The End

Yesterday was the last day of the Mutant Poopymodel.

The fact is, as is too often the case in our blessed lives, there are far too many good things in my life than bad things. Yes, yes, yes a lack of money is stressful. Yes, yes, yes it is frustrating. But it’s not a deal-breaker. It’s not even a deal-cracker really and it’s my job to keep things in their place.

The gloom started to lift last week. I showed my co-worker my kids’ Santa lists and we were laughing at how cute they were and she was reminiscing about her daughters being that age. I had to leave to make a delivery to another office and she told me she’d put the lists in my office for me so I wouldn’t have to walk back that way with my arms full. When I came back, the letters were on my chair– each one with a $10 clipped to it and a note from her that made me cry like a silly big baby.

After that, I was able to fill some very small wishes at the Google+ Secret Santa project using some gift cards (Swagbucks, thank you). It was a much-needed reminder that no matter how hard you have it, someone always has it way harder. And I was happy to know that at least I was able to get something teeny tiny for someone else and make them smile and pay forward my co-worker’s kindness that way. It made me smile too. That’s when things started to really brighten up.

And then, over the weekend two things on our family’s Wish List were filled by my very own Secret Santas. I was so surprised! There are so many lists on the website and I really didn’t expect anyone to catch mine especially since I didn’t really write much in the section provided on why I was signing up. And I had seen some of the stories on there. Cue warm, fuzzy feelings that two someones somewhere blessed me that way.

The city I live in is a suburb of Miami. The City Hall puts up a small Christmas park every year and has done so for as long as I can remember. It is free to go and Monday was the first time I took my kids. It was an awesome way to end a nice evening that had started with me bringing out their boxes of ornaments and letting them start decorating the tree while I made dinner. Then it was dinner time, bath time, and into the car we went. They loved the park. The ran around and jumped around and on and off of everything.

Christmas Kids

When we got home, my middle brother called me and let me know he was taking care of the big ticket item on my kids’ list. And my mom called after that and told me she would take care of the next biggest ticket item on their lists. And then my baby brother called and told me he would take care of the two next biggest ticket items on the list.

Since then, it’s just been one Christmas miracle after another and they have come in all shapes and sizes from all kinds of people. And I am happy that I am blessed and fortunate and loved and that my children are too. And we will have a nice Christmas together because we will be together and there is a Christmas tree with lights and ornaments, and there will be music, and there will be cookies, and there will be some brightly wrapped gifts, and there will be laughs and kisses and hugs and stories.

The day after, we are leaving to Virginia again. My aunt and uncle have once again rented a log cabin in Virginia and invited us up. My parents are once again going and covering the cost of gas and any overnight hotel stay we may have. Dad and I will share the driving. And when we come back on New Year’s Eve I will be oh so ready for 2013 and whatever it may bring our way.

This is my family, aka the wonderful people who get me through time and time again. The only one missing is Stallion who was working that day the way he works every day. I love the people in this photo, and him, so very, very, very much.

This is my family, aka the wonderful people who get me through time and time again. The only one missing is Stallion who was working that day the way he works every day. I love the people in this photo, and him, so very, very, very much.

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I thought that maybe I had shaken off most of it, but I was wrong. There is nothing like the holidays to stress me the heck out. What can I say? I’m freaking out about Christmas and fighting like hard not to freak out about Christmas at the same time.

Christmas is something I had set aside money for several months ago. But when child support evaporated, so did all of my savings, even Christmas. So now, I’m trying to figure it all out. I’m making things like crazy. Well, that’s not true. I was making things like crazy and then I slowed down considerably and pretty much stopped because I got burned out. I’m trying to start things up again.

The problem with stress is it’s very distracting. You try and focus on something and it wriggles and wiggles it’s way around your brain as it moves towards the center stage of your thoughts.

This year, the kids will be spending Christmas Eve with their father. They come to my house Christmas Day around noon. We are going to have  Christmas Cookie Party that day. I think that it will be a lot of fun. And maybe it will distract the kids from a really skimpy Christmas tree.

This is where I begin to flounder, to worry, to conflict myself. My kids are blessed with a large, loving extended family who will surely shower them with gifts the way they do at every special occasion. They have a ton of stuff no matter how much I have them go through their toys and get rid of things. So there’s a battle in me– I know they don’t need or even want more stuff but I want to give to them. So I feel bad about not having any money to buy much for Christmas this year and at the same time I don’t feel bad about not participating in the relentless consumerism that so deeply affects this country. The kind of consumerism that fuels this kind of irony…

People trample each other for cheap goods mere hours after being thankful for what they already have

So I am struggling with that inner conflict at the same time I am stressing about the usual stress I have been dealing with regarding bills and life’s necessities. This means child support still hasn’t shown up in any way, shape, or form. If I understand the state attorney’s office correctly, that means his license is either suspended or about to be suspended any day now. I haven’t called them back since that last post. I probably will next week. I’m a pest but I don’t have a choice in the matter.

