Saturday, February 6, 2016

Freedom from Small Frugality

Here is a list of things I don't care about since our income doubled:

- Selling at consignment sales. My time is now valued at $X/hour, and these consignment sales have always returned about $X-90% per hour. It feels weird to just give away all these clothes that I could "make money on", but it's a far better use of my time and energy - instead of organizing, hanging, tagging, and delivering the clothes to the sale I can spend the time hanging out with my family. (I'll probably still go shopping there.)

- Selling my shopping habits. Surveys and programs like Checkout 51 were a way that I made (very) incremental money without going too much out of my way. Most people don't realize that they are in fact selling their data by doing these activities but that's exactly what's going on. Marketers want this information so they can be smarter about how to sell to you in the future. This always makes me vaguely uncomfortable if I think about it too hard, so I'm relieved to not feel like I need to monetize my behavior. I uninstalled tracking programs, unsubscribed from email surveys, and closed accounts at the various places that used to give me spare change for my data.

- Sunk costs. I'm not looking at past money spent to figure out how to recoup it. Sunk costs have in the past been a thing that really bothered me and I'd spent a lot of time and energy trying to "make it up". There are a couple of sunk costs in the last month that I've just shrugged at, which is a much easier way to move forward (to be clear, I'm learning a lesson from them - I'm just not spending time trying to get my money's worth out of something that is a lost case).

I haven't lost all my frugal habits! I still pick up found change, look for Cartwheel deals or coupons on stuff I'm buying anyway, pick the better-priced option at the store, try not to waste food, and pay attention to what I spend. But having a second income has really freed me from some of the more burdensome of my frugal habits, and that's been a nice change of pace.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

SAHM No More

Little Miss Moneybags is now a working mom!

There's so much to the story that it's hard to figure out where to start. The last month has been fairly chaotic - we've bounced around from both ends of the "SAHM returning to the workforce scale" and looked at multiple options for childcare. We've been frugal in some ways and spendthrift in others. Each event has enough to talk about to generate its own post, but I don't know if I'm ever going to catch up to my own life in that regard, so I'll just sum up here.

I've been home for about three years, since Pickle came home from her very long NICU stay. While I never intended to be a stay at home mom it was definitely the right choice for our family at that time and I am so, so thankful that Peanut and I had made arrangements in case it was required - we were able to be a one-income family without any trouble, and still managed to cash flow every month (even with emergencies), pay down student loan debt and save for retirement, and live comfortably. To be sure, our emergency fund is nowhere near where I'd like it to be, we've managed to do no college savings for our kids (aside from gifts they've been given for that purpose), and while Peanut has done very well increasing his earnings every year, our expenses have risen as well. After about two and a half years at home, I started to feel a little stir-crazy and was having a pretty hard time emotionally and intellectually with the challenges of being around small children 24/7. It got to the point where we felt like even if we had to take a loss on childcare costs in order to get me back into the workforce, it would be worth it for our family.

I took a standard approach to job searching - applying for relevant positions, letting my network know I was looking - and also reached out to companies that might have a need but no job posted. I had a lot of interviews but wasn't getting any offers. I had just started thinking seriously about starting a full-time freelance business when I got an offer for part-time work. Freelancing was very much a last resort for me (the whole point of going back to work was to get out of the house and talk to other adults every day, and I've talked before about how I don't want to be an entrepreneur). So I took the part-time job, even though it didn't cover daycare expenses.

In a way, it was a nice transition back into the working world and possibly a better transition for the kids to be away from me only three days a week instead of five. It's been great to be working but not awesome to know that we are literally paying a price for me to do that, not to mention the additional costs of my commute and the additional food costs (lunches out, takeout for dinner, and a lot of food waste that I wasn't able to manage very well). But it definitely fit in with the stories I've heard of women who stay home for a few years - what it does to our career trajectory, what it sets us up for in the future. Well, this is my bed, and I'll lie in it.

