6 Months In – All the Thoughts

Hello again!

For those of you who emailed and commented to ask: no, the baby hasn’t come yet. I’m actually not due until mid-November, so there’s still a little ways to go. Thank you all so much for checking in, though. The actual reason I haven’t been writing is because we have been in HIDING from the triple-digit heat wave that hit Southern California over the past week.

Our saving grace has been the fact that some of our neighbors are out of town for a few weeks and they asked us to house-sit for them while they’re away. I honestly don’t know quite what we would have done if we hadn’t been able to hole up in their (air conditioned) house in the afternoons. Between that and our new van, things have been bearable.

It seems that somehow we have chosen one of the hottest summers on record here to move into a bus and possibly one of the wettest winters during which to build a house. It’s rather mind-boggling.

At any rate, here we are: 6 months of bus-dwelling under our belts and there are lots of thoughts. I have been trying to write this post for weeks now and I just can’t seem to get the words out to explain the conflicting ideas that are battling in my head.

On the one hand, I still feel very defensive and positive about the IDEA of what we are doing. I have been asked several times via the blog and friends in person about whether or not I would recommend a similar lifestyle to others, and I immediately say “yes, if you can find a way to make it work for your situation.” I still believe that many people initially balk at the idea of living in a bus simple due to social stigma.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend living in a 45-year-old bus in 107 degree heat while pregnant and taking care of three children to anybody in the whole entire world EVER.

The other thing that keeps picking at me is the fact that quite honestly, even the rough parts wouldn’t actually be so bad if there were more people in the same boat. It seems like such a silly thing to say: of COURSE an uncomfortable situation is easier to bear if you’re not the only one going through it, but I think there’s something bigger there.

I think it has to do with how we allow comparison to set our expectations of what our lifestyle should be.

-Being hot isn’t fun, but it’s the sound of all the A/C units clicking on around us that makes the temperature outside seem to rise.

-Having a small indoor space poses challenges, but it feels workable until I realize how much easier it would be to homeschool if we had a huge kitchen table to work at like the neighbors.

-I am satisfied with my necessarily minimalist (maternity) wardrobe until I start noticing all the cute clothes that others are wearing.

It can definitely be harder to find contentment when you’re in a situation that nobody else around you shares. I try to remind myself often of the things we don’t miss about living in a house, but have lately been barraged by the many, many things that I realize that I DO miss about it.

I remember right before we moved in six months ago I asked Noah: “What if we love this lifestyle so much that we decide we don’t even WANT to live in a house?” Now, I feel like I am betraying the spirit of adventure that we embarked on this journey with by admitting that I REALLY, REALLY want a house!

It is very probable that a lot of this feeling is due to being 8 months pregnant in hot weather. I highly suspect that once things cool down and the baby comes I will have a whole different outlook, but I do want to be able to honestly record my shifting perspectives as we go through this.

Please note that I am very aware that It is ridiculous to feel bad for admitting that I want the very thing we set out to achieve by living in a bus, but strangely enough, I do. I will have to wrestle through THAT whole mental conflict another time.

And the winner is….

It has been very extremely delusionally hot and our entire family simultaneously came down with a nasty cold this week that has wreaked havoc on all the kids’ respiratory systems – thus the lack of posts. I actually did sit down and pound one out the other day, but after reading it Noah recommended that I not post it because it MIGHT have just been one big fat stream of consciousness complaint. The internet will not suffer for lack of another whinefest, right?

At any rate, we did have at least ONE bright spot this week – we solved our vehicle dilemma.

If you’ll recall, the need for a new family car was brought on first by the news of my surprise pregnancy. It was then compounded when our Murano broke down and for the past two and a half months I’ve been driving the kids around in our 25 year old, 2-door Pathfinder while Noah has been taking our gas-hog of a Dodge truck for his daily commute.

The Pathfinder has been a lifesaver in the fact that it runs pretty well, is reasonably okay on gas, is relatively easy for Noah to repair himself (which has, admittedly, been necessary on more than a few occasions) and makes me feel pretty awesome for being able to drive a stick shift like a boss (meaning: I didn’t completely kill the clutch in the process!)

However, the two biggest problems with the Pathfinder include it’s inability to carry an additional child and it’s severe lack of air conditioning. The latter is what mainly prompted us to speed up our hunt rather than waiting until we sold the RV and had additional funds. (Incidentally, this has also spurred a train of thought in my brain concerning what constitutes a “first-world problem” in today’s culture – such as a lack of air conditioning and more than 400 square feet of living space –  that I would like to eventually expound upon at some point).

