Friday, May 29, 2009

The car has issues

I have a Kia. It's our second one and we've had this one about 3 years now. We bought it at a really deep dark discount one night and have enjoyed it ever since.

Shortly after we bought it, the time came around for an oil change and I, being the thrifty soul that I am, took it to the local Wal-Mart. Where I was told they didn't *do* Sedonas. Well, okay, they didn't do some Sedonas. Maybe they they did my model year, he'd have to check. Yep, they did. So we went on our merry way into the store.

A few minutes later, I was called over the intercom. I went back to find that yes, they *did* do my model, but they couldn't get my oil filter off. They'd tried, pried, and tugged and that thing was stuck tight.

Thus my relationship with the Kia service department was born. The service guy, Jeff, was awesome. He was a homeschooling dad and went out of his way to make sure me and my girls were taken care of quickly every time. I've had all but about 3 oil changes done at the dealership plus some warranty work and a recall and we loved him. Then we moved.

Oh, the tragedy!

But the dealership has another location on our new side of town. I was rather hesitant to use the other location because how could this guy possibly be as good as Jeff? It came time for another oil change and I had to go. Now Steve the Service Guy is my new best friend and unfortunately, he knows my van very well by this time. At the end of last year, he kept it on and off for well over a month, tracking down a difficult problem that was (thank goodness!) covered under warranty.

I had to take the van back into the shop last night. It's been having some issues. Well, really I should spell that with a capital. Let's try again.

It's been having some Issues.

This morning, my good friend Steve called. The tires were worn down into the belts and he was incredibly surprised we hadn't blown one or more of them out yet. The terrible tires had messed up the front-end alignment all to heck, so we had to replace and realign. This is particularly frustrating as we bought those tires new less than a year ago and were promised they were high-quality! Amazing deal! We even had some good friends recommend the tire shop. To have the tires disintegrate and be told by our guy they were horrible quality makes me want to go to that tire shop and give them a piece of my mind. Except they're in Oklahoma, so it's a little too far.

Oh, and while they have the car, Steve asks, are we in a place to replace the engine timing chain? He told us awhile back it needed to be done and we'd been prepared so that's another chunk of change.

Then Steve-o calls again and leaves a message. That fuel gauge issue I asked about? Yeah, it seems like the baffles have come loose inside the tank and we're going to need a gas tank. But since they were poking around there a few months ago, he's going to do what can to help and he'll install the tank for free *and* find us a used tank, which is less than half the price of new.

So I call him back to find out how much THIS will cost us. When he answers the phone, Steve says, "Hi, Valerie! How are you?"

It's like when the doctor walks into the examination room and says, "Hi, how are you?" I mean, really. What are you going to say? "Doing great! Just thought I'd drop in and say hello!" Every time I've talked to Steve today, I ended up a little poorer.

Thankfully, the gas tank is much cheaper than we feared and I trust Steve that when he says something needs to be done that it does really and truly need to be done. I've had experiences with other shops that have not been as trustworthy. When I went to pick up my car tonight, a salesperson came up and Mr. at Home and the girls walked off with him to look at some new cars. We're not in the market right now, but when we are, we'll look closely at getting another Kia. Because a good service guy is hard to find.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A little too much togetherness

We homeschool. Just thought I'd remind you. We're always together.

We have two daughters. Bet you remembered that, too.

Our two daughters have very different personalities. They're also a number of years apart in age.

Mix these ingredients together and it gets rather volatile around here some days.

L has a personality as big as the moon and craves attention like an addict. K is a quiet soul who spent the first 5 years of her life as an only child. L feels left out because K gets to do school, sit in the front seat, and hold long conversations while L gets dragged around to softball or sent to play by herself. K feels put-upon because L gets to play while K has to work. L picks at K, demanding and annoying. K can't tolerate the noise and invasion of her space. L pushes all the right buttons and K lashes back at her.

As you can tell, it's just been LOADS of fun around here with those two recently.

I think it's mostly a case of too much togetherness. They don't often get a break from each other and so each tiny thing builds up until the annoyances become all they can see. My goal this summer is to give each of them more opportunities to be away from the other. More opportunities to take advantage of their different skills and interests. More opportunities to spend time with other kids their own age.

Starting tomorrow night. My friend has 3 girls that are good friends with my girls. Her middle daughter (K's best friend) is coming to spend the day and night here and L is going to stay over at my friend's house (L and her youngest are good friends). All the girls are ecstatic and they get the added benefit of being away from their own siblings.

