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Mortgage Countdown

April 7th, 2012 at 04:22 pm

Mortgage is down to $11,998. Woo-hoo! Only 7 more payments to go. Soon it will be only 4 figures!

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Mortgage Countdown..

March 18th, 2012 at 01:17 pm

We are coming to the end of our mortgage - 8 more months and $14,000ish to go. Can't wait until it's gone! We started out in 1995 with 2 incomes, a 15 year mortgage (we put 20% down) at 7.5% fixed interest. In 2002, with 8 years left and only one income, we refinanced to a 10 year mortgage at 5 5/8% and cashed out some of our equity to buy a new car. We justified that because the amount we saved in interest paid for the car.

I realized around 2004 that, even though we maxed out DH's 401k, after losing my income (40% of the household income) we were living paycheck to paycheck. We didn't have any extra cash at all left each month. We had a 3 month emergency fund by accident with money saved before I quit my job to become a SAHM. Thank goodness we were smart when we bought our house and purposely decided what we could afford based on just DH's income - instead of letting the realtor talk us into buying "more house".

We are in great shape now. We managed to live very frugally on the one income and resisted the suggestions by our families to refinance to a longer term again. I started my new job 6 months ago so that income already feels like "gravy" to the budget. Once the mortgage is gone, that extra money will all go to savings - mostly for college for the kids.

I love to watch HGTV and find myself wanting to yell at the people buying homes with 30 year mortgages and 2% down - don't do it!! Save more money, put more down, and don't max out your budget to the point you can't save anything toward retirement!!

Saved $700 obsessing over Disney trip

February 28th, 2012 at 01:26 am

I found the tickets that we needed to buy for our upcoming summer trip to Walt Disney World as I obsessively checked all of the online websites for various options available. I was able to find a program that Disney offers for children that would allow us to buy discounted tickets. The kids get to attend a 3-hour class on Disney animation and we are able to buy tickets that cost a total of $700 less than the 2nd least expensive option I could find. I had checked these programs a couple of weeks ago and there wasn't anything advertised for our travel dates. When I checked yesterday, classes had opened up for our travel dates but were filling up quickly. I guess obsessing over the trip was worth it!

Back again, saving like crazy!

February 25th, 2012 at 02:40 pm

I have been at my new job now for 6 months. I haven't blogged in a while and thought I should start going again as it helps keep me focused on the finances. I have managed to save $13,000 to savings! In January, I started putting the max into my employer retirement plan. My employer puts in 8% of my salary regardless of my contribution. Everything is being put into Roth savings so I am able to save more than the $10k that my husband and I would be allowed to be put into Roth accounts outside of an employer plan. My goal for 2012 is to save $3000 per non-summer month in addition to retirement savings. January and February savings goals have been met!

We have two big expenses coming up that I have been saving for: 1) summer salary replacement for my spouse who does not get paid a full salary in the summer - he teaches. 2) A French drain and retaining wall as our current one has rotted and partially collapsed from water damage.

After living for years on a very tight budget, it is so incredible to be able to increase our savings and have extra spending money. I am now trying to let go a little of my frugal tendencies. I did buy a new tv stand/entertainment unit to replace the old coffee table we were using, but I just can't justify buying a flat screen tv that everyone thinks we should get when the standard model we have works just great. The cable guy couldn't believe that we did not have any flat screen tvs in our house. We also now eat out every Friday and take turns picking the restaurant. This has been so much fun and so enjoyable. Pre-the-new-job, the most we could afford to do was to go to the cheap family place on rare occasions.

Beaurocracy stinks!!

September 2nd, 2011 at 10:32 pm

I'm three weeks into my new job. I just got everything I needed (training, approvals, tests, more approvals) to start actually doing everything I need to do. I am super excited about my job. And then today happened... Today, I spent at least a quarter of my time asking permission from our legal office to do anything. It was sooo annoying. I am not even allowed to get an online account with any of our vendors without getting the legal office to look over the "terms of use" and "privacy policy" on their websites. Seriously?! Isn't there some risk vs. cost analysis that should go on here? If things keep going like this, I don't see how I will get anything done. It's not like I'm working for some top secret government lab or something. The frustration just trickles down from me: I have to wait on the lawyer, the person wanting me to do something has to wait on me, and that person's boss and co-workers are waiting on them. The vendor gets caught in this maze as well. Ugh and double ugh! The amount of money being spent on paperwork and contracts, etc. seems crazy!

