New Year’s Resolutions: Seeking Progress Not Perfection

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With our bellies peeking (or protruding) over belt buckles and the thought of another sugar cookie churning queasiness in our bellies, it is time to drag our overindulged bodies and minds out of the cocoon of denial and start resolving.

I am the first to admit that, just like most holidays this year, I am not ready for New Year’s. My brain is still trying to process where 2013 went. Alas, the day is upon us all, and it would do us well to think about what we want to accomplish in 2016. That’s right. I’m talking to you. Get your mushy tushy out of that warm bed, grab a pencil, and pay attention. (Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I am usually not this bossy.)

Don’t worry. I’m not giving you my list of resolutions. Rather, I thought I would present some questions to think about. These questions came to me a few days back when I was trying to pray and reflect, and I thought I would share them with you. They helped me put my life in perspective, and maybe it will help you too.

  • How am I managing my life?
  • How am I managing my finances?
  • How am I managing my household?
  • How am I managing my work?
  • How am I managing my health and the health of my loved ones?
  • How am I managing my children (or pets even)?
  • How am I managing my spiritual life?
  • Am I being fulfilled intellectually?
  • Am I being fulfilled creatively?

After you answer these questions, go through each one and ask yourself the following: In what ways can I be more effective?

For example, in examining the health of my loved ones, I realized I need to nudge my husband to see a dentist, and my pups are well overdue for a checkup. In thinking about managing my work, I know I need to be more committed and serious about my blog, set and stick to a writing schedule, and learn more about WordPress. Recognizing the areas that I have neglected or put off for whatever reason helps me make a plan.

Now, I have learned a great deal about myself in the past 49 years. I am not the most disciplined person and can easily become overwhelmed, which leads to mental paralysis, which in turns leads to…well…total failure to meet any objectives. (Sounds so serious.) So, I will take baby steps and not create mile-long lists of things to do. I will try to set a few goals for the year and then smaller goals for each month.

Of course, in Blog Land it all sounds so organized. It may all go to “hell in a hand basket,” as my grandmother would say, by January 5. I just need to keep reassuring myself that I am seeking PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.

Send me a note if you were able to garner something helpful from this.

Happy New Year!

The Ninja Elf’s Operation Christmas Blitz

I am usually not a braggart. It’s just not my style. I am more comfortable writing self-deprecating humor. Today, however, at the risk of alienating some of my loyal readers, I am going to brag.

Wait for it…Wait for it….HELLO! What do I have to do to get a drumroll?

(Tap, tap, tap, tap…)

It is the first week in December, and I have all my Christmas shopping done! (SQUEAL!)

I KNOW! CRAZY TALK!!!!!!!

Not only have I completed the onerous task of purchasing said gifts, I have wrapped about 90 percent of them as well. (Pat, pat on the shoulder.)

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Now, I am not usually productive as such. Since having kids and when not in flight-or-fight mode, I work more like a three-toed sloth than an industrious ant. For some reason I put it in my head that I wanted all holiday preparations complete by Thanksgiving break so I could (1) really enjoy the Christmas season, and (2) meet a self-imposed deadline to complete the first round of editing my novel, another difficult task.

Operation Christmas Blitz

So Operation Christmas Blitz (OCB) was launched. I meditated to find the ninja elf inside me. And, to my surprise that sucker popped out with more energy than a college student hopped up on No-Doze during finals week. Not to sound like the big man in the red suit himself, but first I drew up a list—military style—that had details and precision, no casual Christmas shopper could touch. Sample from said list is below:

Christmas Card (due by October 1):

  • Choose photo (something from summer when we all looked tan, fresh, and not burned out)
  • Update address book (Where is cousin Larry living now?)
    Wait for big sale at Shutterfly or similar website
  • Upload photo and create card

Stuff Cards (due by November 30):

  • Decide whether or not to send the form letter glorifying all my children’s accomplishments (NIX)
  • Stuff, seal and stamp…(You get the idea)

Oh yes, I had deadlines–ambitious deadlines most of which I have not made because, well, because I have ADHD, and those with ADHD rarely are on time for anything. For my sanity, my mantra is “Close enough is good enough.”

