Why I Write This Stuff Down

Right now we work full-time, send our kids to school, play soccer, and do all the things "normal" people do, but we want more. We want to show our kids the world and learn along the way. This blog is me trying to figure out how.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Debt Progress

I paid off my student loans!!!  I know at least some of you feel my joy.  I graduated from design school in 1999, so I should have been paid off a long time ago, but when I had my kids I took a few years off from repayment, and when I started paying again, I lowered my payments by a good deal because our whole budget was radically different, so it took 14 years, and that's just how it is.

I wrote a post about a year ago that mentioned us paying off our debts to get ready to save for travel, and since then we have paid off just about everything we owed except our house.  We paid off the only car we still owed money on, and then about a month later our other car passed away pretty dramatically.  So we replaced one car payment with another, which is not how we wanted to do it, but we plan to pay that one off early, and that's just how it is.

So anyway, now that my student loan is paid in full (So.  Excited.), the only monthly debt payments we have are our house and car.  Again, the only monthly debt payments we have are our house and car.  And May and June were not kind to us financially.  We found out we had termites, we had a major dishwasher leak and had to replace all of our carpet, we had to replace our roof, and we had to replace 2/3 of our air conditioner/HVAC stuff (whatever - I'm not an engineer).  And we still managed to pay for all of those things up front because we got a decent tax refund (which we usually just fritter away, but not this year).

Of course we still have all our monthly bills, like internet, phone, electricity, child care, etc., etc., and I'm constantly trying to figure out how to whittle those down, too (I think cable will be the next casualty).  BUT, those payments are not for money we've already spent.  We save up and pay for things with cash now or we don't get them at all, and that's what we're teaching our kids to do, too.  Debt is bad, people.  It only took me a few decades to get that down.

So we're on our way!  Or maybe we're on our way to being on our way.  Anyway, we no longer have only $127 in our savings account because we are able to put money away every payday, and it really feels good.  Like really, really good.  I can taste the Thai street food already . . . :)

Not quite yet, but someday!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why I Don't Make New Year's Resolutions

Oh my goodness, it has been way, way too long since my last post.  October?  What the heck?  (OK, here's an aside:  I'm actually quite an accomplished swearer, but having kids has made me try really hard to say things like "heck" and "goodness."  I'm not always successful, but I try.  Anyway, I read something recently that said people who curse tend to be more honest than people who don't, so you can rest assured I'm telling you the truth :)

So I don't really make New Year's resolutions because I feel like they are often too broad and/or unrealistic to succeed, and when they fail, we feel worse about ourselves than we did before we made them.  But I do like to make a (short) list of things I'd like to do better, and one of those things is to blog more.  You can see I'm doing a bang-up job, it being June and all.  Hey, gimme a break; I had a really busy / expensive May and June (more on that later).

I was trying to keep this blog strictly about our travel plans, but since we won't be traveling anytime too soon, that is really restricting what I can write about, and I like writing, so I'm easing that restriction somewhat to write a little more about my family and me instead.  You're welcome.

Anyway, this post is just here to say that I still exist, and if you care about that then you should keep looking here for new posts.  I have several that I'm working on in my head at the moment, and I will get them into the blog soon, soon, soon.  Stay with me people!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Game For Anything

My kids are so awesome!  Yes, yes, they drive me insane sometimes, and they drive each other insane sometimes and all that, but when it really matters most, they are really, really great.

Here's what made me think of that:  this past weekend we gutted our kitchen.  I mean it is down to the drywall where the cabinets were, down to the studs in some places, and down to the slab where there once was terra cotta tile.  That room is empty.  This leaves us with an itty-bitty kitchen island in our dining room that now holds command central:  microwave, toaster oven, coffee pot, with refrigerator next to those and our dining room table as our eating and working space.  It's tight.

The girls made a few comments early on about not wanting the kitchen to be gone, which I think just means they have happy memories of being in there and can't really imagine what the new one will be like.  We told them several times that they will like the new kitchen, too, and it will be even better because everything will work correctly and it will look a thousand times nicer.  We're really just putting cabinets and appliances back in the same spaces, but they won't be from 1982 anymore, and it's been a long time coming.

