Friday, October 9, 2009

A Temporary Blog

I've decided to start a temporary blog to keep me going through this whole applying to school thing. If you want to have some fun helping me study for the GRE or anything, please don't hesitate to drop by.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Re-thinking the Revamp

G and the kids have been away for the week, but I can't say I have had much time for thinking, as this was one of my busiest weeks of the year at work. Still, tonight I took some time for myself (though I really didn't have the time), and I got to thinking about this blog.

I am not sure that I ever had a sense of what I wanted to do with my blog, but it may be that it has simply run its course.

When I first started writing, I knew that I didn't have enough of a focus to ever really get a readership beyond a small circle of family and friends. The blog was simply an outlet. Many times it has served as an emotional release, like a journal but with the comments of loved ones to periodically cheer me on. At times it was a release for my generative energy, an opportunity to express myself creatively through writing. And of course, on plenty of occassions it has also been my soapbox.

It allowed me to at least begin to speak out when I felt particularly disturbed by the things being said by an anti-adoption advocate who hangs out on one of my parenting discussion boards. It allowed me to speak about neurodiversity as I discovered the joy in celebrating how my brain, and my son's brain, are wired.

I could tell myself that it is a good way to keep in touch with my family and friends, but it would be narricistic to believe that to be the case. I don't post photos of my kids, and I always feel when I post their cute stories that I ought to be writing about something else, something more interesting to the "masses" and less in violation of the children's privacy of development.

The truth is that one of my best friends in the whole wide world called me some time ago and I had difficulty calling her back because of the time difference (NEVER underestimate the problems with time difference from coast to coast...I feel very isolated from old friends here), so I posted to her here instead. She had asked for an update, of course, so I am forgiving myself at least of that, but I didn't reach back out when I should have...thinking my post would suffice for the time. Many months later I learned of her brand, spanking new divorce. I am not sure how to process that, but I know that I have become overly reliant on this vehicle of communication with friends who deserve more of a two-way.

For a couple of years I have written on this blog without the slightest attention to the notion of attracting a "readership." I've been thankful for those of you who have accompanied me on parts of my life's journey through the blog, and have enjoyed reading your blogs in turn. But a few weeks ago I finally caved to the curiosity and went to Google Analytics to find out more about who was reading my blog, and I realized that it was actually mostly me.

Since this last spring, I have been working on strengthening a marriage that had gotten a little stretched at the seams and whose contents had shifted inside the package despite the fact that I wanted everything to stay put all neat and tidy the way I had arranged it. G and I are doing much better. In fact, we may be stronger than ever, but dealing with that meant I also had to begin to face some of my demons. In a major way. Demons I knew I had, and demons I didn't know existed. I am still facing off with them. And now I am considering seminary, and my world is simply changed. Things I thought I knew to be true no longer seem to be true. Things I thought not to be true have become real.

What I need to do now is to practice deep listening. I need to be fully and completely present in hearing others. I need to open my heart to learn, and I need to pay attention.

Something tells me that the months to come will require me to be still. To be disciplined. To be focused. And to rediscover that I can be a friend.

So I think this will be it. I think I am done.

I may start a new blog, or revamp this blog down the line. Of course I have ideas. I always have ideas. Topics of focus. Styles of writing to practice. Formats. But it's not a time for decisions right now.

If you are a UU reader or otherwise religious person who wants to continue to hear what I am doing in my vocational life, you will be able to find me this year at But it's not really a blog as much as it is an online newsletter.

Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Post on Spanking...and Worsening Neurological Symptoms or Simply Inattention?

Two things. First, I have written a long post about spanking and "the mainstream." As in, cultural shifts in the way we think about spanking...which as far as I am concerned is a vile practice. I had plans to follow that post with another about the flip-side of increasing societal intolerance for spanking, which is that I think struggling parents have difficulty finding help when they need it most. I would love to expand on that for you.

But then I re-read my post and also re-read this post over at Anti-Racist Parent and listened to this podcast and realized I needed to do some additional reflection on what constitutes "mainstream." So, my thoughts on spanking will have to wait. Meanwhile, I am thinking that is likely a positive development, as I recently decided that I would make a far greater effort to write shorter pieces. I wouldn't have achieved that with my spanking post, but perhaps with some time and thought it can be shortened.

In other news, I have been experiencing a disturbing neurological development this evening. It has to do with task planning and task completion. It looks something like this:

I think: I want to go find some Julia Child clips on Youtube.

I type:

No, no, that's not right.

What? Youtube. Youtube. Not Yahoo. Youtube.

Finally I end up at Youtube website, staring at a blank screen, uncertain for several moments of why I was there. Ah, yes, Julia Child...

Anyway, spooky, huh? It has occurred three or four times this evening, including in preparing myself some dinner. The family is staying with MIL for the week, as a last "hoorah" of summer, so I am here at home by myself. I go to the kitchen and decide to make myself potato salad. Put some potatoes in a pot to boil, return to computer. A half hour later I think, "I am hungry," so I return to the kitchen, go to the fridge, and get out some leftover pasta. It is only upon taking the pasta to the counter to put it on a plate that I see the pot boiling away on the stove and remember what I had started out to do.

Am I being particularly absent-minded this evening, without the wife and kids here to keep me grounded on the planet, or am I experiencing a worsening of symptoms?

I want answers, damnit! I am so tired of hope for a diagnosis followed by things like, "Oh, your abnormal EEG was actually a normal abnormal variation." What on earth does that even mean?! For f*cks sake!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reminders for Staying Cool

(pictured in a photo with mild color saturation and tinting is my sweaty son M, working to stay cool while still having fun outside...yea, my camera seems to be working for now!)

It's hot where I am. Is it hot where you are? If so, I have some reminders for you. It's all common sense stuff that we all do, but its so easy to forget to do basic things like keep hydrated...which at best leads to headaches and stuff, and at worse, can make us sick.

Your Home

Have all your windows and shades/blinds/curtains open at night, and close them early in the morning. You can open them back up when that area is shaded for the afternoon, or once night falls.

If the hot air is already starting to come in when you go to close the windows in the morning, or if it is particularly stuffy or humid and you have some shade, close the shades/blinds/curtains but not the actual windows.

Thick blankets can also do the trick if you don't have shades/blinds/curtains or if they are too thin to make a difference.

Avoid opening and closing doors.

Don't use any electrical appliances during the day. Don't run a dishwasher, put in a load of laundry, or vacuum. Wait until night to cook, if you can't limit your foods to cold foods only. To the extent possible, keep computers turned off.

If you have fans and can afford to run them, run them constantly rather than turning them on and off. Place fans near open windows during the cooler hours of the day, so they draw in cooler air from outside.

When you have a window open, whenever possible open a window on the opposite side of the room for cross ventilation.

Keep all lights turned off during the day.

Shut doors to rooms you won't be using (such as bedrooms), if they tend to be hot rooms. Consider relocating your activies, including sleep, to your coolest rooms. Leave doors to cool rooms open.

Your Body

Drink TONS of water. Whether you realize it or not, you are losing a lot of water in this weather...way more than is obvious. If you don't like water, try adding a little lemon juice or something.

Cold water feels great in hot weather, but water that is closer to our body temp may keep us cooler for longer.

Limit any drinks besides water. They'll make you think your thirst is satiated, but they won't hydrate you as effectively. Do not drink caffeinated drinks at all if you can avoid it.

Do low-key activities during the day. Wait for the evening to do higher gear activities. Limit your time heading out of your house to the evening, or spend some of the day in air conditioned buildings such as a library (but remember that once you're cool in there, your home is going to feel much hoter!).

Consider getting cool with a cool shower or cold pool or sprinkler...the warmer the water, the sooner your body will heat up again. Consider getting yourself as cold as you can...and stay wet for as long as you can rather than drying off right away.

Carry some folded heavy paper or anything with which to fan yourself...with or without also carrying a spray bottle of water. Or get one of those personal fans, with or without a spritzer.

Minimize clothes. ;-)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Question About Re-Vamping My Blog

Is there a way to put aside old posts, in a folder or something, so they are still accessible to folks doing a search or whatever...but they don't get in the way of a new style?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Home Economics 101: A Month On $40 For Family of Four Part III

This part could also be subtitled: Shopping

Alright, now in terms of shopping, in addition to the few tips I snuck into the last part of this series, here are the only other suggestions I have:

  • Don't spend any time in stores. None. Avoid stores like the plague. Especially non-grocery stores. Go when you have to, get what you are there for, and get out. Don't go to Target or any similar department stores, and certainly don't bring "plastic" with you (INCLUDING debit cards).

  • Shop with a list and pay in cash. Seriously, I thought that we had an incredibly tight from-scratch budget before, with few expendables, but I still saved myself a little money switching to cash.

