We got our utility bill last week. It... was... not... pretty. It has been very cold in Colorado this winter, and although we're not keeping our house at sweat lodge temperatures, it turns out our beautiful vaulted ceilings come with a price. Heat escaping through the roof. Thankfully we are blessed with employment, a home, food, and coats--more than some can say this year. So I don't bemoan the utility bill; I feel thankful we can pay it. But it reminds me that heat and shelter and food are what comes first in our lives. Clothes and DVDs and ice cream come last.
Participating in 30 Days of Nothing in November was so thrilling because I felt in control of the little things. Being able to say no and doing without is a good practice for anyone at any time in their life. I want to participate again in January because it seems like a fabulous way to kick off the year, and it will jump-start some of our savings goals. Mostly, vacations. We don't take a lot of them and we want to.
I know there were several of you who mentioned you wanted to try 30 Days of Nothing and if you do, please let me know. I will link your posts here and I would love to discuss what your thoughts are. If your blog is private, I'll cut and paste your thoughts without having to link you. I won't talk about myself as much--since you already had to slog through it with me in November and you're probably rolling your eyes at the thought of another 30 days of reading my anti-buying propaganda!
One of the most amazing mommies I am blessed to know, Melodie, is already talking about gearing up for her month of nothing. You can read about it here.
All the mess, all the drama, all the hyperactivity, all the sugar, all the wrapping, all the batteries, all the assembly.... so worth it! I learned a few things this year. I learned that the messes are worth it and truly letting the kids pick out what they want to give to each other (not what I want them to give to each other) brings the most joy.
Cookie decorating. Look at those smiles? Worth the mess.
Zinabu's reaction after opening his present from Lily. Pure joy. Worth every minute she spent at the store agonizing over what to choose.
The annoying, musical electric guitar Carver picked out for Zinabu. Zinabu's favorite present. He slept with it last night. Worth it.
I am sitting here at our dining room table (well, it's my mom's table but you know what I mean) and thought this scene pretty much sums up our week so far. I'm drinking endless cups of coffee and tea, we're playing endless games of Uno, and we're putting together a big puzzle whenever we feel like it. The days are leisurely and sweet. We are beyond fortunate that David works for the same school district our kids attend, so he has the same "time off" that they do. I use the term "time off" loosely because he keeps going back to his office to get stuff done, but in theory we're all on vacation mode.
Tonight we will make our annual donut run and tour the city for Christmas lights. We usually do it in our pajamas, since that adds the flair of illicit behavior. It's supposed to begin snowing this afternoon and continue through tomorrow. Hoo-double-ray! I love the snow. It will probably be 55 and sunny by Christmas, but for now we'll take the winter weather.
Carver has rebounded after the stomach flu. So far (am I jinxing myself by even mentioning this???) no one else has gotten sick. We're grateful for each other, grateful for the Season, and grateful for food, a home, and heat. My heart is heavy for Ethiopia right now and the thousands and thousands of children who still need a family. And the children in every other nook and cranny of the world who need a family.
Have you considered adoption? Would you consider it? Please????
I have a lot to blog about... treadmills, biological families, helping my kids "pick out" presents for each other, pulling things out of my dog's mouth, my antibiotic pills that are the size of a shoe, and yummy desserts. But for now I'll tell you about our "don't vomit on the new carpet" policy.
At our old house we had hardwood floors everywhere. You could pretty much make any mess you wanted and all I had to do was walk behind with a broom or mop. Bada bing, bada boom. In our new house we still have mostly hardwood floors, but we have CARPET in the boys' bedrooms. So before we even talked about a fire escape plan, I cracked down on where to vomit, how to vomit, and how to NOT vomit on the carpet. The plan was to just go ahead and get sick on their covers--which I can easily wash--and not be tempted to lean over the side of the bed and splatter the carpet in any way, shape, or form. (Because not once, in all my years of parenting, have my kids thrown up during the day. It is always at 1:00 in the morning.) Every few weeks or so I would remind the boys of our plan and remind them what to do in case of an upset tummy.
I am so proud to tell you that Carver remembered the plan, executed the plan, and passed with flying colors!
I am sick. I am pretty sure I have a sinus infection, so I get to go to the doctor tomorrow and wince while he presses on my sinuses and asks, "Does this hurt?" We used to go to the doctor all the time. When the kids were younger, they had everything. Ear infections times 1 billion, strep throat, tonsils out, adenoids out, spider bites, fevers, let's not forget the mumps, rashes, dehydration, and the general well check ups and vaccinations that come along with being a kid. Fortunately for us, it's been a slow year in the medical co-pay department. Gee. I've kinda missed the old doc. I'm happy I get to mix things up a bit.
