Category: Family & Friends

From spouses to spit-up

Where to Get Christmas Help, Food Help, and Other Help


So there was this one time that I had to call in and renew my SNAP benefits. There’s this handy dandy over the phone push the buttons thing and it was going great until they got to the “has your insurance status changed” question and I was like “yes” and the automated voice told me the interview was over and to have a nice day and we’d be getting something in the mail.

I guess in most cases, having insurance from an employer means you don’t need SNAP anymore. Makes sense to me. Unfortunately, this is not the case for us just yet because of the nature of the apprentice program. I waited for the documents in the mail (they came in three days) and I filled them out and made photocopies of all our materials and popped them in the mail the next morning. My mail gets to my house late enough that by the time I filled everything out and made copies the post office was closed, or I would have had them back in the mail the same day.

Fast forward two weeks and I get a document in the mail telling me I was denied renewal because I had not sent the documents in. I called the main hotline number and talked to a very nice lady in Springfield, IL who informed me that they are so backed up with mail in that office that there was no way they were going to get to my information in time. She suggested we file an appeal and asked if we wanted to continue receiving SNAP benefits while the appeal was pending.

Uh….YES please. ūüôā

So she set it up and, since then, Mr. Brickie has been into the local office to give over current paystubs and information. He is told that he did everything right and they make copies of all our information all over again and tell us that even if it doesn’t get processed right away the appeal would keep us from getting cut off. This last time (yesterday) we were told it would be given directly to a manager and at the most would take a couple of weeks.

We were hopeful things would go smoothly, but nervous, because the system is flawed even when you follow the directions exactly. The risk is part of being poor. You know that even if you do everything right, everything might not work out.

So when I checked my account online this morning I was not filled with shock when I saw that our SNAP was not renewed. There was a sigh and then it was on to Plan B …

How to Find Food Help in your Area

The website has a pretty comprehensive listing of food pantries across the US. You click on your state, type in your city, and you get local food pantries and links when available. Please call first if you can to see what proof you need to bring. Some sites want birth certificates to prove family size, others want to see your medical card or link card, and others just need your photo id to make sure you reside in their servicing territory.

Feeding America also has a food bank site locator. When I used it, I got different results from the food pantry website above. This one shows covered areas of the food bank which is nice, because some of the ones on do not serve my town – we found that out the hard way. Now we call or email before showing up. (Sometimes showing up worked once, however, so if you go and they say they don’t serve your area, ask them if they will help you out once because you spent time and money you didn’t have getting there. Be polite. It helps immeasurably.)

Direct2Food has a pretty comprehensive search that will give you customized results based on your family situation and lets you know not only what you might be eligible for, but where the offices are located to apply for services, a phone number, and a listing of soup kitchens. I didn’t realize there were four soup kitchens fairly close to my house.

If You Live in IL and Don’t Qualify for Free Food

If you are in the IL area and have too much money to be eligible for food pantries but not enough money to buy enough food for your family,¬†The¬†Power Connection¬†is in Barrington, IL … it is basically a huge day-old bakery with everything from baby formula to parsnips. We have gotten things from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods as well as no-name brand canned goods and fresh produce. I also got ten bags of flax seed one time and that’s what I’ve been making my flax seed tea out of since my gallbladder attack. There is a weekly “shop” with a $10 donation, but the every-other-weekly “shop” for $20 is where you will come home with an overflowing cart full of food. They also have a resale shop.

If you’re looking for something holiday oriented then you’re going to want to check out ways to get some help for Christmas for your family. That means we need to visit and register for …¬†

The Charitable Web

Food pantries are great. Food is great. I am grateful. If I was still trying to eat “clean” or “paleo” or some other restrictive, picky way they would be not-as-helpful but as long as you’re willing to eat food with calories in order to not collapse into a heap on the floor, you’ll be just fine. Honestly, even when I was paleo we made it work, so it’s possible to do even with a specific diet, it’s not more difficult.

Among the sites for handwriting, sports teams, music, and infertility there were a couple for assistance. One was financial assistance and the other was specific Christmas assistance. The descriptions in quotes come directly from the subreddit.

Santas Little Helpers Reddit – SantasLittleHelpers is here to bring joy to needy folks and families this holiday season. You can make requests for gifts, cards, make offers, hold contests or anything else that will make the holiday season brighter.

Assistance Reddit¬†/ Food Pantry Reddit – While you have to be a registered member for 90 days in order to ask for financial assistance, “All accounts can ask for advice, votes, jobs, food, essentials, used items and bona fide charity sites.”

Charity Reddit – There are a lot of crossposts from these three. Your Reddit account must be over 20 days old to post on this subreddit.

Random Acts of Christmas Reddit – A subreddit focusing on random acts of kindness for Christmas.

Random Kindness Reddit – Posts offering and asking for help.

Random Acts of Pizza Reddit / Random Acts of Cookies / Random Acts of Lunch РWhen you are using all your money for toilet paper and bills, maybe you could treat your family with the help of Reddit and get some take out pizza thanks to a fellow Redditor!

