Friday, August 28, 2015

Letting it go

The weather has been truly lovely this week, and we're trying to take advantage of it. G & I are both getting over being sick, so our energy isn't at 100%, making some of our outings a little more exhausting than fun, but we've made some nice memories.

We went on the annual daycare trip to a nearby amusement park. B is old enough to truly enjoy the rides & water fun. Everything was "Again! Again!" and the enthusiasm was contagious. L was still scared by a lot of the stuff---his expression at the end of the roller coaster (a really basic, made-for-kids short one) was of utter betrayal. "did you have fun L? wasn't that cool?" "---" (silence, with a look that read "why did you do this to me?! I thought you loved me?!". B had that same expression his first time on the trip, 2 years ago, so I recognized it instantly.

The only thing that marred the trip was my anxiety over spending money on over-priced unhealthy treats throughout the afternoon, when we had perfectly nice grapes, carrots, and cheese puffs left over in our back pack. My feelings that afternoon actually led me to write my last post; I composed it in my head on the bus ride home as I sighed and shrugged and snapped at my family.  It was one of the many instances when the act of writing and thinking through my feelings to get them down, as well as the interactions in the comments, clarified and maybe even changed my thinking on the issue. Why fret over a few dollars and ruin a perfectly nice day? That is not the point. Not the point of budgeting, not the point of frugality, and not the point of life.

Yesterday, G called me at 5:15 pm stating the kids are complaining about being starving even though they just ate the last of their snacks. He wanted me to meet him for some food somewhere. I braced myself for the spendy suggestion, but he actually decided we could get prepared food from the grocery store and have a picnic. Great idea! I brought toys & a picnic blanket & water and he brought a huge spread of chicken salad, fried chicken, 2 kinds of pasta salad, cheese, veggies, fruit. We all ate and then played frisbee for over 30 minutes in the almost-chilly evening. It was amazing. Yes, we spent more than we would've eating at home (I had defrosted some fish and we had some bread and salad stuff to eat with it) but we would've had so much less fun. The kids are already asking to do it again TONIGHT but we do have to eat that fish.

Last weekend I went to the gym while G took the boys to the park for over 2 hours. I came home & showered and relaxed. It was a nice morning. It was also hot out, and a couple of hours after the breakfast, so everyone was thirsty and hungry at the park so they went to a coffee shop and had food & drinks and then spent more time at the park. They came home happy and tired. And I fretted over the $10 spent at the coffee shop.  I mean, what were his choices? Listen to them complain about being hungry & tired and haul them home? Or say "You're hungry? So am I! Lets go get something and then we can play some more". (Yes, there is the option C, my favorite option, which is never to go anywhere without a stash of snacks and water, but I realize not everyone thinks 2---or 3 or 4---steps ahead of every decision, and as I mentioned before, its mentally exhausting to do that)

In terms of the snacks on the way home or taxi rides---I try to remind myself that G makes this 2 mile trip in snow & rain & heat & sickness and in health ten times a week. Its easy for me to say I would always walk or take the bus &  never give into whining for snacks when I don't have to deal with it. Its not every day or even several time a week. Maybe it averages out to once a week? Let it go.

This weekend is set up to be anxiety-provoking, money wise. The fifth weekend in the month, with little to nothing left in most budget categories. We do have some free fun planned---a birthday party, swimming, a park trip. But my goal is to not get upset about minor spending. We only have 3 more weekends of summer. I'm going to let it go.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dribs and Drabs

Edited because I hit post instead of save...

Money, again. And how it just sort of slips out of our pockets in exchange for mundane little goods & services. My angst over wasting spending money this way is leading to some marital strife and a fair amount of personal stress.

I'm not going to go over the details of who spent what where, but in general, my husband definitely has a looser hold on the purse-strings. Specifically, he not only tolerates, but seems to find pleasure in buying little treats and snacks for the kids (and himself, on occasion) and is not averse to taking taxis/uber instead of waiting for the bus or walking. And this behavior does not appear to be impacted by how far we happen to be over budget in the given categories for these purchases.

This makes my twitchy. I get annoyed. I start to fret. I get snappy and grumpy. I say fine in a voice that is not fine.

I think I set reasonable amounts in our categories, if I increase them, I have to take money from elsewhere---there isn't "extra" sitting around. Those $5 and $10 add up, and leave nothing to show for it. Sure they stop the whining, maybe prevent 15-20 minutes of boredom or discomfort, but at the end of the day they are forgotten. If we didn't spend those dribs and drabs we'd have a good amount for something memorable---dinner out (delicious food for all of us and no cooking or cleaning!) or a new bike (hours/days/months of fun, exercise and fresh air).

And its not just the budget and the numbers, its the philosophy behind it. I can't bring my kids home from school without them asking for chocolate milk from Starbucks like daddy gets them, or "why can't we just take a taxi" when the bus doesn't come right away or they get slightly tired/bored. I'm OK with being the bad guy here, I tell them "no" and "because I don't think its a good way to spend money/you have to learn to be a little hungry once in a while/you'll never get stronger if you don't push yourself!" (OK that all sounds mean but the latter two we are seriously working on with B & L respectively, B is STARVING every 1-2 hours---how will he handle school? and L walks 10 feet before sitting himself down on the sidewalk and refusing to go further---he's four and objectively healthy, we are not keeping him in the stroller forever).

