Thursday, December 15, 2011

Less is More

It's a new day today, and I'm on a one-day blogging roll, so why not say more about cleaning my kitchen? (Not to mention posting this super-cute shot of Robert from our latest trip to the portrait studio!) Tomorrow we're heading to Asheville for the holidays, so now's a good time to discuss what I like about my kitchen, before I find myself consumed with envy for my mother-in-law's awesome kitchen.

The first step to organizing my kitchen was making sure I had plenty of trash bags. M was vital to this project, because whenever I finished filling a bag, he'd take it right out for me. No fuss, no chance to reconsider too heavily. Some stuff was easy, mostly things I knew I could throw away as soon as I took the time to consider them. A half-melted spatula, a bunch of old plastic bags, some mostly-empty spice containers where I already had new bottles. It took the first layer off, and is usually as far as I go when I clean the kitchen. But it's not enough.

Some things were harder, and I had to start reminding myself of the sort of lessons they teach people on Hoarders. Sure, I don't have the lid for all my plastic containers, but they might still be useful! Yeah, but you have way too many and they're overwhelming the cupboard. Throw away everything disposable, and everything that doesn't have a lid. Throw away the teas you got several years ago and haven't used because you have other tea you like more. Throw away that leaky jar of honey instead of putting it in a baggie, you've got lots more. You have a whole shaker of pepper, you don't need those peppercorns you put in a Ziploc when your grinder broke. Yes, you love the idea of having an espresso machine, yes you love coffee, but you haven't used that espresso machine since you moved here, and you bought it used at a garage sale. You have a Starbucks gift card if you ever need an espresso so very badly.

That was the layer where scraping off my excess stuff started to be like scraping off a layer of skin. We don't have a lot of money, so for most of these things, I knew I couldn't replace it if I made a mistake. What if I was wrong and I needed those plastic containers? What if I wanted an espresso and can't get one? What if I run out of spices because I threw away what I thought was excess? My toaster is broken, but we need a toaster. (This one actually kept that stupid toaster out of the trash for close to six months, which is totally ridiculous.)

All those thoughts were real to me, but I know that they come from a deeper source. The fact that I have more things than I can handle is a sign of sufficiency, even of affluence. We don't have money or insurance or security, but I have more honey than a bear could eat in a year, so something is going all right. I don't need these old vitamins, but vitamins keep you healthy. If I have so much food I can't fit it on the shelves, my son will never go hungry. It's wrong thinking, but it's very seductive.

During this process, it helped to remind myself what I was gaining. The number one thing was work space. I have all these neat kitchen gadgets, but I rarely use them because I don't have the counter space. I don't have the counter space because I had a stupid broken toaster that I couldn't throw away, and many other things in that same vein. Every time I tossed away what wasn't necessary, I won that much space for myself. Counter space, cupboard space, refrigerator space. Eventually the kitchen began to take shape as an area where things have places to be, not just places where I've shoved them. Things like fresh produce and bread, which were previously tossed wherever there was room, now have shelves of their own. The top of the freezer is clear, so I can get into it and rummage around whenever I want. I even found all the parts to the food processor and stuck them together in a bin for easy access! It's pretty cool.

Now ask me if the kitchen is done. It's not, admittedly. I've got more work to do, and it still needs deep cleaning and a thorough scrub everywhere when I get some better cleaning supplies together. There are more things I can get rid of. But it's progress, and it's kind of thrilling to me. It's a sign that I am capable of doing it at all. If I can take the same ethos and carry it (and the trash bags) into the rest of the house, I might be able to get something good going on. And someday, when I move into a bigger place with a nicer kitchen, if I start with only the stuff I need here, think of all the wonderful room I will have!

Home Improvement

I haven't been blogging much lately, I know. This blog was a lifeline back in Robert's first year, when I was totally cut off and needed any form of grownup contact, no matter how tenuous. Now that he's almost two years old, there's no time to sit down and write! Ah well, time marches on. I do want to pick up again, but I make no guarantees as to my reliability. I'll just have to make the entries I do post extra-good.

So lately I've been watching Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive on Netflix. It's not for the schaenfreude, which is the reason I watch most reality shows, but because the problems these people have resonate with me. I don't have a houseful of cats or garbage piled to table level, but I am chronically disorganized and I recognize thought and behavior patterns in the people they profile that I see in myself. If you watch enough episodes, you start to realize how many normal people, people who like keepsakes and collectibles, may be just one tragedy, one dollop of despair away from hoarding. It often seems like there are one or two events that precipitate hoarding, and I know that feeling too. When I found I was pregnant with Robert, there was a period of time when I couldn't gather things fast enough. More food, more baby clothes, more blankets, more whatever, even though it was a time in our lives when we were trying to clear out our storage spaces and needed less, not more. I got over it, but I think it reveals a tendency.

That's not as depressing as it sounds, though. Watching these shows helps me, because I can take the coping skills, the decision-making skills that the folks on the show learn and apply it to my own stuff. And it's helping! Recognizing the problem and wanting to change is the biggest step to actually changing. These past couple weeks, I've been downing an episode or two, then attacking my kitchen. My kitchen is small, it's cramped, and it is full of stuff I love, which makes it a huge target for clutter and jumble and mess. I love cooking, and I especially love kitchen gadgets. Even if I haven't used it yet, the idea that I could use something to make a cool recipe or to make some task easier is just awesome to me. That makes collecting easy, and letting go hard.

