Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Home Court Advantage

2 witty remarks
We had Blinns at the house last weekend, which is always an adventure. You can tell when my family is coming to visit because I deep clean the carpets and put ALL the leaves in the table. The main attraction was my Easter Cantata, plus I really wanted Mom to see the Barbie exhibit at the Childrens' Museum before my membership runs out.

Here we are at the museum, goofing off:
Molly and Laura and I are a bunch of fruits.
And Molly with her namesake pteradactyl (in the background) and Porter doing a flip (foreground).
Mmm, steakburgers.
I don't know what it is about Molly, but she seems to be a kid magnet. Porter could not stop climbing on her (he also was using Graypa as a piece of playground equipment) and Amy warmed up to Molly before she would come near anyone else. I don't know what it is about Molly, but she is not a big fan of Blinns when they first arrive. But by the end of their visit she would go to Grammy or Graypa or Laura no problem, and I realized after she left that she had been calling them by name ("Gammy" and "Gramma," respectively).

Miles came over for a short visit one night, too (driven by Uncle Monkey, but only because Miles' legs are too short to reach the gas pedals). It's always a hoot when Miles comes over because he is fascinated by our toys (possibly because we have 90 times more at our house) and he was VERY appreciative of the cupcake I gave him.

The Easter Cantata was on Sunday night, and I was very pleased with how it went off. We seemed to be having some trouble with the microphones, so I played extra loud on my flute. My family was sitting in the way-back (we had to open up the overflow and the gym) and they said they could hear me just fine. I had a great time preparing for & participating in a major choral work for the first time in years and hope to do it again sometime. Also, my girls wore their new dresses and I forgot to take any pictures! D'oh!

I don't know if you noticed, but there's a little thing called 'March Madness' going on. I went to this little-known Midwestern university called Butler, and they are pretty good at getting the ball through the hoop. Now, while I totally forgot to fill out a bracket this year, if I'd remembered I would have put Butler into the Sweet Sixteen. It's something they've done a few times over the last few years (the first time ever was when Betsy was a baby) and it's largely considered to be a pretty darn good finish for a tiny school with an enrollment of less than 4,000. Of course, the Final Four is being hosted in Indy this year (as it is every couple of years... we really like basketball around here) but I didn't necessarily think Butler would end up playing at home. Sure, it would be nice, but kind of a stretch. On the other hand, I do think Stevens' Bulldogs are the best they've ever been. So anyway, just in case you have been living in a cave or something for the last few days...

Butler is in the Final Four!

Now, how much I actually watched the games varied a lot. The Murray State game actually had me pretty worried. It's hard to watch when I have any kind of expectations. I also had to be careful not to scream and yell too much so I wouldn't kill my voice for the Easter Cantata. At this point, I don't mind if they lose their next game... I feel like Butler making the Final Four is like a Big Ten school winning the whole thing. And I am definitely a winner anytime I don't have to explain to people where I went to college.

The media coverage has been really interesting, too. I've been having a fun time playing 'Sports Media Cliche' Bingo.' You get points anytime a writer uses the term 'Cinderella,' 'historic Hinkle Fieldhouse,' refers to the movie Hoosiers or describes Brad Stevens as 'baby-faced' or 'youthful.' The free space in the center of the board is 'The Butler Did It' or any variation thereof, because that one's just obvious. Actually, one article I read described Butler as 'blue-collar,' which really perplexed me... Butler is a lot of things (expensive; good at basketball) but blue-collar is most definitely not one of them.

Much as I would have loved to, I will not be watching any of the games in person. I would have had to pawn my firstborn for tickets, and I'm kind of attached (especially since she just lost one of her top front teeth and is now 33% adorabler). I am going to try to go down on Friday and watch a practice session at Lucas Oil Field, though. And you'd better believe I will be screaming myself hoarse come Saturday night.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My kind of town

3 witty remarks
First of all, thanks to everybody for the awesome comments on my last post. Matt and I really feel like this is the beginning of something good (so it's perfect that it comes in spring). On the other hand, we already had a pretty good life - cute/smart kids, nice house, we're all healthy - and that doesn't really change. I still haven't figured out if there is some Life Lesson we were supposed to learn over the past two years, or if it was bad luck. But thanks for sticking with my blog even when I was a Woeful Wanda (or even a Lazy Lou who goes weeks without updating).

