Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Still Learning

I'd like to remember our annual Memorial Day trek to DC this way, smiling faces of happy children. That wasn't really how the weekend went though. In fact, I can only describe the relief I felt on the hot and sticky car ride* home when Trey tentatively said, "You know, we may want to consider holding off on DC again until the kids are a little older." The guilt I'd been harboring at thinking those very same words, melted away upon discovering that I was not alone.

I do have a lot of beautiful pictures to share from our weekend, but before I post them, I wanted to share the most important lesson re-learned over the holiday:"No, Becky and Trey, you haven't figured this parenting thing out yet." Doesn't it seem like every time you make progress in parenting, the rules change? I won't mention who the worst culprit was. Let's just say that there is a reciprocal relationship between age and poor behavior.

Have I mentioned I'm not a fan of two? More happy photos to come.

* The AC needs freon, I think.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Judgment Day

"Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming...Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."
Matthew 24.42, 44

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Things That Make Me Smile

Trey surprised me with this sweet message when I came home from work the other day, and it definitely brightened my day.

Ways to Cut Expenses - Make the CFL Switch

Back in the day I used to work for a lighting company, and boy did I learn a lot about bulbs. More than I ever cared to know actually. Color temperature and lumens and wattage, it was a whole new vocabulary. Did you know that a light bulb in the industry is actually called a lamp? And what the average person calls a lamp is actually a lighting fixture? I know. I'll stop now.

You've probably noticed that greater attention is being paid to ways to make this planet a greener and cleaner home for us and our children. While researchers try to come up with alternative, sustainable forms of energy for the future, there are simple things you can do now in your own home to save yourself money and reduce your carbon footprint.

The fixtures in most homes in America are lit by incandescent bulbs. Incandescent light, as you are probably aware, produces the warm, inviting glow that most of us prefer and are accustomed to. But did you know that 90% of the energy consumed by a light bulb is lost as heat?

The alternative is compact fluorescent lamps, known as CFLs. You probably recognize them as the spiral tube bulbs that look slightly intimidating. They may conjure images of shady motels with flickering lights. Don't let the shape or the reputation make you nervous. CFLs have come a long way and very closely resemble the attractive light of incandescents. They work exactly like an ordinary bulb, except that they last a lot longer and consume a whole lot less energy. How much longer is their life? The average incandescent lasts 1000-2000 hours. CFLs, on the other hand, will last about 8-15 times as long. A 60 watt incandescent can be replaced with a 13 watt CFL, quite a difference in energy consumption. And remember, wattage is not a measure of how bright the bulb is. It is a measure of how much energy it consumes.

What does this mean for you? Well, while each CFL costs more initially to purchase than itss incandescent counterpart, a single CFL can save you up to $50 in energy costs over its lifetime. In fact, if you replaced the five most highly used bulbs in your house with CFLS, you could save up to $70 in energy costs each year.

The Energy Star website has some great statistics on CFLs. It states that "if every American home replaced just one light with a light that's earned the ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars." Amazing, right?

Consider making the switch.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mother's Day First

This was my 7th Mother's Day, but this year was a little different. For one thing, celebrating began on Friday night when Trey took me out to a fabulous Italian dinner (thanks Sarah and Matt for watching the kids!), and the festivities still aren't quite over. My siblings and I are taking our mom out to tea this upcoming Saturday at the Four Seasons in Philly. Logistics required a later date, but, hey, I think any day is a good day to celebrate motherhood, right?

But what really made this Mother's Day a first for me were the gifts my children made just for me. Trey has always acknowledged the holiday with dinner or a gift (or both), but the wee ones I've poured my heart and soul into didn't really have the resources or the ability to give back. This year though both Davis and Addison are in school, and their wonderful teachers helped them with projects just for me.

Davis hand-painted this adorable wooden flower frame with a picture of himself in it, and Addison picked out a pink silk flower and his teacher hot-glued a pin to the back transforming it into a brooch. They both colored, pasted, and otherwise decorated handmade cards as well. Let me tell you. Eyes were not dry. Wow. I had no idea such a simple gesture would mean so much to me.

Etsy has it right. Handmade is best.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ways to Cut Expenses - Dial the Thermostat Down (or up)

When I started working on my money saving list, it was still pretty chilly out, and we were still cranking the heat. Now temperatures in our area are the perfect medium where neither heat nor air conditioning is needed. So although this may be a little seasonally late, tuck these tips away for after the summer.

This past December I nearly fell out of my chair when I got our gas bill. It was 10 times what it had been during the summer and was a huge spike even from November. Granted, we'd had a lot of snow and bad weather. Temperatures were mighty cold, but I knew we had to make some changes. We started keeping the daytime temperature one degree cooler than we normally had (68 down to 67). For every 8 hours you do this you can save 1% on your fuel bill.

To take the savings even further, dial the night time temperature down even more. We were keeping the thermostat at 64 at night, but after that horrendously high bill, we started putting it down to 60. I know that sounds really cold, but we have a very well insulated house with new double-paned windows. The upstairs, in particular, is much warmer in the winter and under down blankets was plenty warm for all of us. Lowering your thermostat at night by an additional 5-10 degrees will help you realize a 5-10% savings on your gas bill.

