Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A tip: the micro-clean

You're probably wondering what the heck a "micro-clean" is. It has nothing to do with a microwave. It's my new method to cleaning happiness!

I like to keep my house clean (as opposed to the person who doesn't?) and I like to set goals like, "Today I will clean the bathrooms" or something like that. However, what I've noticed is that I will get all motivated, pull out the cleaning supplies bucket, and be halfway through a project when a child will wake up from a nap or there will be some other distraction that makes me stop. Then I get all frustrated that I didn't finish and then it's just a downward spiral.

One day as I whipped out the cleaning bucket to clean some jolly area of the house, I told myself that it would be great if I cleaned just this one shelf. And when that was done, I told myself that it would be great if I cleaned just the next shelf. And so on. And eventually a child did wake up from a nap, but instead of feeling irritated that I couldn't finish another cleaning task, I actually felt great! Because I accomplished those little goals that I set for myself! And it wasn't a one-time feel-good moment. I tried this method when I mopped the floor. Usually, I want to "mop the floor" which includes the entire kitchen/living room/dining room/front entry way floor. This time, I told myself it would be great if I did the living room. Children still asleep. It would be great if I did the entry way. Children still asleep. And so on. I didn't get to reach the kitchen, but no matter - I did what I set out to do with the micro-cleans! And I felt great!

So that's my tip. You may actually have the time to accomplish the micro-clean instead of a big, comprehensive clean. Each accomplishment makes you motivated to complete the next task - if time permits - but if time runs out, no worries! You completed your goal!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mood status update

Today is December 3. I have been unemployed for three whole months now. I have applied to a couple of dozen jobs, had "conversations" with several key people, am working with a headhunter, and I still got nothing.

I am also trying to start my own business and I've attended several networking events. I am fortunate to be working with a friend from our synagogue on a couple of his projects, but that is slow-going.

I know that the end of the year is a bad time to look for a job. Companies are in the midst of their year-end processes.

But - every day is a new opportunity, right? Perhaps this is a chance in my life to rewrite my career path (what career path...). Perhaps I should go back to school to learn something, or to become certified in something. I feel like this is all a sign for something, but I am not sure what.

It doesn't help that I have friends who are unemployed too. It doesn't help that even though we are surviving, our income was cut in half but our expenses remain the same. It doesn't help that a week after I was laid off, I sprained my ankle, a wall in our daughter's room developed major cracks due to foundation work (along with the rest of the house), and a pipe burst in the bathroom. I need some chizuk right now. I know things will get better. I just hope it does sooner rather than later.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

'Tis the season

It's officially my favorite time of year.

I am not afraid to admit it. I absolutely love the holiday season here in the US and let me tell you why.

People are in a good mood. They are looking forward to family traditions, to family reunions, to making memories together. People talk about food nonstop and put special effort into their meals. There are parties galore. The buildings are decorated and happy music is playing throughout. People are buying gifts for others, thinking about what would make other ppl happy. Movies come out that are all about families, dysfunctional or not (although it's the dysfunctional ones that are the funniest). Commercials on tv are about that special relative who comes home unexpectedly, or the wonderful first cup of coffee in the morning while checking if Santa ate his cookies, or the special spice that goes into that famous casserole.

Everything is festive, and cheery, and bright, and just beautiful. I love it. Not to mention that all the good songs were written by yidden...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fingers - their real purpose

Me to 2 yr old daughter: Please take your finger out of your nose.

2 yr old daughter complies.

2 yr old daughter inserts a finger from the other hand into her nose.

Me: Please take that finger out of your nose too.

Daughter complies.

Daughter sticks a 3rd finger into the other nostril.

Me: That finger too.

And on. And on. There are ten fingers, two nostrils. You do the math.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Just say "thank you"

No matter how you feel about the wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact remains that there are lots of people over there, away from home, family and friends, risking their lives every minute of every day. They are putting themselves on the line, and that is incredibly selfless.

To make it easy for you to say thank you to these people, Xerox is running a campaign where they will send postcards with your sentiments to troops overseas. It's free for you, but priceless to our soldiers. Click here and do your part.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Shabbat theme night: Fruit

I find theme nights for Shabbat dinner (or lunch) to be helpful because the theme helps to focus the menu and we haven't done theme night in a very long time so I wanted to bring back theme night to our house this week. I couldn't decide on a theme for this week and my husband suggested fruit so this was our menu:
purple cabbage salad (from Kosher by Design)
beet + apple salad
cranberry chicken
jeweled rice with dried fruit (from epicurious.com)
lime cilantro sweet potatoes (from epicurious.com)
sugar snap peas with a garlic dressing and mangoes (from Kosher by Design)
fruit for dessert, of course

It was a very colorful table with all of the colors of the food. Quite beautiful. And very very tasty!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Box Tops for Education

I am my daughter's school's Box Tops for Education co-chairwoman, and I am taking this job seriously. Box Tops are those itty bitty coupons that appear on certain (mostly) food products that schools send in for cold, hard cash. Each Box Top is worth ten cents. This money is then used for fun stuff like special programs and things and I want my school to reach its goal of $500 this academic year!

If you aren't already collecting Box Tops for another kid, I invite you to collect them and send them to me!!

If you register online and select our preschool (UOS Goldberg Montessori School in the 77096 zip code), we get 5 bonus Box Tops. Just go here.

To see a list of participating products, click here.

Last week I sent in our first submission and it was for $64. Not bad! Way to go UOS!

If you need my address, let me know.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The school parking lot

Having picked up and dropped off my daughter at school for 3 weeks now, I have made what I think is a significant anthropological observation.

Station wagons are so 20th century; these days, it's either the minivan or the SUV (or CUV, but to me they are the same).

See, I drive a late-model Volvo wagon and I love it. I had always viewed the station wagon as a typical family car. Apparently, my views are outdated.

These days, it's either minivans or SUVs. Even the nannies drive one or the other. Seldom is there a sedan, but if there is one, it either belongs to A) Dad or B) grandparent. I have not yet seen a wagon to date. Not a single one. Other than my own.

When did it go out of style? Some of the SUVs that roll into the parking lot are large enough to cross the Sea of Reeds before Moses split the water. Do you have to have a special license to drive those "tanks"? Does one really have that much more stuff they need to tow?

I am proud of my wagon. It's safe, it does its job, it has enough room for my family, and I think it looks good. Go wagon go!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Birthday weekend

This past Shabbat/Saturday, my girl turned 2. T-W-O. Her age is now in years - it's PLURAL!!

Crazy.

My husband's dad and his wife flew in for the weekend and we had a fantastic time. They sponsored a lovely kiddush at our shul, which was followed by a great lunch at our house, which was followed by a too-brief nap, which was followed by playtime with my nephew and my sister and included a special post-Shabbat party so we can light a candle and sing Happy Birthday to my daughter for the second time that day (although the candle actually burned itself out so then we sang it a third time, albeit in a different language).

Sunday morning we met friends and all headed out to the zoo. We had more cupcakes.

This morning was her birthday celebration in school. I think she actually got tired of all of the hoopla because she had a bored look on her face the whole time. And I captured it all on video.

I'm so proud of my little girl.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Happy birthday to me

Today is my birthday and I can definitely say that last year at this time, I did not think I would be where I am today. I have two beautiful kids, and my girl is in preschool and loving it. My boy is growing rapidly and already has two front bottom teeth! Although I am unemployed and haven't worked at all this calendar year, I am delighted to have the opportunity right now to be home with the kids, even though it is a bit of a financial stress for us. So many things have changed, and at the same time, so many things have stayed the same. Every day is an opportunity to do something new, learn something new, and to redirect my life towards the greater good.

Modeh ani lefanecha...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Snapshot: Things found in my purse today

In addition to the usual wallet (need a new one)/cell phone/pen:
  • A fruit leather strip (never leave home without a snack - for the kid)
  • A baby sock (only one?)
  • Mouthwash
  • Tons of receipts
  • A toothpick (used? not sure)
  • Loose change
  • A hairband
  • A hair clip that mostly operates as a toy
  • Photos of kiddo #1 that are over 18 months old
  • Ultrasound image of kiddo #2
  • A highlighter (for highlighting on the go? Not sure why that's there)

Monday, October 12, 2009

A milestone today

I feel like lately there have been lots of BIG THINGS going on in our family life. I had a baby, returned to work from maternity leave, got laid off a week later, sprained my ankle a week later (my first injury!), Rosh Hashana started a week later, and now today. Today marks a new chapter in our life, for today is the day that our daughter started preschool.

That's it. No more full days at home with the nanny or with mommy until holidays, school vacation, or, Gd forbid, an illness.