As I mentioned in my last post, we took a brief yet action-packed trip up to Chicago (Amy: "Cago") last weekend. We had been thinking about going during spring break, but obviously Matt won't have the vacation time at his new job, whereas he had pretty much nothing to lose at the old job. I thought it was worth pulling Betsy out of school for one day, so off we went. We drove up early Friday morning and got to Chicago around 10 a.m. (I made Matt do the city driving because even with the GPS, it's not really my favorite. I can do it, I'd just rather not.) This was perfect timing because we got to the American Girl store right after it opened.

Matt and Porter came inside the store with us for a few minutes, just long enough to look around and take a few pictures. Then they headed off for more manly pursuits, namely the Lego store. (We do have some pictures for that, taken with my new camera phone, but I sort of haven't figured out how to get the photos off the phone yet...) So the girls and I stayed around the Mecca of Girliness for a while.
Betsy picked out a few things for her Kit doll, and I took a lot of pictures which I won't bore you with. I let both of the girls bring dolls (actually Amy had to borrow Betsy's Bitty since she won't 'officially' get hers until she turns 2 in a few weeks) and the store also had a lot of things that you could take down and look at. The Room of Babies was a big hit for Amy.

Once we dragged ourselves away from the AG store (without spending too much money) we met up with Matt and Porter at the Rainforest Cafe a few blocks away. Porter had been dying to go to Rainforest Cafe because they sponsor a show on PBS Kids and my kid is, apparently, highly susceptible to advertising. "Mom, it's a wild place to shop and eat!"

Porter is fascinated by this photo... "Mom, can I see my sad face?" I think he was grumpy because the service was atrocious. The place was 2/3 empty, and yet we had to beg to get a waitress to get our orders, and then it took something like a half hour to get our food. I don't think we'll be giving them any repeat business. But the kids liked the decor, so it wasn't a total waste.

After lunch we headed out to the suburbs. I had found us a hotel in Hoffman Estates and we let the kids play with their new toys while Matt and I enjoyed the novelty of cable TV, and then we headed off again. Because you know what's in Schaumburg? IKEA!

I really, really, really like IKEA. And the kids like it too (I think Matt merely tolerates the experience, but who cares? We only go there about once every two years, anyway.) Through persistence we were able to get the two older kids deposited in Smaland while Amy and the grownups shopped. I picked up some cool stuff for the house and we got a spare dining room chair. We also had dinner at IKEA - delicious Swedish meatballs, yum - and it was probably the cheapest meal we ate all weekend (including when we stopped at Arby's on the way back home).

Once through with IKEA, we went back to the hotel and went swimming for a while. I am a big fan of hotel pools. Not only is it a nice way to unwind, but if we let the kids wear themselves out, they might actually sleep in an unfamiliar bed. It more or less worked - I was the one who woke up at 5:30 and couldn't fall back asleep. Oh well. At least we got a yummy hot breakfast out of the deal.

Our final stop of the journey (not counting home) was the Legoland Discovery Center in Schaumburg. It looked like fun, and we got discount tickets online, although the price is still pretty steep (but not much is cheap in Chicago). But Porter had been looking forward to Legos (Amy: "Gego!") though all of the girly stuff on Friday, and I can't let my little boy down. Surprisingly, all three kids enjoyed themselves.

Porter wanted to build a tower. Yeah, we couldn't have stayed home and done that.

