Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Amateur Gardening: Our New Garden Fence

The other day I went out to our 'garden' with the intent of clipping some roses that were ready to bloom. I discovered that Some Animal had been by and had bitten off each perfect rosebud, as well as all the new rosebush growth. At least seven roses, gone! We think it was the neighborhood deer that my daughter and I had seen the previous day. The deer also munched on the squash and strawberry plants the kids and I planted recently.

We would like these plants to survive the season and possibly even provide us with some produce to eat, but between the deer and the numerous rabbits we see running around the neighborhood each night, it looks like our produce crop is in jeopardy. We decided to set up a 2-foot wire fence around the garden.
Despite the fact that neither kid has actually committed to eat anything that we are trying to grow, they were concerned about the animals eating the plants, and were eager to help Daddy with the project. They donned their rain boots and 'work gloves' to give him a hand.

(In case you're wondering about the camera angle, I'm hanging out the dining room window to take these shots.)

Hopefully this will keep the rabbits as well as the deer away; I doubt there is enough room for the deer to jump over the fence. Maybe I'm wrong!

As for the garden itself, we're practicing Random Gardening. We planted a few seeds, a few herbs returned from last year, and whenever I purchase a new plant, I ask the kids where they think we should plant it. They're enjoying it!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Menu Plan Monday May 24th: Back in the Saddle

I have no idea what we ate last week, as my life got sort of derailed. At least one of my lunches was fed to me by a friend of mine without whom I would have missed eating. We're all still here and no one is starving, so I guess that's good. Actually, I'm having distant memories of lots of popular kid fare: spaghetti from a jar, hamburgers from a restaurant, and macaroni and cheese from a box. All those grilling recipes I planned previously were rained out, so I have an abundance of meat and fish just aching to hit the grill. Just thinking about it makes me hungry. I'm going to get a little smarter this week and check the weather before planning when we'll grill out (Monday and Friday=Bad).
I'm working on a new salad strategy, so I'm not sure if I'll make salad dressing this week. One thing I do know is that from now on salads must be snacks or sides to a main meal; they can't replace my meal. Even when I add protein to the salad (eggs, nuts, etc.) it doesn't seem to be enough!

Find more menu planning inspiration at Orgjunkie.com!


Over the past two weeks, my life got completely derailed. I thought I could hold it all together despite going out of town two weekends in a row, then teaching a 16-hour training class on the following weekend. During this time I slipped up in my fitness routine, too (a combination of traveling and losing both teen sitters I was using weekly to fit in more workouts).

I'm pretty good at staying on top of things even during hectic times, and I almost made it through.

Then I learned that one of my ex-boyfriends died by suicide almost 2 weeks ago. I hadn't seen or heard from him in over eight years, but the situation was a very sad and tragic one, and he left his wife and two very young children behind.

Despite the fact that I hadn't been in touch with my ex, I still found that I needed time to process and to grieve for his passing. I didn't realize this right away, rather the need to think about and talk about his loss grew in the back of my mind while I continued to hold everything together and navigate through my weekend training class.

The irony is that the class I taught is called ASIST: Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, otherwise known as training in suicide first aid. As I learned more about what had happened to my ex-boyfriend and how long he had been in crisis, it was painful to think that maybe I could have done something to help him had I known he needed help.

It takes time to process all of these thoughts. A lot of time mulling over the past, present, and what the future holds for my ex's family and friends. I felt the need to pay my respects at his memorial service and to help connect his family with the postvention services offered by my organization. I was even moved to reconnect with some other past friends by activating my account on a social networking site. (I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm happy to report that I've connected with some friends and exes from the past and everyone seems to be doing well.)

It got to the point that I was having trouble physically keeping up with everything that was happening. I was moving in slow motion, my energy level like a slug's. Our household came skidding to a halt as all of my energy was burned up to bits.

I did make it to a doctor appointment and learned that I am in good health and have a nice slow heart rate, which probably contributes to my lack of energy sometimes. I am also in the middle of reading a book called The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. I've learned that my great idea to eat salad every day is partially to blame for my energy crash, in addition to breaking my mild caffeine habit cold-turkey. Oops.

