Tuesday, January 28, 2014

All Things in Time: Guest Post at WhatToExpect.com

I was asked to write a guest blog post for the What to Expect website for their Word of Mom column. I wrote about T learning to read and my anxiety around that particular milestone. It generated a lot of discussion amongst my friends on Facebook. 

I hope you'll check it out!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

And this is all we need

Since we cut our family income in half almost exactly a year ago when my paid maternity leave ended, we have re-assessed a lot of the solutions we were using for convenience.

Though I love Amazon Fresh grocery delivery with all my heart and soul, we couldn't justify the higher prices and $75 minimum order, so I stopped using it. For the items we buy regularly it was cheaper for me to go to Whole Foods (!). Given that our "regular" grocery store is Trader Joe's, which is a lot less expensive than either of those options, I went back to traditional grocery shopping.

The other thing we gave up was our weekly yard service. We hate doing yard work, and our yard had never looked better, but at $50/week it was definitely not a necessity.

We dropped our Costco membership - every time we went to the store we'd spend $200 in stuff we weren't intending to buy, just because it was there and a great deal.  See ya!

Ditto the weekly organic vegetable CSA-type box from various places. I was never great at staying on top of it (how healthy we'd be if I was!) and it was more than I'd spend on just the things I know we'd eat, even at Whole Foods, so we dropped it.

But the one thing I haven't quit is our Amazon subscription orders for various household items.  For many items, like non-perishable foods, cleaning products, personal care stuff, and dog food (yay!), Amazon has a special "Subscribe and Save" option that allows you to get that item regularly.  You choose the interval from 1 to 6 months, and you can "skip" months, or postpone deliveries if you don't need it right away. If you have 5 or more items arriving each month, you get 20% off on the whole thing, and that's where the magic happens.

When you don't get the 20%, the subscription is probably slightly more expensive than buying the equivalent item at Target. But for the convenience it can't be beat, especially for things like a 30lb bag of dog food - shlepping that and a 25lb baby to the car at the same time is physically impossible for me.  And now that I've figured out what we need on a regular basis, I've got 5 items every month, so I always get the 20%, which makes it slightly less expensive (and that doesn't even count the gas and time needed to go to the specialty pet store, Target, and the grocery store). 

Amazon has changed the program over time - you no longer get to "lock in" the price at which you subscribed, so I've noticed some things rising in price over time and have had to cancel a few when they got too expensive.  They moved to shipping all subscription items together on the same day each month and I can't adjust that if I need something sooner. You also don't get Prime 2-day shipping on the items, so it can take a week for them to arrive (but they are excellent about getting here before the day Amazon tells me they should arrive).

For the first few months, I had to log in mid-month and adjust things as I figured out how we used them, but now that I've been doing this for a year, most of the "regulars" are set up perfectly.  

Here's a quick list of the things I have on subscription:
  • Soy milk - 8 64oz shelf-stable cartons. Only a few dollars more (total) than Trader Joe's and they show up at my door. We go through more than this in one month, but it's a good start.
  • Wellness "Old Dog" food - this can only be found locally in specialty stores, for almost $20 more than we pay on Amazon. Plus the bag is HEAVY.
  • Organic Applesauce Cups - I use these for T's lunches and quick snacks. Shelf-stable and hard to find locally.
  • Peter Rabbit Organics "Squeezy Fruit" - hard to find locally and much cheaper than individual packs at Whole Foods
  • Larabars - both girls love these, and the price is comparable to Trader Joe's individual price
  • Cetaphil Restoraderm Body Wash - the only thing that works on T's eczema. Not always available locally.
  • Toilet paper - I hate running out of paper products so we buy the big box.
  • Paper towels - Ditto
  • Huggies Overnight Diapers - comparable price to Target which doesn't always have them
  • All Free & Clear Laundry "Pods" - can't find these locally

I'm not a personal finance expert, so I won't claim this is some fantastic money saving trick, but it does help me avoid extra trips to Target, affectionately known as the "$50 store". In addition, we rarely run out of the essentials like toilet paper, overnight diapers, or our favorite kid snacks, so there aren't as many "emergency runs" to the grocery store.  Did I mention I dislike grocery shopping?

If we ever have to go into financial lockdown, I'll re-evaluate whether we need all of these things, but for now it works really well for us to have them just show up at various intervals.  If you're on the fence about setting up a subscription, I'd recommend trying it.  You can cancel items anytime before they ship and adjust the timing as needed. I love it, especially since we don't have any kind of "warehouse club" membership.

