Hook 'Em Halloween!

Happy Halloween from the Tarun-Stogsdills! Wishing everyone a safe Halloween with more treats than tricks!

Welcome a new member of our family--our family pumpkin, custom carved in clay by Clay Casa and hand-painted by Melissa! This process took over 3 hours, multiple coats of paint, and those little bits of color "confetti" were also applied by hand, one at a time. Took waaay longer than imagined. Our little Longhorn pumpkin better be around forever!


I've Been Tagged!

Photo from Google Images

I've Been Tagged!
via Resistance is Futile by Tracy Kosofsky on 10/30/08

Melissa says: Tracy tagged me (thanks to Tyra who pointed this out), so I'll play along!

The Rules:
1. Link to the person who tagged you (Tracy)
2. Post the rules on your blog (this is what you are now reading).
3. List 6 random things about yourself.
4. Tag 6 people at the end of your post.
5. Let each person know they have been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.

Random things about me:
1. I love the color pink but rarely wear it
2. I am a cake designer and instructor
3. Texas Longhorn, Classes of '93, '93 and '96!
4. Love to travel
5. Romance novel reader
6. I am getting braces soon

I am tagging Janine, Eileen, Julie, Carisa, Archana and Tyra
hoping any of them will read this and post to their own blogs! I hardly know 6 people personally who have a blog! Now I have to remember to tell them I tagged them!
Simultaneously posted on Melissa's personal blog, Who Are You Calling Little? today


Literary Pumpkins

Each year, Thalia's school hosts a literary pumpkin patch display. The students decorate a pumpkin as their favorite book character and also write a short summary of the story and character. This is the third year Thalia has submitted an entry, and I really think it might be the cutest one yet!

Two years ago, Thalia's first entry as a kindergartener, Madeline, earned a spot at the annual district-wide Los Leones Student Art Festival. What a surprise and such an honor to represent her school. Last year, Thalia's Cinderella pumpkin also went to the art show and was sold to an undisclosed buyer, with the proceeds benefiting the school district! Wow!

Madeline the Pumpkin
2006 Los Leones Student Art Festival Entry

Cinderella on Display
2007 Beard Pumpkin Patch Display

This year's entry is the adorable Fancy Nancy, Jane O'Connor's adorably charming girl character brought to life by Robin Preiss-Glasser's illustrations. Thalia chose to recreate Fancy Nancy's look in the book Fancy Nancy at the Museum. A trip to Michael's got us some curly red hair (expensive yarn), fancy printed felt (clothing), and a hot pink feather boa. Thalia painted the pumpkin first, and then we started the hair. Fancy Nancy's curly red hair and fabulous accessories are pretty much what makes her "fancy" little self. Thalia unwinded the yarn, and I hot-glued it onto the pumpking in coils and curls. Thalia then made her some posterboard jewelry-- a mermaid tiara, just like the book, with matching sea-themed earrings. She also drew in the facial features with markers, which was the most frustrating part of the whole project for her.

Thalia had planned to create the top half of Fancy Nancy's fancy outfit, as seen in the book, but changed her mind after two days of pumpkin primping. Today she decided she looked ok enough with her boa and a pink leopard neck bow. She wrote her character and story summary today, and Fancy Nancy's all ready to go to school tomorrow morning!


Fancy Nancy

Closeup of the Mermaid Tiara, just like the book!

Lots of hair, two evenings of hot-gluing worth

Recession 2008: Some Pain-Free Resolutions to Stretch Our Pennies

Poor is the New Rich

Melissa says: Some frugal friends, and even not-so-frugal friends, have been sharing with us their strategies to ride out the coming storm known as The Recession. The Tarun-Stogsdill family has been developing our own "bail out plan" over the past few weeks:

1) Cancel the newspaper, the San Antonio Express News, which is currently delivered Fri-Sat-Sun. Actually, we would have canceled it anyway since we were kind of tired of it. I'll miss the 40% off Michael's coupons though. Total savings over 12 months = $156

2) Do not renew current magazine subscriptions. This one is a hard one for me, personally. I love to read magazines late at night in bed. Even when I'm a month or two behind, I do eventually get to them all. Right now, the following fill our mailbox: Lucky, In Style, Time, Entertainment Weekly, Texas Monthly, Consumer Reports, National Geographic Kids, National Geographic Little Kids, National Geographic Traveler, Health, Sports Illustrated, Wonder Time, Cookie. Total savings over 12 months = Approximately $12 per year for each magazine. *Note: Six of the thirteen subscriptions were Christmas or birthday gifts.

