Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Still Stolen: The First Week of a One-Car Household

Subaru Forester in snow

If we had to have a car stolen, it’s slightly reassuring to know that we still have the one with four-wheel drive, just in case we have a winter like this again.

It’s Monday afternoon as I write this, meaning that we’ve been without a second car for seven days and a few hours. 

My only update about our car is that there is no update. It hasn’t turned up. The insurance will reimburse us the cost of new car seats, which is excellent, especially considering Paige was about to outgrow hers. We don’t know if the insurance will ask for us to reimburse them if the car turns up with the car seats intact. Honestly, even if it does show up with the car seats, I don’t plan to use them. You never know what someone who’s stolen your car has done all over the kid’s seats.

Also, we don’t know at what point there will be a payout for the cost of replacing the car. 30 days? 60 days? And then what happens if it turns up after whatever time frame? Things I’m curious to know but that honestly won’t change our circumstance one iota, so not really that important, really.

Following are my observations after having only one car for a week.

1. I’m walking more. Last Wednesday I walked J to school, walked P to the dry cleaners and then her morning program, to the library, then back to pick P up and then J up. J rode his new (to him) big two-wheeler and we locked it up at school on a fence. Can you believe they don’t have a bike rack? I’m thinking of calling BikePittsburgh to see if they match fundraising or something for a new rack. Anyway, another day we walked to the post office to mail a large package after picking J up at school.

2. Jason’s biking more. He biked three days last week, and biked today, when he would normally never bike on a Monday morning. That’s not to say he was excited about it, but he’s doing it and getting some intense cardio on the small mountains he has to climb to get to work.

3. This kids are exercising more. We’ve taken little walks around our neighborhood just to get some fresh air on mornings that we didn’t have a car, and Jack has ridden his bike alongside me pushing the stroller. In fact, he goes so fast on the new (to him), bigger bike that I almost always have to run to keep up. Commuters driving to work probably wonder who the crazy lady is that always wears jeans when she runs 🙂

4. We don’t melt. On a walk home from school, it started to rain, really rain. J wasn’t a huge fan, but he kept on going and even picked up the pace a little. P was snug and dry in the covered stroller. I knew rain was a possibility that morning, so everyone was dressed in a raincoat, the kids’ rain pants were in my bag, and I had an umbrella with us. And I took the Burley trailer/stroller that morning since it has a rain-tight cover and lots of storage for whatever we need to haul around.

5. Walking to “run” errands involves planning. I’ve always run a few errands here and there with the kids while walking, but never on this level. I have to plan to have everything I need to mail, deposit, drop off, etc. If I forget something, that errand has to wait another day at least.

6. Less gas = more money. We could probably lower the $404/month budget for transportation soon, because usually halfway through the month we’ve filled the cars up at least once each. I would have filled the blue car last Monday, in fact. But that money is barely being touched this month. Fyi, that amount covers all expenses, maintenance, insurance, gas, everything for two cars and Jason’s commute bike (as well as some biking clothing and accessories for him).

7. A trip to the suburbs is again a family fun night. I had some suburban errands to run to get ready for our trip–Costco, Target, Michael’s, and Lowe’s, so we took the kids one night and had a fun dinner out.

8. I need to replace my car key. I have a handful of errands to take care of before we leave for San Francisco, and need the car. Jason biked today so that I could take care of them today. But I realized, after readying myself and both kids and all assorted stuff we needed to take care of, that Jason forgot to leave me the Subaru key. Not his fault at all–I should have had a new key made last week. You can guess what I just added to the errand list for tomorrow!

9. Parking is a breeze! We have a one-car garage that few modern cars can fit into and still open even one door. And we have a parking pad that fits one car. So we park one car in the parking pad and one blocks in that car and the door of the garage. Changing cars was a pain, probably more for Jason than for me, since the Subaru didn’t usually have car seats in it (from the weekend trips to haul drywall, tools, etc.). Parking on the street in front of our house was usually a bigger pain since our neighborhood is half student rentals and each student brings a car that they park on the street.

10. I need to buy bus tickets. Saturday night after my return from Cleveland (on the Megabus!), I realized that I had not a penny with which to catch a bus home. Fortunately a lovely Marriott had a mac machine and gave me change. I plan on taking the bus with the kids soon, and don’t want to have to deal with the money while dealing with them and their assorted gear.

