Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fad Aversion

I will admit that I do have a certain aversion to following a fad. For instance, I just started watching Survivor two seasons ago. And I never learned how to knit when it went around in the 90s. I didn't read the Twilight series until this fall. It's not that I'm against whatever the 'thing' is, it's that I don't want to jump on the bandwagon. So I take my time, and years later when it is safely out of fashion, I decide to give it a try.

So begins my quest to learn how to knit. It was prompted because my 8 year old daughter learned how to knit this year, and I can't help her when she gets stuck. My 7 year old son can also knit himself into a holey, lop-sided frenzy. Newsletters come home from elementary school about the virtues of this previously feminine-only art, and we don't even go to a Waldorf School.

As I do with many other questionable ventures, I invited my girlfriends to join me in the fun. It turns out that there are quite a few closet want-to-learn-how-to knitters in my little group. Lots of other moms figured they'd give it a go. We have naturally discussed our complete lack of free time, along with wondering when we would ever sit still for long enough to knit a whole row, but alas we are up to the challenge. The challenge being finding a time when all of us can attend class at the same time. But I have faith that we will spend the time together, knit a few scarves and drink a few glasses of wine in the process. Isn't that really the point?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Parking Lot Mamas' Guide to Last-Minute Gifts

So you're all ready for the holidays, except for maybe three gifts for those hard-to-buy-for people. Perhaps you need something for your husband who basically has everything, or you need a gift for your Aunt Edna, who just announced that she's coming for the holidays. Or maybe you need something for your new brother-in-law, whom you know nothing about except for the fact that he's an accountant in Indiana. Have no fear, the Parking Lot Mamas' Gift Guide is here!

But before we get to that, let's review a few basics of what NOT to give during the holidays:

1. Body slimmers. Husbands, do not give your wife Spanx, Bodyslimmers, or control-top underwear. This should be obvious. The same rule applies to anti-aging creams, gift certificates for Botox, Alli weight loss pills, and diet cookbooks.

2. Lingerie. If you must buy lingerie, please make sure you have the right size. My poor husband bought some lingerie for me 12 years ago - four sizes too big. That was the end of lingerie gifts.

3. Do not re-gift stuff that is obviously used. A friend of mine recently received a set of Conair hair rollers, with hair still on the rollers!!

4. If you need to get a teenager something, and you don't have one yourself, please ask someone with teens for advice. A Spiderman sleeping bag, marker pens, or Pokemon movies are just not cool for a teen.

So here we go - the ultimate gift guide for those hard-to-please people on your list.

For the teenager - Sarcastic t-shirts are always a hit. Threadless has some fun ones, including "Being Vague is Almost as Fun as Doing This Other Thing..." and "I Listen to Bands That Don't Even Exist Yet."

For the daughter who's permanently connected to her iPod - the pink Speakal iPod speaker system packs five total drivers (including a 4-inch subwoofer), adjustable bass controls, and 360-degree sound distribution into a cute pink pig. I guarantee her friends don't have one yet.

For the son who hates being dragged along on vacations - If your son is in the "it's not cool to be seen with my parents" stage, and you're on the beach for a day of "family bonding" while snorkeling, then slip him this ultra-cool underwater digital camera mask. He'll quickly forget why he's so cranky because he'll be taking photos and videos of all the underwater wildlife.

For the husband who has everything - If your hubbie is a serious email junkie, then plop down a whopping $17 for this ingenious USB Webmail Notifier, a cool looking "envelope" that softly glows when new email arrives in his inbox. Since it's USB-powered, he won't have to worry about stuffing batteries in it every week.

For the wife who runs the household - The Audiovox Homebase Digital Media Center is every SAHM's dream. It sticks on your fridge and includes a 7-inch display, a dry erase board, digital clock, Post-it pad and an LED message indicator. I'd put this on the door to our garage so we can check it before rushing to school.

For the dog who doesn't want another Xmas sweater - Fido will wow all his canine friends with a Plexidor Electronic doggie door. Replace your regular flap doggie door that screams "ROB THIS HOUSE" with this sweet electronic dog door. Your dog wears an RFID chip on his collar, and when he approaches the door, it automatically swooshes open. Very Jetsonesque.

For the grandma - Obviously anything handmade from the grandkids is a sure winner. But if she has a hard time remembering where she put her keys, Brookstone's wireless key finder will locate her lost keys with just the press of a button. Simply press one of the color-coded pager buttons on the wireless transmitter, and the matching key fob will answer with a loud alarm.

For the geek in your life - The electronic t-shirt with playable drum kit. Hit the drums on this shirt with your finger and they play through the built in speaker. It comes with 7 different drum sounds for the ultimate in chest-based drum solos.

