Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tax Refunds...Put 'Em to Work!

For the first time in a very long while, we received a fairly sizable refund from Uncle Sam this year. (I wish the same could be said for our state return, but oh well...)

We paid bills, socked some cash into savings (still hoping to make that new home purchase this summer), and treated the kids to some extra junk food while traveling to California last weekend.

Most significantly though, we were able to throw some financial support behind two of my favorite organizations: Kiva and Plan USA.

My daughters are excited about our family's sponsorship of a boy named Henry in Uganda, and also about being part of a group of individual donors helping to fund a microloan to a cattle farming co-op (also in Uganda).

You know what they say about teaching a man to fish...

Here's the canned blurb from the Kiva website:

I wanted to let you know about Kiva (, a non-profit that allows you to lend as little as $25 to a specific low-income entrepreneur across the globe.

You choose who to lend to - whether a baker in Afghanistan, a goat herder in Uganda, a farmer in Peru, a restaurateur in Cambodia, or a tailor in Iraq - and as they repay their loan, you get your money back. It’s a powerful and sustainable way to empower someone right now to lift themselves out of poverty.

...and the one from Plan USA:

Plan is a global partnership of caring people founded in 1937 to bring hope and help to the world’s poorest children.

Plan began as a child sponsorship organization. Today, we are one of the oldest and largest organizations of our kind—our grassroots, self-help programs assist more than 10 million children and their families in poor communities around the world.
We are proudly private, not for profit, and respectful of local religions and cultures—we have no agenda other than helping kids.

I love that both organizations emphasize self-sufficiency.

Perhaps more importantly, I love that both have a no-religious-strings-attached approach. I wholeheartedly applaud the wonderful works done across the globe by so many church-affiliated groups, but it's just not for me. I have a major problem with the concept of aid coming with religious conditions. Somehow it just doesn't sit right with me, any more than it would if I expected someone to become a Democrat or join my book club just because I helped them out of a sticky situation.

Simplistic? Perhaps.

I know a whole lot of evangelicals who would argue that feeding the soul is more important than feeding the body, that salvation in the next life is more critical than saving a starving child in this one.

Who am I to say they're incorrect?

It's just not my thing.

I say feed the kid, build the clinic, teach the mom to read, help the goat farmer get an extra couple acres of grazing something, strings or not.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who Knew?

It's been a long time since I purchased a greeting card. I have software on my computer that allows my family to create our own, personalized cards for special occasions. I think they look as nice as anything store-bought, and I like that they come from the heart. We enjoy looking for just the right quote or piece of poetry to include, importing photos or clip art, and making something fun and unique.

Well, I was running short on time preparing for our trip to California this weekend. While out picking up a final gift for my nephew, I realized it would save some time and effort if I went ahead and picked up a card at the store I was visiting.

Then I learned an ugly truth.

I have apparently been overlooking momentous, card-worthy occasions in the lives of my family, friends and neighbors for all these years!

You see, they actually make greeting cards for all of the following occasions:

  • losing a tooth
  • getting a cat
  • potty training
  • earning a Girl Scout badge
  • scoring a point in a ballgame
  • getting a dog well as a plethora of other random occasions deemed notable enough to merit dropping $1.99 or more to commemorate.

So, dear friends, I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive the fact that I've neglected to adequately recognize all those teeth your kiddos lost. I apologize with all my heart for failing to congratulate your children for crapping on the toilet - with a card. My gosh, how could I have missed the chance to let you know - on paper - how awesome and special you are for adopting a fur-baby or nabbing that sewing patch from your creepy scout leader?

I honestly didn't know those were Hallmark occasions!

Going Back to Cali

I am looking forward to an all-too-brief visit to California this weekend. My nephew is being baptized on Saturday, and we are going! This will be the first time since we moved away that my whole family will go back to Huntington Beach. I have gone back several times with the kids, and a couple times by myself, and my husband has gone several times by himself, but never all together. That's right, in almost three years, we have never found the time to return as a family before now.

Funny, I always got such a guilt trip about the fact that, when we lived there we only made it out to Arizona for whole-family visits to my in-laws a few times a year...