My daughter is attending the Jewish Montessori school every day in the morning. My nephew is also attending and they are in the same class. I *heart* the Montessori method. So, I was very excited for her to start school.

In fact, I was so excited that I was slightly un-prepared lunch-wise. I had to improvise and grab my husband's old lunch sack (black) and make up a lunch from whatever is in the house (dairy/parve only). I intend on getting her a proper lunchbox VERY soon. Although - my daughter was VERY proud of her lunchsack.

Me? I was anxious about this. My baby is going to school! From now on, time will FLY along with the school schedule. Before I know it, she'll be coming home with arts and crafts, telling me stories (in a language I can understand), participating in school plays, going to first grade, going to high school, getting married - ACK! I can't deal. As we were walking in, the head of school was outside and asked, "Are you ready for school?" I have no idea if she was talking to me or to my daughter, who was holding my hand (can she hold my hand forever?), but I shook my head no because I couldn't speak because if I would open my mouth, I would have cried since my eyes welled up with tears.

When I picked her up from school, she was happy as a (kosher) clam. I think I can do this.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The High Holidays are here

Yes I know that we have already done 2/3 of the holidays this month, but I am telling you....the Thanksgiving/Christmas season has NOTHING on this month of Jewish holidays. Next year, maybe I will hire an event coordinator for me because I am in serious meal/invitation management mode. No joke - there are scheduling templates out there to manage all of the meals, including the menu and the guests (with space for candlelighting and reminders).

For several years now, it feels as though the holidays are really all about the food. The schedule is about the food. The big buzz is who is going where. You have to take into consideration the weather and where guests will be shlepping from, not to mention where they are going after the meal (as in, do they live far from you? nearby?). You have to factor in kids (nap schedules, number of kids you can handle at one time, picky eaters). You have to have a nice balance of marrieds & singles, kids & no kids, older & younger. You need to know who gets along with whom.

Thanksgiving is one giant fest about turkey. Christmas is a lovely holiday of which many wonderful movies are made. But they don't hold a candle to the craziness I am experiencing right now.

(of course, I am saying nothing about the weekly Shabbat meal schedule.)

So at the end of the (holi)day, I am exhausted from entertaining. I actually enjoy the entertaining part, but the whole management of it tires me out. And I am bummed that I don't get to enjoy the holiday for what it is, the spirituality of it, the meaning of it. I suppose that means that I am doing something wrong, and I try to be better about it (like, selecting easy recipes or obvious winners instead of something new and complicated) with every holiday, but dude I don't have time. It's time to plan for Shabbat...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What's for dinner?

What a great question! I have officially run out of ideas. I need ideas other than pizza, hot dogs + baked beans, mac + cheese, and leftovers. Please comment! We are flexitarians so meat/chicken is not a necessity for us during the week. Help!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The down economy hits home

I have officially become a statistic in the ever-changing story of the global economy. While I anticipated that I would not be a consultant at a Big 4 forever, I didn't think the end would happen so soon. It's ok, though. I had an excellent 3 years at the firm and I worked with some terrific people and learned an enormous amount. I hope to maintain some connections as I move forward.

The good news is that I live in Houston, and the Texas Medical Center - world's largest medical center - is in my backyard (almost), so if I want to look for a healthcare job, I'm in a good place. Yesterday was a shocker. Today was a calm, back-to-reality day. Tomorrow is Wednesday, and that's always a good thing! I guess now I have a bit more time to plan for the High Holidays...

Friday, August 28, 2009

I can do it

I had a nanny taking care of child #1 up until one month before child #2 was born; she left me for another position I couldn't compete with. It was ok at the time, since it gave me the opportunity to spend an incredible amount with my daughter before child #2 made its appearance. Much of the conversation I had with peers and my family was centered around the idea that I had to find help for once child #2 will join us; fundamentally, the question was, "How will I manage both kids?" Each kid required different amounts and types of attention, and since there is only one of me, how will I be able to attend to everyone's needs?

(Even the husband needs some attention.)

I was extremely worried about this. I have a neighbor who has 3 boys all under the age of 6. She has no help and she stays home with them all day. I thought of her as an example and tried to pick her brain every time I saw her outside. The logistical challenge seemed to overwhelm me.

I had a very nice lady come in for the first month to take care of child #1 while I was home. That was very nice. But then, she left me too (I'm really not a bad employer!). So at that point, I just needed to hitch up my britches and plunge into childcare, all by myself.

And I did it! Not only did I do it, but I loved it! Sure, some days were difficult, and some days I was exhausted, but overall I really, truly enjoyed it!

I made a flexible routine, I tried to work out meals ahead of time, and I took advantage of local services to diversify our day. I was attuned to #2's patterns so that I didn't drag him around when he needed to take a nap. I attended a 6-week mommy & me program (and got some cool crafts out of that!). I attended free storytimes around town. I joined the Children's Museum and went there several times. I took the kids to my sister's house to play with my nephew (who is about 7 months older than my daughter). Grocery store trips were exciting with the race-car shopping carts. I had playdates with friends with kids with similar ages. I went with friends and kids to the Discovery Green spray park one day. I tried to balance busytimes with quiet times, making sure that she knew how to entertain herself for when I had to take care of #2.

Now that I returned to work, I recognize how much I have grown over the summer. Being with my children was more challenging, I think, than any client engagement. I set expectations (for myself), managed routines, adapted to new challenges, worked on new skills (movement, language, coloring, rhythm, patience with my daughter)...and on and on. For me, I gained confidence knowing that even if something seems impossible at first, if I work at it bit by bit and take it one day at a time, I can be successful.

Boy, that sounds like a business book in the making: the business lessons I learned by just taking care of my kids.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

No more tv

We are officially a tv-free home. Not that we don't watch tv anymore (hello internet!), but we simply do not have room for the actual tv set in our house. And right now, we just don't have the money to purchase a flat-screen flat panel tv. So, we had to give the tv away (and the tv stand went to my parents) and so far we haven't looked back. Here's to continuous domestic improvements!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Selling your attention

Did that get your attention? What you're about to read is going to sound crazy.

I stumbled onto this site called YouData and the concept is this: instead of companies paying marketers to try to get your attention to view their ad, why not have the companies pay YOU for YOUR attention to view their ad.

Still with me?

So what you do is you sign up with this site and create a profile and then you receive ads that are "targeted" to your profile, and you get paid for looking at the ads.

Still with me?

Buy "get paid" I mean you get 5 cents per ad, give or take. No, this won't make you rich. And no, you're not flooded with ads in your email, or popups on your screen. You download a little widget and you log into the widget every now and then and the widget will tell you if there are ads waiting for your attention.

And you get paid every Friday. To give you an idea of your "take home pay", the first Friday I got $1.70, last Friday I got $0.71, and so far I have $0.21 in my account. Yes, you read those amounts all correctly. So I'm not going to pay off a loan with this.

But hey, money is money and maybe in a couple of weeks I'll be able to buy a Starbucks iced latte with my earnings from this site.

Interested? Click here.

Hi there

To my general readership out there (all 3? 4? 5 of you?), I apologize for being so AWOL. I've been busy planning several activities for my synagogue which took place this past week so I just haven't had any time to think about what to post. Here are some random nuggets from my life:

Nugget #1: In the never-ending quest for financial harmony, my husband re-evaluated our homeowner's insurance to ensure that we are adequately covered, not too much and not too little. It turned out that we could reduce our coverage which was supposed to save us money. It did. We saved a whopping $11 a year. I'm planning on depositing that check in the bank today.

Nugget #2: My daughter is really fun with all of her "no"s. It's a hoot. Really. Really. Fun.

Nugget #3: I can't believe I didn't do this earlier. Last week my husband cooked a pot of macaroni and we had enough in the fridge to last most of the week. What a great last minute addition to a bowl of soup, or when all else fails, heated macaroni with butter and Parmesan for lunch (I'm talking about lunch for the kiddo). So this week I made rice for the week. What a time-saver!

Nugget #4: We went to a Muslim wedding this week. That was really educational.

Nugget #5: I now use an old tube sock for my cleaning. I dust with it and it's great! My hand doesn't get dirty and I'm able to really get into the corners. Why does this excite me so?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer plans

At the start of this summer, I was determined to do "summer activities" this year, as opposed to previous years where summer came and went and I didn't do anything specific to the season. I don't have a detailed list but have a general idea of what counts as a "summer activity". Examples include:
1. A vacation - done! We went to Austin and had a great time.
2. An outdoor concert.
3. A picnic.
4. A trip to the beach.
5. BBQing and eating outside.
6. Eating lots of ice cream - done! Maybe too frequently!
7. Eating lots of watermelon - done!