First Paycheck

September 1st, 2011 at 02:04 am

Today I received my first paycheck from my new job. Woohoo!! I get paid at the end of every month so the paycheck was for half a month's work. I am so excited to have a job that I really like and the paycheck to go with it! I took the kids to Wendy's as a treat since Dh was out of town on business. It feels so great to have some extra "fun" money after so many years of penny-pinching.

Most of the paycheck will go straight into retirement savings as soon as DH and I figure out how to allocate the money into the retirement plan. Some will be our fun money and I am keeping track to make sure we don't overspend in that category.

So excited to be able to save more to retirement. So excited to start the college funds for the kids. So excited to start a car replacement fund. So excited to start a home improvement fun. AND, especially so excited to be able to treat the kids!!

I am soooo lucky!!

Busses, Baseball, Boys, Budget

August 27th, 2011 at 11:50 am

I am still taking the bus to and from work for now since the kids are still not back to school and their fall activities did not start yet. It is still taking me 80 minutes to get home. I have started listening to the radio and that really helps pass the time. DH and I are going to share one parking permit and definitely not get a second one. We have decided that we have to keep one parking permit but may be able to reduce down to a part-time permit (3 days a week) if the road construction ever is finished. We live in an area where the construction crews are small and take forever to complete a project. We are still waiting for the parking office to process our "carpool" application. Right now, only DH can drive because the parking lot requires the use of our employee IDs to open the gate and mine has not been registered through the carpool application yet. It is driving me crazy! Our employee IDs are also what we use for free transportation on the bus. So, I can't just take DHs ID and drive the car home as he would need his ID to ride the bus. So far, we have not been able to have the same work schedule - my job is basically just 8am - 4 pm but he has a job with a lot more responsibility and has had meetings lasting well after 5 pm. I am hoping that this wave of meetings is over and he can try to schedule things to leave by 4 pm.

DH is leaving this morning for a yearly conference that is very important in his line of work. He is hoping that Irene is not going to impact his flights. He will return on Wednesday night. I hope that the damage from the storm will be minimal for all who live along the East Coast.

Of course, since Dh is out of town, the kids' activities just started and I will be solely responsibile for getting them everywhere. We just got the baseball practice schedule for the next week. My one son has practice Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and a game on Wednesday. He gets Thursday and Friday off and then has practice again on Saturday and Sunday. Seriously?! One of the fields they use for his age group is very close to our house which is a huge help. The other one is a 15 minute drive across town. We should be getting the soccer schedule for my other son any day. I am betting that he will have practice/games the same times as my other son. We have plans for Labor Day weekend and I don't want to feel like I have to stay in town just so the kids can attend practice. That's what is weird about where we live: everyone is from here so they never go anywhere over holidays. The kids always have practices/games over Labor Day, Easter and Memorial Day. They are almost always the only kids that are not there during those times as we are NOT from this area.

My boys have spent this past week at home without any supervision since I started my new job two weeks ago and my DH had to be at work full-time this week. They are really good boys. My 13 y.o. DS push-mowed our entire hilly, 1 acre yard and did not complain one bit. He was not allowed to do the steep parts himself. My ten year old did some laundry and dusted. He did a little complaining. Last night I brought home pizza for them and they told me how bored they had been being home by themselves. I told them that is why I wanted to get a job - that I had been bored at home by myself and the only thing to do was cooking, cleaning, and maintenance. That was a real lightbulb moment for them. They didn't think that that sounded like a lot of fun! We did discuss how sad we all were that I was not there to take them to do fun things during their summer break. We would do all kinds of fun things and we always really looked forward to summers together. My DH will have to be the one to be taking them places next summer as he has the flexibility with his job. Honestly, he just isn't as much fun and does not enjoy the things like the rest of us. He'll have to loosen up a bit and just start taking them to do other things that he may enjoy doing with them. He doesn't have to take them to do the same things.

