Monday, January 30, 2017

10 Free Things I Did During The Longest Month

~Of which I am inordinately proud~

January is always the longest month of the year. January is an opportunity (yes, let's call it that) to let our finances recover from Christmas, and for this year, to get on track for meeting some ambitious saving and giving goals. We might have one or two other spending freezes during the year, but January is guaranteed. We say to ourselves that we are not spending any money unless it's necessary. As far as 'necessary' goes, we ask ourselves how much do we need it? Can it wait till February? There isn't a whole lot that we need that can't wait: food, diapers and a payment for a beach vacation this summer summed it up. It's pretty miserly and not much fun at all, but I always know it's coming and I'd better make the most of it. This month, any time I did something that didn't cost us any money, I gave myself a mental pat on the back. I also took credit for some things Tim did. We're in this together.

If I see it all down in list form, I know I'm going to feel really proud of myself and maybe it will give me inspiration to do even better next January. So here goes -- things I did this month that were free or nearly free.

1) I (we) used gift cards. Christmas gift cards really take the edge off of no-spend January, and we typically get a couple Amazon gift cards between the two of us. Tim also got one for the Marine Corps Exchange, and he got himself some of his favorite Under Armour stuff as well as a Yeti mug that he's been complaining about incessantly, and spilling his coffee out of it left and right. I also earned $20 worth of Amazon gift cards through Swagbucks (my referral link). If I were smart, I'd have hoarded them all and waited till these last few unbearable days of the month to use them, but I don't have that kind of restraint. I don't even remember what I bought but it must have been good!

2) We did haircuts at home. Tim cuts his own hair and Timmy's, and when Joey gets a little bigger he'll do his too. (In the interest of full disclosure, I attempted to DIY Joey's haircut. I messed it up and it then became necessary to have my hairdresser fix it asap. My one frugal fail!)  Neither of the girls need haircuts right now, but I have given each of them a simple trim in the past. With a family our size we can save all kinds of money doing haircuts at home. Of course I spend enough money at my hair salon to more than make up for it, I guess. But not this month!

3) I decluttered and organized our stuff. I went room by room, closet by closet. I rediscovered a couple things I loved, such as the the colorful little rooster Tim brought back from Portugal. I found the perfect place to display it in our little office area. I filled up bags and boxes for Goodwill and a clothing swap. I took the kids clothing bins that had just a few things in them, and I condensed them into one or two. I took inventory of what kids' clothes we had, and what sizes and seasons they were. I got rid of nearly everything the girls outgrew, and of Timmy's outgrown clothes, I only saved the things I really, really like for Joey. I noted that we now have several empty storage bins, as I wasn't always one get rid of everything. But those empty bins will all be nice to have when we move this summer (to Japan, OMG!!), and they nest so they don't take up much space themselves.
Delaney didn't like it when I bought her soccer cleats that weren't pink, but I knew I was going to want to be able to pass them down to the boys.
4) I participated in a clothing swap. A friend down the street organized a clothing swap for women and kids. I found a lot of things my girls had outgrown or things of mine that weren't working out for me anymore, and brought them in. Then we all got to enjoy shopping for free, and everything not taken by the end of the night was donated. I struck out with kids' stuff; I couldn't find anything for them besides a couple pairs of shorts for Joey to grow into. But I got a few things for myself, my favorite being a black Old Navy vest that hadn't even been worn. Someone had bought it in the wrong size and hadn't bothered to return it. I contributed so much more than I ended up bringing home, and that's really a good thing.

5) We went to the Port Royal Maritime Center. The kids have many random days off throughout the year, and while I'm glad they have so many opportunities to recharge their batteries, I'm often at a loss as to what to do with them all day. Annie looked up this little place nearby on my phone and when I saw that admission was free and it got great reviews, I decided we'd give it a try. I'm so glad we did. It was just a tiny place, only a few rooms, and if we hadn't had the guided tour we probably would have only lasted there 15-20 minutes. But we had a volunteer who took us around and engaged the kids in discussions about the ecology of the Port Royal Sound, the history of the area and the amazing animals that live there. We all learned so much, and the kids even got to get hands on some of the animals. A typical big city aquarium experience doesn't compare to this.
We learned that the horseshoe crab has blue blood that is used in tests to make sure medical equipment is clean, so we don't get sick and die from routine medical procedures. The crab itself is unharmed and returned to the water.
Who remembers Flipper? This dolphin's story is rather sad.
6) I used the Navy digital library. I prefer reading an actual book whenever possible. I do not go to our local library downtown because you have to pay to park in the parking lot, and I don't believe in paying to park at the library, even if it is less than a dollar. (It is so irksome to need to go to the machine, use my credit card, and have it spit out a ticket that I have to go back and put on my dashboard. It's the library! The city needs to raise money some other way.) We have a library on base and we enjoy that but if I'm there for a specific book, a lot of times I'm out of luck. Especially if it's a newer, popular book or one that's being sought by several other people living here. I was glad to be able to download and read this month's book club selection right on my phone. I might have heard Amazon Prime has a digital library now too, and I'll have to look into that.

