Author Archives: Swistle

College Student Finances and First-Aid Kits

It’s less than four weeks now until Rob leaves for college. There are two ways I am currently finishing that sentence, and the alternation between the two is fairly rapid:

1. …and he grows up and moves away and remembers only the times we were bad at parenting and only visits his spouse’s family.

2. …and I am pleased to see preparations are getting done one after another despite me feeling as if the number of things to be done was insurmountable.

Our most recent accomplishment was figuring out how he’ll handle money. He needs to have access to his personal savings and also to his college savings, but without getting them mixed up; and there are still many expenses we’ll be paying for; and we would like to put something in place for “emergencies” despite being unable to think of any examples of emergencies we wouldn’t be able to handle over the phone, over the internet, or by driving there.

We were hindered in this decision by being a little behind the times, financially-speaking: I haven’t used a debit card before; I pay bills by writing/mailing physical checks; the only “online baking” I do is transferring money between checking and savings; I don’t do any banking with my phone. Meanwhile, Rob is taking photos of his paychecks with his phone to deposit them, and doesn’t even have a checkbook. So we talked with him about what he thought would work in These Modern Times, and also about what he’d find easiest and most comfortable, and together we came up with this plan:

1. His current bank does not have any branches or ATMs where he’s going. I found out which banks had ATMs on campus, and one of them has branches here in town. He’ll open a student account with that bank and move his money there, closing his old account after that’s all set.

2. He’ll keep his personal money in his checking account, and spend it using his debit card and/or by withdrawing cash from the ATM.

3. He’ll keep his college savings in his savings account, and each semester we’ll discuss how much of it to use to pay tuition.

4. He’ll apply for a credit card with no annual fees and no other costs if it’s paid off in full each month. If he is approved, he will use this credit card for books and other miscellaneous college expenses of the sort that aren’t covered by the tuition bill. And he can use it in situations where he can’t use his debit card but can use a credit card, if those occur. The card will be in his name and will come to our address and we will pay it in full each month; he will reimburse us from his personal account for any non-school expenses he charges (the hope is that that will be rare). Meanwhile, the card will be working to build his credit, and it will be soothing his parents by being available for unknown emergencies. At some point, we will transfer full responsibility for the card over to him.


This took HOURS. If right now you’re thinking anything that starts with “Why don’t you just…?,” I think it’s safe to say that someone thought of it and that someone else had a reason they didn’t like it. “Why doesn’t he just have two accounts?” “Why don’t you just do a joint account?” “Why don’t you just transfer his college savings to your account?” “Why don’t you just use a pre-paid card?” “Why don’t you just use the campus account?” “Why don’t you just keep some money in the bank account for emergencies?” “Why doesn’t he just handle the credit card payments himself?” Forgive me in advance for virtually muzzling you, but you will have to trust me that all three people involved have with great effort come to this decision, and that it would not be helpful to disrupt it. I suppose I can conceive of a situation in which one of you, someone with kids currently or recently in college, might say, “WAIT!!! You need to know something we learned the hard way!!” But otherwise: this is what we’re starting with, and all the parts of the decision are changeable if any parts of it turn out not to work for us.

Also! I have had some fun putting together a little first-aid kit for him. Target had a deal where if you bought three first-aid supplies you got a free cute little kit, bright red with a plus-sign on it! But I correctly guessed that Rob would find that embarrassing. Instead I bought him an oversized pencil box from the school-supply section. Then I bought these things:

1. an assorted-sizes box of Band-aids
2. antibiotic ointment
3. hydrocortisone cream
4. Benadryl tablets
5. ibuprofen tablets
6. cough syrup
7. cough drops
8. Tums
9. there might be something else I’m forgetting

It all fit in the box, after a few Tetris-reminiscent tries.

What It Was Like To Buy a Used Car

This was our third time buying a used car, so I feel as if I am really getting the hang of this now. The first time was when I was pregnant with the twins and we KNEW we HAD to buy a minivan, but I was so nervous: how could we know we were getting a GOOD used car rather than a lemon? and what if we got cheated because we didn’t know how to haggle?? All of our previous cars had been handmedowns from my parents, who take meticulous care of their cars. My friend Melissa was the nudge I needed: she said something like, “Look, you just have to go into it knowing you’re going to get a little screwed on the deal. But what’s the alternative? Going to school to be an auto mechanic, just so you can evaluate each car? Then going through the process to become a car salesperson, so you know how to haggle with one? No. You need a minivan, so go buy one and lose a little money and hope for the best.”

