Saturday, December 5, 2015

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (129)

Ten Things of Thankful

It's all about the small things, right?

My Ten Thankfuls for this week:

1. The kids meeting Santa for the first time (in the local mall). Mall Santas aren't common in Germany, so I was super-excited when I found out that there's going to be a Santa in our mall. And he was so incredibly nice to the girls. Calvin was not too keen on Santa and went to meet one of the mall's security guards instead  :-)

2. A mall security guard, who is happy to hold and hug a little guy, who's decided that it's more exciting to meet a security guard than Santa.

3. A washer and dryer in our home. I don't want to think about having to wash all those clothes in a laundry shop or, even worse, by hand. No idea how our great-grandmothers and the countless generation before them managed..

4. Two girls entertaining their brother and me with songs on our little road trip to celebrate their cousin's birthday.

5. A couple of hours of sleep in the morning after a night of taking care of a little boy, who thinks that sleep is overrated.

6. So many kind people who support Lily in her decision to go all pixie while some girls in her class try to kick her out of the girls' locker room.

7. A fun afternoon baking cookies with a friend.

8. Making progress shopping for the holidays. No holiday stress planned on these shores!

9. Effective cold medication.

10. Music. It's a common passion between Richard and me. I love it when he plays for me, I love to watch him play on stage, I love listening to music with him. I love the emotions music can stir, how it can energize me or calm me down, how it can make me cry or cheer me up. Life would be bleak without music!

What were you thankful for this week?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (128)

Ten Things of Thankful

 Should I tell the guy who called me just when I was about to leave for our family appointment at the hair salon that he is responsible for my daughter's super-short cut?  Your vote!

My Ten Thankfuls for this week:

1. Our wonderful hair stylist. Yes, I'm still getting used to Lily's super-short do, but she did talk Lily out of going EVEN shorter. And she managed to cut Calvin's hair, which he didn't like but still gave her a big hug after he was done. Oh, and not to forget, it was her who gave me the most amazing cut EVER.

2. Our Thanksgiving dinner. It's over and done, the left-overs stowed in the fridge, the kitchen somewhat cleanish, and another wonderful afternoon spend with great people, which we can remember in years to come.

3. Calvin's scar looking great! It's much smaller than I thought it would be, and with time I am sure it will fade nicely and be next to invisible. At least that's what I hope for..

4. My wonderful, wonderful hubby, who's willing to do all-nighters with Calvin so I can sleep and hopefully get over the cold that's been trying to get me for the last few days. I am so thankful that I don't just have a husband but a true partner in all aspects of our lives.

5. Decorating our home with crafts Lily's done in school.

6. Violet's huge developmental improvements. I've found a great series of books aimed at teaching the alphabet, and it seems to be right up her alley. And with her improving eye sight, her attention to detail and her overall environment is improving as well. I'm so proud of our sweet girl!

7. Lily the book worm.

8. A very positive target plan for the coming year at work. And a much deserved honoring of the work I've put in over the last two.

9. Snow!!!

10. Early morning cuddles with my sweet Violet.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (127)

Ten Things of Thankful

I didn't participate in the TToT last week. There were various reasons why, the most prominent being that I was just too tired and exhausted. This week I barely made it through Friday, and I don't expect next week to be any different. The dark season isn't for me any more, I suppose..  But this is in no way meant to be a whiny post, since it's all about being thankful and positive!

My Ten Thankfuls for these last two weeks!

1. Calvin being alright after his little accident and trip to the emergency room. Last Saturday, he fell and came up with a pretty bad cut on his forehead, so the girls were deposited at our neighbors' house and Richard and I took the little guy to the ER. He received excellent care, and we were out again within 30 minutes after arriving.

2. Our neighbors once again for taking in the girls and caring for them after I rang the door bell with a very bloody Calvin shortly after 6pm. With no family around, we'd be lost without our wonderful neighbors and friends nearby.

3. Finally finding some energy (and time) to organize little corners of chaos in our home. Everything feels much more peaceful right away.

4. The little wool store in Erlangen. Entering this little store just makes me so happy, and the owner is such a nice lady, always helping me with my questions and providing patterns for some projects I may be capable of.

5. Candles.

6. Waking up to the first snow. The girls were thrilled and Calvin positively confused.

7. Getting to buy up all of Lily's crafts at the seasonal fund-raiser at Lily's school (tying in with: candles!!!)

8. A hot shower at the end of a stressful day.

9. My mom's hoarding tendencies. Got a free ironing board out of it  :-)

10. Back-rubs from hubby!

Night-night, everyone!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (125)

Ten Things of Thankful

Calvin thought it was a good idea to pull Violet's friend's drink off the table while I was in the kitchen. Not only was he soaked (and didn't like it at all); no, he managed to splash the red juice all over the wall up to the ceiling. How he managed it? I don't know. I just know that a paint job is in our near future now. Thanks, Mr. Calvin!

