Monday, July 11, 2011

A New Job

I'm taking on a new job in the next month. I will be the coordinator for my daughter's school garden. I will be running the garden docent program and managing the garden itself. I've been a garden docent for the past two years for my daughter's class. This has involved a monthly lesson/activity in the garden with the class focused around growing things in the class garden bed and relating the outdoors to what the kids are learning in class. It has been a great experience. The kids love being outside and learning about plants and animals. The previous garden coordinator is moving on after nine years in the garden. She asked me to take over for her. I was hesitant to take on such a big task at first. I knew it was a fair amount of responsibility. I did finally decide to do it. I love the program. I'm excited to be working on it. It's a volunteer job. I won't be earning any money doing this. There is such a big difference between working when you enjoy something versus when you don't. I spent Saturday morning weeding in the school garden. If I didn't love the garden, then it would be a big chore to weed in the hot sun all morning. It wasn't. I knew why I was doing it. It's a worthwhile effort. I'm going to try to keep this in mind as I look forward to a new career. Life if too short to be working at a job that you hate.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why It Can Be A Good Thing To Stop Paying Off Debt

My husband and I accumulated a whole bunch of debt in the first few  years of our marriage. We were finishing college, had a surprise baby, and made some rather foolhardy decisions along the way. Fast forward 10 years. We haven't been accumulating additional debt in the past few years except for some small student loans to pay for my husband's Master's Degree. This substantially increased his income in the short- and long-term so I think it was a good decisions. However, even though we've been budgeting and working on saving and paying down debt for the past five or so years, we haven't paid it off. We haven't even finished paying off our credit cards.

Someone might look at our financial situation and say that we haven't been aggressive enough at budgeting or putting extra penny to our debt. Some of that criticism might be warranted. We haven't even in the best of times always been frugal or careful with our money. Part of the reason that we haven't paid off our debt or at least our credit cards in the last five years are because of different events in our lives where we've had to hold off paying off debt to save or deal with reduced income. I consider this a type of holding pattern. We weren't adding to our debt in any appreciable way. We were paying what we needed to to stay current with our bills, but we also weren't making significant progress on the debt either. My husband's seven month stint of unemployment in 2007 was one of these times. My unexpected two months of bed rest during pregnancy with my second daughter and also the period leading up to and including my maternity leave. We had to divert money that would have normally gone to debt during this time to savings and/or bills.

But...There is a big but to all of this. Sometimes we have to make important life choices that cause us to move from debt repayment to a holding pattern. One choice for us was the decision to have a second child. Our daughter was four years old when we decided to have another child. We knew time was running out if we wanted the siblings to be close in age. It was the right time for our family, but it was a difficult time for our finances. It all worked out. We were more disciplined. We saved money for my virtually unpaid maternity leave. It all worked out.

We're now currently in a holding pattern now. Living on one income doesn't afford us extra to pay down our debt significantly right now. It was one of the reasons that it was difficult to leave my job. I knew it would make our debt repayment just that much harder. But, here is the but again; it was the right choice for me and our family. My job was making me emotionally and even physically sick. I didn't like the negative, unhappy person I was at my job. It hasn't been the best choice for us financially. Cutting your income significantly is never an easy thing to do. But it has been good for me and good for our family.

I'm not advocating people stop paying off their debt to save for a luxury vacation or big screen TV. These are things that should be delayed until debt is paid off. However, there are certain reasons that putting off debt repayment can be a good thing. My daughter is one of those good reasons. The mental and emotional well-being of myself and my family is another.

So, here is my counsel for those considering a decision that might put them off the debt repayment track. Think carefully and objectively about it. I stayed at my job for a good three or more years beyond when I started really disliking it. We waited at least two years after I wanted another child to actually try. A good dose of time and reflection is important. If paying off your debt is important, then you should think through it carefully before making a decision that will cause you to delay it. Also, be sure that you will be easily able to transition back to debt repayment at some point. You need to have good habits in place before you jump off the track so that you can easily jump back on when your income improves or your situation changes.

Life isn't all about money. We get only so much time to live our lives. Don't be a slave to money either the accumulation of it or the dispensation of debt. They are important, but sometimes money needs to take the backseat so you can live life to the fullest. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Costly Kids: Lessons for Kids

My family lives in a great area with tons of cultural, natural and entertainment opportunities within 20 miles. Many of these activities can be free to low cost if you utilize the free museum days or purchase a year long membership. We could do something every day of the week if we were so inclined and barely scratch the surface. I try to expose my kids to as much as possible. I hope that some of it sticks or sparks an interest or at least raises their awareness of the world around them. There are some things that I would like to expose them to further: music, art, athletics. and dance. My oldest daughter has started pestering me about taking martial arts classes. When money was a little easier to come by, I would have enrolled her in a class as soon as she indicated an interest. In fact, I did do that more than once. She has taken violin, karate (when she was much younger), gymnastics, yoga, art, science, and probably even more.

Now, that money is budgeted more carefully, I'm hesitant to add another monthly expense to our plate especially with her spotty history of staying committed to any particular thing for long. So this time, we've written up a contract. She has her part of the agreement: attend class weekly, put effort into it, and practice at home at least three times per week. I have my part: pay for the lessons and be supportive by taking her to class and paying attentions so that I can help at home. I think it is important for children to develop a proficiency in something to help develop self confidence. We've been down this road quite a few times. I'm hopeful this time that she'll stick with it and give it her best. It is a significant financial investment that we won't be taking lightly this time around. I hope I can impress upon her the importance of that.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Garden Update: First Harvest

I started a garden a few months ago. It was a rather singificant investment of time and energy. It is a hobby of mine, but I set out to garden with an eye to at least breaking even on the money investment with the return of fresh produce. So far the harvest hasn't been bountiful. We've harvested enough pole beans for about six meals, which is probably the equivalent of a bout 6lbs of beans. The pole beans were Cascade Giant. Their beautiful green and purple flecked skin was beautiful, and they tasted great. The pole beans on the teepee are spent. The cost of growing the beans was just about $2 worth of soil amendments. The seeds were old seeds that I bought a few years ago and had sitting around. We've harvested one small head of purple lettuce. We've also been picking strawberries and blueberries as they ripen, just a few at a time. We had something attack most of the lettuce so that has been a loss. The tomatoes and cucumbers are looking good. Some of the tomatoes are starting to ripen. I'm hoping we'll soon be supplied in all the tomatoes that we need for the summer. It's a good thing too because tomatoes are at least $2 a pound right now. All told, we've probably harvested about $16 worth of produce from the garden. It hasn't been a great savings to our budget, but it has been a tasty addition to the dinner table.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Paid vs. Unpaid Work

Our society places a great deal of importance on paid work. When someone you meet asks you what you do, they aren't asking you how you like to spend your time; they want to know what type of paid work you do. When you are someone who is not getting paid to work, you may have to sheepishly admit to being a stay at home mother or wife or unemployed.

As I've bumbled my way through in the past few months, trying on this new role of stay at home mother and wife, I've discovered the need to have some work and purpose beyond the walls of my home. I've looked into some volunteer opportunities working with foster youth. It hasn't worked out so far. Some of these organizations want a significant time commitment due to the cost of background checks and fingerprinting.  Since I have the care of my children for most of the week, it isn't possible to give that much time. My other option is to find some type of part-time paid position where I could in turn pay for childcare for my younger daughter during part of the week. I've vacillated between pursuing each of these routes.

I like the idea of doing volunteer work, but I realize that I'm fairly constrained during the week. I also like the idea of finding a paid position that might enable me to enroll my younger daughter in preschool part-time. I have more looked more extensively for paid positions because of how paid work is elevated in our society. If I were to say that I was a stay at home mother and volunteer, people would probably envision me watching the soaps and eating bon bons (for the record, I do not watch the soaps but have been known to consume the occasional bon bon). If I have a paid position, I could easily identify myself as an employee of this organization with such and such title. There is a not so subtle difference in how these different types of work are valued and looked upon in modern society. So I am prejudiced against volunteer work even though it might enable me to pursue more interesting and compassionate work than paid work will allow me to do.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Finding Life's Passion

As I prepared to leave the working world a few months ago, one of my main goals during this hiatus from paid employment was to seek out and explore things that I am passionate about. The intention was to do this with an eye to the future and finding a second career revolving around something I am passionate about. Two months later, I can't honestly say that I've discovered any new interests or developed any current interests into a life's passion. I've continued to enjoy what I enjoyed before: cooking, reading, and afternoon naps. I've done little with the things that I wanted to explore further like writing, sewing, and deep relaxation/hypnotherapy. I have found that there isn't a lot of free time with my new occupation. I could organize my time more efficiently, use my quiet afternoons during naptime to do some writing or sewing. However, this new lifestyle requires more physical energy and stamina so that I've found it necessary to rest when the kids are resting.

