Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I hate the mall

I hate the mall. I used to like going and occasionally buying something on clearance, but no more. The mall is only good for teenagers with high paying minimum wage jobs and no responsibilities, and for older women with disposable income. It is too easy to spend money at the mall, so I stay away. But I have gift cards for a few stores and I was on that side of town... so I thought today would be a good day to use them. My husband was supposed to meet me, but he ended up having to stay late. No honey, take the overtime - I can shop with the kids alone. I'll make do. So I push the double stroller toward Victoria's Secret (their semi-annual sale started today). My sweet husband gave me a VS gift card as one of my Christmas presents six months ago, so I thought I should probably get to spending it. They had packed the store twice as full as usual, so I had a little trouble getting the double stroller in. I decided I better just focus on underwear, which of course was at the back of the store. There is nothing like a double stroller to get you dirty looks from some people. No matter where I parked it, little fingers would appear from nowhere trying to pull down the corsets and unmentionables, plus it would inevitably block some sale items. Seriously, there was not one good place to park while I dug through the marked down underwear (VS Cotton $3.99, Pink $3.99 and fancy pants $5.99). So I made do, much to the consternation of the other shoppers, and boy were there a lot of them! Child #1 was pretty helpful, although I am not sure about the wisdom of having my 6 year old son help me pick out underwear. It becomes awkward when I don't know how to explain why mommy doesn't really like that style. Thankfully, he was more fascinated with the security tags, and he just kept asking if they would get removed. It quickly went downhill, what with Child #2 trying to open all the drawers. Then the baby caught on, so she was trying too. Then Child #2 shut a drawer on her fingers so there was a LOT of screaming and tears. (And that wasn't even the low point.) So then I was holding her while I was sifting. Nope. Let's just check out. Did I mention there was a lot of people shopping? There was only a 2 foot area between makeup and mint displays to maneuver the stroller through to the cashier. In fact, I was limited to that line because it was the only one I could fit into. So Child #2 and Child #3 are making mad grabs for everything. Putting steel grips on lollipop panties (?) and eye shadow. It's all within their reach and at their level and evil mommy is taking it all away. So BOTH of them start shrieking, loud, high pitched screaming. The waves parted and everyone turned toward me. Oh look, my turn to check out. The cashier looked at me and asked, "Are you all right? Do you need a moment?" Do I need a moment? I'm only about to burst into tears, but I'm not the one shrieking. No, I just need to check out so I can leave, plus I was getting shaky (probably because I hadn't eaten lunch). Even once I had my bag, I had trouble turning the stroller around, and then I had to get all the way from the back to the front of the store. Yeah, that was me, sorry if I ran over your foot. Were you one of those pretty, young girls shopping with your boyfriend and looking slightly scared of me? You better be scared, I hold Victoria's Secret responsible for Child #2 and 3.
I went to one of those benches in the middle of the mall and called my husband.
" *sob* Don't *sniff* ever buy me a *sob* Victoria's Secret gift card again. *sniff* Victoria's Secret is for skinny girls that have nothing better to do than to blow money on smelly lotions and $40 bras. I can't shop there anymore. *sob* "
Yeah, I called my dear sweet husband and blamed him for his gift.
I hate looking like an incompetent mother more than anything else. Mothering is what I do and it is probably what I do best. It was the way those ladies were looking at me - disdain, fear, disgust, annoyance and the occasional look of pity.
Ah well, screw the mall. Let's go home. It was really stinking hot out today, and I just wanted to get everyone in the car. As I'm buckling kids in, my cell phone rang. It was some lady from an occupational therapy group calling about the coverage for Child #2, who had a SID assessment done a few weeks ago. Apparently, when she called for pre authorization, they gave her the wrong coverage information. It's not covered at 100% with a $25 copay like she told me - no - "you have a $1000 deductible and it's covered at 60%".
"Mommy, I'm thirrrrstyyyy."
$300. I could not hear half of what she was saying, but I heard that. So... I burst into tears again. "I'm sorry *gulp* I have to call you back *sob*" I can't think about this right now. In my heart I am indignant and angry. We would not have driven an hour to get the assessment for him, if she had told us the correct coverage in the beginning. This is their mistake. I will deal with it later, not now.
"Mommmmeee, I'm thirsty."
Me too. We got Sonic. Chili Cheese Coney dog, grilled cheese, corn dogs and french fries, plus a peach iced tea for poor mommy. Total indulgence. We went home and everyone felt much better. That was when I discovered that I'm ovulating again. Oh joy. Let me take this moment to revel in my fertility ability, and the fact that I am not pregnant. Well, at least that explains why I was so shaky and weepy. Yeah, it was a great day. Seriously, if you take out the whole mall part we had an awesome day. What I relearned today - 1) If you already went to the post office and then play group, then the kids are done for the day. 2) If it's after 1 pm, just go home and try again some other time.

