July Closure, August Goals

Miniature Roses in a Shot Glass

Today is payday and so ends my fiscal month of July. I’m honestly very relieved. My income hasn’t been this low since November 2010 and even then I managed to pull in a couple hundred bucks more than this month. But I survived and didn’t borrow a dime to do it so that’s a win in my life.

As August comes around the corner, here are the things I’m looking at.

Financial

Eldest’s party is coming together with a pretty large group (15 – 20 kids alone) which isn’t surprising. I am aiming to keep the cost of the party and the gifts under $400, if not $350. This is going to include a reptile show I was able to find for $250. I have a lot of ideas for gifts so I need to narrow them down and start hunting. Or crocheting. Or both.

This month marks my one year anniversary at work. I am officially part of the Retirement Savings Plan where my employer makes a contribution equivalent to 5% of my pay to my403-b. My employer will also match me up to another 5%. So contributions equal to 15% of my pay for only a personal 5% contribution is a no-brainer. I signed up for a 5% personal contribution which went into effect this month.

I only had 4 no-spend days in the month of July. As much as I want to join Sharon and Carla for the seven straight days of fiscal fasting, it’s just not a good time for us to do that. Instead, I’ll be going on my own fiscal challenge and am aiming to double the number of no-spend days from July. So, 8 No Spend Days in August (technically starts today) for the Mutant.

I’m experimenting with a new system where my bills are paid from one account and my spending is done from another.

I am staying on top of the Income Deduction Order. Ex’s next pay periods are August 12 and August 26. I am pushing for the 12th because the company originally received it May 27 and are past the deadline to be in compliance. I’ve been working with Ex’s employer’s garnishment company directly although Ex doesn’t know. He’s continued to be vague about the process on his end saying he had to send it to another city and that he already did but he doesn’t have any contact up there to confirm they actually have it blah, blah, blah. Me: Smile and nod.

If the garnishment goes into effect or Ex pays as he’s supposed to, the priorities with the money will be 1) padding my super slim budget for back to school (currently it’s at $50 for three kids and no lists have been sent) and 2) rebuilding the savings accounts I had to drain to compensate for the evaporation of 2/3 of child support this past month. Specifically I’m looking to put $1,000 into the starter emergency fund, $450 into the education fund, and $300 into the Christmas account. They’re listed in order of priority.

Of course, money isn’t everything (seriously?) and so I’ve come up with a few personal goals this month as well.

Books I'll Be Reading- Most of Them

Personal

I’m committing to working out for at least 30 minutes every day the kids are with their father. The excuses are over. After all, maybe one of the reasons I’m tired all of the time is that I’m not working out!

I’m going to make a concerted effort at getting as much stuff ready the night before instead of putting it off until the morning mad rush. I’ve done it in the past and it’s been a huge help. After all, it’s not fair I’m the Nightmare Mommy first thing in the morning because of my lack of organization. So, clothes and lunches and bags ready the night before and I’ll likely be enlisting the kids’ help.

After being constantly inspired by Judy, I’ve decided to have a family meeting on Monday, August 1st. We’ll talk about things happening this month and we’ll go over budgetary issues as far as things relating to them– specifically back to school items and allowances. This is where I’ll also explain the concept of getting ready the night before and what is expected from each of us to that end.

I’d like one outing with a girlfriend this month for some lunch and chit-chat. I need woman to woman time but often can’t swing it thanks to time and money restrictions. It’s a priority. It’s budgeted for. I’m doing it.

I’m going to keep smashing away at the book tower in my house. I got totally slowed down by Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day. It’s lovely to read but it’s slow and taking me forever. It’s just not a page-turner. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, the writing’s inspiringly lovely. But, yeah it’s slowing me down. So I’ve actually started another book that Jacq recommended to me a while back called Loving What Is which is so insightful and helpful so far, that it will likely be featured here in its very own post.

Finally, I’m going to dedicate some serious mental and mind power to this blog. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately and I have a clearer idea of what I want for and from this blog. I want my blog to remain authentic. I don’t want to feel forced to write particular content to drive a particular viewership. However, this doesn’t mean the content I am writing isn’t suitable for a wider audience than I have now.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, because I run the risk of sounding cocky, but I’ve seen so many blogs for so long now, I finally believe that my writing is better than a lot of what’s “popular” and that there is an audience out there who wants my kind of content. No, I’m not a personal finance blogger and I don’t want to be a personal finance blogger. But, I am a single mom blogger, I want to be a single mom blogger and I want to be a well-rounded single mom blogger which understands personal finance is part of the picture, but only part.

I’ve taken a very laid back and natural approach with this blog, if you build it they will come style, but I’m changing that and making a larger effort to get my content out there. However, I’ll be doing it on my terms and avoiding the things other blogs resort to in attempts to drive traffic that I don’t really appreciate as a reader—namely asking for votes, purposely participating in flame wars, posting sponsored product reviews, or hosting sponsored giveaways. I’m going to rely on my content, technique, and style but do a better job of putting myself out there. I’m aware I’ve probably shied away from going for gold because of a fear of exposing myself to the big, bad, and nasties of the world. Well, I’m over it, and it’s thanks to you.

I want you, my tiny and amazing group of readers, to know that I do very much listen to you. I hear your words of support, encouragement, and kins(wo)manship. I pay attention when you express gratitude and appreciation for particular content. And you bet I note when you all go mute on other content. I want to continue helping, supporting, encouraging, and inspiring you because you help, support, encourage, and inspire me.

So, here’s to August! It promises to be a busy month, but I’m ready for it.

What about you? Is August a big month for you or are you going to take the mellow approach to the last full month of summer? What are your top priorities coming up?

