Saturday, July 11, 2009

Unofficial Winner of the
Backyard Fence Entries

A few days ago, I asked you to go over to the Backyard Fence area and write about some things you remember doing in your earlier days (or even now) to save money or to adapt to living within your means.

Even though I wasn't looking or an official "winner" I must say I was quite taken by Kristina's entry which said,

"Since moving to Fairbanks last year, I live in a dry cabin (ie - no water) with two friends because rent is so much cheaper. It's almost always an adventure. As for furniture, I found an awesome art table with tray, rolling stool and various lights for $50 on Craigslist. My bed is a twin air mattress on a bunk bed frame, propped up with cinder blocks from Home Depot. I have a rocking chair I found at the transfer station (fancy Alaskan term for dump), and my clothes are kept in one of those three-drawer rubbermaid units.High class livin' at its finest!"

Anyone who's willing to live in in a cabin with no water gets the award in my book. Kristina, I must say I admire your great sense of adventure. I don't admire it enough to give up my running water but I think that the way you live is going to produce some wonderful stories and experiences that the rest of us will not get to have. Enjoy your adventure!

And one more thing about the Backyard Fence: I have started a new category over there called Prayer Requests. If you'd like the rest of us to pray with you about something or if you want to see which Fence Friends needs prayer, that's the place to go! In fact, there's a new request there right now that I re-posted from the comments area.

Check it out often--write a request or leave an encouraging comment for someone else.

Pieces of the Days

Our lawn mower broke the other day.

Well, it didn't actually break entirely, it was just the self-propulsion feature that went a little bit kapooy.

(By the way, I must say that I feel very impressive throwing around technical verbiage like "self propulsion feature." Of course, I also said, "kapooy" but let's just overlook that temporary foray into non-impressiveness.)

As Steve was manfully maneuvering the mower around the yard, sans the aforementioned self propulsion feature (still impressed?) he got to chuckling a little bit because he said that it reminded him of those Really Old Olden Days when the self propulsion feature on EVERY single lawn mower was simply . . . one's self!

Anybody else remember those days?

I sure do! In fact, I have gathered up a few of my mower memories and am hereby about to fling a few of them in your general direction.

When I was a kid, summertime for my five siblings and me meant going to visit my Grandma and Grandpa Michaelson's house in Onamia, a small community in northern Minnesota. They had an expansive lawn reaching out in every direction--to the road out front, to the cottage in the back, and to the barn on the side.

That vast remodeled barn actually served as the site of Grandma and Grandpa's business which was called, "Mike's Second Hand Store." They sold furniture and antiques and dishes and clothes and toys and a whole bunch of bunches of stuff. For me, visits to their place meant getting to spend hours and hours wandering through that cool, dim, delightful, musty space. It was a wonderland for any child, but especially a child with an imagination who constantly pictured stockpiled adventure waiting around every cobwebbed corner.

Of course, being the grandchildren of the proprietor, my siblings and I always got to choose "a little something" for ourselves during each visit. That opportunity created for me the most wonderful agonies of indecision as I carefully perused miles and miles of treasures and junk for that one special thing I wanted to take home.

In between all the blissful barn meanderings however, there were chores that had to be done. And one of those chores was to help mow The Lawn.

The Huge Lawn.

The Ginormous Gigantic Incredibly Massively Monstrous Lawn.

Did I mention it was big?

And back in those Old Olden Days, we didn't have any fancy mowers. We especially didn't have any mowers with those newfangled self propulsion features. (I got to say it again!)

No, what we used to mow lawns with "back when I was a kid" (a line guaranteed to induce eye-rolling in teenagers) was an antique-type mower with rotating blades that looked a lot like this.

I became very well acquainted with that mower while I was growing up. And as the official self propeller of an officially non-self propelled lawn mower, I had to develop and master certain skills in order to achieve mowing success.

For instance, if the grass had gotten extra tall between mowings, I would have to take three or four steps backward with the mower and then RUN as fast as I could into the tall grass. Otherwise, the grass would clog up the blades and I would rather quickly come to an ignominious halt.

