Make home improvements OR remain happily married?

 

Years ago, I worked at a carpet store, where I constantly heard stories, nightmares really, of how miserable it was to go through a home improvement. Couples couldn’t agree on carpet color or texture, and deciding between hardwood floors or laminate proved equally objectionable.

My husband and I have never gone through anything as extensive as a remodel, and I dread the day that we do. I think moving might be a better choice than coming to verbal blows over tile or hardwood.

It’s that time of year for us when the H.O.A. (Home Owner’s Association) makes its annual assessment of our properties. HOA’s are great for keeping property values up, I suppose, but their “improvements” never seem to improve my checkbook or my marriage, and this year is no exception.

This year, it’s our deck. Though it can hardly be called a “deck,” rather more like a balcony. It’s on the second level and measures all of 6’x8’. We never even use it because it faces our neighbor’s living room, and unless we suddenly develop an interest in peering in on our neighbor’s lives, we will continue to not use it.

Now my husband and I complement each other, in that his strengths are my weaknesses and vice-versa. It’s how we work. But when it comes to working together on a home improvement, we’ve learned that it’s best if we stay out of each other’s way.

I’m usually the DIY person around the house, so I was really surprised when he said that he wanted US to do part of the improvement. What?! Is he crazy?! We can’t do that! We’ll kill each other! Not to mention that we don’t have the proper tools, or expertise to do said improvement.

We compromised: we hired a handyman to do the actual repairs, but my husband insisted that we could do the painting. I was skeptical to say the least. That meant renting a ladder (we don’t own an extension ladder) and one of us would have to go up that ladder and do the painting, and it wasn’t going to be me…not this time. But he assured me that we could get it done.

I called my brother who happens to be a handyman in another state (he inherited my Dad’s skill), and I was feeling pretty confident. Maybe we could do this. Maybe if we pulled together, and had a plan, we could work together and paint the balcony, without ending up in divorce court.

That was two weeks ago.

Since then, we’ve argued about getting it done, having enough time to get it done, doing it right but quickly, getting it done in the timeframe the H.O.A. allotted.

Just to add more stress, my husband suddenly got really busy at work, I got a new job, and time was still ticking. Tensions were running high!

I started with a coat of primer on the deck today, and realized…we are in over our heads!

I put in a call to a handyman, and he’s coming tomorrow.

Now, maybe I reacted to soon. Maybe we could have done it ourselves. Maybe we could have done it without killing each other.

But it just seems like a couple hundred dollars for a handyman will be much less expensive than marriage counseling would have cost.

How about you? Have you and your significant other ever attempted a home improvement together?

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A Lesson in Grocery Shopping

Let me start this post by saying that my husband is a wonderful man. I love him with all my heart. We’ve been married 18 years, as of next month, he’s a good husband, father and provider. But a housewife, he is not.

When he changed jobs last year  our monthly income went down quite a bit, as did the way we get paid: I get paid bi-monthly on the same dates, and he gets paid every two weeks, regardless of the date. Which makes it hard to figure out a budget since every month is different.

Yesterday, we sat down, and really worked on a manageable budget plan (thank you Dave Ramsey). It’s tight, but do-able.

One of the things included in the budget is, of course, food and grocery shopping, which has always been my department, except that he is forced to go to the grocery store with me, since I don’t drive. But he’s never really been part of the planning process for weekly meals, other than to eat the meals. I’ve always been the one to figure out how to stretch one meal into the next using leftovers, and things like that. But after doing our budget, his eyes are opened to our food budget.

There’s nothing worse than making my weekly meal plan only to find out the grocery store doesn’t have the particular cut of meat that I planned on using for several meals. That’s when I have to do some quick planning in my head, on the spot, to come up with a different idea, and still stay in budget. That happened today. They didn’t have the cheap cut of beef that I was going to use to make chicken fried steak, much to my husband’s disappointment. But they did have some bottom round cuts that I could tenderize the heck out of, but I didn’t want to spend the money. I wanted a cheaper option. Remember…trying to stay on budget.

He suggested a parmesan pasta (from DamnDelicious.net) that I make which is very easy, only he wanted to add sausage or peppers to the recipe. Mind you, sausage doesn’t agree with my daughter or me, and he is the only one who likes peppers, of any color. So, the “additions” would strictly be for him, and I wouldn’t be able to use the sausage for any other meal. I mentioned that by the time we bought the noodles, the peppers and the sausage, we may as well buy the steak. He didn’t believe me, so I challenged him.

