When I first started this blog my family and I were drowning in our finances. I routinely had to choose which bills to pay and which bills to default on. If I managed to pay all the bills due that month, then I would often have to purchase food for my son, while my husband and I would sustain ourselves on ham and cheese sandwiches, or dollar store groceries. I chose to embrace minimalism in an effort to simplify our lives and, hopefully, to save money.
As our lives improved, and we started to be able to support ourselves better, (and some much needed and welcome help from my family) our outlook and habits changed as well. I started making new priorities. I was able to put my family’s health above our financial situation. I watched a documentary called GMO OMG on Netflix that really changed the way that I think about the food that my family and I eat. I would look at the difference in price between organic and non-organic groceries, and started asking myself, “Is my family’s health worth and extra $.75, and extra $1.00, and extra $2.50?” Once I started asking that question, then the answer was always “yes”. Adding more organic foods to our diets is one of the changes that we’ve made that has reaped the most reward. My son and I have stopped getting sick (my husband has an iron immune system and never gets sick anyway). Hopefully I won’t jinx myself by saying this, but while my coworkers get knocked off their feet each year by a winter cold, my son and I have stayed healthy. Last year I did get a taste of the gunk that was going around, but I was sick for about two days, unlike many of my coworkers who were fighting it for weeks. We haven’t gone totally organic, but I try to make sure that at least some of our diet is. For example, I try to buy organic fruits and vegetables, organic dairy, Annie’s Organic Mac and Cheese, and organic snacks such as Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies. If I don’t buy organic I do try to look for non-gmo food. I’ve stared buying Zulka sugar, which is part of the non-gmo movement, and I was pleased to discover that my husband’s favorite orange juice, Florida’s Natural Orange Juice, is also part of the non-gmo movement. I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding the use of non-gmo seeds in agriculture and whether they actually pose any health concerns, but the lack of transparency from companies, like Monsanto, have convinced me that my family and I are healthier without them. And the fact that it took me three days to get over the last cold that tried to take hold of my system goes a long way toward supporting that theory.
I’ve also been able to support another cause that is close to my heart, cruelty to animals. Even when we could barely afford it, I was always sure to buy free range eggs, or at least cage free if free range weren’t available. The first time my husband saw me purchase $4.00 eggs over $1.80 eggs he had a few words for me, but my response has been my mantra ever since. “We don’t have the space to rescue, and we don’t have the money to donate. All I can do is buy food that wasn’t tortured when it was alive, so that is what I’m going to do.” Since then, I have also started buying grass fed beef and free range chicken. It’s more expensive, but the only way I know to fight for fare treatment of farm animals is with my decisions as a consumer. I know that PETA believes that we should all be vegetarians, but that is not a choice that my family and I are going to make. Besides, I believe that buying humanely raised meat says just as much as not buying meat at all. I also shop at greatergood.com. Greatergood.com has “sub-sites” that are geared toward supporting specific causes, like the animal rescue site, the breast cancer site, or the veterans site. When you purchase from these sites they donate to that cause. For example, I bought gloves and a scarf from the autism site for a friend of mine that has an autistic son, and a portion of the money was donated to autism awareness and research. They also have “gifts that give more” which allows you to donate to a specific cause. If I have a friend or family member that is particularly difficult to buy for, or is passionate about a cause, then I will often make a donation in their name rather than buying a gift. For example, I have another friend whose husband is retired special forces. They are active in a local canine rescue group and have fostered dogs, so for Christmas I made a donation to military dogs in her name. I have also started shopping for cruelty free cosmetics, such as ELF for my makeup and Giovanni for hair care. I found this blog post that helps you decode the symbols on your cosmetics. The one I look for, though, is the leaping bunny, which essentially means that the company doesn’t test on animals, does not use third party ingredients that were tested on animals, and is not distributed by companies that test on animals.
Recently I made the mistake of stumbling onto this website, www.ewg.org (Environmental Working Group), that rates the products that we use. I was devastated to learn that Mrs. Meyers, my favorite cruelty free cleanser got an F, as did Borax because it has a high concern of developmental and reproductive toxicity. This turned me back onto making my own cleaning products. My first order of business was to find a Borax free laundry detergent. I found a recipe through Pinterest that is seriously easy. All you need is water, washing powder, castile soap, and your favorite essential oils, all of which get an A on ewg.org. Here’s the link to the original post if you want to try your hand at your own homemade Borax free laundry detergent. I’ve been using it for about 3 weeks, and it works really well. I did have to wash one of my son’s shirts three times, but I don’t blame the detergent, I blame the chocolate milk. The milk was finally defeated and the shirt looks good as new. The next time I make it I think I will use more citrus essential oil. I like a little stronger scent than I got with the lavender. Each load of laundry uses 1/3 cup, which is the same as the cap from my last store bought laundry detergent, so I just kept the cap. Easy.