Since it doesn't seem that this type of "life work" gets done without significant effort on my part, I think that I may need to set myself some small goals and outline some steps to get there. I am very interested in writing. I have several novels that I've begun including one half-finished novel from National Novel Writing Month. It was a very successful exercise for me last November to set myself a daily goal of 1500 words and just write until I got it all on paper. These types of small, micro-goals are what helps to keep me on track. I can try to do something small every day but find it difficult to face down some large dream like writing a 50,000 word novel. I need everything cut down to sizable chunks. So I'm setting myself some micro-goals for July. July will be explore my passions month. I'm focusing on three interests that I have: writing, deep relaxation/hypnotherapy, and sewing. My goals will be to write 500 words per day, spend 15 minutes in some type of deep relaxation exercise, and spend two hours per work sewing. Rather than focusing on completing something, I'm committing to practicing these activities on a regular basis to see how interested I really am in these things and whether there is potential for them to turn into something more than just a hobby.

Perhaps, for some people, definitely for me, life's passion doesn't just appear out of nowhere as some type of compulsion. Life's passion might just be a spark, an interest in something, that needs to be developed through time and personal effort. Since my passion hasn't found me, I need to go and find my passion.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Working Moms vs. Stay at Home Moms: What is Better for the Kids?

I met up with one of my old coworkers this weekend for coffee and a long walk. He has a philosophical bent. We talked from everything to unions and the future of the middle class to my recent departure from the paid workforce.

I admitted to him that I now am uncertain about whether or not working or staying at home is better for my children and myself. It is true that I am home and present and able to participate more fully in their everyday lives. However, my attention is often not focused completely on them as I have a house to maintain and family life to organize. I also have interests outside of them and often find myself distracted. I'm also not able to provide all of the enrichment that the girls previously received from preschool or aftercare or just having the disposable income to enroll them in various lessons/classes. Another key part of the equation is that since I am with them all day, every day, I am not as enthusiastic about spending time with them or playing with them. When I used to get home from work, I was hungry to spend time with them. I missed them. Now, I look forward to time without them.

The jury is still out in my opinion. My dear friend characterized it like this. I'm testing and experiments with these different roles and different lifestyles to see what rings true. Do kids do better with a stay at home mother? Do moms do better when they don't have to split their time between work and family? Or is it a wash? Or do children do better with two working parents?

In truth, either way, I will have no regrets. I have been able to have it both ways now. I can see from both sides of the battled armament between stay at home and working mothers. I honestly can't see  why there is such tension between the two groups. Being a mom is hard work no matter how you frame it. When I worked I was exhausted from work, commuting, fitting in cooking and housework and quality family time. Now, I am exhausted from attending to my children all day, cooking, and cleaning. At least I've learned this: no mom has it easy.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Getting in Shape: Finances to Fitness

I'm in the best shape that I've been in many years. I'm not the thinnest, but I'm certainly have the most lean muscle and have more stamina than I have in a long time. It's been a couple of months of exercising every day and watching what I eat. During this time, I've seen how the same principles that I've applied to my finances also apply to fitness.

The first step for me is always forming the habit. It's hard to break old habits, but sometimes it's even harder to start new, good ones. I'm more of a sedentary, quiet individual. I'm not a rough and tumble sports playing kind of girl. The hardest part for me was establishing a daily exercise routine. It's taken me about two months to get to where I feel strange if I haven't exercised in a day. The momentum of my daily habit is carrying me now. I don't have to push myself to exercise. I don't dread it. It's just part of my life like brushing my teeth and taking a shower. It was the same way when I was trying to get our finances turned around. It was hard to stop spending money. It was even harder to start putting money in savings and leave it alone. The good financial habits just like good fitness habits are hard to start, but they have a life of their own once you get them in place.

The second step for me is accepting the slow and steady progress that it takes to get your body in shape or your money in order. It's taken us years--years to get our financial house in order. This isn't to say that we are in a perfect financial situation, but we know how to live within our means and we are continuing to pay off the debts of our past. In the same way, it's taking a long time to lose weight. I had a weight loss goal in mind when I started to focus on getting in shape two months ago. I haven't reached that magic number yet. This is partly due to the lean muscle that I'm building. I've lost inches, but I'm only down about nine or ten pounds. I know that weight will come off eventually, but it's hard to watch the scale inch down ever so slowly.

The third part is to take the setbacks in stride and keep on going. We all have setbacks. It doesn't take much to knock me off my horse. A sick child, a major unexpected expense, or a long family visit to disrupt my good financial and fitness habits. It's just part of life. There are bumps along the way. It isn't important to focus on what didn't get done or the money that didn't get saved or those eight oreo cookies that I ate yesterday driving home from my parent's house (yes, it's true). It's important to get up the next day and look forward, focus on that goal, and get yourself back on track.

So maybe I haven't reached my fitness or my financial goals yet. I still have about five more pounds to lose and ten thousand more in credit card debt to pay off. But I'm wearing a bikini this summer, and I'm going to rock it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Where is Your Focus?

I've come to the realization over the past several weeks that I would like to find some part-time work. I think that I am a better person, wife, mother, and friend when I am engaged in work outside of the home. I've felt the pull to find work stronger and stronger every day. I'm now spending at least 1/2 hour to an hour each day searching for jobs.

I read something over on Get Rich Slowly that started me thinking about why it is that I'm now feeling the urge to go back to work. After all, just a few months ago I felt pretty strongly the need to focus my time and energy into my family and our life together. It's not just because I dislike housework although that is probably part of it. Laundry will forever be my nemesis. I think it more has to do with the fact that I never really turned my focus into my family. My focus stayed outside, while I began spending my time inside my house. I'm here physically, but often my attention is drifting somewhere outside of this. I have trouble being present in the moment. After years of splitting my time and attention between multiple worlds of family, work and school. I find my frenetic focus is having trouble coming together on one thing. My husband said the other day that I quit because it was what I needed that he and the kids were doing just fine when I was working. It's not that they don't enjoy having me around, but they would be fine if I was still working too. It's true. There wasn't some great transformation when I quit. Life continued much as it had before. I am much happier away from my last job. The kids are still the kids.

I feel somewhat ungrateful or even perpetually discontented that I need to be constantly changing my situation. That's why I'm going to recommit my focus back to my family. I also have a big job coming up in August. I'll be taking over coordination of my daughter's school garden and garden docent program. It's volunteer work, but I'm hoping that it will give me more of a sense of purpose outside of daily dish washing and laundry.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Using Savings

I have a dentist appointment today. Something I've learned to dread far more than the discomfort and pain of dental work is the hefty bill that often accompanies it. We have fairly good dental insurance, but even then our portion of the bill runs into the hundreds of dollars. It's one of the major shortcomings of our healthcare system in this country. Dental insurance is perfectly fine if you never needed anything done, but once you do you can plan on spending a large chunk of change. Today, I need two restorative crowns to replace some large fillings that are no longer doing the job. The bill for this is a cool $1200. I've delayed getting this done because of the cost, but it is now a matter of some urgency.

Despite the fact that it gives me heart palpitations, we'll be dipping into savings to pay for this. I hate to use my savings. Once the money has been deposited into the savings account, I like to think of it as securely off limits. I do believe that it is a justified use of our money. If not treated, I could end up with more costly dental bills in the future. However, I just cringe at using the money. I know how difficult it is to save that money and how long it will take to replace it.

I hope that in time when we've built enough savings that I won't need to feel this way over spending money on needed things like dental treatment. However, until then I'll just hand over the check while cringing and hope that the dental pain stings less than my pocketbook.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

ComiCon and Summer Jobs

My husband has some big plans for the summer. He is attending ComiCon with his younger brother and sister. This is the third annual ComicCon family fest for him. He bought the tickets last year, but he has been concerned over the past few months about not having enough spending money for ComiCon or money to buy tickets for next year. The tickets sell out a year in advance. He is a teacher with an eleven month contract so we always have a month without income in the summer. He was fortunate to get a session of summer school which will help cover the short month. We'll still have to dip into savings to pay for some of our regular expenses in August though.

So he started looking for alternative ways to raise some cash. He started applying to tutoring companies and even posted his own ad on craigslist. He spent a good deal of time over the past few weeks doing this. It finally paid off. He has a tutoring job for the next six weeks that will more than provide him with enough spending money.