In the kitchen, I started with my pantry. Since before Robert was born, we've had a cinderblock pantry against the living room wall, because I coupon and we have such limited cupboard and closet space. Our kitchen also has two doors, a normal size door to the hallway and a giant opening to the living room. Robert is not allowed in the kitchen (nothing in the world could make that space babyproof), since he became mobile we've blocked it off, first with the Pack 'n Play, more recently with random boxes and baskets and whatever is handy. It was messy and non-utilitarian and it blocked me from access to my pantry, so it kept things from getting put away. I decided to make a major change, and embarked on our biggest home improvement project in ages.

M and Robert and I went to the hardware store, which is always exciting. We got a 48x16 board to replace the top pantry shelf, where my Cansolidators sit. On the old shelf, the cansolidators didn't sit nicely, they hung off a bit at the front and the back, and I worried about loading them fully. The new board was wider, longer, and substantially stronger, so the Cansolidators could be fully assembled and loaded the way I'd always wanted them. At home, we totally emptied the pantry shelves, threw away anything that wasn't good anymore, and wiped down the shelves, then disassmbled it and reassembled it in the opening between the living room and the kitchen, to make a permanent barrier between the two rooms. The shelves open right onto the kitchen, so I have easy access, and Robert can't get into the kitchen.

The back of the unit was a problem, though. It used to be against the wall, and a block and board shelf typically doesn't have a back. Leaving the pantry shelves wide open and next to the toybox is asking for trouble, though. After talking with my mom, I had a brainstorm for Robert's birthday present. I went back to the hardware store, and this time got a sheet of plywood cut to order, some blackboard paint, a brush, and some nails. I painted the plywood with blackboard paint and nailed it to the back of the pantry. Voila! A back for the shelves, a giant chalkboard for Robert, who loves chalk drawing. With everything organized back into the pantry, I have never been happier with that part of our apartment.

I've done a lot more work as well, a lot of organizing and a lot of sometimes painful throwing away, but this entry is long enough. Anyway, here's a picture of the front and back of the new pantry.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Keeping Things Safe

From time to time on my blog, I will do reviews of websites I've been asked to look at, sort of like a survey where I share the results with people. I receive compensation for doing these reviews, but they don't tell me what I have to say, or even that I have to say nice things. All the opinions contained herein are entirely my own.

I save a lot of money on groceries and other items is by shopping for deals online. It's a great way to find sales and bulk discounts, but you do have to be careful. The great majority of shopping sites are trustworthy and do their best to protect your sensitive information, but if we've seen anything this past year, it's that even the biggest companies are vulnerable to determined hackers. It's important to shop safe, but it's also a good idea to take other steps to protect against identity theft.

One way to protect yourself against identity theft is by using the services of a company like Identity Hawk. Identity Hawk offers comprehensive services for identity theft protection, starting with a risk analysis so you can tell whether you're doing all the right things to protect yourself. They'll monitor your personal information and look for suspicious patterns that might indicate identity theft, and keep you appraised of any changes in your credit score. If the worst happens and your identity is compromised, they'll cover your losses and help you to recover your identity. It's a nice service that can give you a lot of peace of mind. Most of what they do is stuff you can do on your own, if you have plenty of time and a decent knowledge of what to look for, but if you're very busy or don't know much about identity theft, it's nice to have someone looking out for you.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Alone At Home

Today we say M off for his conference in Buffalo, which is very exciting! It's his first presentation at an academic conference for a school he does not attend. He's going to deliver a paper on "something about Antimasons," or at least that was about as far as I got in my understanding of it. ;-) I am a bad historian, but I will say that I do know a whole lot more about Anti-Masons now than I did five years ago. (Do I know how to spell it? No, I do not.) The conference is free, and a very gracious graduate student there is letting him sleep over, but there are still definite costs associate with a three day round trip of 900 miles.

We decided that since Robert and I can't really be without a car for three days and we don't want to take the nearly 200k mile Civic on a third 700+ mile trip in thirty days, we would rent a car for M's trip. I found a coupon in my new Entertainment Book that took a very nice chunk off the price to rent from Hertz, so that's what we did. The economy car we rented doesn't get quite the same excellent gas mileage as the Honda, but it's done all right so far, and gotten him safely there. To further trim expenses, I went grocery shopping and found some sales on snack food and deli meat, so he embarked with twelve sandwiches, a box of Poptarts, a box of day-old apple pastries, three big bags of chips, and thirty cans of pop. No trip snacks needed, and he should only have to buy maybe one meal the whole weekend. A little preparation can help save lots of money, and he's hardly suffering from not buying overpriced convenience store snacks.

Anyway, he's gone till Sunday, and Robert and I are on our own. I came to the strange realization today that this is the first time I have ever been on my own with Robert for days at a time. M and I rarely travel alone, and when I have, I've gone up to see my parents, where there is plenty of willing help to watch him. Taking care of the Minature Annihilation Machine from dawn till dusk by myself is quite a daunting endeavor! He was good today, mostly, and things weren't too crazy, but we'll see how it goes tomorrow. I am developing more and more respect for single parents. I do not know where I would find the strength and stamina. It really makes me appreciate M and his willing assumption of an equal partnership in parenting even more than I already did.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Staying Safe When Shopping Online

From time to time on my blog, I will do reviews of websites I've been asked to look at, sort of like a survey where I share the results with people. I receive compensation for doing these reviews, but they don't tell me what I have to say, or even that I have to say nice things. All the opinions contained herein are entirely my own.

If you've been following my blog for awhile, or talked to me about couponing and finding bargains, you probably already know that I do a lot of shopping online. There are so many sales you can get by shopping online, not only on things like books and music, but on all sorts of stuff. I went online to book our rental car reservation for M's trip this weekend, and saved quite a bit of money. I buy almost all of Robert's baby snacks online, not to mention his diapers! Social bargain sites like Groupon and DealPulp are a good way to get big deals on local stores and restaurants.