And yes, I do have Amazon ads on my blog, but I wrote this post spontaneously. I love me some Amazon shopping.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Lists of 10 and Making JustALittle Progress on Goals

This is another one of those posts where ideas I've read in different places come together and make me think that maybe I'm not *always* wasting time online. Hah, who am I kidding, I waste prodigious amounts of time online.

I finally finished Scott Berkun's Mindfire essays, after the library sent me 2 overdue email notices and a paper one. I'm sure I owe them enough in late fees to have bought my own copy of the book. 

My favorite essay was the one on creativity. I can't find it online, though I suspect it's somewhere on his blog. The salient points were:
  • Creativity isn't some magical power that only a lucky few are blessed with
  • Creativity comes from combining known ideas to make new ones
  • You need to "practice" being creative to get better at it
One of his suggestions was to keep an "idea journal" handy so you can jot down interesting thoughts and ideas. It's a pretty simple concept and reminded me of something I read ages ago about doing a "daily brainstorming practice" in order to keep those creativity brain cells humming.  I wish I remember where I read that, but the only thing I can remember was thinking that the author was a little...odd.

Yesterday a friend posted a link to this fantastic blog post about accomplishing goals by making just 15 minutes a day for them, instead of procrastinating until that mythical time where we'll have a HUGE chunk of time to work. 

Guilty as charged here. Before kids, I worked best under pressure, spending whole days cranking through projects fueled by Starbucks chai and lots of PB&J sandwiches. Well, as you can guess, with 2 kids under 5, I don't get the luxury of whole days to myself to work on personal projects.

My final inspiration was Laura Vanderkam's excellent article listing things to do when you have 5 minutes instead of checking email.

Do something creative with that pocket of time!

I combined all of these concepts with my love of making lists, and made a list of 10 things I could do to further my goals for the year, all of which can be done in little pockets of time. Some of them are one-time tasks that I can cross off, and others are ideas that I can keep using.

10 Quick Ways to Progress
  1. Plan our next meal and make the shopping list 
  2. Take a very short walk (anything more than 5 minutes is a win)
  3. Write a blog post (hello!)
  4. Sort one folder of digital photos
  5. Clean up a small space (counter, shelf, drawer)
  6. Read a few pages of a book for my PMP certification credit on my phone
  7. Figure out how I'll get exercise tomorrow (or today if there's time!)
  8. Come up with 5 Paleo breakfast options
  9. Update my Etsy shop incoming order notes
  10. Create a "template" for meals to make planning easier (eg 2 vegetables, a protein, etc)
Now my challenge is to figure out WHERE to keep this list so I'll see it. I have a OneNote notebook online which I can access on my laptop and phone, but I haven't gotten into the habit of using it. I need this list to be "in my face" so I can avoid the siren song of Facebook and the false promises of a clear Inbox.

But I know it's working, because just reading this list gets me fired up to DO SOMETHING instead of zoning out online. Thoughts?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lately I've been losing sleep

BabyM is not a good sleeper. I won't go so far as to say she's a BAD one, because I know it could be MUCH worse. But at 15 months, I can count on two hands the number of times she has slept through an entire night without waking, and I'm not close to running out of fingers.

Cute, funny, smart. But not a great sleeper. Yet.

There's not much I can do about it now besides vent here. Since Nov 11, we've been in various transitional sleeping situations thanks to the huge home remodel. We moved her crib to my parents' place which was her first time sleeping in a room by herself. After a month, we decided sleeping at home all together at night might be easier, so at night she's in a Pack N Play in the living room, with her sister on a mattress nearby (out of sight) and me on the couch. She still naps at my parents' condo in her crib.

On a great night, she doesn't wake at all. This has happened maybe 6 times EVER. 

On a good night, she'll wake once for milk around 1am, drink it fast and go right back to sleep. 

On a not-so-good night, she'll wake twice for milk but go right back to sleep. 

On a wretched night (like yesterday), she'll wake at 1am, drink milk and then be awake for HOURS, and woe unto us if we try to put her back down. Eventually, around 5am, she'll go back to sleep for a few hours. And of course by then, we can't get back to sleep.

Big Sister T has been oblivious to most of this - once she's out, she sleeps like a ROCK. It's amazing, really.

