Monday, July 10, 2017

Sixth Wedding Anniversary: Iron!

First, a quick shout out to my amazing and wonderful husband.  This marks our 6th wedding anniversary!  Time really flies.  I am so eternally grateful to have been blessed with such a great life partner, to have shared these past 6 years (and beyond), and look forward to all of the future years to come.

As you may know from previous years, I like to do DIY anniversary gifts.  However, I am not a blacksmith, so creating an iron gift was a bit out of my wheelhouse.  Nor could I find any gifts made from iron that seemed either a) useful, or b) like something The Hubs would appreciate.  So, I had to dig a little deeper.
Iron City beer sign:  Pittsburgh Brewing is one of the U.S.'s older brewing companies, located in Pennsylvania for over 150 years.  We've not been there, or tried any of their beers, but the name works, and it'll make a nice addition to the Craft Brew Room.

Iron Man shirt:  The Hubs likes Marvel, so it works.  Plus this shirt is super soft.

Iron-Themed beers: I hit up our local Brown Derby International Wine Center (aka "the big Brown Derby") and asked a customer service rep in the beer department to help me find Beers either with "iron" in the name of the brewer or the beer.  The rep's eyes lit up--a challenge!!!  We scoured the aisles and found these two perfect options:
- Left Hand's Cast Iron Oatmeal Brown
- Robinson Brewery's Trooper "Red & Black" Porter, created in collaboration with...IRON MAIDEN.  It was a good pull on part of the rep. I would have totally missed this bottle if not for him.

Over the weekend, my in-laws volunteered to keep Lil' Man for us for a while so we could have a date night.  So we checked out a new tap room, then had dinner at White River Fish House, sampled a few moonshines, perused some of the shops at Branson Landing, then had dessert--24 Karrot Cake from Dino's (very yummy).  
After that, we played a twilight game of mini-golf (until twilight turned into "I can't see the course anymore"--so we got through 13 of the 18 holes), then picked up our kiddo and headed home. It was a great day.
If we look tired, it's because we are. Happy, but tired. Teething toddler with a cold = crappy sleep for parents.

To see previous year's gifts, check out:


Year Three: Leather / Glass

Year Four: Fruit & Flowers

Year Five: Wood

If you missed it, I did a "Wedding Week Countdown" after our first year of marriage. Here's the links if you're interested!






Friday, July 7, 2017

Pizza is Not an Emergency, and Other Personal Finance Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

So, real quick, before we get started:

What this is: 
One human's unique personal life experience with money over the long haul.

What it is not: 
- A list of tips & advice for obvious money saving techniques (aka-"stop going to Starbucks so much!");
- A get rich quick scheme or advertisement for any particular money saving strategy; or
- Humblebrag about a "hashtag-blessed" life.

I entered college in 1998, the only child of two great parents who were blue collar factory workers in rural Missouri.  My folks didn't impart much money-knowledge on me, but they taught me how to be thrifty, have a savings account, balance my checkbook, work hard for the money that I get, and never burn bridges.  And that's about it. I didn't have a finance class in high school (or college), nobody taught me about loans or credit scores, taxes, 401(k), etc. I'm pretty sure I didn't even have a debit card at that point.
Junior prom: young, innocent, and completely unaware of what "compound interest" is.

So when I went off to college, I, like most college students, was inundated by credit card offers.  They showed up in the mail, and there were booths scattered across campus offering free t-shirts in exchange for filling out an application. Stupid Me thought, "hah, they'll never approve me, so yeah, I'll fill out your form and get a free shirt!" 

And then...the credit cards arrived.  Small at first--my first card only had a limit of $500.  And I said, "I'll only use these for emergencies."  And that lasted about 6 months.  Because to an 18 year old, pizza can be an emergency.  By the time I graduated in 2003, I had over $15,000 in credit card debt, a high interest $2,000 "rent-to-own" loan on a crappy laptop, a $4,500 car loan, $1,600 in "Stupid Tax" I'd accumulated by paying bills for roommates that never paid me back (despite taking them to small claims court), a judgment against me for a card I'd defaulted on, a credit score in the 500s...oh, and of course, now $25k in student loans that I needed to start paying on.  