I've been taking things one day at a time, focusing on thinking, talking, resting, and protein, protein, protein. I think I'm ready to hit the ground running again, and to take up all the projects and tasks I've neglected over the past month. (Ask me how much decluttering I've done this month, for example!)

I'll be honest: part of me is not thrilled to have lost so much productive time over the past few weeks. It was tempting to just push my thoughts and feelings aside and distract myself by keeping busy. I think that most people find that this coping method only works temporarily. I owed it to the memory of my ex-boyfriend to take a time-out on my own life to grieve for the loss of his. To carry on as usual would be to devalue the meaning of his life and death. I only wish that I could have done something to help before it was too late.

Help is out there! Our hotline answers the National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK. Please consider calling if you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis or thinking about suicide. Break the silence.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Primary Care Physician Search Continues

This afternoon I decided that it was high time to work on my project to find a Primary Care Physician. As a result of my post back in March, and some requests for ideas, I received a number of recommendations to various doctors. (Thanks, everyone!) Unfortunately, none of the doctors recommended participate in my provider network.

Today I decided to try Angie's List, an online reviewing/reporting service to help people find local service providers of all types. I decided to sign up for a year's membership, as I can think of a number of additional service providers that I may need to find over the next year. I used a promotion code to reduce the cost of a year's membership to approximately $60.

I drew up two lists of providers: one from my health insurance directory, and one from Angie's List, both listing Primary Care Physicians located close to my address (I really don't want to have to drive more than 5 miles if I'm deathly ill, in severe pain, vomiting, or the like. I'll never forget the time I has the flu and had to call and push my appointment back because I couldn't move fast enough to get to the scheduled appointment on time!) I then compared the lists to one another to see if I could find a participating doctor who had received favorable reviews on Angie's List. (Beware: This is a mind-numbing task.)

Guess what? Whenever a doctor participated with my insurance AND had reviews on Angie's List, they were not accepting new patients. This overlap occurred maybe three times. What does this mean? Are the in-network doctors not very good or well-known? Does Angie's List need to expand their doctor list and entice more people to report their experiences with doctors? Probably yes to both. (The Angie's List for Health is 'new', so perhaps it just needs more time to get off the ground?)

I really didn't want to close my eyes and point to choose a Primary Care Physician, but it appears that it's my next option unless something else occurs to me. I am so frustrated that I cannot find a comprehensive list of doctors that includes feedback on the quality of care provided.

On the brighter side, I used Angie's List to continue searching for someone with drafting/architectural experience who can draw my proposed new front stoop so that we can replace it. I was able to find a list of local businesses with positive reviews. Maybe this will result in a response from someone who is willing to do the work. (It's a small project--the hardest types of projects to complete, apparently!)

Mini Hamburgers

Recently at dinnertime we went around the table to find out what each person would eat for dinner if they had to have the same thing every night. My husband would eat a bowl of cereal and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My daughter (age 3) would eat... candy. My son, on the other hand, would eat Hamburgers and French Fries. Every night! (Me? I would not be able to eat the same thing every night, so I didn't even answer.)

Here is a recipe for Mini Hamburgers that I put together last summer when my son requested hamburgers for his birthday party. It didn't make sense to me to serve a full-size hamburger to each preschooler at the party just for them to take two bites and run off to play some more.

I hunted around online and found various mini hamburger recipes that looked interesting, but I ended up taking just a bit from each recipe I read to create something that would work for me. I didn't want to spread raw beef on the rolls, nor deal with a bunch of tiny burgers on the grill, so I bake them in the oven, sort of like meatloaf!

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup panko (breadcrumbs)
  • 2 T parsley or other herbs, finely minced (above I used oregano because I need to let my parsley grow--I've been chopping it too much!)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 egg
  • Whatever else you want to add that you might add to a meatloaf! (I might try some finely shredded hard cheese next)
  • Dinner Rolls (2-3 inches across) we've been using the 100% whole wheat dinner rolls from Trader Joe's.
  • Small cheddar cheese slices
First saute minced onion in a small skillet with some olive oil until translucent.

Have ready a rimmed baking sheet--I like to line mine with aluminum foil. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Gently mix everything together with your hand just until blended. Pick up a small amount of mixture (apprlixmately 1/3 cup) and gently shape into a patty 3-4 inches across and 1 inch thick. Try to handle the meat gingerly--don't compress the meat mixture or press it hard or you will have Mini Hockey Pucks to eat! I shape them with my thumb and index finger, like this:

Arrange on foil-lined baking sheet 1 inch apart and bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes. (Optional: place small cheese slices on top of patties for last few minutes of cooking.)

