Married to the Empire

Monday, April 30, 2007

I'm a tad disappointed

I'm a Martha Stewart fan. While I admittedly rarely watch her show these days, I used to faithfully watch her old show in her pre-criminal days. Good stuff! Her website was a fun place to be with so much to learn. And her Martha By Mail products were top notch!

So, imagine my excitement when I learned that Michaels craft stores would be rolling out a new line of Martha Stewart paper craft products on April 29th! I went to Michaels today to check it out. I make notecards, so I'm big into stamping, pretty papers, ribbons, etc.

I was a little disappointed. There were a lot of craft kits that were really nothing more than assembly. Paper bag puppets for kids, but the kids don't even get to cut out the parts. Just pull the pieces out of the box and stick them on the enclosed bag. Boring! All the craft kits were like that. I don't think my little nieces, who adore craft projects, would enjoy that very much.

The scrapbooking papers were a little boring, and the selection was somewhat sparse. I just wasn't impressed. The wrapping papers were WAY overpriced at $5 for a roll that was only 2'x3'. The adhesives were really expensive. Three dollars for glue! Five dollars for sticky tape! Admittedly, I succumbed to the $3 glue because she sells an all-purpose gel adhesive with a fine tip. I've been unable to find a fine-tipped applicator anywhere, and I've desperately needed one on some of my projects.

There were some very nice labels that were decently priced at $2 a set. However, none were the type I need. They were all "from the garden of" or "from the kitchen of." I could use something that says, "From the library of..."

There were some lovely shades of ink for rubber stamping. I was eyeing a beautiful teal ink that I'll definitely buy when it's either on sale or I have a coupon. At $6/ink pad, I thought it was overpriced. The rubber stamps were decently priced. I bought a set of 2 fairly large bird stamps for $9.99. But the mounting blocks aren't even wood. They're some sort of pressboard, so I'll have to be very careful with my stamp cleaner. Wouldn't want to warp the mounting block by getting it wet with cleaner!

While there were a few worthwhile products, in general, I was disappointed.

Health insurance

Ruf quit his job a few weeks ago for a new one. Because he's not eligible for health benefits at his new company until June 1st, we're paying for COBRA. It's a lot of money. I don't really mind the money so much. Health insurance is costly, and it's important to have it, especially since I suffer from migraines and hypothyroidism. Ruf has kidney disease, so it's even more important for him to have insurance at all times.

My problem with this transition is that it takes so darned long for COBRA to kick in, and we essentially wind up paying the first month of it just to have the privilege of saying our insurance didn't lapse. I sent in our check for insurance 2 weeks ago, and it still hasn't gone through! I need to refill some prescriptions in the next few days, and I really don't want to have to pay full price. Yes, I know that we'll be reimbursed for it... eventually. But when we're already paying almost $1000 for insurance, I'd like not to have to pay full price out-of-pocket right now!

I'm trying to have patience with this process. Really, I am! But it's hard knowing that we have medical needs that need to be attended to pretty quickly.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The importance of hospitality

My only real plan for today involved a book and a chair. I'd hoped to laze around reading. I don't usually allow myself that luxury because there's so much to be done around the house! But being a Saturday with the rare occurrence of no obligations to anyone, I was going to read to my heart's content.

Nothing ever seems to work out the way I want it to.

Ruf had a stormtrooper build party to attend today. This is where the stormtroopers all get together and build, fix, or modify their armor. But he came home quite early. He said it was just too hot in the guy's garage, and everyone went home. He was disappointed.

Just a few moments after he arrived home, he received a call from a fellow stormtrooper. The guy had driven an hour to attend the build party, only to find that no one was there! Ruf felt bad for him, so he invited the guy over. He'd planned to just work on his armor in our garage anyway, so it was no big deal to have someone else come over to work, too.

The guy showed up with his wife and baby.

So, I wound up playing gracious hostess. The wife is also wanting to be a stormtrooper, so they were actually there to work on her armor. I could see that they were having some difficulty juggling armor and the baby, so I took her from them so they could work. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not much of a baby person. I don't know why; I've just never had much interest in babies. So, this was a Big Deal for me to babysit (but I certainly didn't let them know that!).

We invited them to stay for dinner, which thankfully, I'd actually planned. Saturday nights typically consist of Ruf asking what we're going to eat and my giving him a blank stare in response. (Hey, Saturday is my day off, too!) I had brats for Ruf to grill, and loads of veggies, fruit, and chips. We even had dessert, thanks to Ruf's grabbing a box of apple turnovers when we were at Sam's this morning.

It wasn't the afternoon/evening I was expecting, but it turned out nice. I really like these people, so I didn't mind the impromptu party. They were so sweet and appreciative, so then I really didn't mind. And Ruf was so grateful to have a gracious wife who didn't lock herself up in a room and pretend that she was home alone!

Sometimes I think it's good to have upset plans just so we can have a reminder of how important it is to always be ready to show hospitality. Admittedly, though, I don't want that to happen too often!