I was really proud of him for doing this. It really shows a shift in how our family approaches money. Our relationship with our finances has really evolved over the years. Seven or eight years ago, if we didn't have the money for something we thought we needed, then we'd pull out the plastic or get another student loan. Five or six years ago, we would have just used money set aside for something else to pay for these "necessities. And starting four or so years ago, we would have used cash and made sure to budget for it. Now, with our limited income, we've had to prioritize the real necessities and more often than not there really isn't money left over for these extras unless we find an alternative way to pay for them.

It takes time to learn and then adopt and apply financial strategies in your life. It's take us several years to get where we are. We're budgeting, living within our means, saving, and not stressing about our finances.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A month in review

It's been a month, more like a month and a half since I last posted. I found myself caught up in a new rhythm of life that just didn't allow for extra time on the computer. I have, in fact, spent less and less time using the computer over the past several weeks.

So what has happened in the last month and a half? Nothing has really changed. My eldest finished out the school year. Summer has now set upon us. It's a welcome respite from the rigid, daily school schedule. I enjoy morning outings with the girls and quiet afternoons.

The biggest change has probably come with me. I've realized a few things since I've quit my job. It's been nearly two months now since I left. As a full-time working mom for seven years, I used to fantasize about quitting my job and spending more time with my kids. As my work situation continued to deteriorate over the years, the fantasy grew and my focus on it continued unwavering. I had built it up so that it was out of touch with reality. I know now that my expectations were a bit overdone. I expected to have a perfect house, gourmet meals on the table every night, laundry washed and folded before anyone noticed it in the hamper, and constantly happy, smiling children. Maybe I didn't completely admit it, but it was part of the fantasy.

My life is far from that idyllic lifestyle. The house does get cleaned more regularly, but we are also home messing it up constantly. I am cooking more. I do love to cook. This produces lots of dirty dishes, which I spend an inordinate amount of time washing every day. The laundry is still a problem. Sigh... The kids are happy but not any more so than before. In short, life is good. I do enjoy it but--there is something missing. I miss a greater sense of purpose of contributing to something of doing something every day that doesn't get undone in the morning. I miss working. Yes, I said it. I miss working. I do not miss my previous job. That was a very unhealthy situation for me. But I do like to work. I feel like I am a better me when I do have somewhere other than the park or library to go to every day.

I have been looking for a part-time job, something I can do two or maybe even three days a week. I would like something meaningful that pays enough to make it worthwhile (childcare, work clothes, commuting). I haven't found anything yet, but I'll keep looking. When I do go back to work, whether that is next week or two years from now, it will be on my terms. I'm not making sacrifices of myself or my family for my career anymore. It needs to fit into my life and not the other way round.

In my journey of discovery, I've learned what I am and what I am not. I am a mom. I love my kids. I also love some time spent away from my kids too. I am an educated person with skills and abilities that should be put to use. I am slowly realizing that maybe I can be all of these things at the same time in the right balance. It's up to me to make sure that happens.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Food budgeting

I love food, and I love to cook. Both have gotten me into trouble with my waistline and my budget. Before I became very conscious about spending and budgeting, I was able to spend upwards of 800 or 900 dollars per month on food at the grocery store. That didn't even count money spent eating out. It was just too much.

Just this month, I've spent $211 on groceries. My previous budget was $600 per month for groceries. My plan was to get this down to $500 now that I'm not working. I was hoping to do this through a combination of cooking more from scratch and watching sales and using coupons. I'm still hopeful that I can do this. I've purchased enough turkey and chicken meat to last the month. That means that I have almost $100 per work to cover everything else for the rest of the month.

As I've been thinking about food and budgeting, I'm trying to come to terms with what I can cover in my budget for food realistically. One of my favorite Jane Austen novels is Sense and Sensibility. In the film version, the family, reduced to penury after the father's death and transfer of his estate to the eldest son of his first wife, finds that they can no longer afford such things as sugar or beef. The eldest daughter says, "we must learn to economize". I haven't yet cut sugar out of my budget. But beef is eaten only rarely now in my house. Part of the reason is the health and environmental costs of beef, the other is the price. The cuts of beef that are comparable in price to chicken are far from desirable.

What else will find that it no longer has a place in my shopping cart? I think it would be beneficial to reduce the amount of dairy that we eat. We go through a gallon or two of milk per week, butter is used liberally, and we always have a block of cheddar around. There aren't cheaper substitutes so it would be a matter of cutting these out of our diet or at least reducing how much we use. I'm working on cutting down the number of prepared foods that we eat such as snack foods. I'm also considering baking my own bread. I already bake muffins, cookies and other baked goods.

I'll have to revisit this at the end of the month to see how I do with my grocery budget. If I'm not able to keep it in check, I may have to consider some more drastic cuts to help keep my spending in check.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Finding your groove: From work to staying at home

It's almost been a full week at home now. I've learned a few things being home that might be helpful for others who are planning to make a transition.

Expect a transition. Even if you've been dreaming about staying home for years or finally just quit your job out of frustration. There will be a transition time to staying at home. Being with your kids 24 hours a day is a lot different than spending 8 hours in an air-condition office each day. It isn't all good and it isn't all bad, but it is very different. So don't expect to go from professional career woman to expert stay at home mom immediately.

You may not have as much time as you think you will. I naively thought that once I was home all day that there would be plenty of time to get everything done in the house plus have lots of fun, quality time with the kids. Wrong! There are only so many hours in the day. I now have a lot more choice and flexibility in how I spend those hours, but they are still limited. I still haven't gotten the laundry under control, but I've also made the conscious decision to focus a lot of my energy and attention on providing meaningful experiences for my daughters.

Being at home may mean that you can't wait to get away from it. Now more than ever I need some alone time to recharge my batteries. Spending a full day with a 2 year-old is always exhausting no matter what.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Staying at home is exhausting

I've decided two days in that staying at home full-time is exhausting. I feel like I've never worked so hard. In my working days, I used to think nothing of forgoing washing the dishes in order to veg out on the couch for an hour in the evening. Now, I don't understand how it is that there are still dirty dishes in the sink. Didn't I just do them an hour ago. There is a never-ending need for cleaning, cooking, cleaning up after cooking, responding to this or that request from the little or not-so-little one. I may already need a vacation. I'm hoping things will settle into a routine soon, and soon I'll have caught up on all the housework I'd put off my last few weeks. At least I hope that is the case. For now, my kids are relatively healthy and happy. My oldest is playing with mud in the backyard with a couple of friends, the youngest is taking a much needed TV break (needed for mommy), white bean and spinach soup is simmering on the stove. I can appreciate in this moment what is good and leave for tomorrow what is yet undone.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My first official day home

Today is Monday. A day when I'd normally rush through a morning routine, rush one or more both kids to school or daycare, commute 1/2 an hour to work, and spend eight hours at a desk, and then repeat the routine in reverse. It is noon. Today, I've walked my oldest daughter to school, cleaned the girls' room and the living room, played with water in the backyard with my youngest, ate lunch outside with her, read her three stories, and tucked her in for a nap.

I'll admit that my convictions about staying home wavered a bit this weekend as it all started to sink in. Am I doing the right thing? Will I really enjoy it as much as I think I will? Is this good for the kids, for my husband, for me? I don't know the answers to those questions yet. I do know that I enjoyed my Sunday evening for the first time in a long time without the Sunday evening dread coming on. Life is like an unpainted canvas for me right now. I get to fill it. I just need to decide what the painting is going to be.

All in all, I am extremely grateful for this opportunity. It is something that I never thought I'd be able to do. I hope that I can be worthy of the gift.  

Friday, April 29, 2011

The first day of the rest of my life...

Yesterday was my last day of work. I was caught up in the final preparations and last minute things to do. I was also caught up in my emotions. My departure was definitely bittersweet. I held it together until the end of the day. As I powered down my computer for the last time and prepared to go home, there was a finality to it all. It felt like the final episode of a bad sitcom. I left for the last time with tears for all the people and things I will miss.

Today, I am happy but still feeling the after effects of an emotional day yesterday. Today is the last day of the rest of my life. Let it be a good one.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Last Week: One more day to go!