Random Acts for Pets¬†/ Random Acts of Pet Food – I know my Christmas budget certainly didn’t cover my basset hound. While Penny the Hound won’t mind missing out on Christmas (you know, because she’s a dog and she thinks crumpled wrapping paper is the second coming of awesome) I have a feeling my girls will be sad if she doesn’t get anything.

Random Acts of Birthday – This is not need based. Post the link to your amazon wish list no more than a month out from your birthday. Maybe someone will send you something nice! (With any of these reddits that ask for an Amazon Wish List link please do your best to make your choices Prime eligible. No need to make someone pay shipping on your behalf if it’s not necessary!)

Random Acts of Amazon – For real. Get an Amazon Wish List. You might not get anything (hence the “random” in the title) but it can’t hurt and you have much better odds than a contest. Especially if you participate in reddit.

Donate Reddit / Donation Reddit – Two subreddits with the same general purpose.

Free Reddit – A subreddit offering free stuff. A few things I saw were gift cards, t-shirts, and games. Having a Steam account will make this more helpful. A lot of the giving sites that give games give them through Steam.

Gift of Games Reddit – Generous reddit users giving the gift of games. Did I mention it’s helpful to have a Steam account? I think I did. Let me reiterate that. It’s good to have a Steam account. Wondering what Steam is? Or how to sign up for an account? Or how to use Steam? These videos will help.

HelpIt Reddit – (from the subreddit description) “This is the subreddit for helping! We’re Reddit, and we can make big things happen. Let’s get out, get our hands dirty, and help out our communities. There’s a bajazillion people on Reddit. We can show the world we mean business when it comes to being AWESOME.”

Loans Reddit – You won’t get help here unless you’re a regular user of the site and are willing to post with your main username. Otherwise, stick with the Assistance Reddit above. But if you don’t have a good story and are active on Reddit, this might be a great option for a short term loan.

The Salvation Army – Oh, I know they can be controversial but I’m not going to leave off potential help because of it. Maybe I should. If you think I should please feel free to tell me. In the meantime, the link will take you to their Christmas Assistance page and you can see the potential services offered. The site says they start taking registrations in October, so it could be dicey later in the year.

Modest Needs – This is my favorite online charity site. They have a Holiday Grant Section where you can apply for holiday assistance for your family. Since this charity does not give cash directly to recipients, you will probably have to make an Amazon wish list or something similar. Also, keep this site in mind if you have a car that needs to be repaired or a car payment that needs to be made and you just don’t have the money to make it. If you don’t qualify for the holiday grant they may have other grants you do qualify for. The application process will help you get to the right grant for your situation.

Toys For Tots – A tried and true Christmas charity. You can click on “Request a Toy” at the top of the page and either apply online or you will be referred to where you need to go to apply. Applications open around October and close pretty early, so this one you need to set a calendar reminder for and get on early.

Wish Upon a Hero (Hero Network) – Be a hero or ask for the help of a hero. Share your story and get the help you need.

Giving Back to Others (Anyone can do it!)

If you’re poor, you’re probably thinking, “What? Are you kidding?” But you can give back without having to have money. Visit the Favors subreddit and give back with a few minutes of your time. Even if you don’t believe in karma, it can make you feel good to give someone some help after asking a bunch of people for help for you and/or your family. It’s just a thought.

If you have .46 cents and a card not currently being used on your desk, you have everything you need to send a card to someone in the Random Acts of Cards subreddit, so much the better. No matter how much or how little you have, you can brighten someone’s day in a real, tangible way.

Every one of the links in this post can be used to receive help or give help. You could take a survey for a graduate student online, adopt a child or whole family or pick one thing from one wishlist or send one card or make and mail a batch of cookies. Whatever place you’re in, you can give to others. This study shows the fast-track to true happiness is giving to others. So do it for them…and do it for yourself.

I will keep updating this list as I find more resources. If you know of any I don’t have listed I’m happy to add it with your named link to a site of your choice (i.e. thanks to @jennydecki for this link) ¬†
Last update: 12/07/2013


Poor People Problems: New Gloves Edition

These are not the actual gloves. They are brave stunt mittens risking everything to be here.

Some of you may recall I had a bit of classroom drama with one of my daughters this year.

She was switched to another classroom and her entire demeanor is lighter. It’s like someone took a weight off of her shoulders. She is happier, she is enjoying school again, and every day she comes home smiling instead of looking stressed out reminds me I did the right thing.

This morning she pulls these beautiful, thick blue and white striped gloves out of her backpack.

Me: Where did you get those?
A: From the teacher.
Me: What did she say when she gave them to you?
A: Here are some gloves for you.
Me: Did other kids get gloves, too?
A: Yes, anyone not wearing gloves.
Me: About how many kids was that?
A: About 11. Oh! There were hats, too!
Me: Did you get a hat?
A: No, I have a hat.
Me: How many kids got hats?
A: About 10.

