Tasty tortillas

Today we’re going to have a wee cooking lesson. But it’s also a lesson in budgeting and in ridding ourselves of un-needed preservatives. And as the topic of tortillas has come up a few times in the last week, that’s what we’re going to play with today.

First, let’s look at the nutritional side of things, using Old El Paso flour tortillas as our guide. The back of the pack claims the following ingredients: Wheat Flour, Water, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Stabiliser: Glycerol, Salt, Raising Agents: E450a, E500, Dextrose, Emulsifier: E471, Preservative: E202, Flour Treatment Agent: E920.

[Note for American readers: ‘E Numbers’ are how preservatives and additives are labelled in the EU/UK. Find out more here.]

Now, compare those ingredients to my recipe: Flour, water, olive oil, baking powder, and salt.

(Do you see where I’m going here?)

Then, let’s look at the cost. A pack of tortillas will cost you anywhere from £1.20-£3.00 in the UK and, what, about $1.00-$4.00 in the States, depending on the brand and the number/size in the pack. After you add up the cost of a 5-pound bag of flour, 16-ounce (or so) bottle of olive oil, and the negligible cost of salt and baking powder,  you’re looking at less-than £1.00 ($1.00) for a batch of 8-10 tortillas. And yes, I realise that time and electricity/gas for cooking plays into this, too, but I still think homemade is a bargain!

But, more importantly, homemade just tastes better. The texture and the flavour are a vast improvement over store-bought. And you can use whole wheat and/or gluten-free flours if you want.

So, on to the next part: A wee how-to video to show you just how easy it is! (And because I haven’t made a video in a while.) Recipe will follow the video.

Tasty Tortillas

  • 3 cups plain flour (375 g)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup water (8 oz / 250 ml)
Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, you’re ready to make some tortillas!
  • Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and oil
  • Add water a bit at a time and mix with hands until it forms a nice, doughy ball (you may not need all of the water!)
  • Form into large ball and let sit (covered with towel) for 15 minutes
  • Divide into 8-10 smaller balls
  • Flour work space
  • Roll each ball flat with rolling pin (or a wine bottle!)
  • Cook on very hot, un-greased pan or griddle for a few seconds on each side—just enough to get pretty little brown spots

These can be enjoyed as a taco wrap, or for a bread substitute for almost any kind of sandwich. I like to spread them with cream cheese or salmon pate and enjoy with a few olives. Yummy!

Words about me

I am participating in an online thing where a few people are getting together to chat through a moderated forum run by a grief counsellor. It’s kind of an experimental thing run by the niece of a woman I used to know, and when the moderator went looking for participants, this woman suggested me.

Anyhow, the first ‘meeting’ was just a brief introduction of each other so that we knew why we were participating. And for the next meeting, we were asked to find out how others view us.

I thought about asking one or two friends to really talk to me about who they think I am, but in the end I decided to take it to Facebook. Which I did. And I asked everyone to give me a few words they’d use if they had to describe me to a friend.

The results, I must say, are interesting. And if you’re not familiar with word clouds, I’ll give you a hint and tell you that the more times a word is used, the larger the image of that word is. So, I guess that means that, ultimately, my friends think I’m quirky, strong, brave, and grammatical. (And loads of other things.)

Just Frances in Just Words

Anyhow, it was really interesting to me to see the sort of things people said. Quirky was expected as were grammar-related comments. I suppose runner, determined, and loving were not a surprise, either. But compassionate, inspiring/inspirational, and introspective weren’t. And, of course, some just made me smile. Like green and granola. All in all, I guess it’s a pretty fair description of me. Mostly the quirky bit, apparently.

Say no to bunny boilers!

There is a new campaign against stalking starting in the UK today and I thought it was a perfect opportunity to talk about stalking on Just Frances. The National Campaign Against Stalking aims to talk about stalking and to educate people on what stalking is and the rights that victims of this (in my view) act of psychological terror.

So, today I’m going to do my part to bring the conversation into the open so that we can eliminate some of the stigma (and misunderstanding) about the issue. First, it’s important to know that, whilst we joke about it, stalking isn’t a joke. It is a frightening experience for the person being stalked.

Second, it’s important to know everything you can about the laws in your region and what you can do to protect yourself. Every country is different; every state different. So educate yourself. There is no way that I can go into all of the information here, but some great starting points for your information gathering are at the end of this post. But if you’re truly in fear at this moment in time—contact your local police. It’s better safe than sorry. Or dead.