3) Cancel our Blockbuster Video Total Access Plan. While I will miss the convenience of having DVDs arrive in my mailbox and the gas savings by not having to drive to Blockbuster, I think I can survive without the movies in the mail. And it's true that we have watched 78 DVDs over the past 17 months, but it might be a good thing NOT to be glued to the tube so much. Total savings over 12 months = $156

4) Give up haircuts (Melissa, Thalia & Carys) & hair coloring (Melissa). Obviously, for professional and cosmetic reasons, this is not an option for the male in our family! But the girls and I will be going in less often for trims. Thalia and Carys will have bang trims (only $7!) and sport longer hair in the coming year! And I will try to reduce my highlights. *Sigh!* Total savings over 12 months (12 haircuts at Cool Cuts 4 Kids @ $18 each + 4 Hair cuts & highlights @ $80 each) = $452

5) Cancel XM Satellite Radio which we had in our Honda. This is not a huge sacrifice as we will still have Sirius Satellite Radio in both the house and both of the cars. Radio overkill. Total savings over 12 months = $168

6) Even our little 2nd grader is doing her part! Thalia voluntarily, with just the tiniest bit of nudging from us, gave up school cafeteria lunches beginning in August. She enjoys the occasional treat of a cafeteria breakfast or lunch every two weeks or so, but for the most part is bringing a healthy lunched packed by Mom. The bonus is that her lunch produces absolutely no waste at all, thanks to our "zero waste" policy (ours, not the school's): reusable plastic lunch container with four sections, High School Musical Thermos for milk, old baby washcloths used as napkins, and another Thermos for hot food if needed. School lunches are between $1.75 - $2.25 per day, depending on whether or not dessert is purchased. Breakfasts are slightly less at 90 cents. Total savings over 177 school days in 10 months= $277 .

7) Raise our home temperature by 1 degree. Believe it or not, this is killing Dylan, with his ceiling and portable fans in each room! Not sure what the savings over a year would be for this one, but every little bit helps, doesn't it?!

8) Cancel Showtime, a "premium" cable channel, from our cable lineup. Sadly, we haven't watched any Showtime shows or movies since we started paying for this channel. We got it for free for a while, got totally hooked on the Tudors, signed up for the channel, and then promptly stopped watching after episode 1 of the second season. Oh well! Total savings over 12 months = $120.

9) Do not renew season passes to area amusement parks. When you live within 10 miles of two large theme parks like Sea World and Six Flags, you tend to take for granted the ease and convenience of having season passes there every year. And of course, each year the price of the passes go up, and so does the parking. We've probably been to the parks enough times to have memorized the shows and ridden more than our share of the rides, over and over again. And we have lots of fun memories! Total savings over 12 months per park = $300.

With the possible exception of Thalia's school lunches, you will probably notice that our "sacrifices" really aren't that at all. I mean, we gave up a "premium" channel! And a redundant satellite radio system. And shaved off 1 degree on our home temperature!

But even so, we're trying, in mostly small ways, to change and curb our spending habits. More pasta. Less eating out. More buying in bulk. Less expensive entertainment. No more retail therapy (ouch!). More trips to the library. Fewer trips in the car, short or long. These are things that I can't really put a savings value on, because I don't know exactly how much we'll save on groceries by buying and serving more pasta, etc. Hopefully it will be felt in our wallets!

But if push comes to shove, here are some things we probably *should* give up but haven't quite reached that point yet:

1) Cancel cable TV altogether. We did this only once before, after the layoff of 2003, and that was only after several months of unemployment. Currently our cable is bundled with our digital phone and Internet access, so it's a little sticky trying to figure out what we would save without the cable. Because we're never getting rid of our phone and Internet connection! Aside from the fact that it would be like cutting off a limb, I'm required to have phone and Internet for work and it's tax deductible.

2) Cancel gym club memberships. We currently have two memberships, one family and one individual, at two different places in town (the JCC and Lifetime Fitness). I wish I could say I go often, but I don't. Dylan does make use of the family membership when he plays tennis each week. We're required to be members at the JCC as long as Carys is enrolled at their pre-school, but the Lifetime membership is one that I am stubbornly and irrationally hanging on to while not going nearly as often as I should! Dylan's company pays a portion of our gym memberships also, so that does help.