Its not a hardship to spend 15 minutes on a breezy sunny summer evening to chat about the day and wait for the bus. Its not a hardship to not stop for a snack on the way home from school when there is a healthy delicious dinner ready to go. You don't need to buy snacks at a coffee shop every time you go to the park! They are conditioned to these things because they have gotten them so frequently. Its hedonic adaptation for the pre-school set.

Overall I just want us to live within our means and build some financial security, and pass those values on to our kids. Its not that G doesn't share those values. I just think he is less into the frugality/stoicism/delayed gratification mindset than I am. I actually (perversely?) like the satisfaction that I sucked it up and didn't cave to a little hunger, fatigue, whining and kept that money in my pocket. Whereas he is more apt to pay for convenience and not have to deal with the stress or discomfort.

I'm struggling to find a way to deal with this without increasing marital tension and personal anxiety. I'm tired of feeling like the nag. Maybe I've drunk too much frugal-living Kool Aid? More likely I've always been frugal and averse to certain spending patterns that I consider wasteful, and now that we're tracking our spending, I'm noticing it more. I guess "wasteful" is a subjective judgement. One person's wasteful is another's "worth it". Considering the fact that we aren't in debt, have a nice emergency fund, are saving for retirement, and don't spend on big stuff, maybe I need to let it go.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Blue is not for girls

  • Girls can't like blue! That's a BOY color. 
  • Girls can't wear pants! Only BOYS wear pants! 
  • Hahahaha look at that girl who likes Batman and Superman costumes! Those are for BOYS. She is going to turn out to have issues isn't she! How could her parents let her wear that, isn't it embarrassing? 
  • Wait, you want to grow up and be a surgeon or a pilot? Well, honey, you see, usually MEN do that kind of work. Why don't you consider something else? 
  • Did you really by your daughter black and blue pajamas? And you let her wear them to walk the dog in the morning? Its just...weird...isn't it? 
  • Well, sweetie, the blue ones are for the boys---here take the pink one. You like BLUE better? Haha. well, that's different! 
  • Why are you taking her to sport class? Wouldn't she be more comfortable taking ballet? 
  • Is that girl riding a BLUE scooter?! Carrying a Ninja turtles backpack?
  • How could you let your daughter cut her hair so short? She looks like a boy. You should make her grow it out. 
  • And her nails are all dirty and unpainted, she looks like a scruffy little boy 
  • Are you buying this as a gift, or is it for your daughter? Oh really, that's typically a toy that BOYS like, are you sure she wants the army figurines/Lego space kit/cars? 
  • Hmmmm. Most of the Star Wars themed birthday parties I've been to are for BOYS. Did she really choose that theme? 
  • Well, hopefully she'll grow out of it and turn out to be more of a REAL GIRL as she gets older, because she's in for a lot of teasing once she starts school. 
 What the patriarchal/misogynistic/sexist bul!sh*t, right?

Well, as the mother of a kid who wants nothing to do with traditional gender norms, I've heard all of these things in the past 2 years, but turned around just a little...
  • Boys can't like pink! That's a GIRL color. 
  • Boys can't wear dresses! Only GIRLS wear dresses! 
  • Hahahaha look at that boy who likes Princess costumes! Those are for GIRLS. He is going to turn out to have issues isn't he! How could his parents let him wear that, isn't it embarrassing? 
  • Wait, you want to grow up and be a nurse or a pre-school teacher? Well, buddy, you see, usually WOMEN do that kind of work. Why don't you consider something else? 
  • Did you really by your son pink and purple pajamas? And you let him wear them to walk the dog in the morning? Its just...weird...isn't it? 
  • Well, sweetie, the pink ones are for the girls---here take the blue one. You like PINK better? Haha. well, that's different!  
  • Why are you taking him to dance class? Wouldn't he be more comfortable taking soccer? 
  • Is that boy riding a PURPLE scooter?! Carrying a Elsa  backpack?
  • How could you let your son grow his hair so long? He looks like a girl. You should make him cut it.
  • And his nails are painted pink and sparkly. He looks like a girl
  • Are you buying this as a gift, or is it for your son? Oh really, that's typically a toy that GIRLS like, are you sure he wants the Barbies/dollhouse/Lego Friends kit? 
  • Hmmmm. Most of the Frozen themed birthday parties I've been to are for GIRLS. Did he really choose that theme? 
  • Well, hopefully he'll grow out of it and turn out to be more of a REAL BOY as he gets older, because he's in for a lot of teasing once he starts school. 
I consider it more patriarchal/misogynistic/sexist bul!sh*t.

When "girl" things are denigrated to our boys---we are denigrated GIRLS. And we are limiting our boys, denying their preferences and interests, teaching them to hide certain aspects of their personality. Break down those walls on all sides! Superheroes, princesses, football and sparkles for all. They'll grow up to be wonderful nurses, surgeons, teachers, pilots, mothers, fathers and anything else they dream of.

I've been sitting on this post for a while, for many reasons, but KeAnne's post inspired me to publish it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Kindred Spirits

I just finished reading the first 3 books in the Anne of Green Gables series. I've read these books countless times, they are one of my favorite comfort reads. There are always multiple mentions of Anne's "gift for friendship" and lovely depictions of her deep friendships through every stage of life. She calls those friends---the ones that you connect with easily---"kindred spirits".

