Tuesday, February 26

How to Survive Winter

I realize this is slightly premature but it's 55* currently, Costco is selling tulips, and I heard birds singing this morning which basically means winter is over (RIGHT?), so I thought I'd share some of my favorite winter hacks.

Last year I finally read The Little Book of Hygge and had a massive lightbulb moment and realized I could still make January fun! The concept of hygge is to create an atmosphere of warmth and cosiness. It exists all year round, but it's especially poignant in the winter months. The book details a lot of different ways to infuse hygge into your homes (blankets! candles! food! textures! games! friends!) and I followed all of them religiously (I'm nothing if not extreme). It was such a huge help last January that I knew I'd do the same thing this winter.

I realized this year that it helps me to separate winter into two different seasons; "holiday-winter" and "snow-winter". "Holiday-winter" is a ton of fun! What's not to love about Thanksgiving and Christmas? There's lots of family in town and I generally don't feel gloomy or tired of the cold those months. But then January 3rd rolls around and I'm ready to hibernate.

This year I combined a lot of what I'd learned from the book and last year's experience. I took down all the overtly Christmas decorations, leaving up the stuff I could make more "wintery", and then broke out the specific "snow-winter" decor. It was nice to have another "season" to intentionally decorate for. I kept my Christmas tree up and put on our snowflake/winter themed ornaments instead, I grabbed a bunch of fir branches to put on top of flat surfaces, and we made a concerted effort to enjoy the snow by sledding with cousins, skiing, and visiting the Ice Castles up in Midway.

"Snow-winter" has become our time to focus on friends. We don't get quite as much time with them during "holiday-winter" because we have so much family in town, so it's really nice taking advantage of the cold to have fun indoors. I actually think we've had people over for games and/or dinner every weekend so far.

This year I really wanted to dig into celebrating winter some more so I decided to host a few winter parties. We've had a lot of people move into our neighborhood that we've wanted to get to know and this seemed like a perfect opportunity! In the spirit of hygge, I didn't want this to be a formal event, but I did want it to still be something to look forward too. I designed some invites using Paperless, which instructed every couple to bring a soup and dessert, and to dress cozy. I'm not sure there's a food group I love more than soups. The idea was we'd all try some new soups & treats and visit.

Hosting a hygge party in the dead of January and February was a stroke of brilliance. I personally appreciated having something to look forward to after the holidays and it was awesome to get to know our new neighbors and ward members. These parties will absolutely become a tradition for us!

My biggest takeaway from learning to navigate the winter months is that I find it more enjoyable when I focus on all the things I CAN do rather than what I can't. Of course I'd prefer it to be warm enough to be outside, or to go hiking and swimming, but that time will come. The concept of hygge has helped me appreciate the seasons of life a lot more and I learned I can thrive in January instead of just survive!

Wednesday, January 23

A Milo Update

At the beginning of each year I reevaluate where I am with this blog and what I want to do with it. I'm quite happy to not be "required" to write something daily (or monthly, let's be honest), but just by having it I have feel this weird obligation to keep it up? Idk, the internet is a weird place.

Anyway, today is Milo's half birthday and subsequently it marks 6 months since he started therapy and I've had a lot of people ask how he's/we're doing so I'll do my best to summarize the last few months.

Milo is doing ABA therapy at a clinic up in Lehi, three days a week. He's also going to a special preschool in Orem twice a week, and we just added more speech therapy for him on Thursday mornings. It is a LOT but we wouldn't be doing this if it didn't benefit him. Honestly, Milo's progress has been incredible. We really had no idea what to expect as far as improvements go for him but we've been so, so happy with how he's doing.

At the beginning of the month we felt that Milo could benefit from more speech therapy but with his current schedule and our family's schedule we didn't know how to make that work. So I simply Googled "speech pathologist in Utah County" and scrolled the page looking for a title that sounded good I guess? Idk I wasn't that logical about the whole thing but I clicked on the third result down and that's how we found Mrs. Paige and she's been a real answer to prayers. An hour before I called, her Thursday morning client had concluded his final session with her so that time slot opened up. No one on her 6-month waitlist could make that time work and that was quite literally the only time we had in our schedule for speech therapy. I have no doubt that this was a little miracle handcrafted for Milo.

Through Mrs. Paige we've learned a lot about how to best communicate with him and it's felt like we've been given a few keys to help unlock the doors in his brain. I've learned I can't simply ask him, "What did you do today?" because the concept of "doing" is too abstract for him. I have to get really, really specific and say, "Who did you talk to today?" or "What did you play with today?" to get straight answers from him. Kids with autism have a much harder time with abstract concepts so narrowing questions down to contain more concrete elements is incredibly helpful. Mrs. Paige suggested keeping a daily journal for Milo by asking these kinds of specific questions and I legit sobbed the first time we did it. I got more detail about Milo's day during that exercise than I ever have. It's been hard to accept that Milo is out of the house more than he isn't; I thought I'd have more time with him before he was gone this much and adjusting to those expectations has been difficult. That coupled with how little he communicates forces me to rely heavily on his therapists and teachers to know what he's doing throughout the day, and even though they're awesome about giving me that information, I still don't know if Milo had a "bad day" or how something made him feel or who he played with and if he even likes those people or not.