Then, the old saying that the easiest way to get a job is to have a job came true for me. A series of events led to me being offered a high-level position with unbelievable pay (more than Peanut will make for several more years), excellent benefits (financial and otherwise), challenging work, something that makes a few ticks on my bucket list and also sets up the rest of my career in an interesting and possibly life-changing way. Literally overnight, I went from being a drain on the family finances to the breadwinner and a potential employer, as we can now afford things like a nanny and a housecleaner. Peanut has the opportunity to take some creative risks with his own career. This is the kind of thing I dreamed might happen after leaving the workforce, but I never actually thought it would happen. It's very much like winning the lottery - it's made that kind of difference in our family's financial future.

It's been a little bit mind-boggling, to say the least. I'm hoping that as things shake out I'll have more time to talk about it here - there's a lot to unpack.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2016 New Years Resolutions

Well, perhaps one of my resolutions should be to finish what I start, since it's taken me more than the first full week of the year to finish this list! Better late than never, I guess - I took the time to think hard about these instead of dashing off some less personal resolutions.

1. Say hello first. I've noticed that I often wait for someone else to be the first to acknowledge me when I'm not sure what else to do - things like dragging the garbage cans out to the curb at the same time as a neighbor, or waiting at preschool pick-up with another parent. It feels like we should say hi or maybe chat a little, but I am waiting for someone else to take the lead. I'm going to say hello first from now on, whenever the opportunity comes up.

2. KonMarie my house. I've been decluttering according to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and it is, indeed, life-changing. But there are some areas of the house I haven't really tackled as well as I could - my own wardrobe, my book collection, the basement in general. I've gotten rid of a ton of stuff, but I know there's more that I can send back out into the world.

3. Pay for childcare. Things are hap-hap-happening on the job front, which is great, and I have some other opportunities as well. This requires paid childcare (and probably additional free childcare from my in-laws). My goal is to earn enough net income to pay the childcare bills - and a nice bonus would be bring in a little more than that, too.

4. Better sleep hygiene. I go on jags about this where I'm good about it and then I fall into terrible habits like watching Scandal for two hours later than I wanted to stay up. My kids have better bedtime routines than I do, and this is an area where I need to treat myself like a kid, I guess, and get strict.

5. Be curious about parenting. I often feel frustrated that things don't go the way I expect them to with my kids. I find that when I just let things unfold, I am almost always pleasantly surprised. I learn things that I didn't know they can do, just by wondering if they can - so my goal this year is to be curious more often and see what develops.

6. Align how I spend my time with what I want to be doingThis article about a seminar that helps first-year college students plan the next four years of their lives struck a chord with me, particularly the suggestion to make a list of how you want to spend your time, and then to make a list of how you actually spent your time the previous week. I know that there would be quite a disparity between my lists, so I'm striving to make active, conscious choices on a daily basis that brings those two things closer into alignment.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 New Years Resolutions Recap

1. Less yelling. When I failed this one, I failed pretty spectacularly, so it's hard for me to dwell on it too long. I know that there were moments that I managed to succeed, but the moments that stay with me are the ones where I tripped up. On the plus side, I made the effort, I did a lot of research on parenting approaches to give me more tools to deal with frustration or manage our lives in such a way that yelling is less likely, and we've taken steps to mitigate the situations I have the hardest time dealing with.

2. Get stronger. I felt pretty weak physically at the beginning of 2014 after spending almost a full year in a high-risk pregnancy and then recovering from a c-section. I didn't manage to get any kind of regular exercise routine in place, but I did make an effort to walk to the park or preschool, take the stairs, carry both kids at once, and even do some home-based yoga for a while. I feel almost back to my old self. I'm in as good of shape as can be expected for this period of my life, I think. 

3. Treasure the moment.  At the end of 2015, I will have a preschooler and a toddler - no babies. I wrote that sentence a year ago, and it literally brought a tear to my eye today to realize that it's true. Baby Bear is a full-blown toddler, with full-blown toddler tantrums, a toothy grin, and those first wobbly steps about to appear any minute. This year, it has been really hard to treasure the moments - Baby Bear has been a much more difficult baby than Pickle ever was (colic, constantly nursing, never sleeping - oh, god, the not sleeping) so I have very much looked forward to milestones instead of sniffing baby heads and pinching baby toes. This is a year I will be relieved to never have to live through again, but I think I've managed to notice and be present for a lot of the really amazing moments (like the other day, when Pickle asked to sing Baby Bear a song for his nap, and then rubbed his back and sang to him in an eerily familiar mimicry of the way I do it for her). 