I can’t tell you the number of times each week I hear (or make) jokes about stalking my friends online. I’m sure you can relate to this. We tell people we know that we’ve had a good look around their Facebook page and we ‘feel like a stalker’ all of the sudden. We Google people we know (or used to know) to see what they’re doing now. We search for information, and in the case of social networking platforms, we’re freely given information from our friends and acquaintances. This is (generally) not stalking.

Stalking is unwanted harassment. It’s unwanted attention. It’s unwanted contact. And most of the time, it’s done by someone the victim knows. (Find more information here.)

If you find yourself in a situation where you are receiving unwanted contact, tell the person to leave you alone. Tell them NO in no uncertain terms. And then ignore them. But keep records of each and every time they attempt to make contact. Yeah, sounds easy, doesn’t it? But take it from me, that first NO can be difficult, especially if it’s someone you know. And that’s where I’ll segue into my own story of being stalked.

Stalker Sam (madey-uppy name) and I started out as friends. But he wanted more than that. And I wasn’t forceful enough in saying no because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. So I still agreed to meet him for coffee ‘as friends’ because I thought he would learn to be OK with that. Instead, he became more adamant that I would change my mind.

And that’s when the gifts started to appear. That’s when the flowers started to arrive. And that’s when the phone calls and text messages and letters (soaked in his cologne) started to increase. He would track my car down and leave cards on the windshield when I was out running errands. He even gave gifts to my parents and my sisters.

I took the advice of lawyer and law enforcement friends and told him NO one last time. I told him to stop contacting me—full stop. And then I began to ignore him, whilst keeping a record of every contact he made.

Then one day, he cornered me after Church to tell me that God told him that I loved him and that we were meant to be together—I was just playing hard to get.

I was frightened and also embarrassed because I wondered if it was my fault. Maybe I should have been more forceful in saying no. Maybe I should have been kinder to him and tried to maintain a friendship. Maybe I said NO in a way that could have been interpreted as YES. (Wrong! No means no and this was not my fault!)

Eventually, his contact waned (helped by the fact that I returned to Scotland) but every once in a while he gets in touch again. Like right before my wedding. Like right after my husband’s death. Like when he started a Facebook account. And each contact has been ignored then recorded in my Stalker Sam journal.

I’m not as afraid of Stalker Sam now because I like to think he’s moved on and is no longer a threat to me. But when I’m in the homeland and I see him, I panic. If I see a car that looks like one he used to drive (I don’t know what he drives right now) or if I smell his cologne, I panic. If I see someone out of the corner of my eye with his build and hair colour/style, I panic. Even though I am thousands of miles away from him.

Was I ever in ‘real’ danger from Stalker Sam? I don’t know. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d done things differently; I don’t know if he was capable of causing me physical harm. But what I do know is that he scared me and that his actions were wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

OK. I’ve gone on for a bit here. But I hope that my rambling helps you to become more aware of stalking. Don’t do it. It’s not nice. And if you feel that you’re a victim, reach out to someone for help. Below is a list of links to help you find more information—because information and knowledge are powerful tools!

Paper bird of happiness

When I boarded the bus today, I was met by a pretty little origami crane that was perched on the seat next to me. It had been made with someone’s bus ticket and it looked very much like it was there for someone to find.

I picked it up and held it in my hand, marvelling at not only how well it was made, but at how such a silly, simple little thing could bring me so much happiness. I wanted to take it away with me but I felt that someone else might enjoy a smile, too. Then I thought that I’d take it to the library with me and leave it for someone to find there. (Even though I really wanted to keep it for myself.)

As I sat admiring the little bird, a very pregnant woman and her wee boy boarded the bus and sat behind me. The boy was in a bit of a fussy mood and his mum was trying her best to brighten his day. So I turned around and showed him the pretty bird and asked if he’d like to have it. His face beamed when his mum said that would be OK.

Of course, that meant that I was left without a bird. But, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I was able to find instructions to make my own. Maybe I’ll practice a bit and one day I’ll be good enough to leave pretty birds behind for others to enjoy.

My shattered ego

­I’ve gone back and forth over if I would share a specific sliver of my life with you or not. And I almost chose not. But the issue came to light again over the past couple of days and I suppose I feel a bit compelled to share it now. (I don’t know why, because it’s rather humiliating.)

