Tuesday, September 30, 2014

a failure & a funny


first the failure...

a couple weeks ago i wrote about the challenge jeremy and i have taken on, trying to spend just 175 dollars each week to buy groceries, gas, and extras. we were doing just fine with the challenge until i decided to write about it. all that murphy's law mumbo jumbo bit me in the arse.

last week we managed to spend $100+ more than our budget allowed.

it started off innocently enough. jeremy suggested i actually fill up my gas tank completely instead of just putting in the amount of gas i could pay for with cash. that was $60+ on the american express. then our next door neighbor's father died and i felt i should to take them a meal. i had to go to the grocery store to buy a few extra ingredients and aluminum foil pans (so they didn't have the extra chore of returning my baking dish). i did not feel bad about those extra expenses. but then it became really easy to add on a few other unnecessary items, which i did feel bad about.

to cap off the week we ordered pizza, an oh-so-delicious splurge. our family meals are not easy - i'm gluten free so that's always an extra $5 for a gf crust, harrison hates sauce so he gets a pizza with no sauce because if we ordered a half sauce/half not a tiny bit of sauce might cross over the median and infiltrate his side of the pie, graham likes plain cheese or pepperoni, and jeremy wants all the toppings...so all those hard to please palettes (mine included) add up to more dollars.

here's what i learned: once you use the credit card it is much easier to turn to the credit card again. once you buy one unnecessary item it is much easier to justify "just one more" unnecessary item.

the good thing, though, is that we pay off our credit card every single month, never carrying a balance. AND i believe tomorrow (the first of october) we'll actually be able to see how much we were able to set aside to put toward paying down my student loan. can't wait to find out and share with you - because even with one week of "failure" that will be a big success!

we started afresh this week. i took out cash and went grocery shopping yesterday morning. i still have money in my wallet to pay for gas but i'd bet my bottom dollar (haha) that i won't have anything leftover after that. 

now on to the funny...  (WARNING! GRAPHIC IMAGES!)

we went to the zoo on sunday, a lovely (free to us because we have a membership) family outing on a beautiful afternoon. the boys had been asking us to go for weeks and weeks. they were really excited to see all the animals.

we were watching the elephant demonstration when harrison asked mommy, what's that long thing hanging down from him? i thought that's his trunk, silly boy but then the elephant began to turn around and i realized oh dear, my son is not silly at all and that's definitely not a trunk.

as it turns out the animals, one in particular, were really excited to see us too.

my son spent the rest of our zoo tour approaching each new exhibit with loud comments about i want to see his penis! and an elephant's penis is bigger than a hippo's penis!

my other son was fascinated with all the animal dung, wildly talking about wow that one dropped a huge bomb! and elephant's have the biggest bombs of all! and look there's a huge turd floating in the water!

jeremy laughed. i sighed. we looked at each other and said BOYS.

and then i longed to take out my dang credit card and buy a manicure and pedicure and facial and all the girly things! next month you just might find me lying face down on a massage table muttering thank you to the denver zoo and bodie the elephant for helping me justify some extra expenditures.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

$175 a week challenge

could you live on $175 each week?

some of you faithful readers are screaming NO STINKIN WAY! perhaps some of you might be thinking i WISH i had $175 to spend each week!

i mostly fall into the former category with a pinch of ok, rachel, you can do this throw in for good measure.

jeremy and i have been striving to spend only $175 per week on things like groceries, gas, and extras. the extraneous items might be birthday gifts for friends, haircuts, school field trip fees, parking fees...or anything i just neeeeed to purchase at my beloved target. our firm monthly expenses (mortgage, insurance, etc) are on automatic bill pay so the $175 cash i withdraw each sunday afternoon is what i spend on the things we need to live our daily lives.

and most weeks i've spent it all by sunday evening.

i have not been able to completely fill my gas tank since the beginning of this challenge. i put in $30-$40 and hope it gets me to the end of the week. so far it has. grocery shopping has been a carefully planned event, list in hand, menu for the week thoughtful prepared in advance with an emphasis on meatless meals. there has only been one purchase from target - a birthday gift for graham's friend which i wound up swiping the american express card to pay for. i went over budget that week and took out less the following week to cover the difference. my car has not blessed one drive-thru, and we have not been out for frozen yogurt in a long while.

