Wednesday, June 30, 2010

standing on my soapbox

Question by elementary/high school friend on Facebook who has a son 3 days younger than Abby: What age do you take kids to storytime at the library?

Variety of answers, but the one that really gets me is from a different high school acquaintance who answered "I say threeish. You want to get them started early. But you don't want them running around being loud to others." Three?!?! The English teacher in me is seriously bothered by that answer. It seems to me that it also speaks as a general view on the importance of reading and literacy in our society today, and that depresses me.

What's up with the devaluation of literacy in society? Every English teacher that I've ever talked to is still trying to figure out how to emphasize the life altering importance of solid literacy skills to young people. Kids see their parents "doing okay" insofar as they are not bankrupt and can buy toys (iPhones, scooters, cell phones) and think that they don't need to do anything that their parents never did. Kids have grandiose plans of working for their dad's business the rest of their lives. I'm cynical enough to connect these attitudes from my kids with the answer that I copied off of Facebook.

Food for thought stolen gratuitously from a recent parenting magazine:
Children in the middle class have at any given time an average of 13 books at their disposal.

Children in our society's lowest class have on average ONE book for every 300 kids.

This is a topic that I'm absolutely passionate about, not just because of my profession. It just seems so obvious to me. Literacy should not be indicative of class, but it is. Literacy should be a highly valued skill that kids should recognize as essential to their future success in life, but it's not. Sad.

Thus ends my soapbox rant.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summertime musings

We have a baby bird hopping around our yard today.

The parental nest is high up in the one, ubiquitous, poorly located tree in our backyard, and this little guy has apparently fallen out and can't get back up. We found him in the north corner of the yard, then the south corner of the yard, then in the raised bed, then hopping madly around the perimeter of the tree. Lucky for the little one, the mama is closely guarding her baby and regurgitating worms as necessary as all good mamas should. I hope that Abby knows that if she ever needs me to regurgitate a worm, she need only ask.

A couple of nights ago we were supervising the pool splashing after dinner, and this is what I saw. Two parents sitting in comfy chairs with their feet in the pool while the baby splashed to her hearts content. (Why is it that the kid abhors having her hair carefully rinsed out in the tub but laughs delightedly when she accidentally splashes herself in the face?) A beautiful, cloudy sunset. A small ranch with fenced in backyard. Flowers. A small patch of garden. Potted plants on the patio. A sprinkling of kid toys. As I was lounging there taking in the scene, it occurred to me how very middle class suburbia the whole scene was. It felt very Normal Rockwell, very Pleasantville.

I find it incredibly interesting how kids learn habits, words, actions even though they can't always verbalize their understanding in a literate fashion. It reminds me how much Abby really is learning and developing even though sometimes it feels like things aren't progressing that quickly. For example, Abby has taught us so many different ways to express delight. She quickly picked up on several things about the door that leads to the garage. When I left for summer school every morning, when she saw me grab my bag, she would immediately come to the door and stand there waving energetically. (Thanks little one for making it that much harder to leave for work...!) It didn't take her long to figure out that whenever we go that same door, she needs to hold onto someone's hand to go down the step, and is so excited to go out that she comes toddling over as quickly as she can with her right hand outstretched. And, she LOVES her red wagon so that now whenever we go out to the garage, she zooms over to it and stands there with one hand on the side making excited squeeks. Her dad is the bigger sucker for that trick and often gives her impromptu wagon rides unless we're leaving to go somewhere. So many ways to demonstrate happiness and all so innocent. We can't get over how babies have such pure joy of life. Sure, parents teach a lot by example, but we can't forget how children do as well!

On a different note, I have little precedence for understanding when babies are old enough for certain things. When is Abby old enough to use crayons? Finger paint? Sidewalk chalk? These seem like rites of passage to me, and it seems like our oldest niece was "coloring" around 15, soon? I just don't know. So we tried this past week, all three. Big bust. Ah well, that's what summer is for. No worries and we'll try again another time. At least she enjoys her pool...another prerequisite of toddlerhood!

