Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Two Bathrooms

My family of five had one small bathroom. Well, "small" doesn't really do our bathroom justice. It was tiny. Itsy bitsy. Teeny weeny. I have closets bigger than that bathroom.

I remember many mornings waiting on my dad to finish his morning "business" while I paced in the living room. My brother had it easy. We lived in the country, and he could relieve himself on our rose bushes.

Our closet-sized bathroom had a microscopic closet. The closet was so small that my mom developed a new way of folding towels to get them to stack in there. To this day, I still fold my towels that way. They are compact, tight, and you can stack of lot of towels!

It's a grave injustice for a family to have only one bathroom for so many reasons. And for so many reasons, I'm so glad our curent home has two bathrooms.

Reason One: Defying all logic, it never fails that Spark has to use the facilities at the same time that someone else does. Buzz goes into bathroom. About 15 seconds pass. Then, Spark whines, "Mommy, I have to go poopy." To avoid a possibly nasty scenario or law-breaking deposit, I lead him to the grand place known as the "other bathroom."

Reason Two why I am so glad we have two bathrooms: an extra tub for cleaning up messes. If you're a parent or you've ever worked with young kids, you know the complete terror of having one poop in the tub. Flower, our almost one-year old has taken quite nicely to pooping in the tub. She's at the messy age where she requires at least one bath a day, and she's also at the age where most of those baths result in a pile of steaming turds in the water. It's even worse when the kids are sharing the tub.

Take two nights ago, for instance. Buzz is giving the kids a bath. We're on high alert with Flower, but she was having such a good time splashing with Spark in the tub that we let the bath go on a little too long. About two seconds before Buzz lifted her out of the tub, she squatted. And, well, that's the end of the toy bath. But, we quickly composed ourselves, taking the kids to the "other bathroom" for a quick hose down in the tub. How did we clean the poop out of the tub? Well, that's another story.

Reason Three: I can junk up my bathroom without worrying about guests seeing the clutter. I consider myself a pretty low-maintenance gal when it comes to cosmetics, bath products, and hair styling. But, it's amazing how much stuff it takes to keep a low-maintenance profile. It takes a lot of chemicals to look natural these days, indeed! It's so nice to have space to let that stuff pile up where no one who comes to my home can see it. Unless of course, the bathroom is occupied and someone needs to go to the "other bathroom." I'll deal with that when it happens.

I wonder how my family survived all those years with just one bathroom. One day, I might live in a house with one bathroom, and I'm sure that will result in a lengthy talk with my mom about managing counter space and microscopic linen closets. But two work so well for me that I hate to even think of that possibility!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Variations on a Potato

Buzz and I are trying to be more responsible with our money, and my part of that involves saving money on groceries. I've found that making a menu plan saves me money and time. I have been planning our weekly menus on Sunday nights based on what's left in the pantry/fridge/freezer. Buzz had last week off for spring break, and we were still roaming around in a fog of disbelief come last night. 

This afternoon, instead of knowing what I would fix for dinner, I reverted back to my "browse-the-fridge/pantry" stare. I saw a sack of potatoes on the counter that I had bought a few days ago. I peeked in the bag and realized that about 4.5 pounds of the 5-pound bag remained, and while they weren't spoiled, they weren't looking so hot. I decided that the responsible thing to do would be to cook something with potatoes...lots of potatoes.

So, that's what I did. While the kids ran around in their post back-to-the-real-world stupor, I washed, peeled, and cut 4.5 pounds of potatoes, wondering what I might do with them. My mind drifted to memories of potatoes, of how my parents planted a garden early on in their marriage. My mother didn't know that potatoes grew underground and she hoed them all up by accident. 

I thought about how Momma used to stew potatoes for dinner on an all-too-regular basis. I hated most things involving potatoes when I was a kid, but I especially loathed stewed potatoes. Stewed potatoes, for those of you who don't know, are potatoes boiled in water until some of them break down and make kind of a creamy mush for the other pieces to swirl around in. It's kind of like potato soup without the cheese, bacon, and so on. It's just potatoes, stewed.

Potatoes are a poor man's friend, though. They are cheap, filling, easy to cook, and despite the bad rap the Atkins diet gave them, potatoes are fairly nutritious. Because I have had anemia,  I know that potatoes are a great source of iron. One baked potato also has more potassium than a banana. 