The steak, was on sale for $5.94 (I told you, it was a cheap cut). The pasta: $0.79, the peppers (any color) were $1.79 each, the sausage (and here’s what pushed him over cost) was $4.99, and that was the cheapest one he could find. He doesn’t like the uncooked, sausage in a tube…he wanted premium kielbasa or something similar to that, bringing his “Noodles Parmesan” total to $7.57!

Now, my husband and I can be a bit competitive at times, in the nicest of ways, and I can tell you it felt great to win! For once, I got to explain what is going on inside my head while I’m shopping for food. Sometimes it’s not as simple as following a list, and throwing things into a cart. In fact, it’s NEVER as simple as that. And any corporate mogul would be lucky to have a SAHM who can think on her feet as part of their team.

By the way, we STILL got out of the grocery store $22.00 UNDER budget, thank you very much. AND we get to enjoy steak, baked potato and green beans for dinner tonight. Just don’t tell my daughter about the green beans…she hates them. You can’t please everyone, right?

Am I Doing Enough for My Kids?

Every so often, I get this panicked feeling that I’m not doing enough for my kids to help them succeed. #raisingteens

We’ve never been an “over-achieving” family. I’ve written about raising average kids before and how I am perfectly fine with that. I don’t need them to be doctors or lawyers, or physicists or to run their own technology empire. If they do, that’s fabulous, but if they don’t, then I’m good with that too. I want them to be happy in whatever career they choose. And I want them to choose something that allows them to pay their own bills, and maybe provides them a house with an extra room for me and my husband in our golden years (A girl can dream can’t she?).

But I’m talking about MY responsibility to THEIR future.

I have a 15-year-old. And suddenly, I feel like time is running out to teach her everything I need to teach her before she takes on the world on her own, or at least partially on her own (I don’t plan on kicking her out the front door the day after high school graduation).

While a lot of our youth seem to be floundering, with their noses stuck in their computer screens or smartphones, I worry that we haven’t done enough to inspire them to want better for their lives. But I don’t want to push or nag either, because I’ve seen the results of that scenario too.

But there are things looming in the not so distant future: SATs, driver’s license, job, college applications, scholarships to find. My rational mind tells me that this isn’t going to come all at once, and that there will be waves of responsibility and opportunity that come her way, and we’ll deal with it when we get there. But what if I fail at the parenting part and miss those deadlines. Then what?! The consequences for missed opportunities are much greater at this age than they were at age 10.

To look back now, potty training was a breeze compared to the weight I feel at the moment. By the way, my condolences to anyone going through potty training – it was, until now, the one part of the whole “parenting thing” where I felt completely unprepared. There was no manual, and if there was, I swear my kids didn’t read it! LOL

When I approach my teen, I’m met with eye rolls, and push back, and a lot of silence. Maybe I’m trying too hard. Maybe this too, shall pass. But I need to find the teen manual and find it quick. We all read “What to Expect when You’re Expecting” before our kids were born. Is there a “What to Expect when You’re Expecting a Teen?” Because I’d really like to have it on hand for reference right about now.

So, to my fellow parents of teens, am I alone in this? Will this, like potty training, happen when they are ready? Or should I rip the training pants off now, and spend the next few months cleaning up the puddles?

What Happened to Life Skills?

I worry about my kids’ generation’s life skills.

Because of technology, our kids are far more advanced technologically speaking than we were at their age, it’s true. AND KUDOS TO THEM. Where we had to show our mom’s how to program the VCR, they are downloading apps, and writing code by the time they’re 10 years old.

But it’s the basic “life skills” that worry me.

I was the generation of “latch key kids.” Basic “life skills” were, at least, a matter of necessity, and at most, a matter of survival.

My husband was getting dinner prepped and could de-bone a chicken by the time he was 10 years old. We could use knives, and the toaster, even the stove at a much younger age than many of our children do.

We used the phone (landline, that is) and called our friend’s houses to arrange our OWN “playdates” (we didn’t have a name for it back then). I had probably a dozen phone numbers memorized in my head, not programmed into the phone, by the time I was 7. I can still remember a few of them to this day. And we had to talk to their parents when we called and ask politely to speak with our friends.

We also knew how to take a proper message and write it down, and to screen a call to be able to tell if it was stranger or friend calling. We didn’t have “caller ID” to screen our calls. The only thing “programmed” was our ability to ALWAYS tell whoever was calling that our parent(s) was “busy” and NEVER tell the person calling that our parent(s) wasn’t home.