David asked me how could I possibly know if I had a sinus infection. I asked him what else would make my sinuses feel like they're about to explode in my head. Even my teeth hurt. He has since kept clear of me for fear of my
Also, I've tried to get through the whole day without bending over. Bending over hurts my head in ways you cannot imagine. Don't you think that's a clue?
I haven't had much of an appetite today, but then out of the blue I'll get a weird craving for food--like bread slathered in butter. Yes, I mean slathered. Who eats bread slathered with butter for no reason? Slathered is the key word here, folks. It tells me something is up.
It is still so funny to me that my kids don't a) believe me when I tell them I'm sick, or b) don't care when I tell them I am sick. They have the same expectations of me regardless. They want me to juggle, tell jokes, cook their favorite food, and sew costumes--all in 12.4 minutes! Those little stinkers.
So I am putting myself to bed, in preparation of my sinuses getting felt up tomorrow. Nighty night.
We like to wait until mid-December before we break out the Christmas decor, so Sunday was the day we went to get our Christmas tree. We did something different this year. We drove into the mountains to chop down our tree. The forest service sells $10 permits and gives you a map of areas that are designated for cutting. Our little environmentalist, Lily, was horrified that we would be cutting down some animal's home until we explained that that forest rangers want us to do this to prevent forest fires, which would result in mass destruction of all animal homes and the poor squirrels and birds would be devastated*, and she was mollified. (*yes, we stretched the truth there but it was either that or watch her chain herself to the tree we selected.)
We bundled up and for some reason all wore Santa hats. I wore one, too, which is why there are no photos of me. Here are my little elves.
And big daddy-o. Does he look happy or what?
On the drive up the pass. Who is having the most fun in this photo? The dog, because he has a whole seat to himself.
Walking in to choose a tree. In a fine family moment, Lily is hitching up her snow pants. That girl's waist is the size of a toothpick and she spends a lot of her waking moments pulling up her pants.
Triumph! He was a huge help
The piney woods. It was a gorgeous day.
See that number on the bottom of our thermostat? Minus 12 degrees. The big storm that is attacking most of the country came through Colorado from Sunday through Tuesday. And the temperatures have not been kind. We've had a lot of snow (which I love) and bitter cold (which I thought I was done with when I left Minnesota). The kids and I have loved the snow day and delayed starts. I'm a much better person when I have a slow morning and don't have to make everyone's breakfasts, snacks, and lunches by 6:45 am. But with hunkering down comes cabin fever, plus our 30 Days of Nothing in November, and we haven't been out to do much lately. So I told the kids we would go somewhere fun after school. Somewhere warm. Which resulted in the following:
Indoor mini-glow golf. For reasons I can't explain my children love this place. It gives me a headache. It also gives me a chance to examine all the lint on my clothes that shows up under that black lights.
We got hot chocolate, looked at the mall Santa (who my kids think is hilarious) and played golf. We even snuck in a little shopping time for Nana. I had to steer them away from the glass dolphin they all insisted she would love. I think I convinced them it was breakable and Buddy might eat it. They solemnly nodded their head in agreement and we chose something much more... uh, practical.
I hope you're all staying warm.
Carver is a great kid. Just an all-around great kid. I can't relate to other parents when they discuss their children's personalities and temperaments in relation to their birth order. Like "Billy is such a firstborn--he's such a perfectionist!" etc. My kids were born in one environment and thrown into our family with no rhyme or reason to birth order or oldest, youngest, or middle. They're just kids. And Carver is about as easy as they get. He's sweet and sentimental and silly and kind. He's also the best at forgiving me when I screw up.
The afterglow of Thanksgiving was quick to wear off this week, and I am time-crunched myself with a work deadline that is going to be the death of me. Somehow the kids sensed my lack of availability and were downright wicked to each other. It has not been pretty.* I knew the kids were just wanting more time with me, so I spent all of today making sure I got one-on-one time with each of them.
Carver, of course, wanted to go to the skateboard park. That wasn't exactly what I would have chosen for quality time, but it was his choice.
Carver, ready to skate.
Me... ready to rob a bank?
The view from the skateboard park. Not bad.