  • Don't bring the kids with you when shopping. If you must bring kids, go at their cheeriest time of day when you are both well fed.

  • If you do bring the kids, and they ask for something off the list, don't say "we can't afford that" (a mistake I made until recently). Instead, per the suggestion of the author of Debt Proof Your Kids, say, "we don't choose to spend our money that way." Otherwise, they associate their situation with deprivation, and thus money with happiness. This will make them hungry to acquire. When the kids want something, now we talk about choices. I've learned this also helps me stay accountable for my choices, and highlights for me any area in which I am making choices that aren't consistent with my intentions, limits, desires, or values!

  • And if you have to bring the kids, put the kids in charge of cash. I've started shopping with $1 bills and quarters. For each item, I now count out each dollar and quarter from my purse (where it is stored in envelopes) and my kids put it in a gallon-size Ziploc to keep track of the money we spent. Aside from being a good math and economics lesson, this keeps the kids busy while we are shopping, helps them understand the choices we make and why we make them, and helps me keep myself accountable.

  • Shop for what you have! I know that sounds strange. I don't mean that you should buy what you already have, but rather you should shop for things to go along with what you have. When most folks sit down to make a grocery list, they decide first what they want to eat. *Then* they look at what they have, and write down anything that is missing. You can't afford to do that. Assuming you are going no more than thirty days on $40, even if you put every cent into food and NOTHING else, that gives you about $1.33 per day. If your family eats only three meals, that's about 44 cents per meal. For most of us, snacking is critical to good health, so you can put away at least ten or twenty cents per meal to go into other food costs. That gives you no more than 34 cents per meal, generously. That's around 8.5 cents per person in a family of four. Put another way, in 30 days, you need to plan for around 90 meals (360 individual meal-servings for a family of four) plus snacks. Even with all your money going toward food, you clearly can't get by unless you make full use of whatever you can scrounge from your cupboards and fridge. So look at what you have, and think "how can I make this stretch the farthest?"

  • Even though you should shop for what you already have, you should also try to use what you have first. Let's say you went to the food bank and they gave you a can of peaches. There are a few ways to make use of it. You could open up that can and have it for snack one day with your kids. Chances are, that snack isn't going to be satisfying on its own, so you'll probably have something else with it. So you've used the peaches, and something else, and then the whole thing is gone and all you've had is a snack. Alternatively, you could also set out to shop for what you have. But be careful if you do because it would be easy to start thinking that you've got to build a whole meal around peaches. If you are building your meal around peaches, rather than a more bulky item, chances are it will be more expensive. As a third alternative, you could pair it with something more bulky that you have on hand (and I do pray you have something on hand), such as rice. So maybe you have a rice stir-fry with veggies and (grilled?) peaches. Even if you had to buy a veggie to add to it, you'd still have avoided the expensive danger of starting to think of building a meal in terms of its least bulky item.

  • If at all possible, use your money during the month for produce only. As I've said, one of my ground rules involves eating a balanced diet. Try to put aside a few dollars each week-- or whatever you can afford-- for something fresh to add to your stock. Fresh produce runs out quickly when there is no money to spend, and unfortunately, it is unavailable at most food banks. It's the kind of thing you have to plan to replenish weekly.

  • Assuming you have some form of transportation, if you have had money in the past, your regular grocery store may be out of your budget. For one thing, just because a store is big (a big box store that has groceries, for example), doesn't mean it is the cheapest. If you can, when you are out and about, check out alternative stores. Look for stores that aren't as "pretty" or well-maintained. If a store isn't putting money into its image, it probably has a smaller profit margin. Avoid stores in middle or upper class areas of town. Obviously, stores can get away with charging more if they know the folks shopping there have the money. Look for stores that very prominently advertise acceptance of food stamps.

  • That said, a store that carries more groceries is usually (not always, but usually) a cheaper source of groceries than say, a corner store or a store that carries only a select few grocery items. No matter how run down your corner store is, it isn't ideal usually to plan to get your milk there.

  • Often, you can get certain things at a low cost in one store, but other things at a lower cost in another store. It can be tempting to "store hop" and shop at two or more stores for the best deal...if you have the transportation. If you are going to do this, do it in a planned and very strategic manner. Avoid taking unnecessary trips. Combine trips whenever possible. If you drive a car, think about gas. If you are in a car that gets 20 miles per one gallon and gas is about $2.60 per gallon, you are looking at a 13 cent expenditure per mile. That doesn't seem like a lot, but when you have only $40, remember that this is more than what you have per person for each meal. Going five miles will cost you 65 cents. I am assuming that you are not buying more than $10 of food on this grocery shopping trip. After all, that is a weekly allowance if you have managed to spend ALL your money on food. So when you go to that store that is 2.5 miles out of the way (5 miles roundtrip), you likely have no more than $9.35 to spend. If you only save 10 cents on tomatoes, it isn't worth it. This is also the case if you are taking the bus-- assuming that you pay for it-- only moreso, as even with a bus pass, you've likely spent way more than a $1 per day on bus fare.

  • Speaking of store hopping, if you have a dollar store near you and you haven't been there in a while, don't forget to re-acquaint yourself. Some things are a rip off at the dollar store. If you really compare prices, you will find that the dollar store is relying on your not knowing what things cost at the regular grocery store. Or they are selling smaller packages so that the price for the amount you get is as high if not higher than in a regular store. Be especially cautious with groceries at the dollar store, and anything sold in packages of one. That said, there may be household necessities that you can get for a great bargain. Or things that you can't afford in the amounts sold at the regular store. Sometimes in a $40 month, you can get enough toilet paper or toothpaste to sustain you, simply by shopping at the dollar store.

  • In a previous post, I mentioned sharing the benefits of a membership warehouse with someone else. Let me talk about a one-time type manifestation of that. On a $40 month, you can't afford to go to a membership warehouse even if you have a membership. Everything there is going to cost $6 or more because it is in large quantities. You won't get pasta for under $10 for example, even if you do end up with enough pasta to last months. However, if you know someone who is shopping at such a warehouse and you are comfortable enough to share your struggles, you might ask if they would let you buy a small amount of their groceries off of them. This way, you can benefit from the bulk rate without paying the initial cost of buying bulk. Sometimes this will pay off, and sometimes it won't. For example, let's say they purchased $10 of enriched pasta and there were ten boxes in their package. That works out to about $1 per box, which is roughly the cost of a package of pasta at the grocery store. The only benefit to them is that they've stocked up. It isn't a financial advantage to anyone. However, if they bought whole wheat pasta for $10 and got 10 boxes, that definitely is less than the cost of whole wheat pasta if you buy one box at a grocery store. If you can afford to give them a dollar for a box of pasta, it would be a financial benefit to you. However, do consider how far you can take one box of pasta for your family (consider ways to bulk it up and use less pasta per meal). It may or may not be something you can afford on a $40 month.

  • Whatever amount of money you have, whether it is exactly $40 or it is $52.33 or whatever, think in terms of percentage. $2 is five percent of what you have for the whole month. $4 is a whole ten percent. When you are spending money, think in terms of that percentage as you try to navigate priorities.

  • It bears repeating one more time: cash, CASH, and ONLY CASH. No debit cards. Too easy to "bounce" your account on accident. With cash in hand, you know you have the money. No credit cards. They will dig you deeper into your hole. You CAN survive. You can even thrive. You CAN.
  • Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Meeting With the Assistant Director of Admissions at Harvard Divinity School

    Somewhat spontaneously (as in, I was thinking I'd do it closer to fall...but my questions were building too rapidly), I called and set up a time for an "informational meeting" with an Assistant Director of Admissions at HDS. I am going TOMORROW!

    While this is an "informational meeting," and is likely to have 3-5 other students in attendance, it is also listed on the admissions page under the question "does Harvard Divinity School require an interview as a part of the admissions process?" The answer is basically "no, but we encourage you to come in for a small group informational meeting with an Assistant Director of Admissions."

    So, nerves time. I'd like to know how to make the best of this opportunity. Any suggestions?

    Should I bring my transcripts and specific questions? Should I try to present like I would at a job interview?

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    Re-Vamp My Blog?

    I am thinking I may revamp my blog shortly. Different format, possibly more refined topics, and more graphics.

    What do you like reading on my blog?

    Friday, August 7, 2009

    Another Ah-F**k!

    Pause from my especially long-winded, possibly ridiculous home economics 101 posts.

    I had another "ah-f**k!" moment related to my divinity school application. Harvard has updated its admissions page. It now lists the application deadline as January 11th. That's good. Now I know.

    The problem? It also lists the GRE as a requirement for the application. It previously specified that it was required only for some of the programs, but not for the M.Div. Not sure if that was an error, or if the requirement has actually changed since last year, but I specifically noted the absence of the requirement a few months ago because it seemed odd that it wasn't.

