Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Spell-Off

It was only a week ago that Haley won her class spelling bee and qualified for the school bee. Today she competed against other 4th and 5th graders to see who would move on to represent Hudson Academy in the district spelling bee.

She prepared for the competition by diligently studying her word list. And by borrowing a pair of glasses (sans lenses) from her friend so that she would "look really smart."

The spelling bee began with 12 contestants. They tried hard, but some stumbled and were out of the competition. Haley stopped each time to think hard about her answer before she began to spell. One hand on her chest, she would close her eyes and take a few deep breaths while she got her answer ready. Then she would slowly and carefully spell the word. I was surprised to realize how invested I was. Of course I always want her to do well, but I found myself clutching my hands together in anxiety as I silently cheered her on.

When asked to spell "cinematic," she really amped up the drama. After thinking about the word for a moment, she began to spell. "C-I-N..." And then she stopped. She stood stock still, thinking about the next letter.

The atmosphere in the gymnasium was so still you could hear a pin drop. All those elementary students (2nd - 5th grade) and none of them made a sound. Everyone was waiting breathlessly to see if she would pull it off. It felt like an eternity (but was probably only 5 or 6 seconds). Finally, she looked up at the judges again and continued. "E-M-A-T-I-C."

"That is correct," the judge responded.

The level of tension had been so high during her long pause that the whole gym erupted in spontaneous applause (in spite of the rule to hold applause for the end of each round) at her successful spell.

By the end of round five, ten of the twelve constants had been eliminated. It was down to only Haley and her friend Mikayla. They went back and forth for seven more rounds!

Finally, Haley was given the word "derivative." I held my breath a little. She had struggled with this word during practice. And she made a tiny mistake. Mikayla then had to spell a word correctly for the win... she received "winnow." *sigh* That's the way a spelling bee goes; even in the same round, not all words are the same level of difficulty.

I was very proud of Haley. She had a quick moment of sadness at missing out on first place, and then rallied and was thrilled with her 2nd place finish. She is already looking forward to competing in the district spelling bee in February.

Way to go, Haley!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Monthly Menu Planner Randomized Spreadsheet

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook earlier today. A bunch of us chimed in with ideas and suggestions, and in the course of the conversation, I had the thought that you could probably build a spreadsheet in Excel that would handle most of that. The more I thought about it, the more I thought it could be really useful. I try to menu plan so that I can plan my grocery lists, but I always run into problems deciding what to make. So I thought I'd try building the spreadsheet.

Since a couple of people asked me to share it when it was done, I thought this was probably the easiest way to pass it along.

The first time you use it, you'll definitely need to spend some time on the back end to set it up. If you just want a simple randomizer that will assign each of your main dishes to the days of the month, you can probably set it up in 5-10 minutes. If you want the more elaborate version that includes all your recipes, it will take a couple of hours. To use the menu planner, you'll have to have a computer and Excel (it might work with the Open Doc version of Excel). If you're not very familiar with Excel, I'll try to walk you through how to use it for this.

This is what you'll get for your monthly meal plan. The Date column lists the days of the month 1-31 (if there are 28, 29, or 30 days in a month, just ignore those days on the planner). For each date, a main dish is listed along with the type of food and how it's prepared. That way, if the random sort has ended up giving you chicken 5 days in a row, it's easy to see that and you can do a re-sort.

To sort your monthly list, you click at the bottom of the Excel screen to go to the Randomizer sheet.

Click the column header for column A.

Then click the Sort and Filter button. You can sort smallest to largest or largest to smallest - it works either way.

When the Sort Warning pops up, choose to Expand the Selection. Then click Sort. Excel will randomize the numbers in the first column and then sort them.

