Friday, January 1, 2016

Best of 2015 and what I'm looking forward to in 2016

2015 was kind of a rough year for a number of reasons, but here are a few of the things that made it not suck:

Gretchen Rubin's "Happier" podcast.  Of all the podcasts I listen to, this is the one that I have to hear immediately when it's posted every week.  I love Gretchen Rubin because she explains research-based, tried and true ways to improve little areas of your life.  She addresses how different personality types have different ways of successfully acheiving goals and she's full of real-life examples.  I like listening to this podcast in the morning after the kids have left for the day and I'm cleaning in the kitchen.  It's a positive start to my morning and gives me a lot to think about.

Board games.  I've been waiting so long for my kids to get to the age where we can all sit down as a family and play a game together.  I think playing games is just as important as reading for kids' brain development because they have to think ahead and strategize and learn things like taking turns and following rules and sportsmanship.  We've had some "starter" games like Hi Ho Cherry-Oh, Chutes and Ladders, and Candyland for a long time, and those never really caught on.  But for Christmas we got Pop-o-matic Trouble (love that little dice popper!), PayDay, Rummikub, and a new chess set, which are interesting enough for the adults in the house, too.

Probiotics.  I never got a diagnosis of whatever was causing my tummy trouble for the first part of the year, although I had numorous doctor visits, tests, and tried some strict elimination diets.  Right now I'm feeling a lot better, and I think one reason for that is that I've stepped up my intake of probiotics.  I take capsules, but I also drink tons of kombucha (GT's Gingerade is my go-to flavor, but the green one with the spirulina is also good sometimes) and kefir.  I'm not going to claim that probiotics cure everything, but I will say that my skin has been clearer than ever, I didn't have to take Claritan at all during allergy season, and I have been able to avoid the colds that the rest of my family have been suffering from lately.  

"The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo.  I have joined the cult and drunk the Kool-aid.  This lady knows what she's talking about and her words, while a little silly at times, are so inspirational.  After reading this book, I had a fire lit under me that made me purge, purge, purge the house to the point where there was a visual change.  I'm not following directions to the letter, because the official Konmari method is to declutter your house all at once and never have to do it again, but I've maintained the energy to keep going in spurts.  I can't wait to "thank" my socks as I fold them and see what "sparks joy" in the next year.  

"Love and Mercy".  OK, so I think this was the only grown-up movie I saw in the theater this year, so that's probably why it sticks out as being so phenomenal.  We went to it on a rare date night, and we didn't even know what it was when we picked it.  Everything about it was outstanding: the performances by some of my favorite actors (Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, and John Cusack), the dramatization of Brian Wilson writing and recording the Pet Sounds album, the heartbreaking story of Wilson's mental breakdown and manipulation by his doctor, the love story that happened after that.  I left the theater thinking, this is what all movies should be like.  

Amazon Prime.  Here Amazon, take my money.  To be able to order something with a few taps on my phone, and have it show up in 2 days with no shipping charge, is awesome.  To also get movie and music streaming services on top of that, is the icing on the cake.  

My job.  I started working part-time at a group home at the end of February.  I had never thought I'd go back to this line of work, but the hours were perfect for me and there was an immediate "click" when I first met with the awesome people I'd be working with.  It's a fun job, with just enough "work" and problem-solving to keep me from being bored, but very little stress, overall.  I did not expect the transition of going "back" to work would be this easy, so I'm very grateful this has worked out.

Our summer CSA box.  After years of deliberating, we finally pulled the trigger and signed up for a CSA subscription last spring.  Our farm, Sleepy Root Farm, provided us with plentiful tasty fresh veggies all summer, and we were challanged to figure out ways to eat all of them before they spoiled.  The first few weeks we literally ate two giant salads, two times a day to get through all the greens.  I remember my jaw actually hurting from all that chewing.  But it worked out, and we felt good about it, and we found out that just-picked, local vegetables taste a million times better than anything you can buy at a store.  We will definitely do it again.

