Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have pee.

Pants put Kitten in undie-wears this morning and she stayed dry, as usual, for a few hours. We were going to lay down for quiet time and I asked her if she wanted to go potty before we put a diaper on. She agreed.

Seemed like a bad sign that she wanted to sit down without taking her undie-wears off, but we took them off. It took her by surprise, but some pee shot out into the potty, mostly by accident. We had liftoff, though, which is really what I was looking for. Not scary, not pressured, totally safe, and incredibly praised.

So the plan is to clear her constipation out this week (again) and we have a good start on that this weekend. In a week or two, we will try the 3-day Potty-Training Solution (thanks, AKJ). If it doesn't work, we will put it on hold and try again in the summer. With the dresses. Again, thanks AKJ.

I also reviewed the website Ms. Huis Herself recommended, It's Not All Mary Poppins. I want to try her method with Meimei. Mary has the advantage of peer competition, which doesn't seem to be a factor in my house. With one going, however, it might become one. We can use the competition factor at that point to push Meimei into doing it, more or less on her own. That's her personality anyway - very much a "me do it" kid.

Whereas Kitten would still be in her crib sucking formula from a bottle if we let her.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Random Thoughts

After about 6 weeks of struggle and tripping over ourselves, I finally feel like we're making headway on our bills. 2 miscellaneous debts and 1 full bill paid off, now another 1/3 of a credit card paid, total should be paid off in a month or two. Starting to feel like maybe this won't take 10 years to fix.

Still can't get the kids potty trained. Both are excited to wear underwear but neither will actually pee in the potty. I don't know how to make a kid pee in the potty. Reaching the end of my rope. College in diapers? That's been done before, right?

I am quitting PR for good, effective March 1. I honestly can't keep up the kind of energy it takes to run it and I am ruining it instead. Time to get out. Deep discounts coming soon...

Pants and I are going to spend a few hours the next 3 Saturdays in cleaning out the basement (crawlspace, main room, office) so we can decide what we're gonna do. He's not sold on the framing and insulating, but perhaps when we rip out the bench and he sees there is NOTHING behind it but cinder block.

I am starting to think Kitten has ADD. She failed her kindergarten screening (we are waiting on the referral for additional screening to be scheduled) and mostly because she made silly errors. She has a hard time focusing through an entire board game with me. She finds it difficult to sit still to get changed. She is constantly moving. The worst part is that it's so foreign to me. I can't imagine having that much energy to burn, but I'm trying to adapt. If anyone can suggest more active activities, I'm open to it. I've been doing Lion Hunt with them (twice!) each night, but we're going to have to return that to the library.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hey, that's me!

I listen to MPR a lot now. So I've been listening regarding the stimulus bill and the new proposal for turning around the mortgage crisis. I'm all for progress and I believe in Obama, so I'm pretty happy about both on a moral level.

And then, as part of the mortgage bill, they described this little benefit:

They want to adjust the rules to help homeowners who have "done the right thing" with their mortgage and who would like to refinance to take advantage of the current low rates, but find themselves "underwater" on their mortgages, or owing more than the house is now worth because of falling home values.

Which is us. We bought a house we could afford and put down over 20%. We are current with our payments. We would love to refinance into a better interest rate, but we owe more than what the house is currently worth.

The only caveat is that they will only be helping people whose mortgages are owned or secured by Frannie Mae or Freddie Mac.


For once, I thought we were actually going to be able to take advantage of a specific government program that isn't just built into the tax tables. They were describing me until we got to that part.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Now looking 25% less hillbilly

So Pants' brother hauled the Intrepid away last night, leaving only 3 cars in our driveway: the Scion, the Escape, and the truck. I'm just happy to have that thing out of the driveway.

Other news:

Kitten smacked her head on a plaster column this afternoon and got a giant goose egg above her eye.

We got our tax refund back. For the first time in months, I have money. It'll be gone tomorrow, but today, I have money!

I just baked a huge ham and will be trolling recipeeps for anything including ham.

Friday, February 13, 2009

When they mention "cab-forward design", you should run away

SIL has pretty much destroyed her car. I don't know how or what is wrong, but her car is out of commission.

Pants has offered his Intrepid, but no good deed goes unpunished. He jumped the Intrepid (it's been parked in the driveway for 9 months) to get it moving. Something happened that smelled very bad and the car died diagonally across the upper portion of our driveway.

We had Pants' uncle, aunt, and mom help us push the car back up onto one side of the driveway and up by the garage. We're going to try a new battery tomorrow, but there is one problem.

Cab-forward design.

This was a great selling feature -more leg room, bigger cabin, generally roomier feeling. The drawback is that you can barely wedge your fingers into the engine compartment, much less refill any fluids or change out the battery. So I guess we'll see what happens in daylight.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Pants is home, but pulled the Sunday shift, so he's working today.