If you go back to the Monthly Planner sheet at this point, you will see that it updated to show the new order of all your dishes. That's all you have to do on a monthly basis to re-order the dishes for your menu. You have a month of dinners planned out and if someone complains, you can tell them to blame the computer, after all, you didn't choose what to fix that night! ;)

If you want to use the menu planner, just leave a comment with your email address or shoot me a message on Facebook. I'll send you the files for the Simple Menu Planner, the Menu Planner With Recipes, and Instruction sheets for setting up both files. Let me know if you have any problems downloading or using the files and I'll try to troubleshoot. :)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Quick Funny from Rylen

I've been sleeping in the recliner most nights lately, because lying in the bed puts pressure on all the sorest parts of my knee. Then I can't sleep because I'm too uncomfortable. So there is a pillow and blanket hanging out in the chair most of the time because I'm too lazy to put them away.

When I walked into the living room to check on Rylen (he was being too quiet, and you know how frightening that can be with a toddler!) I found him sprawled out in my chair watching a movie on the iPad. That was just fine, except that my blanket and pillow had been shoved off onto the floor.

I asked him if he had dumped my things on the floor and he looked up at me with his sweet, innocent eyes and said, "No. Preston do it."

I reminded Rylen that Preston had been at school for the last several hours. And the blankets were on the chair when he left the house. Then I asked again if he had dumped the blankets on the floor.

Again with the big, blue eyes. "No. I not do it. Brekken do it."

He ended up blaming every member of the family - including several of the cats - before finally agreeing that HE must have knocked off the blankets and grudgingly picking them up again.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bedtime With a Tipsy Marine

Shortly after I finished my Master's degree I got a job as a civilian contractor for the
Marine Corps. I went to the tiny town of Twentynine Palms, California to work at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. It was an awesome job, actually. I was helping to convert some of their training courses from instructor-led to computer training. I developed courses on how to disarm a landmine, how to maintain your Humvee, how to check your car for bombs, how to operate a combat radio, how to lose a pursuer in a urban car chase... all kinds of fascinating topics!

They also had the philosophy that I couldn't teach it if I hadn't tried it... which meant that I got to drive a Humvee and shoot a machine gun and other very cool stuff.
I loved the job, but I just couldn't fall in love with the area. The desert has its moments of beauty... Joshua Tree National Park is right outside of town and there is some great scenery - like in that 2nd picture. But mostly I was focused on that 3rd picture. Isolated. Desolate. Hot. Dusty. Brown.

Because I was a civilian, I couldn't use the base facilities, which meant I drove 30-45 minutes to the next town for groceries or to see a movie or to pick up Chinese food. I hear the town and facilities have grown these days, but when I was there, the town itself was pretty bare-bones.

I had great friends there, though. We were all young and single, so we thought nothing of taking off at moment's notice and driving the 3 1/2 hours to either Las Vegas or San Diego (about the same distance in opposite directions) to find some entertainment. It was not uncommon to drive to Vegas for dinner and then head right back so everyone could be at work/on duty in the morning. Or go to San Diego just long enough for an hour of bodysurfing at the beach before going home again. (Gas was cheaper then, too!) I never did make it to the San Diego Zoo, though, much as I wanted to go.

Being the Mormon girl, I usually got tapped for designated driver duty. None of my friends were really hard-core drinkers, but most would knock back a few as part of a night out. As the observer I quickly learned that (with this group, at least) you could tell when some had had one too many because they got very affectionate. When someone started being very free with the "I love you, you know?" "You're the greatest! Really. The best friend I ever had." and "Do you know how much I love you guys?" you knew it was time to head for home and put them to bed.

That's why I now find it so amusing every night when Rylen gets tired and needs to go to bed. Because when he gets sleepy he'll come over, lean against me, and say (slurring a little with tiredness) "I love you, Mommy. And I love Daddy. And I love the kitties, too." And he'll usually throw in a little of "You the best Mommy. You not a bad Mommy." And then repeat these phrases over and over until he drifts off to sleep. It's actually quite adorable and sweet, but it does make me think back to those days of hanging out with my buddies from Twentynine Palms and I just have to laugh at the similarities between a sleepy toddler and a tipsy Marine.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Healthy Microwave Popcorn

I love popcorn. Love it. Sometimes I make a batch of popcorn and eat it instead of a real meal. But I'm picky about my popcorn. I don't like pre-popped stuff in a bag or movie popcorn. (It's like eating salty Styrofoam.) And the microwave bags of popcorn have so many weird chemicals. I'm iffy about even eating margarine because I think it's unnatural, so the strange shelf-stable butter substitute that they have in microwave bags frightens me.