4. Max out retirement. Success! We maxed out our Roth IRAs and Peanut contributed to his SEP IRA to get the employer match (which has not always been managed correctly, but it's been documented and sooner or later all the money will show up there). 

5. Bring in some side income. Success! I sold a bunch of baby stuff, medical supplies, books, and other household items, participated in a medical research study, and did some Swagbucks/survey/reward app things. It wasn't a ton of money, but it did add up, and I also tried hard to find ways to save money on regular spending, which is a good use of my time as well. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up

I'm late to the game reviewing this weird little book, but I just read it over the weekend and it's really stuck in my mind.

I'm a fairly neat person, and I like to declutter. I'm not terribly sentimental (example: I throw out Pickle's preschool art projects with impunity!). I have a slightly bad habit of thinking I'll get around to things that I won't get around to (example: fixing broken snaps on cloth diapers) and I definitely have a bad habit of saving things that I think I can make money from selling, instead of donating them as soon as I decide I don't need them anymore.

Even so, this book gave me such a kick in the pants.

Basically, the author says to ask - of every item that you own - "does this spark joy?" Most decluttering books encourage you to find things to get rid of (Flylady's 27 Thing Boogie, for example) but this one asks you to focus on what you want to keep. This slight but fundamental difference in approach becomes huge when magnified by each and every possession in your home.

For me, it helped identify the guilt aspect: the things I was hanging onto because I used to love them, or thought I should love them, or because I wanted to get around to making/fixing/doing/reading it someday (even though I knew I wouldn't), or because someone had given it to me. If the item is tinged with any of those things, it cannot also spark joy for me, and so this question has helped me identify a LOT more things to get rid of. All the old cloth diapers, books upon books, almost an entire closet full of clothing. I haven't gone through the kitchen yet but can already think of things to donate. It's obscene, really, to see how many things I have here that I don't love.

Another thing the author suggests is to thank your things for their service to you. She takes it a little too far in the woo direction for my liking (thanking your handbag each day for its work? Um.) but the general principle of appreciating what something did for you when it came into your life - even if you only wore it once or had fun imagining what you would do with it, that's enough. Acknowledge that, and pass the item along.

Combine those concepts with her approach to organizing clothes, and frankly, I'm astonished at the difference in my home in just the last three days. As I job-search in earnest, I'm starting to feel a little guilty about all the things I didn't accomplish while staying home these last three years (cuz, you know, I wasn't busy from dawn til dusk as it was!). So I'm trying to clear things out in anticipation of truly never having the time to do it again.

Have you read The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up? What did you think of it?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Back on the market

Peanut and I have decided to radically shake up our lives. I suppose there are a couple ways we could do this, but we decided to go for the one that will (hopefully) have the best long-term impact on our finances.

I'm going back to work.

Staying home with kids was always only a temporary plan, made necessary by Pickle's health issues. As those have resolved themselves, I've wondered how I would know when the time would be right for me to go back.

The reality is, it'll never be right. Someone will always be too small or daycare will always be too expensive or it will always be easier for me to be home to have dinner on the table. But I'm not fulfilled staying home - heck, some days I'm not even happy to be here, and Peanut has carried the burden of supporting all of us without the freedom to take some career risks himself.

It'll be big changes, for sure. And who knows how long it will take for me to find the right job. I've found some that seem perfect on paper, and I've had two interviews, so that's promising. I've started researching child care. I've started thinking about what can be outsourced (housecleaning?) and how our routines can be altered. I've started daydreaming about talking to other adults on a regular basis.

I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much in case the job search takes a while, but I'm excited about the future! (And, yeah, this is why we're keeping the old Mazda for now - we each need a vehicle that can transport children if they're going to be in daycare.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Shiny New Car! Part II: The Happy Ending

So, after we realized that the Mazda5 was not the car for us, we went to a couple of new car dealers to just see what was out there (new dealers mainly because they were the ones open on a Saturday night when we decided to do this. We never considered buying an actual new car.).

That gave me some ideas, but then a few days later I had the chance to drop the kids off with my mother-in-law and go to a CarMax. I had poked around their website and liked that they had a bunch of makes and models available to see all in one place, and (ha!) most of their vehicles are previous rental vehicles so they were exactly what we were looking for.

