Montebello, Virginia Family Vacation: A Recap

Who: My mom, my dad, his sister, her husband, their dog and their daughter, her fiancee, my three kids, and myself.

When: Departed on Monday, December 26. Returned on Saturday, December 31.

What: Big old road trip family vacation.

Where: We spent one night at a Hampton Inn in Rock Hill, SC on the way up. The Three Sisters log cabin is located in Montebello, VA. We also visited Spy Rock and Crab Tree Falls while in the area. We spent a night at my aunt’s house in Hampton, VA.

Why: As a child, my family used to take road trips constantly. It’s a unique way to travel and a unique experience overall. Not to mention, the desire to disconnect, to turn things off, to be present in each other’s company. I wanted my kids to try it out and see if they liked it as much as we did as kids.

Verdict: They loved it- the whole family. The kids want to go back. Well, Eldest didn’t want to leave but settled for coming back– in the summer and again in the winter. For me? It wasn’t peaceful and it wasn’t quiet. But it was family being family and that is extremely precious as well. There was no relaxing but there was a lot of experiencing and being open to what was around me and in front of me and next to me. I didn’t once think about the future or the past. I just ate everything that was happening up. I didn’t even get into major photography mode which I find bizarre because that type of situation is the stuff photographers love. But I just didn’t care to waste my time behind a little box. Yes I took photos, we all did, and there are some great ones.

Like these (click to enlarge):

Our temporary home in Montebello, VA was an authentic log cabin from the 1800's carefully modernized and cared for.

MutantBaby stomps around the wide open area around our cabin wearing a very exclusive handmade Mutant Supermodel hat.

Kids put together a Willy Wonka Gingerbread Cottage kit. I felt building it in a log cabin was the most fitting thing in the world.

The "hardy group", as my uncle referred to us, set out on a hike to Spy Rock. It's about 2 miles up and then you have to scale a big old rock. And then you get to scrabble back down and hike 2 miles down.

My cousin and I perched on top of Spy Rock freezing our tropical tushies off. Thankfully my uncle's awesome dog is a very eager lap blanket.

The "hardy group" reached the top all together. Gorgeous views up here. I mean seriously stunning. Also seriously cold. There were frozen puddles of ice all over the place.

My uncle's dog, an English Setter, quickly became the object of my children's affections. But MutantBaby in particular developed a bond with him. The dog is a pack dog and didn't mind at all being snuggled by a three year old.

When we left the log cabin, we took a bunch of family photos. This one is by far my favorite. It was inspired by my aunt and I who started walking in a Beatles' Abbey Road style when my uncle said he wanted one of everyone walking to the cabin. Before we knew it, we got the whole clan lined up. Even the dog joined in.

My mom and I wait for my dad to catch up to us on the trail to Crab Tree Falls.

At the halfway mark, half of our group went back-- my aunt and uncle, my mom, and Baby. My dad, Eldest, Daughter, and I decided to keep going the rest of the 1.7 mile hike. At the 1.6 mile marker, Daughter wanted to throw in the towel. I gave her a little pep talk.

We reached the top meaning Daughter and Eldest completed their first official hike. I am very, very proud of them for this accomplishment.

My Dad got this shot of all of us and the beautiful view from the top overlook at Crab Tree Falls.

At my aunt's house, the kids slept in sleeping bags. The dog couldn't resist and so a new pack was born. Do you see Baby snuggled all the way down in his sleeping bag under the table?

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12/52: Treats of Rice Krispies

The end of the week usually brings a finished project for me to brag about but I’ve been lazy with the hook and yarn and so there isn’t one to show you. Really the one thing I did finish this week was reading Soulless. I wrote a quick little review on Goodreads I’ll just plop onto here for you book nerds.

I absolutely loved this. I can think of so many awesome women who would absolutely love this book. If you’re the type that actually read Twilight but found yourself wanting to absolutely THROTTLE Bella, this is the antidote. The writing style is CRISP and brisk and biting and sarcastic and just really fun. It’s a smart little book with sass. Lots of fun adventure and craziness. Excellent heroine, wish there were more of her stripe in younger fiction.

