Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It's ok to be a food snob

The word "snob" has such negative connotations, but when it comes to food, there's nothing wrong with being one.  It wasn't that long ago that I wasn't so particular about what I put into my mouth.  Although I didn't eat fast food often, I did eat it.  Wendy's, Burger King, occasionally McDonalds, and sometimes Arby's.  Usually, I would deeply regret my choice immediately after I ate.  I would always tell people that it's not that I didn't like the food, the food just didn't like ME!  It only takes a few times of abusing your body and having it reject those foods before you surrender to your body and stop feeding it junk.    While for many people, fast food is convenient, cheap, and highly accessible, diets that consist of alot of fast food are killing us.

In the last several months, I started buying meat that was considered "humane".  Free-range chickens, grass-fed beef, cage free eggs.  I've also started buying as much organic local produce as I can at local farmers markets, and getting the rest from the "organic" section at my neighborhood grocery store.  Where I live, I'm fortunate in that the grocery stores have a large variety of organic items to choose from.  I've scoped out the farmer's markets in the area, and even looked into joining a CSA (it's just the driving distance on a weekly basis is a bit far for me to commit to at the moment).

The Single Wife has written about Clean Eating a few times on her blog.  I love reading all her posts, but its the ones about food that really got me thinking.  Skip the processed foods.  If you can't look at the ingredients and pronounce them, there is a problem!  The more we get back to eating natural foods instead of GMO's, the healthier we will be.  If you haven't seen it yet, Food, Inc. will make you think twice about what you're feeding yourself and your family.

Last week, I took my kids to Panera for lunch.  We checked out the menu online (I go there frequently, but the kids had no clue what they had) so they could be prepared when we got there.  Two of them chose the kids PB&J, and the other wanted grilled cheese.  The kids meals are served with an organic squeezable yogurt, and they have plenty of other things to drink besides soda.  Organic milk, lemonade, water, smoothies, or juice.  I was pleasantly surprised when they ALL agreed that the food was delicious and tasted better than...McDonalds!  Wow!  In fact, they have been surprising me  all summer.  They have been eating more fruit than I can keep in the house.  I buy apples, bananas, oranges, peaches, watermelon, grapes...they eat it all.  There are some days that I have to tell them "No" because I'm afraid they're going to overeat.  One night at dinner I made some free-range grilled chicken, salad, fresh steamed broccoli and brown rice.  They came back 2 and 3 times for more.  This just proves that kids do like good, wholesome food.  They don't have to always have chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers and pizza.  Do I treat my kids to the occasional cookie or ice cream?  Sure I do.  Do I allow myself those same things from time to time?  Of course.  However, those are looked upon as "treats", not as a part of our everyday diet.  As an alternative to those "treats", I buy them organic yogurt.  These are the one thing that I have TRIED to develop a taste for, but no matter what brand or flavor I try, I just can't like it.  However, the kids all love it.  Stonyfield makes a really delicious yogurt and the kids love the Blueberry, Peach and Banana flavors.

What are some of your favorite clean foods?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Are we having fun yet?

Most definitely!  We had a rocky start to the week...it started off like this:

Saturday, a week ago, I went to pick up the big kids.  I arrived and ended up waiting an HOUR for them to finish getting ready before we could leave.  No biggie...we had plenty of time, and Tristan was happy so long as he had his Mommy.  Once I picked them up, we grabbed our lunch and dinner at Subway, went back to my parents' house and then to the airport.  Smooth sailing so far, right?  Yeah...until I heard those dreaded words at the airport..."Ground stop in Atlanta".  Our flight was seriously delayed.  At first, it looked like it would be just for 30 minutes...they let us board the plane, I got all optimistic, and we were excited to leave.  Once everybody had boarded and gotten situated, the captain announced that another ground stop for Atlanta had been issued and we wouldn't be permitted to take off again.  We sat on the plane for about an hour and a half before we could take off.  We had a connecting flight to make in Atlanta, and I was nervous that we would miss it.  Once we landed, I was relieved to see that our connecting flight had also been delayed, and wouldn't be departing for another 45 minutes.  Big sigh of relief.  And then the captain had to open his big mouth again and tell us that although we had landed, our gate was full and we would not be able to deplane  for another half hour or so.  It ended up being about 50 minutes before we were at the gate and off the plane.  My connecting flight departed and the hunt for another flight began.  All this was occurring after 10:30 pm.  I was TIRED!  So were all the kids.  I found the gate where a flight to Orlando would be departing around 11:15, and it has already  boarded confirmed passengers, and was in the process of putting stand-by passengers on.  I needed to get on that plane if I wanted to get home in time to watch Tommy complete the Dad's Day Triathlon the following day.  Well, thank you very much, Gina from Delta!!  She got us on the plane and we were off...unfortunately we wouldn't arrive in Orlando until nearly 1 am, and the drive home is just over an hour.  We were getting home around 2:15 am.  The kids went right to their beds and passed out, and Tommy and I followed suit.