Note: This detergent will separate, especially if it gets cold, so be sure to shake it well before using it. If it starts to separate and you don’t shake it, then you could end up with a glob of detergent on your clothes at the end of the cycle. If you prefer powdered laundry detergent, you can find those on Pinterest as well. I chose this one because it meant I didn’t have to grate any soap, so it’s less labor intensive.
I also made some Borax free dishwasher detergent, but I’ve only used it once, so I’ll wait for a few more loads to review that one.
Life has been too crazy around the pleasantly poor house. But a good kind of crazy. We moved into our new house, and a week later we went on vacation. Needless to say, we’re not really moved in yet. There are boxes and suitcases everywhere. We’ve gotten our family room set up with a couch, a couple of chairs, and a TV so we have a place to relax. And, thanks to my mother in law, our sons room is mostly in order. We’ve also managed to organize our kitchen, for the most part.
I don’t mind the chaos though, because after all, it’s our chaos. And our vacation was totally worth the added chaos.
We took our very first family road trip to Austin, Texas and back. To prepare for the long car rides with our six year old, we made sure to bring a lot of stuff to keep him busy. For starters, we put four movies on his kindle. Because we have Amazon Prime, we were able to download Prime movies onto his Kindle for 30 days. So once his Kindle was loaded with some good entertainment, we packed it in his backpack, along with headphones, coloring books, crayons, and picture books. I have also discovered that the library has audio books on an MP3 device that you just plug your headphones into, so I borrowed a couple of those from the children’s section. He did so well on those long stretches in the car, my husband and I were so proud of him.
The first stop on our trip was New Orleans! I had been there before several years ago with my mom, but my husband and son had never been. We walked all over the French Quarter, ate, drank, and were merry. My husband wanted to eat at a restaurant called Mother’s that he had seen on several of the travel/food shows that he watches. They are famous for a debris poboy. Debris is the beef that falls off the roast and into the gravy during roasting. Of course, at this point it’s so popular, that I’m certain they make it on purpose. The hubby had the Famous Ferdinand Special, a poboy with ham, roast beef, debris, and au jus.
After a day in New Orleans, we hopped back in the car for the drive to Austin Texas. My aunt and uncle were nice enough to let us stay with them while we were in town. They have a beautiful home on Lake Austin, and when we got up in the morning Mother Goose was there to greet us.
We spent most of the day on the dock by the lake. We had to be very careful not to get in the water though. The recent flooding had forced them to open the dam to let some water out, so the lake had a really dangerous current. We all did a little fishing and my son caught his very first fish, my husband was so proud.
That evening we went to my cousins wedding. She and her boyfriend had been together for nine years, but had waited to get married until it was legal for their LGBT friends could also get married. They had a really small, fun wedding. Most of the attendees were friends they had made in the graduate program in Austin, along with their parents, a couple of aunts and uncles, and my little family. It was a beautiful little space that was part outdoors, part indoors. Outside they had games of guests to play like corn hole, frisbee, and a giant Jenga game. It was a really cool wedding.
The trip back home was completely unplanned, so it was a bit of an adventure. We talked about stopping in Baton Rouge on the way home, but the one thing my little guy asked to do in New Orleans was to ride on one of the river boats he saw. We decided to find a swamp tour on the way home that would allow him to ride on a boat and see cool swamp things. We decided on a small town outside of LaFayette called Breaux Bridge, the crawfish capital of the world. There weren’t very many hotels to choose from there, so we stayed at the Microtel. It was a nice, cheap hotel with clean rooms, a fridge, and a pool. There are a couple of swamp tours to choose from in Breaux Bridge, so we picked the one that AAA recommended, Cajun Country Swamp Tours. We had a great time. The guide was really knowledgeable about the animals and plants that live in the swamp. He put my son in charge of counting how many alligators we saw. We saw nine! We also learned about Snake Birds, Great Blue Herrings, Red Winged Black Birds, and Little Blue Herrings. It was a great tour.
There’s a lot of changes going on at the pleasantly poor house. Most notably, we are getting a home of our own again. We’re renting for now, not buying. We’re not ready quite ready to buy again yet. We just got the key to our new place today, and are officially moving in this Sunday, but I’m taking a small load of boxes over after my little man’s swim lesson.
