.

Do something everyday. I'm not talking about the fact that my grandmother mopped her floors daily. True story! I'm saying that you can pick from that list and, depending on your mood and energy level that day, do ONE thing.

Mind you, this could include smaller, regular stuff like putting dishes away or folding a load of laundry all the way up to Old Englishing (totally a word) the woodwork or touch-up painting. Simple and small or big project, it all counts. Which leads me to...

Get into the habit of picking up. Every night when Hadley's in bed, we attack the main living area. Some days he hardly touches the toys, but most days (and especially on weekends or during the summer), the place looks like a tornado hit.

So, we pick up. Our stuff, his stuff, whatever. It really only takes about five minutes, and it makes a huge difference when we come down the stairs, bleary-eyed, the next morning to a relatively neat house. Don't get me started on cat toys, though. Those, I like to leave out for our boys' mental stimulation, so I really only pick them up if company's company. Is that weird?

Find what works with you and stick with it. Some people prefer doing all the dusting in their entire house at one time, then doing another chore the next day. Others like getting one room done at a time, even if it involves dragging out the vacuum and all the supplies needed to clean it each day for each room. I usually do it the first way, but I can swing both ways. I'm hip like that.

And there's no right or wrong way. Seriously, whatever you're comfortable with, just do it. It's kind of like how I budget. I know it's not the way a lot of people would be comfortable handling money, but it works for me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Finally Getting My $#@& Together

We all know I've talked about finances here. Like, a lot. The last time I brought it up was in a "new school year goals" post here. Been doing okay with most of that stuff, but finances? Nerp. 

For some weird reason beyond my realm of thinking, I can't figure out why it's been such a challenge for me. I helped Dave get his finances into at least a reasonable schedule when we were first dating, and he has since grabbed the bull by the horns and whipped his finances into such great shape, I'm so amazed and proud of him. So, the fact that I couldn't kick-start myself disappoints me. And the more we disappoint ourselves, the more we're down on ourselves and can't find the motivation to fix the problem, am I right?

Hmm. Guess I answered my question right there. That's why I've been stuck.

So, anyhoo, I've been a complete non-budgeter. If I tried writing down every purchase, it only stuck for, like, a week...tops. Much like dieting, I'm not a great "do it all at once, take all the joy of life away" person. Nope. Don't work that way.
Plus, the whole "write down every single purchase" thing? Not me. At least I know myself, right?

Since we know that doesn't work, that's not what we've done. Instead, in a strange role reversal that he's had great joy doing (I felt the same way when I helped him; we like getting each other on track and comfortable rather than overwhelmed! It's what we do), I printed off my checking transactions for the past couple of months, jotted down what each item was (some were obvious, others not s'much), and handed them over to Dave.

He made note of the main monthly bills that have a set date (mortgage, car, car insurance, washer/dryer payment, etc), the "important" necessities which may have more variable dates/amounts (groceries and gas), then determined what was left and where my moolah was going.

Allowing about $60 a month to be taken out in cash ($30 every paycheck) means that I can buy what I like, no questions asked, makes it feel a little less bare-bones and a little roomier. We also figure we'll each pay for a meal out once a month. I requested this mostly because cooking, day in and day out, can be a pain, so it's nice to be treated -- even if just to a pizza -- now and then. Not weekly. Not daily. But occasionally.

I'm also going to start taking out $200 every two weeks specifically for groceries and see how we do. This is the hardest part, for sure. Budgeting my food spending is the biggest, most stressful area because I know what we eat and we've pretty much pared it down to getting just what we need...which comes in nowhere near $100 a week. But, I hope to get creative, use what we have in our freezer/cupboards and hopefully will be able to stretch it. Aldi will also help tremendously with this. 

So, other than that, we're putting an allotted amount into my savings (which has depleted) and my Christmas club ('cuz it'd be nice not to have a tough time getting through the holiday seasons this year). While I'm not going to be religiously checking my checking (ha!) everyday like Dave does, I'll be doing it ever couple of days and looking at the "calendar" to determine what's coming out and when. Oh, and I'm filling out a form to take to my bank to change the date of my car payment so that my two big payments are spread throughout the month more.

Exciting stuff today, folks. Ex-citing, I tell ya. But, it's nice to at least get my $%&@ together enough that I know where every cent goes -- and where it's allowed to go.

So, what about you guys? How do you budget? Do you write every expense and check the math? Or are you a bare minimum type like me?