That's what I want need more of in my life---those friends that you can talk to about pretty much anything---including the hard stuff in life. The ones who will get where you're coming from and offer support or encouragement, or call you on your bullshit when you're being nuts. The ones that know about the bad stuff in your life, like your crazy MIL or kid's behavior issue, so you don't have to lie and pretend everything is hunky dory when its not. Who you can trust to keep things secret, like your problems conceiving or that you are going to therapy, because you don't want to tell everyone everything! The friend who knows you and gets your personality so (s)he can say, without you uttering a word about your feelings..."oh wow, that must have really made you anxious, I bet you're not sleeping much" and "whoa, lets go get a drink for this one". The ones that make you laugh like crazy just by reminding you of the "that one time..."

Here's the thing. I'm an introvert. I've read (can't remember where, likely multiple places) that introverts need these close friends just as much as extroverts. Its the superficial interactions that introverts can do without. These days, if I go to a party, my idea of a good time is to hunker in the corner with 2-3 close friends, and have a long conversation with a few glasses of wine. Whereas an extrovert would want to "work the crowd" and mix and mingle for hours. I much prefer to go to happy hour with 1-5 other people I could really talk to than a huge 15-20 people gathering where I would probably end up just listening as various conversation buzzed around me.  I've also read that introverts are drawn to blogging because you can connect on that level without having to deal with the small-talk that needs to comes first IRL.

Several of you commented in my post last week, about community, that their spouses didn't seem to have this need for companionship, and were perfectly happy with work and family. It made me wonder whether there was a gender difference in the need for close connections. I hear this almost universally, so I can't discount it (though I hate hate HATE most assertions of gender differences, since they don't play out the typical way in my marriage/family and also since many are deeply rooted in patriarchy).

But why would this be? Its definitely not an introvert/extrovert thing. My husband is actually (slightly) more into parties/mingling than I am. He wishes we had more couple/family friends to do stuff with, but I've never heard him lament the lack of "close friends".  I'm not going to entertain any evolutionary psychology-based hypotheses about hunters and gatherers and nurturers (sorry, sarah, but yeah, patriarchy) Maybe its nurture more than nature? From an early age, girls are expected to have their BFF to share bracelets and earrings with, and popular culture is not lacking in idealized views of adult female friendship (Sex and the City). Maybe we feel this lack in our life because we hold this worldview in which women are supposed to have lots of close friendships? I don't have an answer.

Another part to this is the idea that "work and family connections are enough". Sure you can have good friends at work. If you get to spend enough time with them at work, and get the serious talk and joking around during your 9-5, you may not need more. And some people are really really close to their family? I'm not, so this one is hard for me to get. Do people really tell their parents about their work problems or marriage issues? Their siblings? I text with my sister and we talk kid issues, our shared experience as children of our parents, and our exercise plans, mostly. But i do try to smooth things over for family and definitely avoid tricky subjects. I can't imagine family being enough.

I know that if I want something to change in life I have to do something about. I'm not going to make good friends by writing about it, and to get to that deep friendship involves swimming through the murky waters of parties and small-talk. Its like dating---you have to put yourself out there, and you probably won't connect with a good percentage of people you meet, but you have to keep trying. I need to look into new avenues to meet people and then actually follow-through. Its scary.

Are you trying to meet new friends? How? Are men just from Mars? What are your theories on the gender differences here?

Friday, August 14, 2015


For your Friday reading pleasure
  • Interesting discussion on my last post. See also Gwinne's posts for more on the topic. 
  • G & I talked about doing more with our weekend evenings (as a family). We booked a twice weekly dog-sitter, so we don't have to rush home with L while the other takes B to karate---we can go to a park or library or dinner. Its a cost, but we are searching for cheaper dogwalkers
  • G is joining me on the no-booze weeknights. This is week 3 for me, though I fell of the wagon one night this week (not counting the 2 happy hours, because my rule was "no booze at home" to curtail the automatic glass of wine or 3 every night)
  • I went way over my "allowance" budget for this month due to 2 happy hours and 1 lunch where I treated my leaving tech on her last day and my new tech as a welcome. Worth it. That'll just mean less times I buy crap food from the cafeteria next month
  • Finalized aftercare for B, starting the 2nd day of school (I took the first day off...I'm nervous for him, and we'll do something special since its a BIG DEAL!). There is a class everyday that we can opt into, too. I paid for 5 classes for the 2 weeks of September, and we'll see what he likes and then pay for only those going forward (art/drama/karate/gymnastics/dance). Cheaper than daycare, but just barely. But we can pay via CC & get cash back!
  • Worked from home yesterday. Productive & much less hectic. Will have to start planning to do that once/week. Had dinner ready to go by the time everyone walked on (in fact, they were late, and I was starving, so I'd already eaten and could run around getting things for them) 
  • Also need to plan for better weeknights for myself. If I'm not working I'm either watching TV or just scrolling through facebook/email/blogs on my phone. (or reading, but I have no books right now, they'll all come in a clump soon--I'm number 2-5 on a lot of holds at the library).
  • Plans for weekend: work out at gym saturday, run with B again on Sunday. Swimming at Y saturday PM. Family movie Sunday PM.  Very low key, but that's what we need right now. 
How do you spend your weekend evenings and nights? Any great weekend plans? 

 Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Book Review: I Know How She Does It

I finished Laura Vanderkam's newest book this weekend, and wanted to share my thoughts. Overall I really enjoyed it. It was an engaging and quick read.  Since I was familiar with Vanderkam's work through her blog and other books, none of the ideas were truly brand-new to me, but they were highlighted in a way that made things stand out that I'd never before given much thought. I'll disclose that I did contribute a time-log for her study and there may be some quotes from an email exchange.

I've noticed that her work is surprisingly divisive. This may be in part due to the privileged position she comes from, and assumes in her readers. I think this book dealt with the issue by stating outright that the numbers and stories in the book were all from working mothers making >$100K/year.  I get that this is a small subset of our society, but its all the very subset that writes these articles about not being able to "have it all" that invade and shape our cultural mindset. So it makes sense to delve into --and hopefully challenge--the idea that these women, who admittedly have the most privilege to deal with modern life, are consummately unhappy. Are all women who are successful in their career stressed and miserable, never seeing their kids, spouses, friends and never having a moment to themselves? And if not, why not?

Vanderkam likes to look at the big picture. She's not about elaborate to-do lists and fancy planning systems, but encourages removing the unimportant time sucks so you can fill your life with the things you value and enjoy. She disparages typical working-mom advice like cooking on the weekend (my lifesaver!) and tidying/organizing schemes in favor of decreasing overall chore/housework time by outsourcing or letting things go. I don't think her ideas are limited to the six-figure income demographic. If a family can't afford a house cleaner, they still can lower their cleaning standards (assuming they aren't at rock bottom to begin with!) or get kids/spouse to chip in so less falls on one person. Whether you drive to work in a fancy car or take a bus, you can listen to music or podcasts to turn your commute into leisure time. Anyone can take a close look at their life and see what can be subtracted to fit more good stuff in.

Something that really made me think is the prevailing assumption that less work=happier life. It never occurred to me that for some people (including me at some points) working more, enough to achieve the kind of forward progress that results in satisfaction, may actually relieve overall stress & angst.  Even in a salaried job where hours worked does not equal money in the bank, having more time to do really fulfilling and career advancing work may be worthwhile if it makes you more energized and excited about your career.

One segment that made me feel warm & fuzzy was the one about the mother coming home on the bus and coming up with a fun, close-to-home evening plan for her little family on weeknights. Go to the park, go for ice cream, jump rope, play board game---nothing was BIG or expensive or required too much advanced planning, but it was intentional. Rather than rushing through the dinner-bath-bed routine, they took some time (30 minutes?) to do something that felt special. I really want to do that, at least a couple nights every week. It was actually reading this chapter that made me feel hopeful and positive about my ability to make life less of a slog and got me out of my blah mood this weekend! The bit about the woman who takes walks or shares wine & food with fellow moms at her kid's soccer game also made me happy---what a great way to combine so many values---exercise, supporting kids, being outside, friendship.

I also really like Vanderkam's focus on noticing what you already have. The  narrative of working parents not having any leisure time, when in fact we have plenty of time to spend on our own pursuits, made me examine my days with more scrutiny. Was I using my non-work, non-kids, non-sleep time in a way that was relaxing/refreshing/energizing, or frittering them away.  I exercise regularly, write this blog, read a ton of books, have watched multiple series of television shows, go for happy hours with friends approximately once/month, work on my garden. But if I eliminate some of the Facebook and stupid internet time, I could do those things more often or even incorporate something new into my life.

She encourages us to figure out our priorities and then make them happen---find a way to fit them into our lives. I've done this, with great results (thus the exercise, happy hours, reading) but its been several years. Especially with kids, things can change pretty dramatically in 3 years, so its good to revisit this---reading the book was a good reminder. I mentioned in my last post that I anticipate more periods of at-home time where I'm not actively needed by a child (B can play independently but needs me in eye sight, or I'll hear MOMMY WHERE ARE YOU within 30 seconds; L still wants me to play with him most of the time)  I need to think about what i want to do with that time, so I don't fill it with internet surfing or chores. Its not that hard to handle both kids at once anymore, either. I've given G plenty of time to himself to work on his projects. Maybe I need to claim my own time (he does offer, I'm just not sure what to do with it, so I'm "saving" it, but actually I'm forfeiting it).

The negatives: I did not read the time logs. On the Kindle they were too small to see. There was a link so that you could get an enlargeable version of the page, but when you made it larger, it didn't fit on the page so I had to scroll left-right and up-down to see the whole page, which made it really hard to see any patterns. Also each page of a log was a separate link, and some logs were 4-6 pages! You had to click the link, enlarge, scroll around, close out, flip to the next page, click the link again... I did this for 1-2 logs and then just skipped them altogether. I didn't find them interesting, to be honest. I prefer the narrative, with the whys and the hows then just blocks with "did this" "did that".

While I like day-in-the-life narratives, the "statistics" presented in the book in narrative form were hard for me to get my head around. 15% of women with X situation did Y. But how many women were in X situation? Was that an average? I'm used to figures with "n" and error bars and significance, so I find numbers thrown around distracting and hard to really believe (I trust the numbers presented are correct, just don't trust that I know exactly what they represent, if that makes sense?)

