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That 30th Birthday Present I Don’t Regret (Revealed).

Whew. Secret keeping over. I feel so much better!

Dustin has mentioned more than once how cool it would be to see the Vikings play at TCF Stadium. “But not this year, obviously”, he always adds, because we both know silly things like football games are so very out of the question.

Until they aren’t. Like when I go c-r-a-z-y and decide he’s earned it and I buy tickets to the  Vikings-Packers game.

30th birthday? NAILED IT. Feeling like an awesome wife. Well, we didn’t win, but whatever.

Now back to our regularly scheduled frugality.

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The 30th Birthday Present I Probably Shouldn’t Have Bought, yet Don’t Regret at All

There are two reasons why I’m writing this post. First, I’ve kept the secret of Dustin’s 30th birthday gift a surprise for a couple of months now and doing so is eating me up inside. There’s an ulcer with a bow and balloons growing in my stomach. I suck at keeping surprises I’ve planned, so in writing this post I sort of  get to talk about it since my husband won’t let me blow my cover (yeah, I’ve asked, borderline begged him to let me spill the beans).

The second reason is once it goes public, I will feel the immediate need to justify such a gift. Whether we are pals via the interweb or we know each other in “real life”, if you’re reading this you’ve likely followed our struggles over the past 11 months, in particular our financial struggles. This leads me to feel the need to explain the how and why behind such a gift.

And if you think that I’m being silly, then try to remember that not only have we struggled, we’ve received donations from family, friends and strangers to help dig us out of our medical bill hell. I never want to be looked at as the person who received help while somehow living the high life. (Believe me, we SO aren’t, and not a dime from donations went towards this expenditure).

So why did I break two of my cardinal rules of finances (don’t spend money you don’t have, and only use credit cards for the most extreme emergencies)? This all goes back to Dustin’s 29th birthday. On December 5, 2013 Dustin left work early to bring me to yet another doctor appointment. We were already on edge because we knew any day we would be admitted to the hospital to have our son. Even though I was on 90% bed rest, I wanted to give Dustin a fun and stress-free birthday by meeting up with some friends at the Big Thrill Factory (an arcade for adults) that Dustin had been wanting to try.

As Dustin was turning into our driveway some moron behind him tried to pass on the shoulder, then changed course, and Dustin had two choices – either get rear ended at 30mph or drive himself into the ditch. I was shutting down my work computer when the front door flew open with a flushed and furious Dustin, explaining that his car was ass up in the ditch…and that the driver glanced in Dustin’s car, saw he was OK and then SPED OFF.

I ended up having to help shovel snow and push his car out of the way far enough so we could take my car to the doc. While we were gone Dustin’s mom called Triple A to have his car towed. The doctor appointment didn’t go well and I was sent to the hospital for observation. I was sick, swollen and had ever climbing blood pressure, so we decided to cancel his small but much needed birthday party.

We ended up at home around 9 or 10p.m., and 8 days later I was admitted for good, and 10 days later Ben was born.

And then the last 11 months happened. NICU. Surgery. PT. Helmet. Isolation. Working multiple jobs. And so on, and so on. It’s been rough.

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Which is why I wanted to give something to Dustin for his birthday that he really wanted, but assumed that given our situation would never happen. I listened to him when he talked, and think I planned a GREAT 30th birthday gift.

Here’s where my “mistakes” came in. At the time I set this up, Dustin was working what would have been a third job doing web work for my part-time gig. I wanted SOMETHING of all our hard work to go toward more than medical bills and groceries. I felt – and still feel – that Dustin deserved it. I also “knew” that we would have a few thousand dollars coming in from this web project and we could find a way to spare $300 for this gift, so before we got paid, I bought the present.

And then, after Dustin did the work, the site was live, money was made, the invoice was due…the company backed out. Yeah, that one still stings.

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So there you have it – a justification on how we came to be celebrating Dustin’s birthday in the way which we will be celebrating. I promise to post details once the date and gift come to fruition. Should I have bought this gift? Logically probably not. But is a charge on our Visa that I regret? Not even a little, and that’s coming from someone who hyperventilates daily about debt.

But Dustin, once again you have proved that you truly are my only exception. What I would never do for me I would do for you in a heartbeat. It’s as if I love you or something. Funny how that works.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas – but Which One and at What Time and For How Long Is TBD.