Occasionally however, not even my much touted, frequently practiced "back up and run" mowing technique would work and I'd find myself soundly defeated by the mean, Minnesota grass. I would stand silently for a few forlorn moments under the searing sun. And I would sweat. And then I would carefully examine the callouses on my thumbs to see if any of them might merit a trip to the (cool) emergency room. And I would scratch the mosquito bites on my grimy, spindly legs. And I would wonder if bursting into pitiful, feminine tears would bring Grandma running outside to soothe my furrowed brow and lovingly ply me with icy, hand squeezed lemonade.

But as tempting as the tears were, I usually managed to tough it out. I usually managed to continue providing my own personally powered propulsion to that ornery old contraption, a machine that never did seem to be overly interested in cooperating with The Campbell Kids' Summer Grass Cutting Program.

But oh the CALORIES I burned up while engaged in mortal combat with that mower! No wonder I was such a skinny little eleven-year old. I could have eaten a whole side of beef, a bushel of potatoes and five apple turnovers and burned up every single calorie in a scant two hours of mowin' and moanin'!

When it was all said and done though, my very best memories from those long ago summer days were when that crabby lawn was finally subdued and we all gathered around the Formica table in the kitchen to enjoy Grandma's grand cooking. It was during those periods of rest and relaxation that I truly understood and appreciated the joy of a hard job well done.

Summers in the seventies. A cantankerous lawn mower. A barn full of treasures and memories. Loving grandparents long gone and long missed.

Pieces of the days that made up the years of my life.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Smith Cow Capers

Okay, since I made you sit through a Boring Blog Business Blog yesterday, today you will be rewarded with a fun, mindless, carefree blog about Nathan! And chicken! And cows!

I mentioned earlier that Nathan was on the schedule to wear the cow suit at Chick-Fil-A, the restaurant where he works. Since we have never seen our first born son in a cow suit, we marked it on the calendar so that we could be sure to show up and harrass applaud him.

As Nathan was leaving for work this morning, he mentioned that any customer who made an attempt to dress up like a cow would get their meal free. Well Steve, being a sanguine (frugal) sort of fella, decided he would take Chick-Fil-A up on their offer.

And so with the capable assistance of Sarah, his lovely Cow Suit Designer, Steve prepared for his very first bovine-esque public appearance.

As we got near the restaurant (a mere ninety seconds from our house) we were all eagerly looking for signs of Nathan. When I saw THIS standing outside the restaurant, my first thought was, "Wow! Nathan has really porked up!"

Whew! Thankfully, that was not the cow that was Nathan.

As we got out of the car, Steve suddenly decided that just having spots on his shirt was not sufficient and that he also needed to have a spot in the middle of his forehead.

It was at that very moment that Sarah and I felt compelled to walk about twenty steps behind him and pretend that he was with someone else.

When we all eventually made it into the restaurant, the little lady by the counter rang the bell because--hooray!--someone had walked in as a cow! (Actually, it was one cow and two ladies "cow-ering" behind said cow.)

And then, before we knew what was happening, we were actually getting to meet and have our pictures taken with the Fab and Famous Chick-Fil-A Cow!

I was so proud. I was walking around telling complete strangers, "That cow is my son!" (Kind of a strange thing to say, actually.)

Hey, he may never get to be the president of the United States but at least I can always say that my son was (sniff) the Chick-Fil-A (sniff) COW!

Here is the Cow and his proud family.

Life father, like son.

So it has been a memorable day in the Smith House. (And yes, it's fine with us if you all want to say that you "knew us way back when," back before our son made us famous.)

Before we left, Steve paused for a shot with the BIG version of his Bovine Bro. He and Nathan are now both esteemed members of the Cow Fraternity.

I'm so proud.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Boring Blog


This blog entry is comprised entirely of boring blah-ness and blogging housekeeping about the business of blogging that is done in a (usually) non-boring manner.

If you promise to read all the way to the end, you will win a big prize.

Yes. You will win a big prize of, um, the satisfaction of having read a boring blog all the way to the end.

Let's get started, shall we? I can just sense the anticipation hovering in the air. (Oh wait. I think that's actually the humidity that's hovering.)