7) We did YouTube yoga. Tim and I are currently working through Adriene's Revolution: 31 Days of Yoga. I love it. She also has some good yoga for beginners and back pain yoga videos that have served us well these past few months. A lot of yoga instructors on YouTube have annoying mannerisms (especially to Tim), but Adriene reminds me of a good friend from high school -- down to earth, says 'y'all', and has a '90s pop lyric to go with just about every "lesson". It is silly and sometimes eye-roll-worthy, but it is serious yoga practice that is good for the body and good for the mind. Yoga should be fun.

9) I made my own decor and shopped the house for supplies. I made this Valentine banner using only stuff I'd scrounged up from around the house. The only thing hard to find were buttons. Annie gave me a shirt she said was too small that had six, and then I found sequins the same color from extra birthday party invitations I'd saved. I followed these instructions.
10) I ran with Stroller Warriors. It is a free running club for military spouses that has chapters all over the world. I don't take it for granted at all. When Delaney was a baby and we lived in Massachusetts, I joined Stroller Strides. A quick search of Quicken tells me that I paid $122 for a session which lasted a few weeks or a couple months to the best of my memory. I drove 40 minutes to the meetings once a week, and I remember gas being super expensive in summer 2008. It was worth it for me to get out and go running with other moms. Nowadays I am just as happy to run by myself or with Tim, but I do like to go to SW once a week. They are a fun, encouraging group of women. Being around them makes me want to set goals and not just be a lazy runner the way I'm inclined to be. (My most challenging runs are still with Tim, though. Just needed to throw that in there in case he was reading and thinking, 'But I help you set goals!')

It should go without saying, but I have to mention we've had no meals out, no coffees out, and no treats out. We only do these things a handful of times in a typical month anyway, so eliminating them altogether isn't too big a deal. I don't feel like we miss out on much at all, and when we finally do do those things again, we appreciate them more.

I am eagerly counting down until I can tell January "Don't let the door hit ya!" but I know that spending freeze months give me something invaluable. They take the focus off acquiring things, get me to take stock of what I have, appreciate the things that are right here in my backyard, and practice being grateful.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Delaney's Li'l Old Lady Shoes

The other day I fell down a rabbit hole of purging and organizing in my house, and I came across these tiny shoes of Delaney's. I smiled as I remembered the day I got them.

Delaney was almost 14 months old and a brand new walker. I decided it was time to get real shoes, an upgrade from the Robeez. (Silly me, not knowing that Robeez or bare feet were the best thing for a brand new walker. I was such a clueless new mom.)

I took her to Stride Rite and my heart skipped a beat at the sight of that entire wall of cute baby girl shoes. The salesperson measured her feet -- 3 1/2 extra-wide. I asked him to bring out every style they had in that size. How was I ever going to choose? This was going to be so much fun!

He disappeared into the back room and came out with one box. There was exactly one type of shoe in the store that came in 3 1/2 XW, and when he took them out I was so disappointed. Plain white. No bows, no sparkles, no fun little details. They looked orthopedic. They were almost identical to the very first baby shoes I had ever worn myself. But the soles of these ones were thicker, and there were little flowers on the heel so that was something.
Thanks to Quicken, I know I paid $26.99 for these beauties. I literally did not have a clue.
It's a wonder she ever learned to walk on those little mozzarella balls she had for feet!
She wore those old lady shoes well, though.
She was wearing them when we drove to the top of Mt. Washington. It was SO COLD on top of that mountain. And look, I see bare skin on that poor girl. We took the picture above just before we got in our car to drive back down. Before that she had been in a pack on Tim's back. I don't know what I was thinking when I set Delaney down on her feet on the gravel beside our car. It's bad enough to not be able to feel the ground through the thick soles of your shoes, but by this point she couldn't even feel her feet! She fell right down on her face like a domino. I really don't know how she survived me.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Joey: 13 Months