Monday, June 16, 2008

USCIS Paperwork - Form I-600A

Just thought you might like to hear the mundane details of how I spent my free time this weekend. Well, it wasn't really free time. I was compiling, copying and typing most of this while the boys were bickering five feet away. Child #2 has been cranky from going to sleep too late and Child #1 split his lip this morning so, he's sort of cranky too (but with a fat lip). That means that their bickering is a lot whinier and louder than usual, and they pounce on each other's toys a lot faster. But I digress... So I was blocking out the world around me to get the USCIS paperwork finished by Monday.

Here's how it works:
-We need to file a Form I-600A for Advance Petitioning to bring our orphan child here (This is only for non-Hague countries like Ethiopia. For Hague countries, you would need to file the I-800. Find all your immigration forms here: This involves printing out a form and filling it in, not so bad. With this form, you must include:
-Two money orders made out to either US Department of Homeland Security or US Citizenship and Immigration Services, NO abbreviations please - one for the application ($670) and one for the fingerprinting or "biometric" fees ($80 per adult over 18 living in the house)
-Copies of birth, marriage, divorce (if applicable) certificates
-Completed home study with the agency's license (I have heard of people submitting the I600A without the home study, then forwarding the home study once it was done. But I wanted everything together because this is beauracracy. The less that can go wrong, the better.)
-I also included a copy of our drivers licenses because they have requested that before, and for good measure, a cover letter with our intent and a list of enclosures.

Now that I have compiled everything, I have to mail it. I can either go FedEx or certified mail, but regardless, I have to be able to track it. Once they recieve it, they will send us a notice and also, a time to go get fingerprinted. This can usually be done as a walk in. After a period of days, they will hopefully send us the I 171H or Notice of Favorable Determination (or something along those lines). It is the hallowed piece of paper that is absolutely essential to the dossier. All this can take weeks or months. From others experiences with the Houston Field Office, it sounds like about two months, hopefully.

We also applied for a grant from Shaoshannah's Hope (a wonderful grant program started by Stephen Curtis Chapman), which also involves a tedious amount of supporting paperwork, so I will be working on compiling that as well in the next week or two. We will be praying over this effort a lot because the overtime is drying up this month (husband is kind of glad about that).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Home Study Complete!

We recieved the completed home study in the mail yesterday, which means we have officially been approved! Now I get to start on the next chunk of paperwork, but we are just so happy to have this big step completed.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Gas Saving Tips

We have had to change our driving habits drastically. It costs $12 a day just for my husband to go to work, so the small motorcycle that we bought last year as a weekend sanity saver for him, has actually become a big saver (only $4.50 a day). Only downfall is that he gets really hot in his armored jacket, and I only feel safe if he doesn't take the highway. His afternoon commute home is not very fun, and I'm a little concerned that he will melt away before he reaches our house. We only run errands twice a week and it's consolidated. Church is most expensive at $7, but that is worth every penny :) There are no good solutions except lower gas prices and since nobody is making that happen, here are some strategies that might help.

-Find the cheapest gas stations near you:
-Check out hypermiling here:
You can google the term and find even more details. Easiest savers: don't speed up and slow down, don't acclerate, stay below 55 mph (I used to laugh at this and now I'm considering it.)
-This AAA site was reccommended for long trips, but I found it rather limited:
-Fill up during the cool part of the day and don't fill up when a fuel truck is refilling the underground tanks. Don't carry around extra weight and don't fill the gas tank up all the way. Here are some other tips with explanations:

-A more accurate method that I use to figure out if a trip to the mall is too expensive to make it worthwhile: First determine your gas mileage. To do this, the next time you fill up reset your trip mileage or write down the mileage you're at. At your next fill-up, write down how many miles you have gone and how many gallons you put in. Take a calculator and divide the mileage you've gone by the gallons you put in (like 320 miles divided by 17.8 gallons = 18 miles to the gallon) Okay, now you know your exact gas mileage. Now look at what you paid for one gallon of gas, and divide that number by your gas mileage number ($3.75 divided by 18 = $.20). So in this example, you're paying $.20 per mile. That means it costs a dollar to go five miles. Now what I do is, I go to and I put in the library or mall or Wal Mart or whatever with the street and city. You can usually find the location you're looking for with that much information. Once you find the destination, click on get directions and put in your home address. This will tell you the exact mileage if you take that route. At that point you can add a stop to see how far away it is or whatever, but remember you always have to add in the trip home as well. Once you now the exact mileage to go to the bank, library and grocery store all at once, then you just multiply it by your per mile ($.20 in this example) and you now know how much it costs to run your errands. This works well for figuring out the best route, whether it's worth it to drive by Big Lots as well, whether you should bother trekking down to IKEA, etc. This is what made me realize that it would cost $4 in gas to get photos for Child #3 (which I was using a $5.99 coupon for). So I decided to reschedule for a day that we could do a whole bunch of other things on the same side of town.