The List

Next came the List of Presents. When I showed my friends this list, beaming with organizational pride, I was disappointed to learn that not only did they not share my excitement, they wanted to commit me. Besides family, my list contained names of the following:

  • Every teacher who works with my kids (believe me they need some reward)
  • Every administrator (we meet a lot during the school for one issue or another)
  • Every adult who volunteers with my children (e.g., Girl Scout Leaders, coaches)
  • People who have been extra helpful during the year (e.g., doctors)
  • Good friends
  • Neighbors, and
  • People in need (I sometimes send anonymous gift cards to them)

Yes, I admit it is an all-encompassing list, but no one gets left out. I believe that people should be recognized for the time and effort they give, even with a small gift. My friends cannot believe that I send a gift to every teacher my children have. Yes, that’s right the computer teachers, the music teachers, the art teachers and P.E. teachers are all included. I have done this every year. “How can you afford to do all of this? Are you moonlighting somewhere?” my friends ask. No. I am able to do this for several reasons:

How it’s Done
  1. I shop all year, starting the evening of December 25 when the basement bargains magically appear on the World Wide Web. Last year, I was able to purchase some nice scarves from Charming Charlie’s. I got a few $15 scarves for $3 that will go to some teachers.
  2. I primarily shop on the Internet. There are some wonderful sites out there that offer affordable gifts, and the first place I search on any website is CLEARANCE. You can pick up some odds-and-ends pretty cheap that way. (I will write another article on my favorite shopping sites later.)
  3. I shop off-season. I buy my kids bathing suits in December when Lands End has their best sales for that, and I get their new coats in the summer.
  4. I scour the CLEARANCE isles in places like the grocery store and Walmart. I may find a toy marked 75% off that is too young for my kids, but I buy it anticipating some child’s birthday during the year. And, if I have no one to give it to, I can always donate it to a local charity or put it in my garage sale.
  5. Starting in September, I try to buy one gift card every time I go grocery shopping. That way I am spreading out the cost over several months.
  6. I make any “food” gifts like cookies in a jar over Thanksgiving break. (This year I am behind because I had to get a root canal, and I got a wicked cold that forced this ninja elf to rest.)
  7. I make baked goods for neighbors once the kids are out of school. Annie likes to help bake and the other two like to lick the bowls.

Operation Christmas Blitz has been pretty successful this year. I am just waiting for a few items to dance on my doorstep so I can wrap them and mail off all packages.
I do want to warn my readers there is a price to pay. There is always a trade off.
First, I do not have a lot of closets and extra space, so I had to get creative about where to store these piling gifts (e.g., kids camp trucks, under beds). When it is time to wrap, my house looks like a paper factory exploded. I cannot wait to make deliveries because my house is bursting with wrapped gifts. Second, I neglected myself more than I should have, which means I put on a few pounds, forgot to refill some prescriptions, and caught a cold. Worse, since I have not exercised since the end of October, my body will have to go through the pain of restarting an exercise regime again. I guess that is the purpose of New Year’s Day.

There you have it—my secrets to a quasi-restful holiday season. Stay tuned to see how it all pans out over the next month. And, happy shopping!

A Halloween Hangover Story or the Cost of Halloween

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I am feeling a twinge of a Halloween hangover. No, not from a particularly good “monster martini.” Not from a six-pack of “Boo Beer.” Rather, like Dracula sucks the life out of his poor victims, I feel that retailers have done the same with my bank account, leaving me weary and somewhat guilt-ridden.

Let me be clear, though, I was a willing victim. Freddy Krueger did not hold a razor to my throat in the check out lines. I just got caught up in the spirit of the Halloween season. You heard me right. I said season. What use to be a one-day, two-hour jaunt around the block for some candy and the occasional toothbrush from the dentist down the street has turned into a month-long festival of odd celebrations of the macabre, hay rides, pumpkin patches, expensive Haunted House exhibits.

