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!