In the mean time, slice rolls and heat in oven alongside patties for 10 minutes. Remove both meat and rolls from oven and place one patty on each roll. For serving on a buffet, I like to stack the burgers vertically in a casserole dish and keep it warm on a heating tray. Serve with miniature toppings and condiments.

You can make these in advance by preparing the patties then refrigerating or freezing between layers of wax paper. This comes together quickly and easily when preparing them for a party!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: May 10th

I've worn down our food stockpile over the past month, so now there is very little in the freezer that I can pull out and serve for dinner. Some bread and some frozen vegetables, some frozen fish, some brown bananas, that's pretty much all that's in there. It's time to build everything up again, and I'm feeling a sense of urgency about it because I will need dinner to be easier than takeout both Saturday and Sunday this weekend. I'll be busy and tired so the takeout temptation is going to be there, I guarantee it.

I'm ready to rebuild my food stash, but in a different way now that we are heading in to the warmer part of the year. Some recipes that we've eaten often recently will be shelved until next fall and fresh spring and summer recipes will replace the fall/winter fare. Now, if only I could recall what else we like to eat in spring and summer... hopefully I'll remember some recipes soon.

Salad Dressing: I'm good. I need to finish my Italian Dressing before I make anything more. I'm still the only family member showing an interest in consuming salad.

Soup of the Week: Bone Soup that I didn't get to this past week, but I'm making it today, I swear. See?
Also preparing: Banana Bread, Sweet Potato Biscuits w/ham, and veggies and dip to take when visiting my newest nephew, born two weeks ago! I think I can make everything listed here except for the lasagana with ingredients on hand in the house. If I get most of it made today and tomorrow, the rest of the week will go more smoothly.

I need to go get some more ideas at Orgjunkie.com. Stop by!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Consignment Sale Wrap-Up

Along with my consignment sale check, I received a stack of index cards--the cards I used to price my items. Before I did my pricing, I numbered the cards on the back with my own personal numbering system. This was my experiment to see if this would help me to analyze what sold and what didn't sell well at the sale.

I think it worked! I sorted the cards back into numerical order and this is what I've determined so far:
  • Out of 124 books/videos/DVDs, I sold 84.
  • Out of 75 kid clothing items, I sold 66.
  • Out of 12 Maternity items, I sold 6.
  • Out of 9 pairs of kids' shoes, I sold 7.
  • Out of 43 baby/toddler toys, I sold 28.
  • I also sold 5 items that were left over from a previous year's consignment sale. They weren't included in my new numbering system.
I also had a 10-item category for baby gear, but the numbers are messed up because I forgot to take a few of the items to the sale. I sold only 3 items from that category but I'm not exactly sure how many of the items made it to the sale. Seven?

Now I know what categories to focus on for the next sale this fall! Clearly the kids' clothing and shoes sell well. The toys sell okay, and I should forget about the maternity items and baby gear (which works out well since I don't have much left!)

The other great thing about this list is that I can fill out the form in the bottom center of the picture above, which is a receipt for donated goods. Any of my items that didn't sell were donated, mostly to the Salvation Army. I had the option to pick them up, but decided to let them go. It was hard to do, but I know they are going to a better place. Because I have a clear picture of how many of my items were donated, I can fill out my receipt and keep it with our 2010 tax records, therefore gaining even further financial benefit from participating in the consignment sale.

In conclusion, I sold exactly 200 items at the sale, meaning that a huge pile of stuff we don't need anymore has been united with people who need and want it. In addition, I donated 77 items to charity, and hopefully those items will be connected with people who need and want them soon.

I don't know if this is good news or bad news, but I haven't started running out of items to sell yet! I had no idea we had so much stuff. I'll just keep plugging away at it, and hopefully a cleaner, simplified household will emerge from underneath the clutter at some point. I hope...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Have an Empowering Mother's Day

When you are making preparations for Mother's Day coming up this weekend, don't forget the most important person you should prepare for: Yourself. If you have children, of course.

