June 22, 2017

Just a little (link) love: Your Playbook For Tough Times, Vol. 2 edition


I shouldn’t be this bad at self care but I am. Takes a lot of reminders to keep at it.

Stop Saying ‘Drink the Kool-Aid’

I always knew mushrooms were untrustworthy. This year’s rains have led to more poisonous mushrooms sprouting.

A Malaysian-Auntie Jaeger story!

What is it with men who think that No really means “keep trying to convince me that I want to do something that I have no interest in, and if you pester me enough and buy me the gear, I will suddenly sprout expertise and interest in that thing”? I haven’t had too many interactions like this but I’ve had a few, and it’s Awkward as HECK.

The Beatrice Six and how memories can be implanted

Your Playbook For Tough Times, Vol. 2

Donna’s done it again! She’s created a second volume of her book on living frugally and getting the most of our lives.

If you’re interested in realistic tactics and actionable advice, you’ve come to the right place.

A popular statistic has been floating around the blogosphere this year: “According to a report from the Federal Reserve, 52 percent of U.S. residents would be unable to come up with $400 in an emergency.” This is a bit alarming since we know that $400 isn’t that much money in the grand scheme of things but if you don’t have it, it’s everything.

Now for the fun part! She’s been kind enough to offer a free copy of her book to my readers, and a discount code for those of you who are interested but don’t win.

To enter, please leave me a comment and let me know what you’re going to do for fun or money this coming week! Make sure you include an email address so we can contact you. 

Winner will be picked and announced in next Thursday’s link love post. 

June 21, 2017

Life talk: Simplicity and routines

I recently visited an overwhelmed friend to help with her laundry and play sounding board. Over towels and bath sheets, she confided in me. She and her spouse had been arguing over everything, she said, stressed by bad decisions, work, kids, work, kids, more stressful decisions. You name it, it was a fight.

In my world, most fights can be resolved by taking a deep breath and letting it out, several times, then figuring out what’s really getting your goat and dealing with that.

Sometimes it takes several hours, or even days, for both parties to cool down and start resolving the issue. That’s fine. What I don’t have time for is endless rounds of fighting over the same thing when the real issue at hand tends to boil down to both partners need to be respectful and/or considerate and/or more direct in some way that they’re not currently being.

That’s a simplification of course, but in general, that’s been a common theme among friends who complain about their marriages. There’s a big difference between complaining about a tricky situation in your marriage, and consistently complaining about the quality of your marriage.

In any case, I’m not a marriage counselor and I don’t offer advice unless asked. What I will do is help with the mountain range of laundry.


89 pairs and 6 stray socks, later? I was ready to fight someone. Leaving aside who needs this many pairs of socks? Leaving aside, also, “who needs 15 different sock styles??”, for the first time, my favorite task felt like an awful chore and no wonder. I wasted 45 minutes of brainpower on socks. I felt like climbing atop that mountain of socks and bellowing: take it all away! Simply your laundry, simplify your life, save your brain!

Reduce decision fatigue, stop wasting brain function on unimportant decisions. Make routines, give your brain the space it needs to be creative and productive.

I keep seeing this message.

Why is this at all a surprise? My best writing thoughts come to me in the shower, or when I’m laying in bed trying not to think. If I’m hung up on a work problem, the dishes get washed or the table gets picked up. In my better days, I’d go for a run. Now, Seamus gets an extra walk to shake the cobwebs. The mundane stroll through the neighborhood clears my assumptions or moves them aside so I can see the solution. Daydreaming and meandering is good for our problem solving. 

The key to success is clear, isn’t it? Set routines! Set them for everything!

As a newish mom, I’ve lost the luxury of deciding that starting right now, like in my single and driven days, that from now on, I get up at 5 am, shower, work out, write write write, work work work, eat, work some more. Exhaustion would destroy whatever brain cells I had left, even if I wasn’t dealing with a baby that insisted on changing zir sleep/non-sleep routine every time I relaxed.

But I’m not doomed to suffer, ambition-free and listless, until JuggerBaby becomes a fully actualized human. I’m not doomed because I’m not a martyr, nor am I stupid.