Those are all I can think of right now. We have a bonus activity - we went to a local wild animal park! We were supposed to go blueberry picking one day with my sister and her family, but since all of the farms were out of blueberries that weekend (good thing she called before we headed out!) we changed course and went to a local wild animal park! The kind of place where the animals walk up to your car and stick their noses in your face. We went on this long tram ride and got very up close and personal with some animals (large, sweaty animals) who were very interested in the animal food my nephew and niece had. It was fun! Definitely a summer activity.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sell your books!

I just sold two books and got $5.17 for them! I know - that's another Starbucks drink in my pocket!! There's this online company that buys books and even pays for shipping! Just click here to get started. Happy selling!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The letter P

Today was brought to you by the letter P. P starts many words, but I will point out only one word, and that word is poop. Not only did the son somehow manage to get poop onto three outfits (and his carseat, and the nursing pillow, and my arm), but my daughter decided that in lieu of taking a nap, she would poop in her diaper, take her diaper off (it's full of poop), smear it on the bed sheet and crib railings, and then throw it (full of poop) onto the floor (which is carpet). It was lovely.

Here's a random tip: Clorox wipes quickly clean a mirror, when you're out of glass cleaner. I didn't notice much streaking, so that's good to know when in a pinch.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Random Round-up

Ok, last week ended well, especially since Dad had the day off on Friday. I don't even remember what we did on Thursday.


This week I am sending the little girl to a home-based camp for the morning (through lunch); she's not 100% happy with the idea, but it's good for her. She has gotten used to being home with me and she wants things to stay that way, but she needs to get used to a different environment for when she goes to nursery school. She can't cry the whole day!



The little boy is doing really well. He's growing LOTS and is smiling and laughing now.



This is my new favorite salad. I replace the crab with canned salmon and I add avocado.



I am on a roll with tasty homemade challah! On Friday I got creative and made challah "muffins":
I made challah knots and stuck them in a muffin tin. Voila - uniform challah rolls! They are a bit dense, but not bad! Very very portable!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Day 3 of full-on motherhood

Yesterday was a really nice day and rather calm. It was also a no-spend day so yay on the money front! Today was busy....this morning we took a walk to the JCC to see the fish in the pond (is it sad that I can now tell the difference between 99 degrees and 105 degrees? I actually noticed that it was cooler) and then we chilled at home, then drove to my husband's office to drop off his lunch and took a field trip to TJ Maxx (where some spending occured), then home for lunch and a nap. Lunch happened; a nap did not. We were able to make it to story time at the Bellaire Nature Center which was great and then we explored the nature rooms upstairs. What a fantastic place and it's FREE!!! Really, a gem in the city. Then home for some chill-out time and then to my sister's house for dinner and playing with the cousins!

It was a busy day and the kids were pooped so they both crashed...

Need to figure out what's on tap for tomorrow.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Me and the kiddos....again

Another caregiver has left us, which leaves me and the kids to fend for ourselves...again.

I'm really not a bad employer, am I? No, I know - it's really not me. Unfortunately, it's been a combination of things but basically the ladies who have been with me so far have been great nannies but for one reason or another need to work elsewhere because of their own circumstances. If I would have had my druthers, I would have kept them all.

The upshot is that I get to spend more time with my kids, and we save money on childcare. The downside is that we still need to find a nanny for when I return to work full time (and trust me, we've interviewed lots) and I would like to prepare for returning to work which would require having someone else feed the baby. The good news is that we do have several options so I'm not totally left high and dry, but still, this kind of thing unnerves me.

Today we took a walk outside, then to the Children's Museum, then lunch with Babushka (Russian for grandmother), then nap, then I picked up my nephew from camp and brought him to his house where we stayed and played and had dinner. So it was a very busy day for us! I also managed to bake bread (love my bread machine - that's another post), did a load of laundry, washed dishes, and prepared lunch. I even got a great (free!) parking spot at the Children's Museum. All in all, a great day.....

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Weekend getaway

This weekend we went to Austin, our first "vacation" in about 2 years. It was much needed. I use the term "vacation" loosely because we did shlep the children with us, which meant that we were still doing the parenting/fulfilling someone's needs thing, just in a different location. We left town Thursday night in order to quietly get there, spend a night, and wake ready to explore Austin. Friday was packed! After breakfast, we went to Zilker Botanical Garden (where we determined that it's not so stroller-friendly, at least not in the unpaved parts), rode the Zilker Zephyr around the park, and watched the swimmers in the Barton Creek Pool. We picked up lunch at the world-famous HEB with the kosher deli and in the afternoon went to the Austin Children's Museum. We listened to some live music in the lobby of our hotel before heading to our room to enjoy Shabbat dinner.

Shabbat day was filled with walking around our hotel's area. It was incredibly hot. I'm still sweating (just kidding) (I took a shower since then).

This morning we packed up and headed home. We thought maybe we'd go to a coffee shop that had a children's story hour in the morning, but we nixed that and headed home instead. We were so happy to be home!!

Here's one thing we discovered: we are NOT fans of the Sleep Number beds (you know, the ones hawked on the infomercial?). It's like sleeping on an inflatable air mattress, except less fun. I would recommend to steer clear of those.

Happy father's day. My hubby - he got vomited on twice today (by the same child). What a lucky, lucky man...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Digital tv non-conversion

Well, June 12 came so fast that I had no idea what hit me. While the US Congress deemed it "the day television as we know it will cease to exist", I was busy making our Shabbat meals and juggling the two babes, amongst other things. Apparently, June 12 was THE DAY all television channels would be converted to digital, and if you didn't upgrade to digital, well partner, you're just SOL. At least, that's what they make you think...

We sent in for and received the digital converter box coupons, so we have them, but haven't utilized them yet (um, I think we had other things to do with our time than upgrade our tv), and if you read my earlier post here, you would know that we were ambivalent about upgrading our tv anyway.

Well, the decision was made for us. We literally did not discuss the issue of the digital tv conversion until after the fact, once we realized the importance of June 12. And since this is so low on the priority list, who knows if we'll ever get to it.

Until then, we will somehow have to manage to survive watching tv on our computer. We'll somehow manage....somehow...manage...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Today in DC

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by what happened at the US Holocaust Museum in DC today, but I am greatly saddened. However, I am grateful for the security guards at the museum, and for the security guard who gave his life protecting the museum and the public and all that the museum stands for, thank you. I don't know if you specifically chose to work at the Holocaust Museum, if you have toured its exhibits, if you walked through all of the horrors that it displays - but today's events clearly show that the Holocaust is not to be left in the history books; hatred is something that we must fight against every single day, without rest. Thank you for your sacrifice; who knows how many people you have saved today.

You have brought honor to yourself and your family. Rest in peace.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Amaaazing

Tonight my husband had to attend the annual gala dinner for Interfaith Ministries, which meant that I would be on my own for the evening. I spent the early evening at my parents' house, and then my mom and I returned back to the homestead to bathe the babes and put both to bed. After both were bathed, the little man decided he was hungry (in fact, I knew he was just tired) so I was occupied with him; my mom put the little girl to bed.

It was so easy.

My mom had her say goodnight to me and her brother, and my mom put her in the crib. Said goodnight.

And left the room.

SIMPLE.

And the little one fell asleep.

Simply....amaaazing.....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Work: want vs. need

Lately I've been fielding the same question over and over again and I would like to take the opportunity now to set the record straight.


Yes, I will be returning to work after my maternity leave.


Yes, I enjoy working for the sake of working. I enjoy what I do professionally. I am a very results-oriented person so it gives me satisfaction to work on a project and see it through. I enjoy the office environment (despite the fact that I do not socialize with my colleagues any more than necessary). I enjoy the professional challenges.

The question of "do I want to work" has not crossed my mind. I'm sorry, but when I'm at a point where I get to do what I want to do, I will not be saddled with student loan debt, a car note, a mortgage, day school tuition, summer camp payments, health insurance payments, etc etc etc.

Need I go on?

Right now, there are many things that my husband and I need to pay for. We do this ourselves. We do not count on our families to help us. We work hard, plan budgets, and live frugally while trying to give our children the best life possible. This is how my husband and I grew up, and I don't think we suffered for it.

And for those who wonder, I grew up with a working mother and I never felt lonely or deprived or anything like that at all. On the contrary, I knew that my mother loved me so much that she was/is willing to do anything to ensure I have all of the piano lessons, ballet lessons, swim lessons, summer camps, etc that I could possibly want. Oh and by the way, I traveled to more countries during my childhood than most kids. But we didn't drive the newest cars, didn't eat out, and didn't buy our clothes at the nicest department stores.

So do I want to return to work after maternity leave? Here's the real question: do I want to give my children the best possible life I can? Yes. So that means, at this point, I need to work. End of story. When the situation changes, I may change.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hidden money found!

