Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Husband's big week

Courtesy of Jennifer Bramley
Husband had a rather significant few days the week before last. On Tuesday night he received an award from his college (Outstanding Apprentice) and the on Thursday night, he graduated!

We're all so incredibly proud of him. For a long time he didn't really see college as something that was in the cards for him. He'd never enjoyed school, and he already had a good, steady job that supported his family. Pursuing a degree was more of a "that'd be cool but it's not going to happen" than a "someday I will do that" in his mind.

In fall of 2008, he applied for an apprenticeship within his company. It was competitive, but ultimately he was their top pick and he got to choose which path he wanted to take. He decided to take the electrical apprenticeship because, and I shit you not, he said it "won't be as dirty as the mechanical position."

He was wrong, but that's another blog post, and it involves laundry.

The catch to the opportunity was a nearly $4-per-hour pay cut off the bat. Yeah, you read that right. He would receive an evaluation and raise every six months for four years until he was making quite a bit more than his current rate of pay, but at the time I was in school, we had debt, and we were pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck already.

So we talked it out and decided that a few years of discomfort and belt-tightening and, frankly, FEAR, would be worth it in the end for him to receive his college education, paid in full. We refinanced our house, I continued working at my part time job and going to school, and we managed to make our schedules work while Bear was in school.

It was really, really hard. There were several semesters where our credit cards and my student loans kept us afloat. We never missed payments or got into trouble or anything, but money was incredibly tight. And we were dumb, so we still did dumb things sometimes with our money. Things I'd never do now, even though we have more. But I digress.

After a few years in the program, Husband's wages surpassed his pre-apprenticeship rate and things started coming together. We decided to have our Bug, I finished school, we double timed on the debt payoff efforts, and we decided to start working toward our goal of building our dream house.

And that's where this blog began, basically.

So now, after five years in school (because he could only go part time and his school hours counted toward his forty-hour work week), Husband is the proud recipient of his associate of applied science degree as an industrial electrician.

Bear and Bug got to attend both of their parents' college graduations, although Bug was still working on the whole "developing" thing when I walked. Our family could not be prouder of our guy, and we're so happy to put another nail in this custom-built life we're building.

Courtesy of Jennifer Bramley

Monday, May 12, 2014

Little mind games that work for me

I believe in mind over matter. Perhaps not in every situation, of course, as it seems no matter how hard I focus, my coffee simply will not brew, pour, and transport itself to me.

I mean, I'll keep at it, but I think that might be one of the exceptions to the rule.

However. Ahem. Other segues.

I believe that I can generally conjure willpower, courage, trust, motivation...whatever virtue I need, by deciding to. Not always and in every situation, but in many of them, anyway. I do this by playing mind games with myself, because I am a little bit crazy. And also awesome. I use my mind games and tricks to manipulate myself into doing the things I want myself to do but myself does not want to do because myself can be an asshole sometimes, and also lazy.

Here are a few of the ways I make myself do the stuff:

I become indignant

I have always liked to buy things, and am horribly susceptible to advertising. If I see a Wendy's commercial, I want that juicy cheeseburger. I am an advertiser's dream.

Or was.

Over the past few years, I've trained myself to believe that all advertising is evil and conspiratorial (and am I really that far off?). By doing so, I have also learned to rejoice in my ability to "stick it to the man" every time I say no to an impulse purchase. It feels like a victory over The Machine and the naturally rebellious part of my brain absolutely revels in that feeling. I will literally say out loud, "Suck it, Wrigley's! Your bright packaging and promises of fresh breath and long-lasting flavor don't mean SHIT!"

People stare. 

I tell myself I don't have to do it

When I began the excruciating process of packing for our move, and then unpacking after our move (with Husband working MASS hours and going to school), I knew I'd need a plan to keep the overwhelm at bay. So every day I added "pack one box" or "unpack one box" to my to-do list. And it was totally, totally fine if I only packed or unpacked that one box. If I did that, I got to cross it off my list and be finished.

But come on, y'all. You know how it goes when you get on a roll.

So I'd pack, or unpack, one box. And the motivation would kick in and I'd do two to four every single day, without fail. I'm not saying I never got overwhelmed or felt like it would never end. But it got done, and in a timely manner, and there was no mad dash or panic. I just know myself well enough to know that when that motivation bug hits, I will jump on it. All I have to do is swallow the bug.

Best. Metaphor. EVER. Moving on...