Their father told me he is starting a new job on the first, that they are in the negotiation stage right now. He told me the same exact thing, word for word, a few months ago. If it IS true, it would of course be that just about the time the state attorney’s office should be linking up to the unemployment office to garnish those checks, he would be starting a new job and stop collecting unemployment therefore starting the garnishment process anew all over again. It’s enough to make you laugh the maniacal laugh of loony bins.

Today, I’ll be staying home doing the laundry and working on crocheted gifts. We already watched Elf but it made me cry so I don’t think I’ll be putting on any more Christmas movies today. Today, the kids are going to make their Christmas lists but I am going to do something different. I am going to give them a paper with four sections: Something I want, Something I need, Something to wear, and Something to read. I’ll let them fill each section out with a couple of things in each category and use that as my guiding light this Christmas. I think it’s better this way than a free for all.

I hope you enjoy your weekend. I’m trying to do just that.

Hooking You Up: Awesome and Affordable Lingerie

I love lingerie. I really, really love lingerie. I love all types of lingerie from the classy to the trashy. I think lingerie is the single easiest thing a woman can change in her wardrobe and completely change her mood. And you ladies that are single and not even interested in finding someone special? You are not exempt from this! Lingerie isn’t about your significant other, it’s about you.

With Halloween, the holidays, and New Year’s Eve, there’s no better time to really revamp your lingerie wardrobe and even try something new. So a while back, when I was determined to own a steel boned corset, I found the most amazing lingerie site ever– Oh Cheri. Before I say another word, I want to say something– Oh Cheri didn’t reach out to me about writing for you guys. I love them and wanted to recommend them to you guys.

This store has three key features to an awesome online shopping experience– huge selection across a huge array of sizes, cheap prices (often the cheapest anywhere), and FREE shipping in the US with no minimum purchase.

Can we take a moment and “window” shop? Don’t be freaked out or anything, I’ll keep it tame. Oh and all of these items are under $20.

And ok this is definitely not under $20 but it’s one of my favorite things on their site and I covet it deeply. Come covet with me.

Yeah. Sooooooo pretty.

By the way, I reached out to Oh Cheri and let them know I was going to blog about them because of how much I love their site. And you know what? They offered a discount for you guys– my readers. So go online and do some sexy shopping for you, your friends, and hey even family. Or pass this along to someone who may be shopping for you! Just make sure when it’s time to checkout, you enter the code MUTANT and get 10% off your order.

Keeping the Gift Budget Under Control

Earlier today I read Sharon’s most recent post– just a regular update sort of thing. But this time, she mentioned two specific spend issues she has problems with that I directly related to.  So I’ve been thinking about them all day like I said I would in the comments and I do have some ideas but I wanted to scratch your brains as well. Only one problem per post because these suck up my brain power!

Problem One: Blowing the Gift Budget Every. Single. Time.

Ah, gifts. These are really tough for people with the deadly combination of loving to shop and loving to give. If you’re the type of person who absolutely loves to help someone else shop but fall apart when it’s time to spend on yourself you most likely have a struggle with keeping gifts under budget.

First things first– get a realistic grip on your gift spending. If it feels like the right amount when you spread it out across the year, it’s the right amount. If it feels way too high even when you spread it out across the year into monthly chunks, bring it down. Accept whatever the real amount needs to be.  The bottom line is if every year you look and you’ve spent $1200 on gifts, you need to set aside $100 for gifts period, end of story. No occasions to celebrate in July? Don’t delude yourself into thinking you can use the gift money for something else because you will be pressed in August when you have four birthdays to deal with. If deep down you know the number is too high because you’re just being extravagant to be extravagant, you’ve got to wrestle that demon and whittle it down to a reasonable number. If it’s because your circumstances just don’t allow you to spend as much as you want, you’ve got to accept that too.

Now that you’ve wrestled with the real and true and livable gift budget, I think it’s time we all truly embrace the one solution that just makes sense– the gift closet.

Oh, the groans! I can hear them, you know. But seriously, the gift closet makes sense (and cents, ha). I think it really is time to put this concept to the test. How many times have I gone into the store not looking for anything in particular, finding the perfect thing for so and so, not buying it because there’s no occasion coming up to give it to them and I can’t be giving things just because, to then not find a damn thing when it IS time to give them something?

