To blog or not to blog....

A compilation of the thoughts in my brain, the questions I have and the journey of life. Not meant to educate, but merely to entertain and (hopefully) initiate some good discussion. Comments are welcome...come join the conversation.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Contest

J and I have started a contest with each other.  The person who spends the least in the next month gets a one hour massage from the other person.  Not bad.  But, the ultimate prize that we decided on was a family vacation on the Disney Cruise if we can eliminate some debt, save enough money and get back to great financial health.   I long for a vacation, love the Disney Cruise line and am totally on board with the big prize (I'd love the massage too, but my eye is on the bigger prize).

So, we're going frugal (or at least talking a lot about it) and it's becoming kind of a game.  How can we save, make do, not spend to pay down that debt and get on that boat?   This is what I've come up with so far:

-I'm very fortunate that my in laws have a HUGE garden at their house not far away.  For a little bit of time spent weeding and visiting, we often leave there with beans, squash, potatoes, lettuce and coming soon...200 pounds of tomatoes, broccoli, pumpkins, melons and more squash.  Using this "free" resource can save us money if I act quickly and preserve the bounty in our deep freeze.

-Get back to coupons.  I used be really into coupons until we moved here and Wegmans store brand entered our lives (they really do have low prices on everyday things).  But, there are things that we use that are national brand and spending some time online netted me $30 worth of coupons last night.  Sites such as,,, and my favorite.... which was a little bit of work, but gave the best reward. 

-Be more conscious of grocery shopping. This is where I spend the most money and in addition to coupons, I need to start thinking more frugally about what I can make myself instead of buying pre-made.  I'm pretty good about going in with a list, but need to stop the impulse purchases (darn that Wegmans, they make everything so appealing). This week, I needed a graham cracker crust for a pie and instead of buying a premade one, it dawned on me that I could just make my own AND my kids eat graham crackers for snacks.  Seasoned bread crumbs...I have all of the stuff to do it.  Pizza dough..same.  This particular new habit serves two saves money and it allows me to know exactly what is in my food (which is a topic for a later post).  

-Reviewing our inventory of stuff.  We have a lot of stuff hidden away in the basement.  Stuff that I can use for theme weeks instead of buying something new.

-Stop having late fees at the library.  Such an amazing resource that I squander because I don't always keep track of due dates. 

-Check the site for free ideas.  There are so many free things to do here, it's ridiculous.

I find summer is sort of the ultimate time to be cheap.  With the produce and the "just go outside and be entertained" thing going on, whole days can go by before I have to spend any money.  It's easy to walk or bike more often than take the car.

The goal (for me) is Disney Cruise in December 2011.  Fingers crossed that it happens......

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Commercialism, then and now

When I was in high school, I was obsessed with infomercials.  My friend Jen and I would have sleepovers and stay up until 2am watching Ron Popeil hawk his latest invention (Flowbee, anyone?), Jack Lalane wax philosophic about the power of juicing and countless other "scientists", "doctors" and gurus tell us how, for the low, low price of $something.95, all of our problems would be solved.  But, only if we called in the next 30 minutes.  I was personally obsessed with a hand blender and a nifty contraption that made stuffed triangle shaped sandwiches.  Got that last one from the aforementioned Jen and proceeded to use it 4 times.  :-)  It was slick marketing and we LOVED it.   Even earlier than the glorious high school years was my desire to have a Cabbage Patch Kid.  Back then, there was no Internet (which, yes, makes me feel about 100 years old when S asks me how we DID anything without computers) so the only way to get said Kid was for my parents to stand in line at a brick and mortar store for hours and buy one.  They refused, I whined and Cabbage Patch Kid for little me. 

Fast forward 20 years and now I'm the parent.  A conscious consumer with a healthy dose of skepticism about claims made on informercials and ads in general.  I find myself in a unique position of having to explain to my girls what exactly corporations are doing when they use "likable characters" on packages, how it the pursuit of making a profit, they will blur the truth and use practices that cross the line of ethically responsible (okay, I don't use those words exactly with a 5 and 3 year old).   My first foray into the land of deceptive marketing (especially that geared towards girls) came when we found out that M was going to be a girl and I found this book at the library: Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes and read it in one sitting (with only one kid that napped every day, this was possible).  I was HORRIFIED and it definitely opened my eyes to the ways that companies and advertisers are doing everything possible to get kids (YOUNG kids at that) hooked on their brands at an early age.  I was horrified at the attempts to make little girls divas at the tender age of 4.  Horrified that clothing companies made the same style clothes for little girls as they do for women and teenagers (ex: low rise jeans and midriff baring tops).  Definitely started giving a second thought to those Disney movies I grew up with and the way that they portray women (stepmothers, always needing a man to rescue them to have a complete life etc).  It was an eye opener and it terrified me that I now had two young girls looking to me to teach them the ways of the world.

