My Free “Gym Membership” ~ by Sam

For health reasons, it is important that I exercise every single day, even if it’s just a walk around the neighbourhood.  I guess we could all say that, really, but, in my case, due to a chronic pain disorder, if I slack off for even a day, I awake stiff, sore and unable to move around the house enough to do even the most menial of tasks.  So, no matter how I feel, I have to get up and get moving.  I found years ago that I was far more likely to do work out if I actually set aside time to go to the gym.  At home, I was too easily distracted, and it was too easy for something to come up to prevent me from working out.  Can’t put in the yoga or pilates video, because the kids are watching cartoons.  Oh, now I can’t go for a walk, because it’s time for lunch.  I’d work with the weights a little, but there’s so much laundry to do…  I am the Queen of Excuses.  

But, at the end of the day, I find that I feel better, get more accomplished and…well, I AM better when I make time to exercise.  It makes me stronger, healthier, and just a better person.  It’s meditative for me, and my brain really needs that.  I still have memory and concentration problems, but, when I take care of myself, I find I am better able to complete tasks (and finish sentences).  I am more focussed, more patient and happier.  And, since I am the mama, when I’m happier, everyone’s happier.  So, it’s worth taking the time out of my day to get up and get moving.  

That said, a gym membership doesn’t really fit in to our budget right now.  I mean, we could probably swing it, but why?  There are other ways I would rather spend that money ~ like, say, on banjo lessons!  and fabric!  and cool socks for Kaia to wear with her uniforms when she starts middle school!  and art supplies!  and music lessons!  and tickets to We Will Rock You at the Ahmanson!!

Sorry.  I digress.  Again.

As I was saying, the gym membership doesn’t really fit in to our budget right now.  Shane rides his bike to work so that helps him satisfy his workout needs, and I was doing okay with trying to do a little yoga every morning and taking walks around the neighbourhood, but I was looking for something a little more challenging and interesting.  I remembered a couple of great local parks (Beeman and Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks) at which I always loved to walk, because, along the track, there is gym equipment.  I have been driving to one or the other a couple of times a week, and it’s great.  I feel stronger than I have in a long time, and I am saving us the cost of a gym membership. Nevertheless, I was sure I could save even more money if I didn’t have to drive so far, so I went online to see if there were any parks with gym equipment located closer to my home.  Sure enough, I found this great list:

I am so excited to check out all of the nearby “gyms.”  I think visiting different locations will keep my workouts interesting.  Once school starts up again (in just a few weeks!), since my two old favourites are close and convenient to stop by after drop-off or before pick-up, my schedule should fall into place fairly easily.  If not, I will just make a new plan.  That fact is, I have to do this.  It’s important to me to stay as healthy and strong as possible, so I can live my very best possible life.

I wanted to share this resource, because I am sure there are a lot of local folks who would love to take advantage of these free outdoor fitness areas.  If you are not in the L.A. area, do a google search for parks with gym equipment in your area.  It might not be as “glamorous” as the gym, but it will save you a monthly fee, and, like me, you might find you prefer being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine for your workouts.  

Have fun, be frugal and stay healthy.


Mr. & Mrs. Fix-It ~ by Sam

Recently, I noticed that the top shelf of the refrigerator was just flooded with water.  I removed everything from the shelf to wipe up what I thought was a spill.  The problem was there just wasn’t anything overturned on the shelf that could have spilled and flooded it with water.  So, I kept an eye on the fridge for a few days.  Sure enough, it filled up with water again.  At that point, I decided we must have a leak, and decided to try to figure out where it originated.  The best answer I could make out was that water was dripping from the ceiling of the fridge, just behind the light.  Weird.

Thank goodness for the internet!  Now, those of you who know me know that I am a bit of a technophobe, so, if I am singing the praises of the internet, I must have found a lot of answers there.  I did.  It seemed, based on my reading, that the drain line from the freezer was most likely clogged with ice, causing our wet, messy fridge leak.  Armed with that knowledge, I did a bunch of reading online. and watched a few videos.  I wasn’t lucky enough to find anything about my specific model of refrigerator, but I did find a video tutorial demonstrating how to clear a clog from the drain of a Kenmore refrigerator/freezer, which is at least the right make.   Hoping it was close enough, I told Shane that I knew what we needed to do.  He trusted me, which was kind of scary, but I decided to roll with it.  

