Pretty as a Princess

I wrote an entire post about the background behind this particular layout of Carys. Blogger crashed and my writing wasn't saved, so here is the layout sans description, because I think it's so cute anyway!

Taken at Carys's pre-school Purim Celebration in March 2009. Carys wearing her Giselle (from Enchanted) costume.


Flat Thalia & Flat Carys go on Holiday!

Image from BarnesandNoble.com

Thanks to our very creative aunt/sister-in-law Kelly, Thalia and Carys's alter egos are now on a year-long holiday in Ireland and beyond! Check out Flat Thalia and Flat Carys at their new blog, lovingly updated by Kelly.

And if you've never read the Flat Stanley series of books for children, you absolutely must!


The Deed is Done, or Thalia's Ears are Pierced

For her 8th birthday this year, Thalia decided she would finally have her ears pierced. In Asian and Hispanic cultures, having your ears pierced is typically done when you are an infant, so Thalia was about 7 1/2 years late in getting hers done.

The reason Thalia didn't already have it done really has nothing to do with her ears and everything to do with her mother's. I had my ears pierced by my pediatrician/godmother when I was a mere babe. How could I not? I was a typical Filipino baby girl! However, one day when I was a baby, not sure how old exactly, being cared for at my babysitter's house while my parents were both at work, one of my earrings, not sure which one, got caught in the netting of my playpen. I must have turned my head to get free and in the process tore my earlobe. Ick, ick, ick. Trip to the ER to stitch my ear up and frantic calls to my parents ensued. And very much parental blame (my Dad's) and parental guilt (my Mom's) followed. Although I have no memories or scars from the experience, this event is remembered by practically everyone who ever knew me as a young child. It was a big deal. So I didn't get my ears re-pierced again until I was about 6 or 7 years old, when my Dad finally gave the ok to do so and I was willing to have it done. Because the idea of having a "shot" in your ears voluntarily doesn't go over as well when you're older.

I made the mistake of telling Dylan my torn earlobe story once, so when we had a baby girl in 2001, he was not really enthusiastic about exposing Thalia to the same dangers. Even though playpens today are much safer, fine mesh instead of loose netting, etc. Ditto my Dad's 2 cents on the subject, a rehash from 1971. Various Filipino relatives sent gorgeous itty-bitty, infant-sized earrings in gold, coral and other gemstones, but she never got to wear them. We decided that when she was old enough to make the decision herself, she could have her ears pierced.

Thalia was basically oblivious to it all until the last year when she started noticing and envying her friends' pretty studs and dangling earrings from afar, but was still too afraid to have her own ears pierced. My brief description of how it all happened horrified her, despite my assurances that it would "only hurt for a second." But recently, something happened that made her change her mind.

In March we went to the American Girl store in Dallas where Thalia chose to have her doll Felicity's ears pierced at the "Salon." This beauty procedure costs $14 and includes a very nice set of six mix and match earrings. (Basically they take the doll to the back and drill a hole in each ear. Clearly not something that needs to be done in front of the child!) She was so enamored of her doll's new look that she decided she would do it as well! Ha!

I suggested that we go on Good Friday as she would be off from school. We told lots of people she was going, to solicit moral support! She got excited, then apprehensive, then excited again, then scared. We drove to Claire's (which boasts having pierced 80 million ears worldwide) at La Cantera. The store was busy but there was no line for piercings. First, Thalia chose a cute mesh earring organizer (I've always wanted one of those) and then a pair of white gold 4mm balls (to match her doll's earrings). After she climbed onto the ear piercing stool, she had that "deer in the headlights" look. She looked very scared. I gave her a reassuring smile and held her hand. Secretly, I wondered if I was being a bad parent who had somehow "pushed" her into this decision. I assured her it would be like a very quick little pinch of the ear. The Claire's woman did the first ear. Thalia cried. Apparently it hurt more than a little pinch. She didn't want the second ear done. In went the second earring. Thalia cried some more, but valiantly tried not to.
"You said it would only hurt for a second!" she accused me.
"Umm, maybe more like 5 minutes?" I ventured.

I quickly paid for the whole experience and we walked out of the store. Thalia sniffled and pouted as we left. We were three stores away when I realized we hadn't taken a photo yet (no ear piercing photos allowed in the store).

"Let's take a picture of you and your new ears in front of the store!" I said over-cheerfully, steering us back toward Claire's. Thalia looked very glum through the camera.