I am thinking the month of August is a bust to our budget and I am not even going to put it into my yearly spreadsheet that I use to calculate the following year's budget. This was caused by several reasons:
1. The housesitters caused quite a bit of trouble. We had to replace our dryer, coffee maker, some baking pans, and our lawn tractor's transmission (it is being worked on now). Just writing that shocks me that they could mess up so many things!
2. Re-stocking the house with staple items. We gave away all of the sauces, condiments, and a lot of food when we left as it would have gone bad or past it's expiration date while we were gone. We came home to a completely empty refrigerator. Buying all new sauces, etc. took a real bite out of the grocery budget.
3. New clothes for my new job.
4. My DS 13 is getting braces so we had to pay an up front fee of $350 for molds, x-rays, and photos that the insurance will not cover.

So, I will start "fresh" in September and track those budget numbers. I am anxious to settle into our new budget and see how it goes. I am focused on saving almost all of my salary. I am anxious to get that started and enroll in my employer's savings plan but they have not given me a password to get into the system and register. I will post back and keep myself responsible for keeping my savings on track.

I am off this morning to Payless to get soccer/baseball cleats for the boys and perhaps a cell phone for them to share. If DS13 is going to walk to practice or I will have to drop him off while I am with DS 10 somewhere else, I need to be able to get in touch with him.

Rethinking taking the bus for now

August 19th, 2011 at 12:01 am

I have been taking the bus this week to my new job. I can ride for free - a perk offered by my employer. It is supposed to take 53 minutes to get from the suburbs where I live to the front doorstep of my employer in the city. The return time is the same. It would take a minimum of 45 minutes to drive and often it takes an hour. The traffic is miserable. On the weekends, it only takes 25 minutes to drive there.

Getting to work has been taking the 53 minutes and has been fantastic. However, the route the bus takes from the city to the suburbs is a giant traffic snarl right now from various lane restrictions due to road construction. It took me 80 minutes to get home the last two days. I don't know if my sanity can take it. And, when the kids' fall activities start, I just can't spare that extra time. Perhaps my DH and I will need to keep the same work schedule for a while so we can drive together until the construction is over. The route we would drive is unaffected by this construction.

That would mean not as much gas savings but our time and the time we have with the kids is worth more to me.

Job training blues, 403b choices, budget windfalls

August 17th, 2011 at 11:25 pm

I started my new job on Monday. It requires a ton of training classes and paperwork to get started. I am so anxious to be able to contribute to my department. I spent the entire day today taking 3 online training courses and the required assessments. Honestly, it was totally exhausting to do that for 8 hours. I am now qualified to take the advanced training classes required to actually do my job. They will be done in the classroom at some point. In the meantime, another staff member is going to get me started tomorrow on some real work. I hope I can catch on fast and start making a contribution. My boss told me that it would take me at least 6 months to be competent and a whole year to really know what I am doing. I won't be truly happy unless I know that I am doing a good job so I hope to get my training in and really do well. I'm pretty confident in my abilities to catch on fast. I just don't want to be a pest to the people who currently know how to do the things that I need to be doing.

I get my first paycheck on the last day of the month and am really looking forward to it.

I need to figure out how I want my retirement plan contributions allocated on the benefits enrollment form. I am super excited to be able to start contributing to retirement savings again. They offer a Roth fund in the 403b so I am seriously considering putting most of my contribution into that while my DH has his in tax-deferred accounts. This way we can diversify our tax liability in retirement. I haven't quite decided what to do yet. I may go to the forums and ask.

My DH also works for the same employer. In looking at the health and pharmacy plans, it will be cheaper for us to enroll one of us as a single person and the other as a parent with multiple children. It is less by almost 50%. Our budget is looking so good. In addition to the lower health care costs, we are saving a ton by riding the bus. I did find out that we both can ride for free. Our gasoline usage will go way down as well as our oil change costs and maintenance frequency. And with our younger DS in public school this year instead of private school, we are saving a bunch of money there, too. I feel so rich! We ate out to celebrate my first day of work and I let the kids get whatever they wanted and even let them order an appetizer. No more getting the smaller portions or splitting plates or always eating off the kiddie menu for us! It is so great after 12 years to not have to worry about how every single penny is spent. It is so wonderful!!

Lastly, I thought we'd have to delay my retirement contributions until the first of the year to build up our emergency fund. When we were in Sweden, we did some extra traveling and took money out of the EF. However, the tuition refund from removing our DS from the private school has replenished the fund. I am so glad we did the traveling but even more so now.


