Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Destructogirl strikes again

Have I ever mentioned my daughters? Two of them? One is 8 and the other 5. One fairly responsible and the other...not so much.

Have I ever mentioned that our furniture is a hodge-podge of inexpensive, well-worn pieces? I always joke that we had to buy the living room tables with the "distressed" finish and the girls have added their own "distressing" over the years.

Have I mentioned that we recently bought a new dining room set? A nice pretty one. And that I waited until the girls had grown up some and were less likely to destroy it?

Yeah, maybe I ought to have waited a little longer.

This morning, L made me a picture with stickers that didn't stick, so I suggested she glue them down. A few minutes later she brings the picture back wet with too much glue. Another minute or two passes and I find her wiping the dining table where she has smeared the glue.

She didn't put down her protective plastic mat.

She used *my* powerful glue rather than her own washable glue.

She tried to clean up the mess on her own.

She couldn't read the warning on the back of the bottle that said "this glue will damage the finish on varnished surfaces".

Guess what? The warning was right!

I scrubbed that stuff with everything I could think of. The glue came off, but there are still large spots where the varnish is gone/mottled and the stain is a tad lighter.

Ooooo, I was so incredibly mad and upset at that little girl, who in one moment of not thinking ruined an expensive piece of furniture.

I checked websites looking for tips on repairing varnish and found nothing except to call a French Polisher (why he has to be French, I have no idea). I loaded the kids in the car and headed down to the furniture store to see if they knew anything that could repair the table. I got there right before they opened the doors and found all the employees coming to the front of the store.

And do you know what they did?

The general manager came up and offered to repair the table for me. I didn't buy the extended warranty or anything, but he listened to my story and said they would take care of everything. All I have to do is load the table in the van and take it to them. For that kind of service, I have to put in a plug for them. If you're in the market and the area, Value City Furniture at South Blvd. and 485 is an awesome company to deal with.

We left the furniture store, then went next door to Target and bought a small card table. That table and all the craft supplies are going upstairs to the playroom so that maybe our dining table will stand a chance of survival!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

When did she get so old?

For over a year , K has been talking about children's camp at church. When she was in *third grade* she could *go*! THIRD GRADE! GO!

The subject of camp came up again recently and the excitement level has been building. Last week we got the email that it was time to sign up for children's camp. We got the registration form and I checked the dates. 5 days.


When the heck did K get old enough to go away to another state for 5 days?

I even asked if she'd like me to go as a counselor, but Ms. Independent said only if I stayed with another group.

Weellll, okeedokee.

K is duly signed up and is planning to save her money for snacks and t-shirts and is already mentally packing her bags. Thank goodness the dates are just barely early enough that it doesn't conflict with our trip to Texas for my brother's wedding. *That* would've been a tragedy!!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

5-year-old vocabulary

I've noticed an interesting phenomenon with my youngest daughter's vocabulary. Naturally, there are times when she hears a word that she doesn't recognize. Instead of mispronouncing the new word, she substitutes a similar sounding word that she does know.

This would explain the rather *different* song she was singing a few days ago. From the back of the van, L broke into a very enthusiastic rendition of "Rubber girl! Rubber girl! You are the queen of my world!" This is the 5-year-old version of the Rockband hit "Rebel Girl".

Another example of this substitutionary vocabulary happened this weekend when Mr. at Home's oldest brother was visiting. It had been awhile since the girls have seen their Uncle Howard and even the frequent references to his visit and the reintroduction when he arrived were insufficient for L to remember his name. We went out to lunch together and L managed to avoid saying his name at first, but at one point was tricked into addressing him directly. She stumbled over the name, tried to cover by saying "him", and when finally made to say his name, she said, "Uncle Power?" I think the new name will stick.

Uncle Power and Rubber Girl. It's beginning to seem like we're among superheroes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WFMW: The Weekly Menu

I mentioned that we started using coupons about a month ago, which has dramatically changed how I figure out what's for dinner. Once a week I sit down with my book of coupons and two sheets of paper for lists. One list is to write down meal ideas and the other is the grocery list. I end up with a list of about 6 real "meals" - a main dish and all accompaniments.

The first week, I hung this list on the side of the fridge so I wouldn't forget what I had all the ingredients for. It worked so well, that I've continued hanging up the list. This week, I jazzed up my list by putting it all in a document using fancy fonts and a layout similar to an exclusive restaurant. You know, just to make it all feel more official.

