I discovered the……… (building suspense)….. eggtimer!!


Bruce
Surfside Beach, Texas
20 April 2008

“The eggtimer?” you ask, perplexed, while thinking, “What a bizarre blog topic.”

“Yes!” I reply with entirely too much enthusiasm for a such a modest kitchen tool.

I have discovered that I can time events.  Armed with several lists, a DIY dayplanner, an eggtimer and a small alarm clock, I plan to force my day into a routine.  Will it work?  I don’t know.  Is it fun?  Heck, yeah!

I think I have managed to take my obsessive-compulsive nature to a whole new level.  I’m sure there is a medical term for folks like me, but as long as it is still fun, I figure I’m safe from becoming a clinical case study.

April 27th, 2008 | Planning Nerd | No Comments -

Not living, not dying…


Matt, Damian, and I
Surfside Beach, Texas
20 April 2008

I returned an aquatic plant to Petco yesterday.  Our Macquarium betta tank is a very low-light tank.  The java fern, java moss, and moss ball are doing really well with the extreme low light, but this other aquatic plant (I don’t know what it was) was not thriving.  When I was talking with the manager, I told her, “This little guy is not doing well in my tank — not living, not dying.”

As I was driving home, I was thinking about that statement: not living, not dying.  When I talked about it with Mom and Deb, I mentioned that it was the environment that had created that condition, and what environments did they think created the same condition for people.  Mom immediately said, “Work.”  They started naming jobs that destroy the human spirit: mining, factory work, etc.

But as I was lying in bed this evening, getting the baby to sleep, I was planning and prioritizing.  What do I need to do?  What is the first step?  Everything in my life seems beyond my control.  I feel like I have too much to do and too little time, so I get farther and farther behind and finally give up… which of course leads to mild depression.

I was thinking: first things first, I need to clean up.  Clean up my body, clean up my house, clear my mind.  I am suffocating in clutter and mess, inside and out.  I feel like I’m living in a fog from all the unhealthy food, abuse of caffeine, and lack of exercise.

And I thought of that statement again:  not living, not dying.  And I’m going to tack on another quote from Crazy Sexy Cancer:  “Fish are only as healthy as the water they swim in.”  What if we ourselves are creating the toxic environment that does not allow us to thrive?  The fast food, the lack of exercise, the fast-paced life filled with cheap, disposable stuff — this is the environment we create voluntarily.  And through our own actions, we simply exist.   We live a life dampened and covered in a haze of fog.  Not living, not dying.

So I’m beginning an experiment.  I’m cleaning up my personal environment.  I’ll let you know what it’s like — if there is any difference — on the other side.  But it will take awhile.  I’ve made quite a mess of my body.

April 25th, 2008 | Marathon/Fitness | No Comments -

Busy with the extended family…

My mom is still down for her visit, and my Aunt Deb is here now as well.  She came down for a few days of “girlfriend time” with Mom, Carla and I.  Also, we just spent this past weekend at Surfside Beach with my siblings and their families, the Pipkin family, and Dad and Donna.  Since I’m still so busy with my family, I’m afraid the posts will continue to be sparse for awhile.

But I have a couple of pictures to post.  One is a surprise picture for Donna. 😉 I title these photos “Lovers at the Beach”:


Dad and Donna (aka Papa and Nan)
Surfside Beach, Texas
19 April 2008


Bruce and Deb
Surfside Beach, Texas
20 April 2008

We had an excellent time at the beach.  Thanks, Papa and Nan! 😀

April 24th, 2008 | General | No Comments -

Modern (non)home-ownership


Nana just finished feeding Clara her carrots.
15 April 2008

I learned something new on the subject of personal finance recently.  I read this very good article on mortgage products.  (Say that again with me: mortgage products; the word alone should send up a red flag.)  I highly recommend reading it.  What I learned:  people no longer own their homes.  Instead people continuously take out home equity loans.  A quote from the article:

In the case of Bob and Jane and those like them, Scurlock uses a language long forgotten.  “They’re sharecroppers,” he says.  “They don’t own their home.  They’re just renting their home and refinancing every few years.”