For Fred From Sheboygan- If these gift ideas are just too mainstream for you, and you need to get something creative for your "comedian" cousin whose bacon flavored dental floss is his favorite possession , then head on over to and check out their, um, desktop organizer.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

C'mon kids - just one more photo. Pleeease.

"Mom, this snow stuff smells bad. Can we go now?"

Why on earth do we make kids sit in front of these fake backgrounds that spew smelly fake snow for yet another photo op? Do we think it will make us look like good parents? Do we think kids actually enjoy these forced poses? Or are we planning to collect all these photos and show them to their "dates" when they're teenagers?

Cruise ship photographers take great glee in setting up 50 gazillion photo sessions throughout the ship and on excursions. It's probably one of their top $$$-making schemes, a close second to the $8-$12 watered-down pool drinks and the $30 t-shirts.

Still, I had a great time on the cruise. Maybe all those watered-down specialty drinks helped. Or maybe it was the free chocolate vanilla swirl ice cream all day long.

Just don't sing "A Whole New World" anywhere near me, or I'm liable to crack.

Monday, December 1, 2008

And How Was Your Thanksgiving Break?

Ahhh, Thanksgiving. It brings to mind the smell of roasting turkeys, rustling leaves, and the sound of family squabbling. But in our case, it brings to mind something entirely different. We opted to flee Oregon for the holidays and join a small group of 2,400 complete strangers (plus five good friends) for a seven-day cruise in the Caribbean.

Things were going great until my son mumbled "my stomach hurts" after one of our first dinners. I thought it was just from overeating, which seems to be the number one thing to do on cruise ships. Alas, I was wrong. We took him to the basement of the ship to see the doctor, and he was quickly diagnosed with the dreaded NOROVIRUS. You've probably heard of it. That's the virus that sickened over 2,600 people on the QE2 a few years ago. Ugh. It's basically an extremely intense version of the stomach flu. So the poor little guy was quarantined for 48 hours. In a room the size of a large shoe box. Luckily, with round-the-clock movies and room service, he pulled out of it pretty quickly. The scariest thing was when a ship employee showed up at the door dressed in a full hazmat suit in order to sanitize the room.

Then there were the late dinners. We weren't able to get the "early seating" for dinner, so we had the joy of eating a four-course meal from 8:30-10:00 every night. Here's a photo of one of our more lively dinners, as we were waiting for our food to be served.

And how was your Thanksgiving holiday? Please share your story - we'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Be Careful of This One, Mr. Bond

Poor Bond. He was betrayed by the beautiful Vesper. How can he prevent himself from making this next mission personal? I can't wait to see how Director Mark Forster will bring the Quantum of Solace story to life.

I took Quizilla's very fun Which Bond Girl Are You? quiz and it turns out I'm Pam Bouvier, the kind of go-anywhere, do-anything gal the CIA looks for when running guns or toppling governments. That's cool, as I did secretly have dreams of getting into the CIA when I was a naive student. So what kind of Bond girl are you? Take the quiz and find out!

I'm going to catch the film first thing tomorrow morning. I wish I had the energy to attend the midnight viewing, but I gorged on red velvet cupcakes today at JulieJulie's fabulous birthday lunch and I'm experiencing a pretty severe sugar crash. I did tell some friends to come to the movie dressed up as Bond girls. You know - in bikinis, with daggers hanging from their hips. I have a feeling they're not going to do it, but I've got my camera just in case. Oh, the things I do for England.

P.S. Is it me or does it seem that Derek Zoolander and James Bond could be brothers?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Help...I've fallen into a rut and can't get out. Do you think they make a life alert button for this? When did this happen...I don't know. Lately I have been feeling like a robot, just going through the motions, the same motions, day after day after day.

I have been married now for about a year and a half, and in this relationship for a little over 3 years. Prior to this I was single for nearly 10 years. I dated, but mostly had insignificant un-serious relationships.

During my single years I was admittedly lonely for adult companionship but I had my son and we are very close because of this time we had together. Even though I was lonely at times I don't remember feeling stagnant with my life. Granted being single there wasn't always extra money to do certain things or travel but I still feel like my son and I did things and had fun. We always made the most of what we had. I used to go scrap booking every month, I played bingo with my best friend and I used to sit for hours and days on end sometimes cross stitching.

Well...I haven't been able to play bingo in months due to financial reasons. I tried to cross stitch again about a month ago but got too many complaints from the family about my stuff being out in the living room and I haven't scrap booked since I met my husband over 3 years ago. In fact all of my scrap booking supplies and photos are buried in a closet and I can't even get them out if I wanted to.