Volunteering.  This is the first year I have both kids in the same school all day, so that opens up my schedule for taking on some parent responsibilities at the school.  We have such a huge volunteer turn-out at our school, and it's certainly not "expected" that all parents pitch in, but many do and I've been wanting to get in on the action.  It turns out, it's a lot of fun for me to see and hear what goes on in my kids' classrooms and get to know their classmates.  Plus, I'm in awe of what the teachers are able to accomplish and how hard they work.  It's so satisfying to know that when my kids go off everyday, they are being taught, and cared for, by such amazing people.  To know I'm helping out those teachers a little bit by coming in and working one-on-one with new readers and writers, or doing administrative stuff is a great feeling.  

And for 2016, I plan to mostly keep doing what I'm doing with a few add-ons.  I have a big birthday coming up, that I'd like to celebrate in a meaningful, original way.  I want to de-clutter and streamline the house even more and figure out how to get the rest of my family on board.  I'm going to do the Whole30 soon to break my sugar addiction.  I want to get out and see a lot more local bands (we already have tickets to The Current's 11th Birthday Party and Cloud Cult).  I want to read more fun fiction (not that how-to and self-help books aren't useful, but there's nothing like a good page-turner).  I want to learn how to better use the apps on my iPhone and iPad so that I can completely transition away from my stupid, crashy laptop for good.   And I'd like to do a little more community volunteering, not just at my kids' school.  And that's about it.  No huge resolutions- just some areas to focus on.  I think it sounds like a fun year ahead!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

My last Thrifty Thursday of the year (and why I've barely done Thrifty Thursday in the last few months)

I'm squeezing in one more blog post before the end of the year, although it's not a very exciting one.  The thrifting has honestly been a little slow lately.  I don't get out to thrift stores as much as I used to, though theoretically I have way more free time since both kids have been at school.

I think what changed for me was that I read Marie Kondo's "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" and I started purging my house like crazy.  I didn't exactly follow the Konmari plan by getting it all done in one fell swoop, but that book lit a fire under me and made me obsessed with getting rid of everything that isn't useful or doesn't "spark joy."  Don't laugh, it sounds like I joined a cult, but if you just read the book, you'll know how much sense it makes.  

Anyway, I made a list of items I could really use in my closet, and it turned out, I could get rid of about half my clothes.  I also bought more brand new clothes, especially basics like black leggings and longish neutral t-shirts, which are things you almost always have to go out and buy new anyway.  I mean, you could scour thrift stores for the perfect white t-shirt that isn't stretched, pilling, or stained, but you could also get a nice one at H&M for $10.

But yesterday I felt the allure of the Goodwill as I was out running errands without the kids and I had to pop in just to see what there was.  Well, it was a good thing I did because...

I found this great Eileen Fisher cardigan for 6.99.  I am turning into the biggest Eileen Fisher fan.  I used to just ignore it as a brand because I figured it was for "old ladies."  Actually, the clothes are kind of genius.  They are loose and drapey in an elegant, not sloppy, way.  They are usually very beautiful colors, a little muted, but never drab.  And they are incredible high-quality fabrics that hold up to washing and wearing, so if you find them at a thrift store, they will be in great shape.  Also, they are some of the most ridiculously expensive clothes.  I can't even buy them on clearance when they're new, because a sweater will still be $90.  So it's a thrill whenever I find some Eileen Fisher in a thrift store because I know it cost a small fortune new, and I'm getting a great piece for practically nothing.

This J. Jill cardigan was an awesome find because I was actually wearing the exact same cardigan in purple (and also thrifted) the same day.  I wear the purple one a lot, so it made sense to get another one in a different color, but after thinking it through, I left it in the store.  I really tried to imagine myself wearing red (even this great shade) and I couldn't do it.  This was a Marie Kondo moment, because before, my default would have been to buy it and think about it later, but this time I trusted my instinct that if I was on the fence about it now, I would never leave the house in it.  That felt really good.  

Then I found this other Eileen Fisher cowl-neck dress/tunic for 5.99.  It's really, really basic so I could wear it on it's own as a sleeveless dress, or over leggings, or under a cardigan.  Yes, black is a little boring, but it has potential to be dressed up with jewelry or colored tights, so this is a solid choice for me and I'm sure I'll be wearing it a lot.  

And that's it.  I've had some ups and downs with thrifting this year, and gave up on it a few times.  But the few really nice things I've found have made it worth it.