I know I am not the only one in this country running for some post-Halloween ibuprofen. This season everywhere I turned, decorations flapped in my face. Stores, doctor’s offices, schools, and neighborhoods galore were littered in Styrofoam gravestones, spider webs, and pumpkins. Even the employees at my gym got into the spirit. Seriously, the yoga studio was dimly lit with orange and black lights. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans are estimated to spend $6.9 billion on Halloween this year. That is a lot of dough, or should I say sugar and spice? No wonder I feel as drained as a worn-out zombie.

Halloween 2007

I too threw my dough into the pot or shall I say, cauldron. I estimate that I spent at least $200 on Halloween this year, and I this was an improvement over the previous year. This year I took advantage of the weekend holiday and hosted a little neighborhood party. That meant I HAD to buy pumpkins, crows, spiders, glow sticks, items for goody-bags, purple lights, and enough candy to choke Frankenstein’ monster. Of course, this estimate also included food for the party. As a Pinterest aficionado, I made ogre eyeballs (cocktail meatballs), mummy dogs (hotdogs and crescent rolls), spider cookies, apples with caramel, and other more mundane party food. (You know, like chips and salsa.)

I pride myself on being a frugal and a savvy shopper. I rarely spend full price on anything. I put my coveted 40% off Michael’s coupon in a special zippered pouch in my purse. I scour stores for their post-holiday leftover bargains. And, currently I am lobbying for my own personal parking space in front of the local dollar store. So, I get a lot of junk for a little bit of dough.

In September I started taking a mental inventory of what I spent last year on Halloween. My mind kept flashing back to me standing in Party City, slack-jawed and flushed as the cashier nonchalantly said, “That’ll be like $156.24, ma’am.” In shock, I blindly handed the woman my credit card. How could a couple of witch dresses and ninja garb—all of which were one step above the quality of a plastic tablecloth—cost so much? Even worse, why was I paying that much money for something that the kids would wear for a total of two hours?

My only comfort was that I was just one of many credit card wielding fools. According to Bankrate (2015), the average cost for a child’s costume is $29.60, which does not include the cost of accessories. That’s right. That extra ninja sword, Potter wand, and face paint will push the bill even higher. I stewed over this cost for several weeks.

I swiped the cobwebs away from my feeble memory of what Halloween was like when I was a girl around my kids’ ages (10-12). I remember wearing a makeshift gypsy costume culled together from items in my mom’s closet. A long skirt, an old scarf, some dangling jewelry, and I ready for some primo doorbell action. I did not have a fancy bag or bucket embroidered with my name next to a fanged bat. I had a pillowcase to hold my treasures. Mom went all out with the decor by pasting a couple of cardboard black cats on the window and carving one jack-o-lantern—not one for every member of the household. At the risk of sounding like an old crone, I was hankering for days gone by. (Could I get in one more pun and cliché?)

So, unfortunately for my kids, I told them that costume shopping was off the table this year. They had to use their brains and research skills to create their own. When I announced this on October 1, the kids had no response. My proclamation was met with some raised shoulders and grunts. The reaction was significantly different on October 29. Panic ensued. Pleas. Pointless bargaining ploys. They just HAD to go to Party City to buy their costumes because…well, because…, because “We ALWAYS did it like that.” A maniacal laugh resounded in my head, “Ha, ha, ha! Not anymore.”

Leaving the kids to their own devices not only turned out to be cost effective it fueled their imaginations. What they came up with was a pleasant surprise. William put on his First Communion suit (yes it still fits 2 years later), and declared himself a businessman. Annie threw on a dress, marked up her face, and curled her locks to be a creepy broken doll in a haunted house. And, Katie recycled her costume from last year, but ripped it up, dirtied her face and called herself a zombie vampire. I was impressed with their ideas.

Now that I am a few days away from the glitz and glitter of Halloween, I realize I can cut back even further on my spending for this season. I always buy too much candy that eventually morphs into bulges on my thighs. So, I can cut some of that. I don’t need outside decorations in my backyard. With the lights off, it looks pretty spooky as it is. And, maybe the overstuffed goody bags for the party were a little over the top. So, as God and my contention of fans are my witnesses, next year I vow to spend less than $200 total on the Halloween season. Scouts honor.

Psst! Just don’t tell my husband I have a trunkful of Halloween items purchased on November 1 at 75% off. Besides, those items don’t count towards next year’s goals. (Ah, self-denial can be a wonderful thing at times!)