(Just to head this off, this is also not a sponsored post, but I'm a pretty happy customer.)

I went in and had a chat with the salesperson, who told me up front that he gets paid a flat rate per each vehicle sale, as opposed to a higher commission for a fancier car and a lower commission for a more basic car.

We walked around and sat in a bunch of different cars, and test drove a couple. I liked two of them, and arranged for Peanut to come in that evening and test drive those two and see what he liked. They were about $5,000 apart in price, with the more expensive one right at the top of our price range. He ended up test driving only the less expensive one (a Rav4), liked it fine, and we bought it.

I wish it was that simple - it was a mountain of paperwork that took forever while I fed Pickle treats out of the vending machine and my mother-in-law drove Baby Bear around in circles in the parking lot so he'd stay asleep. I hope to never finance a car ever again simply for how long the process took!

Because, yeah, we did finance part of it. We put down $5,000 of the total cost (it was right around $18,000) and financed the rest at the lowest interest rate our sales person had seen in months (1.95%!). We also upgraded to a remote starter, which is simply astonishing in how it has made my life wonderful (and it's not even that cold yet!). We had it checked out by our personal mechanic during the five day period when we could return it with no consequences, and it got a clean bill of health, although I did end up having to take it back in the first month to have a tire patched (luckily the tire pressure light had come on during Peanut's test drive, so it was fixed as a warranty issue).

All in all, it was a great experience. And even better, I really like the car - it's so much easier to get the kids in and out of the car seats, it feels safer and sturdier, it gets really good gas mileage, it fits all my stuff in it, and there's more leg room up front. And the remote starter! How wonderful to start my car from the house, and dash the kids out there after it's all warm. Brilliant.

Oh, and what we will be doing with our old Mazda? Well, the plan was to sell it, privately, since we figured we could get the most money that way. We're waiting to have it detailed, but we might end up keeping it after all. Ch-ch-ch-changes are afoot!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Shiny New Car! Part I: The Fake Out

I have only ever bought cars from private sellers, cash on the hood, so to speak. But this time around, we weren't really sure what we were looking for, or how we wanted to buy, so we went a different route.

First of all, I did some researching online. I knew I preferred an SUV to a minivan, but I really like the sliding doors of a van (I can't tell you how many times someone has parked too close to me in a parking lot and I've had to do all sorts of weird contortions to maneuver a kid through a six-inch-wide gap.) I narrowed it down to a long list of SUVs and a very short list of minivans, and the car that I thought would be a perfect mix - the Mazda5.

Then I started looking for one to test drive, with some strict criteria. We were looking for recent model years, low mileage, and a good deal, and preferably not a high-pressure sales environment. There were no such vehicles with clean titles in our area on Craigslist, and we couldn't find any at any close car dealers either, so we started looking at rental car fleet purchases.

I found out about this from the keychain on our last rental car - most large rental companies let you buy specific vehicles out of their fleet. It gets inventory off their hands with little effort, and the cars are priced a lot better than dealers, since the rental car company doesn't have to deal with a third party inflating the price. And as luck would have it, Hertz had several Mazda5s to choose from in our area.

Now, the way the program works is that you are selecting a specific vehicle from the fleet (whereas when you rent a car, you rent from a category). So you have to wait for your specific car to be returned if it's out on rental, then to be cleaned and inspected, then to be delivered to the rent to buy location. So we knew it wasn't going to be a fast process.

The first car was supposed to be ready for us to pick up on a Saturday, but we never received the confirmation call to go get it. We kept checking with the office and finally got the news - the car had been wrecked while it was rented out and was totaled. So....bummer. They had a second vehicle with similar mileage and price in a different color, so we signed up for that one. We were supposed to pick it up two weeks later.

This time we got the news the day before we were supposed to pick it up - the vehicle had been returned in such "disgusting" condition that it could no longer be sold. I have spent far longer than I'd like to admit wondering what someone could do to a car that would make it so gross, and what they do with such a vehicle since they can no longer sell it. What's wrong with people?!

So, third time's the charm - we reserved yet another car, at slightly higher mileage and with a slightly lower price. We picked it up two weeks later.

