Sticker Chart

You would think that we are too old for a sticker chart, rewarding us for desired behaviors with a shiny, colorful star. You would be wrong. I started with the red/orange stars to keep track of middle schooler’s instrument practice time. Then I added the yellow stars to keep track of my workout days.

Sticker Chart

At first, I was discouraged that there were so few yellow stars, but I began to see a pattern to when I don’t make it (I need to drive the kids to school-too much snow to ride bikes, or I’ve been on-call the night before) and that actually encouraged me. I’m not just lazy….I’m busy and responsible. My goal for the month of February is to have a yellow sticker three times per week.

The green and blue stickers represent daughter and middle son’s music practice. They scoff at my chart, but I have noticed a friendly competition between them, so I think it encourages them too.

Cooking at home

As part of my budgeting our food costs within the food stamp allotment, we cook and eat most meals at home. It doesn’t take a lot of fancy kitchen equipment to get basic meals on the table. Here is a photo of all of my food preparation equipment. And the blender really only gets used 1-2 times per year.

Cooking equipment

With just a little creativity, I could get rid of one of the 13″x9″ pans, consolidate the cookie trays and pizza pan, get rid of a couple of the mixing bowls….

My point being that you don’t have to have the dream kitchen to create tasty and healthy meals.

Being Present

Last night I was at a Middle School music concert with choir and jazz and concert bands. I loved it. There were a couple of painful moments…like when the 7th grade soloist’s voice broke, when the 8th grade back up singers started in on the wrong part…but this is the whole point… learning performance. It’s not perfect the first time. My heart soared when they got it right and sunk when they did not do as well as they expected…and you could read it on their inexperienced faces.

What surprised me (though it probably should not have) was how many of the audience were not really present. There was the dad to my front and left who worked a crossword puzzle the entire time we were there. There was the teenage brother, so cool, with his ear buds, enjoying a different music. There were several parents/grandparents so busy with the video/photo shoot that they could not possible have noticed the actual performance. But maybe they will enjoy the recording of it just as much as the real thing.

I have stopped carrying a book to read “in line” or at the auto dealership. I have stopped trying to mentally transport myself to another place when I find myself in unpleasant circumstances (some would count a beginning band concert here.) I am beginning to learn to just be in the place and time that I find myself. It is not always “fun,” but it is always interesting, and I learn so much it is worth the inconvenience.

How about you? What is a hard circumstance for you to just be present? I confess, social chit-chat with the kid’s dad after the performance was hard. Darn it. Still.


I was talking today with a male acquaintance who told me that he had just completed the laundry for his family of five, including arranging the closet of his seventeen year old daughter by putting like with like: short-sleeved shirts arranged by color, long-sleeved shirts arranged by color, pants arranged by color, etc. I am in awe and wish he would come over here to arrange things. I mentioned this at dinner and my sixteen year old daughter said, “Why? I do that with my clothes.” I had no idea…. you see at my house, when you turn twelve, you get a lesson in how the washer and dryer work and then you are responsible for your own clothes. I didn’t know how my daughter arranges her clothes, because frankly, other than buying some new ones from time to time, I haven’t had anything to do with them.

It’s  not always easy to do this. My twelve-year-old moves his dirty clothes from the laundry basket into the washing machine to the laundry basket to the dryer to the laundry basket where they remain until he plucks them out to wear them to school. He is a wrinkled mess, but at least he smells clean. 🙂 I’m hoping that when he discovers girls that the wrinkled mess will finally get folded and put in the dresser….but until then, I am willing to cringe and look the other way.

I think that the kids learn valuable lessons in this: how to do the laundry, how much time this essential task takes, with no planning you find yourself wearing the same smelly gym shorts to school for the third day….that kind of thing.

And there are important lessons for the recovering perfectionist mom (me) too. For example: being a good mom includes letting your kids fail in small ways (wrinkled clothes) so they can succeed in big ways (responsibility for one’s self) and people who judge you because you don’t meet THEIR standards are soooo not worth your time.

And, BONUS, when you let the kids wash their own clothes, you free up time for helping them with their homework and driving them to the next athletic event or a home cooked dinner.

Your call.

Potter vs. Gardener

I believe there are two main types of parents in the world: the potters and the gardeners.

Potter parents envision their child as a piece of clay that needs skillful handling to make it become a beautiful pot. This involves the shaping of the clay, wedging (the process of slamming the newly mixed clay against a hard surface to knock the air bubbles out. Air bubbles will cause a clay object to explode in the kiln) firing and sometimes glazing. For the potter parent, there are a lot of things that can go wrong in the process, and most of them reflect his/her skill.

Then there are gardener parents. A gardener parent believes each child to be a seed. Could be an oak seed, a daisy seed, or a grass seed. Each beautiful in its own way, each requiring different conditions for optimal growth. The trick is, you don’t know what kind of seed you have when you start. The gardener parent puts his seed in the ground and waits to see what sprouts and how it responds to the current conditions. Then she adjusts the conditions and waits to see how the sprout responds.

