Recession Mama

{July 31, 2009}   Bigger Is Better, Right?

–By Carla

On any given day, odds are that something totally ridiculous is clogging up my brain, taking up space where other, more useful stuff should go. Clogging up my brain right now, for instance (and in no particular order): I’d like to find a way to cover the jetted garden tub in the master bath and use that space for storage; how dangerous is chlorinated pool water?; where do June bugs go the rest of the year?; and currently topping my list: to buy a bigger house or not.

Yes, getting laid off and losing more than 50% of the household income normally would put a damper on buying a bigger house, but the way I see it, small is the new big right now and I’m more than 100% sure that we would make money on the sale AND be able to buy a bigger house for perhaps less money than we spent on this tiny little thing. I say “tiny” when I know that for others, it’s really not. It’s an 1,800 square foot home with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, but the real rub is the fact that the BIGGEST room in the house is the formal dining room, which we NEVER use for dining and which I’m currently using as a craft center.

Please pay no attention to the yoga ball in the corner. Thank you.

Please pay no attention to the yoga ball in the corner. Thank you.

Great, I’m using my grandmother’s glorious antique furniture to hold Toddler Boy’s construction paper and my various “things that need to be done” projects.

The other BIG deal for me is the fact that we do not have a guest bedroom. I’m quite honestly a little ashamed of that fact. I mean, who doesn’t have a guest bedroom?

As best as I can tell, we never intended to stay here this long (going on 6 years now), but the housing market fell apart just as our 5 year goal approached. I’m not saying I want a gigantic home just to keep up with the others around us (we own the smallest home in our subdivision), I only want 1) a larger family area and 2) an extra bedroom. That’s it. It’s not a huge request, but because so many people were so very reckless with their money and greedy in their wants, we may be stuck here for a while.

Don’t even get me started on that school bus driver and her construction worker husband who bought an $800,000 home, then whined when it went into foreclosure. The fact that they were ever  approved for a loan that size boggles the mind and is a glimpse into just what was going on before the cards started to fall. Owning a home is not a right, it is a privilege, but somewhere along the way we started thinking and believing that we were owed a home and that part of the American dream included home ownership.

We could afford a larger home for around the same amount of money. Plus it’s a buyer’s market out there right now. (I’m the only one in the house who likes that idea, let’s say, so there are no plans at the moment)

But there is a part of me that wants to buck the conventional thinking about being in a bigger home. Part of me wants to stay just to make some sort of social commentary about wants versus needs, especially during this recession. The boys each have a bedroom, and no, we’re not running a Super 8, so in that respect, we’re fine.

The other part of me, however, is the part who grew up in a larger home and had relatives with much larger homes and is honestly feeling a little crammed in here at the moment.

And so the inner dialogue continues…what to do…? Go ahead…let me have it…


By: Heather

I must now face the task of removing three dead crickets and the dried-up orange gummy food from their home. The remaining crickets don’t seem to mind the carnage. They’re happily chirping and singing (whatever you call it). Maybe they’re screaming for help I’m not sure. But they’re making a LOT of noise. Too much noise! But they’ve called my attention to a major issue.

Say hello to my little friend


Say hello to my little friend

The cricket “clean-up” falls on my to-do list just three days after they arrived at our home.

“If I had some crickets then I could sleep better.” My son declared over the weekend.

“But I’m not even sure you can have them as pets.” I told him.

“Yes you can! I saw them at the pet store.” He ethusiastically informed us.

So off to the store we went.

 He was right. The pet store DOES have crickets. But they’re sold as food NOT pets. But I could not convince the children otherwise. Especially since they make special food and “cricket” carriers for them. So we left the store with the crickets in hand feeling good about saving them from becoming a lizard’s dinner.


 And this brings me to my point. WE GIVE OUR CHILDREN TOO MUCH STUFF and therefore WE HAVE TOO MUCH CLUTTER. (yes I consider the crickets clutter… besides… “cricket clutter” makes a nice alliteration.)

I’m not sure when we took a wrong turn as parents and began indulging our sweet little ones too often. But we’ve landed on this treacherous road and now we need to get off. The crickets have literally sounded the alarm on this one.

This reality began to sit in shortly after we brought the noisy  insects home. I heard a thump, followed by screaming, accompanied by yelps of “Get “em, get ’em.”