There are certain things in life that are highly probable at least once a year. This is my list:

  • Your loved ones will have a birthday
  • You will celebrate Valentine’s Day one way or another
  • You may celebrate Easter one way or another
  • You will have at least one person deserving of a Mother’s Day gift
  • You will have at least one person deserving of a Father’s Day gift
  • You will celebrate some sort of holiday in December
  • Someone will have a baby
  • If you have children, there will be birthday parties
  • There will be an occasion you really wish you had a hostess gift for
  • There will be an occasion you really wish you had a thank you gift for
  • There will be an occasion you really wish you had a congratulations gift for

The thing is, these somewhat predictable events will always come around when you have the least money available for them. Not only that, but the stores will instantly hide all of their good stuff too. So clearly, the only real solution I can see is year-round shopping. You can make this as haphazard as you want or as neat and organized as you want. My idea for myself is to maintain some sort of list I can access with my phone so I can check really quick if I’ve already got Mutant Wino’s gifts covered for the year or if something’s missing because I just found the most perfect thing for him at the most perfect price. And even if he is covered for the year, I might get it anyways because there’s next year. As long as the gift closet doesn’t turn into some out of control clutter beast, I really do think this is the answer for us gift-budget-busting gals. The trick is to not put it off. You find something, it fits the budget, it fits the closet, do it. Make it a point to go gift shopping once a month so you’re not tempted to paint yourself into a corner two months from now.

There are some gifts that are classics. There are gorgeous baby items in neutral colors deeply discounted. You can find some great deals on great gift basket shelf-stable items like wines and gourmet foods (check the expiration date before buying). Keep an eye on the clearance section of department stores for discounts on classic home gifts like frames, vases, candles, and so on. Check the kids’ department for discounted books. Toys R Us constantly marks down toys too– maybe avoid the more trendy pieces and stick to classic characters and games.

Even those of us who make things can benefit greatly from a gift closet. How many of us have those gaps in the calendar when no one’s celebrating anything and suddenly it’s everyone’s birthday and right after that is Christmas? Make a gift every month for the closet. If a pattern catches your eye, go for it and add it to the gift closet. You can even turn this into one of those annual challenges!

What do you think? Any strategies or tips for keeping the cost of giving gifts down that don’t include the classic, “Instead of buying a gift, give the gift of time”? Share!

Happy Valentines Day

I just wanted to pop on here super quickly and wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m going slightly crazy today because I have my first test later tonight. I have been studying as much as possible but that hasn’t been much with all the sickness at home and work being unusually busy this time of year.

Here are the cards we made this year. i think making them got the kids more into the holiday and Eldest even asked if we could do this every year, which is surprising from an 8 year old boy.

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You're a real gem of a friend!

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I'm MAD about you! I can't LIB without you!

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You're the best Valentine, hands down!

And finally, I woke up at 5:15 so I would have time to pick these up for breakfast.

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Have a great day and do wish me some luck or say a prayer or do a little voodoo thing for me will you?

Montebello, Virginia Family Vacation: A Recap

Who: My mom, my dad, his sister, her husband, their dog and their daughter, her fiancee, my three kids, and myself.

When: Departed on Monday, December 26. Returned on Saturday, December 31.

What: Big old road trip family vacation.

Where: We spent one night at a Hampton Inn in Rock Hill, SC on the way up. The Three Sisters log cabin is located in Montebello, VA. We also visited Spy Rock and Crab Tree Falls while in the area. We spent a night at my aunt’s house in Hampton, VA.

Why: As a child, my family used to take road trips constantly. It’s a unique way to travel and a unique experience overall. Not to mention, the desire to disconnect, to turn things off, to be present in each other’s company. I wanted my kids to try it out and see if they liked it as much as we did as kids.

Verdict: They loved it- the whole family. The kids want to go back. Well, Eldest didn’t want to leave but settled for coming back– in the summer and again in the winter. For me? It wasn’t peaceful and it wasn’t quiet. But it was family being family and that is extremely precious as well. There was no relaxing but there was a lot of experiencing and being open to what was around me and in front of me and next to me. I didn’t once think about the future or the past. I just ate everything that was happening up. I didn’t even get into major photography mode which I find bizarre because that type of situation is the stuff photographers love. But I just didn’t care to waste my time behind a little box. Yes I took photos, we all did, and there are some great ones.

