Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Madness of Mindy

My daughter, Jenna, has a favorite book called, “Bad, Bad Cat”.  In the story, the cat goes through a series of misbehaviors like eating the house plants and tearing up the sofa. But in the end the family still loves their “good, bad cat.”

We don’t have a cat.  As Jenna correctly puts it, “Mommy doesn’t like cats, their poopy stinks real bad!” Instead we have a dog, a Jack Russell-Italian Greyhound-Rat Terrier mix.  Her name is Mindy.  As stated in previous blog entries, our home is under construction to fix the mold/water infested bathroom.  We have had a great deal of comings and goings of plumbers, tile men, and demolition crew.  These workers have brought out new aspects of Mindy’s personality: relentless barker and fierce protector.

I was sitting on the couch burping Naomi, Jenna at my side watching Wiggles Big Red Car for the 7th time in three days.  Mindy was nestled under a blanket on the other couch opposite mine, snoring in her sleep.  The door knob turned. Mindy leapt from her covers like a jaguar about to pounce, growing and ready. Sweet Ivan, a fix it all handy man, entered.   Mindy ran to his feet, “ARF! ARF,” followed him to the TV, “ARF! Arf, arf,” hopped on the back of the couch, and ran its length as Ivan made his way toward the bedrooms,” ARf! ArF! ARRRRFFFF! Ruff!” The door closed leaving Mindy standing there glowering after him.  She let off one final slow “Grrrrrrr!” Then jumped down to the seat of the couch and burrowed back under her blankly.  When Ivan had to get a drill he forgot from the truck, the whole thing started again only in reverse. “ARF! arf, ARf,ArF! ARRRRFFFFF! Ruff!” The front door closed, “Grrrrrrr!”

All morning long it was the same routine.  At around 10:40 a.m., I had had it! Naomi wasn’t able to nap because the dog kept waking her up.  At first I put Mindy in the garage but it didn’t help because her whines and howls managed to find us in the back bedroom.  So I placed her on the porch. “Now be quiet!” I scolded her, and then went to answer the phone.   While I was talking, Jenna started to squeal, “Eeewww! Yuck! Mindy just pooped and pee peed Mommy!”
“Hold on a sec,.. Jenna, I’ll clean it in a minute, Mommy is on the phone!”
Jenna: “Clean it now Mommmmmmy!” “It’s yucky!”
“Jenna, hush!”
“That’s all dirty Moooommmmyyyy!”  “You have to clean it NNOOOOWWWWW!!!!”
Frustrated I yanked the curtain closed to hide the sliding glass door to the porch. 
“There! You can’t see it anymore, now go play!!!”
This caused Jenna to morph into complete meltdown, hugging my leg, and crying hysterically, “Don’t close the curtain! I want to see the poopy!”
“That’s IT!!!” “Dad, I’ll have to call you back!”

I headed toward the kitchen to hang up the phone; Jenna was still dangling from my ankle, being dragged across the tile as I attempted to walk.  Naomi was squirming crankily in my arms and just as I was  about to cry myself, Travis the tile man, came around the corner, gave me a once over and smiled sweetly, “Do you have an outside outlet that I can plug my saw into?” Yes, Travis-I think to myself, I am in over my head!!!
I opened the garage door and called my mom.  At least the kids can nap at her house. I cleaned up the poop and pee on the porch and while doing so Mindy promptly tried to run through the screen we just repaired, ripping it.  Furious, I grabbed Mindy and tossed her into the fenced in area with the ducks. "If she poops, at least it will be in the grass."

After loading the girls in the car, I went to pull out of the driveway and noticed the city employees had decided to start work on our drainage ditch.  Mulling it over in my head on the minute and a half drive to my parent’s house, I realized it wasn’t such a great idea to leave the house unlocked.  What if Ivan or Travis left for lunch?  When I arrived at my mom’s, I brought the girls in, explained my new plan to leave Ivan a key, and then headed back home. 

Pulling onto my street, I noticed a small brown and white thing darting back and forth in the yard. It didn’t click until I got out of the car and stepped in a massive puddle that flooded over my shoes (I was standing in the ditch because the construction guys were blocking my drive way).  There was Mindy, happily, dashing back and forth chasing the men.  Somehow she escaped the duck fence.  I opened the front door to the house; tossed Mindy back inside, gave Ivan a spare key, and left.  Back at my parent’s house, sanity had been reinstated.  The girls quickly drifted off to sleep and I joined them.