Note: I'm using the Blogger app on my iPad for the first time, and I haven't got a lot of it figured out yet  so I'm posting this having no idea what it looks like.  

Saturday, October 31, 2015

What's Got People So Angry About The Teal Pumpkin Project?

Last year our family did the Teal Pumpkin Project for the first time after I heard about it from several of the food-allergy groups that I'm a part of.  If you've been under a rock, you can read about it on FARE's website, but I'm sure, if you use social media or turn on the news, you are at least a little aware of it. Unfortunately, extra media attention has brought out some negativity toward what I thought was just a fun idea.  Click on the comments section of any article about the Teal Pumpkin Project and you will see the trolls in full-force because the idea of making trick-or-treating safer and more inclusive is somehow ruining their Halloween fun.  After reading through a few different comments sections, some general themes emerged, so I want to respond to some of the misconceptions I'm seeing.

Is this some PC crap made up by the same liberals who think every kid needs a trophy? Food allergies affect the population across all political lines.  A parent's voting record does not, in fact, determine whether their child will have food allergies.

Why do parents expect that we start doing this?  Nobody expects it.  When I take my kids trick or treating, we don't see any teal pumpkins out there at all.  I figure either people haven't heard of it, or just don't want to bother.  That's OK.  We get so much candy, there's still a lot my kids can have after we've sorted it all at home.  Maybe we'll see our first one tonight, and in that case, I'll be sure to let the homeowner know we appreciate it.

Why is it my responsibility to take care of other people's kids?  It's not.  Have you ever met a parent of a food-allergic child?  We're huge sticklers about reading labels and examining everything that is going into our kids' mouths.  Don't worry.  We've got this parenting thing covered.

Whatever happened to parents going through their kids' candy like in the old days? That has not changed.  Please show me one place in all the articles about the Teal Pumpkin Project that says parents no longer need to inspect their children's candy.

What if it's just not Halloween for me unless I give out some peanutty goodness in the form of Snickers?  Do it.  Parents of very sensitive allergic kids will check first, and not want their kids to touch even a wrapper, in which case they would decline your candy and move on.  It's not the end of the world for you or them.  And FYI: a lot of parents will let their kids take it, and then pull out those delicious Snickers or Nut Rolls for themselves.

How am I supposed to give out a candy that is safe for everybody?  Well, technically, no candy is safe for everybody. Name an ingredient and I have probably heard of someone who is allergic to it. But most food allergies fall into the categories of: peanuts, tree nuts, fish, seafood, soy, egg, wheat, dairy. There are candies free of these "Top 8" allergens like Dum Dums, Smarties, Skittles, and Starburst, that are considered safe for the majority of kids.  If you're interested in participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project, you can give out an allergy-friendly candy or a non-food treat.  There are ideas here.

Why should I have to cater to everybody's special diet?  You don't.  Nobody thinks you are a caterer.  You can hand out whatever you want on your own front porch.  The Teal Pumpkin Project is optional.  In fact, Halloween is optional.

How am I supposed to know which kids have food allergies?  You don't have to know.  You can either offer two separate bowls of candy for kids to choose from, or have a sign posted that there are allergy-safe treats available, or just give every trick-or-treater the same non-food treat.

What if I accidentally use teal in my decorating, but I'm giving out treats with allergens in them?  Will I be sued if a kid dies?  No. Most people hang up a print-out or write on their teal pumpkin to indicate that they are participating, so it should be quite clear.  I believe it's understood that Halloween is an optional activity with some personal risks on the part of trick-or-treaters.  I accept that when I take my kids out, they could trip over cracks in the sidewalk, be knocked over by an enthusiastic dog, see costumes or decorations that scare them, be run over if they run across a street without looking.  We go into this knowing we're going to bring home a bag full of random stuff given to us by strangers, and we will check it carefully.

Why not keep all the allergic kids home on Halloween, if they can't eat most of the candy?  For the same reasons we don't keep them home from school, play dates, parties, and other activities.  Because they can still go out in the world and have fun.  Because not everything has to be about the food.  Because they can enjoy the social interaction and show off their costumes.  Because it's a good opportunity to practice their manners.  Because sorting through candy and reading labels when they get home is a great way to teach them about their own food allergy management.  Because nobody wants to be left out.  Because no kid needs to eat 100 pieces of candy anyway.  Because some families have their kids trade the candy for money or a toy.  Need I go on?