New Job & Other stuff

August 14th, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Tomorrow I start my new job after being a stay-at-home mom for 12 years. I will be working full time. I am really excited to get started but a little sad to not be with my kids as much. The job has flex hours so I hope to be able to get home a little after my youngest gets off the school bus so I won't really be missing that much time with them except in the summer. I have been looking for a full time job for the last 3 years. There is not a lot out there especially for someone that has no recent work experience. Did I say I am really excited?! I feel like I hit the jackpot with this one. I get 17 paid-time-off days and have to work 37.5 hours per week with flex hours. Plus, I can work from home occasionally if I have a sick kid or doctor's appointment. I was expecting to get just the standard 10 vacation days, 40 hours at a minimum, and very little flexibility. I feel really lucky!

I was also really happy to see that I will be able to take the public bus to and from work. I think I will get to ride for free. I will find out tomorrow. This will save me the cost of a parking pass, gasoline, and wear-and-tear on the car, plus the headache of city traffic. A total win win win for me and our budget!

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The bankruptcy sale took place for the property that my father had to foreclose on. No one came to the sale so the ownership reverts back to my dad. I am very happy about that as he will now control who buys it since it borders family property. I do feel badly for him because he now has the hassle of getting it ready for sale. On the plus side, he does need something to keep him occupied.

Day of fun and under budget, bankruptcy hearing

August 5th, 2011 at 01:14 am

Today I took the kids to an amusement park geared toward younger kids that also has a water park. We met my brother's family there. I took the $40 left from the big amusement park visit on Tuesday to spend. I came home with $7. We packed lunches and drinks so I just had to buy some snacks, dinner, 2 drinks, ice cream for the kids on the way out, and highway tolls. Another bonus was that they replaced the large swimming pool with a wave pool. The kids have been wanting to go to the local wave pool but it had been postponed twice. Now, I don't have to take them at all. This park is wonderful and the wave pool made it that much more fun for my kids. I miss the old pool, though.

I went to the doctor yesterday and he prescribed an antibiotic for my sinus infection. It was a one dose, drink-the-whole-bottle in one shot drug. Quite convenient. It was also free as the doctor sent me to the local pharmacy with a voucher from the drug company. I am feeling a little better but not as good as I usually do after taking an antibiotic so I am wondering if what I've got is viral or allergies or if this new antibiotic works more slowly than what I am used to.

Tomorrow we are taking one of our cars in to have a recalled part replaced. Afterwards we are driving to my father's house to spend the weekend with him and to visit my family and attend the family reunion on Sunday. My father is going to be at the county court house in the afternoon for a bankrupcy auction. He had sold a piece of property and held the mortgage. Meanwhile, the people took out a second mortgage and have had to declare bankrupcy. I am curious as to how this will work out. My father said that the bank that holds the second mortgage will probably end up buying the property and paying off the first mortgage to my father. At least that is what his lawyer had conveyed to him. I am also interested in what happens to the property because it is adjacent to family property. I wouldn't want someone to put in some loud, ugly, or smelly operation in there. There is no zoning in this area as it is rural.

$40 left, weather, decluttering

August 3rd, 2011 at 03:12 pm

The kids had a great time at the amusement park with their old friends yesterday. It was so hot and humid but uncharacteristically uncrowded. The kids did just about everything they wanted to do and were asking to go home at 4:30. We usually stay until 9 or later. So, we ended up only spending $35 for parking, drinks, and some snacks. That's $45 under the day's budget.

It is sooo hot and humid here! It would be hard to take the heat under normal circumstances but since we have been back from Stockholm for less than a week (where the weather hovers around 70 with no humidity and a light breeze), the weather here is killing us. It rained some last night but it hasn't cooled off much. It looks like it will storm today so the wave pool outing will probably be postponed again.

I have not tackled anymore outside yard work because I have been sick. If it weren't so hot, I'd get something done but just don't feel like facing the heat with clogged sinuses. I do hope to cut the grass today if it dries out and doesn't storm. We have a lawn tractor so it makes cutting our one acre hilly yard pretty easy. I'll get DS13 to do the trimming and pushmowing of the parts that the lawn tractor can't do and DS10 will do any raking if it's needed.

DS10 and I spent the morning going through his closet and drawers. We filled 1.5 large black garbage bags of clothes to give to a relative for his boys. We threw some old damaged and/or stained things away and put the rest of his Catholic school uniforms in a large kitchen garbage bag for a friend. After the cleanout, he has enough clothes for school, play and church so no school shopping is needed for him.