My generation was handling money (of the paper and coin persuasion) at a very early age too. I lived in the boondocks, but my husband lived where he could walk to the nearest liquor store with a friend and buy candy or bubble gum or a comic book, give the clerk the right money and get back the right change.

We all had jobs by the time we were 16, some of us were even younger. If we didn’t work at the mall or a fast food restaurant, we pulled weeds for neighbors, or mowed the lawn for the old lady down the street. We learned responsibility.

Some of us had paper routes, much to our parent’s chagrin, where we folded and banded the papers, and on rainy days stuffed them in plastic bags. And we were responsible if someone didn’t get their paper, because WE got a call telling us so. But that rarely happened, because we didn’t want to get back on our bike or incur the wrath of mom or dad who had to drive us to go back out to deliver the lone paper, especially in the rain.

I worry that this generation doesn’t have those skills, just as I’m sure my parent’s generation said the same thing about us. I know it’s our responsibility to teach them, but here’s the thing: Unless they get a chance to PRACTICE THEM OVER AND OVER ON A REGULAR BASIS, they will always be a little bit hesitant, or worse, over-confidant, and THINK they know what they’re doing when in actuality they only know a fraction of what they should.

The thing is I don’t know where this mindset comes from that we tend to shield our kids from the world. We want to do everything for them, and it isn’t helping them at all. I’m guilty of it too.

This summer, is the summer of “Do It Yourself” at my house: your laundry, your lunch, your social arrangements with your friends (with permission of course), your dishes, your hygiene (I can’t even believe this one is an issue), your money management, and your time management.

So far, it’s going well. They feel more empowered. Of course, there’s still whining at times, but it’s working…I hope.

Please feel free to leave any suggestions for encouraging “life skills?”

As a side note: I had a hard time finding stock photos of kids doing any of the things I listed above.

They broke my doorbell!

Several months ago I blogged about how our tiny neighborhood has suddenly exploded with kids – all boys, and one brave tomboy girl. Every time I see the group of them coming down the street, I smile at the gang of trouble headed my way.

And trouble is what I got.

The typical afternoon starts with my doorbell ringing. But it isn’t the simple ring that you or I would do. It sounds more like this: ding-dong-ding-dong-ding-dong-ding-dong…pause about 30 seconds then repeat…ding-dong-ding-dong-ding-dong-ding-dong and continues until someone comes to the door.

I might be a little more tolerant if the kids were toddlers and didn’t know any better, but they are 10 and 11 years old! Even my son is frustrated by the time he answers the door.

Then when my son tells them he has to finish his homework, they are back at the door in 10 minutes repeating the same doorbell pattern. Ugh!

When my son is finally finished with homework, he’s allowed to go out and play. We live in a condo area, so the rules for him are fairly tight – no playing on people’s driveways, stay out of the bushes (residents pay for upkeep through the HOA, and it’s only a matter of time before a bush or flower gets broken and the kids get blamed by one of the residents without kids).

One Saturday morning, an adult came to our door, and rang the doorbell (as it should be rung) and it broke…IN HALF! No kidding! The actual button broke in half! The adult felt very bad, but I actually thanked him and told him it wasn’t his fault. It was only a matter of time. And that he actually did me a favor! Now they can’t ring the doorbell like crazy people!

However, later that day, they came to the door and knocked. But when I say “knock” it was actually more of a pound. You would have thought that someone was being chased by a crazed person with a chainsaw and desperately need help. Knock-knock-knock-knock-knock…or pound-pound-pound-pound-pound-pound…pause and repeat. You get the idea.

I’d had it! After all, I work at home, and with summer coming up, this can’t continue! So I answered the door, and politely but sternly, demonstrated how to properly knock on a door. Another parent happened to be standing in front of their house (the one whose kid is the main perpetrator), and backed me up. He also offered to repair my doorbell.

We haven’t had any obnoxious knockers since. Sometimes I think kids just need to be reminded of good manners, or be taught in the first place. Wish me luck over the summer.

Oh, and I don’t plan on fixing my doorbell anytime soon.

Taking care of an aging parent

 

It’s been simmering for quite some time…the idea that my mom should not be living alone. There are a myriad of reasons to reconsider her current living situation.

The first and foremost being that her quality of life is diminished because she just can’t afford it anymore, and my brothers and I can’t afford to keep sending money to the money pit. There are also, of course health reasons that come with many septuagenarians that need to be addressed and watched over.

