Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wheelin' and Dealin'

I recently began clipping coupons from the newspaper. I had never done so before in my adult life, for several reasons. Many years ago, my husband and I had subscribed to the newspaper and it created a lot of paper clutter in our house. (My husband constantly tells me there isn't a piece of paper around that I don't love. I seem to have a slight problem with paper hoarding. Piles are always accumulating on various flat surfaces around our home.) We couldn't stand it, so we canceled the subscription. Additionally, I had always imagined that scanning the paper for coupons would be way too time consuming. Plus, seeing as I am organizationally challenged when it comes to paper, I figured I could never put any coupons I had clipped into any sort of accessible system for use when I would go shopping.

However, after hearing from two of my girlfriends about how crazy I was by missing out on all sorts of money-saving opportunities by using coupons, I decided to resubscribe to the newspaper and join the ranks of the Coupon Clippers.

If I was crazy before I began clipping coupons, I've certainly inched up the lunacy scale since I've been clipping crazed. Now, I can hardly wait for the Sunday paper every week. And once Sunday arrives, I'm the first one out of bed and running out the door to fetch the newspaper from our driveway. (My husband and I have been talking about getting a dog recently, but he says with my fetching skills and enthusiasm for the task - who needs one?!) Once I'm back inside, I sit down and clip away, Edward Scissorhands-style.

I think I've saved a fairly decent amount of money over the past two months through using coupons. But now that I'm on board with coupons, I'm looking for something more - perhaps internet sites advertising money-saving deals, etc. I've looked into a few, but I haven't really found any that advertise too many things that I actually use. Perhaps that's a common problem.

With the economy in its current state, everyone is looking to save money these days. So, my question is, what do you do to save money on your purchases? Coupons? Internet sites? If so, which ones?

Monday, April 27, 2009

When is a Negative a Positive?

Ok...my delusions of grandeur are going away. I finally figured out why I think I am skinner than I really am; I could never feel it. I was so out of shape that I couldn't feel the difference between fat and muscle. Now, I have been working out all year and I have been able to develop some muscle. Great! I feel better and stronger everyday however, there are a couple drawbacks: The scale isn't moving and now, I can feel how fat I really am. Yuck!

It's kind of motivating though...the self-repulsion. I start to think...maybe I can skip my workout today. Then, I get up and "watch it wiggle, see it jiggle" (remember that Jello commercial?). That's when I think, "Oh no. You had better get your fat butt up and work off that Jello!!"

As a recent therapy graduate , I understand that the negative self-talk is not the greatest for my emotional well-being however, can it be used to achieve greater physical results? I mean, when is a negative a positive?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Crunch Time

Let me start out by saying, this is probably the hardest blog I have written/posted thus far. My husband and I have been married for nearly three years. I will be turning 39 in October and just about every other week these days, we have a quick check in with each other to discuss where we are in terms of moving into another stage in our marriage- becoming a family. It is crunch time. Most of the time, we reconfirm that we are not ready, nor do we want to have children at this time in our lives. We say that we still want them, but, we are going to continue to wait.

To tell you the truth, I am not sure how long we are going to be able to keep it up. If we do decide sometime within the next 3-4 years or so, I believe we would be truly blessed to have children. I believe I honestly want them, but, sometimes, I wonder if it is just the pressures of society that tell me that I should have them. I look at the life that I currently have – I have a career that I love and a relationship with my husband and friends that is good for me and wonder if I would be pushing my luck to move in this direction that every other woman around me seems to have already gone. Another thing that has made me stop and think lately is that I have lost at least 15 pounds recently and I am hesitant to put that and possibly more back on, because I know how much harder I will have to work to take it off.

My friends who are mothers tell me it is worth it, but, I wonder if it would be right for me. I have to admit, I have actually resisted moving forward lately in my career, because I keep thinking, if I were to take on a more managerial position, I probably wouldn’t feel right having a child since I wouldn’t be able to spend time with her or him. I already work 45-50 hrs, plus another 10hrs each week for the commute. My husband and I spend more money than we would if we had a child and a home with a mortgage. I am pretty sure we could handle the mortgage, but, I would have to shift my priorities quite a lot with a child and sometimes I wonder if I could do this without feeling overwhelmed.

I know it would come easily for me- making the change, but, I don’t doubt that I would actually go to the extreme that perhaps, I wouldn’t take much time for myself or my relationship any more. I would have to work to find a balance for this somehow. I know, each woman who has children who is ready is probably saying the things I have heard a hundred times in the past five years or so… No one ever thinks they are ready. But, my question lately is not if I am ready, but, if I am thinking about having kids, because I want them or because I feel I should want them.

