Wednesday, January 18, 2012

PSA for organizing tax documents, or the most boring post ever

Does this look like your mail after it's come through the front door?
Or this?
Lucky me, I have both! So what would any sane person do to try and sort out this mess that feels like the Great Wall of China, seemingly never ending in its amount of paperwork....
Organize! First things first: stock up on manila folders and hanging file folders. Better yet, invest in a good filing cabinet. And if you're really going to go all out: don't forget the colored "flags" by 3M to mark files within a file within a folder within the hanging file folder within the cabinet. You can do it! I promise, there is fun to be had here!

Second, with Uncle Sam knocking on the door, it's time to get those tax documents in order! What started out as only one folder--
quickly turned into 4 folders. The older you get, the more complicated taxes become!
 So do you organizing now, folks--and be ready when the tax person calls!

All bundled and ready to go!

 Up next: actually tackling the problem of where to put incoming mail. Another day, though, another day.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Adela's First Christmas

Adela's first Christmas--a momentous milestone in her life that was filled with everything I would want for her--family, love, good food (okay, for me not her!), and lots of joy. The only thing missing, and it's debatable whether or not this was a good thing--snow. It was a brown Christmas alas. But that didn't stop us from enjoying all of our time home! Here's just a bit of what we did:

The day before we left for MN, Jake, Adela, and I checked out the winter flower show at Phipps. This year's theme was "The Nutcracker," and I had been doing some education programming there with the Ballet. It was Adela's first trip to the Conservatory, and I'd say she enjoyed it (probably because of all the fun, lighted Christmas trees and shiny ornaments!). 
Smelling--and trying to grab--an orchid.
Adela and Mama in front of the "Waltz of the Flowers" tree.
She's so happy it made me feel like I was Santa Claus.
Adela...Mouse Soldier...which is which?

We made it safely home to MN bright and early on Christmas Eve. Adela was such a trooper on the plane and the ride out to the Melby farm--hardly a peep out of her! That night we went to Church (at least for a little while before the kids had meltdowns) and found out some fantastic news from Ben and Britt--Jake and I will have a new niece or nephew in June! After getting her exhausted little tush to bed, she woke up refreshed the following morning for her very first Christmas!!
Adela opening some awesome pajamas from Grandma Mary and Grandpa Curt.
Adela snuggling with her Great-Grandma Roth.
Cousin Isla wearing ALL the dress up clothes she got from her Aunt Alyssa.
"So much excitement...I'm ready for a nap!"
"Ah Roxie! You're squishing me!"
The cousins having fun during bathtime.
We had a lovely time out on the farm and were so fortunate to have seen so many of Jake's family while we were out there, particularly Ben, Britt, and Isla since it may be another year or more before we see them again. On our way from the Farm to Grandma Karen's house, we made a quick day-stop in New Ulm where most of my family lives. 
Adela and my godmother, Auntie Barb.
I don't know who's expression is bigger--Adela's or her Great-Grandma Marion's!
"Giggle, giggle, giggle!"
After seeing many of my family in New Ulm, which was such a treat (and I'm not just talking about the Taco Pizza from Happy Joe's), we made it to my Mom's house in Montgomery. Adela seized the moment and mastered her new favorite skill: finding her feet!
"Almost, almost..."
"I gotcha sock!"
Tummy time!
Grandma Karen cuddling with her favorite granddaughter :-)
Jake and I also got to hang with many of our friends back home. Jake went pheasant hunting and smoked cigars with Justin and Devin while I got to meet Justin and Kacie's little gal, Nikayda. We got coffee with Chelsea by her new apartment in St. Paul, then hopped down the road to see my Morris gals, Sara, Laurel, and Megan at my new favorite restaurant, Chatterbox Pub (why you might ask? One word: games!). And of course, Jake and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary with a night out on the town with my cousin Derek, his fiance Molly, and two of D's friends from high school. I hadn't played darts nor danced on a club floor in years, so it was a night well spent :-)

All in all, baby girl came back with quite the toy and book collection, but you won't hear her complaining (only her Mama and Daddy who have to find somewhere to put it all! Just kidding--we're very grateful!). And while there was no snow or sugar cookies for her, she lit up every room she went in. Her smiles and first giggles were the best Christmas present we could ever ask for.

We love you, Adela! Merry First Christmas!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

To cry or not to cry...

No subject in my new role as mother has gotten me so worked up, so stressed out, so frazzled as the subject of sleep. How does one get a baby to sleep and stay asleep? It is one of those subjects that I dread bringing up with other mothers and fathers because everyone--and I mean everyone--has their opinion about it. To cry or not to "cry it out"--that is the (BIG) question.

Since the rise of the "educated parent" (said with a sardonic grin...I sometimes think all these books have done more harm than good, pandering to many new parent's overanxious tendencies), particularly in the later half of the 20th century, sleep has been talked about, written about, and mulled over to the point of sheer confusion. There exists this long spectrum of techniques, theories, and practical ideas that range from Dr. Richard Ferber and Dr. Marc Weissbluth clearly on the "cry-it-out" end to the middle ground of the "no-cry" advocates such as Elizabeth Pantley to the attachment parenting,co-sleeping, absolutely no cry likes of Dr. Sears on the other end. And then there are countless others with their own special stamp, including sleep schedules, the 5 "S's" of Dr. Karp, etc.etc.