It’s a hard line to take: when the child becomes the caregiver of the parent. No one likes the ramifications of what that entails. There will be power struggles, the first of which is actually convincing her that her quality of life would be better living with one of her adult children. No parent wants to give up their independence, and having to rely on an adult child is not part of their plan usually. You don’t raise your children thinking “I can’t wait until I can get under their roof.” But there’s a whole generation of parents right now, who didn’t save enough for retirement because they didn’t have to. I know it sounds foolish to our generation, but for my parent’s generation, there was always going to be a pension that you’d rely on. It’s what their parents did, so why think to plan for anything different. But those pensions disappeared and here we are.

To my detriment, I’m a planner, and I woke up this morning around 6am and my brain started “planning.” My mom hasn’t even agreed to the new arrangement yet, and already I’m going through all the possible scenarios, the logistics, the financial and legal details in my head. I’ve made lists, and researched the possibilities, both good and bad, of taking in an aging parent.

But here’s what it boils down to: it’s my turn to return the favor. All the nights she spent pacing the floor, all the financial sacrifices she and my father made, all the emotional collateral they spent raising me has brought me to this moment. It’s time to give back.

I have a fabulous husband, by the way, who happens to share the same responsibility to family that I do. We decided long ago that whether it was his mom or mine (both of our fathers passed away years ago) that we would open our home if we needed to. It’s just what you do.

But convincing my mom to sell her home (that’s falling apart around her), move across the country, and move her entire life into one bedroom (basically) is going to be a hard sell. I get it. Would you do it? Things would have to be pretty bad for me to convince me to do something like that. The opportunity at the end of that bridge would have to be pretty encouraging. And my mom is not one that likes adventure – she’s a planner too.

Fortunately, my brothers and I agree on a plan for Mom. We support each other and her. We just want her to be better off. Her “Golden Years” haven’t been very golden so far, and now we have the chance to help her make them better.

I only hope I remember this when I’m aging and my kids step in to take charge. I hope I remember it’s because of love that they want to see me in a better situation.

Have you taken a parent into your home? I’d love to hear some of your experiences or advice as I go into these uncharted waters.

The Neighborhood Rules – Practicing for Life

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When we first moved in to our neighborhood 4 years ago, there were only 4 kids: 2 of mine, and the neighbor’s 2. But since the last year, the neighborhood is now booming with kids! On my short street alone we have 13 kids! Finally we have a good old suburban neighborhood, which is exactly what we were hoping for when we moved here.

Right now, my son is out playing with the other kids in the neighborhood (ages ranging from 6 to 15). He’s eleven, and we’re in a small townhome area, so I feel pretty secure about him running around. I can hear them from my open window and see them run past every now and then.

I spent the first few years that we were here outside with him while he played with friends. Mostly I was the “Car Watcher:” I was the one yelling “CAR!” every time someone drove into our neighborhood, training my kids and the others to get out of the road and be aware of their surroundings. Now I hear them doing the same thing and teaching the younger ones to get out of the road.

We laid out a very specific set of rules for playing in the neighborhood:

  1. Stay off of people’s property
  2. Don’t play around cars (moving or parked)
  3. Leave the area the same, if not better, than it was when you got there
  4. Don’t go in anyone’s house without telling me first
  5. Watch out for the younger kids in the group
  6. Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do in your own yard
  7. Someone is probably watching what you’re doing – be good
  8. Don’t chase the ball into the street
  9. Be courteous of neighbors and cars
  10. If you break something (God forbid) be accountable for your behavior

I realized that these rules can be applied to life as well. Playing outside prepares them for life, but it’s done without sitting them down and lecturing them. Once they have a good set of ground rules, it’s the best way for them to learn their limits.

These are skills that they will never learn sitting in front of a computer screen. These are childhood survival skills: get out of the road when a car comes, don’t shoot the neighbor’s car with a Nerf dart, throwing rocks will damage property and people (so will dirt clods, pine cones, and sticks), climbing trees is both exercise and fun, dirt won’t hurt, made-up games are often more fun than organized sports, and getting up when you fall will make you stronger.

Being outside, and playing with friends is probably the best “interactive” experience a kid can have. The best part is that not a single kid is running around with their phone in their hand. Not even the older sibling that shows up on occasion to toss the football around with them.

I’ve witness acts of kindness the older ones have shown to the younger kids: tying shoes, holding hands so that they can stay with the group, teaming up with an older kid when playing hide-and-seek, and making sure everyone is accounted for when a car comes by.

Here’s hoping everyone gets out to play in the sun!