Someone knocked over the crickets and well you know the rest… a few escaped and mayhem ensued. Cue the Benny Hill theme song.

I’m not sure how many got away, but I managed to catch one alive. I found another one the next day limping along in the kitchen. He finally bit the dust. (poor little guy) He was swept up and thrown in the trash. (RIP)

My son soon declared his love for the crickets and decided that they must go on our trip to California next week.

“They won’t let them on the plane.” I told him.

“But why.”

“Because the crickets can’t go that high in the sky.” I maintained.

“Well.. I will tell the pilot to fly low then.” He said.

“Even so. The hotel won’t let them stay.”

“We don’t have to tell them mommy.” He whispered.

 Let’s just say I FINALLY convinced him that the crickets would be happier at home. They can keep the fish company. (see “Not So Free Fish” for more on that.)

This will be our last purchase for awhile. We’re going back to the “you have to earn it” rule. I’m also planning to enforce a new rule- Something old has gotta go, whenever something new comes in.

It’s going to be hard, but we’ve got to try! And we’re starting now.

 While we’re gone next week, the nanny will clear-out and give away  toys the kids have outgrown or no longer use. They shouldn’t sit and gather dust. A deserving child should enjoy them.

 We hope to return to an organized and clutter free home. (oh please… oh please… )

Unfortunately… those crickets will probably give us a noisy “welcome back.”



{July 27, 2009}   My Freelance Cycle

By Katy

I have my next gig lined up.  Whew!  R-E-L-I-E-F.  If you are a freelancer, you totally understand where I am coming from.  Now, I must say I actually LOVE freelancing.  It is very liberating.

Let me steal the pirate’s theme song for a minute.  Yo! Ho! Ho!  The freelancer’s life’s for me!

Freelancing like a pirate?!

Freelancing like a pirate?!

Really!  I love the life of a freelancer.  I jump from project to project, so I am never bored.  (Great for those of us with undiagnosed ADD.)  I am also blessed; I do work pretty regularly.  And it really is just as exciting as a movie pirate’s life, including the occasional spotting of Johnny Depp.

Capt Jack Sparrow was a free-booter!

Capt Jack Sparrow was a free-booter!

On the other hand, a pirate’s life has its drawbacks.  Try making your own plans, and you’ll most likely be staring down the plank.  Also, since I am seldom on land, having a stable life which includes seeing my Fiance, family, or friends regularly just doesn’t happen.  I’ve had to change course many times.  (Thanks for all the understanding.  You know who you are.)

The other drawback is the emotional rollercoaster (or waves, if we’re still using the pirate metaphor) you go through when you’re not working.  Usually, after I wrap a show, I make plans.  I write down a list of everything I’d like to do while I’m not working.  It always includes things like writing, cleaning the house, organizing stuff, exercising more, traveling, and seeing all the friends and family members I’ve canceled on many times before.  Let’s say my last day on a show is a Friday.  I’m writing up my list on Saturday.  Sunday, I file for unemployment.  By Monday, I’m completely unmotivated.  I sleep in.  I try to exercise, half-heartedly, but I really just end up watching TV.  A lot of TV.  The next day, this lethargic cycle starts all over again.  By Wednesday, I try to “snap out of it,” and I finally call, e-mail or facebook some friends.  Usually, the ones who have jobs are busy.  The ones who don’t have jobs are eager to go out, but they don’t have any money.  By Thursday, I am depressed, and I think I should go to therapy…but who has money to see a therapist when you’re not working?  By Friday, I think I’m never going to find a job again.

OK, I may have exaggerated the timeline a bit.  But as Spock would say, it is not logical.  I know.  I KNOW.  I KNOW!!!  But somewhere in the back of my brain, a little voice will keep telling me that I will…not…find…a…job…ever…again.  Not that I’ve even tried to find a job.  I just find myself thinking this.  I also think…maybe I need to change careers or why don’t I just find something more stable or why can’t I just win the lottery (hence last week’s post).  I know a lot of my fellow freelancers go through this self-defeating, self-absorbed cycle-babble every single time they’re unemployed too.  So, why am I even telling you all this?

