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.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bah Humbug.

Just found this post from a couple of years ago that I never posted. Still holds up.


Christmas makes me the Grinch.

I don't like presents. Presents make me feel weird.

First of all, I don't really like to ask for presents or suggest ideas for presents because I'd feel better if no one bought me anything at all, ever. If I want something, I'd rather pick it out and buy it myself so I can get exactly what I want. That said, if there is a holiday coming up for which people traditionally give gifts, and if someone asks me what I want for that holiday, and I tell them something vague, like "I like coffee" or "gift cards are great," then please choose pretty much anything in those categories and all will be well. I will happily use/enjoy it if I left the choice up to you.

However, there are two gift scenarios that make me squirmy and stabby, and they are as follows:

  1. Someone asks me what I want, and I try to make it easy on them by giving them very specific answers, and then I receive gifts that are not what I asked for. For example, this year I told a friend/family member that I would love bedroom slippers that are Brand X in Size Y, and you can get them at Store Z. Easy peasy. I did all the legwork. Then for Christmas I received bedroom slippers in style A, which is a completely different style. Completely different. Now I feel really weird about the present, because I don't like this style and I won't wear them, and I didn't really want anything anyway, but this person is watching me open the gift and expecting me to be excited. I hate to seem ungrateful, but I am. Now it's an errand to deal with something I didn't really want anyway, but since you pressured me for an answer, I gave you something so easy to find and yet you didn't. Bleh!!! And now I feel terrible about being unhappy about it, and then in 15 seconds the terrible feeling turns to anger at the whole gift-giving culture that makes me feel guilty when I just wanted to opt out! I am the type of person who does research before a purchase, and if I told you the exact thing I wanted, then I already weighed other options. If you can't find what I asked for, then a gift card is a wonderful substitute. I do not find them impersonal; I find them perfect. Better yet - don't get me anything.
  2. Or, the person does not ask me for suggestions, she just makes a bunch of assumptions, and then I receive things I have absolutely no interest in, and again, you're watching me open it and I have to be happy about it. Or it's something customized that I really don't like, and I can't even exchange it for something I do like. I can't really even donate it to Goodwill, because who will buy a coffee mug with a blurry photo of my family on it? And if anyone did want to buy it, I would think they were weirdos, and I'd be too creeped out to let them anyway. So do I destroy it? It's a picture of my family, albeit a bad, blurry, unasked-for one. Again, I feel guilty for not being grateful, and then I feel really resentful for being expected to feel grateful for a bunch of crap that I don't want and didn't ask for.
I know it sounds severe. I read it. It sounds like I'm a huge, picky pain in the ass. But if you think that, then you're forgetting the main point: I don't want any presents ever, for any reason. That actually makes me pretty easy to deal with. If you know that, and you get me one anyway, then get me what I said I wanted. Otherwise this gift-giving exercise is for you, not me. A gift receipt is always appreciated.

And I'm not talking about people who don't really know me and are just taking a stab at something generic that people generally like, like smelly lotion. Thank you, acquaintance, I'll take your smelly lotion and smile about it because we don't really know each other and it was a nice gesture. I'm talking about very close friends, family, in-laws, etc. who really do KNOW me. If we feel comfortable enough with each other to ask for gift ideas, then just go with it please. Especially if it's something you plan to spend more than $10 on.

Lest you think I'm just a jerk, not wanting gifts is a real thing. You may have heard of a book called The Five Love Languages, which I admit I haven't read. Well, I recently took a test just for the hell of it to see what my "love languages" are, and surprise, surprise, I don't like presents. There is actually a test for that, so it's not just me. It's a thing! According to the test, I prefer "Acts of Service" the most, which is totally true. I would much rather have my husband fix the front porch light than give me jewelry, any day of the week. Make the girls' next doctor appointments and figure out how they are going to get there; decide on dinners for the week; fold the next load of laundry and start another. If you want to give me a gift, give me a helper, like a maid service (best present I ever received, hands down). Wash my car. Take the dog out. My time and anxiety level are so much more important to me than stuff. I don't need another mug; I need an assistant.

My husband and I talked about this feeling this year, and he agrees that the gifts make Christmas stressful for us (not for our kids of course). We just don't want stuff. Next year we will just tell everyone we want something big, like camping gear, so please just give us gift cards to Dick's Sporting Goods. Or we want to take the kids to Disney, so just give us gift cards to Disney or Amtrak or contribute to an account and give us money for that. I would love a Christmas with no individual gifts, just the ability to get what we want but can't get on our own. If you even give us anything at all, which you do NOT have to do. Seriously.

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

Sigh.

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.

Chinatown!


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?