Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Because I'm Stupid Like That

First off, thank you for all of your comments and opinions, both here on the blog and also those of you who contacted me privately.  They were all incredibly helpful.
I've decided on a few things:

The name stays.  Long live Puffer!
The characters shall remain the same.  Long live Chicken, Grunter and Whoop Whoop!
The entire TTC journey will remain in the blog.
The tagline will change.
The rants will continue because I am Puffer and a bit of a ranter.  However, I will have to be a bit more careful about family rants--
Unless, they are password protected.
Goodbye Blogger.
Hello Wordpress.

I've tried to find a way to password protect some of my blogs in Blogger--there are scripts out there that would let me do this.  But, let me remind you that I am rather deficient in the technology side of life.  Sadly, Chicken is only slightly ahead of the tech curve than I am.  This basically means that when I'm about to throw my laptop across the room in a heated fit of frustration, she is calm enough to take the expensive piece of equipment from me and after five minutes declare that she doesn't know how to do 'it' either.
Every time I'm at the Mac Genius Bar getting help, I always end it with a "Thank you for not making me feel like a complete idiot."
Can I just say, this sucks.
Chicken and I are so very good at many things, but this is not one of them.

In the quest to save my sanity, I am going to be outsourcing the tech side of this move.  I'd always hoped that I would someday figure this tech stuff out, but with two toddlers, a limited amount of time, a short attention span and only a few brain cells left working on any given day--I'm declaring defeat.  I can write it, but I can't design it.

Buh Bye Blogger.  It's been swell.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Opinions Welcome--Blog/Name Changes

Frustration Station.
I need your help.
I've been talking and thinking about changing my blog, but up until now haven't really done anything.
In the last couple of weeks, there have been some writing opportunities starting to present themselves.
If I were to 'land' some of these, I'd have to go 'public', because everything is going to be linked back to my blog.  Right now, my blog is like a very messy house and I'm panicking because important guests might drop in any moment now.
First Impressions Count, right?

In order to attract readers and keep them, I think I need to make some major changes:

  • Delete any rants or family-related bitchfest blog postings
  • Change blog name (sob!)
  • Refresh Tagline (what is this blog now)
  • Go back and write travel blog posts
  • Put ads on the page, because this is looking like a possible business op
  • Use our real names
This will continue to be a 'twin mom' blog and I want to have my TTC journey on there because it's a huge part of who I am.  But, it's not a TTC blog and it never will be again.  It's about raising twins in NYC.  It's about living within your means and saving for your goals.  It's about the quest to travel the world with my wife and kids.  It's about documenting those travels and (hopefully) inspiring other families to live their dreams.

Because of my tech fears (I'm a complete idiot), I have resisted any changes to my basic Blogger template and have really done nothing to make myself look professional.  I've done a small bit of 'beautification' now on Blogger, but I am realizing that Wordpress is probably where I need to be.
I don't want to lose my readers and followers.  I don't want to move.

I love the name of my blog.  But there are a ton of people who are looking for baby puffer fish and wind up here.  I doubt they stay long.  If you are looking for a traveling twin mom or how to raise twins in a one bedroom or what to do with kids in NYC, you're not likely to do a search for baby puffer fish.

It's scary and sad to think of 'shutting down'.  This blog was my baby and it helped me through the hell of TTC.  Without this blog, the support and the friends I've made here--I don't know that I could've done it without you.  You kept me going when I was down and out.

My babies are growing up and my blog needs a make-over (frankly so do I, but one thing at a time).
Finding the right name.  Creating a brand.
Big Stuff.

I haven't had to use this part of my brain in a very long time.  Apparently this has me a bit stressed because I've started to grind my teeth at night, my jaw has started to click and I'm wide awake at 4:30am.  Lovely.
I have one week to decide, do it and get it right.  No pressure.

If anyone has any opinions or suggestions--I'd love to hear them!  Thanks in advance.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Single Mom Traveling to Costa Rica with Toddler Twins?

Maybe.  No, we aren't breaking up.
But, I may be solo for part of the time in Costa Rica.  It could be a couple of days or a full week, including, but not limited to, the flight home.  Turns out Chicken might need to go back to the USA for some meetings.  She's up for a big promotion and really needs to work her ass off.
Good thing I'm always up for a challenging adventure, right?!

