The One That Got Away

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

Growing up, I loved animals so much that my grandfather, “Pop,” nicknamed me “Ellie Mae” after Ellie Mae Clampet on the Beverly Hillbillies, mainly because I always had some cat or dog with me everywhere I went around their farm.  I loved looking at the baby pigs they raised and cherish memories of helping to feed calves from galvanized buckets.  My Granny still tells of my particular love for my old tomcat, Snowball, who had a broken, crooked, tail, and always looked like a ragamuffin from numerous fights, his ears permanently folded over and pretty much hairless, but love that old cat, I did.  I would try and save baby birds that had fallen from their nests, and, even a few times, successfully captured field mice in the chicken houses on the farm.  I guess as long as it had feet of some kind, I loved it; hence, you realize quickly that I have no fondness in my heart for snakes.  Give me a furry little four-legged creature and I’m a goner.  Not good for a mother of boys.  Not good at all.

I say that I’m a mommy to two wild, crazy, but precious little boys, but it’s not completely the truth.  I’m also the human mommy to one dog and three cats, all of whom reside in the house for the most part.  We’ve tried fish, snails, and frogs, with little success ~ I’m guessing it would be hard to survive being caught, played with, and then tossed back in to the tank.  So, although I had a particular fondness for rodents in my younger days, my parents put their foot down on that one.  Never had mice, gerbils, guinea pigs, or hamsters growing up.  I guess, now, I’m making up for it.  Pierce and his sweet polarizing blue eyes sweet talked me in to getting a hamster about two months ago.  Then, since Pierce had one, well, Smith had to have one as well.  So, we have added two dwarf Russian hamsters to the mix as well; Sassy and Stormy.

These hamsters are supposed to be sociable creatures.  Well, maybe not.  Sassy is a biter, but will gladly allow you to hold her with no problems once you actually get her in your hands.  She will happily roll her little clear ball down the hall in an effort to torment the aforementioned cats; especially the youngest, Scarlett, who passes the majority of her days perched in one of three locations – behind, in front of, or on top of the hamster habitats – just waiting on what I have termed, her “hamster-burger.”  Stormy is the younger of the two and isn’t quite as vicious as Sassy, but he moves freely and quickly, and is a little more difficult to catch from that aspect.  But, once you have him, he gladly will crawl all over you with few cares in the world.  For the most part, we have not had much craziness with these little creatures (unlike my Every Woman Blogger Cohort, Shannon Shull, who should be enticed, now, to share her family’s hamster tail, pun totally intended), until this past Sunday night.  You know, luck doesn’t last forever, and at some point, it always runs out.

This past Sunday evening, I was multitasking, talking on the phone with my mother-in-law, putting away clothes, and hanging up clothes when I noticed that Sassy was standing on her back legs, scratching on the side of the habitat.  Remember, I love animals and am a sucker for what I take to mean a desire to interact.  So, I open the cage, get her out, and pet her for a few minutes.  Then I open a different section of the cage, put her in, and go about my business, which includes a trip to the grocery store, getting the boys ready for bed, and spending some time with them.  As we walk into their bedroom, I immediately notice something amiss ~ the hamster habitat is open and I see only 1 hamster, not two.

My first thought moves towards the cats and that Sassy has now become a late night snack.  I try not to get worked up and scare the boys, but I’m frustrated with myself because I am 100% completely at fault.  I search and see nothing that tells me that she could still be alive.  I go to bed feeling pretty badly and sleep fitfully until 3 a.m. when I am awakened by a squeak and the cats chasing something.  She’s alive, I know it!  I grab a flashlight and catch a glimpse of her little eyes and nose peering out at me from the leg of the loveseat in my bedroom.  I shoo the cats and dog from my bedroom and shut the door, thinking maybe I can trap her in my room and catch her.  I lie on the loveseat thinking I might hear a squeak and the ordeal will end quickly.  No such luck.  I, again, sleep fitfully, oversleep and am late for work.  At lunch, I go by my house and check to see if any of the food or cheese I left out before heading to work has been nibbled.  Nothing.  Doesn’t even appear to have been sniffed.  UGH!  I go back to work, feeling defeated by a hamster.