Milo is starting to make friends which sounds like a "no big deal" sentence but I can't write that out without crying (apparently I've been crying a lot lately). For as long as he can remember, Livvy has been his only real friend. She's been right by his side through all of this transition and even today she's the only person he engages in imaginative play with. Livvy has always seen past Milo's verbal capacities to play and love him anyway and we've been so grateful for that gift of hers. However, we've also known that Milo would really benefit from having friends outside of Livvy and we're thrilled to see that slowly happening. There's a few kids at therapy and his therapists that he likes to tell me about. Every night in his prayers he says he's "grateful for Miss Chelseigh and Miss Jordyn and Ollie and Emma".

Milo's starting to really get the hang of pronouns and emotional cues. The whole concept of gender has finally clicked with him. He's actually trying to use the fact that he's a boy to get out of a few things. "I'm a boy mom! I can't wash my hair!" "I can't clean up! I'm a boy!" It's pretty funny for the most part, though I still make him wash his hair ;) Last week we watched a Bible video about the nativity story and it showed Mary crying at Christ's Crucifixion and he turned to me and said, "Mary's baby is dying and she's sad" and man, that turned me into a puddle. One thing I've learned with Milo is that he's very black and white so the emotional gray areas are still hard for him. We were at Coconut Cove (an indoor playplace) and as I walked around to check on all the kids I heard Milo repeating "please stop!" and getting louder each time. When I rounded the corner I found some older kid throwing balls at Milo's head, and Milo looking around for me, his eyes starting to glisten. His eyes connected with mine and I just saw so much confusion in them. The older kid ran as soon as he saw me, but for the rest of the day Milo said, "But mom, I told him please stop. Why didn't he stop?" How do you teach that sometimes people are just mean and don't listen to us? Especially to someone who has a hard time grasping those social nuances?

ABA therapy has helped us a lot at home. We've been able to use many of their tricks, like priming, and if-then statements to help establish good behavior. Milo's memory is unparalleled and frankly disconcerting. I don't get away with the occasional white lies or distracting techniques that I thought I'd be able to with toddlers! If I've told Milo he gets a sticker on his chart, he will remind me a full 4 days later if we haven't done that yet. Right now we've got a sticker chart going to help reinforce that we need to go to school and come home calm and happy. It's done wonders for those transitions and eventually I hope to use the same idea for other behaviors; in fact, I started using a sticker chart for Livvy for her morning routine and both of them were quite thrilled to "match" each other. Maybe all kids just love stickers.

A few other examples of Milo's progress:
  • He named his stuffed dog "Roger" (he's never named anything - that imaginative play thing again).
  • He's starting to make up stories to go with the pages in the book (again, imaginative play).
  • Saying, "I" or "me" instead of speaking in 3rd person.
  • Being able to talk himself out of a tantrum ("no Milo, use calm words to talk!").
  • Flipping if-then statements back to me. I was telling him if he got his pj's on, then we could watch a show and he slyly said, "If I watch a show, then I'll put pj's on!"
  • He's staring to really nail down prepositions, though we have to make sure we're really specific with them. A few months ago Kyle asked Milo to put the paper towels back under the sink and this is what we got:

He technically wasn't wrong!

In Milo's six month progress report we were happy to see that he has progressed in all areas. Some more or less than others, but quantifiable progress in everything! It was a huge relief to me because I think this last month or so I've just hit some sort of wall. I live in my car and it is oddly exhausting. I think my "chauffeur" schedule would make mouths fall open. I rarely have a free afternoon with nothing penciled in, which is frustrating because my pre-kid self wanted to make sure I didn't overschedule my kids - for their sakes and mine. I don't intend for this to come off as complaining but just understand if I've pulled back or not connected with you for a bit, it's because I've had to be incredibly intentional with my time lately.

We have no idea what's in store for Milo. We don't know when or if we'll reach a point where we discontinue therapy or if Milo will be able to go into a "normal" 1st grade class, or how long he'll need speech or any of that. To be perfectly honest I try very hard not to think too far into the future because all of those unknowns are uncomfortable for me to process. All I know is that as of today Milo is lightyears ahead of where he used to be and we are profoundly grateful. There's been so many little miracles that have happened on this path that's made it obvious to us that we're doing what we need to for him. I never anticipated how hard it would be to trust that Heavenly Father knows what's best for you kids even better than you do. I've accepted that fact in my own life, but as a parent it's been hard to watch Milo struggle and continue to have that faith. These little tender mercies have been very faith-building for me and I doubt I would be as strong today without having been through all of this.

We've been astounded by how many people have rallied around Milo and just loved him to pieces especially post-diagnosis. I was so nervous that people would treat him different or be uncomfortable around him but we've experienced nothing but support and love and it's been humbling to watch so a huge thank you to all those who love our boy! We're so proud of him and are stoked to see him progress more and more.

Saturday, June 30

A Diagnosis

"Mom! It's lost in space!"

Milo grabbed my hand and led me up the stairs. "It's lost in space!!" he cried, pulling at my arms, leading me into his room. I had no idea what he was talking about. "What in the world does 'lost in space' mean?" I wondered. He's growing more frantic and there's nothing I can do to help. Milo started looking for something all around his room, repeating "lost in space!" in between tears. Tearing apart his bed, throwing the books and toys off the shelf.

Then I got it.

