Monday, March 28, 2011

Do You Accept Cash or Check?

When we moved here in the last hours of 2001, I was very aware of what I was leaving behind in Atlanta: the place where I began and ended my first career, the town where we were DINKS, the restaurants and bars we loved, our first house where our first son was born, a multitude of friends, familiarity. When I awoke on the first day of 2002, I was very conscious of what we had come to in this new town. And it was all unknown.

We knew a few, really two, people and would quickly meet a few more through my hubby's job. But those first long days for me at home with a toddler were lonely without my network of friends. I had been very fortunate in Atlanta to move almost seamlessly from my professional life to my life as a mom. I had left work on Friday, unexpectedly had the baby Monday morning and by a week later had a group of friends all with brand new babies. We met at the hospital through a breastfeeding group. It was the quickest formation of a group of friends I had seen since my sorority days. We were old friends immediately and for my next 20 months we occupied each other's days with conversation and good old-fashioned female camaraderie.

It was during that period was when I first heard of the MOMS Club International. MOMS Club is a network of local chapters of support groups for stay-at-home moms. The club provides activities for SAHMs and their kids. It costs about $20 per year to join. My initial thought on the MOMS Club way back then was, "who needs that?" I had my own little support group in my circle of mom friends and as one of them put it when we discussed the MOMS Club, "You have to pay $20 to make friends??"

Then I moved away from my circle. Then I didn't know anybody in my new town. Then I would have paid good money for a friend. And I did. I saw an ad in our local paper that a new MOMS Club chapter was starting in my new area and was seeking board members. I couldn't dial the phone fast enough to volunteer to be the Vice President of the new chapter. And I wrote my check for $20 to seal the deal.

I had no idea what I was signing up for, having never been part of a MOMS Club. But I was willing to try anything. And for the next several years I spent my time at play dates and activities sponsored by our chapter. Each month I had a full calendar of events from which to choose. I knew there would be a trip to the local zoo or a visit to a park day to occupy my toddler and me almost any day of the week. And there would be friendly faces to share those activities with.

I paid $20 each year to keep those activities coming. It was well worth my money and not for the activities alone but for the friendships that were built standing around playground equipment or while sitting in a soon-to-no-longer-be-a-stranger's kitchen.

I am no longer part of the MOMS Club as PTA and Cub Scouts have taken precedence over our time now. But the friendships remain. We don't see each other as frequently as back in our pre-elementary school days. But the bonds are strong and we catch up over coffee or at after school pick up like things have never changed. To shamelessly steal from some marketing genius, MOMS Club membership: $20; the friendships that come along with it: priceless.

I recently said goodbye to a MOMS Club friend who moved away. Her move prompted these thoughts. She is moving to a new town where they know no one. Sounds familiar. We've all been in similar situations where we feel alone. There are some doors we must walk through alone. But usually when you make those initial hard solitary steps through the door there is someone, a old friend who can make you laugh, a new neighbor with a cup of coffee, your spouse who knows you best, or in some cases someone willing to accept cash or check, to close the door behind you and welcome you to your new home.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Want To Come Over and See Our Vacation Slides?

Even though it has been a few weeks and many other exciting life events have occurred since our trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I must post another batch of photos and commentary about our trip. It was such a fantastic time for us all and I'm all about saving memories here on this blog. This may be a bit like inviting you over to view our vacation slides minus the actual slideshow. And I'm not serving you dessert. But bear with me while I show a few highlights. Really, it will only be a few.

Where else to begin but where the adventure begins? Here is handsome hubby with the two extremely excited Potter fans at the park entrance.

It was a perfect day to visit Harry's world. By perfect I mean it was rainy, dreary and cold. Very appropos weather for visiting England. But the weather did not dampen any spirits as is clear in these happy faces as they had their first view of Hogwarts in the distance.

You would have thought the boys were really about to board the Hogwarts Express by their level of excitement. I know it's hard to tell from the pictures, but they were beside themselves. And don't worry. They regained the use of their arms in some of the later images. And their hands showed back up in the afternoon.

The people at Universal did a great job of replicating the village of Hogsmeade complete with cobbled streets and wonky chimneys. The only things out of place were the shorts and flip flops. Even though it was cold and dreary, some of the tourists insisted on standard Florida attire.

The non-wizard dress was allowed but there was at least one rule that was clearly stated and enforced.

We really felt like we were in the middle of J.K. Rowlings' imagination when we approached this.

And this.

I think we should take a break from the slideshow for a bit. I'm going to have some dessert now. Maybe you could go have some too and come back later for the rest of the vacation pictures. Really, there are more.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Schooled - Biscuits

"Reckon you make me some biscuits" -
Karl portrayed by Billie Bob Thornton in Slingblade

We love biscuits in our house. And there's nothing better than Sunday morning biscuits. Pillsbury makes Sunday morning biscuits easy with these: 

But just like many convenience foods, they have their drawbacks. The ease, taste and lack of mess of these biscuits can't make up for their unfortunate content of partially hydrogenated oils. At least they don't contain high fructose corn syrup but I still feel guilty knowingly serving them to my family when I know there is a reasonable substitute.