Mama Needs Some Mad Money: Three Cash Making Projects

As I said in another post, I think our family over did it on vacation in a way our pockets are screaming from the pain of emptiness. So, this week I thought of what I could do to placate my empty pockets. These are no Get-Rich-Quick schemes, but they will give a girl some cash. So, here are my three moneymaking endeavors:

1. ThredUp: An ad for ThredUp popped up on my screen a few weeks ago. I have no idea what I was surfing. I just know that the site found me, and I decided to give it a try. ThredUp is an on-line consignment-type service where you can buy new-with-tags or gently used clothing for everyone in your family. I bought a few items that were new with tags:IMG_1315

  • Naartjie Kids jean leggings for my 11 year-old,
  • Avia sneakers for my son,
  • Old Navy jeans for my 12-year-old daughter,
  • A cute pair of black Naturalizer shoes for Mama
  • A pair of World Standard Life plus size jeans for Mama.

I paid under $75 total for these brand new items. Normally that is what the sneakers could cost me.

I also decided that I would sell some items to this company. I ordered a Clean Out Kit, which has a nice, big plastic bag already labeled for shipping. I packed the bag with my better-used clothes and some that has never been used and still had the tags on them. The company has a list of the brand name items they prefer or will not accept. I sealed it, and mailed it. I will let you know how much I get for my items.

2. Garage Sale: I am a garage sale groupie (if there is such a thing). I love going to them, scrounging for steals, and bargaining with theIMG_1304 owners. I also love putting on a garage sale. Now, I am not like some of these Pinterest garage sale experts. I do not have laminated color-coded tags, nor do I have signs made with my Cricut die-cutting machine. A few neon-colored posters and those little price stickers you get from the dollar store is as high-falutin as I get.   I do advertise on Craigslist and other garage sale sights. I do try to post pictures of certain items if I have time. And, since our city does not permit garage sale signs on any property, I park my car at a fairly busy road with a garage sale sign and the address on the back window. Continue reading “Mama Needs Some Mad Money: Three Cash Making Projects”

Vacationesia and Going Broke

I hate to admit this, but we overdid it on our vacation. I’m not talking about eating too much pasta, street hotdogs, and decadent desserts. This is not about my waistline. I’m talking about the “Oh-Why-Not” purchases along the way. For instance, should we pay for the special exhibit at the big city museum? “Sure. Why not?” Should we order room service at $20 per person because the kids are really tired? “Sure. Why not?” Should we get the tiny economy car, or splurge on the mac daddy SUV with the drop down built-in movie theater. “Um, we have three kids! This is a no-brainer!”

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I don’t know what it is about vacation that makes me completely forget that I am not related to Donald Trump, my kids have no hope of an athletic scholarship to college, and that my air conditioner at home has maybe one more month of life left—and it’s June. I call it “vacationesia.” Even when we are taking a budge vacation, I tend to lose all sense of…well common sense.

In honor of David Letterman’s retirement, here is my own Top Ten List of Ridiculous Vacation Purchases:

Top 10 List of Ridiculous Vacation Purchases

10.  A $5.00 Diet Coke in the motel vending machine, when a McDonalds $1 large soda was a short walk down one block.

9. A touristy family picture package for $25-$70 at for example, Disney’s Hoop Dee Doo Revue, the Top of Rockefeller Center, or Universal’s Studio’s character meet and greet. I really don’t want the $30 picture of me falling down Splash Mountain where my face looks like I am going to die or throw up. I don’t need to pay all the money for a memory of me wetting my pants in public.

8. A two-pound bag of M & Ms for $7.99 a pound just because it came from the M & M store in Times Square and you can choose your own colors. That’s $16 and change for a bag of candy covered chocolate. I think it is even cheaper per pound in the hotel vending machine.IMG_0779

7. I understand being desperate for clean undies (especially after Splash Mountain), but it is foolish to pay for laundry service at the resort or hotel when a laundry mat is down the street. Incidentally, it’s also faster to do it yourself. Continue reading “Vacationesia and Going Broke”