Thursday, December 30, 2010

And the hits just keep on coming...

So, Christmas has come and gone and lots of hits have come our way since the last blog entry -unfortunately almost none of them good. Let's see if I can find a silver lining in these clouds as I sift through them.

First, the future. Scott was to find out which program had selected him for his intern year. He was really excited because he'd had extremely good interviews with the staff in the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation department at Walter Reed and that was his first choice. His second choice was Psychiatry at Walter Reed but he'd been told that he was required to list it as a third choice, with a transition year as his second choice, so he'd listed a transition year at Madigan Army Medical Center in Ft. Lewis, WA. We'd talked about it and we figured that even if PM&R didn't take him that Psych would (he'd also had good interviews with them) so we'd be able to stay local, Maeve would be able to stay in the same school system for another year or more and we'd even be able to to maybe buy a house.

None of this happened. Instead, we get the curveball: transition year at Madigan. I won't go into the details, except to say that the PM&R director called to make sure that Scott reapplied to the program in order to do the residency, even though he didn't make the preselected slots and to assure Scott that he had wanted him - was his first choice, in fact - but that the committee ranked all of the non-prior military service people higher, that most of the committee members were non-military doctors, and that the 2 military doctors who wanted Scott in the program were deployed and tried to send in their votes via email but the civilian committee members rejected the email submissions.

So now we are presented with the need to move across the country, rather than across town. And while this is a move that won't cost us in terms of the packing and the moving (thank you, US Army), it is likely to cost us excess charges for having more weight than we are allowed due to our enormous collection of books and other random crap. It's also going to cost us gas and tolls and who knows what-all, because the likelihood is that the Army won't pay for one of our vehicles to be shipped to WA and we'll end up having to pay for Scott's Civic to be shipped while we all pile into the minivan and make a trek across the country.

And Scott has a report date of sometime around the 15th of June, which means we need to leave in May, right after graduation, in order to spend a week driving and then find a house when we get there.

Which means that Maeve won't be able to finish 5th grade here.

Which means that our things will have to get packed during the 2nd week of May. Which means that we'll have to live in temporary housing after all of our furniture is gone and that's likely to be the Navy Lodge in Bethesda. And that means that I'll have to get up much earlier than usual in order to take Maeve to school, though maybe we'll be able to borrow some Aerobeds from the in-laws so that we can stay in our house while we clean it and get everything ready to leave and maybe only stay at the Navy Lodge a couple of nights.

And then there was the prospect of being pregnant while all this was going on and not wanting to drive across the country for a week. Would I be able to make the cut-off for flying while pregnant, in order to make that part easier?

Well, that part doesn't matter now. A mere week after finding out about the move, I went to the doctor because I'd been spotting on and off and it concerned me, since it wasn't like 'normal' spotting and because I had been feeling that there was something not quite right with this pregnancy. And I was right. They did an ultrasound and discovered that while there was a gestational sac, there was no embryo. If there isn't one there by 11 weeks, there isn't going to be one. They sent me home to wait to have a miscarriage.

You might expect me to be sad or upset or angry, since those would be natural reactions. But honestly, not being pregnant means that I can better deal with the challenges that will present themselves due to the move. And anyway, there's no baby to mourn, since it just didn't grow in the first place. Unfortunately for us, the girls knew I was pregnant and we had to tell them. I explained that the baby didn't grow but my body thought it did - kind of like when you plant a seed but it doesn't grow. Thank goodness Gwyneth has the Eric Carle book "The Tiny Seed" which tells how some seeds don't make it to grow into plants. There's a seed that ends up not growing, so she understood what I meant on some level.

Christmas was a nice break, with lots of fun presents - Scott got me tickets to see Sarah McLachlan in January and I also got the Stacy Shiff book about Cleopatra, which should make for some good reading. Then on Boxing Day we drove to Pittsburgh to the in-laws, where tons more presents were thrown at us, as usual. My mother-in-law informed me proudly that she'd bought everything on the lists. Yep, she did. And apparently the books Scott told her to get me weren't enough because she ended up giving me cash, as well. $150 in cash. So, naturally, I feel weird about that. I'd honestly rather have her spend $10 on something that she's chosen herself because she knows I'll love it than any amount of money she could give me. And while I'm on that sore subject, if she's going to spend that much money on me, she's well aware that I collect German-made nutcrackers. Hell, she sees them on display in the family room every time she comes to visit. She's even bought me one as a Christmas gift in years past. Apparently she doesn't remember that. Funny, because my sister-in-law always remembers that and gets me some cheap Chinese-made nutcracker, usually with a Pittsburgh Steelers theme, as a joke. Got one this year again, so I told her I'd rather have a Penguins one, since I actually like the Penguins.