Pants brought souvenirs for everyone, but was careful on the money. I got Costa Rican coffee. The girls each got some shells from the beach, some rocks, some Costa Rican money, and they each got a wooden necklace. The money, in total, might be worth $1. He was not thrilled about the necklaces, which he thought he was getting 2/$5 but it turned out to be one necklace twisted into 2 layers, so he bought another. He also took headphones from the airplane for both of them.

I went out to Barnes & Noble last night to read magazines. I hate the idea, but everyone else was there doing it and the library closes at 6 on Saturdays. I looked through personal finance books, the clearance sections, and the magazines, but walked out without buying anything, including this week's People. I actually took out a pen and a scrap of paper and copied recipes for laundry soap and dishwasher soap out of a book.

Plus, I was dying for a cheeseburger again and thought it wouldn't hurt if I just stopped at McDonald's on the way home, seeing as I hadn't eaten much dinner and all. Surely it wouldn't be that bad. But, as I sat at B&N, I thought about th $60 I was trying to live on for 2 weeks, the $30 I had already spent at a work thing with my team Friday afternoon, and the cost of riding the bus for the next 3 weeks for training. I did not stop. Maybe if I make it until the 20th on what I have I will go to McDonald's and blow the rest.

It just occurred to me I could buy one cheeseburger for $1.29 and not the whole meal. Hmmm. Being cheap may make me resourceful.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The first emergency haircut

So, Kitten got ahold of the scissors Thursday night while I was in the bathroom and we ended up at Fantastic Sam's today to try to repair the damage. She whacked a bunch off one side and apparently more off the top than I thought.

Turned out cute, though.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Random Thoughts - Tired off my ass edition

My kids decided to make my last night of caring for them alone a living hell, just to make sure I wasn't harboring any thoughts of leaving Pants. Meimei shredded her second book of the week and tore all of the clothes out of her dresser in protest for not being able to sleep on the couch. I think Kitten is still up in her room.

As usual, on the one night I really can't take it, I get 4 phone calls. Ok, one was from Pants saying he was back in the country. So yeah, took that one. He'll be home around 2 am.

The whole "will-they-or-won't-they" on Ghost Whisperer is really starting to piss me off. I'm considering canceling my season pass.

Sober House is killing me and I can't wait until next week for the next episode. Definitely not canceling that one. Train. Wreck.

I think I'm going to bed now. I'm so exhausted from the whole week and it's barely after 10. Lame.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Yeah, I'm blogging like crazy - Random Thoughts

Pants is in Costa Rica this week. I know, how does he get to go to Costa Rica when I can't eat a cheeseburger? We got real about money just 2 weeks before he was leaving and he already had a plane ticket. Anyway, he's gone all week and I have too much to say not to blog. There's too much going on.

It seems like every time I try to get going on our money I get kicked in the teeth. My DirecTV bill is going up in March and Pants and I will ahve to talk about dropping our plan down. Quite a bit. Or switching to another carrier altogether. I don't know how that conversation will go.

We discussed the phones already and we will not be getting iPhones and data plans. We will be getting replacement phones (hopefully the free ones) and going with our own company for the discount. When my discount kicks in (as opposed to Pants's discount), we'll be saving about half over what we're paying today for the same plan.

I figured out last week that picking up the ad in the grocery store is already too late. If I plan my menus with the weekly ad and match my coupons with store sales and stuff I need before I go, I can save much more. I saved $40 last week off my grocery bill! Granted, Cub had some pretty awesome sales last week on meat which contributed greatly to my savings. But dang - it was over 20% of my bill. I also finally used my Cub/Holiday gas coupon and saved $2.30 off my gas bill.

I'm watching this afternoon's Oprah and some lady saved over $150/month on her electric bill by unplugging things she wasn't using. I once blogged about the "shutoff" switch that Ed Begley had on his show, but this is the low-tech way to do it, I guess. I don't spend $150 per month on electricity, so I don't think my savings will be quite as deep. But I'm game to try it.

Dying for a Big Mac

Yes, I would have done anything, shagged anyone, for a cheeseburger and fries this evening. Not having money is the best diet I've ever been on.

Yesterday, to my dismay, I discovered that the bank had taken $200 out of our main account to cover a $10 overdraft on my personal account. My own fault, I know. But $200? And today my main account overdrafted before I could get $150 moved back over.

We're just starting to get our money in order and I have to throw away another $60 on bank fees.

So no cheeseburger for me. I spent $.65 today, total. I have $6 left until Thursday because I put all the rest of my cash in our account, which is actually far more than I'll need if I bring lunch and coffee like I did today. Weird.