I am going to set myself up for brain freedom and success by minimizing the mental and physical clutter. As much as I quirk an eyebrow at quoting Thoreau’s “Simplify, simplify” for the sheer weight of privilege behind the fact that he could easily simplify by choice (and see Cait’s post on the privileges of choosing to be a minimalist), it does apply here.

Begone, home clutter!

Streamline the closet.

Good-bye to my weird organization system of past jobs. Professional clothes were once separated from lounging / casual clothes to prevent me from sleepily wearing a geeky tee and jeans to the business casual office. Now that it’s all casual, all the shirts /pants / sweaters are now reunited, organized by color, so that I can see everything at once. That’s step one. Step two is making sure that only the ideal wardrobe lives in my closet.

The goal: Mornings, I can grab a clean top, add pants, and voila! Dressed!

Subcategory: Color matching: weeding out most colors. I don’t want to think about whether this clashes with that. Well, not that I do much now but let’s never waste another synapse firing on that again.

Baskets, baskets, everywhere!

Between the dog meds to accompany meals, needing to walk Seamus and JB together, JuggerBaby trying to steal the dog’s leash, phones, keys, and poo bags, and and and … we have instituted a Basket Rule. Everything has a basket. No need to wonder where Thing is, it’s in the Thing Basket. Done.

Subcategory: Nix the (unnecessary) containers. We are battling my love of containers, great and small, and cutting the clutter. Less clutter = less to clean! Win win.

Make gifts easy (and the same)

I found myself asking Twitter for birthday suggestions for a three year old boy and what a load of brainspace that burned! I fell down a black hole of looking at action figures, educational toys, and costumes. Then a friend reminded me, duh, I give money and I give books. Done!

Same with wedding invitations. We have to travel almost every wedding to some remote place that is half impossible to get to without driving for hours and spending serious cash. There’s a trend for child-free events, and we can’t leave JuggerBaby in anyone’s care over a weekend, so we’re declining most invitations. Before JuggerBaby, we couldn’t fit in more than 2 weddings per year, and now it’s even less than that. I send a lovely Nidhi Chandani Everyday Love Art card with a check. Done.

Begone, professional clutter!

Ease up on the side hustle

I have a tendency to take on way more projects in the chase for extra income than there are hours in the day, or energy points in the universe. Instead of flailing about with 20 different projects, doing them all badly, I’ve made it a point to give myself a specific window of time to test out side money projects, and then permission to just stop if it doesn’t pan out, like with mTurk.

A project needs to slot in organically with my life now, and grow organically with the efforts that I put in, because I’m not about to replace my professional job with its many perks with a job that takes even more out of me than I can give, and jeopardize the balance of the rest of my life.

Delegate appropriately, then Back Off!

My bones were made in my professional career by taking on everything in the workplace, big or small, and knocking home runs out of the park with all of them.

There comes a time, especially when you’re managing a staff, to hand stuff over and only monitor progress, not do it all myself.  I’ve been managing staff for over ten years now, and it’s still hard to fight the tendency to just quickly do something simple because I know it like the back of my hand with the intention of “helping”, but instead wasting my valuable time, and getting in my team’s way.

What else can I do?

I’m evaluating what I do as I go along, without spending vast stretches of time that I don’t have mulling it over, testing my theories and changing on the fly so the list above is just a start. This ignores the social capital aspects of our lives where we choose to spend time with our loved ones for fun and support.

There are definitely more ways to streamline how we do life and work, and I’d love to hear what you do in your lives.

:: How do you juggle your responsibilities? What’s essential and non-essential?

June 19, 2017

What’s the right retirement age for you?

Listening to the West Wing the other day, Toby’s yelling about the need to consider options to save Social Security such as raising the minimum age penetrated my conscious brain. He pointed out that people are living decades longer than they used to, and Social Security was predicated on a life span that was considerably shorter.

As I understand it, you can start claiming benefits at 62 if you’re willing to accept a lower amount but for each year you wait until age 70, the amount increases 8%.

The archived Social Security site says:

If we look at life expectancy statistics from the 1930s we might come to the conclusion that the Social Security program was designed in such a way that people would work for many years paying in taxes, but would not live long enough to collect benefits. Life expectancy at birth in 1930 was indeed only 58 for men and 62 for women, and the retirement age was 65. But life expectancy at birth in the early decades of the 20th century was low due mainly to high infant mortality, and someone who died as a child would never have worked and paid into Social Security. A more appropriate measure is probably life expectancy after attainment of adulthood.