Everyday, I go to the list and see what sounds good and what I have time to prepare and eat depending on our evening schedule. For example, I'm not making pork chops with glazed onions, steamed vegetables, and french bread when we're going to have to race out the door to basketball. That's a time for those frozen pizzas further down the list. I make sure everything is thawed and ready early in the day. Once we've eaten, I mark that dinner option off the list.

It's a great way to make sure all the groceries get eaten and I'm not staring in the pantry at 5:00 thinking, "What can I make with a can of cream of mushroom soup and some pasta?"

For more Works For Me Wednesday tips, go to Rocks in My Dryer here, but only for this week. Next week it moves to a new home.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

There's just nothing like new furniture to make you feel cooler

This morning, I took this picture of my dining room.

That table has a history. My older sister bought it many years ago for her apartment. Then the tub or something overflowed in the apartment above hers, which caused a leak that ruined the seat cushion of one of the chairs. As a result, her insurance company bought her a whole new dining set (you see why our insurance premiums are so high) and the old set went into our parents' storage building. When we moved to NC, we resurrected it and put it in the new house since we needed another table and chairs. Then we moved, and moved again, and I finally replaced the chair covers. Unfortunately, the original screws wouldn't stay in and the new screws were a bit too long, so you had to be careful how you sat on those chairs. Then we moved again and the table was getting more wobbly and the girls were adding new stains and more of the finish was being stripped off every time I cleaned the stains. So it was finally time for the table to GO.

This afternoon, I came back from lunch to find this in my garage.

Hummmn, when I ordered the table and chairs from the furniture store, I didn't expect them to come so completely disassembled. So this afternoon, this is what we did.

(L likes to get a little artistic with her photographs.)

You know, when I ordered the dining set, I was shocked that they were going to charge me $129 for delivery. If I had known what a beast it would be to put together, I would've gladly forked over the money. We worked all afternoon just on the chairs. Then we took a break and went to Chick-Fil-A for dinner, where Mr. at Home, K, and I discussed the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. Why yes, we're high-brow intellectual like that (ahem!). Of course, I can't say much since I put the first chair seat bracket in upside down, but let's move on.

After our dinner, we came back with renewed spirit and tackled the table.

And tonight, this is what our dining room looks like.

Mr. at Home and I are sitting at our new "pub height" table and chairs with our laptops and beverage of choice and I am loving it. You know, we now have seating for six at our table, so we're ready for company. When are you coming over?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I have finally learned contentment

As a child, I was a perfectionist. If I had messed up on a paper for school, I started over. In 5th grade when I was assigned to the "B" math group, I worked and begged until they moved me to the "A" group, even though the teacher of that group was mean and hated by all the students.

In high school, I joined groups and clubs and organizations, eventually serving as president or vice-president or section leader.

When I got my degree and joined the work force, I had 4 jobs in 3 years as I was always moving to something bigger and better. I became the youngest senior tech writer around.

When K was born, I had a huge struggle of whether to continue working or stay at home. I decided to work, but I dropped my hours to part-time and worked from home for a year. Just as I had chosen to go back to the office, I was laid-off. After only a month at home, I went searching for a new job and became a teacher.

Just before K turned 4, we moved to NC and we made the decision for me to stay home. For a long time, it was so incredibly difficult. Suddenly, I was important to only 2 people - Mr. at Home and K - and they couldn't give me the affirmation I was used to receiving from an office full of colleagues or a classroom full of students. I wasn't *needed* in the same way anymore and I resented it.

After a year, I went to work at the local Target and worked nights and weekends. If you asked, I was doing it to make a little money for our upcoming adoption trip. Truthfully, I was doing it more because I needed the opportunity to feel important. I needed people to tell me that I was good at what I did and that they liked me and appreciated my skills.

I worked at Target for over a year before Mr. at Home convinced me to quit. It was hard on my family most evenings when I would race out the door to work as soon as he came in. I missed almost every one of K's tee ball games. I was tired from little sleep, homeschooling, watching over a busy toddler, and trying to keep up with the different obligations of our household, but I still felt the need to do *something* that didn't revolve around my role as wife and mother.