    So there you are. It was odd, and the situation is now remedied...for Harvard, that is. For ME, it introduces a total moment of F**k! F**k! F**k!

    Besides the obvious:

    1. I was already behind in my schedule to complete the application materials. I am really struggling...REALLY struggling with my personal statement, and I haven't even begun my other essays let alone other components of the application. Heck, I don't have all my transcripts.

    If this was the only thing I had to worry about that would be one thing, but I am also behind in a major way at work. I don't think I've ever been this behind in August, and I'm really not sure I can pull the fall off. I am scared. I don't have time-- AT ALL -- to add studying for the GRE to my plate. Not at all.

    2. I have incredibly big-time test-taking anxiety. In fact, despite my 4.0/4.0 record in college, I actually took an alternative route into college (starting first as a "guest student") partly because I had avoided the SATs at all costs after taking and doing poorly on my PSATs. I can handle tests, somewhat, in an academic setting when something like entry into a school isn't hanging in the balance, but an admissions test. No, no, no!! I can't deal.

    3. I don't know if I can just take the general GRE or if I have to take one of the specific ones. The list doesn't say, and even THAT stresses me out. But on top of that, just the general GRE costs a whopping $150! To take it one freakin' time! I can't even afford the reduced test fee of $75. Heck, I am going to have to save my pennies to just submit my applications to the two schools at which I am applying.

    4. I already worried that my application was weak on demonstrating my academic strengths. I only took two graduate level courses during my time as an undergraduate. I was not well-rounded in my studies (or my extracurricular activities). I took more 100 or 200 level classes than I remembered taking. I attended two community colleges and a total of four schools (I wish I could just explain on my application what a difference that made for me financially). All my math and science classes were at community college...not that this is a big thing for seminary, but it shows I wasn't challenging myself as fully as I otherwise could have, that I wasn't taking on academic challenges. I have no language courses in my background AT ALL. Plus, I am still trying to make sure I am actually going to be able to get academic letters of reference, since my professors are MIA. Now this?! Now freakin' this?!

    5. It's a computer test, not a paper test. I don't do well at all on computer tests, not even at the DMV for crying out loud!

    I am about a half inch away from dropping my application to Harvard entirely. ENTIRELY.

    Monday, August 3, 2009

    Home Economics 101: A Month On $40 For Family of Four Part II

    Subtitle of this part (part 2): FOOD!

    Now we're coming to the hardest part of living with little money. You can't let anyone go hungry, and food is your most important priority. But beyond utilities, it is also the biggest expense for most folks living on a low income.

    This is why there are so many programs focused on getting food to people who need it. The problem is that most of those programs are also short on resources.

    In order to best advise you, let me share some of my assumptions. This way, if something doesn't apply to you, you can figure out the easiest way to take your own personal situation into account.

    When you discover you have only $40 to last the month, you may have just been paid. If so, congratulations. I say congrats because this also means you are likely to have done at least a little grocery shopping recently and that while your fridge and cupbards might not be full, they will have some new "stock."

    The hardest scenario of course is if you are on your second, third, fourth, or fifth month with $40 or $50, and your cupboards and fridge just haven't had any chance to recover.

    But my assumption for our purposes is that most folks who discover they only have $40 to last a month are looking at a situation somewhere in between. Perhaps you have half a carton of a half-gallon of milk left, some rice, a few carrots. But you don't have eggs. Or you don't have beans. When I am giving advice, I am assuming that you aren't using my tips as any more than a jumping off place.

    My tips come from having looked in my own fridge at various times, and having figured out how to make a meal out of meager random odds and ends. So if you haven't done so already, go to your fridge and go to your cupboards. Take inventory of what you have. Start looking up recipes that can make use of the random can of olives and that little bag of uncooked barley that you bought back when times were better. It's time to get creative, and my list is really as much for inspirational purposes as for tips.

    Getting Help

    Knowing that sometimes, it might come down to this, I want to throw a couple notes in here about getting help. Your stops along the way might include:

    • Friends, neighbors, and relatives
    • The food stamps program and/or WIC, though fair warning: many folks in need may not qualify or may qualify for a very low amount of assistance only
    • A foodbank and/or Dollar-a-Bag programs

    If you are trying to get help from foodbanks in your area, it is helpful to call ahead. It's great when you can find a bank that serves your whole county, has accessible hours, and has a lot of goods and you can just go in and grab what you need. Unfortunately, in most locales, that won't be the case. Call and find out:

    • Whether they serve folks where you live (some larger foodbanks divide up their distribution centers by zip code, for example)
    • What proof of ID and/or income might be required
    • What other information will be collected
    • How often you can receive help
    • The type of food and amount of help you can expect to receive
    • The hours and days of operation (usually very limited, and unfortunately it may be during workday hours)

    As I've mentioned, many foodbanks these days are short on food. They will give out a very, very small amount to sustain you for a meal or three. Also keep in mind that though beggars can't be choosers and you will surely eat what you are given because you need it, the food they give you is not usually going to be the healthiest. Many foodbanks, if not most, do not have produce, dairy, or meats. Applesauce will be the type with added sugar, canned fruits will be in heavy syrup, and tuna helper will be as good as it gets for boxed meals.

    I only say that so you won't be surprised. There is nothing worse than worrying about whether your family will go hungry and then realizing when you go to get help that little help is available, and that which is available is not going to be very helpful in reducing your risk of nutrient deficiencies. Do get the help, but don't go in expecting much. Instead, focus on planning your life around the below type of tips.

    One More Assumption

    Another assumption I have made for this post is that while one's first concern, when experiencing hunger, is usually filling the belly, most of us are also worried about making sure our bodies stay healthy through financial hardship. There are a couple ways to survive on $40.

    The easiest way is to fill up on sugar and fat laden foods because they make you feel fuller. While prepared foods that resemble something healthy (take canned soups), for instance, are expensive, there are a lot of prepared foods that don't resemble anything healthy and are sold pretty darn cheaply. Which makes them alluring when you don't have money. And despite what nutritionists say, that our bodies actually become more hungry more quickly with these foods, if your body is not accustomed to wholesome foods, the truth may be that you won't feel full until you do have them.

    Fitting with my "groundrule" that living poorer (more frugally, for those who have a choice) should mean living better, I am going to assume that you want your kids and yourself to be as healthy as possible, to get all the nutrients they need. Clearly, that can't happen if you're busy trying to feel full again. Instead, I suggest you go through withdrawl from your usual diet and adjust to a new one...a healthier, more wholesome, more nutrient-dense diet. And I am going to bet that it WILL be healthier and more wholesome even for those who have a great diet already (unless you are have a REALLY, REALLY great diet!).

    And a Quick Public Safety Announcement

    Some people dumpster dive for food. I personally don't believe dumpster diving for food is safe. If you want to do that, research it throughly and be very, very careful. While dumpster diving for certain items is probably safe, under certain conditions, dumpster diving for FOOD is an extremely hazardous activity in my opinion. I don't recommend it even with caution, and I urge you not to do it at all if you have children. However, if you have connections at a grocery store and are able to obtain the foods directly from those people before the foods leave the backdoor and head out to the dumpster, more power to you. Just be sure to carefully sort through these "finds" and make sure you are not eating food that is truly on its way out. (You'll get some gems, since many stores through away things like milk on the day of expiration, and it still probably has a little "window of safe" on it.)

    Now, My Tips

    • We make ALL foods from scratch. Yes, it takes time. My wife G can tell you. At times it's very taxing. But yes, if you really have only $40 to your name, you'll find a way to make the time. And G and I have decided that even if we have money, we want to live this way so we can actually do things like save. Here are a sampling of foods that many families who make most foods homeade still buy from the store that we make from scratch:

    -->bread (ever notice how expensive truly whole wheat bread, without corn syrup, has become?) including pita bread, biscuits, and bagels

    -->tortillas (and chips, for a treat)

    -->salad dressings, dips of all types including hummus and salsa, and spreads, including sometimes peanut butter

    -->sauces, including sometimes apple sauce

    • We rarely buy canned foods. Soups are made from scratch at home. Beans are made from bags of dried beans. We do buy canned diced tomatoes whenever we see a good sale because this is a good food to use in order to bulk up and add flavor to inexpensive meals. We also buy canned and/or frozen corn and canned olives once a year in bulk (hard to grow in a small yard where we live, for one thing).

