Category: Family & Friends

From spouses to spit-up

Guess Where Mr. Brickie Is?

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Where’s Mr. Brickie?

He’s not here…..is he there?

He’s not over in a chair. He’s not still asleep in bed with a pillow on his head.

Where could he be? What could he be doing? Is he hiding in the hall?

HE’S AT A WORK SITE MAKING MONEY Y’ALL

Not, “At a side job.” Not, “Doing a family member a favor.” Not, “Painting something.”

At a bricklayer work site doing bricklayer things. WITH BRICKS. (…and maybe stone)

We found out yesterday, including the all-important address, but I still didn’t want to say anything because I get tired of saying THIS IS IT and it turns out the “this” is, in fact, “not it” and I slink back to my hole where the lying liars go after they’ve lied. Plus, after last year saying, “any week now” lasted through the end of June and I felt like it was a record player skipping back over and over.

But he’s THERE at the SITE right NOW so NO TAKESIE BACKSIES they have to keep him. He’s like a stray puppy and they are kind hearted children. I also filed unemployment certification Monday for the two prior weeks so we are about to have a serious influx of cash by the end of the month. Tomorrow unemployment goes through and then next Wednesday the new job paychecks start and there is still time to get two more before the end of the month.

I have a list here somwhere of target savings goals for birthdays, Christmas, back to school (FOR THREE KIDS OH YEAH) and insurance. Basically I need to save $200 from each paycheck in addition to replenishing the emergency fund and the $260/mo. I put into the rent fund. I’m not sure if it will be enough but starting so early in the season, we COULD – if things go well – have an extra $2200 for those categories before June 28 when he started work last season.

The only weird thing? He’s working with a different company than he did last season. We were so sure he’d go back to that company – and I’m sure they’re still going to call him – but you have to go with the job that’s offered to you. This is a company he hasn’t worked for before but one of the BAs at the union called him for the gig. If you know anyone that’s going to become part of a union, please tell them how important the meetings are. Mr. Brickie never sees anyone from his class at the meetings and rarely sees early-on apprentices. They don’t see the value, because they don’t understand networking. People want Mr. Brickie to succeed because they know him and showing up to the meetings and talking to people is how he got to know them.

Sure he lerned it from watching me back in the business ownership days where I would go to networking events all the time and meet new people, but he is taking it to a whole new level.

The season has started!! Let’s see how much different things are at the end of this season, shall we? I can’t wait to get started!

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After the Rain Comes the Morning

These grey days make me feel comforted. Sunshine screams, “Get outside and do something right now!” While the overcast day says, “Hey girl. You have errands? That’s cool. Let’s do those. Eventually, though, there’s going to be tea and a good book.”

Yes, overcast day, yes there will.

I was up most of the night. Something about the pouring rain wouldn’t let me sleep. It was one of those lucky no-sleep nights where you are comfortable under your blanket on your pillows. Unable to sleep but able to enjoy the comfort and let the mind wander. My mind always wonders about finances with an occasional break to worry about my girls in school. Right now, however, there’s not much in the finance sector to worry about. Our bills are what they are and our plan is what it is. There is enough coming in to tread water and his work status is “any day now.” My goal for the beginning of the season is always to just try and relax and let things happen how they are going to happen.

As it happens, by the time the alarm went off it pulled me out of a deep, comfortable sleep I didn’t know I had fallen into. Curled up on my right side, I unburrow my left arm and try to turn over as little as possible to hit the snooze button on the phone that sits on the endtable at my back. That same claw-hand “pat pat pat” looking for the phone blindly is familiar and helps remind me that I can’t oversleep because the kids need to catch the bus.

I go through the girls’ backpacks and am reminded again that I am not mom enough to be an awesome pubic school mom. There are so many papers and one of my kids has homework because she got a B on her speed math so she has to do five practice sheets. She tells me in her perky, awake in the morning voice, “Soon we will get sheets for practice if we get anything lower than an A+” and I remember how easy school used to be and wonder if higher standards will translate into better performance in college like so many hope for. I realize I do not even have the capacity to care because I have not yet had a cup of coffee.