When did this happen? When did my life start to consist of getting up and going to work everyday, coming home too tired to do much, but still have to cook, clean, help with homework etc. When do I get some Sherry time? When can I have this time without feeling guilty about it? Why is it so much easier for my husband to just say "I'm going fishing tomorrow" and that's that. He can take off for a day and it doesn't phase anything or anyone, maybe just me. I get angry or jealous that he can just take off without a thought, yet I beat myself up and feel guilty when I do it or just even think about it.

Growing up I always watched my Mom take care of the house, the kids, the cooking, the cleaning, the everything...and she worked full time. When I watched my Dad he was mostly watching TV. I don't know that I ever saw him clean anything. I know he never cooked anything. This was acceptable, I guess...looking back now I know it wasn't. My Mom gave up so much of herself for everyone else. At 19 years old it was upsetting to me that my parents got divorced after 24 years of marriage, but I realize now that my Mom was saving her own life. Now that she is retired she calls me so excited because she is going to dinner with the girls. Or she is going away for the weekend to quilt with the girls. She is like a little girl going to her first play date. I wish she could have had this kind of fun when she was younger. I may never understand why she chose to give up herself when she was younger. I just know that I see myself following in her path. I don't want to wake up one day and wonder what happened to my life. I want to start living now!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I've Always Wanted To Be a Cartoon

I've always admired the cartoonish avatars that people are using on Twitter. I tried for hours to do it myself using Paint Shop Pro, but to no avail. Luckily this morning I found just what I was looking for. It's called be funky. You can easily upload your photos to the web site (it's free!) and "cartoonize" any portrait. They also have a nifty "uvatar" creator where you can create your own avatar, accessorize her, and put her in a scene. Or if you have a video to upload, you can turn it into a video cartoon, similar to the movie A Skanner Darkly. The nifty thing is that Hugh Grant decided to stop by and check out my uvatar universe. Obviously he just got back from Aruba, while I still have my pasty white Oregonian complexion.

Here are the cartoonized versions of myself and my family. Be warned: it's highly addicting!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

New House Leader Needed. Please Vote For Me!

My eight-year-old was so swept up with the excitement of the election that he decided a new world order was needed. At least in our house. So, he decided to have an election for new "house leader." His brother and parents are expected to write up their own platforms and give a speech. Then we are to have elections.

What I want to know is, if my eight-year-old wins the election for leader of our house, is he going to make pie for us? Or is it the other way around? Here is his platform (sic):
  • Apple pie once a weak
  • At least anoph time to do something on a video game
  • Have the rights to choose what you want to were
  • Unlinited printing
  • Not being bossed around
  • Get to stay up untell 10:00 every night
  • Family crest shall be made
  • 1 hour of outside playing
Here's an added bonus - we were fortunate enough to be serenaded by all of the kids at our election party. The video is dark, but you get the idea! They were precious.

I just wanted to take a moment and say hello to everyone. I am new to this whole blogging thing and of course new to Parking Lot Mamas. Thank you Lori for introducing me to this blog site and sending me an invitation to join. I am excited to be a part of this group. Bear with me while I figure all the ins and outs of blogging. I am sure to get the hang of it eventually.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Why I Wear Grasshoppers

Grasshoppers are those canvas slipper shoes that only old people wear. Chances are you have a grandmother, mother or aunt who wore them.

My grandmother was a very old-fashioned Southern Baptist woman with a pretty strict code of behavior that applied not just to her immediate family, but to anyone who crossed her path. She was a tough old bird, but the first on your doorstep if you needed help. Meals for widowers, children adopted for $1 a day in third world countries, caring for her mother-in-law through Alzheimer's, church work, you get the picture.

Well a big part of her code was how a woman dressed. In church: dresses or skirts were a must. Slacks forbidden. Pantsuits OK for shopping during the week. Pants and a blouse OK for yard work, talking with neighbors or getting her hair done. But inside her own house (no one else's) she would wear shorts and grasshoppers. The only place appearances didn't matter, where she could just be herself was at home. I have fond memories of her sitting at her organ playing "Harbor Lights" and singing along. Or giving me ice cream before dinner. And pushing a $20 bill into my hand for "walking around money." So I wear my grasshoppers (at home only) because they remind me of the grandmother who was just for me. Sentimental yes, but it makes me smile inside.
p.s. if you ever see the kelly green ones in the store, let me know. Those are the very best ones.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What Would Happen if the World Could Vote in the US Presidential Elections?

What would happen if the world could vote in the U.S. Presidential Elections? Cast your vote! So far, 87.2% of the world would vote for Barack Obama.

