Sunday, September 29, 2013


I've been so good on my frugalness. I'm sure there are those who save rain water to bathe in or whatever who would laugh at what I'm calling frugal, but I have to say I'm feeling pretty badass about the changes I've made so far. It's a whole new mindset.
Like when I stopped by Safeway last week to pick up a few things and noticed a bottle of Absolut Wild Tea vodka with a bright orange 50% off sticker on my way to look for a cheap bottle of wine. I wasn't sure if it was a trick so when I was getting rung up by a senior citizen checker who can be a little slow on the register, I had to ask how much the vodka really was. He confirmed it was $7.50. The checker, the bagger, and I all got pretty excited. I was all, "That's a good deal!" and the bagger was all, "Heck yeah, it's Absolut!" and the senior checker was all, "What do you think I'm drinking in this water bottle? This job is hard!" It was a round of mental high-fives.
Being on the lookout for the occasional deal is part of my new lifestyle, the emphasis being on occasional as too many deals means not enough gas money to get to work. It's real.
Like most people, I get annoyed when I walk past Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas displays in stores in September. However, I lost a great deal of my holiday decorations to the divorce and a family of raccoons living in the carport of my last residence, and the kids are totally pumped for Halloween already.
Last week, we all put together costumes during a couple trips to Goodwill. Today, the kids were feeling Halloween big time. Daisy started sewing Scout dog's Sphinx costume, I kid you not, to match her Cleopatra, and we watched Nightmare before Christmas, so I went by my neighborhood Dollar Tree and Kmart for a few festivities. I generally avoid Dollar Tree because every time you read about a plastic or chemical children shouldn't be coming into contact with, you know you can find it in some form at your nearest dollar store. Sometimes, it's really better to spend more than a dollar. But for decorations the kids won't be ingesting or rubbing on their skin, why not?
If you don't have children, don't look at these as it will make no sense to you, but these sitting guys are only a dollar each. Of course, I only picked the cool ones. There was also a Frankenstein and Dracula I don't recommend. You know, because these are really cool.
This whole set of cut-outs was a buck. It's better than I could do.

OK this wasn't that great of a deal. It was a full $14.99 at Walgreens and I picked it up last week after payday. We just really love bats and it's sparkly. SPARKLY BATS! Are you kidding me? Everyone deserves a splurge once in a while.

 These giant spider webs are $2.99 at Kmart.

These lanterns have a very faint battery-operated light on the inside. Dollar each.

A dollar crow. I could have gone crazy on these guys.

These were the Dollar Tree Item of the Week - Halloween solar lights. And they even seem to work OK. The glow of Dollar Tree solar lights at night gives me hope.
Whoops, I almost forgot about the dollar skull ice cube tray. The ice skulls look awesome in bargain vodka.
Happy Hallowarm-up!

Monday, September 23, 2013

New Owl

Oh my goodness kids can be annoying especially when you don't feel well what the hell.

I was home sick from work yesterday and picked up the kids from their dad and friends last night. During the exchange, their dad mentioned that in the course of the previous night's sleepover, he had fallen asleep on the couch and woken up to find 3 of 4 slumber party girls, including both of our kids, awake at 4:20 a.m.

Violet told me she went to her room after her dad caught them awake to play with her puppets. Sounds reasonable. And there wasn't a lot of sleeping in the next morning so I picked up two really tired girls last night.

The combo of me not feeling well and the kids' tiredness must have been the cause of such a difficult Sunday with Violet. I'm a little tentative on that because there have been a myriad of difficult days with Violet recently - and really for her whole life so maybe I shouldn't point fingers.

Regardless, when we were getting ready for the birthday party Violet was invited to today, she started getting really cranky. I told her I was going down to my room to take a shower and she should be ready to go when I came back upstairs. I did notice her usual stomping and slamming while I was downstairs and shouted up occasionally for her to chill out. She suddenly came downstairs to talk to her older sister who was hanging with me while I was getting ready, confessing she had "accidentally" broken her sister Daisy's owl bank I was keeping on the fireplace mantel.

Yep, after she carried it to her room and stomped on it, it must have come as quite a shock when she broke that owl. I checked that Violet's feet weren't bleeding then interrupted the arguing sisters to say that I had put it on the mantel because I liked that owl - it wasn't just her sister. Violet ran upstairs and hid under her bed.

From there, we were a mess. At one point I pulled Violet out from under her bed and spanked her against my higher intentions of nonviolence. I was absolutely out of options in the face of Violet's noncompliance, evident by my emphatic yet ineffective appeal that she must listen to me because I am her mother.