They are dressed and the five-step “ready for school” process I printed and stuck on the wall when they were in Kindergarden and 1st grade is still serving them well in 3rd and 4th grade. I wonder how many years it will be before they can get themselves ready without my help. I feel like having more than one makes it more difficult because they distract one another almost constantly as they brush hair, get dressed, brush teeth, pack a snack, and have breakfast. Not necessarily in that order their morning comes together in a predictible and calm way.

The piles of paper include report cards I don’t particularly want to look at and fliers for this night and that night and hope to see you for something and picture day. I take a few precious morning minutes to look up the last day of school because I don’t know how much more of this I can take. A new school with a new approach is difficult for parents, too, especially when the new school is more involved. I just want a break from colored in reading days and logs and math papers. I want to break free and get on the train and take the kids to a museum this summer and remind them that fun can be had while learning. All the while I’m thinking about how ungrateful I am because this school is so good and has such high standards and that is not something I would ever want to give up. Summer is so close already (only 42 more school days) it can’t be a bad thing to look forward to. Right?

Nights with not enough sleep turn into days where the weariness of moving creeps up on me and reminds me it is not done with me yet. Like jet lag, it is hidden and lasts longer than you think it should. I usually feel like I made the transition better than anyone could have expected. I mean, really, I transitioned like a pro to the new town and know people and there are such good people here it felt easy. I just want to take a week and lay on a beach somewhere in a magic land where I can lay on a beach all day without getting a horrible sunburn (of course) and just relax.

Want to come with me? We can all relax together and just breathe for a while and let ourselves catch up to ourselves.

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A Weird Drawback of Renting

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There is a sign in front of my house.

It’s one of those cheap jobs with the wire poles you stick in the ground. Usually they advertise for a Sherriff or City Councilman or Governor. This cheap throwaway says, “Happy Easter! He is risen!” (Upon taking and editing a picture I realize I have the sign slogan reversed but honestly it just doesn’t matter.)

I don’t have a problem with the sentiment. I find it strange that it’s right in my line of sight when I look out my living room window because I rent and so the lawn sign is not mine but it sort of is because it’s there in “my” yard.

We don’t know who put it up (we know who didn’t!) and now that it’s the day after Easter I find myself wondering if it is going to add to the stuff that lives in our yard. We came to look at this apartment in November and when we came there were these adorable Halloween adornments on the front porch. On one side of the door an oversized glittery pumpkin and on the other was a little witch on a stick. Adorable yard ornamentation that made me feel like whoever lived here cared about being part of a community. Someone who liked to show spirit.

I took it as a very good omen that this was the right apartment for us.

Now, the He is Risen sign reminds me the pumpkin and the witch are still on the porch, rotting in that sad way decorations do after being left out the entirety of a long, cold midwestern winter. Discolored. The witch’s broom broken, reminding us all that if you stay too long and don’t take care you may never leave where you are at for warmer climates.

What, I wonder, is the appropriate amount of time before I can take the sign in the yard to someplace that is not my line of sight. I do not want to touch someone else’s things, I’m very mindful of not messing with someone else’s stuff, but there is also no reason for our yard to become the island of misfit holiday decorations and slogans, either.

Not to mention the now-months-old knit cap that has been on the porch.

Is it appropriate for me to take cleaning up the yard into my own hands, or am I doing something bad to someone’s property? Is there a timeline on this? Is it worse to get rid of the easter sign than it is to get rid of the halloween decorations because of the obvious religious implications? Where does one dispose of a four-foot wide once-glittery orange pumpkin lawn ornament?

These aren’t problems people who own a home face. This is strictly renter territory.

It’s very confusing.

NOTE TO MY LANDLORD WHO MAY BE READING BUT LET’S PRETEND YOU AREN’T, OKAY?
Don’t worry. I’m not going to do anything to cause trouble.

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A Good Enough Easter Morning

It’s 2am and the baskets are almost put together. I glance at Mr. Brickie and he catches my gaze and we both sigh as if on cue. We are not sure this is going to be enough.

Making good financial decisions means accepting the risk of disappointing your kids. Last year we got them scooters from craigslist but this year the scooters are going strong and there were no good bikes on Craigslist. We walked through the aisles of the Dollar Store looking for things that were the Venn Diagram match between $1 and “Not too Cheap” and came up with bunny face sunglasses, headbands with bunny ears, paddle balls, and inflatable easter … things.