First, the back story: Nearly two years ago, a couple of ‘helpful’ women in my life decided that I needed to start dating. It had been, after all, a year since my husband died and was therefore time to find a new relationship. They ‘assisted’ by setting up three online dating profiles without my knowledge—and corresponding with a couple of guys they thought would be perfect for me! This didn’t go over very well when I found out, and in fact caused a lot of stress and upset for all sides. (I was being ungrateful and stubborn, or so I was told. We’ve since reconciled but, sadly, there is still a scar on our relationships.)

After I was given the login information, I closed out all but one of accounts they’d created for me. The one that I didn’t close, I made inactive. I don’t know why; hopeful curiosity I suppose. A few months ago, and for reasons I still don’t understand, I decided to check out the site. I logged in, had a wee look, and then logged out. Only logging in meant that my account was no longer inactive. And that meant that someone saw my profile and sent me a message.

When the message came in, I panicked. A lot. But I decided that maybe I’d update the profile and see what happened. I included a quick and cheeky little ‘about me’ section and filled out the rest of the little tick-boxes. What I didn’t do was include public photos, deciding that I would just share photos with men who contacted me and who I was interested in getting to know a bit.

Anyhow, in the weeks to follow four people responded to my profile. And in each instance, we corresponded back-and-forth a couple of times before they requested to see a photo—a request which I obliged. But each of the potential suitors went silent as soon as I did that. Well, that’s not true—one did respond saying I wasn’t what he was looking for.

Ouch.

The experience was very hurtful, and I responded by once again deactivating my profile. Obviously, there is something about my photos that seemed to be turning men away and that really stung my ego in ways that I never imagined.

But, curiosity got the better of me again, so I logged in over the weekend to have a peek. And that meant my account was active again. And you know what? One of those four guys from before sent me a message! He said that he just read my profile and I seemed very interesting, but felt that we’d corresponded before. I replied that I thought we had, but couldn’t be 100% certain. (I lied; I knew for certain that we’d written.)

I decided to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. I mean, maybe he didn’t reply when I’d shared the photo in the past because he was busy. Or maybe he didn’t reply because he lost his computer. Or because he had to go out of town. Or because he was doing that ‘wait a week’ thing and by the time he was ready to respond, I’d deactivated my account.

So, for a couple of days, we wrote back-and-forth. Not a lot, just 2 messages. Then he asked if I had a photo. And I sent one. Only this time he didn’t go silent. This time, he replied. And his reply was ‘I really don’t think we click. I hope you find someone though.’

Ouch. Again.

So, it seems that I am not attractive enough for online dating. (Or maybe I’m too attractive and guys run when they see my photo because they’re intimidated by my beauty?) I suppose not being cut out for online dating is OK though because I wasn’t comfortable about it in the first place.

It’s funny, I’m not really desperate to date. I’m actually rather freaked out at the idea of dating again. I mean, I never imagined I’d have to do that again! But I also have to admit that I like the idea of a nice boy asking me out. I like the idea of sharing a nice meal with someone who makes me laugh. I even like the idea of someone holding my hand as we walk down the street. But I don’t need those things. And if I’m going to meet someone, I’d rather meet them the old fashioned way, like how I met Paul.

Anyhow, I don’t know why I’m sharing this with you because, as I said, it’s a bit humiliating and embarrassing. But, I guess that it makes up for all the times that I share stories about how amazingly awesome I am, too. Kind of an ego-neutraliser of sorts!

Got milk?

If you’re American, you may not realise that milk is a very important part of British culture. From the 1946 School Milk Act (an addendum to the Education Act 1944) to Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher and from breast milk ice cream to the order in which one adds tea and milk to a mug, milk seems to be more than just another beverage.

Which is what this post is about: Tea. Or rather, milky tea.

In the states, coffee tends to be the hot beverage of choice. And not that instant stuff, either. Tea drinkers are a minority group. And then, they’re more likely to want honey and lemon than milk. Oh, and if people do want to lighten/whiten up their coffee or tea, they’re more likely to use half-and-half, not milk. (And then there’s the non-dairy creamer group, but this isn’t about what Americans do, so we’ll just ‘skim’ over that. Skim. Get it? No? Oh, well. Never mind …)

In the UK, however, tea is the winning beverage. It’s very much a part of the culture (more so, I think, that coffee is part of American culture) and it seems that more people use milk here than don’t. I don’t; I drink my coffee strong and black with no sugar and I drink my tea medium and black with no sugar.