I get the same answers after work.  We search for half an hour, to no avail, finding only a juice pouch that had been left out had been nibbled on.  I leave the door shut and just forget about it, figuring I will deal more with the situation after the boys are safely in bed.  Bedtime comes and after finally getting them settled down, I hear a noise in the hallway, a noise that sounds like a cat after something, something alive.  I jump up and tip toe into the hallway where I am greeted by the sight of Scarlett with Sassy in her mouth, dangling by the scruff of her neck, much like a mother cat would do her kitten.  Scarlett knows that this is forbidden territory and takes off into the den where I begin to close the gap on her, but she does a U-turn in the middle of the den, right over a stack of clothes and shoots straight into the playroom, which can aptly be compared to the 9th circle of hell, or the abyss.  If it goes in, it may never come out of there!  The last thing I need is for Sassy to be loose in that room!

I follow them in, running as fast as my short legs and nightgown will allow.  Obviously, the cat has an advantage over me in that she’s smaller and can clear the amounts of junk piled in the room like a professional hurdler.  Me, not so much.  I hear the crunch of toys beneath my feet, but it’s on and I’m determined that I’m going to rescue the hamster.  I corner the cat in the bottom basket of a rolling cart, but she’s dropped the hamster.  Oh, hell!  I see Sassy shoot quickly toward some stacking file crates and I, immediately, grab Scarlett’s tail in an effort to delay her if only by a second to give me a head start.  I grab the hamster, expecting to see blood and death, but no, all I see is the largest pair of teeth I have ever seen in my life being flashed at me.  She nips me once, twice, and tries a third time, but I hold on tight and carry her, triumphantly, into the boys’ bedroom where I turn on the light to try and rise them to see that I have won.  I have conquered the enemy and saved Sassy from the evil clutches of Katie Scarlett Kirby.  They don’t hear a thing and there is no acknowledgement from them at all that I have just saved their dear little pet.

I release Sassy into the habitat and make sure that is firmly locked.  She walks to the food bowl, sniffs, picks up something and eats.  A minute later she runs to the wheel and begins to run, around and around, and around.  I’m guessing, like humans, that she’s got some extra adrenaline from the chase that she needs to burn off.  I see Stormy waltz to the wheel and squeak at Sassy, much like a parent would do to berate an errant child.  I leave her in peace and head off to deal with my own adrenaline rush ~ I open Facebook and play a few rounds of Bejeweled Blitz and Angry Birds and waste a little more time on Pinterest.  Alas, I finally give up and snuggle into bed with my Kindle and try to make peace with Scarlett who is pretty peeved about “the one that got away.”

Help Feed the World with Feed Bags

By: Staci Rutherford

When I’m not researching the latest “it” bags, trends and designers, I enjoy finding handbags that are designed for a good cause.  I discovered FEED Projects a few years ago, and constantly feature new FEED bags on my blog.  Today, I want to introduce you to FEED, because these meaningful products have a tremendous impact on different parts of the world.

FEED Projects’ mission is to create good products that help FEED the world.  The merchandise mix includes eco-friendly FEED bags, t-shirts, and other accessories, with a set donation factored into the cost of each item.  FEED believes that everyone has the right to basic human necessities, such as healthy and nutritious food.  Every product has a stenciled number that signifies the actual impact of your purchase.  Here are a few of my favorite bags available at feedprojects.com.

FEED 5

Front

Back

The FEED 5 Africa Bag was designed in honor of FEED’s 5th anniversary.  It is handmade by artisans in Kenya.  The outside of the bag is made from burlap material, along with the “FEED the Children of the World” logo from the first-ever FEED bag, the FEED 1 Bag.  The bag is lined with traditional African kitenge fabric.  Each FEED 5 Africa bag provides 5 children with micro-nutrient powder for 1 year through the FEED Foundation’s Nutrients Fund.

FEED USA

The FEED USA Bag includes a $5 donation to the FEED Foundation’s FEED USA program to improve school food and nutrition education in America through DonorsChoose.org.  After purchasing your FEED USA Bag, use the 8-digit code provided on the hang tag and visit the FEED USA platform to choose the initiative you want to fund.  The bucket shape bag is made of 100% organic cotton.