About 1am I was blowing up the rabbit and the ears wouldn’t inflate. I blew harder. At one point I had one of those late-night epiphanies along the lines of, “Trying harder doesn’t always fix things.” Which led me to plug the bunny and start squeezing it around the ear area. I felt like I was in a fun house version of every medical show on television.

“Will he make it?”

“I don’t know…I just…don’t…know…”

Finally the ears give and start to fill. I’m relieved to be finished blowing this up, knowing it is the visual “oomph” piece of these little dollar store baskets with candy they love but not a whole lot of it and feel something on my face.

Like a tiny breeze.

A tiny breeze whispering failure on my cheek. I see the tiny hole and ask Mr. B for packing tape because I will be damned if this thing isn’t inflated for Easter morning. I blow and plug and quickly slide my finger where my tongue was so I don’t have to wait for him to tape the thing to get the chemical plastic taste out of my mouth and he gets it and I sigh – for the hundredth time – and feel a moment of relief.

Then I realize the duck is deflating. I realize that the dollar store is not the place to buy inflatables but it’s too late for that now. The duck’s plug won’t stay plugged. It’s a size issue, or something. I have Mr. B get a bigger piece of packing tape so we can just tape the whole thing down.

I have never used so much packing tape at Easter.

I wonder if my kids will be disappointed. If they will question how little they are getting compared to other years. If they will somehow notice and will this be the reason they stop believing in the Easter Bunny (if they still do, I think we have the 5yo still and the other two won’t ruin it for her and that’s all I care about) and if they do does that mean I failed at Easter?

All of this is communicated in the sigh my husband and I exchange. We are exhausted. Defeated by another holiday we were unable to properly save or plan for. Then, he lights up and I look at him with pure confusion. “What?” I say.

I just remembered I picked something up last week.

It’s the one Skylander figure they are missing to complete the game we bought them at Christmas. The character wasn’t available at Christmas and has been sold out consistently since its release. He saw one and bought it.

So, in addition to their dollar store easter goodies (and little gold Lindt bunnies, which are a tradition) when they walk into the game room the morning they will see a shared gift for all three of them that was $15. As a group gift it is still a fairly good deal. He almost bought them all XBox gift cards but I talked him down from that ledge.

We both want to give our children so much more.

Snuggled in bed, I say with my last breath before sleep descends upon me, “I hope it’s enough.” He responds, “I’m sure it is.” I let the words do their job.

We are jolted awake at the first light of morning by screams and shouts of joy. The children are thrilled with their baskets and declare it to be the best Easter ever. They jump on our bed to hug us and tell us how wonderful their toys and candy are. We laugh with them and kiss them and drift back to sleep as they go compare baskets and eat chocolate for breakfast.

An unknown amount of time later (but probably not long) the kids run into our bedroom screeching with joy. “We got the final Skylander! The Easter Bunny brought us the final Skylander!” I crack my eye open (the one not still in the pillow) and see the look on my 10 year old’s face that is a combination of joy and secret knowing. This one knows we are the Easter Bunny, but she’s not going to give it away. Thank goodness.

The younger two go on about how cool Easter is and the oldest chimes in because she agrees Easter is very cool and can enjoy these moments freely, without slyness, because enjoyment does not have secrets attached. She is back to being a little girl, giddy for chocolate and video games.

I drag my not-enough-sleep body out of bed and look at the small baskets not even full and realize that they don’t keep score. They don’t measure this basket against the basket of ‘11 or ‘14 … there is only this basket in the here and now and they appreciate it with open hearts just as much as they did when they got scooters or whatever else we have gotten them in past baskets they do not remember.

As I watch them play Skylanders from the kitchen as my water takes too long to boil in the teakettle I am filled with a sense of peace and love and so much gratitude for what I have.

I no longer feel bad for not giving my children more. What we have given them is good enough.

For now.

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May the Luck of the Irish be with…who?

So. The Luck of the Irish isn’t a compliment. Now you know. It means something in between a, “That guy is so dumb only luck keeps him alive.” and “If it wasn’t for bad luck, he’d have no luck at all.” Depending on your context. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it’s a good time to use it but if you keep those two goalpost definitions in mind, trust me, you’ll know the next time a situation comes up that it’s good for. (It happens more often than you’d think.)