I try to stay away from anything even remotely political on here, but I am getting absolutely disgusted with our Congress. Do they really have no idea how bad our economy is just from gas prices? Food prices keep rising, companies are laying people off, etc. and what do they do? They sit around debating global warming, and they think the solution is to tax someone? Seriously, anytime somebody wants a bond, that money has to come from somewhere, and anytime Congress wants to tax a corporation, the corporation will just raise their prices to cover it. So I figure supply and demand, just provide more supply. We've got it in Colorado and ANWR and off the Florida coast, just open it up. And build more refineries, for goodness sake. Sign a petition here: if you agree.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Adoption Progress Report for May

What a month for savings! Uncle Sam decided to put a nice chunk of money into our adoption fund (granted, he was merely returning money we had paid to the government, but I appreciate it all the same). I made about $230 on Ebay for the month, but my husband totally has me beat with all the overtime he racked up. I don't understand how we are able to keep saving like this, considering how much gas and food has gone up, which just goes to show the power of God. I am humbled to tell you that we have reached 57% of the total.

We are waiting on the final homestudy approval, then we get to start a new set of paperwork. I am just hoping that it will be done this week, but it seems something keeps coming up. Ah well, I guess it's a good thing we started the process sooner than we had planned on.

If you feel inclined to pray for us, please pray that the homestudy would get final approval and be completed, that we won't have any snags in the paperwork phase, that we would continue to save, that our Crapavan would not follow through on any threats (squeaky axle, occasionally not starting, dashboard lights being haunted). Oh and that I would get that cookbook done!

Sidenote: Some of you wondered what the Action Garage looked like that it would sell for $100, so here is a photo. It was a complete set with original box.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Moorhead's Blueberry Farm - A Summer Tradition

It was one year ago that we first visited this pick-your-own blueberry farm. I was very pregnant and I went with the dual objective of 1) doing something that I would not be able to do once the baby arrived and 2) trying to go into labor. My mother and husband picked about 5 pounds, while the kids and I barely got a pound all together. The kids ate most of what they picked and I just went too slow. The whole trip cost under $10 and the blueberries lasted two weeks (since I went into labor the next week, I was very thankful for all that fresh fruit ready to be eaten). For some reason now, I associate my daughter with blueberry picking, and as her first birthdy will soon be upon us, I thought it was time to go back to the farm.

We put on sandals and summer clothes and headed over right after we had eaten a good dinner. The weather was much better than I expected and some of the blueberry bushes were quite tall and shady. We decided to use the double stroller, which turned out great because the ground was mostly grassy or hard packed dirt. Once again, this was a hit with the entire family. My husband yielded the most, of course, but Child #1 is getting very good! Child #2 was still basically there for the tasting and exploring. The most difficult part was trying to teach him to discriminate between the green ones and the dark blue ones and the ones on the branches and the ones on the ground. I'm not sure he learned much, but he really enjoyed himself. The double stroller turned out to be helpful for hauling the blueberries. We strapped a full bucket into the front seat, and none of them spilled. Child #3 turned out to have quite a proclivity for them, and once she had a taste, she only wanted more. Yes, that's her hand in the photo.