And here’s the problem: Since I don’t use milk (with the rare exception of baking or a splurge purchase of sugary breakfast cereal) I never have the stuff in my fridge. Which is OK until someone comes into my home. You see, as part of the UK’s tea obsession, it is customary to offer guests in your home a cuppa. And I’m pretty good at doing that. But the moment I say ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ I find myself remembering that I can’t offer them milk for that tea.

The first time it happened, I was lucky because the friend in question (whilst a bit confused as to my lack of milk) was happy to have Earl Grey tea instead—which apparently doesn’t require milk as vocally as black tea does. The next time it happened, I was lucky enough to have the smallest little drip of milk left over from something I baked the day before. And when everyone came over for Thanksgiving, I made certain that I had milk on hand. Of course, I was then a bit cheeky and let my guests add their own milk and sugar so that I didn’t over (or under) do it.

Which brings me to today. I’ve been having a bit of trouble with the hot water in my flat, so a workman came around to fix it. Now, I don’t know if you’re meant to offer workmen tea, but it seemed rude not to, so I did—since I was making myself a cup of coffee anyhow. And the moment I asked I regretted it because then I had to follow that up with ‘Oh, but I don’t have any milk.’

And my no milk meant that he changed his order to a cup of coffee instead—black; two sugars. I didn’t think it was fair to keep him waiting whilst I made a cafetier of coffee, so I grabbed the instant stuff (that’s not an insult here as it is in America) and fixed a cup for him. With no milk.

I wonder if it’s socially acceptable to offer guests shelf-stable milk for their tea?

So, tell me how you take your tea or coffee. Or better still, tell me what your views are in regards to serving tea or coffee to company!

A lesson in carols

Being a guest in someone’s home at Christmas means the joy of participating in the traditions of the family. It’s a chance to experience new things and to learn new lessons. In fact, today’s tradition shared was a lesson, indeed. A lesson in carols, that is.

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a radio programme recorded at the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. It has run since 1918 and is the traditional start to Christmas for Rebecca’s family. As I sat there curled up in a chair, the fire crackling on the other side of the room, I listened with joy as the readings were read and the carols were sung. I don’t know if future Christmases will include a lesson in carols, but I am glad to have had the opportunity to participate in what is obviously an important part of someone’s Christmas tradition today.

Then, after the programme we enjoyed a light Christmas Even meal before Rebecca and I headed off to Midnight Mass (held at 8 o’clock, funnily enough) where we got to do some carol singing of our own. Because, after all, as a Good Catholic Girl, I can’t pass on my tradition of Christmas Eve Mass.

So, how about you? Are there any new traditions you’re participating in this year?

Good ol’ goulash

I love goulash. Growing up, I was always happy to see it on the dinner table. Later, as a grown-up, I loved going to my folks’ house and seeing leftover goulash in the fridge—and eating it! But I realised that I’ve never actually made it myself. I guess it was one of those meals that was never prepared when it was my turn to help in the kitchen.

So, when I decided I wanted to make goulash, I had to stop and think about what was in it. I knew it was simple, but wondered if I could replicate it.

I don’t know if I used all the same stuff my folks use, but it seemed to taste like theirs so I’m calling it a success.

Just Goulash

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 4 (or so) cups cooked macaroni pasta
  • ½ chopped onion
  • Chopped garlic
  • Oregano
  • Fresh ground pepper

Whilst the pasta cooks, brown the ground beef then add garlic and onions to sauté. Add tin of tomatoes (do not drain), oregano, and pepper to the meat and heat through. Add cooked and drained pasta to pan and mix together. Serve and enjoy!

The entire thing cost about £4 to make, and provided tonight’s dinner plus three portions for the freezer. So, £1 per serving. Unless you include the glass of wine I had with it, which was from a £5 bottle (actually, an £8 bottle that was on an incredible sale!). Figuring four meals per bottle of wine (I’m a light weight!) that means £1.25 per glass, bringing the total cost for tonight’s dinner up to £2.25. That’s pretty good, especially when I think about the limited food budget I have at the moment.

Of course, the best thing about budget meals at home is that when I go out to dinner (like I’ll do tomorrow) I don’t feel guilty! (Yay!)