Our plan is to take over one or two loads between today and Sunday, and finish with the big stuff on Sunday. That’s the great thing about having a slow move, you’re not killing yourself to get everything moved in a day.
A lot went in to finding our new home. The most important factor, for us, was the school district. We have been very unhappy with his current school district. In kindergarten he has had no regular recess, testing every two weeks, oral reports, and a long list of curriculum that is inappropriate for a kindergarteners developmental stage. Some of it is due to the fact that more is expected of kids his age than when we were in school. But I’ve done my research, and I know that a lot of is due to Clayton County being Title 1, and having to prove that they are earning the money they are receiving from the federal government. The reasons are irrelevant, though. We simply cannot allow him to go to that school another year. We tried to get him into the private school where I work, but he’s not quite ready for that. So, I started to research metro Atlanta schools, to make sure we got him into the best school we could.
I started my school research on schooldigger.com, a website that ranks schools from best to worst, 1 to 1240. You can also read reviews of schools, check out demographics, student to teacher ratios, etc. I looked at every school in metro Atlanta that ranked 500 or better, that was within 30 miles of our work, and then checked rentals in the area to see if we could afford to live in those areas. I used Zillow to search for rental homes. Zillow was a wonderful tool. I thought it was just a property appraisal site, but it has become so much more. Now it provides property values, homes for sale, and homes for rent. I would search the zip code of the school I was researching, and could add filters, such as the property type I was looking for and the maximum monthly payment I was willing to make. (Trulia.com has similar tools, but I found that Zillow was more user friendly.) These searches allowed me to quickly determine which school districts we could afford to live in. That data allowed me to create a spreadsheet with school ratings and an average cost of living. Once I had narrowed down affordable school districts, I checked another school ratings site, greaterschools.org. This site also provides reviews, demographics, student to teacher ratios, and the like. The difference from great schools and school digger is that great schools ranks schools from 1 to 10. I found that using the two sites together gave me a more dimensional understanding of a schools pros and cons.
Once we had our list of schools, we began visiting them. We found one in Stockbridge that we liked right away, and while there were others that were also good, we had found our favorite. We began searching for rental homes in the two school districts that we liked the most, and visited a few until we found the one for us. We were lucky to find a great house, bordering a cul-de-sac, in the school district that we wanted. God is good! Now, if only he would move our stuff. Oh well, without struggle we cannot fully appreciate victory.
Speaking of victory. Yesterday my son graduated from Kindergarten with a ‘Most Improved’ honor. I am very proud of him, but not as proud as he is of himself. He told my dad, “I worked REALLY hard!” Here’s a picture of him receiving his certificate.
Caution: This post contains melodramatic material.
Sometimes being the wife of a chef is pretty cool. Like the time Alton Brown came into his restaurant, and I got to tell everyone that my husband cooked dinner for Alton Brown. Or the many times that he managed to make a delicious dinner out of seemingly useless ingredients the day before payday.
Other times, being a chef’s wife really stinks. Mother’s Day is one of those times. Don’t get me wrong. I love being a mom, and I love the adorable homemade cards that come with it. But what I want most on Mother’s Day is to be with my family. Unfortunately, Mother’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year for a restaurant. In the 6 years that I’ve been a mom, he’s never been able to take it off. Of course, he can’t get Father’s Day off either, so sometimes things stink all around.
This year has been a little better because I’ve been able to spend it with my family, for a change. I got my hubby up early this morning so we could take his mom out to breakfast, which was really nice, and a treat, since we usually don’t get to see her at all on Mother’s Day. After breakfast I took the hubby back home so he could get ready for work, and I went on to church. At church the kids gave roses to the moms, and all the mothers were recognized and blessed by the preacher. After church my parents, my son, and I had a picnic lunch with my grandparents, aunts, and cousins . So it hasn’t been a bad day. In fact, it’s been a very good day. If it was any other day, I would feel very content. But it’s not any other day, it’s Mother’s Day, which means it’s my day, but half of me is gone.
I am well aware that I am just feeling sorry for myself, and that my life is very blessed. I know there are some mothers who have lost their children, mothers whose partners are away on active duty, or are on active duty themselves, or a countless number of other reasons why I should stop complaining. So I’m not trying to ruin anyone else’s day by weeping openly everywhere I go, and I’m certainly not looking for sympathy from anyone. But no amount of rationalizing makes me feel any better, in fact, it tends to make me feel worse. So, since this is my blog, and my day, I’m going to go ahead and have this pity party.