Well, now that I have my next gig lined up, I am not in the worry phase anymore.  I can see more clearly now, and I hope that by writing down my crazy thought cycle, that maybe, just maybe, I won’t repeat them the next time around.  Because there will be a next time.  I’m a freelancer.  Shows end.  And I, for the most part, happily, move on.  I am also writing down my cycle of work withdrawal to help those of you who are freelancers or who are looking to freelance.  I want you to know that I’m here for you.  And hopefully, you’ll be there for me.  We’re all in this together.  I’m sure we all go through this, and I would love to hear more people admit it.  So, what do you do when you are unemployed?  Is there a cycle you go through?  Are you first in denial?  Then, after you get angry, do you start to grieve?  Finally, do you heal, move on, and realize that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that you will, eventually, find a job and not die lonely, poor, homeless, or end up in any other (semi to dramatic) life or death scenario?

I want to learn to enjoy my time off, finish that to-do list finally, and go on vacation.  Because eventually when I do start working, I will wish I had more time to excercise, travel, and see friends and family.

{July 25, 2009}   Recession Workout

Today’s guest post is from my pal and personal trainer Kevin Kelley. Last month, Kevin gave us tips on how to work out for less. But this time he’s put together a special FREE workout for Recession Mama. (So don’t say we’ve never done anything for ya.)   Now print this out and tape it to your refrigerator, your mirror, your forehead whatever it takes to get your attention. No more excuses. It’s time to start feeling better!

Love, Heather

( I hate cardio but I do it anyway so I can get rid of that layer of  chub covering my body like an ugly winter parka. 🙂 Kidding! It actually feels good.)

By: Kevin Kelley 

I want to thank Recession Mama for inviting me to post again.  This time I’m going to give some tips/principles regarding your workout that you can do in-home or at your gym.

#1 Push It!!  The vast majority of people I train start off with the mentality that lifting weights is more recreational than intense exercise.  Developing an attractive physique requires hard work, so when you exercise PUSH IT!

#2 Consistency:  Set specific days/times for your workouts and stick to it.  It’s not what you do today or this week that get you to your goal(s), it’s long term adherence and consistency.

#3 Prioritize:  The people that I see who make the most drastic lifestyle changes are the ones who make their workouts a top priority.  Exercise leads to good health – and good health allows you to do everything else better…  work, parenting, school, etc. 

Now for the WORKOUT tips:

** Always start with a warm-up of at least 5 min.  This can be done on a treadmill, an indoor bike, a jog outside, jumping rope…  you get the idea.  If you’re not breathing hard by the end of the 5 min, then you need to bump up the intensity.  The whole point of a warm-up is to warm-up (thus the name warm-up!)…  ideally your body temperature should be elevated – maybe even a light (or heavy) sweat going.


Example:  One warm-up I do with my clients is to get them on a treadmill set @ 3.5 – 4.0 mph.  I set the incline at 5% to start and bump it up 1% every 15-30 seconds (depending on their conditioning) until we run out of time or can’t bump the incline up any higher.  Most home treadmills will top out at 10-15% incline.

** Compound Move #1:  Squat Press –   Start with a pair of dumbbells up at the shoulders.  Squat down into a deep deep deep deep deep squat (thighs should be parallel with the floor or lower) then as you stand, press the dumbbells straight up over the head.  As you drop down to squat let the dumbbells come down to the shoulders at the same time.Do 3 sets:  1st set 20 reps, 2nd set 15 reps, 3rd set 10 reps

squat press

**  Compound Move #2:  Chest Press / Sit Up – Start with your back on the floor or on a bench & your feet flat on the floor.  Hold the dumbbells down by the chest – elbows out wide.  As you press the dumbbells up into a chest press – you are also going to do a partial sit-up – just to the point where your lower back begins to come off the floor/bench.  As you lower the dumbbells you’ll be lying back down on the bench to the start position.Do 3 sets:  1st 20 reps, 2nd 15 reps, 3rd 10 reps

chest press

**  Compound Move #3:  Fixed Lung / Hammer Curls – Start in a split stance (one leg forward & one back – as if you were frozen in a walking stride), arms will be down by your sides with the dumbbells in each hand.  Drop down into the lunge with as much weight as possible on the front leg – leaning slightly forward.  As you stand perform a Hammer Curl up to the shoulders – dropping the hands down to the fully extended position as you dip down into the lunge again.  You will be doing the curl as you stand up – not as you dip down into the lunge.Do 3 sets: 20/15/10 reps for each leg

lunge hammer curl

**  Ab Emphasis:  Perform 10-20 reps of each of the following with no break in between – simply transition from one exercise to the next as quickly as possible.