Like these (click to enlarge):

Our temporary home in Montebello, VA was an authentic log cabin from the 1800's carefully modernized and cared for.

MutantBaby stomps around the wide open area around our cabin wearing a very exclusive handmade Mutant Supermodel hat.

Kids put together a Willy Wonka Gingerbread Cottage kit. I felt building it in a log cabin was the most fitting thing in the world.

The "hardy group", as my uncle referred to us, set out on a hike to Spy Rock. It's about 2 miles up and then you have to scale a big old rock. And then you get to scrabble back down and hike 2 miles down.

My cousin and I perched on top of Spy Rock freezing our tropical tushies off. Thankfully my uncle's awesome dog is a very eager lap blanket.

The "hardy group" reached the top all together. Gorgeous views up here. I mean seriously stunning. Also seriously cold. There were frozen puddles of ice all over the place.

My uncle's dog, an English Setter, quickly became the object of my children's affections. But MutantBaby in particular developed a bond with him. The dog is a pack dog and didn't mind at all being snuggled by a three year old.

When we left the log cabin, we took a bunch of family photos. This one is by far my favorite. It was inspired by my aunt and I who started walking in a Beatles' Abbey Road style when my uncle said he wanted one of everyone walking to the cabin. Before we knew it, we got the whole clan lined up. Even the dog joined in.

My mom and I wait for my dad to catch up to us on the trail to Crab Tree Falls.

At the halfway mark, half of our group went back-- my aunt and uncle, my mom, and Baby. My dad, Eldest, Daughter, and I decided to keep going the rest of the 1.7 mile hike. At the 1.6 mile marker, Daughter wanted to throw in the towel. I gave her a little pep talk.

We reached the top meaning Daughter and Eldest completed their first official hike. I am very, very proud of them for this accomplishment.

My Dad got this shot of all of us and the beautiful view from the top overlook at Crab Tree Falls.

At my aunt's house, the kids slept in sleeping bags. The dog couldn't resist and so a new pack was born. Do you see Baby snuggled all the way down in his sleeping bag under the table?

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

I don’t think I’ve been quite the same Mutant I was a few months ago and I’m not exactly sure why or what but there you have it.

I sort of feel like my mind is in a bit of a haze and I’m just bumbling along. No maps, no plans, no worries?

Well not really but yes kind of.

I doubt very highly I’ll be posting again before the year is up so I wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a very wonderful New Year. I’ve seen a lot of pain around me this year. I’ve read it in your blogs. I’ve heard it in the stories of my friends and my family. I see it flash by in the news streams. It’s been sort of depressing this year.

I was very optimistic about 2012 and I’m not really sure I still feel that way. I want to be. But… it’s not coming to me.

I want to disconnect as much as possible next week. I think I’ll definitely have a good chance the first two nights we’re in the mountains.  I’ll be bringing a journal with me and hopefully I’ll be able to write out what has been meandering beneath the surface. Journaling has always been very good for my heart. I haven’t done as much lately as I used to. And that might be a reason why I’m sort of hazy and foggy. Floating through.

So many people are getting ready for a new year. There are projects and plans, goals and resolutions, lists long and lists short. I want to as well. I know that I do better when I have these things in place. I feel better. I accomplish more. But I’m having a hard time putting thoughts together, following them through, working things out. Little details are tripping me up. Unknowns are fogging up the view.

It’s funny because as much as this time of year is about giving, and it really truly is, it also brings up wantings.

What do you want? What do I want?

“What do I want?” indeed.

I’ve been getting asked that a lot. For Christmas purposes mostly. I ask myself for different purposes.

“I don’t know” is the automatic response. I really don’t.

Because all of the things I do want are silly little things. Baubles and trinkets. Flairs and flounces. Extras. Upgrades.

And that’s good. But it’s also meaningless.

And that’s where I get tripped up. That’s where I get sad. Because if I have everything I want… what’s the point?

I don’t want this to come off selfish or gluttonous. That’s not what I’m trying to say.

I mean to say that my basic wants are satisfied, fully and thoroughly. So that leads me to focus on the more complex wants.

That’s where things get tricky. Confusing. Scary.

Long term thoughts. Long term goals. Long term plans.

Even mid term ones.

The short term ones should come from those but without those…

It’s not that I’m glum, I’m just numb. It’s not a bad thing, or a good thing, it’s just a thing. And I just have to work through it all to come out with something I think will be pretty exciting and great and special for me.

So, whatever your celebration of choice may be, may you have a lovely one. May your year end peacefully and blissfully. May your year begin positively and steadily. I’ll see you all very soon.