So. After scouring Craigslist, Ebay Motors and the Autotrader websites for weeks and debating over the pros and cons of  SUVs and Minivans Noah and I narrowed our selection of vehicles down based on distance, price, and condition.

We wanted something close by (which didn’t make that big of a difference in our selection than if we had included Riverside or LA and made it much less of a hassle to look at our choices with the kids in tow), under $3000 and in decent shape. Within that criteria, Noah narrowed it further to either the Ford Expedition (SUV) or the Ford Windstar (Minivan) both within the ’98-’03 models.

We set up appointments around town to see our online favorites of each type of vehicle and went and checked them out in person.

I read each and every single comment that was left on our debate post and I think that our conclusions match up with the majority of what everyone said.

Our first-hand conclusions of the Ford Expedition:

The Expeditions we saw within our price range were not in great shape. Even those with leather interior were pretty wrecked and stained and had some minor body damage.

While the kids were able to get in and out, it wasn’t necessarily easy for them to climb up the step and get to the spots where their carseats would be.

I thought the option of having the seat fold down on the passenger side to allow access to the third row would make a big difference, but it mostly seemed heavy and cumbersome to have to do multiple times per day getting the kids in and out. I probably would have wound up just leaving it down all the time, which wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, or letting the kids climb over (which might have something to do with why the interiors of the ones we saw were already so thrashed).

The storage in the rear was pretty miniscule. We like to keep a blanket, a couple gallons of water and jumper cables in the car, but in an Expedition, I wouldn’t have been able to have those and adequate room for a full grocery trip.

First-hand conclusions of the Ford Windstar:

All those things we didn’t really like about the Excursions? Completely the opposite in the Windstar.

The kids could open the doors, climb in and get buckled in about half the time. The storage in the back was bigger (not expansive, but bigger) and had bag-hooks for added convenience.

Also, after a mini-test drive, I was able to easily back into a narrow parking spot when we were done.

One of my favorite features is the little mini-rearview-mirror that comes down so I can see the kids in the back without having to adjust the main rearview-mirror. Very cool.

The one down-side was that apparently it’s difficult to find a mini-van with leather interior and to compound on top of that issue, all the interiors seem to be light colored. Noah commented at one point that it’s like the manufacturers WANT them to be destroyed by families with small children. (we tend to be a black, leather interior type of family, with good cause).

After dealing with both in person, I found myself agreeing with a comment left by Busy Mama: “I always look at mini-vans as movers of people, and SUV’s as movers of things.” This rings very true – and since we already have the truck and the Pathfinder for moving things, a people-hauler is really what we needed!

In the end, we wound up going with a 2002 Windstar with 134k miles in great shape – even with light-colored cloth interior! That’s the trusty dusty Pathfinder in the background, there:

van1

The owners even let us keep it overnight (with a small deposit) before buying it so I could take it into our local Ford dealership and have them look it over.

van3

There are a few minor things that need fixing that we were aware of prior to taking it in. For example, it needs new tires and there’s a “thwapping” sound coming from one of the air conditioning vent doors (which doesn’t impair the AC, thank goodness, but is kind of annoying to listen to). The dealership fixed a sensor that was recalled free of charge and found no other major mechanical issues. Huzzah!

The sellers dropped the price $600 and we were out the door for $2400.

I feel like we got a fair price on a vehicle that will hopefully last us some time and, importantly, we were able to pay cash on semi-short notice and not dip below our set emergency fund amount.

van2

I’m calling it a Good Thing.

Are you a realist or a fantasizer?

Noah and I are very different people in how we think, act and view the world.

There’s a quote that says basically, “If two people are too much alike, one of them is probably unnecessary.” It’s been pretty much the catchphrase of our entire marriage.

Something we were discussing recently is the different ways in which we are processing our current living situation – especially the hard parts. It’s been hot and crowded and dirty and one of us is pregnant, which means that all of us are dealing with the hormonal fallout. Ahem.

We are working toward a goal, slowly but surely, which makes it a bit more bearable, but we have different ways of approaching it.

The way that Noah processes this time is by fantasizing about the future. He pictures the house being built and all the space we’ll have and the fun it will be make it our own. He looks forward to working on the land and has a vivid image of what everything will look like once we’re all settled in. He reminds himself of the ultimate reason WHY we are doing what we’re doing to get himself through the rougher aspects of our current situation.