So, speaking of money..... we were naturally a bit short for gifts this year and, as I said in a previous post, most gifts were going to be handmade. I've done handmade gifts for my nieces in the past - the dresses of 2 years ago - but wasn't sure how well they were liked. However, the only gifts I could be certain wouldn't be duplicates for the twins who have everything would be handmade ones. So I made clothes for their American Girl dolls in their favorite colors - Emma's is purple and Ella's is pink. For Christmas gifts I made them each a skirt from fabric left over from the dresses I'd made them, flared pants (purple denim for Emma, pink corduroy also left over from Ella's dress for Ella), peasant blouses (lavender for Emma, cerise for Ella), and t-shirts (lavender floral knit for Emma, burgundy and pink stripe for Ella). Then because their birthday is 2 days after Christmas, I made lovely party dresses for their dolls as birthday gifts, using leftover silk dupionni from my stash: deep purple for Emma and magenta for Ella. I was concerned that they wouldn't like them but I needn't have worried. Ella kept on saying she couldn't believe I was able to make clothes and even doll clothes, how pretty they were, etc. Emma wasn't quite as verbal but she immediately put her doll into the birthday dress and had it "playing" its violin. Scott told me later that while I was in the shower my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were raving about how great the doll clothes were and how they were at least as good as the store-bought ones, probably better.

The one thing I'm still having trouble with is the money issue. I hear all the time about how my sister-in-law has it so hard, from my mother-in-law. Yes, K. is divorcing her husband and that makes her life difficult, but only in the sense that she has legal crap to deal with and the kids have emotional issues because of the split. So she has challenges, but they sure aren't financial. K. still has a job and she has free child care in the form of her mom, who now has retired from teaching and lives down the street. K. makes about 3 times what Scott makes. Yes, she has a mortgage and a car payment. We pay rent and have a car payment, too, and we do it on 1/3 of what she makes. But she also gets financial support from her husband (court ordered). He's a neurosurgeon. He makes, like, a million dollars a year. Seriously. The twins go to a private school that costs $15,000 a year per child. That's a separate payment from the financial support that K. gets from her husband. The financial support each month amounts to about 5 times what Scott makes monthly. I can't even get my head around that. And when I come into her house and see that she's got a brand-new stainless steel refrigerator and stove, top of the line, etc., it makes me want to throw up. Because she's doing well, financially, while I worry about whether or not I can afford to put Gwyn and Tallon in gymnastics for another term and still break even. She can afford to send her kids to a private school while I worry if I can afford the tuition for preschool 3 mornings/week at the neighborhood church. But for some reason, her life is considered hard. She bought her dad a high-definition flat screen TV and Blue Ray player for Christmas. We got him a subscription to National Geographic. I don't even know what she got her mother, but we gave her a $40 gift certificate to Amazon so she could get ebooks for her Kindle.

I don't want to compete with K. I don't even want the things she has. What I want is for people to stop telling me how hard she has it, when she so clearly doesn't. And I want K to understand that there's a significant gap between what I can afford and what she can afford. She's always telling me I stay at home too much, I should go out and do things for myself, I never buy things for myself, etc. And she's right - I don't do those things. I don't do it because I can't afford it. I don't go to get a pedicure because I can't afford it. I don't go out - either on a date with Scott or by myself during the day - because I can't afford the extra cost of a babysitter. And my mother doesn't live down the street from me and provide free child care. I don't have the luxury of going to the salon every month; I try to make my cut and highlights last for 8-10 weeks because I can't afford to go more frequently than that. I can't afford a gym membership. I don't have the extra money to just go shopping for fun. Shopping isn't even fun to me anymore because I can't justify the expense of anything I might want to buy. And every time I see K and my mother-in-law I always feel bad - mostly because I know they don't understand why we don't have enough money to do these things, even though at some level they're clearly aware of our situation, since my mother-in-law often gives us money when she sees us. I don't understand it.

