Saturday, August 31, 2013

An Afternoon at WinCo.

So, I shop regularly at +WinCo .  It's a no-frills grocery store that is probably one step up from WalMart, but they offer good food at low prices.  And I think I may have mentioned before that I'm a sucker for a bargain.  So even though they make me bag my own groceries, I'm a WinCo fan. 

WinCo keeps their prices low by not accepting credit cards.  I know.  It's nuts.  REALLY?  It's 2013!! Who doesn't accept electronic money these days?  Well WinCo doesn't.  So I traditionally bring my checkbook and cut a check (the ONE check that gets written on our "checking" account each week) for our groceries. 

Last week I ran out of checks.  Huh.  I thought long and hard about how I use checks.  I buy groceries and pay my hairdresser. That's about it.  Do I really need to buy more checks??  Naaaahhhh.  I can use my debit card.  The debit card just collects dust in my purse because I never use it.  I pay everything with the credit card.  Hello!? Free sky miles!! 

Well, here's the lesson I learned this week.  My debit card is apparently linked to only one of our checking accounts. And it's not the one with loads of cash. 

Here's when I learned the the WinCo check-out counter after the clerk had rung up $182.54 worth of groceries. 


Well, I knew the money was there, but the card just wasn't talking to the right account.  I thought about explaining that to the clerk but realized that made me look like an even bigger loser than I already appeared to be, trying to deny the fact that I had "Insufficient Funds" to bring my groceries home.  I played it cool, put on my game face.  "Clearly, this is a silly misunderstanding" is what I was trying to say with my confident expression. 

So then I get the brilliant idea to go to the ATM (conveniently located inside the store) to withdraw money for my groceries.  Because if my ATM card doesn't work at the checkout counter, maybe it will somehow magically work at the ATM??  Oh geez.  I was grabbing at straws, people!!  It was a busy Sunday afternoon at the grocery store and I had no money to pay for my food.  Turns out the ATM didn't have a better answer for me because the card was still talking to the wrong account

I told the clerk I would have to call my husband to bring me some money. 

I called my husband. He didn't answer. 

My in-laws live approximately one mile from WinCo.  Hmmmm. 

I did it.  I called my mother in law and asked her to bail me out at WinCo.  "I'll be right there!" she said. 

Bless.  Her.  Heart. 

Meanwhile, my grocery clerk was due for a break, so she was busy explaining to the clerk in the next lane that I had a "situation" and my husband was on his way to bring some money. 

In walks my father in law, debit card in hand.  Perfect.  Now I'm a deadbeat with no money married to a senior citizen.  Totally awesome. 

I started to sweat a little as Steve swiped his card, realizing that $182 worth of groceries might be putting a bit of a strain on his checking account.  I mean, I don't much do people generally have in a checking account??  For the record, I have less than $200.  How fun would that be if my Hero for the day came up insufficient also?! 

The clerk swiped the card, the receipt spit out and I was home free. 

And the moral of the story is...plastic can't save you in every situation but family can. 


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Irony and an Ego Boost

Here are two funny stories from the past week.  Maybe funny is too strong of a word.  Amusing.  To be clear, these stories are completely unrelated and are not paired together for any particular reason other than the fact that each made me laugh.  But it wasn't a big enough laugh to warrant a blog spotlight.  But together?  Smashing.  (-:

I took my kids to the mall play area last week before we started back on the school routine.  We got there early and had the place mostly to ourselves.  Naturally, someone had to go potty.  Of course you have to wander through the food court to get to the mall potty.  The mall stores were still closed in these wee hours of the morning, but the Donut House was open for business.  Do you see where this is headed?  I'm dragging two kids through the lifeless mall (aside from the vigorous mall walkers) and  the Donut House appears in the food court as a beacon of hope to weary potty travelers.  How does a mom drag her kids past the Donut House to the potty without actually purchasing a donut?  Well, it's nearly impossible.  Most days I'm up for the task, but on the last day of summer I caved.  I waited for the kids to ask.  They did not disappoint. 

