12-Minute Memoir: Mess (or, This is Life with Toddlers)


Way back in March, I took a half day, and R and I went to the science museum. I've never had passes for anything before, but we got them last year for the science museum, and it's been really fun to be able to take the kids there for a few hours every so often to play on the weekends or when I have a day off work.

Upstairs there is a large open area with games set up: a life-sized chess board, giant dominos and legos, and a Connect Four that was so tall R needed a stool and even then could only sort of reach the top to drop her pieces in. R ran around for a good 15 minutes playing in all the different areas, and as I watched her, I noticed one of the museum employees. It appeared his only job was to walk around the upstairs play area and pick up after the kids. 

He would put all the chess pieces up in their correct spots, and then not thirty seconds later, one or two (or four or five) children would come behind and knock everything down. He'd circle back and pick all the pieces up, only to have it happen again (my own daughter was no exception).

"What a bummer for that poor guy," I thought. I mean really. You try to keep something clean, only to have a child follow you around making a mess of everything you'd just picked up. And that's all you do for I don't know how many hours.

If you are a mom or have ever babysat a child of any age, you probably know where I'm going with this.

I got home, took one look at the mess of toys and books and dress-up clothes strewn around my house, and realized THAT EMPLOYEE IS ME. I don't know why it had never occurred to me, but it was a really eye-opening experience.

And of course we are working with R and J on picking up after themselves. They need to clean up their own messes. This post isn't about strategies for allowance and helping kids learn to contribute to the family. This is about me and mess and the realization that I am no better off than the museum employee I felt so bad for. And it's worse than that, in fact. 

Because he gets paid to pick up the toys, while I, on the other hand, do not.

Budgeting Our Trip to England: All the Numbers!


Thanks for all your very nice comments on my last post. I always feel like a dork after making a post like that because it feels super whiny when in reality nothing all that dramatic is happening. I don't know why I feel like having sick kids would be so much easier if I stayed at home, and so I get extra angsty about working. But anyway, I think we are on the mend. Thankfully the kids don't have anything contagious, and I've been yelling at Jordan if he so much as touches anything in the house, so I'm hoping my superior immune system comes through for me once again and I don't get whatever he's got.

I wanted to get one final England trip post up before the end of the year, because I just don't feel like I should keep talking about this far into 2019. This is all about the budget, so if that doesn't interest you, keep on scrolling ;) 

When I posted my first trip recap on my blog Facebook page, someone commented and asked if I was going to write a post sharing our budget. I admit that I am super nosey and love it when bloggers post budget posts and include actual numbers, but some things are obviously personal and not for general internet consumption. That said, I asked Jordan if he would be okay with me writing a post sharing all the money details for the trip we took to England back in September, and he gave me the go-ahead. Honestly, we were both a bit surprised with the final numbers!

I won't keep you in suspense about the actual total, in case that's all you care about. When all was said and done, the total spent for both of us combined for everything including souvenirs, domestic and international plane flights, BritRail train tickets, Ubers and Underground transportation, lodging for 10 nights, food and travel for 11 days, tickets to events, and travel protection on some of the flights and lodging: $4,438.18

I am not at all saying that $4,450 is not a ton of money. It is. It's a lot, and we are so thankful to have been able to take this trip. That said, we were so excited about that total, and it's actually $850 less than we had saved for this trip!

We have been saving for the last 3+ years, putting money aside when we had it and letting it collect interest in our savings account (Capital One account, not at our bank! Gets amazing interest!). As we paid for things, we paid with our credit card and then transferred the money from our savings account to our checking account. Before we left for our trip, we had saved a total of $5,280, which came from the following: tax returns, monthly savings toward this trip, my freelance editing projects.

We definitely face palmed ourselves when we came home and discovered that we had so much left over from what we had saved. We could have not stressed quite as much about eating expensive meals and maybe paid to go inside a few more places. That said, there honestly isn't anything I regret not doing about our trip. I feel like we did and saw a lot and really didn't stress all that much about it. And now that money is deposited right back in our travel fund to start saving for our next trip, whenever and wherever that is!

