Siblings: best friends forever

kids ticklesWhichever one of my kids wakes up first, immediately asks about the other one, anxious for him/her to wake up, too. They do almost everything together. Maybe that’s why Avery knows she is two, but says she’s four. She can ride a scooter as well as Clay. She climbs walls (and mountains!) with no fear. Most of the time we forget they are 23 months apart because they are so close.

My dad was 15 months older than his sister, and they were the best of friends until the day he died. My mother-in-law and her older brother have the same age difference and were inseparable. Seeing them, I thought 15 months would be a good age difference for our kids. Nursing for 13 months made that impossible, but when Clay was 15 months old, I found out I was pregnant with Avery.

Clay was not yet two when she was born, but he adored her. As she grew, his excitement when she reached milestones was comparable to (or maybe even exceeded) ours. “Avery can crawl, mommy!,” he said, pride in his voice. When Clay plays soccer or t-ball, Avery greets him coming off the field with, “Great game. I’m so proud of you, Clay!”

He’s also protective. When a boy pushed Avery at school, Clay told me “I pushed Sanjay, because he pushed Avery.” The responsible parent in me told him, “it’s nice to protect your sister, but next time just tell the teachers,” while I was thinking, “heck yeah, big brother, stand up for your favorite girl!”

I had two strangers come up to me this week, commenting on the kids’ relationship and love for each other, after watching them interact. I’m not saying they are perfect because they are not. They fight over toys and make each other crazy sometimes. But most of the time, they are the older brother and little sister that my dad and his sister, and Chase’s mom and uncle, were. I have the family I always hoped for.

I’m sure they’ll fight more as they grow up, but in a time when preschool teachers tell me Clay needs to work on his listening and Avery still sneaks out of her room at bedtime, it makes me think we’re doing something right. And gives me hope that whatever mistakes we make in parenting along the way, they’ll have each other. Those two will be best friends forever.

Time is money travel dilemma: fly or drive?

las-vegas-smallSouthern California is great place to live for people who like to travel. It’s a short drive to the mountains, desert or beach and just a quick flight to Napa Valley, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Phoenix or Las Vegas.

Right now, I’m planning our annual trip to Vegas to meet my brother and his wife for a weekend, and I’m considering driving. When I say I, I mean that I’m considering riding, while Chase drives. Lots of people drive from So Cal to Vegas and I’ve done it a few times. Driving across the desert looking at cacti is boring. Flying is easier, but it’s also more expensive and not that much faster. I’m more than willing to pay for convenience, but the security lines at the Vegas airport are hardly convenient, so what to do?

In the past few years, I’ve never really considered driving because we booked early enough that our flights were cheap, so it saved money (and time) to fly. This year my brother was slower to confirm his travel dates, so we’re looking at $450 on Southwest, or $320 on Spirit Airlines (which I’m pretty sure will charge me to use the restroom, based on the extra fees they added during my ticket search). Add in another $25 for parking at the San Diego Airport and $50 in cabs to get to/from the Vegas airport to the hotel, and we’re close to $400. We have a fuel-efficient car, so based on current gas prices, it would cost about $100 to drive.

So here is where the time factor comes in. Factoring in getting to/from the airports, time in the airports and the flight (assuming it’s on time) it would take about three hours and 45 minutes door-to-door. Driving takes five hours (assuming no traffic). I have to mention that since we are traveling Saturday and Monday, the roads won’t be too busy, meaning less traffic and not as dangerous as they would be driving on a Friday evening or a Sunday afternoon. Being on the 15 freeway to Vegas with cars full of people who are excited to get there, then back with them hungover is not safe, and I wouldn’t consider it. We also have a place to stay that is halfway there, so we could break the trip up if we wanted to.

I would like to save $300. Chase likes to drive and it might be fun for us to take a road trip alone. So, why can’t I decide? Because I’m a Libra and can be indecisive, especially when it comes to decisions that cost me time and money. Since he’d be the one driving, I’ll let Chase decide. And let’s be honest, l know that $300 could be gone in one hand of blackjack anyway. But, if we save some money by driving, I might miss that cash a little less.

My brother says anything more than a six-hour drive, you fly. Vegas is less than six, but still long. What is your limit in flying vs. driving to save money?

A sad goodbye to diapers.com

My baby girl will turn three next week. In the first few months of her life, I was as dependent on diapers.com as she was on me for food. I had two kids in diapers. I used baby shampoos, soaps and toothpaste. I loved everything about diapers.com. Free overnight shipping, no tax, and amazingly responsive customer service. When I was tired from sleepless nights and mistakenly ordered the wrong item, they replaced it without charging me. It was my fault, but they repeatedly did everything they could to make me happy.

For years, I’ve been a loyal customer. I’ve told friends about them and joked that they should pay me for all the good PR I’ve given them. So it was a sad goodbye when I unsubscribed from their email list today. It’s not because their customer service or product quality has declined or because (money-hungry) California caught up to them and they now apply tax on purchases. I simply don’t need the products they specialize in anymore.