And of course, not all the advice pertained to my situation or my personality. I like prepping meals ahead of time because I don't work from home, and we all descend together & starving---its a huge stress saver to have something that can get on the table in 5 minutes on a weeknight. We can't afford a twice weekly cleaner, so we do have to clean the kitchen and yeah, we have higher standards for cleanliness (but not neatness--I do not pick up toys at night, but I do get why people do...its ingrained and hard to change). I'm not lucky enough to be able to fall asleep in 5 minutes (ha! hahahaha! the past 2 nights it took me over an hour, even after reading for 30-45 minutes!) after stopping working at night, so I need to schedule a good amount of down time and "lying in bed" time if I want to get enough sleep. No one is going to give me advice that is 100% pertinent. I take what I can use from various sources (including my own experience).

Tips and tricks aside, the best part of the book was the overall positive message. There is plenty written about how hard it is for working mothers, its easy to fall into the pity party mindset. I found it refreshing to hear someone reaffirm what I already know to be true:  I can indeed have it all, and more.

Monday, August 10, 2015

One Weekend, Two Ways

Pretty blah weekend. Was tired & stressed and went to bed at 9pm Friday. Saturday I took both kids to the park, where B ran around aimlessly talking to himself while L demanded that I "play with him" every 5 minutes, which mostly consisted of me getting on my knees and zooming cars on the concrete. Then I drew the short straw and stayed home trying to occupy myself while B listened to terrible music and did puzzles and G got to accompany L to a super-fun bowling birthday party with an open bar!

I did take B to a playdate for incoming KG classmates, but the play date was supposed to happen inside a huge summer festival with loud music, crowded bounce houses, and "water slides" that featured grey/black water by the time we got there. No one was there at the designated meeting place & time and we wandered around aimlessly in the heat/sun looking for the group. Finally we met one mother with her son; the kids refused to look at each other, much less "meet" or "play". We went home after 30 minutes. G wanted to work on his woodworking thing, so I tried to occupy the boys. They wanted to go to the pool at the Y so we did---though a crowded heated indoor pool on a beautiful summer weekend sort of feels like a waste! They each got a time out at the pool.

They were starving when we got home after 6pm and I thought G would've gotten dinner ready, but he hadn't even thought of it and was heading out to walk the dog, so I had to hurry and get something together while he took a super long walk. We did the usual dinner/bedtime thing and I was exhausted and had a headache and wanted to watch gilmore girls on the ipad while lying in bed. But the wifi wouldn't work upstairs and I eventually gave up and went to bed.

Sunday I had planned to go for a run but B was up early and insisted on coming with me on his scooter which made it...slow and short. I had plans for adventures with the boys, to give G more time to finish his project but they (well, B) refused to get ready and go! So G took L to the store while B and I stayed home again and he...listened to music and did puzzles. After lunch, L needed a nap and I was tired too, so I took him up to nap with him. Since he decided to sleep with one hand holding my ear and his foot on my head (seriously, how?) I didn't actually sleep, but he did. After he woke up, I zoomed more cars around, helped find missing puzzle pieces, broke up fights, etc... while G finished up his project. Then the dinner/bed routine again. And there went another weekend.

Low-key relaxing weekend. Caught up on sleep. Got to work out both mornings, including a Sunday AM run with B which was really good bonding time. He went surprisingly far, over 2 miles until he got tired & slow, and started asking fascinating questions like "where did the FIRST dog come from" "where did the first EGG come from". I was wondering when those questions would come, though I didn't actually have answers!

During Saturday's music/puzzle time, I puttered around on the internet for a while, but then used the time to plan out my week for work (which has made for a super-productive Monday so far!). Sunday I read several articles in the New yorker, something I always feel I "don't have time" for. During L's nap, since I couldn't sleep, I grabbed my Kindle and read a good chunk of "I Know How She Does It" which is really really good (I'll write more when I finish the book).

I got to meet & talk to a new KG mom, so I have one more familiar face going into the year. I also managed a park & pool trip solo with the kids Saturday, and they mostly behaved pretty well! There was a time out each at the pool, but as soon as I said "time out" they meekly climbed out of the pool and sat on the bench until I told them to come back in (who are these kids?). The boys got lots of R&R in, B even remarked as he did his puzzles that "this is so relaxing for me mommy!". We had pancakes for breakfast both days and the kids and adults favorite nachos for dinner Saturday night.

G got the opportunity to work on a hobby that he loves, and finish a project that gave him a lot of satisfaction (and me a cool shelving system for my container garden). There weren't many chores, just going to the store and prepping food a bit on Sunday. Plenty of time with the kids, and even some time to myself. And almost everything we did was free!

Honestly, I was focused on the above scenario for much of the weekend. It fit perfectly into my blah mood and I'd worked myself into quite a mood. But by Sunday afternoon, I was starting to realize a lot of the lower level stuff was true. Maybe the beer I was drinking helped, but I was in a much better mood by Sunday night. Part of the problem is having expectations and plans that don't come to fruition, part of the problem is that I prefer getting out of the house and my kids these days seem to prefer playing at home. And part of the problem is that I was simply being a grumpy McCrankypants (like we call our kids) and actively trying to see the worst in everything.

I'm sure the reality was somewhere in the middle. Lessons learned: 1) not every weekend needs to be amazing and full of a million activities all of which go off without a hitch. 2) I may have more chunks of free but need-to-be-around time coming up (basically when L is not home and B is playing independently) and I need to have a plan for how to use that time (a book I'm reading, little bits of work (work work or home projects) to do that I wouldn't mind having to stop in the middle of), I need to lay out the day the night before to B, because his initial response to anything is NO but he does eventually come around---if he knew we were planning an out-of-the-house adventure for Sunday he may have been more willing to go along with it when it was time to go.