Two days ago we had watched a Magic School Bus episode about the solar system and the whole class cried out, "We're lost in space!". Maybe Milo was using this to communicate he needs help looking for something? What was he playing with recently? A car? A truck? So I asked him, "Is your toy gone?" Relief and understanding showed up on his face. I'd interpreted correctly. We found the red corvette. This wasn't the first time I've had to think outside the box when trying to understand Milo. It was just the final straw that confirmed my feeling that we should have his speech assessed.

The day after Kyle started his new job, we had Milo assessed specifically for speech through our school district. We had simply grown weary of wondering if Milo's speech was delayed, so to settle our fears, we decided to just test him and see. We were anticipating that the results would show a slight speech delay, then we'd get him into therapy for a bit, and all would be good.

The first assessment was for verbal and social skills, and the results weren't that great. Milo tested pretty low for those two areas, which prompted the assessors to have us come back for gross and fine motor skills testing to make sure they weren't missing anything. We came back and the results for those weren't great either. We walked away from the assessment qualifying for therapy in all 4 categories through our school district, and with a "92% chance of Autism" note on our paperwork.

To say we were stunned is a little bit of an understatement. Autism isn't new to Kyle or I; we have seen it in both sides of our family. We were both well-versed in the common markers of it: not making eye contact, preference to being alone, extreme fascination with unusual things, sensory/texture sensitivities. Milo doesn't have any of these things, or at least the extremes we were used to, so the results shocked us and it made me feel awful for not catching it sooner.

We debated for a few days on the pros and cons of getting an official diagnosis. We were concerned about Milo getting labeled which would lead him to being held back or treated differently, inadvertently delaying him even more. We didn't know how serious his case was; would he be "normal" after a few weeks of this therapy? Ultimately we settled on getting an official diagnosis for a myriad of reasons, but mainly because it would open the most doors to get him the best treatments.

I called over 20 different neuropsychologists in Utah and the earliest appointment I could make was 9 months out; but through my aunt we had a connection to a neuropsychologist in Washington who was willing to fast track our appointment to the end of May. Milo and I flew up there and he was tested.

The results of the testing were shocking and validating. Our neuropsych confirmed that Milo's Autism isn't the kind that you can diagnose on sight; there are some categories where he clearly doesn't qualify as Autistic, but then there are two categories (verbal and social) that he definitely does fall under the Autism spectrum. Our neuropsych said he'd call it a "soft diagnosis". He gave Milo a nonverbal IQ test, through which we learned that he's a bona fide genius. His pattern recognition and matching skills are at an 8 year old level; his visual comprehension is in the 97th percentile. Kyle and I have always known Milo was good at puzzles and patterns but this was jaw-dropping information. Through the IQ test we also learned that Milo has a very difficult time with language skills, particularly receptive language; he is well below age level for verbal comprehension.

Overall, we left our diagnosis testing feeling very grateful that someone else could see Milo beyond his verbal and social delays. It's very difficult getting judged in Target for the tantrums your 3 year old throws when you, as the parent, know that it's only because he's not comprehending what you're asking him to do. To have someone else see Milo the way that we do as parents was truly special.

Going forward, Milo will be in an intensive ABA therapy summer program that is tailored towards helping his verbal and social delays. We saw a lot of progress when he was in the preschool therapy during the last 8 weeks of the school year, so we're excited to see how he progresses with a more intense program.

If I'm being truly honest, writing this all out and sharing it has been one of the harder decisions I've made in recent years. I'm trying to balance keeping Milo's personal life private and wanting to share our struggle for our sake as well as those who may be in a similar boat. There's also that constant feeling of guilt that's settled in my stomach since the assessment that makes talking about this difficult. I wonder if I'm alone in blaming myself for a kid's diagnosis. Did I give Milo Autism by making a mistake on the self-reported questionnaires? Did I drink too much Diet Coke while pregnant with him? He did get sunburned once as a 2 year old - did that do it? It's been a very difficult pill to swallow that as a parent, I can't meet all of my son's needs. Logically, I understand that many people work at raising one child, but in my heart it feels like I'm farming Milo out to people to "fix him". There are days where I'd like to go back to not knowing, but then there are days filled with tantrums that make me so thankful I can drop him off to therapy (and then immediately guilty for feeling glad about that). There's guilt for not spending enough time with him during the day, and not WANTING to spend time with him after 30 tantrums in an hour. There's guilt for feeling like I'm not giving my girls the attention they need. There's guilt for dropping the ball in callings, friends' lives, and as a wife because I'm simply exhausted. There's guilt for not being up to speed in politics because my brain is overflowing with testing acronyms, ASD theories & therapies, and potentially benefitting diets.

But then there are also extreme wins that bring me to tears. Milo told me unprompted that he loved me the other day which has happened twice to my memory. He said, "I think it's broken" when I attempted to fix his Hot Wheels car, showing proper pronoun use. He sang along to Katy Perry's "Roar" in the car with perfect timing. He announced he was sharing as he gave Livvy a train. He sang Daniel Tiger's "stop and listen to stay safe!" before crossing a road.

His quirks make him easy: I gave him a potty-training book and he studied it for 3 days then potty-trained himself; we've never had to use pull-ups. He's methodical and intense. He hates messes and loves to clean up. He studies books and entertains himself for hours on end. He remembers everything he's read or seen.