jeremy did take the boys for donuts last saturday morning but that was a planned (inexpensive) treat. i did meet my girlfriends for dinner last night but asked them in advance if we could choose an inexpensive restaurant. (hello park burger!) they happily obliged and we had a lovely time. jeremy did go to a concert and was able to ride the light rail train and even buy a couple beers, all under budget.

so we haven't been completely deprived. 

existing on $175 has not been all that terrible. challenging, YES! but impossible, certainly not. the stress it has caused comes from the intentional thought that is required to stretch these dollars as far as they can go. the other stress occurs in the form of worry. new worries about things i never before gave any attention to. i really need a new bra! how am i going to pay for that?!

these stresses aren't all bad. in fact, they've taught me something.

the reason jeremy and i are purposefully living well below our means is so we can free up funds each month in hopes of paying off my student loan by january. it is good to be disciplined in this way. it's beneficial to force ourselves to step away from needless, thoughtless spending and focus our attention toward determining what is necessary versus unnecessary.

i've discovered a weekly $2 chocolove dark chocolate candy bar really is necessary!

i've discovered my twice weekly, much loved pilates class is, sadly, unnecessary. at $15 per class that's a considerable savings that can go toward other expenses.

the other thing i've been pondering is the amount of stress other families - the families who aren't living below their means by choice, who don't have an american express back-up plan, who struggle to make it to the next paycheck - must feel.

because what's a game to me is their everyday existence. my "challenge" is their real life.

that's tough to think about. but it's also a reminder of how incredibly fortunate i am and that i'm called to be responsible with such blessing.

today is thursday. the groceries in the fridge and the fresh fruit on the platter are dwindling. this is the day each week when i start to long for a quick target run, for the feeling of just being able to go and buy something for no reason. this is the day i usually go to the library and find a good book to get lost in, a distraction from the itchiness in my head. this is the day i get thankful for the temporary nature of this challenge and whisper a prayer for those who find themselves in more permanent circumstances.

so what about you? could you live on an all-cash budget of one hundred, seventy-five dollars each week?

Friday, September 12, 2014

switching schools

let's chat about these cutie-patooties for a moment, shall we?

jeremy and i decided to transfer the boys to a new school. it was a quick decision, an abrupt change, and one of the best things we've done in a long while.

the first day of school was monday, august 18th. three days prior, at the school's teacher meet & greet i developed a couple concerns about graham's kindergarten class. specifically, the number of students was high (to me) and his teacher seemed a bit overwhelmed. i was really pleased with harrison's teacher, his class size and his classmates; he had quite a few good friends in class with him. even so, these small worries about graham's class were enough to make me chat with a teacher/friend who just happened to mention a new charter school that "i could check out if i end up feeling like the kindergarten class isn't a good fit for graham".

well of course i checked it out that very afternoon.

and i liked what i saw.

on the boy's first day of school i called the principal of the new charter school and asked to schedule a meeting with her. on their second day of school i did some research about classical education, sent some messages and texts to people who chose that type of education for their children, and called my mom (a career educator) to get her thoughts. on their third day of school i met with the principal, loved her, took a tour of the school, began to fill out transfer paperwork and sat down with jeremy to make an official decision. on their fourth day of school i began the process of un-enrolling and re-enrolling them. that night we told the boys they would start attending a new school the following week and tomorrow (friday) was their last day at their current school.

graham was fine with this decision, he'd only had four days of kindergarten at this point and he wasn't attached. harrison cried. mostly, i think, because he was going to miss his first grade teacher, ms. johnson, and the comfort she provided him. it was a super hard conversation to have with harrison, especially because he was hiding under his bed and covering his ears. ha! i had to climb under the bed with him and gently explain that his daddy and i understood how hard it was but we were doing what we thought was the very best thing for him and, ultimately, he had to trust us.

and, ultimately, he did.

so on what would have been the sixth day of school my boys started their first day of school in a brand new, sight-unseen environment. new building, new uniforms, new school supplies, new teacher, new classroom, new friends, new everything.

and they have both done SO WELL with the change.

with special regard to harrison, here are the improvements i'm noticing in him that are a direct effect of switching his school:

- he tells me SO MUCH MORE about his day! i've heard more from him (about what he's learning and about how his day went) in the past couple weeks than i did all last year. this is a huge difference! i asked him why and all he said was "my old school was boring". i took that to mean that he feels more engaged at this new school...but there might be another reason too...