Here's to a happy week!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Changing My Mind

Your comments on my last post led to enough thoughts for two follow-ups. This one here, about money, and one inspired by xykademiqz about midlife ennui that will have to wait a few days.

No, I do not think its wrong/bad to go out to eat or drink. In fact, I love it! Its one of my great joys in life to have an exotic, complicated or simply delicious meal someone prepared for me (and will clean up after me!) and to drink delicious boozy drinks in enormous fancy glasses that I get to pick out of a menu. But, like all luxuries, its way more luxurious when I don't do it very often.

The truth is, we've gone out to eat at least once a week since late May. My birthday, work travel, our anniversary, my sister visiting, my parents visiting, kids being gone, G's birthday, MIL visiting---there have been LOTS of special events that spurred us to leave the house and leave lots of our cash on the table. Celebrations, rare free baby-sitting, wanting to spend time with loved ones/friends---those are all valid reasons to go out to eat. But when enough 'valid reasons" come up, you have to eventually draw the line.

And, frankly, I don't think "boredom" or "stress" is  a valid reason to go out to eat. Then I really am falling into the "roadblock opiate" trap. We used to schedule sitters for "date nights" that basically consisted of us stuffing ourselves with food/booze to numb ourselves and forget about the stress of work and kids and our relationship issues---it was not bringing us closer as a couple, or refreshing us to get back to life. We would go home and feel simultaneously overfull and completely empty and unsatisfied---mystified that "date nights" were not working as billed to strengthen our relationship. There were also times when I'd come home from work, and the thought of the usual dinner/bed/chores routine bummed me out so much, I'd beg to go out to a restaurant for a change of pace. Of course, 2 small, loud & active kids in a restaurant was not anyone's idea of fun, we would scarf down food while wrangling kids, and again, come home unsatisfied.

I've been working on changing my mindset from immediately landing on "lets go out" as a way to celebrate or make things special. Its laziness in thinking & being that make that the default answer. It takes creativity (and maybe a bit of work) to come up with other ways to make an evening special, whether as a couple or with the family.

Growing up, we NEVER went out to eat. Maybe once or twice a year when we were older, for birthdays (aside from fast food joints on long road trips, even then, my parents would eat the food they packed). But we had plenty of fun and special times as a family or with friends.

The "with friends" part is the key, I think. My parents always had a huge network of friends (many with kids that became my friends) that we got together with on the weekends. Almost every weekend we were at someone's house for dinner, often both Friday & Saturday night. Many summer Saturdays were spent at the lake with potluck parties with several families. What made the time special was spending it with fun people, maybe cooking different (unhealthier!) foods than our usual weekday fare. When I grew up, I went out a lot with my friends, but we also had potlucks, and grilled by the pool, or had each over to watch movies & have beer and popcorn. There were lots of frugal things we did, because we had to as students, but also because it was fun.

I wonder how much of our default "lets go out to eat" is a reaction to the fact that we don't have many friends to just "have over" on a weekend. Even planning way in advance, we end up seeing our (few) friends sometimes only a couple times a year. I would like to work on that, but I'm not sure how. And in the meanwhile, I'm wondering how to make it "special" with just us.

If I'm willing to put a little work into I'm sure we could figure it out. The key is novelty. Anything new would be exciting, fun and give us something to look forward to. We could cook fancy breakfasts at home. We haven't made waffles in YEARS and the boys are always asking for them. Pre-kids we loved making fancy brunches at home and having mimosas, but we haven't done it in years. G & I could do at-home date nights and take turns making fancy meals for each other (or cooking together)---we could have ingredients delivered by Instacart if we weren't prepared. I'm sure I'll have to go first on this, to convince him its worth the effort! Weeknight picnic dinners at the park---we used to do this---I'd grab some food from home and meet G & the boys on their way home---but it was stressful when the boys were little because they kept running away and bothering other people who were relaxing or canoodling on the grass. Maybe they've grown out of this? Have a drink upstairs on our deck---we haven't been out their all summer yet! Early dinner on weekends followed by a park trip---the kids rarely (if ever) get to leave the house post-dinner so this is extra-special.

We have a birthday party for L's friend and kindergarten play date for B tomorrow, and plans to have friends over for Sunday dinner, but I'm hoping we can work in one of the above options into the weekend. I'm ready to expand my idea of "fun". We'll go out to dinner another time.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Blahs

I've been in a funk for the past few days. Probably related to the MIL visit (3 more days), the lack of anything fun/exciting on the horizon, work being in that in-between phase where there is no deadline exhilaration and I'm having trouble staying productive, and realizing we are close to the tail end of summer and really life as we know it with B starting KG in 5 weeks.

I was thinking of ways to boost my mood/energy when I'm feeling blah, without resorting to the usual "treats" (wine, food, shopping). Since we had a few more nights of free babysitting, I though maybe G and I could venture out and get a drink one night this week----get out of the house, take a nice walk, have something yummy and relaxing, and chat. And then I saw the latest post from Frugalwoods about how "going out" was just a "roadblock opiate" to soothe our unsatisfied consumerist souls. Double blah. Now I not only have the blahs, but I feel bad about myself and my life choices for having the type of life that is prone to having the blahs and my immediate desire to use "going out" to fix it.

I came up with a list of a few things that do work for me, though I'm open to more!