Some people probably have Excel spreadsheets to track all their purchases and expenses, but I have a very official piece of notebook paper. ;) A list of expenses listed in USD is below! As you read through the list, please consider that this was our very first time taking a trip of this magnitude. I'm sure there are some things we did well and some areas we probably over spent or didn't use our money wisely. But we did our best with the information we had and feel pleased with how it all turned out!

421.92 // Southwest airlines flight from Dallas to Boston for 2
1,023.58 // Norwegian airlines flight from Boston to London Gatwick for 2
70 // travel protection for our Norwegian flight
6.44 // Expedia booking fee
427.95 // BritRail consecutive 5-day pass for 2
76.65 // Lyft rides in Boston and from the Dallas airport back to my parents' house
Oyster cards for the Underground for 2 (put I think either 15 or 20 pounds on each and paid for using cash, see "other")

201.66 // Hotel in Boston for 1 night (this was a splurge hotel to start off the trip! I tried hard to stay around $100/night for the rest of our lodging)
94.71 // Air Bnb in Boston for 1 night coming home
385.59 // London hotel for 3 nights + travel protection (I think it was around $24)
289.12 - 128.82 // Air BnB in London that we cancelled and only got part of our reservation fee back due to a dumb cancellation policy
188.80 // Air BnB in Liverpool for 2 nights
93.82 // Air BnB in York for 1 night
103.20 // Cambridge hotel + travel protection (I think it was around $7)

67.29 // Buckingham Palace tour tickets for 2
80.12 // Tour of Anfield Football Stadium in Liverpool for 2
103.34 // Big Bus Tour London (premium 2-day pass) tickets for 2

397 // USD we exchanged for Pounds, which we used mostly for food and souvenirs and 2 Oyster cards
145.62 // Boston Discover card (food, souvenirs, and getting into a few Freedom Trail things)
14.97 // Foreign transaction fee for using US credit cards (we knew we would get charged a fee, so it wasn't a shock and we aren't just dumb)

*Please note: the below amounts are only what we charged to a credit card. I didn't keep track of specifically what we paid for in cash, so the $397 listed above in "other" was also used mainly for food in all these places plus some souvenirs. We spent more than the below amounts in these places!

14.52 // Airport Chick-Fil-A ;)
153.91 // Liverpool (2 days)
37.12 // York (1.5 days)
169.67 // London (3 days)
145.62* //Boston (2 days) *see "other"
Cambridge* I have no idea why I don't have any totals for this! We ate dinner and breakfast and lunch, but we didn't pay to do anything else and just walked around, so I'm guessing this is folded into the "other" 397 cash.
A few notes: we exchanged $397 USD for Pounds at our local bank in the US. We had multiple people tell us that it wasn't necessary to exchange money ahead of time, but we just felt more comfortable having some in hand. That said, we didn't want to be carrying around a crazy amount of cash, so we just did a little and figured we could exchange more when we got over there.

Well, we never ended up getting more and so we only had about 300 pounds for the whole trip, which we mainly used for food and souvenirs. Our backpacks were so packed, and we were obviously carrying everything we brought, so that kept us from buying too many extra items. Any souvenir had to be light, flat, and not easily breakable, which limited our options. We ended up using our credit card a bit more than we planned, but our Citi card is a double cash card, so we earn 2% back on any purchase, and since it was a 3% foreign transaction fee, we figured we were really just paying a 1% fee and that isn't all that much when you think about it.

We ended up having about 18 pounds or so leftover, and since I didn't want to waste it, I spent our waiting time at the London airport wandering around spending our final cash. I think we came home with something like 56 pence. The airport is where I bought the most Europe stuff! (Side note: Jordan says that British brand KitKats do not taste like American KitKats. Also their mints taste different! lol)

You probably also noticed that we paid extra for travel protection on our international flights and our hotels. We have never paid for the travel protection before on any previous trip, but we booked everything over 6 months in advance, and with 2 small kids there just wasn't any way to know if we would have a medical emergency or some other reason we couldn't leave. I know some people feel like it's a waste of money, but we felt like paying an extra fee was worth it to be able to get refunded for these larger nonrefundable amounts. Thankfully, we didn't need it!

