Monday, August 25, 2014

How (NOT) to Save on School Supplies

So Margaret needs a fancy-pants calculator for math this year.

This weekend we headed off to Target to do our school supply shopping and found the one we needed for $129.99.  Holy moly.

She chose the pink one, which I was happy about, because I remember from my teaching days that calculators like this tend to get stolen. I figured a bright pink one might be easier to keep track of than a black one.  We got out of Target for $199 plus change. Yes, we purchased most of her school supplies, but we also found some comfy sweats, blank t-shirts for tie-dying, an 18 pack of colorful pens that I just had to have, and a couple boxes of Special K. Target is a dangerous place.

Later that day, we learned that Staples had the same calculator on sale for $89.99! Except it wasn't really on sale; it just qualified for $5 off with a coupon plus a $35 rebate. Still, $40 bucks is $40 bucks, right? So Margaret and I planned another outing to go get a second calculator and return the first one to Target another day. Tim did a little online research and determined the same calculator, only in black, was $99 at Amazon, with free shipping. He posited: "Would it be worth the extra $10 and the color change to just stay home?"

Nah, Silly Man! We've got this shopping thing covered.

So we headed out to Staples. We took the toll road, which cost $2.00, but we were saving $40, so who really cared? Once we got to Staples, we easily found what we needed...and then some.

Yep, the pink calculator was there, but so was a wall calendar for me, and the binders Margaret still needed at $11 a pop. Eleven Dollars. Eleven. Oh for the days when I got the kids their binders at the thrift store for .69 each. I considered trying to slip some "vintage" binders by her later in the week, but these ELEVEN DOLLAR binders were in our hand, not in the bush, so we bought them.

We also loaded up on some spiral notebooks for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. At the register, several other items mysteriously materialized in our cart: Burt's Bees lip balm, a bag of sour candy because our blood sugar was plummeting, and another jumbo pack of pens for me.

Staples Haul: $200 before $35 rebate. Oh, and what happened to the $5 off coupon? It was on Tim's desk at home, left there during his stint as an internet researcher.

Anyhooo, I am none too impressed with Margaret's and my shopping skills right now, and will tremble with fear until I unload the first calculator at Target AND get my rebate from Staples. Then there's the problem that I'll probably be tempted by other shiny objects at Target when I go. Or what if they have a sale on Boyfriend T's, cardigans, or miscellaneous plastic items?  How much is this calculator going to cost us????

So I guess what I'm saying is, I think Tim was right.

But you don't need to say anything to him. And certainly DO NOT tell him we ended up at TJ Maxx after Staples. It was right next door, and we really needed that pina colada scented candle and those mugs.

Update: Just dug through my purse for the Target receipt and it turns out the calculator was on sale for $90.00. Yep, all of this to save .01 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Help Launch Rare Bird!

NOTE FROM ANNA: Even though we are now over 100 people on the sign up, PLEASE take part anyway! More people=more people hearing about Rare Bird!

Hey amazing people! We're gearing up behind the scenes getting everything ready for the launch of Rare Bird on September 9th! There are several ways you can help get the word out about the book. I'm putting those together in a list for you that I'll share in a few days, but the first way to help is ready right here, right now.

Sign up for Thunderclap!

For those of you not familiar with how a Thunderclap works, here are the details:
1. If we get 100 people to sign up, a one-time, pre-written tweet or Facebook status will go out at a scheduled time on the day the book releases, September 9th. It's basically a social media blitz, and it's super easy to join.
2. All you have to do is click on the link below and choose to tweet and/or FB the pre-written promotion. Feel free to add your own comment describing the book for Facebook updates. Also, don't forget to use the share option after you sign up, where you can notify your followers you joined and that they can too! The beauty is that once you sign up, it's a done deal. Nothing to remember on Sept 9!
Questions? Ask away in the comments below! And as always, THANK YOU for your love and support!!!
Oh, and as an extra THANK YOU for signing up, please enjoy this picture of my dear husband nerding out in a brown jumpsuit. I have no words:


Friday, August 22, 2014

Sept 11, 2011

Here's one from a few years ago, about how my ex-boyfriend taught me about just showing up. Well, Chris and his rock-star wife, Cheryl, could use some "showing up" right now. This summer they've moved across the country with their 3 kids, started new jobs, are building a new house, and in the midst of it all Cheryl was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has had surgery and is now undergoing treatment. Will you join me in praying for them? Thank you!

Sunday morning I sit at my desk trying to put into words what kind of kid Jack was. I am hoping to write something worthy enough to be read at his memorial service tomorrow. This desk is where I write my blog, recording the funny things the kids say and detailing my latest thrifty home projects, most of which involve spray paint. It’s been two and a half days since our lives were turned upside down, and I try to be inspiring, honest and positive when all I really want is to turn back the clock.
Beside me is Chris, my high school friend and college boyfriend. He has dropped everything, and with the blessing of his wife and three kids, has flown in from Wisconsin to be by our sides. “I’ll do anything,” he says. “Clean the gutters, take care of Shadow. Read at the funeral. Anything.” He has learned a lot about grief since his best friend dropped dead at 40. He has learned about showing up. So this is what he does, shows up and sits next to me as I try to describe my boy.