Note: I went to a state school so my tuition was pretty reasonable, and my folks pushed me to apply for scholarships and fill out my FAFSA. My parents told me to "only take what I needed"--so each semester I only took out a subsidized Stafford loan which covered my books & tuition with a few hundred bucks leftover. My student loan debt could have been WAY worse if they hadn't given me that direction.  I worked through college to pay for rent and living expenses (usually 2 part-time minimum wage jobs at a time: errand runner, pizza delivery, retail/cashier, bartender, photographer for the student paper, etc.). Because I was working, I took a smaller course load (~12 credit hours) each spring & fall, and then also took summer classes.   But in retrospect, I wish I would have known more about community colleges. I had a really snobbish opinion about 2-year schools as a young adult, but I wish someone would have told me that they're a great tool for knocking out gen-ed classes at a deeply discounted rate.
After college, a coworker introduced me to Dave Ramsey's radio show (while I was working my second job as a pizza delivery driver, because surprise surprise, entry level jobs, even in your career field once you have a degree, still don't pay that great). I started my Debt Snowball, and threw every extra penny (after rent, utilities, groceries, and a little bit of pocket cash) at my debt. And I made a lot of headway in that year.

But then, I decided to move to Louisiana for grad school in 2004 (more loans & out of state tuition), had a bad breakup with a live-in boyfriend (so now paying all of the bills instead of splitting them), and lost my job and graduate assistantship to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (buh-bye savings).  Back in the hole I go.  

Eventually I got a new job, graduated, started the cycle again. Lived on a cash budget for a while.  But in 2008, I decided that because I'd gotten a promotion at work and had the word "manager" in my job title that I needed a nicer car.  Got $15,000 in car loan debt with a high interest rate (because of my crappy credit score, then somewhere in the low 600s).  But otherwise, continued to live modestly and pay down the debts.  I can't say I had the best money management habits, though--I dined out for lunch with coworkers most days of the week and did my share to keep coffee shops in bankroll.  I was also horrible about keeping track of how much I had in the bank, and at one point had EIGHT overdrafts ($35/each) in one month.  Probably for purchases that were about $10-15.  Stupid.

In 2009, I finally paid off all of my debts except the car and the student loans. I decided to move back to Missouri for a job that paid less, but allowed me to be closer to my family.  I started dating a really nice guy, who was actually great with his own money, and who inspired me to be more responsible with mine.  He also inspired me to start tithing, which I know seems contradictory to throwing all your money at your debt, but I decided to go by faith....and got a promotion/raise at work not long after, so I 100% believe that's a God-thing.
At the 2011 World Series, Game One. Go Cards!

Then the nice guy proposes (in case you haven't figured out, this is now "The Hubs"), and we decide--we will pay for our wedding and honeymoon with cash, no credit card debt. Which we did.  And I also managed to pay off the car that year (2011, so 4 years after purchase).  Then two become one, and I moved into the modest 3BR/2BA house he had bought in 2004.  So now we share a joint bank account, his mortgage, and my student loans.  We made a budget (which included some monthly allowance for personal spending), and then we started throwing all of our extra money at the student loans and mortgage.  We still liked to dine out a couple times a week, and hang out with friends every Wednesday to play trivia at a local pub, go to the movies, and travel a bit, but otherwise, we lived pretty cheap. 

In 2012, a horrible tragedy... my aunt was killed in a car accident.  My family was devastated and completely caught off-guard.  My cousin & I decided to step up and become the executors of her estate, because our aunt didn't have a will and our parents were grieving and shouldn't have to think about money and all of the stressful little things that come with a horrible event like that. Unbeknownst to us, this Aunt had a life insurance policy...listing me & my cousin as beneficiaries.  As her executors, we used the insurance money to pay for legal fees, funeral expenses, and her outstanding personal debts, and after everything was said and done, had some left over.  I used part of my share to pay off student loans, we used another portion to pay down our house, and then the rest we put into savings until we could think of something to do that would honor her memory.  While I would rather have my aunt back than even a million dollars in the bank, I'm including this bit because that "inheritance" played a big role in our finances. 
Me & my cousin with our Aunt at her wedding in 1995. We miss you so much.