It's also a very good thing that I have changed our housing accommodations.  The first house I rented was very cute and on a perfect toddler-friendly beach, but about 6km away from the main town.  The house also was "open" directly to the outside with the exception of the bedrooms, like this:

Do you see the staircase on the left leading downstairs?  Do you see how the jungle is beside the staircase and there are no walls?  Yes, this is typical, rustic style.  The 'yard' is gated which (hopefully) meant the boys would be contained somewhat, somewhere in the 'yard'.  Right outside the gate is the beach.  A little scary.  Also, maybe not so secure regarding crime, which....well, it's Central America.  There is crime.
Also, with this house, we had no easy options for getting them to the preschool.  It would've involved chasing them around the yard (finding them first, hoping they hadn't escaped), biking 2 km up the road to another village, putting them on a bus (with us) and then bussing it 5km to the school and arriving by 8:30am.
Then....doing it all over again in the heat of the day at 12:30.
Not ideal.

I took a little hit with a cancellation fee, but it was well worth it.  I found a house with real doors--that lock! And walls! And the most awesome wrap around deck.

 View of the beach from the deck
 A sort of real couch and coffee table downstairs--with walls!
 One of two staircases (one on each side of the house) and my tiki bar kitchen
And a Sloth!  He lives there!  How freaking cool is that?!

The house was only $200 more than the other house and while the yard is not gated, at least I can contain the boys inside until I go out with them.  It's also much more secure and I will feel safer here.  

Plus, the best part is that the preschool is 3 min walking distance.  And we are only 5-10 min walking into town.


I can do this alone if I have to.  I'm hoping that her business trip overlaps with the time period her father and his partner are visiting....but if not....I'll have a great story to tell, I'm sure!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Non Sequitur Conversations Concerning Random Countries

Education has been on my mind a lot lately.  In fact, I'm going to devote an entire post on this subject, but for now....
The conversations in our house sound a bit like this:


"Did you know there are two Waldorf schools in Hyderabad (India)?"

"Really?  Are we moving to Hyderabad?"

"No.  Well, maybe.  I was thinking of the Finnish education model and then I was reading some articles on that and one referenced how the Finnish model of early education (the children don't start school or learn to read/write until the age of seven) is incredibly similar to Waldorf.  Both stress the importance of play and age appropriate learning.  And you see how well the Finns are doing with their model (number one in case you've missed the news--the USA ranks in the middle or worse on all subjects).  It got me know since we can't move to Finland."

"I could work for my company in Hyderabad.  There are loads of expats there.  You think it's really dirty?"

"Yes.  It's India.  But I'm OK with that."


"You know I was just talking to someone in my company who got transferred to the office in Singapore because his wife got a job there.  That could be an option for us."

What I think is: "There's no Waldorf school there or Hong Kong.  Bangkok has two.  The Singapore education system, while ranking incredibly high, is just the type I wish to avoid with its rote memorization, lack of creativity and hours of homework and tutoring.  I wonder if there's a Montessori school...."

What I say is: "I'm down with Singapore.  It's close to everything else we love in South East Asia."

(By the way Singapore does have at least two Montessori schools and the added benefit is the Chinese Mandarin immersion offered.  Because if you're balking rote memorization and hours of homework, why not strive to have trilingual children? Yes, I am a Gemini and I am a complete contradiction.)

Also:  Chicken has informed me she 'likes my blog and gets excited to see a new post.  It's almost like reading about someone I don't know.'  I find this highly entertaining since we live/work/sleep in an 800 square foot space and have been in this same room day after day, night after night for two years running.  Apparently I don't tell her everything.

Update:  After reading this article on malaria, I thought hmmm, should check something out before going deeper in my head.  Found this article on Hyderabad and malaria thanks.  NO Thank You.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Budgeting and Living with Less--Saving for Long Term Travel

While we can't completely predict how much we'll need to travel for one year (based on the variable of: Will we be making any money on the road?) we have come up with a rough figure.
We know we are keeping a hefty amount of our savings as a safety net and for our (eventual?) return home.  If we didn't go that route, I know we'd both feel nervous.  While I've read of many families who do use their savings, I know they often have rental property making them money while they are traveling or another large source of income.  We do not.

Our travel goal is to save $30K.
That equals $82/day or $2465/month.
Considering our NYC rent for our one bedroom apartment costs more than that, it doesn't sound like much.
However, we know we can rent an apartment/house for under a thousand anywhere we go and local food costs could be as low as $10-$15/day.
It will be more than enough to live comfortably and we are not aiming to live like queens.

Getting to this goal is a challenge.  We already live quite frugally and we don't have a lot of 'wiggle room' to cut out.