Doubtless other ways to save money will present themselves over coming months. Meanwhile we are blessed with fairly good health. We are blessed that Dylan has a job he enjoys at a large, stable company, which provides health insurance and other good benefits. We are blessed that we like our home and our neighborhood and our public school, so we won't have to worry about trying to sell a home and move in an uncertain economy for any of those reasons. We are blessed that our relatives also have stable jobs and roofs over their heads. Who knows how long it will take for our nation's economy to turn around? It's scary, but also a bit of a welcome challenge to weather it with creative solutions and changes to our current lifestyle.


A Lousy Day

Haven't posted in a while because we were out of town (Dallas for me and Dylan, Austin for the girls) and then had some lousy days last week. Literally.

Moms reading this post will probably know exactly what I'm talking about. Others may not. Lucky, lucky you if you don't. I was actually one of those people until last week.

Dylan and I enjoyed a quick visit to Dallas and Ft. Worth during the long Columbus Day weekend. On the way back home, after picking up Thalia and Carys from my parents' house where they more than enjoyed being spoiled by Lola and Lolo, we had lunch at a restaurant where both girls were scratching their heads. Uh-oh.

A trip to the restroom confirmed that there were little bugs crawling in their heads. A.k.a. head lice. (Scream!) I was, of course, horrified. We raced towards San Antonio and directly to the drug store. Calls were made on the way to my parents, who now had some laundry to do. Too bad they were getting ready to leave town when I called.

The September issue of Wonder Time magazine had a truly excellent article demystifying the whole lice issue, and thank God I had taken the time to read it. Since it had only been a few weeks since I'd read it, the information was still within reach somewhere in my brain! Otherwise, I would have been absolutely clueless and bought anything and everything at the drug store that we didn't need and wouldn't have worked anyway.

We barely unpacked the car before I started the treatments on the girls. It is a truly creepy experience to see bugs crawling around on your child's head. Ick, ick and super-ick! Meanwhile, Dylan stripped all the beds and gathered up all the recently worn clothes and soft, fabric toys (and we have lots of them) to be washed or stored in large garbage bags for a few weeks.

First we did a home remedy recommended by Wonder Time. It's easy, cheap and smells great: Pantene conditioner (not shampoo-conditioner) mixed with some baking soda and a lice comb. You cover the whole head with the mixture and then comb and wipe on white paper towels. Comb and wipe. Comb and wipe. The wiping part is really the kicker--against the stark white towel and conditioner, the little brown-black bugs look really gross and a little bit fascinating, at least to the kids. This was a laborious, time-consuming process, times 2 of course, so we watched alot of Disney channel that evening.

Then I did a second treatment that I had also read about in the magazine. When you go to the drug store, you usually have your choice of Rid or Nix brands of lice treatment. I had read that these treatments contain the same pesticide used to kill bugs on our lawns. Ick. Plus, lice have become resistant to these formulas that have been used over the last 25 years or so. I opted for a non-toxic treatment called Licefreee! (yes, with 3 'E's and exclamation point). It smells vaguely of licorice, not lawn spray. You apply to the head and leave it on for an hour, covered with a dandy plastic shower cap included in the kit. The girls thought it was such a hoot to wear the cap! In fact, they took the entire double treatment process quite in stride. Thalia said that her sitting in the chair, with the floor and her shoulder covered in towels, and having me de-louse her hair for hours while she watched her favorite TV shows was like being at the beauty salon!

The Licefreee! Beauty Salon: Don't you just love our hair?!

The Licefreee! treatment was more tedious than the Pantene. Combing out the Licefreee! stuff was really difficult, especially with Thalia's longer and tangle-prone hair. You rinse it out after the combing, and then comb it out all over again. And I did this with each girl! We finished around 11 pm. Then it was time to start the laundry.