I'm so excited, and admittedly a little nervous about the outcome, so I got up early and made Obama Muffins. Husband thinks I'm a bit batty. Gobama!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Another Nifty List

Well Ladies, I decided to channel my inner Lori the other day when I was writing my grocery list for the week. I noticed that over half of the items were on each week's list. I thought to myself (here's the Lori part) "maybe there's a better way to do this online!" I did a little research and found an awesome pre-printed grocery list that you can download for free. You can put it on your fridge door and check off an item as needed, I put mine on my bulletin board, you could keep a copy in your purse or car, whatever... It reminds you to bring your reusable bags (I always forget until I get to the store), bring in plastic bags to recycle, prompts for ice, coupons, movie rentals and returns etc. I love it. Here's the link

Also on this site, they encourage you to either leave your list in the cart, or send it in to them. They maintain archives of other people's grocery lists, which are pretty darn funny to a voyeur such as myself. Many years ago I went to the grocery store and bought: cat food, a bottle of wine and a People Magazine. The check out clerk looked at me and then my items and said "Just you and the cat tonight?" All personal humiliation aside, check out this site if you are a list lover.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Apple Pies, Spiced Candles, and Flag Girls

It's the end of flag football season for both of my boys. Flag football is one of the most exciting games to watch for a parent. It's fast-paced and the kids love learning all of the plays. For me, it also brings to mind college football games in the fall. I can still remember the sound of crunching leaves under my feet as I walked to the football stadium, and the yummy smell of brats roasting at the numerous tailgates in the stadium parking lot. It brings to mind apple pies, squash soup, and pumpkin spiced candles.

But then my mind starts to wander and I think of high school football and I remember the fact that I was too lanky and uncoordinated to make the pom pom squad for my high school's football team. The pom pom girls got to wear Las Vegas-esque gold sequin outfits. Out of pity the high school rah-rah committee let me be a flag girl. The flag girl outfit was not made of glamorous gold sequins. No, no, no. It was a horrid white and red polyester getup that went down to the knees, complete with fake white vinyl boots. The yearbook photo says it all. We're the dour ones in the front row on the left. The shiny golden pom pom girls are on the right.

Then there was the time when I didn't make the primary cheerleading squad, so the "alternates" were forced to be cheerleaders for the boys cross country team. Imagine two freakishly tall "alternate cheerleaders" standing in the middle of a golf course in Waterloo, Iowa, in 80 gazillion degree humidity. There is no one around. No birds, no people, no nuthin'. Every twenty minutes or so, one lone boy would come running by and we would yell GREAT JOB! KEEP RUNNING! But we kept showing up, every week, to sweat it out in our alternate cheerleading outfits. No one ever checked up on us. I'm thinking we were victims of a practical joke.

Sorry. My mind took a u-turn there for a minute. Stay put - let me go smell a few pumpkin candles. I'll be right back.

.....aaaaaah. Thanks for waiting. I feel much better now. Actually maybe it was the Frangelico. But I really do love fall. I love all holiday seasons. I go a bit bananas by March, but that's pretty standard practice for most Bendites. But then I dig out my coconut butter lotion and Hawaiian Plumeria candles, and I'm right as rain. Aloha!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bit by the Travel Bug

I've got the travel itch, and I've got it bad. Just when I made peace with the fact that we canceled our Italy trip in favor of a more saner decision to explore US National Parks, I happened upon Rashbre Central's wonderful blog, complete with live video camera shots of London. Once I saw the picture of London's Oxford Circus, it was all over. I got hit with the desire to go back to Europe, this time with our kids, who are certainly old enough to appreciate the wonder of visiting a different country.

The last time I went to Europe, it was 1988 - a whopping 20 years ago! It's time, it's time, it's time. And with the value of the dollar rising these days (how the heck did that happen?), it might even be doable. I'm going to enter every airline and London travel contest on the planet. Wish me luck. Doesn't Christmas in London sound magical? Anyone have any free miles they'd like to donate to the cause? I'll bring back a heaping plate of plum pudding for you!

Friday, October 31, 2008

"Soul, Soul for a Soul Cake"

I've always loved the annual tradition of trick-or-treating. When my boys outgrow this tradition, I may have to borrow some neighborhood kids so I can still go out with the little ghouls and goblins! It turns out that trick-or-treating dates back to the English All Souls' Day parades, where poor people would go door-to-door asking for food. Families would give them "soul cake" pastries in exchange for their promise to pray for the family's dead relatives. Churches encouraged this practice, thinking it was a nifty way to replace the age-old tradition of Samhain, where people would leave out food and red wine for dead spirits. This new tradition was called going "a-souling" and kids eventually took over the task - they would visit homes in their neighborhoods and call out "Soul, Soul, for a Soul Cake: pray you good mistress, a soul cake."