Since then we've sold our house, moved to an apartment, moved to a bigger apartment, and moved to a townhome. We've traveled and made new friends. Our girls have grown and picked up a few more commitments with sports, dance, and homeschooling. Mr. at Home has gotten involved in a couple of new things with work and church. I've started a blog, had a story published, did a freelance writing project, and attended a writing conference. Life has been busy and chaotic at times, so I hadn't paid much attention to a feeling that's been building. I hadn't stopped to think about it carefully and it came as a bit of a surprise when I finally put it into words.

I am content.

For the first time in a long time, I am not searching for the next big thing. I don't have any driving ambition to reenter the work force. I'm not worrying about whether we should have more kids or if we should send the ones we have to public school or keep them at home. I have no wild dream to move across the country or publish the great American novel. I don't even worry about how many people are reading my blog.

That's not to say that my life is all sweetness and light. I still have grumpy days. Mr. at Home works some evenings. The girls make many not-so-wise choices. We still have days when we're overbooked and stressed, but I don't get overwhelmed and resentful in the same way anymore.

I am simply content to live the life I have been given right now.

Back near the beginning of the year, Marybeth posted the idea of claiming a verse for the year. That sounded too much like a "resolution" to me, so I glossed over the idea and kept going. Nevertheless, God gave me a verse complete with flashing neon arrows pointing to it yelling, "This is it!! Don't forget this one!!"

"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you," 1 Thessalonians 4:11

I have recently been working on the concept of a "quiet life" content to mind my own business and work with my hands in my own home by keeping it clean and spending time making our home a pleasant place to be. We eat more at home now, the house is currently clean, and I've kept busy with continuing to learn to crochet. And I'm happy doing it, especially seeing the wisdom God reveals in the next verse.

"so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." 1 Thessalonians 4:12

"Not be dependent on anybody." Not for praise for my skills or affirmation that I'm doing a good job. Not for fame or respect for my great achievements. I have spent my whole life consumed with ambition and the need for approval from others. I have struggled with restlessness and discontentment and nothing I did could change it. Good thing God doesn't need me to do it myself so I can give Him all the credit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

5 Little Girls Go Geocaching

Today my friend and I took took our five daughters on a field trip. They played on the enormous playground, rode a little train and a carousel, and then we went on a treasure hunt.

I pulled out a handheld GPS, a clipboard with the printout for a geocache, and a large backpack full of prizes. Just as I had entered the coordinates for the cache into the GPS, the screen went blank except for a blue line. Huh? I rebooted it and checked the last numbers I entered. They were still right, so we set off on the trail it indicated.

5 little girls traipsed along through the woods while visions of fabulous prizes danced in their heads. Then they started asking "Are we there yet?" And the GPS started acting funny again. And we began to wonder if we had missed a turn-off because the distance from destination was going *up*.

We backtracked, then turned around, then in frustration I checked the coordinates I entered.

Ummm, oops.

The last numbers were right, but it had lost the north coordinates I entered first. I fixed them and all of a sudden we were only 180 meters away. So we headed down the trail with a renewed sense of hope. Until it said the cache was 150 meters off the trail. I ended up bushwhacking through the trees while the others waited. When I finally made it to the destination, I noticed another part of the trail was right there. In the end, the cache was about 50 feet from where we had started.

All told, we walked almost 2 miles today and the 5 little girls were a bit tired, but they were amazing. They found the cache and enthusiastically searched through the box for fabulous prizes, but there wasn't anything to tempt a little girl. There was a very nice fishing lure, which was a great item for a cache near a lake, but try handing that to a small child and you've got a *very* interesting drive home. I promised them their choice of prize from my stash, so they were happy.

All told, it was a great day. We spent time with friends, exercised, enjoyed nature, read about trees, observed bird habitats and theorized why there were patches of downy feathers near the trail, practiced critical thinking and decision-making skills when we thought we were off track, learned the use of a GPS and a compass, and got first hand experience in the importance in checking your data entry *before* you take an unexpectedly long walk.

Just another day in the life of a homeschooler.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Springtime in February

Crazy weather we're having, isn't it? Snow one day, 70 degrees 2 days later. Like I said, crazy.

The warm started on Friday, just in time for softball skills day on Saturday and softball practice on Sunday. Do you know what happened then?

It stayed warm!!

So today I threw open all the windows and did some spring cleaning. After all, it's far more pleasant to clean with the windows open. The major rooms are all sparkling clean and the laundry is going well. I even did a couple of projects that have been waiting on a few moments of attention.

