April 02, 2014

Before

Five years ago, my brilliant and talented nephew turned twelve, my amazing son turned two, and my lovely niece was born; I launched a new blog, which I have since discontinued at its own domain, but still exits at blogger; I shared a Flame Tree Festival booth with my friends Lynn and Geraldine; I made some things; I made food, we dyed eggs, we had fun; I took pictures of lizards and a frog; and I made some yummy vegetables and other food. This was April before.

Four years ago, I was a self proclaimed TV consultant, I was irritated by the chicken tree and crappy driving; we watched Fantastic Mr. Fox for the first time, and although you can't tell from the post, it was nearly a life changing event, I LOVE that movie; I failed, yet I was forgiven; and I was sunburned.

Three years ago, I wrote two posts. Count 'em, two: here's one about being pooped and the pooper and here's the other about me not giving up anything for lent.

Two years ago, I was always hot (and now I'm always cold, by the way); I found gender neutral baby clothes; we had a great time dyeing eggs and decorating cookies with my sister and her kids; and I created a daily fridge calendar

One year ago, we took a quick visit to Managaha after I shared with you that we would be moving to the states

March 23, 2014

On Libraries and Books

I was in elementary school when the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library opened on Saipan. There was a time when I visited it after school fairly often as it was just a short walk from my elementary/junior high school. I had a library card, but I hardly ever checked out books. Instead, I spent my time chatting, perusing shelves, and reading magazines on soft curved chairs. It was a place to unwind and meet boys, I mean kids, from other schools.

I recently read something along the lines of the majority of Americans believe it is important to have a public library in their community even if they don't use it themselves. (It may have been from an NPR article about the recent PEW study about libraries in communities, but I couldn't find the blurb I was looking for.) I agree. Public libraries are very important. I'm glad the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library exits, even if I haven't checked out a book there in who knows how many years. Here in Washington, I'm so incredibly happy that our local public library exists.

I take my children to our library at least once a week. Although it isn't a very big library, it is part of the King County Library System, which not only gives us access to a great many e-books, it also gives us access to physical books at all of the libraries in the system. And I don't just mean that I can borrow from any of the system libraries, I mean that I can request for a book that isn't at my library and it will be delivered there for me. Perhaps you know all about this, but coming from Saipan, this is pretty awesome to me.

Most of the books I check out are e-books, though not all the books at the library are available in electronic form. I like that I can request a book through their website or app and simply go pick it up or download it when it's available.

Francesca enjoys our weekly library visit if only to meet other little girls who dote on her. Katelyn enjoys it too; she seems so comfortable there. Although she doesn't exactly read all of the books she checks out, she becomes absolutely engrossed in the process of choosing and checking out books, magazines, and DVDs - for bother herself and her brother. While Jacob does like perusing the children's graphic novels, he mostly enjoys going to the library to use the computers. He trusts his sister to select his books so he doesn't have to lose an of his precious computer time. I tell you, if there's one thing Katelyn actually enjoys doing for her brother, it's choosing his library books.

I wouldn't be able to read as much as I do without our library. I suppose that isn't quite right, I'd still be able to read as much, I just wouldn't have the selection that I do. There is only one small, and I mean small, bookstore on Saipan. I would visit it about once a month, but I didn't buy very often. I ordered most of my books from Amazon. I started using the kindle app in November 2012, which made browsing and buying e-books very convenient. We were already a one income family by then, so I mostly read free kindle books, which, other than the classics, were sort of hit or miss. It feels like such a luxury to have access to all these library books now.

Beginning in 2012, I started keeping an annual list of the books I read. So far, this year I've read (these are by no means reviews or synopses, they're hardly even opinions, really):

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - This was a really nice book. Fun but with a very serious premise. It doesn't necessarily explore the issues that are presented, but it gets you to want to think about them. It also makes you laugh. Well, it made me laugh. I would be happy to read the author's other books.