Anyway, the weekend was full of loud construction noise and dust and crabby parents and lots of "find something to do" moments, and they just went with it.  They played together most of the time, and they only got snippy with each other a few times.  We ordered in dinner Saturday night and had a picnic on the living room floor while we watched The Avengers, and they were thrilled!  Then Sunday we got right back to it, and they were still great, still finding things to do, not really complaining at all.  Finally, after lunch, I felt guilty for kind of ignoring them all weekend, and I took them to a movie and to the grocery store while Drew finished up.  They were great for me out of the house, too!

They are generally pretty laid back kids, but we were a little concerned that they would get whiny or not play together well or something that would make the kitchen work even harder, but they never did.  They are even OK with our weird, crowded dining room, at least for now.

They were awesome when we went to Washington DC in August, too.  We trapped them on a train for 9 hours one way, kept them up too late, made them walk for miles, took them on the bus and subway and changed plans several times.  And they LOVED it!  They are still talking about what a great trip that was and how they want to go on another one.

Perfectly happy on the train.

All of this just adds to my confidence that we are doing the right thing.  When we finally get our first big trip underway, they will be as excited as we are, and they will just go with whatever comes next.  At least, that is my hope, and I'm trying so hard to be more like them every day!  My life would be so much better if I could just go with it more and stop worrying about everything.  Easier said than done, but I'm really trying.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Year of Getting Weirder

Last night our family went to a PTA meeting and school book sale where we interacted with lots of other parents and their kids.  After the meeting my husband and I were making dinner, and he said, "I think other parents think we're weird."  He says things like this from time to time, and I usually say something like, "Probably," and we move on.  But I thought about it a little harder last night, and I do actually think he's right.  I also don't care, and that's a big achievement for me.

I was raised with what I like to call "Southern Woman Syndrome."  That's not an insult to my parents; it's just the way things are in the south if you are a woman.  I define it as wanting to please everyone all the time and wanting everyone to like you all the time, even if you don't like them.  It stinks, and it's too much, but it's very common down here.

If you read my blog post about zombies, among other things, you know the last year or so has been one of great change for my family and me, at least mentally.  We've stopped trying to live like society tells us to and started trying to find the way that is best for us, and I've discovered that other people don't always like it.  It turns out when I talk about choices we've made that may not be typical (like paying off debt, getting rid of extra stuff, opting out of a lot of the food system, wanting to travel a lot with our kids), people interpret this as a criticism of their choices, even though that isn't what I say or mean at all.  They can get a little defensive, and then I get a little defensive, and then I change the subject and make a mental note to stop being so honest all the time.  That's not really the lesson I want to put out there, but I do want to warn people who are going against the norm that it happens.  The first time you encounter opposition to something you're really excited about, you will be shocked and possibly a little hurt, and then maybe a bit pissed off.  It's like the seven stages of grief, but much faster and more irritating than sad.

The things that made my husband say people think we're weirdos change from time to time.  Last night my third grader's class performed at the PTA meeting, and the parents of one of her friends sat next to us.  Without going into much detail about our religious beliefs, I will say we are teaching our kids about all major religions and also about people with no religion at all in the hopes that they will tolerate everyone and choose their own (if they feel like they need to) when they are older and able to understand what they are choosing.  My husband and I have both said we have a lot of respect for Buddhism and sort of lean in that direction, and my 8 year old likes what she knows about it so far.  Apparently she told her friend we are Buddhists, and the friend's mom asked us about it last night.  She was very sweet and just wanted to be sure that was right (probably because it's weird where we live).  We explained our method of teaching about all religions and laughed it off, but it stuck with Drew.

I wonder what that frog is asking.

It's not that he is bothered by what other people think of us, and neither am I, but it is something we think about, especially where our kids are concerned.  I want them to be unique and not to care about  other people's opinions of them like I did growing up (see Southern Woman Syndrome above), but I know their feelings are going to be hurt when their peers realize they are not exactly like everyone else.  That is the nature of kids, and unfortunately I think it's more and more the nature of our country.  All the more reason to get our acts together and take off in a year or two!

Friday, September 7, 2012

When Do We Leave?

This will be a short post.  I saw these two photos on Facebook this past week, and they are really making me want to travel NOW!  But I have to take a deep breath and remember that we're going to get there someday.  We're paying off our debts, which is going well, and then we need to save for travel (and just for life), so for now I'll have to be content to look at these and sigh:

Girraffe Crossing
Photo :: Annette Bulman

Four Seasons Hotel Thailand
Photo: The Golden Triangle


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Washington DC - it's a start! (Part 2)

So the last thing I posted about was the first two days of our DC vacation when everything went according to plan (pretty much).  I may have given you the impression that my husband is a rigid plan-follower while I am super flexible and laid back all the time.  This is not actually true, but I'm the one writing the story, so . . .