His quirks make him hard: very few people understand him unless you're living in our house because he speaks like the Transformer Bumblebee, piecing together clips from songs, books, and TV shows to make a sentence. Turning off a TV show is an ORDEAL. As is checking out of a store. He rarely shows empathy for other people which makes teaching about others' feelings hard.

We are very new to this journey and the word "Autism" still feels like an ill-fitting shoe. Our day to day life hasn't really changed pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis. Milo is still Milo. We just have some idea as to what's going on in his head now. While it's been hard to wrap my head around, our overall sense has been one of relief; we can help Milo now and have very specific areas we can focus on to help him become more age-appropriately developed.

Never did I ever think we'd be parents of a kid who has special needs but here we are. It's been a humbling experience but we're ready for it as much as we can be!

Wednesday, April 4

Coming Out of the Woods


I'm not really sure where to begin.

I'm at the point where it's been so long since I posted that writing seems so overwhelming. The past 6 months were some of the hardest and most beautiful times of my life and it almost feels trite to blog about any of it, but here I am. I think it's important to share the hard times in life once you've worked through them because WITHOUT FAIL there is someone who benefits from hearing it. So here I go.

August passed by in a blur of heat, splashpads, and sunscreen. Alice was content to sleep in her carseat or stroller in the shade while the kids got insanely tan and blonde from running around in the sun. September 1st came and I immediately put up the Fall decorations. I had been itching for Fall since mid-August so really it was a triumph that I even waited until September. We celebrated Kyle's birthday, my sister got engaged, and we started a little online preschool for Milo.

Around that time, Kyle and his boss agreed that it was time for Kyle to start looking for a new job. They both felt that Kyle had exhausted all of his opportunities there and it was a good natural endpoint as the busy summer season was winding down. Kyle interviewed at a few places over the next month and came very close to landing a job at Jane.com, but ultimately when his time at Big Boy Movers ended in mid-November, we didn't have a job lined up and we were unemployed.

I really can't describe the emotions of this time. Every morning for a month I would wake up with sheer panic in my head. All the questions of "how are we gonna do this?" and "what about this?" would batter my brain and I could feel my heart start racing until it thumped into my throat. Then I'd get out of bed, pray, read scriptures or General Conference talks, and without fail the panic would subside for another day. I eventually got to the point where I stopped waking up in terror, fully trusting that God had plans for us. That wasn't something that I ever doubted. What I did doubt was my ability to discern what those plans were.

As December came, Kyle and I decided that we needed to make sure we treated the surprising amount of free time we now had as a gift and really search for ways we could serve. That month Kyle was called as the Young Men's President in our ward. We dedicated a lot of time to the Light the World challenge our church issued out. We started attending the temple weekly with the help of family who watched the kids. I prayed every morning to find someone to serve and had that prayer answered every day. We were given a beautiful chance to better see our own blessings as we grew to know the situations of others.

We weren't sure how we were going to make our living expenses work, let alone Christmas and the two sibling weddings we had that month. We got a lot of help from our ward, mostly done anonymously, and some not. We had gift cards, cash, and food dropped off on our front door. Twitter friends who Venmo'ed money, parents who gave what they could, and an insane amount of prayers come our way. Kyle found cheap online courses that dramatically changed his job search, and ultimately his career path. A neighbor helped Kyle make business cards and ordered them for us. We had countless people reach out to help make connections with job opportunities, opinions about resumes, and offer interviewing tips. Meals seemed to stretch longer, food items suddenly "appeared" when I was 100% sure I didn't have them left, and bills were lessened or postponed for reasons still unexplained.

January went by quickly which was a true miracle. It's usually a very rough month for me personally but by little miracles and a lot of effort it was a cozy, happy month. We visited family, made a concerted effort to grow closer to friends, as well as to enjoy our time together as a family. We had lots of little miracles happen. Several job opportunities came up that each helped Kyle better tailor his job search. We had a head recruiter contact him and offer to edit his resume. Health insurance worked out perfectly for us as January sent us ALL into the doctor's office for ear infections, sinus infections, tinnitus, pneumonia, and the flu.

February passed by in much the same way. Kyle and I grew closer as a couple as we prayed for each others' concerns. We became more united than I thought possible in making sure we were equipped to guide our family where we needed to go. We had many extremely sacred experiences and "aha!" moments that continued to confirm that we were going to be taken care of well.

Towards the end of that month we had a lot of things happen. Jane opened up the same position Kyle initially applied for again, a CEO of a tech firm contacted Kyle and asked to meet for breakfast, and Kyle advanced to the upper interview rounds at 2 different places; Younique and BambooHR. Younique ended up giving us an offer first, followed shortly by BambooHR. We ultimately decided on BambooHR for a number of reasons like salary, benefits, commute (4 minutes away), but mostly because we knew, knew, it was where we needed to be.

Kyle started work at Bamboo beginning of March and it just now feels like we're starting to come out of the woods. In a lot of ways it feels like we had life on hold while being unemployed. Many of our normal, living concerns were taken care of while we focused on our next steps and we're just now getting to a point where "normal life" seems on the horizon again.

My point in sharing this is to illustrate exactly how much God is aware of us as individual people. In my life, I've never witnessed so many miracles occur, let alone in our behalf. He knows us deeply and intimately and we never have reason to fear or worry.