After we got to the bowling alley, where the birthday party was taking place, Violet refused to socialize, opting to attach her back to the wall behind the lanes and scowl at the group of girls bowling and cheering for each other. Violet's sister and I were supposed to do a drop off - not join in the party - but I offered to keep an eye on Violet while she adjusted to the party. Apparently it was no deal, no way.

We gave up about 20 minutes later, taking Violet with us back to the car and making our apologies to the birthday girl. Violet refused to get in the car, taking her stand on the sidewalk in front of the Boardwalk, tourists strolling by with smiles on their faces. I offered to take her back into the party if she would talk to her friends. She said she wouldn't feel comfortable, even if I didn't make her bowl with those stupid shoes. I told her to get in the car. She said she didn't want to. That went on for several minutes.

Until I was literally yelling out the car windows as tourists turned their carefree heads from the sidewalk. GET IN THE CAR! NOW! GET IN THE *@$% car NOOOW!

Violet cried on the way home, and I attempted to debrief and discuss where we had gone wrong. I decided to stop by Goodwill so we could look for Halloween costumes, which seemed to be the right thing to do at the time. Daisy put together a Cleopatra costume for $15. Violet initially found several possibilities then spun out. Fine, go home.

The girls walked home while I stopped by the grocery store. On my return, I was thrilled the girls had made Violet's poster for her stint as "student of the week," which starts tomorrow.


Later, Daisy made us a creation she called BHC, Bread Ham Cheese, with a side of peanut butter pretzels and a shot of lemonade. I gladly broke my gluten-free lifestyle with Violet cuddled on my lap in front of the latest recorded Project Runway. It was a bit of needed peace.

And, I found a new owl bank for the mantel, compliments of Violet's pottery painting skills that I like even better than the old one.

I really hope tomorrow morning doesn't suck.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Keeping the Faith

I need to make a change to my employment situation. For the number of hours required by my current job when considering the pay - and the number of people who were hired after me that were promoted over my head - I have hit a ceiling, if you will. For this reason, I must look for other options though there are mixed feelings. I'm emotionally attached to clients and colleagues. The company is not perfect but it has made progress since I started and has also supported and rewarded me greatly, such as the new car last Christmas. That's right, I won a car from my company.

It got a little more complicated after the winning in terms of how the transaction went down - but let's just say I won a good portion of a car. More recently, the company came through for me again by letting me go on a flex schedule to deal with my health issues. Still, I have to remember my own children and support network, especially my parents who I rely heavily on in order to maintain my pummeling job responsibilities. My life is kids and job and intermittent contact with family and friends, if intermittent means least possible.

Tomorrow there is an interview. I'm just saying. No more than three sentences on this because there will be no jinxing.

Let me instead give thanks for what happened between 8:15 and 10:00 p.m. this evening. In those less than two hours, I was like Cinderella when the animals and birds are making her dress and everything comes together so nicely.

I left work at about 8:15 p.m. thinking it was too late. It would take me almost an hour to get home, and I had more work to do. I would have to deal with the fact that I was going into a rare interview tomorrow morning way overdue for a haircut, driving a filthy car, and holding a worn out bag. Bad news but I have to be brave.

Then I remembered there was a Supercuts on my way home that might be opened til 9 p.m. I walked in just ahead of a couple people to get the last haircut of the night. I was feeling sorry for myself because I have found a good salon near my house I can't afford anymore but the Supercuts lady took her time to do a good job and confessed to not liking conversation while she worked - definitely a bargain for $21 including tip.

The Supercuts is next to a Target so I went in to look for a bag I could carry into my interview that wasn't stained or frayed. There was nothing super cheap and presentable. I tried the men's department and found a simple canvas messenger bag with leatherlike accents marked down to $13. Exactly. Feeling bold, I splurged on a small carton of white wine for $5.99. Just to be clear, I hate everyone who hates Target.

Hyped from my successful missions, I drove home the rest of the way envisioning a quick night carwash in my driveway when I got home. Yeah right. Just before I made one of the last turns to the condos, I realized I was driving by a gas station carwash. Hello $6.99 instant carwash - with a $1.50 vacuum (that's for you, Mom.)

I'm ready. Let's go.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Best I Can Do

7:46 a.m. this morning, I was carrying my screaming and kicking 7-year-old in her underwear out the front door of our home, with neighbors watching on. It was the second time I carried her to the car this morning; the first time she still had pants on. Very unsatisfactory pants if you believe all the yelling and grunting. The second time, I was able to throw a brush, conditioning spray, a toothbrush, clothes, socks, and shoes after her while she was turned to beat on her sister sitting next to her in the car.

