2014 Year in Review Blog

This posts might be getting a bit cliched, but I care not. As I get older I seem to have the memory of a goldfish, so I appreciate having these posts to look back on. This is slightly different than last year as there were a few questions I have grown tired of answering.

1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?

Moved to Minnesota and really expanded the amount of freelance writing I’ve taken on.

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Nope and nope. After 10 years with a major change every year (new job, new kid, new house) I’ve decided that 2015 should be the year of stability. I want to be in the same house, same job, and with the same husband and number of kids when 2016 rolls in.

3. How will you be spending New Year’s Eve?

Hopefully having a snack party and movie night with my best buddy from Iowa and her family. Said family includes a sweet baby, whose head I want to sniff.

4. Did anyone close to you die? Did anyone give birth?

Thankfully nobody close to me died. My best friend had a baby, as did several Twitter friends.

5. What countries did you visit?

HAAAAA! Yeah. No. I got about 100 miles from the Canadian border for a work trip, if that counts.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

I’m really hoping to finish my PhD in 2015, so I am hoping to have more free time in 2015 after I am done with school stuff. I’d also, duh, like to have a Dr. in front of my name by the end of the year.

7. What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

August 18th, my last day at my old job and the start of our journey north. My last job was a huge learning experience for me but I was ready for a change.

8. What was your biggest achievement(s) of the year?

Getting a job and a house in our dream city. Being able to put down a sizable down payment on the house. Advocating for Miles successfully when it came to where he should go to school (and marrying a man who writes a damn fine angry letter when it is called for). I gave some presentations for work that were well received.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I don’t think of it as failure, but I feel like I struggled with the same old things I always struggle with: my weight, finding time to write, spending enough time outside.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Just the normal amount of colds and stomach bugs that come with living with small petri dishes.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Our cute yellow house. I love it, which is good because I still have 357 payments left to make on it. I got emotional the first time I watched Ev. wake up the steps because it hit me that this is where she is going to grow up and this will be first house she remembers.

12. Where did most of your money go?

See question #11

13. What song will always remind you of 2014?

C’mon. This was the year of Taylor Swift. I have no shame about how much I listened to 1989 this year.

14. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Spent time outside, worked on non-bloggy or freelance work, and hanging out with my friend E.

15. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worried about work stuff at the old job.

16. What was your favorite new TV program?

I really like Jane the Virgin and Moone Boy. We have a DVR for the first time and it is a delight in terms of catching shows I haven’t seen before.

17. Do you love anyone now that you didn’t love this time last year?

Baby Oskar. He is damn good baby belonging to my best buddy.

18. What was the best book you read?

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was excellent. I am curious about the movie adaptation though I am somewhat iffy on Lupita Nyong’o as the star. I love her and think she is stunningly beautiful but I wish the lead was from a West African background.

19. What was your greatest musical discovery?

A small indie artist named Taylor Swift.

(look, I’m a 36 year old mom of small children. The only new artists I ever see are on reruns of Yo Gabba Gabba)

20. What was your favorite film of this year?

I saw NOTHING in the theater this year.

21. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 36 and probably celebrated by packing boxes for our upcoming move.

22. What kept you sane?

Twitter, my husband, my best buddy, and changing jobs.

23. Who did you miss?

My step-sons, always, and my best buddy.

24. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned.

At some point you have to stop banging your head against a brick wall, even if you are right and the wall is wrong.

25. What does 2015 hold for me?

I don’t know, but I hope it includes finishing grad school, seeing Ev get potty trained, and everyone I love staying healthy and happy.

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Christmas 2014

Last night, I stayed up too late. My present wrapping was done, but I was watching a movie and enjoying a snack and so it was close to midnight when I went to bed.

So. You can imagine my delight when my son woke up, ready for hot, hot stocking action at 3:50am. Way to be a stereotype, kid.