Now, one of the things that I really liked about the Hertz buying program is that you get a three-day test drive. If you like the car, you keep it and do the paperwork online. If you don't like it and return it within two hours, there's no charge. If you return it later than two hours but within the three-day period, you pay a decent rental fee and there are no further obligations. I like this because it gives you a chance to test drive the car in different situations (day, night, city, highway), see how it will fit in the garage, see how it works with your car seats and all your strollers and groceries, and everything else.

Now, keep in mind that we started this three-day test drive blind - we hadn't driven any other cars and all my research had been done online. And it turns out that we hadn't even started the car up before Peanut and I privately each had serious doubts about this being the car for us. (Before we drove it, we checked it out extensively inside and out - after all, you are committing to this particular car so you want to make sure that everything works like it's supposed to and all the features are there.) After driving it, we were even more sure that it wasn't what we'd hoped for. So we returned it the next day and started from scratch.

All those weeks of waiting and being faked out...just to realize that we should have spent an afternoon at a Mazda dealer checking cars out before deciding that this was the model we wanted. Lesson learned! Decide on a kind of car in person, then see if it's available at Hertz.

(I still think the program is great, and if they'd had the kind of car I ended up liking, I would totally have used them. It was weird that the first two cars didn't end up being available for us, but I think that was a fluke, and I appreciated that they were honest with us that the condition of both of those cars wasn't worthy of being sold. This isn't a sponsored or affiliated post in any way; I just think it's a neat option that not many people are aware of when it comes to car buying.)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Happy Monday!

Here's a meal plan and a quick list of stuff that has kept me away from the computer this month.

Sunday - crockpot salsa chicken, avocado lime rice
Monday - hibachi chicken and shrimp
Tuesday - Southwest chicken salad
Wednesday - corn & zucchini pie, roasted carrots
Thursday - crockpot chicken pot pie soup and biscuits
Friday - salmon, baked potatoes
Saturday - who cares, but I'm not cooking!

Neat stuff that's been keeping me busy:
* We bought a car! I'll write a full post on that soon, but it was a six week process of frustration that ultimately has a happy ending.

* Pickle is.....EATING BY MOUTH! We will keep her feeding tube in until cold & flu season is over, just in case, but I can safely say that this little girl is the boss of what goes in her body now. She worked harder to get here than I have ever worked for anything in my life, and I am so proud of her.

* Baby Bear is....ON THE MOVE! He's crawling, pulling up, and cruising, and with a few more weeks of practice he's going to be running all over the place.

* Peanut moved his cell phone service over to Ting, and we're pretty pleased with it so far. I'll be switching soon too, and we'll reduce our cell phone bill by almost half. I hope to write a post about this too.

* Not much new other than that on the money front. I try not to pay too much attention to our retirement funds because they've been so up and down lately.

What's new with you?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Meal plan

Someday, it will not be my responsibility to feed any other human besides myself. I look forward to that day...but it is not today. So in the meantime, I meal plan.

This week is a little unusual in that we have three dinners out - but I've got plans for the other nights.
Monday - dinner out for a family birthday
Tuesday - date night; kids get chicken rice, meatballs and veggies with the babysitter
Wednesday - Mexican quinoa
Thursday - steak and potatoes
Friday - BLTs
Saturday - dinner at the apple orchard

Breakfasts are yogurt and granola, cocowheats, or bagels. I'm working on planning out the kids' snacks, too, so that they are more balanced than goldfish crackers and applesauce - so we've also got peanut butter toast, fruit, yogurt, sandwich crackers, cottage cheese, broccoli pancakes, cheese sticks. If you've got kids, what are your favorite well-rounded snacks that you can carry with you or pull together in five minutes?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Life Skills 101

I was thinking today about how I'd like to take a refresher course in Home Ec. This is kind of silly, because basically my entire life right now is Home Ec (cooking, sewing, caring for kids), so shouldn't I be teaching it instead of wanting someone to teach it to me? And then I was wondering if they still teach Home Ec in school. I took it in high school, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's not offered anymore, which would be a shame. I'd rename it Life Skills and in addition to cooking, baking, and sewing on a button, I'd include a number of new things, like how to change a tire, get a virus off a computer, negotiate the price of a large purchase, budget a paycheck, and make simple repairs in the home (fixing a hinge or broken shelf, for example).
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
Word, Bob. Word.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Fall consignment sale update