    • All that said, "from scratch" is not always cheaper. We can have fun making our own butter, but it actually costs less to buy it from the store. I'm not sure about yogurt and cheese...that's something we plan to try soon. For now we just don't buy yogurt when the cash flow is low, and we buy cheese on a very tightly monitored cheese budget. We also plan to begin making our own pasta noodles, though I have to say I think our diet is more well-rounded when we can't depend on having pastas.
    • It's more of a long-term thing, so won't work if you are down on cash for only a month and plan to resume a previous lifestyle later, but some vegetables you can grow even if you have little more than a small patio. Assuming they aren't genetically engineered, tomatoes can be grown from the tomato seeds of the tomatoes you eat, in a couple of pots...including plastic ones that you may find in-- for example-- your neighbors trash. We have some other projects coming up: You can easily sprout your own sprouts in a jar in the kitchen from dried lentils, etc. Potatoes and onions might not be that expensive, but when money is short, who cares. Save whatever you can, wherever you can. They are easy container garden items, and all it takes is having a potato or onion that is getting old.

    • Consider whether you and a friend can share resources. We don't have a yard to speak of, but we have a couple raised bed gardens that we planted with friends of ours, in our friend's yard. She had wanted a garden for a couple of years, but didn't feel like she could do it on her own. We didn't have much know how, but were willing to help figure it out. Win-win. We all put in some labor, though honestly our friend put in much more since it was at her house and she saw it everyday. Now we have peppers, squash, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, peas, and all kinds of things growing! By the way, there are some folks on YouTube who have instructional videos on raised bed gardens, including ones you can create with whatever you can find.
    • If you can gather together money for it at some point, you can also share a membership to a bulk warehouse such as Costco or Sam's with a friend. This reduces the membership cost, and if you are both planners, you might be able to buy some items you wouldn't normally buy in bulk, and then split them. If you don't split the membership experience though, bulk warehouses are not a good idea at all for a $40 month. As much as you need food, getting, say, 100 pounds of carrots just isn't going to work for you because you don't have the money to spend on just one type of food like that. I'll have more notes on shopping in a future part of this series.
    • On a similar note, consider any and all resources available to you. Some friends of ours know somebody who has a couple of well-cared for organic eating cows and is able to get us raw milk every now and then for a price that is close to the same as non-organic pasteurized milk in the store. Only problem is that we have to arrange for someone who lives out by him to pick it up, which is why it isn't our regular practice.
    • We don't eat meat, so I don't know much if anything about saving money around meats. I DO know that diary is *expensive.* Especially if you are trying to do organic (which is recommended, as many pesticides are stored in fat tissue among dairy animals...dairy should rate higher on your organic priority list than produce) and support sustainable and humane dairy farming practices. If you know somebody who has chickens, see if they'll sell you eggs. Unfortunately, with only $40, you can't stick with organic all the time. See what the costs are. You might be able to do organic some of the time depending on your source (sometimes the costs will be comparable), but I've found that most $40 months pretty much nix any hope of organic aside from what comes out of the garden.

    • Do not eat eggs during a $40 month. No omelettes, scrambled eggs, or egg sandwiches. You'll run out of eggs right away. Save your eggs for baking. Use baking recipes that use minimal eggs.
    • Except for making something like pizza, use a cheese sauce rather than straight cheese. Cheese is super expensive and milk and butter is expensive but less-so than cheese. You can make a fine cheese sauce with a little cheese, some milk (try it also with powdered milk mixed with water), a little butter, and a little flour. Cheese sauce goes a lot farther than cheese.
    • If you have to use cheese rather than cheese sauce, grate rather than slicing when possible. Do this even if you are eating a sandwich. You'll use far less cheese.

    • When baking/cooking, consider using a powdered milk bought in bulk. It may be cheaper (though not always, as powdered milk can be surprisingly expensive) and will allow you to save your regular milk for drinking or oatmeal and so forth. Try to avoid drinking milk, and consider diluting your milk mildly (don't tell the kids!) if you do drink it.

    • Buy more of the types of produce that last longer periods in the fridge. When you are low on cash, you'll want to use less at one time, and spread your resources out longer. Cauliflower, for example, is a superb vegetable for this purpose. Carrots and tomatoes also do pretty well. Apples are long lasting and can be used in a variety of dishes either cooked or raw. Once sliced, just use a little lemon juice on it to keep from browning.

    • Read up on produce storage, including how to store produce when it has been partially used. Storing foods properly will extend their life, allowing you to eat them more slowly.
    • Avoid using all of anything on any one recipe. Half or cut into 3/4 the amounts originally listed in the recipe for ingredients on which you're running low. Get creative. Learn to adjust recipes to make up for less of one ingredient or another.
    • Don't throw anything out. If things look like they are about to "turn," freeze them. Freeze all kinds of fruits, which can later be used to make everything from sorbet to popsicles to slushies to smoothies. Vegetables can be frozen before or after blanching, depending on the type. If you are practicing low-cost living in anticipation of a lean winter, see if you can start the winter out with a freezer full of fruits and veggies.

    • Free yourself of the idea that no snack foods or an empty fridge means you don't have food. Plan ahead for snacking. While a full fridge and freezer run more efficiently in terms of energy, a relatively empty fridge doesn't mean you are starving. It may just mean you are cooking from scratch.
    • Discover what low cost foods, easily stored foods, are particularly filling for your family. Things like oatmeal or a hearty couscous dish or rice and beans. Make big batches and keep them in the fridge, readily available for meals-on-the-go. dw cooks up pintos, makes a batch of refried beans, and makes a big bowl of rice almost weekly. She also makes tortillas (which can be stored in the freezer if humidity is an issue for you right now). Because we buy our rice in great big bags when we do have the money, and beans in the biggest bags they come in, meals of this sort may just be pennies.
    • Some produce costs nearly the same amount year round, such as bananas or potatoes. Other food definitely offers a financial benefit if bought in season. So, if you *do* ever have a month with more money (or you are only practicing or getting ready for a lean winter), buy more seasonal stuff then and use your freezer to help keep your nutrients flowing in leaner and off-season months.

    Things That Are Helpful to Stock Up On When You Have Some Cash

    This will vary depending on your personal diet, but I've found these are helpful items that can go far in preparing foods from scratch:

    • Large bags of whole grain (not enriched, which means at one point it was stripped of nutrients) rice
    • A variety of large bags of beans, such as black beans, pintos, lentils, garbanzos/chickpeas, kidney beans, butterbeans, etc.
    • Flour in the biggest bags you can find and afford. This is very, very important. You'll use it in a variety of filling foods. It helps to have a selection of types including bread flour, unbleached all-purpose flour, and whole wheat or white whole wheat.
    • Yeast
    • Dry milk
    • Couscous, if you can find someplace that sells it in bulk rather than in those expensive little boxes of prepared couscous meals
    • Oatmeal (not the little packets, but the big containers of non-flavored oats)
    • Seeds and nuts, when you can find a very cheap source for them (they are often good sources of supplementary protein, and they can be used to make spreads)
    • Cheese, which can store well over extended periods if stored properly

    Sunday, August 2, 2009

    Home Economics 101: A Month On $40 For Family of Four Part I

    The Subtitle of this part (part 1) could also be "Disclaimers."

    Over the next week, I will post a very basic home economics lesson on how to survive a month on $40 for a family of four. That works out to $10 per week, approximately, or $10 per person.

    I know there are folks who have this figured out even better than I ever will-- much better (especially folks intentionally heading off the grid)-- so this blog feature won't be anything new for some of you.

    But, hopefully it has a few tips someone can make use of. What I can promise is that my methods, as basic (and for some perhaps, common sense) as they are, have been tested by experience. I have been able to survive on $40. In this economy, I realize many people are experiencing financial hardships they have never faced. I hope this blog post is useful for people who are going through a rough patch or are anticipating an extra lean winter.

    So, now, the explanations, disclaimers, and rules:

    What I Mean by $40

    • Your rent or mortgage is paid, and this is what you have leftover to get to the end of the month.

    • You still need food, gas for your car or other transportation, and additional life basics. You may or may not have managed to pay your utilities, yet.

    For the Novices

    As would be common sense, having a meager amount of money is going to be most difficult for those who are used to a lot more. I won't claim that I am perfecting the notion of "surviving comfortably" because the truth is that if you are used to something else, $40 or $50 won't be comfortable. But it can be done with minimal ill-effects. Your kids may not even know the difference. So for those of you who are new to having so little cash, here's a primer with the basics:

    • Pay your rent or mortgage FIRST. Even if you have to go to churches and other charitable organizations and beg for $20 here and $30 there to make the payment. Everything else can be figured out, but going homeless is really hard on people.

    • Buy your food second. You need to be well-nourished if you are going to make smart decisions. Yes, feed your children first. But feed yourself too in the best way you can.

    • Your health and the health of your children is still first priority. That includes dental health. Inquire with your state about subsidized health care programs, and if you need health care, go get it. If there is one type of debt that is worth it, it is medical debt. And you may be able to get help paying it later. Remember that hospitals can't turn you away for treatment due to an inability to pay. You can work on payment plans later.

