Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's Crunch Time, Baby...

We now officially feel like your typical "starving students." (Except we are definitely NOT starving). We knew this day would come, and we assumed it'd be the second year of PT school. Ethan and I have been talking about it lately, discussing possible ways to cut back, while recognizing the blessings and good things we have in our life. We realized that we've been living like poor students for awhile now; we just never felt like it. But lately, we're trying to find additional ways to trim the budget now that it's "crunch time".

***Feel free to skip over the next few "journal entry" paragraphs to the pictures at the bottom.***

We've had our share of financial blessings. Our families have been very generous and helpful, whether it was offering to watch Anna while I was in school, regularly having us over for meals, sweet gifts for the kids, or Eth's family having some money set aside for his education. Another blessing: right after we were married, we moved into the cutest little house in a great neighborhood, pretty much courtesy of State Farm. (I was in a very bad car accident, that wasn't my fault, and they settled it generously. It took a few years to show itself, but I do live with regularly recurring neck/back pain now, and my c-sections were most likely necessary due to those injuries. So the money wasn't without it's sacrifice, but can still be looked at as a huge blessing.) We put almost all the settlement money in the house, and lived the thrifty student lifestyle. And yeah, there were some fun things we considered doing/buying/traveling instead of a house, but went with the responsible thing. So the blessings from a bad situation (the car accident): we lived in a beautiful home for 4 years, seen here, and when we sold it, we paid off our bachelor's degrees, bought a vehicle for our expanding family, and had left-overs to get us through the first year of PT school with no income. Nice.

I'm not really sure what the point of this blog is, besides announcing to the world our personal financial situation. I know, awkward. hehe. But that's not really the point; I guess I'm just trying to "put on paper" things I've been reflecting on lately. I handle the finances, and all this stuff has been on my mind a lot lately. Ethan is always the perfect balance of calm, and perspective for me when I start worrying. He reminds me that we have so much to be grateful for. Even though we live in a little apartment now, and don't have the security of "money in the house" we used to have, we have a very fortunate life. Even though we are going to be paying back graduate school student loans for quite some time, we feel like the sacrifice will be so worth it. And even though there are some material things we'd love to have; we have what we need, we have fun family experiences, and we are comfortable.

In relation to all this, I've also been thinking about my parents. They were definitely strong examples to me of financial responsibility, sacrifice, and showing the difference between necessities and wants. They forced the kids to live that way too. (I say forced, because what teenager wants to hear that they have to get a job and pay for those name brand things they want?) Thanks mom and dad!!! Seriously, growing up I had no idea what important lessons they were teaching me, but it all made sense my freshman year of college. My parents provided well for us, and paid for (when we were little) or helped pay for many great experiences in our lives. At the same time, they taught us how important it was to contribute, and to have priorities when it comes to your finances. I recently read an article in a magazine about young adults having a hard time supporting themselves because they'd grown accustomed to what their parents had always given to them growing up, and wouldn't/couldn't imagine living with less. Thanks again mom and dad, that wasn't a problem for me. hehe.

So like I said, we've tried to live simply while we're getting through school. We were a single car family for 4 of the last 5 years. We didn't have cable or Internet until earlier this year (we had to buckle and buy it because Ethan needed a reliable Internet source for school...and getting basic cable with our connection made it 20 dollars cheaper, go figure). We mostly buy clothes second hand for the kids, and always look for sale/clearance items for ourselves, and plan ahead to buy things in the off season (but we're generally not buying any new clothes right now :). We find free, or cheap things to do together as a family...something that is easy since we just have little ones at home - they don't know the difference. We love eating out - who doesn't - and always tried to keep it to once a week. This second year we've gone to every other week, and that is good for us. And we aren't talking anything fancy these days...mainly along the lines of McDonald's. We use our library for books and movies regularly (because it's free). We grocery shop at Wal-mart, stock up when there are sales, and try to keep the "snacky" food to a minimum - except when we have visitors. (I will 'splurge' a bit to provide healthy, well balanced food for the fam: fresh produce year round, whole grain goods, fish, etc.) We have some appliances "on the fritz," but plan on using them to the bitter end. We just generally don't have big spending habits, because we aren't in the position to. And that's okay.