Andrew's Brain by E.L. Doctorow -  I didn't enjoy it and at times I couldn't quite tell whether or not I was bored. But I kept reading it because he is an acclaimed author and although I wasn't captivated by the story, I did enjoy his words. I don't recommend it, yet, because I have read such great things about his other books, I will likely read more by E.L. Doctorow. Someday. Perhaps.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - Loved it. Loved it like I loved The Kite Runner, though it didn't haunt me as long afterward as The Kite Runner did. A Thousand Splendid Suns was absolutely beautiful and moving. Khaled Hosseini is my favorite author. He just pulls me right into his world. I have placed his third novel, And The Mountains Echoed, on hold.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck - Would you believe I had never read this before? This wasn't required reading in high school for me. If you've read this blog for a while, you know I didn't go to a normal high school - everyone who graduated from Northern Marianas Academy in the 90's pretty much skipped high school. We basically went straight from junior high to Northern Marianas College, where Mr. Bingham had us read D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. (Which, by the way, somehow I never completed. I started re-reading it a few years ago and again did not finish it. But I just downloaded it to my kindle app, so perhaps one day I'll finally read it through. Now back to Of Mice and Men.) Wow! Have you read it? You probably have. Isn't it amazing? Such a powerful story and such beautiful writing.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green - I enjoyed this book, basically in the same way I enjoyed Me Before You. John Green has quite an ability to bring teenagers to life. I actually started it in December last year. I liked it from the beginning, but for whatever reason I was distracted and stopped. I decided to check it out again when I found out it will be out as a movie this year. After reading this book, I immediately read two more of John Green's books.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green - I liked this a lot too. It didn't have the same kind of conflict as The Fault in Our Stars, but it was still a nice read.

Looking for Alaska by John Green - I don't try to figure out what is going to happen in a novel. Movies, yes. But not with books. I just like to read and let the stories unfold. I suppose if I did try to figure out what would happen, I could have seen parts of this one coming. (Though, now that I think about it, there were moments in The Fault In Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines where I consciously knew what came next.) Anyway, I liked this book more than the other two. I liked seeing these kids in their boarding school and I liked wondering how I would have behaved if I had gone to that school - though not necessarily at the same time as the characters.

I am currently reading:
  • The Bible in World History by Stephen Leston - I really like it. I have always struggled to place events in the bible within history. I think a big part of it is that I was never very interested in history and I just didn't retain most of what I learned in school, so dates and events are very isolated to me.
  • Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde by Rebecca Dana -  I read about it some time ago while I was still on Saipan in an Amazon editor's picks email, but I forgot about it until last month. And what do you know, a week ago I passed it on my way to a self-checkout kiosk. It was just sitting there on the shelf, featured for the month. I snatched it up without missing a step. I am really enjoying it. I suppose I would enjoy it even more if I was Jewish and/or ever lived in New York. I know it's a memoir, but I wish it was a fictional story that I had written. Sometimes I feel like Rebecca is just sitting in my living room telling me this story over Diet Cokes and pizza.
  • Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt - I like it so far. But because I own it, it is going to have to take a backseat to the library books which have due dates. 
  • The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult - I'm not very far in yet. And I do enjoy it, but I'm just too into Jujitsu Rabbi right now. I'll probably start on it again in a few days. But I like it so far.


There are several other books I started this year but didn't finish:
  • Cameron And The Girls by Edward Avarett - Although it was interesting, it just didn't hold my interest. Yet, at the same time, I still want to read it someday. Perhaps.
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth - What few chapters I got through, I got through painfully. Waiting for better writing, waiting for a better story, better reasoning, waiting for better character development. I gave up. After The Night Circus and Andrew's Brain, I won't force myself to finish books I don't like. I will watch the movie though.
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - I think I'll read this one day. I just don't think I was in the mood when I had it. My sister is the one who recommended it to me and I have other friends who like the author, so I think it is worth reading. I'll probably place it on hold again soon.
  • Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck - I read a good portion of this. I don't really know how I feel about it. I do want to finish it one day though. But I'm not in a rush.
  • The Pearl by John Steinbeck - I think I read one or two pages of this. Maybe one day....
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce - I read a sample of this book some time ago. I thought I wanted to read it. I got pretty far into this one too, but it was just too slow. I felt like I was wasting my time, being strung along.
Early last year, a friend of mine turned me on to Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches. I was a bit uneasy about reading a book with the word witches in the title, but once I started it, I just couldn't put it down. So good! It is in the very early stages of being made into a movie. Woo hoo! Immediately after I read it, I bought the second book, Shadow of Night. Ah, so fun. The third book, The Book of Life, is set to be released in July of this year. I have already placed it on hold with the library.