Both kinds of parenting are hard work, the main difference, I suppose is trust. The potter parent believes it is only the environment of the clay that molds it, while the gardener parent believes that the seed knows what it is meant to be, and there is a dialog between the gardener and the fledgling plant that create optimal conditions for growth.

In case you can’t tell, I’m a gardener.

Food for the Rest of the Month

I went grocer shopping today, and except for a couple of things I forgot, bought food for the rest of the month. Today I spent $66.76, which brings the grocery totals for the month so far to $278.81 and after a couple sodas and a latte out this past week, the eat out total is $53.64. That is $332.45 so far, well below my $420/month goal. Also, I did not pull out of the grocery totals the cost of paper napkins and dish scrubbers, which food stamps would not pay for. For the visually inclined, here is what the refrigerator looked like before the shopping trip:

A mostly empty refrigerator

 And here is the “pantry.” Remember, during the kitchen remodel all this stuff is on a folding table in the dining room.

The pantry


Inside the pantry box:

Oil, spaghetti, tomato sauce


And here is the food bought today:

Food for the week

The menus:

Monday: Chicken and rice, cranberry orange relish and cherry pie

Tuesday: Pork loin, mushroom risotto and steamed broccoli

Wednesday: kids w/ their dad. I will eat leftovers.

Thursday: Tacos, store-bought cookies

Friday: leftovers

Saturday: lunch-grilled cheese and fruit, dinner-Egg Drop Soup version 2.0

Sunday: lunch-leftovers or sandwiches, dinner-home made pizza

Monday: spaghetti and meatballs, steamed green beans

Free Time

Here is the post in which I give you an extra 2 hours/day.

TVs have been getting cooler and more sophisticated each year: flat screen, high-definition. Unfortunately the programing isn’t any cooler or more sophisticated than it was ten years ago.

 But, still, it draws you in, sits you down, puts a remote in your hand and next thing you know, you are waking up on the couch with a crick in your back to drag yourself upstairs to bed, where you can’t fall asleep. 

We’ve all heard the statistics that the average American watches 4-5 hours of TV per day. And, yeah, we all know you are watching the History channel and Discovery and PBS not Mad Men and Lost.

Yet according to Michael Medved,  “Americans spend an average of 29 hours a week watching television-which means in a typical life span we devote 13 uninterrupted years to our TV set! The biggest problem with mass media isn’t low  quality, it’s high quantity. Cutting down just an hour a day would provide extra years of life-for music and family, exercise and reading, conversation and coffee.”

I have to agree. So here are a few strategies to decrease your TV viewing time and take back your life:

Level I:

1) remove all TVs from the house but one

2) put the remaining TV in a least accessable room of your home (attic, basement, servant’s quarters….)

3) cover it with a towel or blanket, put it in one of those fancy armoires

4) put the remote at the opposite end of the house

5) do NOT put comfortable chairs/couches in front of the TV. Make TV watchers sit on the floor or some hard metal folding chairs borrowed from the church, or the broken office chair that tips over if you don’t balance perfectly.

6) cancel your cable or if you just can’t go that far, reduce it to the most basic package.

7) if there was a way to set the thing up like the airport TVs or a laundromat dryer, where you have to put in a quarter for the next 10 minutes, I would wholeheartedly recommend that.

8) make ’em (yourself) work pretty darn hard to watch and you won’t watch as much.

Level II: put the TV in a closet and agree with family/roommates that it will only come out for March Madness/Election Night/News events of the level of 911

Level III: No TV in the home. You will not have to go without. I swear. I have not had a TV in my home for the past 10 years, and I see a little bit EVERY SINGLE DAY–at work, at the dentist’s office, at restaurants. It is ubiquitous. And if there is some really cool show that you can’t live without, you can watch a lot of TV online (though this totally defeats the purpose of giving you time back) or rent the whole season from Netflix.

WHAT!!! You say… my spouse/children/sports journalist roommate would NEVER agree. OK. Maybe. But my kids have lived this way for 10+ years (I also did not have a TV when I was in nursing school, so son #1 did not watch at home until he was about 7 years old….he got addicted to Nickelodeon, I cancelled cable, then moved to a place with neither cable or old-fashioned reception and the poor dear couldn’t watch the World Series at home until he went to college.) And they don’t complain about it. They did the first month. I didn’t cave, they got busy with other things, and now will brag to their friends that “We don’t have a TV.”

Bonus: when I had to write a note to the teacher, excusing them from the assigned homework, which involved watching something on TV, ’cause we didn’t have one. They were positively gleeful, I tell you.

I’m not saying that you have to give it up forever….but try it for a month or 90 days, and see if you don’t like the flow of your life a little better.

Finding the Fun

It is there, I swear it is… just haven’t been looking. You’ve been told (along with the rest of us) that single parenting is hard. So you gird up your loins, and prepare for battle with your kid’s teacher, with your ex, with your mother, with whoever is not supporting your choices. Well…..Blllllpppp to that!