But, happy sigh, even with a way to early start, man was it a good day today. The kids were generally sweet and grateful and happy about all their gifts, large and small, and it was warm enough to take a walk outside and there was salty ham for dinner. The only thing that could have improved it was my stepsons being there, but that just isn’t how things roll with them but we got to FaceTime and chat with them both which isn’t the same but is something

plex sleepy boy

The sleeping photo is proof of the inevitable crash that comes with waking before 4am (yes, he is under his bed)

I’ve been thinking today about all of the other Christmas’ I’ve spent with Mr. Monkey and reviewing them in my mind made it very clear to me what my hope for next year’s Christmas will be:

2004: We’re engaged, living in Tucson (but not living together yet) and I am trying to figure out what being an almost step-mom looks like at Christmas time.

2005: We’re married, living in Tucson in house #1. Spend Christmas with the big boys and my family.

2006: In Tucson, in house #2, celebrating a year the saw both of us get new jobs.

2007: In Tucson, still house #2, pregnant with Miles

2008: In Tucson, packing up house #2, three days away from moving to Iowa with a baby.

2009: In Iowa, in house #3, both of us had new jobs.

2010: In Iowa, in house #4, a quietish year for us but with another job change on the horizon for me

2011: Iowa, house #5, pregnant, in new job.

2012: Iowa, house #5 still, first Christmas with Ev., Mr. Monkey is now a stay-at-home dad

2013: Iowa, house #6, beginning to think seriously about moving to our dream city

2014: Minnesota, house #7, new job in new city

Looking at this, I am A) surprised that we still get any Christmas cards at all with our constant address changes and B) not surprised to see that we had at least one major life change every year, either moving or child birthing or new jobs.

So, this is my hope for Christmas 2015: that we will be in the same city, the same house, having the same number of children and me in the same job.

That, and peace on Earth, of course.

Pretty Hair

“Baby girl…time to do pretty hair!”

“Yay! Yo Gabba Gabba? We watch Yo Gabba Gabba?”

With the promise of Yo Gabba Gabba secured, Evelyn comes racing into the bathroom, her hair a halo of fuzzy curls. I start the bath water and add in ridiculous amount of bubble bath. I strip her clothes off and, if she asks (which she usually does), mine too. I make sure we have her Darth Vader bath toy and that I have a large hair pick and cup for rinsing. As she plays, I give her the weekly shampoo and then work on getting out her tangles. I take a full handful of conditioner and work it into her curls until they are sodden and white with unrinsed hair product. I section her hair and start at the edges with the pick, carefully untangling knots and picking out pieces of frizz.

Sometimes she flinches or cries out “stop dat!” if I tug too hard but mostly she is content to play. As the bubbles melt and the water cools, I make my way around her head until the first stage of “pretty hair” is done. I’ll call in my husband and he’ll get her dressed while I dry off and set up my hair care spot in the basement. I queue up a new episode of Yo Gabba Gabba, maybe grab a snack for Ev, and get my comb, my leave-in conditioner, hair clips, tiny rubber bands, a towel to dry off my hands when the get too slick with hair moisturizer.

Ev comes downstairs and settles in my lap or between my legs. I section her hair and get to the work of doing tiny braids or twists, careful to make sure I keep each section detangled and damp. I measure out time in Gabbas: twists take two episodes, tiny braids four. While I braid, she sometimes tries to escape but most leans against me, idly stroking my legs or picking at the polish on my toenails.

When we are done it looks something like this:

BeFunky_braids.jpg

It took me awhile after her baby fuzz grew out to figure out a good system for doing her hair. There were times I washed too much and other times when I didn’t wash enough. I tried to use a brush when what I needed was a wide tooth comb. I attacked rather than coaxed out tangles. But now I’ve got the hang of it, I think. This has me wondering what the relationship between me, Evelyn and her hair will be as she gets older.

I know what I want for her: to think of her hair as it grows out of her head as “pretty hair”. I want her to think of having her hair done as getting out tangles, doing twists or braids or puffy pigtails and making sure it has enough moisture, not as something that requires chemicals or hot combing. Maybe she’ll want that when she gets older but I hope she doesn’t grow up to think that “flat hair is better” (something that her 6 year old brother says and that breaks my freaking heart).