What motivated me to work so hard?

The weather! It's in the 70s in February and it's not likely to stick around, so I'm planning to take advantage of it - without the guilt of housework that I should be doing hanging over my head. I invited a friend with girls around the ages of K and L to spend the day with us tomorrow and we're headed north to a big park to spend the day outside, soaking up the warmth. After all, it would be absolutely criminal to stay indoors in weather like this.

In fact, if you'd like to join us Tuesday, let me know and I'll tell you when and where we'll be. It'll be fun, I promise.

Friday, February 6, 2009

And then I remember

Today was our youngest daughter's 5th birthday. It was a day filled with presents and cards, birthday cake and friends, a party and pictures. It was a day of celebration for reaching a big milestone with lots of laughter and smiles.

And then I remember that half-way across the world, there's another family. Another family that marks this as a special day as well. They were remembering the birth of a little girl with dark hair and big eyes. Five years ago today their daughter was born.

4 months and 4 days later, they gave their tiny daughter into the care of others. In China, the number 4 is the unluckiest of numbers. The pronunciation is too close to the word for death. On that day, they experienced the death of their hopes and dreams, but they did the best they could for their daughter. They gave her a note and they gave her a chance. They gave her to us.

In the place of laughter and parties, there were quiet moments and quiet tears today. Another mother is wondering where her little daughter is. Is she safe? Is she happy? Is she warm and loved? How tall is she? What does she look like now? What does her laughter sound like? Does she remember her?

I wish there was a way to tell her that her daughter is growing into a beautiful little girl. She is smart and happy and doesn't want for anything. She has many friends and a family that loves her. She seems to have grown another inch taller every time I turn around and our home rings with the sound of her laughter from morning until night.

Five years ago, a tiny baby girl was born and was given a name, a name that we do not know. It's a name that is now whispered only in the hearts of her birth family. One day I hope our daughter has the chance to find and meet them. I hope that on that day her birth mother will speak the name she was first given and then, she will remember.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

L's birthday present

Tomorrow is L's birthday. She'll be 5 and she's so excited! Because it's 5!

I've been working on a present for her. We bought her a present, but I thought it needed a little something extra. A personal touch, if you will.

I pulled out some brightly colored yarn, put my meager designing skills to work, and made this.

Can you tell what it is?

What's that? It looks like a small pouch?

You're right! But the question is a pouch for what? I'll give you a hint.

Any ideas now?

It opens flat and there's a pocket on each side - one small and one slightly larger.

Those two pockets are for holding things. So maybe they won't get lost.


Ok, here's the last hint.

Yes! It's a small pouch to hold an iPod Shuffle and earphones! I know. You're thinking it's a big present for a 5-year-old, but really it was basically free and she's been wanting one for awhile. Besides, we *are* a tech-geek kinda family. I really am hoping that having the pouch will help her keep up with it since she'll always have a place to put it.

And as a reward for making you figure out a quiz, here's a picture of our tech-geek family.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Addiction that is the iPhone

A long time ago, a new kind of phone came on the market. One that combined all the convenience of a mobile phone and the wonder of a tiny internet-enabled computer.

Technology. It is amazing.

After the initial prices came down, Mr. at Home's dreams were realized and he became the proud owner of one of these technological marvels. He was happy. Excited. Awed that he carried the whole internet in his pocket. He spent hours staring at his tiny screen and tapping away. When I asked a question, he could look up the answer. When we drove to Orlando, he could figure where we were and where to go next. He'd hand it over to me periodically, but it was more intimidating than interesting. I mean, what use could I possibly have for the thing?

Then, the new iPhone came out and the new technology bug bit again. More of my friends were talking about how great their iPhones were. Another friend had his new iPhone out and Mr. at Home saw just how much faster it was. This time when he offered to give me his iPhone if I would let him get a new one, I accepted.

Do you know what my techno-geek, cutting edge, early adopter hubby did? He offered to let me have the new phone. That, my friends, is the ultimate sacrifice. I told him that I would really be happy with the "old" iPhone and he'd appreciate the power of the new one so much more than I would. Besides, he'd probably still slip in remarks about how his old phone just wasn't as fast/powerful/snazzy as my new one :-) In the end, I got the old phone and a cool new slip-proof cover for it and he got the new faster/more powerful/snazzier one and we're both happy.