I purchased one pink donut with sprinkles and split it between the two of them.  My two year old son took one sniff of that donut, chugged his milk and then threw his donut IN THE TRASH.  I kid you not. 

You heard it here first.  There is one child in America who will voluntarily toss junk food where it belongs. 

And the Ego Boost:
I've been in the market for a new hairdresser.  The one I have been going to for years has adopted two kids and decided to stay home to be a full-time mommy.  I can't really begrudge her that, can I? 

Well, maybe a little. 

I support any woman that puts her kids first over career. Except if you happen to be the gal that does my hair.  Because, really?  Finding a new hairdresser?  It's kind of like discovering your favorite brand of underwear has been suddenly discontinued.  What do you do?  Where do you go?  It's so personal....which friend do you trust to give you a referral??

Well, I went with a gal that my former hairdresser recommended.  She was cute.  Funny.  Chatty.  She's got kids the same age as mine.  And she gave a great haircut.  But here's what sealed the deal.  Our conversation somehow got around to age (on the first haircut!!).  She casually asked me how old I was and then said, "We're probably around the same age, right? Mid-30's?" 

SOLD!  New hairdresser (and potential BFF) found.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Back to School.

The end of summer and return to the school routine is always a bittersweet time.  As any parent knows, the endless hours of summer are a blessing and a curse.  Kids can stay up a little later, get a little dirtier, and linger a little longer in the backyard before bedtime.  But the kids are always home, and underfoot and waiting for you to keep them entertained.  After weeks and weeks of visits to the park, trips to the farmer's market, play dates with friends, and running in the sprinklers, we're now back on a school-year routine. 

Our little ones have been oozing excitement for weeks over going back to school.  Even our teenager has expressed mild excitement about the new year.  During the two weeks leading up to the first day of school, our four-year-old asked us at least daily, "Are we going to school today?" 

Pardon me while I say a quick prayer that she holds on to that enthusiasm throughout her academic career....

I'm not a big fan of Back to School shopping.  I think it's all a crazy marketing gimmick to make you believe the clothes that fit just fine in June somehow became out of fashion and not suitable for public display by August.  But I'm  not a complete ogre.  I do like the kids to have something new to wear, at least for the first day of school.  (I'm a little agitated because this was my mom's mantra when I was a kid.  I hate it when she's right.  But not as much as I hate it when my dad is right.)

Our four-year-old, fancy girl got a new sun dress and some black Mary-Janes to start off the new  year.  The two-year-old dominated the toddler fashion scene with his dinosaur t-shirt and spiffy new Sketchers.  Let me clarify.  Sketchers from the clearance rack.  That were half off the clearance price.  Because I'm not the mom who spends $50 on a pair of shoes that will be covered with pee the second day they are worn.  (True story.) And our stylish 15-year old that gets to pick out her own outfits, selected this beauty for the first day of her Junior year:

I think her Uncle +Mark Grosch would be proud.

The first day went off without a hitch.  The kids were excited.  Mom remembered to pack lunches the night before.  Nobody cried.  The little ones gave big hugs to every teacher they saw.  They put their lunchboxes away and waved goodbye to mom without a second glance.  Granted, it's not a new school or even a new teacher for either of them, but they handled the transition back to school like champs. 

For this year, we will enjoy the fact that we have three kids going to two different schools.  Next year we'll be busing kids in three different directions.  I will savor the final year of preschool for my soon-to-be 5-year old and relish the extra time we have before we she enters the true rat-race of "real" school, kindergarten and homework.  We will work hard to cherish the last two years of high school and live in the moment without fretting about the logistics and financial implications of launching a soon-to-be young adult off into the world (Read: College.  That's where we're launching you to, kiddo.  Not the traveling circus or surf school in Bermuda, just to be clear.)  And we will remember to be patient and diligent about Finding the Joy while raising an energetic two-year-old boy.  Please, Lord.  Let us find patience.  Every. Day. 