First, we removed everything from the refrigerator and freezer, then Shane moved it out and unplugged it.  Next, we removed the shelf from the freezer, then Shane removed the two screws holding the back panel i place.  He had to disconnect a couple of wires and remove a lightbulb, lightbulb housing and the clear shield that goes over the lightbulb in order to pull out the panel so we could access the drain.  We removed all of the ice we saw on the surface of the freezer, then, using a turkey baster, I forced hot water through the drain until it ran clear.  

At that point, since the fridge was taken apart and everything was out of it, I decided to give a really good cleaning.  For dinner, I told the kids they could have anything that was thawing.  (We put everything on ice, but we kind of ran out of room in the cooler…and the sink.)  

Now, I haven’t given complete directions here, nor have I linked to videos.  I am sure you know how to do a Google search.  You might be able to find info about your specific fridge model, which could be even more helpful.  Mostly, I just came here to say, I’m proud of us.  We did it.  I think.  I mean, unless we wake up tomorrow, and the fridge is filled with water again.  Added bonuses include:
the fridge is SUPER clean.
I found all sorts of frozen stuff I forgot we had
I got rid of a bunch of stuff that was outdated or that we would never use
we have a LOT of ice, so I am going to make piña coladas now

T-shirt to Dress Re-Fashion – by Sam

A few days ago, I saw a tutorial online for a cute maxi-dress made out of 4 t-shirts. I fell in love with the idea. A few days later, I happened upon a t-shirt sale at Walgreens ~ 4 for $10. I only found 3 colours I liked, so I got them for $3 apiece, which wasn’t quite as good a deal, I thought, as I could have gotten. Then, I remembered that I had recently picked up a t-shirt at the 99-cents store. So, in the end, I got my 4 t-shirts for $10, anyway.

I thought about using the tutorial, but, you know, I am kind of lazy, and that would have involved actually reading and paying attention to directions. So, instead I just lay out the shirts on my bed, like this:

photo 1

Then, to be sure it would fit me, I threw a dress of which I like the general shape on top, and sort of cut around it, using the line of the dress’ skirt as a guideline, and gradually tapering it to roughly meet the sides of the top t-shirt (the one that would form the bodice of the dress.

I sewed the three panels of the skirt front together, with right sides together. Then, I did the same with the skirt back. Next, I pinned the skirt back to the skirt front, right sides together, and stitched up the sides.

I cut the top t-shirt at about my natural waist. Then, right sides together, I stitched the top of the skirt to the bottom of the bodice.

That’s it.


photo 2

I love it!

Almost there… by Sam

Today, I received our CitiCard statement. If we continue with the scheduled payments (which are deducted automatically from our account) we will be paid in full by November. November. Of this year. This will be an occasion for much celebration, the close of a very difficult chapter in our lives. In 2007, while we were vacationing in Amsterdam, a client of Shane’s defaulted on an almost $30,000 contract. We were devastated. Stranded in a foreign city, and the payment that was to be automatically deposited to our account just never came through. To add insult to injury, we had discovered, upon arriving, that our hotel had been demolished. The travel agency through which we booked found us a hotel right in the center of town, and we were checked in just in time to walk down the street for a wonderful Italian dinner. It was our best vacation ever, at the worst time ever in our lives.

Then, when we expected the payment to hit the bank, we started making daily trips to Dam Square, where we could access the internet and check our account. The money never came. Ever. We used credit cards, knowing that it would be fine, because the payment would come through, and we would pay them off.

It was a hard time for our family. There were a number of deaths in the family, which hit us all hard emotionally, and resulted in unscheduled flights to funerals. If you can’t find a cheap cross-country flight at the last minute, and you absolutely have to be there, anyway, you just do it. You use the credit card…and you know it will be okay, because, at the end of the month, that big contract will pay off, and it will all be all right.

Unless it doesn’t.

It didn’t.

Months went by. No payment ever came through. Years have since gone by. There have been a couple of quite minimal payments, but it was really a drop in the bucket. Carrying debt for years can result in great (as in “large,” not “wonderful”) amounts of interest on that debt. I remember, at a New Year’s Party, toasting to the end of the worst year ever, “…and don’t let the screen door hit ya in the ass on the way out! Or do. I really don’t care.” We had gone into a great deal of debt, lost a number of people we loved… In truth, 2007 was our Tale of Two Cities ~ “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was emotionally exhausting, and, frankly, I was glad to see it go.