The downtown Chicago made out of Legos was my favorite - it was incredibly detailed. I can't even imagine having the patience (or obsession or whatever) to do something like that.
And... a wizard.
When we were done with the Lego place, we packed up in the car and pretty much headed straight home. It was a great trip, and I'm really glad we went. Matt starts his new job tomorrow, and there is still plenty of fun coming up for the kids. My parents are coming to visit the weekend of the Easter cantata, and spring break is shortly thereafter. And with this nice weather, they are playing outside all the time!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The End And The Beginning

12 witty remarks
If you've been reading this blog at all in the last, oh, two years, you have probably gotten pretty sick of my constant whining about the economy. It goes all the way back to early 2008 when the collapse of the housing market struck out at an unintended victim: the student loan industry. The company Matt was working for, which we all thought was plenty stable (and had awesome benefits), decided to shut down its entire consolidation department because they were actually losing money on the record sales Matt had brought in over the last three years. Fortunately, we got a generous severance package from his company. Unfortunately, we had to pay a million dollars per month (roughly) because I was quite pregnant with Amy. Here is the recap of what happened after that:

* Matt temped for a month or two while looking for a job. He flew out to Utah twice (both on extremely short notice and both for less than 24 hours) to interview with a company there that looked really promising.

* And then a little thing called childbirth happened. (I have been scrolling through my old blog posts and getting all misty-eyed... I can't believe Amy is going to be 2 next month!)

* We really, really thought we were going to move out to Utah (and live in Matt's parents' basement) - to the point of calling a realtor and painting the house and everything. A company out there had made him an offer, and then they... changed their minds? And then denied that an offer had ever been made, even though we had it in writing? It was very strange, but I am glad (other than the opportunity to live near Opels) that we didn't end up moving out there.

* In June 2008, Matt finally got a job offer selling mortgage training for a local company. The catch? It's a sales position, so the base pay is infinitesimally low, and it will take a long time to build up enough sales to earn even the base level of commission. (Oh, the other fun catch? The health insurance is ridiculous... like $900 a month AND a $7K deductible. Thanks, but no thanks.)

* We figured out that we could make that work, since it was the only job available and didn't require relocation, IF I dusted off my ol' chemistry degree and worked for a while. But only IF I was actually earning enough to cover child care for three kids and actually have a little bit left over. I went to maybe three job interviews and was offered a job (I always feel slightly guilty that it's easier for me to find a job than it is for Matt. But this is probably because I have a more specific skill set + a lower salary requirement.)

* So at the end of June, I started working in a quality control lab for a petroleum blending facility. It was a strange adjustment for us to go from no jobs to 2 jobs within about three weeks. Amy was ten weeks old and it was awfully hard for me to leave her, but I knew it had to be done.

* For eight months, we both worked. This was crazy. We ended up switching our childcare several times. I was working four 10-hour days, which meant that I had Fridays off but it also meant that I had to get up at 4:45 a.m. And I was determined not to pay for formula so I pumped like a madwoman (in the car, at home, and in a dirty, unlocked breakroom at work - which was, I later realized, in violation of Indiana state law for my employer not to give me a place for pumping, but whatever) and ended up having more than enough milk. I know you needed to know that about me, right?

* During all of this, Matt kept on going to job interviews. And with each lead, I'd promise myself I wouldn't get my hopes up, then I'd go ahead and get my hopes up anyway, and then I'd be bitterly disappointed every.single.time. when it didn't pan out. In fact, a good outcome was a company actually bothering to email a rejection, since most people don't do that - they interview you, they lead you on for a while, and then they just ignore you. How rude!

* I was working hard in the lab, doing what I assumed was a good job since I never heard otherwise, and then one day (this was in February '09) they let me go. It was rather unexpected - at 3:30 on a Wednesday, it was just 'Drop what you're doing, turn in your key, and get out.' Well, okay then. I was incredibly bitter about this (it still rankles me, just a little) BUT I was also hugely excited to be at home with my kids again.

* So we were back down to one job, but I kept my feelers out. I had the opportunity to work over the summer for a former employer of mine, but it was full-time and I didn't want to go back to that crazy schedule, so I turned it down. Instead, I spent the summer shuttling my kids back and forth to various lessons and activities.

* And Matt kept right in looking for jobs. By this point relocation had become much less of an option, and Matt took as many job interviews as he could. The summer wasn't a very good time for sales, so we were basically living off his base salary and our savings. In August, I finally took my sister's advice and went down to the WIC office to apply for benefits. (The income threshold is surprisingly high for a family of five, and it really helped getting all that free milk and cheese.)