The second used car we bought was one for Paul’s commute. We were looking for something older but with relatively low mileage and relatively long expected future use. I hate his car. It has a sun roof, which I knew he’d accidentally leave open in the rain, and he has indeed done so. Also, we have owned four of this same make/model, and this is the only one I have a hard time getting into: the roof is LOWER. I am between 5’8 and 5’9″, and I feel SQUISHED. I am shorter than the average U.S. man; I should not have a hard time getting my height into a car. Also, I can’t figure out how to turn on the radio, let alone select a station; there’s some complicated computer-screen display. But it is a success because he likes it and he is the only one who has to drive it.

This time we were buying a car to replace our dear old 1999 sedan, which has over 230,000 miles on it. It was Paul’s commuting car before we replaced it. We’ve kept it on as a car for Rob and William to use, because if they were to smash it up, it would be no big deal to lose it. But nearly a year ago, our trusted mechanic told me that it was time to say our long goodbyes: he doubted the car would last another year. This is the same mechanic who has kept it running for so long and has resisted previous hesitant suggestions that it might be time to let it go, so I accepted that it really was Time.

Here is the first thing you need to know about buying a used car, if your circumstances match ours: it takes four hours, and there is no good reason for it to take that long. You just have to go into it expecting to lose that time. We bring fully-charged phones, a back-up battery, snacks, and books.

I start by going online to the dealership’s site, and making a list of cars I’m interested in. When we were shopping for the minivan, I found two minivans on the site, and only one was actually available, and we bought it. When we were shopping for Paul’s commuting car, I found five cars on the site, and only one was actually available but they also had two others not on the site. When we were shopping for this car, I found six cars on the site, and three were available, and they didn’t offer any others. So I don’t know if I’d recommend the pre-shopping or not. Maybe you should just show up.

The second step is to find a salesperson, but worry not: a salesperson will absolutely find YOU. Sometimes before you are all the way out of your car.

The third step is to say what you want (in this most recent case, “a car of this make/model but before the 2012 redesign”), and maybe shove your careful list of color/mileage/stock# toward the salesperson. The salesperson then goes to search for availability/keys, while you stand awkwardly in the middle of the sales floor wondering if you should move or if you’re okay where you are.

The fourth step may or may not be to give some information about yourself and show your license. This didn’t happen on occasions 1 and 3 for us, but did on occasion 2.

The fifth step is the test drives. Especially when they ask no information from you, it is a little surprising to be handed the key to a car and have them say “See you back here in 10-15 minutes, okay?” Sometimes the prep for this step takes awhile: they have to put a temporary license plate on the car, and they have to find the key, and they have to make sure the car has gas in it. Our most recent experience was pretty great: she got all three keys at once, and while we were testing each car she got the next car all set to go—even left it running with the a/c on so it would be nice inside. Last time, we got a newbie and he had to walk through the lot with us trying with mixed success to find each car.

Fifth step, sub-category: It can be a little difficult to do a test drive. I mean, what are you looking for? It drives, yes? Good. This most recent time, when we drove the first car Paul said it drove a little rough/loud, and I said I didn’t notice anything. But then when we drove the second car, it was much quieter and there was less vibration, so then I saw what he meant. You can also be like, “Ug/yay, I hate/love the sunroof,” and/or “Wait, what is that stain?,” and/or “I have no idea how to work these buttons,” and/or “These seats are extremely slippery, and this headrest is worn down to the fluff,” or WHATEVER.

Sixth step is choosing one—or leaving, if you don’t find anything. But all three times we HAVE found something.

Wait, the real first step is financing, if you are not going to be paying by check or by paper bag full of cash. When we need financing, we get a loan ahead of time online (we used the same site we’d used for our mortgage); the lender sends us a blank check to use to pay for the car. We have seen fellow customers getting financing through the dealership, and it seems to involve a very long additional session.

The seventh step is sitting down at the salesperson’s desk. This is the start of the unbelievably long process. Why does it take so long? Maybe one among us is a car salesperson or related to a car salesperson and can tell us. Because from the customer point of view, it seems like a lot of waiting. The salesperson takes some information: whose name will the car be in? Okay, let’s see your license. What’s your address? phone number? How will you be paying? How will the car be used—commuting? scooting about town? Sign here that you understand this. Sign here that you understand that. Sign here that you understand privacy. There is some small-talk about children, and about a recent day when things were so crazy here. Meanwhile we are “just waiting for the…” paperwork/inspection/cleaning/title/keys, and for the options guy to be available.