My 10 Thankfuls for this week:

1. Having spare paint left for all the rooms. I had to fill some damage on the walls in Lily's room and the staircase this week, and now that Calvin decorated the wall in the dining room, we're definitely bringing out the paint and touch up Violet's wall as well for good measure.

2. Spending a fun day in town with Lily. We met a friend, had lunch together, strolled through the book store, ran some errands, and had an orthodontist appointment. Great time with my big girl!

3. Our new neighborhood. Now that most houses are built and the people moved in, there are tons of children around; the girls are never bored because someone is always happy to come out and play.

4. Beautiful fall weather. It actually almost smells like spring around here, and the girls sometimes spend all afternoon outside playing.

5. Coffee with a friend while the kids are in kindergarten and nursery school.

6. Calvin having his first playdate this week. We've met the other little boy and his mom a while ago after they moved in one of the new houses down the road, and finally we managed to set up a playdate for the boys. We all had so much fun, and it seems we found new friends there!

7. A visit from our friend, who moved to England a few months ago. Obviously, he needed to fly to maintain his frequent flyer status and decided to fly out to Germany. Oh, and thanks to him, here may or may not be a couple of glasses or orange marmalade in my pantry now  ;-)

8. Getting to take Violet and Calvin to kindergarten and nursery school every day this week and mostly pick them up as well. I enjoyed the early morning walks and the time spent with the two kids during the 20 minute walk up to the school.

9. Having a relaxing breakfast with Lily almost every morning this week. I rarely get uninterrupted one-on-one time with Lily, so I definitely enjoyed it a lot.

10. Watching Calvin sleep in my arms this morning. I watched his little shoulders move up and down with every breath, I could see the blood vessels in his eyelids and the tiny, fine hair on his skin. I already know I will miss those moments when he is older, so I savour every second I can hold him like that!

What are you thankful for this week? 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (124)

Ten Things of Thankful

I spent most of this week at home, courtesy of a virus infection turned bacterial. I slept a good deal (on Tuesday), and then put back on my big girl panties and enjoyed showing up at kindergarten a few times (yay for early morning walks).

My thankfuls for this week:

1. The German healthcare system. Here, we do not have a negotiated number of sick days. When an employee is sick, s/he remains at full pay for up to six weeks, giving them time recover without having to worry about finances. Being mostly responsible to financially support our family, this regulation definitely helps me sleep better at night.

2. Calvin's teachers. Even though I'd love, love, LOVE to have the wonderful Miss Dy as Calvin's teacher, the teachers he does have are so wonderful with him. It took him a while to take to them, but now it warms my heart to see him running to them and hugging them in the morning when I drop him off. They are truly kind, warm-hearted ladies and I absolutely love them for it.

3. Lily's teacher. I'm not really a fan of her, differing with her in some important issues. But I appreciate her for her concern for Lily and the entire class, and for her love for the kids. Lily again had a situation with some of the girls in her class, and she didn't want to go to school the next day. I asked the teacher for an emergency appointment to talk, and when she read my note she asked Lily if she had something on her heart. Lily explained the situation and the teacher took care of it right away.

4. Violet's teachers. Because they are just awesome and I truly hope that Calvin will be assigned to her class once he's moving up to kindergarten.

5. The first apple pie of the season, courtesy of a R&S cooperation.

6. Getting to celebrate hubby's birthday; it was a little stressful with Violet's appointments happening as usual, but we shared some good quality time together as a family.

7. A fun Halloween night out trick-or-treating with a bunch of people. Two hours later, some nearly frozen vampires and I returned home..

8. Retiring the mattress on the floor in Calvin's room. For the last 9 months or so I've slept at least parts of the night in his room. With his much improved sleeping schedule I've decided to move the nursing chair back down and retire the mattress, so Calvin will finally be able to PLAY in his room  :-)

9. English tea with-milk-no-sugar.

10. Fall-cleaning the house. It greatly annoyed Lily and made little Violet very, very happy!

What are you thankful for this week?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Planning For Your Future - 5 Ways To Save For Retirement

Disclaimer: This post is initiated by Personal Capital; I was not compensated and the opinions, views, and statements given are - unless otherwise declared - exclusively my own!

Here in Germany, one of the demographic groups most endangered by poverty are women 60+; those women, who have oftentimes taken years off their jobs to raise their kids. With the public retirement (and probably Social Security in the U.S.) becoming increasingly unstable, it is up to ourselves to plan for retirement in order to enjoy our lives once we've contributed our part to society.

In general, one can say that it is important to diversify our income once we retire. We cannot solely rely on our retirement we get from the government any more. Private retirement plans, both government-subsidized ones (as available here in Germany) and purely self-funded plans, investment stocks, capital life insurances, and real estate are good pillars to arrange your very own bundle to prepare you for retirement.

When getting started, it is important to analyze how much you are going to need once you're retired; don't forget to factor in inflation, be generous but don't go way over the top. Talking to a personal financial advisor or online tools like Personal Capital's Retirement Planner will help you to determine your financial needs once you hit retirement age.