The cheap part is why we had so many stewed potatoes growing up, though. We were dirt poor, and potatoes made a hearty meal. Momma made more than just stewed potatoes, though. She fried them, mashed them, and baked them. And, I didn't enjoy any iteration of her potato skills. I found potatoes to be bland and uninteresting unless they were raw, and boy I would eat bites of raw potato as she sliced and diced them for our dinner.  

I've studied the potato some, and one of the grocery stores here in town has an excellent selection of potatoes. They have purple potatoes, blue potatoes, red potatoes, more...All these make the Russet look pretty boring. 

But, it's the Russet potato I was dealing with tonight. As I stood looking at the 4.5 pounds of cut up potatoes, I realized I better find some way to make them interesting enough to eat. 

Tonight's recipe:

Twice-Baked Potato Casserole
Serves 6-12, depending on whether you use it for a side dish or an entree.

  • 4.5 pounds of potatoes (partially peeled, cut up into 2-inch pieces, thoroughly washed)
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese (leftover from breakfast bagels from a couple week's ago)
  • 8 ounces of Colby Jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 medium onion, diced (also found wasting away on my counter)
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk 
  • salt and paprika to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Boil the potatoes until very tender, mushy even.
  3. Drain the potatoes well.
  4. In large bowl, mash potatoes a bit. Mix in the cream cheese, half the Colby Jack cheese, the onion, and the buttermilk until fairly smooth. Do not mix too much A little texture is good.
  5. Then, add some salt and paprika.
  6. Taste.
  7. Add more salt.
  8. Taste.
  9. Add more salt.
  10. Pour the mixture into a deep-dish casserole pan and cover. (I used Pampered Chef's deep covered baker.)
  11. Cook at 350 for about 35 minutes. 
  12. Remove. Uncover. Evenly sprinkle the other half of the shredded cheese on top. 
  13. Cook at 350 for 15 minutes or until cheese is slightly golden brown and bubbly.
Use whatever you've got on hand. No cream cheese or buttermilk? Use sour cream and regular milk. No onion or Colby Jack cheese? Use some green chiles and cheddar. Have some extra garlic cloves? Mash them and add them in the mix.  

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sewing 101, Part 2

Tonight's sewing class ushered in some major successes for me. The first? The following words from the instructor were NOT directed at me:

"If you slam the presser foot down again, I will take you in the backyard and spank you."

Other successes?

  • I did not burn myself with the iron (though I did confess my latent fear of irons to the instructor).

  • I only pricked myself once with a pin.

  • I finally learned what the take-up lever really is.

  • This:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cash Works for Me

I have spent 9 days without my debit card. Other than the occasional twitch I get when a Google search turns up hits on, I feel much better.

For years, I've wandered around in the misconception that a debit card is the same as using cash. On the surface, it basically is the same as cash. A debit card represents what you have in the bank, though there might be a slight drag between purchases and the account updating. A debit card is definitely NOT a credit card. However, spending with a debit card is psychologically different than spending with cash. Studies show that people spend more when they use ANY type of plastic. There's something magical about holding a $20 bill in my hand and knowing that it's going away that makes me want to hold onto it a little more. I'm more frugal with cash.

For what it's worth, I don't want to be a tightwad. I've never been that way. In fact, I've been pretty much the opposite, not really one to have a budget or a plan for my money. Buzz and I have been financially blessed that despite our erratic spending, we haven't completely gone under. We still have shelter, food, and fun. But, we realize that we haven't been honorable in our spending patterns. The solution for us to move to a cash-only plan. Buzz and I have moved to a cash-only plan for almost all of our spending. We still pay our bills online, and when we do order something online, we have to use something other than cash.

But, how do you manage cash? Our budget allows for about $880 a month in spending for things like groceries, gas, household items, baby items, cosmetics, professional services, and so on. Do I just stuff $880 into my purse and carry on?

Our financial advisor, a wonderful woman named Sharee, swears by the old-fashioned envelope system. It's similar to what people of yesteryear used to do with coffee tins and mason jars. They'd keep money in them and take the money out only when the items were needed. Now, Buzz and I have a stack of envelopes where we divide the cash into the categories it's meant for and we take the cash out when we need it. We take to the store what we're committed to spending and no more. The goal is to actually have some money left over in the envelopes at the end of the month.