Some people don't do much of anything to celebrate Mother's Day, and that fact doesn't concern them too much. Some are married to enthusiastic holiday planners or giftgivers who never fail to express their love and appreciation. Others approach Mother's Day with secret anticipation, hoping their partner or children will acknowledge them and thank them in some way, yet end up feeling vaguely disappointed if their needs for appreciation aren't met.

I used to do this, and inevitably I would end up feeling dissapointed and unappreciated. This wasn't because my spouse and kids didn't appreciate me, but because they didn't know what I wanted for Mother's Day! This was because I didn't know what I wanted for Mother's Day, either. My kids are too young to take initiative on their own, and my husband has major psychological issues surrounding potential gift-giving events. (Hmmm... I'd better check and be sure I'm allowed to write that. He says yes!)

Things have gone much better since I thought out what it was that would be meaningful to me on Mother's Day; in a sense what my ideal Mother's Day would be like. Once I had a clear image of the day in my mind, I could share that with my family and put a plan in action.
  • Plan in Advance. The best plans, even if they are simple, seem to go more smoothly if they are thought out in advance. Don't wait until Sunday to let your family know what you have in mind, especially there is a possibility that they have an alternate plan in the works. This also gives time for advance preparation, such as food, day trip packing and planning, reservations, child care arrangements, mailing cards to mothers/grandmothers, etc.
  • Celebrate with extended family (grandmothers, etc.) on a different day if possible. Can you tell that we like to celebrate Mother's Day in my family? In years past I've figured out that it can be too much to try to celebrate at a family get-together AND celebrate with just my own kids on the same day. At the same time, I don't  want to forget my grandmothers nor my own mother. This year my grandmother's will receive Mother's Day wishes in the mail, and I will see my own mother on Saturday.
  • Make it Doable and Fun. It may be tempting when your spouse asks what you want for Mother's Day to annouce that you want him to finish that home project he's been dragging out for 6 months, or for the entire family to help you clean out the garage. I think it's better to keep expectations moderate and make your request more about being a celebration and family bonding time. (Unless, of course, you your family booked a spa appointment. In this situation, defer family bonding time to a more convenient time, such as Father's Day, and head to the spa immediately.)
  • Make it a Tradition. If you celebrate in at least a similar way each year (remember, first you have to decide how to celebrate so that the day is meaningful to you) at some point your family members will notice the pattern. They may start spontaneously adding to your plan, or be willing to do more of the advance preparation since they know what to expect.
  • Do for Yourself. Do you want your children and spouse to give you cards on Mother's Day? What's stopping you from purchasing them yourself? I have done this in the past. Everyone signed their names on the cards and 'gave' them to me, and it was cathartic to open them and read them despite having selected each one out at the store. (Amazingly, each card said just what I needed to hear!) What can I say? I was feeling hormonal that year. Don't feel embarrassed about doing for yourself what you need. Think of it as teaching your children your Mother's Day traditions. If you don't care about cards, don't buy/make them. This is just one example. Bake a cake with your kids, or pack a picnic, or whatever it is that is meaningful and enjoyable to you that you would like to pass on to them as a tradition or memory.
  • Do for Someone Else. It goes without saying that you should do something for your own maternal relations on Mother's Day. In addition, if you know a mother other than your own who is unlikely to be acknowledged on Mother's Day, do something meaningful for them. Usually the unacknnowledged mothers are the ones who need a Mother's Day gift the most.
Now that I've empowered myself and figured out what is meaningful to me on Mother's Day, we are building a tradition as a family. Since I do almost all the cooking, it's nice to have a break and go out to eat. We have young kids, though, which makes it difficult to deal with crowds and long waits, so we go to brunch first thing in the morning right when the restaurant opens. This leave plenty of time for a family bike ride for most of the day. After that, things are less structured, but usually some sort of carryout or delivery is involved at dinnertime. I haven't decided on cards yet; I might take the kids to pick out cards for me as my son is reading now. Or maybe we'll make some?

Whatever works for you on Mother's Day, I encourage you to empower yourself and make it happen!