As a two-year old, she is physically connected to me all the time. She loves to snuggle, to be held, to claim the prize spot in the room (my lap). I know that as she gets older she’ll likely want to pull away more. I wonder if doing her hair will be our physical bond as she gets older. Will she still lean against my legs at 6 and 9 and 12?

She’ll have to learn to take care of her own hair at some point and I wonder if I’ll be able to teach her or if I’ll need to call in the reinforcements of my female friends who are African American or mixed*. Maybe we’ll learn together. Maybe she’ll teach me.

(*side note: I heard a story on the radio this week about transracial adoption and I heard an African American man who was adopted by a white couple say that his best piece of advice was that “You’re first black friend shouldn’t be your kid” and it both made me laugh and made me grateful for some dear friends of mine who have already helped me understand things about my daughter that I didn’t know.)

I suspect she’ll never really understand how beautiful and lovely I think she is but maybe she’ll feel it in the care that I take of her curls.

BeFunky_puffs.jpg

Blogging for Fun and Profit

Actually, that title should probably be Blogging for Fun and Profit

I have been blogging for 10 years now, which kind of blows my mind but appears to be true. Throughout that time I have been the model of inconsistency. I had a blog where I wrote 10-15 posts a month and then I had a kid and forgot the password to that blog after not using it for a year. Then I started this blog, where I’ve been blogging for five and a half years. Some months I publish a lot (anything close to 10 posts a month is a lot for me) and some months I post once or twice.

In the ten years I’ve been blogging I’ve made exactly $0.00 from my personal blog. I’ve never had sponsored content, never sold an ad, never been part of a blogging network. I don’t say these things to imply that I am virtuous and have never “sold out”. Heavens no. I would totally sell out. It is just that nobody has wanted to buy. The reason for that is terribly simple: I’m just not that popular.

My blog traffic has ranged from 350 views per month to close to 2,000 when I was posting a lot more. These days I average about 30-50 views a day on the days that I post and maybe 20 on the days when I don’t. I am super happy that anyone reads my blog and, in my world, 50 views is a lot. But in the world of making money from a blog, I am nowhere near the range of the big bloggers. I’m so far from the range that I don’t even know what the range is.

I’ve always been curious about the economics of the world of paid blogging and freelance work and in the past I used to look at people who were writing for sites or doing sponsored posts and wonder how it all worked. How did they get those gigs? What kind of money are they making? Can a little fish ever crack into that world?

Then, a few years ago, I saw a big name blogger tweet about a paid writing opportunity with some very specific criteria (be a mom who is a Democrat from Iowa with some blogging experience) that I happened to meet. I followed up on that post and ended up submitting a pitch with links to this blog as well as to some free blogging work I did at another website and ended up getting hired for a short-term campaign. That campaign ended but the editor I worked with liked the work I did and it rolled into another campaign and then another and then another. This month will mark my busiest month ever for paid writing work. I’ve got stuff going to three different editors for three different sites. If everything posts on schedule I should make an amount roughly equal to our mortgage payment. This is huge for me and I am grateful that I have found a niche with an editor who likes my stuff.  I’m also aware that the me of three years ago would have all sorts of questions so maybe other people do to. So, here it is, everything I’ve learned about freelancing so far:

1. You have to be on Twitter. I would never have gotten my first, second or third paying gigs if I hadn’t seen tweets about them.

2. You need to have a blog or links to your writing online. While this blog has never generated money, I don’t think I would have gotten the gigs I’ve had without it. This is where potential clients can hear my voice and see what kind of content I produce.

3. The amount of money you can earn varies. Like a lot. A LOT. I’ve written for free, which I know is controversial but I don’t regret it. I was blogging about subjects I enjoyed and it sharpened my voice, I think. That being said, I don’t think I would write for free for anyone else again unless it was a project that I felt really passionately about. In terms of paid jobs, I’ve ranged from $25 for a piece that I loved that never ran because the website folded to $500 for a piece on an academic website. Alas, the $500 is rare and has happened only twice. By the end of this year I think I’ll have earned between $6000-$7000 all together. I’ve found it to be really challenging to find out what the going rates are for places and to determine if I can/should try to negotiate for higher rates. I’m lucky that there is another freelancer who lets me bug her with questions since we work on many of the same campaigns but mostly I’m blind to what others are making.