It is so easy to think, “I’m not renting my home from the bank; I’m buying my home.”  But with all of the interest front-loaded onto the loan and very little of your mortgage payment actually going towards the principal, we are most definitely renting our homes, especially if you refinance every few years and start the cycle all over again.

We have credit card debt, as I have mentioned before.  And I was completely on-board with taking out a home equity loan to pay off the credit card debt at a lower interest rate.  It seemed like a no-brainer.  But that is because I was reading the literature propaganda from the bank.  A quote from Mortgage Loans: Costly Mortgage Mistakes:

Use Your Equity Wisely

You should never exceed 80% of your home’s value when it comes to your primary mortgage and any home equity loans you carry.  By maintaining that 20% equity “cushion” you are protecting yourself from economic downturns.  If the value of your home drops in a declining market you could end up owing more than your home is worth.

Many homeowners use equity for repairs or to consolidate other high interest debt.  The equity you have is your ownership of your home; use equity wisely, if you are considering a vacation or a new car you might want to think twice.

This is all new information to me.

Another very good quote from the article:

“I think the biggest change,” says Scurlock, “has been the way debt is marketed.  It’s very much sold as a product now.  I think we’re being taught to think of it no differently than a pair of shoes, or a cup of coffee, or anything else that’s marketed … The fact that it’s a liability has really been obscured and lost.” [The emphasis is mine.]

And from all this new knowledge, I have also made a deduction:  do not get your financial advice from the bank.

April 16th, 2008 | Recovering Consumer | 2 Comments -

Mom’s here!   ♥

Mom is visiting from Kentucky.  I’ve been spending all of my time with her.  Here’s a photo until we resume our regularly-scheduled blog:


Look at those rosy cheeks!
That child definitely has English in him.
14 April 2008

April 14th, 2008 | England, General | No Comments -

The beginning


Matt and Lily in the playhouse.
Matt is actually asleep in this photo.
11 April 2008

Recently in my never-ending search for the mythical fool-proof organizational system, I found the FlyLady site.  It’s a lovely site full of affirmation and hope.  I am definitely going to try this system.

But the FlyLady’s system is not what this blog entry is about.  This blog entry is about an anonymous letter sent to the FlyLady.  First, I must explain that in her system, you begin simply by making your sink shine everyday.  She said, even if your entire house is a mess, if your sink is shiny, you feel hope.  And from that small shiny sink, the cleanliness will spread.  As I continued to surf her site, I found this testimonial.  It is very moving.  And short.  So go read it real quick and come back.  I’ll wait.

It seems to me that shining the sink and making the bed were starting points.  From these two measurable beginnings, you slowly progressed.  And if you had a bad day, you always had a reset point: shining the sink and making the bed.

I don’t have a habitual reset point.  But if today was the first day — if today was my beginning — where would I start?  Would it be shining the sink?  What small task would I repeat every day, even if I managed to get nothing else done?  It’s fun — and exciting — to make a beginning.  Turning it into habit… well, that’s another matter. 😉

April 12th, 2008 | General | No Comments -

A clean house is a sign of a wasted life


Shelrie, Lani, and Damian
10 April 2008

My mom arrives tomorrow, and the house is not yet clean.  I place responsibility for the messy house directly at the feet of the two devoted minions of Chaos who follow behind me and undo all my work.

While working against Chaos and its two little minions who live in my house this past week, I realized that we have a cultural lie that, for some reason, we all support and even nurture:  the idea that we can raise children, decorate our house like the homes on HGTV, and keep the house spotless while making home-cooked meals every night.  No one wants to be that person who says, “You know what, my house actually looks like a tip right now and I am unable to keep it clean.”  What a loser.

My house is only 1300 square feet (small by today’s standards, normal by 1970’s standards), and I cannot keep up with the housework.  How do housewives with 2500 sq ft houses do it?  Really.  How do they do it?

So I’ve decided to be that person.  Maybe people will think “What a loser” or maybe people will think, “Finally!  Someone came forth and told the truth!” but here it is:

My house very often is one ginormous mess and I cannot keep up with the housework and I don’t make nutritious home-cooked meals every night.  So take away my June Cleaver badge — I hated trying to vacuum in heels and a meticulously-ironed dress anyway.

