Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Getting to Know You

I've been mulling over an article in this past Sunday's Chicago Tribune titled "School's Out. Now What?" My children have never been to school, so I'm not familiar with the trails and anxieties of summer. The third paragraph reads: "Summer is wonderful, but it takes time to settle in."

Really? I guess we have trouble at time adjusting the the abrupt weather changes here in Chicago. And the sudden explosion of children on the block, in the neighborhood and at our museums. But really, summer is just an extension of spring, which comes after a long winter, preceded by fall. It's just a season for us. For some of us, it's our favorite season, for others, it's before or after their favorite one.

The author interviewed a developmental therapist who worked on a TV show I've never seen, "Super-Manny." He says that kids have "very little freedom" during the school year and that "They even have to ask to go to the bathroom." Well, yes. The kids on my block are gone from between 7:30 and 8 and arrive back home between 3:30 and 4. No sleeping late because they stayed up watching a documentary, no lounging around with a book because they have a cold.

But the most disturbing part of the article for me was the description of how the siblings have lost touch with each other, have done a lot of physical and developmental growing and "In a sense, they have to get to know each other again."

If that isn't one of the strongest arguments for homeschooling, I don't know what is. The picture Mark took above on a bike ride this weekend was of Large holding back Small while he was throwing rocks into the canal. Large was protecting his little brother, he wasn't asked to do it, he just knew Small's ability to get into precarious situations and wanted to make sure he didn't slide down the rocky slope to the algae-infested water below. Our kids know each other. Sometimes they know each other too well, they know exactly which buttons to push, and also how to use their strengths to help each other out.

The article went on to explain how to get the kids to know each other again. Who older kids can read to younger kids, how they can prepare meals together, where to find those "teachable moments" to form a community with other children in the neighborhood. Honestly, do parents really need this kind of advice? I'm hoping they don't.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This Credit Free Life

We've been leading a credit free life for 2 years now. We don't use credit anymore. Of course, we still have our mortgage and home equity, but we've been working at paying those off as well.

We followed most of Dave Ramsey's baby steps and were about to pay off over $20,000 in consumer debt in the first 9 months. We were very lucky to have some stocks to cash in, savings bonds lying around, a generous bonus and lots of patience. When our dryer broke, we went 2 months without. When a car died, we went 5 weeks without. Things recalibrated after a year and a half on the plan and we had 4 months in our emergency fund. Four months of basic living expenses saved just in case. I was comfortable with that cushion.

Then emergencies happened. From toilets to trees to cars to dishwashers, we are now down to less than 2 months in the emergency fund. We spent some of the money on non-emergencies (new lighting in the dining room, finishing a bathroom remodeling that began 3 years ago), but most of it was on basic items. The good news is that we used our emergency fund as a credit card, instead of piling on more debt. The bad news is that now we must work really hard to bring that balance back up. We have no more rabbits to pull out of hats and Mark's employer has announced layoffs.

On the other hand, we have that month and a half in the bank and know how to get more flowing into the emergency fund. One of our major decisions this week has been to repair the aging Volvo instead of getting a car loan for a different car. Next bonus maybe we'll plan for a new used car, but that's not until March. We'll just keep plugging along with what we have and stash more away for the future.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

One Cool Idea

I'll update on the big dance recital when I get a chance to breathe, but wanted to pass along something really cool right now. I'm signing up for several of these.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What's Next?

OK, so in the midst of all the craziness my life has become - taking care of my non-compliant parents, the upcoming dance recital, making big decisions about whether or not to have a homeschooling conference next year, etc., etc., etc., I have to suffer through failing equipment that is supposed to make my life easier.

The dishwasher. Would cost a total of more than $400 to repair. We can replace one for nearly that. But we can't find the time to replace it or do the research to buy it.

The vacuum cleaner. Perhaps the most used appliance in the house, my trusty Miele Solaris. We've had it 8 years and this is the first major problem. I use it every day. On Saturday, I called a friend across the street hyperventilating and asking to borrow hers. She made me promise a solemn oath not to break it. She understands my pain.