After doing this for a month, our gas bill was about $30 lower (about a 10% savings) during an equivalently cold month January, so I have no doubt that our money savings measures actually worked.

Although I see no virtue in shivering during the winter, making small and appropriately timed thermostat concessions can help ease the financial burden. You probably won't even notice the change, but I guarantee you'll appreciate the results.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The 60th Tooth

Don't be jealous now, but Genevie is cutting her final tooth. Who am I kidding? If you'd been around her the past 3 days, you definitely wouldn't be jealous. Apparently when toddler girls teeth, it's a whole new brand of hell. Forget about excessive drooling, indiscriminate gnawing, crabbiness, and loss of appetite, and think more along the lines of complete, unrestrained PMS. Yes, folks, toddler girls when they teeth become overly emotional, illogical drama queens...about EVERYTHING.

I can't say I'm sorry to see this milestone pass. In fact, living through the cutting of 60 baby teeth spread amongst 3 children has only reaffirmed what I am 98.5% sure of...that I am glad to be done with teething FOREVER.

Like I said don't be jealous.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Help

For this month's book club pick, I got to choose. A number of friends had recommended The Help, so that's what I went with. I just finished the book on Saturday with tears in my eyes. It was one of the best books I've read in a very long time. Poignant in its simplicity but with the strength and impact of books like To Kill a Mockingbird or the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Stockett has woven a tale with nuance, grace, and grit. Following three very different women, two who are housemaids to upwardly mobile white families in Jackson, MS, and one heiress to a cotton fortune, the novel explores from shifting perspectives race relations during the nascent years of the civil rights movement. With skill and ease the book transitions between the gracious and persevering narrative of Aibeleen, the agitated and outspoken perspective of Minny, and the searching, vulnerability of Skeeter. Each woman brings her own history, experiences, and unique insights to the conversation, and the story crescendos to a surprising denouement that is fully satisfying without being trite. I highly recommend this textured reflection on race, friendship, and love.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ways to Cut Expenses - Downgrade to One Car

Other than the first few years of our marriage, Trey and I have been a one-car family. In fact, for a couple of years while we were in Aberdeen, we were a no-car family. Or rather our car was in storage and inaccessible to us.

It's interesting how cultural trends become norms. There was a time when middle class families could only afford one car, but with added prosperity and upward-mobility has come increased materialism. So much of what our culture tells us we need, we blindly accept without a second thought, which is, I suppose, part of why I'm doing this series on ways to cut expenses. I want to challenge you and me to think about those things that are actually luxuries and not necessities.

Over time the two car family has become a 2 SUV family with bigger fuel tanks, lower gas mileage, and higher insurance premiums, not to mention larger sticker prices. All of this to say that you might be surprised that you can live without the 2nd vehicle. And it becomes a particularly attractive option when you think about paying 1/2 the amount for gas, insurance, and maintenance.

Now I realize this won't work for everyone. If you and your spouse both work outside the home at the same time and can't take public transportation, then two cars is probably a necessity. But if not, you might want to consider the ways you can juggle and coordinate your schedules so that you can get by with only one car. It takes communication and sacrifice to be sure, but you might be surprised how it actually works.

For us, Trey drops me at the train in the morning and then drops Addison at school. He picks him up mid-afternoon and then a little while later comes and gets me at the station. In nice weather, I walk to the train from our house since it's only a few blocks. If you're fortunate enough to live near public transportation, consider using it. I find that one of my favorite times in the day is my commute into and home from work. I get to plug into my favorite book and knit away at my latest project without the frustration of traffic or bad weather.

So could you do it? Could you live without the second car?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Egg Hunting

Figured I should get the Easter pictures up before it all fades into the distant past. This year I made the mistake of completely forgetting to take any pictures on Easter itself. So no lovely family shot in our Easter finery.

Instead lots of pictures of egg dyeing,

tongue sticking out in concentration,

smiling with nameless smudge on your chin,

more egg dyeing,

and some more,

until you have just the perfect color.

Lovely, no?

One for Davis.

One for Evie.

One for Addison.

Then the grown-ups hid the eggs,

but not too hard for the littlest one.

This takes some skill and negotiation with the older, better egg finders in the family.

Some make lovely still lifes (is that the plural?).

Others are offered at the altar of the groundhog.

Then you release the hounds

who race around the yard in search of treasure

and gleefully enjoy the spoils mid-hunt

Genevie seemed perfectly content to find one plastic egg, crack it open, and call it a day.

And this was the closest thing to a group shot we got the entire holiday weekend. Little Miss Independent would have none of the sibling love-fest.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mental Health Day

Trey was away most of this past week starting Tuesday night returning this morning, and I've been solo-parenting it while still working from home. Trying to do two full-time jobs at the same time has completely shattered me.

Shattered me.

And so tomorrow I am taking a mental health day. Complete with hair, pedicure, massage, and shopping. I have been told by a reliable source that I do not need to lift a finger for anyone the whole day, which sounds gloriously confusing.

See you on the other side.