When my sons outgrow things I put them into storage bins in their closets. When the bin starts to get full, I sort through it and send things to charity or to basement storage (for later use for the younger boy) or straight to my younger son's closet. The bin in DS13's closet is piled really high so I need to go through that next. It feels so good to get these things that we do not need out of the house!







school registration, kid fun

August 2nd, 2011 at 11:01 am

Yesterday I registered the kids for the public school and got the vacuum cleaner that the housesitters messed up fixed. It only cost $12 for the vacuum repair.

The amount and kinds of forms I had to fill out at the school district were interesting. One was to gauge their level of English fluency (how many years have they been in school in the US, what languages do they speak, what language is spoken at home), and on another I had to swear and have notorized that my children had never been expelled from another school for violence, drugs, vandalism, and something else quite serious. Their eyes got as big as ping-pong balls when they heard that question! So, they are now registered and now I wait for the guidance office to call about my DS13s schedule. I would like for his math teacher to test him and see if he actually finished Algebra 1 in Sweden. This will be a real headache to make happen. His Swedish school had to individualize the math program for each kid which meant they were learning on their own. They did this because these kids (in the English-speaking section) were all immigrants or temporary residents coming from an assortment of different countries and math programs. I am not so sure that he actually has a solid foundation in Algebra since he was teaching himself. That is a real shame because we moved him to the public school so that he could be in their accelerated math program. It's not the end of the world though if he has to repeat Algebra 1 this year. He will still get all the way through calculus in high school. I keep telling myself it is no big deal and it is better if he is a little bored and repeats than if he doesn't have a solid understanding of these math concepts. I also found out that orientation for new elementary students including my DS10 is at 10 am in late August. How do working parents manage to get their kids to stuff like this? I will have no time off yet and my DH may be out of town. I may have to ask my neighbor to take him and hope that she can do it. That's just not the same as me being there and asking the right questions pertinent to my kid.

DS10 had his best friend from the Catholic school over yesterday. He stayed until 3 pm and was asking if he could go to the wave pool with us. His mother could not stay for that but she said that we could go together on Wednesday so the kids wanted to do that instead of going after he left. I hope the weather holds out for these kids.

This week is my last week at home before I start my new full-time job. We will be leaving Friday for 8 days to visit our families since we have not seen them since Christmas and my kids are really missing their cousins. I start the Monday after we get back. I have scheduled all of the fun things the kids love to do in the summer in this one week: wave pool, amusement park, water/amusement park #2, play dates, mini-golf.

Today we are going to the local amusement park and meeting friends that are here for their once-a-year visit with family and friends. They had to move about 6 years ago with a job relocation. My kids look forward to going to the amusement park every year with them. This day is always so expensive. I budget $80 for the day. The kids have a ritual with the day. Certain foods (mostly junk) are a must and are expensive. I indulge them as this is a once a year extravagance. If I get home with $20 I feel pretty lucky! We do pack lunch but have to buy drinks/water once we run out. The kids always buy pizza for dinner, and for snacks during the day they get some fries, ice cream, and cotton candy. With parking, that comes pretty close to $80. Crazy I know!! I have always taken this out of our eating out/entertainment budget for the month so it was a planned expense. In the past, the kids knew how much money per week we had for "summer fun" (usually about $30) and would have to save up the fun money to go to this park.

I am looking forward to the week of fun with the kids but am sad because this is the last summer that we will be together all the time and having lazy summer fun days.

With the new job I was told that I have to work 37.5 hours per week and that I need to be there between 10 and 3 but can start and leave whenever I choose. DH works at the same institution so it would be ideal to have the same schedule. For the kids though, it would be best if I worked 7 - 3 and DH worked 9 - 5. That way he'd be home in the morning until they got on the school bus and I'd get home pretty close to when DS10 got off the bus. Until I get this new job figured out, I will need to work the hours most of my co-workers choose to work which are 8-4. Many things to still figure out.