I have an air popper, which I love for the ability to make a family-size batch quickly with nothing but hot air. But it's a pain to dig it out of the cupboard, make room on my always-crowded kitchen counters, and then put it all away again, just for a quick snack. Same goes for the stovetop poppers.

A while back I found this idea on Pinterest...

You just put 1/4 to 1/2 cup of popcorn seeds into a brown paper lunch sack and cook it for about 2 minutes. Super simple, quick, and minimal clean up. I love this for a quick snack.

The only problem is that it makes enough for 1 person... 2 if you feel like sharing. But if you're trying to make enough for the whole family, you have to make several batches. Kind of a pain.

So when the kids asked for popcorn while watching a movie tonight, I decided to experiment. Why not just put the seeds in the bowl and pop it that way? Could I make enough for everyone all at once? I put a cup of popcorn seeds in my bowl, covered the bowl with cling wrap, and popped it in the microwave. It actually worked great! Popped up nice and fluffy and looked delicious. I was pretty impressed with myself for finding this new method. Right up until I took the bowl out of the microwave and discovered this...

If you look closely, you can see that the hot popcorn seeds melted right through the bottom of the bowl! So... don't use one of your good plastic bowls to try this method.

Be sure you cover your bowl securely. I didn't adhere my cling wrap firmly enough. Popcorn escaped all over the microwave. 
I tried it again with a glass bowl and had great success. 1 cup of seeds, 3 minutes in the microwave, one bowl of popcorn ready to eat! We're purists here, so we typically go for the classic butter topping. I'll definitely be doing it this way again!

Quick and easy family-size batch of popcorn... no chemicals or preservatives!

I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means...

Rylen had his 3-year-old checkup at the pediatrician last week. She gave me the standard lecture about limiting screen time for kids. And I KNOW that we're not supposed to let kids watch TV all the time. And that we're also supposed to limit time with the iPad, Wii, and computer games.

But on the other hand, Rylen knows his ABCs, colors, and shapes (which Mickey Mouse taught him). And he and Dora can chat a little in Spanish followed up by a little bit of Chinese with Ni Hao Kailan. Not to mention the self-defense ninja skills he likes to practice while watching Ninjago. It's not all bad. Right?

But during the guilt-inducing talk from the doctor, I agreed that we probably needed to cut down on his screen time a bit. But looking over at Rylen right now, it occurs to me that I obviously didn't really internalize that idea. I don't think that the doc would agree that this is "limiting" his screen time...

He's built himself a little fort on the couch and he's sitting in it to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on the big TV. But on closer examination you realize that he has gathered additional electronics to his little nest. And simultaneously with Mickey Mouse on the big TV, he also has an episode of Ninjago playing on the iPad. And he's playing a game on my phone. 

He probably has a LeapPad and a Kindle tucked away in there too. Just for backup.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Not Even Close...

When I worked for Lehman Brothers there was a cafeteria in the building. This was incredibly convenient... though terrible for my budget. I would try to be good and dutifully bring my frozen Lean Cuisine (bought on sale!) from home. But it's awfully hard to convince yourself to heat up those cardboard noodles once you find out that the cafeteria special today is Swedish Meatballs... or Club Sandwiches... or a Chicken Caesar Salad with Housemade Dressing. They had some great stuff at that cafeteria. And the company actually subsidized the cost of the food, so it was really very cheap - just not as cheap as bringing lunch from home.

They served breakfast too, and about once a week I would treat myself to a bagel. Specifically, a bagel with cream cheese topped with a couple of slices of crisp, hot bacon. And sometimes there would be an avocado in the fruit basket, so I could slice it up and put it on my bagel, too. Heaven. That is the most incredible combination. Oh, it's not good for you, but it tastes SOOO good.