We stayed at my mom’s until about 3:00.  When I got home I was surprised to see that all the men were gone. They finished for the day and left a note that they would be returning tomorrow. I opened the door and there’s Mindy.  A plastic Home Depot bag was caught around her collarless neck.  I couldn’t tell what was in it, but the lumpy portion dragging behind her was leaking white powder all over the floor as she happily dashed back and forth to greet me.  I surveyed the room and saw that this “powder” had been happily spread all over the house, on the floor, couches, my silk accent pillows-tiny white paw prints were everywhere.  I put Naomi’s carrier down and grabbed Mindy.  A quick look inside the bag and I realized that the dust covering my house was tile and drywall debris that one of the workers must have meant to throw away but accidently left behind.   

That night Mindy was so tuckered out from all her fierce protecting and destruction of the day she was sound asleep and snoring even before the girls were. After retelling the day’s events to Mike, he commented on how we must be mad to have gotten another dog after the death of our Chihuahua.  I agreed that she had been a pain lately, especially today, but decided that our decision was a good one.  She may be a pain sometimes, but in the end she was only trying to protect our family from the “evil” invaders.  The stress of having workers come and go all day is probably too much for her to handle and once all this work is over, she will settle down again. “Overall, Mindy is a good dog!” Mike agreed and we decided to have a small cup of coconut milk ice cream with our Netflix instant play movie. I headed to the kitchen and noticed my foot was wet so I flipped on the light…..there was Mindy pee all over the floor and I was standing in the middle of it. SIGH!!!!  That’s Mindy, our good, Bad Dog!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Dent in My Head

As a child I was forever trying to show off my amazing athletic abilities.  This was due to the fact that I was hyper active and an only child with few friends in my neighborhood.  Birthday parties provided the perfect opportunity to try to impress others with my “gifts” and so it was on my best friend’s sister’s 13th birthday that I decided back flips might provide excellent entertainment.

I had casually waited until all the other girls jumped into the pool, leaving me alone on my patio stage.  With great enthusiasm I announced in a ring master sort of tone, “Prepare to be amazed!” “I, Jamie Ann, aged 8 will now thrill you all with fantastic feats beyond your wildest imagination!” “An expert for some time now, I will demonstrate to you all how to do a back flip entrance into the pool!”

Now for an eight year old it doesn’t take very long to become an expert on anything (A day would suffice for most) and I had gotten to practice a whole 6 flips the weekend before at another pool party. Surely these “older girls” would be so impressed by my skills, they would forget I was only there as a friend for Kim’s little sister and invite me into their grown up world of New Kids on the Block and MTV.

I slowly made my way to the deep end, placed my heels on the pool’s edge, and dramatically saluted the crowd.  Two bends of the knees and a mighty backwards jump, I was in with a crowd pleasing splash.  I surfaced victorious, ridiculously proud at my achievement.  Kimmy, the birthday girl, said rather dryly, “Nice trick, Jamie” and their conversation about Todd’s new haircut continued. My friend Meri pulled me over to her and hissed in my ear, “Stop trying to show off! They don’t give a care at all!”

Refusing to go through the rest of the party unnoticed, I shrugged my shoulders and smiled back at Meri, “They weren’t ready to watch, and they weren’t impressed because they just didn’t see!” Despite Meri’s protests, I doggy paddled my way to the ladder, scrambled out of the pool, and resumed my place once more at the side. “Because so many of you missed it the first time I will now repeat my amazing trick and do not one, but a second death defying back flip!”

You know those scenes in movies where everything suddenly runs in slow motion.  Time was half suspended when in the middle of the air I heard Kimmy’s friend say, “She came awfully close to the pool edge last time!” In that same instant I thought, “What’s that white thing below me?” At once there was a very loud thud, a sloppy splash, and the muffled sounds of talking above water. I listlessly floated to the surface. Time returned to normal speed as I bobbed limply in my splash wake.

I felt a strange electric buzzing coming from the top of my head but in all other respects everything seemed fine.  That’s when Erica who had thought my back flips weren’t such a good idea screamed & pointed at my head with a terrified look on her face.  That’s when I looked down and noticed the water around me was turning pink.  Confused I touched my hair, saying “What’s the matter?” I quickly pulled my hand off my head and saw what was causing everyone to dash from the pool. 