Budgeting

Before I graduated from university money was tight. My adult life, until shortly before I got married, was spent not spending money. No, really. Money was so tight that a $5 banking error could have meant complete destruction. I relied on the good will (and good cooking) of family and friends to pad out my grocery budget (I rarely turned down a free meal!). On more than one occasion, I had to call the power company to get my electricity turned back on. I had to cancel my phone. I didn’t have cable TV. I didn’t own a car for a while.

Or, to put it another way, I lived on such a meagre income that there wasn’t even enough money to make a budget, let alone live by one!

But the lessons I learned about pinching pennies and denying myself luxuries like haircuts, clothes, and shoes meant that when I finally had a healthy income, I had more money than I knew what to do with. And that meant that my savings account grew, and that my spending increased. Oh yes, I had disposable income. And I used it!

And when I decided to quit my job and return to Scotland for graduate school, I used those early penny pinching skills to pad out my savings account. Of course, now I’m back in scarily familiar territory again: I’m poor! I have no income and I have a limited budget. So, once again, I have to pinch pennies and deny myself luxuries.

Thankfully, I’m prepared. For nearly two years I’ve prepared myself emotionally and financially for this adventure. But I fear that no amount of preparation will stave off the fears I have about things not working out the way I want them to.

I am constantly fearful that I’ve done the maths wrong or that I’m kidding myself about how much things will cost. I am also aware that, with no income, the money I spend will not be replenished and I fear that watching my bank balance decrease over the next several months will cause me to be a little over cautious with my money. Yes, I fear that I will start denying myself too many things, in an effort to hold on to as much of my money as I can!

All of that said, I am not broke. I can afford this adventure. And if everything does go wrong, I have the option of moving back to my parents with my tail between my legs.

And so, I’ve managed to work out a new budget for the next year. And I’ve done it in part by looking at emotional triggers. Like I knew that living in a squalid rat trap would make me sad, so I’ve put a bit more money towards my housing budget than I originally planned. And I know that I like some of the finer foods, so I’ve increased my food budget so that I can have fresh salmon and quality steaks for dinner from time-to-time.

But those higher budgets mean that I have to sacrifice a bit elsewhere. I will have to scrimp on things like weekend city breaks. My clothing budget has been slashed (not that it was ever that high in the first place). My booze budget is almost gone—no more fine wines, premium beers, expensive Scotch (sorry, whisky), or fine Cognacs.

It’s not really a complaint. I mean, I’m the one who chose this path. I’m the one who made the decision to give up her middle class lifestyle. I’m the one who decided to take this adventure out of the dreaming stage and into reality. And I’m mostly excited about it. I just need to re-learn what it’s like to be on a strict budget. And I need to try not to let it make me sad!

As I said, I’m not really broke nor will I be forced to eat rotting food ‘salvaged’ from back-alley Dumpsters. It’s just that I can’t decide—on a whim—to buy the latest-and-greatest gadget or that really pretty green dress that’s not even on the sale rack.  And I will be looking for occasional work to help my budget—and to allow me splurges from time-to-time. [I’ll put in a quick plug for my freelance gig. You know, just in case you have someone to recommend me to!]

So, now that I’m just over a week away from moving into my new flat, I need to really remember to stick to that new budget! And that’s where you come in! I’d love to hear any great ideas for living on a budget—including ideas for entertainment and home decorating. And great ideas for recipes for cheap food that looks and tastes expensive!

Yeah, I’m looking forward to having a proper income again so that I can splurge on things like name brand shampoo!

The proof is in the pudding

A few weeks after we got married, Paul asked me to make rice pudding. I’d never made it before but found an American recipe and got to cooking. The end result was a happy me—because it turned out just as I would expect an American version of rice pudding to turn out—and an unhappy Paul—because it was nothing like he expected.

This exercise resulted in two things: 1) I learned that there was a difference between American and British rice puddings and 2) Paul took over all subsequent responsibilities for making rice pudding in our home.

This didn’t bother me because I’m a bit indifferent toward rice pudding. And since I don’t really think about rice pudding, I’ve not had it since Paul died. After all, no one was there to cook it for me!

But today I cleaned out the kitchen cupboard and found a bag of [hideously out-dated] pudding rice and a container of [not as out-dated] Bird’s Custard. So I decided to try my hand at rice pudding again, with the aid of my Mrs. Beeton’s cookbook.