I’m here for you guys. Really, I am. If nothing else now you can use it as a sneaky insult like the southern ladies do with, “Bless her heart…”

I’m a very lucky person. Sure, I’ve had a few things happen along the way that weren’t bad luck, but let’s look at the good luck that’s happened over the years.

Three gifted children with remarkable social skills? Luck. You cannot plan that. People can try and be all, “Genetics, consistent parenting, blah blah…” but nope, you don’t’ know what’s going to work and even if you interview the whole family back to the grandparents you can’t know how those genes are going to mix with yours. Plus environmental factors. You just can’t factor everything in. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

My husband finding a job with a pension and excellent health insurance? Luck. Sure, I asked every human being I met for years what they did for a living, what requirements were needed to get the job and if the person loved their job. I did. Sure, Mr. Brickie met a millwright and after the application and testing he thought, “Hey, I should apply to all the union jobs in cook county!” But the bricklaying training course opening when it did, him finding jobs….all luck.

Finding our current apartment. You guys….seriously…..this apartment is amazing. It has felt like home since the first night I slept here. Plus it has a basement with a washer/dryer. I have a three-bedroom apartment with a basement. I … I’ve never felt more lucky than when I take a moment and think about where I live. It’s seriously got to be at least a thousand square feet not including the basement. We get a $25/mo. discount if we pay three months or more in advance and when I paid the nine months with our tax return? He knocked an extra $25 off. So I’m paying $747.22 a month through November.

This TOWN. Okay, last night was kind of stressful because I was going to the YMCA (in town!) and since it was Dairy Queen free small cone night traffic was blocked between where I was and where I needed to be. I had to detour around and backtrack and I was ten minutes late to class (which you know had me just wanting to go home because being late makes me panic) but I pushed through and this morning I have aching muscles and a good feeling to show for it. The people here are, on the whole, very kind and open. We meet with the girls softball coaches this week and I couldn’t be more excited! Then we will attend SpringFest on Friday where the kids will enjoy bounce houses and all kinds of stuff. There is so much going on in this town that it’s easy to keep the kids doing stuff.

Sure, I could choose to nitpick everything but today I’m talking about luck so nitpicking isn’t what I’m about. I’m not going to tone down these lucky good things and I’m not going to put any disclaimers on them. They are what they are and we are, truly, very lucky.

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Better Decisions I Made Today

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Windfall Y’All!

Oh. My. Gosh.

Mr. Brickie has had hundreds of listings on Criagslist for the past few years. A few of the things we have sold are action figures, comic books, painting supplies, power tools, hand tools, and even things like those Muppets glasses from Burger King from back in the day.

We aren’t good at Craigslist and it was difficult to get things sold but he kept pounding away at it and I kept reading up and rewriting product descriptions and titles to try and make things seem as awesome as we thought they were.

Friday, we fiiiinally sold a huge lot of comics from Mr. Brickie’s childhood. When we first tried to sell them, I think he was hesitant. Years later? He was as relieved as I was when they sold.

We sold them to a private party last week for $800!!! You might remember I researched the tax implications of Craigslist sales last March and a quick search doesn’t yeild any updates in the law I can find, so I feel pretty confident that it’s a great windfall with no hidden implications. Of course, I’m not a tax professional and this is not professional advice. In fact, never take advice from me. It’s safer that way.

We also got the unemployment check today, so we’re working with an unusually large amount in our checking account right now. That means we have an unusually large amount of bills about to get paid!

…. here is how the expected and unexpected money got spent!

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I considered just topping up the emergency fund. I also considered using all the extra money toward credit cards.

For perhaps the first time ever, I decided to compromise and pay off some credit cards and replenish some emergency fund. So mature, right? There are also a couple other lots of comics that this party might purchase in the next few weeks!

I’m really excited that we’ve been able to get things done before the bricklaying season even starts. I have decided to be superstitious today and consider this a great omen for the year. As you know, the goal is to knock out the credit cards and the car by the end of summer (leaving only the giant, gross student loans which is a whole other thing I’ll have to reserach. Gross.)