4. It can be feast or famine. By the end of this month I’ll have written 26 pieces. As of right now I have 4 scheduled for January. Given that I have a full-time job, I’m able to have the financial stability of that paycheck but I’d be lying it I said that I’m not a little bit anxious about how lean January looks.

5. Quality matters, sort of. I know for a fact that there are jobs I don’t get because I’m not a more well-known blogger and that I don’t have more followers on Twitter. I have a contact who loves my writing but is also direct with me that she can’t pitch me for certain things because of how small I am. That being said, good writing of a specific kind (snappy, conversational, funny) is obviously important to generating shares and comments, which is the currency of the realm.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that this whole thing only works if you actively like the act of writing and if you are able to keep yourself organized enough that the invoicing and sourcing photos and all the non-writing pieces don’t overwhelm you.

On a final note, I’ve talked about being a small blogger a lot in this post and I want you, dear reader, to know that I am very grateful to you for taking the time to read here. Even if all the freelance stuff dries up and I never become as great a blogger as, say, the incomparable Swistle (my favorite blogger) I’d still write here and I’d still be glad for your company in this corner of the internet.

Parenting Fears

When Miles was born I had (I now realize) so fairly deep postpartum anxiety. Driving with Miles in the car terrified me and I would constantly play out scenarios in my head about him getting hurt. It was awful and exhausting.

He is six now and I have successfully survived the terror of the infant years for both he and Evelyn and am, as a general rule, a much less anxious parent. Except, of course, for the following fears, which vary in level of ridiculous but still make my palms sweat to think about:

Lice: Lice happens, I get it. I just really, really need my kids to NOT GET IT. If it happens to Miles, I can tell you with his 100% certainty that his head is getting shaved and we are calling it a day.

Loose teeth: I get the sweats when I think of seeing wiggly teeth, attached by a little bit of flesh. I hate tooth stuff.

Neck tattoos: I don’t have any tattoos and I don’t plan to get one, but I am not an anti-tattoo person as a general rule. I’ve seen some that are quite interesting and artistic. I have not, however, ever seen a good neck tattoo. I have seen many neck tattoos that say “I’m totally okay with dramatically limiting my career options”

Pinworms: Worms. That come out of your child’s butt at night. No ma’am. No.

Online stupidity: I had the good fortune to get through high school and college before digital cameras, Facebook, Snapchat and whatever other apps the youths are into these days so none of my acts of teenage assholery are online. I know the job of adolescence is to make some mistakes while trying to figure yourself out and I don’t expect my kids to be perfect but, oh sweet baby Moses, I really don’t want to see the little butts I diapered naked on the internet some day.

Finally, the big one: That I will totally screw this thing up.

I feel like I’m a pretty good mom for a 2-year-old and six-year-old, but what if I am peaking, parenting wise, early? What if, someday, I see my naked child on Facebook with a neck tattoo that says “suck it mom”?

Flop sweat city over here.

Christmas Requirements

As of this weekend our Christmas tree is up and we have, for the first time, lights on our outside windows which is just thrilling to Miles. Last night I tucked him for bed and opened his blinds slightly so he could stare at them out the window. The reflection of the lights made rainbows on his blinds and he sighed happily at the site. He is a sucker for beauty.

Now it officially feels like the prelude to Christmas has begun and I have a list of holiday requirements that I will be needing to fulfill in the next three weeks:

Music that must be listened to:

Charlie Brown Christmas CD, which my children would happily listen and dance to every single night.

Nat King Cole: My husband’s number one choice, a classic.

My personal favorite for quiet reading by the Christmas tree, Over the Rhine Darkest Night of the Year 

Movies that must be watched:

Love Actually

Elf

Rise of the Guardians

Muppet Christmas Carol

Polar Express, which had creepy animation, yes, but delights my children so what are you going to do.

