Sunday, March 29, 2015

Taxes and the middle class

This year Matt and I just barely squeezed into the middle class. I guess we have always been middle class since that's what we were raised in, but this time our taxes actually reflected that.

It's been interesting to think about how drastically this has changed our family dynamic from when we were floating around the poverty line.

This year we paid a little over $3,000 in taxes, over half of which was self-employment tax. Since we had no liability last year and hadn't made estimated payments, most of it was debited from our bank account in a single day, which we sort of shrugged off. The money would have been nice, another vacation perhaps, but it would have been spent on extras or stashed away in savings. So it left with no fight or discussion. Matt let me know and I acknowledged it, but that was that.

Compare that to just 2 years ago...

 The first full year that we were married we made $10,600 total. Madeleine was born in December, and the following year we made about as much. We had everything we needed but every tiny expense was watched. 

One memory that stands out in particular was Madeleine's first Easter. I remember walking up and down the aisle at K-mart trying to find things that she could enjoy that I could put in her Easter basket. I spent forever mulling over an item and putting it in the cart, only to put it back just a little while later when I realized that it was more than I could afford. I was thrilled when I found her a fancy Christmas dress that was marked down to $7. It was silver and I was sure it would make the perfect Easter dress. I left with less than $20 worth of things. When I got home, Matt was extremely anxious and distressed over the purchase. He understood that I wanted to do something special but it wasn't in the budget and he was worried that we would end up on the street or something. I cried myself to sleep that night.

This year has been drastically different. Just tonight I was looking at lamb chops for Easter dinner -$15.99/lb. I stood there calculating how much we would need to feed us and the two other people that we are having over. It's still more than I liked to spend, but I also know we can afford it. Buying this meat would not change our monthly budget and would just be a blip in our weekly budget. Matt patiently stood there holding Madeleine waiting for me make up my mind. He wasn't even stressing over it. 

When I think about it, it's amazing to me how just in 2 years our lives have changed.  This year we got ourselves out of debt. We even have a tiny bit of savings. We don't fight over money anymore. We even planned and paid for our own vacation!

We're not fabulously wealthy--Matt and I both work at just over minimum wage. Money is still tight, but we aren't starving for it either. It isn't the thing that is constantly on our minds. We aren't anxious for the next paycheck. If something breaks now, it's not the end of the world. 

When I think about people who are stuck at the poverty line, I feel sad. I realize that a lot of the reason that we can move up to middle class comes from our privileged upbringing. Matt and I grew up in fairly functional families. We both attended some of the best high schools in the country. We went to a good college, and Matt's getting a PhD. We are white (on at least one occasion, someone admitted that race influenced their decision to hire me.) We have the education to know how to cook and budget. We have the connections to barter and to get free stuff from our wealthier neighbors. We live in a wealthy community, and although our rent is a little higher, the community resources are incredible

I frequently think about people who are stuck at the lower income level we had when we were first married. I remember the stress. I remember the fear that wasting a single dollar, that buying a hamburger could put us under. I think about the hard choices we had to make--how we had to put up with atrocious health care options. 

So when we paid our taxes, Matt and I took a very socialist view of it, because we learned that $20 can put more stress on a relationship than $3,000.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

March's book club

March's book club was awesome. We read Free-Range Kids. Only 2 people came and my husband but we talked about the book for over an hour and half! On top of that, I had a chance to discuss it with a few more members of book club outside of the meeting and even more members gave me extremely positive feedback about reading it. So I'm considering this month a win.

We had a great discussion about how we were raised, the role of parents, the role of police and social workers, and how different children have different needs. It pretty much was exactly what I wanted my book club to be when I was thinking about it. We stayed on topic the whole time and we never ran out of things to say. I also liked the fact that people said that they kept bringing it up in discussions with other people. That was one of the reasons I chose this book. After I read it, I wanted to discuss and talk to people about it.

Here is my review from the first time I read it.