And that reasonable substitute is actually making the biscuits homemade. So once the last of the partially hydrogentated biscuits were gone from our freezer, I decided to try the homemade approach. It's really not that hard or messy. Here's the recipe I used for eight biscuits.

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup plus 2 TBS milk
flour for surface
1/4 cup butter, melted

In a small bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter until dough forms coarse crumbs. Add milk and stir with a fork until dough forms a ball. Place ball on floured surface and knead 4-5 times.

Roll dough to 1/2 inch thickness and cut with biscuit cutter. I don't have a biscuit cutter so I used the floured rim of a glass like my grandmother taught me.

Place cut biscuits on lightly greased baking sheet. Remember that melted butter? Brush about 1 TBS on the top of each biscuit before baking at 450 for 9-11 minutes.

or until golden brown.

Reckon you'll enjoy these preservative-free, homemade Sunday morning biscuits. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Expanding Heads

Good prevailed over evil and we were able to make our trip to Florida and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter last week. There were many highlights of our trip and it may take a few posts to cover them all. Today I am focusing on a new treat that we love and a new spell that we learned.

For you Potter fans, you know that Butterbeer is the drink of choice in Hogsmeade, a wizardy concoction that is served up in wizard pubs. I had a hunch that I would love Butterbeer. What wouldn't I love about the combination of two of my favorite food groups? The combination of butter and beer sounds as divine as dark chocolate olive oil or Starbucks pizza. You just wait; I am sure those combos are undergoing consumer research studies as we speak.

But back to the Butterbeer. We have had Butterbeer now and we know why the wizards love it so much. It is rich and creamy and sweet.

Sadly Luckily, it's non-alcoholic. So no worries about the boy enjoying a pint.

It tastes like a cross between cream soda and homemade root beer. It is topped off with a frothy buttery, whipped creamy head that gets bigger as you drink. Literally, the inch high head expanded to fill the cup as you emptied it of the drink. Wizardy stuff. Must have been some sort of expansion spell. Expecto Expanso!

Got Butterbeer?

The creamy top of the Butterbeer wasn't the only thing that expanded that day. Did you notice my hair in the Got Butterbeer image above? Scroll up and look again. It's pretty big, right?

Well, this is the way my hair started the day.

Normal size.

I'm not sure who conjured the expansion spell but if it was only intended for the Butterbeer, it landed on another head as well. Now I know, when in Florida  - Expecto Humidify!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tuesday Teaching - Blog Books

I mentioned on Friday that I had printed the 2010 version of my blog book. A few commentors asked what service I used and wanted to know more about the process of printing your blog. I am no expert on this but I have now printed two years worth and am happy with my books. After I printed the first one, 2009, I posted information on how I did it. Below is a repost of that information.

But first a few new bits of info. I used Blog2Print! both times. A few things changed on their website since I printed my first book, but I didn't really investigate those changes too much. I was satisfied with the first book and wanted my books to match, so I kept things the same. It did seem more expensive this time but I definitely had more pages in 2010 so that may have been the only reason. I can't remember what the base price was for my 2009 book. They did have more covers and styles to choose from this time.

And lastly, before you create your book, you might want to take some time to proof your blog for typos or other things that you wouldn't want in your book. Someone else told me that when I was working on my 2009 book. I didn't do it for either year because that's just a lot of reading and I am impatient. I usually catch the really bad typos right after I post and read my entries. So if they made it this far, they get to stay. But boy they really bug me in print. And on that note, here is my repost:

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.
Eleanor Roosevelt

I mentioned in my post on Friday that I had printed my blog in a book. Several commentors asked for information on what service I used to print my book and any tips I could share about the process. I am very happy with my book and do have some thoughts on the process and of course I am glad to share. But first, here is my lovely book.

I used the online service Blog2Print! I had searched online and found several other websites that offered blog printing. The product offerings between the various sites appear to be very similar in both price and options. I ultimately decided upon Blog2Print! because a fellow blogger and family member at From This Side of the Pond had printed hers with this service and she was pleased. I don't like to do a lot of product research myself and I trust her judgment. So, decision made.

There are a few tricky bits to the process of taking your blog to print that I learned along the way. I'll walk you through some of the process so you don't have the same frustrations that I did. The first step at Blog2Print! is to select your blogging platform. Blog2Print supports Blogger, TypePad, and WordPress. After selecting your platform, just type in your blog's web address and your blog is accessed. That step is easy.