    • Don't let your utilities slip. Trying to feed a family without electricity (let alone trying to keep depression at bay) is really tough, especially on a tight budget. Getting on a payment plan with utility companies sometimes is your best bet, but if there will be some months where you can't make even the small payment you've arranged to make (say $10 or $20), you may lose the utility faster once on the plan. In some cases, if you believe you may have more money the next month, it is better to let the bills slide. Generally one month won't cause alarm with most companies. Even if you can just pay one utility every month, pay that one and let the next slide to the next month. Or better yet, pay a little on all the utilities. If you are paying *something* the companies will generally want to be helpful to you. But pay as often as you can, as much as you can.

    • If you need to, get help. Don't be ashamed to visit your local food pantry. You likely won't receive much (many pantries these days will give out one boxed meal, such as an instant pasta, a can or two of vegetables, plus something like a jar of applesauce as a typical offering), but it might be enough to ease the hardship a bit. If desperate, go to a soup kitchen or see if a relative is willing to clean out their pantry.

    • No, you can't eat out. No, not even fast food. If you seriously only have $40 that is not an option. Do not use credit. You don't need it, and it will just dig you deeper in your hole. If you have credit of some type, rip it up...make it inaccessible as far as you are concerned. You *will* feel deprived if you are used to, say, being able to do things like grab some drive through after a late night at work. It *will* feel crummy, but you will normalize to it if your situation doesn't change (or in the case you are doing this to prepare for possible financial collapse) and it won't feel so bad later.

    • Finally, don't do anything stupid like driving your car uninsured. It will cost you more in the longrun.

    The Groundrules

    Everybody has their own groundrules about surviving on low cash. You may have your own. These are a few of mine:

    • Everybody still eats fresh fruits and vegetables, and sources of protein. One way or another, we will not eat Ramen for weeks on end. I am the provider in my family. No one in my home is going to be malnourished. Period. (In fact, when money is tighter, it is probable you'll eat healthier than you ever have. You'll start planning snacks instead of grabbing processed junk. You'll make more homeade food. Etc.)

    • Foods are not rationed out. We eat until we are filled, and we don't judge one another about it. However, taking three servings of the same dish is not usually an option. If after you eat one (or in some less frequent cases, two) servings of something you are still hungry, you may eat more of something else, particularly foods that we happen to have a lot of at that moment.

    • Done well, living poorer (or for those who have a choice, more frugally) should mean living better. It really should.

    Stay tuned for part 2: "FOOD"

    Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    Remember This? Re-visiting the Chris Martenson Videos On Our Economic Situation

    Two things.

    First, I am slowly working on re-writing my missing post, the letter to my children, and I will post it again as soon as I have it done. I think it will be worth the wait.

    Second, remember waaaaay back in October (2008) when I posted this link: I hope if you didn't watch it then, that you will now. I am very interested in discussing this with other folks.

    Sunday, July 26, 2009

    Blogspot and the Missing Post

    My last post was a letter for my children, and it meant a lot to me. Why I didn't save it in Word, I have no idea. Unfortunately, I went in to make a couple of edits this morning, and in an instant, when I hit publish, my post was gone. I've since learned that blogger has a recover feature that occassionally helps with instances such as this, but in my panic I went and posted "where is this post?" in my old post, thus as far as I know, destroyed my ability to hit recover.

    On the off chance that any of you have a way to help me recover this post, I am asking for your help. I am hoping that either blogspot emails out posts to subscribers or...
    1. One of you happened to have it opened on your screen and haven't closed it out OR
    2. One of you happened to like what I wrote (ha! I know, I'm grasping here...) enough to have saved it in some fashion.

    Help! The post was made yesterday, Saturday. I am desperate!

    Saturday, July 25, 2009

    For My Children...

    Not sure what happened to this post!??? Aack!

    I Was Featured!

    I was honored to be featured today over at:

    Thursday, July 23, 2009

    "The Panics"

    So our van has been out of use for several months. We hope its just the alternator (vs. something electrical), but we have to wait and save up money for it to be checked out. Anyway, so the car has been sitting in front of the house, and every once in-a-while, the kids talk about how we can't drive it until we take it to the "panics." That's how they mis-pronounce "mechanics." Fitting.

    When I need to take a car to the mechanic, it definitely induces panic :-).

    I just wanted to post this so I have it written down somewhere and don't forget it. Toooooo cute!

    Weird Moments on Facebook

    I only joined Facebook for work. For a long time, I didn't join Facebook, but rather watched carefully those who did and learned what I could about different ways to approach it. In the end, I decided to have a pretty limited network, so I have a specific mix of "friends."

    My general ground rules for myself are:

    1. To only "make friends" with folks somehow related to my work: colleagues, members of my past or former congregation, and UU folks with whom I am otherwise connected.

    2. Not to put out "friend requests" on a regular basis, not because I wouldn't be happy to have a large network, but rather because somehow I just feel weird asking folks to be my friends. I dunno.

    Every once-in-a-while, I contemplate having a non-work Facebook account. I wonder, what would I do with it? Would I make online connections with folks I am meeting now who aren't UU? Would I try to reconnect with folks from my past?

    Tonight, just out of curiosity, I did a search for folks who graduated from my high school the same year I did. I would NOT recommend this activity to other folks with memory loss.

    It is a bit on the spooky side.

    I could recall a few specific folks, once I saw their pictures, but for the most part, it was like walking through the halls of high school and seeing ghosts.

    The names sounded so familiar-- I could even hear myself saying them-- and the faces looked vaguely like people I should know, but I couldn't place these memories into any context.

    Was she one of my friends?
    Was he? Were they?
    Who ARE these people?

    Also, seeing folks made me really glad we didn't have (as far as I know) a 10 year high school reunion. Because from the snapshots and little blurbs of info, anyway, everyone looks happy, healthy, successful, absolutely BEAUTIFUL, and like they are doing very well. I am happy and stuff too, but I just know I would walk in and start feeling like I was in high school, or middle school all insecure! Like I'll never quite be as worthy. Yikes! Crazy how quickly I can return to that place in my mind, despite the lack of memories.

    Another issue to work on, I suppose.

    Tuesday, July 21, 2009

    I've Been Spending Time...

    ...reading this blog this summer: I recommend it!

    Woohooooo hoooooo! Great News!

    Remember how I was so worried about my divinity school applications (I still am! Nothing has changed on that front...that's not the news LOL!) and getting those two letters of academic reference? Remember how I went and found out that my old department at school was reconfigured entirely and none of the faculty had stuck around through the transition?

    WELL, I have successfully tracked down one of my professors this week, who just so happens to be one of the very first people-- if not THE first person-- to pop into my mind when I realized I would need these letters. I really put my heart and soul into her classes, and I learned a lot. I am so glad to be back in touch with her, and best of all, she actually remembers me!

    She emailed me back tonight. I am so excited!

    Wednesday, July 15, 2009


    I am really lucky to have met my wife at nineteen.

    Rarely, at various moments over the years, I have wondered what it would have been like to have had more time for dating, for total freedom and independence, for trying on different relationship identities, and growing alone. But the truth is, when I met G, I knew within months that I wanted to marry HER and have children with HER.

    G and I have been really different people from the start. We shared a complimentary sense of humor, some common core values, and a few similar interests (a love of water perhaps the most critical), but our families of origin, our life experiences, our theological understandings, our educational interests and histories, our hobbies and likes, our approaches to everything from money to goal setting, and even the music we listened to most were vastly different.

    Over the years, we've had many jokes about how different we were when we met. We used to say that if we had met just a few years earlier, we might not have even liked one another, let alone fallen in love. For a while, I joked that my family must be paying G to date me.

    Now, over a decade later, G and I have found that while we've grown together in many ways, we've also grown in very different directions. We share more in common now, but this is largely because we've built a life together. As individuals, sometimes we have wondered if now we have less in common than when we met.

    I no longer see many commonalities as necessary to a deeply fulfilling marriage. Not a day has gone by since the day I met G when she hasn't helped me in some way to grow as a human being. I am a very different person than I was at nineteen, not in spite of my marriage, but because of it.

    More than anything, what I find in my marriage, is a "deep knowing." G knows me as fully as a human being as probably anyone ever will, and she chooses love. There is something that is deeply fulfilling in receiving true-knowing followed by true, authentic, willing love. In my marriage, in my home, in the family G and I have created together, I belong. That's a feeling unlike any other...belonging.

    I am starting to think most people spend their lives in various emotional and mental states that relate to belonging. And starting to think that one of our spiritual tasks is finding a sense of peace in an eternal belonging.

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    My new hero is Emily Yeung!

    Either that or I am really jealous of all the coool things she gets to do ;-).