11. Our pace has slowed. We’ve now stayed home two full days in the last week, which is unusual and refreshing. The kids seem to enjoy it and I’m certainly happy accomplishing more at home. We’re not seeing as many people for playdates, that’s certain. But I’ve been a tad overwhelmed lately by all the things on our schedule and staying home more is a very good way to feel less busy and more calm.

My verdict: We’re not suffering. 

We’re ALL exercising more, getting more fresh air, I feel like I’m catching up with some of the things I’d let slide recently, and we’re spending less money. Some things are inconvenient, but they’re mostly solvable things.

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How do you manage errands/kids/appointments/jobs with only one car?

Steal My Ride!

stolen car

Have you seen this car?

Today has been a day of ups and downs…

Down: J’s dentist appointment at 8am this morning.

Up: We managed to successfully have his teeth cleaned and fluoride applied without him biting, kicking or hitting anyone!

Down: Our car was stolen while we were in the dentist’s, and they have our house keys as well. Apparently wrestling an unwilling, tantrum-throwing 4 year-old into a dentist’s office caused the keys to fall out of my pocket. My shallow, silly pocket, where I should know better than to put my keys.

Up: The officer was quick to arrive to file the report, we had a warm place to wait with toys, and the receptionist even put Finding Nemo on the waiting room TV for J.

Down: Two very nice car seats and a travel stroller were in the car.

Up: My mom had P for the morning and we live 1.5 miles from the dentist, so J and I had a nice (cold) walk home and talked the whole way (bonus quality time!).

Down: Jason had to leave work to change the deadbolts (such protective instincts on that one).

Up: We got to hug Jason in the middle of the morning!

Down: We’ve seriously inconvenienced the people who own the title for the car.

Up: We weren’t in the car. We have a second car. Car seats and strollers are replaceable.

Down: The kid’s favorite music cds were in the car.

Up: Opened the garage to find two car seats AND the travel stroller. We have spare car seats since we have two cars, and Jason had removed the travel stroller from the trunk a couple of weeks ago and I kept forgetting to put it back.

Up: J, P, and I walked to his our parent teacher conference this afternoon, and she gave me a GLOWING report.

Up: J thought that maybe the person who stole the car needed the carseats or the car and that we should give them that one since we have two or buy them one of their own. Such a generous heart.

Up: I just realized, amid my spanikopita/chai tea/dark chocolate therapy, that the gas tank was on EMPTY and the registration sticker had EXPIRED. This makes me smile.

So far, this whole thing has cost us $66.78, the cost of four new deadbolts. This is a temporary fix, as we’ll keep trying to find a re-key set for our existing locks. Unless they don’t accept returns on opened locks, of course. We don’t need to replace the stroller, and we can hold off on the car seats for a while.

Man, that emergency fund keeps taking hits lately!

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Have you ever had a car stolen?

How To: Mop the Floor With Kids

How to mop the kitchen floor with kids

P and J having a really good time. This was taken right after I put the bowls down, so they hadn’t yet had time to drech themselves completely.

I’ve mentioned we’re a little busy right now. In a few weeks, things will calm down a bit. Mostly though, this pace will stick with us for the foreseeable future, and I’m working to adjust to it. In order to make room for a few things, I had to make a conscious decision earlier this year to let go of a few things, and cleaning is one of them. Daily cooking is another–you can read about that one on Friday.

I’m not saying I’m going to let that piece of cheese rot on the floor for the next year. Only that I’ve relaxed my standards. I used to like to mop at least every two weeks. Our kitchen is small and we have two young kids (and added a few thousand worms to it recently). Two days after mopping it, it is visibly dirty again.

Mopping is a task that isn’t easy to do in a tight space with two little kids underfoot. Historically, I would put them down for a nap, vacuum and then mop, and have about half an hour before they woke up. Now, I use every minute of nap time either writing, doing volunteer work, or keeping up with friends and family.

I can’t remember why I was desperate, but something happened on the kitchen floor in the middle of a crazy few days this spring, and I didn’t have time to mop.

Then it hit me–a housekeeping hack! Why not let the kids help me mop the floor? 