"This book was amazing. Funny how the "world's worst mom" wrote the best parenting book I've read (and I read a lot of them). One of the lovely things about this book it doesn't matter what your parenting style is...this book will still work for you. With that said, it's only kind of a parenting book. People that don't have kids should read it too. The goal of this book was to examine our generations perceptive of "safe" and it takes the whole community to change not just parents to make a large difference in our culture."

Next month is one of my favorite books - Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Most of the people haven't read it before, and I think it's really quite a special book. I love the perspective and the message.

Any suggestions for other book club books? I have the next few months planned but I'm still looking for more.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Little update

Madeleine is sweet and smart and recently decided that she loves routines. On Saturday I went to the MET by myself (which was so awesome!! I need to blog about that), and she actually led Matt through her routine. She knows when she eats, sleeps, and gets dressed. It's handy and most of the days are so much fun.

As for Baby X, he is growing up too! He has his own little opinions and is suddenly letting everyone know. It's pretty funny when he isn't yelling at me for doing something wrong. He'll give people big cheesy smiles when he is happy and claps. It's adorable.

5/7 days of the week are good, but the other two are really difficult. They usually are the days that we actually go somewhere, because Madeleine has been testing boundaries. One meltdown after another just to get her in the car. When we get somewhere, it doesn't get any better. She crawls around on the floor of stores because she has realized when I have Baby X in my arms that I can't actually reach her.

So we've been staying home more. Playing outside and baking a bit. They both love to play with flashcards and trains. Baby X loves chasing after balls and Madeleine. They started to play together too. The easy days really are easy.

The hard days I get through with ice cream and Janet Lansbury's book No Bad Kids. I know this is just a phase and Madeleine really is a fast little learner. If I can stay consistent for a little more than a week she'll stick to it. Like quiet time in the morning. Baby X goes down for his nap at 9:30 and Madeleine goes in her room and reads.

It's my favorite part of the day. This is her reading "Mrs. Muddle's Holidays" by her grandma Laura Nielsen. It's moments like this that I don't mind too much that she's being 2.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Weekend Road Trip

All the way back in January, I found out I would get this weekend off. Even though it was Pi Day (a big celebration here in Princeton), I really wanted to go on a road trip. We were planning on going to Boston until the morning that we were suppose to leave. The weather wasn't looking too great and I had to be back by a reasonable hour to work on Monday. So I sent Matt off to work, while I scrambled to get everything together and plan a new trip. DC is always our default since it's only 3 hours away, we have family there, and everything is more or less free. 

I like themes for our trips so I picked bookstores and Spring.

Madeleine and I picked Matt up at 4 and off we went to our first stop - Bethleham, PA to see the oldest bookstore in the US and the 2nd oldest in the world.

Moravian was pretty neat. It was big and had a great children's selection, but at the same time I would have never guessed it was that old. It wasn't cozy and everything felt pretty new. We read a book or two before heading off to find some food.

Just a few blocks down we found a place called Cachette. It didn't look really child friendly, but it was a crepe shop, which really isn't that fancy? I don't know. I hate that some people can't stand kids. Lucky for us, this place got the food out quick and Madeleine was happy. All of us could not get enough of the fries. I'm not usually one rave about food but these fries were amazing. Seasoned fries with melted gruyere on top and thick cut bacon sprinkled throughout it. To top it off, there was some amazing cheese dip. It made me question why ketchup was ever invented. We poked around in a few more shops that were close by, before getting in the car and crashing in DC.

The next morning we headed downtown to the Smithsonian. Madeleine and I had never really explored the Museum in Natural History, because she wasn't really interested in animals. Lately though, she's been obsessed so I wanted to let her explore it a bit. We covered most of the museum fairly quickly. (Madeleine points to a raccoon, "Meow, Meow" and then runs down the exhibit until she found something else she recognized.) But we ended up spending the most time in the exploration room. Madeleine got on a tiny lab coat and spent plenty of time exploring different bones and textures. It was really cute. 

One of the exhibits I wish we spent more time in.

We stopped for lunch (I got a brie, turkey, and spicy honey mustard sandwich that I'm going to try to duplicate at home) before trekking over to the National Botanical Gardens. It was the spring part of our trip.  None of us had been there before. It was beautiful but the best part was the way it smelled. In the main room, there were citrus blossoms everywhere. Madeleine's favorite part was the fountains. 