change of schools, shopping trip for clothes

August 1st, 2011 at 09:56 am

I mentioned that we will be moving our DS10 from a private school to a public school this fall. We sent our kids to this academic, Catholic school (not a parish school) after DS13 finished 3rd grade in the public school and DS10 was starting 1st grade. We did this because they have an excellent academic program and our kids needed the challenge. We had always planned on moving them to the public school once they started high school in 9th grade or middle school in 6th grade when the academic programs divided the kids according to ability. We moved DS13 last year in 7th grade to take advantage of their advanced math program. It turned out that it was not really that much more advanced than the Catholic school and the other academic subjects lagged behind the Catholic school. We are moving DS10 this year because he will need after school care since I start my full-time job on August 15th. He was severely bullied in after school care the last time we did that when I had a seasonal job. The bully and the teacher are still there. The school was about to expel the bully from daycare when this all happened in the spring of 2010. But, after the lawyer dad came in and met with the principal, suddenly my child was equally responsible for being taunted, isolated, and humiliated. The academic program there is not worth the depression and hurt that my poor child suffered during that 3-month period. Plus, he will be able to ride the bus which will help logistically with me now working. We plan on having both kids at home until we get home. Does anyone have suggestions on how to keep them busy after school? I don't want them to be playing electronic games and I don't want to have to confiscate the games, etc. every day to prevent them from doing that. They currently have a one hour per day electronic entertainment limit.

After church, I helped DS13 as he tried on all the clothes in his closet. Just as I thought, almost nothing fit. However, because we know after our 7 months living with very little in Sweden that we can live with a lot less, all he needed in the end was a pair of nice shorts or pants to wear to church and a pair of gray shorts for school plus some new underwear. He had 8 short-sleeved shirts, 3 pairs of jeans, several pairs of track pants, 3 pairs of shorts, a dozen pairs of socks, and a pair of sneakers that all fit. Plenty for school. We will be keeping up with doing laundry once per week so he will be fine. He can wear his pants/shorts more than one day before they need to be washed as he does have a gym "uniform" that he leaves at school and plenty of clothes that don't fit to use as play clothes at home.

I think DS10 is okay on clothes but I still need to go through his closet. I needed a couple of skirts and several nice tops to start my new job. I also wanted to find a white and/or cream-colored sweater to wear in the overly air-conditioned building. So we headed to the local outlet center after church to get what we needed. I sent my DH with a list and the kids while I went looking for things to match what I already had. The plan was to then go home and go to the county park wave pool for the afternoon because it is still so hot here.

I was able to get everything I needed for work at the Talbots outlet. Everything in the store was 30-50% off and I did something I never do: I opened a Talbots credit card to get an additional 15% off. I will pay off the card and then close it immediately. I have been so frugal on one income for so long that I have not bought myself new clothes or spent more than $15 on an item of everyday clothing in at least 10 years. It was actually hard for me to buy things that I would have considered too expensive. Normally, price is the number one criteria for me when I buy clothing. Well yesterday, fit, style, and price were the priorities in that order. I will end up returning some things as they did not match what I had at home but I ended up spending $400. I almost choked when she said the total. I ended up with the white and cream colored sweaters I wanted, 3 skirts, 7 tops, 3 other light layering sweaters, 3 fall/winter sweaters, a scarf, and a blazer. That adds up to costing $20 per item which is not that bad really. I will be taking back at least one skirt and 3 tops. I can wear these clothes all year round because I got the sweaters to wear over the summery tops. With the new job, I am not going to beat myself up on the total cost. I have not spent that much on myself in the last 4 years total. I will wear these clothes until they wear out.

When I met up with my family, they had just finished their shopping. DH had found his shoes and the shorts for DS13. We still need to get the underwear at a department store. Even DH had a hard time paying $55 for the pair of Timberland shoes. We are just so used to being frugal and shopping clearance sales that it is hard to buy something you "like" instead of buying it because of the price. I also think that is why my kids had 20 t-shirts each: because I got a bunch of them for $1.29 at Target during a clearance sale since they were cheap. Now we'll get things that are reasonably priced but are what we like.

After we got home, the kids went to play with the neighbor kids who just got home from vacation. So, this was the first time they'd seen them in 7 months. We will try to go to the wave pool on Monday. DS10 has his best friend coming over to play so it will depend on how long he stays. I can't watch three kids at the wave pool. It is way too dangerous. I normally stand next to DS10 and keep an eye on DS13.

Taking back the house, Clothing Purge

July 30th, 2011 at 12:15 pm

After two solid days of cleaning and yard work, we have taken back control of our house. The mess from the housesitters is gone. I just have to clean in the basement which is not a big deal. Our new dryer was delivered yesterday so I can also start washing some window sheers that are very dusty, my crumb covered dining room table cloth, as well as the bedding from the guest room that they slept in during the summer. I am so relieved to have the housesitters dirt, grime and hair gone (well pretty much gone)! We are also completely unpacked.