Here’s how you can have your own anklebiters helping you mop the floor in no time:

Step 1: Gather bath towels and a full change of clothes (including diaper) for each child and place in the room adjacent to your kitchen.

Step 2: Gather various sizes of cups, pans, bowls, spoons, and rag-towels. Rag-towels (n): Hand and bath towels no longer fit for post-bathing, but good for cleaning up messes.

Step 3: Fill the larger bowls & pans with warm, soapy water. I use a few drops each of castile and dish soap.

Step 4: Put the pans & bowls of water in the middle of the kitchen floor. Give the kids the spoons and cups, and they will typically sit or kneel down to the level of the bowls & pans. *Put lots of rag-towels around them. You can either join in at this point or sit at your kitchen table, sipping a hot cup of tea, congratulating yourself on your brilliance while you occasionally throw another rag-towel into the melee.

*In our house, our kitchen floor slopes so much that I only need to put towels on one side of them.

Step 5: When the kids are finished, dump all of the containers of water into a bucket and ask them to help you scrub the floors with the rag-towels, which are conveniently already wet and soapy (you’ll probably need to wring them out a bit). They won’t do a great job but, hey, they’re learning!

Step 6: Get a sponge or mop or whatever and use the last of the water to mop! Our kitchen is small with lots of corners and nooks, so I always just use a sponge on my hands and knees with the kids.

Step 7: When the kids can’t clean any more, the towels and clothes are ready for them in the next room.

Please note that if you have flooring that you love, flooring that isn’t waterproof, or flooring that was made after 1990, this probably isn’t how you should clean your floors.

There you have it: A way to make a not-so-fun task fun AND kid-friendly during times of crazy schedules. And if you join in, you just turned mopping the floor into a quality time activity!

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Have any great housekeeping “hacks” you can share with me? I’m always looking for more!

Buying Term Life Insurance, or, How We Quit Smoking

Photo by vwallac

What do smoking and term life insurance have to do with each other, aside from the obvious one-makes-the-other-more-expensive correlation? In my life, plenty.

In February of 2006, still newlyweds, we made our first appointment with our commission-based financial planner to go over our finances and areas of risk. The outcome of that meeting was that we signed up for term life insurance policies. Because we were in our mid-twenties and healthy, the policy had a very low cost to us, and I’m still glad we did it.

Our advisor looked at us when filling out the paperwork and asked, “Are you smokers?”

I didn’t miss a beat, answering, “Nope.”

Jason didn’t say a word. Of course, we were given a lower rate because we were non-smokers.

Here’s the part I’m ashamed of: I LIED. Definitely not one of my finer moments.

We were both smokers. I’m not sure when Jason started, but I’d been smoking regularly since my sophomore year of college.

What I didn’t realize was that, at the end of our appointment, our advisor explained that someone would make an appointment and come to our house to do blood and urine tests to confirm how darn healthy we were. He advised us to eat pretty healthily and to avoid alcohol the day before the tests. I started to panic.

Needless to say, we went home, fired up the internet, and spent a stressful evening trying to figure out how long nicotine and other chemicals from cigarettes remained in us.

The answer: 72 hours.

But it’s the internet, and we had lied, and there was money at stake. And we didn’t know when our testing appointment would be (turned out it was almost two weeks from that day). So that very night we smoked our last cigarettes.

I’d tried to quit many, many times before. Smoking is expensive, and I’d always had low-paying jobs with nothing left over at the end of a pay period. Not smoking would have freed up a lot of money (to me).

None of those times had stuck. My previous long-term boyfriend had smoked, and most of my friends smoked, as well as my mom and much of my family. This meant that most of my social and home situations involved cigarettes, and had for a very long time. My husband and I had developed rituals around smoking, both together and apart. The first cigarette of the morning with coffee, taking breaks from work or schoolwork to have a smoke, smoking in the car, while waiting for the bus, at a bar with friends. You get the idea.

This time, Jason quit with me.

Those first days were awful, with headaches, stomachaches, and so grumpy that we were really angry all day. We bickered, avoided as many social situations as we could, ate granola bars, nuts and carrots non-stop, and just tried to get through it.

I was definitely the weaker of the two of us, and almost gave in once that I can recall in that time before our testing appointment. Jason said something so powerful that it became our mantra:

“The nicotine is long gone–we’re only battling ourselves now. Do you really want to go through this hell ever again?”