It’s back to the morning struggles with the kids, or more specifically, kid. Violet resists the morning routine until the point of no return, when her older sister will surely be late to school and her mama will be yelling her head off. Violet blames her horrible morning persona on anxiety – and I doubt there are two things I understand more than morning crankiness and anxiety – but Violet’s ability to obliterate a morning is beyond compare in my 42 years.

You better believe the kids set clothes out the night before. We even have a plan that I bring them cups of hot cocoa when my alarm goes off, so they can have time to adjust their young minds to the new day. That’s the plan at night anyway; all bets are off by morning. Violet refuses the hot cocoa and sits in her underwear for 45 minutes while complaining the only clothes she could possibly wear are the ones wet on the drying rack that morning.

Then things really go downhill. We told the kids' therapist all about it today at the beginning of Daisy's appointment after school, just before I shuttled Violet to ballet. Without warning, I started sobbing in the therapist's office. I'm definitely feeling the pressures these days.

And the last thing I want to do is struggle with my kids. We’re on the same team. What the hell. And I don’t mean WTH as in what is this all about, crazy? I mean, what the hell, this is hurting and worrying all of us, and I haven’t figured out how to solve it. It might be one of those things that you just have to outlast.

Coincidentally, Violet’s homework tonight was to talk to me about kindness and respect, making a list of specific examples of her good acts from today. She came up with a couple examples from school then sat and stared at the handout, not sure how to proceed.

When Violet asked me for examples, I reminded her I hadn’t seen much kindness and respect from her today at home – it was the worst morning we’ve had since I can remember – so I quizzed her with more possibilities she could record from school. As Violet continued to shake her head No, her sister looked up smiling from her book on the other side of the room, and I advised gently, “Well, honey, maybe you can write something like . . . I’m just not really a nice person?”

We all fell into laughter. Even as Violet ran out of the living room in protest, she was laughing. I found her a couple minutes later to channel something my mother used to say to me that I always thought was suspect, “I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at the situation. It’s good to laugh with your family. You have to laugh – it’s the best thing for anxiety.”

Violet sheepishly returned to her homework. She even began to make fun of herself, only running out of the room a few more times when we laughed a little too hard for her taste, but the girl was doing her own SNL skits. In her best TV actor voice, she raised her hand to pretend tell her teacher, “Ms. Fish, I learned something last night when I was doing my homework. I learned that . . .  I’m just not a very nice person.”

It took Violet a long time to come up with 5 good examples. While she was working it out, she asked for a snack. As I set bowls on the desk next to her work, I did a doubletake when Violet said Thank You. That’s it! Your next example should be “I was nice when I thanked my mom for bringing me a bowl of guacamole.”

More laughter. Violet thought the sentence was too weird to use but repeated it several times for comedic effect.

Those kids are in bed now, and I didn’t do half the things I meant to, before or after they went to bed. My mattress is still on the floor downstairs. The tool in the garage to fix my garbage disposal is still unfound. The balsamic vinegar spill in my fridge remains as gory as it was a few days ago. The mostly empty bowl of leftover chips sits next to Violet's homework. It’s the best I can do today.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lasting Cheap

Before I moved to Santa Cruz for college, I worked with a teacher in LBC who was enthused to share her advice and stories about college life. She remembered proudly that money had been so tight for her at one point during her college years that she jumped a chain link fence at night to steal vegetables from a community garden.

That story stayed with me both out of fear and curiosity. I was leaving my parent’s home for the first time – was it going to be a struggle for survival? Would there be signs before I got to that point? How would you make yourself full with boring garden food? I wondered how it felt for food to be uncertain.

In the 23 years since, I’ve had modest years, but I never really struggled financially until toward the end of my marriage, when I was unemployed and money was the most contentious issue in the home. Those were tough times but food was not uncertain.

My finances became impossibly tight again this summer. It was a combo of unexpected bills and my own carelessness. You could say I have been engaged in a 3-year rebellion against the idea of money as a source of tension and means of control.

But now, I’ve got to pull my head out of the clouds to gain control over my own self. Though my parents have helped me with the condo and the kids and I receive spousal support, I’m struggling to cover my bills. In a little over a year, my mother will retire and the spousal payments will stop. I have to create financial stability. There is no longer room for error.

I’m working on it. I’ve enrolled in a 401k for the first time in my life. I’ve given up a good hair salon and meeting friends for drinks. I used to do lunch regularly with a work friend, but now we catch up over walks. Out to dinner with my parents recently, my mother handed me an untouched loaf of bread from the table to take home. I brought it home and threw it in the freezer, defrosting it when we were out of sandwich bread.