Day Three: We started the day by walking to the Mall and taking in some of the Smithsonian museums. The Museum of Natural History is the best thing since sliced bread. I think I could go there every day for a week and still not see everything or get tired of being there. It's such a beautiful building, and there was something for each of us.  My older daughter loves the Hope Diamond and all the gems and minerals.  My younger one loves dinosaurs.  My husband loves marine biology, so the ocean exhibit was great for him. I love all of it and was just happy to be there.

Butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History!

We had planned on seeing some of the monuments this day, but we decided to push those off until the next day and just get some more museums under our belts. D wanted to go to the Hirshhorn Museum, which is a modern art museum and sculpure garden. I wasn't sure how the girls were going to like it, but they LOVED it! I had to drag them out of this weird little movie about a baseball pitcher throwing balls at ceramic objects over and over and another one about a man who is slowly covered in bees.  And it had the coolest gift shop! I really enjoyed talking art with them, and it made me even more impressed with them as little developing people.

We also saw Air and Space, which I kept pushing for based on my last visit (1984-ish). None of us really care about airplanes or space ships, but I love the building and all its skylights and all the aircraft suspended from the ceiling. We just did a walk-through.  We walked back to the hotel after that and the girls played in the pool for a while.  Finding a hotel with a pool was an excellent idea by the way. 

That night we went to Chinatown to eat dinner, and we discovered that the "town" in Chinatown is a slight exaggeration.  It was a block or two of restaurants and that was about it.  The one my husband had researched didn't exist anymore, but we found a cute hole-in-the-wall that was fantastic.  This day didn't exactly go according to plan, but we ended up having a great time because we just decided to slow the pace and relax some.  We also ate a a place that seemed to be popular with the locals, and that really paid off, too.  We much prefer not to look like tourists if at all possible.


Day Four: This was our last day of exploring, and we had planned to see three monuments: JFK, MLK and FDR. We thought we found a city bus that would take us to the Lincoln Memorial and we planned to walk from there, but the bus runs a weird schedule and never came. We even called the 800 number and talked to someone at the transit department.  No dice on the bus.  The only other options were taking a cab or paying for a tour bus that circles the monuments and costs around $30 per person - what a racket. We really didn't want to spend that kind of money. At this point, my sweet husband, who had been a bit of a drill sargeant thus far, just threw up his hands and said, "Forget it. Let's go to more museums." I had really wanted to see the MLK memorial, but actually I was pretty relieved, because the monuments were quite a hike, and I just didn't think the girls would last very long.  Plus, we got to go back to the Museum of Natural History! We also tried the National Gallery, but by then the girls were tired and hungry, so we took the train to a cute neighborhood and ate Ecuadorian food.

The last half of the day was the most fun we had the whole trip. After we ate, we walked across the street to what looks like an old train or bus depot. It's been renovated, and on Tuesdays (the day we happened to be there) they set up a farmer's market type thing outside.  Inside has lots of produce stalls, butcher shops, cheese shops, a cafe and an ice cream stand.  The girls got ice cream, Drew got some really good cheese, and I bought some fruit for the train ride home the next day.  Everyone was happy!  Again, we felt like locals.

We went back to the hotel and the girls swam for a bit while I made use of a guest washer and dryer (free!).  Bringing home a suitcase full of dirty clothes is the worst part of travel for me, so I was absolutely thrilled at this turn of events.  Dinner was a little hard to come by.  Our hotel was right downtown, and everything seemed to shut down after the office workers went home.  We wandered around for a while and eventually found a sandwich shop.  Then we went back to the room and passed out.

Day Five:  We got up and went to Union Station with some time to spare for breakfast.  This time we were much smarter and bought lunch there, too.  We took it on the train with us, and after a couple of hours we spread out at a table in the dining car and had a feast!  That's another thing I loved about Amtrak - they didn't care if we bought our food from them or not.  The tables were for everyone, and there was free wi-fi in the dining car, too!  The ride home seemed much shorter that the ride there (isn't that always the way?), and my younger daughter took a long nap with her head in my lap.

Tuckered out Izzy

All in all, we had a great time, and the girls are still saying they miss D.C.!  Drew and I really enjoyed the train and being back in a big city (have I mentioned we lived in Chicago for 8 years?).  We didn't have a car for 5 days and didn't miss it once. 