To summarize, I am getting the feeling it’s crunch time. If we are going to do this ourselves we are going to have to make the decision within the next 4-5 years. The only other way we could do it after this would be to adopt and I am not sure we are fortunate enough financially to head that direction. I am not sure I am ready to hear advice about this, but, if you feel you have some wisdom to share, I am willing to listen. Keep in mind this is a big decision, so you may want to approach it with some caution.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Belinda's...errr...Brenda's Dream


This is the reigning queen of our garden, a rose called Belinda's Dream. She is certainly worthy of both her royal status and name, wouldn't you agree? Truthfully, I never used to like pink roses all that much, just thought they were way too foo-foo and fluffy. I guess I can honestly say that I don't really like much that is pink, roses or anything else for that matter. Pink represents to me everything about women that is soft and, I guess from my perspective, weak. (No offense to anyone out there who likes pink; this is just my opinion which is probably worth diddly squat in the general scheme of things.)

My mind changed about pink roses in the blink of an eye when I saw that first bursting, luscious bloom on our rose bush that my husband and I worked so hard to plant. It was just gorgeous and the fact that it was growing in our garden (a place where I tend to kill things off on a regular basis with seemingly little effort - but perhaps that is the core of the problem) made it even more spectacular. I also gained a new respect for pink roses and the color pink the first time I attempted to trim that nasty Belinda. She is a thorny warrior just waiting to pierce anyone who decides to mess with her. Soft and weak, Belinda is certainly not.

What's kind of funny about the name of our rose bush is that I am often mistaken for Belinda. For some reason, the name "Brenda" is difficult for surprisingly many people to understand, and instead they hear "Belinda." I can't tell you how many times I've been called Belinda over the course of my lifetime. And I always hated the name. Thought it sounded silly. Who the heck puts a "Be-" on "Linda"?? How does that make any sort of sense?

So, both the color pink and the name Belinda have really grown on me (please excuse the garden pun) since I've been in ownership of the awesome Belinda's Dream and seen it flourish in our backyard (once again, without me doing much of anything to help it along, and it hasn't died!).

I wish all gardening were that easy. Gardening and I have a love/hate relationship. I love to see plants that I've put into the ground grow and bloom, but I hate the work that is involved. In fact, I hate all aspects of gardening: the dirt, the bugs, and the physical labor. Yes, I am a total girly-girl.

I guess you could say that it is my dream to one day enjoy gardening and be good at it. The fact that I don't do either of those things is quite an embarrassment for me, because both my parents and my husband's parents are avid gardeners who all have beautiful yards and gardens that are painstakingly taken care of and loved. My husband and I pale considerably in comparison.

A few weeks ago, though, my guy and I completely redid our front yard landscaping (which was very pathetic looking, let me tell ya') in the course of a weekend. I had wanted to do so for a while but could never convince Kurt (who I think hates yard work even more than I do) to help me, and I knew I couldn't do all of the digging and planting by myself. Finally, after much harassment on my part for, oh, I'd say YEARS, he agreed. I think what did the trick is that I threatened to hire a professional landscape company to come out and do it at the cost of $2,000. This may sound outrageous to you (and it did to us too), but professional landscaping is the norm in Texas. Practically no one here does their own mowing or gardening. With both of us being from the Midwest, we find it an odd phenomenon. Neither of us has stooped to that low in 11 years of living here in our house. Coming from hearty German stock on both sides, we just could never bring ourselves to do it; Germans love to garden, our parents are gardeners, and we knew we should be too. So, we cheated a bit. I had a landscaping company come to our house, make us a landscaping plan, and then we went out and bought all of the plants and planted them ourselves. It was a ton of work, but we did it at a cost of a few hundred dollars instead of two thousand.

Now, after a couple of weeks, some of the plants are starting to grow and bloom, and our front yard actually looks quite nice. In fact, our yard looks so welcoming and pleasant, it's a dream come true...Brenda's Dream.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Best Thing Ever!!

I told my husband that my transmission was broken. After I picked him off the floor, I told him it was my transmission and not the car. I change gears all day long (wife, mommy, caregiver, blogger, home chef, friend, etc, etc, etc.). I have a problem slowly down from hyperdrive back into first gear. In other words, I have Relaxation Deficiency Sydrome or RDS:-)

The one thing that really helps me with RDS is taking baths. When we remodeled our bathrooms last year, I rallied hard for a whirlpool tub. Alas, it was not to meant to be. Other than being cost prohibitive, my mom would not be able to get in and out of high walls of this type of tub. So, we didn't put one in. I had one of those mats that blows air around and that was a good enough substitute until, it broke. Then, my RDS came back with a vengance.