It’s another day where I’m feeling mentally rambly. I’m feeling a bit out of focus today wondering if I’m missing something. You know, I do love things and it’s quite difficult to try and figure out some sort of balance with spending while you’re hacking away at debt because really it just doesn’t feel appropriate to spend on any want while debt exists. It just bothers me on some weird level, but I also would like some things. In particular, my brain is set on outdoors. I want planters and I want a hammock. I want more rose bushes and fruit trees. I want wind chimes and hummingbird and butterfly plants. I want a dining table and chairs with an umbrella. Oh, wants. You bastards.

And that’s not even the half of it. I have to say Soulless got me thinking about pretty things like jewelry. I miss having jewelry.

Oh and going through all those photos reminds me how much artwork and blown up photos I have without frames.

I don’t like a lot of things but I guess I want more of the things I do like if that makes any sense. Just one more year of throwing everything at debt. Then another year of throwing almost everything at the emergency savings fund. My rational brain tells me that’s not that far away at all, but the rest of me is whining.

Ok so I made Rice Krispies Treats last night with the littlest ones. It went very well and we got crazy and mixed in Cocoa Krispies too for some black and white action. They came out SO yummy. I honestly don’t know how people can eat those pre-packaged ones. The real deal is so much yummier. They were also very easy to make and gave my arm a serious stirring workout. I’m definitely going to be serving up a batch at my Freedom is Sweet Dessert Party next weekend. Any other suggestions on what to make? I so wish I had heart-shaped molds because it’d be fun to make break-apart heart rice krispies. I’m also making brownies of course (with or without icing?). And chocolate chip cookies. Maybe I should make those pillow cookies again but this time from scratch. I’d love to make some molten lava cakes. Oh and French Toast Sticks. What’s your favorite dessert? No white chocolate suggestions please.

10/52: A storm hits

Yesterday, a furious storm swept through here. It came on so fast, it felt from one minute to the next, it suddenly darkened in my office. I took the following pictures just a few minutes apart mostly, and then a bit of a longer lapse to show the difference.

It was 12:13 when I noticed it was suddenly dark out and got the idea to document the storm’s progress.

12:16 PM. Just three minutes later and to say conditions deteriorated rapidly would be an understatement.

12:20 PM amd it’s absolutely disgusting outside.

12:30 PM. A close-up of the raindrops that make the previous look picture look spectacularly smudgy. Then, I got back to work and let it keep dumping yuck everywhere.

1:19 PM and it’s not so dark in my office anymore.

9/52: Let him eat cake

No seats? No problem. This captures all of my favorite things of a two year old. Not a care in the world. The softness in his face, arms, hands, fingers, legs. The beautifully-shaped lips, perfect eyelashes, gorgeous curls. And the independence. The “I can do it. All by myself.” I know it’s a bit blurry and not as sharp and vivid as it could be. But it’s him, in his perfect completely two year old glory.

8/52: FO Friday + Babbling

I don’t know if I can channel how emphatically I’m thinking this but just know it’s really, really heartfelt when I say, “Thank the sweet eight pounds six ounce baby Jesus it is Friday.” I don’t know even know why really but I feel like I’ve been put through the wringer this week and I’m just done. It was so hard to pull myself from bed and get into the office today, not because I don’t like my job because I do—a lot actually, but because I’m just worn the heck out. MutantDaughter spent the entire day sleeping yesterday. And when I say that, I’m completely serious. I think she was awake maybe 2, 3 hours max all day yesterday. She got a fever in the afternoon and her left ear started leaking this brownish clearish pinkish stuff that dries into a sticky crusty disaster. This with the complete and total sleepiness which is not anything like her at all freaked me out a bit and I called the doctor. I had a prescription for some ear drops from the previous battle with this same exact ear and same exact situation and they told me fill it, start it, and have her come in tomorrow. I’d already anticipated a need for the doctor earlier that day and begged Ex to please schedule and take her and he agreed (Shock! Awe!) so I went and spent over an hour in Walgreen’s. This is not good for the pocket book and I admit I did some stress-related shopping on top of the only item needed—Q-tips. I spent $13.90 so I’ve got $10 to go on my Spending Challenge and that should work fine for some milk and eggs. Doctor says it looks like a middle ear infection and the ear drum opened up and is spewing everything out. Delicious. Just have to keep doing what I’m doing and it’ll clear up soon.