New audio book

I became fed up with the CDs of Twilight I was listening to. Too messed up! I've learned through experience that I much prefer books on tape to books on CD. The library tapes hold up so much better than the CDs, which patrons do not treat with care. *sigh* At least in this case, I'd already read the book and was simply listening to it because I really like it.

I am now listening to James Patterson's Cradle and All. The reviews on Amazon aren't very good, but so far I'm enjoying it very much.

Friday, April 27, 2007

About my blog name...

I guess now is as good a time as any to share about why I named my blog "Married to the Empire." When I married my husband almost 9 years ago, I knew that he liked Star Wars. What I didn't know was that he was soon to become an avid collector of Star Wars things. Interestingly, it's turned out to be a really fun hobby for both of us!

It started out innocently enough with the acquisition of carded action figures and a few ships. It graduated to a full-blown collection in need of its own space. Hence, the Star Wars Room was born. He has not only decked it out with an impressive collection of new and vintage action figures, but he also built all the furniture himself with a Death Star-inspired design!

Ruf designed and built a truly impressive (and very, very large) diorama of Dagobah Swamp (Yoda's home in exile). It was so impressive that he was invited to display it at Star Wars Celebration III in Indianapolis in 2005! It was rather surreal to see the actors from the Star Wars movies looking at my husband's work and pointing things out to their kids!

But all that still wasn't enough. He decided to become a Stormtrooper. There is a really amazing group out there called The 501st Legion. The 501st is a "professional" costuming group. By professional I simply mean that they have extremely high costuming standards for membership. It has to be a really, really good costume. This group consists of only the Star Wars bad guys. These guys (and a few gals) are so much fun! They do all sorts of charity work, and it never ceases to amaze me that little kids actually will run up and hug stormtroopers or Darth Vader!

How do I fit into all this? Well, I've enjoyed helping him amass his collection over the years. We used to make toy runs together back when there were tons of new figures out in the stores. We go to sci-fi conventions and toy shows together. Often I tag along when he "troops." We even had a Star Wars vacation one year! (I need a few more years before I'm willing to do another one. Five straight days of Star Wars is a bit much for me!) My online name became Ewokgirl because I think the Ewoks are just the cutest things.

Admittedly, this is not the life I pictured when I was a little girl. (A huge plantation house and unlimited funds was the general dream. LOL) I never would have thought I'd be married to a geek and attending sci-fi conventions! But you know what? I wouldn't trade this life for anything!

Saving Money with the Newspaper

I'm a newspaper freak. It's a joke among my friends that I have a relationship with The Dallas Morning News. A subscription costs $17/month. That may not sound particularly frugal to some, but I get so much out of it! In addition to the daily news from around the world and at home, I get comics, advice, home and garden tips, healthy living tips and information, religion (The Dallas Morning News has been voted to have the best religion section in the country several years running), info about local events and entertainment, book and movie reviews, recipes, sales ads, coupons... Really, I could keep listing things!

I know there are those who would say that you could read most of that online. Some of it, yes, but not the complete paper. Besides, I can't take my computer with me everywhere and have an internet connection. But I can easily pop a section of the newspaper into my purse or substitute bag. I can cut out interesting or important articles. I always know what's coming up locally. And did I mention the coupons?!

For me, $17/month for complete access to all these things is well worth it! Besides, reading the newspaper is so much better than sitting around watching television.

By the way, tonight's dinner is from a recipe from this week's Healthy Living section. Seeing as I keep most of the ingredients on hand at all times, it truly is a frugal meal. And apparently healthy, too, according to the article. Chicken Lettuce Wraps

For more frugal tips, visit Biblical Womanhood.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

It pays to read labels!

As an official, boring grown-up, I watch the ads for grocery stores. Yesterday, Alberstons had a bunch of stuff on sale for $1, so I went to stock up on some stuff. As a treat, I decided to buy some Little Debbie snacks. I bought 2 boxes of the Oatmeal Creme Pies. I ate one last night and came down with a migraine. On a whim I decided to read the ingredient list today. About halfway down the list it says, "Cocoa."

Uh oh.

It just never occurred to me to read the ingredient list for oatmeal cookies. In my naivete, I just assumed they were safe from migraine triggers. I learned a painful (literally!) lesson about always reading food labels. Also a good lesson about how much strange stuff is mixed in with processed food. I despise baking cookies, but maybe I'll do it more often now! At least then I'll know what's in 'em!

I just IMed my hubby to tell him that the Little Debbies are all his!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On the nightstand

I'm an avid reader. It's my #1 hobby, so at any given time, I'm in the middle of various books. Yes, that would be plural. I usually have something I'm reading at night before I go to bed, something in the CD/tape player in the kitchen, and something else in my bag for when I'm substitute teaching.