A little backstory. The other day I realized my daughter’s shoe sole was flapping. It was too thin to be repaired and I ordered her some new shoes (thank you Cyber Monday) but they won’t be here for another day or so because they are in transit. I’ve been wondering things like, “Has anyone at school noticed?” and, “Do the teachers think I’m neglecting my daughter with those shoes?” and, “Maybe they’re too busy to notice. I hope so.”

So the gloves, well, I was worried there was some sort of poor-person thing going on where my kid would get gloves and I would get a visit from child services asking me why my daughter doesn’t have gloves in the winter. If the gloves were the only thing I could tell them the truth and be done with it, “They’re in the wash because she didn’t put them away and the dog drooled all over them.” But if they noticed the shoes, too? Well then it would sound like I was just making things up and my daughter isn’t being provided for properly in a Midwest winter.

So to find out someone just donated gloves to the whole class and other kids got them? It was a huge moment of relief. I was able to enjoy the gift my daughter got instead of worrying that I would be accused of neglecting her.

The weird thing is, all that stress and fear and panic happened during the course of that short conversation. Even though it dissipated mostly when we got to the end and I realized other kids got gloves and that there were hats, too, and my daughter didn’t get a hat because she already has one her Auntie made for me but was too small for my big head but fit my daughter perfectly so she didn’t need a hat.

I even felt a little fistbump moment with myself that my kid didn’t need gloves and a hat. Like maybe I wasn’t a complete failure at providing for my children for a hot minute.¬†On the other hand, I’m a little bummed she didn’t forget her hat yesterday because she said the hats were really cute. I think she wanted one.

Bottom line: I’m really glad my kid has some new gloves. Most of their clothing comes from (a very nice town’s) Goodwill and while I make sure to get the cute stuff with the right characters and the nice labels with no stains, getting something new is always special. I’m glad she feels special, but I feel bad I wasn’t able to provide that moment for her right now.

I’m just going to be happy for her. Going down the not good enough right now rabbit hole isn’t going to do anyone any good. It won’t make time go faster, it won’t make Mr. Brickie’s raises happen sooner, and it will put a damper on the spirit of Christmas I’m enjoying so much. Luckily, my love of the holidays and the season is strong enough to weather the occasional ding or dent.

In fact, I’m going to put on some holiday music right now and dance with my 4yo while I wait to hear from Mr. Brickie at the LIHEAP office. I’ll update this post and publish it after I hear from him so we can have some closure on that particular issue!

Update: Application for LIHEAP is in and taken care of. It takes two weeks to find out if it went through and if so, how much has been granted. I guess the fourth time really was the charm! Now he’s hunkered down searching for gigs, jobs, or other seasonal work….looking for new clients, updating current clients, and checking the listings of things for sale. I’m certain he is happy beyond measure he won’t have to go back and wait in the cold anymore for that particular issue.

I’m telling you, there is never, ever a dull moment around here.

If you need help paying for your electric or gas bill, LIHEAP is a national program. You can visit the main LIHEAP website and find your local intake office here. The grants are there and availability is on a first-come, first-served basis. You can call before going in to see if the grant is still available in your area. If you need help, please, get help. There is no inherent virtue in struggling more than you have to.

Relying on Rumors and Thankful for a Surprise Bill

snowflakeWe are going into the most dangerous time for my husband’s employment. Mr. Brickie can’t do his thing (which I found out last night was a six story building. I never really thought of him being that high up. My heart may have dropped a little in my chest when he told me, but I am also very proud of him.) under just any conditions.

It has to be above 40 degrees and not raining.

Also, let me remind you that Mr. Brickie – in addition to not getting paid for the six holidays he gets off per year – does not get paid for time not worked. Even if he’s at the job site waiting for the rain to clear up. When people hear my husband is in a union they sometimes get all “wink wink nudge nudge” … “Ooh, that must be a cushy job.”

Yeah, it’s not.

In about two years it’s going to pay well, but you’re never guaranteed work and you are at the mercy of nature and dude, not even paid holidays, so no winking…no nudging. It’s a living wage, that shouldn’t be enough to get people’s “scamming the system” glands salivating.

The current job is going to last (at best guess) anothing month. After that? Who knows.

But there is a rumor.

A rumor that there is a winter job. What makes a winter job, of course, is that it’s an indoor job or a job that can be entirely put under tarps and heated. This particular rumor is of an indoor job.

It would mean not having to choose between trying to get a temporary job in winter or going on unemployment.

I’m not going to be hopeful, because I don’t want to be let down. I do look forward to finding out for sure. I have a plan in place either way, of course.

As for the new bill…Mr. Brickie started doing his brickie thing in June of this year. We were so happy because he’d been looking for work for about a month after training. (If I haven’t told you yet, this is the worst recorded year on file since the beginning of¬†his union. Yikes.) He worked from June through July and then nothing in August. That’s when he worked for that painting company that fired him for being sick. September he started with the current company and everything looks good.

Not working in August means he’s short on his hours. Short on his hours means we have to pay for our insurance the next three months. Money is paid per hour for the employee into the benifit pool. That number times the number of hours short you were = how much you have to pay to keep your insurance.