"How about pushing back your hair so your earrings show!" People were looking at us, probably thinking what a crazy mean Mom I was to make my kid pose for pictures in her obvious discomfort.
"Smile!" Thalia gave the very tiniest of smiles. Good enough.

I offered her ice cream at the Food Court to celebrate her bravery and fashionable ears. The long lines and apparent pain in her ears made her change her mind. She just wanted to go home. "You said it would hurt for 5 minutes," she reminded me. "It's been hurting for way longer than that."

We didn't have any more junior Tylenol at home (darn it!) but she was content to lay on the couch wrapped in her favorite blanket and watch Disney channel. She looked pathetic. I felt very bad. Bad Mom! Bad Mom!

An hour later, she came up to me. "My ears don't hurt anymore. Do you think I look pretty?" Hallelujah!
"Yes, definitely!"

She's already asking when she can switch to dangling earrings.

Layout Credits: Layout sketch from http://www.stickersnfun.com/
All papers, lettering and embellishments (some recolored) from Shabby Princess Designs "Festival" kit


At the Garden Gate

We've been so disappointed these last few years with the total lack of wildflowers in the spring. Although I myself did not grow up having photos taken among the Texas bluebonnets, this is something we've tried to do each year with Carys and Thalia. The only snag is that we've had at least three spring seasons with few or no wildflowers at all! Darn these dry Texas winters!

So when I saw an extremely tiny patch of bluebonnets on the side of the road in Shavano Park near Carys's school the other day, I knew we had to come back and take pictures there! I have a feeling this patch of loveliness was deliberately planted by the owners of the house on the other side of the gate, and I thank them very much, whoever they are!

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, started out with yucky rainy and cold weather but very quickly became a lovely, sunny day. So as soon as we were finished with breakfast, we drove over to Shavano Park for our photo shoot. Dylan actually thought we were being ridiculous, posing for pics in front of someone's private property, but I was having none of that! The bluebonnets were beautiful, the sun was shining, and the girls were wearing their adorable Easter finery--all begging to be photographed. Carys was much more agreeable and helpful about having her picture taken, thank goodness, while Thalia was in tears about us possibly getting in trouble (thanks alot, Dylan). In all, we were only out there "trespassing" for about five minutes, and managed to regroup long enough to take a few pics:

This was actually taken in front of our own house, no bluebonnets unfortunately!

Easter Monday

Happy Easter Monday! (We're a bit late with our Easter greetings to everyone, but since today is still an Easter holiday for some parts of the world, it's probably ok!) So here's an Easter card just for you.

We hope everyone had a blessed day with family and friends. Ours began with wet, blustery weather but just as we walked out of church, the sun came out and the rest of the day was lovely in every way! And of course, the Easter Bunny made his yearly visit and left overflowing baskets of goodies on our front porch as always.

Melissa, Dylan, Thalia & Carys

LAYOUT CREDITS:Layout scraplifted from "Chickadee" by Davinie. Papers by: Amanda McGee for Scrap Girls (recolored), Shabby Princess "Splendid", Shabby Princess "Spring Breeze", Creative Memories "Bright Boy" (recolored), Creative Memories "Baby Love"; Embellishments: Buttons: Suzanne C. Walker "Cute as a Button", Ribbon: Amy Teets "Sunporch", Easter basket & eggs, stitches (recolored): Creative Memories; Easter bunny: created by me; Fonts: Creating Keepsakes Cursive, Little Days


Reality Check

So it's been almost 6 months since I posted our family's recession-weathering strategies. These were
"non-sacrifices" for the most part and we were grateful for the fact that our cuts were mostly painless. We weren't cutting basic necessities, just upper middle class luxuries. Now it's time for a reality check to see how well we've stuck to our proposed cuts and changes:

1) Cancel the newspaper (San Antonio Express News)
Update: We did indeed cancel it but have still received a newspaper every single Friday, Saturday and Sunday since then! We can't stop them from coming! So of course, we sometimes read it. And I still cut out the Michaels coupon when there is one. Amazingly, no one has billed us for the past 6 months. I've supplemented my local paper needs by reading excellent articles in the FREE San Antonio Current too. So, total savings since October = $78

2) Do not renew current magazine subscriptions
As I mentioned before, this was a hard one. We still get the following magazines, thanks to lovely friends and relatives who've gifted us with subscription renewals: Texas Monthly, Consumer Reports, National Geographic Little Kids, Sports Illustrated, Cookie. We also still receive Time and Entertainment Weekly because our subscriptions haven't run out yet and National Geographic Kids because we just mysteriously started receiving it one month! Total savings over 12 months = Approximately $12 per year for each magazine. I broke down and subscribed to one magazine in the last 6 months, Wondertime, a wonderful magazine for parents. And this was after receiving about a half-year's free subscription from them. Altogether, with all the gifting going on, we've saved at least $50 in magazine subscriptions and only spent $12 on one.