That's not to say we aren't totally looking forward to having a real income. Oh yes, our list of "I Can't Wait 'Til We're Not In School Anymore So We Can Afford _____" is getting quite long. It'd be nice to not have my mom or "Dollar Cuts" cut my hair anymore, and indulge in a few other self pampering things. It'd be nice to not stay in for our weekly date night - to save on the cost of a baby sitter/dinner/movies, etc. It'd be nice to have a wii, and a new TV to use it on. (This is high on Ethan's list. I'm not quite sure how old our little 'hand-me-down' TV is, but it's getting up there.) It'd be nice to get a cool cell phone, not just the free one that comes with the contract (we don't do a land line though). It'd be nice to go on a trip as a family, or just Ethan and I, or both. I better cut myself get the idea. ***I do realize that when Ethan is done in a year and a half, we'll most likely still be living the same "simple life" for awhile. But we can dream. :) ***

Again, the main point: My little family is blessed in so many ways. We love each other, and have so many good things in our lives. Sometimes I stress about stuff that isn't important. And my goodness, compared to so many people in the world, or compared to past generations, we have so much and are so very fortunate. I am thankful for all the wonderful things in my life.
If you made it through this, wow. Move right along to the cute pics below.

Recent Family Adventures:

Benjamin eating bread while Ethan feeds bread to the geese. Both kids could not stop themselves from eating the bread, haha. Anna and I were pretty nervous around the overly friendly geese (we ran away screaming)...we took pictures from a distance, and fed our bread to the less outgoing ducks. This was on a little family adventure we took to the next town over. Nothing out of the ordinary, but it felt exciting and special. Ethan and I really built up the 'adventure' aspect of it to Anna, and she was on the lookout for anything fun we could do. It was great, "Dad! I see a park! Dad! I see some ducks!"

Wow, kids are so easily entertained. We found a new park we'd never been to before, and Anna and Ben-Ben thought it was the greatest thing ever. It's the simple things, at least at this age...and boy are we taking advantage.

Mommy and Benjamin on a hay ride to the pumpkin patch. Brrrrr!!! A fun trip to the Montrose Orchard with the SKIP (Sucessful Kids=Involved Parents) group.

When we were waiting for the hay ride to start, Benjamin spent his time pointing out every pumpkin he passed and would say, "Apple?" I'd say, "No Ben-Ben, pumpkin." And then Benjamin would point again and say, "Ball?" I'd say, "Pumpkin." It was great. Anna got to sit by her good friend Madeline on the the hay ride. Fun, fun.

Anna and Benjamin walking into the pumpkin field looking for the very best one. They were all pretty small, but we can't complain...they were 'on the house' since we were with the skip group. Anna shows off her muscles by carrying both her and Benjamin's pumpkin, strong girl.

Two other significant things about this trip: ONE) Benjamin had a melt down on the hay ride back. It was less than 10 minutes back to the barn, but it felt like FOREVER. He wasn't just cranky, he was screaming and crying. As soon as I set him in his car seat, he fell right asleep, so I guess he was just really, really tired. I don't know why; it was still about an hour away from his normal nap time. Thank goodness I was surrounded by other understanding and helpful parents...those kinds of situations really stress me out.

And for numero TWO) I think it must happen in most kid's growing up experience, and it happened to Anna. We were outside, talking with friends and admiring all the pumpkins while we waited for the hay ride. Anna was playing with her friends, but I could see her the whole time. When I knelt down to ask Anna if she needed to go potty before the hay ride, I felt something hard and round in her pocket. Oh boy. Out came a little pumpkin. Guess what our Family Night lesson was about that night? Making good choices, with an emphasis on not stealing. Anna felt so terrible, and took the whole situation very seriously. I took the situation very seriously too. I mean, yeah we were there to pick out some free pumpkins, but Anna knew the difference and had hidden it in her pocket. My little sweet pea is growing up, making mistakes and learning lessons. Ahhh, it's bitter sweet. :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fall Fun With Grandparents...

Frankenmuth Scarecrow Festival - Anna with the Pumpkin Catapult, Ben with the Granny Scarecrow.