A Note About The Direct Sales Thing

I’m going to start sticking the Scentsy updates at the end of the post and putting a header on them. That way if you don’t want to read about it you can be like, “Oh, it’s that part of the post, I’ll skip this.” and if you want to read it you can. I want to chronicle this part because I’m a person that SWORE she would never do something like this.

If I don’t do well I can use it to show my kids someday how it went. If I do okay and break even I can show them that there is a moderate road you can walk without going nuts.

It’s a financial thing that’s happening so, basically, it would be total b.s. not to write about it but I never want you to think I’m trying to use this blog to actively sell. Mostly because I always want this blog to be about the financial journey and the emotional stuff that happens because of that journey. So please know when I write about it, I am doing so in the context of the blog’s mission, not changing the focus of the blog on a sweet-smelling whim.

Direct Sales Update

I sent out thank you notes this week, put together and gave a friend a basket party this week, and realized I don’t want business cards. Everything I watch on YouTube is about how to do this or that and it’s like people are just dumping money on everything and hoping for the best. I’m trying to spend less money but put in more effort. That magic place in the middle where I’m creating value with the experience as well as the product.

I’m going to end up ordering something from my friend’s party. Not because she needs the help, but because there is one with an Edison Bulb called the Parlor Lampshade Warmer. I know Edison Bulbs were cool years ago (and really expensive) and I don’t mind that the trend is going mainstream, now. It’s kind of weird and maybe it’s because I’m old but I like what I like and it’s okay if it’s “over” or “so last year” because whatever makes me smile is right on trend for me. It’s just an exposed Edison Bulb in a round glass case. I think it’s going to be really beaufiful and I hope it throws off enough light to use as a little desk lamp.

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Working | Expenses | Winter | Where’s My Brain At?

Last Wednesday we got Mr. Brickie’s unemployment check for $752 and we spent $496 on our car payment and left $256 in the bank.

I had that Scentsy party and sold a whole bunch. Since it was my launch party, I got the hostess stuff from the party, which included 3 half-price items. I wanted to put $130 in savings toward the rent but spent it on Scentsy. Okay, I didn’t spend it all on Scentsy. The three half-price items were about $50 and I spent about $50 on chips, dip, and drinks for my friends who came over. So it’s deductible, but I still spent it on Scentsy-related stuff.

I’m really (amazingly, bafflingly, overwhelmingly) conflicted spending money on stuff when I’m still poor. It’s not a regular expense, though, and Mr. Brickie was really supportive and the conflicted feeling, I think, will keep me from going overboard.

My Illinois tax return status changed yesterday, too, and it says they’re processing my return. I can top-off my savings account once it comes in. We had to use part of it to register and get plates for the vehicles in our new state because we didn’t want to get a ticket and then we had to use part of it because the car battery died and we had to buy a new one.

It was probably not a wise choice to pay off the bills from the old house. I should have let those sit until we were in a more secure position but I got cocky and felt $1000 would take care of us, but then *poof* there goes almost $500 on license plates and a new car battery. Thank goodness for the emergency fund.

At Mr. Brickie’s union meeting Tuesday night they talked about the Jobs Report and the sheer number of jobs that are waiting for the weather to break to get started. He keeps checking in with the company he last worked for to make sure they know he’s available. It never hurts to remind people you’re around!

In the meantime, Mr. Brickie is doing little side jobs painting and I’m keeping track of those payments for next year’s taxes. Between tracking the side jobs and now tracking the Scentsy stuff (stamps, notecards, other expenses) I have more spreadsheets than ever dedicated to not screwing up my taxes!

The move from Mr. Brickie being here 24/7 to being back out of the house is always an interesting transition. Maybe it makes me a crappy wife, but I really ENJOY having the chance to miss him a little while he’s gone. I have a chance to be home, hang out with my youngest, listen to the radio, and write.

Even though he’s been home so much we have bickered so much less than we did last year. We are finally at the point where we are becoming more secure and that lack of panic means less lashing out. Less lashing out is a cycle we are both really pleased with. I mean, we didn’t fight all the time or anything but I’m a nagger and he’s a forgetter and we’ve both worked for 12 years to be where we are now and it’s a good path heading in a calmer direction that we both enjoy an awful lot.