It’s a nudge under five hundred dollars and is due by the end of the month.

When I saw it, I almost threw up. That’s a lot of money for where we are at right now. A lot.

All the rain we’ve been having means that Mr. Brickie hasn’t been working 40 hour weeks, so we barely have enough for the bills we normally have. A surprise five hundred dollar bill was not in the budget.

We made a list of everything we can sell on Craigslist in the coming weeks. There is lots of brainstorming happening!

Relationship Sidenote: I am so happy about the place we are at. I mean, I’d love to have more money – of course – but with Mr. Brickie having a regular job he’s really and truly happy with it lifts a tension off our marriage that has been there since the beginning. We are in this new place where I feel we are working as a real team. The other day at the supermarket in front of the yogurt, he reached over, put his arm around my waist and kissed me.

It felt like first date butterflies in my stomach.

With that in mind, I guess it’s no wonder I’m not unhappy about winter coming and the rumor and the insurance bill. Honestly, I’m thankful there might be more work on the horizon for Mr. Brickie and our insurance is amazing. Even so,¬†the next few weeks are going to be stressful and I’m trying not to worry, but it’s difficult. Very difficult.

Here’s some good news (sort of). That credit card I mentioned from my last post? I used it to take care of Christmas. Now all I need are stocking stuffers. That’s a huge load off my mind. I didn’t go crazy, either. I shopped for great deals and I don’t think any of their gifts, save one, was more than ten dollars. I kept it small, and inexpensive. They’ll be getting other gifts under the tree from family so it won’t look bare.

Thanks have been scary for a while. They’ll be scary for a while still. But we are on an upswing and there is more work on the horizon and things are slowly and choppily getting better.

I have faith.



Does This School Assignment Make Me Look Poor?

school-deskOne of the fun things you get to deal with when you’re poor and have kids is, “Did they say that because we’re poor, or because I’m doing this parenting thing correctly?”

My daughter had this Star of the Week thing at school. Every student gets to do it and they spend a week getting to know a student a little bit more. It’s a sweet exercise and everyone has a blast. Every kid feels special for a week. I like it.

One of the things my daughter had to do was write a list of 10 things she wanted other kids to know about her. Two of those things were…

  1. I have a Nintendo 3DS.
  2. I have a TV in my bedroom and it is a flat screen.

The other 8 things on her list were true. These two were not.

I asked her, “Why would you put things on your list that weren’t true?”

Her response, “Everyone else has those things.”

Now, last January I let the girls pick what they wanted for their birthdays. My 7yo picked a 3DS and she’s loved it all year. My 8yo – the one with the list up there – picked an American Girl doll. I checked at least five times with her, “Are you sure?” “Is that what you really want?” “Really and truly you want a doll?” She insisted and is the semi-proud owner of a doll she picked out herself.

Guess what I’m pretty sure she is going to ask for this year? That’s right. I’m thinking it’s a 3DS.

The TV in her room? Not a chance in Hell.

The thing is, there’s this little voice in the back of my head. It asks me questions like…

“You think you’d let her have a TV in her room if you could afford one?”
“Would she have a DS already if you could afford it?”
“If you didn’t drink wine ever again you’d have enough at the end of a year to buy her a TV *or* a 3DS.”
“Do those other kids have TVs in their rooms, or are they lying, too?”
“Why are you questioning the lives of other families?”

It gets under my skin.

Because, you see, I’m one of those people who is poor and owns an iPhone. My cellular phone and service is with Cricket because it’s cheaper, but I bought the iPhone when I had money and AT&T cellular service. Even though I don’t have AT&T service, I can still use my iPhone regularly on my home WiFi.

That doesn’t mean that every time I see that poor people with iPhones meme online I don’t wonder about the thought processes of the person who posted it. A person I’m friends with on FB who thinks it’s okay to judge others. Someone who assumes that a poor person with an iPhone is stupid and a user and not deserving of the help.

Am I a good parent because I don’t give my children whatever they want? Am I a good parent because I don’t let my kids have a TV in their room? Or am I a poor parent making excuses for not being able to provide normal things for my beautiful girls?

No matter how many times I tell myself I’d make these same decisions no matter what my socioeconomic status…I always doubt myself. Of course a poor person thinks they’re doing what’s best for their kids.

They think that no matter what. Don’t they?

Being Hateful is a Waste (Here’s Why!)

rodin-angry-manI get that people have different beliefs.

I don’t think everyone should believe what I believe and I mostly leave others alone with their beliefs. I don’t have an overwhelming need to convince others to think like I do. I have too many things going on in my own life to knock on your door and tell you what’s what in your life.

One of the strange things on social media is people sharing their opinions in this really angry way. Calling others stupid or lazy in one meme when three memes ago it was something about understanding their story once you’ve walked in their shoes.

You may have heard me say online that “I judge the judgers” which is a literary joke based on “Who watches the watchmen?”¬†an old latin phrase by (looking it up) the Roman poet Juvenal. You may also know it as the title of a Star Trek episode, “Who Watches the Watchers” also based on the same Roman poet’s quote.