Ten Challenges to Stimulate Your Savings

Frugality - Penny Pinching
“Frugality” by Living Studios

Whatever the reason, and there are so many, sometimes we need to come up with some extra cash or at the very least, scale back some expenses. To this end, people embark on Fiscal or Spending Challenges. They all work in generally the same way—reduce spending in a particular fashion for a set number of days. At the end, put whatever savings you get (no matter how small) into a savings account of your choice. Here are ten different challenges you can try.

1 ) Dining Out Challenge

Sit-down meals, take-out and delivery, or fast food all take a larger toll on our funds than eating from our home. For a mild challenge, aim to eliminate one category of convenience eating for one week—for example, no fast food. If you’re looking for extreme changes, eliminate at least two, if not all three, of these categories for one month.

2 ) Clothing Ban

You know you don’t need any new clothes when you have mountains of laundry and your family is still able to easily put together complete and tasteful outfits from your closets and drawers. Put the freeze on spending—no clothes, shoes, or accessories for one month. If you want to make this challenge a bit tougher, get rid of one article of clothing for every day of the challenge. If you’re able to sell at least some of the clothes you unload, you’re really amping up your savings.

3 ) Stick to the List Challenge

If your weakness is being lured away from your shopping list, this might be the challenge for you. Write up a list before you get to the market and don’t let anything else in your basket. When you go pump gas, leave the drink in the fridge. When the mission is to find the perfect shoes for the interview, forget the cute sandals and the perfectly priced dress. For a mild challenge, aim to ban all impulse buys for just one week. If you really want a shot at curing this practice, aim for at least 30 days.

4 ) Plastic Freeze

If swiping your debit card is making your funds too easy to get to, put the booger on ice. Go cash-only for a week or even a whole month. Online purchases count as credit card swipes. Paying your bills from your account don’t.

5 ) Say No to the Store

It seems everyone I talk to has a store that is their weak spot. Something about it wreaks havoc on your mental wiring and suddenly Wants and Needs are all in the same pile. For me, it’s Target. Maybe for you, it’s Amazon, the thrift store, e-Bay, CVS, or the convenience store. Whatever your Store, skip it for a month and see just how much of a drain it is on your wallet.

6 ) Limited Spending Challenge

This is one of the more common financial challenges. It’s highly customizable and is often an eye-opening experience on just how low you can go. If you’ve been tracking your spending, figure out what your average spending on non-bills is, either weekly or monthly, and challenge yourself to reduce that by a certain percentage. Go for a quick and easy 10% or get drastic with 50%.

If you’re not tracking your spending, this just might be the reason you start as it was for me. Figure out the amount you think you spend monthly on your bills. Subtract it from the amount you think you receive a month. And then commit to living on only a percentage of what’s leftover.

(Income – Bills) / Percentage of your choice = Spending Challenge Amount

7 ) Complete Fiscal Fast

Seven Days. Zero Dollars. It is that simply difficult. You can’t stock up before you start, except gas. Take your wallet from 60 mph to 0 and keep it idling for seven days. Half Dozen Daily is getting ready to embark on one. Think you can do it?

8 ) No-Spend Days 

Seven straight days is definitely challenging. For some people, it’s even impossible. For this challenge, pick a target number of no spend days for a month. Taking a cue from the Complete Fiscal Fast, seven is a good way to start. Can you take it higher?

9 ) Coupon Challenge

The only challenge that requires preparation a month ahead whether or not you’re new to couponing. For newbies, take advantage of the preceding challenge month to stock up on coupons by buying the Sunday paper every week, asking friends for their discards, printing coupons online, and collecting those little blinkies in the supermarket. Track your grocery and drugstore spending and what your average savings, if any, are without coupons. Finally, visit couponing websites to educate yourself on how couponing works.

If you use coupons now but think you can do better, save your receipts from your shopping the month leading up to the challenge. At the end, figure out what your average savings are currently and challenge yourself to increase them by a certain percentage next month. Generally, the higher you are, the harder it is to keep going so keep that in mind. It is truly a challenge to average savings above even 50% (it CAN be done).

When the month of your challenge starts, get your coupon on. Make sure, like the previous month, you’re tracking your average savings and see what the difference is at month-end.

10 ) Power Down Challenge

Can you say no to electricity for seven nights? In this challenge, your family unplugs every night, at the same time, for seven nights. Candles and battery-operated devices are acceptable but you can’t recharge until the power comes back on. This challenge has a two-fold benefit. One, it will surely help reduce your utility bill while quite possibly pointing out power leeching devices and habits in your home. Two, it’s a great way to test your family’s Disaster Readiness level. Having experienced hurricanes myself, including Category 5 Hurricane Andrew in 1992, I know how important Disaster Readiness is, and how easily it’s forgotten.

Have you embarked on a financial challenge? What was your experience?

Shitty Saturday

The Crime Scene

Mutant Disclaimer: Let me begin by saying I’m not a fan of peppering my writing with foul language. When I write the way I speak with my friends, my brain is alarmed and tries to cover my eyes. Had the events which I will describe below transpired on a Friday, this post would likely have been titled “Fecal Friday”. As it were, the events transpired on a Saturday and leaked into a Sunday and so there is no title more suited than the one you see up there.
All of this being said, I feel obligated to provide this caution: If you are unable to read tales of parents in the trenches without experiencing a level of squeamishness, 1) Do not have children and 2) Forget the rest of this entry and follow me to Google + which is so much fun.

What you see pictured above is usually nothing more than the kids’ bathroom in my home. It’s mostly an unremarkable sort of space, although you may have noticed my attempt at incorporating a modern child’s sense of whimsy into the original 1960s décor.