...but waiting THREE YEARS to see my family is not a big deal, apparently.

Sorry, is the resentment seeping off the page searing your monitor?

I'm taking deep breaths and trying to focus on the positive. It's been too long coming, but we are going - as a family - to spend a day or so with my parents and my brother's family and his in-laws. For that, I am so grateful. I am even more excited because, for the last 16 months, my mother hasn't been in California herself. She's been in West Virginia dealing with family business. My daughters have missed their "Sugarbear" so much, and she has not even seen my son since he was three months old, so we're way overdue for some family time.

Finally, we'll all be in the same place for a precious few hours on Saturday!

Monday, April 20, 2009

100 Degrees and No Sugar

...makes for a very crabby girl.

The days of blast furnace heat have arrived once again. As a good friend of mine said, this is "divorce weather". I don't like the heat.

At all.

If I had known how inaccurate those cost-of-living comparison figures were before we moved to Phoenix, I never would have moved here. I hate it here. I truly hate it. I have tried for almost three years to see beauty in the desert. Nope, it's just brown and dusty and ugly. With scorpions. Ugh!

It is not even May, and my air conditioner is cranked. It will remain so for at least five to six months.

I am also on a very strict diet at the moment which eliminates all refined sugar and flour and grain, in the hopes of getting my blood sugar stabilized and killing off a proliferation of digestive yeast.

Heat + no sugar = cranky pants.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

To Hell and Back...

...or actually, just Sanders, Arizona.

Don't get me wrong. Sanders is a perfectly nice place. Perfectly nice if you like really small towns, just off the reservation. As in, a town with a teeny-tiny little post office, a school or two, a "diner" that consists of a trailer with a couple additions and not-so-great service, and a whole bunch of super nice residents.

And no, there was no sarcasm implied in that last sentence. Everyone I've met in Sanders was very nice (except the server at the diner, that is).

It's just that Sanders is so far from Phoenix, and the nearest decent motel to Sanders is still over 50 miles away. Add to that the fact that Sanders schools - where I worked today - observe Daylight Saving Time since their students primarily live on the Navajo Reservation, and the rest of Arizona does not.


I had to be in Sanders at 8:30 this morning, which was really 7:30 for me, and I had to drive an hour to get there. So I had to leave at 6:30 to drive an hour and arrive there at 8:30... just too early for me!

Add to that the fact that I do not sleep well away from home, and the fact that I drove through insane weather conditions to get to Holbrook last night. 50-60+ mph winds, snow, blowing was an adventure to say the least. Once again though, my good old Maxima was a tank and got me there and back safely. 200K+ miles on the odometer, dents and dings, stained carpet and all, Max is my hero.

I added another bizarre Arizona place name to my list today. Check this out, from beautiful downtown Holbrook:

Photo credit: Tristan Tom (

What the hell happened here?

One bonus of this work trip was the opportunity to make a new acquaintance. While stuffing my face with the complementary breakfast at my motel, I enjoyed a nice conversation with a fascinating woman I met. A retired journalist from Connecticut, she now enjoys painting, traveling and working on behalf of an amazing organization that supports animal shelters. I look forward to getting to know her better online, through her art and her blogs. It seems as though she's led an intriguing and adventure-filled life!

Her art blog is HERE and her project supporting shelter animals is HERE.

Carrie, it was a pleasure meeting you. Thanks for the company!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Don't Know How I Feel About This...

This week I was confronted with two dilemmas. I am still trying to process my feelings about both. Ugh, it's so confusing!

First, on Wednesday night my husband and I attended parent orientation at the middle school our firstborn child will attend in the fall. Holy hell, when did my baby girl become an adolescent??!!! As we sat in the auditorium of this enormous, cavernous, immense, and overwhelming facility (that absolutely dwarfs the high school I attended, by the way...), listening to the administrators give a breakdown of the schedules, options, policies, and whatnot, I started to cry.

Yes, I was the blubbering mom in the back of the crowd. I'm sure my husband was mortified when I started tearing up, mumbling "I don't know if I'm ready for this."

This sweet little baby girl... now this young lady.

