Friday, September 24, 2010

Please pass the menu

Sometimes I wonder if/how crazy I'm driving my family. Day in and day out, we eat at home. Cereal, oatmeal, pancakes, special breakfast muffins, you name it, we've done it. Sandwiches and salads for lunch, chips and fruit. Iced tea, water, or milk. Dinner: crock pot, vegetarian, breakfast for dinner, stir fry, stove top, oven, all in some random order. The kids ask for seconds, tells me they're happy I made dinner (on their own no less, R's not home yet half the time when I'm plating their food during the week) R tells me what he likes, what came out great, what we should try next. Out comes the menu planner, grocery list, chef hat-a la me. I'm the head cook, the one who flips through an endless supply of cookbooks, pores over frugal sites for the next meal I want to whip up for my family. I take great pride in my cooking skills; considering when I moved out on my own I was limited to what I learned in home economics in the seventh grade-cheese omelets, pigs in blankets, muffins. Yet I'm tired; especially more than I'm used to.

My mom was the cook in our home, she made dinner throughout the week, but as we got older the meals became the same thing, meat, rice/potatoes, and vegetables. She knew how to make lasagna and a mean spaghetti sauce, both which I never quite caught onto. She made a special dump cake for dessert and boxed brownies and cakes. We never went hungry, or went without. I could sense though, she got tired of it-as time went on, the meals never changed, and we went out once we were older-a lot. The breakfast places, the chinese dinners, oh, to live in the Bay Area, and have an endless supply of tasty places to go. That was perfection-or was it?

I had a talk with my dad recently about how him and my mom could have done things differently when they had the money they did-eating out was one of them. I had been expressing my inner struggle to him-the joy I had in having skills to cook such a variety of foods, I had just made eggplant parmigiana and it came out perfect-non breaded, using the organic eggplant I had picked up at the farmer's stand in town. The kids liked it, R devoured it. At the same time, I was tired-tired partly because I'm almost 30 weeks into this last pregnancy, because of kids being kids, and while R tends to take over in the kitchen on the weekends, and helps get everything going during the weekday morning routine, I wondered that night if I should have caved in and had us eat cereal, or hit the drive thru for dinner. Living in a small town, there's not a lot of options-either fast food or sit down, pizza is carry out or dine in. Instead, I made dinner that night; and the night after; and then tonight. My status on FB tonight:

does not know how long its been since we ate out or ordered out. is this what happens when you have kids?

Everyone said yes, except for one who says they order out more, but in their defense, I truly believe that if I lived where they did, we'd have a ton more options than we do here, within a much shorter driving distance, so I don't blame them for taking advantage of it. For us, its just not worth the expense plus driving 20-30 min for something other than Mexican or pizza (the local places here are good, but can quickly become cost prohibitive). I didn't quite want to say its been over four weeks since we went out, last we ate out was in Monterey 30+ days ago. There's no end planned for when we'll go out again. I'm sure we will, but as of yet, we're still eating at home. Weekdays, weekends, all planned out, or we use what's in the pantry. Some may think we're wacky, but unless someone wants to take us out to eat, honestly, we're doing the best we can to make the right choices for us, and that means bypassing eating out right now.

On a related note, this week I read on FB about one of my fellow frugal bloggers paying their house in full and was amazed by their financial plan to work with their mortgage-free income, we're still following Dave Ramsey/listening to Suze Orman, and by choice no longer using our credit cards, and I pop open the freezer, and see what's ready to be taken out for tomorrow's dinner. I am working hard not to whine, to appreciate the fact we have food in the fridge, I've gained new skills in the kitchen, and our kids see both of us cook (seeing E pop open the "microwave" in the pretend kitchen at preschool with "oatmeal" inside was a cute moment) I know we'll survive (and hopefully thrive) during this extended downturn in our finances. I think I just need a night off from cooking, perhaps it's time I freeze double batches of our meals, I need to make it easier for us when I'm not up to cooking and R comes home late. Guess what that means for this weekend?

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Jumping in where my mind is, Halloween. Its been weeks now since school supplies have been out, and now those have moved to the clearance racks, and out pops Halloween. I'm the first one to get excited about pumpkins and candy corn, but there's something about waiting until October 1st to outlay my decorations that has become a tradition in our home.