This weekend, however, it was the scene of several frustrating and simply disgusting events which unfolded.

MutantBaby is mostly daytime potty trained. For the uninitiated, this means he’s quite good at marching into the above bathroom, dropping his pants, lifting the lid and seat, and proceeding to (mostly) pee in the vicinity of the toilet bowl.

However, Baby has always had problems of the bowels. As an infant, these manifested themselves suddenly and dramatically. He’d be drooling and gurgling and gooing on his tummy and suddenly—a look of horror would flash across his face. He would cross his legs at his ankles and proceed to straighten and lock them in a vise-like grip. He would cry, scream, moan, and whimper and suddenly return to normal. The only evidence to be found would be a tiny spray of poop in his diaper which would inevitably go unnoticed and burn his skin.

The doctors did nothing. They’d say, “He’s constipated. Change his diet and get him regular.” Nothing worked. And sometimes it was obvious his poop was hard and uncomfortable but more often than not… it seemed Baby just didn’t like pooping.

Now that he’s older, he still struggles. The signs are different. Now, he suddenly withdraws from whatever activity he’s engaged in and hides himself somewhere. He gets a very focused look on his face and quiets down. After a few minutes, he emerges and heads to the bathroom where he proceeds to clean himself thoroughly. Most of the time, a small piece of the poop that was trying to escape is in his underwear.

He started doing it on Friday. Usually, it’s no big deal because he does it a few times and then just goes and really lets it all out. But, this didn’t happen Friday.

Saturday, the behavior continued and proceeded to occur on a much more frequent basis. I’m talking about at least once an hour, I’d catch him making a dash for the bathroom. I talked to him and told him his body was trying to get out a lot of poop and all he had to do was sit and let it out. Nope.

I think it was after about the third pair of dirty laundry and after the sixth time I had to stop what I was doing and follow him into the bathroom, I bribed him. “If you just sit and do your huge poop, we will all go to Toys R Us,” I explained to him in front of the other two kids. They celebrated. But nothing happened.

I gave him an insane amount of plum juice. I even gave him some of my Cuban coffee. I told him to just sit and do it and so I gave him books and a Nintendo DS.

Nothing.

Finally, I changed course and just let him go outside with the others to play figuring physical activity and lots of water would help.

He kept sneaking in to clean fugitive poop pieces.

It was during one of these sneaks, I caught on and visited him in the bathroom to find the toilet heaped with a pile of diaper wipes.

You see, the child had used the whole roll of toilet paper that day and realized how smart he would be if he went and helped himself to the box of wipes and cleaned his little tushy like such a big boy. I freaked of course, yelled something like, “Oh my God! No, no, no!” and bolted to the kitchen to get my gloves and a plastic bag so I could rescue the toilet from the wipe mountain.

It was when I stuck my head under the sink to retrieve said items that he flushed. “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” I screamed as I ran back to the bathroom. They were gone.

And for some reason, this actually calmed me. “Oh, they went down. Ok.”

Well, the day went on and the poop pieces and the dirty underwear and at one point he came into the house and hid himself behind an end table. A-ha! I watched him closely with my patented Mom-Is-Not-Watching Watch Method and he went walking so very carefully to the bathroom. I followed quietly so as to not alarm him. When he began cleaning himself, I walked in and picked him up and plopped him on the toilet.

I told him he just had to poop already that this was crazy doing this and his body really needed to get this out and it wasn’t going to hurt because it was still soft and he looked at me and said, “Mommy I pooped!” And I said yes but he needed his BIG poop because the little poops weren’t good at emptying out his butt and he interrupted “No Mommy I pooped a huge poop!”

Yeah right. Let me see.

I was in the bathroom the whole time. I was holding him for crying out loud. So, I have no idea how to explain there was suddenly, in less than a minute, a giant poop log in the toilet.

“YES! You did it! Did it hurt?” “Nope!” “Alright!”

The kids came tearing down the hall asking if he pooped and celebrating too and I told them to hurry up and get in the tub because we were going to clean up and go to Toys R Us.

And there was hooting and hollering and I flushed the toilet and of course it got clogged but I plunged it a bit and threw dish soap at it and it was getting there. So I went and got dressed and cleaned up some more and told them to get out of the tub so we could go. And they were so excited. They got out of the tub, and went about the insanity of getting dressed.

A few minutes later, Daughter had apparently run somewhere and was running back to her room when she slipped and fell and started crying. It always happens. They track water out of the tub all of the time. I rolled my eyes and Eldest came and reported Daughter had slipped and fallen but that there was a very giant puddle in the hallway.

And that’s when I saw it. There was water all over the hallway.

I rolled up my jeans and ran over there. Water was coming out of the bathroom. Oh. My God.

Water. Everywhere!!!

It took me a few minutes before I realized the Hello Kitty band-aid on the floor in front of the toilet was sort of moving. The water was coming from under the toilet. And why the hell was the tub taking a million years to drain?

I called my parents. I called my landlord. My Dad and I used a snake on the toilet and I was being so clever with my gloves until while I was pushing the snake up, suddenly something happened and sucked my glove down and brown water filled my glove. Oh Christ’s sake, I wanted to cry. When we’d try a flush, everything would come up the tub.

That was when I realized the water in the house was the tub draining itself. Oh, great. Waste water.

It was a nightmare. I cleaned up the bathroom as best as I could and blocked it off until the landlord’s plumber could come the next day. The kids were not happy they couldn’t go to Toys R Us after all. I took like thirteen showers and still felt absolutely disgusting.