After an hour of me applauding his drop-ins and ollies and other what-nots, we went to get some peppermint hot chocolate and browse books. Now, Carver is very well read. He's a literature geek and we had a ball oooohing and aaaaahing over new books. But then he found the following:
What is it with 11 year old boys and inappropriate noises? This book not only looked funny, but it had ten (yes, count them... ten!) different accompanying sounds. They were loud and we drew the attention of little old ladies who were buying picture books for their grandchildren.
A day like today exhausts me, but I hope when my kids are grown up and living somewhere else they'll remember that I invested time in them, and watched them fall off their skateboards, and giggled over fart books, and sipped hot cocoa with them, and tried to keep the sibling rivalry at bay.
*this is not one of those blogs where i lead you to believe my children are perfect.
Lest you think avoiding stores has kept consumerism at bay, Lily likes to leave the above signs all over the house--attached to sticks. She likes to make hats and masks and necklaces, etc., and sell her wares to anyone willing to part with their nickels and dimes.
This 30 Days of Nothing has evoked some deep emotions and rich conversations with others. I've read through my posts this month and reflected back on how I wasn't sure what to expect with the challenge. I knew it would be hard--not so much in denying myself of "things" but in having to say no, over and over and over again, to the thousands of opportunities we have to buy. 30 Days of Nothing smacks of privilege, in and of itself--as was pointed out to me by a reader. You need to have enough of an income from the start to be able to be a part of this challenge. If you're already living at or near the poverty level, you'd give your eye teeth to be in a position like us. To have enough, to have so much, we make a game out of having less.
So I'm humbled. Very much so.
When I began my challenge I didn't set out to save lots of money or pad our "what if the car breaks down" account or even make some kind of statement. I was just trying it out. Other bloggers that have tried this are people I admire and respect, and therefore it gave me the chance to think about what it would look like in my life.
Admittedly, what I've gone "without" this month is nothing earth shattering. Not buying pizza and making it at home is not going to change the world. Neither is patching jeans or recycling birthday party streamers. We've gone without in little ways this month.
So I go back to what I'm seeing every single day. That our culture--this crazy culture of abundance--allows us the chance to buy something every single second of every single minute of every single hour ... ad nauseum. Want the New Moon soundtrack? Two clicks with my mouse and I can buy it at iTunes. Want food? Don't even get out of your car... just do the drive-thru. Want organic locally grown lettuce? Do you want it bagged or loose? Red or green? Prewashed or gritty? See my point? Every time you turn around...
And while I do not resent technology or convenience or progressive thinking, spending too much time looking for items at a store or online is too much time spent away from normal living. Not buying extras this month has let me hit the pause button on life, re-evaluate what my priorities are, and become more conscious of consumerism. David and I have never been big spenders, but even so we have seen how making a determined effort to spend nothing in a month reveals that we live in a world where a large part of your life will be devoted to buying or thinking about buying. For example, being invited to birthday parties means buying a birthday gift. So I go to a store. At the store I try to remember if we need shampoo. Or tissue. Once I determine that, I remember that one of my kids lost their winter gloves and I should replace them. After putting gloves in the cart I think about vitamins. Do we have enough vitamins to last until the end of the month or should I buy more vitamins now? Before you know it you've spent a good chunk of your afternoon buying for today, tomorrow, and next week.
30 Days of Nothing had a different result for me than it will for you or for anyone else that tries it. It will affect each person in a different way, and if you decide to try this challenge I'm so curious to know what your thoughts are. 30 Days of Nothing is letting me live one day at a time. Each day we make do with what we have.
We're incredibly fortunate that we have enough. I want to keep that perspective forever.
The scene: The kids dragged every pillow in the house to the basement where they built a giant pile and were
Me: "Okay, my turn."
Zinabu: "Uh oh! Let's see if the white lady can jump."
3 weeks into my no-spending challenge, and 1 left to go. I'm feeling strong. Content. Surprised. It's hard to put into words what this experiment has done to me. Rather than feel deprived or restrained I have felt surprisingly happy. No eating out. No great deals at Target. No early holiday shopping. No new socks. No paid events with the kids. No lattes. No 75% clearance sales at Old Navy. No haircuts. (Okay, that one bites.) No replacing my kids pajama pants or jeans. No extras. No last minute purchases. Nothing. In fact, when I've gone to the grocery store (the one place, besides gas, I said I would not include in the challenge) I'm not even the least bit tempted to "sneak" things into the grocery bill. Like paper towels or extra cookies or flowers. Nada. Actually, I've saved $100 just on groceries this month! I so want to be wise with the one place I get to spend money, that I'm taking extra time to make every cent count. (You should see the dishwashing detergent I have left. Mere morsels... and I'm determined to stretch them to next week.)