I found over $60 in a closet today!! WOOHOO!!

It wasn't really $60 in cash, and it did take a bit of effort on my part (went to store #1 with one kid, went to store #2 with both kids). See, we are cleaning out the guest room/storage room/third bedroom in order to convert it into our son's room, and we are moving very slowly. Today I decided to take two never-been-opened items to their originating stores to see if I can return them.

And hurrah! I was able to return both, netting me over $60 in store credit. Fortunately, we shop frequently at each store (Walmart and Home Depot) so the store credit will surely be used soon.

The moral of the story here is to return items on time and reclaim your money - no need for the stores to keep it if you want it back!!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

With or without?

I am fortunate to be on paid maternity leave right now and I'm excited to "have" a summer back while I'm on leave and not go to work (yay company benefits!). Spending the last few months with my daughter (and a nanny) has been incredible and has really made me think about things. Now that I have two kids (wow, that's still hard to say), I feel that I should really maximize this time while I'm at home. And by maximize, well, I have to figure out what that means in terms of care-giving.

See, when I returned to work, I made sure that I had a nanny for my daughter, every day, all day. When I went on maternity disability leave with kid #2, I retained the nanny because at that point in my pregnancy I wasn't able to really take care of my daughter (limitations due to pregnancy). When my limitations were eased, I began feeling that the nanny was less necessary because I could take care of my daughter, and at that point my nanny left me. As the due date for #2 neared, I started to wonder - and many well-meaning people discussed this with me - how I would take care of two babies by myself. What if both are crying for food at the same time? When would I ever have time to go to the bathroom? How would I go grocery shopping? So I found a terrific lady who has been coming by to take care of #1 while I take care of #2. It's been great and not as stressful for me.

But I'm wondering again if I need this help every day. This week the lady is coming in the mornings and leaves once #1 is asleep for her morning nap. It's a very nice arrangement. Now I wonder if I can do this myself? The answer is: I don't know. I feel like I need a trial day to determine the answer to that question. Weekends don't count because Daddy doesn't go to work on weekends, and besides, weekends are existentially different from weekdays anyway. So, I basically need to do this scientifically by not having any help come in for one weekday and see how/if I survive by the end of the day.

How many more opportunities like this (on leave AND paid?!?!?!?!) will I get?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What I've been up to

Ok - so it has obviously been a while since I've posted, but I have an excuse - I've been busy. Last week we welcomed a new little boy into our family, so it's been hectic, to say the least. The last weeks before the birth I was heading towards nuttiness in terms of nesting, although I always enjoy decluttering and purging and organizing my living space. And I also felt like I needed to do something to prepare for the little one's arrival; after all, we didn't really have any baby gear that we needed to get/prepare for this one, since we already had everything from the first one. And I spent LOTS of time with my daughter, special one-on-one time that I know she won't remember but I will.

So I've been busy.

Yesterday morning, we held the bris in our home, which was a bit stressful but SO worth it. It was very beautiful and moving and as my sister said, "You could feel a lot of love in the room." The only downside is that we forgot to take pictures of our newly expanded family, but that is typical for us, but still, I would have liked pictures.

I am still getting used to the idea of having a newborn and an 18-month old, both of whom are my children. (Still getting used to the word "children", as in, plural.) Especially since my daughter is SO active. Since we came home from the hospital, I haven't been alone with the two of them except for maybe 30 minutes, and that was tough. Just right then, one needed a bath and one needed to be fed/diapered/something. So, I told everyone to calm down, I'll get to them when it's their turn, and proceeded to give a bath then quickly feed/diaper the other one. THAT was stressful.

I'm very fortunate. I never thought that before I turn 29, I would have two children. 18 months apart. One boy and one girl. I count my blessings, thank Hashem, and look forward to each day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cheap and easy wood polish

Mix a bit of lemon juice with a bit more of olive oil. Apply. Use immediately and don't make it in advance. Stand back and look at your polished wood in all its glory. Sure beats buying the expensive stuff.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Holocaust Rememberance Day

It begins tonight. It's such a formality, but it's necessary. It's necessary to set aside one day of the year to specifically remember the Holocaust. I feel like I never forget it. Not only do I know stories and names of relatives who died, I feel like it is my mission in life to ensure that the Nazis didn't win. That despite their best efforts, the descendants of the ones who perished, whom they worked so hard to kill, are not only alive but actively practicing Judaism. Not only practicing Judaism, but speaking of the Nazis like ones speaks of the Babylonians and Romans and all other people who tried to kill us. The Nazis are gone, but the Jews - the pitifully small in number Jews - are around. And not only around - but enhancing quality of life on Earth!! How many Nobel prizes have been won by Jews? How much literature has been produced? How about the entire concept of ethics and morality? Who came up with that (well, G-d did, but we are charged with spreading the message)?

So anyway, I lit a 24-hour candle tonight in honor of those I know who perished, the 1.5 million children who perished, and those who perished and there is no one to remember them. Here's to remembering that no matter how comfortable we feel in a society, that society can ALWAYS turn against us. No matter how "cultured" a society, the society can create the most efficient killing machine. No matter how much a citizen of your country you may feel, remember that you will ALWAYS be considered a Jew, no matter how little you actually know of Judaism. Never forget that. We Jews will always be singled out, no matter how much we try to hide. We only have each other.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Gift bag galore

I am now in the midst of nesting (just a few more weeks to go until baby #2 arrives!) and have discovered a treasure trove of baby gift bags I didn't throw away that were given to us with presents for our daughter. They are good gift bags that can be reused. The question is - what do I do with them? I am reluctant to throw them away because they can be reused and they are nice; the only problem is that I have so many and I don't think I have so many baby gifts to give in the near future! We are talking about several dozen gift bags here. What do I do with them?? Any ideas??

Monday, April 13, 2009

Update on Belden's bananas

Belden's has caught up with the rest of the stores in the area when it comes to banana prices. Today I went in there today intending to buy bananas and there they were, those beautiful bananas staring at me at 49 cents a pound.

Oh well - I enjoyed the party while it lasted.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pesach Insanity

Pesach is THIS WEEK. AAAAAAAAACCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKK!!!!

Unfortunately, Pesach is not one of my favorite holidays just yet. Maybe it will be one day, but I'm not there yet. All the cleaning and worrying over kosher l'Pesach utensils and dishes and food makes me nuts and I feel like it makes people forget the true meaning of the holiday (wow that sounds so Christmas-y). But, there is no getting around it - it is what it is.

At the moment, I am eating straight from a pint of ice cream. Good ol' strawberry ice cream.

So far I have kashered my Pesach silverware (to go to the mikvah tomorrow), got both cars cleaned, had the house cleaned, cleaned the fridge, run both ovens through the self-cleaning cycle, and cleaned the stovetop (to make the cleaning much simpler tomorrow when I actually go to kasher it). I (really my husband) have made room in the pantry for all of the non-Pesach items I need to remove from the counter. Not bad, eh?

Tomorrow, we are going to toivel and kasher everything else - counters, sinks, stovetop. It's actually not as much as it sounds; we have granite countertops and the stove is clean - just need to do a final wipe down and do the kashering thing. And the sinks are stainless steel (nothing like renovating a kitchen with Pesach in mind).

I still have last minute shopping to do, errands to run, phone calls to make - all that fun stuff. I never do seem to get around spiritually preparing for the holiday until I have downtime during the holiday itself (although now with a kid, I don't know how much downtime I actually will have).

Off to bed...it's late...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tip - Pesach purge: the medicine cabinet

Ever since we moved in, we have utilized two cabinets in two bathrooms for our personal hygiene/medicine stuff, in addition to a bin for our daugher's things. This has led to a bit of disorganization, with bandaids being in one bathroom and something else being in another and where is the thermometer?

The pre-Pesach cleaning time is a good opportunity to solve this problem and organize things. It really doesn't take more than a few minutes (or at least, it shouldn't). I removed expired medications, organized all the different types of bandaids in one location, moved all of the non-essentials together, and basically coralled everything together in a logical format which makes the cabinet work for me instead of against me (hello more space!). I bought a set of two plastic trays at Walmart for 75 cents. Cheap and useful!

It's a good time to take inventory, update the first-aid kit, get rid of the old stuff, and see what you really have so you can use it up instead of always buying new (where applicable). See - cleaning can be fun!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pic of bookcase

Here is a pic of the bookcase that made me feel so productive last Sunday (read here). In case you are interested. The blue-pink-white boxes that are inside the shelves I purchased at The Container Store. They are a bit more than what I would have liked to have paid for them, but they are made of mesh and are collapsible and just fantastic, so I like to think that I will use them for a long time, in or out of the bookcase, so they are worth what I paid for them. I also think the colors brighten up the space. Prior to this bookcase, we had a low, brown 3-shelf bookcase that contained our books on the top shelf, our daughter's books and other paraphernalia on the bottom 2 shelves, and the crate in the pic and another bin with all of her toys next to the sofa. Magically, this bookcase makes everything so much more organized, and has room for our photos and books!!! A real breakthrough!! The fact that I am still writing about it indicates just how much this bookcase has changed my life.