I, on the other hand, prefer to dwell primarily in the here and now. Although I consider myself a primarily optimistic and generally happy person, I find that my attitude is mostly a result of making the best of what is right in front of me.

Noah is constantly lamenting my utter lack of imagination, but I argue that it’s not that it’s not THERE, it’s just that when I think too much of the possibilities that the future holds – especially when there are big prospects on the horizon, I get both overwhelmed and discouraged. I start to imagine all the things that could go wrong between now and then and absolutely can’t stand the idea of disappointment.

I find it difficult to get myself worked up and excited about potential positive events until they are actually HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. In the current situation, I much prefer to think more about the positive aspects of living in a bus,  and when and if we wind up living comfortably in our dream house I will be magnificently surprised and grateful.

I’m curious to know where others fall on this spectrum of perception. Do you look forward to the future to get you through today? Or do you focus on the here and now and make the best of it? Some combination thereof?

Quick Clicks

I haven’t posted a bunch of links in a while, which means that they’re building up under “Saved for Later” in my Feedly account.

Sometimes I’ll save an article simply because it linked to another article that I wanted to share, but then time passes and I can’t remember why I saved the original, less interesting article and so I probably lose a lot of link fodder that way.

Sometimes I’ll save a link just because it was interesting to read through at the time, but then a week goes by and it’s more of a “meh” and it gets discarded.

Here are the ones that have stood the test of time this month:

-Women Listening to Men in Art History @ The Toast – Made me snicker.

-Challenging Traditional Measurements of Financial Success: Homeownership @ Get Rich Slowly – The discussion in the comments was really interesting as well.

-I Feel Like a Jerk Every Time @ Modern Mrs. Darcy – This article inspired me to pick up the book Anne references at the library yesterday and I’m totally looking forward to reading it.

-What is a University Model School @ The Humbled Homemaker – The school model Erin describes in this post is very similar to the charter Lily attends and I can echo a lot of her reasons for choosing it (despite my current conundrum). Ours is a public charter, however, so it’s not faith based, but it is completely free.

-What Do Grown Unschoolers Think of Unschooling? @ Psychology Today – Surprise! Most people were pretty okay with it UNLESS their parents isolated them from society.

-Tacos Delivered by Bike Let People Barter for Their Order @ PSFK – The title says it all and I think it is seriously awesome.

-True Confession: I Eat Creme Eggs in the Dark @ Momastery – I’m still pondering this one.

Enjoy the long weekend!

Homeschooling in a Bus

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I’ve been partially homeschooling Lily (and, by default, Emmaline) in the bus for all of two and a half days now, so I’m totally an expert on this.

Ahahahaha. Ha.

Since running around willy nilly trying to get things around here into SOME semblance of order to provide at least a semi-adequate kind of learning environment for my children has been what’s prevented me from posting this week, I figured I’d give you all a run down of what that looks like (after I shoved great swaths of miscellany out of the way in order to take neatish pictures – just so we’re clear).

One of the advantages of the current hybrid program we’re involved with in our local charter school is that they handle all of the science teaching while the parents do all of the history teaching. Since science as a subject in general requires having a lot more stuff on hand, I’m calling this a win for now. We are pretty “stuffed out” on this end.

Case in point:

homeschoolbin

In one of the Ikea bins under the futon I’m storing manipulatives (pictured: Do-a-Dot Markers, play money, Addition Wrap-Up, base ten blocks, rhyming cards, addition and subtraction flash cards) and books and workbooks that I either rarely use or don’t use yet (pictured: Sing Spell Read Write “On Track” Kindergarten Workbook, Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto).

Some of these resources have been provided by the school (the learning wrap ups, flash cards and SSRW curriculum), but most of them I have picked up on my own or have been given by friends. Some we use often (my girls adore the Do-a-Dot markers) and some we rarely or ever use (flashcards come immediately to mind).

bookshelf

On the shelf above the futon I am storing library books (left), binders, notebooks, maps, card games, CDs and folders (mislabeled bin the center) and workbooks and schoolbooks that we are currently using (right).

All of our craft items (markers, paints, craft sticks, felt, googly eyes, construction paper, extra glue, tape and scissors, etc) are out in our storage pod in this handy dandy organizing cart (here’s a ten-drawer one as well):

craftstorage

Most of the girls’ work is done at the the desk or on the computer (we have since added two stools that the girls sit on – they don’t have to stand to do their work, I promise):

desk

Three days a week our day consists mainly of me getting the girls’ set up with independent activities and trying to occupy Finn so he’s not climbing up and completely destroying everything that they’re working on while simultaneously answering questions that either of them have.