Boring Blog Business Item Number 1:

Smithellaneous is now a .com!

Don't worry. You can can still access the blog at its old address: However, if you decide to pass the blog address on to your friends and family members (which of course I assume you are doing fatihfully five times an hour, seven days a week) you can just say that the address is

Isn't that just so incredibly and amazingly cool?

Well. At least I thought it was.

Moving right along . . .

Boring Blog Business Item Number 2:

I have a new e-mail address!

If you'll look at the right hand column of this (temporarily) boring blog, you will see that you can now write to me at:

Now lest you think that an email address like would take your letter straight to the company head quarters of the Smithellaneous Corporation to be screened by five different secretaries and administrative assistants before finally arriving on my desk(top), I am happy to inform you that the email still comes straight to me. Personally. Privately.

So if you want to write to me and complain that just looking at a photo of Steve's version of the Chicago Hot Dog gave you heart burn, you can do it! If you want to write and tell me that I look like I have lost 56 pounds in the last week, that's fine! If you want to let me know that your female doggie is madly in love with Snowy and wants to start an online romance, go for it! All e-mails are read and responded to. (And if I ever don't respond within 3-5 days, please re-send your letter.)

Let's see, I think we're at . . .

Boring Blog Business Item Number 3:

In about a week, some ads will start showing up here on Smithellaneous. For those of you who utterly loathe, hate, despise, and abhor ads on blogs, I am so very sorry. However, I am not sorry enough to turn down the chance to earn gobs of money (probably upwards of $1.25 a month) by doing what I'm already doing--writing a blog.

Boring Blog Item Number 4:

In the process of moving this blog address from blogspot to .com, my blog roll got misplaced. Or mislaid. Or deleted. Or something.

I tried to re-compile it from memory but at the age of 47, the memory bank has been robbed a few times and isn't as well stocked as it once was. So if your blog WAS listed on the blog roll to the right and you no longer see it, please email me at (all together now!) and I will reinstate it. Or re-type it. Or whatever.

Boring Blog Item Number 5:

Let me start by saying that I am always thrilled when something that I write means something special to one of my readers. In fact, it makes my entire day, week, month and YEAR when one of you lets me know you were somehow impacted by my words. I am blessed with a bunch of wonderful readers who are even willing to suffer through this blog on boring blog business!

With all that said, a little nightmare scenario occasionally passes before my eyes where, years from now, I come across a piece of writing floating around the web that ends with the dreaded words, "Author Unknown."

And I'll read it and say, "Hey! I wrote that!"

So to keep my little nightmare from ever coming true, I would like to request that you would please contact me before you forward any of my writing and also, include my name and blog address when you do so.

And to make all this a bit more official, I have included a notice of copyright in the right hand column. It basically means that any writing or pictures you see here should not be reproduced, copied or emailed without my permission.

As I said earlier, I am thrilled and honored when you want to share something I've written; it is the biggest compliment you could give me. So thanks for sharing my stuff and thanks for sharing it in the appropriate way.

Whew! That's a lot of verbiage for such a short request. Time to move along . . .

Boring Blog Item Number 6:

Oh wait. I don't HAVE a number six. That means we're finally done with the blah blog business boringness!


Don't you feel a great sense of relief? And satisfaction? And the joy of knowing you persevered to the bitter end?

I think it's time for a group hug!


PS. Be sure to head on over to the Backyard Fence to participate in the discussion over there!

Working . . .

I'm working on an update but I wanted to mention that I posted something new over at the Backyard Fence! (Look to your left and you'll see it!)

I'm looking for stories about some of the money-saving ways you adapted or got by in your "earlier days." (And if you're just starting out in setting up housekeeping, we'd love to read what you're doing right now!)

If everyone jumps into the conversation, it should make for some great stories.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"W Is For Wide" and "Cow Suits"

You know how women's clothing comes in Misses sizes and then goes up to Women's sizes? And that Women's sizes are cut a bit larger and are identified by a W after the number? And that W stands for "Women's?"

Well, I was in a store today and heard a woman ask for a dress in a particular woman's size; I don't want to mention certain sizes but let's just say (for the sake of this story) it was a sixteen.