Four strollers, five car seats, 100 sippy cups and God knows how many diapers later, I no longer have babies. I have a preschool-age child and an almost-kindergartner (I write, wiping away tears). Diapers.com sells some items for older kids, but most of their promotional emails don’t relate to these products, so over the past few months, their emails became clutter in my inbox. Yet I resisted unsubscribing, maybe hanging onto the baby stage just a bit longer.

If I need something, I’ll still check their site, or one of their sister sites, soap.com, yoyo.com or beautybar.com.  I will recommend diapers.com to all the new moms I know and I’ll buy baby gifts for friends on the site.

I remember reading the company story (they started in a garage) in a business magazine years ago and feeling good about giving my money to them. And it’s easy for me to get behind a service that saves me time and money. I’m not getting the emails anymore, but I’m forever grateful to the company that made having two babies in less than two years, just a little bit easier.

Looking polished for weeks with a gel manicure

After two weeks! (ignore my dry hands, please!)

After two weeks! (ignore my dry hands, please!)

I realize that I’ve been writing a lot of beauty-related posts lately, but I’m trying to find products and services that make me look presentable, without spending a lot of time or money. Today’s service: gel (or shellac) nail polish.

Before I had kids, my nails always looked perfect. Unlike my hair, my nails are strong and don’t break easily, so I spent time every Thursday night (while watching TV) painting them. Friends warned me I wouldn’t have time to do it once I had kids, but I managed to maintain my routine when Clay was born. He was a great sleeper and in bed by 7:00, so it was fine. Then Avery came along. She was also a good sleeper, but with more laundry to fold and bills to pay on the rare nights I had time to watch TV, I ended up with clear nails for a while.

A friend introduced me to the gel polish craze about 18 months ago and in that time I’ve had it done probably eight times, usually around special occasions (vacations, weddings, etc.). Every time I do it, I love it because it lasts for three weeks. Even french manicures, which with a regular manicure last five days, if you’re lucky.

I don’t know about you, but I just feel more polished (no pun intended) when my nails are done. Gel manicures are not cheap (about $30), but if you do the math it works out to be $10 a week. I was spending about an hour a week doing them myself. My time is worth more than $10/hour and I know yours is, too.

I know there has been criticism that the gel polish damages your nails, but in my case since I only do it occasionally, my nails have been fine. You do need to use acetone to get it off, which the salon can do for you, or you can buy a bottle for $2 at Target and soak it off yourself (while watching TV?). Also, they do use ultraviolet light to set the polish, so put sunscreen on your hands before you go, just to be safe.

For those who really want to save money and not just time, there are home gel kits, which they sell at Ulta and other beauty supply stores. I’ve considered buying one, but I have to admit, I like the little break I get at the salon. I’d love to hear if anyone has tried one and liked it though!

Happy Easter, everyone! Maybe the Easter Bunny will bring you a gift card to the nail salon and you can enjoy a gel manicure!

Missing spring break? How to save money on vacation travel

I’m slowly coming to the terms with the fact that I’m never getting a “spring break” again. I finished college 14 years ago, so I’m not sure why it took me so long. My teacher friends’ Facebook posts have me itching for a vacation, but I can’t take one now, so I’m planning  this year’s trips instead. Since we have a few weddings this year, and it is our year to travel to the East Coast for Christmas, our vacation time and budget is already accounted for.

We travel fairly often, usually for weddings, to see family or to meet my brother and his wife in Vegas for a weekend. Travel costs do add up, but Chase and I both grew up traveling regularly, so we prioritize this in our budget rather than buying each other gifts throughout the year. I wish I had an unlimited travel budget, but for now I use these five ways to save money on vacations:

1. Book early.
We’ve been lucky that our friends have chosen to get married in beautiful vacation destinations, from secluded islands off the Gulf Coast of Florida to Mexico and beyond. Destination weddings are great (who doesn’t love going on vacation with their friends ?), and we have another one in Mexico this year. Though the wedding isn’t until October, I booked our trip last week. Especially for popular destinations during peak season, travel prices will go up as you get closer to your travel date. The price for the same package has gone up $80 since I booked. Book early if you are certain you will be going!

2. Buy package deals.
Another way to save money is to buy package deals on one of the many travel websites: OrbitzCheap Tickets, etc. The discount varies depending on the site, so it’s worth spending a few minutes online checking around. For our Mexico trip, we saved $300 by booking our air and hotel together, and saved time by booking them both on one site. I also have less clutter in my inbox, since I received just one confirmation email.

3. Use airline miles.
I love my United Visa and Delta AmEx, but if I didn’t use the miles, it wouldn’t make sense to have them. I’ve written before about the ways we’ve used our miles for everything from our honeymoon tickets to Hawaii to a hotel room for Chase’s holiday party. Don’t forget to check mileage balances and use your miles before they expire!