From there, we'll see what other things come up for me to take advantage of over the summer. K is already scheduled to be away for a week-long, out-of-town summer camp. I want to find a week-long, full-day summer camp for L. Maybe more play dates. Maybe I'll relent and let them move back into separate rooms this summer instead of waiting until fall.

Nah, there's a limit to how much work I'm willing to create for myself.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Low Cost Master Bath Decoration

The blahness of our master bath weighed heavy on my mind. You know, once every blue moon when I actually noticed. It was one of those "I'll get around to it eventually, but no one else ever sees it, so it's at the bottom of the list." I love to decorate, as Mr. at Home will tell you, but I'm not allowed to start painting until after the 1-year walk-through. I had a vague sense of the style and color scheme I wanted to use in the bathroom, but I was lacking motivation.

Then I saw a shower curtain on the clearance endcap of my favorite Target. It was the perfect colors. The perfect style. Who cared if I don't need a shower curtain in the master bath; this was the inspiration!!

The shower curtain found its way into my cart along with a couple of inexpensive towels in a matching color. The master bath redo was ON!

The perfect master bath obviously needs the perfect piece of artwork. An original in just the right colors and just the right style and at just the right cheap price. So I took myself off to my favorite Cajun Canvas and I happened to be the only person who came for the class. So the owner, Karen, and I pulled out that perfect shower curtain, went through all of her painting options, and came up with a brand new painting just for my bathroom. Well, not JUST, as you too can paint your own copy of this fabulous painting on Wednesday, June 3rd. I just saw that she named it "V's Daisies". Gosh, I love Karen. Isn't it beautiful?

Remember that I said my master bath didn't need a shower curtain? And then I went and bought one anyway? Well, I cut that shower curtain a little shorter and into two pieces, I hemmed the raw edges, and I added a wide purple ribbon to the bottom. A curtain rod and some little clip hangers turned that shower curtain into the perfect covering for the bubble glass window. I even got a little crazy and sewed more of the ribbon onto the towels, turning cheap-o into awesome.

My bathroom needed more storage space, so I finally got an etagere (that's a fancy name for the cabinet that goes over the toilet). My friend Ikea provided these great storage containers where I can sort and easily see all my little things that belong in the bathroom as well as the crocheted baskets to which I added yet more purple ribbon.

For the last touch, I put up these little ledges to take up this blank, boring wall. When I was trying to figure out what to *put* here, I took another blogger's advice to "shop" my own house. I had another little basket and I had bought the tiny vases, but I stole the flower from another arrangement, the greenery was leftover from an old project, and the picture frame had been stored away since we moved last year. I am going to find a newer picture for it, but the old one works for now.

(Even though those ledges look like they're canted at crazy angles, trust me and my laser level, they really are straight.)

Now, I think I'm off to enjoy a bath in my newly amazingly beautiful bathroom.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Flip-Flop

What in the world was that little brown thing in the middle of the road?

(If you read the title up there, then you’d already know.)

“That” was a brown and black flip-flop. Just one. Goodness knows how it ended up on the entrance ramp near our house.

I mean, just how does a shoe end up in the road? McDonald’s cups, grocery bags, and cigarette butts by the thousands, I can understand. I don’t like it, but I can understand it. But a SHOE?

Was someone hanging their feet out the window? If that was the case, they’d better be darn thankful that the only thing they lost was a shoe. Remember how bus drivers used to tell those horror stories about the kid who stuck his hand out the window and it got tore. right. off!?! Gosh, I miss the good old days when bus drivers could use gruesome stories to scare kids into good behavior.

Was the shoe thrown out the window? Maybe some punk kid decided it’d be absolutely hilarious if he tossed his buddy’s shoe out onto the road. Or maybe his girlfriend got mad and hurled one of his shoes out as the quickest form of punishment she could think of. Maybe like my little nephew, a kid simply got a wild hair and tossed the shoe out just to see what would happen.

Well, however the flip-flop came to be on the entrance ramp, it was never reclaimed. That shoe has staked out that piece of asphalt as its permanent residence. Over the past several weeks, it has moved a foot or two to the left, but it has stubbornly refused to move to a less hazardous location. Large tires, loud radios, rushing wind as the trucks and cars fly by on their way to the outer loop--nothing bothers that little shoe. Like any good flip-flop, it sports a “devil may care” attitude and it doesn’t want anything to do with your traditional ideas about where a shoe ought to be. That flip-flop has an independent spirit and doesn't want to follow your rules.