My understanding is¬†how a good number of poor people live. I live around poor people, I’m friends with poor people, and I grew up poor. It’s something that can be changed, sure, and we haven’t¬†been poor our entire marriage. One of the things I’ve noticed is this amazing circular pattern where we save during the good times and the next set of bad times isn’t as bad as the last set.

So we’re upwardly mobile but pretty much at a snail’s pace. That’s okay.

But what I see online, maybe because I’m sensitive to it, is people¬†who have situations that allow them some breathing room and freedom (a LOT of times in the form of a government program) shrieking online about how people are using and abusing the system.

It’s like the McDonald’s lawsuit and everyone thinking it was frivolous. I watched a documentary on that lawsuit (and others like it) and if you saw the pictures of that lady and you knew¬†she was in a parked car when it spilled and that she was elderly and that the coffee melted her skin and there were a bunch of other complaints and McDonald’s refused to do anything about those other complaints and prior hospitalizations and then realized the jury decided to give her the¬†amount of one morning of coffee sales you realize she wasn’t a greedy gold digger trying for an easy payday.

Without all the facts you hear it third hand and you think she was an idiot who¬†made a¬†silly mistake, got a little burn, and got a huge payday. If you believe that, you’ve been convinced by an amazing public relations machine. it’s okay, it’s happened to all of us at one point or another.

But people who take the time to make these pictures putting others down? What’s that about. I mean, I’m judgmental and say shitty things sometimes, but not all over the damn internet. I try to keep it contained to close friends who know I have my moments now and then and they pass and I’m not really going to kick a kitten no matter how many times I say it’s just a kitten-kicking kinda day.

For people who do this, they shouldn’t. Sharing it takes time a person could be using for something positive for themselves. When people focus on others and how they live, they are ignoring their own house. They need to get their own house in order, because focusing on getting their shit together would give them some focus on how armchair quarterbacking large groups of people is not effective.

I guess it’s just a Golden Rule thing. Anyone sharing shitty phrase pictures on Facebook should take a moment and look at their own life. There’s something that could be mocked and memed for sure. Everyone has something, none of us is perfect, right?

Sharing a meme that hates on people just perpetuates the hateful meme sharing cycle. It also ruins a person’s credibility when they see one that’s offensive toward them and they want to speak up but they’ll just sound like a wicked hypocrite.

They should choose, instead, to be a better person.

We should all post something kind today. What’s the harm in kindness?

That being said, vote however you want for whoever you want. This isn’t about personal beliefs.

For those on the other side of my personal, pet issue of poorness: Hate poor people or people on government assistance (like disability, social security in ALL its forms, TANF, SNAP, Medicaid, etc.) all you want. Just … maybe don’t share it publicly. I mean, it just makes you look like a backward, hateful weirdo.

…and remember…people who need to put others down to get a leg up¬†will always fall in the end. Not because of¬†a vengeful lawrd or karma, but because it’s in their nature. Just like the story of the scorpion and the frog. ¬†


Why I Spend Money on Halloween

jack-o-lanternThere are four holidays I spend money on.

  • Birthdays
  • Christmas
  • Halloween
  • Easter

When I take the kids to the store with me they don’t get a toy “just because” and we take a list and shop from the list every time. My kids don’t ask for things most of the time, either, because they know no one is getting anything that’s not on the list. They aren’t pained by this, they don’t feel awful about it, and they don’t feel deprived.

The thing is, when I spend a lot on Halloween (usually around $150 on three kids) I sometimes get people saying, “Oh wow, that’s a lot to spend on Halloween!”

The thing is, it’s a big deal for the kids and they have so much fun and they feel special and know they can be whatever they want and it’s the only one of the holidays where I take them into the Halloween store and don’t have to say, “No.”

That doesn’t mean I get them the $50 pair of black wings when I can convince them the $15 black wings are better (for some made up reason). One of the big spends this year was the colored hairspray, but it was SO worth it to not have to deal with wigs like we did last year.

Someone on Facebook posted that Halloween is a seven billion dollar industry and they asked wasn’t there something better that could be done with that much money?

My response there was, “No. Confronting our mortality and giving to others is pretty much well worth it to me.”

Mortality is scary and awful and Halloween gives us all a chance to look death in the face and laugh or jump and move on. Plus, giving candy to others is a nice way to just give with no expectation of return. It’s like baby philanthropy.

If we could get everyone together with their Halloween money together and get them to spend that seven billion dollars on the homeless or services for the mentally ill or single mothers/fathers or any other amazingwonderful opportunity that would be great, but no one would be able to agree on what to spend that money on anyway, so it may as well be to pass out candy and dress up a little scary or feel extra pretty and special and twirl in a tutu or swipe a fake ninja sword through the air.

In the meantime I will dress my kids up with wings and sticky jewels and face stickers and crowns and colored hair and jewelry and tutus and dresses and tights and crowns. They will feel absolutely amazing and it will make me very, very happy.