Our grass looks very nice. We did some more raking to get up more clippings since the lawn was so high when we got back. We also weeded the most visible shrubbery beds so at least from the street and driveway, our yard looks well-kept. We also hand-trimmed the yard-tall grass around all of the things one would normally trim. The housesitters had never once trimmed. We still have to weed the entire back yard which includes a big hillside and power wash the deck and porch. We live at the bottom of a big hill just below a huge trickling spring and just above a stream so our house sits in a very wet environment. This creates a lot of green mold-like stuff that grows on our house, porch, and deck. I will be scrubbing the front steps today with a bleach solution.

To save money, we have what we call an "equipment alliance" with our next-door neighbor. We share a power washer, snow-blower, push-mower, a spreader, and certain tools. If things need to be fixed, we share the cost. This works so wonderfully. We don't each need these things as they get used fairly infrequently. We have a lawn tractor and use the pushmower on the steep and wet parts so we don't need it a lot either.

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Since we moved all of our things out of our closet and dressers to make way for the housesitters things, we had to move them all back in. This was the perfect time to purge items that a) were damaged, b) very old and out of style, c) did not fit, and d) were excess items. Because we lived in Sweden for 7 months and had to take everything with us when we flew, we took very little. We learned to live with just a few items of clothing and realized how much excess we had so we decided to add the "excess" category when we did the purge. We ended up donating 4 big, black garbage bags of clothing to our local charity. This was about 65% or more of what we owned. it felt really good to get rid of these things! Our closet is half empty and our drawers are half full. Now I need to work on the kids' closets.
This will also save money since I know now exactly what I need to buy for work for my new job. I tried on a lot of things and realized that I had some nice outfits that I had bought for interviews, my mother's funeral/viewing and my brother's wedding and rehearsal dinner in the last 5 years. I will be able to cut the amount I thought I would need for work things in half. Now I need to get busy on the kids' closets so I can see what they actually need to start school. My DS10 was going to a private school where he wore a uniform so he may need some new things since he is moving to the public school. Most of his regular clothes are hand-me-downs from his older brother and have seen quite a bit of wear and staining. My older son just turned 13 and is growing so fast that I know most of his things that we did not take to Sweden are too small since most of the things we did take are too small. He needs new everthing except shoes, socks, and underwear. I just need to figure out how much he needs.

jet-lag, US prices, and housesitters

July 29th, 2011 at 10:52 am

My family has just returned from 7 months living in Stockholm, Sweden. It was very strange to go to the grocery store for the first time when we got back to the US. Things seem so much more expensive than I remember. Specifically, meat. I found myself converting the US price to Swedish kronor to decide if it was a good price or not. Things in Stockholm were much more expensive than the US and we were used to paying at least 40% more for groceries. By comparison, the US prices are a steal but they seemed high. Am I imagining this?

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I am suffering from major jet-lag and insomnia. We were 6 hours ahead of EST in Stockholm and I haven't been able to sleep past 3 am the last two nights. It is also weird to get up at night and not be able to see my way to the bathroom. It was only pitch black in Stockholm for a couple of hours max in the summer, and since we lived in the city, there was a lit-up billboard that shown into our main room when it was dark.
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While we were gone, we had a young couple in their early 20's and newly married staying at our house rent free to keep a watch out for us. They had to take care of the house, pay the utilities and cut the grass in exchange. I met this couple through my DS10's private music teacher. Her house and lawn are immaculate and the young couple were living with her temporarily. We met the couple who seemed a bit odd but responsible. I always saw the young wife cooking dinner while I waited for my son's lesson to finish so I thought she must be fairly responsible. The wife was not working when they moved in and starting taking online classes in the late spring. She did not have a car and they had the tv service turned off. I felt sorry for her but thought "good for me, she has lots of time to clean my house". Before I left, I scrubbed every inch of my house. It was as clean as it had ever been when they moved in.

Fast-forward to the day we returned. I was shocked when I saw the lawn and felt like crying when I went into the house. The lawn had not been cut in 2-3 weeks. My sons and I cut the grass and then had to rake the clippings because it was so long. I was expecting to come home to weeds in all of our flower and mulch beds and to have to trim the shrubs, edge the driveway, and power wash the porch and deck but was hoping that they had done some weed-pulling. I did expect at least the lawn to be nicely cut since that is all we asked of them.