It goes on to point out that if we look at the life expectancy after reaching adulthood, then we are indeed living a few more years than we used to.

Obviously, we have many awesome FIRE bloggers who would dispute this retirement age as the appropriate one but they’re (we?) an unusual segment of the population right now.

In my family, we either live well into late 80s and 90s, or we die before 60. If you make it to 60, there’s a solid chance that you have another 20 or 30 years ahead.

Whether they’re good years depends on whether they worked physically demanding manual labor jobs (high likelihood), how good their basic health was, whether they had access to appropriate health care if it was needed. Last and maybe the most important: did they save enough to last them during their later years?

I’d say the latter is a complicated question because, until now, retirement plans in our family have been “move in with the kids and be their childcare in exchange for full support.”

There have been some exceptions.

My amazing grandmother worked her own farm well into her 80s. She had enough saved to last her until her death and still leave a healthy inheritance. One aunt did the usual childcare thing but then moved out when the grandkids were too much of a pain – that’s pretty much unheard of.

PiC and I are the first couple in my family that I know of to actively plan to not follow the usual game plan of have kids, work all our adult years, missing their childhoods, and then depend on them for support while raising their kids. That model simply doesn’t work when there isn’t a cohesive community all around you doing the same which equips them to provide support as needed. We’re hundreds of miles from our dearest friends and relatives, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

JuggerBaby may be an only. We may want to grow the family more. We may try to foster and adopt if my health allows. There are so many possibilities and it hardly seems possible to plan for them all, but it must be possible.

We have been saving for retirement for years, I started when I was 21. I don’t have a FIRE date in mind but once the dust settles, I’ll decide what it is and our salaries together will work on reaching it.

I’d love to set it at age 40 but that’s just a pie in the sky number right now. We have to let the dust settle with the house, the renovations, the mortgage, and all that jazz before I dive headfirst into another massive plan.

:: When you plan to retire? Do you have grand plans for that time of your life or is that still hazy?


June 15, 2017

Just a little (link) love: jumping edition


I was trying to define success for myself and I like this: “Real success has to do with the power you build in yourself, power that no one conferred on you and no one can take away from you.”

Using this list, I’m 4/5 of the way to successful by the Forbes article’s definition. I could use a bit more of 2 and 4. 2 – I’m still looking for what I want to do long term other than be rich, canny, and philanthropic. 😁

Does anyone remember Atari? And the E.T. Game? NPR interviews the game creator who explained how the game came about and financial impact on his life. My favorite quote:

Until one day, I really had a sit-down with myself, and I said, ‘You know, the IRS can only take my money. That’s really all they can do. If I give them my happiness, that’s on me.’

We need to do better about teaching the history of colonialism and the California missions.

The Massachusetts answer to online sales tax losses is … weird.

Speaking of whitewashed history, Robert E Lee was a horrible person. “White supremacy was one of Lee’s most fundamental convictions.

The Original Superman Still Knows How to Embarrass Batman

So THAT’s how dogs know what time it is! I always marveled at how Seamus knew exactly what time it was: “Time quite literally smells different throughout the day. Morning has a different scent from afternoon, which smells different from night-time. The canine nose is so sensitive that dogs can determine the difference between 5pm and 6pm, the time when your partner’s car rolls into the driveway every weekday.


June 14, 2017

My kid and notes from Year 2.3


Complete sentences and abstract thought 

JuggerBaby normally skips words ze can’t pronounce or doesn’t think are relevant. This makes for conversations more akin to translating pantomime and Choose Your Own Adventure than communication. It gets even fuzzier when ze slips into a play-pretend mode in the middle of a normal conversation. At dinner we might be talking about people ze knows, the food’s characteristics, and then suddenly we’ll be pretending to drink tea, or cooking. I’m sure JuggerBaby wonders why we’re mentally slow and why it takes us 5 minutes to catch up to zir imaginings.

As usual, the norm abruptly changed this month.

Out of the blue, ze started telling us “I like this!” Who taught zir that concept?? But munching down on some pastry, ze will cheerfully pipe up: mama, I like this!

And the next day: mama, I need water, please!

And then: no more stah-berries? No more boo-berries? Onee peach right now?