Please tune in to the following posts for cheerier topics.
I’m writing this on my iPhone because I’ve been having issues with my laptop. Recently I installed an antivirus program called Kaspersky. I can’t say that it’s a bad product, because it works fine on my mom’s laptop, but it’s certainly bad for my laptop. Shortly after I installed it my computer started crashing every time I used it. When I finally got it to stay on long enough to properly restart it and run a virus scan, then it worked fine for a while. But the other day it started crashing again. I restarted the computer, uninstalled and reinstalled it, ran a virus scan. Nothing worked. Finally, I just uninstalled the program and disconnected the internet until I can get my usual antivirus software, Norton. I know that I can download it, but then I have to pay full price for it, and I haven’t paid full price for it in years. I usually get it for a discount from No More Rack or eBay.
We started my son in swim lessons this week at the VBG Recreation Center in Riverdale,Ga. Monday was his first day, and today was his second lesson. He is having a great time, and is excited about learning to swim without his frog (life jacket).
There is a wide range of of ages in his class, so there are two teachers. One focuses on the kids that can already swim, and teaches them the different strokes. While the other teacher focuses on the smaller kids that are still learning to swim. That’s the group my son is in. We worked with him on swimming without his life jacket last summer, and he was doing really well, but that was months ago. This should get him ready for a summer of swimming like a fish.
My husband doesn’t like the other teacher, the one that teaches the bigger kids. He says that he is rude, and he doesn’t like the way he talks to the kids. He is a bit brisk, but I really saw his value today. A little girl in William’s group is really scared of the water, and just bawls when it’s her turn to swim. Her mom was just about to give up and take her out when he said “I’ve got her.” There was a moment when I was terrified that he was just going to toss her in, but instead he carried her into the water and put on his back. He continued teaching class that way, and when she got tired of that, and started crying again, he moved her to his side, and kept going. Once he had given his directions, and his class started swimming laps, he started working with her on a noodle, showing her how to pull the water with her hands and kick her legs. She was having none of that, and just cried the whole time. She would wail “I want my daddy” and he would say, “Can you swim to him?” When she would say no he’d tell her that she was stuck with him. But at the end of class she managed to kick her way to the side of the pool where her daddy was, blubbering the same whole time, and of course, all the parents gave her a standing ovation for her hard work.
Hello Again…or maybe for the first time!
It’s been so long since I’ve posted anything, that I doubt I’ll have many returning readers. And since I allowed my domain to lapse I’ve lost all of my old posts :-(. Oh well, a fresh start isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, the fresh start that my family has gotten since our move back to A-town has been a God-send.
I have not been idle during this sabbatical. This spring I volunteered to coach my son’s U6 soccer team. The things I learned coaching soccer is for another post, but there is one thing I’ll share with you now. I learned that I don’t really enjoy coaching soccer. There is a lot about soccer that wasn’t taught in the coaches clinic that I still don’t understand, and trying to reign in 8 kids running around with balls is a true exercise in patient.
But that’s enough complaining for today. Let me take a minute to brag on how awesome my job is. Yesterday was Administrative Professionals Appreciation Day, and for the first time ever, I was appreciated! My managers presented me with a gift bag that had a gift certificate to Chick-Fil-A, a journal, and large coffee cup with a matching saucer. The cup and saucer are so adorable, when I use it I feel like I should be sitting at a tea party surrounded by teddy bears pretending to drink Earl Grey. It’s pretty clear that one of their wives picked out the gifts, but that’s not the point. The point is, they took the time to recognize my contribution to our office.
I have also been upping my weight loss game. I’ve taken to eating strictly salad for lunch, and often times dinner too. Although I do try to mix it up a bit by adding chicken strips, chicken salad, or tuna salad. And on taco Tuesdays I make it a taco salad. My work offers exercise classes, and when you take them you earn points. A few months ago I earned enough points to get a fitbit, which has really helped motivate me to exercise more. I don’t always make my goal of 10,000 steps, but it certainly keeps me conscious of how much, or little, I’m moving. It also throws little parties for me when I exercise 5 days in a week. I have lost about 5 pounds, although I seem to have plateaued at that point. I haven’t given up hope though.
I’m looking forward to sharing all this in more detail in future posts. At the moment, though, it is nearing my bedtime, so I’m going to wrap this up with the promise of more to come.
“Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts.” – Sandra Bullock, Hope Floats