Can it really be here? One more morning, one more commute, only one day left. Happy, excited, nervous, sad, and anxious.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Herb Update:

I received my herb seeds from Jardin du Gourmet or Artistic Gardens. They arrived amazingly fast, as fast as any order to Amazon. I was quite pleased. The little seed packets are nicely labeled. They came shipped in a nice bubble mailer, which included their 2011 catalog. I haven’t had time to plant any of the seeds yet. I’m out of a potting mix. I’m going to start a bunch in peat pots and then give some to friends and maybe even trade some on craigslist too.
Just a quick update on the garden:
·         Strawberries look amazing after only a couple of weeks in the ground. I would never hesitate to buy bare root strawberries. They are flourishing and growing leaves like there is no tomorrow. I think it is highly likely that I’ll get strawberries in the summer if they keep up rate of growth.
·         I’m still having problems getting the corn off to a start. The opossum or raccoon or whatever is digging in my garden will not leave the mounds alone. It’s even been digging the mounds with the corn seedlings. I think I’ll have to get a bit more aggressive and devise a system to protect the mounds from the nightly trespassers.
·         The tomatoes are finally looking good. There are some new green leaves. I think they’re over their transplant trauma or whatever was causing them to yellow and drop leaves.
·         The blueberries are still in their containers but do look quite happy. I even had a not-quite-ripe blueberry off one of the bushes. It was a beautiful blue berry if a bit tart.

Last week: 2 more days

It’s funny how you hope for something, dream about it, and then when it finally comes to fruition you can’t help but feel a little sad. I read somewhere that anticipation of something adds to one’s happiness. I’m a little nervous about this big life change. I’m worried a little about money, but I’m more worried about how it’s going to be to spend all of this time with the kids. Will I get bored, frustrated, tired of them? My oldest daughter is excited to have me home. I hope I can live up to her expectations.

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Last Week: three more days

Is it possible that all this time has passed and next Monday I won’t even be here at work? I’ll probably be walking back from dropping Neva off at school. It’s strange to even contemplate. I can already feel that I’m going to be a sorry sap this week. I’ve spent the last almost seven years of my life here, six years in this department, and three years in this very cubicle. It has been difficult but for better or worse it has been my life. I’ve shared so much with my friends here. It’s hard to believe that I won’t see them next Monday morning. I’m not going to try to delve down into any more reasons for quitting and staying home this week. I think I need to start to let go and say goodbye to my work life here. It has been difficult but it’s also been challenging and interesting at times. I’ve worked with great people and awful ones too. I’ve been torn apart at public meetings and supported by my coworkers. I’ve given great presentations to the Planning Commission and City Council, and I’ve bombed some too. I’ve produce high quality, thoughtful analyses, and I’ve had to be supportive of projects that I’ve hated. So here is how I feel on day one of my last week. Goodbye City Hall. I’ll miss you a little.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Those holes in the cinder blocks out in the strawberry bed are bothering me. I have the urge to plant every little bit of dirt on my upper terrace with plants and seeds. Those little blocks seem like prime property to me. I’ve tried to do a little research on what I can successfully grow in those little blocks. It seems that herbs have been successfully grown in those small spaces. I’m a little concerned about the blocks drying out or heating up too much in the summer heat. I’ve decided to go ahead and buy herb seeds and give it a try anyway. My garden is sorely lacking in herbs. I have a few various basil seedlings growing with my tomato plants but that is about it.
A few months ago, while I was searching for cheap sources of vegetable seeds online, I came across Artistic Gardens or Le Jardin du Gourmet. They have incredible 35 cent sample seed packets for all kinds of common and more obscure herbs and vegetables. I have read some mixed reviews about the germination rates and also delays in shipping or difficulty with customer service. But really at 35 cents a packet, how could I not give it a try. These packets are a great deal but the shipping is $3.50 flat rate for seeds. I went through the list of herbs last night to pick out what I wanted to grow. I went with the usual suspects: basil, thyme, oregano, chives, parsley, rosemary, dill, cilantro and tarragon. I’m also trying out some herbs that I’ve never even tried before: horehound, hyssop, feverfew, fenugreek, marshmallow, and lemon grass. They also have some unusual vegetables available so I picked up some seeds for the Queensland Blue Pumpkin and Hopi Blue Corn. 
I don’t have high expectations for these. I’m sure some will grow quite easily and other may not even germinate or grow at all. It’s kind of a fun experiment though. I’m not including the costs in my gardening expenses. Instead, I’m counting it as part of my monthly spending money. It’s for my own personal amusement.
If you’re thinking about growing some herbs and would like to try some unusual ones, it is worth a visit to the website. I’ve not found sounds cheaper anywhere else on the web. I’d compare it to a penny candy store for seeds. Who can resist a jawbreaker for five cents or a pack of seeds for 35 cents?

4 days.

I’ve started to get a little sad and weepy about leaving work. It’s really starting to hit me that after next week, I won’t be coming back. I’m going to miss my friends, having a job and title, and having a paycheck. I know that it’s still the right decision. I hope I can make the most of my time away from work.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Setting Up a Vegetable Garden

There are many ways to grow a vegetable garden: a traditional earth garden, raised bed gardening, more intensive gardening like the French intensive or square-foot method, container gardening, and even variations within these such as vertical gardening. One would think that there must be a superior method to gardening. The good news is that there isn’t one right way to garden. I am employing no less than four types of vegetable gardening right now in my backyard. I have a traditional raised bed with strawberries grown with square foot spacing, eight large self-watering containers with square foot spacing, a three sisters companion planting earth garden, and summer squash planted in the ground with more traditional spacing. There isn’t one right way to do it and depending on what you want to grow, you may find that one size doesn’t fit all. I’m a fan of square foot gardening. I do a little lower cost variation of it using less expensive soil components. It works for smaller vegetables or those that can be trained to grow vertically. I won’t grow my summer squash, corn, pumpkins or sunflowers in a square foot bed because the investment in the raised bed and soil is too great. These are large plants. I could only get a few ears of corn in one square foot but I can get four lettuce plants or one indeterminate tomato instead. It just makes more sense.  So far it seems to be working out well.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

6 days remaining. Tick tock.

What I’m looking forward to: talking to my oldest daughter right when she comes home from school. Monday through Thursday I get to see my kids in the evening anywhere from 4:30pm to 5:30pm depending on the day. That first hour is usually taken up with cooking and eating dinner. Then, it’s on to washing dishes or enjoying a bit of downtime. The kids usually like to watch a TV show after dinner. I usually ask the perfunctory, “how was your day” kind of questions. I usually get the perfunctory, “it was fine” kind of answers. I’ve noticed that when I get to pick my daughter up right after school those answers are usually quite different. All the details from the day are fresh in her mind. The Friday before last she told me all about how some historic re-enacters from Old Town had come to tell them about how kids live over a century ago. They also got to try on outfits from the time. She was fairly excited about it and talked about it for at least fifteen minutes.

What I’m leaving behind:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Seven days and counting!

What I’m looking forward to: living the life I choose. I think that this whole quit-my-job-become-a-stay-at-home-mom-thing is really more than just one decision amongst many in my life. It feels like a sea change for me. I’ve decided to do more, take more risks, and live more fully. I think next time I feel this way about anything I won’t hesitate to make a change.

What I’m leaving behind: a paycheck. I can’t say that I’m happy about leaving behind the sizable paycheck that magically appears in my checking account every other week. It is money that was needed and well used by my family. However, it was also the leash tying me to a job that I’ve despised for the past several years. Goodbye leash.

When it works, it works.

I’ve written a bit about finances here before. My biggest hurdle to leaving my job has been the financial consequences. I haven’t quite admitted until now that I’ve been waiting for the proverbial hammer to fall. I’ve been waiting for some financial catastrophe to befall us that would make leaving my job imprudent if not completely impossible. We’ve known since January that we owe taxes this year, approximately $1200 worth. It was worked into the budget so we’ve been prepared. My husband has also been commenting for a few months that he needs to get his brakes replaced on his car. Well, Uncle Sam came first of course. We procrastinated until Sunday night to finish our taxes. I’d done a quick job of it months earlier to figure out what we owed but we waited to finalize everything and pay until Sunday. We were just about done with our taxes. We use TurboTax. It was just about to run our error check when I mentioned that I hadn’t yet entered our charitable contributions to our church. We’ve never been eligible to itemize so I didn’t even bother. We decided to go back anyway and add it in. To my great surprise, it bumped us over the standard deduction. We knocked $500 off of our tax bill in just a few minutes. We were thrilled to cut our tax bill, and my husband decided to take his car in to get the brakes done today since he is off for Spring Break. He called me later to tell me the estimate and he had spoken with the mechanic. It turns out we had the brakes done less than two years ago. It’s a good thing we have a trustworthy mechanic. What should have been a $500-700 bill for the brakes is now less than two hundred for an oil change and other minor repairs.
It illustrates a couple of things for me that I’ve observed in my own life and in the lives of others but have yet to really put my faith in yet, when you are on the right path and step out in faith, your needs will be provided for. Yes, we do still owe taxes and our car did need a part to fix a leak in the brake fluid but we also saved what could have been up to a $1,000 in expenses over the past two days. There have been numerous times in my life when things have just worked out like when I got the promotion at work while pregnant with my second daughter. It allowed me to go to ¾ time at work while still making around the same money so I could spend more time with my girls.
It has worked out for us for me to stay home. I’m not yet sure where that $200-300 a month is going to come from but for the first time in my life I’m not sweating it because I know that our needs will be provided for.