There is apparently no way to avoid the eighth step, which is “seeing the options guy.” In our experience he is always the slickest, highest-pressurey, salespersonyish person of all. He will try to sell you a three-year parts/repairs plan for $3400: it covers parts and repairs! I mean, not all repairs. And not all parts. But lots of them! It’s such a good deal, even though it costs a third of what you’re paying for the car. He has a booklet with a semi-transparent overlay that shows you how great this plan is. When you say no, he will ask if he can ask why. You’ll tell him it’s because these are such great cars: you’ve bought two of them before at this very dealership, and neither one gave you any trouble for YEARS. He will then say, listen, you’ve bought cars here, you’re valued customers, he just wants to see you happy: he can give it to you for $2900. He’ll underline it AND circle it. You will say no again, and he will say he is not trying to make a profit here, he just cares about you and your car. He doesn’t want to see you stuck with the costs. Look at the costs! He will show you a chart of a car with arrows pointing to the expensive places. You will say no again. He will sigh. Listen. He can offer it to you at HIS cost, $2300. He’s not making any money here. Listen, as a former mechanic, he can tell you: car repairs are expensive. He would hate to see you stuck with that. He’s not trying to sell you anything unreasonable—he’s not going to suggest the theft insurance, not in our nice city! and you don’t need the nick-and-ding insurance, not for a used car. But he can see you’re smart consumers and you know even one visit to a mechanic can cost what three years of insurance cost, amirite? …Still no? Are you sure? Okay. Sign here, and please write out longhand that you are declining all the available safeguards at your own risk. He’ll shake his head, feeling sorry for your future expenses. He’ll print out the final paperwork. And then, he will turn to your husband: “I know you’re the one who really makes the decisions” (he’ll say it like it’s a winking joke, but it will not fly)—and he’ll show him a paper with $1900 written on it; he’ll slide it furtively, as if he is really not supposed to be doing this but he LIKES you(r husband), even after only a few minutes’ acquaintance. This is after YOU have signed something saying no to $2300, which he said was “his cost.” Oh, so he is going to take a personal $400 loss so that you can have this plan? Your husband is not going for it, and you are not pleased with these shenanigans. Sign here and here.

Finally, finally, you are released from the grips of the options guy and sent back to your salesperson and the ninth step. She has you sign a few more things. She offers you water. She leaves to find the spare key. She leaves with your credit card. She leaves to get a manager’s signature. She offers you water. She leaves with your credit card signature. She leaves to check on the progress of the cleaning. She leaves to find out how the final inspection is going. She leaves with your check. She leaves to find a piece of paperwork she needs. She leaves to check again on the inspection; are you sure she can’t bring you a water? or a ginger ale? You catch Pokémon and read your book in five-minute segments between her visits.

Tenth step: What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long?

Now things finally look promising; maybe we are at the eleventh step? Papers and copies of papers are being put in a folder. You are being handed a business card and a form that explains that if you refer anyone to this dealership you will get $100 per referral—she hopes you’ll refer to her, ha ha! And then: THE KEY! It’s THE KEY! The car is yours and you can LEAVE! …Oh, but call and make an appointment to come back for the inspection, because they didn’t actually do that yet because they were so backed up.

Peter Cetera II; College Shopping Begins

I would like to continue to push you to listen to the Peter Cetera Pandora station. Look at what it played for me last night while I was making dinner:

1. Arthur’s Theme, by Christopher Cross.

2. She’s Like the Wind, by Patrick Swayze. If you had given me a list of songs and asked me which ones I liked, and She’s Like the Wind was on it, I would have given a little eye-roll laugh and not chosen it. But…that’s a really pretty song! I DO like it! Very much! And I knew more of the words than I would have guessed.

3. All Out of Love, by Air Supply. I listened to so much Air Supply in childhood. And I have been to an Air Supply concert. It was cheesy and fun. Like, they pulled a girl up on stage and sang cheesily to her. They pointed at the audience and winked while singing. So much cheese. I am making fun of them because I am a little embarrassed about how much I like them.

4. Don’t Know Much, by Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt. How many times did I listen to this song in high school? SO MANY TIMES.

5. Will You Still Love Me, by Chicago. I heard the first few seconds and got immediately sentimental. I was singing (and doing inaccurate air drums) when Rob and William came home from work. William said, “Sure sounds like [decade] in here.” He did air brackets.

6. I’ll Be Over You, by Toto.


In short: I think you should like what I like.