Of course, I didn’t have any milk so had to use powdered milk. And I didn’t have any lemon rind so had to use a splash of bottled lemon juice.

The result? Well, let’s just say Paul would not have been pleased and would have reminded me that this is why he is in charge of making rice pudding. Oh well, you can’t say I didn’t try. And it was good enough for me so it wasn’t a total failure.

Laughter from above

I think Paul laughed at me today. No, I’m certain he rolled on the floors of Heaven with extreme belly laughs. I think that he did some tisking under his breath and all. Why? Well let me tell you a little story…

After a long weekend in the homeland, I stopped up at the cemetery to visit with Paul before making the long drive home. I pulled through the gates, turned left, and parked. Just like I always do. Then I reached down to the passenger side floorboards for my winter boots to trek through the snow. I opened the door then bent over to put on my boots then I grabbed my umbrella because it was raining.

Another look at the snow made me decide to leave the keys behind so that they didn’t drop in the deep snow forcing me to dig around for them. So I hit the unlock button so that I didn’t accidently lock myself out then I set the keys on the passenger seat.

Then I stood up to exit the car, instinctively hit the lock button, and shut the door.

I stopped short of cursing as I looked through the window at the keys sitting there next to my $500 mobile phone and my handbag—that uncharacteristically had $500+ in cash as well as my camera in it.

I took a moment to berate myself and feel sorry for myself then I walked over to Paul’s grave and told him I’d be right back. Then I started walking toward town. (Thankfully, sometime after I left town in 2001 they built a gas station near the interchange, so it wouldn’t be too far of a walk.)

At this point, I was very happy to have my boots and umbrella!

On the short walk to the station I worried not about my expensive phone and money sitting there in plain view (this is Cle Elum, after all) but about walking into the gas station to ask for help and not knowing the person behind the counter.

But on walking in I was greeted by Margie of all people! I’d not even closed the door when she exclaimed: “Frances! How are you!?”

And I gave her my sob story. And she gave me a big hug. Then she called the locksmith.

As I waited for the locksmith (less than 10 minutes) I chatted with Margie and the mother of two old classmates. Then I got a ride back to the cemetery with John the locksmith. (It was George when I was in town. I wonder what happened to him…?)

Ten minutes later John had the car open and I was finally ready to visit with Paul. Who I think had just about finished laughing at me by that time.

I blame this all on Paul, of course. After all, it’s his fault I was at the cemetery in the first place.

A public service announcement

This will be a short post—or rather, a short public service announcement—because I am using my Dad’s netbook as I am unable to get online with my own awesome laptop.

Why can’t I get online? Because my parents got a new Internet service provider. And when the provider came over to set things up they were handed a business card with a long, difficult-to-remember string of numbers to use as the network key.

And like many people, they never changed the code to something they’d remember. And they’ve lost the card.

This is not the first time I’ve run into this problem. And I bet others have run into this problem, too.

So, my PSA to you is this:

Make sure that you know your network key. Because not only can it be a nightmare for your guests, but it can make it difficult to go online with your new gadgets and gizmos if you don’t know the magic code.

No, wait! Just as I typed the last sentence, Daddy found the card with three lines each containing 10 characters. One of these is meant to be the magic code. I guess I’ll go see if it works on my laptop now…

When you’re responsible for another life

When you’re responsible for another life, you have to think of that life’s needs. And sometimes, you have to put that life’s needs ahead of yours.

That is the lesson I’ve been teaching my foster daughter since day one. And the life she is responsible for is Schrodie’s.

You see, without opposable thumbs, the cat can’t feed herself (hunting for birds and mice aside). Without opposable thumbs, the cat can’t clean her litter box. And without opposable thumbs, the cat can’t clean her water bowl or re-fill it.

So those things must be done by the kid.

And those things must be done first thing in the morning before the kid feeds herself; because unlike the cat, the kid can choose to eat later.

In the beginning this was a lesson we had to discuss regularly.

I had to remind her to feed the cat: “She’s not following you around meowing just because she likes you; she’s yelling at you to feed her.”

I had to remind her to clean the water dish each morning: “How would you like it if I fed you out of dirty dishes?”

I had to remind her to wash her hands after cleaning the litter box (which she does right before fixing her own food): “Really, if you don’t, it’s almost like eating cat poop. Do you want to eat cat poop?”