Adela during the first step of her bedtime ritual. She loves bathtime!

What oh what to do? Like most things with this whole parenting thing, I first and foremost tried to follow my instinct. Because more often than not, it leads me in the right direction. But with this subject, with such heated debate on all sides of the could I be so sure? I then turned to my many friends' experience, but they too run the gamut. And now I'm admittedly throwing my two cents into the mix of internet discussion...

To cry or not to cry?

I can't tell you how long I agonized over this. In many ways, Jake and I practice attachment parenting techniques, such as breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping (oh I so hope our pediatrician isn't reading this!). We try and remain as relaxed and calm as possible because we've noticed how we are feeling does affect how she feels and behaves. We work on bonding with our daughter every day because we want her to know she is safe, secure, and loved. But it was becoming clear to us with the sleep situation that not everyone was so happy anymore. Adela had become much more mobile in her sleep, slapping us in the face at all hours of the morning. Furthermore, trying to lay her down by herself awake--as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends--was next to impossible. Even if we'd painstakingly rock her to sleep, if we even tried to set her down, she was wide awake--and the cycle began again. She was beginning to need us to fall asleep. And I'd be lying if I said that we didn't want our bedroom back to ourselves.

I finally dug deep into my still-burgeoning beliefs of parenting, my internal compass and discovered a few things, with the caveat that the items below are not solely based on the subject of sleep, but on other thoughts that had been swirling in my head lately as well:
1. I believe we learn habits from a very early age. I don't want to establish what might become bad habits because it makes things easier now.
2. I believe that my child's immediate happiness is subservient to the larger end goal of raising this child into a responsible, ethical, and resilient human being.
3. I believe that we show our child that she is loved in numerous ways through copious amounts of cuddles, kisses, hugs, smiles, giggles, and songs.
4. I believe that if we, as parents, are not well-rested, happy, and healthy individuals, we cannot be the best parents we can be to our child.

Why are we so happy?

Because we are baking cookies!

So I bet you can guess where this is going. We bit the Machiavellian bullet, and, after we returned home from MN when she had just turned 5 months old, we let her cry (Ferber style with timed intervals where we'd go in an comfort her...surprisingly against the advice of our pediatrician, who advocates for complete cry-it-out from the get-go...oh let's really hope she's not reading this!). It was hard--oh so hard--and I'd be lying if I said that I don't feel guilty. Because I do. I made my child cry on purpose. That is hard to swallow. I recognize that this method is not for everyone--not every parent, not every child.

But she now falls asleep without a wimper, has begun sleeping in longer stretches at night (4-5 hours before her first feeding because we're still breastfeeding, and I do not expect her to sleep from 7-7 right now!), wants to nurse and be cuddle during the day, and still beams her great big toothless smile to me in the mornings. You won't find me complaining. Or apologizing. We let her cry--and now we all sleep a whole lot better.

Friday, January 6, 2012

E-bills--helpful or no?

With the rise of internet banking and, well, internet everything, we've switched most of our utility and personal bills to "e-bills." And because it helps the environment :-) But here's the thing: I'm the type of person who reallllly likes to write things down. It's a habit I learned from my mother who writes the date she pays the bill, check number, and amount on every bill she has. I do that to now. I like paper. Even though it's NOT good for the environment, I really like paper. I like how organized it makes me feel. So now that I don't have hard copies of bills anymore in case the IRS wants to see them makes me nervous. I should also point out that our credit union just got online banking 6 months ago. I hadn't had that since my Wells Fargo days back in Minnesota. I had become accustomed to hand writing transactions into my account ledger, and even now, when I can pull up my accounts at the click of a button, what am I doing? Still writing down my transactions in a ledger, even if it's just copying it down from the computer screen. Why? Because I feel better about life when I've done so.

What to do now though with the advent of e-bills? We have not taken the leap to automatic bill pay for our utilities, which just seems way to out of control for me. We do have it for our insurance and my student loans, but my heart is palpitating a bit just from thinking about everything being so automated. I still log in to all of our accounts every month to hit the "pay now" button. I have developed a pretty good system for that based on our mortgage due date (the first of the month) which I feel is the most important bill we have to pay right now! On the last day of every month, I make sure both Jake and I have transferred our respective shares over to our house account, and then, within a matter of 15 minutes, watch most of that money go out the window to our mortgage company, Sprint, Verizon, and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. I enter in any automatic payments that will come up into the register at that time to make sure there'll be enough money. Balance the ledger, and call it a day. Other bills pop up during the month which I pay for at that time. That's the general flow of things.

But what about the e-bills? How do I keep track--in another place, just for good measure--that I have paid my bills???