In other news, Rob and I have been doing some college shopping. Alchemizing stress into purchasing decisions is exactly how I naturally roll, so it’s nice when that works out in a practical, necessary way. Rob is being…somewhat cooperative, somewhat eye-rolly/it-doesn’t-mattery. I especially wanted the quest for The Right Comforter and Sheets to be a prolonged, multi-store event, perhaps with comparison photos and pro/con lists, but he wanted to go to Target and just pick from whatever they had. So, fine.

(image from

Room Essentials Solid Comforter in Olive.


(image from

Room Essentials Sheets in Cactus.


The drawings on the sheets look black in this photo, but they’re the same green as the comforter. I didn’t notice until we got home that the sheets are microfiber. I don’t know if he will like that or not; I always buy cotton or sometimes cotton-with-some-polyester. By the time he knows if he likes it or not, all the extra-long-twin stuff will be on clearance and I can get him something different. I also bought this mattress protector:

(image from

Some lists recommend some sort of nice pad to make the mattress more comfy, but he wants to try out the mattress first; I can Amazon-Prime him one if he wants it once he gets there.

He and I ran into a conflict about what the college list meant by “shower caddy.” His dorm has big multi-shower bathrooms at the ends of the halls, so I thought shower caddy meant something like this:

(image from

Something you can carry with you to the showers, and then carry back to your room and put down somewhere. ROB wanted this:

(image from

It snaps with difficulty onto the shower-curtain rod, and it doesn’t have a flat bottom so it can’t be put down. It’s not even MEANT for showers, it’s meant for CABINETS. (1) We don’t know what kind of shower curtain rods and shower curtains, if any, are in the bathrooms. (2) He HAS to be able to put it DOWN when it’s in his room. His response: “I’ll lean it against a wall or something.” I was starting to get a little mad. I am ALMOST 100% certain that I am right and he is wrong, but I was not quite certain enough to force him to bend to my will: I have not, after all, seen the actual bathrooms. We “compromised” by me buying this without consulting him:

(image from

It’s collapsible, so it takes up almost no space for packing; and it wasn’t very expensive, so it’s no big deal if Rob is right and I am wrong. He can use it temporarily while he evaluates the actual shower situation, and then he can go out and purchase something different if he wants to. I almost wish I’d let him purchase the wrong thing just so he could think every morning about how right I was, but it was $20 and I’m not spending $20 on something I’m almost 100% certain is wrong.

We also got shower shoes:

(image from

And a new hairbrush, because he’s had his since his middle-school-not-washing-his-hair stage, and it is gross.

(image from

I asked if he needed new socks or underwear and he said “MOM, NO.” So I guess he can buy those for himself or maybe I’ll put some in a care package or in his Christmas stocking.

Peter Cetera

I had a song going through my head, but I could only remember the tune of the chorus plus the words “Do you love me?” But do you know what is a very common theme in music throughout the centuries? That question. It made the search a little difficult. But I did find it: it’s Do You Love Me That Much, by Peter Cetera.

Ahhhhhhhhh it’s so pretty. But SAD. I don’t think I had thoroughly heard the lyrics before. I’d thought it was tender, but it turns out it’s poignant. The first two verses are about how he loves the other person in this way and that way, and does that other person love him those same ways or maybe in other ways to the same degree—which seems like a promising start to a delightful conversation. But then the bridge and the third verse show he got a NO response, and that’s where tender turns to poignant: he asks, does the other person at least love him enough to break up with him so he has a hope of finding someone who DOES love him that much? Well! That’s pretty painful!

Oh! And if you are, as I am, a fan of sincere pining in your love songs, with bonus points for songs that seem to be sung to a real person and not to the singer’s favorite page in the Victoria’s Secret catalog, then may I recommend asking Pandora to play you the Peter Cetera station? I tried it for the first time while cleaning up the kitchen and folding a load of laundry, and here were the first six songs:

1. Glory of Love – Peter Cetera. I remember being over at a friend’s house, and we were painting our nails, and she said, “Oh!! You have to hear this song!,” and she played it, and I was transfixed. She said whatever people used to say before they said “I know, right??”

2. Can’t Fight This Feeling – REO Speedwagon. This was a big hit in my youth. I really liked it. I still like it.

3. Right Here Waiting – Richard Marx. I wouldn’t have thought to add this to a list of songs I like—but when I heard it start playing I didn’t skip it. It has pretty piano.

4. Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey. I did skip this one. It’s a fine song, but it plays SO MUCH on the radio stations around here. Also, now every time I hear it I think of “Don’t Start Unbelieving” from Gravity Falls.

5. I Want To Know What Love Is – Foreigner. Not a usual favorite, but good in this grouping.

6. One Good Woman – Peter Cetera.




Hair-Accessories Caddy Clean-Out; Consolidating Hair Clips (Or: Another Exciting Activity I Won’t Make Paul Listen to Me Talk About, But You Are Fair Game)

As one of my tasks for our academic/creative/organizing time, I have been going through the bathroom closet. One thing I wish I’d taken before/after pictures of is my hair-accessories caddy, which is a six-pocket thing that hangs on the wall of the closet. (It is similar to this, if you want a visual, but it hangs from a nail instead of from a shower curtain rod.) All six pockets were full of stuff, and also there were hair-clips clipped up and down the sides.

I threw out about 90% of what I had. Some of it was “I might need this for a hairstyle someday”—but for hairstyles I haven’t worn in, say, fifteen years; and some of it was “I bought this and it didn’t work out, but I’m hanging on to it because it’s brand-new and it seems dumb to get rid of it.” I did dust off and keep my favorite brown pinwale corduroy scrunchie, in case scrunchies come back into style for real; it is hard to imagine, but on the other hand we have skinny jeans back in our midst, and Ghostbusters. I also kept two headbands, because otherwise I keep buying headbands. And I kept a few pairs of hairsticks (like chopsticks) in case I go back to wearing my hair that way, because it’s still a possibility—but I got rid of a dozen or more other pairs. I got rid of a pearl-bead scrunchie so fancy it would only work for a bride who needed a scrunchie, which is a combination I’ve having trouble imagining, but perhaps something like this; some pairs of small barrettes, and some larger barrettes that hold the wrong amount of hair; some of those things that are a bent piece of material (leather, plastic, etc.) with a hole on each end, and you put it on your hair and then put a stick through the two holes to secure it; a bunch of hair elastics that no longer stretched; and miscellaneous updo supplies that I never figured out how to use.

Now everything I’m keeping is in a Target bag, and the caddy is hanging clean and empty, waiting for me to decide what to do next. There are not enough accessories to fill the caddy, so I have to decide: am I keeping the caddy for hair accessories and also using it to store something else? or am I ditching the caddy and finding a new container for the hair accessories? I need to think.

One thing I found while going through the shelves of the closet was more than a dozen packs of the little hair clips I like, the ones that are sold only in assortment packs, but I only want the tortoiseshell ones. I decrease the waste by waiting until they’re on a buy-two-get-one-free sale, but I kept buying them whenever they were on sale and tossing them onto the shelf, and there was quite a little avalanche of them as I removed other things from the shelf. As I use up the tortoiseshell ones, I gradually combine the other two colors into full packs to donate to Goodwill—but there were a few cards with a stripe of black clips and a stripe of clear clips, just sitting there waiting for me to do that. So today during academic/creative/organizing time I turned that heap into this heap:

I have three full and one partial pack of tortoiseshell clips, and I’ll keep that one partially-filled card of black clips to add others to it later, and I can donate the rest.

Summer Activity with Kids Redux: Academic/Creative/Organizing

We are doing our academic/creative summer activity for the third summer in a row, and we have added two new features.

First new feature: a new activity option to choose from. We still do just two 30-minute segments (or just one, if it’s a busy day, or none if it doesn’t fit at all), but now we can choose academic, creative, or organizing. I added this for a couple of reasons. One: some of us (Rob, Elizabeth, me) want to organize stuff, and feel happy when it’s done, but we have trouble making ourselves do it; this made me think of it as a candidate for our summer project, because the whole thing started on a concept of “these are things we want to do, but we can’t make ourselves do them.” Two: after two summers of this, I am having a hard time finding creative things I want to try, and would REALLY rather spend that time working on the bathroom closet or undoing what Paul did to the pantry.