FEED LOVE

Front

Back

The FEED LOVE Bag was designed in partnership with (RED).  The purchase of the (FEED) RED LOVE 30 Bag will provide approximately 30 days of ARV treatment through the Global Fund and 30 nutritious school meals through the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), thus providing one month of life-saving assistance.  Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment not only helps people live with HIV/AIDS, but also helps prevent the transmission of the disease from moms to their babies (RED)-supported Global Fund grants deliver this treatment to some of the countries hit hardest by the disease.  The (FEED) RED LOVE bag is made of natural burlap with signature PRODUCT (RED) logo, faux suede bottom and large back pocket.

FEED HAITI

In January 2010, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti.  The FEED Haiti bag was created to help raise funds to maintain local school feeding operations during that critical time. Today, FEED continues to support Haiti’s school feeding operations as the country slowly rebuilds and faces challenges in nutrition, health, and education.  Each FEED Haiti Bag will provide 50 meals through the UN World Food Programme (WFP).  The tote is made of 100% organic cotton and uses the red and blue Haitian national colors.

As you can see, FEED bags are making a difference in helping feed the world.  The next time you are looking for a gift for a loved one, consider showing your support in the fight against hunger, and invest in a FEED bag.

In A Cooking Rut? Can I Interest You In Pinterest?

By:  Elizabeth Webber Akre

As much as I love to cook, even I get in a rut from time to time.  Most recently, I was so bored and burned out on chicken, I actually put out a call for help and inspiration on my blog, www.AkreEats.blogspot.com.  I got some suggestions, but it still took about 2 weeks before I could even get interested in chicken again.

In the midst of this bird boredom, I finally jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon.  At first, I was just interested in checking it out so I’d know what everyone was talking about, but then I started paying attention.  What I learned was, “Wow!  This is really pretty cool!”  Quickly, I discovered how many other cook-a-holics are out there and they were sharing all kinds of awesome recipes, techniques and smart hints that I didn’t know.  (For instance, I now know how and am in the process of growing my own scallions.  As God as my witness, I’ll never pay for or run out of green onions again!”)  But, oh bliss, all the creative and innovative recipes I’ve found.  My enthusiasm for cooking returned with giddy excitement.  One of the first recipes that caught my eye is simply titled “Sour cream & bacon crockpot chicken.”

First, I love my crockpot.  Second, I love bacon.  And third, I love sour cream.  How could I possibly pass this one up?  I made it last week and I was in love.  The chicken was fall-apart tender; in fact, next time I may cook it a little less time just for the sake of presentation (the breasts will hold their shape better coming from the crockpot to plate.) The bacon was crisp and added nice flavor to the delightful sour cream sauce.  It was kind of stroganoff-like with a little spike of smoky bacon.  In fact, next time, I’m going to use two slices of bacon per breast just to add more bacon flavor.  After all, I’m a bacon devotee.

One of the main reasons I love to cook so much is to impress and satisfy my family and friends.  My husband is a great person to cook for because he’s so appreciative but he will tell me if I miss the mark.  This dish got his “thumbs up.”  Now, any of you with kids know that they can surprise you and eat exactly what you don’t expect them to and then shun the ol’ kid stand-bys.  This dish not only got my daughter’s “thumbs up,” but she elaborated … “I really like this mommy.  You should make this a lot.  I love it.”  WOW.  That is the sign of a winning dish, if you ask me!

This recipe came from a “pin” from a blog entitled “Moms with Crockpots.”  Sometimes when I read other people’s blogs, I wish I could jump on a plane and go meet him/her in person.  Of course, that’s not realistic, so I read, I comment and let them know how much I appreciate them sharing what they know.  My hat’s off to the creator of this recipe.  I most definitely will be making this dish again and I hope you’ll try it too.  Click here to see the full recipe from “Moms with Crockpots.”

For more, visit me at Gastronomy by a Wanna-be Chef.

The Perks of Isolation

By: Summer Brons

Ever have those moments where two or three things have gone wrong throughout the course of your day and as you’re sitting there trying to figure out a viable solution to restore balance, suddenly the weight of EVERYTHING even slightly amiss in your life seems to come crashing down on you all at once? Those times where you feel like there is simply no way you’re ever going to catch up, let alone get ahead? Yeah. Welcome to the club.

