Thursday, October 9, 2008

my first meme

I thought I'd follow Barb at A Chelsea Morning's lead and try the Scattergories meme. I've always liked that game and even used to use it in my Language Arts classes. Plus, I'm pretty scattered most of the time, so it seems a natural to be my first meme.

Here goes, starting with the rules:

* Use the 1st letter of your name to answer each of the following questions.
* They have to be real places, names, things. nothing made up!
* You can’t use your name for the boy/girl name question.
* Tag at least 5 people to play along (I'm going to be a rebel and skip this one)

1. What is your name? Stephanie

2. A 4 Letter Word: Star--we were singing "Twinkle, Twinkle" earlier today

3. A Boy's Name: Steven--my dad's name

4. A Girl's Name: Sarah--a sweet little girl I met during our vacation

5. An Occupation: Stay-at-home-mom

6. A Color: Sunflower yellow

7. Something you wear: Sweats--in the winter--or Sweat (no s)--in the summer ;)

8. A Beverage: Sweet tea--the Hubby thinks it is gross but I love it!

9. A Food: Soup--chicken noodle, potato, broccoli, minestrone, zuppa toscana--YUM!

10. Something found in the bathroom: Shower

11. A place: St. Louis--where the Hubs and I had our first date

12. A Reason for being late: Snowbirds who clog the roads with their slow driving

13. Something you shout: See ya later!

Well, that was fun. And I only got hung up on the reason for being late. I'm usually the cause of our tardiness, so maybe I should have put my own name!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

wfmw--fly cheaper

As I previously mentioned, the Hubby and I recently went on our first "official" vacation. Don't let that little word first fool you into thinking, "First, schmirst, what does this lady know about traveling?" I have actually traveled quite a bit, but it's mostly been for work (either mine or the Hubs') or to visit family (which we all know is no vacation).