The intense love we felt from family, friends, our ward, and especially God was overwhelming and there's no way we'll ever be able to repay the kindness shown to us. We wanted to make sure we thanked everyone who had helped us during this time, but since most of the help was anonymous, this is the best thing we could come up with; a very public "thank you!". Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the very bottom of our hearts.

Thursday, July 6

Money and Me

At the beginning of this year I wrote down one single goal that I wanted to work on: be more financially stable. I spent all of December researching money management techniques, defining how this was going to look on a day to day basis, and how I was going to measure "stable". This post is the halfway checkup for myself. This is me reporting back to share what I've learned in the last 6 months (accountability!). I realize that this isn't my usual milieu, and I'm embarrassingly aware of how unqualified I am to talk about money. Money is such a vulnerability bomb that I'm genuinely nervous to share this! But in my research I found it most helpful when real people opened up to their real challenges. So here I am living my truth and stepping into the arena (that's a Daring Greatly reference; do yourself a favor and read it).

A massive catalyst for me was reading Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before. She talks about habits and how different personality types respond to making and breaking them. Gretchen writes to my soul; I identify a lot with her. Plus I love her qualitative and quantitative approach to social issues. Reading her book helped me realize that I had inadvertently created many habits that happened to have unhealthy ramifications for our finances. As a strict Upholder (her term, not mine), I bend over backwards to meet both internal and external expectations but instead of having a realistic approach to expectations, I counter it with keeping my expectations low to minimize loss or failure on my part. This means that while I do avoid feeling like a failure, I also don't remember feeling the triumph of meeting a goal often. It's about as sucky as it sounds. But that helps explain why I avoided creating a budget for a long time; I didn't want to set myself up to fail, so I just didn't make one. I didn't want to be reminded of my failings, so I just ignored as best as I could. Or bought into the idea that things would never get better so what was the point of trying.

Better Than Before also helped me recognize many methods I can use to maintain a habit. I realized I personally do better by fully abstaining (no baby steps for me!). I learned how to use the power of convenience to my benefit, how to make safeguards for myself by anticipating or minimizing temptations (ie: failing small, or having planned exceptions), how to avoid finding loopholes to my goals, like setting up false choices such as "I can't run because it's raining", or "I can't cook tonight cuz it's been a bad day". I learned that rewards undercut habits because forming the habit should be the reward, and that treats are things we don't need to justify or earn, but that we need to make sure they're truly treats; no guilt attached to them.

From the book I realized that I'm an overbuyer, a simplicity & familiarity lover, an "opener" (I prefer to start rather than finish things), and promotion motivated. In terms of finances that means that I hate, hate running out of something, so I stock up on things that we may not even need. I love the feeling of opening something new, instead of finishing something old, which means I end up wasting a good deal. I don't actually need to go anywhere exotic since I love familiarity, which freed me from the social guilt of feeling like I should go on vacations or trips and actually enjoy them (that ends up saving us money because I don't overspend in an attempt to enjoy the vacation). I also like simplicity which explained why I still felt unhappy despite having a house full of things.

With all of that in mind, I looked at our finances and faced it head on. It's a little daunting. We are paying off student loans and have really cool things that we want to do with our lives. So we looked at our options:

  • Option A was to make more money. We felt really good about Kyle taking the job he currently has because the career opportunities are unparalleled, even though he could be making more elsewhere. We can't deny that we know this job is right for him, so that's not the solution. So we looked if I should get a job and every time we entertained the idea, the answer was a resounding NO. We both know that my job is at home with the kids right now. I am acutely aware that flies in the face of the dominant feminist rhetoric. It does pain me occasionally, especially living in Utah where it seems like most women have a side-gig (a whole other story!). So option A wasn't really an option.
  • Option B was to learn to use what we have better. It was the obvious choice. In our house, I am the gateway of the money. I'm the one who meal plans, buys groceries, stays on top of household needs, and pays the bills. It's natural for us that I adopt the role as "Keeper of the Budget". It was helpful for me to think of this as an actual job. In my mind, it makes it more cool haha.

January came and we set our budget. We use Dave Ramsey's EveryDollar app and I'm in love with it. I also use an app call Level Money that helps me track how much I spend at one store, and gives me quick access to averages over the year. Level Money served as the basis for our budget, and EveryDollar helps me stick to the budget. Monitoring is a key step in habit formation; this is how we choose to monitor our finances. I've since made a habit to check both apps over breakfast each morning. I think that simple 5 minute check has been the most helpful habit I've gained.

I quickly realized that our grocery budget was the area I had the most direct control over. It's also the area that fluctuated a lot depending on my mood or physical state. Pregnant? Food bill goes up. Tired? Bill goes up. Cranky? Bill goes up. For me, the bill was a poignant example of false choices. "I'm pregnant; I can't cook". "The kids were grumpy and exhausting today. I can't cook". "I can't make this meal perfectly; I shouldn't cook it". This is the bill I decided to wrestle with for the month of June.