On the nightstand is The Last Command by Timothy Zahn. TLC Lest you think I'm a total Star Wars nut, I have to explain why I'm reading this. I get to do a lot of neat things because my husband is a stormtrooper. Most recently, we attended a book signing for Timothy Zahn. The stormtroopers and I went to dinner with Zahn afterwards. He is a wonderfully nice man, and he even teaches Sunday school! I thought it would be polite to actually read something he's written. I started with his first Star Wars novel and discovered that it's the first in a trilogy. Of course, I couldn't read the first third of a story, so I've worked my way to the last book. I think I'll be done with Star Wars novels at the end of this book! I'm a Star Wars purist, meaning I really only care about the story (movies) that George Lucas created. But I made an exception since I've met Mr. Zahn. :-)

In the kitchen I'm listening to Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Twilight One of my internet friends got me hooked on this series. It's a vampire romance. Yep, sounds very weird, but it's very good! And I don't read romance!!!

In the sub bag is The Heart of the Artist by Rory Noland. THOTA This book is for all artistic types in church ministry. It directly addresses issues faced by the average artsy person and how to deal with them in a biblical, God-honoring manner. It's a great book about how to use your talents to God's glory. I highly recommend this if you are a musician, actor, dancer, or whatever other type of artist who wants to use your talents in ministry.


Trying links again...

My husband's website: Star Wars

A book that changed my life

Sunday school answer would be: The Bible. While that is a true statement, that's not the book I'm talking about. A book that changed my life is called Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain by David Buchholz, M.D. Book I'm not kidding when I call this life-changing!

I've been a migraine sufferer for 10 years now. I've gone the route of trying multiple prevention meds, only to find they don't work, and most had really bad side effects. (The worst was a drug called Topomax. It made me paranoid. Very scary stuff!) I got fed up with all the drugs and refused to let my neurologist prescribe any more for me.

My mom's best friend told my mother about this book. She said it worked for her. As I was desperate by this time, I was willing to give the book a try. I won't lie to you; this is a difficult program. You have to go off your drugs, including pain meds (eek!) and birth control. You also have to cut out a lot of foods from your diet. A lot. It will make grocery shopping a bit of a challenge for a few weeks. Eventually, you can start adding things back in.

Let me just say that I was shocked when I found my food triggers! There were the more obvious culprits such as chocolate and hard cheeses (parmesan in particular), but there were also some serious surprises. I can't eat pineapple, blueberries, and even bananas seem to be a problem for me. Unfortunately, vile things like broccoli and brussels sprouts are not on my must-avoid list (at least not for pain reasons!).

Yes, it's a pain having to avoid yummy foods I really love. I had 6 pounds of fresh blueberries I'd picked that I had to give away. :-( Sometimes it makes eating at restaurants or potlucks a bit of a challenge, but it's well worth it. I went from having 5-6 migraines a week to about 2 a month! (Admittedly, the migraines have worsened recently, but that's mostly because I can't control the weather! Barometric pressure changes are something I can't avoid.)

I just wanted to recommend this book for any other headache sufferers out there! It just might make the difference you're desperately searching for!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

About work

I used to teach English. I've taught 9th graders and 6th graders. I liked both for various reasons, but I quit almost 8 years ago to be a stay-at-home wife. I was frequently sick when I taught, not to mention stressed out and without a life, so this really was a wise decision. I received a lot of flak for it, though, at the time. Apparently, it is not PC to be a SAHW these days, especially one without children. I often received the ubiquitous question I think most women who stay home are asked: What do you do all day? My smart-aleck response usually includes something about bon-bons and soap operas, but the real response is far less interesting. I clean the house, do the laundry, shop for groceries, take the cars in for service when necessary, run various errands, cook meals, watch for sales on necessities and a few of our wants, take the cats to the vet, handle the finances, and anything else that needs to be done to keep our household and our lives running.

Yeah, I know; lots of other women do the same things while holding down full-time jobs. Good for them. If that's what they want to do, more power to them. Truly, I'm happy for them! But when I tried to live that life, I was a constant ball of stress and illness. I'm not good at multi-tasking, which is really essential to trying to do it all. I can't even talk on the phone and do something else at the same time! So, I've chosen a life in which I don't have to be stressed all the time. It's what works for us.

I did start substitute teaching this school year. I did that back when I first quit teaching because we weren't ready to completely give up a second source of income, but I phased that out after a couple of years. I subbed this year initially to make sure we had plenty of cash to sock away into our savings. We were going to spend Christmas 2006 in London, and we wanted to pay cash for everything. Mission accomplished! Then I didn't sub at all for a while.

This spring I was asked to tutor at a local middle school for a couple of months to prepare struggling students for the reading portion of the TAKS test. (This is the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. In other words, the big-stakes testing that labels each school according to how well the students perform each year.) I worked 3 days a week for about 2 months. It was a good experience, but my husband and I learned something from that. We both like it better when I'm at home! He said I was grouchy the whole time since I was working 3 full days, then trying to fit in my weekly bible study group, church staff meeting, laundry, cleaning and errands into the other 2 days. (I'm not counting weekends here, and yes, my husband did help me.) And don't get me started on our food budget during that time! Let's just say there was a lot more eating out and buying over-priced convenience foods.

Lesson learned: I'm a SAHW for a reason. Our lives are just all-around better when I'm able to be at home to handle things, rather than running around trying to do everything in a Sherry Bobbins way (that's a Simpsons reference, btw). Sometimes it's good to be reminded of how good we actually have it!