Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Circus

I bought tickets today to go to the circus in June. Mitch and I both agreed that even though the tickets are a tad pricey, it is worth it! We will gladly admit that we had just as much as fun as the girls did last year. The venue here in town is beautiful and the circus is quite the show. Ella sat through the entire show last year at 11 months -- we'll see how she does at 23 months! We will also make sure to hit the pre-show this year. The animals are out for an hour and the performers take turns coming out on to the floor as well -- and you are free to roam around and check it all out.

If the circus is heading your way -- I would highly recommend it!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Because Toys Need Fresh Air, Too

Ella has this thing lately of taking toys outside to play. She has little stool that goes with a Crayola desk and she routinely takes it out for a walk (she pushes it around). The stool has even gone on errands with us. Thankfully, she does not insist on sleeping with the stool, but tonight she did put it in her room at bedtime!

Here she is the other day with a teddy bear of mine. She must have carried him around for a good 30 minutes while she played outside. I just love how cute kids are hauling around stuffed animals and such!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

To Our Friends

Our church is finishing up a four part church wide series called RE:New (you can click on the link to get podcasts, audio, and video for the series. Scroll down a little and on your right you can check out the "Lazy Sunday" video -- it's hilarious!). This weekend's message was about renewing our future and doing life together with other people. We moved to Las Vegas in July 2005 after nine months in Flagstaff, Arizona. The plan has never been to stay here long term -- we needed employment ASAP and Las Vegas offered that opportunity. Despite every effort on our part, God has yet to open a door for us to move back east to be nearer to Sarah and our families. While we wait for a door to open, we are blessed with many friends. They have truly become our "Las Vegas" family.

The McLemores -- so young but so wise! We look forward to watching as God stretches you and leads down the road of life.

The Keysers -- your journey to parenthood and long-lasting marriage is a testimony to God's love. We love having neighbors within walking distance (even if you do root for that team)!

The Carvalhos -- you guys routinely crack us up! Your dedication to and pursuit of God is inspiring.

The Hammonds -- fellow Michiganders and U of M fans -- GO BLUE! It has been a rough road at times, but we always see God in the details of your life.

The Pooles -- it has been a while, but we're always here and we know that you are always there. Your generosity with time and resources is a blessing to many! (Sorry, Jen apparently I don't have any pics with you!)

The Hatfields -- Your life experiences and sense of humor add such depth not only to our group, but also to our lives! (I only have a pic of your daughter!)

The Garcias -- You all have a quiet strength and deep trust in God. Your family is so beautiful and we praise God for answering your years of waiting for the newest addition!

The Van Vliets -- I have no pictures (we have to get some on Mother's Day!)! You both have such a love of life and a deep caring for others that overflows in your warm hospitality. Be anxious for nothing -- God will provide!

Our beloved Linda and David: Again, I need pictures! Our mentors, our friends, our inspiration when we think we can't make it as young parents -- we are so thankful for the life you model for us and the years of experience from which you share with us.

Just a fun note: This Mother's Day four of the above families are dedicating a baby at church and one a grand-baby (all born since July 2007).

It is such a joy to do life with all of you. Thank you for doing life with us. We are truly blessed!

Potty Training, Take 2

For the past few months Ella has sporadically used her potty. I haven't pushed the potty training because our schedule changes weekly and monthly. Some months we're home everyday of the week and other months we're only home three days a week. It is tough to be consistent when the schedule is always changing. Plus the "readiness" signs were a little weak. Ella was interested in the potty, but I was still fighting diaper changing.

Over the past few weeks, however, Ella has started to show strong indications of being ready for the potty. She has consistently told me when her diaper is dirty (not wet, just dirty). And then she spreads her legs out as far apart as she can and waddles to her diaper changing area and lays down to wait for me. Last week I put her down for a nap in just a shirt and a diaper. When I went in to get her up, she was diaper-less (apparently she got bored trying to fall asleep), but there wasn't any mess to clean up. She (and everything in her bad) was completely dry!

Once Daddy is done with school in June, we begin potty training in earnest over the summer. I am hoping we are all done by the time he goes back in August. I would really like to only buy/wash diapers for one kid, not two! I am also hoping that a little peer pressure from Sarah will help the process. Ella will pretty much do anything "Ware-wah" wants her to -- let's hope that works to our advantage in potty training!