Wearing costumes also has ties to Celtic and European cultures. Winter was really frightening for people hundreds of years ago. There was little food, the days were short, and most people were plain afraid of the dark. Most people thought ghosts came back to earth on Halloween, and they were obviously terrified of leaving their homes. They wore masks if they had to go out in the dark so that the ghosts would think they were fellow ghosts. Big bowls of food were placed in front of their doors to keep the ghosts happy and to prevent them from entering their homes.

In honor of all this craziness, I've decided to make soul cakes for Halloween. I'm hoping they'll make for some interesting breakfast food in the morning! Tomorrow night's recipe? Pumpkin Lasagna!

Soul Cake Recipe

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup caster/superfine sugar
4 cups plain flour, sifted
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon allspice
3 tablespoons currants
a little milk
(see measure conversions for more information)

- Cream the butter and sugar together until pale in colour and fluffy in texture.
- Beat in the egg yolks.
- Fold in the sifted flour and spices.
- Stir in the currants.
- Add enough milk to make a soft dough.
- Form into flat cakes and mark each top with a cross.
- Bake on a well-greased baking tray in a hot oven until golden.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Romance vs. To Do List

This is a true story. I am highly prone to exaggeration, as I am a mostly SAHM with 3 kids. However, this romantic comedy is 100% The Truth.

My husband and I managed to farm out above mentioned children, the dog and cat (the lizard was on his own!) for an entire weekend. We secured a cute little cabin on the Metolius, we made reservations at Jen’s Garden, and we brought along a few things that we both hoped to do over the two nights and three days away. Here’s where the plan starts to go awry. I kid you not, here is what I brought along for the romantic getaway: my computer, 2 DVDs, a journal and pens, a few magazines, a book I’d hoped to read, ipod, needlepoint, candles, red wine, radio, Crest Whitestrips, walking shoes, groceries, a copy of my old resume that needed updating, thank you notes, camera, sketch pad (also charcoal and colored pencils), Christmas list, lingerie, toenail polish, tweezers, and Tylenol pm. I was one piece of luggage away from my husband canceling the trip!

Needless to say, once we got down to the cabin I calmed down a bit about all the gear. I became philosophical instead of frantic. But then I thought how great it would be for the two of us to talk about our 5 Year Plan, school for the kids next year, career goals, a book I’d been thinking about writing, the next summer’s vacation plans… What is wrong with me?

In the end, we had a relaxing time, a great meal, a 3 hour walk along the river, some lovely time alone together, and I read all of the magazines.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More on Friendly Clerks

I wanted to follow up on Miss Julie's [love the name] commentary on her numerous encounters with a chronically friendly clerk at a local grocery store chain here in Bend. I am here to report that sadly, this clerk is living with me now.....

It started out innocently enough, with standard-fare comments such as, "Will you be needing any help out today?", or,"Great weather we're having, isn't it!". Statements that require an effortless nod of the head while swiping my credit card.

But the moment of truth always arrives as over achieving clerks like this are about to hand me the receipt."Go ahead, just hand over the receipt, come on....", I say to myself, and at the same time trying out hypnotic suggestion. As always, I am a nano-second too late.

The 'trained to be friendly' friendly clerk prides herself in JUST That last bit of effort. A pause, then a narrowing of the eyebrows, followed by direct eye contact. "Thank you Mrs.......Stien-hoff?" At this point I am usually experiencing an elevation of anxiety - I know all too well how this is going to play out.

"Yes", I say a bit too confidently, reaching for the receipt . Again, a nano-second too late. She's quick.

She always knows - knows I am pacifying her somehow, and she just won't have it. She tries again, hanging on to the receipt firmly now, with both hands.

"Is it Sern-kop?" she asks as if prize money were at stake. People are starting to form a line behind me, and pretending to be interested in Brittany Spears latest fiasco, but I see the glares - as if it's MY Fault. This clerk will pronounce my name as if her life depended on it!

I try my hardest at politeness after her third or fourth try. "Close enough", I say cheerily, and reach for the receipt. Once again, her reflexes are too fast for me.

Driving home, I listen to her read it again and again from the passenger seat, "Stienup? Sternkope? Sternberg - it's Sternberg right?!"

Flossing my teeth that night, I watch her reflection in the mirror, seated on my bathroom counter reciting, "Sterhuff? Stienhopp?..."

The next morning after our third refill of French Roast, I firmly take her chin in my hand and patiently mouth "S-t-e-r-n-k-o-p-f. It's Sternkopf. And you can drop the Mrs. part"

The friendly clerk repeats my last name in an almost whisper and a nod of satisfaction, then gently hands me the receipt, and with a friendly smile and a gaze over my shoulder says, "I can help the next person."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fighting the Blob: Chubby Mommy Gets Organized

Well, I did it. I called my friend who's an extraordinary organizer and a perpetual neat freak and I asked her to help me deal with my life, which seems to have spread out into every single corner of this 3150 sq. foot house.