1. Standard Sit-up.  Feet flat on the floor (not held by anything) cup your ears with your hands (so you’re not pulling on your head/neck) drop all the way down to the floor/mat and then return to the full sit-up position  10-20 reps


2. Invisible Chair.  Lying flat on your back elevate your thighs so your legs look like you are sitting in a chair (the back of the chair is on the horizontal plane).  Cross your arms on your chest/shoulders.  Keeping the legs in the fixed position, crunch up so that your elbows touch as far up your thighs as possible – as if you were trying to touch your elbows to your knee caps. 10-20 reps


3. Hands 2 Toes.  Still flat on your back, bring your legs up so that they are pointed straight up towards the ceiling.  Keeping the legs fixed, reach your hands from in front of your face up to your toes.  The goal is to get as much of your back off the mat/floor as possible.  10-20 reps

hand to toes

4. Plank w/Crunch:  Roll over into a plank position (forearms & toes on the floor) you’re going to drop your hips down so that your thighs & pelvis/navel touch the mat – then elevate your butt by performing a crunch (sternum to navel), drop and repeat.  10-20 reps.

** Arm Emphasis:  10-20 reps with no break in between.  All exercise should be done on a Swiss ball or bench.

1. Dumbbell Pullover:  Lying on the ball take the dumbbells back behind your head with bent elbows as if you were trying to touch them to the floor behind you head.  As you lift the dumbbells point them straight up towards the ceiling locking the elbows to fully engage the triceps.  Repeat for 10-20 reps.

Pullover 2

2.  Chest Press:  Turn the elbows out to the sides and perform a standard chest press – big stretch at the bottom as the dumbbells get to the shoulders & press the dumbbells up through the roof at the top.  Repeat for 10-20 reps.

3.  Seated TricepExtension:  Now sitting on the ball/bench, take the dumbbells back behind the head as if you were trying to touch the dumbbells between your shoulder blades.  Now straighten the arms and point the dumbbells straight up towards the ceiling.  Repeat for 10-20 reps.

tricep extension

4.  Lateral Raises:  Arms down by your sides – no bend in the elbows – take the dumbbells and raise them up (palms down) just below horizontal.  Perform short reps for 10-20.

lateral raise

5. Front Raises:  Standing now, you will have the arms straight and the hands/palms on the front of the thighs.  Without bending the elbows take one arm up straight up over the top of the head – now as that arm is descending  the other arm will be raised up.  Alternate for 10-20 reps.

Finishing Move:  Let’s finish with the same exercise we started with – Squat Press:  We will use the same weight and reps that we started with…  3 sets 20/15/10 reps.When you are done take 5 min to stretch.  Focus mostly on the hamstrings and lower back.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me:

 -Kevin M. Kelley
Certified Personal Trainer

–by Carla


I’m not exactly sure what Dave Grohl and the rest of the Foo Fighters are talking about in “My Hero”, but I love looking at him and I love me some Foo Fighters, oh and I do love the part of that song that goes: 

There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He’s ordinary

A couple of ordinary heroes popped into my life recently and took some extraordinary steps to help me out. Two really unassuming people made my week and probably don’t even know it. I’ll tell you about my run-ins with Vanessa and Chris in a second, but why am I rambling about this and how in the world is it recession-related? I firmly believe that we’ve had a serious customer service issue in this country for a very long time. Gone are the days where the person at the check-out politely said to the customer, “Thank you for shopping with us…please come back to see us”, or something remotely close to that. Sure it still happens, but not at all like it used to when I was a kid and it hacks me off. If I’m spending my hard-earned money in your store, please acknowledge that fact and I’ll come back to see you. It’s not just the check-out, it’s those incredibly frustrating customer service calls with the recorded chick…you know the ones…they make us press 1 for English (um…why?) and 8 for this and 22 for who-knows-what…and by the time that damn recorded lady is done rattling off choices, I want to throw the phone out the window. And once you DO get someone, good luck. I will never forget the time I called to pay my XM bill over the phone and the kind gentleman with the thick Indian accent (he really was so sweet) told me that my total was “78-point-35”. “Point”? Seriously?