But now she has the pattern down. And now she knows that I have sneaky ways of telling if she’s washed her hands. (Um, hello, why is the sink still dry?)

And on a morning like today—after having gone over the lesson of “Sleep-In Saturdays”—I heard her playing in her room, whilst I was snuggled under my duvet, when Schrodie came in to meow a hello (which was actually her way of being a tattletale).

So I shouted out: “Hey, what happens when a dependant life isn’t cared for?”

And she shouted: “I’m doing it right now!”

And I smiled as I stayed warmly under my duvet listening to the sounds of cat food being poured, litter being scooped, and water being turned on.

The cat sure does love her new care-giver. And I sure do love that I’ve not cleaned a litter box in three months.

Alarmed

I’m in the homeland this weekend, staying at my sister’s so that we can make blagenda. Sleeping arrangements are pretty simple when I’m here: Sis is in her room downstairs; my foster daughter bunks with my 13-year-old niece upstairs; my 11-year-old nephew is in his room upstairs; and I’m in the living room downstairs. This generally works just fine and I wake up with the sounds of children coming downstairs after the sun comes out.

That all changed last night, however.

You see, it seems that one of the upstairs occupants set an alarm for 5:00 a.m. for reasons they refuse to divulge. Which is cool. Only when it went off at 5 this morning they didn’t do anything about it. No one did anything about it. For several minutes.

Begrudgingly, I rose from my comfortable sleeping position and stumbled upstairs (without my glasses which was a bit dangerous) and felt around for the annoying object. Once found, I managed to shut the blasted thing off.

The owner of the alarm clock (who wishes to not be identified) then says sleepily: “Thank you, I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off.”

Well it would seem that all of the occupants of the upstairs heard it and none knew how to turn if off so planned to let it keep going.

My question was: “Why didn’t you just unplug it then?”

Apparently, that’s because it would be too much trouble to re-set the time. Which is a bit funny to me since the clocks go back tonight so it will have to get re-set anyhow!

Stupid alarm clock…

The alarm’s owner defended him-or-herself this morning by saying: “It was dark and I couldn’t find the button to shut it off.”

[Please note in the photo that the clock is still set for 5:00 a.m.!!]

Lessons of a new foster mommy; Part 1

It’s been nearly three weeks since the kid arrived and there’ve been loads of little lessons learned.

Here’s today’s lesson:
When you have a new foster placement, check through everything to ensure that there are not items that need to be returned to others.

When she arrived we unpacked her belongings together. But at 11 years old, I gave the little dear a bit more responsibility for putting her stuff away. I went through the bags and boxes then piled like stuff together and had her arrange her room. (She did a wonderful job.) I was pleased to see that she had so many books, despite the fact that they were anime. But reading is reading. (Well, not really but she also reads proper books, so I’m not going to cringe over the comic obsession.)

Anyhow… It wasn’t until Tuesday night that I really went through her books. Which is when I noticed that a large portion of them were from the public library. And they were overdue. Several months overdue.  

Over lunch today, I popped into the library to return the books and learned that there had also been several DVDs checked out at the same time – all but one of which had been returned, but there were overdue fines on them as well as a charge for the lost DVD. Add that to the overdue fees for the stack of books I returned and the total monetary damage is $190. OUCH!

I must say that I’m a bit disappointed that the books were not returned by the caregiver who authorized her to check them out, but not knowing the full story, I have to imagine that 1) said caregiver didn’t know the books were checked out or 2) said caregiver let the next caregiver or social worker know that the books were due at a certain time and that information got lost in the chaos/excitement of a move.

But, ultimately, it was my responsibility to check her books when she first arrived in my home. (That said, the fines would have been about the same even if I returned the books the day after the kid arrived.) And, of course, it was her responsibility to return items borrowed from the library in the first instance.

Lesson learned. Very expensive lesson learned*.

Overdues
Shel Silverstein

What do I do?
What do I do?
This library book is 42
Years overdue.
I admit that it’s mine
But I can’t pay the fine–
Should I turn it in
Or hide it again?
What do I do?
What do I do?

* In fairness to the expensive lesson, they’ve reduced the fees and fines to about $100 and I might be able to replace the DVD on my own which will take that charge alone from $60 to whatever the cost of the DVD is on Amazon.com. [Fine reduction updated from $80 to $100 because I did the math wrong the first time. Big surprise!]