Later that same year, the owner of my company passed away in a plane crash...2012 was a really rough year. So maybe the Mayans were a little right.  But these things inspired us to make sure we had a will in place, because life is short and you really never know what could happen.  On the flip side of that--we paid off our house AND my student loans by the end of the year. But it was very bittersweet.

In early 2013, we had some savings amassed from being debt-free, so we decided to invest--in ourselves--and buy a business. We bought a small ice cream shop that was sold to us as a "great seasonal absentee-owner opportunity for side income" (this is HILARIOUS now).  We committed to a 2 year lease, paid for the business with our savings, and never had any debt on it.  Running that business was the most stressful time of my life (we were both still working our regular full time jobs).  It definitely wasn't a cash cow (and the "side income" didn't really off-set all the man-hours we put into it), but we learned A LOT, and we both have a much greater respect for the small business owners of the world.  After the 2 year lease was up, we sold the business to friends who are veteran restaurateurs in this area, and they've transformed that location into a hugely successful restaurant...which is a little bittersweet, but I'm glad for them.  The money from the sale of the business went into the stock market, retirement savings, and savings for fertility treatments, with the remainder to eventually go into a college savings plan for our (hopeful) future kid.
In late 2015, after 2 years of trying, we had our son--I was 35.  Since he was VERY much planned, I'd been working on a "baby budget" for years. I knew how much day care would cost, and what the best price point for diapers was, and had short-term disability coverage to help with lost pay during maternity leave.  We were incredibly blessed with hand-me- downs from friends and family, so his first year of life cost us very little (other than sleep, our sanity, and my ability to not pee when I sneeze.)

Now...here we are.  In our late 30s, "old but experienced" parents, but incredibly blessed.  I have a 6 year old car, purchased with cash, that runs well (despite having over 180k miles and the imprint of a deer on the passenger side).  We moved into a bigger house in November of last year, and between savings and a 401(k) loan (that we paid off once the old house sold) were able to buy the new house without a mortgage.  We have good paying jobs (for this area), but it took over a decade of work experience each to get to that point.  Lil' Man's day care is our biggest monthly expense (day care is stupid-expensive).  Since we have no debt, The Hubs & I max out our retirement contributions each year, contribute to a college savings account for the Kiddo, and I've recently started maxxing out my Health Savings Account (HSA) as well, which we can use down the road...because we'll almost be senior citizens when our kid graduates from high school, so we'll likely be falling apart and in need of new bionic 3D-printed body parts.  We also still tithe and donate, because we are supernaturally blessed and believe we should give back generously.  That all means that we still live very modestly--living on about 20% of our gross income for our 3 person family.

I don't dare take credit for this.  I KNOW I've been lucky. I believe my life has been blessed in supernatural ways. I hate that part of the reason we became debt-free when we did is because I lost someone I loved.  Yes, I've worked hard, but that's only a small part of this equation.  I married someone who was good with money.  We had a lot more to throw at our debt because we waited so long to have children. I've always lived in relatively "cheap" areas of the country (except the year in New Orleans, but it WAS considerably cheaper before Katrina than it is now). And there's the whole inherent "white privilege" thing. My situation is very unique.  And I know it can all change in a matter of seconds in the future.  But I'm no less grateful for all of it, the entire experience.

And honestly, I'm really proud. To know where I was 15 years ago, I honestly thought I would just always be broke. That broke-ness would just be my lot in life, because that's all I saw around me--everyone was broke and in debt.  Debt was normal.  Which sort of made it seem okay...sad, but okay.  Now, I can see how hard I worked, and that it didn't happen overnight.  It sort of snuck up on me.  And that's pretty amazing.  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Adventures in Parenting: Welcome to Your Almost 2-Year-Old (An Owner's Manual)

Hello, and Congratulations on your acquiring an Almost Two Year Old (ATYO)!  You've made a wise (questionable) decision with choosing this model.  This set of instructions has been designed to help you as learn to navigate the waters of a growing toddler and their accessory packages.

SAFETY TIPS:
Use outlet covers.
Lock all cabinets with sharp or breakable items. 
Employ safety gates judiciously.
Do not attempt to remove batteries.  Removal or attempted removal of any components will void the warranty*.