How are these kids going to deal with the real world if they're used to everyone giving them special treats?  Kids with food allergies learn to turn down stuff that other kids eat all the time.  They are used to eating a cupcake brought from home at a birthday party.   They might remember a time when they were exposed to something and had a reaction.  They might know what it's like to rush to the ER, itching, swollen, wheezing, and vomiting.  They've possibly been singled out, teased, excluded, or bullied because of their allergies.  They have to learn at a young age to advocate for themselves.  When they are old enough, they will self-carry their emergency epinephrine, and be prepared to inject themselves, if needed.   It doesn't get much more "real world" than that.

But I heard that some exposure to allergens can actually cure kids with food allergies.  A little peanut in their candy might do them some good.  You're thinking of oral immunotherapy (OIT), done with very, very tiny amounts of allergens under careful management by doctors.  It's not guaranteed to work, and it carries some risks, and while it does sound hopeful for treating some people with allergies, it is not an easy fix for anyone.  It should NEVER be tried at home.  It will most likely cause a reaction or worse.  If you're interested finding out more about current clinical trials in OIT, there's a lot of great information at FARE's website.  But I suspect most people feeling negative about teal pumpkins aren't going to bother reading what actual research has to say.

So why would I want to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project?  To be friendly.  To show compassion.  For good karma.  To put a smile on a kid's face.  To make a parent's night.  To be generous.  To be inclusive. To teach your own kids about being inclusive. To increase awareness.  To show support for families that deal with food allergies.  To give out something different than what your neighbors are giving out.  To generate a little goodwill toward others.  Because it takes little effort beyond what you would normally do for Halloween.

I hope that answers a few of the burning questions.  I can't imagine how the Teal Pumpkin Project is so offensive to some, or why people think it's necessary to go out of their way to leave negative comments about it, especially if they are not personally affected by food allergies.  Haters gonna hate, I guess.  Let's just have a safe, happy Halloween.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Thrifty Thursday: Another visit to the downtown Salvation Army store

I've been looking through my old posts and stats and my top-viewed blog post of all time is the one about the downtown Minneapolis Salvation Army thrift store.  So I took another trip there the other day to see if it was still the Island of Misfit Target Goodies that is the Twin Cities worst-kept secret.

The storefront looks just as crappy as ever.  I like to think this is a repellent for the first-timers who drive up and think,"This can't be the place."

So the first thing I noticed, when I got into the "as-is" basement is the giant fans.  This place is notorious for it's year-round hot, stifling basement, and it looks like they're really trying to increase the air circulation.  

There's even this...what is this?  It blows your hair back, and your skirt up from about 10 feet away.

Anyway, on with the shopping.

It's the time of year for Halloween costumes and the selection here is actually pretty good.  Every Disney princess was represented, as well as a bunch of action heroes, plush animals, and pirates.  The prices seemed to be about 50% off of what you'd pay at Target, and these are all brand new, unworn costumes.  I did see a few flaws or missing pieces, so it's important to inspect before buying.  

So much Halloween decor, if that's your thing.

I saw more craft items than I've seen here in the past.  Here's a Cricut Mini for $60.  I have no idea what you do with a Cricut, but I know scrapbookers are crazy about these things.

As the Back To School stuff starts to get cleared out of Target stores, a lot of it gets dumped here.  If you're looking for notebooks, planners, organizers, right now is a good time to shop the Salvation Army store. 

I took a look in the back room where the new furniture is.  I always see a lot I like here because it tends to be small, modern pieces.  Sometimes it's samples from Nate Berkus and Threshold, or any of the other designer brands Target carries.  This console table was $60, though.  I'm not sure that qualifies as a spectacular deal.

The kitchen appliance area is amazing as always.  If you're looking for a Crock-pot, electric mixer, coffee maker, or blender, you can pick one up here for much less than at the store.  Just make sure you test it before you buy it because there are no returns.

I saw an entire shelf of bread machines for $15, which was tempting even though I don't mind making homemade bread the old-fashioned way.