- his body (we call it his "engine") isn't crazy busy after school anymore! last year when harrison would get home from school he would completely crash, totally exhausted from the day. the only thing he'd want to do was watch cartoons. i would let him for 30 minutes or so but as soon as the tv turned off he would go crazy. running around the house, loud voice, unruly, disobedient, defiant, throwing pillows, crashing into things... it didn't matter if i got him outside to play or if i tried sensory-stimulating activities or if i tried sensory-calming activities...his engine was out of control. and don't even get me started talking about how incredibly difficult it was to get him to do his homework - such a battle that i often lost!

the long school day is very hard on him.

BUT, at our new school, they believe in movement. they believe, and research shows, that movement helps stimulate the brain for better learning. and you know i agree with them wholeheartedly, which is why we so quickly decided this was the best place for our boys to learn.  harrison now has p.e. every single day, he has music every single day, he has recess AND he has a curriculum that allows for movement within the classroom throughout the school day.

now when he gets home he still wants to watch cartoons for 30 minutes or so but turning the tv off is no longer an issue. it's no longer war to get homework done. he actually holds down a conversation during dinner. he hasn't thrown anything or been unruly or defiant. sometimes he still seems a bit "busy" to me, but it's not out-of-control busy. and on top of all that he has been able to verbalize how he feels about things that happen at school. this is amazing to me! my son has gone from being a zombie during the ride home from school to being an engaged little boy and for that i am so very thankful.

with special regard to graham, he is a champ. his teacher uses an app that allows me to see how graham is doing at school each day. he has had 100% positive comments so far. his teacher sent me a text this week telling me what a joy graham is, how he is such a good role model for his classmates and how she uses him as an example all the time. he is thriving and for that i am so very thankful.

we could not be more thrilled with the positive results we've seen since switching to addenbrooke classical academy. we are so excited to be apart of a school that supports the whole student and has established an environment in which they thrive.

so this happened

jeremy and i graduated from marriage counseling!!

us on the last morning of our mexican vacation, july 2014.

our final therapy session with dr. vermiller was monday, august 25th. we spent the hour recalling the year gone by, recapping what we've learned and remembering to continue building upon our foundation that's now been shored up strong. from start to finish we spent almost exactly one year in counseling, with over 20 sessions under our belt. dr. vermiller assured us this is actually very quick progress. he was proud of how far we've come (both personally and as a couple) and how hard we worked to rediscover joy in our relationship.

it was hard to think back to where we started. we were in a very broken, hopeless place one year ago.

but it was good; a reminder about why we are both committed to never going back there again.

here are my final thoughts on counseling:

- it's one of the greatest gifts a person can give themselves!
- it can really suck at times.
- choosing the right therapist is key. you want someone who encourages you, yet challenges you.
- a therapist cannot do the work for you. he can lead you in the right direction but ultimately saving your marriage (or whatever you need to focus on) is your choice.
- i fully expect jeremy and i will need a "booster" session or two at some point down the road and that doesn't doesn't bother me. it actually makes me feel really smart. we've set up a safety net for our marriage and won't have any difficulty calling for back-up if we need it.

last few random photos from puerto vallarta

it's a cold and dreary morning here in denver. the perfect kind of day for dreaming about a hot, sunny beach vacation. here are a few final snapshots from our week in pv.

we watched this crazy spectacle from our perch at the beach club - a hovercraft of some kind that lifted brave participants straight up into the air.

 lunch at the beach club

 selfie on our balcony. our room had a private plunge pool, which we never used. 

my sweet husband awaiting dinner at emiliano's. the inside of the restaurant was beautiful.

 we sat at this table every single morning for breakfast. it was a lovely way to start each day.

us at breakfast, shortly before we flew home.