This next step requires some forethought, which I did not have when I created my original blog book. I should say here that I ended up printing the second version of my blog book not the original. The original had a few problems. Here's why. The first option you are to choose for your book is the date range or post range that you want included in your book. Here's the screenshot of that step.

You can either select a specific date range or all posts. Under either of these options, you can further filter the content by including only selected labels. For example, if I wanted to have a complete blog book of my Sunday Schooled posts from the beginning of my blog time (January 2009), I would choose my date range from 01/01/2009 to present and then filter by my "Sunday Schooled" label.

Easy? Sure. But not if you are like me and like to change your mind. If you change your mind later and wish to expand the date range to use or which labels to filter by, you can NOT change this in the existing book you have created. You must start all over again with a new book. I confirmed this via a live online chat with a nice Blog2Print tech support person.

You can remove certain posts from your book but not add to the range you originally chose. In my situation, I originally chose a date range to include my entire blog. Then I changed my mind to print my blog by year. Since I started my blog in January 2009, I thought it would be a good idea to print an annual blog book with nice, neat date separation. My book, including many 2010 posts, was already created when I had this brilliant idea so I would either have to remove manually post-by-post over 80 posts (that's 80 mouse-clicks) or start a new book.

It's really not a big deal to start another book if you are just at the beginning steps of the process. But if you have gone through the rest of the process, think you are done and preview your book only to think you'd like things a little bit differently, you have just wasted a lot of time and are about to redo a lot of work.

If you have to create a second (or sadly a third) version, they are likely all named the same darn thing and show up that way in your account. The only distinguishing feature between the versions is a date stamp of when you last updated the book (which is likely the same date since you are likely just trying to get this thing printed and done in the middle of the night so you can finally go to sleep). You can delete books from your account so it's nice that you can hide your mistakes.

I'm spending a lot of time on this one issue but it is the first step in creating your book and I do think you should be forewarned. So the moral of my story here is to carefully consider which dates and posts you wish to include in your book. Do you want an annual book? Do you want only a book about family-related posts? Do you want to include only posts with photos? These are the questions that keep me up at night and I am hoping to preserve your night's sleep.

Once you have carefully considered the span of your blog book, the rest of the process really is easy. Here are some of the options you can select:
  • whether to include comments in your book
  • order of posts (oldest to newest or vice versa)
  • hardcover or softcover (with a myriad of choices for each)
  • cover & back photo
  • whether to include a table of contents
  • a personal dedication
There is one other option that I found very important. This is the Page Template style. Your choices are "Snapshot" or "Compact". Snapshot is an exact picture of your blog posts as they appear on your blog. So however your photos appear around your text online is how they will appear in your book. Compact style is one which the photos and text are rearranged to use fewer pages. I initially chose Snapshot because it's my blog you know and I don't want anybody else changing it whatsoever. But then I saw how many pages (and dollars) my Snapshot version required and decided that it was okay just this once for somebody else to make a few minor decisions about the format of my blog. And actually, the Compact template looks a whole lot better in a book form than the Snapshot template did. Since I have lots of photos throughout my blog, the Compact style was able to weave the text around the photos nicely rather than in a vertically linear, blog-style format.

The best thing about my blog book is flipping through the pages and remembering posts and photos that I had literally forgotten. My blog is about my life, my family, my photos and my sense of humor. The little life moments that make it to my blog are preserved, but on my blog, I rarely go back and reminisce. Now that I have my glossy hardcover chronicle of our life circa 2009, I can relive those silly, funny, at times stressful but wonderful days again and again. I can't wait to print 2010!

Friday, March 4, 2011

TGIF Fragments

I love Friday Fragments! It gives me the chance to grab the swirling thoughts in my brain that really have nowhere else to land and give them a home. This has been one of the busiest weeks for me in some time so I have lots of swirling thoughts but not a lot of creative energy. Friday Fragments couldn't come at a better time. I think I'm going to make this a combination Friday Fragments/Friday Flashback/Link Love post. Most of my thoughts today have connections.

This week has been busy for several reasons. First, my husband has been out of town since Monday morning. Gone all week. So all the evening activity juggling has been up to me. The kids haven't missed anything important and I have had a few wonderful friends pick up and drop off the kids when I needed a hand. I have GREAT friends!

The second reason for the busy-ness is that it is Scholastic Book Fair Week at BOTH of my boys' schools. I am the Book Fair co-chair for one of the schools and the lame, guilt-ridden parent for the other school. Being co-chair at one Book Fair means you don't get to spend much time at the other Book Fair. We finally made a trip to the "other" Book Fair last night. What else would I want to do after having spent nearly 4 complete days at a Book Fair? Surprisingly, they had the exact same books in stock. But both my sons loved browsing the shelves and they actually did find a few books they had not seen at the first fair. And yes, I have spent money at both fairs to show support to both schools. How can you say "No" to buying books?