The problem, of course, is how do you keep your information secure when you're shopping? Identity theft is a major problem all over the world these days, and you see it all the time on the news. I know some people who won't shop online at all because of it. I can understand the concern, but I think they're missing the point. Plenty of identity theft is decidedly low tech, from a waitress copying your info when she takes your credit card in a restaurant, to someone digging through your trash to find a credit card statement. Not shopping online isn't going to keep you safe. In fact, if you're careful, shopping online is every bit as safe as going to the store, and maybe even safer!

The first thing you need to keep in mind when shopping online is to make sure you're shopping in the right place. Be especially careful if you get a link by email. You wouldn't accept a ride from someone to take you shopping at Tarjet, and you should make sure that the links you follow are going where you expect. When you are shopping, always check the address bar on your browser to make sure you're at the site you want to be at. Just as importantly, when it comes time to check out, make sure that the page you'll be submitting your credit card on is an "HTTPS" site, rather than simply "HTTP." You can tell by looking for those letters at the front of the address, plus your browser will almost certainly have a padlock icon somewhere to indicate that the site you're on is secure. Never enter personal information on an unsecured web page!

If you are very worried about shopping online, you can get started by shopping only at the very biggest of online retailers. My favorite online retailer right now is, partially because they've had ridiculously fabulous coupons for mommies lately, but mostly because they are extremely reliable. Typically, the bigger the company is, the more reliance you can place on them when shopping online. That doesn't mean you won't find awesome deals at smaller stores, but you can easily get your feet wet at bigger stores, just to get used to online shopping. Many smaller stores also accept Paypal, where you can enter credit card information with Paypal and then have them pay the vendor without ever giving the vendor your card information. When you  shop online, use a credit card and never a debit card. Credit cards offer far more protection against fraud, and if you pay it off in full each month, you won't be dinged by extra interest charges.

Despite taking every precaution, online and off, identity theft sometimes happens. Thieves are just very determined. You can act preemptively by signing up for an identity theft protection service, if that will give you more peace of mind. These services monitor your credit for you to report on any changes that may occur, and some also offer insurance in case of identity theft, to cover any costs associated with recovering your personal information. Services such as IdentityHawk offer this protection for a monthly fee after a short free trial period. They can be valuable, especially if you've lost an especially vital piece of data like a social security card, just to make sure you know as soon as possible if anything happens. They can also advise you in case anything does happen, and guide you through the steps you need to take in order to recover your credit.

For most people, though, you should check first with your credit card to see what protection they offer. Most credit cards do not hold customers liable for any fraudulent charges made anyway. As long as you're sure of that, and you're monitoring your credit reports three times a year anyway, you probably don't need a lot of extra protection. Use your common sense and good credit habits, and be careful of your personal information online and off, and you can bargain shop with peace of mind.

Friday, March 4, 2011

That's the Way the Money Goes

It's been a little while since I updated, but we've been keeping very busy. I really need to take a new batch of photos. Robert has a cute new haircut that makes him look much less baby and more little boy. It's super cute and I will try to get something up here. The weather's been pretty nice here, so we've been getting outside more, just walking around for the most part. Robert is getting good at walking! He can make it across the living room on his own, and outside he does well when holding onto a hand. Soon he'll be running, I know, and then climbing, and then I just don't know what I'm going to do.

The financial front lately has been a mix of good and bad news. We got our tax return and did many responsible things with it, adding to our IRAs, adding to Robert's school fund, paying down some debt, and refilling the emergency fund. That was good. M got a grant for next year so he can work on his dissertation without having to teach. That is good! The grant is for fifteen thousand dollars before taxes, so it's a pay cut. That's bad! He is prohibited by the terms of the grant from doing anything else for money for that entire year. That's also bad! But I've crunched the numbers till they started cracking around the edges, and if we have no unexpected expenses and make no frivolous purchases all next year, and gas doesn't climb too high, and all our costs remain about the same, we should be able to live on that. That's... well, it's hopeful, I guess. It's better to be inevitably sunk by the unexpected than to start out in the hole.

My problem is what do I do right now to prepare for the financial burden I know is coming? Look for a job, obviously, but that's not without plenty of problems. Robert is still young enough to be on the high end of daycare costs, for one thing, so a job has to be pretty good to even be worth my while. And those aren't easy to come by around here. They're _really_ not easy to come by for someone who has been out of law school as long as she was in, and has never had a real paying law job. I'm going to be taking training this spring that will hopefully let me become a Court Appointed Special Advocate, which is both really important volunteer work and legal work that will hopefully help polish me up for jobs, but that's down the road a little ways. I can't count on finding a job that's going to bring in more than it would cost in terms of daycare, gas, and loss of couponing time.

I have money set aside, for things that I wanted to do. I wanted to do sessions with a professional organizer to help me get the house in order. I think it's really important, and I'm not making progress on my own. I got a great deal on two months of Jazzercise classes, and I've been doing that and was sort of hoping to continue. I have plans to put some money in our Roth IRAs, now that we're going to be looking down the barrel of 30. I could scrap all those plans and sock all that money into the emergency fund. That's what my squirrel-brain wants me to do. I know a financial winter is coming, and I must save all I possibly can. On the other hand, all these plans are good things to do, things that will improve our quality of life for a long time, and hopefully our health as well. It's not like a new TV set or something. I just don't know what to do.