Plus, my mom is having my uncle call me about the framing since he just finished his basement the same way. The real question is, can I frame the wall with the ugly 70s bracket shelves and build in nice, classy looking bookshelves in their place? I mean, while still insulating appropriately and not spending a billion dollars?

Monday, February 02, 2009

The result

The insurance company has totaled up the removed trim, the small section of removed drywall, the 2 pine boards that were ruined from the ever-so-attractive paneling, and the bench that I agreed to remove myself and be paid for. If we replace it, there's an extra $1000 in it for us. It's custom, you know.

With all of the structural payments, we basically covered the deductible plus $300. I haven't been paid yet for some receipts and we haven't put in our losses for personal items yet, but it's not exactly enough to re-frame and insulate three rooms of the basement. On the bright side, I didn't have to put the deductible on a credit card, either. Plus we still have payments coming to replace the flooring.

So. Can anyone give me some instruction on framing a few walls? I think I can figure out the insulation and drywall, but I'm not sure where to start with the framing. And if anyone wants to come over with a sledge hammer, I have a bench and some closet walls that need knocking out.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

More good news

See that over there? Yeah, over on the left. That's the built-in bench in the basement. The one we hate.

And do you see that stuff underneath it? The fuzzy blue stuff? That would be very old, very wet blue shag carpet and padding.

Not the carpet that we knew was down there. The lighter blue berber carpet that went up to the bench. No, this is a fresh hell that the bench was built over the top of. Apparently, at some time in the distant past, the carpet was replaced and instead of removing all of it, they just cut it off in front of the bench and laid the new carpet right up to it. Which means that the build-rite they laid as subfloor was also an afterthought from the original design.

So the contractor is coming tomorrow afternoon to view it and write up an estimate to have a carpenter come and remove the bench so they can remove the wet carpet and padding underneath before we end up with mold.

A pain in the butt and another call to my boss to beg her to work at home, yes. But, we hated that damn bench and were going to tear it out and pay the square footage to have the carpet go all the way up to the wall. Now it's covered.

Plus, I'm hoping we know what the deal is with the walls tomorrow as well.

Why I am comfortable stopping my 401k contributions

A question, quite valid, was raised about why I would stop my 401k contributions to pay off my debt.

Here are the reasons that I am doing it. They might not work for everyone, but they work for me and Pants. I am well aware that many financial gurus say this is not the right move, but here's why it is the right move for us.

  • We have no money at the end of the month. Every dollar currently is going to pay off minimum balances and our expenses. We are trying to cut expenses, but we need a little extra to get things moving. I need that money to be able to pay things off. Although I know I am losing money in the long run, I need that extra money each month now.
  • I have 30 years of work left. Stopping my contributions for 1 year (while still paying my 401k over $200/month in the form of payments on three loans I have on it) will not kill my retirement plans. Also, when Pants and I didn't have kids, we were both contributing 16% of our income to our retirement from the time we were first eligible (approx. age 23 or so), so we feel we're ahead of where many people our age might be.
  • This step represents the ultimate commitment to us. We better be damn sure we're doing everything we can to get our debt paid down as fast as possible if we stopped our 401k contributions to do it. Every time I look at a McDonald's or think about Target, that is the one thing that runs through my head - is this worth my retirement? Is it worth my 401k?
So there it is. I know that won't ring true with everyone, but it resonates with us.

Here we go

This may be a premature discussion, as we don't yet know what will be considered a loss in the walls here or not, but here we go.

Just as we are getting our money on track, we are tested. We are ultra-serious about not spending money that is not for absolute necessities, emergencies, or being directed to debt, but we are presented with an opportunity.

Our basement is not insulated. It is "finished", but when the previous owners finished it, they put paneling up over the cement block. There is no insulation in our walls downstairs, at least not on the bottom half of the wall.

We now have an opportunity, at little cost to us, to upgrade. The carpet has all been ripped out and will all be replaced under our homeowner's insurance. We don't really know about the walls yet. But the question is, do we spend the money, probably $1-2000 to put up new studs over the old walls and put in insulation?

I'll put up a poll, but here is what you would need to know:
  • The money spent will most likely have to go on a credit card.
  • The additional insulation will lower our heating and cooling bills considerably.
  • We don't use the basement much because it is so cold. Pants and I sleep down there, but that's about it. We might gain the family room back as usable space for our family by doing this. Handy in a Minnesota winter to have additional space to keep the stir-crazies at bay, for sure. Also, there is a gorgeous wood-burning fire-place down there that we don't use because we're never down there.
  • My parents would be able to stay here when they come with little or no trouble at all, instead of renting a hotel room or staying somewhere else.