April 11th, 2008 | The Life of a Suburban Mommy | No Comments -

Photography and campus bookstores

I’m still trying to get the feel for the wide-angle lens.  I feel that I take much better photos with the telephoto lens, so the poor wide-angle has been gathering dust.  While taking pictures this weekend, I decided to experiment again with the two lenses.

This was taken with the telephoto (telephoto lenses compress space):

Here is the wide-angle shot (wide-angle lenses extend space):

And here is the shot that I feel is the best, taken with the wide-angle but on level with the subject and “in” the action instead of outside and above:

I definitely felt the wide-angle took the better shots, but I would have never guessed that.  I pulled out the wide-angle simply to experiment with it, assuming the whole time that the better shots would come from the telephoto.

I still have a lot to learn.  I think it may be time to start reading books on composition and photography again.

I just realized that I have a piece of advice to pass on that I have never actually passed on.  I live in a college town.  There are five colleges within a 30-mile radius of Austin, including the nationally-ranked University of Texas.  So there are a lot of college bookstores.  Whenever I want to learn about a subject, I go onto UT’s website and pull up the required courses for a degree in that subject.  I find a class that sounds interesting, and then I go to the campus bookstore and buy the books that are required for that class.

For example, say I wanted to refresh my photojournalism skills (which actually I do).  First, I go to the online UT photojournalism course descriptions.  I find a class that appeals to me. “Hmmm… J316 Photographic Communication sounds good. They discuss visual design and recent photographic trends.”  Then off I trot to the campus bookstore which will have a list of the required reading for that class and buy the books that interest me.

I have never been able to find books that deal with a subject better than the books at a campus bookstore.  Campus bookstores beat the socks off of Barnes and Noble any day of the week when it comes to non-fiction titles.

April 7th, 2008 | Austin, Photography | 2 Comments -

The biological price for children

This weekend, Matt finished making the sandbox for the children.
While building the sandbox, Matt had a two-foot-tall foreman watching
over him to make sure he built to code.

Pregnancy leaves one with many souvenirs: varicose veins, stretch marks, spontaneous incontinence while sneezing or coughing, and permanently rearranged internal organs.

There is another little quirky thing that pregnancy transforms into a lasting condition: emotional weepiness.  While pregnant, sentimental commercials can make you cry.  And though the emotional weepiness is not as acute afterwards, you are left with a permanent PMS-style sensitivity to sentimentality.

For example, just recently I watched The Wedding Singer again and cried at the very end when Robbie was singing “I want to grow old with you” on the plane to Julia.  “Sure,” you remark, “I can see crying at the climactic, intentionally overly-sentimental scene of an adult romantic comedy.  I cried.”

Well, I see your Wedding Singer and raise you High School Musical.  I just watched High School Musical again, and got all choked up and weepy during the climactic scene when Troy and Gabriella race to the call-back audition and sing together.  Matt was in here and I knew it was silly to cry at a teen movie, so I was walking around, pretending to clear the table from lunch, trying to get the lump out of my throat.

I, like so many other people, assumed Tammy Faye Bakker was being theatrical with all her crying.  But now, after giving birth to two children like Tammy Faye, I believe she was simply misunderstood.

April 6th, 2008 | The Life of a Suburban Mommy | No Comments -

Still under the weather…


Damian
04 April 2008

These past two weeks have been very hard.  The whole family got sick — I personally was sick for an entire week — and Matt has been working long hours.  And I can’t seem to recover.  It’s like someone has punched me in the gut, and I can’t get my breath back.  I still don’t feel good.

I had read that when you age, you recover much slower from illnesses, that you don’t spring back into action immediately as you once did.  But I hate being low…. hate it!

The accepted wisdom is to learn from obstacles and adversity, but sometimes, you just want to feel better.  You want to shake your fist at the heavens and cry, “Hey!  I’m not really in the mood for character-building!  Can’t we just do that later… or maybe never?  I’m cool with being shallow.  I don’t really feel the need to navigate the depths of the human experience.”

Even if you don’t mean it, you still want to say it.

I do feel like crap though.  But, hey, I guess at least I’m not shallow. 😉

April 5th, 2008 | General | No Comments -