We don't have any books/CDs/DVDs for the Big Event because I am not sure if they really help. Do you have any that worked well for your child?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

On Being Pregnant....Again

I was pretty excited to sit down and right this great post about how every pregnancy is different and that this time around, I was not feeling sick. At all. With Ella, I had morning sickness all day long for the entire pregnancy. It was awful. Then early this morning, around 3:00 AM, I awoke with extreme nausea and got "morning sick". It still is not as bad as with Ella, but I have time. And this time I am prepared. This time I know about Zofran and I intend to use it!

I also switched OBs this time around for a multitude of reasons. One reason is that with Ella the docs did not even tell me about the nausea medication even though I lost 15 pounds between 6 and 10 weeks along. Now, I realize I am not wasting away here, but nausea and the results of such for months on end is not fun. So far so good with the new OB.

Because I had a C-Section with Ella, I have to have one with this baby. There too many medical/legal issues with VBACs and most docs in Las Vegas will not do them. But that's OK with me. The baby is due in early December and we can schedule a C-Section up to 10 days prior to the due date. But if my blood pressure sky rockets like it did with Ella, we are probably looking at a late November birth.

It took us almost a year of "not trying but not preventing" with Ella. I expected it to take as long this time. Yeah, it didn't! While this was a bit earlier than we expected, we are looking forward to another Christmastime baby. It is very possible this baby could be born on Sarah's birthday of December 4th, but we are hoping to avoid that! Unless, of course, she wants to share her birthday, but who does that voluntarily?!?!

Thirty-four weeks, probably less, to go. I am hoping to enjoy the ride more this time!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ella's New Shirt

I know she's cute, but really, take a second to check out HER SHIRT!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Little Color Guard

Ella attended her first (and last as it was the championships) Winterguard competition of the season. She had a fantastic time! Aside from all her baby-sitters being in weird costumes and make up, that is. She loved the music and flags and oh the drums (in the drum lines) were the bomb! I should have taken her to another one earlier in the season.

While we were outside running around, Ron from American Band Accessories gave Ella her very first flag (a swing flag). She loves it! Now she will have something to play with at football games and Winterguard comps next year. We love ABA and highly recommend them for all your marching band/guard/drum line needs!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mushroom Medley Recipe

I thought I'd share this yummy and easy recipe! This is from the cookbook of Linda Wehrmeyer, Beth's mom. I was so lucky to have copies of her recipe box passed on to me! She was a wonderful southern cook! The original recipe called for frying the meat in butter and using all fresh ingredients. Linda was a busy single mom to 2 kids so she adjusted to make it quicker and easier! You can sub in fresh ingredients if you'd like.

Mushroom Medley
1 lb ground meat
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheese
2 med onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 small cans sliced mushrooms, drained
1/2 lb uncooked noodles (like macaroni)
2 16 oz cans of tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

Brown meat. Add onions and peppers and cook briefly. Add rest of ingredients and mix well. Pour into covered casserole and bake covered for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

I actually put it all together the night before and then bake it the next afternoon/evening. I serve with Linda's biscuits and a salad. Yum! I'll post the biscuit recipe sometime this week.

Friday, April 18, 2008

How Much TV is Too Much?

We do not watch much TV. I would be stretching it to say we watch an hour a week. We literally go for days without turning the TV on. We just got cable a few months ago for the first time in four years; I guess we just got out of the habit of watching. Ella is not a TV watcher at all. She loves to watch "Baby Signing Time" DVDs, but that is about it (I highly recommend it for learning baby signing skills).

This morning Ella asked for "Bob" (Veggie Tales). I thought she wanted to listen to a CD (our normal "Bob" routine), but she wanted to watch a DVD. Weird! We rarely watch VT DVDs with her -- I think maybe once we watched one. She lasted about 10 minutes and now she is outside with her sidewalk chalk. I will take 10 minutes a day!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cookin' and Plannin'

I mentioned on my menu plan this week that there are a few recipes I have recently found that I am dying to try out. One is a recipe for lasagna. I love lasagna, but I really do not have any recipes I like for it. When I saw this new recipe, I knew I had to give it a try. I have ground meat and sauce in the house and lasagna noodles are inexpensive. But there are two ingredients that piqued my curiosity: breakfast sausage (cooked with the ground meat) and sliced cheese (rather than shredded). I do not have either ingredient in the house so I (grudgingly)decided to wait and watch for sales. For three weeks now I have been waiting... and waiting... and waiting.

