Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More On Money

Holy crap, we did it.  Paid off my student loan.  Paid it off early, and paid it off with our very own money.  It feels absolutely amazing.  Really, really good.  And believe you me, I know all about feeling good.  I have chased that feeling all over the world.  I started early, at 16 I was sky diving.  By 22 I was regularly whitewater kayaking, rock climbing, and had even bungee jumped.  In fact, I almost got a job as a bungee jumping tech.  I knew I would get to test the equipment every day.  Yahoo.  And that would feel great.  Finishing a difficult rapid feels great.  Climbing a 5.9 rock face and topping out feels great.  Leaping off a 212 foot bridge after a helicopter ride into the bush of New Zealand feels Great.  But man, paying off those student loans feels really GREAT too. 

As I said in my earlier post, I have been a terrible money manager.  I have behaved as if money grew on trees, and it was always harvest time.  A few years ago I made up a little ledger sheet called "Gifts and Loans of our Marriage".  That was a reality check.  We got very far on a fabulous family, student loans, and generous associates.  And some dumb luck too.  We found our house through our outdoor network, and the seller was very easy on us.  Nice old rust buckets with plenty of life left in them have fallen into our laps.  Even appliances have turned up when we really needed them.  Okay, we had needed a new stove for awhile, the bungee cord we used to keep it closed was starting to fray.  But still, a three year old stove for $50.  How does that happen?  Dumb luck, and a dirtbag willingness to wait.  Yes, we have lived frugally, but when push came to shove we got some really big loans and gifts too.

No more.  No more loans.  No more counting on gifts.  And no more ignoring the big things like budgeting the money we earn, a real emergency fund,  repairs for the house, retirement, a college education for Alex, and real investments.  We are doing a Total Money Makeover, ala Dave Ramsey, and working the Steps.  This is not a cult, but it is counter cultural.  We are giving up totally on credit.  No cards.  No payments.  No 0% interest and "no money down".  We are going back to the old ways, if we don't have the money, we don't buy it.  And learning to save for what we need.  And learning invest as well.  Step, by step, by step.  ALL of our personal debts are now paid, and we wont be running out for a student loan or new car.  I have personally been tempted, with all the great car offers out there now, but I think I passed the test.  Instead I am focused on filling up that emergency fund, having $12,000 for rainy days.  Not for cars, or repairs, or trips, or other things we will budget for for, but for emergency's.  For the big "What if's" and real general security.  Once we have that lump sum (and we are 1/4 of the way there) then we will crank up the retirement fund.

The real key to all of this is controlling people.  In specific, the people in the mirror.  Along with the the "Loans and Gifts" sheet I toted up all of the income Kevin and I have earned.  It is actually more than all the gifts and loans.  Whew.  That was good to see, and inspiring.  Kind of sad, wondering where the hell it all went, but ultimately inspiring.  Helped kick us into gear, and really commit to this Total Money Makeover.  Now we are running with it, and feeling great.  GREAT!  I realize now the cost of avoidance.  And the freedom of the fight.  It is all doable, and it is ALL GOOD.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Alex Report

I know I was supposed to blog more about Jamaica, but first I need to put out another Alex Report.  It has been far too long.  Plus I have a blogging announcement for the end.

As I put Alex on the bus this morning I considered how far we have come.  The Spring Concert at school rolled through my head, where Alex had a Maraca solo.  He is in Kindergarten now, and we are living the dream.  The dream my favorite autism books talk about, where your child is fully integrated into a regular classroom, with pull out time to work on the skills he needs.  That is what we have, and the school is fantastic.  They have bent over backwards to accommodate Alex, and had fun doing it.  He has an aide to die for.  She was a elementary school teacher for many years, had had time off due to illness, and decided to work another year in the classroom.  She is the most loving and invested person we could ask for.  She has read every book I recommended, and fully immersed herself in learning autism.  We have tea every month or so, and she has been a delight and a comfort.  His teacher is also a beautiful soul, she knows young kids, and has made a perfect learning environment.  She is very structured, and predictable, but also builds in super creative days and projects.  Alex loves her, and was imitating her within a week of being in her class.  He was also terrified of her, because she is somewhat intimidating (a Nordic goddess in Kevin's words), so he played hard to get for the first few months.  She has been great at insisting on eye contact.  And then there is the special education staff.  They are all hard working, super invested, and cool people.  And all there, on site.  No traveling to other schools.  No leaving the adorable country school, with it's woods and trails, gardens and greenhouse, and multiple playgrounds.