Johnson's Pumpkin Farm - Ben-Ben's little hatted head lost in the mini maze (soybean field).

Anna and Gram Melissa leading us through the maze. (We were going to do the big, corn maze, but timing, and the coldness factor affected our decision.)

There were so many fun hay characters that the kids loved to see. Benjamin was especially obsessed with this Elmo. Anna loved looking at the animals and finding things to feed them.

Reading Time - Grandpa Chuck and Gram Melissa had plenty of opportunities to read stories to the kids. The kids loved it.
As a family, we've been doing many typical autumn activities lately - apple orchard, pumpkin patch, nature walks, leaf collecting, cooking soups, baking pumpkin bread, tomorrow we decorate our pumpkins for family night. I love the season. This weekend Ethan's parents came to visit and we did one fall activity I've never done before - a corn maze. Well, we almost did. We actually did the kiddie soy bean maze. (Ethan wants to know how I grew up in Indiana without ever going to a corn maze, and I'm not sure.)
It was a great weekend. We went to the children's museum, Cracker Barrel (that has become quite the tradition when either set of grandparents visit...mostly because of Ethan and Anna's obsession. :) We also went up to Frankenmuth to look through some shops and experience the scarecrow fest. We just missed the pet costume parade, but still saw many of the dressed up doggies walking around...Anna loved it.
And finally, Johnson's Pumpkin Farm. So fun; so many entertaining things for all ages. We were getting ready to head out a little after 7pm, when for the first time in my life, I locked our keys in the car. Oops. It could have been worse, but luckily, Chuck has AAA and they were there within a half hour to let us in. Whew! Plus there were fresh, warm pumpkin doughnuts to snack on, a blazing fire, live music, and fun stuff for the we survived. It was pretty cold once the sun went down, but quite the adventure...that, and trying to find our way home. Good memories. By the end of Chuck and Melissa's visit Benjamin had finally stopped calling Chuck 'DewEE' and started calling him paPA (for grandpa). I believe he thought all older men were called 'dewey' because he has also called a few men at church by that title. We've set him straight. Ben-Ben calls Melissa 'maMA'. I still think it's hilarious how he emphasizes the last syllable of a word.
One last tid-bit: It was Benjamin's first week in nursery today at church, and it went well. We brought him in, showed him his teachers and the toys, and said good-bye. No sadness, no crying. I was pretty surprised. I checked on him an hour later and he was happily eating pretzels, and didn't even notice me. Ethan didn't know I had checked on him, so he happened to stop in 10 minutes after, and apparently, Ben-Ben had had enough. (It was over an hour past his nap time by that point.) Sweet little Benjamin was soooooo sad. The nursery leaders said he started acting tired and fussy, and when they tried to hold him/help him he all out lost it. Understandable. Overall, a good first attempt at nursery. Yay Ben-Ben! Ethan and I have been looking forward to this day for so long. Fulfilling our teaching/piano playing assignments is much easier now. If only we could find some magic trick to get our active, noisy, 18 month old boy to cooperate during the first hour sacrament meeting at church. Hmmm, we'll get back to you on that one.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Brother-Sister Play Time...

Lately, Benjamin just looooooves this rocking horse. He rides on it, and pulls it all around the apartment. He likes to push it on it's side and climb between the wood pieces to pretend he's stuck. He calls out, "Hep! Hep!" (help) until someone comes to help him. I get so nervous when he is teetering on it, using it as a step stool to reach something. But it brings him so much joy; I try to let his dare-devil antics slide. It seems like he finds so many life threatening situations in a given day, that I'm actually becoming less worried and uptight. Could it be that I'm finally growing accustomed to having a little boy? I think so. :)

Sweet - Anna helping Benjamin play. They sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat together, and Anna helps rock him faster. Such a sweet big sister. Anna is actually very concerned about Benjamin getting hurt; she is always looking out for him. Unless of course, he has just taken one of her toys and ran with it...then she just gets annoyed. :)

I. LOVE. THIS. PICTURE. I just wish you could see Ben's face a little better. My sweet little babies, ahhhhhhh. Brings a tear to my eye.