I tell myself to "go for it" when I am already in "mid-go"

I have discovered in my tumbling endeavors that sometimes it is very scary to jump backward toward one's head. Or forward toward one's head. Because sometimes said head contacts the floor/mat/trampoline and it is most unpleasant. This leads to two big problems for someone who actually rather LIKES to do things that require head-diving: blocks and balking.

Blocks are a mental thing which prevent us from going for things and can happen for various reasons. Balking is going for the thing and bailing out mid-thing. You with me? Anyway, I have experience with both.

Blocks are harder to get over, but I have discovered that I can prevent myself from balking nine times out of ten by mentally saying, "I'm doing it!" or, "I'm going for it!" halfway through the skill/thing. For example, if I do a roundoff-back-handspring, I mentally say, "I'm going for it!" as I round-off. It's totally mental. I can do the thing easily, physically. But I need my little routine, and for me it has to be a routine I can repeat anywhere. If it relied on location or something like that, I'd never be able to put the skill/thing in any different conditions.

I ask my stuff what it's done for me lately

When it comes to uncluttering and getting rid of things, I can be pretty ruthless. But everyone gets stuck sometimes, you know? A lot of organization blogs and articles tell us to ask ourselves when we last used an item, or if we truly love/use/need it.

I ask it to defend itself.

It's the same thing, only I put the onus on the stuff. Of course, the stuff doesn't talk (I'm not THAT crazy yet), but in my head I imagine how my questionable possessions might argue for their place in my home. If their argument sucks (and it often does), out they go. But if it's something like my Crock Pot, which is all, "Um, bitch, I made you some delicious pork chops with gravy two days ago while you ran errands and played Words with Friends, and then I got clean in the dishwasher. #handwashingsucks #SUCKIT," then obviously it gets to stay.

But the paraffin spa that I HAD to have ten years ago, which Husband bought for me and I used exactly ONCE, sounds more like, "Well, you know, funny you should ask. Remember that time I covered your hands in hot wax and made them ever-so-slightly softer, and it was totally fine and not inconvenient that you couldn't use your hands for half an hour, and then it was no big deal to wait over an hour for me to cool down and you really enjoyed all the wax-scraping and clean-up? Good times! I am totally worth the 18" X 12" X 12" space I take up in the bottom of the linen closet!"

Things did not end well for the paraffin spa.

So okay, now you've seen a smidgen of my brand of crazy, but since I explained it to you it makes total sense, right? Feel free to borrow my mind games and adapt them to your own purposes. They are very effective and make me get things done and not be a big coward and/or hoarder. You're welcome.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Because she needs to hear it from me, more than anyone

I told my daughter the other day that I love my body. And it was not a lie, actually. I'm not saying my belly and I don't have our bad days together, or that I never shoot my thighs the stink-eye, or that I don't cringe when I see photos of myself, or that I have some weird, reverse-dysmorphia where I see rock-hard abs and defined biceps where my far more typical lady-softness is.

I'm saying that, in general, I love this body, I make no apologies for it, and my kids need to know that.

My daughter needs to know how cool I think it is that my thirty-three-year-old ass can do gymnastics. My son needs to know that my body is mine (and his is his, and everyone's is his or her own) and respect that. My daughter needs to know that fashion and "beauty" magazines are ridiculous and stupid (which is why I regularly show her things like THIS and we laugh together) and that mama does not compare herself to the photographs inside them. My son needs to know that a woman (or a man; who knows?) does not owe it to him to be skinny, or even just thin.

That blurry, purple and grey, flying thing is ME.

My kids need to know that mama is proud of this one body, the only one she will ever have, and that she values its awesomeness enough to respect it and try to make it last as long as possible.

So we were in the car and I can't even remember how the conversation came up, but I said, in so many words, "I really love my body." Because how many among us ever heard our mothers actually say those words?

And then I explained why I love it, and how important it is to me to give it respect and thanks for the awesome stuff it does for me. And I mentioned that it irritates me how the media uses computers to make changes to women's bodies in magazines or on tv, and how indignant I feel when I hear talk of how women are supposed to look because genetics aren't one-size-fits-all and that's just science, people. And she was really, really listening.

And I really, really hope it meant something to her, because I'm going to say it again, and again, and again.

One of these days, something will make her doubt the value of her own body. A model in a magazine, or an off-handed comment, or a tv show, or a super-fit friend or acquaintance, or a scale with all its stupid numbers. Something will put a chink in her body confidence armor.

And I want her to be armed and ready to shut that shit down.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It's Gone!