We’d read online that after 72 hours you’re no longer battling the chemical withdrawal, you’re battling your own body’s addiction.

After our testing appointment was over, there are at least two or three times that I was ready to buy a pack of cigarettes, and I think I even had one that I begged from a friend. Each time, I reminded myself how hard it had been, how awful I had felt and how terrible EVERYTHING was for over a week. And I reminded myself that I didn’t want to go through it again, in a million years.

I also sat down and ran the numbers: Assuming $3.75/pack in 2006 and one pack/day, even though I smoked more than that very often, I was spending:

$26.25 each week

$105 each month

$1260 each year!

That’s still a lot of money to me. Remember that I often smoked up to two packs each day, so this could probably have half added again, for a total of $1890/year! And I can remember times I was eating beans for the 30th night in a row because I was broke, but could still buy cigarettes. This makes no sense to me now.

I should add in here that both of our term policies cost us a total of $48.24 each month. So the smoking I’m not doing smoking pays for both our policies AND we’re still saving money!

The moral of the story: I’m ashamed and sorry that I lied on that term life insurance application, but it helped us do something that I’m not sure we would have done on our own at that stage in our lives. Oh, and another upside? We’d never celebrated Valentine’s Day, but for the last six years we’ve celebrated our own special holiday on February 23, our Quit Smoking Anniversary.

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Have you ever calculated the cost of your addiction? Maybe I should figure out what coffee was costing me when I was addicted to it!

Family Photo Swap

Frugal Family photo swap

2011’s Family Photo Swap (one of many)

We just came from our now-annual Family Photo Swap. Some friends take our family photos, then we take theirs. We switch back and forth every time we move to a new location.

Photographers are expensive (and worth it most of the time), but in these years of temper tantrums, high energy, and J’s extreme fear of new people, having friends who we can swap family photos with has been a huge help.

Last year around August, my friend Jenee approached me about heading to a park with our families one morning and taking family photos. She and her husband, GI, have a nice camera and both know their way around it (she’s even taken classes). Jason took photography classes in Germany and traveled through Europe practicing with his photography classmates. So each family has at least one person who is a good photographer.

Family photographs, and those of our kids, make awesome Christmas gifts. We who have four sets of grandparents like to keep those kid-sitting grandparents happy, and smiling photos make them happy. Also, in year’s past, we make our Christmas card with photos and create a calendar for grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

I was thrilled when Jenee suggested a photo swap again this year!

Frugal Family Photo Swap

Last year we took them on Sunday, September 11; this year, it was Saturday, September 15. Apparently we stick to the same time each year. It’s so nice to have them taken early because, as Jenee mentioned today, when the deals on photo cards (and prints and calendars!) crop up before the holidays, we’re ready and able to take advantage of them.

Here’s how it works for us:

  • Choose an outdoor place with an indoor back-up, day and time.
  • Get everybody dressed, relatively clean, and make sure the kids are well-fed.
  • Take lots of non-messy snacks, water, and toys. Stuffed animals, cars, balls–all good.
  • Even though our kids prefer not to use a stroller for short distances, we took one anyway. We liked having a stroller with us to move the bags of toys, snacks, purses, etc.
  • Move around a lot; kids get bored easily. We took photos in four different locations in and around a place called Schenley Commons. It has a large fountain, lots of flowers, Dippy the Dinosaur, a carousel that was sadly closed today, and across the street is the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus area. We spied some beautiful red doors near the Cathedral of Learning and took the last of the photos there, hoping they would look great for holiday cards.
  • Don’t be afraid to use the other family’s snacks and toys as bribery. I was pretty grateful for for Jenee’s Curious George gummi snacks today.
  • Press that camera button as fast as possible!
  • Know when to say when. At about an hour and a half, everybody had had enough.

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Have you ever tried a photo swap with someone else or another family?

Routines and Summer

Brushing Teeth

I thought for a while about making chore cards for our son and so spent one day photographing everything he did. Turns out, he has a lot of chores and it would be more trouble to pull out the cards for every single thing. Chore card idea will be saved for future possible use!