Crap, that was too soon!

Oh, and her "baby" sister...

follows just one year later...

Sooooo not ready for this. Trying to breathe...

Dilemma #2 is one of a more ethical nature. First a little background husband is a full-blooded, enrolled member of one of the Native American tribes indigenous to the state where we live. Growing up, there were many, many times his family had to make do with very little. The poverty present on Indian reservations throughout North America cannot be overstated. (Those "casino tribes" are the exception by the way, and my husband's tribe is opposed to gaming for ethical and spiritual reasons, so don't even try and go there...).

Anyway, several charities and churches provide assistance to children and families on the Rez. At Christmas time, gifts from Toys for Tots may be some of the only presents a child there receives. A box of staples from a charitable organization often means a family gets to eat dinner tonight when otherwise they might not. Serious stuff.

So, how does this pose a dilemma for me? Well, for the third time since we moved back to this state, my mother-in-law (who does live on the Rez) picked up donated items for our family...two huge boxes of canned and dried foods, toiletries, books for children, paper goods, cosmetics, etc. this time. She picked up a similar bunch of donations on our behalf last year, and also a bunch of Toys for Tots items for our kids at the Holidays.

We do not live on the Rez. We live in a solidly middle-class suburb, in a comfortable home with running water and electricity. We do not rely on a wood stove for heat in the winter, and we don't have to hike down the side of a mesa to get to the outhouse when nature calls.

I don't think the generous folks who donated canned food, toys, and personal care items had my family in mind.

To be fair, there have been times when money was tight. Painfully tight. As in trip-to-the-foodbank-tight. We've been there. It sucks. I hope life never puts us back there again.

We have also made a point of being the people who donate to the local resource center. We know the need is real, and we feel it's important to do what we can to help those whose need is greater than ours.

(CVS certainly helps in this department, by the way, but that could be a whole post of its own.)

I know my mother-in-law's intentions were good, but I am extremely uncomfortable receiving these items. I feel guilty accepting them, but don't know how to decline without offending my MIL. These kinds of donations are such a part of life where they are from that I don't think I could explain my feelings without hurting hers or insulting her.

I packed up the boxes and sent them on to my brother-in-law and his wife, who live down the street from us. They are actually in a pinch at the moment, being one of the many families who's experienced first-hand layoffs and unemployment. I figure they could use it, and if not, they will hopefully forward the items to the local resource center.

What to do, what to do... I just don't want to be in this position again.

Oh, and I don't want my babies to grow up so fast either!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

CVS Rocks!

Another successful foray into the happy hunting grounds that are my local CVS. Guess how much I paid for today's haul...go on, guess.

They paid me $19.95 to take all this home!

2 Huggies Supreme Diapers Jumbo Packs @ $10 each (w/2 $3 off coupons)
1 Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo @ $3 ($1 off)
1 Johnson & Johnson Baby Bath @ $3 ($1 off)
3 Olay Body Wash @ $7 each (w/3 $2 off coupons)
1 Olay Quench Lotion @ 7 ($2 off)
1 Cover Girl Tru-Blend Foundation @ $11 ($1 off)
1 Cover Girl Tru-Blend Blush @ $11 ($1 off)
1 Colgate Maxfresh Toothpaste @ 2.99 ($0.75 off)

Total before coupons and tax: $78.99

I used a $15 off $75 purchase coupon first, used a $10 off any $20 cosmetics purchase coupon, then applied the coupons above for an after coupon total of $35.24. I used $24.55 in Extra Bucks, so my pre-tax total was $9.69 + $2.36 tax for a grand total out of pocket of $12.05.

In addition, I earned $32 in new Extra Bucks, so I effectively earned $19.95 today while stocking up on things my family needs and uses.

CVS, I love you!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On a Lighter Note

After yesterday's heavy video, I thought it would be nice to ease up a bit and bring on some laughs.

My friend Lyn posted this on her Facebook page and my daughters were blown away. Their comments blew me away.

P: "They have way too much time on their hands."

D: "They need girlfriends!"

I guess this is what happens when Welshmen have time to kill and sheep to spare.