Less than a half a second letter, that stick connected with my chest.
As of Friday, Jen and Husband are no longer home owners. We closed on our house, passed on the keys, and left a little gift behind for the new owners. It feels weird, after eleven years, that I am no longer allowed to go into that house anytime I want. It's not mine. Someone else owns all the rights to it. I guess I could try, but I feel like the new owners might not be cool about it.

Some people are really touchy.

Back when I started this blog, my intention was to chronicle our home building and moving process, with lots of life-stuff and the things I find in my weird brain mixed in. I laid out our Super Awesome Plan and we got to work on it immediately. Putting it in list form was key. I work very well with lists.

I'm extremely proud to say that we have officially checked off numbers one (admit we have a problem), two (get out of debt), three (purge the toxins), five (ready the house for sale), and six (sell this bitch). We altered our plan and five became four and four became seven, probably, and it was all very exhausting.And technically we still have debt, as we have a car payment and my student loans, but all the credit card debt is paid off. And that was pretty much the main focus of that effort.

So that was a little more than two years ago. We made a plan and we saw it through. And it was literally the hardest thing I've ever done. Harder than maintaining an 'A' average in college while pregnant—twice. Harder than giving birth, also twice. There was a lot of crying, frustration, hopelessness, fear, doubt, etc. Lots. LOTS. that we've passed our first home on to a new family and settled comfortably into the house we're renting, it's time to shift our focus. We get to take a few years off from updating and repairing and worrying about the housing market and turn our thoughts to our future. And the biggest future-y thing on our minds right now is our financial plan.

Talking about personal finance can be a bit tacky, and I maintain my right not to go into great detail, but in the interest of thinking about the future, I do want to talk a bit about our goals.We have many of them.

First and foremost, after the stress of preparing and selling a home, we think we deserve a few months to do nothing big, and the timing is perfect for that with summer break on the horizon. We're going to turn our attention to making our rental house feel more like "home" to us. This will include:

  • Painting the rooms on the main floor a really lovely gray(when we get to it)
  • Painting Bug's room blue (we asked him what color he wanted, which was risky, but it worked out! I was sure he'd say, "Black!" or, "Red!")
  • Finally painting our ugly, black lacquer bedroom furniture (when I feel like it)
  • Making the back yard a fun place for the kids to play and for guests to come enjoy with us (I have some cool plans, but I haven't started on them yet, so I'll share them when I actually do something with them)
  • Taking a week off for a "staycation" (whenever we WANT)

In addition to the house-y stuff, we are also looking forward to:

  • Re-evaluating our budget and savings plan now that we have only one house to pay for
  • Buying Husband a new car, in cash, and not acquiring any more debt
  • Rebuilding our savings with the goal of putting down 20% on our new home

These are the things we intend to accomplish this summer. Well, not saving the 20% down payment in one summer, but starting on it. Slowly.

No big decisions aside from the car, no major purchases aside from the car, no added stress. After years of thinking of nothing except for moving on and putting all of our attention toward that goal, we feel like we deserve a few months to have fun and enjoy life.

Thanks for continuing along on this insane thing with me. I'm beginning to believe we might actually pull this off. You know—as long as I make us a list.

And here are a few more of our "last photos":

Bug and me in the kitchen. I had, um, something in my eye. Ahem.

Daddy and Bug in the kitchen.

I had to coerce her to hug me in Husband's and my old bedroom. Husband put in that overhead lighting.

Bear needed one, final climb in her favorite tree.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

More Favorite Things

I dislike a lot of things. And people. And situations. But also, I like some stuff. Here is some more of that stuff.

Yogi Bedtime Tea

I love to add a little honey and lemon to this and drink it while I watch Downton Abbey on my laptop after Bug is asleep. It keeps me from snacking, which I am wont to do while I watch tv, and it just seems somehow apropos. And it's really delicious. I don't have a tea kettle or any fancy, loose-leaf steeping whatzamahoozits. These little bags do the trick. And maybe it's just a placebo things, but I really do feel like the tea helps me relax and fall asleep more easily.

My Kindle Fire

My beloved Kindle died last fall, so for my birthday in January, Husband bought me a Kindle Fire. I love it. I keep it in my purse most of the time and it's great to have while Bear is in Shakespeare group or her tumbling class. I use it for audio books, too, which is VERY handy when I'm at the dentist or while I'm sewing.

Speaking of sewing...