The home decor aisles were more bare than I've seen them in the past, but I noticed a few nice pieces.  Again, this is where you can find samples of the brands Target collaborates with, sometimes things that haven't even made it to the stores yet.

 The thing that intrigued me the most was this unmarked mid-century light fixture.  I'm still thinking about it, but probably won't go back for it because the last thing my house needs is another project. This is going to be an great score for a lucky someone.

You notice I didn't take pictures of any clothes this time.  One thing I've noticed over the years is that there will be a ton of things in some sizes, but not others, and the prices aren't really any better than you would find on the clearance rack at Target.  I still think this is a great place for shopping for baby and toddler clothes, but the selection for older kids and adults is pretty lame.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Morning Roundup 8.31.15

Hey!  It's Monday morning and both my kids are at school!  This means I can get back to my blog, among many other things I couldn't make time for all summer.

Instead of a typical First Day of School picture, the kids wanted to show off their new backpacks.

Here's a few good links I found.

This seems right on to me: The Commandments of Going Out to Restaurants With Kids  We actually don't go to many restaurants with our kids because of the hassle of food allergies, and when we do go somewhere it's pizza or Subway.  I'm hoping some day we will be putting these into practice.

You can't be stressed out while listening to the Cat Purr Generator.

I'm excited to start Apartment Therapy's Fall Closet Cure.  I've followed some of their other home improvement cures before, and I have to say they really break down a big project into doable steps.

Meal Templates for weeknight dinners.  Yesssss.  We already do a pizza night once a week, but here's more inspiration.

Does your family have its own code names for the various Lego pieces?  This made me laugh.

I'm so excited to sit down and write some some real blog posts now. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Storm and the Aftermath

It's been a crappy few months.  So many weird/dumb things have happened to me and my family that I've been thrown off my routine of blogging or doing anything else creative.  The highlights include The Mister getting in a car accident with a city bus, Boo's school principal calling me to say he had a severe bloody nose and an ambulance was on its way, me locking myself and Punky out of the house in our rush to meet said ambulance and having to call a cab to drive us to the school, looking for a new house, thinking we had found the right house, not getting the house, giving up the house hunt (for now), and, just when we thought we couldn't take anymore bad luck, our beautiful Siamese cat, my baby, got sick and died.  Now sprinkle in some bad news from the kids' dentist, a pile-up of medical bills, me having some recurring GI issues, our wi-fi repeatedly going down, my laptop crashing on a daily basis, and an accidental tossing-out of a bag of important papers.  

None of those things would have been catastrophic on their own, but coming at us at a fast pace like they did, made me nearly lose it.  I didn't know how I could be a functional wife and parent when I felt like I couldn't keep it together myself.  I could picture the figurative black cloud over my head, following me everywhere I went.  But like all storms, this eventually passed. I don't know how my family got through it, but I do know I cried in front of a lot of people and I didn't even care.  I let people know I needed support.  I tried to model for the kids some constructive ways to grieve our pet and let them know we can talk openly about death and feelings even though I'm not sure I always have the right answer.   I was humbled, and that was an interesting, uncomfortable, frustrating experience.

In the midst of things, I clung to anything that made me feel better.  I watched every episode of Parks and Rec and then moved on to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt because I needed something to laugh at. I celebrated with my kids every time a teacher said something good about either one of them, which happened a lot.  I picked up some good books to read, and purged a lot of books from my shelf that I realized I was never going to read.  I even started a new job, something that felt risky in a time of emotional crisis, but it turned out to be the exact thing I needed because it's both challenging and rewarding.
I also got a huge reality check when someone who lives near me told me about a woman, an immigrant and mother of several children, she frequently sees going through the neighborhood trash cans for food.  I mean, this is South Minneapolis, where people drink craft beer and grow heirloom tomatoes and give money to public radio and run marathons, and we still have neighbors, hiding in the shadows, who are happy to get their hands on some past-expiration lettuce that was touching other garbage.  I haven't come across this woman myself, and I don't know her story, but knowing she's out there makes me appreciate how fortunate I am.  A lot of bad stuff can (and did) happen to my family but at least we always have shelter, food, and a support network.