Monday, June 28, 2010


Here's my latest confesion--I start projects and don't finish them. As a teacher, it's uber-tempting to put things off until the next chunk of vacation time. This is why the first 2 weeks of this summer seemed to be super busy just catching up on little odds and ends of piddly things that just needed to be done. Weed the south side of the house. Wash the cars. Vacuum. I'm sure that everyone procrastinates on things, but my Achilles heel is organization.

Organization issue #1: recipes. I love love love them! I love looking on the internet for them. I love keeping them in my little on-line recipe box (I have 706 at last count). I love cutting and pasting them into Microsoft Word and keeping a recipe box there for the random recipes that I find and will never return to the website to actually use. I reeeeaaaaly love cookbooks. I love reading through them and marking recipes that I want to try. I love getting my Taste of Home magazine in the mail every two months and luxuriating in the fresh issue. I love the daily emails that get sent to TWO email addresses for me every day! I even love planning the menu for special occasions. I jest not--I spent about 2 hours the night before my birthday a few months ago sifting through all of my recipes trying to find the perfect birthday cake recipe.

But then this happens:

I end up with piles of loose pages of delicious delights that have never been tried or have been relegated to the bin of forgotten treats because they are lost in the quagmire of the recipe swamp. The purple and white accordion binder was my attempt at one point a few years ago to organize. But one binder can't contain this mayhem. I need help.

This looks like there is some modicum of organization, but truth be told, sometimes I buy cookbooks and then never even open them!! I don't know why. I love cookbooks. But new cookbooks hold such promise! Such suspense! And, truthfully, who has the time to lazily peruse cookbooks ad naseum and organize this disastrous spot in my house that I just pointedly ignore whenever anyone comes over to visit.

Organization issue #2: Scrapbooking. I bought and started my very first scrapbook a few months before we got married. It seemed like all the cool kids were doing it, and as I was still in college, EVERYONE scrapbooked. At my college, it was like knitting/crocheting...even the guys did it. Several of my best buds were big time scrapbookers, so it seemed like a hobby that I should take up, despite my complete and utter lack of anything whatsoever creative. My pages all look the same. Picture picture picture on some colored paper. And, this little hobby is crazy time consuming!! No wonder bed & breakfasts host scrapbooking *weekends*. So, my first paltry attempt at scrapbooking has stagnated horribly. I admit that I fell into the "oh, I'll finish it at _______________ break" (Chirstmas, Spring, Summer, next Christmas, next Spring, next Summer...). It's been five years, and it isn't being finished anytime soon. It's still nicely conglomerated in a big bin in my coat closet, just waiting, mocking me every time I pull out the vacuum. And, insult to injury, I received 2 fantastically lovely scrapbooks when Abby came. I'm glad I have them in hopes of some day kicking it into gear, probably about the time she graduates high school and I need something to put on tables at an open house. Or, I just need to strong arm one of my best buds into going away with me for the weekend to a bed & breakfast. I do like the sound of that...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ye Olde Wal-Mart(e)

I avoid Wal-Mart whenever possible and at all costs. It is, to me, a last resort in all situations. Kokomo has one Wally World (which, frankly, surprises me given the economic blueprint of this city), and I just returned from my bi-annual excursion. Maybe I'll get lucky and this will be my only trip to ye olde bargaine city this year.

I went just now to check out patio furniture & the selection of organic anything that my store might carry. We recently *found* $100 left over from Christmas and latched onto the idea of finally procuring someplace to sit and eat and socialize outside despite the postage stamp of a patio that we have. Finding something to our liking that is in our price range, to our size specifications, and looks decent has been quite elusive. Hence, my decision to brave the hell on Earth that is Walmart. It's kind of like overeating when the food wasn't that great--you just feel gross when you're done.

The first problem was the serious parking lot issues, as in 1/2 the parking lot is blocked off because it has apparently been recently repaved and painted. But this isn't half of the rows, this means half of every row, which also means that you can't drive up and down rows. Irking. Understandable that this has to happen sometime, but still irking. And, whoever plans parking lots in Kokomo just flat out should be fired. The worst parking lots in the universe. Hyperbole? No...a fact.