  • We don't have an extra car to sell or a small house/apartment to move to.  
  • We make our lattes at home every morning.  
  • We rarely take taxis or even use public transportation.  
  • We can't 'turn down the heat/turn off the lights' because we don't control our heat and heat/hot water/electricity are included in our monthly rent.  
  • We don't do much shopping for ourselves and I've got a great network of moms that have either given/sold cheaply the next round of boys summer clothes/shoes.  
  • We didn't exchange Christmas gifts because there was nothing we really needed.  
  • We bought the boys very, very little since we knew the grandparents would load them up for the holiday and their birthday.
  • I'd love to cut off the cable (Fios), but Chicken won't budge.  We all have our things we can't live without.  Hers is watching the NY Knicks lose basketball games most of the season.
  • We send our laundry out.  We could do it ourselves and save FIVE dollars a week.  Hmmm, up and down the elevator and through 3 locked doors with 2 toddlers in tow only to find that the machines are available or it's broken or you are out of laundry soap or the dryer didn't dry it all the way in that cycle OR spend FIVE dollars and they pick it up for me, charge it to my credit card (earning me miles to travel), wash it, dry it, fold it and deliver it back to me by 5pm the same day.  We all have our things we can't live without.  I'm going to find a way to eat that $20/month savings somewhere else.
  • Oh Look!  I found a place to save $20!  The nanny is working one hour less per week.  Yes, we could ditch the nanny and save quite a chunk, but I'd lose my sanity and probably be a lousy mom.  She is worth every dollar.  She cooks, she cleans, she teaches my kids (and me) Spanish, she's sweet and kind and my boys love her.  She's staying.

So what to cut out?  Food, glorious food.
We order out quite a lot.  Too much.  I should be cooking more.  I really don't like to cook.  Although it's hard to remember--but I think I used to like it more a very, very long time ago.  The problem is that Chicken is an excellent cook.  And she loves it.  So when I cook, nothing is ever as good as what she makes anyway and....I'm not that good!  I'd rather eat her cooking (and so would she).
I'm more of an "assembly-er" type of cook.  Tacos, Burritos, Fajitas (see a theme here...), Pizza.  I'm great at putting things together.  I'm a snap at heating things up!  I am awesome at "defrosting the frozen organic veggies from Trader Joes and add a pat of butter".   And I am a smoothie making extraordinaire.  But a cook?  Nope.  I'm much more of a baker.
Baking doesn't get you far in a family with kids who don't eat sugar and 2 moms who are very weight mindful.  You can only make so many healthy muffins.

At the beginning of the year, we sat down and made ourselves a tight budget.  I really thought Chicken would balk at cutting down on 'eating out' food costs but it turns out Chicken loves a good challenge--even if it's food related.
She has a app on her iPhone and we track everything religiously.  She's so competitive, this is perfect for her.
I realized that we both would get the 'occasional' fancy coffee out and have instead made another at home or brewed tea in a travel mug.  The month of January neither of us have bought a single coffee drink.  Not ONE!
We've cut out the trip to the diner every Saturday morning and made eggs/pancakes ourselves.  The weekend bagel run has been replaced with free bagels at church on Sunday mornings (Don't worry it's not the reason we're going to church, we go for the free child care.  Just kidding!!!)
In addition, we've worked out a deal for me to take over more child care on the weekend while Chicken gets busy in the kitchen.
This past week alone she's turned out:  Beef Burgundy, Salmon Cakes, Chicken Marsala, Chicken Pot Pie and Pan Fried Flounder.  I've made Tacos, Quesadillas and Pizza:)
This is such a sweet deal for me because I'd much rather be building things with legos and hanging with the kids while Chicken makes delicious meals.  Win!

We came out $120 ahead for January!  Yeah! This goes straight into the travel fund.

Now, at $100+/month it's going to take forever for us to save up--so here are some other things we've decided will go directly into the fund:

All yearly bonuses/quarterly rewards
All raises
All birthday/Christmas cash gifts
All interest earnings
All healthcare reimbursements (because it feels like we already 'spent' that money)
Any extra income

I've even agreed to sell three of my antique pieces--my dresser, bedframe and a pair of tall glass cabinets.  It won't get me much, the market is slow, but the pieces are not family items and furthermore, they are not 'me' anymore.  I'd also love to sell our huge desk.
This next year is about weeding things out--I've already cleared out an entire closet, donating the majority of the contents to the Bowery Mission homeless shelter--selling items of value that I can live without, and deciding what stays and what goes.
Ideally we'd love to sublet our apartment fully furnished.  Realistically, that probably won't happen and we'll have to put things in storage.  The less items we have to store, the easier life will be.
I feel like I have a to-do list a mile long already!

The projected date of departure is September 2013.  If we stayed in NYC, this is when the boys would be expected to go to 'preschool'.
Instead, they will be enrolling in the experience of 'world schooling'.