The next day, the plumber came. He saw what was going on and would have to unclog it from the roof. Apparently, my father’s and my efforts to snake were downright stupid because of the plumbing system in the house.

So he got to work.

It wasn’t pretty.

Water came back in the house under the toilet. At one point, the tub was filled with water so brown it was almost black. When he was done, he showed me a pile of diaper wipes on my patio that were revolting to look at.

When my Mom called to see how she could help, I had a moment of genius and asked if she and my brother, MutantPirate could take the kids to Toys R Us for me. She was hesitant but I must’ve sounded borderline psychotic because she agreed.

I cleaned that bathroom all day with an assortment of things ranging from boiling water to bleach to Comet to more boiling water to floor cleaner. I scrubbed with mops, rags, and sponges. I mopped a million times.

It still gives me the heebie jeebies.

The Many Reasons Moms Need Google +

This article has come out showing the vast majority of Google +users are young men in some sort of technology-related job. This doesn’t mean Google + isn’t a good site for women. As a matter of fact, I argue that women (especially moms) are the ones really suited to use Google + to its maximum abilities. By the way, before I continue, email me for your invite.

So, why am I making the case for women to join Google + by the truckloads?

Multiple Personalities.

Women are multi-taskers of the highest order, it’s true. And with that ability, comes the tendency to cycle through one persona after another all day long. Google + gives you easy to create Circles and easy ways to manage the content you would like to share.

You can make this as detailed or as simple as you want it, but I have a feeling most of you will love the variety of ways you can mix and match your circles.

Here is a more in-depth way of using Circles that may be of benefit to you.

First of all, no one knows what circle you’ve put them in except you so if you have a twisted sense of humor, feel free to use it when constructing your circles.

Second of all, Google + lets you restrict whether or not the content you post can be re-shared so you can post with confidence.

I have friends of all types. Some of us bonded because we have kids that go/went to school together.  Some of us bonded because of comic books and anime. Some of us bonded because of books. Some of us bonded because of movies. Some of us bonded because we were stuck in an all girls- Catholic high school together for four years. Some of us bonded because we worked together. Some of us bonded because we’re crafty. Some of us bonded because we’re single moms. Some of us bonded because we’re bloggers.

Yes, I can throw everyone into one big Friends circle and call it a day. Or, I can do everyone a favor and streamline my connections, making their Streams much more interesting and relevant.

For example:

I can have the moms from Daughter’s class in one circle, the moms from Eldest’s class in another circle, and the new moms from Baby’s class into another circle. If I have to ask the Moms from Eldest’s class to check if our kids switched PE uniforms, it’s not a problem to type that question up, direct it to that circle, and be done with it. If I need to introduce myself as the Room Mom for Baby’s class, and give them my contact information, I can type that up, restrict it so they can’t re-post it, and dash that off. Meanwhile, the Moms in Daughter’s class might get some pictures I took at a recent school event.

That is a very practical way to use Google + effectively. Add the fact Google + will email those in your circles who have not signed up with Google + yet, and our lives are a bit easier.

You can use Google + to help on a personal level too– reaching out to circles of select individuals who you’re comfortable being open and honest with more than others. You can make sure your family doesn’t get your (ahem) cruder posts. You can geek out with my fellow comic book lovers about Avengers movie teasers.

When you filter your content this way, you won’t be cluttering Streams needlessly. It makes for efficient browsing and gives your items a much better chance of actually being spotted and responded to which is the whole point of Social Networking.

This is why circles are my favorite feature for Google +. I also find the Sparks very interesting and can’t wait to get a smartphone this year so I can take Google + mobile and really have a ball with it. But of course, there’s one more important factor for me that gives Google + the edge over Facebook.

It’s Google. It’s not just that there’s a seamless integration with Google searches, your Reader, YouTube, and so much more; there’s the perception of the company itself. I believe I am more secure and that my interests are more important to a company like Google who has shown they care about ethics even as they manage to be an extremely successful corporation.

Facebook? It was founded by an Ivy League kid with a chip on its shoulder who has betrayed his users’ confidence time and again in favor of a bigger buck. Does it have fun features? Yes. Is it easy to use? Yes. Can it all be replicated? Yes. Can it be improved upon? Yes.

I have always been a bucker of trends. I have always rooted for an underdog. Maybe it’s not a good sign for the future of Google + that I am coming out as such a strong advocate for it.

But, I’m doing so because I really believe there is something here that is not only useful, but fun and helpful as well. I do believe that Google + is taking the best of the social networking worlds and bringing them together in a marvelous way. Note this is article has mostly focused on why Google + may be a better option for grown-ups than Facebook; I haven’t even touched on Twitter.

Feel free to drop in on me on Google +, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you need some help getting on at all or even just getting invited. I don’t think there’s any reason to be wary of a new social networking site. Technology moves insanely quickly and gets easier to adapt to every day.

Of course, there are bugs and kinks. My account, for instance, risks the chance of being suspended because I write anonymously (something I’ve been debating relinquishing and will possibly write about soon). Google + wants “real” names. I’m hoping I’ll be alright. The way Google is handling this in a very open manner is the kind of thing that makes me happy to be in their hands.

What about you? Are you venturing towards a brave new world today?

Happy Sad

I’m trying hard to not have a bad day today. I started fine, came into the office with a big smile and stuff and then…

Well I’m trying is all I can say.

Ex is short this month again. So far, I’ve only received a third of what he owes monthly. He says he’ll have the rest this Friday but I pointed out this Friday should be the first half of August, not the remainder of July.  He ignored me.

On Monday, I had to pay Eldest’s summer camp because when we showed up Ex hadn’t registered him as he’d promised to do. So my account got overdrawn. He left me the cash but it was too late. I had to call the cell phone company and ask for an extension on the payment this month because there’s nothing left.