3) Cancel our Blockbuster Video Total Access Plan
We did it and really don't miss it at all! Not like there isn't anything showing on the gazillion cable channels we currently have. Total savings over 16 months = $78

4) Give up haircuts & hair color
This applied only to Thalia, Carys and Melissa. We did fairly well in sticking to the plan, but as is often the case, plans need to be tweaked! Thalia has had 2 haircuts since October (approximately $38 total). Carys has had 1 haircut, and possibly 1 bang trim (approximately $26 total). Their hair did grow fairly long until I just got tired of having to style it (ponytails, etc.) Hopefully we can go another few months without major hair expenditure for them! I have had 1 excellent haircut since our recession plan began ($60). And NO hair color/highlights! *Sigh!* I think I need some color though. The gray and white hairs are significantly more noticeable this year . . . !
By this point, if we hadn't made an effort to reduce "hair spending", we would probably have spent about $188; we actually spent about $124. So total savings so far: $64. Other hair-related potential savings: stop buying Aveda hair products for Dylan and myself. Even if they smell really great!

5) Cancel XM Satellite Radio
Done that, and now I'm lobbying to just get rid of the Sirius Radio subscription as well, which costs approximately $20 per month. Total savings since October: $78.

6) Give up school cafeteria lunches (beginning in August 2008)
This has probably been the most significant change for us, interestingly enough. I now pack 2 lunches every single school day, with an occasional break when Thalia enjoys the occasional treat of a cafeteria lunch once in a while. This has brought about some really thoughtful discussions at our house about "healthy" v. "junk" foods. I think our kids have really benefited from helping pack their own lunchboxes. I think so far, we've paid for about $30 of school lunches/breakfasts, when normally at this point, we've would probably have paid about $160 to the school cafeteria already.

7) Raise our home temperature by 1 degree
Yes, we did this, from 78 degrees to 79 during the "Indian Summer" in Texas that is it's own season. But we don't really know how much we saved by doing that because we haven't compared 2008 bills to 2009 yet. However, we also successfully survived the entire (mild) winter by only turning on the heater once! And we even had some near freezing (below 35 degrees) temperatures! See my earlier post about how we did this without hardly noticing the cold at all. Again, we don't know how that translated into actual utility savings, but we were rather proud of ourselves! ha!

8) Cancel Showtime, a "premium" cable channel
Did this too and still don't miss The Tudors. However, HBO is a whole other story and would be greatly missed if we had to go without that channel. Total savings since October: $60.

9) Do not renew season passes to area amusement parks
Do we really miss not going to Sea World on a whim? A little bit. Our passes didn't expire until December 31st, and we were able to use them until the very last day. So we've only been without passes for a few months, and they officially just reopened a few weeks ago. Will we really miss them this summer? Possibly. Total savings over 12 months = $300.

So those were essentially our "non-sacrifices" these past few months, things that had little or no impact on us, with the possible exception of Thalia's school lunches.

But in other everyday areas of our lives, we've made some changes as well:

1) Food at Home: I've probably cooked dinner more times in the past 5 months than I have in the past 5 years! It's too easy to get lazy and rely on eating out in this country. And when you eat out, it's usually not the healthy stuff. I've changed the way I plan meals and shop for them. I've gone back to planning a menu (really hadn't done this since the late 90s), even if it's just in my head. We've always had alot of food in the pantry too, but very often forget it's there. One of my new rules is to use up everything in the fridge and pantry before I stock up again. So we experience the ebb and flow of full/nearly empty fridge. Also, I'm buying as much in bulk as possible, forcing us to eat at home more to make sure we finish it all! Cheap eats are all the rage now it seems. I can't tell you how many articles and blog posts I've read about feeding your family on $10 or less per meal. Some ideas are intriguing, some are just gross and unhealthy to me. So I've gone back to cooking some of the foods I grew up with, Filipino/Asian dishes, that are tasty and inexpensive. Asians always eat like kings, but for very little money! We are also eating more pasta, rice and potatoes. We might also be getting really sick of pasta, rice and potatoes! Interestingly, we spend the most money on fresh fruits, which I pack daily in the girls' lunches.