Emmaline is currently working through Lily’s old SSRW workbooks that went mostly unused last year. She is in love with cutting and pasting pictures that match the letter sounds, so I pretty much just let her do that to her heart’s content:

ssrw

I’m a bit more up in the air with Lily’s school work.

(Warning: diatribe ahead)

It probably requires its own, separate post, but in a nutshell: I am at this odd place where my homeschooling philosophy leans a lot more toward unschooling – basically a child-led learning style that allows kids to explore their own interests at a pace and variety of their own choosing, instead of disconnected and arbitrary curricum that is mandated by someone else.

In the early years that looks a lot less like sitting at a desk and learning how to summarize a plot and more like developing skills through play.

I believe that many of the things that schools spend so much time and effort trying to “teach” children at an early age (such as reading and basic math skills) will develop naturally as kids are involved in a literate, numerate society and family life – I’ve seen evidence of this in my own children again and again. I think that much of the busy work provided by the public school system essentially takes the innate curiosity that children are born with and slowly kills it.

The public charter we’re a part of, while allowing parents a lot of freedom in educating their children how they see fit, is still held to state standards (Common Core, evidence of “work completed” etc.) and so families must meet certain requirements throughout the school year. Lily loves the social aspect of the classroom environment despite the fact that much of the actual work that they’re doing is pretty far below her level (parental brag, but still true).

Ideally, I would completely eschew all the trappings of the traditional schooling environment and allow my children full reign to explore their own interests and follow their curiosity to its maximum potential unfettered by a system that slowly strips the joy and uniqueness out of learning and discovery… but I also want to honor Lily’s desire to stay with her friends and be a part of that world for now. Even if it means completing worksheets that neither one of us enjoy.

So, that’s kind of the crux of my dilemma right now: how to mesh an approach that rejects the traditional schooling environment with… a traditional schooling environment.

I know this isn’t a home schooling blog, but I’m terribly curious to hear other peoples’ thoughts about this. I grew up in traditional public school thinking all home schoolers were weird and unsocialized. It wasn’t until Lily was about three that I started rethinking my stance and, well, now look where we are. I love hearing different perspectives on education and about others’ experiences and beliefs. Let’s discuss?

The Great Debate – SUV vs Minivan

minivan

I mentioned in passing in the last post that Noah and I are debating right now whether to get an SUV or a Minivan for our next vehicle to fit our expanding tribe.

I have since received not only comments, but also phone calls and emails from people offering their opinion (some of whom have never owned either one, which cracks me up :) )

I thought that I would take this opportunity to elaborate on the situation and ask for more explicit feedback, because while some people might LOVE their brand new Honda Odyssey, in order to fit our budget and pay cash we’re looking more at vehicles from 15 years ago – when the Odyssey was more of a glorified station wagon and didn’t even have sliding doors.

I said before that I was firmly in the minivan camp, but I have to admit that I’m wavering. Noah has some pretty good points in favor of a three-row SUV. Plus, he listed his categorically in bullet-point form, which is always impressive.

Here are our two perspectives:

Sarah – Team Minivan

With four (!) kids there is going to be a lot of getting in and out and buckling of carseats (at least for the younger two). Minivans are lower to the ground (which make a difference because I’m only five feet tall and the children are even shorter) and the interior designs typically offer more maneuverability and accessibility.

They’re also a bit better on gas and are typically designed specifically for hauling around kids and groceries (like the ones with the hooks in the back storage area for hanging bags – I swoon).

It might not be sexy or rugged and it might wind up being a ridiculous color (apparently minivan manufacturers were excited to finally find something to do with their excess purple paint. Add some  wood trim and you’re into a whole new definition of classy!), but minivans are typically designed with family needs in mind. We’re a family with needs – specifically the need to transport a family of six with minimal fuss and bother.

MInivan for the win!

(Maybe.)

 Noah – Team SUV

Ease of repairs:  It is  a lot easier to work on something higher off the ground and typically there is more working room in the engine compartment of an SUV. Minivans tend to have things in sideways or backwards to fit it all under that tiny front hood.

Parts:  The Expedition is built on the frame of an F150 – the best selling truck since before I was born. Ford makes millions of F150 variants – they are all over in the service industry.  They’re built to last and parts are all over the place, whereas a specific model and year of minivan is probably more of a rarity.