So, it is all going great, but of course I still worry.  I worry that I have not been working with him enough at home.  Worry that we let him veg out on the computer for half an hour after school, sometimes even 45 minutes.  Worry that his hand writing is atrocious and he hates writing.  Worry that his bus ride is an hour each way, and he is not learning or socializing, just stimming.  Worry that this is as close to the norm as he will ever get.

The kids at school seem to love him.  He has his favorites, all girls of course.  He likes the boys too, and there is one little one that keeps asking if he can give Alex his phone number.  Next time I will say yes.  There is a mean one too, and Alex bit him a few weeks ago.  I was not too sad about that and I suspect the staff really wasn't either.  Alex is talking a lot about feelings and trying to understand what others are feeling.  He will ask, "Was she sad?" or, "What did my teacher feel when I squished Isaac?".  He talks about sitting on, rolling on, and hitting kids, but the teacher reports he is very well behaved and only grabs kids sometimes or pinches a little when excited.  Maybe he is thinking about sitting on them??  He can now tell a story from beginning to middle, and sometimes even the end.  We have made lots of progress, but sometimes it seems we are still very far off the mark.  When I get too worried, however, I pull out a recent cherished memory.  One of the most popular, smart, and sweet girls in his class wants to marry him.  Lily Brown told my husband this when they were having a play date over a month ago.  I guess we are doing okay.

Blogging announcement-  I have started another blog.  I felt like I wanted this blog to reflect Family matters and Autism more than anything.  My other blog is all the random musings I am sometimes prone to.  Feel free to visit, I have been rambling there for a while now.  Cheers!

Monday, March 15, 2010

In my Pajamas

I'm in my pajamas at 2:30 in the afternoon, Central Standard Time.

Just thought I'd mention it.


It Really Happened

I still can't quite believe that Kevin and I went to Jamaica.  An amazing late winter trip, just us, while our son stayed home in Minnesota and went to school.  One of the perks of being an adult I suppose.  It was a truly incredible trip, from the frozen North to a tropical paradise.  We stayed at a resort just for couples that was "all inclusive".  No need for money while there, not for the activities or the abundant and delicious food and drinks, or even the top notch service.  I felt like a princess.  And it was like a time machine back to dating.  All exterior pressures were on hold for one glorious week.  We missed our son like crazy, and I don't know that we can ever leave him behind like that again, but it was a nice bit of heaven.  Here are a few pics to start the story, I will post more as I get them processed and ordered.
It turned out to be windy for the entire time we were there, so we took advantage of the waves and learned to boogie board.  It was fun, and exhilarating, exhausting, and a pure riot.  We got out once or twice almost every day.

We were on the western tip of Jamaica, along a beautiful beach, at a resort called Couples Negril.  I have never stayed at such a place.  More of a Low Budget kind of traveler, this was a style that was not difficult to get used to.  The Jamaican staff were lovely and perfect, the food to die for, and the resort itself was built into the site like a residence in  the Garden of Eden.  Every need was anticipated, from food to drink, to entertainment, to down time.  We feasted and experimented.  I ate curried goat and smoked marlin.... both delicious.  Sorry PETA, I have really surrendered my card now.

Oh yeah, and there was this guy I used to know.  I think I married him awhile back, but with the pressures of child raising, Autism, business, house holding, day jobs, infertility, and a generally wild schedule our marriage had been on the back burner for quite awhile.  This trip was the Honeymoon we never had, and the 10 wedding anniversary trip we didn't take.  We have been married over 11 years now, and this retreat together was fully appreciated and celebrated.  