Wednesday, my RDS got so bad, my husband (unbeknownst to me) bought me a new mat and OH. MY. GOSH! It is heaven right here on earth!. Not only does it blow bubbles in my water but they are warm bubbles! It was in there an hour last night before the water got too cold. It also has a neck AND foot massager AND a remote control!! Shut up! I may never leave the house again!

RDS is not a real disorder but if it were, I highly recommend this device. Unless you are lucky enough to have your own whirlpool tub, it is the best thing ever!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Miles Away From Family

This past Easter weekend, my parents came to visit me and my family here in Houston. They still live in Wisconsin, where I lived for the first 27 years of my life. Now that I'm 38, I've lived far away from them for over 10 years, but time has not lessened the degree to which I miss being physically close to them.

I came to Houston after meeting my husband in grad school. He lived in Houston at the time and I was in Milwaukee. We dated long distance for a year, became engaged, and then I came here to be with him after getting hitched. Someone had to make the move. Because he had had several more years invested in his career (and hence retirement account) than I did, we decided it would make more sense for me to embrace the southern lifestyle.

I was enthusiastically on board for the move. My many years in Wisconsin had made me a bit restless, and I was never a fan of Wisconsin winters which seem to go on for an eternity before spring finally kicks in.

So many good things have come from leaving my comfort zone. As a young woman who was pampered by loving, doting parents all of my life, I needed the swift kick in the rear end that living on the other side of the country provided. I had never realized how much I had depended on my parents for so many things, how spoiled I had been, and how I had come to assume that their immediate help would always be there if and whenever I needed it.

Leaving that was both the hardest and best thing I've ever done. I've been independent, self sufficient, and productive in every aspect of my life: as a teacher, a student, a wife, a mother, and a friend. While here in Texas, I have accomplished so much. I've worked harder as a teacher than I ever have. Marrying my husband, who is also a German teacher, has had a huge impact on my career. We've both learned a lot from each other and have become better educators as a result. I had started my master's degree a few years before getting married and completed it here in Texas. My husband had completed his same degree through the same program shortly before we were married. His guidance and advice through my final coursework and thesis were indispensable. He also provided me with the emotional support I needed to follow through with my studies and get the job done. With a master's in hand, I've had a world of choices open up to me. It allowed me to stop teaching full time and stay at home with my son after he was born four years ago. I was able to find another part time job teaching a couple of evenings a week at a local community college (which requires a master's degree). It's supplemented our income just enough to keep us going, and my son can spend evenings that I am at work having fun with his Papa at home.

Being a mother to my son has not always been easy for me. It's been a heckuva lot of hard work that oftentimes overwhelms me. Lately it's been easier and I've enjoyed it much more. When my son was 3, we found out he has a diary allergy. It was such a relief to get an answer to so many questions that we had about his behavior and a few troubling health issues. My son had cried a lot as an infant and then became a difficult child as a toddler who was often very moody and even beligerent. He also suffered from chronic constipation which made both him and us miserable. It took us a while to figure out that all of that was not normal and that he needed to undergo some tests. Making his diet dairy-free has turned everything around for my son who is now a pleasant and fun-loving four year old. And the changes that we've made are something that I'm very proud of, because all of the hard work that has gone into helping my son cope with his allergies has been a success story that is mine and mine alone.

Leaving my friends in Wisconsin was almost as traumatic as leaving my family. I miss (and will always miss) their regular presence in my life and mine in theirs. Making friends here in Houston took forever; I almost thought it would never happen. And heaven knows, for most of us women out there, we all need our girlfriends, right?! After seven years here I still had not even one single good friend. And it certainly wasn't for a lack of trying. But all of that changed after my son was born. Slowly but surely, I've met other moms who have children the same age as my son. And it's been delightful to welcome other women into my life again. I've met some incredible women here, and they enrich my life on a daily basis. I've learned a lot from them about adult friendships as grown women.

After a visit with my parents, I like to take stock of all of the wonderful ways Texas has made its mark on me. It helps me deal with the sadness I inevitably feel whenever I say goodbye to my mom and dad at the airport. There are so many ways that I do miss them. For me as a woman, the relationship I have with my own parents is still crucially important. I love them dearly and always will. I deperately wish that we could see one another whenever our hearts desire, that the distance between us were limited to minutes instead of days in a car. I know that they feel the same way about us, especially concerning their only grandchild whom they love passionately.