Seeing my own blood must have released the shock mechanism in my brain. I felt pain for the first time throbbing through my scalp.  My faithful friend Meri grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to the steps.  Trying to be brave, I fought back tears and stammered through closed eyes, “It doesn’t hurt that bad really!” But my reflection in the sliding glass door told me better & all at once my need to be grown up, brave and socially accepted melted away as I crumbled into Meri’s mom’s arms. An emergency room visit & 9 stitches later, my career as a professional back flip diver was over.

Today, my daughter Jenna calls to me from the living room while I cook dinner, “Mommy, watch me!” She stands on the back of the couch and attempts to fly from it with her blanket like a parachute. She knows this will earn a one way ticket to time out, but she tests me anyway knowing I’m on the phone with the insurance company, holding Naomi on my hip with one arm, and stirring mashed potatoes with the other.

My accident prone childhood was very much a result of risk taking and was a major cause of numerous gray hairs on my mother’s head.  When Jenna is older and can understand, I will tell her, and eventually Naomi, this story. Hopefully they will learn from it and see what happens when we take risks in attempts to impress someone else. Until then, I pray my daughters are kinder to my nerves than I was to my mother’s.  Thanks to Jenna, I already have a small patch of grays growing just four inches north of the dent in my head.  

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Good Life

When I had first discussed with people the idea of being a stay at home mom I received mixed reactions.  Some were shocked, “Why would you want to do that? I could never be a stay at home mom-I’d go crazy!” Some were indignant, “ I've always wanted to do that, how on earth can YOU afford to do it on a teacher’s salary!” Some were supportive, “Good for you girl-you go ahead and give it a whirl.” But mostly people were skeptical, “Honey, there is just no way you’re going to survive financially without working full time!” Since my family and I have taken the plunge I’m finding that the doubtful are coming around to being pleasantly surprised and even hopeful.  “You’re really doing it, aren't you?” “A stay at home mom, wow, I’m Jealous!” But the biggest question that never seems to go away is, “How are you able to do that?”

To this I respond in the same way: Almost anyone can do it, you just have to agree to never go anywhere, do anything (that costs money & isn’t essential for staying alive), and be late on just about every bill.  HA! LOL! Of course I am joking! Right?….Almost… J
 If you are married to someone who has a full time-consistent paying job (at least double minimum wage) and a combined debt to income ratio that’s manageable, you can probably swing living on a single full time+ income too.  But there are some things that need to be done differently.  The following practices make it possible for me to be a stay at home mom:

1)      Pray Often.  Don’t laugh, I’m totally serious! If it wasn’t for two years of prayer in preparation for this year and for grace, and patience, and provision, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.  God has been really amazing through this whole process.  A lady told me the other day, “The Universe seems to be in line with what you are doing and supports you in your decision.” I like to delete Universe and insert God and then that sentence rings true in my heart too.

2)      Buy on Sale, Buy in Bulk, and Use it All. We are so blessed to live near a fantastic vegetable stand with some amazing people running it.  They have great prices and discounts.  I buy everything I can when they have quickly ripening or blemished items for clearance. Corn on the cob, tomatoes, melons, onions, potatoes-my family and I live off those $1 bags and what we don’t eat right away gets diced and frozen or sliced and dehydrated to store for later. There is no waste so we can limit our want.  Sam’s club also has some great necessities that my family stocks up on for great bulk prices about once a month.

Mike used to make fun of me for my strict price limit setting while Ebay-ing.  Currently I am in the market for a juicer to make our own vegetable juice because the stuff in the store is just too costly.  I vow not to pay a cent over $20. Mike says it can’t be done unless the machine is busted.  I plan to prove him wrong and until then the thrill of the hunt is so very exciting.  I also use eBay to purchase coupons for items that I buy frequently like my So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt (one of the rare things I can eat on Naomi’s MSPI/Gluten Free diet).  You get 10 $1 off coupons for $1.25 and they don’t expire until 2013 so you can really save a lot! Our family grocery store is Publix, which is an awesome store but can be a touch pricier than other grocers. So I only buy when items are on sale and stock my freezer with my awesome savings.