I tell myself that at least we know now. It's not like a sudden layoff where the decrease comes with no warning. Sure, this summer was already going to be tight, but at least we know that things aren't going to get better when we hit the school year like usual. We can plan! And in the spring, M will still be getting paid like usual, so I can do things with that money. I'm going to toss everything we can spare into paying down the one remaining credit card debt, that's for sure. The more I pay of that before September, the fewer months that it will be a line-item in the budget. Man, will I be happy to see the end of that! And we have an emergency fund that's in decent shape, given our income. Dipping into it just to get through the year is not a sustainable plan, obviously, but it's good to know that when the inevitable small disasters happen, we aren't totally sunk. So it's not all misery and woe. I just have to keep reminding myself of that. We've got a lot of things going for us, even now! Things are going to be okay.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Guest Post: DIY Cubby Wall for My Craft Room

Guest post written by Shannon Woods

One of my favorite hobbies is crafting and I've actually converted our guest bedroom into our craft room. But that basically meant that I had a desk with a sewing machine on top of it, along with some plastic containers that have all my stuff in it. That really isn't a great organizational thing though. I was at first afraid of doing anything because once we start our own family, we're going to change that room into a nursery.

I went online to try and find some ideas for organizational stuff that would also work in a nursery too. When I went online to get some ideas, I came across some information about Sacramento Clear internet packages and after I looked through it some, I came across some information about and decided to change over our home internet service by ordering one of the packages.

The best idea that I found was a DIY cubby wall that my husband told me he could put together. So we're going to start working on putting that together for the guest bedroom.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Beds, Baths, and Blustery Days

From time to time on my blog, I will do reviews of websites I've been asked to look at, sort of like a survey where I share the results with people. I receive compensation for doing these reviews, but they don't tell me what I have to say, or even that I have to say nice things. All the opinions contained herein are entirely my own.

I just can't believe that a mere two days ago it was sixty degrees here in Kentucky! Today it's back in the thirties, and we woke up to freezing rain. Ugh. It's a perfect day to stay inside, work on a few projects, and of course, shop on the internet! One of my favorite pastimes! In a happy coincidence, I was just asked to review a website called BedBathStore, which is exactly my cup of tea. I love beds, and baths, and I really love the clever little gizmos and space-savers and thing-holders that stores like this sell. The site itself has a nice clean layout and is easy to navigate, which always makes me want to poke around more. The free shipping ceiling is pretty high, $89, but the president's day sale going on now make it a bit better. I dove right in!

My first stop was at the party food and beverage machines section of the site. Now these are way too big and expensive for me to have, at least while we're still in our little bitty apartment, but I love these things. They have a cotton candy cart for sale, for pity's sake! Too awesome. Popcorn carts, hot dog carts, plus countertop versions of those as well. The selection was great. Unfortunately, although there was space for product reviews on each product, every one I looked at in this section was empty. These are luxury items, though, so maybe not as many people have bought them yet. The other big issue was definitely the price There were no deals to be had here. I looked a couple of the products, namely the popcorn cart and the tabletop nostalgia popper, up on Google, and found substantially better prices both on Amazon and at Kohl's. That was a bit disappointing for me, since I'm always out for a bargain. 

For my next foray into the site, I decided I'd look at something I've already shopped for and bought, to see how it stacks up. I found the Premium Solid Insulated Thermal Blackout Curtain Panel Pair, a set of insulated blackout curtains that are quite similar to the ones we bought for Robert's room this summer. (Take it from this mommy, blackout curtains in the nursery are worth their substantial weight in gold.) The price here was a lot more in line with what I paid for my curtains at the department store, and they come in a wider variety of colors as well. Still no reviews in the reviews section, but it was an overall more appealing offering. I've been thinking about getting blackout curtains for the other bedroom too, so I'll keep that one in mind. 

It occurred to me that by now I have not looked at any products that are technically for either bed or bath, so for my last dip in the pool, I decided to look at bedrest pillows, those big firm pillows with the arms that you use to prop yourself up for study or TV. BedBathStore did not have spectacular prices, though they didn't seem outrageous, but their main strength was in the wide variety of styles! They have eleven different kinds of pillows (all basically the same shape) but in different fabrics, colors, and patterns. Every single one had its own picture, which I really liked. Sometimes you can be browsing a store and look at different colors on an item, and you can tell that the second color was simply photoshopped on. These were genuine pictures showing the variety, and I appreciated that. Someone looking to match their bedroom would have an easy time if they looked here. 

Overall, I think BedBathStore is a decent shopping site, with things to recommend it despite the fact that it's not a mecca for bargain hunters. Sometimes finding just the right style or color for something in your house is more important than saving a couple bucks, and the selection here was always good. Just make sure you always remember to shop around! 

Oh, and because I never got around to actually doing anything bath-related, here is an oldie, but a goodie: 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mailbox Fun

One great thing about all the shopping and couponing I do online these days is that it's fun to get mail again. When I was a little kid, I used to always be excited whenever I got mail, even if it was just my bank statement, because it was addressed to me! Then there were magazines, birthday cards, the occasional present, all that fun stuff! As I got older, though, and got my own mailboxes, the novelty sort of wore off. Most of what I got in the mail was bills or spam, and collecting the mail was just one more chore. But lately, what with so many companies trying to integrate the internet and Facebook with their more traditional techniques, I've been getting all sorts of cool stuff in the mail.

Today we got an especially fun package in the mail. Snuggle Fabric Softener did a contest on Facebook a little while back where you could upload a picture of snuggling and win a Snuggle Bear. I uploaded a picture from when Robert was a newborn, of him zipped into my bathrobe and cuddled right up to my chest. We won one of the bears, and it arrived yesterday! Robert was watching me open the box, and you should've seen his face when he realized there was a toy in there. Snuggle Bear was an immediate hit, and even M was a bit envious, remarking how he'd always wanted one when he was a kid, but hadn't gotten one. The new bear is in the crib now, where he is not as loved as the lovey, but a nice soft second choice.