This was of course just an overview of this specific trip. If you are interested in more specifics about our budgeting strategy, you can find more posts on my Budgeting Page here. You might specifically like: 

Why We Budget
How We Budget for Travel
Budget Friendly Tips for Using a Credit Card

Any questions? Feel free to leave a comment and I'll reply in the comments section for everyone to see! Feel free to send me an email if it's something more personal :) 

Musings from the Sick House


I'm writing this Saturday night, and let me tell you: it has been a week. A WEEK. It started last weekend when R got a stomach bug Saturday night and projectile vomited all over the carpet in our bedroom and then twice more in her bed. She spent basically all of Sunday parked on the couch watching TV. You know your toddler has watched a lot of TV when she comes to tell you she doesn't want to watch anymore. 

I've mentioned before that for some reason I'm way more against TV time than I thought I would be as a mom, and not to sound dramatic, but days like that make me die a little inside. But then I remind myself that lying on the couch watching endless amounts of TV is pretty much the only good thing about having a stomach bug. This is true when you are 32 and when you are 3. Amen.

By Sunday afternoon she was complaining about her right ear hurting. And by complaining, I mean inconsolable screaming late into the night. I took her to the doctor first thing Monday morning to check her ear, and sure enough it was infected. My work is pretty flexible, which I'm grateful for, but this last week and next week are the absolute worst two weeks for my kids to be sick. I am working on the most important issue of our publication, which goes to press at the end of next week, and it's a stressful time for me and a lot of my coworkers.

There are a lot of hard things about being a working mom, but in the three years since I started back to work after having R, I still think the very hardest thing is when my kids are sick. I absolutely hate that I am unable to give them 100% of my focus when all they want is me. Even when I do take off to stay at home, I still have to call in sick/reschedule meetings/answer emails from home. And there are times when they have a cold or just aren't acting themselves, but they aren't technically contagious with anything, and I send them to daycare, and I feel terrible about it. There's just a lot a lot of guilt involved for a lot of different reasons, and I feel like I'm failing at being a good employee and failing at being a good mom.

So I had that going on to start the week with R, and J also wasn't acting like himself at all. He basically cried most of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and finally Saturday afternoon I took him to the doctor to get his ears checked just in case. Double ear infection. MEANWHILE, when I got home from picking up J's ear medicine, Jordan said he felt nauseous and promptly threw up. What is life right now.

I admit: I have not felt very jolly this week. I've either slept on the couch or in R's toddler bed most of the past week. Someone has been puking or crying nearly every minute of the time I'm with them before and after work. I quit Instagram until the new year because if I see any more posts about how much fun it is to stay at home during the day with your kids and bake Christmas cookies I'm going to claw my eyes out.

I called my mom on Friday, and she asked how I was doing, and I said, "Good!" Then I said, "I don't know why I said good. I'm not doing good. This week has been crappy." We've so trained ourselves to answer "good" to the "how are you doing?" question that I even say it to my own mother, apparently.

In the grand scheme of life, obviously these are minor concerns. And really it's just been this week. We've actually been able to do a fair amount of Christmas merry-making this month, including Jordan putting up lights on our house for the first time ever! I also love how my mantel turned out, thanks to some FaceTime help from my aunt. It feels like the one thing in the house the kids can't touch and mess up.