Someone asked my younger daughter this week about her school and if she liked it.  "So much I want to give it a big kiss!" was her reply. 

I think it's safe to say the sweet part of starting school outweighs the bitter end to our summer.  Happy new year kiddos!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Checking Off "The List"

I've been plugging away on my 40 Fabulous Things list.  I must say it has served its purpose of keeping me entertained this year.  And it has given me an excuse to do a few things that would probably be put off until "another day" that may or may not ever come. 

I am happy to report that #16, Paint the Bathroom, is finally marked off the list.  It turned into a small comedy of errors when my work didn't pass muster with our family inspector, it took four (yes four) coats of paint to get the ceiling "right", and after it was all done, it didn't quite provide the Total Bathroom Transformation we were envisioning.  But it is done.  And now our bathroom is not mustard yellow.  So I think we can call that a success. 

Some progress has been made on #34, Read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  I'm strongly committed to completing this one because, how embarrassing would that be if this is the ONE thing on the list that doesn't get done?  I consider myself to be pretty effective, but I've never read the entire book.  Just think of my productivity after I learn all the secrets of highly effective people! 

This past weekend I hit the trail for #3, and hiked to the top of Mt. Lassen.  The park service was really working against me on this one.  The trail is undergoing major renovation to improve safety and accessibility.  Therefore, it is only open to the public a handful of weekends this summer to allow the trail crew to blast tons of rock and cut new stairways into the side of the mountain.  I was joined on the hike by two good friends; An old, high-school classmate and a former co-worker, both of whom I don't see often enough. 

We hit the road early in hopes of beating the heat and the crowds.  We started up the trail around 9am and I don't recall a single lull in the conversation the whole way up the mountain.  Girl talk and getting back to nature....perfect combination for a Saturday morning!  It's 2.5 miles from the trailhead to the top of the world.  It's a dusty, narrow, semi-precarious route...

...that is 100% worth the effort. 

I know I have a tendency to compare everything to Disneyland.  But truly, the trail that day was about as crowded as the Happiest Place on Earth.  Seriously.  As we descended the mountain, the constant stream of thrill-seekers going up the trail was a bit overwhelming.  Every 200 yards or so we would step to the side and let the uphill hikers go by.  We cheered on the young kids that were attempting the climb.  The ill-prepared hikers wearing Birkenstocks (!!) or sporting 2-year old children up on their shoulders provided amusing people-watching as we speculated on their chances of making it to the top. 

Aside from the crowds, the day was just good clean fun.  Well, it was actually kind of dusty, but you know what I mean.  The weather was perfect.  The skies were clear and the views were amazing.  It was just enough of a challenge that my legs complained a little bit the next morning...but not enough to keep me from wanting to do it again.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Backyard Camping

We have a junior camper on our hands. 

In spite of the fact that our family is headed up by a self-proclaimed "anti-camper", somehow our four-year old daughter has camping in her blood.  I'm guessing it comes from my side of the family. When I was a kid, summer meant three weeks on the road in the family station wagon enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of campgrounds across America. Our camping equipment consisted of an old canvas tent, a Coleman stove, and a ratty old trunk full of mis-matched dishes and Boy Scout cooking equipment. 

For three long weeks, my brother and I shamelessly lusted after the 30-ft RV's we saw on the road equipped with bunk beds, heat and indoor plumbing. 

Well, that isn't exactly true.  We had a great time tent camping.  We were dirty. We hiked.  We built pioneer forts, sang songs and ate junk food around the campfire.  We stayed up too late whispering secrets and ghost stories under our pillows in the tent as our parents pretended not to hear us. 

But we saw how the other half camped.  And we wouldn't have complained one bit if our parents suddenly decided to join the ranks of the RV owners (that we regularly ridiculed for not being "real" campers). 

So, back to our junior camper. 