Second new feature: Life Training. Rob’s upcoming departure is making me panic about all the things I maybe forgot to tell him. Also, this means I get a head start on the other kids. I have been adding almost daily to a list of things I want to cover:


short showers
take hair off the drain after a shower
rinse toothpaste-spit down the sink
check toilet rim/seat after using, and remove anything left behind
boys: periodically use toilet paper to wipe dust/moisture off lidless ring
clothes out of bathroom
hang up towels
put out a new roll of toilet paper when the old one is getting low
use your own towel or the handtowel for hand-drying
if the bathroom smells bad, put on the fan and/or use air freshener
turn off the lights when you leave the bathroom

pick up things that fall on the floor
throw away wrappers
if you miss the trash, try again

if a piece of laundry is wet, hang it on the edge of the laundry basket to dry

hang up coat/backpack

plug phones in after use

check pockets before putting things into laundry
turn clothes rightside-out before putting into laundry
put socks into their natural state before putting into laundry
stain-treat if necessary

clear dishes
remove liquid from cups
remove food from dishes
soak if necessary
follow-up on dishes left soaking
wash outsides/backs of dishes/pans as well as insides/fronts
put dishes into dishwasher
wipe up spills you make

bring things up from the pantry when supply is getting low
put things on the list when pantry is getting low

if you use up something refillable (some hand soaps, for example), refill it
if you use up something non-refillable (other hand soaps, for example), get out a new one
if you don’t know which one something is, ask someone who does know (Mum, for example)
some things can have a little water added to them to stretch them

if you take something away from where it belongs, put it back afterward
if you use something out in the yard, put it away afterward

fold bags multiple times before clipping

chew with your mouth closed
please / thank you
sneeze into elbow
use a handkerchief or tissue / don’t pick your nose publicly
close doors quietly



This is not in any way a COMPLETE list: it’s just the things I want to emphasize this particular summer. And for almost all of this list, this is not the first time we’ve been over it: I have been instructing/nagging about these things for YEARS. But some stuff is new, like refilling hand soaps and adding water to stretch things: I always handle that, and it occurred to me that they might not even know it’s being done, let alone how to do it. And with the stuff I’ve been instructing/nagging about for years, I’m not sure I’ve told EVERY child the why and how of it, or carefully/patiently showed them what I mean, or PUT IT IN WRITING SO THEY CAN’T SAY I DIDN’T TELL THEM. I can feel as if I’ve said something A MILLION TIMES when actually it turns out I explained it to three of the five. Also, some of the items have a new why/how element now that Rob is going to be living with people he isn’t related to.

Some things, like loading the dishwasher, are going to be ongoing throughout the summer: I will keep calling the children in to show them how to do it, and then I will keep having them try it themselves. For the smaller/shorter items on this list, we are adding them to the academic/creative/organizing schedule. Here is how we do it:

30 minutes academic/creative/organizing
brief gathering to discuss what we did
30 minutes academic/creative/organizing
brief gathering to discuss what we did
one life training lesson

Yesterday, for example, we reviewed handshakes and making eye contact and saying “Hi, I’m _____” and then saying “Nice to meet you!”; we practiced it for when you’re the one starting it and for when someone else starts it.

The whole batch of activities takes approximately an hour and twenty minutes, and I’m finding it very satisfying. We don’t have a very busy summer this year, so this gives me the feeling of Doing Things, and also helps with general summer restlessness: the kids might be bickering and I might be irritable, but then we do this and everyone feels better afterward. And the bathroom closet is looking great.

Teenager Income

I added a new picture of my hair to yesterday’s post. I took out the hair-clip last night and was admiring the streaks, and thought my stylist would not be pleased if she knew the only picture I’d posted of it was the one that made me feel uncertain about them. But I think the new photo is TOO flattering: we have good light in the bathroom. ANYWAY. LIKE THIS MATTERS.

I want to talk about making kids save for college. Rob and William are still working their summer jobs, and it’s going well, and they’ve gotten their first paychecks, and I’m not sure what ruling to hand down from the mountain. We’ve talked with them about college expenses, and what they can expect us to pay and what they can expect to need to cover themselves, and we’ve also talked about other uses for money such as charitable causes, fun stuff, and investments. Right now our kitchen white board is covered with possibilities, and Rob and William are less interested than I am in going over all the not-very-different options again and again.

The system my parents used for me was this: When I was earning small beans (like babysitting irregularly at $2-3/hour), I had to put 10% to charity and 50% to college; 40% was mine to keep. When I was working lots more hours (like a summer job), it was 10% to charity, 70% to college, 20% keep. This sounds a little pitiful, but 20% of a full-time job is a lot of money for a teenager with very few expenses: I remember going up and down store aisles TRYING to find something I wanted to buy. Another detail of this system: I remember asking what would happen to the money if I DIDN’T go to college, and my parents said they would give it back to me for all the new-adult start-up costs such as security deposits and furniture. They would have had me do this system either way; we were just calling it “college savings” because I WAS planning to go to college. I remember that made it feel more like My Money: they were making me save for my own future, they weren’t taking the money away from me.