Menu Plan Monday: May 3rd

Can you plan your menu for the week while you are on the road? I am away from home this weekend, and I'm wondering whether it's even worth it to plan a menu. I can't recall what's on the schedule for this week. On the other hand, we will be needing some lean, nutrient-rich meals to make up for the junk food fest we're experiencing on vacation right now.
One advantage is that I have a pretty good idea of what's in the fridge at home: Nothing! Everything is pretty cleared out thanks to my efforts last week to eat up everything we could. The fruit bowl is empty and frankly the pantry is pretty picked over too. The freezer has hardly anything in it but still looks full anyway. Despite eating down, we still have Tilapia Pepper Packets, marinated flank steak, and a larger package Kale White Bean Soup in the freezer. 
  • Monday: Out of Town
  • Tuesday: Out of Town
  • Wednesday: Returning Home at Dinnertime. Do I dare try to cook a meal? Hah! I think we will eat out.
  • Thursday: Salt and Pepper Chicken, baked potatoes, green beans, and salad
  • Friday: Mini Hamburgers (because they are SO GOOD and I need to take a picture to go with the recipe I need to post!), baked beans, broccoli, and salad
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Mother's Day... isn't someone else supposed to plan this one?
  • Monday: (busy night) Lentil Rice Casserole, asparagus, and salad
Salad Dressing of the Week: I have plenty of Italian Dressing left. Unfortunately this means I have been slacking in the salad eating department. This week I need to make Bone Soup as I planned a few weeks ago, but never got around to yet!

Find more meal plan inspiration at orgjunkie.com.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Declutter Challenge April Update: The Big Report

April may be the biggest report of the year, due to my wild idea to prepare items for a consignment sale AND hold a yard sale at the same time! If that was not enough, I also had some books sell on Half.com, AND couldn't stop myself from listing just a few items on Ebay. It's been a busy month!

This month I decided to try out Ebay's 'Buy It Now' selling feature: putting some items up for sale at a flat price and making them available for 30 days. I have some nice items I thought might sell well, but that were not necessarily something that people would be excited enough to bid on and wait for an auction to end. Sometimes when I've been shopping on Ebay I've been drawn to items that I could just buy instantly--when I didn't have time or patience to wait for the auction to end to see if I won the item... or not. I sold two of the items within the first week, making at total of $20.05 after fees and shipping. Two additional items are still listed for sale for another week or so, and one of them has already sold so I will count that one in my total for May.

One of these items was a Pampered Chef Tool Turn-About that I never ended up using. I tried to sell it at a yard sale three years ago for $5, and it didn't sell. On Ebay it sold for $15! This is a great example of how certain items are more in demand depending on the marketplace. Probably few of the people at the yard sale were interested in Pampered Chef, but online I had access to many more people who were looking for brand-specific items.

I also sold two additional books at Half.com. My current inventory there is 4 books, so selling two is a big deal! I earned $15.05.

Our Yard Sale was a fun event, and profitable, too! Most of the items we sold were small household things that we no longer needed, plus a few larger items: a crib, 3 vacuum cleaners of varying functionality, an old large television set, old computer speakers, etc. Amazingly, we made $270.25! I will subtract $10 to cover costs for posterboard, marker, and stickers that I bought. This was the only cost as the advertising was all free!

Lastly, I received my check from the consignment sale, and it's time to announce the winner of my Giveaway. After many hours of preparation of our nicest reusable kid and baby items (and a bunch of cheap books), I was thrilled to recieve a total of $263.63 from the sale! This means that Alyssa is the lucky winner of a $25 Amazon Gift Card! (She guessed $261.00, long before my check arrived in the mail. Amazing!) Alyssa has been emailed to announce the win, and I need to hear back from her in the next 48 hours to issue the prize. Thanks to everyone who guessed!

April Declutter Challenge Grand Total: $558.98

As always, this amount will be applied to my loan. I'm thrilled with my progress as I have paid a total of $1,185.93 so far this year.

Does this mean that my goal to earn at least $100 per month is too low? I've been thinking about this, and I've decided that it doesn't need to be higher. The goal is enough to motivate me to sell a few things each month without feeling extreme pressure. I think I will be happy to earn a smaller amount for the month of May. I still need to finish putting my basement back together. I'm also trying to focus on a few other projects this month and we have a lot of weekend activities. I like that my goal gives me some flexibility to have a lighter month when I need it!

ETA: You can read about other's decluttering progress over at The Finer Things in Life!