There's a well-known quote by Regina Brett: "If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back."  It's true.  Losing a pet we had loved as part of our family was devastating, but I'm sure it's nothing like having no food on the dinner table day after day.  And even at some point during our string of bad luck, when I was moaning, "when is this all going to end?" the possibility was always out there, somewhere on the horizon, that it would end and things would go back to normal, though minus one Siamese.

I guess this kind of stuff happens to people regularly.  It's part of being an adult, and those who don't have to deal with periods of loss and frustration once in a while are just darn lucky.  Some people have much worse to contend with.  And others choose not to deal with it at all and find ways to temporarily escape the responsibilities life throws at them.  I feel a little bruised, but I toughed it out and I'm ready to move on.  Whew.

Anyway, I hope this wasn't too ramble-y.  I've had time to think about what kinds of things I want to write about in the near future, and I think I'd like to put more focus on self-care and coping skills during times of stress.  I'm excited to put a little more time into researching this topic and sharing what I find out.  So please stay tuned, and I promise I'll try not to step away for too long this time.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thrifty Thursday: The Dry Spell

Hi friends!  It's been a long time since I've done a Thrifty Thursday post, and the reason is that I'm not finding much of anything lately.  It's not for lack of trying.  I probably make one or two thrift store visits a week during my kid-free errand excursions, but I keep coming up empty-handed.  It's getting really frustrating!  But finally, I got a very small haul at Arc's Value Village the other day.

First, I stopped in the kids' book section.  To my delight, some wonderful staff or volunteer had organized the series books so I didn't have to go digging for Magic Treehouse books for the kids.  I grabbed all the ones we don't have yet.  We're reading them out of order, and it's the kind of series where that doesn't matter very much.

I found a few cute things for Punky that looked like they were in brand new condition: a dress and swimsuit she can wear this summer, and a long-sleeved shirt for next winter.  

Then I dug and dug through the womens clothes, not finding anything good.  I went over to the New Arrivals area, where I sometimes find the best things, and I saw an intriguing pattern sticking out.  It was a t-shirt with a Marc Jacobs label.  Also, the label said XS. So I moved on.  But then I came back and looked some more.  It was cropped, and it was also cut big, so it would be worn very loose on a size XS person.  So I decided to take it home with me.  I rationalized that either it would fit me and I could figure out a way to style it, or it wouldn't fit me and I could use the fabric to make something else.

Somewhere Marc Jacobs is crying, "No!  Only urban, dirty-haired waifs who look like they live in garbage cans but actually have lots of money get to wear my clothes." 

I was still desperate to find something usable for myself so I ended up buying a Max Studio dress.  I think I bought it because it had an interesting retro pattern, but it didn't fit well, and it was in a synthetic fabric I don't enjoy wearing.  I had buyers remorse within 5 minutes of leaving the store.  I went home and tried it on again and tried to convince myself I would wear it, but I finally had to admit that it was a mistake.  Then came the dilemma of trying to return it or just tossing it in my donation bin.  Since I was headed back in that direction to pick up Punky from preschool anyway, I decided to take it back to Arc.  I don't think I've EVER tried to return something to a thrift store before.  Luckily this one has a limited return policy for rewards member and the money gets credited to your account.

I'm glad it went back.  With summer coming, I don't want this drab thing anyway.  

Magic Treehouse books $.79 x 6
Girls Cherokee tank dress 3.99
Girls Land's End top 3.99
Girls Old Navy swimsuit 4.99
Marc Jacob's top 6.99
(Max Studio dress that I didn't keep 12.99)

I had a 25% off coupon because I had donated a carload of stuff prior to going into the store.

Total 18.63

Now I have a little credit sitting there for next time I shop, which probably won't be for awhile, in hopes that the store will be restocked in the meantime.  Every once in a while I run into a dry spell like this.  When people tell me I'm really good at thrifting and finding amazing deals, I emphasize that it's mostly luck.  If I visit four thrift stores over a two week period, maybe I'll find something useful at one or two of them.  And the truly exciting finds, like Marc Jacobs tops, Tory Burch shoes, and Marimekko bags, only pop up once in a blue moon.  The point is, those things DO pop up, and you won't find them unless you keep looking.