And like a fairy tale.  A resort to tend to all of our needs, built like a palace, filled with interesting people.  I was not sure what the guests would be like, and they were super.  Many other appreciative folks, taking a break from their busy schedules and enjoying a bit of paradise.  The staff were great too, and having worked in the tourism and guest services industries, including house keeping, I did not feel too bad taking advantage of their hard work and expert attention.  I was a bit like non-stop theater, with the staff as the actors and the guests as the interactive audience.  It was a well directed and well  preformed, Broadway quality for sure.  

More to come....

Friday, March 12, 2010

Money Honey

WARNING:  Much X Rated Adult material about that most naked of subjects....Finance.  Read at your own peril, this is a bare all kind of discussion. 

I have been the world's worst money manager.  Thank goodness I was given a lot in my lifetime, or I would have been forced to turn to prostitution, drug dealing, or cat burglary.  I traveled all those years ago on a surprise inheritance, not on any super savvy money ethic of my own.  I never even had a job until after my sophomore year in college.  Every big trip I ever took was either a gift, or a gift.  I'd like to believe I earned those trips through charm and being a good person, but that is more bull shit than I can handle.  Just damn lucky I guess.

Not to say I haven't gotten better over time.   I actually have worked for a living for many years now.  I don't bounce checks or use an overdraft "line of credit" or pile up interest that I never tally anymore.  My hubby and I settled in a reasonable town, bought a super cheap house, and almost live within our means, including supporting a munchkin.  I've gotten better, but am about to take it to the next level.

Total Money Makeover.  I started this process back 2002.  We started using cash for all the little stuff and got on the "envelope system" to make that work.  We stopped using credit, and Kevin shot the last credit card back in 2007.  We have Health Insurance, Life Insurance, and are close to a real will.  Now we are about to take our Tax refunds and jump into the deep end of the pool.  Spend it all by paying off ALL of our personal debts, including my student loan.  Start building a real emergency fund (aiming at $12,000), and see how fast we can do it.  Then we really get into the nitty gritty of The Plan from there.  We are selling things off, tightening our belts, and finding ways to increase our income.  We will be having a big garage sale in May.  All big purchases, all the "I wants" are on hold.  The truck is gone as of yesterday.  The scooter sold last month.  We are again a one car family, and will stay that way until our budget stabilizes.    We are officially nuts, and this is fun.

No really, I swear.  This is fun!  I am so excited and pumped.  The thought of money no longer makes me nauseous.  I work my budgeting sheets into the dark of night, because I WANT to.  I am finally figuring out things that were a total mystery to me.  Like how compound interest works, and what the heck a "nest egg" really is.  Perhaps the strangest thing is the thought of working is also exciting.  Weird, but true. 

I am off and running.  There is more to ramble on about, but this is a good start.  I dream of teaching a class on finance in a year or so.  Just a little one, no new degree needed.  For now I will head off to work to see my peeps.  Especially those who have already joined me in the She Woman Debt Haters Club that was formed a few years back.  Ciao.

New Tricks

On my big trip I learned that I like scuba, and can pass a basic resort course.  I also learned how to operate my new idiot proof camera, never did learn the old digital beyond point and shoot.  After the trip I am learning to edit, size, save, and post my own pictures.  Am very slow but I did this picture and my new facebook pictures all by myself.