Frugal and healthy blah-beating methods
  • Go outside, even for a little while. I've been taking the outside route to walk between buildings at work---the warmth and sunshine feels great after sitting in my dim freezing office. At home I look to go outside and check on my "garden" (everything has either bolted or is being eaten by squirrels at this point, but and living).
  • Write it out (duh!)
  • Plan something fun for the near future to look forward to (but uh oh, is that more "going out". damn)
  • Talk to people---neighbors, colleagues. When I'm feeling blah, my inclination is to be anti-social, but its actually helpful to have light conversations with others
  • Exercise
  • Read/watch something soothing. the latter part is key---I was re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series, and when I finished that, I jumped into the book I have from the library---Still Alice. I read 2 chapters and was anxious & depressed; that exact scenario is one of my nightmares. I'll have to abandon it, though I heard its good. I'm back to watching Gilmore Girls instead. 
  • Finish a quick but nagging task. 
How do you beat the blahs?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

An Ode to Budgets

Since we mommy-bloggers are all about the personal finance these days, I'd thought I'd share a little more about how I'm trying to get our house in order. You may recall that I decided this January to really understand and overhaul our thoughtless ways with money. I've made a lot of progress on this front (though there's still a long way to go!) and I'd credit a big percentage of that to finally (for the first time in my life) creating and sticking to a budget.

Where we started
I specifically want to clarify this part, because I used to think the budgets were only necessary for people with "money problems", i.e. not us. We have no debt except our mortgage. We save in our employee provided retirement plans and (before our salaries went over the limit for tax it being tax deductible) put the maximum into a Roth or standard IRA each year. We have a hefty emergency fund in a savings account.

However. It was happening more and more frequently that we had to actually pull money out of savings to pay our monthly bills. We were, by definition, living above our means. This had been going on for at least 3 years, if not longer. I was burying my head in the sand about the details (the major credit cards we use are in G's name, and he has the log-on to our online banking) but had this vague idea that we were "spending too much". Every now and then I'd freak out and "try to spend less" for a month or so and then I'd loosen up again.

I also had clearly developed a mild shopping addiction. I was buying loads of clothes and shoes and even make-up (I don't even wear make-up, but thought I "should" learn) on-line, everything was "worth it" and on sale and "reasonable" (see Noemi's EXCELLENT post about this). I had stopped buying books a couple of years ago when I figured out how to use Overdrive (which is awesome! you need to figure out how to download books from your library ASAP if you haven't and you read). I was also in the habit or ordering random things off Amazon whenever they came into my head. Just...stuff I thought we needed or would be helpful around the house or for the kids or for me. Many things I rarely used. The  buying was definitely a symptom of 1) boredom/dissatisfaction with my life and 2) (for the clothes/makeup in particular) insecurity about my changing and aging body. I craved some kind of "excitement" in my life and snagging a good deal and then seeing the package appear and getting to open it and then wear/use the shiny new items provided a tiny frission of it back.

What I Did
First of all, I instituted a shopping ban for any clothes/shoes/accessories for myself until the end of 2015. Then I made a budget. I got the log-on information for all our accounts from G, I set up a Mint account and linked them all, and I combed through everything, finding and documenting the amount of each recurrent payment and estimating the monthly costs for food/transportation/etc... I set the budget up on YNAB. I chose YNAB because it allows you to work with it on your smartphone, with a really easy app for entering spending and checking your budget, which sinks to all desktop/mobile accounts (so G can enter something and I can see it 2 minutes later). My initial budget was terrible.
 My current one is still not ideal. Its a work in progress.

YNAB has default categories and I mostly used those, tweaking where I needed. For all recurring expenses (mortgage, utilities, insurance, daycare, phone), I set them to the amounts I found in our records. For "everyday expenses" I used estimates from what I could piece together or just, frankly, pulled numbers out of my hat. Same for "rainy day expenses"---those I set at numbers that sounded good. I also added a savings goal for retirement savings and for vacations, since those get paid in lump sums, not monthly, and we could save up now for expenses coming up later. I had to remember to budget for annual expenses---like the nearly $1K gym membership that came every May, or other annual fees. I split that cost over the year, so that there was surplus in the "fitness" budget from Jan-April, and then a deficit in May that would be zeroes out by December. I padded the "vet" budget similarly, dividing the cost of a physical/shots/ "senior dog" blood work over the year. I also gave both G and I small "allowances" to spend as we wish.

Then I put in our paychecks as "inflow" and we go from there, adding any amount we spend as "outflow" and assigning it to a category. Ideally you should enter the spending at the moment of purchase, but honestly, neither of us have been consistent with that, so every other week I spend an hour combing through Mint and adding purchases in. 

How It Helped
One unexpected benefit to this exercise is how much my anxiety was reduced when I could see and add up everything we spent. Instead of this "vague feeling that we were overspending", I could know exactly how much we were or weren't overspending on any category, and take concrete steps to remedy that. If we spent all our restaurant budget by the 2nd week of the month, well we just won't go out any more and it'll be OK (easier said then done, and didn't always happen, but knowing what we need to do is still helpful). So much better than just trying to "spend less" without having any specific plan in mind.

Decision  making on whether or not to make a purchase is simplified. Is there money in that category? yes/no. If no, try to figure out alternative or cheaper option or go without. If yes, look ahead to the whole year and think about whether you'll need that for something else before you buy it.