I can’t help it, financial problems really just suck me dry and leave me feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and frustrated. I keep telling myself I’ll be fine soon. You all keep telling me I’ll be fine. And I know that we’re all right, but I also know it’s simply not the case right now and I don’t even know if it’ll be the case this year.

The bottom line is my monthly “fixed” bills come to about $2,620 a month. With daycare, my fixed monthly bills were $3,210. I take home about $2,900. My fixed bills include my rent, utilities, and my debt payments (minimums only at the moment, sadly).

I’ve done a lot to reduce my monthly bills, like ditching cable, internet, and subscription services. I work hard at keeping utility costs low. My cell phone bill is next at the hacking down block in about two months when my T-Mobile contract is up and I’ll likely switch to MetroPCS.

My biggest expense is one I can’t do much about and am not at all inclined to do much about– Rent. I pay $1,500 a month for a 3/2 house in an excellent part of town. It’s a BIG bargain as comparable houses start at $2500. I’m next door to my grandmother, live ten minutes (or less) from my Mother, live fifteen minutes (or less) from the kids’ school, live five minutes from the summer camp, and about ten minutes from my train station to work. The market here is total crap and pretty much I could expect to pay the same amount for a two bedroom apartment in less desirable parts of the city. That’s a huge downgrade for a paltry potential savings.

My next biggest bill, (thankfully?), is my debt. The payments on my car, student loan, and credit cards comes to $700 a month. $400 alone belongs to the car which is due to be paid off next July.

Of course, the alternate to reducing spending is increasing income. My blog isn’t anywhere near where it should be to even considering monetizing possibilities. I have very little spare time. And, I’ve gotten rid of quite a lot of stuff already so there’s not much left to sell.

Rock.

Me.

Hard Place.

At least, that’s what it feels like. Notice, by the way, I haven’t even broached the topic of my flex bills.

Let me put it this way– on average this year, I’m spending over $600 a month on food (groceries and dining out).

My gas bill is averaging $150 a month.

Uninsured medical costs for the kids and me are averaging over $215 a month.

The one thing I did do to increase income today was to follow-up on the Income Deduction Order for Child Support. I know not all single mothers are in this position but Ex has a (mostly) steady job with a very large Corporation. He makes very good money. Making sure the Income Deduction Order is put into effect is the most important thing I can do right now.

I do not intend to remain dependent on the child support income but for the next year and a half, I largely don’t have a choice. I can’t count on this income being around forever because who knows what may come but it is available right now and so I need to make sure I’m getting the money from him I need to cover the kids’ various bills and to help prepare for the future.

It took a few phone calls and things, but I finally got all of the information I need to fax the income deduction order directly to the company that manages the garnishments for Ex’s Employer. It takes up to 72 hours to appear in the system and up to two pay periods to go into effect.

I’m so tired of this. I’ve been patiently waiting since the finalized divorce in March. Now it looks like maybe August will bring some peace at last. Happy birthday to me I guess (not today, next month).

It’s a good thing I took matters into my own hands because the Ex is playing dumb. I forwarded it to his email this morning so he could pass it on to HR. He never responded.

I emailed him about an hour ago with this: ” I need confirmation someone at Employer has the order by end of business today so I can update the clerk of courts.”  His cryptic reply was: “No idea. This is not my department.”

Hold on, my eyes just rolled right out of my head…

Either way, I’ve got something going and I’ve got a phone number and I’ve got a ticket number I can all use to follow-up with next Friday. I hate that it has to come to this, I do, but I’m not even going to try and be all prideful about this. My kids deserve to be cared for properly, the means exist, and I’m going to tap into them. Enough already.

Meanwhile, I’ve apparently entered some sort of self-destruct mode. I’ve gained about 20 pounds in less than two years and I don’t really care to do anything about it. I haven’t cracked open the book for the GRE nor have I registered to actually take the test. And all I want to do is consume large amounts of chocolate and read copious amounts of books so I can stay in La La Land forever. If you ever wondered why a man would tire of me, now you know.

I set up Google + for the blog today right here. I do hope you’ll come. Google + is absolutely fantastic. If you’d like an invite, email me and I’ll do what I can. Please, just prove you’re a reader.

Reminder: They’re Human Beings Too

Charity
“Charity” by CJMellows on Flickr

On a recent post, “Politicians as Playground Bullies”, Lane from InMintCondition wrote:

“Well put! It’s petty politics like this that make me want to move out of the US of A. I’m more than happy to pay my fair share in taxes and I’m way under the $250k threshold. I got pissed recently when a family member tried to tell me all the ways to “trick” Uncle Sam so I can pay less taxes. Sigh.”

There’s an overwhelming, and alarming, rise of “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours, and you better keep your hands to yourself—or else.”

For instance, the current birth control issue.

The Institute of Medicine, an independent and non-profit organization, issued a report with several recommendations regarding women’s health and the new health care law. The most controversial recommendation?

Free contraceptives, sterilizations, and reproductive education for all.

This recommendation was based on these and other findings (quotes from the CNN article):

“A national survey found that an estimated 49% of all pregnancies in the United States were unintended in 2001. And women who have unintended pregnancies are more likely to have little or no prenatal care, and engage in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking or experience domestic violence.”

Personal aside here: I work with the staff of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the largest hospital in my insanely huge and metropolitan county. I see, and hear, the effects of this on a daily basis. It is horrible what these infants suffer and heartbreaking how survival can often mean a shorter life filled with debilitating hardships.

But, that’s not all.