I hope you have a safe and happy and scary (if that’s your thing)¬†Halloween.

If you don’t celebrate Halloween, I hope you get through it without too much stress.

The funny thing is Mr. Brickie wants to go buy pumpkins. I keep telling him that Halloween is about having fun with the kids and spending time making them feel great. We don’t carve pumpkins or paint them, we don’t dye eggs at Easter either. I’m just not into the decorating side of the holidays. No orange lights will be in my yard and no stickies will be on my windows.

I want every penny I spend to benefit my kids. I am not here to make my house pretty for the enjoyment of the neighborhood. LOL

Do you spend a lot on Halloween?


Kids and Blow Money and a Haunted Train Ride

five-dollars-and-changeI told the kids at the beginning of this week, “If you help with chores, I’ll give you each $5 to spend at the haunted train ride.”

They did, I did, and I went with them to spend it. Our first stop was the gift shop where the girls really and truly wanted to spend $3.50 on “Hobo Worms” (opaque gummi worms). If I had to guess there was less than 4oz. in the package. The reason I would have to guess is that I didn’t look. I didn’t look because it was not time for a lesson in frugality and good choices, it was a fun day at the train museum and if they wanted candy, I just kept telling myself it was better than the wooden train whistle.


As we were checking out, I made sure the girls were holding their money and I explained that you hand the money to a cashier. Plunking your crumpled money on a counter is very rude and holds up the line and wastes time. They paid and I had them hold their hand out to receive their change and made sure they said, “Thank you.” (I’m a big believer in the “people are human and should be treated as such” philosophy of interacting with cashiers and other customer service people.)

The cashier said, “Excuse me ma’am.” I said, “Is everything okay” She said, “Yes. I just wanted you to know that I’m a foster mom. I have to try and teach these things to children twice their age and to see someone teaching their kids¬†the right thing to do at the right age¬†just warms my heart.”

Who would have thought letting my kids buy the best damn gummi worms I have ever tasted overpriced candy would give someone else a moment they can remember?

I made my kids happy.
I made a foster mother happy.
I was happy.

Of course, because no story of mine would be complete without the rest of the story….after we came out of the gift shop the girls wanted popcorn but would not have enough because sales tax. I gave them each another dollar just to round it out and when they got to the front, one diligently remembered to unfold and hand the two dollars to the woman at the popcorn machine. The other one? Yep, handed it to her folded.

Just because I teach the lessons doesn’t mean they stick easily!

But I keep teaching and it will either stick or it won’t, but it won’t be for lack of being taught.

hesston-ghost-trainWe had so much fun and it’s really not very expensive at all. If you’re anywhere near the Hesston Steam Museum, they have the cutest haunted train ride in Indiana. It’s open air, so wear your coats! Also, be kind because everyone working there is a volunteer.¬†The girls loved the huge steam saw and spent some time with a blacksmith. There’s enough open area that you never have to feel claustrophobic. Try to go on the weekend the church group is there because they have perogi that will make you want to slap someone they’re go good.

One caveat…eat before you go or plan on eating after you go. They had a hot dog meal with fries and a drink for $7.¬†If we had all gotten that we’d have been looking at $35 for hot dogs!¬†They do have picnic tables, so if you packed a lunch¬†or some snacks you would have a place to eat in relative comfort.

This post is not sponsored.

A Communication Tip that Works for My Kids & My Husband

school-deskWhen school started this year I was so excited. The girls were in different schools and they were both doing their own thing.

They would get off the bus at the end of the day, running toward the house at a breakneck pace to give the dog hugs and their little sister hugs and give me hugs and I would be so happy to see them (no, really!) and as I was looking through their backpacks and making sure assignment books were signed and homework doled out and ready to go I would, at some point, ask them the standard issue mom-to-kid just home from school question:

“How was school today?”


“Great.” (Lack of exclamation point is totally on purpose. It was said in the same tone as “Fine.”)


What did you do in school today?




It was absolutely mind-numbingly frustrating!

So, I decided there had to be a better way. It took some trial and error, but now I ask them two questions. The first is, “What was the best thing that happened in school today?” I’ll let them get away with telling me a recess story once or twice a week. Beyond that, I still listen to the story of recess and then ask, “What is the best thing that happened during class today?” They think on this because now they’re weighing options and choices. I usually get something good out of it.

The follow up question – and I had no idea how important this would be – is asking, “What was the biggest bummer of the day?” Sometimes I phrase it as “not-so-good thing” instead of “bummer” but the basic premise is the same. What’s the worst thing that happened to you in your school day, without actually saying worst. This lets them share with me without it being the most dire thing in the world.

It was through that second question I found out that if I let my daughter skip her daily writing assignment, she was being punished by missing part of recess. I would have never known otherwise. They have shared with me behavior things that have happened in class I was not told about because it wasn’t that bad. I’m able to put together patterns and see what my kids are struggling with.

Getting both the positive and negative experiences of my kids’ school experience is important. It’s information I’m so thankful I’m getting.