COMPONENTS:
Mouth:  This is where fuel should be added to your ATYO, approximately 4-6 times daily.   You may notices that the preferred type of fuel is also widely variable, particularly as your ATYO unit learns the word "no".   The mouth is also the center for verbal commands.  You may notice that the verbal capabilities of your unit increase over time.  This is good!  (Or at least, that's what we're told.  We've also been told the opposite is true.  It's all debatable.)  

Fingers/Arms: These can now reach counter tops, so Owners should be very wary of leaving anything lying about.  If there is a Pyrex dish of cookies on the counter and you hear a crash, you can't say you weren't warned. 

Nose: The "finger" component fits here.  

Waste Disposal Component:  You're still a ways from potty training.  Sorry. ATYO User Manual recommends continued purchase of the "Diapers" and "Wipes" accessories.

Hair: This grows at an alarming rate. You may want to find a kid's haircut provider (KHP). For short haircuts, the idea of a KHP using loud clippers may be alarming to your ATYO...but it will make the process much faster, which is ultimately worth it in the end.  ATYO User Manual recommends the "bribes" accessory pack. (Note: This accessory pack is also handy for weekly maintenance of the "fingernails" component.)

TROUBLESHOOTING:
Teeth: While essential for fuel processing, you may note that your ATYO using their "teeth" on non-fuel sources, such as pets, parents, siblings, or other ATYO's.  If the latter, you will likely receive notification from the ATYO's Day Care Provider (DCP).  While alarming, your DCP will notify you that this malfunction is normal, and likely due to their instinctual reaction to having toys stolen from them.  You will get at least one of these calls a week.  This is normal. In fact, any call from your DCP that isn't telling you that your ATYO unit is sick and needs to be picked up immediately is generally considered good news.

Head: Your ATYO unit comes equipped with a highly durable cranial "noggin", designed to protect the central processing unit (see "Brain").  This component is also highly susceptible to periodic wear and tear due to the natural instability of your ATYO unit.  Typical wear & tear is not covered under the warranty*.  ATYO User Manual recommends purchase of the "first aid kit" accessory.  

You may also note that your ATYO unit is resistant to water being applied to the "head" component, unless the ATYO performs the application themselves.  Getting squirted in the face at a splash pad appears to be a joyful and entertaining event, whereas periodic washing results in howls as though you were trying to remove one of your ATYO's components.  ...Solidarity, new Owner. We don't get it, either.

Communication:  As previously noted (see "Mouth"), your ATYO unit has the ability to learn additional verbal commands over time, much like a Furby.  Also similar to a Furby, these commands may at times be garbled or not include any actual English words.  Unlike a Furby, your ATYO unit may become increasingly agitated as you try to interpret, for example, what "muh" means in this particular instance. Your unit may be asking for "more" food, liquid sustenance (aka "milk"), or perhaps its favorite book ("moo", aka "Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?")...or perhaps something entirely different.  This is frustrating for both Owner and the ATYO unit.  When you successfully communicate and satiate your ATYO unit, feel free to reward yourself with a well-earned drink or self high five.

Strange Smells: If you notice an unusual odor emanating from your ATYO unit, first check to see if there is a leak from the "waste disposal" component. Then immerse in warm water and wash gently with mild soap (see also "TROUBLESHOOTING-HEAD").  Use of garden hoses, sprinklers, or pools is also effective.

Temperament: You may notice that your ATYO sporadically and with little notice can burst into fits of rage over relatively inconsequential events, such as: 
- being told they need to sit in their chair to eat breakfast, or
- that you can't get them their milk because they're sitting in front of the fridge door and refuse to move.  

The loud noises and tears may be accompanied by wild gesticulations and rolling around on the floor. Despite what you may have been told about this behavior occurring after the unit's 2nd birthday, THIS IS NORMAL. When these incidents occur, two options are available:

a) remain calm, steady, comfort the ATYO and attempt to explain why life is unjust, or
b) cave and give them whatever they want.

Owners of older models may note that there used to be an Option C in the manual; however, as "physical adjustments" have generally become socially unacceptable, we are no longer allowed to recommend that option.   Make physical adjustments at your own risk, as these may void the warranty*.

The "binky" accessory can also be useful in many troubleshooting scenarios.