My sewing machine and new (to me) sewing table

I used my sewing machine a LOT last fall, making handmade Christmas gifts for about half the people on our list. When we moved I had nowhere to put it and it sat in a tote, lonely, while my stack of projects-in-waiting piled up. I recently went on Craigslist and found the perfect table to set up in the guestroom. I can leave my machine set up all the time, except when we have guests, at which time there is a spot for it inside the table.

Amazon Prime and Hulu

When we moved, Husband and I decided it was the perfect opportunity to cancel our DISH service for good and see how we liked getting by with streaming services. It's WAY less expensive, and while there are some conveniences we've had to forgo, it's working really well for us. We have an X-Box and a Wii, so we can stream our shows to both TV's. I usually watch on my laptop with my headphones in. And we can access our accounts on Husband's iPod and my Kindle. And the desktop. It's basically awesome.

Those are some of my current, favorite things. They all make my life simpler and more enjoyable in some way, which is really all I want these days.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Update That is Not Really an Update but Kind of....or Something

As you all (and by all, I mean both...) know, we're in the throes of house-selling hell at the moment. The good news is—and I am knocking on wood here, with every knock-ready body part I have, including my head, which is rather painful and is making me a little dizzy and I should probably just stick to using my knuckles from here on out—we are under contract.

We've been under contract for several weeks, but these things have a way of going south rather quickly for any one of about ninety-three different possible factors, so I have avoided writing about it here because Jinx is a nasty bastard.

Now that we've had our inspection and appraisal and have agreed on a satisfactory deal with our buyers, I feel like I can breathe a little. Not that something couldn't still happen, of course. A good eighty-five of those ninety-three potential Bad Things are still possible in the two weeks and five days before we are scheduled to close. But we ARE scheduled to close, and I need to celebrate that. As of April 23rd, if the Universe doesn't decide to nut-punch us, we should no longer be homeowners. And then we can move on with our financial goals because we will no longer be sinking large amounts of money into a house no one lives in.

Remember when our living room looked like the photo on the left before our yard sale? Good times.

Our buyers have been really great. None of the little hiccups we've encountered in this deal have been their fault in any way, and their inspection requests were completely reasonable and affordable. Imma leave them flowers and cookies in the kitchen when we close.

So that's it for now. I am going to go back to holding my breath for a few weeks. If you notice I've turned blue, just let it be.  I'll take another breath on April 23rd, when the ink begins to dry and the keys have been handed over.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Things that I am doing

It's on the market, for real! Someone please buy it!
I hate moving. I love having moved. I hate unpacking. I love having unpacked.

So with that in mind, unpacking has been the name of the game for the past three weeks. It took awhile, but we finally got the kitchen up and running, so we are eating real food at home instead of the disgusting-but-somehow-still-delicious fast food crap we'd been eating for weeks. Baked chicken tenders never tasted so good.

Settling in has been challenging, but we're getting there. The house is great, bigger and much better suited to our family's needs than our old house. The kitchen is smaller, but we've adapted by buying a free-standing pantry and microwave stand to free up some space. They fit perfectly in the dining room and we can use them in the garage when we build our house in a few years. We went with function over form, so they're not gorgeous show pieces or anything, but they suit our needs for now.

Husband is enamored of the wood burning stove in the basement. He's had a fire almost every night since we moved in. I am enamored of how much light comes in during the day. I can get up and open window shades and not have to turn on any lights until early evening.

The dining room and living room are still full of boxes, because some of our furniture was left at the old house for staging purposes. So we have no couches or dining table for the moment, which sucks, but hopefully we'll get an offer soon and can have our furniture back.

The kids are adjusting well. They love their rooms and Husband and I love ours.

I did a pretty big round of decluttering when we packed up to move, and I've been doing it again as we unpack. I took two boxes to Goodwill last week, we unloaded some things on Craigslist and Freecycle, and I'm nowhere near finished. Husband and I agreed that we both want to live in this larger house with less stuff. We are not afraid of empty shelves and drawers. In fact, we're hoping for them. I feel no need to fill every nook with more crap I have to keep track of and clean.

So that's where we are at the moment. I'm perpetually exhausted, especially since we started back with our lessons last week after a five-week (MUCH needed) break. But it's good. We're finding our rhythm again. The kids are developing a routine and so are Husband and I.

Once we get the boxes unpacked, I'll take some pictures of the new place and show you around. Sorry for the boringness here. I am fresh out if wit and humor at the moment. I'm pretty wiped, actually, but it's good. Good stuff.