So, what was that about a husband?

That’s right! A couple nights ago, I decided to test this out on him.

“Honey? What was the best thing that happened at work today?”

….and, of course….

“What was something that happened that could have gone better?”

I got to hear more about his workday than I’ve heard since he started his job. Allowing them to pick the best and worst doesn’t overwhelm him with trying to tell me all about his 8 hour day. He gets to sift and tell me two stories that can be as short or long as he wants them to be. Once he starts on telling me the one thing it often bleeds into other stories about his day.

Stories I never would have heard by asking, “How was your day, dear”

I am so happy to know what is happening in the lives of my family.

How do you get your kids to open up and tell you about their day?

Three Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Bought A House

ranch-houseFrom the first moment I saw the link from LifeHacker in my Facebook feed, my mind was whirling. I pretty much immediately clicked over to read Five Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Bought a House and it got me to thinking, “What do I wish I had known before I bought a house?”

In many ways, there is no way I could have known these things before I bought a house. They are lessons learned by living. But they are things I will take with me before I buy my next house, and I hope maybe they can help someone else think through what is important to them before they buy a first/second/next house.

Anything About Foreclosures or Short Sales

The housing bubble made it the fervent wish for all the media to teach all us regular people what foreclosures and short sales were about. They weren’t trying to educate us to help us out on our next home sale, they were trying to make us scared so the commercials could sell us things that would make us feel more comforted. Duh. But, in the meantime, I was learning all this amazing stuff about buying houses on the super-cheap. Information I wish I had known before I bought my home. While we may have done the offer/counteroffer dance with the previous owner of our home, but that only resulted in a $5k discount overall. A measley 4% (I don’t care if you know how much my house cost, it wasn’t expensive.)

We got lucky because interest rates were considered very low at the time and we managed to score a 6.25% fixed interest rate with a credit score of 640. It wasn’t pretty and I honestly don’t know how we got a mortgage in the first place. But, like many people, I assumed that if someone was willing to give me a loan, I was qualified to be a homeowner.

Your mortgage will be $749 a month, we were told, it’s cheaper than renting, we were told.

No one mentioned escrow or insurance payments until we were at the title company signing up for a $1200 a month payment. But, what do you do? You’ve already put down that $5k in earnest money and you’re sitting there and it’s a house and the keys are on the desk and I may be a smart person, but I wasn’t strong enough to say no.

If I could have gotten a foreclosure or short sale instead of a regular house, if I had seen the kind of deals available, I wouldn’t have been content paying full price. I would have been forced to get my finances in order and save up to buy a bargain property.

Even though it sounds like armchair quarterbacking and doing the would have could have thing, it’s absolutely what I plan on doing if I ever need to move or decide to buy a different house.

My Real Space Preferences

Sure, ¬†my bathroom is the same size as the one in the apartment I rented before I married and moved in with my husband. Absolutely. What I couldn’t have known was how my bathroom size needs would change once I lived with another grown human full time and then, again, after having three kids.

I know people who have half-baths that are bigger than my main bathroom.

A kitchen with an island is something I’d consider selling part of my soul for. I didn’t really cook before I got married. Ten years later, I don’t just cook I do all this DIY stuff like making shampoo, faux-canning (Freezer jam, anyone? LOL), baking, and doing a bunch of other stuff that requires space. Lots and lots of counter space.

I have done what I can within reason up to this point. I did an IKEA makeover and made the counters a couple inches higher (which, omg, makes the hugest difference when you’re 5’9″ and trying to do dishes) and I gave myself more counter space than the kitchen originally came with and I reduced the number of cabinets by more than half. It was extremely helpful, but without a major “take the walls down” renovation, my kitchen is as big as it’s going to get with the maximum amount of counter space.

If there was some way to know what I was going to be like in 10 years, I would have known to hold off and not buy this house. I would have gotten something with a huge kitchen and a big bathroom and small bedrooms. I just don’t spend much time in my bedroom. I would have a living room where we could set up the computers, or a dining room where we could open the laptops on the table when we weren’t using it for meals.

As it stands, we eat dinner as a family in the living room on TV trays. On the bright side, we rarely have the TV on during these meals, so we still get the togetherness/talking aspect of family dinner, we just don’t have a place for a kitchen table anywhere in the house without it looking like it sticks out like a sore thumb no matter where it is.

I never realized how much I would long for a kitchen table.

No Extra Rooms or Unnecessary Space

This one is a little more abstract and it’s entirely possible I’m just spoiled by making houses for my little virtual families in The Sims but the house we live in right now is full of unnecessary space.

My living room is this crazy rectangle and I have a huge nine-pane window in front. Across from the big window on the other long wall of the room is the door to the kitchen. Finding a couch to go in the room so I can watch TV now and then has been a never-ending hassle. Usually the couch sits against the window and then, if we want to watch a movie, we swing the couch out so it’s facing the TV.

It’s a serious hassle having to move a couch every time more than one person wants to watch something. ¬†We can’t leave the couch facing the TV, because it only leaves two feet of space to walk through the living room, which isn’t enough to comfortably maneuver.