Vanessa was working as a receptionist at the rheumatologist’s office this week. I’d just popped in for follow-up blood work (you can apparently never be too young or too cool to possibly have rheumatoid arthritis, I’ve come to learn). But this “Just pop in, it’ll take a second” outing, turned into a 30 minute nightmare…while my Mom was home babysitting the boys. Twice I asked another receptionist how much longer she thought it might be, and after being told “Oh, Hun, any second now”, the other one, Vanessa, popped up out of her chair, tugged firmly on her scrubs and said, “I’ll do it. Come with me”. Not 4 minutes later, I had a Hello Kitty band aid on my arm and I was walking out the door. Vanessa had stepped up and gotten ‘er done when everyone else seemed to have passed the buck. 

Chris was my next hero the very next day. He was at a call center at a government agency (and that right there should give anyone the chills), and he stayed with me even after my mini-tantrum, and was able to help me unlike anyone in his office had in the past. He could have passed the buck and transferred me to other people but he didn’t. He stayed on the line with me, made a human connection with me and even shared a laugh or two with me. At the end of that 35 minute phone call, I felt like I’d been talking to an old friend. (It didn’t hurt that he was an old radio jock.)

My point is this: There are a bunch of us out there who need other people to help us get by right now…be it the customer service rep at the credit card company who is helping someone lower their rate or consolidate their debt, or the person on the other end of the phone at the mortgage company who is helping someone on the brink of foreclosure, or the customer service agent at the health insurance company working with a sick person who needs a little help with that massive pile of bills. I can’t think of any other time in our recent history when we have had to rely so much on customer service folks. It’s time for them to step up and shine. And it looks like actual heroes are being born…just like Vanessa and Chris.

And come on, we’re in a recession, if you’re in a position to interact with the buying public, BE NICE, you need our business. 

By: Heather

Mamas and papas as I’ve mentioned before I’m a guilty shopper who hates malls and searching for bargains. I like to get in and get out. But a girl has got to cover herself, so I hit the stores once again. 

lady shops

Anyway, the 20 something year old sales lady obviously didn’t think much of me when I entered the boutique wearing my Johnny Cash inspired outfit. A black t-shirt, and black Target purchased yoga pants that I cut off because they were too long. My outfit was spotted with lent, string, dog hair and various kid-related leftovers. 

 In a way, I can’t blame her for being a little snooty. I was also sporting what looked like an electrocuted squirrel on the back of my head. Bushy, wild and sorta frizzy. I happen to call it a pony  tail. (my only option after going to bed with my hair wet.)At least my handbag was nice.

I hadn’t planned on shopping. But I was dying from the heat in my “all black” outfit and decided that maybe it was time to get something that wouldn’t make me melt in the hot Texas sun. Besides, the stores were right next to the muffin shop and I definitely needed to stop there.

I asked the sales chickie if she had anymore Izod polo shirts. She just cocked her head to the side and looked like a confused Labrador.



“A what?” she said.

“An Izod. You know like a golf shirt with a little alligator on the front.” I explained.

“OOHHHH. But.. um … I uh..  hold on.” She mumbles while disappearing behind a velvet curtain.

Is she going to consult the Great Wizard of OZ I think to myself. 

She re-appears to tell me that they haven’t carried those in “some time.”

Clearly I need to visit this store more than every other year.

“Oh well. I have a few minutes. I’ll just see if there’s anything else that’ll work.”

I stress the word “work” because at my age you just want to find something that covers all of your jiggly parts and shows off your good parts. Finding it in your size and color is a bonus. Finding it in your size, color and on sale is a miracle.

I start by scanning and then checking prices. So far, so good. The shop is near the local University, so it’s stocked with somewhat reasonably priced clothes. I want a bargain! But realize I might as well ask for the moon.

 I feel “too old” for the trendy clothes after asking for clarification on whether some of the items are shirts or dresses.

“They’re dresses… but really it depends on who you are and how you want to wear them.” she says.

The “dresses” she’s referring to could only be worn if you’re one of the following:

A) young, thin, pretty, not wearing underwear and don’t mind showing your goodies

B) are a toddler wearing bloomers with your name embroidered on the butt

I am neither one of those.

“I would wear them as shirts.” I confirm.

“OK. I’ll see if I have any of them in large,” she quips.

Thanks for the confidence.

I grab the mediums and hope for the best. She ignores me while I try on the clothes. I decide she’s getting paid by the hour and has zero compassion for the fashion clueless.

I pull, tug, squeeze, zip and slide into the items one-by-one. One makes me look like a kangaroo w/ ruffles, another like a table cloth, the rest will require the constant camouflage of a spray tan.