I've also gotten lots of coupons for free things in the mail, which is awesome. In my coupon pocket now, I've got coupons for two bottles of Excedrin, three half gallons of soymilk, and a yogurt cup, all of which came in the mail. I also get some magazines where the subscriptions were free or very cheap. The best ones come with coupons of their own! It's amazing what you can find online. It certainly makes checking the mail a lot more fun!

Oh, and here's the picture I entered in the contest. Very snuggly! It's amazing how much he's grown.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Baby Contest

This morning Robert and M and I went out to take part in a competition! Robert raced in the Huggies Diaper Dash at Babies R Us. He was on the high end of qualification age, but still legal, as long as he didn't stand up during the race. Babies who walk in a crawling race get disqualified! Since Robert still doesn't stand up without pulling up, this wasn't much of a problem. The races started at 11, and technically all the competitors were supposed to show up then, but because of a quick freak snowstorm, it was just us and one other family (twin girls!) Robert raced against the bigger one in the first heat and won handily because the competition was content to sit at the starting line and grin about how much attention everyone was paying her. It was very cute! Robert raced for the love of his lovey and the pretzel stick I was holding down at the finish line.

After that, we had to spend an hour and a half or so sitting around and waiting for the championship race. A few other competitors trickled in, which the store allowed and even strongly encouraged so they could get enough competition for the championship race. In the meantime, we wrangled our contender baby and tried to keep him from burning all his energy or getting so frustrated by waiting that he wasn't having fun anymore. In the last preliminary heat, the winner was a baby about Robert's age, who was a pretty good crawler. His dad cheated by putting his hands down in the field of play during the race, but it wasn't our race and the other competitors didn't complain. All the winners of the heats got gift cards, and that was very cool!

The championship ended up being between Robert, this other kid almost his age, and funnily enough, the tiny twin of the baby Robert beat in the first round. She raced in the second round, and because her much larger competitor couldn't figure out the "Now it's time to crawl" thing, she managed to army crawl her way across the mat to victory. She was not really a contender in this one, but she was just as cute as could be. The race began, and Robert made it halfway down very quickly before hesitating. I think he was a little scared by the mom next to me who was clapping and yelling pretty loudly. The other baby crawled entirely off the mat, but ended up making it to the end of the line first. They called it a victory, but the fact of the matter was that it was a disqualification. The rules of the competition were absolutely clear that the babies must stay on the mat that marked the field of play. (Again, these were the people who entered the field of play illegally in the earlier race.) This time, since I had a stake in things, I pointed out the rules.

The other baby's parents and grandparent were not very happy about not getting their victory, but as a compromise, instead of the disqualification, we ran the race over again. This time, for whatever reason, Robert was like a ball out of a cannon, and just barreled across the mat when I waved his sippy cup at him. The other family were very sore losers about it, which tarnished it a little bit, despite the fact that their baby hadn't been in the store for 90 minutes sitting around already, and they'd gotten away with several rules violations before being called on one. Anyway! We were still happy to win, and Robert had a great time, which was the main thing. He enjoyed socializing with the other babies, and getting to crawl around Babies R Us with no pants on for a couple of hours. And for the grand prize, we got three coupons for big boxes of diapers, which is great! Right now I've got a thousand Size 4 diapers stockpiled, but there is always Size 5 coming sooner than we think.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dreams of Vacation

Man, it's cold and gross out. We're lucky here, because we didn't get the Snowpocalypse descending upon our heads, but February 1 is still not a pretty day in our corner of the world. I remember how it was last year, this first week of being alone with Robert after all the grandparents had gone home, when the world was covered with snow and M was gone all day at school. It's an easy time of year to get depressed! This year is a little better. Instead of snow we have rain, and instead of a wailing bundle of newborn, I've got my guy throwing lettuce and peapods off his high chair and demanding more pretzels instead (we are working on the food thing). Still it's hard not to imagine heading off someplace warm for awhile, maybe a visit to Santa Cruz or a vacation in Jamaica. Warm weather and beaches, shopping and tourism. Yes please!

Of course, that's not too likely to happen for awhile yet. I got our taxes filed, and we're getting a pretty decent return, but it's pretty much all allocated already. Since we're getting even less income this summer than last, I need to put more money into our summer emergency fund, and I'm going to get all crazy and put some money into our teeny-tiny IRAs as well. With anything left, we're going to get super-indulgent and hit the dentist! Woo! This doesn't leave a lot of money for other things, especially not trips. But I've been looking into other ways to beat the winter blues. The sun may not shine, and it's too wet to play outside, but I can still take care of myself. Today I'm having a big salad for lunch, and this afternoon, Robert and I are going to try and get some exercise, even if it's just perambulating up and down the halls. Eating well and exercising are two good ways to perk yourself up in winter, and heck, they're good for any time of year. I figure I can't really go wrong.

Another option I've been thinking about is maybe getting a sun lamp. I have a friend whose seasonal affective disorder was improved by simulated sunlight, so it might be worth a shot. Plus, I have extreme amounts of hate for our only lamp, which is old and has two non-working sockets and doesn't have a secure fitting shade anymore. Really, replacing that old thing with anything that doesn't drop its shade when I bump it would be a lift to my mood! And of course, I've got my guys, who are usually good for a mood lift (when they aren't the ones driving me crazy!) One of these years we'll take a winter vacation somewhere warm, but for now, I think we're all right.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Where Does the Time Go?