A Wish for Wings the Work

Food the must be eaten:

Send me all of your peppermint flavored things, please and thank you.

Also? I am going to need to have some Christmas morning cinnamon rolls and green chili casserole

Merry, merry everyone. What is on your list?

Under the Tree: Gift Preview

I am firmly an early shopper when it comes to Christmas time. I don’t do Black Friday because A) too crowded and B) no need- I am almost always done with my shopping well before Thanksgiving. This year is no exception, though I am still waiting on delivery of one item for Mr. Monkey and I still need to get him a few stocking stuffers.

I’m pretty excited about the kid’s gifts this year. I did a good job of staying on budget (I set a total holiday budget of $400 this year, that includes cards, gifts for everyone on the list, including me, decor, etc) and trying to stick to the “something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read” plan.

For Miles (age 6) the something he wants is always Legos, so I got him a few small sets, including this soccer themed one which took forever to find and was the only soccer themed one that didn’t cost hundreds of dollars:

lego

Completing the soccer them will be his something to wear of a Manchester City soccer club t-shirt and scarf.

His “something to read” is this:

book

He has been DYING to learn to knit, so his something he needs will be some yarn and needles to go with the book. I think he is going to love it. I think I need to reteach myself to cast on before Dec. 25th.

Stocking stuffers for him will be some paint for finger painting in the bathtub (thank you Target dollar section), a small stuffed animal, and some non-Lego brand mini-figure soccer players. I may steal some of his Halloween candy from his bag and put it in his stocking since I am totally fine with being cheap like that.

For Ev (age 2):

Her “something she wants”:

81clXrugbxL._SL1500_

doll

dad

Can I just say that it is SUPER annoying that the African American doll house figures cost more than the white family dollhouse people do? I didn’t get a mommy figure yet as I think she can use one of her “Princess” dollies to capture my true essence.

Her “something to wear” is so freaking cute I can’t stand it:

zu8713791_main_tm1394837112

Her something to read is a set of Fancy Nancy books (that sound you just heard was my husband groaning. He is not a fan, I think they are cute).

Her “something she needs” is this guy:

mono

She is OBSESSED with Yo Gabba Gabba these days and has three of the friends already. Toodie, Brobee and Foofa go with her almost everywhere. She needs Muno, obviously.

As for me, I’m hoping for a new phone case (something I need) and maybe a cheap sewing machine (I want to learn) or the board game “Ticket to Ride” in the Europe version.

How about you, friends? What is on your list?

Why I am Still on Facebook

I am having a hard time following the news these days. The Eric Garner situation defies reason. I see the word “thug” being used as a code word to describe people of color, to make it seem like there is justification for believing that the justice system isn’t broken for people of color. I see talking heads on TV saying things that make me realize again and again and again that someday my sweet kiddos are going to realize that there are people who think they are less than because of the color of their skin.

My boss, who is African American, came into my office with tears in her eyes after the news of the failure in indict and said that she feels like it is open season on Black men in America and I have no reason to disagree with her.

So, it is hard and it is painful to log on to Facebook and see that people I know have “liked” some racist comment by Ted f-ing Nugent (which, really? HE’s the guy you think best speaks for your interests? Gross) or some post from a media group that makes it seem like people’s genuine anger about the death of Michael Brown is somehow wrong because he maybe wasn’t a perfect victim with a perfect family.

(Side note: Whether his parents are married or not or whether he shoplifted or not or if he smoked weed at some point literally DOES NOT MATTER when it comes to whether or not this is an example of a bigger problem of structural racism)

But I stay on Facebook anyways, even though it hurts sometimes.

I was thinking about why I do (other than seeing cute baby pictures, because, duh. I am always here for your cute baby pictures) and I think my answer comes down to this: Facebook forces me not to self-segregate into a social world where everyone thinks like I do.