It’s probably safe to say that most of us juggle some combination of responsibilities involving work, home, fitness, family, friends, hobbies and social endeavors. We have bills, we have schedules, we have people to please and duties to uphold each day. Toss in the occasional unexpected crisis or unsolicited obligation and we’ve got ourselves a three-course meal of stress, anxiety and headache.

One technique I like to try to employ during these lovely times – like when I’m contemplating, oh, let’s say, how my income is inversely proportional to my financial debts – is isolation. I’m not talking about hiding out in my house and avoiding interaction with society, I’m talking about isolating each situation for what it is. Breaking things down into manageable, bite-size chunks rather than attempting to navigate my way through the big picture makes it much easier to take it all in stride and develop a plan of action.

For example, let’s say I’ve had a rough day at work, I still have to hit the gym and I’m supposed to meet some friends out for a drink later that evening. I might leave work feeling frustrated from a project gone awry, then find myself feeling rushed to get my workout in before I need to leave to meet my friends on time, then I’ll start questioning whether or not I should really be going out in the first place. After all, I’m broke, right? The “I really can’t afford to go drink beer” thoughts then generally turn into analyzations of upcoming bills and anything that might be approaching past-due status, which inevitably leads me to tell myself that I really should try to pick up additional hours at my second job, which frustrates me because working extra hours will drastically cut into my training, which then discourages me because I’ll be that much further from reaching my fitness goals…on and on and on until I’m ready to start ripping out handfuls of my own hair. Oh, and did I mention that my laptop of six years unexpectedly died on me two weeks ago? All of my data from the better part of the past decade is sitting in the recovery machine of a computer shop downtown, waiting for me to scrounge up $325 so I can go retrieve it.

Fantastic, yes?

This is where that whole “isolation” game comes in.

  • Chunk Number One:   Work. Tackle work AT work. Once I’ve left the building for the day, it’s time to quit stressing over unanswered emails and purchase orders I haven’t received on time. Back at my desk the next morning, taking five minutes to jot down a to-do list helps keep me on track for the day and ensure I don’t overlook anything critical. But at 5, 5:30, 6pm – whenever I end up leaving – that’s that.
  • Chunk Number Two:  Fitness. I’ve recently started breaking up my workouts into two parts. I get up at 5am and hit the gym before work. My gym is quiet in the morning and I get a little “me” time before the craziness of the day begins. Plus, if something does crop up during the day that might prevent me from working out afterwards, I can still feel good knowing that I’ve at least done a little something. After work, I’ll go for a run. I’ve found that this split technique is a great way to balance weightlifting with half-marathon training; neither endeavor falls to the wayside in favor of the other.
  • Chunk Number Three: Friends. The nifty thing about friends is that the good ones tend to be pretty understanding. They won’t judge you for being a little short on cash one week or wanting to have a quiet night at home instead of bellying up to the bar. A quick “I really just can’t make it tonight” will suffice just fine. Rainchecks – use ’em!
  • Chunk Number Four:  Money. This is a toughie, especially for me. I am not one of those people who can just push their financial woes out of mind and happily go along on my way. What I have to do to maintain sanity in this department is to look at each bill as just ONE bill. If I sit there and contemplate all of them, I am easily overwhelmed. Dwelling on monthly expenses and paying down debts on top of day-to-day things like food, gas, etc. is neither productive nor beneficial to my mental state.

Basically, this all makes it possible for me to enjoy the small successes of daily life without being completely jaded by everything that isn’t quite where I want it to be just yet. Great workouts, a productive day at work, getting some writing done, even something as small as paying a $14 water bill can be looked upon as tiny victories. It’s all about perspective!

What are some of your own methods for keeping yourself sane when everything seems to be convincing you otherwise?

Clip and Save

By: Katie Austin

Life can’t be all serious and I truly believe that laughter, a great attitude and finding something positive in everything we do will help you overcome any life hurdles that come your way.  So with that said, let’s talk coupons!