* Things kind of went in cycles. He'd have no job interviews for a month, and then three in one week. He had awesome sales in the last quarter of '09 (it's kind of the nature of the business) and hardly anything in January 2010. And Matt has been dealing with the supreme frustration of a poorly managed company, trying to make sales with inadequate support.

* A few weeks ago, Matt went for yet another interview - this time for a call center manager position with ITT Tech. He felt like it went really well (especially since the interviewer knew some of Matt's former co-workers from the student loan industry - I love how everyone says that networking is the best way to find a job, but it's a lot harder to do when your entire department got laid off), I promised myself I wasn't going to get optimistic, then went ahead and did it anyway. Also - and this is crucial - the people that he interviewed with referred him over to a different department with the same company. (They're a pretty big company.) Matt ended up going to 3 or 4 interviews there - luckily their building is like 3 minutes from his current job, so he was able to do it discreetly on lunch breaks & things. One of the H.R. people Matt interviewed with was named Betsy, which I took as a good sign.

* On a Monday a couple of weeks ago, Matt got the ol' 'thank you for your interest but we have decided to go in a different direction blah blah blah' email from ITT. And while I respect the fact that they fall into the approximately 25% of companies who actually tell you they aren't hiring you (you think I am exaggerating), I was obviously disappointed. As was Matt, since he felt like he had done really well in his interviews and actually wanted to work for the company.

* The following day, I took a call here at home for Matt. From ITT Tech, and the lady wanted him to call her back. Matt hadn't taken the cell phone that day - he's smart enough not to make all these things with his phone at work - so I emailed him and he came home during his lunch break. But since they'd already rejected him, I couldn't imagine why ITT would need to talk to him again.

So, I was around while Matt was on the phone with ITT - he was upstairs but he came downstairs and was gesturing to me and trying to write something on the dry erase board, only the marker didn't work because Betsy had smooshed the tip. But apparently what ITT had to say to him was not 'Nyah nyah nyah' but 'We'd like to make you an offer.' See, apparently he was turned down for the FIRST job he'd interviewed for - I had forgotten there were actually TWO.

Let me reiterate: MATT GOT A BETTER JOB. After what felt like for-like-ever. He's going to be Managing Director for Educational Recruitment, which is awfully fancy-sounding and MUCH better than the unsatisfying sales job he's been struggling with for the last almost-two-years. There are a whole host of reasons why this job will be better, to wit:
* Opportunity for advancement. At Matt's old (current) company, there was pretty much nowhere to go. Matt will be managing the call center for a fairly new department, and it's a big company (headquarters are here in Indy). So we are hoping that within a few years he will be able to move up the ladder. It's nice to think that his career is back on track after a brief hiccup (none of which, I should add, was due to any kind of failing on Matt's part - it was just lousy luck and a bad economy).
* The pay isn't necessarily a whole lot better when you compare it with our 2009 tax return, but it is better. (Our thrifty habits honed over the past several years will always come in handy. I will still shop at Goodwill, but let's face it, I'd do that anyway.) The main thing is that it's consistent pay, without the stress and silly mind games of salary-plus-commission.
* Insurance benefits that we can afford. (No, we haven't been uninsured for the past two years. We got benefits through my job, and after I got the sack, we've been doing a self-paid thing. It works, but it's not optimal. It's more expensive and we don't have dental or vision.)
* Matt was really impressed with the management that he will be working with. One of the big sources of frustration at his current-soon-to-be-former job is that the company isn't really set up for the salespeople to make good sales. Also? He will be management. There's a lot to be said for being in control of your own fate.