This year, it seems to have snuck up on us, more on me than anything else. The boys have been talking about what they want to be for Halloween, and R and I got a flier at ClovisFest about the BooWalk next month, so between the two, costumes have been discussed amongst all of us. Leave it to one of my favorite "mommy" magazines, Family Fun, to put out their annual article on homemade Halloween costumes. I couldn't wait to open up that magazine, I was poring over all the food, house, and costume ideas, from the moment it came here. Mind you, I have no clue where my domestication gene came from, I know my mom wasn't big on decorating, or baking, or anything like that, she was always busy w/ us kids, taking care of what needed to get done. I still feel this sense of pride, and accomplishment that every year I've been able to make the boys their own costumes. There was one year where they wanted to be police officers, and another year was fire fighters, and we used their play outfits that we already had at home, but otherwise, I made them. Superhero capes and astronauts were big hits then, and are still worn during dressup (and as a mom of three boys, I was pleasantly surprised by how my boys love to play dressup). This year, G saw a wizard costume in Family Fun, and told his brothers; oohs and ahhs, and I want that, can you make that for us? was all I heard. I thought to myself-well, it looks easy enough, let me see what I need to get together, and go from there.

It always strikes me that things happen the way they're supposed to happen. I was at Walmart this afternoon picking up the replacement steam mop pads I had ordered, when I decided to browse through the craft section (dangerous territory for someone who's trying to watch extra spending). Sure enough, there were bolts of fabric that were on clearance for $5 each. Well, I had the $5 gift card from a recent mailing, so I bought two bolts of fabric for $5 total-three wizard costumes coming right up! I also had promised a mom from E's preschool that I would make her a cape like E wore to preschool one day (one of his brothers, since it seems his got lost this summer, so I'm going to make him another one). There's plenty of fabric to do all those projects, and possibly more. I am over the moon about my find-and I'm so glad I was able to find it and now can get costumes squared away just in case this baby decides to come early.

Let it be said, I'm not anti-store, or against prefab costumes; Gymboree and the Children's Place often come out with cute as a button costumes. However, its not me-and its not my boys-yet. I think its amusing how M and G tell their friends how their mommy made this or made that, and I don't really think twice about it-I just love being crafty (and don't know where I got the gene for that) I'm going to soak up the time I have with my boys, make the costumes, sew on the patches, do what I love to do (and save myself a fortune at the same time). When the kids want the store bought ones, we'll cross that bridge. Until then, I'll cherish thumbing through the ideas, discussing how we should decorate them, and enjoy the fact that my boys still think Mommy's cool because she makes their costumes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I started my weekly volunteering at M and G's school this week. It was a bit of an eye opener, and gave me a clearer perspective of all that's going on right now in school. I told R that even if I'm not able to continue helping out over the years inside the classroom, I really want to stay connected with the teachers and staff at the schools. Whether its by email, drop off/pick up, or phone, having that line of communication will add to my understanding of what is expected from my children and the needs of our schools. I filled out a nomination form for school site council w/ G's school right when we submitted the packet of information, and I was surprised at when I received a phone call on Friday telling me that I was voted in for one of the four spots. Robert was happy for me, and told me to let him know when I needed him to help out so I could go to the few meetings I'll attend this school year.

We went to the wrong location of our park day this week for Moms Club, but the weather was phenomenal. E had fun running around, and I met a few new moms at the park. One of them and I started talking about pregnancy (because she is due with her second this coming week) and we just talked how it was to adjust as time went on, and kids got older. Her little boy reminded me of M and how I felt when I was pregnant w/ G, it seems like a lifetime ago. It seriously made me wistful for those days-even though I remember they weren't all roses and sunshine. We certainly moved past those baby challenges, and now working our way through having two in school, with varying assignments, expectations, and personality differences when it comes to attitudes about school. Just thinking about all that's going on made me realize that we'll adjust to this new baby, and this new baby will adjust to us. Only 12 (wow, almost single digits!) weeks to go, and we'll have our blessing.

I was able to pull off having R's mom come here for Grandparent's Day at G's school on Friday. I used some of our monthly grocery budget towards her train ticket, and it was the best investment. Seeing G's face light up when Grandma opened the door, priceless! She was thrilled that we pulled off the surprise, and loved seeing my belly baby. She even loved feeling the baby kick and move around-and has her own prediction that we're having a daughter. We had a wonderful visit with her, and she always puts me at ease when she comes-I don't have to put on airs, and I always love to show her what new frugal tips I've taken on. It struck me how our relationship has evolved, when this time before she went home, I was the one sending food and pantry items home with her (because I knew her income has gone done, and it was something within our means to do) instead of how it was when R and I were first married with our first baby. During one of our more serious conversations, I told her I didn't mind if one day she ended up living w/ us vs going into an assisted living environment, because that's something we've had to discuss here at home. It hit home too when R looked at me after dropping off his mom at the train station, and said he didn't want her to go home. Talk about making me weepy! I am so glad I have this woman in my life, and I aspire to have the same relationship w/ whoever my sons are with in their later years.