Somehow, around 5:30 am, Tommy woke up, got himself ready, and left for the Triathlon.  He said he kissed me goodbye, and that I tried to get up to join him and he told me to go back to sleep.  I don't remember any of that.  I do remember waking up around 8:30 and finding a text from him shortly after that he had already completed it.  I was stoked he did so well, but not so stoked that we had all missed it!  We went to brunch after he got home, then I spent the rest of the day grocery shopping and letting Tommy catch some rest before we had to go to his boss' house for a picnic.

Right after Tommy woke up from his nap, Karissa had taken Tristan with her into the kitchen.  Nothing out of the ordinary when baby-hog junior is around.  Less than two minutes later, I heard a blood-curdling cry come from the kitchen.  Something happened to the little guy.  I ran to the kitchen, hurdled over Jacob who was standing in the doorway.  Karissa was already holding him, but he was still crying.  She told me that she dropped him.  Before you freak out...she had placed him on the kitchen counter and he was sitting up.  She thought he would be okay for "just a second" while she turned around to get something (whatever it was, she forgot about what she was getting in all the confusion!).  He lunged forward and fell off the counter, straight onto the tile floor.  He landed on his back, and the back of his head.   He cried for a good bit (as would I have if my head had hit that hard floor).  I wasn't really too concerned because he didn't have a knot anywhere on his head that I could see.  It wasn't until he vomited twice that I started to panic a little.  I thought it would be best if we took him to the ER to get him checked out to ensure he didn' t have a bad head injury or a concussion.  So much for that picnic!!

We spent one hour in the ER (yep, just one hour!! quickest ER visit EVER!), then were sent on our way with some piece of mind.  Off to the picnic we went anyways...just a little late.

So, that's that tale of our first 24 hours (almost...but not quite) in Florida.  I'm happy to report that the rest of the week was somewhat uneventful.  So, are we having fun yet?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Feeling the need to vent a little

This past week I have received multiple phone calls from my older childrens' father demanding to know where his child support is.  (For those of you who do not know, my older three kids live with their dad during the school year, and I pay him child support year round).  I was cursed at, screamed at, etc.  I kept my cool and ensured him that I had sent payment and told him how I had done so.  I was then called a liar.  This went on and on and on over a series of several days, with me receiving calls every single day.

Since I was laid off from my job, obviously those weekly payments are not being sent by my employer any longer.  The last payment he received was on or about May 5th.  Today is June 10th.  I mailed a check via my online banking program, and the check was returned to me about a week later, unpresented due to the fact that the name on the check didn't match my name (the account is in my husband's name, so I guess that was the issue?).  The same day I received the check back in the mail, I followed the enclosed instructions to use the online "Expert Pay" service to submit payment.  I had already set up an account with the online service, but opted not to go that route because when I entered my child support case number, no information was found.  I was afraid that my payment would be sitting in limbo too long before it made it anywhere.  At this point, I had no choice but to utilize this service.  I crossed my fingers and hit submit, twice.  Twice, due to the fact that this online service will not allow me to make a payment for more than $400 at a time.  So, every two weeks, I will submit two payments for my child support, each in the amount of the former weekly payment that I was making.  Makes sense, right?  Well, this was first done on the 27th of May.  I had called and spoke to representatives with child support.  They informed me that as of May 5th, the amount I owed through the end of May was $19.17 (because by paying weekly I had actually jumped ahead on my payments).  I took note of this, but rather than just sending the "minimum", I continued with my weekly payments, via the online service.  Well, finally...13 days later...the state received those first two payments, and I'm HOPING they deposited them into his account.  I am so tired of hearing about how broke he is, he doesn't have money to pay for field trips, end of year picnics, lost library books, rides at the amusement park, etc.  He is in the red because he wrote out checks to pay for daycare without first consulting his bank account to determine whether he actually had the funds to cover those payments.  And all of this, of course, is MY fault.

In the meantime, before he called me to complain, I had already submitted my 2nd set of bi-weekly payments on June 3.  At this point, I should only owe $96.09 for the remainder of June.  I'm keeping track of these totals because everytime I log onto the state's child support online account, they have changed what my monthly amount is supposed to be, it has a different amount showing for the total I owe, versus the current amount I owe.  None of this ever makes any sense.  When I talk to a rep at the toll-free number, they are telling me that I am over $500 in arrears.  I have to correct them, they tell me they can't help me, and that an agent will call me back.  So, at this point, I am fuming.  Is it really too much to ask to have people who know basic arithmetic to be manning those phone lines??  Is it really that difficult??  Let me break it down for you...

$19.17(which is what I owed for the month of May as of May 5th when the last payment was submitted by my employer)

MINUS $461.54=-$442.37 (this new number is the amount already paid into the month of June.)