But even once you determined how much you'd have to save each month to prepare for your retirement, shelling this amount out of your monthly finances every month may be difficult. I remember back in the day when hubby was still in the military and we enjoyed life as DINKs, saving was a piece of cake. This dramatically changed when Lily was born, hubby quit the military, and we were suddenly a family relying on only one income, struggling to make ends meet every month. Saving for retirement was definitely far from my mind while focussing on getting all current bills paid on time. Still, there are ways to shell out some money while staying on top of the monthly bills. Here are some ways you can save money while staying within your budget.

1. Meal planning. I was never much of a planner. I keep my pantry stocked with basics like pasta, rice, potatoes, canned goods, etc. and run out most days to buy the fresh ingredients once I've figured out what we're going to have for dinner. My friend K. is a stark opposite. She carefully plans each week's meals after consulting the weekly ads and sales at the local grocery stores. Adjusting your meal plan buying sale items, using coupons, and buying bulk can definitely save you some dollars off your grocery bill at the end of each week, without you even knowing it.

2. Save the change. The lovely Rachel over at Can't Google Everything had the glorious idea to collect her change in a nicely decorated jar to have spare cash on hand once the holiday season arrives. Why not make a Retirement Fund with the spare change most of us have laying around in odd dishes and nooks all over the house? You may be amazed how much money you collect this way every month if you actually decide to handle more real money rather than swiping your card every time you shop. Handing over bills may also make money more real again, and may make you re-consider whether a second Starbucks of the day is really what you need. Read all about Rachel's great idea here.

3. Don't pay full price. It's always an adventure to go shopping with my friend M. Believe it or not, I rarely see her paying full price on anything - even away from the sales racks. A while ago, we've been out to a store where she was looking for some new cookware. And believe it or not, she talked the salesman into giving her a 10% discount on the skillet if she bought a couple of microwave containers on top of it. I was amazed. Yes, it may take some guts approaching a salesperson with a request like that, and it sure won't work at your general huge retailer, but especially if you make big, necessary purchases you should see if you can get a deal. For example when buying a car, you definitely could negotiate a year's worth of free oil changes or a free inspection. And each dollar saved is a dollar that can go towards your retirement goal.

4. Second-hand bliss. Especially if you have small children, the clothes and toys they outgrow will pile up faster than you think, and most of those are still in very good condition (at least until they hit crawling age, or enjoy ruining every pair of pants they own by sliding down the hallway on their knees). And while donating is definitely a great way of getting rid of the pile all at once, consider sorting out some pieces you could hand it at a second-hand store or sell at a bazaar (very common here in Germany), at a garage sale, or online (Craigslist or special groups on Facebook are good options). And apart from only selling your like-new items, you can also pick up new clothes for your little ones at a fraction of the new price, with the added benefit that most of the chemicals will already have been washed out by the first owner. I admit without shame that most of Calvin's clothes are second-hand, and the girls also frequently get hand-me-downs from a friend of mine who has older twin girls. That way, I have met women who I now regularly trade clothes with, so I also know the homes where the clothes come from. The money earned from these sales plus the money saved from buying second-hand could easily go towards your savings for retirement.

5. Save small but regularly. When we opened our current checking account, we also opened a linked savings account with it and have €25 transferred automatically every month. It's actually our "Oh Crap"-fund, but so far *knock on wood* we didn't have to dig into it, and the small amounts sure add up. Even if you can only shell out $10 every month, that's $120 per year, definitely a start!

Most important, however, is that you start early. Keep retirement in mind, even if it's still 40 years away. Every year you let pass is a year lost. If you have to start small, but start now!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (123)

Ten Things of Thankful

Knitting is keeping me from writing.. But as Ned stark already knew: Winter is coming! - and we expect a pretty harsh one this year. So I'll keep on knitting (also: best and cheapest therapy there is!).

My Thankfuls for this week:

1. Calvin's bronchitis being almost gone. He missed two days of nursery school but has been back since Tuesday and really happy about it.

2. Pumpkin, pumpkin everywhere!!

3. A free Wednesday afternoon. All of Violet's appointments were canceled, and the girls could enjoy an afternoon playing outside.

4. A spontaneous lunch date with two wonderful co-workers.

5. Hubby getting rid of his braces; he feels a lot better now, and Lily is excited that Daddy now, too, has a retainer, just like herself.

6. A fun evening out with friends. The dinner place wasn't as good as the Mongolian buffet we usually go to, but the kids had fun nevertheless, and we adults shared some good conversation - as far as the noise level permitted.

7. Being able to take the kids to a charity event this afternoon. Two professional soccer players from a major club have been in signing autographs to support the cause, and the two lads have been just so kind to little Calvin and the other kids.

8. New books to read with hubby.

9. More good nights with Calvin sleeping through.

10. Patient friends.