Now that I am in possession of the iPhone, I understand the addiction. I can check my email while I'm sitting at the playground, read my Google Reader while I'm waiting for L to get out of dance, find the address for the ballfields since I forgot to do it before the basketball game, check to see if tonight's church activities were cancelled because of the snow, and look up the name of Shah Majal's wife to cheat on a MOPS quiz.

Oh, I kid. I marked that question wrong *then* I looked it up because I was curious what the story was. Her name was Mumtaz Majal, by the way.

All of this is to say, the iPhone is cool. Very cool. It's becoming an absolutely essential tool even for a stay-at-homeschooling-mom like me.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Doing Taxes

We've gotten what I think is all the paperwork we need for our 2008 taxes and Mr. at Home sat down this weekend to start entering all the info into the tax software. The neat/scary thing about doing it online is that the software keeps a running balance of what you owe or what you can expect to get refunded.

So he would enter the info from one form and all of a sudden we're getting a big refund - woohoo!

He'd enter the info from another form and suddenly we owe a HUGE chunk of change - eek!

The total went one step forward and two steps back, then another step forward, then another, until the final number was again in the black for both the state and federal taxes. It was nerve-wracking. We're not getting a huge refund, but we're not paying, so I'm okay with that. We now know that Mr. at Home's teaching job is considered contract work and we can plan for that this year.

The thing that saved us is our charitable giving. We give a significant portion of our income to a number of organizations whose values and mission we believe in - our church, Compassion, missionaries, etc. After all, none of our income is really our own to do with as we please. We're simply stewards of what God has given and we try to live like that.

Now, don't get the impression that we're selfless saints. We do go through phases where we've fallen out of the habit of giving and it's generally been those times that we find ourselves in financial distress. Funny how that happens. Technology has been a huge help in letting us schedule automatic payments so that we don't have to remember to write those checks every month. It comes right out of our account at the beginning and we're not tempted to just let it slide "this month". We don't give any of it for the benefits at tax time, but I do confess that I'm thankful that it helped up out this year!

Thanks, God, for being faithful. Even in our taxes.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I love my computer; it's where my friends live

11 years ago I discovered online bulletin boards and I found a group of friends. We were all talking about marriage and if/when/why to have kids and everything else in our lives. We even decided that we wanted to meet in person so many of them come out to Dallas where we spent a couple of days hanging out.

Back in those days, it was very weird to meet people on-line and become friends. It was far weirder to actually plan to meet those people in real life. I got plenty of disturbed looks from others whenever I talked about my online group. But these women are amazing! When the organization sponsoring the bulletin board decided to discontinue it, we created a private yahoo group where we continued the friendships. Then we added a journal aspect. After 11 years and a ton of kids, we're still friends, we still keep up with everyone's lives, and we still ask for advice from each other.

Now the world of blogging and twitter has made online friendships a whole lot more normal. We trade comments and emails with people all the time that we only know because we knew someone who knew someone who did a search and found a blog and they liked it and passed it on. I've gotten to "know" some wonderful women from their blogs and it's so cool on those occasions when I actually get to meet some of those women in real life. There's occasions like SheSpeaks which could create a spin-off called Blogging With the Stars. Then there's occasions like the past two weeks when I invited a fellow local blogger to church and she came! Twice! Then we all went to lunch!

I found Jess's blog somehow awhile back and have gotten to love her honesty with her struggles and obvious flat-out love of Jesus. When she wrote that they were church hunting, I left a comment inviting her to our church and our class because I really wanted to meet her. Two weeks ago, I was sitting in church and had the strongest feeling that I needed to be looking out for Jess and her family. When they walked into our class, I immediately recognized her husband and I think I kinda overwhelmed them by pouncing on them before they had even made it all the way into the classroom. An enthusiastic welcome :-)

Can I pause and say that Jess is really pretty? Maybe it's the way her face shines or her very cool jeans, but it's just something that has stood out the past two weeks.

I was so glad to see that Jess and the family came back this week and I got to spend a little more time talking in class and then over lunch. We went out, laughed a lot, got to know each other, and I can definitely say that I really like their family. Mr. at Home is fascinated by the fact that Hugh is an actuary.

Yep, this whole online friend thing is a good thing. Between blogging, bulletin boards, email, Facebook, and Twitter, I can be involved in the world while still being quiet at home.