The house could have been worse. At least that is what I keep telling myself to keep from wanting to kill this couple. To be positive, the refrigerator and microwave were immaculate. Here's a list of the negative:
1) The house had not been dusted in weeks. My living room may never have been dusted.
2) The carpets hadn't been vacuumed "because the belt on the vacuum broke" (quote from a note they left). Okay, I get that. BUT, we have an old vacuum that does work that is stored right next to the new one. Plus, my next door neighbor has been driving our cars around and interacting with these two and she would have happily lent them a vacuum, and/or his mother, who lives 5 minutes from us would have also lent them a vacuum. I'm not buying it.
3) The towels from the bathroom and throw blankets from the family room were dirty and thrown in a heap in the laundry room.
4) The stove had a thick layer of spilled and burnt food all over the burner covers and had dripped down under the covers. It took me an hour to clean that mess.
5) The drain board had a layer of mold on it and dishes in it that I had to re-wash because they were not clean. The window above the sink was so slopped with food splatters, etc. that it was hard to see out of it.
6) The sinks and master bath had major soap scum films on them.
7) The bath mat and bathroom rugs were dirty.
8) My one houseplant had never once been watered and, obviously, was completely dead with no hope.
9) They left things scattered throughout the house. This was because of the unplanned and hurried way they left. My neighbor came over the day we arrived (the day after they told her they would be out of the house) to put some milk, eggs, and other food for us in our refrigerator. They were still there and had my family room filled with stuff they needed to move out. This was at 1:30 and we were arriving at 5:30.
10) There were crumbs all over my dining room table cloth
11) There were food crumbs and her hair in my freezer.

The kicker for me was that they left a note apologizing for the lawn ("I started a new job and didn't have time to cut it one last time") and the house ("we hope it is cleaned to your satisfaction and will come back if you want us to"). They've known for 7 months the exact date we were coming back so no excuse they could give (well, if there was a death in the family that required them to go out of town, maybe) that would excuse this. Also, he should have been cutting the grass at least once a week. If he did not have a chance to cut it one last time, I could have dealt with one-week's worth of grass growth. The scum, mold, and dust had accumulated over weeks/months.

After having been awake for almost 24 hours, I had to spend 4 hours cleaning the master bathroom and kitchen just so my family could start to unpack. I got up the next "night" and spent 3 more hours doing laundry and re-organizing my kitchen so I could find things. They literally just tossed pots, pans, and tupperware into the cabinets. The spice/baking cabinet also looked like somebody dumped everything out and just threw it back onto the shelves. She ruined two metal baking pans by leaving them soaking in water (there were rust stains in my kitchen sink)and a cookie sheet - I don't have any idea what she did to it but it is ruined. The coffee maker was also broken. I wouldn't have cared really if the house had been cleaned.

I have also cleaned the master bedroom and my kids' rooms but still need to vacuum most of the house and dust it as well. I also need to scrub the laundry room.

I have found an assortment of their stuff in an assortment of places. It is boxed up in cardboard boxes they left in my basement.

Despite having typed up detailed instructions and having even shown them how to do it, they did not clean the lint off the screen on the outside of the house where the dryer hose exhausts to the outside. I discovered this when I put the bath rugs and some towels into the dryer at 10:30 pm and, when I got up at 2:30 am because I couldn't sleep, the dryer had just finished drying them. The lint screen had 4 times as much lint on it as I have ever seen. They seriously were willing to wait 4 hours per load for laundry to dry? This put the bullet into the brain of my fading dryer. We had to go last night and buy a new one.

I know this couple is young (early 20's) and am trying to cut them a little slack. But, I feel they really knew better and should be told so. I sent them an email telling them I had two boxes of assorted stuff, and that I was disappointed at how dirty the house was and how sorry the lawn looked. I told them that, even though they offered in their note to come back, we thought it was best to do the cleaning ourselves. I wanted to really let them have it but I feel badly for my DS10's music teacher and did not want to cause any hard feelings there. She would be appalled to see the mess they left.

I dread seeing them when they come to claim their stuff. I don't want to hear any lame apologies and I don't want to be forced to either say nothing or say something too harsh.

I will be glad when we are all unpacked and I can finish the cleaning. The worst part is done.