I know this update is disjointed but my mind is kind of all over the place today. I’m trying to get my money ducks in a row and the direct sales thing has me thrown for a loop because I am so worried it’s going to turn into a money pit and I absolutely refuse to let that happen. Oh! I actually set myself up to miss the first possible “award” from the company because the “award” was being “allowed” to buy a $200 enhancement kit. I didn’t want to even have the choice because it didn’t seem like a good deal. So when I realized I couldn’t get it because the date had passed I wondered in passing if I could call and convince them to let me buy it. I looked up YouTube videos on what was in it. I worried about it.

Then I reminded myself that I made a decision from a position of mental clarity and strength because I knew I’d panic and worry I was “missing out” on something. I took a few deep breaths and thanked myself for taking care of me. (Everyone talks to themselves like that, right? It’s normal. I swear. I think…)

I just feel like in the last few weeks everything has kind of become loose. I like to keep my finances and my financial plan very, very tight and locked down so when it feels like any part of it is floating rather than being chained to the floor, I start to worry. It’s not out of control and there is still savings but things are not as clear as I would like right now.

So, basically, guess what I’m doing today? That’s right. Go over everything and make sure it’s exactly how it should be at this time and making sure I have a good handle on where the money is going and where it needs to go and how it’s going to get there.

I’ll share it in my next update, because of course I’m going to do it on a spreadsheet.

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Watching the Money Go (fly away, money, fly away)

There is a pull I feel as I watch my budgeted money drain from my account.

It lives underneath the relief, underneath the feeling of security, and it festers down there. It’s a pull to spend money. The only thing I can equate it to is how someone must feel when they just gave away a whole bunch of chocolate but can’t stop thinking about buying some to eat. It’s a weak analogy, for sure, but I want to do something nice and fun.

The thing is, whenever I *do* get a surprise from a lovely human being (it’s happened twice this week and I’ve been so beyond blessed) both people said to do something nice for myself and both times I used it on the kids. But that itch is there.

At least I’m self aware enough to know that when I tell you what I’m going to spend $30 on and splurge you’re going to laugh. My friend started selling Jamberry nail wraps and I want to support her in her new direct sales venture. I know it has to be tough for her to put in all that time and it would break my heart if her launch party wasn’t successful. She’s an introvert so this has to be tough for her. So I am going to buy a couple of the wraps from her because I’ve known her forever and would support her no matter what she was selling. (You, too, can support her if you like Jamberry nail wraps at http://shinynails.jamberrynails.net/shop ) I assume you’re laughing because even when I give in to spending money it’s something that will help someone else. I feel dumb sometimes that I really don’t think I know anymore how to do something that is JUST for me. I want the best value. The biggest bang for my buck. So why not buy something that benefits me and someone else instead of just buying something that benefits only me?

It feels wasteful.

Oh, I have a question for you. I was thinking about using the term “blessed” two paragraphs above and was on the fence because I’m not a particularly religious person and I certainly don’t identify as so religious that I would wish someone to “have a blessed day” or to every say the phrase “too blessed to be stressed” but I think that the term blessed has seeped into regular english as the feeling of being grateful but in a very specific way. So I’m using it here to represent a feeling rather than trying to say that God called these people to help. I don’t know if God called them to help, they didn’t tell me.

Now we are down to about a hundred left in the checking but I’m not worried because I finally have an emergency fund! That $1000 is going to just sit over there in the savings account. The next How We Spent It will happen on the 18th when Mr. Brickie gets his next unemployment check.

Unless he gets the call to get back to work before then! That would be our preference, obviously, because work pays a hell of a lot more than unemployment. The project he is slated to go to when the weather clears is downtown so he will be able to continue taking the train to work which is great for commuting expenses and keeping our “commuter car” from getting driven into the ground.

I know we made good decisions and I’m sure the deep, mildly uncomfortable feeling I have that sounds an awful lot like a little voice in my head screaming, “GO BUY YOUR KIDS EVERYTHING!” will pass soon.

Making good financial decisions is a mental muscle that needs to be worked out, worked on, and built up. No matter how strong you are, however, sometimes our muscles quiver and feel like they’re going to give out. I use this blog to keep me accountable. There is no shame in the light. I don’t hide my nail wrap purchase because I’m not ashamed I’m “wasting” that money because the support I’m giving my friend is worth more than money. I don’t do splurges like that often.

