Thursday, August 16, 2012

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

It's that time of year. Yesterday we packed the lunches, combed the hair, and took the obligatory first-day-of-school photos:

It's at this time, then, that I'd like to join elementary school students everywhere in the age-old tradition of the "What I Did This Summer" essay (because, if you've been following this blog, you KNOW "writing on my blog" did not make the list). Here are some things that I actually DID do this summer:

Nerdy Teaching Stuff
Kyle taught summer school, I taught summer school, and we made Daniel attend summer school. There's nothing like having two teachers as parents to doom you to the summer writing and math enrichment program.

I also taught my regular Zumba class, and a week-long Zumba camp for kids at the Y. This helped serve as a good reminder that teaching large groups of small kids should never be my full-time job.

We went on a family vacation! We've never really taken the kids anywhere other than to friends and family's houses, so this was thrilling for us.

The kids got to experience airline travel:

(See how excited they are?)

We rented a cabin in Big Sky with Kyle's mother and with Kyle's sister's family. I think it's safe to say we will probably never stay anywhere as rustically well-appointed as our cabin ever again. Everything was wood and stone, and there was a giant moose head over one of the fireplaces.

We did a little hiking:

We went to the 4th of July celebration in Big Sky. Turns out the only thing more fantastic than fireworks is fireworks over a mountain skyline:

We spent a day in Yellowstone, starting with the Bear and Wolf Discovery Center near the park entrance. We saw some bears:

There are lots of Bison in Yellowstone:

We went to Old Faithful:

Let me just pause here to point out that Old Faithful actually starts out spraying much higher than in these photos. Our children, however, were much more interested in petting the dog of the couple sitting behind us than viewing one of our nation's treasures. In fact, they had NO interest in humoring us by watching this mere 60-second spectacle. If these photos were videos with sound, you could hear me lecturing, "We brought you all this way to see this and you want to pet a DOG?! There are people here who have traveled from other CONTINENTS to see this! Some people put seeing this on their list of things to do before they DIE! You are going to stand here and get your picture taken in front of Old Faithful, and you are going to SMILE!" You might also hear my sister-in-law teasing us for actually going there with this speech.

It rained in the afternoon, but we still stopped to see some other geysers and Yellowstone's Grand Canyon:

It was pouring rain when we saw the canyon, but it really was one of my favorite parts. Of course the pictures can never do it justice, but it was amazing, and Kyle and I vowed to go back there to hike the canyon some day when the kids are a little older.

After dinner the rain cleared and we went back out. We had the Norris Geyser Basin practically to ourselves, and even though we were all soggy and tired we were so glad we stopped there. Eva said this was her favorite part, mostly because there were bear tracks everywhere. It was like being on a whole different planet:

The rest of our trip we relaxed and hung out with Kyle's extended family, many of who had rented cabins nearby. We went horseback riding and were so proud of Daniel for riding his own horse. We even saw a moose on the trail:

In the end, I'd say fun was had by all. We left reluctantly, wishing we could just move to Montana.

Ankle Sprain
Shortly after our return from Montana I sprained my ankle. How, do you ask? Was it during my high-impact exercise class with all the sideways jumping? Or on my nice long trail run through the woods, with all the tree roots and uneven terrain? Nope! Just everyday walking down two porch steps on the way out of a friend's house. I was carrying Eva at the time, and Kyle likes to point out that at least she broke my fall.

I contemplated taking some photos of my injury, as it was awesome to me in both its size and color. But then I thought about whether I'd really want to look at pictures of someone ELSE'S giant black nasty ankle and decided to pass.

It's been four weeks since I injured myself, and I'm learning that I am not super-patient when my body doesn't work the way it's supposed to. The irony is that I spent most of my life wishing and trying to become the kind of person who exercises regularly, who actually enjoys some kind of physical activity and longs to go exercise. I realize now that in the last year or so I've become that person, and so of course it's now that I would sustain one of the only major activity-limiting injuries of my life.