The Air and Space museum was on the way back to the car so we popped in a little bit so Madeleine could see some "Ahmes". It was really busy though so we didn't stay long.

After that we headed home and spent some time with family. It was quite nice, and we even got Madeleine to bed early enough for Matt and me to have a date!! I was SO excited. Matt doesn't really do the whole babysitter thing, so the last time we were out alone was in November when his parents were out visiting. I had actually planned a date just in case we got the chance. We went to Kramerbooks and Afterwords. It had to meant to be, because despite the fact that it was St. Patrick's Day weekend and a Saturday night, we found parking right in front of the store. I was pretty pleased. 

Anyway, this bookstore was exactly what I like bookstores to be. It was busy, slightly crowded and covered floor to ceiling in books. They only had one or two copies of each book letting the "small" store have a wonderful collection. They didn't have any of the children's books I was looking for, but I found several that I want to check out at the library. Matt and I also got some dessert at the cafe - goober pie and some chocolate cake. It was a perfect night.

The next morning, we woke up said goodbye to family before heading home. I had planned one short stop on the way home. It's this place called The Book Thing. It's a nonprofit organization in Baltimore that runs a free bookstore. I wanted to go so bad, and it was barely off of our route.

It didn't disappoint. It was much bigger and more organized than I expected. We could have spent much longer than we did except we needed to get home. I'm going to save some of our books we are going to get rid of and drop them off when we go back down in May. 

We got home by noon and ran by church to catch the end.

How do you plan trips? Matt thought I was a bit crazy to plan around bookstores, but the trip was exactly what I wanted. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


6:30 Wake up

Meditate til 6:40

Scripture study and prayer to 6:50

Make bed

Shower while the other cleans


Matt leaves for work at 7:40

Then I do whatever I need to until Madeleine wakes up around 8:30 or Baby X comes. Then I start a totally different routine.

We set this up a while ago and it works really well. It's not too rushed and everything gets done. I found cleaning (especially dishes) before bed just makes me go to bed late. I'm more of a morning person so getting up and cleaning is way easier for me. Matt isn't a morning person, but we found our version of mediating (10 minutes of silent and still cuddling) gives him a little bit of time to wake up. It's so much easier than trying to get him out of bed. He eats leftovers for lunch so it's usually already packed. Our goal is to get up even earlier so we can exercise in the morning, but we are still getting use to daylight savings. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Getting older

 Madeleine is getting old enough that I'm really starting to use more montessori activities in our home. Most of them are practical life skills. They help me out the most and she loves them. On top of that, she's so proud of herself for helping me.

She moves all of the laundry from the laundry basket to the washer. 

 She brushes and "flosses" her own teeth.

She washes the tupperware.

She has her bath routine down. She knows how to drain the tub, put away her toys, and wrap herself in a towel. I don't even need to remind her most of the time. It's awesome.

She also knows the more complex routine of leaving the house. She not only gets her shoes, gloves, doll, doll stroller ready to leave, but she also helps me get my shoes, socks, hat, and coat on. If Baby X is around, she also grabs all of his things. It's pretty funny.

She helps pick out snacks and prepare them.

She is great at "helping" with baking. She actually is pretty good at pouring everything in and mixing...but she also has a tendency of putting fingers in all the ingredients. 

 She also has been learning how to crack and make eggs. She doesn't cook with the stove yet, but I can see that in the near future. She knows the stove is hot and that she can't touch the pan or metal part, but she also cries the whole time they are cooking...which is less than helpful.

I also recently made her a lot of little dresses. These dresses are special because she can get them on herself and they don't have a front or back. The elastic gives her plenty of room to stretch the dress while she's putting it on. 

Two has been pretty hard so far. She's struggling with the words "wait" and "after". Things like "We can leave after we pay for our food" or "After I finish this email", almost always leads to a meltdown. She's trying really hard though, and I'm hoping as we help her be a little more independent that she'll feel a bit more in control. At least that's what the theory is according to parenting books...