I wish I could see pictures from the first person who owned the home, so i could see what they used the space for.

One of the previous owners of our house decided the original layout wasn’t big enough, so they had an addition built. It added two bedrooms, a walk in closet, and a half-bathroom to the back of the house. The layout was created by extending a hallway from the former back bedroom.

That means when you walk through my living room past the bathroom, you open the door into an extra room. At the time we bought the house we were all, “This will make a perfect playroom!” In reality? The kids rarely play in there and the only regular use is from the guinea pigs who live in a cage on top of a small kitchen table. Great for the guinea pigs, but not so great for overall space in the home. I mean, it’s a whole room we are heating and cooling and it serves no discernible purpose. It could be made into a dining room, or a better playroom, or a media room…but that hasn’t happened yet. (Also, moving the TV into that room would require a bunch of rewiring that no one in this house has time for right now.)

Last but not least is the house’s main bedroom, which we currently use as an office. I also refer to this room as Mr. Brickie’s “hoarder heaven” because anything that doesn’t have a home finds one in our office. It has this amazing 8ft x 4ft dry erase board that we can’t access because there are boxes and other things in front of it. There are two full sized office desks (the wooden kind you see in actual offices) that take up an entire long wall.

In my next house, we will have only the space we need. If I could allocate the extra space from the playroom and the office and half of the living room and use it to expand the kitchen and bathroom, well, then we’d have a huge kitchen and a huge bathroom and room left over.

Sure, we could do these things in our current home. It would require a bunch of money or hundreds of DIY hours, neither of which I’m able to invest right now.

The Bottom Line

I guess if you had to narrow it down, function and price are the two things that are most important to me in terms of housing. I can make any space feel like “my own” and don’t need the structure to provide that for me.

That being said, a huge, deep claw-foot tub would go a long way to providing some seriously awesome structure. Wouldn’t you agree?

What do you wish you had known before you bought a house? 



Panic Attacks, Customer Service, Serving, and Being Nice

dirty-tableI was having a lovely time on the Internet today.

Strolling through Jezebel, checking out LifeHacker, and having a lookie-loo at Get Rich Slowly while taking the occasional break from sitting on my butt to clean something here and there.

Somehow (I actually know how but it’s boring and long) I ended up on the site A Year in Waiting. There is a picture of a waitress (server) on the front page so my “Lady in Waiting” joke fell flat kind of quickly. Of course, once I started reading the strip, I decided I think I got the joke. It’s funny, but also sad.

The author of the comic stopped writing because remembering her time was causing her some serious trauma. My first thought was, “Wow. I’m so lucky I came out of my experience as a server unscathed.”

I walked away and did some dishes. My short-term memory black hole kicked in and I stopped thinking about it. Until about 20 minutes later when I found myself crying into the sink of dishes.

Uh oh.

One of the things I think is wonderful is the author’s ability to make sure you know that servers are not dumb creatures who couldn’t do better. They have to think fast and be fast and smile fast and not take offense to pretty much everything.

I remember being a server.

It was horrible.

Before becoming a server, I was an abrasive, loud woman. I still am, but what serving took from me was a certain lightness. A certain kindness I’d always treasured as part of my hard exterior. You know, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. After serving, I was straight up hateful toward humanity.

I still get straight hateful if I see a table mistreating their server or being asshats. Unfortunately, it happens a lot. I have heard people order things and then say that’s not what they ordered when the server brings the food. Why? To get the food discounted or (preferably) free. How do I know? They talked about it when she wasn’t at the table!

Things like that happened to me when I was serving, too. Nothing you can say, because these are the people who you will hear say – out loud – the customer is always right. They live and die by their out-to-eat power.

I can understand why she didn’t continue writing her comic strip. I’m a little sad, because it helped me tap into something I didn’t realize was there still. We have to be alerted to some of the thorns in our soul and once we know about them we can start the delicate work of plucking it out.

It reminds me of the encapsulation that happens when, say, the tip of a diabetic needle breaks off in your abdomen flesh. If you can’t get it out and it’s small, the body will just surround it with scar tissue and – sometimes years later – will pop it out of your body eventually. I’ve only had this happen with an internal stitch a time or two, but it even works with needles. The body is an amazing, wonderful thing. It protects you. The heart is an amazing, wonderful thing as well. It protects different parts of you.

Some of you are going to want to correct me. “The brain rules the systems” some will think. But let me direct you to the Institute of HeartMath where studies show the heart is much more awesome than most people think.

I’ve been working on being a kinder, gentler wife lately (doing a hell of a job, too, you’d be amazed) and that comic strip (the first link) has really given me a moment to chew on and hopefully chew off like a foot caught in a bear trap.

Thus ends the tale of why I am not ever, ever, ever going to be a waitress again.

My husband thinks it would end quite badly even if I just got a job as a local barista. You know, at the Starbucks. “Don’t do it.” He says. “You’ll burn someone’s face off.” He says.