Gardening: Dollars and Sprouts Update

My obsession continues. I spent a lot of time in the garden this weekend hauling cinder blocks and building the raised bed for the strawberries.
Soil mix for vegetable containers: $48 (I used my ten dollar Lowe’s coupon)
Seeds: $10
Plants: $15 for 25 strawberry plants and 6 heirloom tomato plants
Cinder Blocks and Peat Moss for the Strawberries: $22
Grand Total: $95
My original estimate was about $150 to start the garden. I’m still well below my estimate. I do however need to contend with the blueberries. After building the strawberry bed, I didn’t have it in me to haul 25 more cinder blocks and do the work on the bed. The blueberries still seem quite happy in their 1 gallon containers so I’m putting the work off to next weekend. Also up on my list is building the trellises for the tomatoes, cucumbers and peas. My estimate is that it will cost about $50 to build the bed for the blueberries and another $20-30 for the trellises.
Here is how my garden in shaping up this week. Twenty-five strawberry plants are now in the ground. Some had already started sprouting leaves. All but one looks healthy and happy in their new bed.
My three sisters garden is off to a bit of a rocky start. I have about six or more sunflower seedlings sprouted. Some evil animal chewed off the leaves and pulled the first three seedlings out by the roots. I have about six or seven corn seedlings sprouted. I mounded up six hills and transplanted the seedlings from the shady area. Last night, perhaps the same evil animal or another knocked down and dug out three of my corn mounds. I’m going to have to stay up all night and lay in wait for this garden intruder. I’ll also have to do some corn mound restoration and replant those hills.
My six tomatoes were looking a little worse for wear. The lower leaves were yellowing and turning brown. I treated them with some organic vegetable fertilizer. They still seemed a bit peaked. I was digging around in the container to see if it was a moisture problem when I discovered that the roots were still wrapped in some kind of paper. I dug each one up and unwrapped them. I’m hoping they’ll perk up soon. My four cucumbers sprouted and look strong. The lettuce is growing slowly. We had a little heat snap this weekend. It’s cooled off again so I’m hoping it will pick up. The radishes, eggplants, peas, and chard are all chugging along in the planters. The bean teepee is looking good. The plants are about 4 inches tall. They’ve been chewed on a little but look otherwise healthy. I planted some flower seeds all around the outside of the beans. They have sprouted too. My summer squash seeds that I planted in the six-pack have sprouted. I need to get their final placement in the garden decided and build up their little mounds too.
I never get tired of going out to the garden and looking at everything. It amazes me how one day there is nothing but bare soil and the next several little green sprouts have emerged holding their new leaves up to the sun. It is beautiful.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gardening & Feminism

Ok, I am ready to admit it. I’m obsessed with gardening right now. I think about it in the morning. I can’t wait to get home in the evenings to tend my plants and see how they have grown. I dream about lush green vegetable gardens. I have a problem. Perhaps, I’m not so unique. I know I’m not the only one who when the sun starts to warm in the late winter and spring seeks to dig their fingers in the earth and grow things. Aside from finding a Gardener’s Anonymous meeting and submitting the to the twelve steps, I think I’ll just try to remember that there are other important things in my life too like my daughters and my husband, and some other not so important but necessary things like laundry and cleaning.
I was out last night until dark planting the last of my mammoth sunflower seeds. I also put in the first three sisters corn mound. The one I planted earlier is in too much shade so I changed up my plans. It does look the corn is sprouting in the old one so I’ll probably try to transplant it. I think that my current obsession with gardening is affected both by the seasons and by my inherent desire to create things. Many of my hobbies are geared toward that: cooking, sewing, knitting, and gardening all have a common theme of creation. I take the raw materials like soil, water and seeds and create a garden, or I take some fabric, thread and my sewing machine to create a dress. I have a deep well of desire to create things. I’m not taking credit for the production of the basic materials. I do not believe that I cause the sun to shine or the rain to fall, but I do have a part. If not for me, those tiny radishes wouldn’t be growing in my yard right now. I believe that it might be somewhat of a feminine instinct to create. We are the mothers, and motherhood is essentially an act of creation taking the building blocks of life and turning it into a human being. I feel connected to that side when I engage in these activities. I know that many women before me have done these things throughout modern and ancient times. It is important and we should embrace this aspect of our femininity. I believe it is a powerful part of our femaleness. Some of these things have been derided by modern feminists. We are no longer forced into “women’s work”. I wonder why we as women adopted that view. Why shouldn’t we have just elevated those things, our motherhood and our feminine urge to create. There has been somewhat of a renaissance of these things as younger women have eschewed the views of their mothers and picked up some of these things. The younger generation has been more fully able to embrace types of activities. I think this all gets back to how women have fought the gender equality battles. We have never done so on our terms. It has always been on men’s playing field within the male value system. Elevating these activities that have traditionally been “women’s work” is one way to continue the fight for gender equality.

Two weeks!

So this is how it ends. It seems a little strange. My career here began so long ago. I was a much different person then too. I was young, a bit na├»ve, enthusiastic about my career. I’m not so young, a bit jaded, and feel far less than enthusiastic about my career. I wish it was different. I wish that I still enjoyed my job. I wish that the organization that I work for hadn’t gone down the path it has. I wish that it was easier to balance working and family. Because in the ideal world, I would have it all: family, a satisfying career, a well-rounded personal life. I know that sometime in the not too distant future that I’ll be back in the workforce. For now though all that I can see are lazy summer afternoons, trips with my girls to the zoo or museums, a simpler and slower life.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Blueberries in the Garden

I’ve wanted to grow blueberries since I discovered that there are some southern highbush varieties that do quite well in my area. The cost of a single blueberry bush at my local nurseries starts at $14 and goes up from there to $30 for some of the more desirable varieties. Since I’d need at least two bushes to ensure good production, it would have been a significant investment for me to start growing blueberries this year.  I also can’t order them mail order since many companies won’t ship them to my state. I must have mentioned this all a time or two to my parents because when they showed up on Sunday for my daughter’s birthday party they brought me no less than six blueberry bushes. I was really excited if a bit overwhelmed. I had originally thought to keep the blueberry plants in containers but obtaining six good size containers and keeping them adequately watered seemed like a bit much. I settled on growing them in a raised bed similar to what I was planning for the strawberries. I found out that the closest spacing of the bushes was no less than 2 and half feet between the bushes. That means that I need a bed approximately 3 feet by sixteen feet. My upper terrace where I grow my garden doesn’t even have sixteen clear feet because of a tree and pathways and other things I’ve already planted. So I decided on an L-shaped garden bed that can take advantage of about 8 feet of clear space and then extend another eight feet along the walkway from the top of the stairs to the garage. It’s a great solution. I think it will look nice. You solve one problem and create another because now I have to find a new place for the strawberries.  

Nine Days and Short-timer's

I have nine days left of work as of today. Time has just flow by over the past couple of weeks. I’m almost there. I’ve almost realized my goal of staying home. Since I can see my impending departure, I’ve started to become a little nostalgic about work. I’m seeing everything through new eyes. I’ll definitely miss some of my coworkers who have become such great friends. I’ll miss some of the quiet (although it’s not currently very quiet as there are hundreds of people chanting below my office window to protest the medical marijuana ordinance). Right now, I’m really excited about starting this new chapter of my life. For the first time in a while, I feel like the possibilities of my future are limitless. It’s scary and exciting.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

12 days!

I'm so excited about my impending departure from work. I can't even begin to describe it.