I brought him to the doctor for his 12-month checkup about a week ago, and the doctor was a bit concerned about his growth. He measured 28.54 inches (8th percentile) and weighed 19.62 pounds ( 6th percentile). He had a printout of his growth curve in his hand, and I could see how the line just leveled off at the top. This didn't come as any kind of surprise since I've been complaining for awhile that he doesn't eat as well or as often as he should. It's difficult to get him eating solid foods, but then a lot of times he acts like he can't be bothered to nurse either! Nor does he want a bottle or a sippy of milk. It's maddening. A more stubborn child I have never had. I feel like I'm always trying to get him to eat or nurse. Lately -- and it's subject to change from one day to the next -- he's been liking spaghetti and meatballs and hummus. He hates cereal of all kinds. He won't even snack on dry Cheerios or Chex; just throws them around and sometimes puts one in his mouth only to spit it out.

The doctor said that lack of weight gain is pretty common at his age, but the height is more of a concern since it would indicate some "caloric restriction." Then he asked how he compared to my other kids. I remembered that at Delaney's 12-month checkup, her pediatrician had told me that she'd dropped off her growth curve. I pulled out her growth chart (yes, I keep all the kids' immunization records handy in my purse, for what reason I'm not exactly sure; and the girls' ones from Massachusetts have their growth charts in the back.). I took a look and then said, "Wow, Delaney was actually a little bigger. And Delaney's a peanut." 
This was first thing in the morning. I don't know why he's licking her face but it's funny.
I have to say this conversation was so much easier to have as a veteran mom of four. Knowing he knew that I've managed to keep three older kids alive for as long as I have, made me feel much more secure and less like I was getting a bad grade for not growing my baby big enough. Even if I kind of was.

I told him about what a finicky eater he is and I took him up on his offer of a referral for a nutritional counselor, saying, "My kids could all use that; they're all picky." I'll take him for another checkup in three months. In the meantime grow, Joey, grow!

So how is our runt doing otherwise?
He just got over his first cold. It was a rough few days, especially since the worst of it started right as Tim left on a work trip. Sick babies are the saddest. He was feverish, sleepy but not sleeping well, coughing, nose running, all standard cold stuff. I had to use the Nosefrida on him a few times, and his terrified cries would wake the whole house up. As of yesterday and today, I definitely think he's recovered but he is still so moody. He demands to be held almost every waking moment and cries whenever I'm out of his direct line of sight. Tim and I think he must have gotten used to the sick baby treatment and now he's malingering. 
He took his first steps on December 23, while we were staying at my mom and dad's. He is still not walking other than taking practice steps here and there, usually when I stand him up and hold my arms out for him to walk to me. And ONLY when he's in the mood for it.

When he is playful and content, he is so nice to be around and so much fun to watch.

He puts things away now, or at least tries to, in addition to pulling them out. A few days ago I looked over and saw him with Timmy's wallet and a handful of dollar bills, and I observed him for a little while instead of just taking them away. He wasn't ripping them to pieces; he was trying to make them go back in the wallet. He was concentrating so hard, like 'I know these go in here, but I just don't know how.'
He loves to point at things, especially overhead lights. When he does, I say, "That's the light," or "Those are the lights." He says, "Tsss.."

He does a "downward dog" and laughs when I come look at him through his legs.
His siblings are obsessed with him and they are always vying with one another for the honor of being the one to take him out of my arms the minute they get off the bus in the afternoon. If it's a nice day, Annie takes him outside to play.

When he's ready for bed he rubs his eyes and waves 'night-night'. It is adorable. Just a couple nights ago I skipped the 10:00 dream feed for the first time, and he slept as well as ever. So no more dream feed. He got to the point where he didn't want to be bothered with it anymore, and I was getting sick of it too since sometimes I'd rather go to bed at 9 or even 8:30. I just worried that he still needed the extra feeding since, you know, I've got to feed him at every possible opportunity. He's still taking his morning nap usually, for about an hour and 20 minutes, although he fights it sometimes. His afternoon nap is usually and hour-and-a-half long. Those naps have been saving my butt, especially on his really moody days. He still sleeps in his pack 'n play on the other side of the guest bed. That was not the plan, but he still needs his own room and that's going to be the way it is at least until we move. 

He might drive us (mostly me) crazy, but we sure do love our Joe!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Karen and Matt Visit

Tim's sister Karen and her fiance Matt came down for a quick New Year's visit. It was so nice to have them there in that lull between getting back from Cincinnati and everyone going back to school/work. But it's nice to have them around anytime! We love our family visitors.
When will we see these two again? At their wedding? At their new house on the lake? At our next house? Time will tell.