What are you reading, friend?

March 16, 2014

Saving money with coupons.

Before I moved to the states, my dear friend, Mona, gave me advice about how and where to shop to save money. It was so helpful! Managing a family of five on one income takes a lot of financial planning and responsibility. It means finding the best deals, buying at the right times, and saying no to splurging. A big part of accomplishing that is keeping tabs on prices at our local grocery stores and using coupons.

I clip coupons whenever possible, but I don't go out of my way to get them. I just clip the ones that I get in the mail and in the paper (whenever I get a free one from my library or buy one for a buck at the dollar store). I also print coupons from the Internet and add e-coupons to my store shopper cards (Safeway club, QFC advantage, etc.). There are some stores I shop at that don't take coupons and there are some stores that would give me great prices with coupons, but I don't shop at them because they are farther away than I want to drive. Couponing for me is simple. I tailor it to my family's needs and my comfort level. Even though I'm nothing close to an extreme couponer, I'm still able to save lots of money each week.



I don't have a massive stockpile in my pantry like those extreme couponers on TV, but I will stock up on a good deal from time to time if I have the money. Spend a little more now and save overall or spend less now and end up paying more to buy the item at a higher price in the future? Most of the time I don't have a choice, but when my budget allows me to stock up on an essential item, I will. Like toilet paper or soap. Or SPAM. Six-seven-ohhhh!

I don't have a coupon binder or a spreadsheet on my tablet to guide my shopping trips, but I do spend some time each week comparing sale prices from the different store mailers and matching coupons with the sale items. I do my best not to buy anything that I can't get some sort of deal on. And I don't buy things just because I have coupons for them. I only use coupons for items we already want/need. Also, I always remind myself that if a particular item is on sale for a great price now, that item will come back on sale another time in the future, so I don't worry too much if I'm not able to buy as many of it as I'd like to right then.

I keep my coupons in a small plastic accordion folder (you can see it in the photo below) that I bought for a dollar. It is small enough to fit in any of my purses. I always have one or more kids with me when I shop, so I like to make the process as simple and as non-bulky as possible - a list and my coupon folder, and a snack for the baby. I separate the coupons that are planned for that shopping trip, but I bring my entire coupon folder with me.



My folder has six pockets, therefore I separate my coupons into six major categories: Food, Bath and Beauty, Vitamins and Medicine, Household, Restaurants, and Stores. They are pretty self-explanatory, but in case you are wondering, Stores is for the coupons that can only be redeemed at particular stores. Within each category, I paperclip the coupons into smaller sub-categories. For example, in the Food category, some of the sub-categories are frozen foods, dairy, meat, etc. (See the photo above - six groups with paperclipped sub-groups.)

I make my shopping lists and pull out the coupons for the lists. Even if my shopping trips to the different stores will be spread out over a few days, I still make my lists for all the stores at the same time. And on the lists I include the sale prices plus any coupon values for each item. That way if there is an item that I listed to buy at one store, but I see the item at another store and it seems like it is cheaper, I'll know whether it really is cheaper because I wrote down the sale price and coupon value. Also, next to each coupon value, I list whether it is an e-coupon (EC) or a paper coupon (PC) - that way I don't freak out when I get to the register and think I have a coupon but can't find it in my coupon folder.

Here's the savings portion of a receipt from a recent shopping trip to Safeway:

 The Card Savings shows the savings I got from choosing items that gave me a better deal because I have a Safeway club card: reduced prices and BOGOs. The Just for U Savings are electronic coupons that I had pre-loaded on my Safeway club card. The Basket Savings was actually a paper coupon I had for $10 off of $50 or more. Paper Coupons are, obviously, paper coupons I used. Clearly, I spent a lot in that trip, but you can see how much more it would have been without the coupons. And I was able to bring home quite a big haul from that shopping trip.

