Friday, February 29, 2008

Forgetful Blessings

I am unexpectedly getting paid for doing my normal household duties. Maybe it's a reward for work well-done. Maybe it's extra incentive to keep doing the everyday tasks. Or maybe it's just a blessing for those of us who can't remember everything.

You see, twice in this last week I have been doing undesirable chores that paid me back. First, I was cleaning out our car, vacuuming, shampooing carpets, dusting, etc. to get it all pretty for Lana when I found $5 under the seat (and a lost mug, book, pacifier, an abundance of change, and a few mismatched socks). Five unexpected dollars in my pocket and a sparkly car to show for my efforts, basically made my day. Then today I was looking under the couch and checking between the seat cushions--always hazardous--trying to find the missing key that Dominic managed to pull off of our old laptop, when I found $10 stuck into the fold of the slipcover/cushion. It was as if someone put it there just so that I would find it!

Have you ever found money in your winter coat when you pull it out in October, after it's been put away all summer? And then, after your exhilaration at finding the money wears off, or perhaps in your exhilaration, you think, maybe I should purposefully put money into my coat pocket so that I can find it later. It's a kind of exciting savings program. If I am this thrilled by finding $5 in my pocket, how would I feel if it were $20? or even $50 (gasp).

But there's one catch, it only works if you forget you left/put it there. So, for those of us who can't remember everything, at least we have this one perk...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Adventures in Odyssey

I won't give you the play-by-play for our recent shopping excursion for a used minivan. The place we ended up at, Royal Motors Leasing, was very modest and the experience was actually relatively painless. After doing significant internet and telephone sleuthing, we found a pretty sound deal. Our new wheels are a shiny, silver 2004 Honda Odyssey EX. A picture of "Odysseus" is below. Just use your imagination to put us into it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Trouble starts with a "T" too

My baby, or should I say toddler, is walking!

One pudgy little step at a time Dominic toddles from the living room to the kitchen, around the island (at my in-laws), then down the hallway and back to the kitchen all "by self". We are in trouble.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tastes Like Chicken, Again

Yesterday was very unusual. A trip to the grocery store actually cast a sunny glow on my otherwise unremarkable, and even somewhat gloomy, day. I scrounged through the freezer and, on account of the appalling lack of options: chicken? chicken? or chicken? reluctantly set about making a cheesy chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole for dinner. After I had covered the casserole in tin foil and tucked it away in the fridge, Dominic was still asleep, so determined to find some deal on meat, I surfed the internet looking at our various grocery stores circulars. For some reason, I get them very sporadically here at the apartment. Looks like Pathmark has the best sales this week. So, despite my hatred of that grocery store (last time I waited 35 minutes in line to check out...), I bundled Dominic up after his nap, strapped him into his carseat, and went off to Pathmark with my grocery list and accordion-style coupon folder.

I was just shopping 5 days ago, so I am on a hunt, not a leisurely browse for my grocery items. Why, you ask, didn't I buy any meat last time I was at the grocery store? Simple. It was ungodly expensive. I refused. So chicken we ate. (And some ground beef I had left in the freezer became chili).

First, through the produce section. Grapes were on sale for $.99/lb (normally $2.99/lb), so I loaded up on those. I threw in two cantaloupes on a similar discount and a few bananas to restock Dominic's breakfast foods. Then I whisked my cart away, back to the meat and poultry section, always against the far wall. Marketing simply amazes me. They have placed all the staple food items again the far walls of the grocery store so that you must walk through at least one aisle to get there. Think about it: milk, eggs, cheese, meat, bread. In the meat department I scan the sale signs and know what I'm looking for round roast, top roast, maybe a pork shoulder, and maybe a whole chicken. Man, did I score. The "Manager's Special" treated me rather well.

Let me give you a little list of what I came away with:
  • Whole roaster chicken $.59/lb (normally $1.29/lb)
  • Angus beef london broil $1.88/lb (normally $4.99/lb)
  • Top round roast $1.99/lb (normally $5.39/lb)
  • Pork shoulder $ .89/lb
Let's be honest. These are sweet deals.