This woman walked up to the clerk and said, "Do you have this dress in a size 16 WIDE?"

The clerk did an admirable job of keeping herself composed. She said, "Excuse me? What size did you say you needed?"

The woman said very confidently, "A 16 WIDE."

Now I have worn (in the not so distant past) a size 14 myself, so a 16 W is not too far away from where I've lived. But I've always been sort of comforted by the fact that "W" stands for "Women" and not WIDE.

I will never again look at a "W" without thinking of that dear lady and her question that brought a great big (WIDE) smile to my day!

And as you have probably already surmised, yes, I did feel well enough today to go out and hit a couple thrift/consignment stores. After sleeping on and off most of the day yesterday, it was great to feel a little bit more normal today. I have a teeny bit of lingering pain but all in all, I think I'm recovering from whatever weird thing was going on.

And don't worry; if I start feeling any worse, I promise I WILL go do a doctor.

Before I close, let me talk about a guest book question. Krista from Boise, ID is not familiar with Chick-Fil-A and asked a very reasonable question, "Why does a restaurant featuring chicken dress up its employee in a cow suit?"

Adena (very helpfully) answered, "They use a cow rather than a chicken because part of the marketing strategy is "Eat Mo Chickin'" from the perspective of a cow. It just wouldn't be the same coming from the mouth of a chicken!"

It didn't occur to me when I wrote about it that Chick-Fil-A wasn't a national chain of restaurants; Kristin had every reason to be puzzled by that whole concept of cows at a chicken place!

Alrighty then. I am signing off and headed to bed. I just wanted to write about the "wide question" before I forgot it. It made me smile all day.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Miscellaneous Smithellany

A few follow up thoughts from the post I did earlier today:

First, I am very happy to know that so many of you approved our "card table as patio furniture" decision. And it's also nice to hear that others of you have used furniture in such creative ways. That's what makes life fun!

Secondly, in the guest book, Angie asked what flavor shakes we ordered at Chick-Fil-A. (And if I'm not mistaken, I think Angie is the one who sent us a bunch of free milk shake coupons.)

Sarah and I chose Cookies and Cream and Steve and I chose the Peach flavor. If you're good at doing "higher math" you may have noticed that although there were three people involved and two choices, I still got to choose twice.

Because I'm The Mom, that's why.

And let me just say right here that the Peach shake that Chick-Fil-A makes is incredible--the next best thing to homemade you'll ever find, with little bits of peach in it.

For us at least, part of the fun of going to Chick-Fil-A is getting to see Nathan. This time around, he was working the drive-thru window so Steve pulled through there to place our order. Steve immediately disguised his voice (he talked really high) to see how long it would take Nathan to catch on.

It didn't take long.

Of course, it helped a little bit that Nathan could look in his little TV monitor thingie and see our green van. Hard to disguise yourself when your vehicle is on TV.

Steve told him that we wanted two shakes, one with two cherries and one with no cherries.

Nathan yelled back over the intercom, "NO!"

Now you must understand that Chick-Fil-A employees are trained to answer, "My pleasure" whenever a request is made of them. I'm sure the other employees were a bit alarmed to hear Nathan shrieking, "NO" into his little microphone.

Of course, when we pulled around to the window, the mystery was solved. It was Nathan's "annoying family" showing up at Chick-Fil-A again! I wouldn't doubt if they start calling security the next time they see The Green Van appear. (Hey, give us a break! We don't get out much.)

This Friday, Nathan is going to "be" the Chick-Fil-A cow for several hours. I will do my best to sneak over there (in The Green Van, no less) and snap some pictures of him interacting with the public as a cow! Should be very inspiring. As soon as he sees me with the camera, he'll probably chase me around the restaurant (in his cow suit) yelling, "NO!"

I think it will be great fun.

Lastly, Sarah informed me at dinner tonight that when I did the famous Hot Dog Post, I didn't post a picture of what MY hot dog looked like, even though I said something like, "Here is a picture of my well dressed dog." I am obviously falling down on my job as a picture poster.

So lest any of you are losing sleep over this issue (yeah, right) I thought I would post the picture so that you can compare the simplicity of my hot dog with the convoluted complexity of Steve's.

