Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Time for something completely different: Buying a house

I've been thinking a lot about housing lately because we're considering buying our first home.  We've been looking for nearly a year so it's obviously a long ordeal for us. 

So what do you consider when buying a house:
* Location
* Number of rooms, layout, etc
* Yard
* Condition of home

And of course
* Cost

Cost.  How much will you pay for the house?  Do you put down every last cent you have available or save a little bit for unforseen repairs or an unexpected expense?  Then do you set it up to pay the most possible you can monthly or leave a little bit of wiggle room?

We seem to be on the conservative side.  People keep saying to us things that amount to "Buy the most house you possibly can." or "The house doesn't have to be perfect.  This can just be your starter home." and also, "Sure, you'll be poor for a few years but then you'll be fine.  Your income is only going to go up."  Is this true?

In a stable housing market where values were certainly going to go up, it'd make sense to buy a house that was the most we could afford.  It probably still does if we're going to be there for the rest of our lives.  (But the house had better be pretty good for our family if we're going to be there forever.)  Otherwise, we don't want to stretch ourselves too thin and be unable to send our kids to preschool, do enrichment activities, or save for retirement. 

What about the claim that our income is only going to go up?  Well, if we're lucky enough to stay employed (not something we all take for granted anymore), we can expect our income to be relatively stable.  We've both been in our careers for about a decade.  Our income may go up somewhat, but it's not like we're just starting out at entry level income.  If our income does go up more than cost of living, like if we get a bonus, we could maybe take our kids on a vacation. 

What about expenses?  We have 2 young kids.  Our expenses are only going to go up, from what I can see.  The oldest will start in preschool this year.  Preschool isn't cheap.  Then when she gets to elementary school, she may go to public school depending on where we end up buying a house or we might be paying for private school.  Big expense. In addition, there may be enrichment activities like ballet or piano or summer camp that she'll want to do.  Those things will add up quickly.

Sure, we could tell our kids they can't do those activities.  We could stop saving for retirement.  Many of our friends are not contributing to retirement now figuring they'll do that later.  Later when what happens?  When they're making more money or when expenses go down (like they've paid off their student loans, something I finished about 6 years ago).   This may be true for them, but if we're going to continue for the next 18 years with roughly the same standard of living, we can't spend much more on housing than we currently do.  (Of course, we're saving now so we can afford a little bit more but we need to factor in maintenance, taxes, etc.)

Perhaps we won't be paying for schooling in a few years and we won't indulge the kids in expensive hobbies.  Perhaps we'll get raises or change jobs such that we're making more.  Perhaps we'll lose jobs and be unemployed for a while, or choose to leave jobs to start our own businesses.  We don't know.  And of course we can never know what the future brings, but just assuming we will make more in the future seems foolish, for us at least. 

Now, if we were just starting out and had our initial salaries and no child-related expenses like when we got married 7 years ago, we could have bought our small starter home and lived frugally for a few years while we saved for a bigger home, moved up the ladder in our jobs, and then moved when we had kids and needed more room.  That's apparently what we were "supposed" to do.  But 7 years ago was 2005.  That was the peak of the housing bubble.  There were small condos going for well over a half million dollars and the value of homes in this area are now 60% of their 2005 cost.  Whether or not we had purchased then, I'm not sure we'd be in better shape now.  I assume we'd be getting different advice than "This is just your starter home" or "You'll be making more in a few years." 

I seem to be on an entirely different page than most people around us, so I just wanted to explain our thinking.  Maybe we're nuts, but at least we're conservatively nuts.  :)

Friday, February 17, 2012

ECing with a 2nd kid

I thought it'd be much harder, but it's not.  I find it hard to notice Francis' cues, but sometimes Elaine tells me when he needs to go.  That makes it easier!  :)  Of course, finding the time to run him to the potty when he needs to go (even when he's willing to wait a minute or two), can be tricky.  It was much easier to drop every thing when it was just one kid.  Still seems like a good idea to spare a diaper or two when I can and keep his awareness up.

Also, I have a friend with a 5 month old who just started ECing.  She also has a 3 year old boy who isn't potty trained.  ECing the baby is going very well.  Potty training the older one is a struggle and he's refusing to use the potty.  She's wishing she'd started the older one on sooner so that he wouldn't be afraid of the big potty at this point.  But maybe the little brother will be able to help the older one feel more comfortable.  And it doesn't seem to cause any negative problems with the older one feeling behind or anything, which I'd sort of worry about.  These kids seem pretty happy though!

catching up

I've gotten pretty behind in posting.  Crazy life with 2 little kids.  :)  I do have a bunch queued up in my mind so hopefully I can whip some out over the next few days.  Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Pretend you're playing Angry Birds" (How ECing is different for boys vs girls)

I'd like to say that it isn't really different for boys vs girls.  The communication is similar.  Their elimination needs are similar.