Every stage of parenting has its joys and drawbacks. Focus on what is fun NOW. Did you hear me? Focus on what is fun NOW!

When my kids were toddlers, I loved to walk them down (youngest in a stroller, ’cause it was too long a walk for him) to the local candy store and let everyone buy one or two pieces of candy. It might take 15 minutes to find just-the-right candy if you could only have one piece, but it was delicious to think about each and every flavor and then finally settle on THE ONE. (What I disliked at that age–all the cleaning–the floor and booster chair after dinner, the baths, picking up Legos and Barbie shoes…)

When they were all in elementary school, my favorite thing was on Saturday mornings, when I would lounge in bed till they would all pile in with me and cuddle. All four of us in a double bed until somebody’s elbow ended up in somebody’s stomach and a squabble would break out. (What I hated–beginning band concerts—OUCH!)

And now I have teenagers…..and what I love best is dinner. Darn, we have fun. A few months back, darling daughter was going through a silent stage. She just didn’t speak with anyone in the family, except for one word responses to questions. She was delightful with friends and their parents, I am told. But with us–silence. And then one day, inexplicably, she reverted to her previous chatty, delightful self. She talked with me in the car on the way to the store and during dinner….well part way through dinner. And then almost mid sentence, she stopped talking. Her brother noticed right away. He said, “There is something wrong with her. She can’t talk.” I told him my theory of her predicament: She only has so many words per day, after she has used them up, she has to stop talking.” Deadpan, he replied, “She needs to get a better plan.”

Dinner is still fun. Tonight the high schoolers were conjugating Latin verbs that sound like English swear words. (OK, we are geeks.)  Example: facio, facere, feci, factus (do or make) : facamus, facar, facere… you get the idea.

Next year, who knows.

Your turn. What is fun with your kids now? Post in comments.

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Skirt Fun

As most of you know, I have the goal of owning only 100 things, but for now must be content with 100 personal things, and count the things I share with the kids separate. It’s not really fair to make them live in a house without furniture, just because I’m quirky…..

Last count was 92 personal items, and when you get to this few objects, it takes a fair amount of creativity to reduce it further. Of course, that’s half the fun. I am intending to find a way to live without purse and wallet and the biggest obstacle to this goal is there is so much women’s clothing without pockets. Since I own so few clothes, it shouldn’t be that hard to make sure that I only purchase clothing with pockets, right? Well, sorta. I like skirts and dresses and most of them come without pockets. SIGH. Here is my new work around: Goodwill has lovely mid-calf skirts with a nice drape and feel to the fabric. Many of them are labeled “Dry Clean Only,” but for $3.00 a skirt, I can experiment. I select a skirt for the fabric, if it’s in my size that’s bonus. If it is bigger, I can cut it down. Then I wash it to see if the fabric will tolerate it. If it does, I shorten the hem to mid-knee, a more flattering length for me anyway. I save the fabric that has been trimmed off and use it to make pockets. So far, I have made two kind of pockets: side seam pockets and cargo pockets with a top flap. I think the cargo pockets are more secure, and if I am going to put my debit card and cell phone in there, I don’t want them to fall out while I’m driving.

Here’s a black skirt that I am currently using

My first skirt experiment


Here’s one that I just finished, that I can wear this summer.

Summer skirt


Here’s a close up of the pocket

Pocket detail


Now if I can just figure out how to get that blasted date/time stamp off the camera.

Food Totals So Far

We are 1/2 way through the month and I went shopping today for the next week. Grocery total so far: $211.34.  Eating out total for the month so far: $40.43 which includes my half of the brushetta that I consumed last Sunday, plus tip; a soda mid-week, when I thought I could not go one step further without caffeine; my daughter’s lunch out today while at a Scholastic Bowl tournament and a latte this morning while I was doing errands, just because. So….$251.77 with enough food in the house to take us through the 25th. $420 is doable if I stay away from Starbucks.

Menu for the week:

Breakfast and lunches as before. Dinners:

Sunday–Beef Stroganoff and steamed green beans

Monday–Quiche and watermelon slices. Snickerdoodles for dessert.

Tuesday–Chili and oranges

Wednesday–kids at dad’s house. I will eat leftovers.

Thursday–Pan-seared salmon, rice pilaf, tossed salad

Friday and Saturday, kids at their dad’s. I will eat leftovers. 

Beef Stroganoff made with egg noodles, ground beef I had browned and frozen earlier in the month, beef stock and plain yogurt. Quiche makes use of a pre-made crust, organic eggs and pre-shredded cheese. Chili is made from scratch, incorporating more of the browned hamburger, lentils and canned black beans. The salmon fillets are purchased frozen. The rice pilaf will be made with plain white rice, more of the beef stock and some frozen peas I have on hand. I may put in some carrots too, if I get ambitious. As before, I will make some of the time-consuming dishes this weekend: Stroganoff, pilaf and chili, so at the dinner crunch hour I can whip things onto the table in 20 minutes or less.

Hmmm. I’m getting hungry.