Then you can never walk anywhere in Wal-Mart because they seem to have the biggest, most cumbersome shopping carts ever that are constantly clogging up every walkway. These are always driven by women who are trying to look at something and believe that the only way to do this is to park the cart perpendicular to whatever it is that is being looked at. Or, there are the chatty Cathys who socialize in the middle of the aforementioned aisles with their big, bulkies blocking the way. It's like a neighborhood block party (except, ironically, no icy cold beverages or appetizers in the middle of the health and beauty section).

I don't know if this is true of all Walton's finest, but my Wal-Mart has NOOOOO organic produce at all, anywhere, in the entire store, period. What up wi' that, yo?!? I had it in the back of my mind that Wal-Mart was moving to accomodate the growing interest and demand for organic living. Is it just Kokomo that obviously lacks such support? Maybe I missed it, but where the heck are they hiding it if it's there somewhere?

And then there's the registers, the majority of which never seem to be running...even the self serve. What?!? Why?!?

Let us not forget the exorbitant amount of people in motorized wheelchair/scooters. They'll run you over with no qualms, it seems. Are there more people running these contraptions at Wal-Mart than other retail stores??? It seem like it to me, but I also recognize my bias.

Craziness abounds.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

one of those little family moments

We were driving home tonight from Marion, new home of the newly married brother-in-law & sister-in-law tandem, and I briefly experienced one of those little family moments. Yeah, Abby has been around for over a year now, but it was still a warm fuzzy for me and even a bit surreal.

Ben was driving (a rarity on a trip). I was shotgun. Talk was light and sporadic as all were tired. Abby was hanging loose in her seat, drinking her water and then spitting it all over herself while making buzzing sounds for no other reason than it amused her, then sucking on her thumb and playing with her toes...perfectly content. Our CRV has a snazzy little mirror that allows persons in the front seats to glance up and see exactly what any children are doing. I looked at Ben, who was driving like Ben drives (a clone of Dave Cox???) and then in the little mirror at my other little goober, and it was good. Everyone happy. Everyone satisfied with just being.

Sometimes I'm reminded that I have the family picture that I've long admired.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

a battle of wills

Answer: Abby. Behind the cute little veneer and the cheeky smiles, it turns out that she's a force to be reckoned with. This kiddo doesn't get the meaning of "quitting cold turkey." I'm ready to start up a bottle addicts annonymous (BAA for a sheep) support group in order to enroll her.

Hi, my name is Abby, and I'm addicted to drinking milk out of my bottle.

Hiiii, Aaabyyyyyyy.

No matter how useful the internet and What to Expect the First Year can be, neither is helpful in the slightest about how to convince my little stubborn one to drink milk out of a sippy cup rather than her beloved Playtex plastic. It's kinda like a lovey, except that she's never been one to hold her own bottle, so it's like a lovey that someone else supplies for her.

Here's the deal--she drinks whole milk like a champ, has from day one (yay!). But before I pat her back too much and declare far and wide what an absolutely perfect little girl we have, we quickly discovered that her love of milk only extends as far as the drop-in liner model. We have literally tried 5 different ways to deliver the goods to her, and nothing works except the bottle. Not a one. Not the sippy cup which she has grand times with. Not the sippy cup with no handles that she has grand times with. Not the cute little Valentine's Day cup with bunnies and hearts that she has grand times with. Not the super sporty yellow pseudo-straw cup that she is fairly indifferent towards. Not the borderline complicated red sippy that she hasn't embraced yet cause we haven't given it to her yet but is basically the same thing as the yellow sippy. It's uncanny how she sniffs out milk in these other cups and puts the kabosh on them in the blink of a second.

So after these alternate devices and about three other methods trying to convince her to accept the milk out of a cup/sippy, we finally decided to go the cold turkey route. It's like teaching her to sleep in her crib: we hated to do it, but once we did, it really worked and quickly, and then we kicked ourselves for not doing it earlier. So cold turkey it was starting yesterday morning. (I will also mention that we timed this when she's not teething, sick, or otherwise grumpy/out of sorts for other reasons. And, I kinda un/intentionally chickened out as well because I started teaching summer school this week so if Abby was going to be super grumpy, I'm out of the house all morning.) Cut to tonight, 2 days later, lots of time for her to be so thirsty that she just had to give in to what we, her wise guardians who know best, want. Pssshhhhh. I gave her a bottle at her normal time before her bath. There went that experiment.