On Thursday we met some friends at a kid's play area called North Pole Adventure, and R took her very first picture with Santa of her young life. I think I've talked before about how I personally don't understand why people think photos of small children sitting in Santa's lap and screaming are funny. We've never taken R to see Santa before, and we didn't at all force her to go this time, but she hopped right up there herself and told him she wants "more games" for Christmas. (She told me today that she also wants a pink Barbie, but too bad that's not happening. I don't have time for late-entry gift ideas! I also have no idea where she came up with that idea since we don't own any Barbies. I know she plays with them at daycare, though.)
J was there too, but he was in a terrible mood because of the aforementioned ear infection and only wanted to be held by me or Jordan. I didn't want to put Santa through that kind of stress ;)

This is one of those posts where I feel like I should have some kind of ending point, but really I don't. I've been reading Paul David Tripp's daily advent devotional each day this month so far, and I'm thankful for his simple reminders during this season of what the point of everything is. It's not perfect Instagram squares or clean houses or even everyone being completely healthy. It's Jesus. I have to keep telling myself that my days are not wasted and that he understands.

I think I'll end with sharing a quote that someone I follow shared on Facebook recently. I almost skipped over reading it as I was scrolling through, but for some reason I stopped, and I'm very glad I did. A good reminder in this Advent season. So much easier to read about than to do, but I can keep practicing!

Link Love (The Yes, it's Another Gift Guide! Edition)


Today marks two weeks until Christmas. I repeat: two weeks, people! I'm sure you've all realized by now that bloggers everywhere love to share 8,000 gift guides for even the most unassuming holiday. Obviously you know we get money when you click on the links we share, and in my case that means literal cents. Seeing as how I made a special trip back to the grocery store to return a $3 bottle of chocolate syrup we didn't need (because I found an unopened one hidden in the pantry), I take even the smallest change seriously! So thank you for indulging me in the following list of gifts that I've either already bought or have on my list this year. Maybe you will find something you love too!

*If you do not already have a charity to support through Amazon Smile, please consider Dare to Serve, which is the nonprofit my dad runs that serves primarily underprivileged high schoolers in North Texas.

For the Kids

I bought these for the kids as their main present, and I'm so excited. Someone shared them on a Facebook group I'm in, and I knew immediately that R would love them. She has started lining her books up to hop from one to the other, which is problematic for a few reasons, one of which is obviously that she's not allowed to step on her books! These river stones seem super fun and have some great reviews. I will say, though, that I'm confused about the price. I originally was going to get these for $60, but then I found these for $30, so I bought them instead. But when I was finding links for this post, it looks like the ones I bought are not that cheap now, so I don't know if I found them on sale or what. So, in conclusion, these now appear to be cheaper, though they are not the exact ones I bought. Sorry if that was way more information than you wanted.

I think this would be a really fun outside toy! We were over at a friend's house, and their daughter had a jump rope, and R loved played with it. I love the Green Toys brand also. Fun stocking stuffer!

I friend recommended these, and I had never heard of them! But they look fun.

R loves these no-mess coloring books. I got a few for her and think they will be good to save for car rides to Texas.

I bought this for R! You can get full seasons of the original Veggie Tales episodes on DVD. She loves Veggie Tales, and let's be honest, I do too ;)

R has a smaller set of these Melissa & Doug stamps and loves them, and I've put more stamps/stickers/painting supplies on her list this year.

I have been eyeing this sparkly, natural play dough for a while. I love that it's non-toxic and think it looks like a fun stocking stuffer.

R has a water bottle just like this, and J is always trying to steal it, so I'm going to get J one for his stocking this year.

R has been asking to play games lately, so I bought her a set of Go Fish for her stocking. Love this set too!

For Me

This cookbook from America's Test Kitchen in on my list! I love making cookies!

I've had my iPhone for almost 4 years, and my case is finally starting to fall apart, so I asked for a new one of the same brand as I currently have since it's seemed to hold up well for a long time and kept my phone in tact when I've dropped it. No cracked screens over here!

Picture Frames
I asked for some pictures frames of various sizes so I can hang/display the cute pics I've been taking of the kids.

I'd like to get a few of these Willow Tree nativity figures to display during Christmastime, so that's on my list.