My co-chair reminded me that we had  a visitor to last October's Book Fair. I had actually forgotten. I further realized that our little visitor has not been around since last October. Then, Sticky Chicken spent a full day at our Book Fair and hasn't been seen since. Well, actually I see him everyday laying akimbo in my kitchen catch-all drawer but he hasn't made a blog appearance since October. Shame on me for letting him go dark for so long. Not entirely my fault; I didn't know that chickens hibernate. I'll have to see if we can get him out and about soon.

This week has also been busy because of extra doctors appointments that were unexpected. No more news on the nose other than the Mike Tyson shape of the nose has gone away. We'll find out today if surgery is required. Let's hope not.

In the exciting news department, I received my first edition print copy of Tempo and Speed 2010 yesterday. I printed the second year of my blog posts. I had printed the 2009 edition last year and loved it so much, I will be printing one every year for as long we both (my blog and me) shall live. Each annual edition includes only posts from that calendar year. Here's the cover of 2010.

In other exciting news, I have a new profile picture. I needed to retire the one that I have had since the beginning of time. This new one is another self-portrait and I took it as an assignment for an online workshop I am taking. You can read all about the workshop here. If you haven't been to my photo blog, I invite you to come on over and see what going on there. With this new workshop, I plan to be posting there frequently as it is a 52-week workshop. So there will be at least one cool photo assignment per week. This week's assignment is capturing rhythm in an image...

And lastly, I am wearing a different belt with my uniform today. You didn't know I wore a uniform? Yes, I wear my official self-employed, professional volunteer homebound CEO uniform of jeans, boots and a black top.

Since it's Friday, I can stray from the more conservative leather belt to this casual leather and eyelet fabric one. Now if this isn't a fragmented post, I don't know what is. Happy Friday!

Mommy's Idea

This post is linked up with Mrs. 4444s Friday Fragments.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bad Luck or the Hand of Evil?

At first I thought it was just coincidence or bad luck. But now I believe there is much more to what has happened to us recently. See what you think.

Two weeks ago we were struck down mid-weekend by a stomach virus. You remember, we had to cancel dinner guests 20 minutes before their arrival. And my youngest son, Helios, was unable to participate in The Pinewood Derby the next morning. What I haven't told you was that two days after my son got sick (with his first illness of that week), I got the stomach virus too. I was sick Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of that week. Just when I was starting to feel a bit better, Helios complained of a sore throat and he still had a pesky fever. One throat swab culture later, we find he has strep.

Did I mention we were scheduled to fly to sunny Florida that Wednesday? I probably don't need to tell that we didn't make our flights. I know there might be some people out there who would have jumped on a plane with their oversized carry-ons and lingering viruses, but not us. We were thinking of all of you and didn't want to spread what we had. So we rescheduled our trip. We are nice that way.

Our trip is now scheduled next week. I can't wait for the Florida sun to kiss my pasty Maryland skin. It will be wonderful! The kids are uber-excited because part of the trip includes a visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure. It is a dream come true for them.

I am hoping that Daniel Radcliff might be there making some special appearance. He's a real cutie. If I were a few years younger and not married... It would be great for the boys to see him of course.

But back to the real story...what's really going on here. Sure it's bad timing to get viruses and have to change your plans once. But now I fear we may have to reschedule our trip again. Yesterday, my oldest son, Leonardo, had the misfortune of his nose meeting a metal bar at full speed, leaving it broken. The metal bar, one of the pair of parallel bars on his school playground, is fine. His nose however, is cracked in one spot and his perfect little 10-year-old septum is now deviated and requires repair. We find out Friday if and when surgery is needed. Did I mentioned that we are scheduled to fly to sunny Florida onWednesday? And ride roller coasters on Thursday?

Yes, this is bad. While we are all upset and concerned about the medical issues at hand, the larger issue really is both sons' reactions to the possible change in plans yet again. They handled it well the first time but this time may not go so well. We may still get to go to Florida, but I don't know if roller coasters and Harry Potter will be included. And this is where I think luck has nothing to do with the recent happenings, but there is something greater at work. And this is who I think is behind it all.

Yes, Lord Voldemort. Who else could be so evil as to inflict the strain of stomach virus that was swirling around our town recently. If you've had it, you know it is evil at its worst. And who else would give a poor recovering stomach virus victim strep throat in immediate succession? And who else would rip the dreams of visiting Hogwarts and all its splendor from two young boys? And who else would "randomly" place a pair of parallel bars the exact distance apart that measures the same length from Leonardo's nose to his seated bottom? (Visual aid: he was sitting on one bar and "accidentally" swung around to meet the other bar with his nose.)

None other than Voldemort himself could open the hinges of hell in these ways. Things just don't happen like this all on their own, you know. But I just hope Leonardo's nose comes out looking better than Voldemort's when this is all over.