Most telling of all has been the fact that the kids... have... not... noticed! At all. (See the above photo? Completely at ease.) Only last night did Carver say, "Mom, I really need new pajamas." (The hole in the knee of his jammies is the size of a watermelon now.) I answered, "It's on my list, honey." And that was it.
I am excited about the fact that I did this challenge in November. I think that even though I've probably missed out on some great sales for Christmas presents for all the people in my family, I will spend less in December than I would have otherwise. I feel less inclined to buy extras. I feel more inclined to give of my time. And I feel even more determined to make the money I do spend in December to matter.
I won't go into actual numbers here, but the amount of money I'm saving this month is humbling. And although I hadn't thought too much about what to do with the money we saved, I mostly assumed it would go into our vacation fund or car emergency fund. While David and I have a few organizations that are near and dear to our hearts that we give to, I'm actually saving enough money that I can make a real difference in someone else's life--and still sock away plenty of extra money for a vacation. What incredible timing that the Heifer International catalog came in the mail yesterday. I was floored.
I can easily buy a cow or water buffalo for a family in need. A water buffalo. A WATER BUFFALO! Just writing that gets me all goofy inside. This is an organization I completely believe in and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a place to give this holiday season. Their mission statement is "to help end world hunger and poverty through self-reliance and sustainability." You can go here to read more. You can donate a little (for the purchase of chicks or rabbits) or a little more (for goats or sheep) or up to $5,000 for an entire "Ark" of animals.
So while I've never shopped for farm animals before, I can tell you that it feels really fun.
Recently, Carver has become very interested in skateboarding. The weather in Colorado is nice year round, so at any given time you can find Carver boarding down the street or at a skateboard park, or begging me to take him to a skateboard park. We encourage our kids in ANY endeavor that gets them outside and exercising, so we love that he's practicing his skills. After receiving some birthday money, he bought a new skateboard--and fortunately for him it was on sale. Unfortunately for him it was defective and the board began falling apart soon after he started using it. Today I took him (with the board) back to the store where he bought it. The store was very kind and admitted it was defective and told Carver to pick out another board. So he did. But the skateboards they had in stock were not on sale... so there was a difference to be paid.
So I paid it.
It absolutely killed me to pay it. And I had to catch myself to not get overly angry because it was just money and my child was more important at that moment. But I wanted to be honest and let you all know what happened. The challenge doesn't stop. I'm still going strong and will not stop on December 1st. I'm going the whole 30 days--so my last day of no spending will be December 3rd.
And on December 4th I will be getting a haircut.
Aside from my youngest making odd comments about alcohol and my oldest wanting to go to sleep-away camp, here's the latest on my No Spending Challenge.
Just today, here are the opportunities I've had to spend:
- T-shirt sale at the kids' school.
- Book fair at the kids' school.
- Forgot to eat breakfast and passed a Panera Bread and almost lost my marbles.
- Looking for clearance/sale items to use as stocking stuffers and holiday gifts.
- The car is filthy after our last snow storm, but no car wash for me. (And we've stored our hoses away for winter so I can't do it myself.)
- The inside of the car is filthy (why do Labs shed so much???) and I can't scrounge around for quarters to pay for the car wash vacuums.
- Jayme's suggestion of this, which is pricey but I'd wear it forever and ever and can't imagine a better necklace.
- A much-needed haircut.
- Last chance to see Harry Potter at the dollar theater.
- New pencils that Lily's teacher asked the parents to bring to school because they've already run low.
That last one makes me feel like a heel. But I promised myself I would buy a truckload of pencils come Dec. 1st. But even though I had all those chances to buy, I don't miss anything. Not one bit. The car can stay dirty. Who cares about my hair. The kids already have 50 t-shirts, and I'll ask David to get me the necklace for Christmas. I am astounded at how in control and on top of life I feel these days. I feel like I've taken charge of something (my own consumerism) and whipped it into submission. It's very freeing. And the money we're saving... oiy!
David was explaining the concept of multitasking to Zinabu this evening. Zinabu said, "Like when someone is driving and they're also talking on their cell phone and also drinking alcohol?"
David and I laughed long and hard over that one. Where does he get it?