I was feeling pretty smug as Dominic and I exuberantly wheeled our cart to the check-out. We had 20 pounds of meat in our cart, all on super sale. My mouth was watering at the very thought of all that savory, guilt-free beef, chicken, and pork. A sweet deal makes everything sweeter.

Thinking that my trip to Pathmark couldn't really get any better (well, except for the check-out line not taking forever...), I saunter to the front, ready to wait in line. Something on one of those clever marketing end displays caught my attention. Canned, whole peeled plum tomatoes in tomato juice--a staple in my Italian-American food pantry. I mean, I use them in sauce, soup, casserole, taco pie, chili, you name it, I've used whole peeled plum tomatoes in it. I prefer these to the diced or crushed tomatoes (and obviously to tomato sauce) because they are fresher when I chop them myself and have better texture.

Whoa! $.59 for a 28 oz can! UNBELIEVABLE! Oh my gosh, well, how many can I get? Twelve. Okay, I'm getting a whole case then. At regular price these would be $22.68. On sale now I pay $7.08. Quick math, I save $15.60 (although, to be honest, I never buy them at regular price, so my real savings were $4.92, but I normally buy a cheaper brand...these should be better, right?). Sweet. And then, right next to the ever-needed tomatoes was extra virgin olive oil! A huge jug of it, like the ones that turpentine comes in, fifty percent off (and a better deal to begin with because it was a bulk item). So, I picked up one of those to go along with my case of tomatoes. Even sweeter.

Frugality, it seems, is just an integral part of my personality, and I have come to embrace that. I simply love sales, consignment, and coupons. In fact, I even feel guilty if I pay over my preset mental price for any item. Apparently other people have caught on to this. I was amused to realize that when some people buy unexpected things for us, they'll usually excuse the gift with a phrase something like, "they were just having such a good sale...."

Sweet deals do exist, you just have to have the time to wait or search for them. Perhaps another time I will let you in on my tips for finding them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Tubby" by the Tub (a companion video)

This video tells more than I ever could about our son's burgeoning personality: lively, energetic, and camera-loving. There's no doubt about it, he is his father's son through and through. The only thing that I can claim (besides his obvious good looks...) is his unmistakable eyebrow raise to accompany any expression. Clearly he gets that from my side--especially my mother and brothers. So, without any further delay, here's the video of my "Tubby" at his favorite place, the tub. I hope this video brings a smile to your face, as it does to mine. Think of it as a visual companion to my post, "The Tub's Edge".


video

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Lenten Hymn

This was the hymn for the 1st Thursday of Lent from the Magnificat, 2007. As best as I could find, it was written by James Montgomery, 1819 and appears in both Catholic and Protestant hymnals. It reminded me of my own frailty and my desperate need for help--even to pray.

Lord, teach us how to pray aright
With reverence and fear;
Though dust and ashes in thy sight,
We may, we must draw near,
We perish if we cease from prayer,
O grant us pow'r to pray;
And when to meet thee we prepare,
Lord, meet us in the way.

God of all grace, we come to thee
With broken, contrite hearts;
Give what thine eye delights to see,
Truth in the inward parts;
Faith in the only sacrifice
That can for sin atone;
To cast our hopes, to fix our eyes,
On Christ, on Christ alone.


I have given up sweets for Lent (all desserts, sweet snacks, and even hot chocolate) and am finding it rather humbling to see just how weak the human body/mind can be. I am not a sweets junkie, and yet, as soon as I have given it up, I find myself dying for chocolate-covered raisins, ice cream, and all manner of tasty fructose treats. This abstinence is proving to be a little difficult. But with God's grace and ever-present help, I will press on. By this small fast, I am fortifying my will to say no when I need to. I am submitting my desires to scrutiny and control. I am suffering in some small way and understanding how hard it is to fast. My prayer is that that this Easter will bring a heart better bent toward Christ, heightened self-control, and a table heaped full of goodies.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bacteria Mask Vs. Sinuses