I guess these are really for the kids... or maybe they are for me ;) I saw these recommended (again on a Facebook group) for a way to keep kid's art projects and things organized. I love that these can be personalized! Or maybe something simple like this.

I put comfy sweatpants on my list this year. All of the sweatpants I own are super old, and it would be nice to get a new pair! These look comfy and are currently buy one, get one 50% off!

What's on your Christmas list this year? What's one present you got your kids that you're excited about?

p.s. If you have a book-loving friend or family member, Melissa reached out to me to share a code for 20% off anything in her shop. Use THELADYOKIE20 for 20% off at Literary Book Gifts.

Stitch Fix #4: The One with All the Tops


I think this is actually my 5th Stitch Fix box, since I'm pretty sure I didn't blog about the last one. I have gotten one box every quarter this year, which has felt like a fun splurge every few months but isn't tempting me with new clothes constantly.

The note I left my stylist for this box requested warm, dressy/casual tops, preferably tunic-length so I could wear them with leggings and cover my butt. I still can't get on board with leggings as actual pants without a top that is long enough to provide full coverage. And I didn't mind if they sent pants, but I specifically mentioned no jeans. I counted recently, and I have 16 pairs of jeans! Who needs that many? I was horrified after I counted and promptly tried them all on and put 6 pairs in the donation pile. So that's a step in the right direction. 

Are capsule wardrobes still a thing? They were huge in the blog world a few years ago, and while I love the idea, at the end of the day I just can't commit to one specific jean cut and wash. Some days are dark-wash denim days, and a girl needs options, you know?

Okay anyway, the point is that this box contained all tops! I loved it! Maybe I've just gotten lucky with a good stylist, but every single box so far as felt perfectly my style, taste, and color palette, which makes it super fun to try on. I normally just keep 1 item, but this time I kept 2! The prices didn't terrify me this time either, and everything was between $38 and $48. 

If you'd like to try Stitch Fix for free, I would love it if you used my referral link here. You get $25, which will cover your styling fee so you will only pay for clothes you keep, and I will get some money to put toward my next box!

Here's what came in this box:

1. Alexander Jordan - Radha One Pocket Plaid Top

This was the first shirt I tried on, and I figured if I hated everything else, at least I could keep this and not lose my styling fee. Loved the lighter plaid, the fit, and the cut. It was soft, and it was the cheapest of the bunch! Ultimately I ended up loving two of the other tops better, so this was a return.

2. Tinsel - Floid Chambray Top

I did like the fit and the fact that it was longer, but I have an almost identical shirt just in a lighter wash. And I know I mentioned wanting options when it comes to denim, but in this case I felt like I could find a similar top for cheaper if I really wanted to. Also this shirt was super wrinkly, and I just don't have time in my life for a high-maintenance top that needs to be ironed every time I want to wash it. Return.

3. Pink Clover - Valencia Curved Hem Pullover

I knew immediately when I tried this on that I wanted to keep it. It was super soft and felt like it fit really well. The sleeves are a tad long, and when I wore this earlier in the week I rolled them up once, but otherwise it fits well and is comfortable but looks dressy with the right necklace/earring combo. Also I looooooove the color. Keep!

4. Staccato - Shenaya Knit Top

This is a lovely dark purple, which is hard to see in the picture. I thought the tie neck was fun, and the material of the top was suuuuper soft. Also, it had pockets! When I texted my friend all the pics, she said she liked this one the best on me. However, I just didn't love it for some reason. It felt a bit thin in the front and hung on me weird. Also J loves to pull on strings, so I figured that might be an issue if I ever wanted to hold him while wearing this. He already chews on all the strings of my sweatshirts! Return.

5. Pink Clover - Fulton Turtleneck Pullover Tunic

I actually wore this yesterday! Spoiler alert: I kept it. This was my favorite thing in the box and the only top truly long enough to cover my butt in leggings. It's a very pretty grayish purple, is super warm and comfortable, and overall a love for me! Keep.

What do you think about my box? What would you have kept?
Get $25 to try Stitch Fix for free using my referral code!