Several years ago, I called our debtors, and requested to close those accounts and set up a payment plan, with as low an interest rate as possible. Bank of America (which we have since paid off) agreed to about 3%, which I thought was pretty great. CitiBank did them one better, agreeing to a payoff amount of about $16,000 at 0% interest, as long as we set up automatic payments, so we would never miss a single one. I jumped at the opportunity. The payment is $213/month, and I have had to budget carefully at times to make sure I had the money in the bank for them. Missing a payment would have meant a change of terms, and that would have meant interest charges, and a lot more time required to pay a lot more debt.

It hasn’t been easy, but we have done it. In November, when I get the alert that the final payment has gone through, I will celebrate. We will have $213/month more to work with. That will make such a difference. I think, in the beginning, I will probably just sock it away in savings. What I know for sure is that, when we make that last payment, around the 10th of November, I will light a candle and let it go. I have held a lot of anger in my heart for that person who defaulted on that contract, and that is not good for a person’s peace of mind. It’s hard. I am a very trusting, forgiving person, but the loss of that money, at that time, was extremely difficult for us.

Over the years, I have worked hard on letting go and moving on. I have tried to focus on the good times I remember with those we lost, and the great fun we had with all our travels that year. Our Amsterdam trip was probably the best thing that ever happened to our family. We learned that we can handle absolutely anything, together. We learned to roll with the punches and make the best of a difficult situation, and we learned what is most important in life. We learned to love and laugh and make wonderful memories together, no matter what is going on, because life is precious and unpredictable, and you just don’t get do-overs.

Still, at the end of the day, paying off the last of that debt will mean something. It is a milestone for us as a family. We did it. We faced tremendous adversity, and we came out on top. Together, happy, in love with life, successful in all the ways that count. Hooray for us. Forever and ever.

Trash or Treasure?

The end of an era:

The Sanitation Dept. has picked up the old green ottoman that was Justice’s “boat” when she was wee. I tried, but, unfortunately, after the cat peed all over it (more than once, while we were out of town) it was not salvageable.

I know, it’s just stuff, but it was hard to see it go. I happened to be in the parlour when the truck came, so I saw them load it. I’ll admit, I got a little misty-eyed. With her off living in a dorm for the rest of the summer, it was a sad to see a relic of her early childhood carted off to the landfill.

When she was little, Justice went on many adventures, far and wide, on her trusty boat, without leaving the comfort of her home. Sometimes, she would “drop anchor” and just lie on her back, “basking in the sun.” Other times, she’d sit and “fish,” or row off to some far-away island. No matter where she roamed, she was always home in time for dinner.

It was just one part of a three-piece furniture set we bought used from a colleague of Shane’s when we first moved to Los Angeles, but, for little Justice, it was so much more. It was a good little boat, and it served her well.

New (ish) Dresser – by Sam

Shane and I are proud owners of a new (to us) dresser that (miraculously) matches our nightstands.  We had purchased nightstands from IKEA’s Hemnes line shortly after moving to the new house in December of 2012, after admiring the line for many years.  The dresser I have been using is a nice old one I found on craigslist some years ago for $100; and, while it is a nice piece of solid wood furniture, the drawers are just too small.  We had been saving up to replace it with the dresser to match our nightstands, which is $229 at IKEA, and we were just about ready to do it.  In fact, Shane told me a couple of weeks ago to do it, but I was busy getting one kid home from a week of theatre camp, and sending another off to a 4-week Summer music program, and trying to learn to play the banjo, and cleaning up after a cat who suddenly decided to freak out and pee all over the house, so…Well, I never went I bought it.

A few days ago, after things settled down a bit (I jest.  Things NEVER settle down.  In truth, I probably had insomnia, and thought it was too late to break out the banjo and frighten the children awake), I decided to check craigslist, just in case someone was trying to unload one.  Someone was!  Nearby, in the finish we needed to match the nightstands, for $150.  It was just about a year old, and (BONUS!) it was assembled!  If you have ever shopped at IKEA, you know that everything you buy comes flat-packed, and you have to put it together yourself.  I went to look at it this afternoon, and, after talking the guy down to $140, due to a few minor scratches, drove away with a new (to us) dresser.

Now, we just have to score the matching tall chest of drawers to replace Shane’s, and we will have a fully matched bedroom suite for the first time in…well…I think…FOREVER.  So…that’s a milestone, right?