Not sure if this is a good segway, but we’ll just think of it that way 🙂

One of the things I learned through the process of fighting my breast cancer is the value of the dollar. With my medical bills coming in with statement balances that would rival that of our government budget, I needed to find a way to stretch every dollar as much as possible.  So, I went back to something I used to do more in my younger years — coupons!!  Yes, coupons!  You can find coupon flyers in your Sunday paper and can download these precious gems from various sources that test your scissor cutting skills.  I find that after all these years I can still cut pretty well and not stray too far from the dotted lines… haha

Like several of the Every Woman bloggers have mentioned, couponing can really help you save money.  So, how can coupons help you save money?  I took to the internet to find modern ways of couponing and how to make it work for me. There is a show on TLC “Extreme Couponing” that can give you some ideas as well.  For me, I will never purchase the quantities shown on the show, but I did learn how to maximize my coupons and develop a strategy that would work for my family. I use the good-ole coupons in the Sunday paper, maybe purchasing 2-3 extra papers if the coupons are good, printing out additional coupons from internet sites, using smart phone applications and picking up store coupons that are available at most customer service desks.  A combination of all or some of these has cut our food bills by at least 50% and there are times that I only spend a few dollars on a bill that would have cost over $50!  If I can save at least 50% every time I go to the grocery store and sometimes get FREE items along the way, then it is worth the change.

Another thing I learned is that my local grocery store offers e-coupons that I can add to my store card.  This is a great way to take advantage of additional savings.  These e-coupons come right off your card and you can still use your clipped coupons as well!

There are many different ways you can save with coupons and you just have to find what works best for you.  A couple of good websites that I have bookmarked and found very helpful are listed below:

Enjoy and happy savings!! 🙂

“Mommy Guilt”

By:  Crissie Miller Kirby

Initially, I thought my friend, Lynne Rauton, was crazy for suggesting that I write about my “Mommy Guilt,” but the more I thought about it – I thought, and why am I afraid to write about it?  Do I really think that DSS might show up at my door?  Am I afraid of being judged by other, more “perfect” mothers out there?  Am I afraid to admit my shortcomings as a parent?  Honestly, I’d have to say, “Yes,” to all of them.

If you are a woman and have children, you know, without me saying anything more, what “Mommy Guilt” is all about.  For those of you who have not been stressed . . . oops, I meant blessed to have children yet, let me explain “Mommy Guilt” in a few short sentences.  “Mommy Guilt” is that feeling that you have where you question every single decision you make in regards to your children.  This feeling begins almost the second you find out you are pregnant (or adopting, as the case may be for some) and intensifies, oh, 100-fold, the second said child takes his/her first breath.  “Mommy Guilt” knows no boundaries.  The guilty feeling can be from something as simple as what socks your child has on to larger decisions about whether or when to go back to work after delivery or what childcare facility to use.

My most recent “Mommy Guilt” episode cropped up yesterday morning when I put my 3 ½ year old in the shower before church.  This was not the first time we’ve done this – he loves to get in the shower and use the handheld sprayer to play, dance, sing and whatever else 3-year-olds do in the shower, besides actually bathe.  For reasons unknown to me, my dear, sweet Smith has decided that showering, alone, is not enough.  Oh no, he has to also pull up the stopper and allow water to fill the tub, as he is continuing to run the shower.  Needless to say, yesterday morning, I was also in the midst of steam cleaning a late night vomiting issue (gross, I know, sorry – more “Mommy Guilt”), and my dear sweet little Smith flooded the bathroom.  I did not handle this well.  Out came 5 beach towels to soak it all up – very small hall/guest bathroom mind you – and I totally lost my cool.

And dear sweet little Smith got a spanking.  Yes.  I said it.  I admit it.  I spanked my child.

Then I proceeded to have a major breakdown of “Mommy Guilt” proportions and cried for 10 minutes.

Worse than buyer’s remorse is “Mommy Guilt,” in those minutes after the spanking, I knew that my little man would forever be emotionally scarred and would spend an eternity in therapy for that transgression on my part.

Wait a minute.  Really?  I’m feeling guilty for teaching my child a lesson about not wasting water (that we do have to pay for) and taking care of our home (my daddy always told me that if you let water sit on linoleum, then it will ruin it).  I’d like to lay the blame for this on being a single mom, but I can’t.  If I were still married, the same exact scenario could have, and probably would have, occurred.  I am a woman; I am a mother and I love it, even when it is hard, lonely, and thankless.  Yes, I would change some things I have done, but, mostly, if I could, I would completely and totally outlaw “Mommy Guilt.”

I must run now and check the weather forecast; otherwise, I might spend all day feeling guilty for not dressing my children warm enough.

