Strawberry boxes forever: The best part of my garden so far

We have already gotten three pounds of strawberries from our garden so far this season. Nothing beats seeing my daughter pick (and sometimes eat) strawberries right off of the plants. Each year my garden becomes closer to paying for itself/saving us money. The main reasons it hasn’t are because I keep expanding it every year. This year I added a blackberry bush and more blueberries. I’m still hoping to add raspberries. While I know that each year I defer planting fruit trees also defers the time they will take to mature for fruit production, I’ve decided that this just isn’t the year either. The trees are expensive and while I know they will certainly pay for themselves eventually, in the short term I’m looking at $75-$100 for two columnar apple trees and a dwarf self-pollinating peach tree. I also bought more plants this year rather than growing my own from seed. With the new baby I decided not to push myself too hard. Our local garden center that was within walking distance closed at the end of last summer so now I pay more for fewer lower quality plants at the home improvement store. But so far the pepper and tomato plants I purchased are looking good.

Still on my list of addition improvements are a composter, either stationary or rotating, since we are terrible at reigning in our current compost pile. Basically it has become a mound of very well fed weeds because of our poor turning practices. Next year maybe I’ll get around to adding the additional raised beds and fruit trees I want. But for now I’m enjoying my strawberry boxes.


Learning to Live Without: Letting Go of Long Held Luxuries

So it’s official. Just in time for summer, neither of our cars has working air conditioning. We got an estimate last weekend to fix the air conditioning in our primary car. $1,500 minimum. Thanks to our recent $900 repair of our secondary vehicle, we really can’t part with the money right now, unless it is a life or death emergency. My first reaction was to completely flip out. My mind filled with images of being completely house bound during the hot months to protect my newborn from dangerously high temperatures. (We don’t have a garage so our cars bake in the sun all day, every day). I immediately began wishing I could return to work, not just because of this issue but because this is a symptom of a larger problem: we do have trouble making ends meet and have very little to save for the future until we have paid off our sizable student loan debt.

After I finished my little freak out I tried to look at the issue more logically. As my husband reminded me, air conditioning is a luxury that was not available to most people just a few decades ago. The house I grew up in had one wall unit air conditioner in one room. The rest of the house was cooled by a large attic fan. So hot summer nights were a bit difficult at times but we all survived. I then tried to remind myself how grateful I am to live somewhere in the country, the northeast) that the temperatures really only get into the 80’s and 90’s for three to four months of the year. I am going to have to be cautious about covering my children’s car seats with blankets to keep the buckles from burning them as well as keeping the windows cracked to help some of the heat escape. But I do think we will survive. I may not like it, but we will survive. Long trips will be rough because I hate the sound of highway noise for long periods of time, but we aren’t likely to take a road trip this summer anyway.

Sometimes certain luxuries have been part of our lives for so long that we begin to see them as needs. Do we need Netflix, a cell phone, air conditioning? I guess that depends on your individual life circumstances. We use Netflix periodically and I try to limit my daughter’s access she so doesn’t become too used to it. We have a cell phone but a basic pay-as-you-go model. But if our debt was suddenly paid off and our income suddenly increased, we probably would each get our own nicer phones. We have window units in our house. One unit cools the downstairs decently, but it probably is too small for the space. Two of our upstairs bedrooms have window units as well and we just leave the doors open to cool the hallway and small bedroom. If our financial situation were different I would be buying a nice big 12,000 BTU unit for the downstairs and relocating the other units accordingly; perhaps we would even price the cost of adding central air. But if it really came down to living off credit cards versus our giving up our basic cell phone and Netflix, you can bet they would be the first to go along with less usage of our air conditioners to lower the summer electric bill.

What luxuries in your life have morphed into “necessities”? Have you ever had to learn to live without them?

When To Cut a Car Loose: The Trials of Vehicle Repair on an Old Car

When is it no longer worth repairing an old car? I know the obvious answer would be, when you can afford a new one. We currently have two vehicles, both on the older side and with over 100,000 miles. Our primary vehicle is a 2000 Buick Century that I inherited from my grandmother’s estate in 2004 with only a few thousand miles on it. This car has needed mostly routine repairs like tires, and brakes aside from a major transmission rebuild and a broken windshield (the result of vandalism) four years ago. But the little stuff as started to go. The front windows no longer rolled up and down and after over a year we decided to have them repaired, only to have the back two fail days later. Then the air conditioning system needed repair. We still aren’t sure of the level or expense of repair required, and if it weren’t for our small children we might consider doing without.

Our secondary vehicle however has been going down hill more severely of late. This is my husband’s to and from work car, a Chevy Lumina from the early 90’s, now also with over 100,000 miles. Now we bought this car for $1,500 and then put another $1,000 worth of repairs into it in the first year. It has a large dent on the driver’s side door that was there when we purchased it, but it doesn’t affect the car in any way and my husband doesn’t care about the aesthetics of his vehicle. Since then I’ve lost track of what it has needed; never more than $400 or so of repairs at the time so we just keep it going. Every year when it comes time to inspect it we set a price limit on what we can afford to put into it and each year the repairs are manageable. We’ve considered becoming a one car family, but when I ran the math I concluded that we would hardly save any money at all once you factor the extra gas to ferry my husband back and forth to work on the days I need the car and the loss of our multi-car discount on the car insurance. Basically we would only be saving the cost of registration and inspection each year. But this year was different.

