September 30, 2013

One Year as a One-Car Family.

September was a big month for us. It always is. Nekos turned 33. I turned 31. We celebrated 7 years of marriage and 11 years since we first kissed. This month also marked one year that we've been operating as a one-car family.

We sold my Mini Cooper (with its many "quirks") last September. And we kept the Nissan Cube that we "bought" when I was pregnant with Tessa. I say "bought" because I think we only put $2K down on that sucker. We're in fact still quite a ways away from having purchased it in full.

I was really apprehensive about what it would be like for a family of four to get by with one car. I think the only reason we've been able to pull it off is because I work from home. If Nekos and I both had to go into an office--and tote the kids back and forth to daycare--there is no way we'd have been able to do this. The other huge saving grace has been our home's proximity to Nekos's work. His office is about four miles from our house, so on days when it's nice (most every day in the spring and fall) he can ride his bike to work. Plus, one of Nekos's coworkers lives in our neighborhood, and she has been an enormous sweetheart to pick him up all the time. All the rest of the time, Tessa, Livvy, and I take Nekos to and from work.

It's all my fault. The fact that we had to sell our car. When I started doing full-time freelance writing three years ago, I didn't put any of that money away to pay our taxes the following April. Needless to say April 2011 came as one big punch in the gut. After chipping away on that tax bill for half a year, Nekos and I mutually agreed that it would be a good idea to sell the Mini Cooper to pay our IRS debt in full.

Here's the rub: Damned if I didn't do it again and not put any money away for taxes in 2012. I can't recall what I was thinking (or not thinking), but I know it was a tough year for us, financially speaking. I lost the most lucrative freelance job of my life when I was seven months pregnant with Livvy. While I scrambled for more work, we spent the small amount of tax money I had saved.

When the tax filing deadline rolled around last April, it hit us even harder than the previous April. We had no cars left to sell, no magic trick in our back pocket, no escape hatch. The baby cried in the backseat all the way home from H&R Block, and Nekos and I were devastated. We blamed each other, blamed ourselves, blamed our kids. Looking down the barrel of our financial situation and seeing how dire it was--all we saw was darkness and hopelessness. I realized then why money problems are the No. 1 cause of divorce. Money can be terribly ugly and destructive. When your partner spends it frivolously, selfishly, it can come across as incredibly unloving. But just like we need food, we need money. We can never truly escape it, so we just have to learn how to handle it.

The day after we got that second horrendous tax bill, Nekos left on a business trip. We were so angry at one another that we hardly spoke the whole time he was gone. But one of the times I did talk to him, I asked if he'd be willing to go to a Financial Peace class with me. My mom recommended it to us, and it felt suddenly like, Yes, this is what we have to do. We need HELP. He said yes, but not enthusiastically. I was hesitant to go because there's a religious component to the class; I don't mind that, but Nekos is super wary about religious stuff, so I glossed over that part of it when I explained to him what the class was about.

In the end, this past year as a one-car family has been transformative. There have been some frustrations and some logistical nightmares, but far fewer than I expected. We've saved on gas, on insurance, on maintenance, not to mention on car payments. We've spent more time together as a family--in the car, sure, but it's been good time--talking about our days, listening to music, stopping by the grocery store together on the way home. It's simplified things.

And thanks to the Dave Ramsey/Financial Peace school of thought that we've now completely adopted, we are inching toward a future that seems much less terrifying and hopeless than it did last April. We have so far to go--debts to pay off, savings to build, and then maybe, hopefully, Lord willing and the creek don't rise, wealth to build. But there's a plan. Every single month Nekos and I sit down together at our dining room table and hammer out our budget. We support one another's efforts to bring in more money and to reign in our individual spending impulses. I've sold a whole bunch of shit on eBay and Craigslist, tried to steer clear of trouble zones (The mall! Oh, that heavenly place, I know she misses me.), and we stay accountable to one another for most every dollar we spend.