I was thinking earlier today about how hard it is, yet how welcome it feels, to get back into a steady morning routine. When my son finished with school in June, I had put no thought into how I would handle having him home every morning and day. In retrospect, I think our summer would have been much easier on us all if I’d kept up our morning routine and tried to form some sort of routine for activities through the week.

I look at a routine as a plan, or a framework: I make a plan for how I’d generally like my mornings to go, and by doing it often enough it becomes more, well, routine.

Some days it doesn’t work out. But having it helps me remember that I like to wear my watch, and makes sure that I change P’s diaper before an early appointment (please tell me I’m not the only one).

Routines can both cost us and save us money. If your routine is the proverbial Starbuck’s latte at 3pm, it’s obviously costing you money. If your routine is clipping coupons every Sunday evening, then you’re probably saving some money. I dropped my routine of checking food levels in the grab-and-go snack bag every morning after breakfast this summer, with the result that we needed to buy snacks or lunch several times on a long outing.

I’m a person who needs routines, but will easily fall out of them or into unproductive routines (even after a long time) if I don’t have a check-up with myself every so often to make sure my routine is working or hasn’t gone awry. This summer, I’m abashed to admit there were many mornings I was rushing my kids and myself, forgetting to brush their teeth, not making time to stop and play trucks or read a book, all because I let go of my normal routine and slid into one of lying around and sipping coffee while watching my kids play.

Instead of just “rolling with it,” treating the summer like one giant vacation from routines, I needed give some thought to the changing situation (my son being around all day, every day) and how that would affect things.

I’m not saying this to beat myself up. A little self-reflection is good for trying to figure out why certain behaviors have cropped up in myself and my kids, and helps me remember my priorities.

My routines are set up around my priorities. The spot on the rug? Not a priority in the morning. Exercising? Dental hygiene? Reading Corduroy? Definitely morning priorities.

And lately, since I’ve recognized (somewhat late in life) that routines are useful to me, I’ve been trying to create a few, or thoughtfully analyze the ones that have spontaneously formed. Like a post-kids-bedtime routine where I don’t fall into bed, weepy with exhaustion and fully clothed. I’m shooting for making lunches or other food prep/kitchen task, brush teeth AND FLOSS, wash face, and change into some pajama-like items. I think I can make this happen, but it’s going to take a few months of doing stuff when I just plain don’t want to. And on days when I can stand upright a single second past 8:30pm, I am not going to beat myself up for not completing my routine. I’ll get up tomorrow and try again.

Yeah, I do floss, but I manage it about once every three days. My teeth are getting older–don’t they deserve the daily massage?? See Dental hygiene, above.

(Most) kids love routines, and repetition in general, and my son is right there. Plus we’re trying to teach him to do a few simple chores without complaining, dragging feet, etc. The epiphany hit me this morning that, WHAT IF I kept the exact same morning routine going for him all year, every day, no matter what? Wake up, have some parental snuggle time, eat breakfast, choose clothes, change clothes, clothes in hamper, brush teeth, then play.

After every meal he pushes his chair in, carries his dishes to the sink, scrapes them into the trash, and is learning how to load the dishwasher. He never complains about any of this, even for a second, and my Ah-Ha! moment earlier today tells me that it’s because after every meal, no matter what, he is expected to complete those tasks. Sometimes he forgets, but given a gentle reminder he runs right over and finishes it all.

That routine, keeping that same order to those tasks, helps him remember to do those things. I think it’s high time we apply the routine to some other things, like my flossing and exercising, his morning, and P’s potty training. And if that helps me not spend money on senseless snacks, that’s an awesome bonus.

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Have you fallen into any unproductive routines? And if you have kids, how do you handle introducing a new routine to them?

The Great Clutter Purge of 2011

Piles of Clutter

At the end of 2010, I walked my husband through our house. I pointed out the workshop he couldn’t use, the bikes he didn’t have room to fix or improve, the unusable, piled-high workbenches. I showed him the first floor rooms he couldn’t fix because they were piled wall to wall, almost floor to ceiling, with our stuff. I opened every overflowing closet, jam-packed drawer, and stuffed cabinet. We talked about how our living space was uncomfortable because it had so much furniture and other stuff piled around us.