Friday, March 27, 2009

No tv? Can we even go there?

The subject of our television unit (and tv consumption) has now become a regular topic of conversation for two reasons:
1. The tv's current home is the guest room, but with a home office, future baby room, extra bed for guest all competing for space, we are not quite sure where to move our tv to next. We don't want it in the living room, and we don't want it in our bedroom.
2. The digital conversion that for some unknown reason Congress has made a priority (over seemingly less-important issues like cancer research, poverty eradication, and literacy) has brought up the issue of either buying a new tv (although ours works just fine) or converting it to digital.

We are not big tv watchers, especially since we don't have cable/satellite. We mostly watch tv to kill time, either to put off going to bed or to watch something totally mind-numbing. The news we get online, and life is too busy to make time for shows when they come on. We've taken to watching tv and movies online, so it's on our schedule and where we are comfortable.

So why not just get rid of the tv? That way, I don't have to worry about where to place the set in the house. If there is no set for me to just turn on, I won't have the temptation of getting sucked in to some show. I won't have to worry about converting it to digital! One less thing to do (and to clean - those things attract dust!).

But television is so wrapped up in our culture it's almost difficult to imagine a life without it. The set is there right now, but I hardly use it, but I know it's there for those rare times when I do want to use it. What will happen to me/us when there is no tv but the desire to turn it on and go through the (five) channels? Will I feel lost? Will I feel a big void in my life? Will our children grow up deprived? (no, they won't. I know plenty of people who have terrific kids but don't have a tv and their kids seem to live just fine)

What say ye?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Job vs. Career

This topic has been on my mind a lot lately. Obviously the economy has everyone concerned about their jobs, and working mothers have always struggled/juggled/questioned/dealt with the balancing act. I have always assumed that I would be a working mother, and I have pursued both a career and motherhood passionately. I am fortunate to have a job that I love, and I love coming home to a little munchkin who sometimes showers me with kisses, sometimes just keeps on playing with her toys.

This particular pregnancy has made me question a few things. I have been on disability leave from work for a little while, but recently my doctor released me to return to work. However, I am far along enough in my pregnancy where my doctor does not want me flying anymore. Flying is pretty necessary to my job in order to work at client sites, since we do not have much work that can be done locally. I managed to work locally after the first child was born and the practice was aggressively pursuing the Houston market in the quest for additional local work. Much to my surprise, HR rejected my request to return to work, citing my restriction against flying which prevents me from fulfilling my job responsibilities.

This has made me wonder how much longer I will be able to work at my current job. I still love it, and I would love to work there as long as possible, but perhaps this career path is not conducive to the family situation I am looking for?

And then the bigger question - do I want a job or a career? Does it matter at this point? Can I really reconcile all of my goals in life?

So I have been pondering that lately. Wondering what my next move should be, whether I should think in completely new directions or stay the course but find a more local company. This is a really huge deal for me since this is really the first time someone told me that I can't do something - I can't work because I can't fly? Are you kidding me? With a laptop and WiFi and a Blackberry, I can't work??

All I know is that I am still extremely lucky right now, and I know that my company is a family-friendly company and I hope to come to a mutually agreed upon conclusion to this question.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pre-Pesach purge

I have not yet begun cleaning or shopping for Pesach, but a thought occurred to me, and the thought alone made me feel productive. :-)

Since there is a lot of cleaning to do before Pesach arrives, perhaps this is a good time to go through one's things and purge. Particularly in the kitchen area since that is the area that receives the most attention. As one goes through the cabinets, consider whether an item is worthwhile to keep. A wedding gift never used? Purge. Something you bought that you thought you'd use but haven't yet? If it's been over a year, purge. If you totally forgot about an item, that's a good indication that you don't need it - purge. Or perhaps there is a better place to store the seldom-used item. But the whole point is to simply get rid of stuff - whether by donating it, giving away to friends, or throwing it away (my least favorite option, especially if it's usable or recyclable).

The same is true for clothing, books, toys, linens, etc. Pretty much anything can be purged.

I'm a fan of a clutter-less home. I like more "white space" in my life; I don't need to fill my life up with useless things that don't do anything (I am soooo results-oriented). I also think that the less stuff there is, the less there is to clean, PERIOD. And that's a good thing.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Productive Sunday

Nevermind the fact that we parents slept in until 9:15 am (yes, that is correct - I know it is shocking to the other parents out there - I have NO IDEA how our daughter let us sleep in that long but she did not make a SINGLE peep and she was in the crib the whole time!!) so we got a late start to our day; we managed to make this a VERY productive day. By productive, I am specifically referring to crossing off one thing from our to-do list that has been on that list for months now.

Not only did I make pancakes, not only did my husband attend a shul board meeting, and not only did our daughter take a nap (during which we perused the newspaper, actually spent time talking to each other, and picked up pizza for lunch), but we also went to IKEA and bought a bookcase.

IKEA is just bad news for us. I know that there are many who love that store, and I can see why, but for us, visiting IKEA is like one of the levels of Dante's hell. It is overwhelming, it is always crowded, it is like a giant maze, and while it holds great promise, when you see the products up close, you realize that many times they are very flimsy and then you don't want to buy them and then you wasted all that time driving all the way there, finding a parking space, finding that item, etc etc.

I got inspired by an article in Parents magazine and made a decision: we are going to buy a bookcase for our living room from IKEA, we know the quality ahead of time so we WILL NOT be disappointed, and this will solve our problems. There, the decision has been made. We checked the stock level at the store ahead of time (yes in stock!) and made a plan: we go in, we get it, we check out. Before the evening is up we assemble it and we rock on.

And we accomplished each little task. We went there, found a parking spot, found the item, checked out, sent the daughter to play with the grandparents, and we assembled it. Voila!! Done. It is a gratifying feeling.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Post Purim

Purim came and went. With the help of several friends, I was able to create costumes for us that received great reviews from others. The theme was "A Pea in the Pod" (for obvious reasons)...my daughter went as Pea #1, my belly was Pea #2, I was the pod, and my husband was the farmer who harvests the peas. It worked out! I bought green t-shirts for me and the kiddo, bought fabric markers (another first!) and wrote the words Pea #1 and Pea #2 on the shirts, and then I bought green beans and hot-glued them onto our shirts (front and back). They didn't stick the whole night but that's alright. I bought green fabric (seasonal AND on sale!!) and "made" an overlay for my jeans skirt by wrapping the fabric around the skirt and then using safety pins to secure it (um, I don't sew). It stayed on the whole night! Can't say as much for the green beans that were on our shirts. My husband borrowed a plaid shirt, donned his cowboy hat (he's a Texas farmer) and dug his knees into dirt to give the jeans that farmer look. Overall, we made a cute family.

For mishloach manot, I got last minute inspiration, again with the help of friends, although I did have to ditch my plan of making hamantaschen because I ran out of time. I bought green boxes of apple juice, mini boxes of raisins, and then I boiled a frozen bag of peas and put some in ziploc baggies. I made labels with an image of two babies as peas in a pod, wrote a little message, and hoped that everyone would get the theme, especially once they saw our costume. I thought it was cute! Cute and cheap. Love it.

The Purim party at our shul last night was a blast, even though I overdid it and my back was sore last night. I'm alright now.

Now it's time for the Pesach craziness....

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Purim - letting it go

You would think that having been at home, not working, for the last almost 3 months, I would have thought of the most amazing Purim costumes and mishloach manot packages for this year, but you would be wrong. I have not thought of anything and I can't seem to make my brain cells work any more on this topic. I feel like they need to save the thinking for Pesach and impending new baby arrival, and cannot be spent on Purim planning. First I thought we'd do a theme for the mishloach manot, but then I couldn't come up with food items that fit the theme, and then I just had no clue. And I definitely can't come up with a costume (except for maybe the daughter's costume - I think she has one...) for me or the husband. It's pathetic!

So that's it. I have come to the conclusion, and am actually relieved, to have a low-key Purim this year...it won't be memorable, it won't be show-stopping, it will be a lovely holiday on our way to Pesach. That's it. I've made peace with this.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Craft: Bat Mitzvah Memory Book

This week I made a Bat Mitzvah Memory Book for a young lady in the community whose Bat Mitzvah is this Shabbat. I got the idea from looking at my own Bat Mitzvah book, and it made me think that my book doesn't really reflect my personality, or capture my thoughts at the time, or anything like that. It was a book I insisted on buying from a Judaica store, but I don't know why I made my parents buy it because I remember not even being thrilled with it at the time. I wanted this young lady to have a place where she could capture this moment in a creative way, so I spent all week looking up information online, getting ideas for the content, and then crafting away. Behold, my very own Bat Mitzvah Memory Book.