About a year ago we took a little hike that happened to wander through a campground.  Our daughter saw the tents and was instantly infatuated.  "What are those tents for?" she asked.  Immediately followed by, "Can we do that? When can I sleep in a tent?" 

I don't really get it. I was raised on tent camping and the whole time I just wanted to steal someone's RV or sneak away to the nearest Motel 6 and take a dip in the pool.  Now we stay in hotels or rustic camping cabins with our daughter and all she wants to do is sleep in the dirt.  Go figure. 

As I often do with my kids' random requests, I filed this one away for future use.  Kids ask for a lot.  You have to listen carefully and be observant to separate the random passing fads from the true desires of their little hearts.  Generally when they ask for it at least ten times after the initial request, it's safe to assume they are dedicated to the cause.

Turns out the camping thing wasn't just a passing fad.  She was really interested.  She wanted to do it.  She kept asking. 

So, this weekend when the temps dropped into the mid 90's (faithful readers may notice an emerging trend of my tendency to be less sloth-like when it's not 105 degrees....) and the lows were hovering quite pleasantly in the high 60's, I took my little girl on a backyard camping trip.  We pitched the tent on the lawn, laid out some sleeping bags and got back to nature. 

You would have thought we were packing for Disneyland.  The buzz in the air was electric as we made repeated trips to the backyard to set up a proper "camp".  She danced and jumped around and giggled like a school girl waiting in line to meet Justin Bieber.  Seriously. All that craziness over the chance to sleep outside on the ground. Baffling. 

We read some books, played some games and settled in for our restful (?) evening of backyard camping.  As the 9pm hour approached and darkness began to descend on our rustic abode, the crickets began their noisy lullaby. 

"I'm never going to be able to sleep with all those LIZARDS!" she exclaimed as she rolled over to go to sleep. 

"Crickets, hon.  Those are crickets." I gently corrected her.  Something those RV campers probably know nothing about. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Abundant Blessings

They say the Lord works in mysterious ways.  Amen, my friends.  Amen. 

Do you ever catch yourself going out to bless the world with your generosity, your goodness, or overall abundance, and then God just pulls a bait-and-switch on you?  It's like He's watching your good intentions and sees you getting dangerously close to self-righteousness, so he turns the tables and blesses the world in a completely different way than you had imagined.  Better than you had imagined. 

Our church has partnered with FaithWorks, a local agency working to get people back on their feet while recovering from homelessness, drug abuse, domestic violence or all of the above.  We were asked to do a House Blessing this weekend for a new family moving into the transitional housing apartments.  Sure, I thought.  No problem. 

Well, it turns out our priest was not available to help out this weekend.  Ditto on our two retired priests that have made our church their home.  So, my husband and I were left in charge to bless the house of this family.    I have attended exactly one House Blessing in my lifetime, so I'm certainly no expert.  I relied heavily on Google, scripture suggestions from a wise pastor I know, and a little bit of "Luck o' the Irish."  Turns out you can combine Bible readings, prayer and Irish house blessing poems quite nicely.  (Maybe it worked out better that there was no official clergy present...)

As our family drove to the House Blessing on Saturday morning, my husband and I discussed the fact that it felt a bit awkward.  We had never even met the family.  Would they welcome a group of church do-gooders invading their home to offer donated food and a little prayer over their humble accommodations? 

Well, it turns out they did welcome us.  And, as fate would have it, they may have blessed us more than we blessed them.  As we waited in the living room for our Blessing crew to arrive, the father of the family shared his story with us.  We listened intently as this man, practically a stranger, discussed his fall into addiction over 25 years ago.  Without flinching he told us about the moment he was asked to sign papers to put his infant son up for adoption, and how he begged God for the chance to raise his son.  He proudly showed us his bicycle, equipped with a toddler ride-along seat, that transports him to AA meetings twice each week. 

Shamelessly he shared with us his real-life story of hope, love, courage and faith. 

All we had to offer were a few prayers. 