For the past week or so the weather has been beautiful; cool in the mornings with just a gentle breeze. I hobble around my house and gaze bitterly out the window, jealously grumbling at all my friends' facebook statuses about the great run they had today. Grrr...!!!
Melodramatic of me, eh?

Watching Swimming
One of the things about being married to Kyle is that the only sport he's really interested in watching (or DOING, really) is swimming. And I have to admit that during our engagement and the first year of our marriage, I came to really enjoy watching Kyle's swim meets, and swimming in general. It's difficult to find televised swimming any time other than during the Olympics, though, so every four years we have a swimming binge. It's really been wonderful to watch Michael Phelps the past few Olympics, and I hope the US will continue to dominate in the pool even after his retirement.

This year, however, my favorite moment was watching Chad Le Clos of South Africa BEAT Michael Phelps. If you didn't see that finish, you really must watch it. He started crying almost the moment he realized he'd won, and continued weeping through interviews and most of the medal ceremony. The camera flashed to his parents in the stands, and both of them were crying like babies (as I'm sure we would be if Daniel had beaten Michael Phelps). There's even a shot where you can see Mr. Le Clos wipe his eyes on the South African flag. The BBC got such a kick out of the dad that they had an interview with him. There's just something endearing about a family that is so totally and adorably excited about winning:

At the same time, our kids were participating in their annual month of swim lessons, and making great progress. Daniel started to learn the front crawl and backstroke, and even got into doing a kind of mangled version of a cannonball off the diving board:

By the end of the summer, Eva was willing to swim in the deep end, though she continues to insist that the diving board, "is really more for 5-year-olds." She has a wicked back float, though:

Maybe the Sterup genes will pull through and produce another swimmer in this family. I'll wait to work on my Olympic television composure until we're a little more sure...

And that's what we've been up to. In some ways the heat made it seem like the summer would never end. In other ways, though, the time just flew by. I think the kids were ready to get back to school, and even though it means Kyle and I have to actually attend jobs on a daily basis, the school year does provide us (or at least me) with some much-needed structure.

So for now... Onward into fall adventures!

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Bat and Fish Kind of Weekend

So I have to say, being children of teachers makes for a very charmed summer. Even though Kyle and I are both doing a little summer school teaching, we're definitely in the vacation mindset around here. We're staying up later, swimming several times a week, reading Harry Potter before bed, and eating more hot dogs than I maybe should admit in an online forum.

This past weekend we were invited to an afternoon wedding near Hannibal, MO (boyhood home of Mark Twain), and so we took the opportunity to tour the Cameron Cave (part of the cave system of Tom Sawyer's Injun Joe fame) there in the morning. Daniel's class did a unit on caves this spring, so he was very excited at the prospect of "going spelunking" and seeing some bears and bats. Our assurances that there are no bears in this area, or that a guided tour could hardly be called "spelunking" did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm. Our tour was decidedly bear-less, but we did see a number of bats, and a good time was had by all.

One of the (thankfully) small, mostly sleeping bats we encountered. Even the flying ones stayed a good distance away from us.

We attended the wedding of one of my sorority advisees in the afternoon, which hopefully cleared up some of the kids' misconceptions about what "getting married" means. There seems to be some confusion in our house about whether wearing fancy clothes and dancing together makes people married. A few weeks ago Daniel asked if getting married involves showing up to a banquet hall in formalwear and selecting a spouse from all the other partygoers (I can only assume there would be some sort of mass ceremony after all the couples have paired up). Either way, Kassie's wedding involved a full Catholic ceremony and a dinner/dance reception, and only one couple was wed during the process, so we're hoping that several-hour process really drove the concept home for them. I still have my suspicions that the most memorable part of the whole event for them was the cake, though...

On Sunday we took advantage of the free fishing weekend. Daniel had never been, and recently asked us when we were planning on teaching him to fish. "Good question," we muttered amongst ourselves, since Kyle had never caught a fish at all and I haven't been fishing since I was 10 or so. Let's just say that neither of us felt too keen about touching either worms or fish, much less bumbling around trying to figure out what we're doing with the pole and hook. Thankfully, our friends John and Madeline Nash were willing to join our expedition. We bought a simple little pole and used hot dogs as bait, and John took care of the location-scouting and fish-touching for us. Kyle caught his first little sunfish, and we all laughed in surprise when Daniel hooked a good-size catfish. Of course, he was too scared of it to properly pose for the picture.