I was chatting with my friend Brooke on the phone a couple of months ago, telling her that there's so much stuff I'd like to do to the house, telling her that we really would love to have another car. I told her that in the past I would have just "put it on the credit card" or signed ourselves up for another car payment we couldn't afford. It feels so different to just live within our means, to live within parameters that we previously ignored. We struggle with it every day still--and sometimes we fail--but the fact that we have one car (that is kind of mangled on one side, as Nekos backed it into an Indian restaurant this year) and the fact that our toilet leaks all over the floor because there's not room in the budget for a new one and the fact that our deck is home to the world's most mismatched, dilapidated furniture ...

"It's honest," said my friend. "You're living a more honest life."

Honest! That's exactly right. I'm being honest. I hear it's tacky to talk about money, but I like to talk about it now. With my friends and family, with you guys. Because the honest truth is that too much of the time my family lives paycheck to paycheck, just like so many other families. But I'm tired of it. So is Nekos. We got sick and tired of being sick and tired, and now we're clawing our way out, having finally realized that the answer is not to make more money (although that can help) but to manage the money we already make wisely. The weird thing is we're kind of having fun doing it. It's bonded us--this mutual task of undoing a lifetime's worth of poor financial decisions. And of course there's more at stake now. It's not just about me and Nekos. There are two little girls whose college educations we'd like to pay for.

So, as we continue learning these lessons, we have four wheels to our name, instead of eight. And it's honestly all good.

September 27, 2013

Livvy, 10 Months Old.

My monthly ode to Livvy...

livvy 3louStool name puzzle

Baby Livvy turned 10 months old yesterday. From the top of her head to her tippy-toes, this one has "angel" stitched into her very fabric. Sometimes, when the light falls across the crown of her head, you can still see her soft spot pulsing wildly. It's one of the last, dearest vestiges of her newbornness. My mom heard someplace that when a baby's soft spot takes longer than usual to close, she's receiving an extra dose of divinity. I love that idea. But doesn't every parent love the idea that his or her child is special, protected, and part of a great big mysterious plan? All I know is that, in spite of my moaning and groaning and dark circles and feeling older than my age-ness, both of my girls make my own life seem greater, bigger, and more mysterious. And brighter beyond measure.    

Livvy 4

This past month Livvy cut her eighth tooth (four up top, four down below), began to stand up for a minute at a time without holding on to anything, and yesterday she climbed all the way up our stairs by herself (with me right behind her every step of the way). She says "mama," "dada," "baba," and "hi" pretty indiscriminately, and has just started to wave hello and goodbye, although not reliably. She crawls around so very fast. I'm not ready for her to walk. Oh, please, not yet.

This is the point, by the way, at which I can't imagine life without her. Lots of people say that about their babies right off the bat, but it has only now become true for me. Ten months in, and I am a goner for her.

p.s. The Livvy puzzle name stool was a really exciting gift from I completely adore it. And it was responsible for teaching Tessa how to spell her sister's name, which is super touching.

p.s.s. Here's Tessa at 10 months.

livvy 5 Livvy 6

September 24, 2013

California Love.

Man, oh, man. It's hard to know what to say about San Francisco exactly.

This past weekend was my first time there. The trip was a badass 31st birthday present from my husband, who knew I'd always wanted to go (and who is going to benefit from the brownie points he incurred for a long time to come), and I went in not knowing much of anything about this city on the bay. I left feeling wistful and a little sulky, craning my neck for one last glimpse of the city from the airplane window.

I adored San Francisco.

However, it's quite possible that I was so desperate for a new place to see and to be that I may have been floored by any number of new places. This was my first trip without either Nekos or my kids since Tessa was born three-and-a-half years ago. And as much as I was (at times) craving my kids--the comfort of their smiles, the weight of their bodies in my arms--I was not so anxious to get back to motherhood. Because if I didn't enjoy the break, what was the point of having the break? I even looked forward to the day of travel back across the country all by myself. This kind of alone time never happens to me, and as an introvert, it is so delectable, even if I'm smooshed into an airplane.

I met my friend Brooke in San Francisco.

