The best laid dental plans

When you set a goal – especially a financial goal – you need to leave some room for the unseen. In November when we had planned to save enough money so Mr. Tucker could retire in 2023 there is no way that we could foresee every disaster. Furnaces fail, cars die, and sometimes dental surgery must be had.

We discovered earlier this month that Mr. Tucker needs $8500 worth of dental surgery which will happen in two appointments next month. Since we both have benefits we submitted a preapproval and it looks like the maximum we will get back is $3000 from both plans. This leaves us on the hook for $5500. The surgery isn’t really optional if he wants to keep his teeth so we are definitely rolling with it. While it’s a (literal?) kick in the teeth, I am grateful that we can at least afford to have the procedure done.

Sunday morning is all about coffee and chats here at The Mullet so we ended up discussing our financial goals this morning (spoiler: we discuss goals a lot – financial and otherwise). In the end, we always have pretty tight goals but we are also flexible enough to change them when the need arises. Some people will encounter a blip in their plans and just throw their hands up and give in but that doesn’t solve the problem. The correct way to look at it is to see goalsetting and your budget as flexible and to adjust when necessary. Even the best saver can’t account for every financial blindside that they will experience but they can just shrug their shoulders, adjust their course, take the detour and then continue on their way.

This surgery will probably set us back from reaching our goals by a month given our current trajectory. Of course, more things will happen as well – both positive and negative: we will get a tax credit from the surgery but we also may have our furnace die (it’s from 2003 so I’d be stupid if I said we didn’t see it coming). Given our timeline of 3 years, a lot can happen between now and then.

So after our chat this morning I took another look at our budget and adjusted our activities and hobbies spending. As depressing as it is to think about, there probably won’t be summer camps, dragon boat paddling, or roller derby next year so I can remove these items temporarily and funnel the money into the dental surgery fund. My hope is that people will be vaccinated by autumn and life may return to some semblance of normal (or new normal – life has changed, that is for sure). But I also have a sneaking suspicion that this is an overly-optimistic view. Still, we can use the money we are saving now on the surgery instead of hoping that activities will happen again soon. Of course, if things do go better than the current outlook, I can be flexible to adjust for that, too.

You can only control so many parameters in your life so you do have to be flexible in order to reach your goals. Sure, it may take longer and cost more than you anticipated. It’s important to realize that we are lucky to be in a position to be able to take a hit like this, and that comes from having good financial planning skills previously. I just keep telling myself that it is a marathon and not a sprint. Even though it may not go 100% as planned, it will eventually happen as long as we stay on the path.

Pandemic Positives: lunch at home

Mr. Tucker has worked from home since the kids were little and back then I was a stay-at-home-parent. It used to be that I would take the kids to the YMCA when they were young, stick them in daycare for a couple of hours & then I would be able to work out and shower. Afterwards, I would take them to a drop in for pre-kindergarten kids that was run by the school board. All of this excitement and then we’d be home by noon where I would make lunch for everyone and then put the kids down for naptime.

Of course, when Sprout was around two I went back to work during the winter months. Bean was in kindergarten and Sprout went to a combo of nursery school/daycare until she hit kindergarten. So lunches together at home went to packed lunches* for the three of us while Mr. Tucker now made his own lunch. By the time they were 6 & 8 I was back at work all year round and that meant that brown back lunch was pretty much an every day thing.

One of the things that has been really great during the pandemic is home cooked lunches together every day. Sure, more often than not it is leftovers or soup & grilled cheese but it’s a nice change from what we used to do. I make the kids head out for a walk every day at lunch (rain or shine – and cold or snow) and while they are out, I whip up their lunch. Of course, at 10 & 12 they are more than capable of making their own food but I find it’s something I enjoy. When they come in we all sit at the table and chat while we eat.

Honestly, it’s just nice to break up the day this way. I want them to get a change of scenery (as small as it is) and have some structure instead of just sitting at their desks or staying inside all of the time. It’s also nice to have a mid-day chat to gauge how things are going at school. It reminds me of those busy days when I was mobile and the kids were young and how much time we used to spend together. It’s pretty nice.

Next year (vaccine willing) the Bean will be heading into a new school for her second year of junior high and will probably want more control over her lunches. The Sprout will also be heading into her last year of elementary school and it will be her last year as one of the oldest kids in the school. Teenagehood is approaching fast here and so even if everything has gone to hell in a handbasket in 2020 (and 2021 doesn’t look that great either) at least we do have a year of homecooked lunches together to look back on.