    I don't have a tv, so thanks to YouTube for this:

    And OMG I feel like snowtubing now after the end to that vid!

    Monday, July 6, 2009

    "Here come the boogie boards!"

    I finally had a chance to tag along with my family on one of G's regular trips with the kids to the beach.

    I have been missing way too many (read: all) beach trips this summer, and it feels like I am working all the time yet getting nothing done. I can't get this time back with my family, so while the beach will always be there (though goodness knows there is no where I'd rather be than at the beach) I really need to prioritize these beach days higher.

    The Fourth of July was a good day to go ahead and play hookie because, well, it's a friggin' holiday and that is what people do! We got a little bit of absolutely heavenly beach time in that afternoon. It was AWESOME! G had been telling me how great it is there with the kids now, and I agree.

    G's sister loaned us some boards, thus I found out the kids are starting to boogie board! We could have easily spent the whole day there if only we hadn't needed to fit in a nap! And with G's sister there to watch the kids for a few minutes at a time, G and I fit in a little body surfing.

    When I think of the Fourth of July this year, I'll think of M and K running to the water, boogie boards in tow, with K grinning ear to ear and shouting "here come the boogie boards!" I really wish I had photos. It was sooooooo much fun.

    That night there was a report that the police were cracking down on fireworks, even though there is no longer a city show, but we went back to the beach anyway, and found that there was quite an impressive number of fireworks. It was incredible to watch, albeit slightly scary.

    What a good day.

    Sunday, July 5, 2009


    Something I dream of doing with my children is a trip to Africa, perhaps Ghana. I think the cultural exchange aspect of such a trip would be amazing!

    There is at least one organization ( I have found that has a volunteer program in Ghana for families to do together. Since I have no money at all, I'd have to fundraise it. That's common for folks traveling to volunteer. Adding up the program fee for one (not sure how much they would charge for kids as young as mine) plus a very, very modest assumption about the cost of the flight, it seems like I would need a minimum of about 80 people to donate $50.

    I see that and think, "that could be do-able." And then a second later I think, "I'd be crazy to imagine I could do that." Say I could get 25 folks from the church, 5 from my family, 5 from G's family, and 5 friends to do it. That's half of what I would need. The problem would be the other half. Plus, I am assuming there would be naysayers about a trip like that for a young family (including G, who has already said she is not going to come with us...she even hates traveling in the states), so I'd have to address that for fundraising. Hmmm.

    Tuesday, June 30, 2009

    In over my head and the science project of a lifetime...

    I need to help approximately 10-20 seven-ten year olds create a giant (and by giant...I mean truly GIANT) model of our galaxy-- yes, I meant galaxy, not solar system-- in a very large hall at the church.

    And I need to do it on a pretty restricted budget, no more than a couple hundred dollars.

    The challenges include:

    1. The galaxy is, well, giant, and I need basically a map of it even though it isn't fully mapped.

    2. Since there isn't a complete map, I need to decide what is important to demonstrate about the galaxy, and figure out a way to demonstrate those elements first and foremost. I am thinking the vastness is a start, but there are more specific scientific points that shouldn't probably be demonstrated.

    3. Hopefully, the galaxy will be hung. I have to figure out what to use for materials. Balloons, beach balls, styrofoam balls...?? At first I was thinking that each would represent a star or planet, and that we would create a "condensed"/mini/unfinished version of the galaxy, but I am realizing after looking at the second picture here that it might be better and would definitely be more accurate to use each one for a solar system...perhaps sharpie pens to mark the systems??

    Oh, and I have been researching and strategizing for a while, but it is coming down to the wire. I have two weeks to get this figured out and set up. Ack! Help!!!!!! I need some good advice, tips, ideas, and suggestions, and it can't include "give up."

    Here are the links I've found helpful or awe-inspiring so far, aside from the fantastic one above, with the picture:

    Monday, June 22, 2009

    Another Random Treasure From an Unrelated Internet Search

    Check this are free online yoga classes, with videos. Looks like it could be a wonderful resource!

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    Divinity School Applications

    I have convinced myself there is no way I can get into Harvard, let alone get the required massive financial aid to go (not to mention get the part-time student status required, which will require a special exemption). In case I get the courage to apply, I woke up in the middle of the night the other night and scribbled out a first draft of a "statement of purpose," one of the items required for admission to Harvard's Master of Divinity program.

    It felt really genius at the time, but as with most "2:00am writing," if I use anything from it at all, it will need a lot of work.

    Meanwhile, I thought I could do myself a favor by putting out an initial request for my letters of recommendation, even though the school does not yet have its recommendation letter forms (which it specifies it needs) online for next year's applicants. While I was online looking for the forms, however, I read something I apparently missed previously: "At least TWO of these letters must be solicited from college, university, or seminary professors who have taught the applicant and are therefore well acquainted with the applicant's academic qualifications." Ah, shit.

    I graduated from my most recent school experience in 2001, if memory serves. Since that time, the program I was in underwent a serious overhaul, and I just went searching online to discover that *none* of the faculty from my days in attendance are with the university anymore. So now I have to go hunt them down, and hope that I can find them, and then hope that they are doing something that will look good to freaking HARVARD on letterhead. And THEN hope that they actually remember me (I was an outstanding student of course, LOL, but who knows...their names have since faded from my own memory, so I wouldn't blame them if the same was true for them in regards to me).

    Not only that, but suddenly I am starting to wonder if I was supposed to send a thank you note to the Harvard professor who allowed me to sit in on his class (oops!). And if I shot myself in the foot with my inability to attend more classes than I did.

    Cold feet time. I am feeling really defeated, and I've hardly begun. My goal was to work through most of the application materials (as well as FASFA materials, etc. for financial aid) over the summer, so that in the fall, when the application is published, I can focus on that. The fall is an immensely busy time at work in any case, and I figured I was doing myself a favor.

    But I am terrified, and that makes me simultaneously obsess and procrastinate. Not a good combo!

    I think it would help if I could get my self to stop imagining all the other grand candidates. I am who I am. But suddenly the statistics I referenced a few months ago look different. Before I saw:

    Applied 677
    Admitted 253
    Incoming 160
    MDiv 50
    MTS 100
    ThD 6
    ThM 4

    ...and thought, "hey 253 out of 677 isn't bad at all. And since most of the incoming students are MTS students, there probably weren't that many MDiv applicants."

    But now I look at it, and think, my chances of being admitted could hover somewhere in the 60-70% range, and probably plenty of those admitted last year didn't get necessary financial aid, because of those that were admitted, about 40% aren't going. Besides, what if there were plenty of MDiv applications, but they just don't accept as many into the program so my chances are even less. Or what if they gave out less financial aid for those studies or...(ad nauseum).

    By the way, if you are curious, all the application materials are listed about 1/5 or 1/6 of the way down this page:

    (I am assuming if I prepare all these materials, I'll have most everything I'll need for the other school to which I am applying as well.)

    The big question is, will I apply or won't I?

    Monday, June 15, 2009

    Politically, about Obama, I feel...patient

    While searching a TOTALLY unrelated topic on the web, I came across this blog:, and on it, this video:

    Watching the video, I was most touched by those who used the word "human" to describe their feelings in the days after Obama's election. Now, about six months later, the question still seems relevant enough...and my answer would still be one of those from the list:


    It was hard to know, in November, whether we should congratulate Obama on winning or send him our sympathies. What a mess! So far, steady feet. Not perfection. I didn't expect that. Not "everything I could ever agree with and nothing else." I didn't expect that either. But steady feet, humble but strong, thoughtful, and strategic leadership, and a genuine effort at leadership with integrity. I am feeling open, willing to participate, and patient.

    And I thank Peacebang for her reaction to this photo, here, which I didn't mirror in enthusiasm, but could truly appreciate:

    Friday, May 29, 2009

    Maybe I am an old woman in a youngish body...

    ...but at 30 I am already a curmudgeon. I don't like some emerging social norms, and they make me have that old worry of "what is the new generation coming to?"

    If you own a cell and use text messaging, please keep in mind that while you think a big benefit to texting is that you can quietly and discreetly message others while in a meeting and so forth, you are not as discreet as you think. Though some may accept it, it can be highly distracting for some. And yes, no matter how much you participate in the discussion at hand, it sends a clear message that the people you are with do not deserve your full and undivided attention.

    Edited to add that interestingly, right after I published this post, I saw this:

    Monday, May 25, 2009

    Having a large quantity vs. having a large amount: value

    Recently I've written a lot of good blog posts in my head, but I am sorry to report that now that I finally have a chance to sit down and write, they have all escaped my head.

    That said, I do have an interesting child development report regarding my son, M.