My stuff has become like the Blob, I tell you. Remember that movie from the 1950s? The big glob of goo would ooze around town, swallowing everything in it's path.

Of course she said yes. I mean, she drops her kids off for play dates quite often, and she probably wonders if she'll be able to find them three hours later in the jumble of chaos that my house has become in the past few months.

But, she's one of those gracious people who knows that despite my clutter, I'm still a nice person. And she secretly breathes a sigh of relief when I finally call her, once a year or so, crying uncle.

"Help! Help!" I whine "I'm not sure where to start! The baskets of unmatched socks have gone Factorial on me! I think they are replicating! I shove them in a corner and get a new basket, but I'm running out of corners!"

And she shows up with a smile and a plan. A plan that surely she has been crafting every day for the past year. A plan that outlines systems and order for a fresh start. And although she may roll her eyes and sigh quietly when she opens the closet doors, it is not sigh of judgement. Just a sigh of acceptance and knowledge.

Because here's the the thing: my family needs ongoing clutter maintenance. We will not be fixed with bright colored bins and garage sales and carting 7 truckloads of stuff off to Goodwill. Eventually, the clutter Blob comes back again.

And my friend knows that. She's given up on changing us over the years. She's just happy when we let her organize us for a little while. She likes it when we can find a video or a game or a sweatshirt that her child has left behind quickly and easily.

She also likes it when she can find her kids when it's time for them to come home.

These professional organizer types have a genetic difference, I think. I'm sure their blood flows in neat and tidy orderly rows through their veins. Back and forth, in lines, like a marching band, probably.

I think my blood splashes around like water in a toddler's backyard wading pool in the heat of summer. My blood isn't bad or anything, don't get me wrong. It's just always looking for corners.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Top 10.5 Ways to Keep Your Sanity In a Crappy Economy

Financial times are tough for everyone. But don't panic. There are lots of things you can't control, but you can control how you react to it, and how you manage your finances.

1. If you have financial advisors, meet with them and make sure you have the right balance of stock and bond funds. Whatever you do, don't panic and cash out your investments and hide the moolah under your mattress.

2. Put your daily spending on a diet. Most financial advisors can help you set up a budget that will cut your spending and put more money into your emergency savings.

If you don't use Quicken to track your spending, there are some great personal finance web sites such as Wesabe, Mint, and Yodlee that will do it for you for free. Remember when you were dieting and had to write down everything you ate during the day? That approach really works with spending, too. I use a wallet-sized spending tracker sheet from Charles Schwab that I keep in the car. I write down every little purchase. It's quite an eye opener. There are things that I won't give up, like "de-graying" my hair. I also save a lot by drinking fewer lattes (great for the waistline, too), which saves me around $500 annually.

3. I shop at Safeway and save an average of $50 every week by planning my menu based on what's on sale. Go to Safeway's web site and type in your zip code, and click on weekly specials. Browse by category, and select the items you want to buy. It automatically generates a shopping list. You can also directly print manufacturer's coupons from their site - I usually save an extra $5.00 that way. All in all I can save about $2,400 every year in groceries if I plan ahead!

3. Do you really need to buy brand-new Polo and Quicksilver shirts for your kids? Sign up for TJ Maxx's store alert service and you'll get a text message or email when items come in that you're looking for. Our town has a few really nice used clothing stores for kids, such as Stone Soup - you'd be amazed at the quality of their clothes.

4. Leave your credit cards at home! If you have a clothing budget and saw a must-have winter coat on sale, bring cash just for that amount. That way you won't be tempted to buy makeup, jewelry and other crap you don't really need.

5. Look at your credit card bills and get rid of all the monthly or annual charges for stuff you can do without. Monthly movie rentals, online greeting card memberships, credit reports, all add up to a lot of moolah.

6. I'll admit it, I had an Amazon addiction. Turn off Amazon's evil 1-click setting and delete all of your credit cards. That way you have to enter in your credit card number every time you make a purchase. Better yet, buy local! If you're in Bend, check out Pegasus Books, one of my favorite stores on the planet.

7. Whatever you do, don't give up exercise. If anything, you should amp up your exercise activity during stressful financial times. However, if you're paying for a gym membership and you haven't been there in six months, it's time to cancel. Go for a walk/run outside with your friends, work out in your home, or ride a bike.