Sinuses should be seen and not heard. Or rather, they should not even be seen but just be content to lie peacefully underneath it all; yet once or twice a year they decide to make their presence known, just to make sure that they are not being taken for granted (or, like I thought it was when I was younger, "taken for granite"). Either way, it is not a pretty sight when they come out of hiding. The eyes water, the nose runs, you sneeze and have that slightly bleary look with the mouth gaping open just a tad, all the while wishing that you had the guts to go for acupuncture. Sinus pressure is really the only time that acupuncture sounds even remotely appealing. If someone could just prick my cheekbones and let out all that pressure; in my mind it would work just like pricking a helium balloon to let the air out of it. It would make a little funny noise and slowly deflate.

Why do we have sinuses? I know they're little air pockets located behind the forehead, eyes, cheeks, and maybe somewhere else, but what function do they serve? I don't think they are just vestigial organs like the appendix, and clearly they are not an amazing "evolutionary development" like opposable thumbs, so what do they do?

Here, from http://entassociates.com/sinus.htm:

"Sinuses are part of the nasal air and membrane system that produces mucus. Normally, the nose and sinuses produce between a pint and a quart of mucus and secretions per day. This mucus passes into and through the nose, sweeping and washing the membranes, picking up dust particles, bacteria, and other air pollutants along the way. The mucus then flows backward into the throat where it is swallowed, down into the stomach where acids destroy any dangerous bacteria. Most people do not notice this mucus flow because it is just a normal bodily function."

Yuck!!??!! On the other hand, if you can remove yourself from thinking just about mucus and bacteria, this is really a quite ingenious design. Just think, we could have some sort of mask over the attractive face or a filter system that obstructed our normal activities to repel dust, bacteria, and other small particles. The runny nose is your sinuses' attempt to flush out the bacteria with extra secretion, just as coughing is the lung's attempt to expel the gunk caught there. In fact, even when the sinuses "malfunction"and hurt because your sinuses have swollen too much and significantly narrowed, or even closed, the drainage openings causing a back-up of mucus. But even when you end up with painful sinusitis, the effect is fatigue and discomfort. Both of which force you to rest and take a break from normal activity. This is quite brilliant. Your body quickly gets the message that something is not right and you must alter your schedule to fix it. Of course, once it's fixed, you feel better and the sinuses go back to being unseen, unheard, and lying peacefully below the surface of our visage. Thank God that He designed the bacteria and dust filter to go under and not over the face.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Phase Two: Zip? Maybe We Should Have Bought A Mac

We come home from our adventure, and I excitedly take the new laptop out of it's intriguingly small box. There is the laptop and then a small cardboard compartment about 3 inches wide. That's all. I simply can't see how all the accessories (and necessaries!) can possibly fit into this trim little box. I open a rather paltry start-up guide and read, "insert the battery now." Pulling the small cardboard compartment open, I do find the thin battery inside. I take it out. I insert it. The guide then reads, "plug in computer". Okay, so far I can handle this PC. What's the big deal? Why do the Macs keep boasting about their ease of start-up? So I turn the computer on and prepare to be amazed the refreshing zippiness of our new purchase.

Everything loads and I see a new Windows screen that make me a little uncomfortable. It's called "The Welcome Center". Hmm...well, our new computer must be Protestant. That's nice. I always like to be welcomed. But it's a little funny when you're used to not being welcomed to your own computer. All right, now how do I start the anti-virus stuff? The guy at Best Buy warned us several times to get that going right away, before we do anything else on the internet, lest we get attacked by sneaky Spybots or something. I click on the Start Menu, per normal, and am again a little disoriented when the "Programs" icon is at the bottom of the menu instead of the top, and when I click it the list of programs opens, not the the right, as I was expecting, but directly on top of the Programs menu. But, persevering despite these few changes, I manage to find Norton, open it, and get it started up. That goes just fine. Now that I have obeyed the instructions from the Geek Squad, I feel free to deviate from the instruction manual into what I want to do: set up wireless and surf the internet at impressive high speeds.