Solution: download the bills at the same time I pay them to my computer. I can then make a note on the .pdf of when I paid the bill and for how much (which I still do even though I always pay the full amount, even on my credit cards). So simple. So easy. I am breathing better already :-)

Tonight I started to do just this (although you will note this is not the last day of the month. Strokes of genius can't always come when needed). And I'm really glad I did. Most companies only have a 6 month history of your e-bills, even though you should keep your bills for one year then shred them or delete them. Or so the financial gods say.

What do you think--e-bills? Helpful in the long run or more trouble than they are worth?

P.S. Resolution to take photos every day = colossal failure. Will just have to take more on the weekends to compensate.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Well if the world's going to end...

2012. The year the world is supposed to end. Well, if that's the case, I better get crackin'!

Seriously, though, I typically hate new year's resolutions. Why make the commitment to start some new habit on an arbitrary day in the dead of winter when the gloom and doom of the weather is enough to make you stop before you begin? But here I am, thinking about things I'd like to change about myself, both at home and at work, and I am drawn to this idea of making some improvements. Recently, a friend on Facebook posted about some changes she'll be making herself, and someone reminded her (and thereby me) that it takes 3 weeks to establish a habit. With that in mind, here we go...

Resolution #1: Take at least 2 photos a day and blog 2 times a week (probably going to be on Friday and Sunday).
Action: already doing it! Woo hoo! Please--hold me accountable to this. I fully welcome being accosted by friends and family on Facebook, via email, etc.

Resolution #2: Monthly projects to get myself organized and ready...for what? (insert sarcastic voice) Obviously, the end of the world. If we're all gonna die, I'm gonna make sure things are squared away so I can leave this world footloose and fancy free ;-) (in serious tone) Honestly, organizing makes me feel at ease, probably because I'm a bit of a control freak. And although each project will last a month, I'm hoping that some of the habits established in them will continue long after.
Action: List monthly projects and possible tasks. Begin January's project.
  • January: Finances
    • Organize financial documents
    • Create filing system for downloading e-bills, bank statements, etc.
    • Revisit budget
    • Prepare for taxes
    • Create savings plan--retirement, college, emergency fund, etc.
  • February: Get moving!
    • Increasing weekly goals
    • Morning yoga
  • March: Eat in month
    • Menu planning
    • Freezer meals
    • Quick lunches
  • April: Spiritual Renewal
    • Visit different UU congregations each Sunday
    • Schedule dedication ceremony for Adela
  • May: Reducing energy usage
    • New strategies
    • Unplugging
  • June: Downsizing and reusing
    • Going through closets and items
    • Only shopping for needed items at reuse places (garage sales, thrift stores, etc.)
  • July: Reducing water usage
  • August: Christmas gifts
    • No new resource use
    • Make make make!
    • Budget
  • September: Eat local month
  • October: Credit card free month
  • November: Month of Gratitude
    • Thank you note, email, or phone call every day
    • 1-minute daily reflection every day
    • 4 volunteer projects
  • December: ???
Since the world is supposed to end in December, I figured I'd wait and see! No, really, I just can't come up with another goal. Suggestions are welcome!

Are these resolutions ambitious? Absolutely. But you know what they say--go big or go home!

Hello 2012. I'm excited to see what we can accomplish this year!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why so long?

It's hard for me to say why it's been so long, dear Blog, since you and I last spoke. So much has changed since then. So much has not. But let me try to explain:

1. I've been busy doing this thing called "being a mother."

2. Having a baby makes one a complete mess for a while. Seriously. I had no idea what I was in for. Add on top of the instantaneous drop in hormones the traumatic birth experience Adela and I had and then the weeks upon weeks of horrendous breastfeeding trials and tribulations, and I was not doing so well. If it's any indication what a hot mess I was, I started--but couldn't bear to finish--a post entitled "Bathing my baby in breastmilk and tears." I think you get the picture.

3. Plus, when you have a baby, you don't get much time to yourself. Showering (let alone shaving your legs) can sometimes feel like the best feat in the world.

4. But even after things started to get better and settle down a bit--say when Adela was around 9 weeks old--I thought of you and contemplated becoming reacquainted with you again, but didn't want to give up any precious moments with my little one. Ok, really I was ashamed that I had hardly taken any photos with which to post to you (and in fact still haven't. Jake and I aren't picture people. Let's face it. At least future children of ours won't be upset when there's no pics of them either.) Our lack of documentation of this whole process is ridiculous, given the fact that we bought an incredibly nice camera for this occasion.

5. And did I mention yet that when you have a baby you don't get much "mama time?"

6. I've gone back to work. Adela's in daycare. I also contemplated writing to you then to report of this new change in our life, but how to put all those emotions into words? Perhaps you'll help me work through it someday later, but right now it's too raw to explain.

Now, though, I find myself with just this: a short span of "mama time" and I'm not entirely sure what to do with it. I am experiencing a rare night of sleepiness from my little girl. She's all swaddled up in her crib. I've just completed my various chores for the evening, including making scrumptious stuffed green bell peppers and doing laundry for the umpteenth time this week. And I thought, "Hey! What the heck? Why don't you write a little. Say hello to your online presence. Put a few words to paper so to speak."

So dear blog, it's good to be back. My life--while crazy--is so very much worth every bit of chaos.