The result? I'm thinking more about our groceries. We're planning shopping trips instead of just heading off to Ikea or Sam's. Some unexpected benefits so far?Along with saving money, we're saving tons of time! I'm shocked at how much time I was really spending in stores. We're also wasting less. I read in a recent Reader's Digest article that the typical American wastes 12 percent of the food they buy at the grocery store. I'm sad to say that our family was probably way above that mark. But, we're making changes. I've started taking time to go through my freezer and fridge before settling on a menu plan for the week.

It hasn't been easy. We said just last night that we can't believe it's only been 9 days. It takes 90 days to change a habit, though, and we're working hard to make it through our 90 days. We want to spend less, and using cash works for us.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What Working Part-Time Has Taught Me

For the first time in a long time, I do not have a full-time job (not counting being a mom because yeah, we all know parenting is more than a full-time job). I’ve spent nearly a year now working part-time, with a good portion of my hours from home. The perks? Obviously, I have fewer hours to report to "the man" which means more time for family and home responsibilities. Working from home is great, too. I can be with my baby while I work, allowing me to nurse pretty much full-time. I don’t feel guilty about going to the park for a jog with the kiddos in the afternoon. And, I have the great luxury of working in my jammies if I want to. (I usually don’t, though.)

Of course, part-time employment has its share of drawbacks, too. Knocking off some hours means that I took a pretty hefty paycut. I also locked myself into my current position (as far as status and money goes) because part-time at my employer means no raises and no promotions ever. Working from home is a little hairy at times. It’s not uncommon to find myself vexed with deciding whether to play with my infant who is wanting some attention or to discuss projects with a coworker who is also needing my attention. Doing both at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Putting either off for too long also equals disaster.

Working part-time, though, has taught me a great deal about time management that I never knew before. Here are my new rules for working efficiently:

Rule No. 1: Zoning Out Is for People with Office Jobs
My Past: It was my favorite thing to do in the morning: Get a cup of coffee, sit down at my desk, open my email/calendar program, and stare. I might zone out as much as 10 or 15 minutes, maybe even 20, mindlessly checking a few emails, or just staring at the calendar, thinking about the day.
My Present: If I have a few minutes in the morning before the children have awakened, it’s power work time. I log on to my company’s VPN, skip the email, and dive straight into the tasks I meticulously wrote down at the end of the previous day.
My Take: I have found that early in the morning I can get about an hour’s worth of work done in 20 minutes.

Rule No. 2: Lunch Breaks Are for Wimps
My Past: It’s not uncommon for folks at my company to take long, leisurely lunches as much as once a week. When I first started the job, I thought this was crazy. But, I soon learned it was part of our unique culture and settled myself down into it quite nicely.
My Present: Lunch is an opportunity for work. The kids are distracted with food. The laptop is portable, so I can work at the kitchen table while helping them with refills and spills. I eat my own lunch at the computer while the baby enjoys her post-lunch nap.
My Take: Lunch is the best time to check and respond to emails that do not require me to do much additional research.

Rule No. 3: Multitasking Is for the Unproductive
My Past: My desk rivaled the final rundown of a popular Christmas song: 12 computer apps running, 11 chat windows blinking, 10 edits I'm entering, 9 emails lingering, 8 webpages calling…
My Present: I do one thing at a time, and oh the glory! It’s easier to get something finished. It’s easier to come back to one task after something or someone interrupts me and remember what I was doing. It's easier to concentrate! I’d rather finish something and move on to another task than work on 12 tasks at the same time.
My Take: I’m actually getting more stuff done more quickly than before.

Rule No. 4: Get Rid of the Chaff
My Past: Anytime anyone asked me to help out with a project or do something at work, I would almost always say yes. The result was that I collected numerous extra projects that I had to keep up with and, well, do.
My Present: I’m getting rid of a lot of my extra projects, and I’m saying "no" more often. Recently, I had the awesome opportunity to chair a conference that my department produces. The old me would have climbed on that with spurs on. But I elected to say no. And, it felt great.
My Take: Taking two weeks to consider a project gives me more time to think through whether I want to add the responsibility and time commitment to my plate; it also lets the asking party know that I’m serious about checking out the offer before shouting “yes” or “no.”

