Monday, August 22, 2016

monday morning catch ups.

Yay, time for another installation of catch ups!
/1/ Last week was a long week of solo parenting while Luke was in Seattle. I think it might have been my longest solo parenting stint yet - 5 nights, 6 days. The week went just fine...we had our regular routine and I even surprised the kids with a trip to Dairy Queen. The hands-down, most annoying part was the school/camp drop off and pick up. Since it's summer, and Anna's camp last week just happened to be further away, I literally drop off Will, pass the house, drop off Anna, and pass the house AGAIN to go to work. Then I do it all over again in the afternoon rush hour traffic. It was nuts. I don't know how some people are capable of spending hours in commute without going crazy, because after a week of that, I am done.
/2/ Speaking of commute, I mentioned it before on the blog that my customer is moving to Bethesda. That means, instead of a 3-minute "commute", my new commute will be closer to 30 minutes, if not more. Not good!! For me, being able to work close to home is key to making this WOHM gig work. At first, I thought it wouldn't be too bad. People tell me, oh, you will just have a normal commute now. Well, I did a test run to the new site about a week and half ago, and I am getting my butt in gear to find a new project. The drive was insane! The move date isn't until mid-December so I still have some time, although we all know that time flies.

/3/ Anna is officially done with camp as of last Friday. In total, she attended 7 weeks of camp this summer. In hindsight, it was all good because she did have fun here and there, but when we were in the thick of it and she was having a hard time adjusting, it caused me so much stress. It's even more clear to me now that Anna is simply an anxious child and I just hope that as she gets older, she will learn to better handle her emotions. Next summer, I will also know to find camps that are more suitable for her introverted personality, like art camps where she doesn't need to spend a lot of time outside doing physical activities. I think her favorite camp this summer was the Gymnastic & Dance camp that she attended with a friend. She said she wants to go back again next summer! Also, I will find ONE camp site and stick with it instead of moving her around.

/4/ Here is a story about a boy and his sunflowers. One day this spring, Will brought home 3 little plants in a plastic cup from school. After finding out that they were sunflowers, Luke transferred them to our herb garden and every day after school, Will visited his plants and watered them. Under his loving care, they thrived :) They got to be so tall and we finally cut them down this weekend and here is Will proudly holding one of the flower heads. Eventually, we will harvest the seeds, just like we did two years ago :)
/5/ Summer is coming to an end and I am not a bit sad about it at all. I am ready for this hot weather to end and for the kids to get back in the classrooms. But first, much like how we started our summer with a family vacation, we are ending the summer with one too. Can't wait!!
^^Summer isn't complete without getting wet at Mosaic!^^

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Lunch Money

by Father Time
So I was sitting on a long 5 hour flight out to Seattle this past Sunday. Because I don't like dealing with bladder challenged people, I always try to park myself snugly against a window. On this trip, I had my headphones on and Kindle out the moment I sat down. For 4 whole hours, I got to enjoy my pleasant novel about man-eating spiders. But that all went out the window when the lady next to me started talking. I guess she finally got bored with the person in the aisle seat and turned her attention to me. She was friendly enough and was flying out with her daughter who was starting her freshman year in Washington. Because I always have $ on my mind, the topic of tuition came up. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was when my whole trip was ruined.
I already feel poor and inadequate when it comes to our finances. Sure, we're smack dab in the middle of the 33% tax bracket, but in the Northern VA area, that basically puts us on par with your local Walmart greeter elsewhere. Now I know college tuition for two will be in our future, but because it's relatively far off, I don't think about it. We have VA529 plans for both Will and Anna, but we just toss $8k in there a year to get the state tax deductions. Meaning, I really haven't looked into college tuition beyond the basic tax shelter purposes. But this lady told me her daughter's out-of-state tuition was $40k a year for Washington State University. Forgive my ignorance here as I really don't know jack about schools in WA, but that's a shitload of money for a year of undergrad. So I kept telling myself that VA schools can't be that bad, especially since we're in-state.

Long story short, we've got our work cut out for us. A quick gander at the tuition numbers for Virginia Tech, William and Mary, and University of Virginia were eye-watering. I can't even imagine what it will be in 10 years or so. Right now, I'm all for the transfer option, but Joyce isn't really keen on that idea. So instead of focusing on work all week, I kept thinking about money again. Which is a good thing this time around because this issue finally forced me to automate all our investments. I had setup auto contributions into our IRAs and the kids' holdings last year, but now I've re-balanced everything and have automated deposits into the VA529 plans as well. I've always been an avid boglehead, but I tended to veer towards speculative investments at times. But no more! Once these changes settle down, my goal is to save 5-10k a month starting in January. We'll see...I'll revisit this topic early next year.