ACCESSORIES:
All accessories are sold separately; prices vary by location. 

You may notice your ATYO unit taking great interest in accessories for the Almost Three Year Old (ATYO 2.0) or higher models. While these are not compatible with your ATYO unit, good luck trying to keep them away from them.

User Notes:
* Unit does not come with any warranty.  Good luck, sucker.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

What I've Been Eating Lately

As I mentioned last week, I've been traveling fair bit for work and such.  It's hard when it's for work and I have to be away from The Hubs & Lil' Man, but I make up for it by trying new foods and new brews.

But first...EASTER!  Yes...that feels so long ago, but it really wasn't.  We did our whirlwind tour of the Lake to visit the grand-folks, and my mom made us her famous chicken & noodles.  Which always makes my belly happy.


THEN--the Hubs & I went on a KID-FREE VAYCAY, to beautiful PUNTA CANA! (*read in your best Rod Roddy "Price is Right" mental voice*)

Our resort was super nice, and we had LOTS of delicious food. I can't even start to share it all here, but here's a few highlights:
Breakfast: croissant, pastry, ham & pineapple, sausage, bacon wrapped sweet potato, churro, ham fritter, egg crepe, fruit, & watermelon juice
Another breakfast, with a fresh-made omelette from the beach-side omelette station.  Also, churro with chocolate sauce and chocolate filled croissant, because I love carbs. Note: I ate this exact same meal at least 3 times.
Beach-side lunch: roasted chicken, fried fish, potatoes, pineapple, cucumber, and cabbage slaw.
Note: There were also many, many drinks.

Then, we had an authentic shrimp & crawfish boil at my office, to celebrate one of my coworker's 20th anniversary with the company.  Shrimp & Bayou Classics supplied all the seafood, direct from Louisiana, and boiled up everything onsite.  It was AMAZING. (Note: brussel sprouts in a boil = GENIUS.)
I even brought The Hubs a go-cup.

Then, I had to head out of town for work for a week.  We stayed at a lovely little hotel in Farmington, MO called The Tradition Inn.  Anything it lacks in frills and fanciness, it makes up for in the attached restaurant, Spokes Pub & Grill, which sports about 40 craft brew taps.  The property is owned by the great folks who also own Crown Valley Brewing, and so you can find nearly all of the Crown beers and ciders on tap, along with a wide and ever-changing variety of local craft brews (Farmington is just south of St. Louis, so no shortage of great breweries.) 
Their food is also excellent, even down to the pepper bacon BLT.
For Mother's Day, the Hubs made me "Cloud Eggs";
How gorgeous is that?  The texture is a little weird, but still tastes like a normal over easy egg.

Then, I had to hop a flight down to Louisiana for work.  Yes...on Mother's Day.  So I treated myself in the DFW Airport to some Red Mango:
And picked up some boudin balls from Hebert's Specialty Meats:
In New Orleans, I hit up Frey's Smoke Meats with my cousin Primeaux. The meal was awesome, but a ton of food, so I had some leftover brisket.  So the next day for lunch, I swung by Martin Wine Cellar to pick up a few things to accompany it...
(Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog goat cheese, rosemary crackers, and cornichons)
...and then went down to the Pontchartrain Lakefront to enjoy a bit of sun before hopping on the plane back home.

And of course, as discussed last week, I've been eating a lot of breakfast, and sharing them on Instagram.  Not all of those breakfasts are interesting, but I try to remember to capture them all.  But the ones I didn't?  Probably look a lot like this. :)
(cereal, yogurt, & soft boiled egg.)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What I've Been Cooking Lately

I don't have many original recipes to share lately, but I AM still cooking!  In fact, I cooked THREE meals on Memorial Day!  
Breakfast: egg scramble & home fries
[Scramble: 4 eggs, 1/2 c cheese, 1 green onion, salt, pepper, turmeric, and Greek seasoning. Home Fries: par-bake 2 potatoes in the microwave for 4 minutes, then dice (which will remove most of the peel), and saute over medium heat with cajun seasoning in about 1 Tbsp coconut oil until brown & crispy.]
Lunch: quesadillas made with manchego, smouded gouda, and leftover dirty rice
Dinner: Amazing smoked gouda grilled cheese with bacon pepper jam.