I’ve seriously changed my ways. I reuse tinfoil and pack my lunch for work every day, including tea. When I shop for food, I use a handbasket instead of a cart, limiting myself to what we need. I keep a household binder, where I organize coupons, recipes, and other helpful information like low cost health solutions. For example, did you know that pesky vaginal itch, so common during sitting-around-in-wet-bathing-suit season, can be solved in 48 hours with baby shampoo and a hair dryer? If you’re skeptical, I can grab the magazine clipping out of my binder so you’ll know it’s direct from a Stanford study. That info is gold in a house of girls.

There are no more dinners out with the kids after a long work week. No last minute dashes for BK breakfast sandwiches before school. I keep my fridge stocked with poultry, fish, and hardboiled eggs that I prepare on the weekend.

As I can’t stop mentioning to everyone all the time, I get a weekly box of veggies from a local CSA. I believe the $25 a week has been a good investment. My health has been getting better gradually in my quest to waste as little of the fresh farm produce in my fridge. I’ve even figured out what I can do with eggplant, my least favorite vegetable, outside of throwing it in the trash.

In one week of waste, I completely forgot about the box of veggies in the back of my car after picking it up – until my kids asked me about the smell. I guarantee that won’t happen again. I’ve gotten better about storing the produce so it lasts and have even made a broth with the week’s leftover veggies. How Little House on the Prairie is that?

There’s going to be a lot more of that while I work on getting a higher paying job and/or establishing a side gig to supplement my income. To say I’m busy is an understatement. When I’m overwhelmed, I make myself look back 3 years; I had just gotten a part-time job for $15 an hour and the only place I had to go if my marriage ended was my parents’ home. I know I can accomplish more.

But what has humbled me deeply is the realization of just how freaking fortunate I am. You know how you notice more of whatever is on your mind – when I was worried about my hair falling out after the divorce, I noticed for the first time how many women have thinning hair. Now, I notice people who show signs of financial struggle.

I am waking up to the reality of living in a county where more than half of our seniors don’t have enough money to pay for their necessities like food. In nearby Salinas Valley, the salad basket of the U.S., one in four families experience a food shortage at some point during the year and many routinely resort to non-nutritious food to stretch their budgets. More here and here.

The most important lesson from my financial wake-up call is that I owe everything to those who have shared with me. For this reason, it is imperative that I share with others. And, really, there is a need for all of us to get better at sharing.

My mother was walking dogs in my neighborhood yesterday and a couple with a baby stopped her. They asked her for money and all she had on her was the $5 she handed them. They said they were desperate, looking for jobs. As she talked with them, the man said he’d been considering doing "something bad.” There is a need for all of us to get better at sharing.

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Back to School

It was a cranky/anxious back to school.

For Daisy, starting fifth grade and her last year of elementary school (uh oh), it's anxiety around her academics. She's painfully aware of what has so far been her lagging math skills, which I attribute to being young for her grade.

For Violet, starting second grade, the anxiety is around change. She's also a naturally cranky person who hides it pretty well in public, until she sees her mama.

I'm feeling optimistic about this year of school. As I reminded Daisy, she's had a major shake-up every school year so far. At the beginning of kindergarten, I became unemployed during her little sister's chronic illnesses and attempted a home business. In first grade, her house was tore apart and in major construction for a long, long time. In second grade, her parents split. In third grade, she adjusted to life in two homes with parents struggling, her mom on bedrest here and there with stress-induced health problems. Last winter, we moved from the apartment to the condo, when I was so busy with work that we lived out of boxes for months.

This year, I told the girls, is about building from a foundation. Not fixing. Not recovering. Just growth.

And Violet may always be cranky, but I do want to help with her anxiety. Recently, in a typical big sister torture moment, Daisy made the pronouncement that Violet has only a few years left to be a kid. Violet pulls me aside frequently to say, "I don't want to grow up. Can I live with you until you pass?" Of course, but there's no numbering of days necessary at this time - for anyone - got it?

I continue to work on a smoothly running household for my daughters, a task they make both challenging and crucial. I will never be the parent who keeps the tight schedule of sameness, but I'm working on a rhythm that supports them well.

The daily rhythm involves food. That's why I put my little managers to work making school lunch lists for my grocery shopping.

I'm down to my bedroom and garage to finish from last year's move. My mattress is on the floor but it's going to elevate to its rightful position any day now. Promise. There is probably some symbolism there but whatever. Focus is the next step.