I know what I need to do with BabyM - work on getting her to stop waking at night for milk and eat more during the day.  Let her cry for a bit after confirming she's ok (doesn't need a diaper or ibuprofen, isn't sick, etc). But we can't start a new sleep plan while we're all camping in our living room.

So we're gritting our teeth and getting through the next couple of weeks. The project is almost finished - we have paint on the walls, bathroom cabinets and counters, some window trim, doors and lighting installed. This week all the flooring should be complete and the following week is for all the little details and cleaning. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, salt over the shoulder, etc. 

And then we can work on getting better sleep around here!  I am so ready to accept that challenge.

For a giggle, check out my friend D's post about parenting and sleep on her shiny new blog.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Currently: January 2014

Inspired by Allison, I'm doing a Currently post for this month. It's hard to believe 2014 is well underway already!

READING - Struggling to find time to finish Scott Berkun's Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds. It's 2 weeks overdue at the library and I'm reading it for continuing education credit for my PMP Project Management certification. Between the nomadic life of the remodeling and figuring out T's new school schedule, finding pockets of time to read isn't easy. It's a fairly easy read, but I like to have time to digest each essay before moving on to the next.

WATCHING - paint dry. Literally. Our entire addition got painted this week. It makes me so happy to see the colors I chose after weeks of contemplation on entire walls in rooms. And it was priceless to watch T's reaction when she saw her Ballet Slippers pink room for the first time.

Follow Anandi's board on Pinterest

MAKING - Lots of One Little Word jewelry and keychains for myself and friends. A client scrapbook for The Papercraft Lab (two pending, three more on the horizon). Life is good.

ANTICIPATING - In 3 more weeks (fingers crossed!), we'll be able to move into the addition! So excited to sleep in our bed again, work on better sleep habits for BabyM, set up the craft room and new playroom, and finally have a linen closet! We may become shut-ins once the project is finished, because we will be so happy to have a real home to ourselves again.

LISTENING - to everything again! We bought two Sonos units and I'm in LOVE. Our music collection is easily accessible in the house over wireless, as is Pandora. Loving Toad the Wet Sprocket's New Constellation - first new album in ages from my Favorite Band Ever.

WANTING - IKEA Expedit shelving for everywhere - playroom, craft room, girls' rooms. Lots and lots of square cubby shelves to put everything in order.  The reality is that we won't be buying much until we can rearrange all of our current furniture and see what we really need.  We also have to figure out window coverings for all of the new windows - boring but necessary as the addition has a lovely view of two of our neighbors' homes.

Got a Currently post?  Let me know in the comments. I love reading these :)

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

I'm on my way, home sweet home

Our huge remodeling construction project is scheduled to finish in 27 days. It's about 2 weeks behind the very aggressive schedule they posted at the beginning. The estimate was 14-16 weeks, but the actual schedule was for 13 weeks. So the 2 extra weeks aren't terribly unexpected, though I cry a little inside every time we meet with our production manager and he moves the schedule.

Someone told me that cats are very attached to the house they live in, and tend to freak out if you have to take them somewhere else. I must be part cat. We've been in a state of limbo for about 8 weeks and I'm feeling very unsettled and unfocused. 

At first we thought it best for me and the girls to move entirely to my parents' condo (which they don't use in winter), and TJ would stay overnight with the dogs at home, after spending the evenings at the condo with us. We did that for about a month, and it was very stressful for me.  Being the nighttime go-to parent every single night is hard!  (And it made me realize how often TJ picks up night duty!)

So once the major demolition was done and the new portion of the house was framed and insulated, we moved back home. We have a living room, family room, bathroom and kitchen available to us, so it's definitely livable. We're camping out in the living room - BabyM in a Pack N Play, T on her mattress on the floor, and one of us on the couch, while the other sleeps downstairs to keep Peanut company.  (He has too much trouble moving on the hardwood floors to sleep upstairs with us.)  Surprisingly, everyone sleeps pretty well in this arrangement. 

Despite being pretty cramped, it was SO much less stressful to have everyone in the same house, even if it was a construction zone. We get up just before the construction guys come, get ready, and leave the house for the day. The girls nap at the condo, and we head back around 4 when the construction is finished for the day. On weekends we hang out at home and it feels pretty good to be all together in OUR house, despite the lack of bedrooms and all of us sharing one bathroom.

This week we're back at the condo full-time because they're priming and painting the addition, and it's pretty stinky. So back to being unsettled and solo parenting at night. For a few days it's not too bad. 