In addition to coupons, I know which store brands I like for what products. On Saipan, if I wanted a generic or store brand, I basically had Western Family or Kirkland Signature. Out here, each store seems to have their own brand and their other preferred generic brands. And they are not all created equal. So let's say I have a coupon for a brand name multivitamin. I know that I like the Rite Aid brand multivitamins because they are basically equal to the brand name, but are cheaper - even with a coupon. So I'll go for the Rite Aid. Plus, for this particular product, I get a discount with my card and it is frequently sold B1G1Free. However, I really don't like the Rite Aid brand dental floss. For floss, I go brand name. And for a food example: I don't like the Safeway Select brand of instant oatmeal, but I do like the Kroger brand - though I haven't bought it for a while anyway, because the quick cooking oats I get from Grocery Outlet are cheaper and healthier and I can use them for baking too. I buy store brand bread from QFC and I buy oranges from H-Mart. I basically keep a mental note of where I prefer what. You get the idea.

Couponing does take time, but it doesn't have to take a lot of time to give you good results.

March 07, 2014

Before...

Five years ago, I was nervous in front of a judge, but I wasn't on trial; I took some pretty pictures; redefined OPP; wrote about irritating phrases and awkward closings; I made a joke; Jacob was so cute eating a lemon; I created a word puzzle; and I posted my February 365 Days of Deece.

Four years ago, I juxtaposed my ability to be a jerk with the most beautiful flower in the world; I wrote a haiku; and James finally wore green.

Three years ago, my kids took our family pictures at the park, granted, Jacob was three; I reflected on not doing the job I thought I would; and, clearly, I was going through something.

Two years ago, after years of our long distance friendship, I finally saw Mona (I looked like that because I was pregnant!); I made some yummy french toast; I made some fancy water; and I realized the task ahead.

One year ago, my husband brought us some loot; I had a terrible toothache, but what I didn't tell you because I found out later, was that the toothache was caused by sinus trouble, crazy right; and I almost sat on a stranger in her own car.

So, of course, beginning the day after my last post about the beautiful weather, all we have seen are gray skies and rain.

I have so much that I have to get done around the house that it's been tough for me to sit down at the computer. That, and also, the computer has been tied up as James and I have been hooking it up to the TV to re-watch Arrested Development. Thank you Amazon Prime Instant Video for reminding me that Arrested Development is funniest TV show ever created.

February 28, 2014

Winter, I like you, but it's time to go.

I naively thought that, in the lower forty-eight, north of some unknown-to-me latitude, winter was winter. And that meant cold and snow, with highs in the 20s and low 30s. Since I now live, essentially, within the northern most latitudes of the country, I assumed we were well above that line of demarcation, so I was bracing for the winter of my mind. What I didn't know was how vastly different a west coast winter is from, say, Home Alone winters or Christmas song winters.

We've had two snow days this whole winter. This was our second.


After seeing my east coast friends' snow pictures and the different noreaster storm news stories, I'm more thankful than normal that we live where we do. We aren't cold weather people. And while it wasn't the east coast, it certainly was cold.

The sun is out today, warming the ground, lifting spirits. A pair of stellar jays returned and are dancing up a barren tree outside my living room window. The leafless trunk and crooked branches surrounded by grass and pine trees, the tallest one entangled with bright, waxy ivy, still green and alive. I enjoyed the winter. I was thankful to experience it. I am glad that tomorrow is the first of March.

February 08, 2014

Banana Muffins

We had some extra bananas that I didn't want to go to waste, so I decided to make some banana muffins. Would you believe that I had never made banana muffins before? It's true. My sister is the banana cake baker of the family and I just never really had a need or desire to make them before. I looked at some recipes online and chose one that I thought would make a decent muffin and I modified it to make it even more moist and flavorful.

These were really tasty. They had a lovely light crunch to the tops, but were really moist and soft inside. They weren't too dense, but they had a very nice texture, especially because I left my mashed bananas somewhat lumpy. Baking these made the house smell so good too.

Banana Muffins - makes 12
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pumpkin pie spice
  • 3 large bananas, mashed, I left mine somewhat lumpy
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tins or use paper liners (I used butter). 

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside. I didn't measure the pumpkin pie spice, I just threw in how much I thought would taste good.

Combine bananas, granulated sugar, brown sugar, melted butter, egg, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Fold in the flour mixture and mix until fully combined. Scoop into greased muffin pans.

Bake for 25 minutes.