Dependability: Minivans are notorious for transmission problems. Even the top of the line Odysseys have had issues.  The testing and R&D that go into a minivan will never compare to a flagship model like an SUV on a truck frame.  The sales numbers are generally higher for SUVs, so the manufacturer is going to spend more on something that makes them more money.

Cost:  From what I have seen you can get more for your money with an older SUV in our price range.  Minivans in our local market tend to be pretty worn out, both interior and exterior – lots of parking lot dings and stains and broken… everything. For the same price we can get an SUV with leather interior and some extra bells and whistles.  Yes, the MPG is 13 vs 17 and that stinks,  but I think parts and the ability to repair at home help with that.

Style:  I’m not trying to impress the world or anything, and I fully embrace being the parent of a small tribe, but I don’t want to be perceived as a schlub who can’t provide for his family.  I mean, we already live in a bus –  I don’t need my wife rolling around in the “jolly jalopy wagon” on top of it all.

Summation:  If we were looking at a $30k stable family vehicle I would be all over the Odyssey or Sienna minivans.  They are more suited to our needs and their function as a family hauler cannot be disputed.  However, we are talking an old, super high mile vehicle that is likely on its 4th family, so my focus is more on potential problems.

So, basically, I’m going to be the one driving it most often and Noah’s going to be the one working on it most often.

What are YOUR thoughts?

State of the Bus Address

Lots of things are a-happenin’ ’round here.

BUS STUFF

It’s been a little over five months now since our move in day (can you believe it?) and we’ve come a long way from spending that first evening unpacking in the dark. The novelty is wearing off (in direct correlation to how my pregnancy has advanced and the heat of the summer has increased, interestingly enough), but I think we’ve developed a rhythm of sorts.

There have definitely been good days and bad days and I’ve been thinking about whether or not I would recommend this lifestyle to anybody else. It’s really difficult to say because there are so many different variables to consider:

Do you have kids?

Are you pregnant?

Are you staying in one place or traveling?

Are you going to be in a 45-year-old school bus or a brand new RV?

How big is your personal space bubble?

What kind of climate do you live in?

Are you adverse to participating firsthand in the removal of your own waste?

You see? Lots of things to think about. Lately, whenever I’m tempted to whine (because I’m kind of a whiner), I think about this family that travels in their RV with 9 kids (down from 12, at one point). Her comment came up after mine on this post from Money Saving Mom about a single guy living and traveling in his van.

Between us, the Ticknors and Foster Huntington there are three alternative living situations that seem similar, but have completely different tradeoffs in terms of comfort, saving money and feasibility.

I just found the whole comparison very interesting and it probably warrants further expounding upon in a different post. Maybe.

In other news: Now that we’re nearing the end of the summer, we’ll need to ramp up our solar set-up a bit – this will include buying more batteries, at least one more solar panel and probably a bigger inverter. (Eventually Noah will have a minute and write a post explaining how we make our current situation work… and if not, I’ll go ahead and do a hack-job of it.)

LOAN STUFF

You guys.

This whole “borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to build a house” thing is ridiculous.

Remember how we found a broker that we knew and trusted and came highly recommended from friends? Well, he was definitely a stellar guy, and at first the loan seemed like it was exactly what we needed. As we went along with the process, however, we realized that the lender (totally separate from the broker, who, again, was great) was charging us an arm and a leg and they kept wanting us to give them more and more and more without giving US anything additional in return.

It was extremely frustrating and I kind of felt like we were being bullied (which is possibly an exaggeration, but that is how excitable my hormones are right now, don’t judge).

We finally found ANOTHER reputable lender that we’re in the process of getting approved through that will potentially save us at least $10,000 over the course of construction. Which is extremely exciting for me, especially since that business gets charge compound interest over the life of the loan, so in reality we’re saving… like…  $30,000. Or some other, larger, amount that would require a calculator to figure out.

Either way: hooray!

I’ll provide more details once everything is settled into place, but I feel a LOT better now and things look like they’re going to go pretty smoothly… as long as horrible things don’t happen.

VEHICLE STUFF

Unfortunately, the Murano is going to cost a lot to repair. A lot more than we are willing to put into it right now, in fact. We are instead ignoring it like a red-headed step-child.

In the meantime, the ignition on the Pathfinder has been fixed, so I’m back to using a real key like a grown up!

We still need to find and purchase a vehicle that will fit our entire family before our new arrival… arrives. Noah is in favor of an SUV with a third row and I am firmly in the mini-van camp. Any opinions? 