8. Make your own stuff. I go crazy for anything that has to do with Halloween or fall. Instead of buying that $150 cool autumn wreath from the florist, take a picture of it and go to Michael's. They'll help you make something similar for a fraction of the price. Halloween costumes are another thing - why are we paying $50-$80 for your child's poorly made, plasticy Halloween costume when you can make something cooler for a fraction of the price? Check out Instructables for some amazing ideas. For other home decor ideas, check out Thrifty Decor Chick's amazing blog.

9. Connect with your friends and do dinner and a movie at each other's homes! It's much cheaper than spending over $100 on a night on the town, and it's infinitely more fun.

10. Choose your vacations wisely. Instead of going to Italy this summer, we've decided to visit national parks. That's a huge cost savings, and I'm sure our kids will have a great time on our road trip. (They better, dammit!)

10.5. If you're a stay-at-home mom and are looking for some freelance gigs, check out Guru and elance for some ideas.

Stick to this mantra: spend less, exercise more, eat healthy, listen to music, read more books, and spend more time with friends and family. Blogging helps, too!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cheerful Check-Out Girls

I want to tell you about the OVERLY friendly check-out girl at Safeway who absolutely WEARS ME OUT with her cheer, and of course I feel like a HEEL for it, and every time I leave that store I am exasperated with myself for not being cheerier, even though I try, and maybe she just catches me on a bad day, every time I happen to go through her line.

She never has a bad day. She is like a Stepford check-out girl.

And then as I walk to my car, I think maybe I will just go to Ray’s Foods next time, even though it’s more expensive, since it’s never crowded and the checkers are friendly in a REGULAR way, like NORMAL-people-friendly, who might be having a bad day, but they’re doing their best to cover it up since it’s their JOB to greet people in a pleasant tone with a normal smile, and just a flick of eye contact. Sort of like I might do if I were a check-out girl.

Ray’s always has a bagger available, a bagger who always remembers if you said paper or plastic, and doesn’t just automatically give you plastic which you hate, because the food rolls out of the bags all over your car, unless you tie them, which they never do at Safeway, and you feel so bad about the ENVIRONMENT and you know you should just buy more of those cloth shopping bags, even though you have 4, but they’re never in your CAR when you have to run in and get EMERGENCY WINE before the kids get done with swim team, are they?

But if you get paper bags, it’s somehow better for the oceans, and you can shove all your unread Wall Street Journal newspapers into those paper bags and recycle them eventually, which makes you feel good for so many reasons, on so many levels.

I swear that Safeway Girl is so cheery, she must be a Mormon missionary in disguise, probably sent out to field test the happiness vs. crabbiness of certain target markets, in order to measure the effectiveness of a new brand of essential oil air freshener Safeway plans to release into their stores soon. The kind of custom designed scent that will subtlety cause middle-aged Chubby Mommies to stop being so crabby to the nice check-out girls who are just trying to earn a living, by the way, and would it kill you people to smile and be friendly for 20 seconds in a grocery store for Pete’s sake?

I’ve never met a crabby Mormon, except for ex-Mormons like Dooce, but she does not count because I haven’t met her in person, and I have a feeling if she were working at Safeway, she’d probably try to be nice, since she was raised that way. And she’s not crabby all the time, either. Just sometimes, like when people send her death threats or leave nasty comments, or her dog is throwing up or her kid is having huge tantrums in furniture stores, and of course that would make a person crabby, no questions asked.

Dooce is probably much nicer than me, since I was always more of a Lutheran, and even though I’m not an ex-Lutheran, I’m not sure I’m really a regular Lutheran any more because I stopped going to church when my 3 year old screamed “STOP SINGING” over and over in the aisle on Christmas Eve, and the whole charade was just too much for me, because deep down maybe I’m more Jewish or Buddhist or something, but when I took a religion test online, it said I was actually a Secular Humanist, which seems about right, but don’t tell my mom, it might hurt her feelings, since I’m the one that sort of got her going to the Lutheran Church back when I was in 7th grade and it seemed like a great idea.

Seems I was only there on that one Christmas Eve for the singing anyway, and the screaming sort of ruined that. And my kid is 14 now, for the record, and I'm not blaming her for my non-church going ways, not in the least. For the record.

So maybe some of you Parking Lot Mama’s readers will have clever ideas to help me be a better person to the Safeway check-out girl, so I’ll feel better about myself. I want to learn to fake CHEER at the grocery store and I need helpful hints. I’m obviously not doing it very well on my own. My mom says I should pray about it.
Hey ladies,
Super enthused to be a part of this group...more later!Susanne

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thank God for Girlfriends!