Of course, one day soon that independent spirit will lose the battle with the busy entrance ramp to a busy interstate and the flip-flop will learn an important lesson.

Rules are there to keep you safe.

Just like I try to tell my kids. They insist on learning the hard way, too.

Princess Pillbug and the Pop-Up

Yesterday we had to make a trip to the other side of town to check out a tent trailer that was available to rent for our Outer Banks vacation this summer. It was such a long drive, but we have friends on that side of town that we rarely see, so I decided to stop there for a visit first.

The girls had a blast playing with their friends and I realized it's been awhile since we've hung out with these friends when I noticed deeper voices, leaner faces, and the oldest girl was just too cool to play with the younger ones. My friend, Martha, and I hung out in her kitchen and on her front porch. We talked about vacations and summer plans and the new addition they want to put on their house.

My youngest and her youngest are really good friends. They roamed all over the yard finding long-abandoned treasures. Both the girls have been through their princess stage with a fascination for all things pink and sparkly, but they also share a love of all things creepy-crawly. L came running over to show me a roly-poly she had fund a captured. She was then absorbed in examining the beautiful dead moth by picking it up and peering closely at it's head. We then noticed an enormous black snake coming down the trunk of a tree in their front yard and my friend's daughter ran within 3 feet before we could stop her. Yes, it's cool. No, it's not poisonous, but don't get so close anyway.

As we were going down their long driveway, L sat in her seat shaking a yellow plastic egg. Something rattled inside. "What's in the egg?" I asked suspiciously.

"Bugs," she replied very happily.

I slammed on the brakes. "You have roly-polys in that egg?!?"


"Open your door and throw them out!!" So she obediently opened her door and tossed the egg out into the grass. I did make her get out and set the poor pillbugs free.

I wish she'd stick to pink and sparkly.

On the other thing, the tent trailer didn't work out. It was too difficult to open and set up, it was missing some important pieces, and it was simply too small to sleep 6. So if you're in the Charlotte area and you happen to own a pop-up tent trailer and you wouldn't mind renting it to us, please let me know.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A photo shoot by an SLR beginner

L's in dance. Just in case I haven't mentioned that enough.

Her recital is tomorrow and the little girls are adorable in the way they have really no idea what they're doing. But whatever it is they're supposed to be doing takes a back seat to just being cute at this age. In a couple of years, it won't be quite so cute.


The dance studio had professional pictures taken a few weeks ago. They brought in a professional photographer and a white backdrop. We showed up and a nice lady led the girls to the back studio while we were informed we MUST stay in the front foyer. A little later, the girls were brought back, we changed them from ballet costume to tap costume and the nice lady whisked them away again. Soon after that, the girls were brought back and we were given a paper with instructions on viewing the pictures online.

Wow. Easy.

The pictures were finally up a couple of days ago and I have to say, L's pics were awful. There were a ton of them, but not one had a halfway-real smile. They were awkward and just not worth buying and I was incredibly disappointed. So I decided we could have a photo session of our own. I took the little bit of knowledge I've learned from my friend Dave Krehl and my other friend Emily and tried it out. With Mr. at Home's digital SLR. With all the buttons and functions that scare me to death. It was do or die time.

This afternoon was the dress rehearsal, so L was dressed and ready and we left early to find a cool spot for some pictures. There's a shopping center on the way with a neat fountain and we stopped to play. We got a lot of pictures, a lot of attention, and a request to take a picture of a mother and daughter shopping trip. At least they were fooled into thinking I knew what I was doing.

Here are my favorite shots from today's photo session.

I love how she's holding her pinky up in this shot.On her toes, mid-skip. She looks like she's having so much fun.
She came running up and stood right in front of the camera so I snapped this beautiful close-up.

Aren't those better than any stiff, awkward, posed shots taken by a complete stranger?

And since we can't forget big sister, she got to have her own mini-session as well.

She thought it was so cool that I let her walk on the wall.I love, love the water in this shot.Look at that little flip of hair. And those freckles! She's all about the cuteness.

The girls had so much fun taking these pictures. And isn't that what photography is all about?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Something inspiring

You need to watch this YouTube video. It will blow your socks off and in a good way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Roses. Beautiful, beautiful roses.

A week or so ago, I got tired of waiting for the HOA to replace the dead bushes in our landscaping. We live in a townhome, so the HOA takes care of everything outside the house. I've asked, reminded, and finally joked to the sales office that I was going to simply plant rose bushes instead.