Here's mine.

Here's Steve's

The end.

Making Martha Stewart Jealous

First of all, thank you for all the kind words you've left in the guest book about my recent ailment(s). I especially enjoyed Sue G's line, "Inquiring hearts want to know." When I read all the comments I couldn't help but think, "They like me! They really like me!" (To quote Sally Field.)

To those of you who suggested I follow up with another doctor soon, I must admit I haven't done that yet. I'm still monitoring things and seeing if they get better or worse.

And for those who are concerned that I have a history of heart trouble since I already have a cardiologist, here's the story on THAT.

I went to the cardiologist a couple years ago when my pulmonologist (who couldn't figure out why I was having lung problems) wanted me to get some heart tests done to be sure the breathing problems were not being caused by any heart issues.

After my appointment, the cardiologist said that the right side of my heart looked bigger than the left side which could indicate I something called ARVD. (Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia) This is a very cheery little condition which basically means that you could fall over dead at any moment. (If you ever hear stories of healthy athletes keeling over from a heart ailment, many times it is due to ARVD.)

I was sent off--all worried and stressed--to a big regional hospital for an MRI of the heart. And guess what? The MRI showed that the right side of my heart was NOT enlarged after all!

And so with that in mind, I want to stress that I really don't have an "official" history of heart disease: I just have a history of having a cardiologist.

I'm still experiencing a few ongoing symptoms, but as long as I know my ticker is going to keep on ticking (or is it tocking?) I'm not going to get overly excited unless something radically changes.

So that's where I'm at with THAT story . . . again, thanks to everyone for your concern. It means a whole lot.

On another subject, our For Sale sign disappeared again last week for the sixth or seventh time. In the past, it has always shown up again eventually but this time, it hasn't. We're currently waiting for the real estate agent to bring another one by. Even though our house is listed on fifty real estate web sites (bringing us a grand total of two showings) you never know who might drive by and notice the sign and want to see the house. And so this time Steve is going to stick it really deep in the ground and see if that makes any difference.

And speaking of houses, you know how you always see those advertisements in circulars and magazines that show a little family gathered on their back deck with their lovely patio furniture scattered around? Well, we've wanted patio furniture for forever, but have never been willing to part with the money necessary to get it.

A few days ago, as we were coming home from Chick-Fil-A (we went there to harass Nathan and to get milkshakes) I said, "It's such a beautiful evening to eat outside; it's too bad we don't have any patio furniture."

Steve said, "Oh, but we do have some! I'll get it out."

So while I was in the kitchen dividing our two shakes (of different flavors) into several glasses, Steve and Sarah bustled around to get the "patio furniture" in place. And when they were done, they even added a centerpiece lovely enough to make Martha Steward jealous.


Whoever thought a card table and some chairs could provide such a lovely, al fresco dining experience. I felt downright decadent, with our new found luxury.

Our own "patio furniture." Our impressive centerpice. Shared shakes from Chick-Fil-A. An usually pleasant summer evening. Time spent with really delightful people.

Does life get any better?

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Gadget Winner and A Word from Wyatt

We have a winner in our "Naming the Discussion Gadget" Vote Off!

Terri emailed me and suggested "The Backyard Fence" which I loved because I could just picture all of us living in one neighborhood and leaning over the backyard fence to chat. Or borrow a cup of sugar. Or borrow a Golden Graham bar. Or to share recipes for Chicago Hot Dogs. Or maybe share weight loss tips? (Tips like, "Don't eat so many Golden Graham bars.")

Also, I was getting tired of my own ideas and was thrilled to read something fresh. The Backyard Fence received 46 out of 78 votes cast (there were three voting choices, in all) and is now the official name. Terri, if you'll e-mail me your address, I'll send you a CD in appreciation!

And if you sign in and participate, you officially become a Fence Friend! Welcome!

Most of you have heard me mention Wyatt who not only does all the fabulous graphics on Sarah's site but is also our Invaluable, Irreplaceable, All-Knowledgeable Smith Family Computer Guru. I was writing to him about a technical problem over the weekend and in his reply back to me, he included this little story.