Oh! I meant to tell you about the STEAK I had. Neighbor Daughter watched my kids for a few hours and we used a gift certificate we were given for our anniversary to go to a steakhouse and have an amazing dining experience. It was so nice to sit with my husband and just talk about everything and nothing and joke about our kids messaging us on Skype the whole time we were gone. We are really lucky that we had someone watch our children for us on New Year’s Eve (New Year’s Day is our anniversary, so we try to get out on NYE so we’re celebrating on our anniversary every year!) and then again we were able to go out last night. Usually we get out and have a sitter about twice a year, so twice in two months is amazing for us!

Every time we are finally alone it’s a wonderful reminder that we really are part of a team and we are stronger than we were last year (and the year before that, and the year before that) and we are done sinking together and now it’s time for us to start rising together.

There is no one I would rather do this with.

Through all of this mess of finances and bad decisions and weird luck and everything else I’ve never lost sight of having some very important things money cannot buy. Having those things, I think, allowed me to keep my composure and resist the urge to become bitter and blame someone else (or the government, or the man, or the economy) but it has also made me so much more humble and that has allowed me to see the choices of others in a very different light.

People do not make poor decisions because they do not care. I really think everyone truly does the best they can with the information they have.

So the final chunk of money from the tax return will be gone when the landlord picks up his check on Monday and I will be able to throw away that post-it note (remind me sometime to show you what my “budget wall” looks like) and move on from all the old house stuff and start moving forward with traction to the next portion of our financial lives.

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Catch Up or Give Up (or Welcome to the New School)

Since we moved, things have been much different. School, especially, has been a hurdle we all have had to climb much more quickly than we thought. I’m going to let you in on a secret…people in Illinois do not think people in Indiana are getting a kick-ass education. Now, I’m not here to speak to the whole state and I can’t even speak to the whole school my kids are in but I can tell you in the two classrooms my kids are in they are getting an education that far surpasses their previous education.

Which, friends, is a double-edged sword.

I had to give a Friday Night Lights style pep talk (I miss that show forever and always) to my kids at the end of week two at the school. They were overwhelmed, their grades were all crap because they weren’t used to grades at all (previous school gave E for exceeds, M for meets, and P for progressing toward goal) and they didn’t know what to do with the Cs and Ds and even (I seriously almost fainted) Fs my kids were suddenly coming home with.

I steal all my best pep talk jamz from Coach Taylor. 

Even though I was terrified they were going to pull my kids out of the High Ability (HA) classroom and put them into the regular classroom, the first thing I had to acknowledge was that, if they did, that was okay. Don’t get me wrong, I nearly cried when both kids tested into the program because Oldest Sister is strong in reading and weak in math and Middle Sister is strong in math and weak in reading and I didn’t know how it would work if they only tested strong for their preferred subject and when I was informed they were both going to HA I was absolutely thrilled (who wouldn’t be?) and hoped we could bring up their weak subjects without turning my house into Brave New World or The Giver or some other awful place where children only do what they are supposed to and never have any fun.

I realized while I was in my pep talk that it really was okay if they ended up in the regular classroom. Of COURSE it was okay. But only if we made the effort – first – to bloom where we were planted.

Big Sister brought her grades up within a month. The hook of my speech was, “We only have two choices. Catch up or give up.” Big Sister had taken it to heart and I think everyone in her class being really kind and helpful made it easy for her to decide to catch up. The entire district has a philosophy to keep the same class together from 1st grade though middle school, so these kids kind of know they have to get along because they’re going to be together for years. It forms close bonds among children and parents alike because the class has it’s own identity as it passes from grade to grade. So it was fairly easy for her to catch up.

Middle Sister, on the other hand, struggled. She forgot to turn in a couple assignments and it was the end of a grading period so her report card had two Fs on it. She was getting run down. She had never felt any kind of educational adversity before. Everything has always been so easy for her and it was hitting her hard. She cried. She looked tired all the time. I ended up holding her and stroking her hair a lot when she just couldn’t do one more thing. I asked her if she wanted to give up and every time she would say in this quiet, sad voice, “No mommy, but I do want the hard part to be over now.”