February 05, 2014

Before.

January, in our house, was rife with illness, pain, and prayers. We were sick. For weeks. All of us - my husband, a kid, same kid, another kid, my husband, another kid, same kid, and finally me. We battled the flu and ear infections. We are still battling them. Things didn't work out for us to get flu shots in time, so, yay, we all got sick. It got pretty bad. I was in tears praying on more than one occasion. Watching your children suffer is like a slow stabbing at your heart. But the Lord heard our prayers and healed the children. God is good.

~~~

I was quite surprised to find that I haven't done a Before post for February yet. So here goes....

I started this blog in November of 2005, but my first February posts didn't come until 2007, when I wrote bits about my pregnancy with Jacob, life with Katelyn, 100 things about myself, and the time when my sister and I placed first in the ribs competition at The Taste of the Marianas.

Six years ago, I decided to knit in the optometrist's waiting room,my niece thought she smelled her brother's axe, my nephew surprised me, our daughter surprised us with her song that was not about pakalolo, and we strolled down Chalan Memorias.

Five years ago, I had so much to do that I didn't do anything at all, I shared a travel story, I questioned the sudden retro-popularity of the 1980's, and I recapped my January 365 Days of Deece.

Four years ago, I shared my organizational methods, I made imitation blueberry pancakes, Katelyn had her first visit to the dentist, I had needs - real needs, I implemented Katelyn's teacher's sharing strategy, and SNL was stuck in my head all day.

Three years ago, I wrote three uninteresting posts. But that first post reminds me of exactly where I was, and why I needed to leave.

Two years ago, I made a massive baked s'mores, I was very expectant, and a tragedy rocked our community.

One year ago, I nearly chopped off the tip of my finger.

January 21, 2014

Gas Game

We had a tiny family adventure tonight. By adventure, I mean I drove the kids a few cities over and back.

Why does my husband drive his car to the very last drop of gas before filing up? Does your husband do this? Play gas tank chicken?

At 5:15 p.m., my husband called me to tell me his gas light was on and he didn't have enough gas to take him home, and he had no money because I had his card.

I threw jackets on all the kids, including my poor, sick son, and loaded them into my car. I had only a slight idea of where I was going. James called me when I pulled onto to the road to tell me where he'd be. Not Safeway anymore, he wouldn't make it that far. Too bad, I knew how to get to that Safeway, it's only in the next city over. He said he'd pull in at a different gas station, if he could make it that far. Please God, let him make it that far. He called me back to let me know he made it, and knowing I don't have the same freakishly accurate sense of direction that he does, he talked me very carefully through the directions to that gas station. Thank the Lord it was basically as simple as stay on the same road until you pass this other street and then pull into the Chevron after the Starbucks.

The kids did well. My poor son just hung out in the back with a blanket and a plastic bag in case his stomach decided to protest. My girls kept each other company in the middle seats and I just stared at the road. Boy, do the roads look different at night.

All I can say is, God is good.

January 12, 2014

The Evolution of a Snowball

On December 20, 2013, the kids' school was delayed two hours due to SNOW! We took full advantage of it and bundled everyone up to go out and play. We walked through powdery white fields and caught snowflakes on our tongues. The kids made snow angels and had a nice little snowball fight with their dad. They tried to pull me into it - read: my husband threw a bunch of snowballs at me - but because I was taking care of the baby, I had a good excuse to not continue getting snow lobbed at my face.

Before we called it a morning, Katelyn took a tiny snowball (the size that she started with is shown in the last picture) and turned it into something massive. We give you the evolution of a snow ball:

Take a tiny snowball and pack on more snow,


roll it,


roll it some more,
'

then get your brother to help out because now it's too heavy to roll alone.


Admire your work, you have now created a snowball that is half as tall as you!

January 08, 2014

Christmas Quiche

I don't know exactly when it happened, but eating quiche on Christmas morning has become a tradition. Either I or my sister or both of us have baked quiches for the family for Christmas morning for the past nearly ten years. I wanted to continue it out here, so I made a ham and zucchini quiche for Christmas morning.



It was really good. Katelyn ate it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And breakfast again the next day. And now I know that my husband only likes quiches with spinach. How did I not know this until now?!

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