To fund this purchase we are probably going to sell the RV pretty quick here, hopefully at a profit since we put in laminate flooring after we bought it.

KID STUFF

Lily starts school again next week.

NEXT WEEK!

I am utterly flabbergasted.

The school Lily attends is a local public charter school that operates on a home school – hybrid schedule. Lily attends “workshop” two days a week with a certified teacher, and I teach her the other three days from home using materials provided by the school. They offer a curriculum, but I am free to supplement and interchange things to best fit her learning style and interests.

The school also offers the option of homeschooling 5-days per week with a lot more flexibility with regard to curriculum, but Lily LOVES going to class, so.

Although I have my likes (flexibility! parent/teacher partnership!) and dislikes (waking my kids up early on school days… driving across town… making lunches…) of the program, for the most part it’s been a wonderful fit for our family.

Yesterday we went to pick up her books (and CDs and games…) and my brain was completely torn between “Mmmm… educational materials…” and “WHERE AM I GOING TO PUT ALL THIS STUFF?!”

Then I spent the rest of the day trying to get organized and discovering that I had unwittingly packed away a lot of necessary materials (sheet protectors! binders! three-hole-punch! Where are you?). So that was fun.

END STUFF

Aaaaaand that’s where we stand right now. Please be advised that any and all questions, comments, compliments and arguments will be fielded in the comment section. Thank you and good day.

 

Two Random, Unrelated Money Saving Tips

This is not a sponsored post and I am not affiliated with Glacier or Dorco in any way. I just like sharing about good deals because saving money is so much nicer than spending a ton of it unnecessarily.

I’ve mentioned before that this whole bus-dwelling project has come with its own set of unexpected expenses that has kept us from saving every penny of what we were previously spending on rent.

Because of this, and also because I would probably still try to find ways to save money even if we were millionaires, I was excited to discover two things that will potentially save us quite a bit of money this year and I wanted to share them.

The first tip is for people who purchase bottled water.

Before we moved into the bus I didn’t drink tap water simply because I didn’t like the taste (never mind all the junk that’s probably floating around in it). I found a Pur (affiliate link) filter on clearance and we used it for years (if this is the route you go, can I also suggest purchasing Target’s replacement filters? I found them to be much less expensive than the name brand and they fit both Pur and Brita filters).

Since the move, however, we have been buying bottled drinking water because we simply don’t trust what might be in these decades old pipes, and didn’t know if it would be filtered out. If you had done the cleanout, you wouldn’t either.

At first we just bought the big packs of 16 oz bottled water, but I kept finding half-empty bottles all over the place, plus the fact that we have to pay CRV on each individual bottle and I quickly got over that. So we started buying the 2.5 gallon jugs with the pull-out dispensers, but the kids kept having trouble with them and we wound up with water all over the floor on a daily basis. Finally, I just started buying gallon jugs at about a dollar a pop.

It wasn’t until that point that I finally started paying attention to something I had been overlooking forever:

water

I had always thought that those big water-dispensers you see outside of grocery stores were only for filling up the large, five-gallon jugs. Turns out, they also have a 1-gallon dispense option and it’s also only 25 cents per gallon. That’s a savings of 75% every time we fill up water AND it’s eco-friendly because we’re reusing water bottles.

There are, of course, much less expensive ways to get clean water, but this makes it a whole lot cheaper if this is the route you need to take.

The second tip probably applies to more people because who doesn’t ever buy razors? Aside from Noah during Chargers season, of course. (Anybody else with a slightly superstitious spouse?)

I have been an avid couponer in the past, and those of you who are know that good deals on razors aren’t terribly infrequent and you can often get them for free or cheap. We kept a stockpile that was purchased extremely inexpensively that way for a long time.

However, our stockpile has run out and I haven’t been diligently couponing since the move (in part because we live farther away from town now and it is frustrating to make a special trip only to find what you need is out of stock already – a problem I frequently had when trying to get deals on razors).

I had heard good things about the Dollar Shave Club, and Noah and I cracked up watching their hilarious ad (it’s posted directly on the site if you’re interested). Some people love it, and Stephanie from Six Figures Under did a write-up of how much they like it here.

However, I was kind of disappointed to discover that their lowest level of subscription is actually $3 a month when you add in shipping and it’s only for twin blades.

Upon doing a bit more research, I was able to find what I believe amounts to a better deal going straight to the manufacturer that the DSC uses: Dorco.