This photo that TJ sent me keeps me going:

My craft room got painted today!  The color is Benjamin Moore 606, Island Paradise, a warm saturated aqua green.  I can't wait to see it after the second coat and in person, but I can already tell from the photo that this was the right choice for me.

This and the attached playroom were on my dream list. A purpose-built space for me and the girls to work together on crafts, schoolwork, and fun. I haven't planned out yet where everything will go, and what else we might need to furnish them (definitely more shelving!) but will play it by ear once we unpack everything.

I haven't posted more photos of the project because I haven't gone through them yet.  We've taken a ton, but our lives have been so complicated - construction, travel, holidays, preschool drama, and of course, Spike.

So I've got to live with another month of unsettled-ness, and then we can move back into our space. So exciting!

Friday, January 03, 2014

I grieve for you

Spike, age 13.75
March 25, 2000 - Jan 2, 2014

We let him go yesterday. It was the saddest thing I've ever had to do. But that takes me immediately to a place of gratitude - my life has been so blessed and lucky that the saddest day of my adult life came at age 38 for a dog who had lived a full and happy life, 10.5 years with us.

A short list of what I'm thankful for, in honor of Beagle:

  • I have a husband who not only gets why I am so sad, but also feels it deeply himself
  • Our vet, Dr. E, who we only met a few weeks ago. So professional and compassionate. I wish we had met her when our guys were young.
  • The three road trips we took with him: my solo trips to Vancouver and the Bay Area, and our family trip to Canada.
  • We had some time to spoil him and say goodbye.
  • The vast number of things that Beagle taught us: 
    • patience (oh the patience he required!) 
    • how to deal with gross things that need to be cleaned up
    • how to live with someone who hears and understands what you're saying but just chooses not to do what you're asking 
    • the best place for napping is the one with the soft blanket and pillows, rules be damned
    • don't settle for kibble when there is lunchmeat available

Thank you for choosing us, little guy.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

This feeling calls for everything that I am not

Spike came to us 10.5 years ago, on my birthday weekend. After we got Peanut and moved to Seattle, we had been thinking about getting another dog. I really wanted a beagle. TJ did not. I saw an ad in the Micronews, the now-defunct internal newsletter at work, for a family looking to find a new home for their 3 year old beagle.

Last week at the dog park, Spike @ 13 years 9 months

I remember the first time I spoke to his previous owner - he called me back during a class I was taking at work. I was so excited about meeting Spike (who started out his life as Scooby, not a good name for a beagle IMO). TJ and I drove over to their house that night, nervous and trying to make a good impression because it was clear they were willing to wait to find the right, good home for their dog.

We thought the best idea would be to dogsit Spike for a weekend so we could make sure he and Peanut would get along. Spike was pretty much all wrong for a second dog choice - he was older than Peanut, hadn't lived with other dogs before, and was also male.

They spent the weekend checking each other out, and quite frankly it was clear Spike didn't like Peanut at all. He wanted to be the dominant dog, but "that stupid big puppy" just didn't get it. Reluctantly by the end of the weekend we were about to return him. Then I looked out the window and saw them actually playing a game of chase, and both were having fun.

So he stayed. He's not a good dog, but he's a nice one. He is not interested in pleasing us, he barks in the yard (sorry neighbors) and never did get the hang of walking nicely on-leash. He got really sick in 2007 after he escaped over the fence at the dog park and ate something gross. He had to be hospitalized for that incident.

Now he's nearly 14 years old. He's got some arthritis, his kidneys are only working at about 25%, and he's got a tumor in his bladder that can't be treated.  A few weeks ago, our vet said he only had a matter of weeks and anything we did was palliative.

I am sad. But we are also lucky. Lucky that we had 10 healthy fun years with him. Lucky that he adjusted to babies in the house, despite being a non-kid-friendly beagle. Lucky that we have some time to say goodbye and love on him.

Spike and Peanut are my first dogs, so I've never had to go through this. I spent a lot of time assiduously ignoring the possibility that one day they won't be with us. 

But now it's time for me to step up. My insightful husband told me a while ago that our dogs would teach our daughter one final life lesson when it's their time to go. It's a lesson for me, too. 

Spike's time is very soon. He started limping today and is obviously in pain, which we're managing with medication. Our vet (bless her) has been calling every few days to check on him. I don't know what the next few days has in store for him, but we will provide him with a warm spot on the couch and all the lunchmeat and aebleskivers he wants. 

Your family loves you, little guy.

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