Of course, being a full-time parent and primary caregiver for my children means that all bets are off very frequently. Even the best-planned day can turn into a whirlwind of inefficiency. That's when I break out my WCS kit: burn the midnight oil and pray.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Talk about Milestones

Language Milestones

I'll never forget the morning Spark said his first word. Clear as a bell, he said "Mama" while looking straight at me one morning in August 2005. Soon after, other words followed. He spoke the typical baby words for many things. Milk was "gnak" and Daddy was "da da bop bop." We oohhed and aahhhed and laughed over the many words he tried to say.

Then, one day, he started speaking in sentences. Soon, he was answering questions and saying words we didn't understand, words we didn't know he knew like "octagon."

For the past year and half, I haven't paid a lot of attention to Spark's language. He has a few issues with pronunciation. For instance, his "L" sounds still come out a little like "W" sounds: "Wove" instead of "love." But, that's normal (or at least so says our pediatrician). He seems to be progressing normally for his age. I do notice when he says a new word in the appropriate context like "awesome" and I try to make him say multi-syllable words properly like "quesadilla" and "guacamole"--both important words in our home.

It kind of hit me a couple weeks ago that Spark's conversation skills have matured. We used to have pretty much one-way conversations. For instance, when I pick him up from school, I usually ask him how he's doing. Most of the conversations, until recently, worked like a question/answer trivia game:

Me: What did you eat for lunch today at school?
Spark: A cheeseburger and french fries.
Me: What did you drink?
Spark: Milk.
Me: What was your favorite part of school today?
Spark: Playing with the cars.
Me: Did you go to sleep at naptime?
Spark: No.
Me: Did you miss your Mommy?
Spark: A little.

Now, we're having conversations where he tells me things without being prompted and where he asks some of the questions, too.

Spark: Mommy, I peed in my pants today.
Me: Why did you do that, Spark?
Spark: Because I was taking a good nap. Mrs. Mackey said that I had to change my clothes. And I peed on my blankie, too. It's in my bag.
Me: Ok. It's ok. We'll wash them at home.
Spark: Can I get a snack? I'm very hungry. Can we stop at the gas station and get a snack?
Me: No, we're going home. I have you a snack there.

He's also interjecting movie lines into conversation, which I'm sure is a milestone. Last night, for instance, he was eating a special treat (Oreo cookies) with milk. He looked up after he finished all the cookies, and I told him to drink the rest of his milk. He said, "Everything's delicious, Mommy." Then, he looked at me and his eyes got a little wider. He took another exaggerated drink of his milk and again said, "Everything's delicious!"

It took me a minute because I don't watch as much Disney Pixar as he does. But, then I realized that line comes from The Incredibles. Spark said the line a few more times before running off to wash up. He seemed proud of himself.

Another big milestone we've hit recently is what I'm calling "boyspeak." Anytime anyone says any word relating to anything remotely taboo or gross, Spark has to comment.

So, if you happen to say butt, poop, or fart near my son, you'll likely hear: "Awwwwhhhhh.....You said poop! You said poop!" Likewise, if you happen to show or do any of those things, Spark will let the world know: "Look at that. It's a butt!!"

I wonder what great language milestone awaits around the corner...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Grocery Shopping 101

I do enjoy grocery shopping. Those I love know this. But, I have realized that I have a problem: I spend way too much in grocery stores. Having taken a financial course through my church, I have been working to eliminate sources of wanton spending. Now, yes, groceries are a necessity. Everyone's gotta eat, right? But, overall, my five-times-a-week grocery shopping binges are eating a huge hole in both our pocketbook and Buzz's dreams of owning an 18-car garage full of classic Buicks, Cadillacs, and Bentleys.

I've nailed down a few reasons why grocery shopping is such a money trap for me.