Have you ever had one of those days where you desperately needed girlfriend time....and I mean desperately? That was my day yesterday. I didn't care where it was, what we did or even if we talked to each other at all. At about 4:00 in the afternoon, it hit! If I didn't do something other than my normal routine, I was going to burst. It wasn't even about the kids. I get plenty of time during the day without them, but I am still at home working in my home office by myself. Me, Myself and I have had many wonderful conversations, have enjoyed LOTS of quiet time, and more often than not have quite productive days. Probably sounds great to some, but trust me, it does get monotonous after a while.

So, yesterday I went to my girlfriend Jen's house and knocked on her door..then I pounded on the door, then I yelled up to her window, then I knocked again....NO RESPONSE. At that point my 2 year old side kick said "why don't you just call her mommy?". Brilliant! I proceeded to call her, text her and email her.....still NO RESPONSE. I started to feel panicked and now was officially becoming a stalker! But she was the only girlfriend I could think of who didn't have other obligations and as I said before, I was desperate. I finally calmed myself down, went back home and decided I just needed to make the best of my afternoon with my kids and husband....and dinner and dishes and laundry....AAAHHHHH! Just then, a knock on my door. It was Jen and an ice cold bottle of white wine. At that point I felt a huge sense of relief. I proceeded to apologize for stalking her. "What do you mean?" she asked. She hadn't read her email or text message and hadn't heard the pounding on the door. She just needed some girlfriend time. Needless to say, some adult conversation and half a bottle of wine later, I felt revived!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Are Birthday Parties Getting Out Of Hand?

I've thrown some pretty awesome birthday parties in my day. The most over-the-top one was for my oldest son when he was six. The theme was "Spy Academy." I spent two months, yes, TWO months working on it. The kids came in and were promptly photographed and fingerprinted. Spy Academy ID cards were quickly printed out and laminated.

The first course in the academy was disguises. They were led to four huge trunks packed with costumes and accessories. After they were properly disguised, they separated into two teams and went through the woods using GPS handhelds (with the help of two spy instructors), looking for way points where they were given scrambled "clues" to find the location of the stolen birthday cake. After the completion of that "course" they came in and created a custom spy gadget. Each spy kid got a small cereal box covered in foil and got to choose from a slew of craft supplies to "decorate" their gadget. Then there was a showing of the spy kids movie followed by a huge sleepover. The party favors? Each kid went home with a plastic spy briefcase with their spy academy certificate, spy i.d., handcuffs, spy sunglasses, and a bunch of other spy-related stuff. The invitation? A cassette tape with the party info on it that would "self destruct" in ten seconds, delivered in a confidential envelope.

It was creative and fun, yet very exhausting. I started to think, "Do my kids even enjoy these crazy themed parties"? Can we tone the parties down a bit and still make it a fun experience for everyone? And who invented the idea of these outlandish party favor bags, anyway? I certainly don't remember getting them as a kid.

Luckily, as my kids have gotten older, we've gotten away from the uber-theme parties and have had good old-fashioned soccer games in the park or sleepovers with just a few friends in the back yard.

At least I thought that was the trend.

Until my seven-year-old wanted to have a "Indiana Jones party with an obstacle course in the back yard where we could launch a giant ball at the guests as they leap off the hay bales....and can we do a treasure hunt in the woods with GPS devices like Tommy did when he was seven? Oh, and Mom, let's put fake snakes in the party favor bags, with gold coins, an Indy hat, a whip.....OOOOOH! Let's put the Indiana Jones DVD set in each party bag! And we can dig holes in the back yard and bury crystal skulls! And we can fill the front yard with sand with a sign that says "Dig Site" and hide skeleton bones in it! And we can decorate the inside of the house with spider webs and snakes to make it look like a cave and hide the holy grail in it! And so on.

Calgon, take me away........
Note to husband: for my 50th birthday, I want Cirque du Soleil to come to our house and put on a custom "clown school" for all 500 party guests. Or we could just make a batch of chili and watch "E.T." with the boys. I think I'll go with the latter.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Wild and Creative Gals Do Lunch

What happens when four smart, energetic women meet for lunch and wine at Merenda's? You end up with a list of some incredible new product ideas, along with a few ideas for solving the financial (and political) crisis. While we didn't revive the stock markets or get you know who elected yet, we were rather amazed at the amount of good ideas we could generate just over lunch. We're all committed to figuring out how to use our passions and talents to come up with a brilliant business idea! Stay tuned. The journey's just beginning.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Funny, Intelligent, Hyper Moms Looking For.....A Project

We're looking for something to do besides the 89 school volunteer projects we're working on. Our parking lot discussions have led to lots of, ahem, ideas. Such as: Stand up comedy! Blogging! Starting a company that only requires 20 hours of work every week! Something that pays the bills! Suggestions?