Monday, March 2, 2009

A woman's work

I attended an event last night which showcased women entrepreneurs in the neighborhood, and I have to admit, I was very impressed. The women were all very creative with what they were selling and I was impressed with how the women, most of whom do not have typical 9-5 jobs in an office, determined to make money doing something they loved to do. It was actually rather inspiring and made me think of what I would do if I wasn't working in an office.

(Although the thing is that I actually love my job and I love the office environment - when I'm in the office because usually I would be at a client site - so I would definitely miss that if I were to exit that world.)

It was nice to see women being resourceful with their time and trying to provide something new and creative to the world. What the event also showed me was that these ladies' marketing reach was rather limited, given the attendance at the event and the fact that I had no idea all these little businesses were going on. I thought these ladies needed more exposure to the rest of the Jewish community - even competitors! - and that, these days, it's easy to do that.

Maybe I can organize something myself to promote all these and other hidden businesses in our community, because it's a shame that these talents aren't being recognized for what they are...

Challenge of the week - accomplished!

I would have been sorely disappointed if I would not have been able to achieve last week's challenge, but fortunately my instincts proved me right and my spending was reined in. Not only did I successfully complete last week's challenge, but I have money left over. Yay! For groceries, the key is buying inexpensive ingredients that can create gourmet meals (and knowing where to shop); for the other items, it's really just all about prioritizing and analyzing (as in, do I really need a new pair of shoes? New skirt? etc). And combing through my fridge and pantry to come up with new uses for what I already have and not letting it go to waste (a big money drain) (which would require me to eat fruits and vegetables, something I need to work on anyway). Keeping up maintenance so that I don't incur expensive repairs in the future. All good stuff.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Update on the hamantaschen

While the hamantaschen look pretty in the picture in my earlier post, they are rock hard. I think I learn this lesson every year I make them. Take them out of the oven when the recipe tells you to - they will continue baking on the cookie sheet and achieve a perfect consistency. Don't doubt the recipe. Like I did. And now I have dozens of rock-hard hamantaschen. I still eat them, but I much prefer the chewier ones (the kind that don't challenge my teeth).

I think this year, my innovation will be writing this nugget of info in the cookbook so I don't repeating this mistake. Hopefully my first batch will come out better next year.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Adar is here!!

And we know what that means!

(Not referring to the countdown towards Pesach.)

It's hamantaschen time!!!

I love baking hamantaschen. I just love it. And I only like poppyseed filling. Call me old-fashioned, call me whatever - poppy seed is where it's at. Yes, I will tolerate other fillings (except prune or chocolate and I will eat apricot if there is nothing left) but I am a purist at heart and I only make hamantaschen with poppy seed. I have distinct memories of baking hamantaschen with my mom and sister, and most of the time my sister and I would sit on the kitchen counters eating poppy seed filling out of the can. Yes, it is that good.

I can't wait to bake with my kids.

So since today is Rosh Chodesh Adar, I decided to begin the new month with the first 2009 batch of hamantaschen. Unfortunately, I think that part of the first batch is sacrificial until I get into the groove of it (not too much filling or the filling will overflow in the oven, make sure there enough flour on the surface or else it will stick to the counter, etc) but the "sacrifices" are just as tasty as the pretty ones, so I enjoy eating those.

I love excuses to bake.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Challenge of the week

Over the weekend we made a few returns to stores that instead of crediting our account, the cashier gave us cash because we made the purchases using our debit card. I'd much rather have the money credited back to our account because I don't like carrying cash, but it is what it is. Also, my mint.com account is connected to my checking account so I can track my spending, which is something I can't do if I am spending cash. My husband challenged me to not spend more than the cash I have on hand this week - to see how long it can last.

I want to think that I'll be able to do that. The money is supposed to be enough for groceries and any other items I wish to purchase. That means that I need to think even more analytically about what I am spending money on (or delay my purchase until next week when the challenge is over :-) .

We did a very good job of spending a minimal amount on groceries lately and focusing on using up the items in our pantry; after all, we did buy those items so they may as well be used. However, now that we are running low on staples it is time to stock up again, and I was hoping to do that this week. Since I am home now I like to provide my husband with nutritious and filling lunches, so that takes a bit of brainpower for me. I like making interesting dinners - or at least rotate dinners so that we are not always eating the same thing over and over again. We've also found that theme nights are helpful - they can simplify the menu planning and assist with planning meals in advance by ensuring that we have the necessary ingredients on hand. By themes, I mean like a weekly grill night, weekly taco night (which really is more like Tex-Mex night), weekly stir-fry night (stir-frys are GREAT for using up leftovers!), and that's as far as we got. Sat night has, by default, become mac and cheese night lately. We don't always stick to these plans though, but when we do, I have noticed that it makes it so much easier to plan for dinner.

But the spending is not limited to food. I need to think about clothes, my hobby, and any other "miscellaneous" items that may come up. Obviously I can still use my debit card, but this is a good challenge for me to check my spending habits and help me further parse out my "needs" versus my "wants".

Friday, February 20, 2009

Beldens beats Walmart on price!!

I know - that is an attention-getting headline. It sounds preposterous. But it is true. Beldens has actually beaten Walmart - WALMART - on price.

How? Where? On what product? Oh, so many questions.

On bananas. Yummy, portable, nature's perfect food - bananas. Walmart grocery store sells them for 48 cents per pound. As does HEB.

Beldens sells them for 39 cents per pound.

I know it's crazy. I know it won't last (no, it's not a sale price, but all good things must come to an end). But it's a beautiful thing.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

(For those who live out of town, Beldens is an upscale grocery store that carries an extensive kosher selection, including fresh meat and poultry, so it's a routine stop on the grocery store circuit. It has excellent customer service. And there's never a line at the checkout. However, to purchase staples there, it is a bit expensive.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I was listening to the pop radio station this afternoon in the car and this song came on that was new to me. As far as I could tell, the song was basically about dancing and having fun. For whatever reason, that song generated a flood of memories for me of times when my girlfriends and I would go out dancing during the college years. I vividly remembered every part of it:
  • The "getting ready" part: This was almost was as much fun as going out itself. Since we all lived close together (yay strategic dorm/apartment hunting!), we spent a huge amount of time picking out the best outfits (half the time I had to borrow clothes since I didn't own anything "appropriate") and doing hair and makeup, all to achieve just the right look. We had the discussions on which place to go to, how to protect ourselves from unwanted strangers (weird guys, bad dancers, etc), and what signal to give each other if we needed help. It was also a good time to share our "club names" - or maybe I had the only one - since I did not want to give out my real name.
  • The "getting hyped up in the car" part: Of course, this assumes that a car was available. If not, then we either had to take a taxi (expensive!) or use the campus shuttle (totally not cool) or walk (if we were going to a frat party, and that meant we had to wear comfy shoes that was dance-worthy). Either way, we had to psych ourselves up for whatever potential the night had in store for us. This included much giggling, reminiscing of earlier experiences, and resolutions of not to do stupid things.
  • The "dancing" part. Once we reached our destination, we just danced. That was our whole goal. We literally danced like no one was watching (very easy to do in a club or dance party; the darkness and strobe lights make it very difficult to see anything).

I don't know what was so special about the dancing, but literally my friends and I loved it. The freedom, sometimes playing an alter ego, not worrying about an upcoming exam/paper/project, listening to fun music - all of that was just a release.

So today, when I heard that song, that's what came back to me. All those memories I hadn't thought about in years, certainly not since I had my daughter. I thought about it - what if my friends and I were to get together now and and just go out dancing? I still don't have the clothes (I would just have to make do with what I've got), and my shoes double up as work shoes, but hopefully I still have the moves. But do I even want to? I have to say, most of the time, the thought never crosses my mind. I'm pretty content with my life. But sometimes, every so often, maybe I am inspired by something I see or read - I get this feeling, this itch to go out and party with my friends again. Just to have fun without worrying about the bills or work or planning the next event or a holiday or what my next Shabbat menu will be.

Don't get me wrong - I have plenty of fun. But those college days...always a good memory.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cash flow considerations

Last week we had a bit of a cash flow problem so I was limited to utilizing only the cash I had in my wallet for any purchases I needed to make. We are lucky in that this was a (very) temporary problem, but it was a new experience for me in the sense that I couldn't just whip out the ol' debit card (already a step up from the credit card) and make my purchases.