But the reality is that there are some technical details that are different.  Most people seem to get that.  In fact, when Elaine was born and we were excited about ECing, all our friends basically said, "Well, that's nice but I have a boy.  You can't do that with boys."

Well, you can.  And thanks you my friends who have boys who told me that because it motivated me to get Francis to the potty sooner.  :)  There are some things to watch out for though.

(Warning: This is going to get a little bit graphic.  If you don't want to think about boy parts and girl parts, then stop reading!)

With a girl, you aren't likely to end up with a face full of pee if you stop paying attention for a minute.  You can basically just hold a girl over the receptacle and  you'll probably have good luck.  (Realize that girls can have a range too.  Don't put her facing you wearing your good suit and figure she can't make it that far.)  With a boy... well, do you aim?

I searched around on the Internet for descriptions and the best I found was to sneak an arm under baby boy's leg and use a finger to help aim.  So the first time I took Francis to the potty, I pointed him downward and my husband freaked out.  "That's like pinching off a hose!"  Well, what do I know?  So I just let him be and he peed all over the bathroom.  (Duh, right?)

So after much discussion, my husband came up with the following suggestion for when I took Francis to the bathroom, "Pretend you're playing Angry Birds."

For those who might not be familiar with this popular game, Angry Birds is a game on the iPhone (and other similar devices) where you launch ball-shaped birds via slingshot at some structures in an attempt to destroy them and their ball-shaped pig occupants.

We'd just gotten an ipod touch and my daughter immediately insisted on Angry Birds because a friend had shown it to her.   Our family was all playing in no time.  Anyway, my husband's signature move is to launch a bird high into the air so it drops into the structure nearly vertically.  Apparently, that was my  husband's suggestion for successfully getting pee in the toilet.

Are you laughing yet?  Yeah, I realize this is a bit silly.

This method was only mildly successful.  I was able to "successfully play that level" a few times but there were other times that I ended up using my hands (or, um, my kid's feet) to deflect the flow.  I don't really think this method works for me.  (Meanwhile, my husband uses an entirely different hold because he has ridiculously long arms so he apparently holds baby's feet and used some leg readjusting method like a joystick to change the flow direction.  Probably all the while laughing at me trying to "play angry birds" when I take our son to the bathroom.)

So after a few failed attempts, I abandoned that method.  I started watching carefully and when he started peeing, I'd quickly use a finger to point his penis downward just enough to get it in the potty without "clamping off the hose" and that seems to work fine.  In fact, he seems to naturally point more downward now so it's not an issue a lot of the time anymore.  After that first week of trying to figure it out, I think I've missed the potty 3-4 times.  Given that he used it over 80 times, that's not too bad a miss-rate.  Heck, I've heard from friends that their husbands have a higher miss-rate.  :)  And for those of you who also use our bathroom, don't worry.  We keep that Costco-sized bin of lysol wipes there for just those occasions.


That's the number of successful catches we had during Francis' first month: 83.  This means that we successfully recognized his signs (or guessed by timing) and got him to the potty about 3 times per day.  Of course, he still used quite a few diapers as well (far more than 83) but I'm happy with that number.  We had the advantage of being home basically all the time too so it probably won't be as high in the next few months.  It's harder to run a 3 month old to a store bathroom in time, especially with the 2 year old in hand. I have no idea how that will go.  So far, so good though.  :)

Friday, July 1, 2011

How to do Elimination Communication

Once you've decided to do Elimination Communication, what do you do?

There are 2 parts: Elimination and Communication.  (Sounds simple enough, right?)

First, and most importantly, communication.  How to tell when your little one is going to eliminate.  Most kids grunt or squirm when they're about to poop and get suddenly quiet and calm when peeing.  You can learn your own child's cues by letting him or her go diaper free, with a cloth diaper and no cover, or even with a disposable diaper that has a magic stripe on it like the pampers swaddlers sensitive.  (As my husband says, "pee and yellow make blue.")  Any way that you'll be able to tell immediately after your child has gone and you'll be able to start learning their cues.  I also recommend that you take your child right after he or she wakes up from a nap.  That's a common time kids usually go.