So, now to find the silver linings.

Yes, it's a pain in the neck to have to move, especially across the country and before the end of the school year. BUT
1) the Army is paying for the move
2) while Scott was born in WA, he doesn't remember it, so it's a new place for all of us and that should be fun for a year
3) it gets us out of having to travel at Christmastime next year!!!
4) the trip across the country is an opportunity to see things like Mt. Rushmore and other sites we've never been to

Yes, it's a bummer not to be pregnant BUT
1) I don't have to worry about the stress of being very pregnant while I move
2) I now can get the tattoo I'd been planning on getting until I found out I was pregnant
3) I can actually work out and try to lose some weight before the summer
4) I can devote more time to other things, especially the kids

Other silver linings:
1) With that money from my mother-in-law I can pay for my tattoo
2) I have plenty of reading material for a while
3) I can always sell the Steelers nutcracker on ebay and get some money
4) moving across the country means that I won't have to deal with my in-laws

Not all is bad, right?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's better to give...

So once again it's that time of year when I get all stressed out because the sewing projects for Christmas aren't anywhere near completed and the tree isn't up yet and the house isn't decorated. Add to that the fact that I'm super tired right now because I'm pregnant and it's a recipe for craziness.

The part of the holiday season that I like most is the Christmas shopping, although with small kids it can be difficult to really look around to find the perfect gift. I pride myself on finding something beautiful and original for everyone, or making something fantastic. I used to be able to do that. Sometimes I still succeed. Like when I make cookies for everyone - my biscotti are always well-received by coffee drinking family members, as are the espresso biscuits (thank you Martha Stewart) and many other types of cookies. Last year I had the best idea for a Christmas present for my in-laws and they loved it: I had a portrait made of all the grandkids together in a 16 x 20 size and had it framed for them to put in the family room in their new house. Of course next year I have to do a new one that will include the new baby. But the idea was genius, and my sister-in-law thought it was awesome. The kids had coordinating outfits - sweater dresses from Hanna Andersson in blue for my girls and in red and white for hers, and Tallon had a Nordic-type sweater and jeans. It's the cutest picture ever.

However, this year I feel rushed for time and constrained by budgetary limitations so it's a bit more difficult. Fortunately, I am able to make things for many people in our family. Like my nieces, who have every toy under the sun. This year they took a trip to NYC and visited American Girl place - Maeve went along and brought her "Just Like Me" American Girl doll. My sister-in-law ended up getting her girls each a doll, so I can make them clothes for their dolls. This won't cost me anything in the way of cash, since I can use scraps to do it and the best part is that I have fabric left over from the dresses that I made them 2 years ago. How cool is that?

Maeve is getting a dress that I had already been planning, so no problems there. Gwyn's homemade present is a puppet theatre - the kind you hang in the doorway with a tension-type curtain rod. She already has many puppets so I don't have to make any if I run out of time. I think I have enough fabric in my stash already for this so it might cost nothing or it might cost very little, since I already have a JoAnn's coupon.

My other relatives, though, are less easy to produce things for. My sister-in-law is fairly picky about pretty much everything and routinely asks for a gift card to Pottery Barn. I hate gift cards. I hate that people ask for gift cards. Mostly I hate them because the person knows how much or how little you spent on them, but I also hate them because I think they're impersonal. I was thrilled to see an article on this very subject the other day. I agree with the author that giving a gift card usually means that you don't know the person well enough anymore to be giving them gifts. That's pretty much the way I feel at Christmas because my in-laws generally go with the default of getting gift cards. When I was pregnant 2 years ago, my sister-in-law got me a gift card for maternity clothes. How much do you want to bet that I get one this year?