This will probably be a quick one tonight, because it's late and I'm tired, but I know I've said that before and been wrong. This day just disappeared out from under my feet, it seems. We all spent the day at home, because there was a lot of snow today, though little of it accumulated, and classes were cancelled. I spent time catching up on phone calls and doing a marginal amount of organizing, playing some with the baby and... I don't know what else. It's bad when you look back on your day and don't really know where it all went.

A lot of my time has been like that lately, feeling wasted, feeling lost. I haven't done projects I wanted because of it, some of them which  I regret a lot. Way back in November, I wanted to do a book for my folks' anniversary because I knew we couldn't throw them a party for their 35th this year and I wanted to do something. I put up a big message on Facebook and tagged everyone I could think of to ask them for pictures and memories and stuff.  I needed to do personal followups with people, because it was a busy season and people forget or get busy and stuff like that, but all my time disappeared and I didn't get to it, so I didn't get the feedback I was hoping for, and the project didn't get done. My little sister made them a wonderful photo collection, something she is very talented at, and it was beautiful, but I didn't do anything but wish them a happy day. Ugh.

This site has been another project that disappears into my lost days. I have photos and videos that I want to upload and edit to show you, but it's complicated and takes a long time to edit videos, and my patience is short. I can read one book to the baby twenty times without much problem, but don't ask me to watch the same five seconds of video ten times to figure out where it's supposed to go in my fifteen minutes of footage. And when I don't have new pictures, I'm less likely to post, and when I get out of the posting groove, I'm less likely to post, and you see how it goes.

Okay, I don't think this is helping. I have focused enough on my unmedicated ADD brain for a little while, maybe it's time to accentuate the positive. Like I just said, if I get into a good groove, it's easier to stay in it. One thing I did today was spend a lot of time moving money around. M got paid for his study term, so that's a lot of money all at once that needs to be budgeted and saved carefully. Yesterday, Robert and I went to the bank and talked with a personal banker about my bank account and what we're going to do with it. We don't like Chase Bank anymore because they slapped their "free" account holders with literally a booklet full of new fees this year. Switching banks is a big hassle though, so a lot of today was putting money into savings, into new checking, activating new cards, switching autopay options, things like that. I went through months worth of bank statements and made sure that every autopay I saw was accounted for and changed. It took awhile, but I did that! I also called the doctor and got a question answered about Robert's physical, (yes, we have to buy vitamin drops over the counter because Medicaid won't pay, no there are no other options), and cleaned up the living room again, including scrubbing honey off the carpet. I did do some things today!

Another thing I've actually managed to accomplish lately is some menu planning. Our meals have been awful lately, repetitive, boring, and not very healthy. Robert's the only one who's been getting his fruits and veggies every day, which is a bad example for Mommy and Daddy to set. So the other day I sat down with six months of All You Magazine and planned meals out of the recipe sections there. I like it because they always include a projected cost per serving, and that helps a lot. I got thirty days of dinners planned out, and a shopping list. I've started looking for sales where I can pick up items on that shopping list for cheap, things that I haven't got in the pantry already, anyway. It's a really ambitious plan that involves a lot of cooking, so we'll see how it goes. Starting February 1, watch this station!

Well, I think I feel a little better now, or at least a little bit more capable. I need to spend more time planning my days like I plan my menus, even if they often get thrown off course. There's so much that I want to do, and so little time to do it!

Monday, January 17, 2011

In Inches, In Miles, In Laughter and Strife

One year ago at this very minute, Robert was giving me a big bellyache. That's what my maternal grandma always told her kids on their birthdays, with the years appropriately altered, and my mom told it to me and my sisters. It's a little different for me tonight, I think, since it's still rather vivid in my mind. One year ago tonight, right at this time, I was in this very room, getting up every five minutes to go lean against the dining room table and swivel my hips until the contraction passed, because it was the only thing that helped. In a few more hours, I would be going to the hospital and finally meeting this new tiny person for the first time.

My life was so different then, it's hard to believe. This past year has gone by with such a fractured sense of time. Some of the days were so very long. I remember last winter when Robert was just a teeny, and he was fussy and didn't want to nap, and he was too little to do anything else except cry. It was cold and snowy out, and M was gone all day at school. Every day seemed like an eternity. That's when I started this blog again, actually, to give myself a voice in the long, quiet days. There are other moments that pass very slowly. The predawn hours when Robert wakes hours early and wants to play, or the car trips when he is too uncomfortable and cranky to be soothed by anything. Minutes pass like hours, days pass like years. And yet when I look back, the year has gone past in the space between two heartbeats, and I don't know how it got away from me so fast. The tiny bundle I tucked between my breasts and zipped into my bathrobe to keep warm is now a toddler, 30 inches tall, 21 pounds, and too big for the rear-facing carseat that was laughably large when we brought him home from the hospital in it. How did that happen?

I don't keep close track of Robert's development, though I keep one eye on the "every child should do this by this age" part of the charts. What does it matter if he crawls a month early or babbles a month late, or hits everything exactly on time? I mean, I can already tell he's a genius, no matter what the charts say. =) I am trying hard not to be a pushy, paranoid mommy who worries if her child isn't ahead of the curve. He walks, he babbles and repeats sounds, he flirts like a madman, and he can pick up blocks and cereal with equal facility. What more does a kid his age need to be able to do? He has a great time tormenting the cat already (he doesn't see it that way, but she does), and his increasing skill with walking has Victoria very nervous. Today he ate an entire banana, just scarfed it right down with his supper. He has six teeth! I don't think we have a lot to worry about, though we do have that big 1-year checkup on Tuesday.