Chris and I were dating when my mom died. I had flown back to Virginia from attending a dance with him in Colorado, and the next day my mother died while I held her hand. I had to call Chris and tell him. When he said he’d fly home to be with me, I told him to stay to take part in a wedding where he was a groomsman. I said it, and I meant it, sort of. This was long before I had heard the term “passive-aggressive,” but on the day of the funeral, I really wish I’d asked him to be there. I didn’t know I’d need him, but I did. So now, even though we’ve seen each other only a handful of times in the past 20 years, he sits next to me, and I run different phrases by him.

After a while he says, “Um, Anna, I feel like you are glaring at me like I did something wrong and you want to murder me.” He’s treading lightly, but he’s brave and says it anyway. And he’s right. “I’m glaring because I’m so damn mad that Jack is dead! But I’m not mad at you.” And he’s cool with that, and calmly suggests that maybe I glare at a point on the wall slightly above his head from here on out, and we both know he’s the perfect person to be with me right now.

I get something down that captures a little slice of Jack’s home life, and hopefully gives comfort to those who will be at the service. I describe Jack’s interests, his homebody personality, his humor.  I don’t know how to capture his humble nature, his generosity of spirit, his laughter, or the way his world became our world. Chris says, “I know you aren’t sure you can read this. And people will say you don’t have to, because they want to protect you. But I know you can do it and I think you should.” He’s right. I mean what the hell do I need protecting from at this point? I want to be the one speaking for Jack. I am his mother. So I will.

I look at Chris and think of the sacrifice he made just to show up for us. I don't know if I'd have the guts to do that for a friend separated by such time and distance. I think of his wife and kids who are juggling so many things at home so he can be here. I realize I have something to learn from Chris today.
And I inwardly make a note to myself to share with Margaret that it’s certainly a lot easier for exes to show up for each other in times of crisis if they’ve never slept together.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The 6 Stages of Food Storage Container Ownership:


1)      Confidence and Grandiosity: My containers match! They are new!  I have a container zone and a lid zone. Any items that do not speak to me with their usefulness and beauty will land on the donation pile. The streamlined organization I now see reflects the order and contentment of my life. There is nothing I can’t do! I will savor my time with them, and keep them in their unsullied state. Jaunty shelf liner adds to my general awesomeness!

2)  Enjoyment: As I drift to sleep this first night, I know I have a kick-ass cabinet full of containers to meet all of my food storage needs. Bonus points: Pretty Colors! Extra Extra Credit: Labels!

3) Reality, Confusion, and Bargaining: So maybe I don’t have time to stack the bottoms in concentric circles every time. Sure, I throw them in, slam the door, and hope for the best, but every container has a mate. Of this I am sure. Gah! Lids have started rolling to the black hole in the back. Perhaps I must adjust my plan. I PROMISE to store each container with its lid on. Sure it takes up more space, but never again shall they part.

4) Denial: I do not recognize anything in this cabinet! Are kids stealing my stuff? Who has replaced my beautiful containers with one corn nib, a kit for making homemade popsicles, a sesame noodles container from Whole Foods, and a black Lean Cuisine tray? This is NOT MY CABINET. THIS IS NOT A THING OF BEAUTY! All I want to do is put my crappy food away, so it can be rejected again tomorrow.

5) Despair:   If one more plastic thing falls on me when I open this door, I will torch this crap. You say the fumes are bad for me? Whatevs.

6) Acceptance: Today the dishwasher melted my last perfectly sized container. The only ones left will hold either a full-sized lasagna or a grape. All matchmaking attempts have failed and my unpartnered pile has grown in size but shrunk in usefulness. I will breathe through my frustration. I will acknowledge that organized storage containers are not part of my life. That Nothing Gold can Stay. I will use tin foil as a cover. And perhaps someday soon, I will dream of the future and Google plastic-ware with attached lids.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Heart Issues

Four year old Margaret started to cry in her booster seat. I looked in the rear view mirror. “What’s the matter?” I figured a tag was poking her, her socks weren't "just right," or she was hungry. With a defeated, gaspy cry, she answered, “Sometimes…sometimes I just have a hard time loving Jesus.” Woah. This was not even close to anything I expected to hear.

I had no immediate answer for her, so I turned it over to Jack, in the “way back” of the minivan. I didn’t know if he’d been listening, but I said, “Jack, is there anything you could say to Margaret?” I was used to his surprising us with wisdom and a near-adult understanding of issues. Maybe he had learned something in school that would give her comfort. I don’t know, but I knew I had nothing.

He responded quickly, “Well, I always knew that about you, Margaret…” Uh oh. Not what I’d been hoping for. Little boy Jack doled out judgment, not comfort, giving his sister the absolute last thing she needed. Maybe Margaret didn’t seem as devout as he did at all of six years old. Maybe he’d seen her do one too many shimmy dances  and donkey kicks during nightly prayers. Who knows? But in that instant, I saw in Jack’s response the response of so many people, the assumption that he could see into someone else’s heart.