Here are my tips if you plan on going, although I'm sure you old timers already know all this: Recommendation #1 - don't wear sandals and shorts like I did. I'm okay with nature, but there was way too much nature touching me. My legs had to desensitize from the flies that really liked my calves and the branches that kept poking me. Also, I ended up getting stabbed in the foot with a stick as I was walking back. Which brings me to Reccomendation #2 - don't stay past 8 pm. It gets dark and you still have to pay and get to the car. The size and uniqueness of the insects grow directly in proportion to the sun as it makes it's descent. There are bees too, so bee aware! Recommendation #3 - take a wagon and buy A LOT. Yeah, 10 pounds of blueberries sounds like a lot, but you will be surprised how quickly they disappear. The kids snack on them, put them in yogurt and cereal, the husband takes them to eat at work, and there isn't much left to bake into yummy muffins and cobblers. They are good for about two weeks in the fridge, but MUCH longer in the freezer. I don't wash them before they go in the freezer (okay to do since they do not use any pesticides) and they don't stick together at all. Recommendation #4 - be ready for baths. We were all pooped, but the dirty feet, legs and hands and the things in the hair (leaves? dirt? souveniers?) demanded attention. Recommendation #5 - when the nice man tells you to go to the end of the rows for the best picking, listen to him. We went in a bit and slowly worked our way down and the bushes just got better and bigger. Next time, we will listen though, and go straight to the end and work our way back. Recommendation #6 - bring cold drinks, you will be thirsty! If you forget, you can buy cold water for $.75 a bottle when you pay for the blueberries.
Moorhead's is off of 242 east of I45. The prices are still only $1.50/pound, and they let you use the buckets for free. They actually encourage you to taste as you pick. This actually helped me learn which blueberries were worth picking. Plus, they are open from 7am to 9pm seven days a week, so it is easy to find a time the whole family can go. The best times are in the morning or evening, so it's not too hot and sunny. They expect the picking season to last through the middle of July, and you can pay with cash or check. Check out their website here:


We had an errand right near this large thrift store located in Conroe at 727 West Davis St, so I got to do a little shopping! They are in a strip mall right near the Schoolhouse Store, and right down the road from Nearly New Thrift Shop:

I really appreciate this thrift store because they are open later (until 6pm) and they have carts! Although some of their prices can be high and might not be consistent, the store has a nice, wide open feel and a great selection. On the right side of the store is furniture, and toys, games and sports equipment are in the back. Books are in the front next to more expensive antiques and collectibles on display, with small appliances and dishes behind that. The left side of the store is clothes, shoes, computers, baby items and stationary. I started with the books, regular price is $2 hardcover, $1 paperback and $.25 flimsy kids books (this is very subjective so ask the cashier before she rings you up). They were having a sale, as they often do, for buy two books get one free. I found some ABeka books, Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 2 (!), and a vintage Disney pop up book plus a few others that got me excited. Also, there is usually a table with a bunch of VHS and books that have been marked with a red X - these are only $.25 each. I also spotted some vintage comics and magazines in the collectibles section, but they were $2 to $5 each. Most of the items that they display on those glass shelves have antique store prices.

My husband and kids occupied themselves by looking through the variety of kitchen helpers. Child #2 really wanted his own electric mixer ($4), but I didn't think that was such a great idea. We moved on to the toys next. There is always a great selection of board games, and today I found Balloon Lagoon by Cranium (complete with all pieces and batteries $1.50). I am indebted to my husband and his keen eyes for spotting a vintage Fisher Price Little People pop up camper trailer ($2). There are many signs posted warning you not to leave any children unattended, but there will inevitably be some of those trying to prevent you from buying any the toys within their eyeline. Ah well, it wouldn't be a thrift store without somebody else's kids stepping on your toes (and not apologizing).

Next, we briefly checked out the clothes. The shoes are far too expensive for my taste ($5-15), and most of the adult clothes are as well. The formal gowns start at $10 and go up to about $25, but what a selection - 20 pounds of sequins, pink satin, rhinestone straps, florals! My sister would probably like them. The prices on the clothing are confusing with Kids clothing under 24 months priced seperately from Kids 2t to 5t or Kids 6t to ... Also they subdivide basic categories so collared shirts cost more than pullover shirts and elastic waist are cheaper than button. I had to refer to the prices at least seven times as I looked through the clothing, so that didn't last long. It is worth it for good baby clothing 24 months and under, since those are $1-2. I was also able to find a like new shirt for Child #1 for $2. That was the cheapest though, it went up to $3 and $4 and I didn't even look at the adult clothing.

Since we were shopping as a family, this was a relatively short trip, and I didn't get to really look at a lot. However, I was very pleased because it was only $12.99 for everything, and I bought things that we actually needed. By the way, they accept cash, check and Visa ($5 minimum for charge cards).

I highly recommend this store for it's organized set-up, kid friendly carts and variety of merchandise.
Some prices:
Kids "flimsy" books $.25
Paperbacks $1
Hardcover $2
Board Games $1-5
Barney VHS on Clearance $.25
Fantastic Four Comic Book $2
Atrocious Black and Gold Sequined Dress $18
2 Skeins of cotton baby yarn $.25 each
8 pack of vintage cards $1.75
Burgundy Leather Ladies Boots $14