Saturday was dampened by the events of Thursday night's devastating fire in an entire neighborhood and the events of 9/11/2001. I remembered the girl who died from my hometown and how she was a couple of years younger than myself. It makes me appreciate life that much more, the journeys and travels I've had, and how I've lived my life, no matter the bumps or detours that came my way. That memory, coupled with seeing entire rows of homes destroyed in the neighborhood fire, made me want to hug my boys that much tighter, and be thankful for what we have. It reminds me how trivial material possessions are in the grand scheme of life, and how I have chosen to value experiences and relationships more. I was reading this old Women's Day article about how money can't buy happiness but it can be used to buy things that contribute to greatly to happiness. It gave the example of buying a new pair of shoes "just because" not because of a need vs a train ticket to see a family member-and having that relationship/experience with another human being. It was a bit eerie for me, having just done that with the grocery money we had available.

We kept the rest of the day simple. We went to Woodward park, and got lost on our hike. A 2 mile walk turned into 4 miles, and it was a reminder to both of us to bring more refreshments than we had, as well as to remember where exactly we parked our van. The kids were good sports, and my body did amazingly well. I felt rejuvenated after the walk, but the nap afterwards was bliss too. Once we were home, I had time for a solo trip to the library, and picked up some extra books for the boys. Post dinner and showers at home, we chilled for the rest of the night-which was definitely needed after the few hours we spent at the park earlier in the day.

(Pictures will be added later once I upload them to the computer)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Labor day weekend 9/4-9/6

This Labor Day weekend was a ton of fun. We started off bright and early and headed to a neighboring farm for grape, peach, and tomato picking. This has been a family tradition of ours (at least the grape picking part) for the past 4 years, since G was an toddler. This year the farm opened its peach orchard, and had tomatoes too, so we took advantage of that.

Our traditional picture w/ the grapes :)

R showing G how to cut the grapes off the vine.
Mmmm peaches!
Our little helper, and look at the size of that fruit!
E going for a ride down the lane.
Wow-we picked a ton of fruit! What to do w/ all that? Canning!
After our excursion, we were all zonked out the rest of the afternoon. I snapped this pic of E chilling out in his "boat".
I came by a few minutes later, and this is what I found :)
On Sunday, we all went to Miss H's house, and the boys have fun playing with C. H and I had a fun afternoon of girl talk, while R helped clean up her yard.
The table where the magic of prep work and our chats took place.
Peaches for jam!
Some of the spiced peaches we canned that afternoon, delish!
We were all tired after spending the day canning, but we had the opportunity to see a Fresno Grizzlies baseball game. My wonderful hubby was a good sport, and said load up the kids, and off we went!
M loved the game!
E and the other boys got to run the bases after the game was over. He did really well :)
G making his way back up after running the bases on the field.
Monday was a nice relaxing day. We headed to the outlets and bought the boys their fall shoes at Stride Rite. Its the only place we get their shoes, and they had a great sale. We left immediately afterwards-it struck me how different we are living now because now we didn't just want to walk the outlet and buy random stuff that we knew we didn't need-and our wallets thanked us. We did our weekly run at Winco-and came home and grilled up meat that I had marinated the night before. It was something nice to do after being on the go all weekend, and we all benefited from some downtime before our busy week.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Birthdays, celebrations, new school year

Midway through August, the boys started school. Each are reaching their own milestones, and I've loved capturing those special moments for them. E is going to be in the preschool program this fall, learning so much, and talking up a storm. He's so verbal, he'll tell me everything he did and about his playmates. He's so different from his brothers, couldn't imagine life without my little boy.
G started kindergarten. He has been waiting for this day for so long, and it finally came. Its taken him a few weeks to adjust to a longer day, different types of center work, and new routines after having a summer full of fun activities. I feel more confident this time as a mom too, maybe because I went through it last year, so I know what to expect, and to cut us all some slack as we figure out how our afternoons will flow (at least until the baby comes in December)
M, my first grader. He was all smiles, has a wonderful teacher, and is quickly making friends. Homework is the biggest adjustment, going from weekly packets to daily homework, but it seems we're getting in a good groove. R's been working with him after dinner if we don't do it in the afternoon, and its nice to have us both becoming familiar with what's expected this year.

As a welcome escape from the heat of our hometown, we went to Monterey for the day, two days before my birthday. We met up with a woman I met a long time ago on a parenting message board, and her family. The two of us met for the first time face to face over Spring Break with the boys, and this time we had both of our families meet up at Dennis the Menace Park. The kids had a fantastic time, and we enjoyed not needing sweaters or being uncomfortable in high temperatures.