Today we celebrated Robert's birthday with our friends at church. I got him a Backyardigans cake from the Meijer bakery, and a little smash cake to go with it. Those and all the drinks and utensils and stuff, and was a little over 40 dollars, and this time I paid with the debit card. It wasn't a monthly grocery expense, after all, and if I'd paid cash, I wouldn't have a cent left for the rest of the month. Otherwise, the cash budget's been working well, and that's great, because M's a week late getting paid for some reason, which is really starting to stress me out. But that's another topic! Anyway, we took the cake and stuff to church and had cake with everybody, and they sang Happy Birthday. The choir director started us off so we sang on key. ;-) I'm not sure Robert knew quite what to make of the singing, but he ate all the attention right up.

Once all the adults had cake in the sanctuary, we went to the fellowship hall (where the tile floors are!) so Robert could have his cake. He had so much fun! It was hilarious to watch him. I have video footage that needs editing before I can upload it, but you can look at the pictures here! In retrospect, I might have been better off asking for white frosting instead of having them tint it green to match the big cake, but it was so cute, and he looked so funny! A day or two of green fingers won't hurt him. We let him play with it till he got bored, then cleaned him up (mostly), cleaned up the fellowship hall, and went home. It was a good first birthday party.

And hey, it's 12:40 now. This is about the time I was calling the midwife and waking her up, and she was telling me to wait till three minutes apart, because the roads were clear and the hospital was close. A good call on her part! Man, it's so funny to think back. My mom was here then, visiting. My house was so much cleaner, with so many fewer toys! What's next year going to bring? If nothing else, it'll be an exciting trip!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Living in the Room

Today was a busy day, for all I didn't even leave the house. I spent part of the gift card M gave me for Christmas on a Sterilite 3-Drawer Cart to keep my yarn in, and it arrived today! I was excited, except for the fact that my yarn was buried in the worst part of the living room, the throwing-things-behind-the-chair corner. I couldn't even get at it, so how could I organize it? Honestly, the whole living room had gotten embarrassingly bad this past few months. We spend almost all of our time in the living room, so it accumulates a lot of the detritus of living, plus it's the biggest space in the apartment, so it's the default holding area for anything that's not put away. Since Robert started pulling up and walking around, I hadn't even been able to let him out of the playpen in the living room, because there was no safe place for him to walk. It was really terrible.

So today, spurred on by my new yarn cart, I did something about it! M took Robert to the bookstore for awhile, and then they played in the nursery while I worked all afternoon on the living room. I picked up trash, I sorted piles, I dug into all the places where I tossed things to get them out of sight in previous cleaning endeavors. I even tackled long-term problem areas, like the space between the chairs and the tangle of cords next to the television that was such a baby attractant. I took a fine toothed cat comb and went over the entire cat tree, removing a quantity of hair about equal in size to another cat. I got my coupons into the book, I got my knitting and my needles and accouterments sorted out, I got Robert's toys into the box. I vacuumed and vacuumed and vacuumed! It was really hard, really discouraging work for the most part, especially when I was about two hours in and the room actually looked worse than when I'd started.

It was all worth it at the end of the day, though. I didn't get the whole room done. Tomorrow I need to keep up the drive and get the dining room half of the space, which I started on but could not finish tonight. I got enough done, though, that I was able to bring Robert out into the living room this evening and let him crawl around, get into his toys, pull up on the cat tree, and all the other things that my terrible cleaning skills have not allowed him to do. He was really excited! Watching him crawl around and laugh made it all worthwhile. I know I have a lot of work to do still, but I feel good tonight. And hey, during the cleaning, I found my camera, too! Woo-hoo!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Grocery Stock-Up

Last night, Robert and I went to the grocery store. This was an exceedingly necessary trip. We hadn't gone to get groceries since before our Christmas trip to see my folks and only the fact that they sent us home with bags of frozen food kept us going even this long! A fun little sort-of tradition we've developed is that my folks, who have a tendency to stuff both their large fridge-freezer and the downstairs deep freeze with way too much food, will go through their collection at the end of our visit and give us all sorts of stuff. This give them room in the freezer, and gives us all sorts of wonderful stuff to eat. We've had mini corndogs and French Toast Sticks, an excellent beef stew that I made into shepherd's pie with the addition of some frozen mashed potatoes, and all kinds of lovely things to eat. Waste not, want not, right? But we needed milk and margarine and formula, and there was a good sale going that I wanted to hit up, so it was grocery time!

Grocery time was originally going to be Sunday, but Sunday morning I woke up feeling weird and icky. I made it to church because I was worship leader that day, but by the time I got home, I was just feeling rotten, and starting to run a fever to boot. I sort of stayed away  from everyone at church, so I hope I didn't pass it to anyone. M watched Robert all Sunday and let me rest, which was helpful as I was almost totally nonfunctional. But by Monday morning, he had it too, which was even worse. We were both running at about 25% capacity, while Robert was still at 100, which made things hard. Working in shifts, we cared for him and slept, and eventually by Tuesday, we were starting to feel better. Robert never got sick, thank god. He was the only one of us who had a flu shot this year, which probably had something to do with it.