Honestly, we are heading into a year now and we are all cracking a bit at the seams. So looking at the little things that have positively come out of the pandemic keeps us all a little bit saner.

*Where I am there are no school lunch programs so everyone brown bags it. There is however, a breakfast program for kids who don’t get a nutritious breakfast at home. Bean came home one day and said, “I sure do love the free breakfast at school!” As it turns out she was eating Second Breakfast at school. I had to explain to her that she shouldn’t be taking that food and why they provide it.

Early spring cleaning

When we moved in 2018 it was a chaotic rush. We found out in September that the house we were living in that we had agreed to buy wasn’t being sold to us for the price we had agreed upon. Instead of getting angry, we got focused & so we switched gears and started househunting. In the end we found the perfect house for us with a closing date of December.

During this time, it became clear that the surgery I had didn’t completely cure my mobility problems. My arms were tingling and my gait was still bad. My neurosurgeon ordered an MRI, discovered everything was fine with the surgical site and referred me back to the neurologist for more tests. Of course, we were packing, we both had stressful full-time jobs and two young children to take care of. It was a miserable time for us. Did I mention our closing date was less than two weeks before Christmas? So we just threw everything into boxes, shoved it into the rental container and when we moved it was just shoved it into the basement. We could deal with it at the new house when we had more time, right?

A month after we moved I received the startling diagnosis of Motor Neuron Disease – Primary Lateral Sclerosis. My life came to a sudden halt. Nothing seemed more important than traveling and spending time with my family. We focused on other things.

It’s been three years since we’ve moved though, I have stabilized and may have plateaued. The craziness of tests, doctor’s appointments, and paperwork for disability has passed. I am now medically retired and Mr. Tucker and I have a plan for the future. All’s well that…well, is at least stable.

Despite having a family room down in the basement the stairs are steep and difficult for me to navigate. Recently though, Mr. Tucker put up the second bannister so I could get up-and-down easier from the basement, so it made sense to make the effort to get down there more. As I went down to the workshop I noticed how disorganized it was and he admitted that this room gave him so much anxiety that he just ignored it. So we made a commitment to inventory the freezers & pantry items and go through some of the junk.

Sunday afternoon we grabbed the kids, headed downstairs and did just that.

As with most things, just starting it was half the battle. The floor was just covered in boxes, wrappers and other packaging from purchases and once we got rid of that, it came down to what we wanted to throw away, donate, or keep. We set up some space for gardening supplies, another space for household goods, and we tidied our boxes of baking supplies & gift wrap/bags. Everything now has a place and some items will go off to new homes. Our old party supplies gave us the gift of a multitude of napkins and paper plates from parties past that we will use at future get-togethers (I mean, no one said no to a piece of cake just because it was on a Tinkerbell plate). The mismatched paper napkins I brought upstairs & we can use them now.

In the end, it only took the four of us a couple of hours to tackle the space & I think Mr. Tucker was happy that he wasn’t the only one on the hook to clean it all. Of course, we have a small storage area for seasonal stuff and old baby clothes that I need to rummage through but that won’t take too long, either. It just needs to be started. Once we pull it all out, it shouldn’t take more than an hour or so.

I think what has saved us is that a> we’ve never been shoppers; and, b> we’ve never been hoarders. While I will admit that I am a notoriously disorganized person in my everyday life, I do tend to get it together a few times a year and clear out swaths of space. Having said that, I am no minimalist and I like a bit of messiness to my space. Mr. Tucker and I started off in a 530sq foot space, landed into a 1200sq foot space for the first 9 years of raising our family. We’ve never owned a lot of stuff and our last home was partially furnished so we had to actually buy a few things. Now our new home is a mid-century bungalow that has 1300sq feet – and a family room, office space, laundry and some storage in the basement. It’s partially finished so I would say it has another 600sq feet of livable space. While the family room is large, there is almost nothing in it. How much space is open? Well the Sprout uses it to roller skate every day, so enough space that she can do that.

Still, if you don’t keep on top of stuff it gets out of hand, especially if it is “out of sight, out of mind.” But I don’t want to be one of those people who dies and leaves their kids 1900sq feet of junk to haul out to the dump. I would rather sell/donate/trash items as we go along. As we are working on organizing our lives it only makes sense to start with the clutter. Better late than never!