I loved the story because I absolutely ADORE banana pudding AND because I could just picture the "end of the line" dilemma that Wyatt found himself in.

I must admit right here in front of everyone that I may NOT have chosen to help that little ol' lady. I mean, banana pudding vs. little ol' lady? That's a tough one, folks.

Anyway, here's Wyatt's Fourth of July Puddin' Story. Enjoy!

Sweating over the BBQ grill and churning out buckets of potato salad along with all of the standard church picnic fixings was well worth the effort and the wait for the grand finale' -- my father-in-law's famous banana pudding!

Henry does this magic mathematical thing where he turns 6 pounds of bananas into a 10-pound mass of delectable pudding filled with "Nilla" wafers and topped with mountains of soft sweet meringue that is gently kissed with light golden peaks. It deserves an award just for the drool factor alone!

This is one of those moments in life where you don't politely offer your place in line if you ever want to taste the most sumptuous concoction this side of heaven.

Needless to say, after barreling down all those poor old widow women and sneaking around a few kids that had no clue what line they were in, I finally got to the target -- drat -- just in time to see Mrs. Wilson struggling to get her plate of food and a beverage to her table on her own and no one in sight to help.

Alas... some things are just sweeter to the heart than to the tongue -- maybe I'll get my chance at Henry's dish of heaven next year.

Wasn't that a great story? It just made me smile all the way through--well, at least until I got to the part where Wyatt didn't get his puddin'. And then I was tempted to wipe away a few tears in his honor.

And speaking of the Fourth, here are a few photos from our family's massive, explosive, no-expenses barred celebration in the Smith back yard.

I love this last one because it shows Nathan and Sarah running around the yard with sparklers in their hands. A pretty good summation of their presence in our lives--busy, bright, beautiful.

ER Visit

Thank you for all your kind and concerned words in the guest book concerning my recent dash to the ER. It's nice to have my very own Circle of Caring around me!

I still had some pain yesterday and was kind of "slow," to the extent where I took three naps. (Which is definitely not my usual speed of life.) So whatever is going on is still "there."

Some of you mentioned in the guest book that it might have been heartburn caused by the hot dogs. Hmmm. I've never before been bothered by a hot dog and was told by my ENT (after one of my happy throat scopes) that he saw no sign of reflux damage on my vocal cords.

Others of you wrote that a hot dog can trigger a gall bladder attack. I suppose that's a possibility although I know that gallbladder attacks are many times accompanied by nausea and vomiting which I haven't had. And I HATE the thought of spending more money on a gall bladder ultra sound unless all symptoms are pointing in that direction.

It's such a complex sort of decision to make. When you have chest/left arm/heart pain, the first temptation is to say, "It's heart related." And then the next thing is to think, "Oh, you're just over-reacting; it's probably nothing serious."

And that's what Steve and I did for twenty four hours, vascillated between the serious and the non-serious. But the bottom line is that so many people wait on going to the hospital and then it IS a heart attack and things are much worse for them because they waited so long.

But THEN you also hate to run to the ER for no reason and end up paying lots of money to be told, "You're fine."

Poor Steve. If I'd had a heart attack at the house and he'd said that I'd been having chest pains for a whole day, everyone would have said, "Well, why didn't you take her in earlier?"

But then to go into the ER and have it be nothing, I tend to think, "Well, why did we go in at all?"


I know heart and chest pains can be caused by stress and we've had stress of many varieties over the past months/years. (Some I've written about; some I haven't.)

The past eight months have been especially stressful for me personally, because of having so many things undecided. Everything is in the throes of change--Steve's job, my job, Sarah's school, our house, our neighborhood, our town, our church, our circle of friends, our financial situation, etc. The only thing that is remaining unchanged is Nathan's college.

And, people, that is STRESSFUL!

So I may just chalk this whole thing up to stress and kind of monitor things for a few days; if things stay the same or get worse, I'll take a few more medical steps. But at least I AM assured that I won't drop dead of a heart attack in the next ninety seconds.

And that's always nice to know! :-)

Again, thanks for your concern. I'll do a more "regular" update later in the day.