Here is Daniel attempting to hide behind Madeline, as she attempts to move the fish closer to him.

Of course, Daniel had no problem telling everyone at the dock about his catch last night, as well as everyone at school this morning. When we asked him how big the fish was, his first estimate was this:

Then it was this:

Once again, a good time was had by all, except maybe John, who got bitten by the catfish and spent most of his time dealing with the four of us and our fishing pole.

Don't we wish we were all as rugged as John Nash?

And then there's the food... Between our church's day camp, the summer school program, and the summer reading program at our library, the kids have managed to walk away with coupons for 3 free McDonald's ice cream cones, 3 free Wendy's frosties, a free doughnut, 2 free kid's meals at the local steak house, 2 free pizzas at Pizza Hut, and one kid's meal at Ruby Tuesday. They're saving some of their birthday money to buy popcorn at the movie theater later this month, when we plan to go see Brave. Add in all the leftover birthday cake and the post-t-ball snacks and juice pouches, and I think we might be able to get away with not buying any groceries at all in June. Of course, their insides might just rot away from all the junk, but theirs will be a blissful wasting.

In short, our kids are making out like bandits so far this summer. Next weekend is a visit to St. Louis, where Eva will have a pool party with Grandma Jan and Daniel will go to Six Flags with Uncle Ian. Soon after that they'll have their first airplane ride on our vacation to Montana with Kyle's side of the family. Of course, doing all this stuff for the kids means that the grownups get to do it, too. Not too bad of a deal, if you ask me...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Things I Did Today in Order To Avoid Grading

took Eva to school
had breakfast with Madeline
cleaned both the bathrooms
scrubbed the grout around bathroom faucets with a toothbrush
made brownies for the babysitter
made a cake for Kyle and the kids to take to church
called my friend Jennifer
magic eraser-ed the walls and nightstand in Daniel's room
swept the tile floors
washed all the rugs
washed all the towels
washed all the sheets
folded a load of clothes from the dryer
dried and put away the humidifiers for the summer
returned emails
caught up on my blog feed
arranged a meal for a couple in our church
arranged another meal for a couple in our church
called our pastor about contact information for another person who might need meals
found a babysitter for Eva tomorrow
called my mom
called the doctor's office
emptied the dishwasher
refilled the dishwasher
handwashed some bowls from last night's dinner
picked Eva up from an after-school playdate
read books with Eva
cut up and packaged the brownies for the babysitter, and wrote a note to go with it
got Eva to draw a picture and write a note for the babysitter
delivered the brownies
made copies of the kids' chore charts
watched the new Rihanna video
reviewed a cover letter for a friend looking for a job
made a grocery list
went to the bank
removed all the loose papers from the backseat of our car and recycled them

I think this was the most productive day of procrastination I've ever had. Maybe what I've been needing to do all semester is assign papers in ALL my classes. I could have been getting so much more done around the house!

And the really funny thing is that after all that procrastination, I actually managed to finish all the grading I needed to do while my night class took their final. In fact, I'm writing this blog post to kill the last 15 minutes of class time before I can give up on all the last-minute people who are pushing the 9:00 paper deadline. I wonder if they all had really productive days, too?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


For some time now, I've been considering writing a post about being tight with money. Because the thing is, we as a family do quite a few ridiculous-sounding things in the name of saving a buck. And sometimes in the middle of, say, cutting my dryer sheets in half, I step back and think about how funny I must look, considering I bought that box of dryer sheets on sale with a coupon for a quarter in the first place.