It seems like ze is grasping the more abstract concepts that we don’t always have exactly what ze wants, when ze wants it. That led me to thinking of how I don’t remember ever complaining of hunger as a young child. Though I certainly skipped meals with unhealthy regularity in the early days of this blog to save money, I will never forget to be grateful that my child has enough to eat.

Fruit according to JuggerBaby and language shifts

Stah-berry – strawberry
Boo-berry – blueberry
Peesch – peach
Backberries- blackberries

JuggerBaby’s taking liberties with the English language again. Suddenly everything comes with an “y” at the end of it:

Noy = no
Oh noy! = oh no!
Boy = bowl
appy ertay oo-oo = happy birthday to you
moy = more

Toddler portion sizes

Speaking of eating, it seems that JuggerBaby is finally eating about the recommended toddler portion sizes for a meal. From the point ze started eating solid food til about 2-3 weeks ago, ze has eaten 2-3 times the recommended-by-pediatricians amount, and has suddenly switched to a much lower gear and eats far far less. At first I was a bit worried but ze wasn’t starving, just self regulating. A few times it was really because playing during dinnertime was more entertaining than eating, but waking up two hours early and STAAAARVING seems to have taught zir a lesson in eating when the eating’s good.


Ze can count up to ten, but ze hasn’t made the connection between the numbers and the idea that they are used in a specific way. Ze used to count all the items on the dinner table, this is how I know ze knows 1-10, but ask zir to count at any random time and ze will cheerfully do so: one-two, one-two, one-TWO!

…. that’s six.

Reading comprehension

Ze is on a huge mimicking kick right now. Clearly both we and zir teachers are doing the same things when we read. Normally, when I read simpler stories to zir, I try to engage zir by asking what things are on the page. It’s backfired. Now ze insists on holding the book up and points at every illustration quizzing us: wat izzit?

Now I encourage zir to act out parts of the story instead. See me next month when ze turns me into zir very own thespian to direct.

Household chores

The industrious little helper monkey I always joked about has arrived! JuggerBaby now insists on peeling oranges for me, and vacuuming, obsessed to the point of falling to the ground crying when I hooked up a new attachment to the vacuum and didn’t give zir first dibs.

Too like a mischievous monkey, though. You can never turn your back on zir without possibly being leapt on. You might be unable to lift your left leg for reasons of 30 pounds of child suddenly latching onto it, or having that same child dart around you cackling and racing to shut the door in your face.

Helper monkeys may be more work than help.

It’s also really strange to see how zir empathy works, or doesn’t. Ze thinks nothing of slapping you across the face, clawing at you like a angry cat, pinning down a limb and trying to bite the belugas out of it. Not a drop of remorse to be found, and if you were caught by surprise and yell “ow!” ze laughs like a homocidal sociopath.

At the same time, I’ve explained that some games are too rough because my hands hurt and each time I decline to hold hands and play a rough game, ze gently holds that injured hand, asks “mama ow?”, pets it, kisses it and gently hugs me. Or ze will get wildly enthused about something, grab my painful hand, and even before I can wince, ze catches zirself and says “oh no! Mama ow!”

Even stranger, it might have been a few days since my hands were that dire, but ze will remember and scold me for playing with that hand, patting it and reminding me that it hurts.

It’s hard to reconcile the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde flip flops.

Sweet sleeper

We always have our ups and downs but I cherish those nights when we have a peaceful dinner, quiet bathtime, go through a pile of books and then ze settles in for sleep. I’m not sure how it’ll work when we open up the crib so ze isn’t trapped anymore but ze usually has several good nights in a row settling in without a fight for a long night of sleep. The irony is I can’t thoroughly enjoy the peace because of my own recalcitrant body, but I appreciate the ability to lay down starting at 8 or 9 and stay put!

Precious #parenting moments

  • JuggerBaby kissed me on the nose and then head butted me twice. That sums up our relationship pretty well.
  • My two freaking year old just told me “I do me, mama, you do you.”
  • JuggerBaby grabs my hand and shakes it: nice to meetchu!
  • JuggerBaby hovering a piece of an orange rind near zir mouth: “ahh? ahhh?” Joke’s on you, kid.

Read past JuggerBaby updates

:: What helper animal would you pick? What’s your favorite summer fruit?

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