Let me tell you, we went there ready to offer some Christian love.  We were prepared to bring a message of hope.  Turns out we received more than we bargained for.  We got a reminder that life is full of struggle, and the struggles of our own life often pale in comparison to those of our neighbor.  Sharing feels good, and you don't have to be rich to share.  Everyone has a gift to share with the world.  Some are packaged more fancily than others, but the value of each is immeasurable. 

Coming face to face with a neighbor in need may be scary.  It's generally a little uncomfortable. We could have opted to donate some furniture to the apartment and been done with it.  But we steered clear of the path of least resistance.  We took a gamble on offering a simple House Blessing, and were blessed abundantly in return.  I only hope our presence, our prayers and our simple gesture of support will uplift this family as they have uplifted us. 

God is blessing this world daily, in ways that just might surprise you. 

Jeremiah 29:11-13
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the
Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Romance, Right Here in River City

Last I heard, Redding, CA didn't make the list of "Top 10 Romantic Cities in the US."  I'm going to take a stab in the dark and guess we might not even make the top 10 in California.  I mean, we're competing against the likes of Santa Barbara, Palm Springs and San Francisco for goodness sake!  But I'm here to report that romance actually is alive and well, right here in River City.  (Don't worry Mom & Dad, I assure you this is a G-rated post.)

For my birthday last week, my husband asked me what I wanted to do.  It thought about a wine tasting party, cruising on a houseboat, a weekend away, and a laundry list of other options.  But ultimately what I wanted wasn't a wild party.  I did what any other red-blooded American wife would do.  I used my birthday as an opportunity to drag my husband on a date that I had been wanting to do for a long time.  Throw a birthday in the mix (a milestone birthday, no less) and he couldn't refuse! 

He booked us two seats on the River Romance dinner cruise.  I must admit, I'm a little torn about writing this blog.  Part of me wants to tell you every last detail because it really was the best romantic date we have had in years.  Both of us were pleasantly surprised about how much fun it actually was.  And part of me wants to tell you to "Just do it," because you're going to love it and I don't want to ruin the experience by sharing all the details. I know some of you may require some additional convincing so I will continue.

The River Romance vessel is basically a tricked-out drift boat that is custom made for doing this fancy dinner cruise.  I have a hard time describing a river cruise in Redding as "fancy" without giggling a little, but this was truly no smelly fishing rig floating down the river.  The boat had cushioned seats and a clever little canopy that made you feel like you were in your own, private boat. 

The oarsmen was fantastic, appropriately dressed in the black-and-white striped shirt and red apron of a true gondolier.  As we pushed off from the boat ramp, That's Amore started playing on the stereo and our boat slowly drifted beneath the Sundial Bridge. 

All along the route, the oarsmen expertly positioned the boat to keep the sun out of our eyes, give us varying views of the surrounding scenery, and a perfect vantage point to spot wildlife.

About an hour into the cruise, we pulled up on a shallow sandbar in the river and were served a lovely dinner.  I didn't have high hopes for a dinner prepared by a Fishing-Guide-by-Day-Romance-Oarsmen-by-Night, but I was pleasantly surprised.  We had tasty steaks cooked on the onboard BBQ, grilled veggies, baked potato and salad topped by their "world famous" salad dressing.  It wasn't quite a Jack's steak, but certainly flavorful and more than adequate for a meal prepped in the middle of the river (while steering our boat). 

The locals also came out to greet us at dinner and kept us company as we dined. 

The boat and the dinner were both grand, but the most impressive part was really the river.  The Sacramento River runs through this town and we probably see it every day from one bridge or another.  Even for two locals that have lived here nearly our whole lives, being ON the river was a whole different experience.  For one thing, it's cooler on the river.  Way cooler.  That water gets spit out of Shasta Dam only a few miles upriver and it is like ice.  Even on a summer day with temperatures well into the 90's, it was completely comfortable on the river.  I actually wore a fleece jacket.  IN AUGUST.  It's a big deal, people. 