Because we are staring at them every time we log into YNAB, we are motivated to reduce the "fixed" expenses. It was looking at everything all laid out that spurred G to work on refinancing our mortgage, which we did this spring and is saving us a lot! We tried (and failed) to lower our internet. We are working on cutting our grocery budget (and in fact its down $100 from where we were in January). We have to tackle the alcohol and transportation budget next (this is where G overspends, so will be harder to do...)

I am much, MUCH less likely to buy anything. I put small amounts in our "clothes" and "household goods" budgets. Really small. And my "allowance" is also tiny. I consider every purchase very very carefully and I'm loathe to buy anything, even if it seems like a need. I lost my umbrella last month and haven't replaced it, because I don't want to spend $20 of my "allowance" on that---so I just wear my hooded rain jacket. I didn't buy the boys sandals this summer---they have water shoes and sneakers, and its working out fine. Its amazing how many "needs" turn out to be not so necessary when you look at the big picture!

I paid ourselves first. Since $x automatically went into the "savings goals" that money was not there to work with and could not be touched. I mostly dealt with overspending by taking that money out of next months budget for that category (i.e., we have $200/month for restaurants and I spent $250 in July so August has only $150), or I could move things around if they were similar enough to justify it, and I didn't think we'd need it later (I took some money out of groceries for July to cover restaurants since we were traveling and spent way less on groceries that month). At the end of the month I actually move that amount from our checking account into investments.

We are saving for vacations and bigger items. In the past, this is where we'd have to pull from our savings. Now I'm adding $x/month to our "vacation" fund. Its currently in the negative but should be built back up in time for holiday travel. I just started a new savings category for "home maintenance" since I foolishly didn't have one before. Sure, anything major would come from the emergency fund, but I wanted to be able to handle the little projects that just pop up.

Overall, the act of creating a budget is the best (maybe only!) way to really understand what is happening with your money. And the exercise of sticking to a budget is a great way to start thinking of spending in the context of the big picture, instead of an isolated event that can always be justified. It forces you to consider your goals and your priorities so that you can spend more intentionally (that word!) in line with your values. If you are worried/concerned/unsure/stressed about money, I would strongly recommend it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The joke was on me...

Hahahahaha....sob. Because I never had 3 hours or any kind of time to myself this weekend! I won't go into the boring details, but I spent most of Saturday taking the kids to the park (they needed it, being cooped up for days), trying to get L to nap and then helping my MIL choose puzzles to buy for the kids online (which she ended up buying off our credit cards on I did NOT plan to spend, and instead of just giving me the cash like a normal person she now says she's going to buy them something else...something they don't need and that will clutter up the house) and trying to score some free wood for G's project (some was posted on our buynothing group and I set up a meeting & went to check it was rotting). Sunday after the gym I spent 30 minutes hunting for my kindle, 30 minutes trying to find a key to open the kids' bedroom door that they somehow locked themselves OUT of (at least they weren't inside, but they were still weirdly upset and crying about it) and more time than I want to think about getting L to nap and then 1.5 hours of him napping ON me (may have honestly been the best part of the day, I tried to sleep, then read blogs on my phone). The rest of Sunday we had a visitor (G's cousin's husband came over, and he was super awesome and played legos with the boys for HOURS on end) and I helped my MIL cook and did my own kitchen chores. I didn't even get to leave for 30 minutes to go get my eyebrows done, which is good because I saved the $ but bad because whoa they look awful.

We did have our date night Saturday and it was really really fun but not the least bit frugal. I did take in all your ideas and have started looking into options for future frugal dates, but couldn't find anything for this one. I remembered that I had actually purchased a livingsocial deal to a hipster bowling alley so we decided to go there (sunk cost!) and get dinner nearby. Its in a part of the city we never go to, which looks & feels really different from the rest of the city...we felt like we were in a different town altogether! We just went to an area where I saw a bunch of restaurants and wandered around, deciding where to go, which is quite fun! We eventually settled on a byo sushi place, and found the wine store to buy some sake. The food was not the best, but there was a nice breeze and we sat outside, so dinner was quite pleasant. We went to the bowling alley and bowled two games. It was really fun, even though I am a terrible bowler. (just...really really awful, though I was improving somewhat by the end)---they had a DJ playing great music (part of my problem is that I kept dancing instead of perfecting my "form") and a fun atmosphere. We had beer. We then walked a mile before we got a car home and I crashed immediately (we were out for 5 hours, the advantage to FREE babysitting!). I'm done overusing the word "fun" now.

What I didn't get into on my post Friday (which apparently really hit a nerve! Such a great discussion, and I will return to it, you guys had some fantastic thoughts) was that part of the reason I really wanted to get out of the house was that having my MIL around is stressful for me. It just goes better if we have limited contact. Having the whole weekend with no plans and just me and her and the kids rattling around the house made me super anxious. It ended up OK, except on Sunday when G got into a stupid fight with her over nothing (he snapped at her, she flipped, there was lots of yelling & crying and then even after he apologized and they made up, she wanted to rehash it with me!) Its that kind of sh&t I wanted to avoid, and also just my general annoyance at her...ways (I just don't get her, or any decisions she makes). I was drained by Sunday night and went straight upstairs after the kids went to bed with my glass of wine and my ipad to watch Gilmore Girls until way too late at night.

So that was my weekend. I hope yours was better!