(I lost 10 pounds after I was laid off from that job. Sure, I was also pregnant and throwing up a lot, but I definitely think the loss of the cafeteria was a factor.)

I haven't had one of those bagel in years. Probably not since I was laid off, since I can no longer just walk into the room and find all the ingredients waiting for me. But for some reason this morning I suddenly remembered those bagels. And it sounded really good.

But it's cold (granted, not as cold as a lot of you, but still). There's several inches of new snow (I'm still trying to recover from the LAST time I went out in the snow - stupid knee). I would have to pack up Rylen and drive to the store to find the ingredients and then come home to make it (that's so much more work than just walking down the hall to the cafeteria). And oh yeah, I'm actually supposed to be working (don't worry, I'll make up the time later).

But WAIT! I do have cream cheese. And I have bread. And bacon bits... real bacon bits, not the crunchy fake ones. Toast with cream cheese and bacon bits is practically the same thing, right?

No. No it's not. It's not the same thing at all. It's really not even close. I guess I've learned my lesson; next time I'll have to do it right!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Where I've Been

So before I start in on new blog posts, I thought I'd do a quick catch-up on what's been going on since July. (July! I still can't believe it's actually been so long since I last blogged.)

After lots of heartache over my job, I made the firm decision to leave. It was really hard. When I started the job, it was literally my dream job. It let me combine my love of and studies in maternal/infant health with my skills in education development. I got to create so many great things. I got to be involved in a wonderful cause and really feel good about contributing to the world. I got to work with some really great people. So it was very hard to let that go. But even though it's still a great cause (I'll still always support it!) and some great people, the office politics just took over. And when new management came in and started taking away all the perks that had been necessary to maintain my sanity (like my work at home time) and my boss couldn't/wouldn't stand up for me anymore, I found something new.

And I am unbelievably happy with my new job. When I decided to look for something new, I basically made a wish list of my perfect job. And what I came up with was, I would like to stay in healthcare, I need to work at home at least part-time, but preferably full-time, I need something flexible so I can be there for my family, I need to feel like I am actually appreciated for my skills, I need a chance to be creative and do interesting projects instead of administrative nonsense, I need a boss who doesn't micromanage and keeps me out of office politics. It was a long list. I figured I would have to compromise along the line, but why not at least start with the best case scenario?

To my amazement, I found EXACTLY the job I described. I'm not directly in healthcare, but my part of the company works with insurance companies and the PATIENTS. I get to work completely out of my home, and they're incredibly flexible. Some days I get nothing done during the day (due to being there for my family) and I work all night instead. And they don't care. As long as I hit my deadlines and attend my scheduled meetings, they're fine with my weird hours. Sick kid? No problem, I can set them up in the living room and go do my work. School science fair? Great, I can run up and see the project then go home and get back to work. Car breaks down in Wyoming? I can work from my sister's house for 2 weeks and it makes no difference (at least not to my job). My bosses at this company actually know what an instructional designer is (I don't just "make things look pretty"!) and really appreciate my experience and skills. (Because - I don't like to brag, but I will - but I am REALLY good at what I do. And my new bosses tell me that a lot. Who doesn't appreciate that kind of validation?) I get assigned the creative projects. They hired another instructional designer at the same time as me, and they have found that his skill set really lies in step-by-step instruction... like creating a manual for how to use a piece of software. I can do that, but it's not my favorite thing. I love to build an entire curriculum and lay out the full course of instruction. I like to come up with games and activities to increase learning, not just tell you the steps. And so I get assigned the projects that need that mindset, Dennis takes the software training kind of stuff, and we're both happy with that division of labor. And because I'm not even in the same time zone as my bosses, let alone the same office, micromanagement is basically non-existent. I hear a bit about the office politics that go on in the background, but I don't have to deal with it on a day-to-day basis.