We'll try this again, maybe when she's 8. I hear that's a good age.

"Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose." Bill Gates

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Tonight was another bout of some serious let's-crunch-the-numbers-and-guesstimate-what-our-monthly/yearly-salary-versus-expenditures. This has been brewing again since we're (thankfully) nearing the end of my much reduced salary given the amount of time I had off with unpaid maternity leave. My loss of salary and frictions with my permanent sub were the only things that were unsavory about my leave, and my salary reduction was planned, so really, not at all a regrettable choice. But still, we can't wait to stop saying "Well, when Amy's salary is normal again..." all of the time.

So tonight was a short session that left Ben muttering "It can't just can't be like this..." and me offering no solutions. Thankfully in our marriage, the vast majority of these discussions have seemed to be positive whereupon we realize that we're in a comfortable and optimistic place. We were able to save quite a bit despite buying a house and felt good financially before Abby came into the picture. This little kidd-o has put a serious hurt in our bank account, and this given that quite a large percentage of what we purchase for her is used or given to us. This makes me worry.

Childcare is now 10% of our monthly income. This makes me worry.

We have a car payment now in a roundabout fashion because of Abby. This doesn't make me worry, but it makes me...a wee bit anxious.

Grocery bills have gone up. Seriously, just because of a little munchkin. This makes me chafe and Ben worries.

Our savings for Abby's college is established but virtually stagnant. This REALLY makes me worry.

Once my paycheck rebounds, we'll increase contributions to my IRA five-fold per instructions. This makes me sigh in despair. I don't mind contributing toward retirement, but between Ben and myself, 15% of our income?

Ben guesstimates after charting everything out over multiple intricate but clearly notated spreadsheets (because that's what Ben does...for a hobby, I daresay) that we'll be able to save a whopping $67.00/month. This makes us weep. And worry.

HOW is it possible that two adults earning full-time income, albeit teaching incomes which are not maintaining a competitive wage versus cost of living expenses, cannot save money in a savings account? HOW? We aren't extravagant. We haven't gone on a true vacation in 3 years. We don't often buy clothes and rarely if it's not on clearance. We have the cheapest cell phones/packages that we can, which means (gasp) no texting. We don't buy gadgets. We don't go to movies. We rarely eat out. HOW???

We worry knowing that we our current jobs and financial holdings are secure in a societal environment that is still reeling from upheaval. How blessed we are to have such worries.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

frugality & the not at all frugal lifestyle that we've chosen

Coupons. I love them. I've loved them since I was a wee lass working in a cavernous, flourescently-lighted grocery store in high school. I love that by wielding a small slip of paper, I magically don't have to pay full price for something, kind of like a free pass to cut in line at any roller coaster at a theme park. I just love them. I love them even more when my grocery bill has essentially skyrocketed and has maintained an average well above yesteryear. I've blogged about this before and won't rehash too much here, I hope, but maintaining a clean, clothed, fed baby and trying to live a greener, more organic lifestyle doesn't allow for a smaller budget. No, no...the credit card has not been forgotten in my daily life. Bertha serves me well.

Don't judge me too much, there's a reason that Bertha holds the honorary spot in my wallet. When we got married, Ben and I made a conscious decision to put everything that we could on one credit card for a couple of reasons, none of which go along with how we were raised. None of our parents utilize credit cards to any great extent, and I was strongly encouraged, lectured, and cajoled by my mother a LOT to stick to cash. I hate carrying cash! I really do!! I have such a hard time keeping track of how much money I spend when I use just cash (which seems counter-intuitive, I know) and I despise going back to the ATM so much since I'm not willing to carry more than $20-$30 unless I absolutely have to. Give me plastic of some type any day. When I opened my first checking account, I was firmly devoted to my bank card and used that for everything, never touching a credit card. And, despite my mother's lamentations, I never had an overage on that account (save for the one time that I deposited my paycheck in someone else's bank account...a problem that was assuredly my fault but quickly enough rectified and forgiven, a benefit of living in a small town where the banker kinda sorta knows you). And once we got married and found a credit card that gives us free stuff and points and miles just for using it, Ben and I gladly accepted their proposal. A win-win for us: we have *never* not paid a monthly bill on time, always check our monthly statements, and have traveled free to San Francisco. We have twice as many miles saved up now; where will we go next?!??!?