I redirected the conversation, but not before saying, “You know what, Margaret?  Sometimes I have a hard time loving Jesus, too. I can’t see Him. It’s hard to love someone I can’t touch and feel.” I was 31 years older than Margaret, but in that moment, in her vulnerability, I knew she spoke a truth shared by me and by many.

And Jack’s reaction, although shocking at the time, reminds me of how often we judge, thinking we have a window into each other’s hearts. Thinking it’s our place to determine how devoted someone else is, rather than focusing on our own heart condition.  It's uncharitable, and unbiblical, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s (4 year old sister's) eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
I suppose, perhaps, that people think I have a strong faith. But just last week I had a really hard time loving Jesus. I begged Him to help make an impossible situation better, but it felt like I was speaking into the darkness. I told Him I trusted Him, but it was just so hard and scary. Much of what was going on felt far too close to almost 3 years ago when our world came crashing down, when our prayers weren't answered in the way we wanted.
And yet He came through. Man, did He come through, in powerful and miraculous ways! But what I've learned, and am still learning, is that He somehow comes through even when things don't turn out the way we want. Even when we are neglecting to address the planks in our eyes. And even when we have a hard time loving Him.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Lowering the Bar (Cart) One Day at a Time

A couple months a go I found the skeeviest, stickiest, ricketiest cart imaginable at the thrift store for $5. Still haunted by a beautiful brass and glass cart that got away during my early days of thrifting, I snatched it up before any other lunatic could get her hands on its faux-everything awesomeness.

I quickly went to work scrubbing it down. Before long, I'd spray painted the wheel covers, the trim, and the cool woven sides a subtle gold. Gorgeous!

Next, I applied two coats of chalk paint in a creamy white to the shelves and the sides. All was right in the world until I woke up the next morning to this on both sides:

Ugh. Yes, I knew there was sticky residue there. Yes, I know I should have cleaned it off with something stronger than Dawn, but hello, if that stuff gets grunge off of a duck's feathers in an oil slick, I thought it was adequate for this situation.

It seems like a previous owner must have applied contact paper to the particle board sides at some point. After pulling it off and finding the sticky sides were collecting all manner of dust, debris, flora and fauna, the owner likely pitched it on the donation pile.

The paint was so peel-y I'm sure it would come off easily. A little sanding? No big deal. I probably could have done it with my fingernails. Except I was SO OVER IT by this point. Every time I sat down to watch HGTV and its numerous home makeovers involving glass tile, "open concept living spaces" and "man caves," the bar cart taunted me, nearly blocking the path of my remote.

Contact paper? I mean, who does that?

Oh yeah. My mom.

I know I've told you the story of how no sooner had our brand new white fridge been delivered in the mid-80's, than my mother covered it with a faux bamboo contact paper. A year or two later she "updated" it with a wooden plank contact paper design. VERY realistic.

Mom knew that she just couldn't look at that bright white fridge surrounded by our lovely dark brown (!) appliances ONE. MORE. MINUTE. She was a take-charge kind of person who didn't over think things. Case in point, which you may recall: When she wanted to paint the wainscoting in our dining room late one night, and she had no one to help her move the china cabinet, she just painted around it. It stayed that way for 10 years, and no one suspected a thing.

She wanted it done.
She got it done.
And it was good enough.

A sweet teen aged girl came to stay with us for the month of June. Every few days she'd ask me about the cart as it sat in peeling glory on a piece of cardboard in the family room. When was I going to finish it? What were my plans for it? I had no real plans unless it involved the woodpile.

Finally, I rolled its chipping butt into the laundry room and tried to forget about it.

I mean, what did I need with a "bar cart" anyway? Unless you were in Key West with me for spring break 1991, you've mostly likely never seen me consume a mixed drink. So if drinking is not really a big part of my life, why was I so eager to have a little drinks station set up in my living room?

Was it  my obsession with Mad Men? But by last (ugh) season, Don Draper/Dick Whitman's drinking has surely not been something to be celebrated or emulated.

Was it my dear departed mother's Waterford decanters, packed away for decades in basement after basement as we've moved houses? It's not as if they ever had liquor in them anyway. I grew up in a dry household, so my mom (yes, she of contact paper fame) filled the decanters with food coloring to make them look extra k-lassy.

I was close to throwing the cart back in my car and re-donating it (no shame in that, right?) when I got together with our teenage friend this past week. I hadn't seen her since the end of June. "So, how's the bar cart coming along?"

Oh geez. I'm in a funk. I don't feel like sanding or painting. It's already so shoddy that I'd never be able to sell it. It reeks of my failure and shame.

I wanted to have a better answer the next time she inquired about the cart, so I asked myself, "What Would Margaret Whiston do?" Then I drove to Home Depot and inquired as to where they kept the contact paper. I had three choices: Faux Granite in light peach, floral with grapes (!!!), or textured black "leather." I went with the black.

Last night I slapped that stuff up right on top of the peeling paint, bumps and all. I kind of like it, and I kind of hate it.

Tonight, my empty decanters have a place to sit. I also put my mom's brass turtle ash tray there, as a nod to the woman who taught me that sometimes good enough is good enough. At least for a while.

I think that's a mighty good life lesson.

Get 'er done.