My mother-in-law asks every year what I want for Christmas. The answer is: I don't know. I don't go shopping for myself and I don't window shop. Unless I've gotten an email from or Barnes and Noble advertising a book by an author I like, I have no idea what books I might want. I shop for my kids, mostly, so I never end up in a store that has anything for me. So the default for my mother-in-law has been cash until we moved back to the States and I could actually use gift cards. The thing is, there's never any pleasant surprises when I open gifts from her. If I give her a list of things, she's likely to get every damn thing on the list. Same thing with the kids and with Scott. We've had to learn not to give her too many options so we don't end up with a ton of stuff.

And, honestly, I feel like saying, "I've been married to Scott for almost 15 years. If you don't know what I like, what I do for a hobby, what my interests are by now, I don't think I can help you." Because I really hate being asked every year. And it makes me feel really crappy that you don't care to even try to buy something without being told exactly what I want. I mean, she knows I sew and yet I had to have Scott tell her that a gift card to JoAnn's would be good.

Now, you might wonder why this issue gives me so much heartburn. The reason is this: they don't give each other gift cards as a general rule. So it makes me angry/sad/confused when they clearly care enough to give one another gifts that have taken thought, are a surprise, are something unique and special, but they don't do this for me, Scott or the kids.

The real answer to my mother-in-law's question "What do you want for Christmas?" is: Nothing. I don't want anything. Maybe I'd like you to come and clean my house. Or maybe I'd like you to come and hang out with the kids one week a month so I can do some sewing and other things that I never have time to do. But really - I don't want any more stuff. Well, I take that back. I want an embroidery machine but that's an amount of cash that no one is going to spend on me. And it's really a pie-in-the-sky kind of request, anyway.

The funny thing is, this year I'll probably end up giving more gift cards than I normally would and I can justify it. First, Scott's mom has a Kindle and asked for a gift certificate so she can get more downloads. Okay, that's reasonable. And fairly personal, since I could buy her a book or two and for the same cost she can probably get 4 or more. Scott's dad is getting a subscription to Popular Science and to National Geographic, because he mentioned he wanted it. While that's kind of like a gift card, it's not really. Scott's sister? Well, I don't know. Honestly. I really don't want to help decorate her house by giving her another Pottery Barn gift card. I mean, she's a doctor - she can spend her own money on that.

My family, on the other hand, normally is really good about finding things that each person will like- even if they're tiny things. For us, it's really the thought that counts and the look of surprise and pleasure on the face of the person receiving the gift. (I contrast this with the free-for-all that is gift opening at my in-laws which gives me a stomach- and head-ache and where no one knows who opened what - see above photo.) Plus, generally speaking my family is poor so the presents have never been huge. Anyway, I don't live near my brothers or my mom, so sometimes it can be difficult to know what to get them.

My brother Phil got married a year and a half ago and I know his wife is in the process of redoing the house as best she can on their severely limited budget. Limited as in, hey I picked up this paint for free on Craig's list and I got these curtains at the Goodwill store. I'm thinking that maybe a gift card is the best way to give them something that they really want or need but are putting off because they can't afford to buy it. Like a gift card to Home Depot, maybe? Because I could buy them something but then I'd have to ship it and it could be impractical. Better than money because they'd be unlikely to spend it on bills or whatever but it still gives them the freedom to buy what they want. Same with my brother Stefan - he loves to cook and is getting pretty good at it, but he's on a tight budget that doesn't really allow for him to buy more expensive things or high-end produce. I could send him a gift basket full of stuff but I know he likes to shop and I can't send fresh foods in the mail. Enter a Whole Foods gift card, which will allow him to get what he wants and for it to be fresh.

Then there's my mom. I love to make her things. In the past, when money wasn't so tight, I've gotten her Steiff bears for her collection (on ebay) and other trinkets. I've sent cookies. But I know that she's been trying to downsize her life and she doesn't have tons of room. This year, I think I want to make something. I have this really nice fabric and a sweater pattern that I want to make up but I don't know.... I'd have to ask her for her measurements. In the meantime I picked up some Godiva chocolates at a discount price at the NEX, since I know she loves Godiva.

I'd rather just go through the holidays without having to worry that someone wants to buy me something. If I could do all of my gifts handmade I'd be really happy. For me the holidays aren't about getting, they're about giving. The present I get is the look on their faces when they open up their gifts and hearing them say "Oh my gosh, this is wonderful! I love it!". It's enough for me.