The system Paul’s parents used for him was this: no system. He kept all the money he earned. And of course he didn’t save any of it for college: I don’t think I would have, either, if I hadn’t been made to. Once he was IN college, he used a lot of his earnings to pay for college, because by then the expenses seemed real to him, but he still ended up with big college loans that were a beast for us to pay off. When we didn’t know how to come up with the money for a new battery for the car, it made me clench my teeth to imagine him as a teenager blowing $200/week.

We are trying to decide what kind of system to use with Rob and William. I’m not doing 10% charity anymore (my parents are Christian, so 10% was a biblical instruction we were following), and it seems like a lot. But we’d like to get them in the habit of giving away some of their money, and I find it fun to talk with kids about what causes they might want to support. So, maybe 5%? If they earn $200/week after taxes, that’s $10/week to charity.

I think 20% is the right amount for them to keep. From a $200/week paycheck, it’s $40/week. It’s kind of high, but on the other hand it’s only for a few months of the year. I remember as a teenager feeling like it was a really nice amount to get to keep, and if it were lower I’m not sure I would have been motivated to work more hours when they were available. Paul suggested letting them keep a flat-rate amount, but I think that would have been the wrong thing for me as a teenager: I liked calculating how much more money I’d get to keep if I worked more hours, and I would have said no to extra shifts if I’d gotten the same amount of money no matter what.

Paul is very keen right now on INVESTING: he recently read a bunch of books that say the best way to retire with millions is to invest even small amounts as early as possible. I’m down with that, but also it seems to me that every dollar the kids invest in their retirement now is a dollar we have to take away from OUR retirement to cover the money they’re not putting toward college, which seems silly; doesn’t it make more sense for us to save for retirement while they save for college? On the other hand, it would be a good habit for them to get into, and by the time they’re out of college we won’t have any say over how they spend their money. If we use our influence while we’ve got it, that might pay off for them in the long run. Let’s say we have them invest 5%: that’s only $100 over the whole summer, but they could see how that amount grows. But it bothers me to see the college percentage going down and down as we keep thinking of more ideas. Paul originally put investment as 15% (the minimum, according to a book he’s reading), and I vetoed that.

Here’s how things are looking on our white board (ignore tacos, meows, songs):

The far left is me showing them how my parents’ system worked out: the percentages, and then how those percentages look when applied to a $200 paycheck. Then we have three more sample possibilities, with the college contribution ranging from 65-75%. I think we’re leaning toward the one on the far right (squeezed in under words that contain “meow”): basically the same system as the one I had to follow, but with the tithe split between charity and investment. But the thought of all the fuss of that makes me lean toward the middle one: 5% charity, 20% keep, 75% college.

If you have kids who are of money-earning age, what are you doing about this? Or what do you have in mind for when they ARE that age? And what was the situation when you were the money-earning teenager?

Hair and Nails

I had my hair highlighted/streaked, and it came out more dramatic than I’d anticipated: my hair is light brown, and I got the bleachy highlights instead of the recommended caramel/honey type; on one hand I knew exactly what I was doing and on the other hand there was some resulting self-consciousness and uncertainty, especially when I pulled it back:

Here’s a more flattering picture of it down:

I thought Paul might tease. We have a long-running difference of opinion on the color of my hair, and this could be seen as a fresh start to that discussion. Long, long ago when we met (I was YOUNGER THAN ROB IS NOW), I called my hair dark blonde, and it WAS IN FACT dark blonde. It has continued to darken over the years, and I have gone through several stages of acceptance to call it light brown. Paul, though, has called it “brown” all along. And it is NOT brown! HIS hair is the kind of dark brown that children use a black crayon to represent, and he calls THAT brown TOO. There is a huge difference between BROWN-brown hair and the used-to-be-blonde shade of light-to-medium brown so many of us ended up with.

THIS is brown:

(image from

THIS is brown:

(image from

THIS is brown:

(image from

And I didn’t even choose the DARK browns for those pictures, I chose the MEDIUM browns! Paul’s hair is MUCH darker than those, and he just calls it “brown”! Mine is lighter than those, and he just calls it “brown”! Brown is a very pretty color, but it is not the color of my hair! I’m not being unreasonable here!