3)      Make it Yourself.  Our Naomi diet has forced me to make all our baked goods from scratch. Gluten, soy, and dairy free products are too rare or too expensive in our area.  When I found the distributor Navan Foods online and started making all our muffins, cakes, cookies, waffles, pancakes, and breakfast breads from the Superfine Rice Flour sack, I was surprised at how much I used to spend on food convenience.  Having something instantly costs a lot and often is not as healthy.

Frozen waffles cost double and sometimes triple (if they are allergen free) of what it costs to make your own and they taste so much better fresh anyway.  Homemade saves us about $20-$30 a week, which over time, adds up to quite a sum. I also started making Jenna’s fruit snacks and treats myself.  Since I’ve been home I have emptied the glassware out of my kitchen hutch and filled it with jars of banana and apple chips, dried cantaloupe & pineapple, and my own tropical fruit and apple fruit roll ups.  Again, all at a fraction of the cost in stores and super healthy and preservative/color free.

4)      Find Free Stuff.  Our family frequents the library for free books, CDs, and movie rentals and Jenna attends the wonderful story times offered for some fun and socialization. We also happen to live in a town with many parks.  Jenna loves the playgrounds, splash pad water park by the river, and visiting the “big water” aka ocean, just 15 minutes from our house.  We bike ride and go for walks. We don’t have cable (which shocks everyone who knows it) and just use the TV for DVDs and Videos.  Any shows we want to watch we see online for free and save ourselves about $40 a month.

5)      Reduce.  Mike is fortunate to work only 15 minutes away from work, 30 by bike, so we are in the process of selling our Camry and making due with only our van.  This will help to lower our car insurance payments and will allow us to pay off the remainder on our van loan. We also set up an account with this great children’s consignment shop in town.  Things that the girls outgrow or don’t play with are gathered and sold there for a 40/60 split.  This not only gets rid of excess in the closest and toy boxes but also provides our family with $30-$60 a month in extra cash. Consignment and thrift shops are also a great inexpensive way to update wardrobes with name brand items for a fraction of the cost.

6)      Live greenly.  Going back to the practices of our ancestors is a huge money saver.  Aside from preparing nearly everything we eat from scratch (I still buy meat, sunflower butter, rice bread & rice milk regularly) we also try to grow/raise our own food.  No, we don’t live on a farm but we do have a vegetable garden which we are replanting now and we raise ducks.  Our local ordinances only permit us to have two, but Fluffy and Baron have done a great job at providing us with 6-7 organic eggs a week. Considering free range organic chicken eggs cost around $4 a dozen, that’s a nice chunk of change not leaving your pocket.  

Our neighbors have fruit trees (oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, and loquats) with excess so we get to have our fill during season. Mike volunteers during harvests at a church friend’s Bee hives and a feeding the hungry farm ministry.  These giving back to the community opportunities not only provide him with man fellowship but supply our family with free honey and veggies too.

Diapering two children (one is 90% potty-trained) is the largest monthly expense.  So aside from long trips and nighttime, we are using cloth exclusively.  Cloth diapers are a lot more user friendly than they used to be so this isn’t as gross as it sounds.  (I’ll explain further another time).  We also invested in two $10 clothes racks that I use to hang up wet laundry to save on drying costs.  They are in our garage/laundry room and in our Florida heat; they dry much faster than those that get caught in frequent summer showers outside.

7)      Refocus Your Priorities & Be Prepared for the Consequence. If you are worried about keeping up with what the media and Hollywood says is the Good Life you are going to be sadly disappointed with your decision to stay home. After the monthly bills are paid there isn’t much left for the things that American Consumers usually purchase. Buying WANTS get shelved and buying NEEDS takes over.  There is a huge amount of making due and waiting another year. But the consequence of this is truly amazing!

I get to wake up every morning to my smiling girls and know we have the entire day to make memories together. I won’t have to worry about Naomi calling someone else mama when she speaks her first words or miss her first steps, because I will be right there. I get to watch Jenna dance to her princess piano music each day as she jumps, bends, and twirls, laughing hysterically when I help Naomi to applaud after each of her performances.

I’m there to teach them right and wrong.  I’m there to read stories and sing songs. I’m there to kiss the booboos and make it all better. I get to shower them with hugs and love.  What does our financial sacrifice get us? I get the gift of raising my daughters and they get the gift of their mommy every day.  No substitutions.  The truth of the matter is that my husband and I are closer, the house is cleaner, and our family has never been stronger.  We may not have much money but we are definitely living the good life.