After I finished freaking out,  I tried over the next few years to make some sense of it all.  I bought the Disney Princess stuff because they liked it, but we also tried to expose them to so many other things that were not princessy, pink or girly.  Over the past year or so, I've come to realize that I can be a much bigger influence by my actions than any piece of plastic (granted, sometimes that plastic wins, but I keep trying).  I take the time to explain to them what is going on in the world around them, have started "lessons" to get S to understand the concept of money and how to choose carefully what you want.  I show them that women can do tough work like fixing thing in addition to the cooking, cleaning etc that they see me do.  I work to make my body healthy so that I can enjoy life.  It's a tough battle and I feel like there is so much working against me, but I press on because to not be upset about what is going on is unthinkable.

And now for some why's....

Why must everything be merchandised within an inch of it's life?  You can find DP's on almost anything one might desire and it's everywhere.   A simple movie is made into a sham by plastering a character's face on everything not nailed down (and some things that are).  Take Shrek...a cute movie, yes.  But, Shrek, after being made into a third movie (or is it 4th) can now be found on everything from contaminated cups from McDonald's to my daughter's pull-ups (store brand).  I get it..Shrek exists.   Why must little girls be force fed stereotypes of what they should like?  Why is a store like "Sweet and Sassy" so popular?  I get the whole dress up thing, but what parent just sits back and says to themselves "I think today I want my 5 year old to look like a streetwalker"?  Why can't kids just be kids?   Toys R'Us touts itself as a place** "where a kid can be a kid", but I disagree.  I now think that TRU is a place where a kid can be a consumer.  A place where finding a "simple" toy in the sea of Barbie, Disney Princess, Transformers and a slew of "battery operated, push a button and be entertained" pieces of junk from overseas is increasingly like finding a needle in a haystack.   Doesn't anyone play with blocks anymore?  Is there really a whole generation that only knows how to push a button and have their fun created for them? 
Oh, and that Cabbage Patch Kid....S got one for her 1st birthday from my aunt.  Jokingly complained to my dad that my kid got something I longed for as a child and know what he did??  Went out and bought me one...which is sitting in a box.  Somewhere.  :-)

** In retrospect, that particular catch phrase is from Chuck E. Cheese and not Toys R'Us.  Toys R'Us has a tag line of "I wanna be a Toys R'Us kid".   Come to think of it, they started earlier than I thought because they set up the standard of being a kid that IS a toy store. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

About epiphany

The "About Me" section of the blog.  For days now, I've been "racking" my brain trying to come up with interesting things about me for you, the reader that doesn't exist yet.  But, I had an epiphany this compiling a list of things about me for you, I'm really helping myself define who I am and what I find interesting about myself.  At almost 35, this seems more logical than trying to sell myself to other people with fun and interesting tidbits about myself.   Approaching this section (and really, the whole blog) as a self-discovery project speaks to me in a way that I didn't realize that I needed until now.  Facebook is great, but this is really a place for me to speak my mind in more than a 50 character status update. 

The minister at my church (and mind you, it's a UU church, so pretty darn liberal) challenged us to write our own obituary a few months ago.  I didn't do it, but maybe defining who I am now and maybe even how I'd like an obit to be written in 50 years versus the way it would be written now (worrier, yeller, overplanner) is another way to go about it.

The 30's are an interesting time in life.  The stupidity of the 20's is behind me, but yet I still am not 100% sure who I am like I envision people in their 40's are. 

Theme weeks..who are they really for?

So, this summer, when S is 5.5 and M is 3.5, I decided to try "theme weeks" to give us something to do and hopefully avoid an all out war between the three of us. Based on a simple premise of discovering/exploring a particular topic each week, I set out to drain the library of all of it's resources on various countries of the world, water, medieval times and the pioneer way of living. Thus's been a resounding success...the likes of which even surprise me.