The question on my mind now is, "Why did we have kids again?" Hopefully, I'll have a quiet flight back to ponder this.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

24 hours in Charlottesville

We had a free hotel stay that needed to be used up, so this past weekend we spent 24 hours in Charlottesville, home of my alma mater. We left early on Saturday morning (7:44am) and already felt the steamy summer heat as we drove down. Once we got there, of course the kids complained about walking in the boiling hot sun and seeing my old dorm meant nothing to them. The trip was off to a bad start as everyone was feeling pretty crappy. When we finally got to the hotel and Luke was checking us in, I just had to laugh to myself when both kids asked to do a number two right then and there. I mean, seriously?! Fact: Traveling with kids is not glamorous and it really is just taking the show on the road. I told Luke, "What's the point of all this? All this for a free stay. Never again."
^^In front of my dorm!^^

Fortunately, things got progressively better after we got to our room. We changed into our bathing suits and hopped to the pool (literally across the hall) for a dip. Nothing can put the kids in an instant good mood like water can :) Then we all napped. We woke up an hour or two later to a passing thunderstorm, which dipped the temperature drastically and resulted in a perfect summer evening.
That evening, we explored the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, which is one of the longest pedestrian malls in the US. I only went there a handful of times while a student here, and now wondering why I didn't do it more often. We went into a few shops, but mostly just enjoyed the cooler weather and the evening light.
After we walked the strip from end to end, it was about 7pm -- dinner time. We picked to go to this small Taiwanese restaurant, Cafe 88, and it turned out to be a great choice. The food was fresh and delicious, and I especially loved the beef noodle soup (only available on Friday and Saturday so we were lucky!). Everyone on Yelp raved about the Amazing Chicken bento box, but I thought that was just OK. Kids loved the scallion pancakes.
With full bellies, we were off to the Corner, a great collection of restaurants, bars, and stores right across the street from UVA. We were there for one thing and one thing only: Mincer's. Luke for years wanted to buy me a heavy duty UVA license plate frame (available online, but shipping is a killer), and now he finally did :)
Then we made our way back to the Lawn, the symbolic center of UVA. I just have to say it again, it was such a great summer evening. The sky was shining pink and purple. Soooo pretty. We stayed a while, just walking, talking, and catching Pokémons :)
^^If she really does go to UVA, this will be such a great memory!^^

I thought the day ended when we got back to the hotel, but Luke and the kids had a different idea.
The next day, at exactly 7:45AM, we started our drive back home.

There you go....our 24 hours in Charlottesville. Some bad, some downright ugly, but mostly good :)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Discovery Trail Map 2016

The Discovery Trail Map is an annual summer program hosted by the Fairfax County Park Authority. The gist of it is simple -- use the map as a guide to get out there and explore local sites, and earn stickers at the same time. After receiving 8 different stickers, participants receive a prize pack full of tickets to FCPA amusements. I knew about the program for years, but never got around to do it.
This summer, however, I somehow fell into doing it. It all started when a staff handed me the maps at Hidden Oaks Nature Center (we were there to use coupons received from the summer reading program). After earning the initial sticker there, it became a personal mission of mine to earn 7 more. Well, it took about 5 weeks (and a lot of gas money), but I am happy to say that we (read: I) are done.
I wish I can say that the kids got the most out of it, but truthfully, they didn't. This summer has been such a scorcher that sometimes we drove to various sites JUST for stickers alone, like Lake Fairfax. However, sometimes, we were forced to explore because we got there too early and the sticker location wasn't open yet, like Green Spring Gardens. Most of the time though, the kids did have fun, whether it was getting ice cream (Frying Pan Farm Park) or riding the train (Burke Lake Park) or staying cool at the nature centers while learning about turtles and snakes.
I was super excited to receive the prize pack yesterday. Lots of courtesy passes to more local fun. The best part? NO expiration dates and NO blockout we can take our time to use them. I am picturing a nice wagon ride or a tour boat ride in the fall to see the foliage :)
What do you think? Is this something your family would do? Kids 17 and under are eligible to participate. I think it will be several years before I attempt this again, though. Driving to all those places and handling two kids in the summer heat wore. me. out.

BUT, yay, I did it!!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Prime Parenting

by Father Time

A few weeks ago, Amazon had their Prime Day. Basically, another marketing excuse to suck more money out of people's wallets. I'm ashamed to admit that I myself got caught up in it. Initially, I had a handful of things in my cart, but then it grew to multiple hand fulls of things and then to arm fulls of things. I think I spent about an hour filling up my cart before I stopped myself. I then donned my "poor man" cap and evaluated wtf I was actually doing. I was buying things because I thought they were cheap instead of actually focusing on things I actually needed. After applying that simple logic, I emptied my cart and closed my laptop.

This then got me thinking about all the stuff we've bought after having the kids. Mainly, all the random things we thought the kids would need. The long and short of it is this, I could only think of 3 things that I felt were necessary. Keep in mind here, I'm not talking about food and clothing type stuff. So the 3 things are items that I would still buy if I were several rungs below the poverty line. The reasons are simple, they work and the mileage you'll get out of them is insane.

/1/ Nose/Booger Sucker
We got those bulb suction things from the hospital when the kids were born, but never felt they were any good at sucking things out. Even worse, they were hard to clean out. So when we came across the NoseFrida, we decided to give it a shot. Two kids and maybe a hundred colds later, we're still whipping this bad boy out whenever the kids clog themselves up. We've had to replace the original tubing (aquarium air pump tubing works) and the little blue filters, but the main tube and mouth bit are still originals (both boiled many times to sanitize). I mean, who would've thought that it would take kids so long to figure out how to blow their noses!? With this baby, you just jam it up there and clear out their sinuses. Just be careful not to suck the eyeballs in.

/2/ Thermometer w/standard batteries
Much like the nose sucker, we started off with all sorts of thermometers. We had Vick's ones with cool digital displays and soft little tips. They were a pain in the ass, literally, to stick in the armpits and butt-holes. When the kids were infants and all bundled up, it was a chore to unwrap or undress them. But we didn't know better, we just kept using those thermometers...until the batteries died. I then came to discover that they required special little button batteries. Even worse, it wasn't anything standard for which we would have other uses, like watch batteries. No, these were stupid little batteries that were relatively expensive. We decided to toss them out and buy a forehead thermometer. I mean, the doctors were always rubbing their own little forehead gadgets every time we went to see them, so why were we bothering with armpits? With that in mind, my next goal was to find one that used regular batteries, like AA or AAA. And that led me to the Braun Forehead Thermometer. This has been a great purchase because we still use it after all these years and we get to use it on ourselves too.

/3/ No-Tie Shoelaces
Unlike the two above, these entered our lives much later - as in last year, 2015. Being the frugal minded folks that we are, we like to hold off on purchasing things until they are on sale. Now, anyone with kids will know this, but for those that don't, shoes are like tissues when it comes to kids. They use and chew 'em up in weeks, seriously. At the same time, those little suckers grow! Sometimes I think I can sit there and watch the toes grow on Anna's feet. It's true! Families have different tastes when it comes to footwear, and around here, if it's not a Teva, Toms, Puma, or Adidas, finding another brand of shoes in the house simply means we must have visitors. So when we come across shoe sales online, we're all over them. But the kicker is, what do you do when the cheap $20 shoe you want to buy only comes with laces instead of the tried 'n true Velcro straps? Teach the 6 and 4 year old how to tie laces? No silly, we buy No-Tie Shoelaces!! These things normally come with their own laces, but you don't have to use them right away. I simply used the little plastic bits on the existing laces of the shoe. When the kids out grow the shoe, cut the laces and reuse the plastic bits again. We also tried these silicone ones. These work too but are a major pain to install and remove. Either way, with these, you can buy whatever shoe you want for the kids. And the best part, when we're old and decrepit and too arthritic to tie our own shoes, we can use these ourselves too. Just need to make sure we install them on our favorite sneakers before our joints get shot.

So there you have it, my list of 3 things that I feel are exceptional values every parent should consider. We're all about the "buy once, use many" mindset and these fit the bill perfectly in this house.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, August 1, 2016

monday morning catch ups.

/1/ On Saturday the kids had their last swim class for the summer. Since the swim school is closed in August and September, they won't be back in the water until October. I am disappointed that they will have a 2-month gap, but at least we will get some of our weekends back. In total, the kids had 8 lessons since they started in June and they went from rarely putting their heads in the water to confidently doing so. AND swimming a short distance. Will even learned to float on his back. Luke and I are very happy with how far they have come!
For those who are interested in the details: We did group lessons that normally have a ratio of 4:1, but for us it was 3:1 because apparently not many kids enroll in the summer. Anna and Will were in different classes, so every Saturday we were at the swim school for an hour (10am to 11am). Anna went first, and then Will. It was $99/month (4 lessons), which at first I thought were outrageously expensive. But since the kids loved the lessons and learned so much, it was worth it for us.

/2/ This past week we cancelled our planned August trip to Disney World. The more we thought about it, the more we didn't want yet another Disney vacation. Lets see...the last time we were at Disney World was November 2014, then we did Disneyland last September, then a Disney Cruise just earlier this year. That's way too much Disney, even for Disney freaks like us. So...we cancelled it, got a full refund, and Anna will get to go to her school's Open House that we would've otherwise missed. After last year's bus fiasco, I think it's a good move on our part to attend the Open House to get all our ducks in a row for the first day of school.

/3/ A trip cancelled, but another is booked! This time...Taiwan!! This winter break, the kids and I are traveling back to my homeland! I am looking forward to it! It has been YEARS (11 to be exact) since my last trip there, and it will be the kids' first. I am sooo excited for them to experience new sights and sounds. Too bad Luke won't be there (someone has to stay here to make money to send back to us :)), but my parents will be there to help navigate the country. So much planning to do!!
^^passport mug shots^^

/4/ Other than bullets #2 and #3, we really haven't been up to all that much. The kids are still in their summer camps (so much stress with Anna's that I recently discovered my first white hair), still catching those Pokémon wherever they go.
^^What memorial?^^

[+/-] Extra Sugar!