I already consider myself a fairly conscientious shopper so that I don't spend needlessly and only buy the things that we need. We are certainly not deprived of anything, and the category of "things we need" can be fairly broad, like certain snack foods, or another set of pajamas for the baby, or something.

Last week I had to rethink my "needs" because I was literally limited to what was in my wallet, and that was courtesy of a return I did at a store and they gave me cash back instead of depositing the funds into the checking account. I had to make that money last until the next cash inflows came. I broke down my "needs" list even further, into two categories: what is needed RIGHT NOW, and what can wait (although still needs to be purchased). I also needed to ensure that I had cash for an emergency if one should come up, so I really didn't want to spend ALL of the cash. This really forced me to think and evaluate my shopping. At the grocery store, did I REALLY need this or that RIGHT NOW? Can it wait? Can I make do with what I have at home?

This exercise forced me to examine my refrigerator, freezer, and pantry for meal ingredients and think of how I can use them in fresh ways without buying more food. With the pantry stocked and food in the fridge and freezer, I really thought it was unnecessary to continue buying food - surely I could come up with something. One night we had pasta with bottled sauce and goat cheese we had in the fridge (no point in buying pasta sauce in bulk if it's not going to be used); another night we had salmon patties with mushroom-dill latkes (sounds gourmet, right? I had all the ingredients already). I intended to use up every option available to me before heading out to the store for necessary items (like milk for the baby, etc).

It worked! And fortunately there was no emergency, and I have about $15 left over, so I really didn't spend that much. I'm very pleased. I hope that this new attitude continues because there really is no sense in buying something that I really won't need or use. I just need to be more cognizant of what is already in my house, and how I can use it. Perhaps I can come up with a new use, or a new meal, or a new application for an item. (Thank you Real Simple for the section on New Uses for Old Things!)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Me and Cleaning, Cleaning and Me

The following post does not apply to Pesach preparations.

I *heart* cleaning.
That's lingo for "I love cleaning".

I admit it - I freely admit it. Given my kindergarten diploma, high school diploma, bachelor's degree, and two master's degrees - my overeducated self enjoys cleaning.

I could stay up late cleaning (unless I get tired). I can go ga-ga over new cleaning products. If I won a million dollars, among the many things I would do is buy expensive Mrs. Meyer's cleaning products. I discovered that the Magic Eraser really works, and that gets me excited. I bought a small booklet about how to utilize vinegar to its maximum potential for cleaning (I *heart* vinegar). I love finding natural, basic recipes for cleaning products I can make from the ingredients I have at home, like lemons, vinegar, baking soda, and the like.

Why this adoration for cleaning? Two words: instant gratification. (usually - unless something needs to soak overnight)

When you clean, you instantly see the results: the mirror is free of smudges, the floor shines, the dust is gone. There is no guessing, no waiting, no suspense - it's all right there, right in front of you. The pile of dirty dishes sparkles as it dries, and the sink itself practically smiles at you once you can see the bottom of it. The laundry smells fresh and renewed (ok, folding laundry is a different story and fortunately my husband tolerates that task). Once all the toys are picked up and the rug/carpet is vacuumed, the floor is practically asking to be walked on (ok, maybe I am getting a bit melodramatic here). But my point it is that you immediately see the results of your handiwork, and you can point to it (or stand back) and say, "I did that."

Not to mention, there are many lessons to be learned in cleaning. How to take pride in your possessions, learn respect for your parents (who buy your stuff) (you honor them by helping to keep the home you share clean), learn what a good work ethic is, learn how to manage time (ok - I've got 15 minutes and what should I do first?), the fundamentals of keeping house (and this applies to boys AND girls), how to be organized, etc.

It just makes me feel good.

I may have passed on a gene.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Trash Day

Today is trash day in our neighborhood and, being the "save the earth" type of person that I am, I always take note of how much trash other people have in their trash cans. Trash day is a weekly event, and there are many many trash cans where the lid doesn't close all the way because there is so much trash. Can it be that these families generate so much trash every week that the can is overflowing?

Our trash can, by contrast, is about half empty. As in, a child can fit in there for a game of hide and seek (not recommended. Absolutely not recommended).

Why do we have so much less trash? I can only guess at the answer.

We recycle a lot. I am vigilant about that. All of our glass bottles, our recyclable plasticware, cereal and food boxes, cardboard, paper - all of that is recyclable and goes into a different bin. We don't use disposable cookware frequently; sure it's convenient and definitely has its applications, but by and large, I don't use disposable on a regular basis. Same goes for Shabbat and disposable dishes and silverware. I almost always use real dishes and silverware. (The dishes may not be cleaned until Sunday morning, but that's a different issue altogether.) (Pesach and Sukkot and other holidays and times, like right after giving birth, may call for disposables, and for that I am thankful to G-d for such products.)

Otherwise, I don't know what other explanations there could be. I save lots of items, like tissue paper. I recycle plastic grocery bags (and almost always bring my own to reduce the number I have on hand). I suppose, if I want to reduce my trash output even more, I could make compost out of my kitchen scraps. (I've thought about it but can't get myself to do it yet).

I'm not judging other people. It just makes me take notice every Tuesday when I see the black statues of trash cans lined up on the street with trash piled high. The trash doesn't go to a magical place; it goes into a landfill. So with that in mind, I try to be more conscious of what I consume, what I throw away, and how I relate to the world around me.

For an interesting discussion on this topic, click here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Weekly round-up - Feb. 6

Yet another week, come and gone. I am not sure how it happens but time flies by amazingly fast.

*If you are so interested, there is a Jewish Economics Survey. I encourage you to submit your information. I am not sure what is going to become of this data, but it's important to get the full spectrum of what economic life is like for average people.*

Funny moment of the week - our daughter showed her true colors. Turns out that she is a big fan of floor cleaning supplies and likes to parade with the mop or broom around the house.

Once again we are guilty of inviting people to our house for Shabbat at the last minute. By last minute, I mean I famously leave messages like, "Hi, it's 4:30 pm on Friday afternoon. If by any chance you have no plans for tonight, would you like to come to our house for Shabbat dinner?" Most people have plans by this point. We are the abnormal ones.

This morning we went to Tot Shabbat the JCC. It was the first time I ever did anything like it. We met some nice moms with their cute kiddos. I am not sure I'll go back, but the daughter definitely enjoyed the experience (after the initial first 7 minutes of crying). She was fixated on the teacher as the teacher played the guitar and sang the songs, but then had a ball during free time.

Shabbat shalom!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Craft: Pregnancy Paper bag album

I made this for a friend for her birthday, and she is pregnant. I found the idea online (of course) to make a pregnancy album out of paper lunch bags (why not), which I had at home. Another trip to Hobby Lobby netted me double-sided tape, a few sheets of cardstock, some pregnancy stickers, and the ribbon with which to bind the whole thing (here's another tip: check the clearance bin - you can find cool ribbon in there for very very cheap!). There's space in the album for my friend and her husband to write down their thoughts and to adhere photos, ultrasound pics, and more. I really hope she enjoys it!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Gratitude: How quickly we forget

Tonight I attended a learning event where Lori Palatnick gave the keynote address. One of the takeaways from her speech was that gratitude is the foundation of our spiritual well-being.

Gratitude - such a simple little thing. All it is, is the ability to say "thank you". Two little words. Thank you.

I learned about this concept in a book called Praying with Fire, where the author wrote the book in a format where there is a little golden nugget to learn each day that should infuse one's praying with greater spirituality, meaning, etc. One of the golden nuggets is that one can express gratitude every day for any item/event/happenstance that may occur that day and express gratitude at that time, and not wait for a specific time to pray. So, for instance, if one is running late to a meeting and manages to drive through a green light, one can be grateful for that and say, "Thank you G-d for this green light - this really helps my day!" Or, that night's experimental dinner came out exceptionally tasty: "Thank you G-d for this tasty dinner - thanks for not having to resort to PB&J for dinner!" By thanking G-d for these little, "insignificant" things, we bring to the forefront just how involved G-d is in our daily lives, every minute detail that transpires. Not only are we grateful to Hashem for the major things in life (health, financial stability, children, life partners, family, friends, etc), but we are also grateful for all of the "minor" things that make our life possible. This concept was my major takeaway from this book and since then I have incorporated thanking Hashem daily for the smallest things (thank you Hashem for finding me this close parking space, thank you Hashem for the laundry that didn't shrink, thank you Hashem for giving me a coupon for this item, etc).