I consider having one of the on-sale “dress-shirts” altered, but decide it’s not  worth the extra cost.

I finally leave with one shirt and two tube top bra things to wear under my clothes. (a lady needs to keep the “girls” harnessed y’all.) I struck out the sale items. There’s a reason they’re on sale. Nobody wants them.


I move on to the next store and buy a pair of flip-flops (in my size and on SALE!) and a REAL dress that meets my requirements. It’s work, dinner-with-friends and church appropriate. Plus it’s in my budget.

I also  get excited when I discover that a pair of earrings, I’ve  admired for sometime, are 50% off.

I’m done in less than 30 minutes and feel pretty good about my purchases. I make a mad dash to the muffin shop to get my iced tea and treats for the kids and hurry home.

Ahhhh. Now I can give my tired, old, hacked-up Johnny Cash yoga pants a break. At least for one day! But my “squirrel-tail” pony tail still needs some help.


{July 19, 2009}   Winning the Lottery

By Katy

If I won the lottery...

If I won the lottery...

Do you fantasize about winning the lottery?  Of course you do.  You and everybody else.  I do it a lot when I’m not working.  It’s actually a bit like Prozac to me, and I like to take my anti-depressant with a little game.  Sometimes I give myself an imaginary amount, and I think up all the things I’d like to do with that money.  Sometimes, I just write down everything I would do, if I had money, and the grand total is what I pretend I have won.  I’m sure everyone’s done this, right?  Well, here’s a little insight into what I like to do if I won the lottery (and after the Tax Man has gotten his share):

  • pay off mortgage & any debts I may have

  • pay off my parents’ mortgage and give them a set amount every month

  • buy my dream house

  • give half to my church and charities, maybe start up a scholarship fund at my alma mater – NYU

  • up my insurance (this may be imaginary, but I will still be well protected)

  • pay for my dream wedding (pay to fly people in and set them up at a nice hotel)

  • travel around the world for the honeymoon

  • buy my grandma her own place (or build a great guest house behind my house for her to live in)

  • give my brother a chunk of money to invest (because he’s good at these things)

  • start my own company (so I can employ others and give them job security and satisfaction)

My brother tells me that in business school, a professor told him that buying a lottery ticket is the equivalent of an idiot’s tax.  And we’ve all heard the pitfalls of those people who win the lottery and then end up broke the next year.  I’ve also kept in mind that on the ABC hit drama, “Lost,” Hugo blamed winning the lottery on his bad luck and the plane crash.  Despite the warning, name calling, and TV show reference…I still do want to win the lottery, and I know you do too.  So, what would you do with the money if you won the lottery?

Katy sez:  My friend Stephanie is in Uganda, as part of her work with International Medical Corps.  It’s a great non-profit organization, and she sent an e-mail out to friends, family, and others that I wanted to share with you today, as our guest post.  For me, it’s important to give to charities, and this is a great charity for me to give my money, when I can.  I also think that although this recession is bad, and a lot of people are out of jobs…other people in other countries have it worse.  After reading what Stephanie wrote, I was in awe of her work, but I was also so grateful for everything I have.  I hope you are inspired too.

Uganda is in orange next to Kenya

Uganda is in orange next to Kenya

By Stephanie

My first week in Uganda will be spent with a remarkable young woman named Georgina Miranda who started a campaign called “Climb Take Action” for which she will climb the highest summit on each continent with hopes of raising $50 per meter to benefit International Medical Corps, a total of $2.2 million. She climbed her third summit – Kilimanjaro – this week and will be visiting our programs in the Southwest where we have HIV and gender based violence activities. She will be joined by two other Kili climbers who also raised money for International Medical Corps. After that I will head to Northern Uganda where I will see programs that range from HIV to nutrition. It is also the site where we implemented our American Express Members Project grant, so I will be collecting information on that so we can report back to Amex. My third week will be spent in Nairobi where I will see our programs in the Kibera slums. I will also be reaching out to journalists, hoping to get some media coverage of the good work that we are doing at International Medical Corps.

Kampala is the capitol of Uganda

Kampala is the capitol of Uganda

July 18, 2009

Today was my first full day in Kampala. After taking an Ambien I woke up a bit groggy and it took me a little while to just get going, but it was worth it because I feel totally caught up on my sleep. Thankfully the shower was warm this morning – last night it wasn’t. That after 48 hours of travel, in the same clothes!