A few days later I got an email giving me the go-ahead for the rose bushes.


So I went to the garden center, found the roses, and wavered back and forth between two different varieties. I bought one bush of sunshiny orange roses and planted it next to our door. There are two blooms on it at the moment and they are gorgeous. So amazingly gorgeous that I had to post pictures.

I love the bright orange color of this one. It's a beautiful, perfect rose shape.

This one is my favorite. It's large and a little fluffier. The pink edges just make me giddy.

It's an incredible thing to me that one bush can produce two such different blooms.

I edited the post to add the Tuesdays Unwrapped button from my friend Emily's blog, Chatting at the Sky. What? You don't think I know Emily? I do! I helped her order bloggy business cards at She Speaks last year. She's a lovely person and has a fabulous blog and you need to go check her out!

Friday, May 8, 2009

There's a light at the end of the third grade tunnel

Today I will send off a large manila envelope with the next to last set of grades for K.

Today K started the very last grading period. I love this grading period simply because it is short! We have 19 more lessons to go, but we don't want to do school for 4 more weeks, so we're doubling up for the rest of the "school year". That basically means that we'll do all the work for one lesson plus the tests (+reading +spelling) from the next lesson each day. This way, all the stuff is learned, but we're not doing a bunch of busy work on stuff we've already covered.

And we'll be done before Memorial Day!

The state asks that we do 180 days of school. I have 170 days of lessons with A Beka. By the time the school year is over, we will have far exceeded the 180 days with all the extra stuff we do - Bible study, field trips all over, visiting student at Grandma's school, etc. (After all, we started our school year at the end of July.) You have to love the flexibility of homeschooling. We can cover subjects not taught in traditional school settings and we can learn our lessons in varied locales using methods that simply aren't an option for most teachers.

Yep, homeschooling is great. Now I just need to remember that on days when the girls spend the day fighting and I want nothing more than to drop them off at the nearest elementary.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

WFMW: How to clean your car mats for free

A week or so ago, I took advantage of the warm weather and tackled a task that must be done semi-regularly around here.

I cleaned the minivan floor mats.

And yes, it was as scary as it sounds.

I sent the girls outside to empty everything out of the car that wasn't bolted down. I worked the vacuum as hard as it could go, then I pulled all the floor mats out. Thankfully, our van has mats that cover 90% of the floor because the designers were obviously moms with small children.

I laid out the worst mat (the one that goes under the girls' feet) and felt compelled to document its grossness.

Impressed? Wait, here's a close-up.

And this is the part that's under the *oldest*, who should be past all the drips and spills.

If I were made of money and knew a good car cleaning place, I would have just surrendered the whole van for disinfecting. As neither of those are true, I had to come up with my own solution. I soaked the mat with the hose, poured laundry detergent over it, and scrubbed it with a hard scrub brush. I scrubbed and scrubbed. I then hung it over the trunk of the car and sprayed it with the hose for a long time. This was the final result.

Isn't that awesome? It's not perfect, but it is an infinite improvement over what it looked like before. Now my car looks better AND smells april fresh. You can't beat that.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

EASY fancy paper pockets

Last weekend I took L with me to do a little shopping and we ended up going to a family festival at the local shopping center. Many of the stores had booths with crafts and activities for the kids and coupons for the parents, so we both had a good time.

A new paper craft store is opening and they had a table set up where they made these awesome little paper pockets for the kids. I watched as the lady spent approximately 30 seconds and went from a square sheet of paper to a cute holder for a business card and a bag of candy. It looked ridiculously simple, so when we got home, I took L's apart to make sure I knew how it was made.

Don't worry, I put it back together.

Then I sat down and made a few more. With some variations. Because I can. And I'll show you how to make your very own paper pockets.

If you scrapbook or have ever scrapbooked in the past, you probably have the necessary supplies on hand. You need:

paper (double-sided card stock works best)
ribbon or brad

And that's it.

1. Take a square sheet of paper and fold it into a triangle. You'll want to make sure you crease all your folds well.2. Fold one side corner in so that you get a fairly straight line across the top of the folded section.
3. Fold the other side corner in just like you did the first one.
4. Fold down one layer of the top point.
5. Punch a hole through every layer except the back.

6. Put a brad through the hole. You can poke the brad through a couple of flowers first to jazz up your creation or you can leave it plain and classy.You're done!