Anyway. When he came home he didn’t say anything about the highlights/streaks. We’d been talking for maybe ten minutes when I said, “It’s a good sign that you didn’t come in and say ‘Yo, stripes!’ about my hair; I was a little worried that…” and he looked at my hair and said “Whoa!” So apparently his eyes had just not yet rested upon it.

In other cosmetic news, Elizabeth did my nails. One hand is assorted daisies; the other is galaxy nails:

Bath & Body Works NEW Lavender Vanilla Scent

Here is another story of something hard to get rid of:

I mentioned recently how much I like the Bath & Body Works lavender-vanilla scent, and that I had placed a largish order. It arrived—and the scent is different. It’s hard to describe a scent to say what’s different/wrong, but it IS different/wrong. The sweet part of the smell is now more like honey than vanilla, and the lavender isn’t as sharp or as noticeable. I tried to talk myself into thinking it WASN’T different, just FRESHER, but no: it’s different. I used it anyway for awhile, thinking it would grow on me, but no: I don’t like it.

Here are the things that make it hard to get rid of:

1. I JUST bought it a few months ago!

2. And I was so happy about it when I ordered it, and happy again when I stashed my treasures away, and happy again every time I saw them waiting there!

3. And I bought so much: four body washes and two lotions, plus two each of travel-size body wash and lotion!

4. And it’s EXPENSIVE. I bought it as a SPECIAL THING to USE SLOWLY.

5. It can’t be all THAT different.

But…I didn’t want it. I am halfway through the first body wash, and each time I use it the smell makes me feel a little sick. This is silly. What, I’m going to use it all, feeling sick the whole time, because it was expensive and I’m sad it didn’t work out? No. And I’m not going to return it, not after several months, and I don’t want to try to sell it on eBay.

The key was finding the right place to donate it. Goodwill didn’t seem right. Freecycle would have been okay, but not quite right. The local food/necessities pantry seemed right: they give out free food and toiletries to families who need them, and my daydream is that some of those families include members who LOVE Bath and Body Works stuff and will like this scent and will get that TREAT feeling out of it. It was hard to bag it up, but there was relief in putting it into the collection bin.


I have fretted here a number of times about having to take Edward into a big city for his various Crohn’s-related medical treatments and tests. I am scared of driving in cities, and I’m not accustomed to dealing with one-way streets or parking garages or people treating two lanes as three lanes, and people honk at me and I can’t tell what the honks mean because they all just sound like honks and I don’t speak honk, and anyway each time I have to drive into the city I make sure ahead of time that my affairs are in order.

Paul discovered there is a comfy bus (the kind with overhead compartments and a bathroom) that leaves from a small, easy little station 20 minutes from our house, and drives to a stop that is only half a mile’s walk from the children’s hospital. Edward and I tried it, and it has CHANGED THE QUALITY OF MY LIFE. I sit there, and someone else drives alllllll the scary parts. Furthermore, there is Wifi on the bus, so I can play on my phone instead of having to concentrate on the road and whatever I can find on the radio. Periodically I look up from my phone and shudder, the way you do when it’s storming outside but you’re safely tucked inside: here’s that difficult exit, here’s that difficult merge, here’s the bridge that means things are about to get a whole lot more complicated. Then, on the half-mile walk from the bus station to the hospital, there were about a dozen Pokéstops.

Our round-trip tickets cost just over $20 total, and parking in the commuter lot was free. When we drive, we pay $7 for the parking garage, plus $11 for the subway, plus of course there’s gas. The total travel time is almost the same; the bus will be a shorter trip on the days when our return trip happens to line up nicely with the next scheduled departure, and a longer trip on the days when it doesn’t.

As you know, I am not fond of Figuring Out New Things, so there was a hurdle to get over: figuring out how to buy the tickets, figuring out which bus we needed, figuring out what time the bus leaves and how much earlier we should get there. But I am much more willing to try something new if there is a possibility of huge future pay-off, as there was here. I am also much more willing to try something new if someone else discovers it (Paul), and tells me about it (Paul), and sends me a link to the website (Paul), and reminds me of it in a gentle, low-pressure, I-mean-just-in-case-you-WANTED-to-try-it kind of way (Paul), and doesn’t argue when I say I am absolutely not going to do it because it is impossible to figure out (Paul), and then praises me afterward and calls me a brave traveling warrior princess (Paul).

Furthermore, I now know how to use this bus to get to the airport, which is on the same route. AND I know how to use it to get to OTHER buses, like the ones that go to other states! It is possible that I will be able to figure out how Rob can take a bus home from college, so that we can pick him up 20 minutes away instead of 7 hours away.