For June I did a no-eating out challenge. It was inspired by my renewed efforts of budgeting that had fallen to the side between having a baby and moving. I calculated how much we spent on food (both groceries and eating out) for the month of May and it was not good. As in around $1000 not good. Like, kick you in the stomach not good. So, no-eating out it was. Because I'm an Abstainer, this meant literally NO EATING OUT. No loopholes, no exceptions, etc. It's far too easy for me to find the loophole, so I can't create one for myself. This meant no french fries, no diet coke run to McDonald's, no quick bites after splash pad dates, no ice cream runs, no Little Caesar's, no late night candy runs, etc.

And guess what. I did it. WE DID IT. It's embarrassing how hard it ended up being. I don't know if people are used to just never eating out, but if you're one of those people, hats off man. I think I may do a later post about the mechanics of how we did that, but here I wanted to share what I've learned about money both from that challenge and from the past 6 months:
  1. We cut our grocery bill in half, which was my goal. That works out to about $1.50/meal/person. You can't buy most single ingredients for that price. I can never use the idea that "it's almost the same price if we eat here versus make something", because that's simply not true. Also, I've lost 10 pounds which was a nice side benefit.
  2. Learning to be frugal in ONE AREA bleeds into all other areas. Because I was hyperfocused on how much we were spending on food, I ended up being hyperfocused on money in general. It was much easier for me to say no to online sales, the Target $1 bin, and garage sale sites because I knew how much $5 went in food. I accidently left a bag with bacon and sausage in the hot car for 24+ hours and I nearly cried when I had to throw it out because that was $10 worth of food. Before the challenge, I wouldn't have cared.
  3. Most people who I consider wealthy do NOT live like they are. They're in the habit of doing things for themselves, making do with what they have, and finding clever solutions. Just because they HAVE money doesn't mean it's their first solution. Case in point, I spent a full day fixing our clothes washer because I really didn't want to have to buy a new one. I'm still riding a triumphant high from that one. 
  4. It dawned on me how much I was spending because of social pressure. There is nothing wrong with wanting to buy things, but the problem arises when you get addicted to that feeling. I really had to evaluate why I wanted eyelashes, a new drink tumbler, shoes for the kids, a Sodalicious drink. Did I truly want those items? Or did I want the perceived social status those things could give me? Was I after an unreachable lifestyle?
  5. Living paycheck to paycheck is the norm, but it doesn't have to be.
  6. I also realized how many people must be in serious debt. I don't say this to pass judgement at all. But I'm an intelligent woman and can accurately estimate salaries based on careers, housing market prices, car down payments, grocery bills per household size, utility estimates, prices of boats, vacations, highlights, and manicures. All I can say is that there's NO WAY on this earth that so many people can afford the lifestyle they're living. The math simply doesn't add up. Realizing that made me feel much better, but also kinda made me feel dumb for even wanting/trying to live like that in the first place.
  7. You can have a perfect credit score even if you never use a credit card. Our financial planner said he opened up 3 lines of credit, shredded the card, and has had a perfect score for a few years now.
  8. The only consistent thing you should budget for is an emergency. Honestly, have a section in your budget labeled "emergency" and put $100 in it because I guarantee you, you will need it every month.
  9. I think the most eye-opening realization I've had is that there will never be enough money if you don't have good habits in place. People will spend what they have, no matter how much they have, if they haven't created healthy money habits. It doesn't matter if it's $1000 or $100,000,000.
  10. The trite saying "the best things in life are free" is actually true. I honestly hated that because the first thing I thought of was, "yeah, but have you BEEN to dinner and the movies?" I'm in the process of refocusing my sight on the things that are truly important. My kids almost always have more fun with a bucket, water, and a hose than going to a theme park. It's me who wants to go to the park. Sitting on the couch with a massive bowl of popcorn, watching Iron Chef with Kyle is how I choose to spend my evenings, regardless of what is in our bank account. It's not that spending money is evil or unnecessary. It just won't bring joy if you don't have it inside you already.
  11. Money is less about behavior and more about attitude. You aren't saying "no" to things. You're saying "yes" to a better future, or to goals you actually want to meet.
  12. This is directly from Dave Ramsey: "You have to live like no one else, so you can live like no one else".
  13. If the social pressure is too hard, unfollow people who make you feel jealous or who inspire you to live outside your means. I think it's great if people have the internal discipline to do this automatically. But I don't, so I unfollowed quite a few people. The flipside of this is to follow accounts and people that help you stay true to your budget goals! I love following Dave on Instagram because of the quick quotes he posts. I recite them to myself as I scroll through Old Navy's website during their sales.
  14. Money issues make us feel vulnerable. One of the best ways to combat and move past the issue is by doing the hardest thing of all: TALKING ABOUT IT. When your kids ask to go to McDonald's, do you snap at them for being ungrateful, when you know you're just stressed cuz you don't have the money for it? Just tell them it's not in the budget. Do you feel embarrassed or cancel plans because you don't have money for that outing? Don't make excuses (car broke down, kids are sick, emergency happened), just own it and say, "it's not in the budget". Yes, I've done all of these things before and handled it in both ways. Most people respect hearing "it's not in the budget". If they don't respect it, they're not in the arena with me and not worth my time.
  15. Just because you have the money in your account to buy something doesn't mean you can actually afford it.
  16. Having a budget has made me more grateful for the things that I do have. It's very easy to lose track of what you have when you're looking at what you don't have all the time. Having a budget and realizing how many things we are blessed to have helps me cultivate a grateful heart.
  17. Learning to be frugal made me evaluate the true value of items. Is a shirt really worth $10? $15? It's made me pickier about what I spend my money on. If it's not exactly what I want, why buy it?
  18. I started thinking in terms of good, better, best. What are the best ways I can be spending my money? If those things are met, then what are the better things? At some points in life, the best thing may be a family vacation to Disneyland. At other times, it may be helping out young man in the ward pay for his mission. The beauty is that we're all free to make those good, better, best choices for ourselves, but we're only free to make those choices if we're being wise with our money. You don't have the freedom of being able to help others if you're not financially stable yourself.
  19. I started asking myself, "how many hours of work would I have to do in order to buy this?" and that helped curb a lot of spending.
  20. God makes up our efforts. I may lose some people here, but hear me out. We are doing our very best to be wise with the things that we have been given. There are sacrifices that we've made that have been hard but we've made them because we felt like we needed to. For example, our income could be a good deal more if I were working. When, after all that Kyle and I can do, if we're still tight, a miracle happens and things work out. A bill gets reduced, a deposit comes back unexpectedly, the gas tank stays full longer than anticipated, what have you. These miracles aren't our backup plan in any way, but they happen and it keeps us motivated to stay the course.
I wish I'd known these lessons sooner in life but I'm thankful I'm learning them now, even if it's hard. I'm sure there are people who will read this and think "well, yeah; nothing groundbreaking here", and honestly they're probably right! But it is a bit groundbreaking for me and I hope that this helps anyone who needs a bit of motivation. Money stress is one of the worst kinds of stress. It makes people act irrationally because it's so easy to equate money with worth. And that's simply not true. Money is not a direct correlation to how good people are! I think this results in the cultural consensus that money is something we simply don't discuss and when we don't discuss it, people can't learn from the mistakes or successes of others. So even, and especially when it's hard, learn to talk about money. It's only going to get better if we're willing to shine a flashlight on this area that we'd prefer to keep hidden.