While grocery shopping on Saturday I noticed that Wal-Mart was carrying a brand of sausage for which I had a coupon. I got the package for $.23. Check that ingredient off the list.

Yesterday, the sale ads came for our grocery store sales this week and sliced mozzarella is on sale for $1.50 per package. Bingo! I had a serious dance party in the living room.

Rather than paying around $8 total for the cheese and sausage, I will spend less than $2.00. I saved $6.00 with just a little bit of patience.

Look for the recipe link on next week's menu!

Sparkling Clean Glass -- A Natural Cleaner

We have a sliding glass door leading out on to our patio. Ever since Ella started crawling, I gave up on keeping it clean. I would clean it with Windex and ten seconds later it would be covered with hand prints again. On Monday I decided to put a natural cleaner to the test. I had read that if you mix corn starch with warm water and use it on glass, not only does it clean, but the glass becomes smudge proof.

I mixed up the solution of 1 quart water to 1 tablespoon cornstarch, sprayed it on a cloth and wiped off the dirt, smudges, and dust. Then I took a clean dry cloth and wiped off the solution. Sparkling clean. Then the real test -- my "helper" wiped her nose and then put her hand on the glass... nothing. No smudge, no mark, no dirt. Genius!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Goodies in the Mail!

While Karin is in Indy while her hubby, Matt, is having surgery, I received TWO packages in the mail today from her. Matt works at a recycling plant and I really hope he NEVER leaves! Today (and at least twice a month) I was blessed by "garbage" that Matt brought home for me.

First: Coupons... Lots and lots and lots of coupons from recycled newspapers.
I get crap coupons out here so I LOVE it when Matt picks up the circulars for me!

Second: An iHome iPod docking station/alarm clock!!
Matt and Karin collect all the Coke Rewards Points people recycle and I have received tons of cool stuff (like a $100 SpaFinder Gift Certificate!) from them. Today I got the docking station I requested. Now I want one for the bedroom and one for the kitchen! I initiated it with two of my faves: Shania Twain and Lincoln Brewster!

And because you asked and sent me so many presents....

Thanks, guys! Get better soon, Matt!

Tax Day

Accountants everywhere are sleeping in tomorrow and are taking their first two day weekend since January. I was reading a blog today and the author wrote that she was in mourning because her family was hit with a huge tax bill. I have to wonder how that happened as this is a blog about living simply, frugally, with very little money. That kind of lifestyle takes planning and organization. With a little of both, tax day should not bring any surprises.

(Granted, she did not say the bill was a surprise, just that it was huge, and it may have been unavoidable. Simply handing a chunk of money over to Uncle Sam can in itself be pretty depressing even if it was planned ahead.)

You can, of course, head to a tax professional to do your tax planning for next year. I, however, am a huge proponent of doing your taxes yourself. Even if you go to a tax professional for a few years first to learn the ropes, sit down afterwards and go over your forms with the corresponding IRS publication. Read. Learn. Decipher. Ask questions if you do not understand. You understand your situation better than anyone. Most taxes are not complicated -- self-employment would be one situation where I would seek professional advice for the first year. After that, I would do it myself.

I have no clue what accountants charge, but I am sure they are not cheap. Yes, it make take some time to sift through the IRS info, but think of all the years of tax prep fees you are saving yourself. And if you get frustrated with all the loops and tables and figures of our tax code -- vote for a politician proposing a simpler system. Seriously, again, ask for help. I have yet to find anything that has been answered on the IRS website or publications.

I am also leary of tax prep software. I did ours on some free software after we had Ella -- and the software told me we could not claim her as a dependent. Uh, OK? I shut it down and did it by hand. Software makes recommendations based on the information you input. If you put in incorrect information, the software provides incorrect information. I re-did Ella's birth information about 5 times before I gave up and moved on.

If you pull out the last few years of tax returns you should be able to figure out how much tax you will owe next year. Look at how much you have paid in the last 3 years or so. You can take in to account major life changes that affect taxes (marriage, babies, buying/selling a home, moving, a pay raise, etc) and adjust from there. I am embarrassed that we received a significant tax return this year (I forgot a major deduction when I did the tax planning last year). I adjusted our withholding and we now have $100 MORE A MONTH in our paycheck. The government does not pay interest on any extra money it takes out of your paycheck. If you are worried that you might underestimate your tax liability for next year, take the money and put it in a money market account. At the end of the year if you owe, you have the cash to pay. If not, you just made interest on money that otherwise would have been sitting in the U.S. Treasury doing absolutely nothing for you.