Week one was "Countries of the World" where we watched some videos (LOVED the "Families of insert country here) series, read books, ate specific foods and generally had a good time learning about new places. As an added bonus, S learned how to say "Hello Dad" in each of the languages and greeted J as he walked in the door each night. Pretty cool.

Week two was supposed to be USA (coinciding with July 4th), NY and Rochester, but kind of didn't happen because J was home for two days and the girls had summer camp.

Swimways Power Swimr System - MediumWeek three was water week. I think this was everyone's favorite so far. We went swimming in a pool (with my newest addition to the "best things I've ever purchased" list: floatation devices that let the girls have some independence in the water and let me avoid the grip of death that often accompanies water excursions), went to Cobbs Hill and walked around, went to the RMSC where we did an "underwater adventure" via motion simulator and went under Lake Ontario, learned about the lock system on the canal and generally had a good time. We hit Kershaw Beach, saw Bill Nye the Science Guy videos about water and went to Roseland Water Park.

Week four (where we find ourselves now) is medieval/Renaissance week. This is especially interesting to me because I really knew very little about this time period. We've read a bunch of books, made crowns (because in our house, there must be some sort of royalty thing going on), did "stained glass" and today we're making shields and cardboard swords. We'll watch the Sword and the Stone, various "historically accurate, yet child friendly" videos found at the Downtown Branch of the library and hopefully not run out of steam by Friday. This week will be topped off with a trip to the Sterling Renaissance Festival, complete with wenches, a visit to the queen and (hopefully) a stop in the "stocks" as my girls are fascinated with what I'm calling "the ultimate time out".

Up week, nature week, art week, animal week, playground week...the possibilities are endless.

The reaction I get from friends when they find out I'm doing this is varied. Some say that I'm "super mom", some look at me longingly and then wonder why I'm bothering, some have joined me and adopted some of the themes for their own kids. I'm neither super mom or some expert on kids...I just needed something to keep me focused this summer or else we'd all go nuts from monotony and boredom. Even if we don't do the activity of the day/week, just knowing I have plan keeps me sane and happy. If they learn something along the way, so be it. If we just have fun and they look back on this time with fond memories, even better.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Where is the land of why and how did I get here?

The Land of Why...yup, that's where I live.

With two kids under 6, "why" is a fairly common word in our house (after "no"). We get the standard "Why is the sky blue", "Why can't I drive the car", "Why is that lady so fat" (although fortunately not within said lady's earshot) etc. But while I am thrilled that my girls are inquisitive and want to know about the world, I'd be remiss if I didn't explain that "why" doesn't always mean "why" with kids (at least mine). Why can come at the end of a conversation like this:

S-Can I have some milk?
Me-Sure, in a minute.
S-I really, really want milk now. Strawberry milk.
Me-I said in a minute...I'm stirring something that I don't want to burn.

a minute goes by....I pour the milk (strawberry) and hand it to her

S-WHY did you give me milk!!! I HATE MILK!!! You're the worst mother ever.

Granted, this conversation happened when she was three, but it's stuck in my head as the best example of the misuse of the word "why" as it pertains to my kids.

But, the land of why isn't just about my girls. It's where I find myself when I start thinking about my life, the world we live in and what I can do about all of the issues that are starting to become important to me. For example:

-Why is our food system so messed up? HFCS in everything, too few companies controlling too many products, too few regulations that make sense. Why is the USDA entrusted with telling America what they should eat?

-Why is the media (advertising in particular) "allowed" to exploit people to sell something? How did the sexualization of girls/young women become so commonplace that so many people don't even notice it? Why is there such a product called "Booty Pop" being sold at BBB ("borrowed that one from another blogger)? Why have my children's attentions been captured so completely by Disney Princesses? It's like crack to them and I hate it.

-Why is marriage so hard sometimes? Why doesn't anyone tell you that it's real work?

-Why is it so freaking hard to lose weight? Seriously?

-Why did I just start running? Why didn't I discover this years ago?

-Why don't insecurities just melt away? Why do I sometimes feel the same way in certain situations as I did 20 years ago? Why do I care?

Hmm, feeling more optimistic about my blogging ability this time. Let's see if any of these topics can inspire me. Let's see if I ever confess I have this blog.