I’m really hesitant to start guesstimating because it feels like I’m taunting fate, but it looks like I might have managed to accumulate about a $700 rollover. I’ll have a concrete number on Monday when I get paid and the new month begins and will announce it with much pomp and circumstance. I’m trying to figure out a budget for next month’s non-bill expenses and my first attempt was almost twice what I’d spent this month so that got scrapped. By the way, every month I do this and every month I think I’m budgeting conservatively and then add it up and oops! Just goes to show you, we really underestimate financial numbers. After reworking it a couple of times, I’m down to about what I’d initially planned as a budget for February– $650. I’d like to try this number out and see how it does. This month has been ok overall and has made me feel a bit better about maybe making $650 a regular number. It is, after all, a 30% increase and I was able to manage ok with the $500. It does make shopping a much more carefully executed sort of thing in that I have to do thinks like consider all kinds of things that could possibly come up in a month that would require some sort of cash. But, I guess that’s the point. It’s supposed to be like that instead of some mindless activity. This is conscious spending, Mutant. It’s not more work than impulsive spending, it’s different work. But, that’s the Expenses side of my life.

On the Income side, Ex is moving into his parents’ home this weekend so he doesn’t have to pay rent which may bode well for me. I’m trying to see if maybe he’ll give me a guess as to how much and when he’ll pay me so I can then underestimate it by about 20% and plan for that. Maybe I seem cynical or whatnot but this is the kind of guy who got out of his lease by lying about getting a job in New York. The reality is on March 1, he’ll owe me well over $3,000 and yeah, if I’m ever going to get my life on solid ground, I need that money and for him to pay me consistently. He did tell me the salary at the new job is at least twice what he’s got now plus commission so he should be steadier in that sense, especially when the garnishment goes into effect, but he doesn’t have a start date yet and I don’t have a court date. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes it just flickers or grows really dim threatening to disappear completely.

I’m working on The Passage. It’s Creepy (capital C intended). And it’s got lots of yucky bits which I find fun and hard to read at the same time. At first, the book was sort of driving me crazy because I swear to you he throws like one hundred characters at you in under fifty pages. Characters are always hard for me to manage in my brain, I have no idea why. I considered writing notes but figured I’d probably just lose the paper anyways and besides it’ll settle to just a few eventually and it has so that’s nice except that it’s all done quite tragically and horribly so that’s not nice but hey, it’s fiction and fun at that. The library has Red Pyramid ready for Eldest and an organizing book, a crochet book, and The Lonely Polygamist ready for me. Not to mention nice crispy brand new copies of Outlander and Soulless and PostSecret are waiting for me in my bookshelves. Oh yes, books and books and books galore.

My kitchen remains clean, my dining table remains clear. I almost screwed it all up last night being so exhausted from the day but I ripped myself a new one about how I’ve done this too many times to know better and that I know exactly what’ll happen if I let things slide just one night. It’s never just one night, don’t kid yourself. And that was that. I got to work and cleared everything away in about twenty minutes before collapsing exhausted in my bed. Tonight shall be Frozen Box Pizza Night so I won’t have to worry about dirtying the kitchen at least. I’ll likely stop at the library for some kiddo movies. Tomorrow there’s the birthday party. It should be a nice weekend. I’m going to finish sorting out the rest of what’s going back into the hall closet though I’m pretty sure I’ve cleared away almost everything that’s getting cleared.