This is what I have learned:
  1. Let airfare prices dictate your destination. I know this sounds a little crazy, but if you can throw away your Type-A tendencies and be a little flexible, it works. For example, the Hubby really wants to go to Hawaii. We even have the hookup for a fairly cheap place to stay while there. But once we pay for airfare, Hawaii becomes more than our budget will allow at this time. So, I browsed airfares for the times Hubs could take time off and found that Central American destinations had low fares because this is their rainy season. We chose Costa Rica because they had the lowest total fare, what with taxes, fees, and all. Which brings me to the next point:
  2. Make sure you know the total fare before you book. For international travel, the taxes and fees will vary for each country. In our case, we considered Guatemala and Honduras because they had the lowest initial fares but found that the extra charges made them more expensive.
  3. Try to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday whenever possible. These are the days when flight loads are lightest, so it can be easier to find lower fares on these days. If you can't fly in and out on one of those days, try to book at least one day of your travel then. Also, try to avoid Sunday and Monday flights.
  4. Check the price of separate flight segments versus a through flight. For example, from my city to Costa Rica, with a connection in Fort Lauderdale, the fare was about $250 roundtrip. Instead I booked a flight from my city to Fort Lauderdale, which ended up being *free* (and you know how I feel about that) due to a sale Spirit Air was running, and then booked a separate flight from Fort Lauderdale to Costa Rica. My final total was $180 rt. There are some caveats to this. First, do NOT do this if you are checking bags unless you have a super-long layover. You will have to pick up your checked bags at baggage claim, go back on line at your airline, check your bags at the counter, and then go back through security to get to the gate area. Second, airlines don't really like you to do this. So they might hassle you or try to charge you extra to book you all the way through, especially if you are checking bags. If you only have carry-ons, though, you should be okay. Third, this doesn't work with most traditional airlines. But who needs them anyway, when you can:
  5. Check out the websites of "Ultra Low Cost Carriers" and "Low Cost Carriers." You can find a list of them here. Between the Hubs and I, we've flown on almost every one of those airlines and have had satisfactory experiences. Some are cheaper than others, depending on where you want to go and how full the flights are booked, so keep checking and comparing until a fare meets your price point. Keep in mind that for many of these LCC's, they keep their prices lower by offering some services a la carte. Charging for drinks, checking baggages, advance seating, etc. is a paradigm shift from the traditional all-inclusive airfare. Don't let this turn you off! It's a great way to choose take control of your experience. If you are someone who has to have an aisle seat or exit row, then LCC's may not be your cuppa because the charge for those seats can add up quickly. The other charges can be worked around, though. Read on my friend:
  6. Try to avoid checking bags. This has sort of become a game for us, to see how we can fit everything in our carry-ons. I'm frequently able to get all three kids' clothes into one carry-on suitcase. I'm cool like that. ;) And I have lots of experience. The best way to accomplish this task is with the right bag. I use a Travelpro Crew 7 Rollaboard bag. It's roomy with good pocket placement, and it is very durable. It's a pretty pricy bag, but I'll probably never have to buy another suitcase so it averages out for us. Even if you can't afford a different suitcase, you can utilize the one you have best by rolling your clothes rather than folding. Also, put your "unmentionables" (undies and bras for those of you who won't know what I'm talking about if I don't mention them!) in zip-close plastic bags. Zip the bag almost to the end and then press down to squeeze all the air out. It's like vacuum sealing them. Or you could get really crazy and just forgo packing undergarments altogether and go commando for the duration of your vacation. I'm sure the Hubs would like it, but I think I'll pass on that one.
  7. Don't forget that you get a full-size carry-on *and* a personal item. I always use a backpack as my personal item. If needed I use it to hold what wouldn't fit in my carry-on. It can make the difference between needing and not needing to check my suitcase.
  8. Utilize weather forecasts to decide what to pack. is my friend. Just like my other friends, it's not always right. But it sure does try, so I love it anyway. I'm unconditional like that. :) Really though, look at the weather forecast for your destination and compare it to your home climate. We live in Florida, where it's still pushing 90 degrees. So, when looking at the temperatures in New York (where are kids stayed while we were gone), I realized that 70 degrees seems like a high number in theory only. I knew that my little thin-blooded beach babies would be freezing, so I nixed all but one pair of shorts for each and added long pants and long-sleeved shirts for layering. You have to go out on a limb and try not to pack things "just in case." Simplify, my friend--you probably won't need twenty outfits for a three-day trip.
  9. When visiting family or friends, mooch. When we visit my husband's family, he packs an average of one outfit, and then borrows clothes from relatives for most of our stay. This is a bit extreme, but the point is to utilize what others already have. Do your friends or family have winter coats that you can borrow? Can you use their washer so you don't have to pack as many outfits for an extended stay? Do they have toys or other baby supplies that can be shared? Not everyone is open to mooching, though, so do your homework first! ;)
  10. Make sure your eating and drinking needs are taken care of before boarding. Try to eat a filling meal before your flight--with carbs for energy and protein for staying power. If you think you'll be hungry on the plane, or tempted to buy the snacks when they are paraded down the aisle, pack a few of your own in your personal item. I brought a Luna Bar, mints, and cheese crackers, because I'm notorious for getting hungry even after just eating. If you think you'll be thirsty, buy a drink in the airport once you're past security. It's more expensive than bringing something from home but usually less expensive than buying on board.
Hope some of those tips can help out! For us they have made traveling possible even when our travel budget was less than ideal.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

our family motto

We have a little saying in our family:

"If it's free, it's for me!"

Hand-me-downs, giveaways, rebates, dumpster diving (I'll save that topic for later!)--we're not particular about the method, as long as the price is right zero.

I'm especially this way about books. I am a voracious reader, but I am extremely reluctant to purchase books. Mostly, I utilize the library and the internet for my literary needs. I am very satisfied with those sources most of the time, but sometimes I would like to have a bit more time to savor what I'm reading. I put a few precious titles that I might like to own on my Amazon wishlist, and I'll purchase them if I happen to run across them at a great price (not free, but a girl's gotta compromise for the cause sometimes, right?).

So, here I am, loving all things free and all things bookish, with an occasional need to own said bookish items. Um, why didn't someone knock me upside the head and tell me to join Paperback Swap a little sooner? I signed up about two months ago, and *swoon* it is a union of all that is free and bookish and rainbows and puppy dogs and world peace and... Okay, a little exaggeration there, but I have been extremely satisfied with my experience there thus far.

I added some books to PBS I was intending to donate to Goodwill. That immediately gave me two credits. Then someone had one of the books I had listed on her wishlist (a Dr. Laura book that I considered flushing down the toilet cuz it stunk so bad) (that was a gift lest you think that I would actually pay for a book) (especially by Dr. Laura), so I sent that out and got another credit. I perused the site and added books to my own wishlist.

Since then, I have sent and received quite a few books. Many of the books I've received have been homeschooling resources. My favorite acquisition so far is a copy of the old Sonlight "Four Civilizations" curriculum. I've considered using Sonlight next year, but I have been afraid to buy it and then not like it. So even though it is an older version, it's neat for Hubby and I to preview the program and its philosophy. For free!