“Soon, baby, it will be over soon and you will be so happy.” You know every time I said that I prayed with every cell in my body I wasn’t lying. I prayed that it would be over soon. That she would catch up before she just couldn’t take one more step. I had her read out loud to me and  I would read her the same paragraph out loud and then have her read it out loud. Back and forth for a half hour a night. I signed up for a free account on www.spellingcity.com and had her do extra spelling practice a half hour a night. It started to work. She brought home a C+ and then a B+ on her spelling tests. She was reading with a little more fluency. She was starting to get a foothold.

Then we had a setback. A big one. They do timed fact practice at school. 100 problems in 4 minutes for now and I think they go faster as the year progresses. Every one would come home with an F or a D- on it. She was stuck. She didn’t know what to do. She was getting bad grades at math. A great deal of her personal identity is based on being great at math. My confident child was handing over papers and saying things like, “I don’t understand. I know all these. I just can’t go any faster.”

My heart broke.

I told her, “Well, you know your times tables, so the problem isn’t your knowledge it’s your speed so I need you to know first, last, and always that how fast you can do math is never a good way to judge yourself. These sheets are to help you memorize the times tables to the deep marrow in your bones, like they were part of your skin, little memories tattooed in your brain forever. This is not a test that judges how good you are. This is a test to help you be better, even if it feels like you’re failing, every time you’re remembering a little more.”

I’m paraphrasing myself and it was kind of a long speech. I talk until I can see the kid’s eyes focus back on me and hear what I’m saying. I may say the same thing ten ways until one of them hits the target and my kid really HEARS what I’m saying. I talk in a gentle, almost hypnotic voice because if I yelled it all none of it would stick. My kids aren’t horses and I don’t plan on breaking their spirits!

So when this came home today:

I’m not even going to lie, I got misty. Like, almost started bawling right there.

I made sure Big Sister heard my speech about the hard workin’ B and how important it was even she got in on cheering Middle Sister and being as supportive as she is able. I mean, she was fine, not mean or anything but I can’t even tell you how happy Big Sister is to be The One That Is Good At School™ since it has been Middle Sister’s title for so long.

Big Sister has bloomed since we have been at this new school and Middle Sister has experienced things that are not easy. Who knew two girls could get so many maturity-boosting lessons in 9 weeks?

Today, I signed them up for a softball camp. Three Saturdays of hitting, stealing bases, learning about sportsmanship and doing whatever other cool things softball players do. There is a big sports culture in this town and even if my girls turn their eyes to books and drawings I still want them to try and experience as much as possible so they have fewer “what if” moments as they get older. Middle Sister is loving the board game club she is in now and has applied for the next session. Big Sister has signed up for a coding workshop that starts in March.

Today is the first day I finally stopped holding my breath because today is the day I know both of my girls not only chose to catch up, they followed through and are going to be okay.

Breathing brings me great happiness.

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Same Situation, Different Year, Different Situation

This place is familiar.

The place where the taxes are finished and on hold to be sent as soon as the government will accept them. The “pre-spending” list written over the course of the year and ordered most important to least important done. If there is a list, there is no giddy sense of overwhelm and no moment to savor. In order for our financial plans to work we must not forget we are poor just yet. We must keep the mentality of “cannot afford” and “we can’t right now” long enough to make our momentum last.

The place where Mr. Brickie laid off and has it on good authority the next job starts “in a couple weeks.” Last year a couple weeks turned into July. It was awful.

Even though a lot of the phrases and timing is the same this year, it’s also a lot different.

The tax return we are expecting is larger than any I’ve ever received. There will also be a portion dedicated to the emergency fund so I can stop using credit cards for emergencies. If I do not pay off the credit cards with the tax return, I’ll do that through the course of the year.

The job front is different in two respects. First, Mr. Brickie has more contacts and more understanding about how the season works. The job starting is one where the foreman really likes Mr. Brickie. Likes him so much he sent a written recommendation to the apprentice coordinator. Also, Mr. Brickie isn’t going to wait and hope like he did last year. He’s going to get out there and get work.

In the meantime, he has applied for unemployment and that gap in employment he had before he started the training program for becoming a bricklayer hit us hard in terms of unemployment payments. The first time he got $272 every two weeks. The second time he got $320 every two weeks. This time (after the waiting week) it will be close to $800 every two weeks.

I think the difference between last year and this year is really striking.

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