Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy birthday, my beautiful Sylvia

It's been another whirlwind year for you. Your first year at your new school, your amazing growth in dance, shining on stage. I hope you take a moment today to appreciate just how much you've learned and how much you've grown.

You gave your hair to Locks of Love to honor our friend, B, and to help children. You came up with the idea to spend part of your summer teaching young kids at dance, and did an amazing job. You impressed everyone so much at your dance studio that you earned the opportunity to assistant teach there.

You have so much going for you. You are bright, charming, talented, and giving.

At 15, you are on the brink of so much. We're juggling a lot lately, but I want to try to take some time over these next few months to explore all of the amazing possibilities for your future.

I love you so deeply, so fully, my oldest girl. And I am always and will always be here for you. Happy birthday, my beautiful Sylvia.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Budgeting Update: Pay Outstanding Balance

I did it. I paid off my high interest credit card. It has a zero balance, and I plan to keep it that way.

I'm not closing the account because I want to keep that available credit for my credit score, but I haven't even activated the new card they sent. And I hope to never activate it.

It was actually anger that finally motivated me to stop making excuses for using that credit card. After being a good loyal customer for years, I went out of town and missed one payment, and they raised my interest rate to the highest legal limit. (Oh, and I was already frustrated because I'd originally gotten the credit card with one bank, and by this time, it had been gobbled up by Chase. And I hate Chase!)

So after that, I said, "that's it. I'm never using this card again." And I didn't.

There were times where it certainly crossed my mind. A large car maintenance bill, a necessary flight, Xmas. But my anger kept me in check and I held my ground.

I probably could've paid it off last week, but I wanted to do it the way I've been doing it; by just paying what I've budgeted every week for hundreds of weeks now.

On payday, I went through my budget, paid the other bills, letting the moment of anticipation build until I got to that line item. I've never been so happy to go to Chase's website because this time, I got to click that button that I think I've only clicked once before in my life "Pay Outstanding Balance."

I made my budget for next month, deleted that line item and carried over the budgeted amount to my low interest credit card. I'll admit, that's gotten too close to the limit lately for my liking, but I try not to beat myself up for it because it is what it is.

I've been bringing my lunch from home approximately 3 days a week now. I'm building the "present" account to help me out this Xmas, and all the present-giving occasions to come. I'm getting through it, even if I still live paycheck-to-paycheck.

I honestly don't know if/when I'll ever be able to pay off my low-interest credit card, but I do believe I can keep the balance at a manageable level if I just keep at it. And now, I know I can do it, because I've done it.

This feels really, really good.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Happy 12th Birthday, Riley!

You had some great firsts this year. Your debut in a musical, and the first family musical. Your first school year ending in straight As. Your first experience with contact lenses.

Your nickname of Smiling Riley isn't just because of your great smile, it's because you make those around you smile, and no one more than me.

You make me beam with pride and wonder at who you are. I feel like you're too good for me most of the time. You're much kinder, much more thoughtful, much more level-headed. You are funny, bright of course, and beautiful inside and out.

Every so often, I try to think of who you'll be in the future, but I get distracted by how much I love who you are now. And that's been happening since you were born, twelve years ago. So I think I'll just continue to love who you are now when you're 12, 13, 18 and so forth.

I love you more than I can say, my Riley. I hope you have a great birthday.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Puzzling Mid-Term

Last week was a blur. Mid-terms, put together a workshop (coming off attending a conference on Saturday), worked like a madwoman - even went back to work one night, went to Disneyland on Saturday, and by Sunday, I was practically comatose, I was so mentally and physically exhausted.

Out of all that, the topic I've most wanted to blog about was what happened at my first mid-term last week.

Basically, a woman of a certain age threw an incredibly immature fit in class and accused our teacher of things she in no way deserved. And all before we had our class lecture that happened before the mid-term.

One day, after all my classes are done and I have my certificate, I would love to sit down with her and find out how the students have changed in the past two decades, or even, if they have. I would love to know if the challenges of teaching have changed, if her students are more or less prepared than they were 20 years ago.

The whole event would have astonished me less if the woman was closer to the age of a high school graduate. I don't know exactly how old she is, but she certainly looks older than me...and I'm almost 40. So neither of us could be accused of being young or inexperienced.

This class isn't an easy A, by any means. You do have to work at it. You do have to be prepared. And the teacher does express some annoyance if someone asks the very same question she just answered. Even I had to laugh when yet a 3rd person asked the same question!

But even that wasn't what set this classmate off. No, she decided to throw a fit because she was marked down half a point for something that, if I had done it at work, my bosses would've looked at me impatiently, and asked "Really, April?" It was a standard formatting issue that should only be an issue for someone working with a typewriter on Mad Men!

And I only know what the issue is because the woman decided to be loud enough so that everyone in the room could hear. The teacher tried to take it outside and make it a private conversation, and the woman yelled, "no! You're mean! You're abusive!"

I almost laughed at the absurdity at the remark, except I was also pretty incensed that she would throw that word around.

I have had my share of bad teachers. I have had my share of bad bosses. This teacher in no way fits that bill.

And, frankly, I can't get past how clueless she is as to what "mean" or "abusive" really means. And I'm just a touch jealous that she's managed to live this long with her rose-colored glasses still intact.

I kept my eyes down, and my fury under control at least enough so that I wouldn't burst.  She continued her tirade for an uncomfortable length of time until finally, thankfully, another classmate spoke up and soon shut this woman down.

But I still felt bad for our teacher, who was clearly flustered as she started her lecture. And I think all of us were off our game a bit, thanks to the events.

I know a few people in the class agreed with this woman, but I notice they're the same ones who talk during the lecture, who ask questions that have just been answered, and who failed the first quiz.

Personally, I'm not as good a student as I was when I was younger. I have to work harder this time around, my memory is shakier, and I'm juggling more than I ever have before. Still, I perform well in my classes, and I know I deserve every A and B I've received. Sure, some teachers are harder than others, but once you know how they grade, once you've taken one test, you get an idea of how they test, and what to study. And yes, this teacher definitely tests us on everything she's taught!

I'm not sure what I'm missing about her that makes others see her as mean or abusive...but in this case, I'll be grateful for that particular ignorance!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Single Mother Unbound

Okay, I've been trying really hard to stay out of the political stuff on the internetz, but Romney decided that the first time he would mention single parents in the debates was to blame us for gun violence. Dude, you totally started this!

Romney, I know you don't want me to be a member of the Republican party, so there's no point in really trying to talk to you, but let me just say to anyone that believes as he does that one of the solutions to gun violence, or any violence as another prominent Republican has stated, is to get those parents wed already: you're no leader. Of human beings anyway.

You don't seem to understand that human beings are complex. You don't seem to understand that issues of love, marriage and children are complex. For that matter, you don't seem to understand violence, either.

You don't seem to understand that a significant percentage of single parents are single because they divorced abusive spouses. You don't seem to understand that for many of us, getting wed or staying wed would be the biggest mistake we could make, or continue to make for our children.

Yes, I realize that you tried almost immediately to take back your words and add your disclaimer that there are some great single parents out there. But you blamed us first, and it's the first time I've heard you speak of us in the debates. And it was to answer a question about gun violence. That says more about you, Romney, than it does about me, my marital status or my children.

If love were truly enough, then one in two marriages wouldn't end in divorce. If anything, too many are getting married.  I know you haven't tried to get a divorce, so let me let you in on the truth: it's not that easy. Particularly when there are children involved. You have to wait 6 months to finalize it, so divorce isn't a decision that can be made in haste. And, as we know from some infamous Vegas stories, it can be far too easy to enter into marriage!

Your comment that getting married to someone is a great idea is against my belief system! It's far too easy to get married without understanding the legal consequences of that action. And, as we learned from the housing crisis, no one should sign a legal contract without understanding it.

And, as I've said before, you don't seem to understand that single parents and children of single parents can hear you! (And, psst, you were debating a man that was raised by a single parent!) Yes, I do count myself as one of the better single parents out there, but that doesn't mean I'm still not offended. I'm incredibly offended.

So offended, I think I'll end this rant and donate to your opponent's campaign now.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

National Costume Swap Day

I get about two dozen emails a day from companies and people requesting a shout-out here on this blog. I'm not trying to complain or brag, but just give you a sense of how little of those requests I actually do. This one seems pretty cool.

This Saturday, Oct. 13 is National Costume Swap Day. I love this idea!

Find your location (and last year's costume) and participate in the National Costume Swap!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Still in Need of a Homework Free Election Night

I posted this four years ago, but quite late in the game. Today, I'm re-posting it (with slight edits) and will also be emailing all of my daughters' teachers, as well as the principals:

I just heard about this and think it's a great idea. As concerned citizens,we should request our teachers make Election Day a homework free night so that we can discuss and participate in election results as a family.

Personally, I support making Election Day a national holiday, but we're not there yet. The least we could do is have Tuesday night free for family discussions on elections and democracy. 

Argh, I just realized, I have class Election Night! Yet another reason to support making it a national holiday!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Making a Vow (aka Budgeting Update)

First Person Singular is holding a contest, and the winner gets a $50 GC to Crate and Barrel. Now, I don't normally promote other people's contests, but their question for the entry is the inspiration for this post:

What is your single vow?

Most of the answers have been about taking better care of ourselves and my answer is just another spin on that, but I felt like I had to say how I was going to take better care of myself:

I vow to do a better job at sticking to my budget so that I can retire one day, and not have to rely on anyone even in my last days.
I'm proud and relieved to say that every year as a single parent, my financial outlook gets a little bit better. I haven't truly worried about how I'm going to pay a necessity bill in quite some time, and I've even added some "luxury" items that make my life easier (like paying for the girls' school lunches instead of making them). It's still very much a paycheck-to-paycheck budget, however, and I don't even have a month's savings, let alone the 8 month emergency fund that Suze Orman recommends.

I have come to terms with some of that. I have made sure that the girls have everything they need in school, and a few extras. I enrich our lives as much as possible with plays and other outings.  I splurge in relatively moderate doses.

Still, there are a few items in my budget where I splurge too excessively. The biggest culprit? I buy lunch at work almost every day. And I have lunch with friends quite regularly.

I remember four or five jobs ago (before I was even pregnant with Riley), my friend/colleague and I started bringing to work a loaf of bread, cheese, alfalfa sprouts, and avocado. I still remember those lunches as some of the best work lunches ever. Of course, the avocado is a bit of a splurge, but is really what completes this simple sandwich!

So I vow here on this blog to add those items to my grocery list and every time I don't have lunch plans, I'm making myself a yummy sandwich. That alone should save me about $15-$20 a week.

In less than two months, I will have paid off one of my credit cards entirely. I vow to actually do the right thing with that $100, and put it towards my lower interest rate credit card to bring that balance down faster. It is my current "emergency" account and the faster I can whittle it down, the faster I can build a real emergency fund.

I have also added another item to my budget that should make a difference with both my credit card usage and available cash. I'm putting $25 towards a present account. I've been stupidly stashing those purchases under "unexpected/miscellaneous." Duh, those aren't totally unexpected! I know the dates of everyone's birthdays, and the gift-giving holidays. It won't completely save me this holiday season, and it isn't a whole lot of money going in there, but it's a good step in the right direction.

And, I'll admit it, I've been quick to spend that child support that I've been getting these last few months. I've rationalized it by thinking, it's not money that I'm not counting on, so I can just use it to go to Costco or take the girls to the theatre. Knowing me as I do, I will still do some of that. But I vow to only do that with half. The other half will go towards savings. I'm still not counting on it. I'm just planning what to do with it if/when I actually receive it. (To continue the rationalization, the not planning is part of why I end up just thinking of it as free money.)

I'm not vowing, however, to add more to the savings line item on my budget. Yeah, been there, tried that. All I end up doing is just moving it eventually into my checking and spending it when I need to...or feel like I need to, at least.

I'm trying to think about where my money really goes, where the red font most consistently shows up when I enter my actual expenses into my budget spreadsheet.

Now, it's a single vow because it's about taking care of me in the long term. It's about not being a burden to the girls or other family if/when I'm unable to take care of myself. It's about preparing myself, in tiny steps, for the time when (hopefully) the girls are taking care of themselves and I can make decisions solely on what's best for me.

And, even if you aren't single or don't want to enter the contest, I do encourage everyone to think about what vow you want to make exclusively for yourself. Not about your family or your friends or even your favorite charity. What do you want for you? What can you do today for yourself that might make the rest of your lifetime a little bit better?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Balancing means Letting Things Go

I hate that it's been a week since I've updated, and I'm afraid I read almost no blog posts last week, either. We've been incredibly busy.

On top of our three hours on the road, work/school (work being insanely busy), my two classes, and Sylvia's 4 dance classes a week, I also got together with friends one night, we went to see a play, Riley went to a birthday party, and I had a meeting at Riley's school, a Board meeting, and a luncheon.

That is not meant as a complaint at all. It was a great week. Just really really busy.

Given that, it seemed like an appropriate topic would be on balancing, and giving up some things sometimes.

Just like I gave up Back to School Night a few weeks ago, I had to cancel on two friends this week and tell my parents I couldn't help them this weekend. I do wish I could have done everything, but I know I can't.

At work, prioritizing has been all about who is the most desperate for their documents. Since a good dozen came in all with the same start date, we couldn't prioritize merely by what was most timely!

It's gotten to the point where every outing; from the grocery store to the gas station, has to be immaculately timed. Anything that could wait, did. Like mailing Sylvia's Locks of Love donation. That took a month!

I'm learning, too, that even when people are desperate, I need to put me first sometimes. Otherwise, my Outlook refuses to send any more emails until I spend at least an hour cleaning it out.  Or, I rush things and don't do as well as I could and should; from homework to parenting the girls.

I know myself enough to know that I need down time to regain my sanity, get the laundry done, and do my homework. 

I joked to my friend that this week will be downright boring, considering one of my classes and one of Sylvia's classes got canceled. Boring never sounded so appealing.