This concept was brought to earth for me, in a different way, by a special family that used to live in St. Louis. I had many Shabbat meals with them, and their Shabbat dinners, especially in the summertime, would last a long time. It was not unheard of for me to come home around midnight. Part of what took so long was this amazing custom that they had. They regularly had 20+ guests at their home, from all walks of life, and between the fish course and the soup course, everyone went around the table saying what they were grateful for in that week, with a l'chaim after each person. The introduction was always by the wife and she went first, and we went all around the table and ended with her husband. Anything was fair game, nothing was "insignificant". So, one could be grateful for having a roof over their head, another grateful for their spouse, and another grateful for a successful sales meeting they had that week. One person could be grateful that their favorite brand of socks was on sale that week, and another person grateful for just a quiet week and nothing unusual. Some guests had a long list, and some had a short list. Typically, I would have tears in my eyes by the end of the whole thing, just thinking that we ALL - no matter what happened - have an immensely long list, when it really comes down to it. We are all alive and we are all free. How quickly we forget the amazing things we take for granted just so that we can pursue the normal life that we want to lead.

So, if you come to my home, either Shabbat dinner or Shabbat lunch, you will experience this custom. I was so moved by it that my husband and I adopted it as our own. We do this with my family, and we do this with friends. We do this with guests who we've never met before.

Gratitude. Just say "thank you".

Monday, February 2, 2009

Couponing taken seriously

I have grown up with a Sunday morning ritual of reviewing the newspaper coupons and storing the clipped ones in a coupon folder, which came with us on every trip to the grocery store. My mom tried to limit what she purchased to she had a coupon for, and I very clearly understood the importance of those coupons: those little savings really did add up.

Now that I run my own household, and now that times are tight, couponing is back in style. I review the Sunday coupons with a careful eye, and I now go online to print out even more coupons. Whenever I use a coupon at the store, I feel like it's a small victory for me, as though I am undercutting the manufacturer (although why the price is as high as it is is another post, since obviously the manufacturers are not losing money even when a coupon is used. But still, it's nice to see my total drop when each coupon is scanned).

There are three catches:
1. Most coupons are for processed, manufactured products (and health and beauty aids). Cereal, snacks, convenience foods, etc. I try to buy as few of those products as possible because I am trying to be as all natural as I can (which may not be obvious if you look at my pantry, but I am trying). As in, I try to buy fresh produce, fresh meats, fresh milk - raw ingredients. So, if I don't buy the product for which there is a coupon, that coupon does me no good. And there are no coupons on a pound of apples.

2. A good portion of my grocery bill goes towards fresh fish, kosher meat, and kosher cheese (my daughter and I LOVE cheese). There are no coupons for those items.

3. It is very important NOT to purchase an item JUST BECAUSE there is a coupon for it. Yes, you may save $0.50 in the process, but in reality, you are spending more money than you would have otherwise since you normally would not have purchased the item at all! So, it is really important to be absolutely confident that you and your family really do in fact use the item in question in order for the coupon to be of any benefit.

I have also started visiting manufacturers' websites; sometimes they have coupons on their own websites that don't appear in newspapers or general coupon sites. Seventh Generation, Stonyfield Farms, and a few other companies have been quite helpful in this regard.

I end up having a few coupons, not a huge stash: mostly cereal coupons, baby supply coupons, and the occasional coupon for some condiments, basic pantry supplies, a few snacks I like to keep on hand (like granola bars), and health and beauty aid coupons. Which is not terrible, but I don't see how I can really maximize the coupons that are out there given my lifestyle (you know those stories, where someone gets $100 worth of groceries for $20 because they used all those coupons).

The fun part is really the hunt for the coupons that I can use, and then whipping them out once the bill is totaled, my heart going "Ah-HA! I have THESE weapons!!! HA HA HA." And getting out of there with maybe $2 more in my pocket than I would have otherwise.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Weekly round-up - Jan. 30

Well, another Shabbat is upon us here in the Wild West of Houston. It's beautiful outside but of course I am not spending enough time outside. Most of my Shabbat dinner and lunch are made...just a couple more things to obtain from the grocery store (also known as the black hole for money), and a quick trip to the library to pick up some great reading material (I requested a biography of Maria Montessori and Wally Lamb's latest novel).

Yesterday we went to a trial class at My Little Gym. At first, my daughter was scared of all the music and new equipment around her that she's never seen before (balance beam, uneven/parallel bars, mats, etc), but she quickly warmed up. There were a few group activities, some free time, and a couple of focused activities to work on specific skills. It was neat - she fell in love with a couple of pieces of equipment. She watched in amazement as the instructor blew bubbles, and she enjoyed playing with the bouncy balls the instructor threw out. There were lots of other cute kids there, and I think she enjoyed the social interaction.

Um, I am now sore after that exercise experience. Is it bad that I am sore from a movement class for a 15-month old?

This morning she smashed banana into our bedsheets (thank you dear husband for the idea of bringing her a giant piece of banana at 6 am in the hopes of gainng a few more minutes of sleep). That's a non-repeatable experience.

Can't believe it's already the end of January. Yay February!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Craft: Mini photo album




I got this idea from another blog (click here) and made this as a birthday present for a dear friend. It was quite an adventure for me, as I got to go to Hobby Lobby and pick out neat papers and stickers. Needless, to say, I was very proud of my finished product and showed it off to my parents and husband. I had never done anything like this (decorative scissors! binder rings! designing a page!) but now I would like to do more.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jan. 27, 2009 - the new adventure begins

AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHAT A DAY!!!!!

Today, our daughter walked on her own for the first time for a significant distance!!!!! She has long been walking assisted by a finger or a hand, and two weeks ago she took a few steps every now and then by herself, but today she decided to walk on her own! Around the house! Doing laps! She did maybe 10 laps around the house before lunchtime. She was so proud of herself, she had this enormous goofy grin on her face the whole time. SHE IS A TRUE TODDLER NOW!!!!!!!

This change brings a few truths to light:
1. It's time to get serious about babyproofing. As in, nothing is safe now from our curious explorer.
2. I will now embark on a new exercise plan called "running after child". I think Daddy's elliptical machine is so old-hat.
3. Once she becomes accomplished at walking, we'll move on to potty training, dish washing, and floor mopping. (just kidding about those last few, but that would help around the house...)

This is very exciting. I almost welled up in tears as I watched her toddle around, until I remembered that I should get the video camera, and then I remembered that the tape is full, and I should go get the regular camera and use the movie setting to record it, and then I couldn't figure out how to use the movie setting. So much for capturing the moment...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Home Ec Tip: Visit your local children's consignment shop

Consignment shops are a great place to find special bargains on typically high-quality items, and I think that they are frequently overlooked when it comes to budgeting and shopping. So often we assume that the only way to acquire something new is to buy it brand-new from a store, but in a consignment shop, the emphasis is that it is new to you. And to help, consignment stores usually have high standards on what items they will accept, so there may be rules like no scuff marks on shoes, no tears/rips/tatters on clothing, all parts must be included in a toy/puzzle, etc.

Children's consignment shops can be a goldmine because children outgrow clothing so quickly and the closet needs to be updated regularly. I just visited a favorite children's consignment shop and picked up a Baby Gap dress (in perfect condition) and a pair of Italian girl's shoes that are originally priced way more than what I paid. In addition, I found a terrific Parents-brand activity set that I know my daughter will love and I wasn't able to pass it up.

My total bill was about $50 for a pair of shoes, the toy, and three clothing items (2 dresses and a t-shirt). Not bad.

This particular shop has clothing, toys, bedding, baby supplies such as Boppys, books, baby gear, maternity wear, and children's accessories (shoes, underwear, hats, belts, tights, ties, etc).

I highly recommend a visit to a children's consignment shop, if you have time. The service is friendly and personal (I am on the list to be called if a double-stroller comes in), and the finds can be terrific. I know of 3 in the Houston area:
Second Childhood
Young & Restless
Andre's

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A new hobby

As of very recently I now have a lot of free time on my hands, and since I am not used to so much free time I need to come up with ways to stay productive. For reasons that are unknown to me and I cannot explain, I have picked up a crafting hobby of sorts. This is ironic because I have always HATED arts and crafts time (either at school or camp) and I have an inability to come up with anything on my own (which was why I didn't like my music composition class, or why I always cook from a recipe, never from my own ideas). So why I have this desire to do crafting is beyond me.

But, it is what it is, as a great sage once said (and I frequently repeat), so I succumbed to my local Hobby Lobby.

So far I like crafts that deal with paper. I have made a photo album for a friend (photo to be posted soon) and I made a laminated sign for the Al Netilat Yadayim (ritual hand-washing) blessing. My husband bought me a
crafting book, and I checked out other crafting books from the library. However, I am still in search of good ideas of what to craft.

If you have an idea of what I can do, please share. Since I am (very) new to this, every idea is a good idea and I will appreciate your input.