I have gotten a bit lazy as an old married lady, and let my husband do certain things like learning how to use digital cameras.  I am going to knock that shit off.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

40 Something

I remember a TV show from the 80's called 30 Something.  At that time 30 seemed so old I could barely imagine it.  My sister thought it was great.  It was all about relationships, and kids, and jobs.  I was not set on a future like that.  I did not know what I wanted, but I knew I wanted to be "different".  Well, I am not sure if I wanted that or if I just was, so I might as well embrace it.  I was not a cheerleader in school.  Nor was I popular, or a pretty girl.  I was mostly ignored and fully aware of it.  Not too different to be picked on or hounded, just relegated to the way less than elite.  I, however, did not want to be elite anyways, so there.  When I learn how to use the new scanner at home I will post a few choice photos.  Perhaps my favorite is wearing my short hair in a sea of mall bangs, with my brown psuedo-military outfit with the belt that wrapped two times around and over my shoulder.  It had silver bars on it, reminiscent of those big guns whose names elude me right now.  Not that I was about to join the Sandinista guerrilla fighters, I just liked the look.  I wish I could say I was into hard core punk, but I listened to WIFC like everyone else.  Me and Tears for Fears were buds.  I did know the one guy in school who put a safety pin in his ear.  And, I had a rat tail.

Yes, I was different and did not know were that would take me.  Away from Wausau, Wisconsin, that was for sure.  I escaped to college, and into the heart of Minneapolis.  I went everywhere, partied downtown often, and lived the big city life.  Eventually Minneapolis was too mundane, or at least my corner of it, and I tired of urban living.  My best friend, who came through it all with me, from kindergarten to sophomore year of college, had similar feelings.  She thrived on the urban part, however, and moved to Los Angeles.  By 1992 she was settled with a real job, a soul mate, and a baby.  I was terrified by this and went off to see the world.  Or at least to get as far away as possible from the Mid-West and even the US.

We were in the Gulf War at the time, and I wanted nothing to do with that.  I was not a patriot, thought the "war" was a bad move, and could not wait to get out.  I hated Bush, had hated Reagan, and was ready to be far, far away.  I had vague ideas about falling in love with a man from a foreign country and becoming and ex-pat.  This may have been more realistic if men actually looked at me as more than a friend or fun tom boy.  Or if I had ever had a relationship that lasted more than two weeks in real time, not counting endless crushes.  I had the dream, but it never quite worked out the way I wanted.  I spent a few years in New Zealand, which were glorious and grand and worthy.  There were men, of course, and I had a few crushes, and was crushed by them.  I did have one boyfriend, but since he was totally into me I determined he was not worth having.  I did get to keep his best friend, but that story is better saved for another post.  Yes, I had a marvelous time abroad, but I did not fall in love.  And I did not stay. 

All that was still as a 20 Something.  And now, here I am, blogging at 41.  How did I get here? is a question that has popped up a lot lately.  I am back in a town with a very similar feel to the one I escaped from at 17.  I have a husband, a job, and a child.  A house, and pets, and lots of stuff.  I lived for years out of a VW Rabbit, owning no more than the hatchback could hold.  Sometimes I feel really old.  Don't get me wrong, I do love my life.  It is filled with love, and loved ones.  That is the most important part.  It is also filled with the outdoors and adventures.  Smaller adventures than in the past, but adventures still.  I love my life, it is just way closer to the show 30 Something than I ever expected.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Or Roar

Ready to take on Scuba Diving in Jamaica last week.

I Am Woman - Hear Me Ramble

This is it, time to split my blogs.

It occurred to me while I was running through the damp and fog today, that I generally do two kinds of post on my current blog.  I post about my family-my son-and autism, and I post about ME.  I feel guilty about posting about me much of the time, because if people want to read about Alex, the fam, or Autism, then I am a minor player.  But I am often driven to post about me, since it is the thing I know most about, and sometimes least.  I have been with me from the beginning, as far as I can tell, and there is much to say.  Plus blogging about myself  is more a meditative enterprise than anything, and I do not wish to inflict that on the general public.  And sometimes I wish to go PG-13, and that feels weird where I talk about my son so much.  

Thus, this new blog is born.  I hope to be whitty and amusing, insightful and occasionally teach-y, reminiscent and go-girl-power. Also I am sort of on the back side of a mid-life crisis, so I feel more comfortable talking about that here.  Just returned from a fabulous experience in Jamaica, so am feeling all empowered.  That's it for the explanations, as far as I understand them myself.  I am having delusions of adequacy as a writer, so bear with me and feel free to comment.