When I was growing up the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday were stress-free and magical. Even after we uprooted from Missouri to Minnesota, my parents and I (gosh I miss being able to say “my parents”) would spend Thanksgiving with my mom’s side of the family (an unplanned bonus to moving away from “home”) and then travel to Missouri for Christmas with the Norton’s.

My home was anything but broken…and then, with my father’s death in 2000, it shattered. After a couple of very unwelcome years trying to fit in with the family we once had in Missouri, mom and I threw in the towel and started spending the holidays in Minnesota. But then her brother died, and his sons scattered to the winds, and her other brother and their family started spending all their holidays with my aunt’s side of the family.

If a home breaks when you’re approaching adulthood, do you still come from a broken home, or is your new home, the one you create with your spouse and child that is far from broken the one you measure with? If that sounded confusing…well, it is confusing, isn’t it?

I always get a little wistful this time of year, because it’s too easy to remember Christmases with my family, my cousins and I playing for hours, the adults laughing from the table. I want to project these memories on a screen and say, look, before the unthinkable happened, we were normal too.

My husband comes from a very different scenario. While his parents had what I believe is the most amicable separation in the history of divorces, Dustin has spent the majority of his life straddling the line between two families. Well actually, it’s more like 4 families when you count in time demands with mom, dad, and each of their extended families.

When it comes to Ben I want for him the magic of the holidays that I experienced as a child, the type where you weren’t trying to pack in 10 stops in an 8 hour day lest you hurt someone’s feelings. This year we’re doing the broken home shuffle, but next year, when he’s older and will be much more aware of the memories we’re building, things may change. Christmas Day will be our home, with mom, dad and Santa time. I’m already stressed about the hurt feelings and the gasps as we change the course of tradition.

But Ben deserves to be home for Christmas. He’s lucky that he has family that whether they see him once a year or every week love him to pieces. But he shouldn’t have to sacrifice the coziness of home and his parents to make others happy…right?

And as to the time when I had a family, and both my parents, and cousins and aunts and uncles…I’d be lying if I said I don’t visit those days, if only in my dreams.

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How do you handle broken homes over the holidays? Do you put your foot down, or do you drive all over to make appearances at every place that demands your time?

The Only Season 9 Episodes of HIMYM You Ever Need to Watch

A while back I wrote quite the controversial post claiming that How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) trumps Friends. This post still gets many hits, probably because Friends is still awesome and loved by many, and HIMYM is…well…awesome, and loved, but then there’s the last season. HIMYM last season was quite possibly one of the worst finale seasons in the history of television.

And then there’s the finale itself. But we’ll get to that later, kids. (I know, I’m hilarious.)

If you haven’t watched HIMYM, oh how I urge you to watch. It’s hilarious, for all the reasons mentioned in the above post and more. However, when you get to season 9, I strongly suggest that you limit yourself to watching these episodes. If you stick with these select few episodes, you may actually end the series without wanting to punch a hole in your TV.

Episode 9: Platonish. Barney meets the mother, and it’s perfect. And yes, it does take 9 episodes for anything worth watching to happen. Shame on you season 9!

Episode 15: Unpause. Barney reaches a “truth serum” level of drunk. Hilarious.

Episdoe 16: How Your Mother Met Me. By far the best episode of the season, and one of the best of series. This episode in comparison to the other un-watchable episodes makes you remember just how good the writers of HIMYM could be.

Episode 20: Daisy. Worth watching because it gives a nice wrap up of the future of one the best fictional couples, Marshall and Lily.

Episode 23-24: The Last Forever. Watch this episode right up until the conversation between Ted and the mother ends at the train station. Then IMMEDIATELY go to YouTube and watch the actual ending. 

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Did I miss any worthwhile episodes? Which ending do you prefer? And ultimately, who is the better TV couple, Ross and Rachel or Lily and Marshall? Ready…set…FIGHT! ;)

I Promise That Someday, We Will Pay It Forward.

Over the past 4 months Dustin, Ben and I have been recipients and witnesses of tremendous amounts of generosity. Garage sale donations; a successful garage sale in both sales and donations to our jar; donations from friends/family/strangers to our Give Forward account; random tanks of gas, cans of formula and carts of groceries; without these acts of kindness we would not be where we are now.

I realize that where we are now sometimes sounds terrifying – that’s because sometimes, it still is terrifying. I’ve written openly about our financial fears, our struggles to do the right thing for our son while keeping a roof over our head and food in the fridge. But as scary as our day-to-day lives can be, we are very aware how much worse off things would be without the above mentioned donations and helping hands. The biggest impact has been on our medical bills; what was once crippling now seems feasible at a remaining balance of $2,500.