By the way, I was thinking about creating a concrete Chores Plan for the kids. The two this would apply to are the 7 and 4 year old. What I was thinking of was basic chores that they are required to do because they’re part of the team and we all have responsibilities. But, I thought it might be a good idea to add a couple of things they could do to earn money. They both get a small allowance ($4 for Eldest, $1 for Daughter) and I was thinking this might allow them to supplement their earnings. The tasks would be small and the reward would be a quarter each I’m thinking. Ideas on age-appropriate things they can do? Right now, they’re responsible for making their beds in the morning, cleaning their plates and place mats after dinner, hanging their towels, putting away their folded laundry, and putting their dirty clothes in the hamper. Things I was thinking of as additional include watering the plants, feeding the fish, emptying the bathroom trash can, help putting away Baby’s folded laundry, sweeping piles into the dust pan and trash, emptying the dishwasher of the kid stuff, wiping their bathroom counter (so gross with the neon toothpaste), and…

I’m trying to think of something for the toys but I think that might only become clear when March is over and the playroom is organized. Any other ideas? What kind of child labor do you have going in your house?

I’m going to kill two birds with one stone and use my FO Friday picture as my weekly photo set. Some might call it cheating, but crocheting IS a part of my life so I think it counts. Otherwise, you’d get a boring picture of a bird on a car.

An ancient friend of mine’s little brother had a baby last week so I made her something. It’s kind of a big deal when the baby siblings have kids, I think. I haven’t had that experience yet but I’m pretty sure it’ll be really moving and sort of crazy if/when that happens with MutantWino and/or MutantPirate, my younger brothers. I think that’ll just make me feel really old. Anyways, the hat and booties were pretty simple to whip up but I’m a perfectionist and each one took two attempts. They’re from the book Crochet from the Heart and I think I may add this to the Wish List of books to own (borrowing it from library right now) because it’s full of very solid basic patterns that are insanely easy to modify, customize, etc to your liking. I think this type of thing is the best way to really learn crochet and so far I’m much more pleased with the book than I’d anticipated. These are my favorite kinds of books, the ones that at first glance you dismiss but then they surprise you again and again.

7/52: Kids at Work

Assignment: Draw a picture of your family and practice writing your name. She drew herself, her two brothers, my mom, and me. I love the way she writes her name. She writes it meticulously, tiny, and very prettily.

Monkey see, monkey do, of course. He usually makes me write Mommy and all of their names but this time he was content coloring next to his sister.

Really quick spending challenge update. Some light groceries, shipping items sold on Amazon, diapers, toothpaste, and deodorant all had to be purchased since my last update leaving me with $112.86 to go. Eleven more days. No kids this weekend which can either go extremely well or extremely bad. Already turned my best friend down on an invitation to an Arts Festival and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to celebrate another friend’s birthday at a restaurant on Saturday.

I am pretty sure I’m going to have to adopt this challenge at least another month, if not a few more. I don’t want to because this has taken a lot of work to keep at these levels and it’s been pretty stressful as well, but the fact is I have no idea what to expect from Ex financially anymore. He made another small payment the other day and even that was a hundred dollars less than he’d initially told me. He also threw two pieces of news at me: One that he get a new job with a well-known communications company (cable/internet/phone type of place) and two that he would most likely move back with his parents. Moving back with his parents should free up significant income for him hopefully meaning I will be able to have more dependable income from him; however, he has been rather vague about what the pay at the new job would be like besides defining it as “more solid” whatever that means.

I am now in debt with my parents not only because they have been helping me cover the gaps in Ex’s income but because there was a last-minute decision to re-enroll the kids in their private school this year meaning a registration fee I hadn’t been saving for because I was under the impression they weren’t going. So, that will add to the debt I owe them and because of their own financial situation, I can’t let this debt hang in there while I demolish my interest-laden debt. This also means I have to save for next year’s registration fee. This won’t be a problem going forward except that Baby is still in daycare. When he begins the school this August, daycare costs will free up but will have to go to all of this other stuff. I haven’t even mentioned summer camp which seems like an absolute no way Jose. Oh yeah, and the $1,000 I owe the lawyer.