The IRS has a withholding calculator on its website that I find useful. Just be careful -- the number it pumps out is dependent on the information you provide.
I also check our withholding once a quarter to make sure we are on track and will not end up with a huge bill next April.

And if you have the maximum amount withheld and still owe money, I would suggest you vote for a Republican in November! (tee hee)

No Knead Bread

I decided to give the No Knead Bread a shot. The recipe appeared super easy and it was. If you want to start bread making -- this is the recipe to start.

Yesterday afternoon I combined all the ingredients, mixed with a wooden spoon and let it sit. (uuh.. pic not showing up. Don't know why....)

This morning, around 7 AM, it looked like this

I tucked in the edges and put it on a floured towel to nap for 2 hours.

I dumped it in the warmed up pot and threw it in the oven. About an hour later this is what came out:

And if my computer would work I'd show you the loaf out of the pot.

I have not tasted it yet because it is for dinner and I have a problem just taking 1 slice. But it reminds of the bread I made from this book (which I love and want desperately), but without so much fuss (water pans, taking up space in the fridge, etc). Plus the No Knead loaf is about twice the size as the artisan loaf. I will let you know how it compares taste wise after dinner tonight.

Given that I live in a desert and it will soon top 100 degrees daily (it was 92 yesterday), I am not keen on adding to the heat with a 450 degree oven on for an hour. But I may bake a few loaves and freeze them for use throughout the summer or relegate homemade bread to the cooler months.

Good-bye Northwest!

Did you hear the news that Northwest and Delta airlines are merging? I have about a gazillion Northwest Frequent Flyer miles (from days gone by of a job in the travel biz)that I have not been able to use from the west coast (schedules are terrible). Northwest is/was hands-down the worst airline I ever flew.

Tangent: One of my favorite flying experiences was with Air France. They liked to board all 500 passengers on to a 747 by announcing "we are now boarding" (you can imagine the chaos that ensues). I am not kidding. Every time I flew them that was how they boarded the plane (in Paris -- in NY we boarded by rows)! Someday I will tell you about flying from Cairo to Tel Aviv on EgyptAir....

Anyway, according to the information in my in-box this morning: "By combining Northwest and Delta, we are building a stronger, more resilient airline that will be a leader in providing customer service and value."

I got the same email three times. I feel more confident already.

Enough, Already!

My brother-in-law, Matt, is having surgery today to remove a lymph node in his back. This is the final step, after a previous surgery and chemo, in his fight against cancer. Matt had been married to my sister for just over a year when he was diagnosed -- I can not imagine the strain on a new marriage. This surgery is similar to a c-section and will take a month or two for recovery. Matt will be in the hospital in Indy for 4 days and then he heads to my parents house for some R&R while he recovers.

Matt and Karin were hoping to get through 2008 without any major medical issues, but alas that did not come to pass. But they are really excited that this is the FINAL step in making sure Matt is cancer-free. As usual, they handled their frustration with grace and wit and are making the best of the situation.

I also wanted to give a shout out to Beth, who lives close to the hospital in Indiana and is opening her home so my sister does not have to stay alone in a hotel. Beth has also arranged with work to be there for my sister at a moment's notice. Thanks for taking care of her for us while we are so far away!

Beth's mother, Linda, lost her battle with breast cancer 7 years ago -- I was very close to Linda and I miss her often. Every year Beth raises money for breast cancer research through the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. The race is next weekend and Beth is just over half-way to her goal. If you would like to donate, you can click here to get to Beth's fund raising page.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Yet Another Ear Infection

Ella has another ear infection. That makes 4 or 5 since December. Our pediatrician wants us to go to an ENT. I'd rather wait for a myriad of reasons, but I hate to see her so miserable every month. She always gets a super high fever for days and has a hard time sleeping (we've been up for the past two nights between 3 and 4 AM waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in).

I have read articles about not treating ear infections and just letting them heal themselves (similar to a cold). But Ella's fevers get very high and the ibuprofen eventually stops bringing them down. Plus, the first time she had one (at 5 months old) we had no idea what it was and her ear drums burst! We are thinking of at least waiting through the summer -- I stop baby-sitting when school is out and we are hoping that less contact with a certain kid who ALWAYS has a cold will help (Ella's ear infections always develop from a simple stuffy nose). We read Dr. Sears' website and she does not appear to have any hearing or language issues so I think we would rather be cautious than aggressive in treatment.