And just when I think that surely our family has tapped our karmic keg of goodwill and generosity, I get a text from Maddie saying she’s passed my blog on to various friends and family, and one of them decided to make our family the recipient of their holiday charitable giving. We received a check from these friends that has eased the stress of how we were going to get through November. Thanks to this unexpected gift I know that for this month we will have formula, gas and groceries.

I continue to be grateful and so deeply humbled beyond measure to all the kindness others have shown us. You’ve made the difference for us and for what we can offer Ben more times than I can count. If I ever doubt the goodness of people, I have the past year to remind me that goodness still exists.

We are not in a position right now to pay all this good karma forward financially. But I promise that we will pay it forward in any way we are able, and when the time comes that we are in a more stable place I promise, we will literally pay it forward.

Thank you all, again – for reading, for listening, for praying, for giving, and for being part of our journey.

Lots of love and hugs

Ben and Co.

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Week 43: Lists Are the Lazy Mom’s Way of Updating Her Son’s Baby Book Blog

Wow…s-l-a-c-k-e-r. 4 weeks without a weekly update? Shame on me. Actually no, screw that. It’s been a crazy couple weeks, and where I’ve neglected this blog I’ve been pulled in a million directions everywhere else.

Let’s update!

Dustin and Circa Productions shot a psychological horror film for the 48 Hour Minneapolis. The 48 Hour consists of writing, shooting, editing and submitting a short film in – you guessed it – 48 hours. This left Ben and me home alone for an entire weekend while Dustin pretended he was still a young man without a baby and limitless energy. It paid off because the film won a bunch of awards including BEST PICTURE! 

Ben, Grandma Jan and I flew to Saint Louis. Ben did spectacularly well on his first plane ride. He slept, then played with toys, then chatted with the lady sitting next to us. Granted the flight is just shy of 90 minutes but still, you never know when it comes to babies on planes. We had a great weekend playing with our surrogate family and bringing Ben to meet his great-grandma and great- aunt and uncle.

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I got the worst haircut of my life…not in the way that some women freak out over their hair when it’s really fine. I’m talking ashamed to be seen in public (the only reason I took the above selfie was to document Ben’s first plane ride, I strategically kept myself hidden behind him), and Pam, who we saw in Missouri, agreed it was one of the worst cuts she had ever seen. The only way to fix it was for her to cut it all off, which means I’m rocking my first pixie cut. I guess it’s good that short is the new long, right?

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Momma spent almost 48 hours away from the baby! I signed up for a crafting weekend at Bridge Creek Cottage in Wisconsin with about 20 other ladies a few months ago and suddenly, the weekend was here and I was GONE. It was the first time since bringing Ben home from the hospital that I was away from him over night. I love my son and I love my husband…but not having to answer to anyone for two days was a much needed break. No alarm clock, peeing whenever I wanted, staying up late to outline an entire book (yeah that’s right, twenty chapters, bam), sleeping until 8a.m…delightful. I also put on my Candy Corn Jamicure, and I am super bummed to be taking it off this weekend!

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Pumpkins and photo shoots, oh my! The last weekend of the month brought our annual pumpkin carving night with Eric and Tia (and now Emmett and Ben), followed by 2 photo shoots that really counted as 10 because one had over 20 people involved.

Ben can crawl. He is everywhere now, and we have about 45 baby gates up in an attempt to make Ben-friendly zones of our house. Still, he’s a smarty pants and manages to find the one or two places we had hoped he would just ignore, i.e. the outlet where the lamp is plugged in, our phone chargers, and the dogs’ tails. Or Emmett. Don’t forget crawling on Emmett.

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Financial crisis abound. Long story short, Dustin and I worked our butts off on a project that should have seen the first payment from a few weeks ago. The company fell apart and now we are stuck with a job done but no paycheck in our hands. We were beyond counting on that money…not to mention, we did the work and earned it. I’m having a hard time letting go of this one, because the loss of this paycheck totally rocks our sense of security. I just put my student loans on deferment for the next year, which was sort of my last resort option to cut back on our expenses. I’m scared, friends. Really scared.

Which leads to Sarah’s crippling anxiety and depression. It’s no surprise that I’m struggling right now. