Laughing, Weeping, Living

Life happens. You laugh about it or cry about it, sometimes both.

7 Quick Takes: December 6

What? She’s posting during the week? Luckily it’s Friday which means I can sit back and enjoy a quick takes post, about 7 random things, none of which have to make any sense or complete an entire post on their own.

Linking up with Conversion Diary for this one. Head over there to read more link ups.

1.  Jeremy and I took some more recent pictures of Agnes this week. It was difficult because she’s sickly and she often looks kind of crummy. But we managed to snag a pretty good one:

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2. Jeremy and I are scheduled to complete our 24-hour care tomorrow from 8am Saturday to 8am Sunday. We still aren’t quite sure who will be sleeping when during the time since one of us has to be “on” at all times–no help from nurses or doctors. This is the last thing we have to do to get ready for Agnes to come home. My dad is finishing some rewiring in the house to accommodate life support machines, and the home care nurses are completing their training. Agnes is tentatively scheduled to come home Wednesday.

3. I say tentative because she must be in medically stable condition. She has been set on the ventilator for the required two-week time frame, so there’s no problem with that. However, she has lately presented with some distention in her belly that is not resolving despite the numerous strategies employed by the intensive care doctors. They tried draining her stomach contents with and without suction to remove excess gas. They took a bunch of tests (x-ray, ultrasound, echocardiogram) to rule out all the possible causes. There is only one obvious cause left: her shunt. Accursed shunt. So the plan is to give Agnes a dose of diuretic to see if that helps, and watch her closely over the weekend. The neurosurgeon is okay with her carrying on if her belly doesn’t get any bigger, but if it does, he will want to externalize her shunt. Again. And send away for cultures of Cerebral-Spinal Fluid. Again. And wait a few days then reinternalize the shunt. Again. Only this time, he would thread the catheter into Agnes’ heart rather than into her abdomen, which is absolutely the very final option because they hate to do VA shunts, especially on trach kids. It will have to be revised in six months because they can’t put extra tubing like they can for VP shunts. Plus trach kids have a 10% risk of infection with VA shunts. 10 percent. Holy freaking cow. So that’s not awesome and it all depends on whether or not Agnes’ girth continues to measure 47 cm or less.

4. With the help of all our friends and family and our church, and everyone who made a gift through our website, wee are going to buy  this van for Agnes:

It’s a 2004 Nissan Quest with 76 thousand miles. We tested it and it drives very well, and the dealership recently had a ton of work done on its brakes. It doesn’t make any weird sounds when running, which is already better than the cars we drive now. There is a ton of room inside for all of Agnes’ medical equipment! We can’t thank you all enough for your gifts and support to help make this happen!

5. I’m having a hard time thinking of anything to write for takes 5 and 6. Well, I cooked macaroni and cheese for dinner tonight from The New Best Recipe cookbook. I love America’s Test Kitchen with all my heart, except when they tell me that the way I’ve always made a certain recipe is total crap. Or when they tell me that an ingredient I always use is not even fit for dogs to eat. But other than that, I love America’s Test Kitchen.

6. Can someone please consider getting this for Agnes’ Christmas present? kthxby

7. Okay, finally, I wanted to put the pictures from our trip on the Polar Express last because there are quite a few. The Palliative Care Team at Akron Children’s Hospital gifted our family with tickets for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Polar Express. We took Stephen and he had a grand time. If you ask him if he had fun riding the train, he replies “Yeah! Goldfish crackers. Gummy Bears.” We bought those snacks from the cafe car before the train left the station. I guess that is more interesting than the elves, or Christmas carols, or the “North Pole,” or meeting Santa. Whatever. Goldfish crackers. Gummy bears.

walking to our car to board.

walking to our car to board.

Jeremy was probably more excited than Stephen to ride the train. Name me a boy who doesn't adore trains!

Jeremy was probably more excited than Stephen to ride the train. Name me a boy who doesn’t adore trains!

We're happy!

We’re happy!

At the "North Pole," aka Peninsula, Ohio. A bunch of volunteers stood along the track, dressed as elves.

At the “North Pole,” aka Peninsula, Ohio. A bunch of volunteers stood along the track, dressed as elves.

Stephen met Santa and made strange faces at him. Weird kid.

Stephen met Santa and made strange faces at him. Weird kid.

Every kid got a "bell from Santa's sleigh," like in the Polar Express book.

Every kid got a “bell from Santa’s sleigh,” like in the Polar Express book.

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GoFundMe Support Page for Agnes

People come to me almost every day asking if there is anything we need, or if there is anything they can do to help. Agnes is a very needy child, and she demands a lot of attention and care, which makes life pretty stressful sometimes as we try to balance our time with Agnes, at the hospital, paying attention to Stephen, caring for ourselves, and keeping up around the house. We decided to make this fundraising page as a way for people to lend support from a distance. It’s difficult for us to ask for help like this because we are proud and we want to be independent and self-sufficient. But the truth is, Jeremy is already working flat-out with nursing school plus shifts as a delivery driver, and I am at home with the kids so I don’t have a lot of freedom to get a job. I’m thinking of projects I can start that will allow me to contribute at a pace I can sustain while also keeping house and caring for babies. In the meantime, this website is launched. You can also find the web address in the right hand column of my blog page, under the heading “Help Our Family.” Sorry, I couldn’t figure out how to hyperlink the site in that text box!

Thank you for all the prayer and thoughtful support you have given my family so far. We are blessed to have so many kind people thinking of us and praying for a good outcome for Agnes. Prayer is very powerful and I do believe Agnes has done so well so far because of all the prayers you have offered for her. If you have been wanting to do more, here is your opportunity!

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7 Quick Takes September 13: Dream Home Edition

Linking up with Jen at Conversion Diary like you do on a Friday.

Jeremy and I have been getting in to long-term-planning mode for our family, which includes some concrete goals about our future home. We are planning our savings each month to bring us closer to the time when we can afford a home of our own and move out of my parents’ house. We are doing some hypothetical math to see how long this might take us, so we can set a deadline for ourselves. We are looking at real estate listings and dreaming about the day when we can go house-hunting with pre-approval from the bank, ready to make a serious offer if we see something we like.

Along those lines, here are some quick takes of qualities we are looking for in our dream home in Akron, Ohio.

1. Decent neighborhood. There are a lot of great little neighborhoods in Akron. We plan to ultimately home-school Stephen, so school systems are not much of a factor, but we are going to start being mindful of the schools since Agnes will transition into special education services through the public schools when she is three or four. All we’re really looking for is a street where we don’t feel like we need to install security bars on the windows, or lock the car doors when we drive up to our house at night. A street with a high ratio of occupied homes and reasonably kept up properties is all we want.

2. House with character. We lived in a house built in 1911 when we lived in Billings. It had lots of great little details and a historical feel, even though it had been updated recently. We want that again. Built-ins, a butler’s pantry, sloping ceilings on the top floor, deep front porch, that kind of thing.

Woodwork, hardwood floor, character, built ins! Asking price on listing is $79,000.

3. Mostly hard floors. I’ve lived in places with wall-to-wall carpet, and I have come to realize that I don’t prefer it. I would much prefer hardwood floors or even decent looking laminate or tile. It’s so much easier to keep clean, and I also love area rugs!

4. Cool woodwork. A lot of the houses in this area have thick wood frames on windows, doors, around entryways between rooms, and baseboards/crown molding. Some houses have this woodwork painted (how could you?!) and some have natural wood. Oh, it’s gorgeous.

5. At least 3 bed, 1.5 bath. We really need three bedrooms now that Agnes has to sleep in her own room. And I would prefer 1.5 baths to 2, because I don’t really like cleaning a tub and shower!

6. Close or at least convenient to Akron Children’s Hospital and our church, Holy Ghost. Honestly, these are the two places we go to the most often. You know, besides the grocery store.

7. Less than $80,000. It’s possible! Housing in Akron is exceedingly affordable, especially right now. And if you refer to my first take, the price all depends on the neighborhood. We’re looking at the Firestone Park neighborhood or the Highland Square neighborhood, both of which have many homes with our desired characteristics, and more! We are excited about house shopping in Akron!

Head over to Conversion Diary for more quick takes!

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Shopping for Deals

I have a secret to confess: I adore shopping for groceries.

It’s kind of strange, I know. But I love everything about it. And I think I have a pretty good strategy for saving money on groceries, so I’ll share it with you.

First things first: I love getting the ads in the mail from the various stores with the weekly sales and specials. Second, I love comparing the sales from the stores and finding which place has the best price. Does Acme have cheaper sweet potatoes at regular price even though Giant Eagle is running a sale this week? Where am I going to get the cheapest milk gallons this week? I’m running out of coke products so where should I go to restock? Third, I love making a weekly menu based on the ads and any special sales and promotions. Fourth, I love finding the sale items in the store, and sometimes finding the neighboring off-brand that is even cheaper yet than the sale item. Score. I love walking the aisles and seeking out the items on my list (I never shop without a list, even if it only has a few things on it).

Fine. I also admit there are a couple things I don’t love about grocery shopping. First, when the product I’m looking for is nowhere to be found. It’s really annoying when the ad special runs out and the store has no intention of restocking. Second, I don’t like when I go looking for an ad special and the price at the store doesn’t match the ad. Annoying. Third, I don’t like when a store mysteriously organizes things in a way that makes no sense. Like today, why wasn’t the salsa at Aldi located with other cans and jars? Because they stocked it next to the chips, that’s why. It makes a little sense, I guess, but it’s not what I would expect.

My strategy for saving money on groceries is pretty simple. I’ve talked a bit about it here where I discussed stocking up  with a chest freezer. I use the stores’ weekly ads to find really good deals on items, and when there is a great price on something my family eats, I buy a ton of it and stock it in the pantry or freezer. That way, we are set on that item during the times prices are not so good. You can freeze a surprising variety of things. Milk (pour some off to allow for expansion), shredded cheese (only shredded), butter, any meat, bread, fruits and vegetables (some have to be blanched or otherwise prepped, some do not). Grains and flours keep longer in the freezer, too.

I also use the store ads to help plan weekly menus around what items are on sale. For example, if my store is having a Buy One Get One sale on roasts, we have roast or stew or shredded beef tacos that week. Or if lettuces are 99 cents per bunch, we eat a lot of salads on the side. If avocados are on sale, we make guacamole. You get the idea.

The final thing I really try to do is to be aware of what’s a good price for the items we buy the most. That way I can buy those items at the right store, or plan to stock up when they are on sale. For example, I’ve noticed my local stores sometimes run a 2 for $5.00 sale on butter in their weekly ad. So 2 for $5.00 is a pretty good price and I try to wait for that. But today we did most of our shopping at Aldi where the butter is priced at $2.39 regular price. Obviously I bought 4 pounds (freezer, baby!). Another example is Giant Eagle sells their sweet potatoes for $1.49 per pound regular price, but Acme sweet potatoes are only 99 cents regular price. I buy all our sweet potatoes at Acme.

The prices for everything keep going up every day, so it feels worth it to me to take a little extra time strategizing about grocery shopping. I get a great sense of accomplishment when I can stock the fridge and freezer for less money. Plus, then I have some moolah left over to buy fun stuff like Pop Tarts!

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Grandmas Take Note: Cute Baby Alert

Today we did a bunch of cute stuff with Stephen. We cut his hair:

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He brushed it out real nice when we were done.

We also made wonderfully delicious sandwiches that I found on Pinterest. Roasted Strawberry, Brie, Dark chocolate sandwiches. We used goat cheese because that is what we had, and it was really good. I think brie would have been better, or some other mild cheese like havarti or monterey jack. Stephen adored his:

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Look at those lips! Chocolate sandwiches for dinner! Mommy and Daddy are really awesome! Except the truth is, I wanted these for myself. Stephen just got to benefit from my crazy craving. As a side note, my baby girl really liked the sandwich, too. She was moving around like crazy a few minutes after we finished eating.

After dinner we decided to take Stephen out for a spin in the red wagon. My parents brought this wagon to us back when Stephen was born and we’ve actually never used it before. We may have tried it once before when Stephen wasn’t quite ready, but he took to it like an old pro today!

Finally, just a couple quick updates on other things that are going on around the homestead today. I applied Holy Dirt to my tummy last night and I don’t know if there has been a miracle. That will be impossible to confirm before my next ultrasound in a few weeks. I will say, however, that my baby girl has been moving around a lot more vigorously since the dirt. Last night I had a horrible time trying to fall asleep because she was moving around so much. And today she was moving like crazy! Even Jeremy was able to feel her for several minutes in a row after dinner, and she kicked so hard he even had to say, “whoa!” I won’t say she’s been moving more often, just more vigorously. I haven’t noticed any other changes except, last night when I was having trouble falling asleep, I decided I was starving so I got up and had a small snack. I haven’t had to get up out of bed to eat so far during this pregnancy.

One more quick update. We did get my doctor to write a letter to the apartment managers in an effort to waive our termination fee for breaking the lease early. They said they would fax the letter to their superiors. Funny, I was under the impression that a letter from the doctor would definitely get the fee waived. But apparently they aren’t authorized to do it here; they have to send away to their superior. That’s fine, but they should have told us even a letter from the doctor wasn’t a sure thing. I know they are a business and they can’t just accomodate everyone who wants a discount, but I would have expected them to have a little more understanding for our situation. Hopefully they can find something more accommodating for our fees than a payment plan, which is all they’ve been able to offer us so far.

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Accounting

I’m writing a really good post in my head right now, but it’s not ready yet. So I’m going to fill in with a couple sub-ideas that are going on.

A big task I have to do tonight, if I have time before bed, is balance the checkbook. Jeremy is going to get his severance pay in one big lump and it would be helpful to know what we already have when it comes time to divvy up what will be our last income for a while. We do have a bit in savings (Thank you, Dave Ramsey!). We put together what Dave calls the “baby emergency fund” back when we first started getting our accounts in order: $1,000 in a savings account that you don’t ever touch except for emergencies. We also opened a totally separate savings account for sinking funds, like saving up to buy new furniture, or a replacement car, or saving for home repairs that may come up in the future. Then when we sold our house back in January, we used some of the meager proceeds to buy Jeremy’s motorcycle then put the rest in the emergency fund so we would definitely have it later when we would need it. We didn’t have any emergencies along the way, which is good.

So we are by no means flat broke, which is a huge relief. But. We are looking at some serious outlays that do have me worried.

First of all, it’s time to file taxes. Unlike many people who look forward to this time of year, we dread it because we always have to pay. Jeremy was technically a self-employed contractor editing for Magnificat magazine, so his paychecks from there never withheld anything. The past couple years, even though we bumped up the withholdings on our other jobs’ paychecks, we still owed about $2,000 in combined taxes to state and federal. When we moved to New Mexico, Jeremy bumped his tax withholdings at his salaried position way up to compensate further, but I’m not too certain it was enough to eliminate our tax payment. All I can realistically hope for is that the damage isn’t too severe. Thank God the sale of our house didn’t close until January 2013. So at least we don’t have to deal with that right now. We just have to mess with filing in two different states.

Second, since we are breaking our 12 month lease early, we have to pay a penalty. We also have to pay back the promotional free month of rent we got for signing a 12 month lease. That is going to be significant. Apparently, losing your job and moving for health reasons aren’t good enough reasons to waive the penalty. The only thing that will do it is a letter from my doctor saying I must move for my health.

Third, moving itself is going to cost a pretty penny. The cheapest option of course is the least convenient. We still need to decide how we want to handle the move.

I think we will come out in the black after all is said and done IF we don’t owe a ton for taxes and IF we can convince the apartment manager to cut us break. It may be possible. Jeremy suggested we pray a novena to Saint Matthew. You know, the former tax collector. He was only half joking.

So if you’ve talked to me lately and were confused about why we’re moving–is it for the baby or for finances?–I hope this kind of clears it up. We are moving because we had been intending to move anyway, just not this soon. My doctor said we should move now rather than wait for the baby to be born. But I am concerned about our financial picture. I think it will turn out okay, but like I said, there are some “ifs” about it.

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Fun with zero-balance budgeting

Okay, let me just start by saying that today was one of those “weeping” days alluded to in my blog’s title. It started out with Stephen waking me up at 5 freaking a.m., and on top of that I woke up feeling sick, then Stephen proceeded to spend the morning freaking out about nothing and everything. I’m sorry, baby, but I don’t know what “ai-iah-iah-iaheeee” means, despite your very enthusiastic arm waving and scrunchy face. Suffice to say, the actual highlight of my day was when the Albertson’s cashier surprised me by issuing a rain check for the ad-special strawberries that were no longer in stock.

Even though today was such a gem and all I really wanted to do was crawl back into bed with all the remaining cookies, I needed to draft our family’s budget for March. A couple years ago, Jeremy and I did Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and we’ve been doing a zero-balance budget ever since. I really like it. Truly. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this method of keeping a budget, it’s all about subtraction. You start with your total income for the month, then subtract each expense until you have zero dollars left, then you stop spending. The forms from FPU rank the expenses from most crucial to least crucial, so mortgage/rent, utilities, groceries, and transportation are first in order, followed by things like clothes money, baby sitter, subscription payments, entertainment, and debt payments. Next to each item on the form, you write in how much will be spent for the month. In essence, you do all your spending on paper before the month even begins. Neat, huh?

When we first started doing a line by line, detailed budget, we were both working so the income was really fun to play with. “We can spend how much on frozen yogurt? Awesome!” “We can contribute to five different charities? Amazing!” “We can pay off the car loan? Sweet!” Then I quit my job to stay home with Stephen and we had to be a bit more careful. The line by line budget forms we got from the FPU have been so helpful especially for months we have to be more careful. Now I’m finding the budget form to be more oppressive. There are so many line items that don’t get an entry. Zero comes so much quicker. I can only do so much by shopping grocery sale items only and buying all my clothes at thrift stores. Thank God Stephen and I got on Medicaid. Thank God we’ve paid off our car loans and all but two student loans. Thank God we don’t carry consumer credit card balances anymore.

I really can’t stress enough the importance of keeping a detailed budget. Money can so easily slip away. For us, if we didn’t keep the detailed budget and tell our money where to go, I don’t think our ends would meet. That is how significant it is.

I would just encourage you to look into the zero-balance budget, especially if you often find that “there’s too much month left at the end of the money,” as Dave Ramsey would say. It may make all the difference.

 

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