Does anyone have any experience/resources/advice on this?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Blended Cooking

My post from a few days ago reminded me of a little thought about area in blending a family: cooking. We had sandwiches one day for lunch when Sarah was here for Spring Break. I told her before I made the sandwiches that we only had homemade bread and offered to make her something else for lunch (very unusual for me -- I have a strict "this is what's for breakfast/lunch/dinner -- you can eat or go hungry" policy). I was surprised that she ate the homemade bread! And she liked it!

Kids being raised between two families have to deal with so much adjustment and change, often on a daily or weekly schedule. It can be tough for a kid to go between two kitchens and two different cooks -- not something contemplated in custody decisions, I assure you. There are a lot of times when I will make one of our favorite dishes for dinner and Sarah will refuse to eat it. We always make her try it, but most of the time if it is not familiar, she will not go for it. Even simple dishes, like mac and cheese can cause a problem. I make mac and cheese either from scratch or when in a pinch, I buy Annie's brand. Sarah was used to "the blue box" (as she put it). I have even gotten "I don't like that kind of ketchup" before. It can frustrating as the cook to have food refused and not to take it personally!

I have learned, though, to take mental note of the things I make that Sarah does like and to keep those on our menu when she is here. I stick with more generic items like steak and potatoes. I also make sure to have bread or rice (Sarah is a rice-a-holic) at every meal and we eat a lot of broccoli because Sarah likes it. We always have her favorite salad dressing in the fridge for salads.

In addition to trying to be conscious of Sarah's likes and dislikes, she has timidly tried food I have made and found she liked it. There are a couple of menu items that I have introduced to Sarah. For instance, she claims to not have ever had tacos before I made them. I am not sure of the validity of that statement, but hey, she loves my tacos! Sarah always wanted just peanut butter whenever I offered her a PB&J sandwich because she did not like jelly. So I made my favorite as a kid, my mom's homemade strawberry jelly. She loved it! She reminded me that it was the only kind she liked and asked for it over Spring Break. I did not have any, but I will be sure to have it this summer. At the age of 4, Sarah was sure I had invented the best dessert in the world: root beer floats! I certainly have a lot of fun introducing Sarah to different foods.

Do not get me wrong, I do not cater to Sarah's every culinary whim, but I think being exposed to different foods can be a perk in a blended family situation if the adults involved do their best to make it a pleasant experience. Setting a harsh rule of "eat or starve" can make for a very unpleasant home atmosphere. But allowing for individual tastes while still firmly but gently insisting that all new foods are given a chance before being rejected has worked well for us.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


B.J. is finally home! He ended up having a tooth surgically removed(a $200 procedure they did for free!) after being neutered. The vet at the shelter did not want me to bring him home because he was so lethargic and would not eat or drink even a bite. I insisted, though. Sure enough, once he realized where he was, I could not keep him still. I am actually worried all the jumping will tear his sutures. And he ate an entire can of soft food last night and used the litter box. I think he is happy to be home!

We named him B.J., short for "Bailey Jr.". Bailey is our friend Jen's cat and B.J. is the spitting image of Bailey (Brutus is the black and white cat -- she's a girl Brutus, though!).

Now I am going to get check on pet insurance for this cat. Never had it before, but every time I turn around, he seems to need another procedure!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

In The Kitchen

I tried out the silicone baking cups I purchased on Easter clearance a few weeks ago. I love them! No more muffin pans for me! And I washed them in the dishwasher afterwards. No muss, no fuss.

I decided last month to start baking my own bread. We just finished the first loaf bread last week and are on to the second. We go through phases where we will eat a lot of bread, and then not so much. Everyone seems to like and enjoy the bread, but I still think it needs a little something to make it more palatable. The recipe I used (from The Urban Homemaker)had a few optional ingredients, including vital wheat gluten and dough enhancer. She also recommended SAF yeast. I decided to give them a whirl as they were relatively inexpensive (shipping doubled my cost, though).

I am going to give them a whirl today or tomorrow.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Why I Do What I Do

Ella sits between Mitch and I at the dinner table. We always pray before we eat and we hold hands. A few weeks ago, we sat down to eat and Ella grabbed our hands and said, "pway". She has done it for every single meal since.

Thank goodness for affirmation that we are doing at least one thing "right"!

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