I ordered the August “Frugal Dude” Pack, which qualifies for free shipping AND I found a 20% off coupon code from RetailMeNot.com which brought the total down to $30 for 29 individual blades of different kinds (if I did my math right – the two packages with reusable handles each came with 2 blades). They arrived within just a couple days and here is what I received:

razors

It’s a sample-pack of different kinds of blades, from 3-blades to 6-blades with a trimmer. Dorco claims that this is a year’s worth of razors, which is probably variable depending on how sensitive your skin is and how well you take care of your blades.

In our situation (football season excluded), because Noah has super sensitive skin, he usually only uses a blade once or twice, but then I’m able to use it to shave with for weeks. I’ve also heard that storing your blades in mineral oil (or baby oil) helps keep them clean and sharp. (I’ve even gone so far as to shave with baby oil with great success as far as skin-smoothness is concerned, but it’s really, really bad for your plumbing and not appropriate if you recycle your grey-water, so I don’t recommend it.)

I can’t speak for the quality of all the razors yet, but I’ll post an update in a few weeks and let you know.

I hope these were helpful money saving tips for someone out there. I’d love to hear some of yours!

Yes Day

Friends, I gotta tell you something.

This summer I have been pretty much a terrible mom.

Not an abusive, someone-needs-to-take-my-children-away-from-me kind of mom. Just your average kind of terrible. The kind of terrible where you move your children into a bus, then a week later find out you’re pregnant and you spend your summer feeling uncomfortable and irritable and snappy and don’t want to get up off the couch and do ANYthing that involves movement. You know what I’m talking about, right?

As a result, the kids greet Noah’s arrival home every evening like they are being released from a lifetime sentence because HERE COMES THE PARENT THAT WILL PLAY WITH US! Which, okay, they greet him like that anyway, even when I’m at my best, because I am more the read-out-loud, let-you-cook-and-bake-with-me kind of parent. I don’t give them “superman” swing pushes right (although sometimes they will settle for a “super-mommy”), I’m not tall enough to lift them up into the branches of the trees and spot them while they climb around and I pretty much don’t have a “let’s build an entire play house out of pallet wood!” bone in my body.

Plus, they’re with me all day, every day and Noah has the distinct, somewhat enviable advantage of novelty.

The point is: when Noah mentioned last week that he was going to be working 12-hour shifts for the next nine days straight, which includes TWO weekends in a row, the kids and I all looked at him like he was announcing the death of everything good in the world. Lily actually burst into tears.

I knew that this called for drastic action, so I announced that while Daddy was gone we would have a “Yes Day”.

“Yes day” originated after reading this book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal a few years ago. We’ve had a few since then and they usually occur as a result of extremely good behavior or because I’m feeling guilty about not being fun enough. (So we should probably have more of them than we do.)

Basically Yes Day is just a day when the kids get to hear “yes” to (just about) whatever they want, all day long. Wanna stay in their pajamas all day? Sure. Wanna watch a movie in the middle of the day? Go for it. Want a slice of cake before lunch? Be my guest.

It’s actually kind of an easy day to be a parent.

There are restrictions, of course:

1. It has to be actually doable (we’re not talking last minute roadtrips out of state here)

2. It can’t cost a ton of money 

3. They have to agree together what they want to do

4. Their behavior has to be completely acceptable throughout the day

I retain ultimate veto power, obviously, but I try to use it sparingly.

You know what always surprises me about these days though? The fact that their requests are so simple. I remember the first time we did it, they asked for me to play dress-up with them, they wanted to all make a salad together (!) and they wanted to watch The Land Before Time five times in a row.

This time they wanted

1. To go to the mall

2. To have chicken nuggets for lunch

3. To go to the park

4. To get to help make pancakes for dinner (“silly supper”)

That was it. Their expectations have been kept remarkably low – these are actually things that we do on a pretty regular basis. Aside from having chicken nuggets for lunch. I think it was just the thrill of getting to choose that is so exciting for them.

There were some other small requests throughout the day as well, but those were their main criteria.

finnturtle

We went to the mall first thing in the morning before most of the stores were open. However, while we were walking from the play-area to where the little “rides” are, Lily’s sandal strap snapped. We were, of course, on the opposite side from the shoe shop. The only store close by that was open so early was JC Penny, so we popped in and got her some new ones. Since they were having a “Get $10 off any $25 purchase” sale, I was able to also buy a pair for Em for only $5 extra.