Anyway, with that happening, groceries got pushed forward to last night, which meant that I had to do all this month's WIC shopping and Meijer's big 11-for-$10 sale and use the other coupons I wanted to use all in the same visit! Eee! With Robert as my trusty navigator, we set out. This month I did something smart! Even though Meijer keeps the frozen food in front, I skipped it for once, and went straight for the baby aisle! I did all the WIC shopping first, stacked it all into a shopping basket, and put the basket under the cart. Not only did that keep it out of the way, it made it so much easier to get out and keep together at checkout time! I will always do that from now on. It took us almost an hour and a half for me to gather the sixty-odd items on my list (I did the 11-for-10 deal four times over, and got other stuff as well) and by the time we were getting towards the end, Robert was more than done with shopping. It was getting late, and he was tired and hungry! The nice lady in the deli saved our day by giving him a whole potato wedge, which was by far the largest french fry Robert had ever seen. And you know how he feels about french fries. Eating his way through that kept him busy all the way to the checkout counter, and most of the way through the line. Phew.

I'm trying a new experiment this month, one that is very popular with a lot of the frugal bloggers I like to read. You get your grocery budget for the month, and you take it out of the bank in cash. Before you go shopping, you figure out about how much your groceries will cost, and you take that much with you in cash, and you use it to pay for your groceries. You look at the money as you give it to the cashier, and you physically take your change. Not only does it make you think harder about how much you're spending, but when the money you've taken out of the bank for the month is gone, you're done shopping till next month. This was my first time trying it, so I carefully figured out all the prices and coupons and stuff before leaving home, estimating on what I didn't know for sure. I thought it would be around 55 dollars, but because it was my first time, I took 70 with me. It turned out that my sixty-odd items, a bulging cartful, cost me 53 dollars, a savings of 61 dollars total. Not bad for a rookie! That's still a third of my budget for the month gone, though, and it's only the sixth of the month now. I have lots of creative plans to make sure that the money and food stretches. After all, I have new silverware, new storage containers, and new pots and pans. I have no excuses not to get awesome in the kitchen!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

End of the Season

Well, here it is, January 5, and Christmas is over. Well, technically Christmas is over tomorrow, on January 6, which is Epiphany and Robert's original due date, one year ago. Funny how much I was looking forward to that date, and how little happened that day. =) But as far as Christmas presents and parties and especially spending goes, the season has wrapped. I have avoided the After-Christmas clearance sales, and we already have Robert's birthday presents (not that the poor kid needs more toys!), so we're pretty much done. Thank God. It was a bit of a spendy Christmas.

Because of our frequent lengthy traveling and the mail service being slow, I've done a lot of shopping with my Amazon Visa card this season. It's been great for giving me points, and I like that, but it's not the sort of card you want to carry a balance on. I also find that when I'm using a credit card, I'm not always quite as thoughtful with my purchases. Knowing myself, I did my very best to curb my impulses and turned down some fun bargains,  but I still wound up buying quite a bit. It was hardest, I found, to resist buying things for Robert. When toys and baby stuff were on sale, that was my catnip. Maybe Kryptonite is more accurate. I don't know that I ever really understood before now how strong the impulse is to provide your child with every good thing. The biggest thing we bought him was this Bi-Plane Airplane Rocker for his birthday (shhh, don't tell, he hasn't gotten it yet!) I scored it for 55 dollars, shipped, which was awesome considering its current price of 120 dollars.

He also got a half-dozen other presents from us, Christmas and birthday, not to mention all the gifts he got from others. Now we need to get him a toybox, badly! But he's having tons of fun, and the new bigger-boy toys are letting him showcase his creativity, which is lots of fun. Today Mimi and Papoo's birthday present is his current favorite, the Fisher-Price Little People Animal Sounds Farm. He was so envious of cousin Rachee's dollhouse at Christmas that we had to get him a playset of his own. Papoo wasn't wild about the idea of getting Robert a dollhouse, so we got him the farm instead, which is entirely satisfactory. Robert's favorite trick is putting the figures in the top of the silo, then watching them slide out the bottom. Big fun! He also likes the giant cardboard blocks from Aunt Allie, and the wooden alphabet blocks from Nana and Papa (mostly as a musical instrument right now.) We've held back a few of the toys to start giving him when he gets bored with the current offerings. He can only play with so many toys each day without getting overwhelmed, after all!

Besides the presents we bought for other people and for each other, I took advantage of Christmas sales to do some home refreshing as well. We've been married six and a half years now, and a lot of our basic home accessories were wedding presents. We have many generous friends who gave us wonderful wedding gifts, but some of the things we use every day have started to get worn out. So in addition to presents, I bought things like a new stainless steel silverware service for eight (knowing we are doomed to lose at least half the forks under mysterious circumstances), a new set of pots and pans, new towels and bath sheets, new Rubbermaid containers so I can toss away all the accumulated ones that have melted edges or have lost their lids, and another year's worth of bathroom and kitchen hand soap, antibacterial gel and wipes for keychain and diaper bag. All of the things I got were at least forty and sometimes as much as seventy percent off, and they're things that will be useful for a long time, so I feel pretty good about them. It's just that those purchases made for a big outlay of money all in one month!

Now that the season is over, my focus returns to financial care and savings. I should be able to finish paying down the Amazon card this month, and after that, it's back to chipping away at the old debt, and trying to scrape together enough to rebuild the emergency fund. Last year, our tax return funded the bulk of our emergency fund, and I hope that can happen again. It was a major source of peace for me this year to know that we had something to fall back on when the money ran low, and when it did, we didn't incur new credit card debt because of it. I did find it a little vexatious that if we didn't have any savings, we could've applied for food stamps, but the emergency fund is more important to me. This year M's summer work is looking more tenuous than in previous years, so my resolution is to get as much into the emergency fund as I possibly can, against the day. The financial planning gurus suggest that you should have enough money to live on for three months in your emergency fund, so that's my starting point. Lucky(ish) for us, we don't have a very big monthly budget, so that amount isn't really out of reach. It's a good resolution, anyway!