This is how you respond to their cues.  I personally like to take my son or daughter to the toilet in the bathroom.  Other people use bowls, sinks, bathtubs, a bush... whatever is convenient.  Use what works for you and your comfort level.  It's also common of ECers to use a verbal cue like "pssss" to indicate that it's a good time to pee or grunt to encourage pooping.  This is useful if you want to cue your child to go in an unusual place like a new restroom or even their diaper.  I don't see anything wrong with that, but I just ended up telling my kid that it's ok to go potty now and that seems to work fine.  

Regardless of the receptacle, it's important to situate the baby in a way that makes him feel safe and secure.  There are lots of ways to do this, but the bottom line is to just  in a way that supports them as needed.  For newborns, this means supporting their heads in addition to their bodies where a 6 month old wouldn't need that support.  

Here's my daughter as a wee one.

You can see that she's propped on the toilet seat with a cloth diaper added for comfort.  There's also I blanket on my knees for her and dad is helping support.  All these are nice, but these luxuries aren't needed.  (Nice that dad is there to hide her girl parts in the picture.  I'm sure she'll kill me if her prom date were to ever see this in the future.  Sorry, Elaine.)

Some more set up that works for us.  I always sit on the edge of the tub to take off or put on the diaper.  The diapers and wipes easily fit above the toilet.  We can easily fit at lease a dozen disposables there but we could only fit 3 cloth there so we had to restock more when we used cloth and put a small trash can by the tub to toss used ones in.  You can also see the lysol wipes hidden in the corner behind the toilet so we can easily disinfect if the aim wasn't completely successful.  Oh, there's also a stool that my 2 year old now uses so she can hop up on her own.

Because of how we do the diaper changes, this eliminates the need for a changing table.  In the first few months, we keep a mat out on the floor for quick changes but generally prefer to take my kids to the bathroom.  It's more comfortable for me to change a baby on my lap than lean over the floor.  Do what works for you and your family though.  Oh, you'll also notice that I keep the baby angled toward the toilet... just in case.  

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why EC?

This is one of the topics that I'm asked about often so I made it an independent page (linked on the right) for easy reference.

Coming soon... How to EC

Top reasons why we decided to do Elimination Communication:
  • Less gross.  Cleaning up after a poopy diaper is not my idea of a fun afternoon.  ECing meant that we could avoid some of the poopiness.  Sounds good to me!
  • Better for the environment. Fewer diapers of any kind are better for the environment.  We'd still be using water and toilet paper or wipes, but that is better suited to deal with waste than a stack of disposables or even cloth.
  • Better for baby.  If she's not sitting in waste all day, then she's going to be more comfortable and healthy.
  • Why not?  There's really no commitment.  It's free.  I could stop at any time or just do it part-time.  We could take breaks.  And according to the books I read, just doing it in the evening or with a certain caregiver and not other times is still beneficial.
  • Sounds fun!  Really, this was my main draw.  I walk past the bathroom a hundred times per day.  Why not just take my little one with me?  Maybe it will work.
After we started doing elimination communication, we found more benefits.
  • My baby loved it! She seemed much happier (most of the time) to use the toilet than her diaper. Those times when she seemed displeased with a potty trip, we just didn't go. Low stress for all of us.
  • Daddy would do it.  It was like pulling teeth to get him to change a diaper so he changed an average of 1 per week, but he could handle taking the baby to the toilet. 
  • No pee in my face.  I think most diaperers have experienced taking off a diaper and suddenly a little spout of pee shoot up in the air or soak the diaper pad.  After learning my daughters signals, and later her ASL sign, I could tell when this was going to happen and prevent the mess.
  • Fewer leaks.  Since I could tell when she was going to go, this also meant I knew she had gone.  Her diaper wasn't going to fill up unnoticed.
  • No need to check for a wet or stinky diaper.  I knew she was going to go potty or had gone. At a playgroup one day, I was amazed at the number of people who would stick a finger in the edge of the diaper to check if it was wet. Ew! Ok, pee is sterile and these mamas probably washed their hands, but that wasn't a method I was about to adopt.
  • Easier potty training.  Doing EC means kids retain elimination awareness. Apparently kids are born with some awareness and we train them to use diapers and ignore this instinct. Then when it's potty training time, we are all frustrated that the kids seem to not know or care when they're wet or dirty.
  • Saves money. Fewer diapers meant saving money. Obviously fewer disposibles, but even switching to cloth meant I needed a smaller stash. Since she had control of her functions, she used the diaper or toilet every few hours. She also potty trained much earlier than she might have otherwise.
  • Better communication.  My daughter loved that she could communicate her needs to us.  "Toilet" was her 2nd ASL sign (after "milk") and she loved that she could tell me her needs so clearly.  I love having that relationship with my child.
  • Really is fun!