We can devide the costs of our trip pretty evenly into three parts:  food, train, hotel.  I'd love to decrease food costs next time somehow.  Maybe we sacrifice the pool for a suite hotel with kitchens in the rooms, and we can cook some instead of going out for every meal.  Staying downtown put us close to a lot of the attractions, but staying in a neighborhood would have put us closer to grocery stores and smaller, less expensive restaurants.  Priorities, I guess.

Anyway, D.C. was a huge success.  Where should we go next?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Washington DC - it's a start! (Part 1)

We took a trip! 

It was a very short one compared to what we want to do in the future, but it was a start, and it taught us some things about what kind of travelers we are.  We went to Washington DC, and we were gone five days, but two of those were spent getting there and back. 

The first good thing about our trip was taking Amtrak instead of driving or flying.  Airplane tickets are expensive, and we had heard horrible things about DC traffic, so we looked into train travel.  The trip seemed long - 10 hours!- and I was a little concerned with keeping the kids busy all that time, but we decided to give it a try, and we were all so glad!  Taking the train doesn't involve any of the TSA nonsense of flying - they don't X-ray anything or make you put all your toiletries in little bottles in a ziploc bag.  I didn't even notice if anyone counted carryons (you're supposed to be allowed 2 per person, but I saw people bring all kinds of wacky bags on board, and no one blinked).  Someone scanned our tickets after we were already moving, and that was it for ID!  Should I be worried about this seeming lack of security?  It seems out of character for my Type-A self to just let all that go, but I did.  And it was nice.

First time on the train!

Day One:  We boarded the train just before 10:00 am.  One coloring book, one sketchpad, some Mad-Libs and two movies later we pulled into Union Station in DC.  Then we took the subway three stops to our hotel, and we were there!  May I just interrupt here to say one thing about public transportation in DC?  You guys should talk to the CTA in Chicago, because they have got this thing down.  We had to buy one transit card PER PERSON (in Chicago you just put a bunch of money on one card and use it until it's empty), and we couldn't use it on the bus.  Only cash or a completely separate card on the bus, folks.  Stupid payment methods, but the transportation itself was great.  And my girls were fantastic!  They loved the train and the bus, and they were such troopers, and I kinda knew they would be.

Day Two:  The National Zoo!! 

The zoo is part of the Smithsonian system of museums and attractions, and as such it is FREE!!  It's in a beautiful neighborhood, and at least part of it was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.  Just a gorgeous way to spend a Sunday - if I lived in DC, I like to think I'd go there all the time.  After the zoo we walked for several blocks to find restaurants, and we all ate like we hadn't had food in days! 

Next was the National Cathedral, which is beautiful. 

We went up to the top of the tower and got some lovely views of DC and Virginia, and then we hung out in the garden for a little while.  The bus ride back to the hotel was fun - we drove through Georgetown, which was so cute and busy, and the girls liked the bus.  The girls and D went down to the pool for a little while, and Mommy had some quiet alone time, and then we ate dinner and called it a day.

I'll stop here for this post because this is the only part of our trip where pretty much everything went as planned.  Here is what we have learned thus far:

Positive:  train travel, mass transit and walking everywhere (I quickly learned that good walking shoes are priceless); being in a new place and figuring out how to get around; being in neighborhoods around locals as well as visiting tourist attractions

Negative:  my husband is a whip cracker!  He has his day planned out and has a hard time veering off that plan.  Once he's veered, though, it's OK; it's just hard to make that first leap from the schedule.  This can also be a positive, as the girls and I all get distracted . . . what was I saying?  Oh yes, negatives.  DC is VERY expensive!  I had a hard time spending so much money every day, even though we had saved for this trip.  I'm more comfortable in a suite or apartment where I have the option of cooking than in a two-bed hotel room where we have to go out for everything and can't even heat up leftovers.  I think this will be a positive when we take our big trip, because we want to live somewhere like locals for a time instead of just visiting as many places as possible.  One other negative is that the girls are a little young for as much exploring as D and I like to do.  If it were just the two of us we could wander around all day, but it's not fair to make the girls do that, so we have to be aware of the time and everyone's energy level.  It will be at least a year or two before we can really travel like we want to, and hopefully they'll be able to last a little longer per outing :)

All in all, the first couple of days left us exhausted but excited to be somewhere new.  More in the next post!