    Earlier this year, I tried to introduce M. to the idea of counting money, and also saving/donating/investing/spending money. I had hoped it would be a math, economics, social justice, and sensory (coin recognition) exercise that we could work through in multiple ways during Montessori as well as through a very small-change allowance. He took little, if any, interest.

    However, lately he's begun asking for more things, and I've had to say no quite a bit. Sometimes I have a reason in addition to financial limitations, but not always. When money is the only reason, I've taken an honest, though not (I hope) fear-inspiring, approach with him. "I don't have money for that" is an answer that seems to be satisfactory at least half of the time still, particularly when I can think quickly enough on my feet to redirect his interest to something fun we can do together.

    Today he told me he wanted to eat at a restaurant. I told him I didn't have money for it. "Yes you do, you have a lot of money! Do you want me to show you where it is?" he replied. "Sure," I said (I'll admit that I was secretly hoping he'd found some forgotten dollar bills somewhere in the house). And he disappeared into my bedroom. He returned a moment or two later with a jar of change that I generally use for tolls, but that contains mostly pennies. "Look! You have a lot of money here!"

    I asked him, "M, do you want to know how much money this is?" and he eagerly nodded his head. We began counting. I told him that a hundred pennies is equal to one dollar. By twenty pennies, he had tired of counting, and left the work to me. By thirty or forty pennies, apparently tired of waiting for the tally, he was telling me, "that is one hundred...that's a dollar." I kept at it, and finally we got to one hundred pennies. There was still a little bit of random change left, including some more pennies, so I counted that too and added it in. I actually was pleasantly surprised it was as much as it was, close to $3.00!

    "See!" M. declared victoriously, "we can eat at a restaurant."

    So then we had a talk about what $3.00 could buy, and how it is a lot of money in a way, but not a lot of money when it comes to things like eating at restaurants. I got out the kids' "piggy bank" again. I gave the kids the quarters that were in the change jar, and made sure they added one to each section of the piggy bank (it's actually a "cow bank," a Christmas gift for the kids from my mother!): one for saving, one for spending, one for investing, and one for donating. I told them I would give them more when I could. Trying to think of something that would really motivate them, and inspired by my friend Sara's ice cream-allowance connection from when her kids were a bit younger, I told the kids that when they had about 16 quarters, it should be enough for each of them to get an ice cream treat at the corner store.

    They were really excited about this, though I worried a bit about whether they could wait as long as it would take to collect 16 quarters. Still, I felt good because it seemed like M. at least had a starting point to make the connection that just because you have a large quantity of coins doesn't mean that you have a large amount of money. It seems like a good basic math and economics lesson.

    Then my alternative to going to a restaurant to eat was to take the kids to a new park, in a neighborhood near us that we hadn't explored yet. We had to drive there, and when we arrived, we found an ice cream truck in the parking lot. Yikes! This had M. digging in every nook and crannie of the car, where he found a total of about five pennies, which he insisted could buy him some ice cream afterall! When I finally convinced him five pennies wasn't enough, he took up the idea that he could wish 100 pennies into existence to make a dollar, simply by saying that is what he had. I told him I wasn't even sure if they sold anything for a dollar anyway. It took some convincing for him to let go of the idea, and I was a tiny bit tempted to let him go up to the truck and try and buy something just so he'd believe me. I guess we still have a ways to go, but I still feel excited that he is starting to pick up on the difference between quantity and value.

    It makes me feel like giving up my debit card for a bit, so he can watch me grocery shop with cash, and help me keep track of what I am spending. I wonder if I could carry an envelope with a certain amount of cash and coins, and hand him the right amount of money (approximately) for each item I am purchasing so that he can physically watch the amount change as we decide on purchases.

    I also wonder if there are any printable charts on the internet that outline for kids about how much it costs to buy a variety of items (from a gumball to an ice cream cone to a toy truck). If not, maybe I'll make him one. Meanwhile, we'll keep counting change when he shows some interest. I'm curious to watch how this kind of knowledge will develop for him.

    Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    A Photo

    This last weekend we had our Celebrating Adoption session with the gracious MA photographer, Megan Peck. She just emailed us that she posted one of the photos on her blog: Enjoy!

    Thursday, May 14, 2009

    Welcome Baby!

    I just heard my younger brother and his wife's new little baby made her entry into this world this afternoon. Welcome baby E! We're sure you'll love it here...enjoy the journey!

    Thursday, May 7, 2009

    Eh, Horoscope Shmorascope

    Did I mention my horoscope basically said not to open my mouth for a while. Not a peep.

    Wednesday, May 6, 2009

    Sibling Therapy? Who Knew!

    A writer contacted me today to ask if she could interview me for an article she is writing on issues in adoption. I've been looking over her other work to decide if I am willing to be interviewed. I found an interesting article:

    Cain and Abel, Meet the Couch

    One of the things I thought was interesting is looking at sibling relationships as perhaps the longest relationships we'll have in our lives. And although the examples were depressing and about highly dysfunctional families, I did think it was helpful to use the term "historians" for siblings.

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009

    A Couple More Cute, Quick Stories

    Today I was watching the kids play on these "cars" the person who used to own our house left for them. After a while, M pulled his car up next to K's and said, "Do you want to have a conversation?"

    Also, G told me that a few days ago when they were visiting with G's sister, M cleaned up his "dirty joke" for his aunty. M and K have this ongoing joke they tell at home. It is simply:

    "Poo poo in the egg!" Followed by giggling.

    Our rule is that they can stay stuff like that at home, when we don't have guests, but that they may not talk about things like pee and poop in front of others, or when we are out and about. So, to his aunty, M said:

    "Aunty B...bubble in the egg!" Followed by giggling.

    It's impossible not to laugh at a beginner joke teller who thinks his jokes are hilarious, so she laughed. But she really appreciated the humor later when G told her that this was a cleaned up "dirty joke."

    Monday, May 4, 2009

    Sweet Big Brother Moment

    With two kids eleven months apart in age, there can definitely be moments of sibling rivalry, fighting, and all the rest.

    But then there are these incredibly sweet and tender moments when I remember that my kids are truly best friends too, and that they love each other dearly.

    Ever since M's birthday party at the firestation, almost every day, the kids have wanted to read the fire-safety coloring books that the firefighters gave them. There is stuff in there about creating a fire safety plan with your family, including a safe meeting place outside your house.

    M has said all kinds of cute things about this, including insisting that our meeting place should actually be at church because that is a good, safe spot LOL. I told him that we had to meet somewhere that he could go by himself, in case mamas couldn't get out of the house. We had decided on the basketball hoop in the driveway we share with our neighbor. That's because we don't want the kids out by the street, and the driveway is a safe distance away from the street, and up a little hill. The hoop is on our neighbor's side of the driveway. Of course, since we normally don't let the kids go out on the driveway without supervision, this was a bit alarming to M. Tonight he asked about K getting out to the meeting spot. He seemed a bit worried until he said with confidence, "I will hold her TIGHT and keep her safe!"

    He followed that up with, "When she is four, she can go out by herself like me [if there is a fire]."

    They love each other so much!

    Saturday, May 2, 2009


    I'm beginging to worry that the state of Washington is bankrupt. They owe us money. A fair amount. Every week they promise the glitch in their accounting/payments system has been fixed...essentially that the check is in the mail. Every day that envelope fails to appear in our mailbox. This has been going on since February.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009

    Another Language Observation: Accents etc.

    When folks think of the Boston-and-area accent, they often think about the dropping of "r" sounds, as in the word "party" sounding more like "potty" and "car" or "park" sounding like "cah" or "pahk."

    Below are two examples of less commonly known aspects of the accent, though interestingly, it should be noted that in terms of accent, there is a very large difference going just 15 miles in one direction or another. For example, the town Woburn is often pronounced by folks in the town as "Woo-bin." That's a north shore accent. In Boston or on the south shore, you'd hear something more along the lines of "Woo-burn."
    • The "ahh" sound doesn't just replace dropped "r"s. It is also the sound of many "a"s. However, it is very, very subtle and happens only in a portion of a Bostonian's speech, so you won't notice it right away. For example, "trash" is slightly more like "tr-ah-sh" (like "wash") and "fast" is slightly more like "fahst." The English influence perhaps?
    • "A"s are changed to "r"s almost as much as "r"s are changed to "a"s. For example, "Tina" often sounds like "teen-erh."

    Probably the hardest city to pronounce in MA is Worcester. I still have not been able to perfect my pronunciation. The sounds can get very subtle. Fortunately for me, an acceptable twist on the name is "Whister" or "Whista." "Woostah" is another acceptable variety, but there is a subtle but noticeable difference in how townies say that vs. everybody else, and I wouldn't suggest that most folks who aren't from Worcester or the area attempt this version of the name. When I first moved to MA, I tried to do what the Worcester townies do and get the right blend of the word with something like the sounds in the sauce with a similar name. Big mistake. It never comes out right. People from out of town often do this (second to "Woorchester") saying things like "Wooshter" or something like that, and this would be considered an improper pronunciation of the town here. Like I said, fortunately for me, there is always "Whister" to call back on.