Extra bonus: I had a gift card left over from when Noah and I got married with almost two dollars left on it. That’s right, I’ve spent nearly seven years carrying that sucker around and it finally paid off.

newshoes

I also brought along a coupon I had gotten in the mail from Bath and Body Works for a free travel-size lotion or body wash, so I surprised them by letting them pick one out to share.

We then had to pop into the store to pick up some necessities and they each picked out a single-size fruit yogurt (I normally just buy plain greek yogurt and add flavorings, so this was like dessert in the middle of the day for them).

We went home and while Finn napped we made chicken nuggets, mixed the dry ingredients for the pancakes and read some chapters out of Lily’s newest book craze.

Next, the park:

park

emupsidedown

lilyupatree

And then home to make dinner.

I have no idea how future Yes Days will go as they get older. I imagine that eventually they will start asking for me to say “yes” to just dropping them off at the mall with their friends and some benjamins.

For now, I am basking in the glow of being told more than a few times today that I am the best mom ever. I’ll take what I can get.

Why We’re Doing Things the Way We’re Doing Them (Part 2)

This is a continuation from my previous post answering questions about the reasoning behind our seeming madness.

FIRST, I have a quick request for the public at large:

A couple days ago Finn snapped the key off in the ignition of the Pathfinder while making some pretty serious attempts to drive it. AAA quoted me $140 to send someone out to fix it. I said I’d see what my husband could do when he got home. Noah was reduced to taking off the whole front part of the ignition switch.

ignition

To the left is the front of the ignition. To the right is what I am now using as a key until we can figure out some way to get the remnant extracted.

It is, how do you say? Très ghetto.

So, if you happen upon a black, 25-year-old Pathfinder with three car seats in the back, please do not steal it, even though you totally could.  It would make a certain family very, very sad.

Moving right along, then.

After delving into why we’re going into debt to build a house, and some of the other avenues we’ve explored to try and reduce the cost, we were left with one more option: building a small house for, hopefully, a smaller cost.

Honestly, I could care less how big our house is. We got along pretty comfortably with three kids in about 1000 square feet, and we’re doing okay in 400 square feet with another one on the way. I don’t care about a big house as a status symbol and I think that smaller houses have a LOT of advantages, including big savings on utility bills. As I said before, when we were looking for a house to buy instead of build, we cared much more about the size of the land than we did about the house on it.

Our original idea was to build a house no more than 1400-1600 square feet. We pushed for it again and again. Initially, it seems like it would make perfect sense – the fewer square feet you build, the less you pay, right? However, as we discovered after talking to multiple builders, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Some of the highest expenses when it comes to building a house are the foundation, the grading, the permits and, in our case, the septic system. None of these costs are necessarily reduced by building a smaller home (we opted for a two-story over a ranch-style to lessen the cost of the foundation and still have four bedrooms).

Within the house itself the pricier areas include the kitchen and the bathrooms, and a lot of those costs are designated not necessarily by square footage, but by finish work (appliances, cabinetry, flooring, etc). Making bedrooms and living rooms smaller to reduce the footprint doesn’t actually make as big a dent in the overall picture as you would think, because all those really entail are framing, drywall and flooring (at their most basic).

Another aspect is the fact that since we are getting a loan, we have to consider what the potential resale value of the home will be. Despite the fact that we are building with the intention of living here forever and ever and possibly being buried somewhere on the property, the bank is looking at is an investment. They take a look at our plans and decide what the “loan-to-value ratio” is – how much they’re lending us versus how much it will all be worth when it’s done.

Turns out, a big house on a large, flat lot in a desirable area is worth quite a bit more than what we’re paying for the construction.

Finally, we’re taking into account our own (growing) family size and the fact that we’d like to be able to comfortably host events like Christmas and Thanksgiving with extended family (we’re on our way to four kids, I’m one of five kids, my mom is one of five kids… it’s quite a lot of family).

Long-term, we’re thinking forward to when our children get older and are spending more time with friends, we hope that our house is the place they choose to be. To that end, we aim to make it spacious and comfortable. Some of my fondest memories growing up are from when our house was packed full of my brothers’ friends and my friends and it was scarcely-controlled, but terribly fun, chaos.

Though, I probably won’t appreciate that scenario nearly as much as a parent, now that I think about it.

At any rate, there you have it. It’s definitely been a long journey and I think that we’re making the best decision that we can given the information at our disposal.

Is there anything that we’re missing? I would love to know: What would YOU do in our situation?