So the fall consignment sale is over, and I had a request to make an update on how things went. This was a big year for me - I sold all of our little baby equipment, a few toys, and a bunch of clothes. I'm not sure exactly how many items I dropped off, but 139 things sold - which is probably more than 75% of what I dropped off. (The rest will be donated to a charity, and I'll get tax paperwork related to that.) I make 60% of what sells, and my check will be around $300. I'd guess it's at least what I'd get by doing a yard sale, maybe better since most of the clothing sold for $2-4 and at a yard sale each piece would be priced at $1 or less. And even better, I didn't have to actually sit outside for three days to make those sales!

I went shopping on half-price day, and got a potty, potty insert, four pairs of shoes, two coats, five pajamas for Baby Bear, and a bunch of stuff for Pickle (eight pants, three sweaters, one skirt, two outfits, and three pajamas) and some other things for $75. I had hoped that this would be all the shopping I needed to do for them until next spring, but a lot of the stuff didn't fit Pickle well - she's so slim that getting pants that stay up but are long enough is a big challenge, especially now that she doesn't have diapers to help hold them up. I can modify a couple of them to fit her better, but I think I'm going to either need to take her to a store or start making her clothes for a while. As she gets older, there isn't as much choice in clothing (infant clothes don't get worn out, but toddler clothes do) and we might have to try some stuff on in person to find some brands that work for her consistently.

I will keep using these consignment sales for selling and buying. It's the easiest way for me to make some money for the stuff we're getting rid of, and also the easiest way for me to get what we need for the upcoming season. I'm trying to stay on top of hanging and tagging stuff as the kids outgrow it instead of doing it in big frantic batches as the sale approaches. I'm also less focused on using it as a vehicle to make money and considering clothing to be handed down - we now have some girl cousins who can use Pickle's old clothing, and perhaps someday there will be a boy cousin as well - so I'm starting to store some of the cutest items or the ones that were given to us by people who will get to see those outfits used on more kids.

In addition, I'll probably start getting rid of more toys - we're getting more toys (and more annoying toys) as the kids get older and I'm trying to keep the clutter to a minimum, so I'm going to start pruning our toyboxes more regularly and more ruthlessly.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Five Frugal Things

Inspired by the Non-Consumer Advocate, here are some frugal things I've done lately.

1. I made soup from scratch, using up a bunch of bits of things in the fridge that weren't going to last much longer. It hit the spot on this cool Minnesota fall-is-almost-here day.

2. I bought more than $300 worth of groceries from Target for $1.83. We are serving dinner at Ronald McDonald House to pay forward the meals that we received while Pickle was in the hospital, and my mother in law was able to get Target to donate $250 to cover the cost of the food. By shopping carefully, using Cartwheel deals, coupons, and her employee discount, we stretched the money a lot further. (And, that $1.83 that I spent out of pocket is tax deductible!)

3. I dragged a bunch of stuff out to the kids' consignment sale the other day. I made more than $120 in commission after the first day of sales! On the one hand, I think maybe I priced my big items a little too cheaply since they sold immediately; on the other, I think that this is money in my pocket and I don't have all that junk in my house anymore, so who cares.

4. I will go shopping at the same consignment sale - but I will only go on the last day, which is half-price day. I used to go to the consignor's pre sale to get first dibs on the stuff, but then there's no discount. Now I hold out - there are still plenty of great things to go around by the end of the sale.

5. I've given up soda - more because of the sugar content than because of the cost, but that won't go unnoticed either. I watched Fed Up a couple weeks ago and it really made an impact on me. I have a terrible sweet tooth, and it's been a struggle to weed out all the sugar, but soda was an obvious thing to cut.

What frugal things have you been up to lately?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Update in list form, and a PSA

I have lots to write about, but no time to form thoughts, much less sentences.