So, now that I have confessed my transgressions, what about you?  Have you ever experienced “Mommy Guilt”?  How have you overcome it?

Memories, Traditions and Possibilities: A Deal At Just $5.99

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Mary Pat Baldauf

I bought a box of crayons yesterday. Not just any box of crayons, but Crayolas in that familiar green and orange box. A 64-pack. With the sharpener. When the clerk rang up the crayons, she shook her head, “5.99 for a box of crayons.”

Not being a regular crayon shopper, I don’t know whether that’s high or low or whether I could’ve gotten them cheaper someplace else. The way I look at it though, $5.99 isn’t bad for a box of Crayola crayons. 64 pack. With the sharpener. And that’s because in addition to housing 64 magical dream sticks, there’s a lot more in that box. A box of memories. A box of tradition. And a box of possibilities.

A box of memories? Yep. When I crack open a box of crayons, I get a neuron-splattering head rush. I am transported back in time to…

…the first grade, when we used those fat crayons that were flat on the bottom so they wouldn’t roll of our desks.

…to 208 Holly Avenue, where my sister and I made masterpieces with crayons and Fall leaves. You did these, right? We’d pick the most colorful leaves from the woods across the street and bring them home. When Mom was busy, we’d pull out her wax paper, fold it in half and place the leaves on one side. Then we’d take old crayons and use a knife to cut shavings onto the wax paper. We’d fold the wax paper over, and when Mom wasn’t looking, we’d iron the paper until it turned into a beautiful stained glass creation. We usually got in trouble for getting Burnt Sienna and Maize on Mom’s iron, but it was worth it.

…to summer YMCA camp when we made what I know as scratch art. We’d color a piece of paper with bright crayons, then cover it with black paint. When the paint dried, we’d use a toothpick to create a design. Those were the days.

A box of tradition?  Uh huh. Binney and Smith created Crayolas in 1903, and since then, generations of children have played with them. Crayons are universal; they are the great equalizer of humanity! Babe Ruth? Probably used crayons. President Obama? Bet he used crayons. Prince? Purple crayons, for sure. And then there’s little old me. I most certainly used crayons!

A neat thing about crayons: even though they’ve been around for more than 100 years, they’ve changed just enough to stay relevant. I’m a purist – I like the colorful wax sticks wrapped in paper, but today there are specialty Crayolas: twistable, washable, dry erase, even multicultural. And those big flat ones I used in first grade? They’re now triangular. (Easier for kids to hold.)

Lastly, there are crayons that mark changes in our culture. The crayon once known as “Flesh” was voluntarily changed to “peach” in 1962, partially as a result of the U. S. Civil Rights Movement. The crayon I colored with as “Indian Red?” It was renamed Chestnut in 1999 in response to educators who felt some children wrongly perceived the crayon color was intended to represent the skin color of Native Americans.

A box of possibilities? You bet! A new box of crayons is fresh and perfect. They’re all pointy, lined up in order, bright and, well, perfect. A box of crayons contains the colors of an eye popping sunset, the thousand colors of the sea, the brilliant colors of a rainforest.

Speaking of colors, do you remember the name of your favorite crayon? Mine was Carnation Pink, a color that was introduced in 1949 and is still in that orange and green box. I asked my sister this morning. Hers was Maize, which was retired in 1990.

A funny story about crayon colors. Through my work with the APWA, I travel to their headquarters in Kansas City once a year. Kansas City is also home to the country’s only Crayola Store, which is connected to the hotel.

On my first visit – I visit every year – I asked the clerks about their favorite crayon colors. The first one hemmed and hawed, then finally said that blue was her favorite.

“Blue?” I asked. “Cadet Blue, Cornflower, Denim?”

“Just blue,” she said.

The second clerk’s answer was no better. “Green,” she said quickly.

“Green?” I asked. “Asparagus, Fern, Blue Green?”

“Green,” she answered.

Not very good Crayola ambassadors, if you ask me.  If Crayolas are boxes of possibilities, they were a dead end.

I bought a box of crayons yesterday. Not just any box of crayons, but Crayolas in that familiar green and orange box. A 64-pack. With the sharpener. $5.99 for a box of crayons. And memories, tradition and possibilities. Not a bad deal.