Matt will be working the same crazy hours - 1 to 10 p.m. - that he did when he was in the student loan business, only without the 1-hour commute downtown. It's about 20-25 minutes, depending on traffic. And honestly, I have learned that there are both advantages and disadvantages to this work schedule. He misses rush hour, and while I don't like not having him around in the evening (that's when the kids are at their crankiest. Probably because they are hungry, and he hasn't been getting home until 6:30 or later.) it's AWESOME having a chunk of time in the morning when I can do my grocery shopping or whatever and he can play with the kids. Matt's biggest concern is having enough time to spend with Betsy, since she gets on the bus at 8 a.m. and goes to bed at 8 p.m., but we will figure out ways to make it work.

So, finally, FINALLY after two years of alternating hope and despair, things are looking up for our family. Our kids have been praying 'Please let Daddy get a better job' in much the same way that you would say 'Blessthisfoodthatitmaystrengthenandnourishourbodies' and I'm really happy that their prayers (and ours) have been answered. I'm feeling a level of optimism for the future that is almost uncharacteristic for this Gloomy Gus.

Matt starts the new position on Thursday. He's winding down at his current job - it's so futile he actually finds it comical. We were planning to take a mini-vacation during Spring Break, but since he won't have the vacation days, we took off last Friday and went up to Chicago for a day and a half. But I will blog about that later because I feel like this has gone on long enough...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Another Sewing Post

4 witty remarks
So, I was looking at my blog the other day, and down on the left side it shows my total number of posts by month. I realized that I updated my blog twice in January, and once in February. For a grand total of three posts so far in 2010. And that's, well, kind of pathetic. One of my good friends is doing a project this year where she updates her blog every single day, meaning so far she has written 64 posts. And I have written three. One of my purposes for this blog is so that I can remember things that happen, since I have a notoriously bad memory, and I already am not too sure what's gone on in 2010. Here are a couple of the highlights:

- I got a root canal. Boy, was that fun. I had a cavity (that had previously been filled) that was bothering me badly enough to go to the dentist, even though we don't have dental insurance. I was tempted just to get the thing pulled, but Matt convinced me to spend the $1700 (yikes!) and have it fixed.

- I have been practicing my flute like crazy for the Easter cantata that is coming up.

- Porter and Betsy have been playing together really, really well since Christmas. They will go off together in the basement or one of the bedrooms and I won't hear from them for an hour or two (until the playing turns to violence).

- Amy has really had an explosion of speech. She's using two- and three-word sentences more often. In fact, when she sneezed at the dinner table the other night, I told her 'bless you' and she looked at Matt and went, "Say 'bless you,' Dad." She's going to have a few more visits from the speech therapist and then she will be done.

-Amy is also OBSESSED with the song 'I Am A Child Of God.' She will sing the song - while conducting - and then fold her arms and say a prayer, just like we do in the nursery. Only she does this about three or four times a day. One of these times I will catch it on film and then you will see what I mean.

- I've been sewing like a FIEND. I knew I would have to get started early on my daughters' Easter dresses, because of the aforementioned Cantata eating up much of my time. I am proud to say that they are done. Done! with more than a month to spare. Here is a little sneaky-peeky:

Aren't I a stinker? You'll see the full awesomeness eventually, I promise. Betsy has a big fluffy crinoline slip for hers, but I am still looking for something to give Amy's dress the appropriate vintage-style poof. And I came to a realization while I was sewing the last button on:

We don't actually have church on Easter.

Boy, it would have been super if I'd remembered that ahead of time, huh? (Easter falls on the first Sunday of April - that's General Conference.) No matter, my girls could always use something adorable, sweet, and charming to wear. So I guess they will be Palm Sunday dresses, instead.

My other big project for 2010 has been sewing doll clothes. I've actually been buying things at Goodwill (skirts and blouses are good) then cutting them up and making American Girl-sized dresses. The idea being to sell them in my Etsy shop and make a little money to spend on, most likely, more fabric. Here is the first batch:

There were actually 8 dresses originally, because I made duplicates of some. (If you cut carefully, and spend more time than you'd like to admit picking out all the darts, a women's size blouse can become 2 doll dresses.) I am quite thrilled to report that I have sold all 8 of them already! I had so much fun sewing all these dresses (I just really have a thing for dresses. Have you guessed?) that I have already started in on the next batch. Fun times!

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