  1. I take too long in the store. Instead of going in with a purpose, I wander around. After examining the past few bank statements, I've come to the conclusion that the amount of time I spend in the grocery store affects the amount I spend proportionately. The longer I'm in there, the more I spend. I know, that's genius in the works right there, baby. But, still, it took me a while to figure that out. I calculate that I spend about $100 an hour on most trips. My average trip? About 95 minutes. Do that math.
  2. I have kids. (Yes, a mom has every right to blame her kids for spending money.) It's easy to keep kids entertained, especially the four-year old, with a promise of a toy or treat at the end of the long grocery tunnel. (To be fair, my kids impress me. They are especially well-behaved in grocery stores. I'm sure it has NOTHING to do with the promise of a treat.)
  3. I fall victim to the "set up." Have you read What to Eat? Oh, boy, did I ever read that book. I don't think I ate a single thing for about 2 weeks. So, I guess I'm an educated consumer, but I sure don't act like it. Grocery stores set up their shops, according to author Marion Nestle, not for the shopper's convenience but for the maximum profit. Go figure. So, that's why the more sugary cereals are at toddler eye level. Instead of being smart and going in and getting my stuff, I trot right along with the corruption, allowing myself to bask in the marketing ploys.
  4. We have gourmet grocery stores in the Austin area. Oh, Central Market, how I love thee with your bounty of specialty foods, your wine and cheese to die for, your $20 a pound air chilled meats. Yeah. Stop. Gourmet is moderation. I think my spending average goes up about 20% when I'm in a store with a wine section the size of Rhode Island.
  5. I leave with items that are not groceries. NOT GROCERIES. Like a new muffin tin (that I don't need and could probably buy less expensively elsewhere) and a couple of magazines and a Matchbox Mega Rig Shuttle Mission.

It took me a while, but I've pinpointed these problems, and I'm making changes. Details soon!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sewing 101

I grew up with a mom who could sew anything. She made dresses for me, maternity clothes for herself, quilts, clothes for my Barbie dolls, doilies, afghans and more.

When I was in fourth grade, I decided to enter the 4-H apron contest. I can still remember the pain and torture I experienced as mom and I worked on that red and white apron. Every day I just wanted it to be over. The sewing machine and I were not friends. I finished my apron, entered the contest, came in dead last, and moved on with my life...right after taking a vow of abstinence when it comes to needles, thread, and sewing machines.

Well, I have broken my vow. Over the past year, I've become more and more intrigued by mixed media art (and no, that's NOT a fancy word for scrapbooking). Typically, I consider myself a minimalist when it comes to design and art preferences. I love white space. I crave a simple Picasso sketch. But, I also love collages. Combining textures, colors, and artifacts in unique ways thrills me.

In my pursuit of mixed media art creation, I realized that to fully embrace my new love, I must pick up a needle and thread. Funny how one mention of this, and on the next gift giving occasion my mom thrusts a Pixie into my lap. I played around with it some, and I must say I've enjoyed getting to know the machine. I've also learned that I can make nifty things to use for my aromatherapy and household cleaning. I even made a pillowcase in about 10 minutes one night.

But, when I do something, I gotta go all out. My mom lives in Wyoming right now, so I signed up for a class at a local sewing studio.

The first session was tonight. After three hours of fabric, snips, scissors, needles, thread, and bobbins, I've come up with a few basic rules for surviving a first sewing class.
  1. Don't remove the screw that holds your needle in. Just loosen it. After I mistakenly removed mine, the instructor looked at me and said, "That is not God's will for your sewing machine."
  2. The needle lives in its oval and cannot bite you. For some reason, I really think it will, even though I know it won't. I held my shoulders tense and watched that little booger go up and down and side to side and imagine it eating through one of my fingers. It did not. Instructor: "See that oval? That's where the needle lives."
  3. You have to actually press down on the pedal to get the motor going. I suppose I'm a little afraid of the pedal, too. (Probably because it controls the needle.) I spent most of the night barely pressing the pedal, causing my machine to make a pained half-groan, half-whir sound. The woman sitting next to me kept looking at my machine. I'm sure she wondered if I had broken it. So, I decided to press down. Instructor, with her hand on my left shoulder: "These kinds of stitches require a slower speed. Easy on the pedal."
  4. Bobbins aren't really that bad. Ok, yes they are.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I've Been Spanxed

Growing up in a southern United Methodist Church means a lot of things. For one, I know a lot of old hymns by heart. Two, I have eaten a lot of chicken casseroles and chocolate pies in my day. And, three, I collected many, many dresses, skirts, stockings, and pumps.

Seven years ago, I gave away all my dresses, skirts, and pumps. I hate wearing dresses and skirts and all the baggage that comes with them: slips, weird bras, stockings, drafts. But, unfortunately, they are often a necessary evil in my life. The past year, for instance, has brought a host of reasons to wear some more formal attire than my jeans and a t-shirt routine: five weddings and three memorial services. The United Methodist in me just cannot wear pants to a funeral.

In the throes of shopping for these events, I seek help. Not from my friends or family. I prefer to shop alone, and when I have questions, I ask the women who work in the women's section at the department store of choice. After finding a dress on sale, I inquire about whether it fits me correctly, and the wonderful clerk eyes my bottom critically as I turn for her. She says, "It's very cute. It fits you great. But, you're going to need a slip. The dress is sticking to your bottom."