Take the $1000 that I'm ordered to pay each month and subtract that $442.37 listed above and you get $557.63 (which by the way is showing on the child support website at the "Total Balance Owed"--which is actually correct).  I have also been informed that you are not in "arrears" until you are 30 days past due.  Therefore, if July gets here, and they have received no further payments from me, then I will be $557.63 in arrears.  However, that isn't even the number that the rep gave me when she told me I was in arrears.  She quoted me a different number.

[caption id="attachment_296" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="These numbers just don't add up!"][/caption]

I redacted the other party's name, the case number and the court order number to preserve the other party's privacy.  I am not really upset at him, more so at the state that is handling this case.  I'm expected to be responsible and accountable for what I do, so why should this agency not have to uphold to those same standards??  Stay tuned, I will keep you posted on the outcome once this "agent" gets back to me, sometime within the next two business days.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ready for Summer!

While I do realize that summer has been in full-swing here in Florida (just ask my sweat-o-meter!!), it doesn't feel as if it's really started until my kids arrive from Maryland.  Next week, I will be making my trip up north to attend their end of the year festivities at school.  My son Nathan called me a couple of days ago to invite me to his end-of-year picnic.  Of course I'm going!  I love seeing them interact with their friends and teachers at school.  I try to be as involved as I can be from 1000 miles away.  Field trips, fundraisers, string concerts...anything I can do to show them that I support them in everything they're doing!  My daughter will be graduating from 5th grade on Monday, and I will also be there to see that.  Once they're out of school, it will be just a matter of days before we make our trip back south to my house.  The kids always look forward to their time here.  It's not like we live at amusement parks all summer...we just do normal "summer" activities together.  Swimming, biking, playing at the beach, family barbecues, shopping, cooking, movie nights...I like to pack as much action into their summer breaks as I can!  For me, this usually means being on the go constantly!  Last summer it was really tough because I was pregnant, working full-time, going to school full-time, and basically just completely exhausted all the time.  This summer, the only thing that will distract me from them is their new little brother.  No work, no school...just lots of fun in store!

With any luck, our adventures are making memories they'll have for a lifetime.  I can remember summers when I was a kid and we always had lots of fun, even if we weren't spending tons of cash.  Here's a list of some of our favorite budget-friendly summer activities!

  • Library!  Yes, I know to some kids that might sound really boring, but our local library (and I bet yours as well) has some wonderful childrens' programs for the summer.  Whether it's a summer reading program, story-time, or arts and crafts, the kids can participate for free and it's a great way to break up the week!  Here's a link to the activities at the Melbourne Beach Public Library!

  • The pool!  Luckily, we have a pool in our backyard.  If you're not as privileged, you can always visit your local pool, usually operated by the county's Parks and Recreation department.  For a list of swim locations and open swim times, contact Brevard County Parks and Recreation, or your local parks and rec!

  • Visit your local Bookstore!  Yes, another activity that at first glance might look really boring to your 8 year old...but trust me!  Our local Barnes and Noble bookstore has lots of monthly activities for kids of all ages!  Check out the Barnes and Noble website and find a list of events near you!

  • The beach! This is one of the more "difficult" trips of ours.  Difficult because of the amount of preparation required--everyone has to be slathered with sunblock, suited up, towels packed, sandtoys packed, drinks and snacks packed, umbrella and chairs packed, reading material for Mom packed.  Now with a new baby to tote along, there is even more gear that is necessary.  However, it's all stuff that we have here at the house and can be loaded up in our beach cart or stroller and toted over there.  The next part of the trip that is difficult is watching 4 children alone at the beach.  I try to reserve these trips for when my husband, or another responsible adult, is available to attend with us.  It's no fun to go to the beach if nobody is allowed to get in the water!  Just a tip, head to a beach that is monitored by lifeguards!  For a list of lifeguard manned beaches in Brevard County, click here.  You will have to scroll down to almost the bottom of the page to view the list.

  • Make a summer scrapbook together.  If you're like me, you're WAY behind on scrapbooking.  I have tons of blank scrapbook pages, stickers, paper and lots of pictures.  My favorite scrapbooking supplies are from Creative Memories.  You can order the materials online, without having to attend a party or in-home show!  Take lots of pictures of your summer-fun activities, then have your kids make their own pages that they can show their friends when school starts back up.  These pages will serve as memories that will last long past their childhood.

  • Visit your local zoo!  We have an annual family membership to the Brevard Zoo.  This allows us to visit the zoo anytime we want, with no admission cost.  The membership was around $100, and that pays for itself within just a couple of visits!  The kids love watching the animals, and the zoo is small enough that we can see everything there in a couple of hours.  The best part is they have the Paws On exhibit, where the kids can take part in water play to cool off during those hot summer days!  If you don't have an annual membership, and you can't afford one, the zoo also offers $5 admission on Summer Saturday Nights!  Check out their website here for a list of all the upcoming events and other information.

These are just a few ideas to keep boredom at bay over the summer.  Feel free to share with me some of your favorite budget-friendly activities!!