“Birth control can also help women space time between births. Short periods between pregnancies have been associated with increased risk of higher mortality for children under age 5, low birth weight, preterm births, stillbirths, miscarriages, and maternal death.”

Again, something I am learning about thanks to my job. Rapid-fire births are dangerous!

Wait, there’s more.

“The direct medical cost of unintended pregnancy in the United States was estimated to be nearly $5 billion in 2002. The cost savings due to contraceptive use in that same year was estimated to be $19.3 billion.”

Hey, look at that! Money! I could’ve sworn I’d read somewhere we were looking to save money…

But then, well, then I read the comments. Comments like:

“I have absolutely no problem with birth control, abortions, etc.  I do however have a problem paying for it out of my pocket.  I feel it wrong for my personal dollars funding the mistakes made by women that cannot keep their legs closed. This article is not talking about women that are victims of rape. This is MY money being used for the education, medication, and late action when women make a decision to lay down with a man and then want someone else to deal with their problems. Sorry” – DaleNC

Why should I pay for everyone else’s needs??” - vcz1928

Sure why not. I feel good that my hard earn taxes goes to promote slutdome through out our country. I mean after all, being a skanke is a right that should be paid for by all. I think these people on this board needed to be aborted.” – momomiester

that welfare garbage won’t use bc, they’re too uneducated to know any better. Free bc, free abortions, free anything is ignored by these leeches. Look how they won’t even use their free education.” – CNNdistorts

“its amazing the bull that comes out of washington, first off, most hispanic, middle easterners, and people from africa dont believe in birth control, so that basically leaves poor white trash, promiscouis teenagers, its not the insurance companies responsibility, all the will do is hike up the premiums i live in California our insurances cost us over $800 a month i had to cance my name from the policy just to bring it down to little over $500 gov should worry about other things… “ - soyo

I know when you sit and enter your comments, you’re typing into a little box. I know there’s no actual person sitting in front of you that you are speaking to. I get that this emboldens you.

However.

This level of nastiness is uncalled for. And more than that, this level of self-interest is heartbreaking.

I can’t help but imagine the people who pinch their pockets and bemoan about how unfair it is for their money to provide services for other people (who apparently all happen to be moronic and degenerate) must never in their lives have gone through a tragedy. They must have never experienced the power of a community that surges together to help strangers the way those of us who lived in South Florida during August 1992 did when Hurricane Andrew shook us to the core.

The creatures the commentators refer to—whether they be “welfare garbage” or “poor white trash” or “hispanic, middle easterners, and people from Africa” or even (God bless them) “skankes” are, you know, people.

They’re Human Beings.

Why do we insist on stripping each other of this?

Humans have always been tribal creatures. We have survived and come so far because we have it in us to look out for each other.

Where have we gone wrong?

It seems we fear terms, labels, and catchphrases more than we trust our guts. We look more to others who are louder and flashier than to ourselves for guidance.

My grandparents and my parents were immigrants. They have worked so hard not just to meet our needs but to get us to levels above fundamentals.

My maternal grandfather worked about three to four different jobs at any given time. He also freely gave money to those who needed it.

He never refused anyone who came to his printing company looking for water and often took them to lunch too. His printing being in a rough part of Downtown, this was an almost daily practice.

He never raised the rent on the tenants of the properties he owned because he was concerned of the burden it would place on the elderly and the young families.

When he passed away, he did not leave my grandmother penniless or in debt. He left her just enough for her to continue living the life they’d lived together for 52 years. He successfully took care of his own and others.

My grandfather was an Atheist. He wasn’t doing this because a Church told him to. He wasn’t doing this because it’s what God would’ve wanted or because it’s what Jesus would do.

My grandfather didn’t do any of this because of any political belief or affiliation—he abandoned hope that a government would do the right thing when he abandoned Cuba and buried it when Kennedy abandoned the Bay of Pigs.

My grandfather was not upper-class and privileged. He was uneducated, dropping out of school in the sixth grade to support his family as his father swindled away any earnings by gambling and womanizing. He had to work hard so he, his five siblings, and his mother would not have to be evicted from house after house because the money had been thrown away.

My grandfather did the things he did without doubt or hesitation because he knew in his gut it was the right thing to do.

I do too.

I understand there is a lot of mistrust in our government being able to manage anything effectively. It’s an argument with a lot of convincing evidence.

However, hateful assumptions and stereotypical characterizations of the recipients of some of our government’s services are not evidence.

We all have access to at least some government services. We have access to postage services, police services, fire services, military services, disaster relief services, and educational services to name a few.

Arguing the quality of these is not the point. Arguing the extent to which they are used is also not the point.

They are paid for by us and are available to you should you choose to use them.

More importantly, they are paid for and available to you should something happen that strips away your choice to not use them.

No one becomes a success alone. It may feel lonely at times, but no one is truly alone on the path to success. Your success has a lot to do with you, yes. But, your success also has to do with others.

The opposite is also true.

No one becomes a failure alone. Your failures have a lot to do with you, yes. But your failure also has to do with others.

I place my vote of confidence in my fellow man and woman. I want to succeed. I want you to succeed. I want us to succeed.

I want to do whatever it takes, not to get this country back to basics because that implies a regression, but to elevate this country to its next stage—one of inclusion instead of exclusion. I wish you’d join me because then we’d have a much greater chance of succeeding together.

Ladybug Kin

Ladybug
“Ladybug” by MajiPineapple on Flickr

My brain feels over-stimulated and I feel like there are so many posts to write but none actually come forth and bear fruit.

Where does one start? I saw some great posts and corresponding articles about language in politics and media and the resulting discrepancies they create. It got me thinking about how advertising can seriously distort a news outlet or even the perception of a news source.