Oh, how I hate slips. I hate them so much. They itch and twist and make me feel like I belong in another century.

My dismay must show on my face because the helpful lady says, "Well, actually, you could get a Spanx. Most people are wearing those instead of slips these days."

Oh, now. I have heard of these items called Spanx. The thought of donning something akin to a girdle causes me great fear and grief. Suddenly, the slip sounds great.

My increased dismay must show on my face because the helpful lady says, "At least try it on. They work wonders." She says this as she eyes my bottom, again critically.

I head to the hosiery department, a place I thought I would never have to visit again until my 93rd birthday. I stare at the scads of Spanx items. They have Spanx for seemingly every part of your body from your neck down to your ankles. The hosiery lady helps me select the right size for my body, which involves disclosing my height, weight, blood type, and preferred 401k provider.

Then, the real fun begins. I'm to "try it on" first and model it for the hosiery crew to be sure it fits correctly. I'd rather just run out of the store with my new undergarment and spend a few hours contemplating its merits in the quiet of my own home. Instead, I go to the fitting room, and I open the bright package. Even in my panicked state, I notice the cute graphics on the package and the fact that celebrities wear these things. People like Jessica Alba, Gywneth Paltrow, Vanessa Williams, and Oprah swear by Spanx. And, heck, if Oprah wears it, you can count me in. (Two other pluses, and really serious ones at that: designed by a woman entrepreneur and made in the USA.)

But, I must figure out how to put the thing on first. I have selected the Higher Power model, a close relative of the Power Panties. The Higher Power and I become very well acquainted over the next 12 minutes or so, as I wrangle it onto my thighs. Then, I'm not sure what to do with the rest of it. For a moment, I wonder how I am even going to get this roll of nylon and spandex off myself. Because that's what it is, a roll across my hips. A very tight roll. I start smoothing it out, and within about 5 minutes, things shape up a bit.

Higher Power indeed. As I unfurl the whole deal, I realize it goes all the way up to just below my breasts. At first, I wonder how I will breathe with my ribs pressed into my spine. But, I smooth out the Spanx even more, stretching it from just under my breasts to just above my knees. Then, I put on the dress. I take a deep breath. Wow. I can breathe. Success.

I look at myself in the mirror, trying to catch a glimpse of my bottom. The dress is not sticking to it anymore as far as I can tell. Another success.

I also notice that my hips seem more shapely, more under control, less "I just delivered a baby." (Yes, yes, it has almost been a year, but "just" is relative.)

So, I walk out of the fitting room for the hosiery lady to eye me. She looks at my bottom critically. "Wow," she says. Is that a good "wow" or "oh my, you need to lay off the Twinkies 'wow,'" I wonder. Then, she says, "That looks amazing." I hope she's talking about my bottom. I really do.

After wearing my Spanx to several different events that have required dress pants or a dress, I must say they work for me. I am a total convert, a real believer. These doodads are a miracle in a nifty box, light years away from the slips and girdles of yesteryear. I haven't worn my Higher Power with my normal jeans and t-shirt routine, but the hosiery lady assured me that lots of people do. Maybe one day when I have an extra 17 minutes in the morning to unfurl my Spanx, I'll see.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Do you want a toy bath or a fast bath?

In our home, we have degrees of bathing. I’ll explain.

First, we have the cat bath. This is usually performed with baby wipes, or maybe a damp cloth. Rarely is the child completely naked and rarely is the child thoroughly cleaned. This is usually done to get out the door quickly. Buzz and I often employ this type of bath before church on Sundays.

Next up is the waterfall bath. This involves lots of screaming from both kids because they both hate it. Who knew that water streaming down from the shower head could impose such torture on my two blue-eyed angels? In a nutshell, we put them in the tub, both naked, both standing at the same time, turn on the shower head, and spray them off. If we have time, we use a bit of hair/body wash. If not, no one really knows.

Ahh, a close cousin of the waterfall bath is the fast bath. The main difference is that instead of using the shower feature, we let the bath water run while the kids sit and/or stand (usually some of both). We quickly wash them down and instead of hosing them off with the shower. We use a cup to rinse them off. Spark doesn’t mind so much, but Flower has a screaming fit.