    One term I never heard (at least not much) before moving to MA is "it is what it is." I hear that here a LOT! I even have heard it a few times on the news. This is a term that either rose significantly in use after we moved, or is fairly regional (either that, or I just hear it a lot because people don't think highly of me and the things I do LOL). G's translation is, "it's sh*t and it's sh*t." It's kind of like a verbal throwing-up-of-hands, an "oh-well" type thing to say. I think it is a spin off from the New England version of being polite, which is to give lots of space and privacy to other people. If G's translation is correct, it's a pretty non-confrontational way of saying something is sh*t.

    Interesting, this language thing.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    "Can't Get the Colorado Out of the Girl"

    The other day I sent home a notice to some of my youth about an upcoming event. In the announcement, I said the youth should bring a "sack lunch" with them.

    Well, on Sunday one of the parents (who happened to be on my search committee) came to me and said that he shared my notice with his wife because he thought it was funny. She's from Colorado, and her reply was, "you can't get the Colorado out of the girl." He informed me that my use of the word "sack" would be unfamiliar and odd around here, and he said with some concern that people might think I was being weird. He told me the proper word in New England is "bag" not "sack."

    I don't remember us using the term "sack" much growing up, but according to this congregant's wife, it is something I likely picked up living in Colorado. I imagine I use the words interchangably now. Most likely for shopping bags or trash/garbage/rubbish, I say "bag," and for things like lunches, I say "sack." On one online quiz I took, it turned up that I have no accent at all, so my interchangable use of regional terms makes sense.

    I have not been able to effectively move, however, to saying "carriage" instead of "cart" when shopping, or "carriage" instead of "stroller" when towing the kids around town.

    Anyway, this congregant ever so nicely suggested I use the internet to get a list of words that are used and not used in New England to help me assimilate. Funny.

    So far, this is what I've been able to find (some have some pretty offensive terms or describe pretty offensive useage, and only a couple address the sack vs. bag issue):

    Friday, April 24, 2009

    Race and Adoption

    I've been thinking a lot about race and racism recently. A LOT. Now that Obama is president, whites seem to think we are post-race, which they think also gives them permission to be more overt about their subtle racism. In some ways I'm glad it is no longer *quite* as subtle and insidious because it is easier to deal with overt racism. But I can't believe the things that are coming out of folks' mouths right now. [sound of me throwing up as I think about it]

    Anyway, so I've been thinking about race and racism a lot.

    And ta-da, one of my friends online produced one more interesting related read this morning:

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    Social Justice Blog

    It's a busy day at work today, so I don't have time to say much. However, I did want to post a link to this blog, which might be of interest to those who want to keep in touch with humanitarian and other concerns around the world:

    Saturday, April 18, 2009

    They're Growing Up!

    Today was M's fourth birthday party. It was at the firestation (tip for parents of preschoolers: firestations are a great birthday party activity, and they usually offer tours for groups of kids for as little as a plate of brownies...this is M's second firestation party), followed by cake at the church. The kids played on firetrucks, saw the firefighters raise and climb the super high ladder, watched a fireman slide down a pole into the firetruck garage, saw a firefighter dressed in fire gear, turned the lights on in the firetrucks, heard the sirens, watched a couple trucks take off for real-life emergencies, were given firesafety coloring books and pencils, and basically had an all-around blast.

    We had at least fourteen kids I think, though I lost count LOL. Originally seventeen had RSVP'd! Fourteen or more preschoolers +the firestation +partying at the church=exhausting! And our exhaustion was compounded when G's father hit his head very hard on the car door on the way over, resulting in a probable concussion, and got quite ill. He hung on until the end of the party, but did take off for the ER afterward. Nonetheless, G. had to stay back with him at the church during the firestation portion of the party (sad), and G's sister and mom were unable to help with setup. I should have taken tomorrow as one of my Sunday's off. I am here at work trying to get ready for the day tomorrow and just completely brain dead.

    Hmmm...this seemed to be an ER/car themed week as well, come to think of it. Friday I spent the day in the ER with M after he slammed his finger in the car door. It was very swollen and looked awful, but it turned out it was not broken, and it looks much better today.

    Anyway, so the kids are growing up. K celebrated her third birthday last month, and here M is turning four. Whew! Every year, it cracks me up how M seems to like to time his developmental leaps around his birthday ;-). He learned to use the toilet almost overnight right around his third birthday. We had backed off from working on it with him, and suddenly, he turned three, and he was out of diapers. He has, however, continued to need diapers overnight until now, suddenly, he is waking up dry almost every day and from almost every nap. It looks like he'll be entirely out of diapers any day now.

    He just seems like such a "kid" now. He now helps his sister with all kinds of tasks, in this "big brotherly" way that is somewhat new and so sweet. He is making leaps and bounds into independence. I even let him go by himself for introductions with a neighbor whose name he didn't know. The neighbor was working in his yard across the street, and M asked to go make introductions by himself. So I stood on the sidewalk, told M when it was safe to walk, let him cross and ask the neighbor his name (and tell the neighbor his own name), and then had him wait across the street until I told him it was safe to cross. Being a new englander (out here people seem to think it is best to "give others room"), I think the neighbor might have thought it was a little weird for M to come over and make introductions, but M was really proud of himself! I was proud of him too. I never would have *dreamed* of letting him do this even a month ago, maybe even a couple of weeks ago. He just was too unpredictable. But now at four he is shifting into complete focus and attention to detail. He was ready to follow the rules, and I could tell.

    I also love how now M calls this neighbor by his name. Whereas before he was just "the neighbor," now he is J. We were having a picnic on the front porch the other day and a car alarm went off somewhere in the distance. As we listened to the faint alarm sounds, M. said, "do you think J hears it?" Something so sweet about it, and it warms new england by at least a degree for me.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    Preorder Your Alternative to Saccharine Laced Anthologies Now

    My Baby Rides the Short Bus is now ready for pre-orders at This is a book of anthologies written by parents of children with special needs. It is specifically written by voices of marginalized, "minority," and punk parents.

    You can get a better peek at what the book will be like at the My Baby Rides the Short Bus blog.

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    Seminary and Commitment(/Focus)

    I sent off a thank you note today to the Dean of Students at one of the seminaries I am looking at. She had personally invited me over to the open house at her school, and she made sure I received a very warm welcome. It was a very good experience, and I've regretted that I've been so remiss in sending her a note.

    It's been a little while since I've done a lot of thinking about seminary. I attended at least one more class over at Harvard since I last posted, but since the first time I went over to Harvard I got a $50 parking ticket I can't afford to pay and the second time I went over to Harvard my car died, I admit that my energy for going there when I don't have a commitment to do so is a little diminished. The spring has also been really, really full of meetings at work and G. has been complaining that I haven't been home enough. So it's on the backburner just slightly, which is okay because I feel more certain now that I will apply to two seminaries this fall/winter and that I will hold off on a decision about which one to attend until I at least find out if I am accepted.

    I'm sort of in that lull between having a plan and needing to act on that plan. I will start working on my applications over the summer, but the official Harvard application form doesn't even get posted until the fall anyway.

    A friend of ours, with whom we are creating a shared garden this summer, said while we were deciding when to start germinating seeds, "Let's do this today so I don't lose interest." I laughed quietly inside, noting "at least I am not the only one." Remember when I posted about pet frogs and my problem with commitment, which seems to stem from cold feet about anything which at some point required a decision on my part? I hate to admit it, but I think part of the problem is that I am also addicted to stirring things up because I like my life stirred. I like orderly chaos ;-). And yes, I know, that is an oxymoron. G jokes with me that just when things get settled and she is getting comfortable, I say, "So what next?" It is also a matter of attention span. My brain goes a million directions a minute. It's easy for me to forget how many balls I am juggling, and pick up another one without realizing that this means one that is already in the air will fall.

    I think this lull is a danger zone for me because it would be easy to get interested in something else that delays my application. Don't misunderstand. I am going to apply. My sense of calling and my interest in seminary is not fleeting. Not in the least. I've been feeling this for eight years or more now. This is more a shift of calling than anything. But it would be easy for me to get distracted and do something else and then find myself this autumn in a position in which applying isn't going to be possible. Then I would have to put this off again, and I don't want to do that, nor should I.

    I'm not sure how to keep myself on track, though, other than keeping some things on my calendar reminding myself to work on my applications this summer. I've already done that. So the coming months will definitely be a test.

    (Dear Lord, oh how I hope you will soothe this ADHD soul of mine.)