It's not easy living so far away from loved ones, but we manage the best that we can. Luckily, good things come from change, too, and I cherish the changes that Texas has brought about in me.

Healthy Progress

For several weeks I have been thinking about giving an update on my health management program that I started back in December with my husband. I wrote about it in early January in Revisiting Resolutions. Since then, I have decided to call it a health management program for a good reason. Regardless of why I started this new program (to lose weight), there are some people who would only measure my progress only by the pounds I have lost. On the contrary, I know I have made some incredible progress over the past few months in terms of my health and my attitude towards my body.

My health management program involves a new lifestyle of working out at least three times a week – one hour each time, two of them with a personal trainer who challenges and motivates me to do a varied routine of weight lifting and exercise that has changed the way my body moves and looks. In terms of weight, I have only lost 15 pounds, but, I can tell I have lost inches from each part of my body- the most noticeable being my face, my waistline, my back and my legs. I have also gained muscle while pushing myself to do different things with my body that I probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

In terms of my diet, I am eating less processed foods, more protein, fruits , and vegetables I have in the past. My lunch bag for work is generally filled to the brim each day with fruits, yogurt, nuts, and vegetables, so if I get the urge to eat at my rather sedentary job I will grab something healthy , rather than walking around the corner to the cubicle with a bowl full of chocolates. I still splurge on at least one day a week on my favorites (according to plan) and occasionally, give in to moments of weakness, but, they are more calculated than before. I must admit, at this point, my diet depends on routine. Like most people, my challenge is making it through the weekend when I do not eat as regularly or as healthy as I do during the rest of the week.

In spite of the slow progress, I am encouraged by other changes including my relationship with my husband as we both continue to work on our goals. Ben has lost more weight of course, but, I know my challenges are different and it’s not simply because I am a woman. He continues to encourage me telling me how much better I look and how proud he is of my efforts. I am also encouraged by my coworkers who assure me that I do look better as well. I can tell that a number of the changes I have made are going to stick and I am determined to keep at it, because I know it has been good for me.

Lately, I have been putting off an important phone call to my doctor though. Both my trainer and I are surprised not to see more pounds coming off. Part of me wonders if there is something wrong, such as my blood sugar levels which I have never had tested. Another part of me doesn’t want to call because I know there is a chance nothing wrong is wrong with my ability to lose weight at all. And that would mean that I am going to have to work even harder to lose the thirty + pounds that I yet to lose.

I also have other motivation. My family- each person in my immediate family is obese. My mom has had two bypass surgeries and today is the thinnest in my family. I am very proud of her, but, I am discouraged that some of her attitudes towards food haven’t changed. I am very proud of her, but, continue to be concerned about her health. My sister is seriously considering bypass as well. I am afraid for her as well. Some days, one of the thoughts that keeps me going is acknowledging that this could easily be me if I don’t continue to move forward. I don’t want to find myself someday feeling so overwhelmed that I feel bypass surgery is my only solution. I know I need to make these changes now, while it is still manageable and achievable.

I don’t have a more recent picture to share, but, promise I will do another comparison photo soon. In the mean time, I will keep you posted on my progress towards better health. Feel free to share whatever you have learned.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Virtual Great American Bake Sale

Even though traditional roles are changing, women still are the ones who are primarily responsible for nourishing the family. We plan the meals, we buy the food, we prepare the food and we serve the food. For some of us, this is a joy and for others it is just a chore. But for those mothers without income, it is a heartbreaking impossibility. Here is where we can put down the weapons of the "Mommy Wars" and help a fellow mother feed her family.

Cooking During Stolen Moments is hosting a Virtual Bake Sale today! They are a selling an ebook filled with recipes from the Virtual Great American Bake Sale participants (I am one of them!!). The books are now available for a donation of your choosing and all of the proceeds will go to Share Our Strength. So stop by and help to stop hunger today!!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Big Hair Revisted

20 years ago I had big hair! Take a look at this picture of me with my cousin Jennifer and you will see this is true. I am the one on the left.

Hopefully, after reading this, Jen will forgive me for sharing this picture with you, because, her hair is even bigger. Jennifer and I both attended the same all-girls high school on the upper east side of Milwaukee and she was a year behind me. We have both known each other all of our lives really and she was my best friend in high school. She is like one of the sisters I am privileged to have in my life for the majority of my life.

As you can see from this picture in our younger days, we have been life long friends.
Today, Jennifer is a single, divorced Mom of a delightful five-year old named Nicholas. Jen was also diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis about four years ago right after our grandmother's funeral. Luckily, she has the least progressive type, but, nonetheless, it is something she wrestles with on a regular basis. She has what doctors call the Relapsing, Remitting type. People with this type of MS experience clearly defined flare-ups, also called attacks. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (2006), these attacks are episodes resulting in acute worsening neurological function.