In brief:

* Pickle has started preschool! We went with a program through the parks & rec department, so it's very affordable. We started at two days a week but might bump up to four since she really seems to love it
* Pickle is turning three! Her birthday party will be a frugal affair: cake (made by me) at home (no venue cost) with immediate family only. I might spring for balloons this year, but I'd like to keep things small and manageable.
* Baby Bear is on the move! Time to do more baby proofing. It's different with a kid who puts everything in his mouth!
* We have movement on the new-to-us car front! More to come next week on that.
* Anyone know anything about hot water heaters? Ours has started leaking and we think it's about twenty years old (and is the only major appliance in the basement we haven't had to replace yet, so.). We have someone coming out to look at it and I'm bracing myself.
* I took a quick trip with Baby Bear to visit a family member who has not been in the best of health lately. Funny how traveling with one child now seems so simple! I got a good deal on the flight and had no lodging or food expenses, plus was given an unexpected bunch of money for the kids.

Lastly, if you do not have term life insurance and you have a spouse or children or might have children one day, go get life insurance. Here, I have googled it for you. Two clicks and you can enter your information for a quote. Don't wait - the unexpected happens when you least expect it. Due to a tragedy in our social circle, we are seeing what happens when you don't have life insurance, and it's just adding devastation to an already horrible situation. Please show your love by getting insured.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kid Update!

ND Chic reminded me that I haven't done any updates on Pickle's health in a while, so I figured I'd do a general kid update, since that's where all my time is going.

Pickle is amazing. She still has her feeding tube, and is basically still dependent on it - but we have been doing weekly feeding therapy since January and are seeing huge strides. In recent weeks, we've managed to eliminate a quarter of what she gets by tube, as she's made gains with oral eating. She's also been weaned off all of her reflux meds, and is able to take by mouth medications that we used to have to give by tube (liquid vitamins and the odd ibuprofen/acetaminophen dose).

It's hard to guess whether she's close to actually losing the tube. She has mastered purees, but still stores a lot of food in her cheek and doesn't swallow it (this is common with toddlers, but typical kids still swallow some food because food cures hunger, and that's a connection Pickle's body has not yet made). Her feeding therapist works on desensitizing Pickle's lips, cheeks, and tongue and especially her gag reflex. They try all kinds of weird combinations of foods to challenge her with textures (lately it's been ritz cracker crumbs mixed in yogurt, blech).

The fascinating part to me is that Pickle and Baby Bear were briefly at the exact same stage with eating - but Baby Bear has now surpassed his big sister. If you've ever started an infant on solids, you know about the tongue thrust reflex and how their gag reflex is super close to the front of their tongue but gradually moves back as they put toys and food in their mouths. Because his instincts were not interrupted, Baby Bear managed to reduce his own gag reflex, learned to swallow mushed/chewed food instead of just liquid, is now capable of eating most table foods, and is working on his pincer grasp. Because Pickle's instincts told her that eating hurt, she still needs our help to reduce that gag reflex and learn to swallow anything that's not totally smooth.

At any rate, the therapy is definitely helping (and is covered by insurance, thankfully) so we are working on challenging Pickle more and more with how much she eats by mouth. In a way I'm in no rush to lose the tube, because she is getting awesome nutrition through it (I still make all her food in our blender, or sometimes use a commercial product called Real Food Blends - she hasn't had formula in over 18 months). Keeping her focused on eating by mouth is a challenge, because she gets bored with it way before she's eaten enough calories to sustain her, so it's nice to not have to worry about it.

At the same time, I think that for us losing the tube will be a lot like potty training: she's not going to do it until I force the issue. For potty training, I picked a day, warned her for about a week, and then threw all her remaining diapers away (into a box for Baby Bear to use when he grows into them). We had several messy days, but there was no going back to diapers for her, and so she has learned to use the potty, even at night. With the tube, I'll have to craft a plan with her medical team and then just...stop feeding her and let her body figure out how to regulate itself. This is much higher stakes than potty training, so we'll have to have a limit for weight loss and dehydration and be willing to step in if necessary, but I sort of see it needing to be an all-or-nothing thing. It's down the road, but I'm not sure how far.

In other news, she has handled several colds with no problem (sometimes we do rescue breathing medications, but we haven't had to actually go in to the pediatrician), she is meeting or exceeding most developmental goals for her actual age, and she's obsessed with construction equipment. Baby Bear is a good-sized almost-9-month-old, sleeps mostly through the night, has a bunch of teeth, and is army-crawling around the house. They are lovely siblings to each other and drive me up the wall every day.