Monday, 15 November 2010

Remembrance Sunday

The village green fills with people.  It’s raining and the saturated grass has turned to mud.  But we all stand out in it.  The Warlingham flute band leads the parade, followed by students from the boy’s local village school, a few men in uniform including our friend Mark, and the Cub Scout color guard.  The Vicar leads us all in a hymn.  The poppy wreaths are placed on the memorial in the center of the green.  There is a moment of silence.  We listen as the names of each young man from this village who died in the Great War and in World War II are read.  I cry and hug my boys tight to me—especially when 2 and sometimes 3 boys with the same surname are read aloud.  Brothers in arms, now gone.  Then there are prayers for peace.  For unity.  For those who fight.  For their families left behind. For the innocent victims of war.  For the leaders who make the decisions to send or not send us into war.  Each of us breathes an 'amen' at the end of each new prayer.  We recite the Lord’s Prayer.  We stand in the rain and sing another hymn.  Then ‘God Save the Queen.’  I don’t know the words so I cheat and sing ‘My Country ‘tis of Thee.’  It’s another Remembrance Sunday.  I am again in awe of this experience as an expat in this tiny English village.  

Recipe for the Perfect Weekend

Eat take out Friday night.  Do no cooking.  Call and order curry from the local curry house and walk over in the rain to pick it up.  Then simply laugh, play, and make Christmas lists with your boys.  Drink a glass of wine.  Eat chocolate.  And let ‘cleaning up after dinner’ mean throwing away the take-out containers.

Mix equal parts wrestling, pillow fights, and reading Harry Potter with yummy coffee, fried eggs and squishy-sweet baby.  Throw in a date to the local coffee shop with one of the big boys complete with Cherry Cokes and more drawing.  Then walk home holding hands.  Greet the other big boy fresh from beating his daddy soundly at Risk.  Make a simple dinner.  Read more Harry Potter.  Kiss your husband lots.  Laugh at the boys’ antics.  Enjoy.

Wake Sunday morning and clean the kitchen.  It’s gotten a little out of hand.  Go to Remembrance Sunday service down the street at the village green.  Enjoy the injection of gratefulness it brings.  Make a batch of pumpkin pancakes.  Make another batch when that one is gone and this time double it.  Slather each one with as much butter as you like and lots of syrup—or smooth peanut butter and syrup if you’re so inclined.  Some are.  Be sure each boy is allowed to eat as many as his tummy will hold.  Mmmmmm… Bake pumpkin bread using a new recipe and ooooo and aaaaahhh over it’s perfect shape and texture.  Convince Caid to eat it in bites instead of crammed into his mouth all at once.  Read more Harry Potter.  Tuck the baby in for a nap.  Send the big boys to the summerhouse with all their pillows for a monumental wrestling-pillow war with their daddy.  Greet their sweaty, red happy faces at the back door with kisses and hugs.  Read more Harry Potter.  Eat Autumnal Warm Salad and wish you hadn’t drunk the last of the red wine.  Snuggle.  Read more Harry Potter.  Fall into bed exhausted, happy, and filled-up, ready to welcome the week ahead. 

Friday, 12 November 2010

I heart vegetables...but not budgeting so much

I have always prided myself on eating my vegetables—on eating anything really.  I am not a girl to shy away from anything placed before me.  Anything but this weird chicken and rice soup my mom used to make when I was a little girl.  That stuff was gross.  But vegetables—be they cruciferous or root, leafy or crunchy or soft or sweet.  I love the ones that always get picked last for the team.  The kales and the beets and the celeriac.  I love vegetables, and I kind of think of myself as an uber-adult cool kid because I do.  Like I get extra points in the responsibility realm.  I kind of think I ought to get a badge.   

So you can imagine my embarrassment and frustration when I came to the realization that if there are badges to earn in the ‘being a responsible adult’ club, I have a few glaring omissions. Reading all the good child-rearing books?  Badge!  Taking my children’s health and education very seriously? Badge!  Clean driving record? Badge!  Exercising regularly? Well, I’m working on that one, but recently—Badge! Keeping the house clean? Badge!  Checking the oil every time I fill the car up? Badge! (That one’s for you, Dad). Making wholesome obscure-veggie filled meals?  TWO BADGES!! Balancing the checkbook? What?  I’m supposed to do that?  Having a budget? Hmmmm…I’m sorry, what?  Investing? SAVING?!?!  WHAT??!?  I’m seriously nowhere close to earning those badges.  And I’m worried I’m going to get kicked out of the Uber-adult Cool Kids Club.  Crap.

We’re upside down on our condo.  We’ve had it for almost eight years and it’s currently worth a little over 25% of what we paid for it.  Ouchy.  That hurts.  As we started going through with a realtor what to finally do with it we had to provide all of this financial information.  We have to show why the bank needs to let us sell it for what it’s worth instead of what we owe.  To my DEEP embarrassment—keep in mind I’m the Hermione Granger of the Uber-adult Cool Kids Club—I had no idea the answers to most of the questions.  “How much do you spend on _______________?” Um.  Yeah.  I don’t know.  A lot.  “Rent?”  Ooo ooo!  I know that one!  “Groceries?”  You don’t want to know.  “Utilities?” Um…what would those be again? 

So when the official form came last week I sort of wanted to have a nervous breakdown or pull an ostrich as my friend Kelly calls it.  I had to go through our bank statements (do I get a few brownie points for knowing what those are and where they were?) and tally up and average of what we had spent in each category over the last few months.  It wasn’t pretty.  Let’s be honest.  It was butt-ugly.  It was troll-butt ugly.  

So…I’m working on it.  A lot of folks have recommended the Dave Ramsey stuff.  His Financial Peace University stuff looks pretty smart.  We’re going to give it a whirl.   I started searching for online budgeting software, but to be honest I haven’t signed up for one yet.  I tend to get a wee bit bogged down when I start these things.  I’m trying to release my Hermione Granger-ness and just start doing it instead of insisting on getting it ‘right’ the first time. 

Sometimes shame is a good thing.  Sometimes it shows us an area we need to step up.  Take responsibility.  Sometimes it points out the missing badge.  I may eat a lot of vegetables, but I need to start being reasonable and responsible with money.  I’m working on it.  It’s time.  I just wish that budgeting was as fun as eating beets.  

So dear readers--any tips or suggestions?  Any cool tricks? What do you use to keep track of and manage your finances?