That was the most exciting part of my morning.  I would take a picture of the new dresser, but it is still in my car.  The guy who was selling it helped me load it in to the car, but I can’t get it out by myself, so it will just stay there until Shane gets home.  Kids are all off doing their things (Justice is at the California State Summer School for the Arts for four weeks, as previously mentioned, Kaia is at Twilight Camp with some Girl Scout friends, and Hallie is a Program Aide there with some of her Girl Scout friends); so I am cleaning, doing laundry and cranking up Green Day and Frank Sinatra as loud as I like.  Just made a batch of laundry detergent that will get us through the Summer and beyond.  Scented this batch with grapefruit, rose and jasmine essential oils, and, I have to say, doing the laundry has never been more pleasant.


Glitter Calming Jars

This is the project to which I referred in my last post.

This is the project to which I referred in my last post.  

You can easily find a number of tutorials for these on the internet.  Basically, you mix warm water, glitter glue, glitter, more glitter, big glitter, small glitter, shaped glitter, maybe a few beads, and, if you are feeling really adventurous, a drop of food colouring.  Then, you shake it up, relax, enjoy the glittery goodness any time you are feeling cranky, stressed or out of sorts.  The idea is that, by the time it has settled, your nerves probably will have, too.  And, really, with all that glitter, how could they not?  

Is it worth it? Probably.

It would have been so much easier (and cooler) to order pizza for dinner this evening, rather than make our own; but we had the cheese, we had the sauce, we had all the ingredients to make the crust, we had toppings… It seemed silly (and wasteful) to buy it when we already had everything we needed. So, I started making the dough. I am tired. I am hot. I have a headache. I have had a frustrating week. And now I have to go finish making pizza that I probably won’t even eat. It’s okay. I’m sure I will feel better after a few minutes of kneading dough; the kids will get a slightly less junky dinner than they might have; and I will save us the cost of having a pizza delivered. That’s good, right?

If it turns out pretty, maybe I will come back and post a picture. If it turns out ugly, I might come back and post a picture, purely for the comedic value of ugly pizza.

So. There you have it.

Grumpy day. I am thinking pizza might help. I have another project waiting in the wings. If it turns out pretty…

Well, you know the drill.


That was quick!  Okay.  I was totally right about the kneading.  It’s like meditation.  Good for the soul, and, on a purely mechanical level, good for the still rehabilitating wrist and thumb.  So.  I think it’s going to be worth the effort, as I suspected.  Of course, because i was making the stuff, it did not go as planned.  Turns out, I lied up there.  We do not have toppings, unless you count cheese.  So, 2 cheese pizzas it is!  (I was going to do one cheese, and one with other stuff, too, but that would involve having other stuff.  I offered to make canned green bean pizza, but I don’t think the kids were impressed.  I also didn’t have 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour, so I had to use about a cup of whole wheat flour to make up the difference.  See?   It’s going to be WAY better for them than delivery pizza.  Right??  Ha.  Yeah.  It’s health food.  But, hey, we have homemade crust, homemade sauce, real cheese ~ that’s not so bad, really.

I used this recipe:

In a large bowl, whisk together 2-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast and 1-1/3 cups warm water.  Let stand 5 minutes.


2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 t0 1-1/4 cups whole wheat flour

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon salt

1 Tablespoon sugar (optional)

Stir (or use electric mixer) for about one minute, until the dough kind of forms a ball.  Turn dough on to a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.  Oil the inside of the bowl with olive oil.  Return dough to bowl, turning once to coat all sides with oil.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (awesome ~ the Valley is warm) until doubled in volume, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Punch down dough and divide in half.  Roll each half into a ball, then let rest, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 475℉.  Grease two 12-inch round pizza pans and dust them with cornmeal.

Flatten each ball into a 12-inch round.  Transfer to prepared pizza pans. press little indentations on the surface of the dough to prevent excessive bubbling, rush with olive oil, top, and bake until cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.

Done.  You made pizza.

You see my dilemma.  This is going to take YEARS!  The pizza delivery place could have had it here in seconds.  But this will be cheaper, and better for us, and it will probably even taste better, too.

Okay.  Off to that other project!

Back again!  Here is an out of focus picture of pizza.  One more cheesy, and one less cheesy, as per kids’ request.  They seem happy.


I mean, the kids seem happy, not the pizzas.  The pizzas seem relatively yummy.  I just had a little bite of crust with the cheese pulled off, so I cannot speak with authority.