And so it goes. CFL's in all those light fixtures! Thermal drapes on those windows! I hope you brought your sweater, because we're keeping the heat under 65 this winter! We make our own super-cheap laundry detergent, rinse and reuse plastic food-storage bags, and I've been known to cut the containers of our toiletries open in order to scrape the last little bit out of the bottom of the bottle. Our poor kids may not recognize the existence of professional barbers and beauticians, because everyone in our family but me gets home haircuts. The kids' clothes are purchased a year ahead, at the end of the season, on clearance, with a coupon, and probably a promotional code for free shipping. Which means that, fashion-wise, they're both SO last-year. And the instant they outgrow those outfits I'm gonna yard-sale them for as much as I can possibly squeeze out of them.

Why do we do this? That is definitely a question Kyle asked me after hanging a load of clothes out to line-dry one 100-degree day last summer (Seriously, people, do you know how much energy that dryer uses?!).

Sometimes, it's just kind of a fun game. I like to say that if shopping were an Olympic sport I would totally bring home the gold. It feels nice to get a good deal, and pasta that cost 8 cents a box really does taste better somehow. I enjoy the challenge of seeing exactly how long I can go without paying real money for toothpaste, or trying to beat last April's electricity usage. And it's a game that allowed us to live debt-free on just one teacher's salary in the first years after the kids were born.

Sometimes it makes for an interesting experience. This past year, on the evening of Thanksgiving I took my mother-in-law to a doorbuster sale at Walmart so I could get Eva a $4 Princess Belle doll. Just seeing that circus, and the totally incredulous look on Barb's face, was a story worth way more than the 11 bucks I saved. And she got into it as well, sweet-talking all the people with loaded carts into letting the crazy lady standing in line for one doll (that's right, Lady Behind Me, I heard you whispering) go ahead of them. The year before, I introduced our international student to Black Friday shopping, and got such a kick out of watching him exclaim in disbelief over the things Americans are willing to do to get a good deal.

Sometimes, though, I do it because it kind of hurts not to. My friend Madeline and I were talking last week about our dishwasher-loading philosophies, and she tends to take the side of my husband, claiming that if it's too full or not loaded in a systematic way the water cannot get to all the dishes. But me? I must fill that washer until there's not room for even another spoon, because I cannot stand the fact that we would spend the water and the soap pod on just a small amount of dishes. In the same way, I cannot bear to pay full price for clothing, knowing that in just a few weeks it will go on sale.

I think being tight with money has just been ingrained in me my whole life. I spent much of my childhood making fun of my dad for saying things like, “Do you think I own the electric company? Turn that light off when you leave the room!” The air conditioning was kept at 80 degrees (78 if we begged). He fixed things around the house himself, even if that meant he had to "fix" it several times to get it working again, and scoffed at our requests for fancy or frivolous toys and clothes. But he made converts out of my brother and I, who are now as adults fairly conscious spenders (we'll forgive Ian's recent sports car purchase). We are definitely members of the 79-degree air conditioning club, and when I see a light left on I have to admit that I catch myself muttering under my breath about the need to buy Ameren UE stock.

Last week, my father's mother passed away. In discussing her death with my brother, he said something like, “You have to admit, we probably owe our money management skills to Grandma in a way.” And as I thought about it, I realized that this was true. My grandmother lived during the Great Depression, and was one of those people who never threw anything away. As kids we would laugh at how she saved the wrappers from loaves of bread (“...that will make a good lunch bucket for somebody...”) and baby food jars (because what else would she put all the old screws and nails and washers she was saving in?). She gardened and cooked from scratch and cut around the bad spots in her fruit instead of tossing it. She didn't wear fancy clothes or drive fancy cars or probably ever say anything like “Oh, let's just splurge!”

Also last week, I happened to read something about the difference between being cheap and being frugal. The author argued that there is a difference, and that cheap people save their money not for enjoyment, but to feel superior or secure in having saved it, while frugal people save their money in order to funnel it toward better things, like having fun or being responsible and generous with others.

Growing up, I always thought of my father and grandmother as cheap, but now I must revise that and say they are frugal. Because as practical with money as they are and were, they've always been generous with their family in terms of both money and time. My grandmother sent me and every other member of her large Catholic family a birthday card with 20 dollars every year for most of her life. She set aside an inheritance for all her kids and grandkids. Growing up, my father always got me what I needed for school and for sports and extracurricular activities. He helped pay for my first car, my education, my wedding, and a thousand other things. I've never been made to feel guilty about taking money or asked to worry about where the money was going to come from.