It is a tiny bit of a hassle to package and ship books that have been requested from my shelf. It's definitely worth the effort, and the average shipping cost of around $2.75, to have books arrive in my mailbox. For free! And I don't even have to jump into a smelly garbage can! Rock on!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

taking a hike

The Hubby and I recently took the first "real" vacation of our marriage. We've been to many domestic destinations, but they were either due to the variety of crazy moves we've made, the relatives we've visited, or times when I tagged along while Hubby was traveling for work. So they don't count. :o) This time around we got stamps in our passports (my first!), thus it was an official vacay.

We went to lovely Costa Rica. While we were there, everywhere we went we had to drive through the mountains. The up and down, up and down, combined with the curves made for a rough ride. But once we reached the upper portions and looked out across the valleys, the view was so beautiful. The land was shrouded in mist, lightly veiling the green expanses below.

Isn't that how it is with valleys? You don't want to be in one--I know I certainly didn't want to end up in one as we traversed the Costa Rican countryside! But once you have struggled to climb up the mountain, you can certainly better appreciate what lies below.

I've personally experienced this feeling in my life for quite a few months now. Aspects of my marriage, a few life situations, and some unhealthy family relationships really brought me to a low spot. Intellectually I knew that I didn't have it nearly as bad as many other people, but I still felt abandoned by God. I continued to go to church, to read my Bible (not everyday but enough to keep me from spiritually starving), to go through the motions. I stood in the valley, feeling very much alone.

Each day is my attempt to hike up the mountain. Although my marriage is much stronger and the other situations are slowly but surely being repaired, remembrances of the past appear in front of me in my weak moments, blocking my path to higher ground. God is faithful and is with me every step of the way, but the struggle is still there. He has promised that "in all things He works for the good of those who love Him." So I continue on--one foot in front of the other, clinging to the hope that the view at the top will be well worth the effort.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

sweet summer song

This post from the Shepherd's Press blog really touched me today. Despite our many failings, what wonderful hope we have in our perfect God.

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.
How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

4 my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

6 I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


"May I dare you also to reverse your prayer-style when it comes to the way you spend your income.

How many Christians pray before they go into the supermarket? How many pray before they go to the mall or shopping center? Before they buy a book or a magazine or go to a movie? Before they go to a restaurant where the cost of the check would sponsor a native missionary for a month? How about you?

Yet the minute they are challenged to support the real work of God, things become very spiritual. Now they have to pray about sponsoring a native missionary, pray about responding to appeal letters for missions, pray about contributing to the offering!"

~From The Road to Reality by K.P. Yohannan

A review on Amazon says that, "This book will open your heart to your own self-centeredness, your wastefulness, and your pride." I would have to agree and add hypocrisy to that list as well. Why would this (or any) reader subject herself to such a beating? Because I don't want to be Little Miss Lukewarm Laodicean. I don't mind being busted, if it means molding me to be more like Christ.

KPY's organization is Gospel for Asia, which supports the use of native missionaries to spread to the Gospel of Jesus. They have been one of the few groups that have been able to assist the peoples of Myanmar. Also, 100% of donated money goes to the field, with zero taken out for administrative costs.

I want to write more, but after almost a week of my Hubby being out of state, my kid-addled brain is struggling to form a coherent thought. And forget about thoughts.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

the present that keeps on giving

This past Christmas I found The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook under the tree, after quite a few not-so-subtle hints. Well, unless you consider leaving one's Amazon wishlist up on the computer for the first three weeks of December, followed by a daily chorus of "Honey-did-you-order-my-book-yet" subtle.

I'm a straight-up nerd, especially when it comes to food, so anything from America's Test Kitchen is right up by alley. I DVR their shows on a regular basis, scour library discard sales for old copies of Cook's Illustrated, and read their methodology-laden recipes more intently than a trashy novella. Love me some ATK. The Family Cookbook recipes are mostly absent of ATK's usual emphasis on process and research. Instead, this book is filled with amazingly delicious takes on basic family-friendly fare. Hardcore foodies will hate this book, but we LOVE it.

To date I've made 21 recipes from this cookbook and have tasted quite a few winners. I will write in more detail about my experiences in the future. For now, though, let me just list a few of my favorites:

  • Pancakes
  • Wheat sandwich bread
  • Creamy stovetop macaroni and cheese
Ooh, these sound so gourmet, right? Haha!
Okay, this one sounds a little bit more, um, special:
  • Honey-glazed carrots with lemon and thyme

Really, these recipes are so good that my husband has declared "the red cookbook" to be one of the best presents of all-time. And I'm pretty sure I have another ATK cookbook in my Christmas future, no hints needed.