After figuring out the hidden function key to turn the wireless on, I hit the usual "find networks button" and am connected to Gaetano home network. G-mail is my first stop. 1...2...3...wait, why do I even how time to count? This is a dual-core processor with 2 GB RAM...I should be there by now! Ugh! But, thinking as veteran Windows user always does, I have Control +Alt + Delete pressed before I am even aware that I am thinking about pressing it. Up comes the Task Manager and all 60 processes that are running. WHAT?!?! --60?-- Why? What? Maybe we should have bought a Mac.

I take a look at all of the processes that are running and find ones I never expected, like Napster. After a quick consultation with the Oracle (Google), I discover that it is not uncommon for brand new laptops to be running 60 processes, but if it seems to be lagging under the weight of too many trials and unwanted "bonuses" you can either remove all of the programs by hand after checking them on the internet, or you can simply re-install the Operating System from the disk that comes with the computer. Personally, since there weren't any documents or programs on the computer yet, it sounded a lot easier to put a disk in and follow a wizard made for dummies than to do all that research and uninstalling by hand. I insert the O.S. disk, of death.

An hour and a half later, after dozens of screens of wizard prompts, six restarts of the computer, and a lengthy scan of the entire computer (what all was on there fresh out of the box worries me a bit), I finish with the re-install of the OS. Let's go, baby: Zip. Zip. Zip.

I plan to return to G-mail and then zip around the internet at record speeds since I've de-junked the computer. Instead of an e-mail from my dear family or friends, I read a series of bad news messages: "Page not found", "Cannot connect to network", "Hardware not found". Now WHAT?!?! I am just about out of patience, which is very bad, because Matt is dying to use the new laptop, and I keep telling him to wait until I get it all zippy. Hours later, with more passion than patience, I have tried downloading updates (from the LAN, of course), finding and installing drivers, and thoroughly searching the "Help" tools of our laptop, and all I have achieved is another bad news message, "Video card not found". Oh, dear Lord, what did I do? I have ruined our brand new computer...ruined, I wail inside.

Believing that confession is healing and is a means of grace, I confess to Matt, hoping for some cure or grace to go on figuring it out. Frustrated with our purchase and each other, we go to bed, sadly lacking both grace and a cure.

The next morning a not very happy Matt devotes several of his study hours to trying his hand at sleuthing about on the internet and scouring the links on the Welcome page looking for our cure. About lunch time, he has a break through and downloads some Windows Vista update (even though I had already supposedly downloaded the Vista update...) that finally installs the correct, missing drivers for the wireless PCI card thingy and the video card. Why was it missing? Why didn't my update work? Some kind of thing like the inexplicable missing link in the evolution chain, I guess.

To all concerned about our marriage and livelihood after all this hassle and headache, thank you for your concern. Our Gateway is now working quite nicely and zipping along as it originally should have, so the reinstall, though incredibly painful, was successful after all. But we really should have known; PCs are simply not ready right out of the box. The stereotypes are stereotypes because they are true. Next time I want a Mac that I can lift out of the box and be amazed by its ease of use and my newfound coolness.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Tub's Edge

Dominic's new favorite occupation--or perhaps preoccupation would be a better word for it--is with the bathtub and all of its accessories. Every time I sneak away from him to use the bathroom, leaving him in the living room, a bedroom, or even the kitchen, he is, without fail, waiting outside the bathroom door for me. Often times, he's not just waiting but pounding on the door with all of his chubby weight, trying to open the door to the forbidden "fun room". And so, if we, in our frail humanity, ever forget to close the door to temptation, Dominic's concupiscence inevitably will lead him there, to the edge of the tub.

Just yesterday I caught him in there again. I saw him "sneakily" crawling across the tile with his guilty fat legs, and I paused a moment to see what he would do if I did not interrupt his quest. He pulled himself up to the tub's edge with practiced ease, moved to the corner of the tub by quick little side steps and proceed to whack all of the bottles on the edge into the tub one at a time, gleefully (and guiltily, I like to think) laughing the entire time. Ah, the simple pleasures of life: the tub's edge and watching a little boy at the tub's edge.