One of my favorite childhood memories involves the end of practically every visit we had with my grandmother. She and my father would have the gas-money argument. She would offer him a few bills to offset the cost of the visit, and he'd wave her hand away. "Naw, you keep your money," Dad would say. "Ohh, now! You just take it. Buy some supper with it if you don't need it for gas." "Nope. No, thank you!" Back and forth they would go. On at least one occasion Dad saw Grandma coming out to the driveway with money in her hand and said, "Run, kids!!" As we dashed to the car she would stick the cash under the windshield wiper. Dad would roll down the window to pull the money out and throw it back at her, and she'd grab it and shove it through the window before he could get the window back up. And so it went; two people who wouldn't spend money on themselves trying to ensure that the other had what they needed.

Unfortunately, I think that many times “cheap” is the better word to describe my behavior. As I left my father's house after the funeral this weekend, I just accepted the gas money he tried to put in Eva's pocket. Maybe I've learned that my father is more stubborn then I on this issue, and am just resigned to the fact that he'll hide the money in my car if I turn it down. But part of me knows that it's difficult for me to adjust our budget to account for the unplanned trip, not because we can't afford the extra money, but because I'm too rigidly attached to our spending plan.

As recession-trendy as it is right now to use coupons and be resourceful, I find that it's not always the best for my state of mind. I sometimes catch myself plotting about how I can save money so I'll have all this security, as if money will save me from all ills. I can have a difficult time buying gifts for others, because my standard of how much is appropriate to spend on a friend or family member is influenced by my always-scrimping mindset. It's hard for me to allow myself something I want that is full-priced, even on my birthday with money I've received as a gift. Our oven actually started on fire last week, and our water heater is on its last leg, but taking the money for replacements out of our savings account (specifically designated for emergencies like these) is so stressful for me that I feel I must read every review and pour over ever price at every store in order to save even a few dollars and make the very best decision. I often pay a fortune in time and stress in order to save a little in cash.

And so I find myself, the queen of saving money, learning how to instead let it go a little.

Friday, April 6, 2012


One of my favorite blogs to read is Tara Being Tara, so imagine my surprise the other night when I saw her link to me here! Basically she described being sucked into an online chain letter, and then sucked me in, too. Basically I am supposed to:

1. Post the rules (these are them)
2. Answer the 11 questions the tagger posted for you and then
3. Create 11 questions to ask the people you've tagged
4. Tag 11 bloggers and link them in your post
5. Let them know they've been tagged!

So, Tara, here are my answers to your questions (and if you're not already reading Tara Being Tara jump right on over there and check her out- she posts way more regularly than I do!):

1. If I were in the same city as you, the first thing we'd do together is... a tutorial on how to quilt. Seriously, you have some mad quilting skills and I have none, despite the fact that I love to snuggle under quilts a lot. I have an old quilt made by the sister of my great-grandmother that is falling apart and needs to be repaired. I've always thought it would be cool to know how to do that. While we were quilting we could discuss running or being really excited about too many things at once or other things we seem to have in common.

2. When I was 6, there was a three-way tie for what I wanted to do when I grew up. Either a farmer or a truck driver or a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader.

3. My favorite summer dish is this lemon garlic chicken pasta recipe my friend Madeline's mother made up. Basically you soak a clove of garlic in some olive oil and lemon juice all day, and then toss it over some rotini pasta, grilled chicken, zucchini, broccoli, and red onion. So good it makes me hungry just thinking about it.

4. If I could be anywhere in the world right now, it would be in Paris with my husband Kyle, eating delicious food and drinking wine. He and I were discussing last week how eating good food is one of our favorite things. Eating good food in Paris would be even better.