2) Eating Out: I think we eat out less frequently overall, at least at real restaurants. I have consciously tried to stock the freezer with meals that can be heated up quickly so we aren't tempted to go out for pizza or burgers and fries. When we do go out, we no longer choose restaurants where you have to wait very long for your food or have to tip the waiter. My kids' new favorite places to eat locally are Subway, which I think is basically healthy for fast-food, and Bill Miller BBQ (I love the Chicken De-Lite plate myself which I just discovered last month after 20 years!). Neither place has waiters nor do you have to wait hardly at all for your food.

3) Loving the Library: At any given moment, our family probably has over 20 items checked out from the San Antonio Public Library! We love the Library! There is a brand new branch 5 minutes from our house, and another one near Carys's school. I adore the place on hold feature, where I can request anything be held for me at any location for pick-up. I can go into a Barnes & Noble and NOT buy anything now, and feel just fine about it, because I can get the same book/CD/DVD at the Library! I grew up going to the Library frequently, and then went through a period of about 10 years when I never went, and now I am a devoted fan all over again. The girls love going there too, they think it's such a treat, because everything is FREE! They still can't believe it sometimes.

4) Vacations: Since I wrote the blog post about beating the recession, we've had 3 major holiday/vacation periods (Thanksgiving, Winter Break and Spring Break). We had originally planned to spend Christmas in NYC, but canceled the plans when the economy started to really tank. That made me really sad. I love to go on trips, and wanted my kids to experience the holidays in a city that loves Christmas like NYC. So Christmas was a "stay-cation" at home. Thus far, our only vacation has been Spring Break in Austin and Dallas, to visit family and good friends. The weather sucked, but we had a great time anyway, and thanks to the generosity of my parents and our friends, we spent very, very little! And it reminded us that the best things in life aren't things (or even places to visit) anyway, they are our friends and family who we never see enough of.

5) Spending Money in General: I have really tried to curb my shopping habit in the past few months! (Although it may not seem so!) I love to stock up when things I know we'll need or use go on sale, but haven't done as much stocking up as I used to. It's more like a "buy as we go" kind of shopping these days. This has had an interesting effect on our kids. They are very aware that things cost money and are keenly interested in the relative cost of things (is this expensive? is it a good deal/buy?) I like that they know at their young ages that everything cost something and that we can't afford to have everything, nor would we want to.

6) Driving Down the Debt: We did something that has never been done in the history of the Tarun-Stogsdill family recently--paid off our credit cards! So now the challenge, of course, is to keep them paid of.

There is one thing I think I can and should give up, but haven't gotten around to it: my "fancy" gym club membership. I go rather infrequently to Lifetime Fitness but pay the monthly fee year-round. I will probably cancel pretty soon. At least I think I will, unless I just start loving workouts again!

As I did almost six months ago, I thank God that my family is blessed with fairly good health. And Dylan is blessed with a job he enjoys at a large, stable company, which provides a good income, health insurance and other benefits. And my immediate family are also likewise blessed.

And while we have not had to experience (another) layoff in our family, I can truly see the other side of the coin, because it's all around me. Sadly, I don't have the means to support the entire world. I know for every "luxury" cup of coffee Dylan no longer orders at the Starbucks near his work, down the line there will be someone at a Starbucks who loses his job. And I feel sad when another family I know is really hurting right now.

This is the sad result of an economy where everyone is selling some thing or service to someone else, in which everyone we know participates, myself included. My own business? Who wants a custom cake at times like this? I may likely never grow my business much during this "Great Recession." Are we not all in the same precarious position, only in various stages? But lots more people will be out of jobs, out of their homes, before this thing shakes out, probably 3-4 years from now, from what they're saying. And I also think the world economy will be vastly different after the shake-out and there may not be the same place for everyone in it that there was just last year. Maybe that won't be such a bad thing either.

And when I wrote the earlier post, it was pre-election time and everything was still up in the air. I have new faith in my country's leader and hope that over time, the economy will turn around. No quick fixes for a problem that grew unchecked over many years. I'm not a naturally patient person, but I really think that patience is key in riding out this storm. We'll just have to see whether or not the storm will continue to be a painless experience or not for our family.