Jen could probably tell you in more detail that this description is just part of what she experiences. I know that it also affects her immune system, her eyesight, and her energy level to a greater degree. Each time she has a flare-up, it can take her several days and sometimes weeks to recover. And although, we don't know for sure that MS had an affect on her ability to have children, our family knows that having Nicholas was a miracle in itself. Jen had to undergo invetrofertilazation to become pregnant at all. She was able to conceive twins, but, unfortunately, the other child passed on before she reached the end of her second trimester. Regardless of this disease, Jen lives a pretty full life. She works from home for an insurance company with a team that produces instructional materials. She is also a terrific mom, a gifted crafter, a great person to laugh with and a wonderful friend.So you see that Jennifer is a very brave person I admire much in my life. I hope that she realizes how much I appreciate her friendship and knows that I will always be there for her. I am posting an additional picture of us from my wedding.

Here our hair is not quite so big as it used to be. This year both of us will be walking again in the Walk MS 2009 event to prevent a world free of MS. We also have another reason to walk this year because our Aunt Teri was also recently diagnosed. Although, this is not what I had planned on writing about, it was certainly worthwhile if it helps others to learn a little more about this disease. I know I have just scratched the surface, so I am including the Web site for the MS Society as well. More information is available at http://www.nationalmssociety.org/. I look forward to at least 20 more years of our friendship with your help.

Melanoma revisited

Some of you may remember that I posted about melanoma a couple of weeks ago. It is a disease that weighs heavily on my mind often. I have about on average one mole burned off or cut out of my skin every year. Recently, I just had my 25th mole removed. So far, I've been very lucky. All of my biopsies have come back completely normal.

My brother wasn't so lucky. When he was 27, he was diagnosed with stage three melanoma (there are only four stages). My family and I are very grateful that he was able to win his battle with skin cancer and is now a healthy 34 year old.

My brother and I both had tanned and burned a lot when we were younger, and each of us had one blistering burn before the age of 18. We didn't know at the time that even just one blistering burn as a child increases your chances of having melanoma as an adult by 50%.

In today's Houston Chronicle, I was dismayed to read an article about skin cancer and British women. It seems that melanoma is now the most common cancer in young British women. In England, the agency, Cancer Research United Kingdom, reports that melanoma has overtaken cervical cancer as the most common cancer afflicting women in their 20s.

The article goes on to say that these recent research results are particularly distressing, because rates of skin cancer are usually the highest in individuals over 75, not people in their 20s. Researchers there believe that melanoma will become the fourth most common cancer for both genders by the year 2024.

Not surprisingly, experts believe the rising trend in skin cancer cases is due to the use of tanning salons. And here is an amazing statistic that I didn't know: the intensity of UV rays in some tanning beds can be more than 10 times stronger than the midday sun. Scary.

When I was in my late teens, I remember many of my friends and other girls I knew flocking to tanning salons. I went a few times myself but didn't go as frequently as many other girls my age; I just never had the patience to lie there in those beds; plus my tendency toward claustrophobia didn't help either. I also hated the thought of resting my skin in the same spot as countless other females did mostly naked. (I am an anti-germ weirdo!) I'm thankful now that I had such an aversion to tanning salons.

There are so many aspects of our health that we can control, but all too often we are too lazy or just irresponsible and don't take simple measures to ensure healthy aging. With what we've discovered about skin cancer over the last decade or so, we now know that there are a few simple measures to avoiding melanoma: avoid too much sun exposure (especially midday sun), use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, and stay away from tanning salons.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Growing Up with a Hoarding Mom

Recently, the Today Show aired a show about excessive hoarding which caught my attention. It piqued my interest because my mom suffers from this disorder. I wrote about how we are dealing with it as a family on Happy to be at Home however, I wanted to explore the topic here as how it has affected me as a woman.

Growing up with a wounded parent is never easy. Her abanondment gave me a job from birth: to take care of her. So, that meant, she didn't take care of me. I never felt like I had a net, a soft place to fall or a place for advice. She was too wrapped up in her own pain to be there for me.

This isn't a story of woe. I wouldn't be the person I am today if she were a healthy woman. It's just magnified since she lives with us now and some of the anger and bitterness is still here. I don't know that it will ever go away but what made it easier was realizing that she really is mentally ill. It's almost like there was a reason for this maddness she made us live in and live with.