The Lumina had some kind of gas leak that was killing the fuel economy, bringing it down to 10 miles a gallon. Our fuel budget was destroyed. The starter had also been slowly failing, almost stranding my husband on several occasions. So this year we took the car in for a free estimate before getting it inspected. Repair cost came to around $400 so we decided to get it repaired one last time. But after the repairs had been made some major problems were discovered during the inspection, so that the total cost of repairs and inspection now rose to at least $900. Since we already owed for the initial repairs our choices were to make the necessary repairs for inspection or say forget the rest and cut our losses, finally ditching the car after making a $400 repair. Again, after much frustration we decided to just follow through with the additional repair and hope the car gives us a few more good years.

The most frustrating part about all of this is that we have never been able to save much for vehicle repair and replacement. We have a small monthly budget for basic maintenance and repair, but with our vehicles being older they usually require more than we have budgeted and force us to dip into our emergency fund. As a result we have very little saved for a new vehicle and each time a major repair comes around for our existing vehicles, it eats up what little we have saved. Part of me wants to dump the second car and put whatever small amount we save by having only one car into the new car fund. But the money would likely be eaten up by additional repairs needed for the Buick given the addition use. So it looks like both our old vehicles are staying with us for now and hopefully we’ll be able to reallocate some funds to start saving for a new vehicle soon.

When It’s Easier to Say No: Dealing with the Wishes of a Toddler

My daughter is a great kid when she is having fun. But the minute the fun ends she explodes with anger, and sometimes a full blown temper tantrum. It really lowers my desire to do any kind of special fun activity with her, whether that’s a walk to the park, or allowing her a little bit of TV time. The end result is always the same. This makes me want to say no to everything.

She asks for a snack and I give her some trail mix. She asks for more chocolate chips when she has picked them all out of the mix and I tell her no, but she may have something else. Screaming ensues. We play outside for an hour or two and the time has come to go in for whatever reason (bedtime, naptime, dinner, baby needs to be changed, etc), and she refuses to move, eventually resulting in being dragged indoors. I let her watch one episode (or two or three) of Veggie Tales and when it’s over and she melts down completely, as though I never let her do anything.

I can’t seem to find a balance between saying no to every activity that might produce a tantrum when it’s over and saying yes because I feel guilty that I’m always saying no. I hope that this is a phase that will get easier as she gets older, but as we approach her third birthday it feels like a permanent personality change and I find myself wondering what happened to my sweet little girl.

Finally, Garden 2012 Begins

With the help of my three year old daughter I finally got a late start to my 2012 garden. I decided to remain casual about my garden this year. I’m not going to put a ton of effort or money into it and see what happens. This includes letting my daughter help me and trying not to stress out if she doesn’t do it right. She helped me to plant potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, squash, and beans. We also harvested a small amount of strawberries from my everbearing strawberry plants that we planted last year. It was exciting showing her how to pick strawberries. She got a little frustrated when she would drop seeds or accidentally squish a strawberry, but we mostly had a good time. We tried to time our fun outside time with my newborns’ nap, but I did have to run inside a few times to soothe him back to sleep.

We’ve been struggling with getting enough outside time lately so this was a great for my daughter to have fun, me to feel like I’m getting something done and move our garden plan forward. I plan to add a few more plants such as tomato, pepper, lettuce and a few fruit plants like blueberry, raspberry and blackberry. Then I’ll just ease up and see what happens.

Return to Exercise, With Two Children Along for the Ride

Yesterday was my official return to exercise after my son’s birth almost two months ago. I have had a few casual walks and one near death march with my daughter in the stroller and my son in the front pack. After the latter I decided that perhaps I wasn’t ready to exercise so rigorously yet. Then my son and I had a fall down the stairs (I fell while holding him) and I injured my tail bone pretty badly. So exercise was put off a few more weeks. But finally yesterday I decided that I wasn’t waiting any longer. I got the kids up, got myself dressed and headed straight for my Wii. I gave my daughter the extra Wii remote and we did a short partner run. Then I did a little step aerobics, some yoga postures, a few balance games plus a weigh in and body test. The whole thing totaled 30 minutes, though I stopped the clock several times to change a diaper, nurse my son and give my daughter breakfast. But I figured something was better than nothing. For an added bonus I actually did the run and the step aerobics while holding my son which added a significant challenge.

My goal is to do Wii in the morning three days a week with the ultimate goal of losing 5 pounds in the next three months. I’ve already lost my pregnancy weight but I want to get into better physical shape so that I have more energy and the stamina to keep up with two children. My daughter enjoys watching me play Wii, even if it is just the Wii Fit exercise program, but my son isn’t so fond of the prospect. Once he develops a normal morning naptime I’m hoping to time my exercise accordingly. I’m starting slowly, hoping to increase difficulty and frequency as I go. Any tips on fitting exercise into a schedule with two kids? I’d love any advice I can get.