4. BYOB (or food)
When we arrive at our destination, our first stop is at the grocery store. I know better than to think I’m going to cook  on vacation, but I know we will eat snacks by the pool or have drinks on our balcony. When we have a car, we stop by the grocery store and buy the necessities (in our case: water, Coors Light and crunchy snacks). We’ve even been known to ask the cab to stop at the store on the way to our hotel from the Las Vegas Airport. The minibar is pricey, and having some basics in your hotel room will help keep you on budget.

5. Stay with friends or family.
I grew up on the East Coast and Chase is a native Californian, so we’re lucky to have great friends and family spread all over the country. Some of our closest friends live near Palm Springs and it’s one of our favorite local getaways. Staying with friends or family is great because not only do you save money, you get to spend time with people you love. One note though: bring a small gift (wine, flowers, etc.) and treat them to dinner. It’s the least you can do to thank them!

Our Mexico trip is booked, and I plan to book Vegas, New York City and North Carolina soon. I’ll also do a girls weekend at a local spa, and take some family trips to see our friends in the desert and Chase’s parents at their lake house. No spring break for us this year, but we’ll still have fun while saving money!

Compliments, gratitude and biting your tongue

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the character traits of the people I enjoy spending time with. In the past week, it has become clear that a few simple words and thinking before you speak (or write) can help you be a great friend, spouse or coworker. I’m far from perfect, but it’s a new week, so I’m focusing on the following things:

1. Pay someone a compliment
Last week a college friend wrote me on Facebook, telling me she likes reading this blog, and that she finds my posts useful. Other people “liked” her post. I went from feeling stressed at work to feeling like a million bucks. The next day, I was getting ready for work (rushing as usual), and Chase looked over at me and said, “Gosh, you’re beautiful.”

A compliment is a great pick-me-up and it’s so easy. There are things you like about everyone around you. Why don’t you tell them?

2. Say thank you
I’m  doing some freelance work right now, writing bios for a real estate firm’s website. Some agents have written to tell me what a great job I’m doing and thanking me for helping them out. The compliment combined with a sincere “thank you” makes me enjoy the work more, knowing that someone appreciates my efforts.

Work is not the only place where a little gratitude can go a long way. Chase thanks me for doing laundry. I thank him for bathing the kids. These are things we have to do, but the expression of gratitude reminds us that we appreciate each other taking care of these mundane tasks.

3. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all
This one is probably the most important. We all learned this rule as children, but maybe we forget as we get older. I do my best to be positive and when I have something negative pop in my head, I try to bite my tongue. Those who don’t run the risk of damaging relationships.

Over the weekend I wanted to get my nails done and thought it would be fun for Avery and I to have a girl’s outing, so I took her while the boys were at t-ball practice. She was so excited for “purple nails.” I posted the photo below on Facebook and many people “liked” it and left nice comments. Unfortunately, a family member made a snide comment, and that one rude comment stuck in my head more than all the positive ones. If he thinks I shouldn’t indulge in the “excess” of $3 toddler manicures, he is welcome to his opinion, but why write it?

As I get older it’s become more important to me, in both my personal and professional life, to surround myself with positive people. I want to be one of those people, too. What about you? What things do your friends, family or coworkers do that make you enjoy their company?

mani

Sample lots, buy once

sephora

If I ever win the lottery (which is unlikely since I don’t play often), my splurge would be to have my makeup and hair done by a professional every day. Like most moms, I rarely have the time to do either properly, so it’s a real treat when someone else does it for me. After a breakup years ago I decided I needed a new look, so in addition to growing my hair out (that boyfriend liked short hair), I went to the mall to get a makeover. I bought most of the makeup she used and decided I should do that every few years, so I have the tools to look good, in case I ever have the time.

To save time, I go get my makeup done on a day when I have plans for the night, so I don’t have to worry about doing makeup myself (I also schedule hair appointments strategically for the same reason). If I am spending money, I want to save time, too!

The last time I got my makeup done was for a wedding when Avery was a baby, so I decided to go last weekend before a friend’s 40th birthday party. I loved my makeup (go see Jessica D. at Sephora in UTC if you live in San Diego), but she also mentioned I should exfoliate my skin to help makeup stay on better. As much as I don’t want to spend money on another product or take the time to apply it, I knew she was right.

I didn’t buy any that day, wanting to survey my friends about products they like. And the survey tool for the 21st century? Facebook, of course. My friends suggested several products and in the past, I’ve just picked one randomly and purchased it. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. If I don’t, I’m wasting money and time, which you all know I hate.

When I was at Sephora last week, Jessica gave me samples of a few things, so I had an idea. I would take my list from Facebook to Sephora and ask them to sample the products my friends suggested. I also went to the Kiehl’s store next door. I don’t know why I never thought of this before. Before I spend $85 on Exfolikate, I should test it out first. So for the next week or two, I’ll be working from my little sampling station, trying to find the best product for my skin. It was free and even though I’ll have to spend some time buying the actual product, Sephora and BeautyBar.com offer free shipping on online orders over $50, so it will be quick and easy. And I know it won’t go into the trash unused a few months from now.

Time and money, saved! Now I’m off to buy a lottery ticket…