Here's a few others:
I chopped up some Holy Trinity (celery is there too, but I was using frozen, which isn't as pretty)...
To make Chef John Folse's Dirty Rice (used pork sausage instead of livers and gizzards, because ew.)

The recipe makes a TON, so I used some of the leftovers the next day to make stuffed bell peppers (no pic, they disappeared too fast) and the aforementioned quesadillas. (For the quesadillas, I added some lime juice, dried cilantro, and cumin to make it feel a little more Latin and less "Cajun taco".)

The Hubs was out of town for a few days, so I got a rotisserie chicken (to make life easy while having to cook AND entertain the kid by my lonesome) and served it up with some baked sweet potato, steamed broccoli, and homemade bread from a friend.

If you follow me on Instagram, you might already know that one of my Resolutions for the year was "eat more breakfast", as I am a notorious breakfast skipper.  I'm happy to report that at almost halfway through the year, I've not missed a single breakfast yet!  This monkey bread made for several good breakfast mornings (note: I used 1 Tbsp of cinnamon, and pecans instead of walnuts):

And these pancakes (using Alton Brown's recipe for instant mix) are also a quick and easy weekend breakfast fave.
These pancakes are a great base. I like to add in grilled pineapple bits, or chocolate chips, or some pumpkin pie spice, or blueberries...whatever strikes your fancy.

Over Memorial weekend, I made some quick biscuits from scratch while The Hubs whipped up some of his white gravy.

I've been traveling a lot the past couple months, so stay tuned for another post entitled "What I've Been Eating Lately". :)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Adventures in Parenting: Competing Priorities

Overcommitted.  I think this can describe just about anyone, but in particular seems to be applicable for most parents, and definitely for working parents.  My kid is a year and a half old, he doesn't even have any extracurricular activities, and I already feel pulled in a dozen directions.
The closest thing my kid has to after-school activities: playing outside with the other neighbor kids.

Before I had a kid, my list of priorities was pretty simple: (and not in this order)
1 - time with my husband
2 - time with my friends (mostly via weekly trivia nights)
3 - work
4 - time with family (about once a month, visiting my folks and/or in laws)
5 - church (weekly)
6 - caving grotto (once a month for meetings, and then going caving about every other month)

And then...I had a kid.  A kid whose schedule overlaps with mine for only about 2 hours a day.  He wakes up at 7:30a, eats breakfast with me for 15 minutes before we head off to day care.  Then we pick him up 9 hours later, we have dinner together, play for a bit, then he's off to bed by 8pm.  Sure, there's weekends, but in general, Monday through Friday, we get 2 hours together.
Biscuits & gravy for dinner, because he's special.

I think this is a hard concept to explain to anyone who doesn't have a kid.  But I'll make an attempt.
If you're married/in a committed relationship: imagine if you only got to spend 2 hours a day with your significant other. You can't talk/text/Facetime/Skype ANY outside of that 2 hours.  Oh, and you're going to be cooking dinner/eating for about 30 minutes to an hour of that 2 hours.  So really, only 1 hour of quality, one-on-one time together, 5 days a week.  How much of that time would you be willing to sacrifice for other things?

...like your friends?
...going to the gym?
...or self-care, like getting a hair cut, a massage, or pedicure?
...or essential errands, like grocery shopping or paying bills?
...or work?
...or personal time, like reading or blogging?
...or extra-curriculars, like volunteering or social/networking organizations?

Based on your personal life goals and priorities, probably some of those things are easier to give up than others. For me, that last one goes out the window.  I'm only willing to do networking during regular business hours. Thankfully, I have a job that allows that.  I'm also allowed to use up to 4 hours of paid time annually to do volunteer activities during business hours.  My volunteering choice?  Donating blood.  It takes about an hour and I can only do it every 2 months, which is very manageable for me.  I can leave work an hour early, go donate, and then still get home about the same time.

But that also means I haven't been to a caving meeting in over a year, and I've only been in a cave twice since my son was born.  I also choose not to go to the after hours socials that my local business networking group hosts.  I've been asked to join the Junior League--but while I admire the work they do, I know it requires a lot of time commitments, and I just don't have that right now.