Being on the river gives you a totally new vantage point on just about everything.  You notice the Swallows and their mud nests underneath every freeway overpass and bridge.  You glide through the backyards of the local rich and famous that can afford fantastic, river-front properties.  And it's quiet.  Even a few yards downstream from the Highway 44 overpass, the gentle ripple of the water drowns out the traffic rushing past above your head. 

In summary, I will say we are sold.  If you come to visit from out of town, there is a good chance we will try to convince you to do this river cruise so we have an excuse to do it again.  And if you're a local, do yourself a favor.  Get on the river! 

It's a little bit of Paris romance, right here in River City.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

40 Life Lessons

It's official.  I've got 40 years of living under my belt.  Here are a few things I learned along the way...

1.  Generic peanut butter is not a suitable substitute for name brand.

2.  Birthing babies is hard.  For real. 

3.  When you're painting a room, and you have even one ounce of your soul that thinks a second coat might be a good a second coat. 

4.  Wine is good.  Expensive wine is not necessarily better.  Ditto on wine with a cute label.

5.  Use the good china as often as possible. 

6.  Life has very distinct seasons.  Enjoy the beauty of each one.

7.  Your family is full of characters.  Learn to love all of them.  Even the ones that drive you a little crazy. 

8.  Fresh, local produce really is better than the stuff shipped in from Chile. (No offense Chile.  I'm sure when it's enjoyed IN Chile it tastes just fine.)

9.  Paying someone else to clean your house is way more fun than doing it yourself.

10.  Insurance is expensive.  Being uninsured is more expensive. 

11.  A college education is a valuable investment for more reasons than I can list here. 

12.  Most friends will ebb and flow in and out of your life.  Let them go peacefully, and embrace the opportunity to reconnect.

13.  When treating head lice, vinegar and a quality nit comb are your best friends.

14. Be present with your kids. 

15. Say please.  And thank you.  And excuse me.  Even if nobody else does. 

16.  If you think life is boring, you're doing it wrong.  Try again.

17.  Always buy it if a kid is selling it to raise money for school/soccer/church/band camp/etc.

18.  When the invitation requests that you RSVP, do it. 

19.  Sometimes the way your husband said to do it really is the right way. 

20.  Don't make an excuse.  Find a solution.

21.  Watching the morning news does not start your day on a positive note. 

22.  Just be yourself.  The people that matter won't mind.

23.  A man holding the door open for you doesn't necessarily think you are helpless.  Maybe his mama just raised him right.

24.  When pitching a tent on a slight incline with a rainstorm in the forecast, make sure the door faces downhill.

25.  Homemade is better than store bought every time.

26.  If you think you can, or you think you can't, you're probably right. 

27.  Save for a rainy day.  Because it WILL rain.

28.  Working at summer camp is about the most magical summer job on the planet. 

29.  Even if you marry a guy that has a safe full of guns and biceps the size of your thigh, you still may have to kill your own spiders. 

30.  Sunscreen is your friend.  Use it regularly and you too may get carded well into your 30's. 

31.  Luck will come through for you occasionally.  Hard work and preparation are more reliable.

32.  Everybody has a theory on how to peel a hardboiled egg.  None of them work.

33.  When planning a wedding and the cream colored napkins turn out to be white on your big day, don't throw a hissy fit.  It will truly seem ridiculous in hindsight.  Truly.

34.  If you want to learn to play an instrument, select one that fits in your backpack. 

35.  Teach your children early that when they need to vomit, they are to run, not walk, to the nearest toilet.

36.  When your 18-month old declares that she will wear only skirts or dresses, you can stop buying pants and go with it, or prepare yourself for a battle of wills each and every morning.  I recommend the former. 

37.  Go ahead and take that Belly Dancing class that is offered at the community center.  You'll have a blast. 

38.  We all have talents.  Share them with the world.

39.  The $100 shoes are always more comfortable than the $20 shoes.

40.  Embrace birthdays, or any other reason to celebrate life!