How long have I been at this? 14 days? Feels like 114. It seems my kids are trying to wear their clothes out at an alarming rate. Do you remember me saying Carver has busted through his pajama bottoms? Lily is close behind with her jeans. Now, whether you care or not, you are going to hear about my philosophy on clothes. About 90% of our clothes are secondhand. We're fortunate to have a great line of thrift stores where we live, they regularly have 50% off sales, and the brands I'm able to find are Gap, Gymboree, Ralph Lauren, REI, Land's End, and Columbia. I rarely pay more than $4 for any item of clothing--including snow gear. For me, clothes are something you put on your body to keep you from getting arrested when you go out in public. Also, my kids play hard, and I don't want to worry about their clothes. Lastly, it reduces our carbon footprint, which is very important to me. I'm not saying that if you buy new clothes for your kids that's bad. Hardly. I'm just telling you what we do.
So Lily has holes in 2 pairs of jeans. I swear this happened overnight. She has 4 pairs total--and I'm not going shopping until December 1st when my no-spending challenge is up. I also have no patches. Patches cost around $5, and I don't want to buy patches for jeans that are $2. Lily doesn't wear skirts or dresses, unless it's a special occasion. Her jeans are her life. So what's a mom to do? I dug around in her hair bows and clips and found some old hair ribbon. I stitched that over the hole as a makeshift patch and am hoping that will last a few more weeks. But I think when I do buy more jeans for Lily, I will hold onto this pair and use the denim for future patches. I felt a little convicted that even though we buy used, I still have a pretty disposable mentality about our clothes. I want to change that.
I am running dangerously low on dishwashing detergent. This scares me because I really hate doing dishes. I found some homemade recipes with baking soda I can try if we run out, but I'm at the rationing stage with the detergent. With the H1N1 going around, we've been blowing through liquid hand soap like candy. I don't know if we'll have enough to make it through the rest of the month. I do have bar soap, but--yuck! Two messy boys and bar soap. Not a combination I want to try.
Buying and replacing items is easy. There's no work involved, except exchanging money for goods. It's harder to stretch things, to make things last longer, to do without, and to patch up holes. We lived many years like that out of necessity. But just because we don't have to live that way anymore doesn't mean we still shouldn't try to get the most out of our dollars. I'm ashamed to admit I've become a convenient spender.
Another book I have to recommend is Nickel And Dimed. I got the audio version (from the library) and listened to it while walking the dog and cleaning house. It's one woman's attempt to live on minimum wage and not become homeless in the process. It was absolutely fascinating, and it was a great motivator in my decision to try this challenge. The author has a bit of a potty mouth, so don't say I didn't warn you.
By the way, my kids have not even noticed the challenge.
What a sweetie pie I have. He woke up before the crack of dawn, so I spent some time snuggling with him in bed. He could hardly wait for the sun to come up. Being 6 is, apparently, a big deal. We had a fantastic day together, and I was able to do it all without spending a dime. But I don't want that to take away from the fact that I would do anything for him.
Zinabu helped me by licking the beaters, and Buddy helped Zinabu by keeping him on task.
Homemade cake. I love my bundt pan. LOVE it!!! We always make bundt cakes. Maybe because they remind me of donuts???
I have a box with party/gift wrap supplies. There were plenty of streamers and balloons, and even though red and yellow may not have been Zinabu's first color choice, he didn't care.
Goodie bags. I, personally, hate the birthday party goodie bag. Who started this? We've always been ones to have a birthday party at home, until just last year--when we moved and were showing the house and had to have Lily's party at the rollerskating rink. We reminded Z that when Carver and Lily were both in kindergarten, they had a small party (with family) to celebrate their birthdays. He was just fine with keeping it low key. I used tissue paper and string to "bag up" random treats I found around the house--unused glow sticks from Halloween, candy, a pack of gum--and voila! Goodie Bag. What kid would really complain when they get a whole pack of gum????
Silver-spray painted Burger King crown we picked up. Yes, I have silver spray paint. He wore it most of the day. He wanted a cake with green frosting, so I delivered. I freaked out when I realize I had only 5 birthday candles, so my brother cut one in half and saved me from having to light a matchstick and stick that in the cake. Note candles are pink and green. That's what I had so that's what I used. I've always felt Miami Vice was a good look for a cake.
This happy kid after opening his presents. I bought ALL of them in September when Target was putting things on clearance. I found several things on his wish list and have been hiding them in my closet. Pretty neat, don't you think? Zinabu and I both had a fantastic day. No stress for me, we kept it simple, and all Zinabu knew was that we were happy and excited for him.
What else was free? This birthday song from the cuties in Chicago. I am beyond blessed.