Here's R and I. I love him for so many reasons, the way he takes an active role in doing things with our children, and how he takes care of me. I definitely feel like as our family has grown the partnership between us has increased, and so has our love for each other. He is so excited about this baby, and loves how I let him find out what we were having even though I still don't know. I've found out through this experience, he really is able to keep a positive secret :)

After Dennis the Menace Park, both families went on the paddle boats. Here's Dana and myself, and behind us is my brother who met us in Monterey too, and E and G. We managed to get around the lake for a good spin, and I'm impressed that despite us both being 6 months pregnant we were able to go out as long as we did. It was a lot of fun!

Paddle boating made us hungry, and we didn't know what to do for dinner. We ended up at Bubba Gumps-and our big group of ten did really well there! It was a nice treat out for our family, considering we have eaten at home all month. R and I definitely enjoyed both of us having a night off from cooking for the kids, and the kids surprised us by eating all the food we gave them. Before we parted ways, we ventured over to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for some pictures and dessert. Here's a nice picture of Dana and myself.
The boys were thrilled that we bought them chocolate bars at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, a fun surprise!

All the boys from our two families, so excited that next year we'll have two babies join the group :)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


For my birthday, I did something completely self indulgent. I went to the movies alone. I saw Eat Pray Love, and used the Entertainment Book coupon that gave you a free movie ticket on your birthday. It was something foreign to me, not unlike going to school or a gym, but a movie theater-alone? Why not, take that bucket list. My interest had been piqued after reading my friend's journal entry about seeing it, and a letter she shared. It deeply moved me, striking how just the week before I posted about being who I am, and how I had transformed and how relationships ebb and flow. So I went to movies and found myself unsettled. The plot line was easy enough to follow, but the idea of going against the grain, the idea of choosing a foreign path because of what appeared to be unhappiness struck me as harder to absorb that I'm used to. While I'm all for following one's path and taking life as a journey, seeing how this woman was so deeply hurt and how she worked through her own misery, in a way that seemed very radical and foreign, unsettled me. It made me think-where was I in my life? Where was I from a year ago? Where did I see myself 10 years ago when I was living at home, going to college, thinking about marriage to my highschool/college sweetheart.

I changed it all on a whim two years later, not to the degree that this woman had, but in my own way I had changed everything I knew. Upon graduating college and having been kicked out from my parents for seemingly not following the path chosen or desired by my mom and dad, otherwise having been a good kid, good grades, no trouble, survived all the norms of childhood and adolescence. Something snapped-where the point of origin is I'm not sure of, and quite frankly I've peeled enough layers back to see while yes its painful, yes I want to know why, there's something about moving forward, learning from it, hearing stories now from my dad, seeing how I relate now to adults and my own children, I know enough that what I wanted and needed at that point needed to change-so I did. Its taken time to absorb all the changes, be at peace with all the changes. Living with decisions and choices that came up as a result of those decisions, all took time. Time marched on, and then it hit me, life is still a journey.

I turned 31 this past week. I never had the typical girlish hopes of being a stay at home mom, living in the house with the picket fence, having the two kids, a dog, and a minivan. I had dreams-seeing the world as a journalist, writing about anything and everything, combining a love for helping others with writing. I figured my husband would take turns with me staying at home with the kids, working at home with his job, and we'd follow our dreams. Ten years later, the dream of being a writer has given way to being a social advocate, having a voice in the community I live, making it a better place for my soon to be four children while combining the efforts of staying at home and still pursuing my own interests. I have to say within the past year, getting reacquainted with a dear friend who is traveling the world with his wife sans children, has made me realize how I'm more than just a mommy and a wife. Yes, those roles are important and dear to me, but so is having my own interests. Combine that with my birthday, and seeing Eat Pray Love earlier this week and that's a recipe for self evaluation.

Where I stand today: 31 years old. Open minded. Forgiving. Generous. Lover of all things frugal. Coupon Queen. Loves hearing a need and fulfilling requests. More likely to say how can we make something better, and not just quit. Knowing when to back down, but not leave friends stranded. Providing shoulders to lean on, and hot meals to feed bellies. Open to new ideas, and letting others go ahead. Making sure all is right with my 3 amazing boys and husband, while still taking care of myself. Step up to the challenge kind of person, willing to try something new. Lover of photography, the written word, and dance. Loves sharing those interests with my children and seeing how their minds work and the questions that follow. Love stamping and scrap booking and everything crafty. Grateful to have a partner who understands his wife loves to do all the above and gently reminds (or by inking in pen) the dates his wife's hobbies meet because he won't take no for an answer because he knows we all benefit from my self care. Yes life turned out different than I expected. I did not expect to become further estranged from my mom, rebuild a relationship with my dad, see how debt can become out of hand, and see how pay cuts can change perspective on reality. I see how marriages change-and how parenthood changes everything all over again. Someone once told me that my 30s would rock, and despite all the crazy, emotional, heart wrenching moments I have faced-they have. I wouldn't change a thing.