Garden Update: A Three Sisters Garden

When I first learned about the three sisters method of companion planting, I was intrigued. I knew that I would want to try it. I now have the time and a little space in the backyard to give it a go. I bought my corn, bean and pumpkin seeds to get started. I’ve been spending a lot of time planning out my garden over the past several weeks. The self-watering containers are mostly planted, a few are just waiting for the tomato plants that should arrive tomorrow and the bean teepee is up.
My next task is to figure out where the three sisters, the summer squash plants and the strawberry bed are going to go. I have an idea of where the strawberry bed should be running along the brick path from the house to the garage but I was stumped about what to do with the three sisters and squash. There is a space between two sheds in the back that has some old wood and debris piled in it. I thought the space was too small for much plus I’d need to dispose of the trash. I went out and measured it the other day and discovered that is about 10’ by 13’ just enough space for a small three sisters garden. I did already try a mound near the middle of the garden but it gets too much shade. I’ll wait to see if the corn sprouts there and move it over to the new plot. I’m now trying to figure out the ideal planting plan for the three sisters. The plot is bounded on two sides by fences and a shed. I think that the pumpkins should be planted toward the outside to let them climb up the fences. I’m also toying with the idea of planting some sunflowers along the fence too. The summer squash will end up near the bean teepee. I need to get those in the ground soon too. I heart vegetable gardening.
I’m really impressed with how well everything is doing in my garden so far. Even the bean seeds planted last weekend are sprouting around the bean teepee.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Are kid's lessons and enrichment classes important?

The summer that my second daughter was born, I enrolled my older daughter in no less than four different lessons at the same time. I had pulled her out of preschool for the summer since I was off on maternity leave and felt that she needed the stimulation that several classes at the rec center could provide. She took swimming, karate, art, and gymnastics. Even I was exhausted taking her to all these different classes, and we were within just a short walk from the rec center. It was definitely too much. She didn’t enjoy the karate and ended up going to less than half of the sessions. I didn’t get her to all the swim lessons and she ended up stopping the gymnastics class. It was a waste of money to enroll her in all those classes and it took an otherwise relaxing summer and turned it into a constant barrage of classes.
 I learned from my mistake. She hasn’t taken more than one class at a time since then. She has since taken violin, gymnastics again, yoga, art, and science classes. She has enjoyed many of them and done repeat sessions of gymnastics, yoga and art. She hasn’t been enrolled in a class since she stopped taking gymnastics in January (of her choice). She’s now asking for either art or as I suggested modern dance classes.
Now, I wouldn’t even try to argue that these enrichment classes are a necessity, far from it. However, with the reductions in investment in public education, she isn’t being exposed to the arts. School curriculum focuses now completely on the basics. I want her to be exposed to various things. I believe that she has quite a bit of talent in dancing. I think she should at least try a class for a few months.
I’ve held off in enrolling her in classes because of the financial impacts. The modern dance class will cost $35 per month and the art would be about $70 for the next two months. It certainly isn’t within our new monthly budget since I’ve yet to figure out how we’ll be supplementing our income. However, I strongly want her to have the experience. Are these lessons and enrichment activities important?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Disappointment into Dreams

A couple of years ago, we found out about a mortgage loan program for teachers through my husband’s retirement program. It seemed like a great deal, 3% down and a deferred 17% second for five years. It just about put a home within reach for us. We had the 3% saved but not much more. We planned to borrow the closing costs from my 401k and my parents. With that in order, we set out to buy a home with a firm plan to spend around $300,000, even though we were preapproved for much more. We made seven or more offers on homes and probably looked at between 40-50 houses in the span of about five months. We lost out again and again, coming pretty close to having our offer accepted once or twice. It was quite a disappointment when after five months of an exhaustive search we called it quits. My dream of home ownership was almost within our grasp and it just slipped away.
Once we decided to rent for a few more years and save up more money, I accepted that decision. We moved to a larger, more comfortable home and life, as it does, went on. In hindsight, I appreciated that we hadn’t bought any of the houses because some were either in less than desirable areas or were older and would need quite a bit of work. It was a better financial decision for us too.
Now, I see that if we had bought a house, my dream of leaving my job wouldn’t be an option. I would need to continue working to pay the mortgage and upkeep on a house. Renting has provided us the flexibility to quickly reduce our expenses to enable me to quit my job. Of course, I had no idea at the time that my disappointment at not buying a home would lead to this. I couldn’t foresee the future or imagine a time when I would be able to leave the workforce. Perhaps, other people are out there in the same situation. They’ve been disappointed. Things haven’t quite worked out in one way or another. Try to remember that beautiful things can come from keen disappointments.

Happy 14!

What I’m looking forward to: becoming more self-sufficient. I may have touched on this before. I’m looking forward to cooking more from scratch, making things like clothes, fixing things, and making what I need rather than just buying things.

What I’m leaving behind: getting dressed up for work. I’m ready to ditch the heels, trousers, and nylons for jeans, t-shirts and flip flops. I like to be casual and comfortable. I do enjoy getting dressed up every so often, but I also like not having to find and dress in four business appropriate outfits a week.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Gardening Update: Dollars and Sprouts

In my endeavor to extend my frugality to my vegetable garden, I’m trying to keep my costs as low as possible and focus on growing vegetables and fruits with a good return. Here is what I’ve spent so far:
Eight self-watering vegetable containers: free! My mom wasn’t going to use them and passed them on to me.
Soil mix for vegetable containers: $48 (I used my ten dollar Lowe’s coupon)
Seeds: $8
Plants: $15 for 25 strawberry plants and 3 heirloom tomato plants
Grand Total: $71
I still need to build a small raised bed for my strawberry plants. I’m planning on using cinder blocks to keep the cost down. It shouldn’t cost much more than $20. I also need to construct trellises for the peas, tomatoes and cucumbers. I did make a great discovery, which should save me some money. There was a pile of what looked like leavings and clippings back between the storage sheds. It’s actually the remains of a compost pile. I can use this to supplement my garden soil for the strawberry beds and the hills for the three sisters and summer squash.
Here is what is growing right now in my garden. Lettuce, peas, and chard have sprouted. I’ve planted cucumbers, pole beans on the bean teepee, and one hill of three sisters (corn, beans, and pumpkins). I’m still waiting for my strawberries and tomatoes to arrive in the mail. I still need to build up some mounds to grow summer squash and a couple more hills of three sisters. The garden is really coming along. I started composting again. I can’t wait to have even more time to devote to the garden. I don’t have a huge space to garden. I only have the upper terrace, of which part is shaded by a Mulberry Tree. It is surprising how much you can really fit in a small space.

It's April! 15 days more!

Numero Trentatre
What I’m looking forward to: being a teacher to my kids. I discovered while spending time out in the backyard gardening the past couple of weekends that my youngest loves to shadow me and “help me” with my chores. She loved digging around in the dirt and dropping handfuls of it into the garden. She loved poking holes in the dirt and placing tiny seeds in them. I’m going to love doing things with my sidekick.

What I’m leaving behind: guilt. Working moms have it in spades. I sure do. I feel guilty about leaving my kids each day. I feel guilty about worrying about feeling guilty about leaving my kids when I’m supposed to be working. It goes on and on.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

16 Days Wohoo!

The days are passing quickly now!

What I'm looking forward to: being a more happy relaxed mommy and wife. Happy mommy=happy family.

What I'm leaving behind: the drama.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

17 days left!

What I’m looking forward to: being intentional about how I spend my energy and time. Right now, most of my energy and time is spent at my job during the week. My family and myself get the leftovers. Time to flip flop that arrangement.

What I’m leaving behind: my coworkers. This is actually bittersweet for me. I have developed some close relationships with a few of my coworkers. They are now dear friends. There are some though that I’m only too happy to leave behind.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Days: 18

What I’m looking forward to:  being passionate about what I do every day. If I’ve learned anything about spending so much time at a job that I dislike, it is that there is something really mediocre about spending your time doing something that you’re not passionate about. It leaches your energy and leaves you in a malaise.

What I’m leaving behind: Sunday evening dread. If you’ve ever worked a Monday through Friday job that you dislike or even one that you enjoy that is stressful, then you know about Sunday evenings. Right about when the last rays of light disappear from the horizon and the night settles in, you get a sinking feeling deep in the pit of your stomach. You realize that your weekend has come to a close, and you must start preparing to spend most of your waking hours in a cubicle (or insert other workplace). You may have work stresses that compound the issue: tight deadlines, difficult supervisors, or crazy coworkers. Your mind starts to drift through all these things as the evening progresses. The happy blush of the weekend disappears and even though you’re weekend isn’t quite over, you’ve already had to make the mental transition back to work.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Easy Path

During my time exploring my options and deciding whether to quit my job, I spent a lot of time trying on each decision to see how it fit. I tried to imagine how life would be with either option. It came back again and again to the fact that my job while emotionally and physiucally stressful provided a generous and stable income with benefits. Even though I yearned to spend more time with my kids, they were both healthy and happy, well-adjusted kids. The easy path would have been to stay the same course with my job.