But back to coupons. I love them, and quite enjoy scrounging through my Sunday paper every week and organizing my little coupon wallet. Two things that make that easy for me to do is 1.) I read the newspaper every day and it's already delivered to me and 2.) I revel in organization. (Look at my desk at school...five years and nothing has changed about it.)

The problem is two-fold. I'm not so savvy with the on-line coupon sites though I've tried and tried to use them to my advantage. That's not as fun to me as riffling through tangible newspaper circulars. And, these sites are not geared toward my lifestyle. I rarely find coupons that are for my kind of products. There just aren't any coupons for organic broccoli, milk, and cereal. There just aren't. And, especially in the last 5 months, around 20-25% of my total purchase is produce. I just can't get these items for free. As much as I love free and greatly reduced products, at what cost? We just don't eat Tostinos though I see great coupons and deals for them all of the time. I can only buy so many disposable razors. Paying $.017 for a container of Easy Mac may be a steal, but is the sodium and fat and chemically-ness worth it?

I've said it before, but watching the movie "Food, Inc." really helped solidify a lot of reasoning in my mind for why I can't with a good conscious buy Easy Mac. It's not that I'm trying to dissuade everyone from giving up their brightly oranged hued macaroni, I'm just lamenting the lack of frugality that my lifestyle incurs. If eating and living more healthily means that I have to spend an extra $20/week and work in the kitchen for a little longer every week, I'll do it. Is Abby's long term health worth it? Ab(by)solutely.

I remember telling people, who promptly laughed at me, that whenever I had children, I was going to give up (as much as I could) desserts and such because I don't want my children to eat like I used to do, and it's not fair to ask them to do what I'm not willing to do. For the sake of my child/ren, I am consciously trying to promote a generally healthier lifestyle, which coupons just can't seem to support.

Coupons, I love you, and will continue clipping you. It's not you, it's me. We just aren't seeing as much of each other these days. Can we just be friends?

Monday, June 7, 2010

I heart MC!

How did I get so lucky to make a super duper important life decision when I was the tender age of, what, 17? I just finished reading through the bi-annual Manchester Magazine that came in the mail today (am I really that much of a weird-o if I had just wondered yesterday when my Manchester Magazine was going to be coming???), and as always, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. There are so many good people doing so many extraordinary things at that place. I so admire the humanity of the mission statement, and (can every institution really brag about this?), it really does come out in the actions and intentions of faculty, staff, and students associated with this college. I have so few bad memories from my four years there and sooo many good ones that have continued beyond graduation five years ago (wow, a wee bit sad that I no longer really know any students there except for *my* former students--oy!).

Definitely, the biggest impact that this cozy little campus made on my was helping me understand that every person has a role to play, and, that college is all about finding new ways that you can serve others. I truly believe that MC's biggest contribution to society is helping persons become addicted to living a lifestyle that is all about lifelong learning, not just to benefit the individual but for the benefit of society.

Talking with our financial advisor this past week, she claims that when Abby will be ready for college, it will cost $186,000 for a 4-year state college (i.e. Ball State). This saddens me greatly. How will it ever ever be possible for us to be able to send Abby to a college like Manchester? It already costs somewhere around $30,000/year (conservative estimate). This makes me a bit sad. That's teaching a lot of summer school.

MC has been good for the Cox family. With the wedding this past weekend, every adult in the family, all eight of us, have Manchester degrees and there are now four happily married couples who all hooked up there. There must be something in the water...

I have a former student who would always call me "MC" for Mrs. Cox, but I always thought it was appropriate, nonetheless, in other ways.