Six years before we had combined our two adult lives into a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2-car garage half-acre property in the country that was piled high with stuff sentimental to my husband. And then we moved twice into successively smaller homes without getting rid of much.

We had a HUGE amount of stuff packed into our home.

In January of 2011, we started purging. We would work during nap time, after bed time, and friends and family would come over and watch the kids so we could work. A couple of times we even hired babysitters so that we could sort clutter.

We worked one room at a time, breaking it down into smaller, bite-sized tasks. We broke it down by the 13 rooms (leaving out the tiny 2nd floor bathroom  that took 5 minutes to de-clutter) and then by the big things within those rooms. I kept a running list that looked like this:

J Bedroom:

  • Toys
  • Under bed storage
  • Storage shelves
  • Dresser

Our Bedroom:

  • Under bed storage
  • Christi closet
  • Jason closet
  • Shelves
  • Cabinets
  • Dresser
  • Desk

You get the idea.

It was a daunting list, but we did it. We went through every area on that list, crossing them all off.

It took us about 10 months to finish the entire house. We sold things where we could, had a yard sale, and then donated or gave the rest to friends.

This was hard. I don’t like clutter and am more of a minimalist, but I’m married to someone who doesn’t throw anything away. Ever. It was exhausting to constantly remind myself to be patient and talk a certain item through with him rather than just yelling “Throw it out!” like I really wanted to. And it was hard even for me sometimes to get rid of things. While we worked together there were arguments, but there was much more laughter as we started to feel good about tackling this stuff.

The more we pitched, the more we wanted to pitch.

We realized what a burden all this stuff had been–the one whole room piled high with unopened boxes from our move 5 years before, the huge amounts of clothes we didn’t wear, the chainsaw we were keeping even though the home we currently own doesn’t have a tree.

It cost us money to have all of that stuff. We pay a mortgage, insurance and taxes on a 2,000+ square foot home, and we could only walk through it in paths. We were paying for a giant storage area that we couldn’t use any other way, not a home in which to raise our kids. Things were being broken from being piled. We were buying something we already had because we needed it but couldn’t find it. Food was expiring in the back of the cabinet. And then there’s the time and money spent cleaning, ironing, fixing or maintaining so many things.

A year after finishing, I have 75% less clothing. I donated about 20 pairs of shoes, maybe more. I donated my wedding dress. We donated most of our books if they weren’t reference or something we read close to yearly.

We were able to use our stuff to help others, helping us feel even better about the purge process.

  • My wedding dress went to Brides Against Breast Cancer in honor of my cousin Suzie
  • My dress clothes, suits, and professional-looking shoes went to Dress for Success.
  • Pantry foods and unopened health and beauty items went to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
  • Countless items went to Goodwill.
  • Opened food and health and beauty items went on Freecycle.
  • And we were able to help a friend out who was moving into a new home.

The most important thing I learned from the de-cluttering process is that it IS a process. I made sure to talk to Jason about how he was feeling through every step of the process, asking him what he was thinking about when he looked at a certain item. We both had many hobbies that had lots of stuff attached, and it was time to acknowledge the people we are either don’t enjoy some of them any more or just won’t have time for them for the next 20 years. 

I spent time searching the internet for ideas on how to keep memories of some item but not the item itself. A quick example: Jason had fond memories of his grandfather using a large lathe, so he had moved that lathe with him wherever he went. It was huge, heavy, and not his grandfather. I encouraged him to take lots of photos of it and to pry off the very cool metal info tag and keep that in his workshop where he’d see it every day.

Getting rid of the books ended up being really tough, but we have a fantastic library system in Pittsburgh. Most weren’t books that we’d re-read; most just looked good on a shelf. We kept books we truly loved and re-read and many of the how-to books useful for rebuilding a home or cooking.

It was hard, but our quality of life skyrocketed and we felt relieved of a huge burden. Most people didn’t notice a difference because our living space didn’t change much. But every closet, cabinet and drawer doesn’t overflow, and things can be found. The biggest difference is in the 6 rooms (+ a bathroom) downstairs and in the basement. There is finally room for Jason to have a little workshop, and room in the garage for the bikes and his bike repair equipment.

And it finally became possible to hire help to finish our construction project!

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Next week, I’m going to write about battling Clutter Creep. 

I’d love to hear your strategies for keeping the clutter down!