Mid-winter inventory

My goal to write every day isn’t really happening but I don’t want to let perfect be the enemy of the good & give up completely. So I am going to try and keep up with the practice even though it may mean not posting everyday. C’est la vie!

Mr. Tucker and I ended up heading down to the basement to take stock of what we had in the freezers and on the shelves. This was partly an organizational exercise and partly a recon mission to figure out what we had to work with for future meals. Since the stay-at-home order we’re trying to spread out any trips we have to make & that means using what we have in meals instead of making extra trips. Meal planning is a good strategy but it only works if you know what you have.

I also want to see how things are going in terms of the things we canned from our garden and from local farms. Knowing what we eat in 6 months allows us to plan for next summer. We have to plan our garden for the spring soon and I would like to expand a bit. So hopefully this knowledge will help us figure out how to get the most bang for our buck.

For the freezers, my main goal is to see how much of our local meat we have go through. It looks like we will be getting a pig in March, which works because we are pretty low on the stock we had from last year. We already miscalculated our chickens which means that this summer we are going to have to double order. We bought too much beef last year and so we won’t have to buy more until the summer, so that’s a plus. My biggest regret was not buying more garlic from our CSA! I purchased 8lbs in September and if they last until the end of March, I will be surprised. Next year I am aiming to either buy 16lbs or see if growing them is feasible – maybe a combination of both! My garlic wasn’t fantastic this year but I could pay them more attention (aaaaaand I just learned I have to plant in fall. Oh well! I am happy to buy it!).

In the end, I have a lot more rice noodles and instant Pho bowls than I thought I had but very little in the way of Italian-style pasta. So until our next grocery pick-up it will be more Pad Thai and less pasta bake. We also have a ton of canned soup that my dad had brought us in the fall. So lunches will be a lot more soup and sandwich meals. Thankfully, my pickle canning endeavors were fruitful and our homemade pickles are not only amazing but we still have a lot, so those will go well with lunches.

In the end, I have three pages of inventory on my desk now and I can see at-a-glance what we have a lot of, what we have very little of, and what needs to last until we can replenish it. Whenever we make meals I update the inventory and that way we can get a variety of food in our diet without running out of things.

This weekend we will head down to our basement and tidy this storage room. It’s become pretty unwieldy as a junk room so between the four of us it should only take an hour or two to tidy, get rid of some things we don’t need & organize the rest. Poor Mr. Tucker is often in charge of managing our storage because I can’t get downstairs as easily. Now that he’s installed a second bannister I can head down and help.

Unboxing my work life

Last week I was cleaning out my computer and I came across my resumes. “WELP,” I thought. “I guess I can discard these.” It shook me in the moment to think that I will never need them again. My entire career took 10 seconds to delete.

After I did that I realized that I still hadn’t opened the boxes of the contents of my office that work had sent me in fall of 2019. I had spent 8+ hours a day surrounded by this stuff and it was boxed off and sent off without ceremony. Unlike retirement, there is no grand party, no congratulations, no watch to mark your years of service. You are just canceled. They send you your work life by mail, and that is that.

After they arrived, they sat upstairs for over a month, untouched, when Mr. Tucker had taken them downstairs and out of the way. They sat there for over a year. I couldn’t bear to deal with unboxing my work life and putting it up all on a shelf. I guess I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

This weekend though, I bit the bullet and I had Mr. Tucker bring up the boxes. I have a couple of pairs of Fluevog high heel shoes that I (obviously) can’t wear anymore so I made the decision to sell them & put the money towards some stuff the girls want for their birthdays. It made sense to just open them up and go through it.

In the end, it was less traumatizing to go through it than I realized. On one hand, I was missing my favourite San Francisco mug (SNIF) which I am not surprised was taken. I also had a giant soup bowl that had disappeared. On the other hand I got an iPod classic and some stress ball swag? The shoes were all there so that was what I really wanted. You win some, you lose some.

I needed time to process, I suppose. I think I needed to realize that maybe that was the end of one life but the beginning of another. Honestly, life is all about moving from one aspect to life to another. From elementary school to high school, from high school to university, from university to my first office job, from job to job…it’s always in flux and it’s always changing. For sure I needed to mourn my old life – I didn’t choose this change – but it doesn’t mean that every aspect of it needs to be negative. Having a motor neuron disease is absolutely awful but the flip side is that I am able to have less stress in my life. If I focus on the positive things, there are a lot of positives.

So good bye, old work life. I enjoyed our time together. I am now going to live a new life.