And there was laundry. About 9 loads of it to be exact. (Most have been folded and put away. Some have not.) Meanwhile, the next day I had to figure out what to do about Thalia's school--do more home treatments or have her checked out by the nurse already? I let her sleep in a little after our late night 'beauty' session, and then opted to take her in to the school nurse. Our pediatrician's office had recommended that we come in that afternoon for a head check before going back to school. But I didn't want Thalia to miss school if she could help it, and she was really anxious not to break her so-far perfect attendance record! The school nurse was great. She checked both Thalia and Carys, and was amazed that they didn't have a single bug in their heads. I explained that I did 2 treatments the night before. (I did not explain that I can be a bit obsessive and thorough when I need to be!) The nurse said that it was really rare for kids to be allowed back to school the very next day because parents rarely get all the bugs out the first time. She asked about the treatments we used and said she hadn't ever heard about the Pantene one. I highly recommend the Pantene, by the way. It was easier than the Licefreee!, although the combination of the two seemed to do the trick. She found only 1 unhatched egg on Thalia's head, and none on Carys's. You can go back to school (in our district) if you merely have eggs but no bugs. We were told to check and comb daily for the next 10 days for more eggs. We have. In fact, we've done 2 more treatments since. The combing is really tedious. Really, really tedious. But it's the only thing that really gets the eggs out. The treatments won't kill the eggs. And who really wants to go through all of this AGAIN?!

Thalia said some kids in her class have made fun of her, calling her "Lice Girl," (poor thing!) despite the fact that everyone at our school seems to have it and the nurse said it's the worse outbreak she's seen there. We certainly weren't the first family with it! And there was the dreaded communication with other parents whose kids have been exposed to ours. It wasn't such a big deal though--by the time the others found out, their kids had it already along with everyone else at school. The day Thalia went back to school, several Moms called me asking what we tried, and others have told me what their home remedies were, including Listerene and mayonnaise with Dawn dishwashing liquid.

I have to give a shout out to our friend Dallas who had some great advice and support when I called her twice for information and clarification! Thanks for helping me not lose my mind!

Now that we're on Day 8 of our 10 day lice-watch, I'm hoping we won't be seeing any more kiddie cooties for a long, long time, if not ever.


Go Fly A Kite

Thalia's Homemade Kite

Carys Gives it a Try

The SA Botanical Garden's new Terrific Treehouses exhibit opened during Labor Day weekend. It had been a hot first week of school already, and we debated whether or not it would be too hot to enjoy the totally outdoor exhibit on Labor Day. We decided to go, but get there early. Whatever. We got there after lunch, and they were only going to be open for a few more hours.

Part of our decision to go to the Botanical Garden was driven by the fact that we won a year-long family pass at the silent auction at Carys's school and had yet to go. The Treehouse Exhibit was packed. We'd never seen so many people at the Garden! Last year in September we took our Brownie Troop there to see the 'Dora & Diego' Garden exhibit, and there weren't nearly as many people. It was really weird to see so many people; it made the gardens seem much less restful than usual.

But the Treehouses! They are not 'treehouses' as we traditionally think of them, but really inventive designs using natural and recycled materials. Each has a different theme, and there are nine of them. We visited all nine of them in the blazing heat. At first, the girls were so excited and ran from treehouse to treehouse. There were all sorts of activities going on all over the gardens to celebrate the new treehouses. One of them was making your own kite out of recycled newspapers. There was just enough wind, and they just loved flying their kites, but all that running back and forth tired them out. I mean, they just suddenly stopped like wind-up dolls that had run out of magic wind-up energy. Then the whining started.

Poor things, they needed water and rest and shade. Thank goodness we brought their refillable water bottles. I suggested that we just go home and see the rest of the exhibit on another day. But we still had half of the Treehouses to see, and if you visit all of them and answer questions about them on the brochure, you get a free prize at the Gift Shop. And despite the heat and being very tired all of a sudden, the girls wanted their prizes!

So we trudged on. They enjoyed several more Treehouses and barely acknowledged a couple more in their tiredness. They also helped make a recycled newspaper house, an ongoing project that was very interesting to watch. Then Thalia and Carys each chose a toy butterfly at the Gift Shop as their prize, hard-earned in this weather!

Building with Newspapers

Bamboo Treehouse near the Japanese Garden

We decided that the exhibit would be even more fun when it wasn't so hot, and Carys and I have already gone back in this week's cooler weather. It was fun the second time around, and Carys even earned another free prize for visiting all the Treehouses again. I'm sure we'll be back yet again, to see the Treehouses against the backdrop of the different gardens as they change with each season. And it was nice to go on a family outing and marvel that we no longer have to travel with stroller or diaper bag whenever we leave the house!