Tuesday, June 13

These Are My Days

Well, it's been a hot second since my last post. I keep waiting until life settles down before I sit and write anything, but then it dawned on me that this is my new crazy and life probably won't settle down anytime soon!

We moved into a new place in North Orem and we love it. We had a crazy situation come up and the landlords of our other house needed to sell their place asap. They told us when I was 36 weeks pregnant and we spent all that week searching KSL and rentler for a new home. I think we walked through 8 different homes. I finally found our current place within 20 minutes after it was posted; I was on the phone with the owner 10 seconds later, and 24 hours after I saw the posting, the house was ours. 2 hours after closing the deal, I got a phone call with my preeclampsia results from my midwife and that story is detailed in the previous post. 9 days after we had Alice, we moved into this house. Having now moved at 8 months pregnant and with a newborn, I legitimately don't know which one is worse. They're both very hard for different reasons (eg: I had to bring my pumping equipment with me while we cleaned out our old house). Maybe just don't ever move?


We had a LOT of help which saved us a million times over. My mom ended up staying with us for 3 full weeks, and my dad even came down for a good week to help out. Kyle's parents watched kids and helped load up the moving van, our friends helped us pack and clean, one of my old YW's leader came over and helped mom, Nicole, and I deep clean our old place, our new ward showed up the morning we moved in and helped us unload everything within an hour, we had at least one person from our ward stop by every day the first 2 weeks we were in, and meals were dropped off/made for us. We were and are extremely grateful for all the help we received.

Between moving and a new baby it's taken some time getting settled in. The kids handled it all like champs all things considered, but we still had/have our rocky days. To their credit, they haven't had a single negative reaction towards Alice at all. At most Milo will cover his ears and say "shhhh" if Alice is crying for a while. It took a few weeks for us to learn where the boundaries are in this place, where their toys were, and for us to get back into our semi-normal routines. Kids are so much more flexible than I think we give them credit for honestly.

It's hard for me to describe the kind of baby that Alice is, in part because I don't think you see much unique personality until after 3 months. The first month of her life she was just a pure little angel. She nursed perfectly, slept 6 hours at night, and never fussed. I'm so thankful for that too cuz it was crazy enough trying to pack, move, and unpack. Her second month was brutal. Between colic, getting mastitis (shoot me), and the resulting lack of sleep, (she'd wake up between 4-6 am every morning), we were all zombies for a while. Alice just cried constantly. I think I ate my weight in chocolate to cope. We got her in to see a chiropractor and her pediatrician got us some colic drops. Between the two, her symptoms eased up quite a bit and we all benefited from that. About a week ago she started gagging at random times and spitting up clear liquid. Having seen this before with Livvy, we took action immediately. Acid reflux sucks because it's so random, but Alice's reflux seemed to peak between 3-6am. She got another chiropractor adjustment yesterday and she hasn't spit up since! We'll see how long that lasts, but we're hopeful.

I think the newborn stage is very tricky if I'm being honest. It's hard feeling like you're constantly giving something to a blob of crying onesies, without any acknowledgement. Alice started smiling at us just as the reflux hit which weirdly made it much easier to deal with. Sure she was up from 3-6, but we got lots of smiles from her so it was worth it? Idk, parenthood is strange.