So, right now I have the delightful scenario that involves the following: severely reduced and unreliable income from Ex, additional expenses, and additional debt. Not to mention my car is at the mechanic right now while they try to figure out why it’s leaking power steering fluid. It’s also getting a tune-up since she’s just under 110K miles. I don’t foresee being able to contribute any snowball to my debt this year. In other words, I find myself in the midst of a financial shitstorm. As a matter of fact, I worked out the absolute best situation income-wise: Ex pays the outstanding child support and pays the full amounts every month for the rest of the year. This will allow me to rebuild my crisis fund, repay my parents’ debt, the lawyer, and set aside next year’s registration fees and have $2440 leftover which will likely have to be set aside for my car (or depending on how bad the situation is right now, pay the car repair). In this best case scenario, the first snowball payment would be able to go out in August this year. The worst case scenario is that Ex pays me nothing at all the rest of the year and I end up declaring bankruptcy. So, they tell me to look in the middle and try to figure out what is most likely to happen. In that case, I calculate Ex will pay about half what he owes every month which would mean: I would have to adopt the strict spending budget for the rest of the year and will be at best breaking even on expenses until August at which point I could start repaying my parents’ debt and barely make a dent. I will be in no position to pay next year’s registration fees when they are due. This, I think, is simply a more realistic worst case scenario. I’m frustrated and nauseated.

The fact my financial health is still very much adversely affected by Ex is absolutely infuriating. I keep cutting and cutting to the bone to make ends meet, and he has the audacity to tell me he shouldn’t have to live like a pauper (while he talks to me on the newest iPhone from his laptop online in his luxury condo with a bay view with the giant LCD TV blaring ESPN in the background). All I want is to be able to get this debt off my back and it feels like every time I get close to picturing the freedom, tasting it, dreaming about it, the debt digs its claws deeper and even manages to grow. I keep trying to think of ways to increase income because that seems the only alternative left, but can’t really come up with much else besides selling my stuff bit by bit. Having kids and a full-time job makes part-time work practically impossible to have. I don’t know how many places would be willing to hire someone who can only work every Wednesday and every other weekend. When things get like this, I feel like everything is futile.

This sort of thing also makes me want to throttle myself because this right here is Instant Gratification at work. The fact is, fixing debt takes time. I know this, but I battle accepting what that really means. It means definitely not this year. It means, maybe, next year. It means, most likely, two years from now. It means slow and steady is the only option. So why do I get myself like this? I’m not even sure but I do know I’ve worn myself out.

I stayed a bit late in the office yesterday and was rewarded with this:

6/52: Flowers and Berries

I have a very pretty Christmas cactus on the window ledge above my sink. Lately, it erupted into a hot pink explosion. It does this every couple of months and is fun to watch. Then everything dies, and it’s just a pretty green cactus until it decides it’s ready to push forth all of its glorious pinkness.

I love having it right above my sink. It makes mundane tasks like decapitating three pints of strawberries a bit more tolerable. My kids go through three pints of strawberries a week, easy. They could probably go through four if there were no other fruity options available to them. These are the latest batch I’d picked up at the farmers market last Saturday. They’re long gone just in time for tomorrow’s market. Although, I just realized I don’t know if I can go since Eldest has the Kids Coping with Divorce class.

Quick Spending Update on the No-Spend Month hosted by Sharon: Since my last update, I had a grocery outing $48.49, miscellaneous spending $12.10, two field trips $26, Valentine’s Day candy $2.88, and replacement earrings for my daughter $21.39. I also had a TON of medical expenses but those don’t count towards this thank goodness and I have my handy-dandy FSA card that I love so much. I also did not include the fees for Eldest’s and my mandated divorce courses $74.95 but they are definitely one more reason to stay close to the downsized budget of $500. My MTD spending is now up to $303.70 which means I’m down to $196.30 for the rest of the month which is kind of scary but, I think, possibly doable.

Oh, happy news. The divorce was filed this week. The court date will probably fall in the next 30 – 60 days. I’m going to be a free woman this year!