Moses, one of the International Medical Corps drivers, was going to pick me up and take me to a few hotels that I wanted to see for a donor trip we are planning in October. When he called to ask if he could come an hour later, I decided to take a cab as the hotels I was interested in were in the same area and I could just walk to them all – after all it was his day off and he has a one month old baby!

Moses is a young, hard working Ugandan who takes pride in his work, his family and his country. In addition to working for International Medical Corps he has a cab company, which keeps him busy off hours. Right now his wife is staying home with their three children, but he would like to be able to buy her a salon so she can have her own business. He carries photos of their children on his cell phone and showed them to me on our ride from the airport. They are pretty darn adorable. He does not want anymore children because he wants to be able to support his family and have a good life.  He explained the whole cycle of lack of education and poverty in Uganda that we see throughout the developing world.

Moses reinforces that lesson I always learn when traveling: We all have similar dreams and goals.

After touring the Sheraton, the Serena, and the Grand Imperial (if you are looking for luxury the Serena beats them all by far), I walked to the city center. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for but ended up in a place called the City Garden which is a big shopping center. Most of the shops were not very interesting – salon, dry cleaner, food court, a couple of restaurants and clothing stores that were not very appealing. But I did find a really great bookstore and finally got the Lonely Planet East Africa guide book I wanted to pick up before I left along with a couple of maps. Now armed with information, I decided to check out this area below Kampala Road that they suggested for people who wanted to see beyond the tourist spots.

It took me a while to find it, even with the map, but the walk there was really delightful. People were very friendly, saying “hello, how are you?” which I learned is customary here in Uganda. People don’t just say hello – they genuinely want to know how you are. So, after a few mishaps, I got myself in the habit of asking ‘how are you?’.

There are armed guards all over the place – not overwhelming at all, just noticeable. They carry these big guns – rifles maybe, or even machine guns, I wasn’t sure. I stopped to take a picture of two armed guards in front of the election council and had to explain I was just a tourist in order for them to let me keep them on my camera’s memory card. The walls around the Council’s compound were covered with slogans and paintings that encouraged voting and democracy, which of course I thought was very cool.

I felt I was getting closer to this market I was looking for, but wasn’t know certain. I was constantly being asked if I wanted a ride by men with motorcycle taxis and buses that were really mini-vans that would pick people up along the way. I had been warned by Moses that I would be taking my life into my hands if I rode on a motorcycle, so opted against that. And I had no idea where the buses were going, so just continued to walk. I could always see certain landmarks like the Parliament building and some other high rises that were near the hotels, so I could tell what direction I was going and never felt lost.

I turned down one road and as I walked along the poverty was stunning. I did not take any photographs as I thought that would be rude, but the people were living in flimsy shelters with tin roofs that I assumed did not have electricity or running water. Once I got to a section where people clearly had a little bit more I took some photographs. There were these adorable children playing outside of one house and as soon as I took out my camera they started waving and smiling. In general I did not take too many photos – unlike other places I have traveled it just felt like a violation of their privacy.

After a bit more walking I knew I was almost there. I walked through an area where they sold car parts and other supplies, then a few turns later I was at the market. One enterprising Ugandan named Pasqual offered to show me around. I politely declined several times then just decided to give in. In the market there were several tables where men were playing Lugo – a game played with dice that looked a bit too complicated for me! Without Pasqual I would have no idea what that game was called so already decided it was worth whatever I would end up buying.

We walked around and he took me to stalls run by his friends. Our first stop was someone who was selling fried and spiced insects – I forget what kind, but I promptly turned them down. He ultimately convinced me to buy some vanilla beans, passion fruit, plantains and roasted peanuts. I already knew how delicious the peanuts were from a colleague’s trip, and was not disappointed with the rest. At one point we stopped at a meat counter and I wanted to take a picture but the guy did not want me to unless I paid. So I gave him a couple of coins and took a few photos. Feeling empowered by my new level of comfort, I decided to try one of those insects on the way out. It was good, but glad I didn’t buy a whole bag!!

I did a bit more walking, found my way back to the posh hotel neighborhood and caught a cab back to my hotel. My feet were covered in red dirt and my face with many layers of dried on sweat. I now sit at the patio bar at the hotel, enjoying a glass of white wine and an incredible view of lush trees and a sky filled with papery clouds just starting to collect moisture. The perfect end to a memorable day.