5. Clearly the most challenging part of maintaining a blog for me is posting on it (as evidenced by my lack of recent entries). Usually I have 3 or 4 ideas for posts in my head at any give time, but it's difficult for me to find uninterrupted time at the computer to actually spit them out. And ignoring the blog has a definite snowball effect, in that the more time that goes by the less I think about how guilty I feel for ignoring it.

6. There are so many random things in my purse. There has been an orange M & M floating around in the bottom somewhere for several weeks. Every time I find it I am in the middle of the grocery store or about to start class, and since I'm not in a position to properly dispose of it, back in it goes.

7. We have no DVR, but Breaking Bad is at the top of our Netflix cue so that we can easily feed our nightly obsession with watching it.

8. To be really honest, I have not taken that many vacations. Our honeymoon was pretty great, though. We stayed at a little bed and breakfast in Keystone, Colorado during their off season, and went hiking and biking and out to a different restaurant every night.

9. Something about me that most people would never guess? I thought seriously about being a police officer. I guess all the other Justice Systems majors at my college might have guessed that... I suppose maybe that I always wish I could have learned to play a musical instrument more proficiently than an 8th-grader.

10. I love my birthday. I meet my mother halfway between her city and mine and we go out to lunch and go shopping (there are no malls or Targets where I live). I almost always end up with a frivolous but fabulous pair of shoes. I do try to stretch it out for a full week around the house in terms of getting out of chores like letting the dogs out or wiping children's bottoms.

11. We watched the new Muppet Movie this weekend, so the song stuck in my head is this.

Okay, so those are my answers to Tara's questions. Now for the bad news. And that is that there is no way I can think of 11 blogs to link to. I only read a handful, and some of them are the same ones Tara tagged (we're on a blog network together, so we read several of the same blogs). Others are large, professional blogs by people who make their living at it, and I don't think they respond to chain-blog appeals. Here are the few that I think might participate:

Janice @ Whimsy-ma-blog
Karen @ Dreamer
Brittyne @ Five Fitz's
Marbree @ matnmarb
Melynne @ Blessings

And since those are only 5 bloggers, I feel I only have the right to ask them to answer 5 questions. Here they are:

1. What is one skill you wish you have but don't?
2. What is your biggest pet peeve?
3. What is your favorite book?
4. If you could pick your name, would you pick the one you were given, or something else?
5. What is your favorite thing to do in the city where you live?

Good luck, everyone! And thanks again to Tara for getting me out of my no-blogging rut!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Things I Don't Need

The other day I heard a radio blurb about someone who had an idea for a store full of, basically, things nobody needs, like Ugg boots for dogs and a doodad that gets the lid off your can of tuna so you don't get tuna juice on your fingers.

Later that day I noticed that I have tampons with inspirational sayings on the wrappers. Worse, the brand advertises itself as some kind of "sport tampons" (whatever that means), and so the sayings were I guess what I'd characterize as nonspecific-athletically inspirational.

Some examples of the phrases (because honestly, once I noticed it on one wrapper I had to look through the entire box):
-Go, Fight Win!
-You can't win if you don't play.
-Just go for it!
-You go, girl!
-Let's get out there and show 'em what we've got!

And it's this last one that's the most disturbing to me. Mostly because it begs the question, "Who is we?" Me and the tampon? 'Cause that's a little weird.

I'm just sayin'... If I were running that store of things nobody needs, I'd totally put these inspirational-phrase tampons in there.

Ask Jeeves

The other night at dinner Kyle and I were talking about the fact that there are two different plays called The Butler Did It running in our town right now.

Daniel asked, "What is a butler?"

We tried several different explanations, including the Tim Curry character Wadsworth's explanation from the movie Clue, which is "The butler keeps the kitchen and dining areas tidy."

"The butler takes care of things around the house, like answers the door and gets you things," Kyle offered.

"The butler is like a waiter in your house. If we had a butler, we'd just sit down to dinner, and he'd bring food to us, and then when we were done he'd clean up for us," I explained.

"So does that make sense, then? Basically, a butler takes care of cleaning up and answering the door and getting you things when you want them," we concluded.

Daniel lit up. "Oh, so like you then, Mommy!"

Yep. Just like me.