Where I used to see my friends weekly at trivia, our group is evolving, and many of us have kids now.  So we've only played trivia at our old haunt TWICE since we had our kid.  I live less than 5 minutes from one of our trivia buddies, but she's just as busy wrangling kids and quality time in the evenings as I am, so we really don't see each other much. I think we all probably manage to get together about once a quarter.  Really.  From weekly, to 4 times a year.  
Benefit of young kids: Using our kids' birthdays as an excuse to see our adult friends.

I do also have another group of fellow mom friends--we manage to get together for lunch about once every other month.  Again, easier to fit into my schedule when it's during the day and something I was going to be doing anyway. There are some friends who have kids of their own that we just haven't seen in FOREVER.  We try to make plans, but then somebody get sick or has a soccer game or any of the other million things that can come up.  Making plans when you have kids is HARD. And finding time to just be an adult around other adults is hard too, because we don't have built in babysitters (aka grandparents) nearby.  So it means a) only one of us can go, or b) we have to shell out $30-40 for a babysitter. I long for the days when you could just leave your kid with a teenager for $5/hour...assuming I knew any teenagers that lived close enough to take on that responsibility. The oldest kid in our neighborhood is 8...so it'll be a while.

As far as the gym goes, I dropped my membership.  I took a close look at my schedule, and realized there was no good way to make it work...at least with the gym I was going to.  My gym was 5 minutes from my work, but 20 minutes from my home.  Realistically, the best times for me to go to the gym would be a) before Lil' Man gets up, or b) after he goes to sleep.  I'm not going to drive 20 minutes to another town to make that happen. I may eventually look into getting a membership at a gym closer to my house...or I may just start running up and down the basement stairs 10 times a night after I put the kid to bed. We'll see.

I do try to schedule self-care once a quarter, whether it be a pedicure or massage or just some alone time to shop for myself.  I've had two haircuts in the last 18 months. I haven't been clothes shopping for myself in...well...I mean, I bought some shoes on Amazon about 3 months ago.  Does that count?  No?  Okay...um...OH!  Black Friday. I bought some new shirts on Black Friday. I mean...I didn't try them on or anything, because it's freakin' Black Friday and I gotta hurry up and get in line and they were just long sleeve tees, but still.  So like, 6 months ago.  If you mean the last time I leisurely strolled through a store and actually tried things on...probably a year.* (To be fair, I don't really like clothes shopping that much.  And the only reason I don't use Stitch Fix or MM LaFleur is because I'm also a cheapskate who doesn't like to pay more than $20 for ANYTHING.  Comparatively, I go shopping for a mixed six pack of new beers to try at least once a month.)

*Note: this paragraph was written a few weeks ago...and I did in fact do a little clothes shopping over Memorial weekend.  My favorite resale shop had a 50% off sale and I found a few shirts & dresses for work.
Bought some stuff for the kiddo and Hubs as well.


Blogs, as I've mentioned before, generally come together in 10-15 minute chunks over the course of a month during work breaks (which should account for any discontinuity in writing style, should any of my high school or college writing instructors be reading this right now). Reading happens for about 15 minutes in the evenings before bed, but I also like to listen to audiobooks or podcasts in the car.

And work is, well, work. I can't exactly give that up (technically, you can, some parents do, and that's awesome for them, but that's not me.)  I'm a salaried employee so my hours can fluctuate from week to week, and it really just depends on what's going on with my projects or if I have field work. But it's now a lot more important to me to be as efficient as possible so that I can leave work before 5pm to beat rush hour traffic and get to my kid's daycare around 5:30p, so he can get home before all the other kids go inside for dinner, so that he gets some outside play time with his friends.

And time with the Hubs...well, that's mostly us plopped on the couch watching DVR'd shows after the kiddo goes to bed. Or maybe we bust out a board game or deck of cards.  But we did recently take a kid-free vacation to the Dominican Republic while Lil' Man stayed with his grandparents.  It was an amazing trip, but 7 days was a little long to be away from our kiddo without being able to see or talk to him.

So, ultimately...we are making it work.  We are doing the best we can.  Life is different from before we had our kid.  Not better or worse...just different.  And we love our kid.  But it's an adjustment, with what feels like a constantly changing target.  We're doing a good job, and we're getting really good at this.