–by Carla


You know that old (and sometimes annoying) saying, “Hindsight is 20/20”? It’s been stuck in my head a lot lately, along with that damn “New Normal” phrase that everyone’s tossing around (including…possibly…me, at one point) and honestly, if I hear one more person utter those two words, I think I might grab their earlobe, give it a good, stiff twist and tell them to shove it. But “hindsight” is different. Learning from my mistakes isn’t a bad thing; I actually enjoy it. I’ve been wondering what my life would be like NOW, had I done things differently (in the financial department) in the past…KNOWING that a recession was looming and would change so many lives in so many ways. So, for your reading enjoyment, I’ve come up with my Top 10 List of Things I Would Have Done Differently Had I Known We Were Going To Be In A Stupid, Lousy Recession:

 1) I would have never started coloring my hair.

2) I would have learned to cook…better.

3) I would have stashed money away …lots.

4) I would have paid down all of my debt.

5) I would have bought, rather than leased a vehicle.

6) I would have traveled more (..’cuz I can’t now).

7) I would have mapped out a 5 year financial plan (at least).

8) I would have saved a year’s worth of expenses/emergency fund (like go girl)

9) I would have never started plucking my eyebrows (that’s expensive to keep up with…especially when you’re Lebanese and you grow hair like Chewbacca.)

10) I would have never started coloring my hair all those years ago. (It’s so worth repeating)

Although I’m sure there are deeper, more profound things I should have done differently to have avoided being in this financial boat right now, these are the biggies for me. But hindsight is 20/20 and we’re all getting used to this new normal, aren’t we?

{July 14, 2009}   Spendcation

By Heather:

Ok. So, you’re familiar with the term “staycation” where you stay at home. But have you heard of the “spendcation?” That’s what I’m on currently.

We’ve used airline miles and credit card reward points to pay for pretty much everything else on this vacation. But it’s still expensive to frolic in Vail, Co. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE sucking in the rocky mountain air and sunshine. But we’re spending money faster than a lottery winner. It’s almost unavoidable.

Check this out: We have a beautiful condo with a kitchen, but there isn’t a reasonably priced supermarket in sight.  I went to the local market and bought a dozen eggs so I could make breakfast. They were nearly $4.

Later my husband and I enjoyed cocktails. He had a glass of wine and I had a vodka and soda (w/ lime thank ya). The tab was $25. Typical, but irritating.My son has been eating 5 dollar hot dogs (no bun, so it’s a 5 dollar wiener)

But I will say we’ve enjoyed many “free” activities such as a farmer’s market festival, free parks, and free live music. They also provide free bus transportation throughout the village. That’s been nice.

The first day we got here the kids enjoyed a free bouncy house and arts and crafts.

But then there was the $50 “dump” incident. This falls under the category of TMI, so if that’s not your thing then skip this next part.

**** You’ve been warned *****

My youngest has a fear of foreign potties and gets a little “backed up” when we take a trip. She was in such a state by the third day of the trip that we had to take action. There wasn’t a drug store in sight, so I ran to the concierge for help. They in turn sent some poor guy to the store to buy an arsenal of”make-you-go” weapons. The tab was $27. It had everything you could possibly need (miralax, apricots, prune juice, mineral oil and an enema.) I gave the poor guy a $5 dollar tip.

To make the story short… she was finally successful. It took a lot of screaming and yelling to get it to come out, but she finally delivered what looked like a small Nerf ball. YEAH! Except she clogged the toilet. I’m not sure whether to be horrified or impressed.

Anyhoo…. the poor guy, that had to get all of the “make-you-go” items, also had to fix the toilet. It took two plungers and nearly an hour to make the repair. The poor guy also had to stop plunging and drive my husband and me to dinner. I felt so bad I gave him a $20 dollar tip. Plus another $5 for driving us. Did I mention this is the same poor guy who carried our luggage to the room and parked the rental car? He has many talents.

So there you have it. A $57 dump. But it’s all in the spirit of “spendcation” right?

We’re off to ride rented bikes and later we’ll head to the gondola. That’s costing us too. But we’re having a good time.

Once we’re finished with all of the bike riding, t-shirt and stuffed animal buying we’ll stop for lunch.  But I think we’ll skip the pizza and candy this time. We need food that contains loads and loads of fiber!

et cetera