She lives in Spokane, and had never been to San Francisco either. I am wild about her because not only is she a true and loyal friend, and so very much fun, but I can tell her the most outrageously serious and depressing things and not feel one bit nervous about revealing them. For as much as we can do the heart-to-heart thing really well, we can be equally ridiculous, which is equally important. (The first night we were there, we laid in bed and watched this video about 10 times and got hysterical.) I feel truly loved by her. And I truly love her. She is, incidentally, fortunately, the queen of navigating public transportation, and she bussed us all around that city like a boss. This is great because I am worse than terrible at directions and navigation.

We found a great place to stay on airbnb because all the hotels we looked at that weren't, like, flophouses were hovering around $300 a night. What we ended up with was a room in a girl's apartment in Lower Haight on Fillmore Street. The bathroom, and a kitchen, were down the hallway, and sharing them with roommates turned out to be no biggie. I didn't take a picture myself of our room, but this is one of the ones from Airbnb. We paid $130 a night I think, and I loved getting to stay in an "actual" neighborhood and not some tourist hub.

San Francisco was bigger than I thought it would be. It's not like I thought it would be quaint or anything, but I felt like I'd be able to get a good grasp on the place while I was there. Brooke and I gave up on that notion pretty quickly, and realized we'd only be able to do about an eighth of the stuff we'd previously felt convinced we needed to do. Seven miles by seven miles just doesn't sound all that large, but there's a shit ton crammed into that space. And since we were inching along on public transportation with people who had, uh, some memorable odors, it probably seemed that much more endless. It was also, in a word, gorgeous. Some blocks were grimy, sure, but then you'd turn a corner and see a hillside piled high with row houses or the blue of the bay pierced by sailboats.

The best thing we did was rent bicycles on Friday and ride them across the Golden Gate bridge and down the hill into Sausalito, which is just too beautiful for words. This experience will probably be the one I remember most clearly because it was so surreal. In Sausalito, we had drinks and burgers and I pumped my boobs for the first time in a public restroom (not cool/very demoralizing), and then we took the ferry back to the city, passing the imposing and somber Alcatraz on the way. We got off and rode our bikes through the Fisherman's Wharf area. We thought the Wharf would be dope, but it seemed maybe too flashy to make us want to go back for another look.

Oh, and another notable thing that happened? After about five years of saying I was gonna, I got my nose pierced in Haight Ashbury on my birthday at a place called Braindrops. Brain-friggin-drops. I was nervous and trying to downplay the fact that I was needing to take big, gulping belly breaths, but even reminding myself that I've given birth to two kids didn't do much to quell that. Brooke held my hand, and the kindest, tattooed gay guy ever pushed a big ol' needle through my nose and that was that. I love it. Shoulda done it sooner. But happy it has a cool story behind it.

Otherwise, we had lots of great eats (best stops were at Cha Cha Chas, Flour + Water, and Locanda) and drinks (I did a pretty upstanding job sampling the city's IPAs). And I spent no small amount of time marveling at the fact that while you'll see almost no one smoking a cigarette at a bar in SF, smoking pot at a bar in SF is entirely acceptable. In fact, other than at Bonnaroo, I've never been asked more frequently if I wanted to buy pot.

In the end, I said goodbye to Brooke and San Francisco and made it home to Nashville. Both of my girls were fast asleep when I got in, but Tessa and Nekos had made a WELCOME HOME, MOM sign for me, and it was suspended from the door frame in our living room. I tried to wake up Tessa because I had presents for her (a Cinderella Barbie!), but she was too tired, so that had to wait until morning. But Livvy stirred awake pretty easily, and when I got her in my arms and into that sweet spot where the crook of her chin fits right over my shoulder blade and I have her booty and her back all in the palms of my hands, I cried, just cried. It's good to be home in little ol' Nashville, even though the scenery is less impressive and the obligations more numerous. Lots of people leave their hearts in San Francisco, but mine is in Nashville. I just happened to leave my footloose-and-fancy-free-ness in San Francisco. I'm sure I'll find it again someplace.

September 17, 2013

Assorted Stuff.

I am so excited for this week, I can't even tell you.