The car. The Volvo with 120,000 miles on it - shouldn't it just last forever? For over a year now it's been doing this strange thing where the ABS system clicks in when accelerating, turning corners and occasionally while braking. Over the past week it's become loud. And then Saturday it was loud, refused to accelerate and showed that arrow signal that it was time to up shift, even in reverse. Transmission, you say? Likely, we dropped it off last night.

After losing the tree and shelling out a whole heck of a lot of money from the emergency fund for that and other tangential emergencies, our emergency fund is positively groaning. No longer do we have that nice cushion of 4 months living expenses saved in case Mark loses his job. Two, maybe. And we're in a recession here.

Maybe I can send Large out in his double breasted thrifted suit to look for a job? His hair is ever so slightly shorter now...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Back Home, Part Two

Returning home from vacation always leaves me longing to be back on vacation. Reality has a tendency to just smack me in the face. Today I find myself wanting to see some of the friends we made at our campsite and in the state park. The Cooper's Hawk was a favorite, coming by frequently to find a meal, possibly for his young. He started the Orioles off screeching each time and then would just hang out, scanning the weedy area on the slope down to the lake for easier fare. He wasn't so easy to photograph and was majestic when the swooped through the campsite.

Reality hit in the form of a broken dishwasher.

Oh, let's not wash the morning dishes. We can just put them in the dishwasher when we get home. Except that that dishwasher, a trusty 9 year old thing with far more bells and whistles than we need, wont wash. It dies mid-cycle. All that crusted on scrambled egg had to be washed the old fashioned way. The repair guy came out one afternoon and the thing worked just fine for him. Then he left, running an empty cycle and it didn't work. Sputtered through part of the wash and stopped. Red indicator lights angrily blinking "Wash Cycle!", "Energy Saver Dry!", "Rinse Aid Empty!"

When there was no satisfactory response, it would start up again, get to another point in the cycle and start screaming at us again in it's red light way. Next morning the repair guy, Alan, came back and pronounced we need a new heater element/on board computer kit that would cost $310, in addition to the $98 I had already spent for the service call. At least our debt-free living allows us some wiggle room of cash in our emergency fund. It feels wasteful, but I think it's time to get rid of the fancy dishwasher. We bought it when Medium was a baby and I insisted we needed the anti-bacterial wash and sanitary rinse. Hot water = higher gas bills so we don't use it.

See why I'd rather spend my time with a bunch of loud geese angrily defending their many, many goslings? Even the fox snake was more fun, gobbling up caterpillars on the bike path. Gnats are impossible to photograph, but there were lots of them too.

Aside from that I have conference things to do, issues to resolve, decisions to make. All volunteer positions can get so personal, I'm learning. I have been endowed with all sorts of new responsibilities to accomplish with one hand tied behind my back because there isn't an efficient system for knowledge and responsibility transfer. No succession plan. Bad. Would never work in the business world, at least not successfully. There is no doubt that it will all work out, and I have plans to fix the system so that the whole she-bang doesn't depend solely on the dedication of a few kind-hearted souls who eventually burn out from the pressure and burden of it all. That's the plan anyway. We all know about roads paved with good intentions.

So, I took refuge in the comfort of friends and enjoyed that so very much that I organized a whole slew of park days and outings for our little homeschooling community this summer. Turns out everyone had an idea of where we could happily spend our time and all I had to do was gather the information and post it. Now that's the kind of job I like. Plus, I'm ensuring my social needs are met. Oh, and I guess the kids social needs too.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Home Again

Because we can't fit all four bikes and Small's afterburner trailer on the back of the Volvo, we took two cars camping last week. This meant we could take more stuff! Here's what our stuff did on our vacation.

Some of the toys mostly stayed in the tent. Happily, they were safely in beds or in pockets when the rain came, so most of them didn't get more than damp.

Swano and Wolfie spent some time working on their laptop. The stump of this beautiful white oak was sad to see when we pulled up into our favorite spot. It affected the afternoon shade, but not enough for us to want to change spots next year.

Bobber fell in the lake within an hour of our arrival. He enjoyed hanging out with the dish gloves for a while, but ended up getting progressively wetter as the days passed and the rain came. He finally dried out on the last day.

The sketch books and pencils got a nice workout, we need to make more time for this activity in the future. We go for five days and four nights after Memorial Day, so at least one day is rained out. Sketching can be difficult in the rain.