The first picture is Anna trying to hug Benjamin, while he is strongly resisting. Anna has him around the neck pretty tight; I had to intervene quickly. The other two pictures - Reading time! I love reading to my kids, but I also think it's sweet to find them "reading" through books on their own...especially when they're sitting right next to each other sharing books. Love it.

A typical mischievous look for Ben-Ben. Mostly during this photo shoot, I was taking pictures of them doing their thing - all natural playing throughout the afternoon. But then I wanted to get a picture of them standing together, preferably hugging (which they occasionally do unprompted). When I was trying to set that up, Benjamin gave me this look, like, "Think again, Mama," right before he ran down the hallway laughing. (Hence the tackling from Anna in the previous picture.) I did manage to get that one cute shot of the both of them, so it all worked out.

Anna and Benjamin have been getting so good at playing together, and getting along together, and entertaining each other, and even making up games together. Although, most of the time I think Ben is oblivious to what the game is...hehe. As their mommy, it is so precious to witness this bonding. Anyway, despite all the good play time lately, and yes, I'm usually involved in it too, if I am cooking in the kitchen, it is an instant magnet for the kids to be in there - begging for things, wanting to help, trying to peer over the counter to see what's happening. It's understandable, but occasionally I'm in a hurry and can't let Anna help, or I don't have the patience to listen to Ben-Ben beg for food over and over. I'm not super-mom or super patient, so during these hurried "making dinner moments" I sometimes turn on a TV show for them...but always PBS 'cause that makes me feel a little better about it. :) For the record, the kids have some "TV time" in the morning, so yeah, they watch some TV, but I'm specifically talking about evening TV right now...something we try to avoid. I know, so much background info for that first picture. But, whenever they're doing anything together, side by side, developing a sibling bond...even if it's watching a show together...I am just so happy.
Okay, second picture - you couldn't tell from this picture, but Benjamin is very into building things lately, and he is getting so good at it...for an 18 month old. Fun, fun. I love how the harder he is concentrating, the more his lower lip flops out. Cute. And I just had to add the last picture - Anna's upset/disappointed look. She scrunches up her little face and makes a noise like, "huuumhhff!" It's better than crying, and I totally respect her need to show disapproval about things. Ethan and I actually find it pretty cute, which doesn't help Anna's feelings of frustration. Oops.

So, this entry was supposed to be about Benjamin, and he is certainly featured in the pictures and stories. But his life is so intertwined with his big sister's, that it was hard to leave her out of this post. Benjamin is growing up, learning the "rules of life," and I can see how that has strengthened his relationship with Anna. And with all of us. It makes sense, but the more he can communicate with us, the happier he is...and the happier we all are. :) I just LOVE him. I love simple, sweet moments with my little's hard to describe the feeling....peace, love, joy, contentment. Of course we still have our moments, but mostly, life is good.
Wait, one last thing - when we leave Anna at pre-school, Benjamin always loudly calls out, "Bye Anna!" over and over. It's so sweet. Many of the other little kids say, "Bye Baby," back, and say how cute the baby is. When I look at Anna during these moments, I can see the love Anna has for Benjamin. And I can see that she is proud he is her little brother. And it makes me happy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Finished Product...

This little project idea was mentioned in a previous post, and Anna and I finally finished it.
We painted the clothes pins...decorated the clothes pins...

And then hung them up on our "clothes line."
Anna loved this idea. The empty clothes pins are already filled up. They hold recent art projects that Anna (and a few from Benjamin) has created at home, pre-school, church, and play groups. (I also have an organizer/binder that holds some of her other art sure make lots of it...and I only keep my favorites. :)

Since we live in an apartment right now, and we can't paint our walls, I love the added color and unique-ness this gives Anna and Benjamin's room. Anna loves that her art work is displayed in our home. Benjamin likes it now that he realizes it's just decoration, and not something he can grab. Speaking of Ben-Ben, I know my next post was supposed to be about him, but I only had time for a quicky tonight. Next time. (Ethan has been needing the laptop tons lately, so I only have limited time on it in a day...and sometimes not at all. I know, sad. :)