In between the moments of colic and reflux, Alice's temperament seems similar to Milo's. She prefers to watch things from a distance, and it takes some work to get a smile out of her, especially if she doesn't know you. Alice loves sounds and her binky; two things neither Livvy or Milo had feelings about. Right now it looks like she'll have blue eyes and BLONDE CURLY HAIR that I am stunned over. After a bath she looks like the Sicilian from Princess Bride.

I've decided the very best thing about subsequent kids is the perspective you have as a parent. Instead of feeling like things will never improve, I know it gets better at some point. Even on the hard days I know I'll at least be alive with healthy kids the next day, and some days that's as high as the bar can be for myself haha! It's easier to give myself a break on the days each kid has covered me in some type of bodily fluid. It was easier to get back on my feet and go to parks, splash pads, and grocery shopping. A lot of things in life are easier if you're kinder to yourself I guess.

Livvy's vocabulary had exploded since the move. She frequently asks, "whachya doin?" to everyone. She likes to talk for the sake of talking, even if she has no idea what she's saying. She has NO fear of strangers which is equally relieving and terrifying. Livvy is very attuned to people's emotions. If Alice is crying, Livvy is the first to tell me "Awis sad!", or to come ask me "what's wrong?" when I can't hide tears in any longer. Livvy does a lot of pretending right now. We have a toy picnic set that she'll mimic eating from, and she mimics my scolding finger as I'm doing it to her (annoyingly cute). She's much more dramatic than Milo and throws herself on the floor in classic tantrum style when she feels her life is unfair. She still walks on tiptoes and loves shoes, but her very favorite things are whatever Milo is doing. She adores her brother and has a hard time functioning without him.

Milo is stringing together unique sentences instead of parroting things back to us. He loves to sing "Jingle Bells" in the car and count the motorcycles that we pass. He just exited another growth spurt and is in all 4T clothes with size 12 feet. I lost him in Target last month (still recovering from that) and the employee that found him radioed over the intercom system that someone's 5-year-old was up at the front of the store. We've been working on manners for a while and one morning when the toaster popped up, he said, "Bless you, Alice!". Daniel Tiger has been saving our bacon with the little songs they sing throughout the show. There's a song about taking turns and being calm that he'll sing when the need arises. We recently transitioned him into a toddler bed and I was super stressed about it since sleep is a precious commodity here. I needn't have worried though; Milo will NOT leave the bed until either Kyle or I deliberately say he can. Even during his "quiet time", he'll sit at the edge of the bed, not putting a toe over it until we come in. Who knows how long that will last, but we're not complaining!

They are Siblings in every sense of the word. Milo constantly says, "Wivvy! Come here!" only to smack her around. She likes to pull his hair when they sit in their carseats. They love to wrestle. I was worried that Milo could really hurt Livvy because of his size, but homegurl holds her own just fine. She's a speed demon and very coordinated for her age. If she can't out punch him, she just runs away faster. Livvy teaches Milo new words and Milo teaches her how to use them in context. It's really cool to see. Except when it's "mine". Livvy first said "mine!" when reaching for a toy, but Milo first used it an sentence by saying, "Livvy! That's my car!", so Livvy can now yield the word to great effect. We are now working on the concept of sharing and it's not going well currently! In some ways, having a third kid has felt a bit like having just one again because of how well Livvy and Milo play together. With their ages I still do a good deal of refereeing, but I've had an unexpected amount of time to dedicate to Alice which has been a blessing since it's been needed.

These days, our typical schedule goes something like this:
7am: Feed Alice & get myself ready for the day
8-9am: Kids up, dressed, fed, and ready for the day
10-11:30am: Free play time
11am: Feed Alice
11:30am: OUT, OUT, OUT. I try and get physically out of the house to a park or splash pad at least twice a week. Usually we're outside in our backyard with a big bowl of water & some cups, chalk, bubbles, or picking out rocks though.
1/1:30pm: Lunch
1:30pm: Naps (or Milo's quiet time). Also when I do approximately a million things around the house
3pm: Feed Alice
4/4:30: Kids up, diapers changed
4:30-6: Kids play independently
6:30pm: Dinner
7pm: Feed Alice
7:30-8:30/9: Family time. Usually we go for a walk, sometimes we watch a movie, sometimes we'll play with them and their toys
9-11:30: Kyle and I wind down
11pm: Feed Alice
11:30/midnight: We go to bed

.... even just writing that tires me out haha.

I think the best way I can sum up the transition is that some days I crush it, and other days it crushes me. Right now it's about 50/50 crushing it and being crushed, but the good news is that I know the odds are more in my favor having done this before. Truly, this is probably the craziest time of life for us right now (did I just jinx myself?!). All of our kids have immediate needs and very little independence. But we're also on the brink of that changing soon here. Milo and Livvy are just ~barely getting interested in the toilet (heaven help me!). I spent 20 minutes yesterday day-dreaming of what life with only one kid in diapers would be like. It was a good dream. But right now, parks, bugs, timeouts, sunscreen, reading books, diaper changing, sippy cups, and blankies fill my days. One day, I know, they won't need reading too. Or carseats. Or faces and hands wiped. I've heard I'll miss those things. And I'm beginning to see that might actually happen. I did tear up a bit putting Alice's newborn clothes away - something I hadn't yet done. So I try and bear that in mind on the days I spend 3 minutes in the church building before being thrown up and pooped on.

And on the days I forget you can find me beasting down a tub of Tillamook mint ice cream.