Really, this job is just perfect for me right now. It was a wrench to leave my co-workers, because I really was tight with some of them. Thank goodness for Facebook, so I can still keep in touch so easily! And if I don't have that kind of close relationship with any of my new co-workers, that's ok. :)

We've gotten rid of daycare entirely right now. That's actually not the way I wanted it. I really enjoyed the quiet of just being home by myself all day. But our daycare provider went back to school full-time (good for her! Really!) and we just weren't able to find someone new. The people who thought about doing it ended up with conflicts. And the daycare centers we looked at just didn't feel right - and were really pricey, too. For the older kids, this isn't really a problem. I can pick them up after school on a short break and then finish up my work day. It's a bigger issue with Rylen. He really does eat up my productivity sometimes - resulting in those overnight work sessions. But overall, I'm pretty amazed at how well it HAS worked keeping him home. I had a friend offer to take him on days that I really need to concentrate/hit a deadline or attend meetings all day, so that will definitely help. I just have to make it through the spring and summer and then I can find a preschool for half a day. In the meantime, it's sweet to be able to snuggle him during the day when he needs a hug.

Family life is going ok. Preston is still dealing with anxiety issues and meltdowns and a diagnosis of ADHD. He's having some therapy and medications and it's somewhat under
control. Still finding just the right combination of everything for him. Haley is also being medicated for anxiety. Hers had gotten bad enough that her teachers brought it up at parent/teacher conference. So we're getting her levels worked out, too. And I got medicated for my ADHD, too. A lot of better living through chemistry going on here. :) I am a lot less stressed now that I have a better work life. And not losing 2-3 hours/day on my commute is good, too. I have NOT, however, magically acquired the ability to keep my house clean as I was so sure that I would once I was home all the time. Someday.

I still wish that I lived closer to the rest of my family. Again, maybe someday. Right my family is dealing with a new baby (born premature and teeny tiny, but doing great!), my grandfather with cancer and a lot of recent mental health and other health problems, and my grandmother's problems, and my poor mother having to handle all of it. And I wish so much that I could be there to help with the baby and my grandparents and just take a bit of the load off my mother. And I wish I could be in Wyoming to help my sister while her husband is going through some major health problems. And I need to be here to take care of my family. And I just don't know how to be everywhere at once. So I just sit here and obsess over it. It's hard! I would so much rather be there and working all hours to help than be here unable to do anything useful. :(

In happy news, we got a settlement from a group lawsuit against an old employer. When Lehman Brothers went down the tubes, we all lost our shares and retirement accounts. Apparently the government filed suit on our behalf... I knew nothing about it until I was notified that I would be getting a check. Instead of doing the responsible thing and investing it, we decided to use part of it (we are being responsible with most of it ;) ) for a fabulous vacation. Combined with a bunch of frequent flyer miles, we were able to swing it to plan a family trip to Costa Rica this summer. We are all really looking forward to the adventure.

And with that, I think I've covered the highlights and lowlights of the last several months. I'll be looking for better things to share with you.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I'm Still Here

I know I've dropped off the face of the blogosphere. I keep meaning to get back to it, and just haven't managed to get around to it. Then in the last couple of days I got messages from a couple of different friends telling me that they have missed my blog. That was pretty flattering to me... I mostly figure I write this blog for me as a journal/family history, and occasionally other people check it out. So to hear from people that they want me to keep writing was pretty motivating.

I stopped writing back when I was having such a rough patch at my old job. I was so depressed. I would literally fight off tears on my way to work because I was so dreading going there. And since I didn't want to blog every day about how bad work was, but I couldn't seem to focus on anything else, I just stopped writing. And even when things changed, I was so out of the habit that I didn't pick it up again.

And then this morning I was looking up an old post for some information I needed and re-read some of the things I've written. And it reminded me how much I really enjoy writing the blog and how precious some of the memories are that are saved in this blog. The funny and sweet moments that I would certainly never remember if they weren't written down. So I'm convinced. I'm going to go back to blogging.

I hope you read it. I hope it's entertaining. I love it when you comment or share stories of your own.