I turn 31 on Thursday, and that morning, before the sun rises, I get to kiss my kids and my husband goodbye, board a plane by myself, and fly to San Francisco. This trip is a beautiful, immensely thoughtful, surprise gift from Nekos, who arranged for me to meet my best friend, Brooke, out there; she lives in Spokane, and I literally haven't had more than an hour or two of alone time with her in the past four years.

When she moved away from Nashville four years ago, I cried like a child. I still feel her absence every day. Needless to say, the fact that we get to explore this magical city on the bay together, bundled in cardigans and scarves, cheeks flushed with wine and wind from the bicycles we're planning on renting--that is just such a gift. I have this feeling that when I return, I'll be reacquainted not only with her but with myself. I forget to visit with myself nowadays because there's always someone's sippy cup to fill, someone to pick up or drop off, some deadline that's past due, or some stupid thing on my phone that I feel like I need to waste an hour looking at.

I also have romanticized San Francisco--and, really, the entire state of California--my whole life. This is in part because there's this grizzled old writer, Rod McKuen, who set almost all of his poems in San Francisco and Sausalito. My mom wrote one of his poems, "Ellen's Eyes," in my baby book, so Rod and I, we are kind of meant to be. Call him corny if you want, but I will defend Rod to my dying day.

This little getaway will give me more "me" time than I've had in years. An entire flight to read magazines, drink a carmel macchiato, and listen to my iPod? No kids to shush, coddle, or fidget with? This can't be real. Brooke and I found a room to rent in an apartment on Fillmore Street via, which is how I found the apartment that Nekos and I stayed at in Barcelona two years ago. (Best lodging experience evvvvver.)

I am kind of dreading two things about the trip, though. One, I am going to miss my kids. Isn't that crazy? I crave time away from them, and yet dread it at the same time. I'm especially dreading being away from little Livvy, because she is always with me, always on my hip, and it will just feel strange not to have her there. But I know Nekos and my mom will take great care of her and Tessa. And two, I dread the breast pump. I wanted to be ready to be done with breastfeeding by this trip, but I'm just not quite there yet. This is my last baby, and nursing her has just been such a great convenience, money-saver, and source of joy, that I am going to take my pump along and pump it and dump it for four days. Doesn't that sound like hell? I'll have one double electric pump at the apartment where we're staying and one single manual pump to tuck into my purse. Sometimes being a woman blows.

We are definitely still taking recommendations for things to do while we're in San Francisco, so if you read this in time, could you leave suggestions in the comments below?

In other news, Livvy has learned to stick out her tongue. This I find delightful. I keep sticking out my tongue at her so she'll do it back. It's the silliest thing ever to happen to her.

And I launched a website for my freelance writing, editing, and marketing business. It's called "Black and White Type," and I'm hoping it helps me drum up a bit more writing work. The site was so easy to build via Weebly that I can't believe I put it off for so long.

Speaking of new websites, my mom started a blog a few months ago. It's called "Pretending to Be Grown Up," and she is balls to the wall with it. It is so super good and honest, and I'm really proud of her.

Lastly, I started the process of ripping up the carpet upstairs and painting the floors "Antique White." I've only done the hallway so far, and still have Livvy's room and the master bedroom to do, but I am enamored of them. It was easier to do than I thought, actually, not counting the hundreds of staples I had to pluck out of the floor with pliers. The floors just needed a light sanding after that, a good scrubbing, and then two coats of Sherwin Williams's Porch and Floor paint. I didn't put anything on top of it, as I'm just going to let it weather and wear how it may. I can always touch it up if I want to, but these floors are beat all to hell anyway, so there's no sense in trying to put lipstick on that pig.

My upstairs has always been the ugly stepsister of my house as far as I'm concerned--all because I'm embarrassed of the carpet--but I can't wait to spend this winter plodding around on these creamy floors and picking out some pretty new area rugs for them. My hope is that by removing all that carpet and padding--and all the allergens they hold--I can alleviate my allergies, too. I'll definitely chronicle the floor-painting process here. And, can you even imagine how much money I'm saving by doing this myself instead of paying someone to put in new hardwoods or fresh carpet? Thousandssssss.