Now, let's say you want to get a little fancier with your paper pocket. Maybe you have single-sided paper and you want something besides just white showing on the inside. Maybe you don't have any brads, but you have lots of ribbon. Here's a little variation on the basic one shown above.

1. Take two square sheets of paper, one slightly smaller than the other and fold them both into triangles.2. Position the smaller sheet inside the larger one and fold the pocket as shown in the example above.

3. Fold down both the larger outer point and the smaller inner point.
4. You will need to punch two holes through all the front layers of the pocket, but a normal hole punch has a hard time with this. Use the hole punch to simply mark where you want the holes in the topmost layer.5. Punch holes in each layer starting with the top. Once you have a hole punched, use a pencil to mark where to punch the hole in the next layer.6. Continue to unfold and punch until you get each layer done. When you get to that last layer, just fold the top over and punch through the top holes.7. Refold everything, thread the ribbon through the holes, and tie it into a bow.

Now you can fill your paper pockets with whatever you can think of! You can put in gift cards, gift certificates, notes, candy, flowers, toys, pictures, business cards, etc. These are perfect for giving little gifts for Mother's Day or Teacher Appreciation or end-of-year trinkets for the ladies at your MOPS table. You can do little thank yous or Valentines. It's incredibly easy and incredibly impressive.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Where you will find the rednecks do on a hot April afternoon

One recent Saturday morning we piled into our car and headed to K's softball game. It was a morning of civilized, all-American fun - pigtails, root beer, a thrilling game with a big rally on our girls' part to pull off an amazing win at the last minute, and snow cones for the winners.

Doesn't she look so wholesome and innocent?

As soon as the game was over and with snow cone in hand, we got back in the car and headed down country lanes to our friends' home back in the woods. We parked alongside a few other vehicles and made our way over to this.

What IS that?

That is a contraption only a country boy can build and was made for the express purpose of hanging a whole pig over a large fire so that it can slow roast to pure pork perfection.

Since Cousin Swine was not quite ready for dinner, the girls were directed to the back of the yard where they were to take a right at a certain large tree and follow a rough path down to the creek where the other children were playing.

Now I was expecting a small creek with copious amounts of mud. Nope, this was a real, true body of water.

Soon K had her shoes off and was gingerly making her first foray into a backwoods creek. It wasn't long before she was splashing and screaming with the rest of the kids. The Princess L, however, stood quietly on the side of the creek and was not putting one foot into that muddy water, no way, no how.

It was a fabulous afternoon filled with friends, laughter, country music, and more food than an army could have eaten. And just in case you might have forgotten that this was a redneck gathering, this was a favorite play spot.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Quick update on the schoolwork situation

K has been diligently working on all the schoolwork she skipped. There is still much to be finished, but she's completed a very large stack. I've also stayed on top of her regular daily work - checking every answer, requiring extra copying of spelling words, and making her correct every mistake.

Do you want to know the difference it has made?

Today I graded her latest stack of tests and quizzes. She made six 100s, a 91, and a B+.

Looking over my gradebook, the past few weeks have brought Bs and Cs up to As and Bs. There are fewer incorrect answers on her daily work. K's handwriting is smaller and neater. She has not once asked to watch TV and she's generally pretty good about sitting down at the table and working through her papers without being reminded. She's been less irritable and more interactive.

It's made a huge difference.

Spring cleaning! It's going to happen!

Between Mr. at Home's busy work schedule, my busy "work" schedule, K's extra schoolwork schedule, and my being sick (which was NOT scheduled), the housework has fallen by the wayside. I've spent some time this week trying to catch up some, but it's daunting, not to mention just flat depressing, to look at the big mess and calculate how much time it's going to take to get it all back under control.

I love having a clean house. I hate what it takes to get it there.

When I was reading blogs today, I came across a little challenge. A blogger is organizing a spring cleaning party. For 2 weeks, she's posting her own efforts and challenging others to join her by posting their own before and after photos. She promises to break things into manageable chunks that won't take too much time each day.

The timing is perfect! My house is in need of cleaning, my motivation is in need to some motivating, and my pastor has asked each of us to hold a garage sale this summer to raise money for missions. Having someone tell me what I need to do each day will help me to get everything done. Having the accountability of telling you all about it will help me get everything done.

So I spent my $7 and bought the e-book with its task lists and explanations. And it looks awesome, by the way. I'm adding a couple of cleaning supplies to the shopping list and getting my boxes ready for Mondays declutter.

Who's going to do it with me?