On FB, I have friends who are atheist and those that are super devout. I celebrate my gay friends posts about getting married and know that I have a sizable group of friends that hate that idea. I have friends who come in all shades of color and a few who still insist that they can’t see color at all. I’m in groups for mom’s who are getting their PhDs and groups for people who want to gossip about TV and potty training and whether or not our neighborhood should plow more. I roll my eyes at some posts and I block a few (please stop trying to sell me body wraps).

I stay on Facebook because when I see that the some I know to be kind, generous and well-intentioned “likes” something I disagree with, it helps me not just have a knee jerk “ugh, those people are all ignorant assholes” response. I hope that they feel the same way when the situation is reversed.

I confess that I am discouraged these days about being an American. It feels like our country is profoundly broken. I believe, however, that we can MUST get better but I don’t think that can happen unless we can, at least on some level, love the people we disagree with. Or at least think about them as people, flawed and broken but also loving and trying to make sense of the world, and not just as assholes.

Facebook helps me do that. So I stay, even when it hurts.

Seriously?

I work in a large office building, one that is home to a variety of state and federal agencies. We have the Department of Homeland Security above us, the Motor Vehicle Division below us and on my floor we have a branch office of the IRS with a bright sign that says “Tax payer questions answered here!”

I was taking a quick walk outside for a breath of fresh air and noticed that there was nobody in the lobby of the IRS office, so I thought I’d pop in to ask a quick tax question I had. Now, bear in mind as you read further, that I actually like doing my taxes and, further, I bear no ill will to the IRS. I like all the things my taxes help pay for (like roads and bridges and whatnot) so I am not anti-IRS at all.

Or, at least that is how I used to feel….

I open the doors to the empty lobby and a security guard barks at me “you need to take a ticket!” before I can even say a word. I dutifully take a ticket, even though I am literally the only person in the lobby.

I can see the IRS employee in his cubicle, appearing to wrap up with the person he is working with. I wander around and look at some tax forms, as I am clearly next and this shouldn’t take too long.

I glance over and see that the lady is now standing and has her coat on. My time is coming…

But, wait, now the employee and the lady are chatting with someone on the phone together. About something that is happening at the church fellowship hall next weekend. She is taking her coat off. I sigh and sit down, pulling out my phone to check my email while I wait.

“No cell phones! You need to put that away!” The guard barks at me again.

I dutifully put my phone away and look around the lobby for something to read. There is nothing but tax forms. I like taxes but not that much. I check the clock. Ten minutes have passed. I think about giving up, but I am the only one here. Surely it can’t take too much longer. Right?

Wrong.

The lady finally leaves the cubicle and I stand up, ready to be called, when I hear the employee start making a phone call. Something about Christmas gifts and whether or not Barb wants a gift card this year. I sit back down. I check the clock. 17  minutes in. I am still the only person here. There are 8 cubicles but nobody is calling numbers. I feel myself aging.

Finally, finally, 25 minutes in there is a DING! and my number pops up on the screen.

“Hi, I just had a quick question.”

“Okay, have a seat”

“I’ve been doing some freelance work this year and I was wondering if you could give me a sense or help me determine how to figure out how much money to set aside for taxes from that?”

“Well, I can’t tell you that kind of information. You are going to need to research that yourself. You should look at the schedule C or C-EZ or look online for information.”

“Oh. Okay. I just thought that maybe there were some general guidelines to follow?”

“Ma’am, I can’t answer those kinds of questions. You have to do your own research”
“Well, I guess I thought that talking to someone at the IRS is doing my research…”

“Do you have any other questions?”

“Yes, actually. I know I can’t claim a home office deduction because I don’t have a dedicated space, but can I claim part of my internet service as a business expense?”

(Deep sigh) “Ma’am, you are going to have to do your own research or, if you have a lot of questions, you should really talk to a tax professional”

“But…this is the IRS office…aren’t you a tax professional?”

“I am an employee of the Taxpayer Assistance Center, yes”

“But you can’t actually answer any of these questions? So I should go talk to someone who doesn’t work for the IRS to determine what the IRS laws are? Is that what you are saying?”

“Well, those aren’t my words, but yes.”

ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME.

This, THIS, is why people hate the IRS.

I would like that 45 minutes of my life back, please.