Yet, every time I imagined spending another ten years or even one year at my job, the more disheartened and less hopeful I felt. Every time I imagined life without my job, either staying home or working fewer hours at a less stressful job, the more excited and hopeful I felt about the future. But there were drawbacks too, financial sacrifices and career sacrifices that me and my family would need to make. Plus, it meant overhauling quite  a few aspects of our life from where we lived to my daughter's preschool to a new closer relationship with our budget. It wasn't the easy path at all. In the end though it was the right thing to do. The more I talked about it with my duaghter, the more I realized that she wanted Friday mom  on Monday through Thursday too. The more time we talked about it, the more my husband expressed his desire to have someone to take care of the house and girls to allow him more focus on his career.

Since I've made my decision and told some friends about it, they've expressed their desires to do something similar. Most people are stuck where I was for awhile. They are taking the easy path even if it leads to job disatisfaction or depression. I made a New Year's resolution in 2010 that I wanted to take more risks in life. Sticking to the easy, safe path may allow you to have some security and safety but it doesn't always provide the happiness and joy that most people desire.

It's not always easy to see the difference between taking risks and being foolish. Perhaps, they are even one in the same sometimes. Everyone has to decide for herself at sometime or another whether their present course is the easy path. You need to evalute whether the tradeoffs that you're making are really worth it or whether you just feel stuck and are coasting along.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Saving or Paying Off Debt

I think many people in debt run into this situation often where they have to examine whether their excess income is allocated to savings or paying off debt. As you go through your debt pay off adventure, you find your debts start to decrease. Perhaps, some of the urgency of paying off the debt dissipates as you watch the balances decline. Or perhaps, due to a change in life circumstances you find yourself feeling more vulnerable financially and feel the need to save more. Or maybe you’re fed up and tired of the debt hanging on you and want to pay it off as quickly as possible even though you’re savings is far from adequate.

As I’ve done research on the topic. Here are some of the approaches:

Save small and focus like mad on paying off debt
This is a view advocated by financial gurus like Steve Ramsey. He encourages people to save up a small amount like $1,000 to cover any small emergencies and then throw all your money at your debts. It has worked for many people. It keeps the intensity of the debt pay off high. You get an automatic positive feedback as you see large debts whittled down at great speed. It may have been a great strategy during the boom economy but it is hard to imagine a person or family right now for whom 1,000 in savings would be adequate. Many people are unemployed or facing potential layoffs. Few jobs are secure and those with some security often face pay cuts or reductions in benefits. Would you want only 1,000 between you and the abyss of financial insecurity? My other issue with this method is that having money in your savings account often provides people with a peace of mind that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Personally, I find that having 5,000 or more dollars in the bank gives me the feeling of security that my family can meet most immediate or short-term challenges.

Save big and then pay off debt
Others are now advocating that you save up anywhere from 3-6 months or more of your basic living expenses before you tackle debt
. For most people, especially young people just learning the basics of personal finance, this can seem daunting. It is hard making sacrifices with the goal of saving for some amorphous emergency that you can hardly foresee. I imagine that many people might simply give up on it all before they’ve even reached the 3 month savings goal.

Save some and pay off some debt
Here is my own personal finance strategy. Somewhere right in the middle. I think that every person needs to weigh their own personal situation, which may include factors like these:
· job security
· other sources of income in an emergency
· need for savings to meet personal financial security needs
· need to pay off debt

Here is how I analyze my own situation as we transition to a one income family:
Job Security—fairly high
for my husband. He has tenure. It is unlikely that he will be laid off in the next few years.
Other Sources of Income---low. We do not have many assets we could sell or other sources of income. I’m looking to improve that in the coming years.
Need for savings to meet personal financial security—high. As a one-income family, we need to have a sufficient cushion to meet our needs. The budget will be fairly tight, which is even more of a reason to have a healthy savings
Need to pay off debt---moderate. We have some lingering credit card debt that we would like to dispose of as quickly as possible.

In our situation, we have two factors that indicate we should focus on debt repayment: job security and need to pay off debt. However, the other two factors more strongly indicate that we need to beef up our savings first. My personal goal is to get our savings up to four months of living expenses. Instead of focusing entirely on savings, I’ve determined that the first $400 of income after expenses will be allocated to savings and the next $100 will go to debt. It will keep us focused on savings but allow for additional debt payments when we have extra money. When we have less than $400 of income after expenses, it will all be allocated to savings.

19 days! Happy dance.

Numero Diciannove

What I’m looking forward to: un-programmed time. There is nothing that pleases me more than a day without appointments, commitments or long to do lists. It is like a beautiful blank canvass. I’m the artist and get to fill my day with spontaneous activities or I get to plan something completely around my natural schedule.

What I’m leaving behind: spending money on things that I’d rather not spend money on like convenience foods and guilt purchases (little toys and trinkets for the girls).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Budget Holdouts

Everyone has a few of these. A couple of budget categories where you know you spend more than you should or maybe need to spend. There might be any variety of reasons why you do this. You may value whatever you’re spending on highly or believe that you cannot do without it.

For me, the two items that we haven’t cut significantly are our cell phones and our cars.
We’re stuck in our current cell phone contract until this summer. There is no way to reduce it right at this minute. But we’ve also been playing around with the idea (primarily before I decided to quit) of upgrading to smartphones. My husband and I both could use them for our jobs. I’ll no longer have a job soon and thus won’t need one. My husband would still really like one. The difficulty is that the data plans run around $25 on top of our regular plan. We could reduce our plan. We upped our minutes last time but have since found that we’re not using nearly that many minutes anymore. But we also cut our land line. We’re relying on our cell phones now for all of our calls. I’m going to try to reduce our bill from $89 back to $65 if possible after the summer. That is assuming that I can dissuade my husband from the smartphone. Hypothetically we could cut things further: use a prepaid service or maybe go down to one phone. Those are sacrifices that we’re not quite willing to make yet.

The cars. Well, last year our old 1995 Saturn was on its last leg. I was switching from working five days a week to four, which meant that my husband would be picking up our daughters two days a week. The old car wasn’t reliable so we decided to replace it. I did a lot of research and we bought a great late model used Mazda5. We took out an auto loan with a good interest rate. At the time, it seemed quite rational to take out an auto loan on the car. We wanted to get a good dependable car that met our needs. Quitting my job wasn’t on the radar back then. We have a little less than four years left on our auto loan. All together, we spend close to $450 a month to keep my car running and insured. That is no small amount of money by any means on our new budget. The reason that we want to keep two cars is that it would really limit my options for work in the future and limit what I can do with the girls during the week. I’m not attached to our car in particular. We could sell our car and eliminate the monthly payment. We may end up owing a little or might break even. But, we would need to pay cash for a used car. Even paying a couple thousand would be a strain on our savings. We may do this at some point if we determine that we need the monthly cash flow to make it work. We may even go down to one car for a time. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
What are your budget holdouts?

Twenty More!

Numero Diciotto

What I’m looking forward to: developing my writing. I’ve long been interested in writing. Ever since I was a child, I would plug away at an old typewriter and produce page long manuscripts. As an adolescent, I wrote stories. As an adult, I’ve produced some short pieces but mostly I’ve started and stopped writing several fictional novels. I participated in the last NaNoWriMo. I got all the way to 28,000 words before the stomach flu put me down for a week. It’s the farthest along that I’ve ever gotten on a novel. It made me see that perhaps I could actually finish one of the lingering novels that trail behind me.

What I’m leaving behind: bureaucracy. Ok, so I work in a large bureaucracy so maybe that isn’t a fair criticism. I knew what I was getting into---but that doesn’t change the fact that working in a bureaucracy is like trying to roll a boulder uphill all day long. I’ve always lamented that ¼ of the organization is actually doing the work and the other ¾ was put there to slow down or stop what the ¼ attempts to do.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Giving Notice to your Employer

The time is fast approaching for me to give notice to my employer. I must also let my daughter’s preschool know that she will be leaving at the end of April. For some reason, I feel more melancholy about her leaving preschool than me leaving my job.

In preparation for leaving, I’ve been doing a little research about the proper way to leave your job. I feel like you have to be even more careful when you’re leaving the workforce versus leaving for another job. There are several reasons. You don’t want to leave behind ill will with your supervisors or have them believe that you are leaving because you can’t cut it. You want to have good references and leave open the door to be rehired at some point. So here is what I think is a good course of action to prepare you to give notice to your employer.

1) Determine how much notice you want to give your employer. Although the standard is two weeks, you have the discretion to determine how much notice to provide. I believe that two weeks is far from adequate when you work in a professional environment and if you have unique work assignments. There are cons to providing a longer notice period: you could be asked to leave sooner or your supervisor could make your remaining time uncomfortable. However, I think that providing a month’s notice is a fair amount of time considering especially if you’ve been planning on leaving for awhile.