I saw an article, and insane comments, about the recommendation to provide free birth control under the new health care law.

I saw an article about the two Florida congresspersons sharing jabs at one another that are exaggerated beyond comprehension.

And of course, there’s always the drama of life and all that comes with it.

But, one needs to start somewhere and I’m going to start with a light one because it’s most closely related to the motherhood.

I read this little blog post, and the paper it refers to, about this crazy wasp that lays its egg in the belly of a ladybug via its stinger.

The egg grows in the ladybug’s belly, feeding on the ladybug’s tissues for about twenty days. It then breaks out of the ladybug’s belly, which the ladybug survives, and begins spinning its cocoon between the partially paralyzed ladybug’s legs. This “zombie” ladybug now stands watch over the cocoon until the adult wasp is ready to go free and terrorize other ladybugs.

Get this, about 25% of the zombie ladybugs recover “normal behavior after the emergence of the adult wasp.”

This totally freaked me out and I felt so horrible for the poor undeserving ladybug, until suddenly I realized my kinship to the ladybug.

The ladybug’s experiences eerily mirror that of a human mother. Think about it…

We’ve got buns in the ovens. They escape. We are compelled to protect them. We feel like zombies. And there’s only a 25% chance we’ll return to normal when they leave their safe house as adults.

Ladybug, I salute you!

Politicians as Playground Bullies

Rock'em Sock'em Robots
“Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots” by Profound Whatever on Flickr

I’ve been reading a lot lately and I’ve been reading a lot of different things. I think I need to pull the plug on the news though because it’s really getting me down.

I know I’ve blogged about it before, but I can’t stand it when our government acts like a bunch of playground bullies and brats. They’re adults. They were chosen by adults. We expect them to behave like adults.

They don’t.

They have the meanest cliques, the cruelest words, the harshest punishments, the most illogical rationalizations, the stoniest silences, and the coldest stares. I cannot understand it. Nor can I stand it.

Furthermore, I’m absolutely shocked at the swell of support our leaders are getting from “the people” to behave in such idiotic fashion. Have we no shame? What are people thinking cheering, supporting, and encouraging these ridiculous hard-line, bullying stances? Why is this nation so hell-bent on steering our ship in one direction, or the complete opposite, but never down a calm and steady middle path?

It’s bad enough there’s a playground fight erupting between a bunch of meanies cheered and egged on by extremely pushy and loud observers, but to add complete chaos to the process you have a relentless media spotlighting and magnifying every single second of disgusting behavior.

I find it completely nauseating.

To my fellow Americans—leaders, followers, rebels, and everything in between:

We got ourselves into a shit-storm and we did it together. There is not one single exclusive reason we are in this mess. Yes, the government spent too much money—on Republican-sponsored wars and Democratic-sponsored programs and a bit of ridiculousness from both sides of the aisles. Republicans and Democrats and Others all played various roles across all spectrums in the housing debacle. Now, it’s time to buck up and begin that long, arduous path many of us are familiar with—getting out of debt.

Now, I know for a fact that in the case of every single person who has successfully dug themselves out of debt, there was a master plan that relied on two heavy-hitters: Expenses vs. Income.

Oh yes, we need to slash spending. Get over it. All of us with our debt loads know what this is like—that painful stripping and stripping and stripping. But we do it. And our government has to do it. And we need to deal with the ramifications of that because it’s going to hurt like heck. Many of us are feeling the squeeze and it’s going to get tighter.

However, stripping and cutting isn’t the only thing a person determined to achieve the status of debt-free does, is it? Nope. We bring in the money. We have garage sales, e-bay auctions, and craigslist listings. We do little jobs here and there. We ask for raises. We look for better jobs. We look for extra jobs. We hustle to bring in that money.

When it comes to the government bringing in money, it means collecting taxes. Get over it. And I am simply tired, exhausted, irritated with the ridiculous chanting of misinformation. The tax hikes being brought to the table affect families making over $250k a year. Considering the slashes in spending mostly affect programs in place to aid families who make well under that, it’s sensible to balance the scales in this fashion.

Ah, but there’s the problem. Sensible.

sen·si·ble/ˈsensəbəl/Adjective

1. (of a statement or course of action) Chosen in accordance with wisdom or prudence; likely to be of benefit: “a sensible diet”.

Not much happening in, around, or about Washington D.C. is wise or prudent and it is all likely to be of detriment instead.

This cannot continue. And I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but it appears it must be us, the American people, to show our government representatives true leadership skills.

We must calm down. We must remove inflammatory language. We must soften our stances. We must back away from our painted corners. We must remove the boxing gloves. We must shy away from absolutes. We must erase lines in the sand. We must never say never.

The debt ceiling is a big issue, yes. It has many ramifications. But the bigger issue is the complete lack of decency, professional respect, common sense, and willingness to compromise that is ravaging our nation.

There needs to be a call to action in this country, but it has to be for decorum first, reform second.

Linksplosion

It’s been one of those weeks where it’s been hard to put together many thoughts and most of my good ones have been going towards work-related things. So I’m going to throw links at you. Some of them are old. Some of them are new. But all of them are things I’ve been reading.

Most of you know how I feel about princesses. So it’s likely not a surprise how much I love Dina Goldstein’s Fallen Princesses series.

This Washington Post article about how the rich are pulling away from the rest of America in ridiculous gaps is the type of thing that drives me wild given the current debacle in Washington and a certain party clinging desperately to tax breaks for these greedy bastards.

On a happier and geekier note, Slate has discovered how wonderful Ravelry is and what makes it the wonder child of social networking sites. If you knit or crochet, it’s the place to be!