Finally, we have the spa deluxe bathing experience, aka toy bath. I fill the tub with warm water, often adding some California Baby aromatherapy bubble bath (which comes conveniently packaged with a bubble wand, so if I’m feeling especially loving and generous, I’ll blow a few bubbles and let them gently cascade down to my children’s noses). I get out the big bucket of bath toys and add them to the tub of water, bubbles, and children. I gently wash their hair, scrubbing behind the ears while they are distracted, and use a soft sponge to clean their 2000 parts. Even though Flower doesn’t care too much for a bath, Spark loves a toy bath, so he’s allowed to stay in the bath and play a while as long as he doesn’t splash water onto the floor or drink "butt water," which he tries to do over and over again. One night, in fact, we forgot he was in there for about 90 minutes. Talk about pruney fingers!

I have found the best thing about having these levels of bathing is that I can use it as a reward (bribe) or punishment (threat) for Spark because we’re all about bribes and threats in our household.

“Spark, you are doing so well at helping Mommy. You are going to get a toy bath tonight.”

“Spark, if you don’t clean your room, you won’t have time for a toy bath.”

“Spark, if you don’t stop dragging your sister down the hall, you will have to take a fast bath tonight.”

“Spark! You poured milk in the pencil cups on your art desk again??? I’m putting you in the waterfall bath NOW.”

You think I’m mad? Nah. These methods work surprisingly well for me. Spark loves his bath so much, generally, he’ll do anything to preserve it. Of course, I might have to explain why he has an irrational fear of showers when he’s older.

I'm participating in Works for Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family's blog carnival.

To Scrap or Not: A Good Question

For the life of me, I can’t figure out the scrapbooking industry. It’s INSANELY huge. It’s also INSANELY expensive. The biggest lunacy to me is that this type of crafting is called “scrapbooking,” and instead of being true to the honest-to-goodness beauty of the term (the idea that one can take scraps, aka garbage, and make it into something beautiful), we have turned in into a bazillion-dollar industry. Americans alone are spending millions a year on SCRAPS, acid-free scraps at that!

The office manager at Spark’s school asked me the other day if I am a scrapper. Actually, she assumed I was and phrased it as a question.

“Oh, heavens, no,” I thought. But, then, I did make a book of photos for Spark’s paternal grandmother for Christmas, and I am putting together some books of photos from a trip to California. And, I am a packrat with boxes of scraps at my disposal for cropping and scrapping and booking. When gift bags are too disheveled to be reused, I cut the rope handles off and stuff them in a box. When someone wears out jeans too much to donate, I keep at least the pockets any cut off any denim that looks usable. But. I can’t be one of THEM.

You know those people. They have every puncher, every embellishment, every album, every pattern of every paper. They meet in groups and call themselves “scrappers.” And, their designs are immaculate. They have the perfect pictures with the perfectly handwritten note and perfect layout. You know what I’m talking about. (If you don’t, go here.) There’s a row of perfectly punched out daisies along the left side of the page. They are pink with yellow centers. Cute little 2x2 photos line the bottom of the page. They are closeups of hands, feet, belly buttons. Then, there’s a large photo of pretty 2 year old girl with her eyes wide open, her smile beaming off the page, her cheeks so cute and pinchable, her face framed with some vintage looking paper that has a daisy motif going on. Oh, and the photo is that vintage-looking black and white distressed type with elegantly penned pink journaling underneath, reading something like: “When you were two, your smile made me smile. Your laugh made me laugh. You complete me.”

(Yes, so, I threw that last bit in there for the closet Tom Cruise fans.)

Now, I’m standing here with this question hanging in the air, “You’re a scrapper, aren’t you?”

My answer is probably a secret code for getting invited to crop circle night or being shunned from all the real scrappers. I see two responses: Yes or No. Either one leaves me in a weird place.

“Yes, but I only use REAL scraps, scraps that I find, scraps that almost made it to the trash can until I reached out my hand and said, ‘Don’t put that in a landfill! Put it in my son’s baby book.’” This sounds self-righteous, like I’m some earth-friendly, the-environment-is-my-religion whacko.

“No, but I occasionally make photo books.” This sounds lame like I’m really part of the group, but I don’t want to admit it. Or, I’m not part of the group, but I want to be. Either way, it’s lame.

Because I sometimes just can’t live up to my high standard, I opt for the lame route: “Not really. Well, yes, sort of. I guess.”
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