2) Start putting things in order. Start going through all of your personal files or records. Delete what you don’t want and save others. Update your resume. Save coworker contacts.

3) Keep the news to yourself until you’ve given notice. Human nature is such that if you’ve made this decision your first inclination is to shout it from the rooftops. Not a good idea. I’ve told only three close coworkers of my plans.

4) Prepare a letter of resignation. Keep it short and simple. Thank your supervisor and the organization for the opportunity you’ve been given. Provide your last date of work. And sign and date the letter. You may need to fill out other forms as well.

5) Plan how to convert your retirement accounts. I will need to rollover multiple accounts into an IRA. Start doing some research into where you want to set up your IRA.

6) Plan a date/time to sit down with your supervisor to give a verbal notice. I’ll be setting up an appointment with my supervisor and the manager to give my notice. I’ll plan out some speaking points in advance. I’ll also have the hard copies of my resignation letter prepared to hand over.

7) Prepare yourself for reactions. I haven’t quite figured out how everyone will respond to the news of my departure. My organization has been doing some serious downsizing or the last several years. There may be some relief. A vacancy means that someone else may not lose a job. It may also create a stressful situation for my superiors because there is no one to take over my work and no one can be hired to fill my spot.

8) Be strong and confident in your decision. Before you discuss your decision with your supervisor or coworkers, review all of the reasons that you’ve decided to quit. Granted you won’t want to discuss all of these with your supervisors or coworkers, but it will help to keep you focused on end game.

Lucky Number 21

Numero Diciassette

What I’m looking forward to: discovering what I miss when I spend all my time working. These are things that I simply never experience because I spend most of my daily waking hours in an office. I can’t quite fathom what they might be. Maybe it’s as simple as noticing the hum of daily life in my neighborhood during the day.

What I’m leaving behind: $400-500 a month extra in taxes that we pay on my husband’s salary because I bring in an income and cause us to fall into a higher tax bracket.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Numero Sedici

What I’m leaving behind: hours spent in relative solitude. The nature of my job requires me to spend extended periods of time working by myself. While that generally wouldn’t bother me, I’m a fairly introspective self-contained person. I do feel stifled by it.

What I’m looking forward to: getting in shape. It may sound like a cop out, but my job really gets in the way of exercise. I would need to wake up before 6am to exercise in the morning, and then I’m generally not able to exercise until after 6pm on the weekdays. That leaves Friday, Saturday and Sunday for meaningful exercise. I like the way I feel when I’m fit and in shape. When I’ve stayed at home before during maternity leave and when my youngest daughter was a baby, I was fairly disciplined at taking long walks every day and generally keeping active throughout the day. I’ll be walking my daughter to school one mile each way. That means if I walk her to school and then walk to pick her up, I’ll be logging four miles a day in walking. Not a bad start.

Grocery Shopping Tips

After a bit of a hiatus brought about by moving my entire household and a bout of stomach flu, I’m back! We’re finally settled in to the new place, and life is just about back to normal.
Awhile ago, I posted about how I’m attempting to keep my grocery budget to $600 per month. Admittedly, that has been quite a struggle for me in the past. However, it has started to get easier. This week after not really shopping last week and surviving on what we had at home and some takeout dinners, I psyched myself up to do the meal planning and grocery shopping. It was fairly effortless to keep my grocery bill under $150. Here are some of my tips for how to save on the grocery budget:

1) Focus your menu around vegetables. I primarily started doing this for health reasons but I’ve found that it also helps the pocketbook. Vegetables are relatively inexpensive per pound either fresh or frozen compared to meat or processed foods.

2) Pick your primary fresh vegetable and fruit store. Review the circular before you start menu planning. Highlight the deals on produce. My fresh produce store is Henry’s Market. They hands down have the cheapest prices on produce. They also have good deals on bulk staples like rice and beans. For instance, this week broccoli, potatoes, and grapes were on sale at Henry’s.

3) Plan your menu based on recipes or meal ideas that utilize the sale produce. Since broccoli was on sale, we’re having broccoli and cheese bake potatoes and broccoli cheese soup this week. This can take a little time if you want to find some new recipes but its well worth the time investment when you have a no-hassle cheap and tasty meal. Your meals need to be varied but quick and easy enough that you aren’t tempted to forgo attempting the braised asparagus and tilapia rolls for takeout. But don’t be afraid to serve the same vegetable more than once a week especially if you’ve incorporated it into a dish instead of serving it as a side.

4) Fill in your menu plan with other basic staple dishes. We have a few standby dishes that we eat with regularity. Spaghetti, chicken stir fry, and burritos often fill in on my menu plan. These are all really inexpensive and the costs of these meals are fairly stable since for the most part I can stock up when the ingredients go on sale.

5) Shop at more than one store. Henry’s is a good place to shop for fresh, cheap produce, but you could quickly eat up all those savings if you only shopped there. For toiletries and other staples like milk, bread and eggs, I hit up Costco or Target.

6) If you have kids, buy some relatively healthy snacks. We live in a busy, fast culture. It’s not uncommon to be jaunting out of the house in the morning not to return until lunchtime. A few snacks in a bag and some juice boxes can be a lifesaver when you’re out. You avoid impulse snack buying or worse buying something to placate whining kids. In an ideal world, kids would only eat fresh, unprocessed organic foods, but in the imperfect world we live in a couple of granola bars make a good runner up.

7) Keep a tally in your head on with a calculator in the store. I keep a rough estimate going in my head of what I’m spending as I shop. I round everything to the nearest 50 cents. I find that I’m quite capable of keeping track of everything when I’m alone. When I’m with the husband and kids, things get a little dicey as I’m distracted. Keeping a tally is a good strategy to avoid overspending. You’re not going to overspend at one store if you know that you still need to buy necessities at the next store. I may eventually resort to a calculator, but I’ll wait until I’m no longer working and can shop when there are fewer people out to notice. I may be a nerd, but I do try to keep it under wraps.

Everyone has to find a system that works for them. Some people love coupons and can save a great deal of money with them. I haven’t been able to get the couponing thing down yet. I believe the key to saving money on groceries or anything is developing a mindfulness of how you spend money and then intentionally spending that money.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Moving Day Came and Went

So the momentous day came and went. We’ve moved into our new smaller house. I also went on a camping weekend trip with the girl scouts, and two of the four of us got the stomach flu this week. It’s been a busy week.

And I love the new house. All the furniture fits just right. It’s snug and cozy without feeling small. We’re happy in our new smaller house. And better yet, it means I’m one step closer to realizing my dream of leaving the work-a-day world. The biggest tradeoff so far seems to be in going from two bathrooms to one. We now have to take turns and make sure that we’re not hogging bathroom time. Other than that, it is great. It already feels like home. My husband and I have moved a lot in the nine years we’ve been married. We’ve lived in two apartments, three houses, and even had a short stint living with my parents. I sincerely hope that we can settle in at this house for a good long time. But I understand now more than ever that a house is just a box where you keep your stuff and spend your time. If in two years, we need to move to a different box so be it. I’m happy wherever my family is.

It is invigorating to downsize. In fact, my husband and I were talking about how big and rambling our last house was. It was much more space than we needed. I would encourage anyone who is thinking about downsizing to think critically about how much space you really need. A 1,000 square foot house with a good floor plan is definitely adequate for a family of four people. That might shock people who are used to more spacious abodes. Think carefully about the space you live in and how you use it. Our old living room was huge. It was about 400 square feet, about the size of a small studio/efficiency apartment. Did we use the whole space? Heck no. All our small furniture was crowded in one area around the rug. It was nice to have all that space. It certainly felt spacious, and the kids enjoyed running around it. But did we need it? No.
One of my biggest concerns about moving into the new house was the girls having to share a room. It’s worked out just fine. We’ve adjusted bedtimes so that they both go to bed at the same time. I only have one storytime now and one room to visit to tuck them in.

Random Rant Starts Here:
So, here is the truth as I see it. We’ve been lied to. We’ve been told by the media, by our friends, our neighbors, and our families that we need more ______(insert anything). We always need to be upgrading to a bigger house, a fancier phone, a faster computer, more expensive furniture, a better car, and the list goes on. How many of us actually stop to think whether the money (translate time spent working) is worth whatever thing we’re supposed to believe that we need. What if you were able to look at what you had and say “This is enough. This is all I need. The only thing that could make this better is more time with the people I love”. How many people out there know what that looks like?