The New York Times talks about how being divorced is just so uncool with all of the rich folks. A lot of people blogged about this. I wanted to but couldn’t put the pieces together. Something about this piece just drives me nuts. Mostly that someone is so concerned with how her former rich friends think of her as a failure because she ditched her loser husband. Maybe.

I have a love hate relationship with fashion. Simply put, I love fashion but I hate the images fashion puts forward as “ideal”. And I hate that we eat it up. I also hate when they do ridiculous half-hearted attempts to embrace different physiques. So, when Vogue Italia came out with this absolutely mind-blowing, breathtakingly stunning photo spread celebrating curvy women I freaked out in a great way. This spread proves that curvy women are not just nice, they’re damn right desirable. Not one matchstick waif could look half as delicious as these women. The fashion world needs to move more in this direction. It works. The Italians proved it.

The blog at How Stuff Works did a tiny little post on the history of delivery rooms and dads. Personally? I hate them in there. I’m a believer in boundaries to certain degrees. This is one I’m all for.

Just when I gave up on gardens, I saw this TED talk by Jonathan Drori on the beautiful tricks of flowers. I love how evil and scheming they are and am totally committed to surrounding myself with the tricky boogers. By the way, if you’re looking to captivate a lover, these flowers might school you.

Ben Venom creates amazing Heavy Metal themed quilts. You think maybe things like Slayer and cotton batting can’t co-exist but they do. In a seriously amazing awe-inducing way.

I dream about this chicken recipe. Why I don’t actually do something about it and make it is beyond me.

Science vs. Homophobia. Genius.

In the latest wave of evidence women are superior to men (hee, hee) a study has found that articles written by women get shared online more than men.

You know the Debt Ceiling debacle (the most recent example of our moronic government representatives)? This Op piece at CNN points out one of the main issues I have with everything going on.

It being birthday season, summer, at my house I very much appreciated Donna Freedman’s recent MSN Money article on all of the freebies you can get for being born!

LZ Granderson is currently my favorite columnist. The post on why he’s raising his son as a nerd is the one that won me over. But since then, he’s been putting out lots of great stuff.

As a matter of fact, after reading this column of his on bratty kids and the parents who permit them, I wonder what he’d have to say about this (stupid) article on things you should never say to your child. Because I found the nine forbidden things to be completely unrealistic. And the reasons given for not saying them just smacked of overly protective and sensitive parents. Toughen the hell up.

I just realized I don’t have any blog posts linked to. Which sucks because there’s lots of good blog stuff out there. I’m just not in the habit of bookmarking it yet. Will try harder!

 

The Forbidden Wedding

I got married in 2004. It was in a big, old Catholic church. I had my traditional wedding gown. There was a reception at a hotel. Cake. Dancing. Tossed bouquets. Traditional photos.

It wasn’t my dream wedding but, that had way more to do than my ideas of marriage, religion, and expectations than any fault of anyone else.

I guess one thing some people think as a perk for divorce is that you can get a do-over on your wedding one day.

This is a strange concept for me because I never really wanted a wedding to start with. But, I’ve also noticed the universe has a twisted sense of logic and “Never say never” is generally a good piece of advice.

As a matter of fact, it has been my personal experience the more one fleshes out certain concepts, the less likely it is they’ll happen.

So, here is my dream wedding that will most likely never ever happen for a myriad of reasons. This crazy post was inspired by KC at Momma and the Misters’ post.  She obviously designed her dream wedding for all of the right reasons. I’m designing my forbidden wedding for all of the wrong ones. Either way, it’s fun to look at.

Let’s start with the ring.

Look, I’m not much of a bling bling kind of girl. I prefer really funky pieces. Don’t bother with an engagement ring either. I’d rather have an engagement letter, poem, or mixtape. But I’m all for exchanging rings during vows.

Get me something simple, funky, or elegant. I don’t care. I just want it to be meaningful to you. I want it to symbolize something special about you and me and I want you to figure it all out by yourself. Also, I’m a romantic and like words. Bonus points if you engrave something beautiful.


That being said, it should be obvious this ring would be a no-no (for a wedding ring, otherwise it’s awesome).

We’d get married on the beach and let me explain why this is important to me. I feel calm, serenity, and bliss when I’m on the beach. These are three things I want to associate with my marriage to you. In a church I feel frustration, boredom, and as if I’m being lied to. These are three things I do NOT want to associate with our wonderful nonexistent marriage.

I’d walk down the sand aisle in a great dress. It will most definitely not be white. Or ivory. Or off-white. Or cream. Or even beige. I’m not pure, not virginal, and I’m not trying to pretend I’ve never done this before. As a matter of fact, I’d want it to be a glaring obvious fact that I have done this before and am nuts enough to do it again under an entirely different set of circumstances. If I knew you loved seeing me in a particular color, it’d probably be that. If you thought I looked gorgeous in anything (and nothing) it could be anything.

After the ceremony, I’d ask our small group of loved family and cherished friends to go home, get comfortable, and meet us for dinner at somewhere around 8. It’d be at “our” restaurant, of course, and we’d pick up the tab because we’d be so happy to share this big step together. Of course, there’s no telling what “our” restaurant may be but I’d have no objections celebrating somewhere cheap and delicious.

When it’s time to set off on our honeymoon, I definitely have a destination in mind– somewhere with a good balance of adventure and relaxation. Bonus points if neither of us have ever been.

What about you? KC and I want to know about your wedding that hasn’t happened yet (first, second, forbidden, or otherwise). Tell us about it or write your own post and share. We hopeless romantics love the mushy stuff even if it’s not really intended for us.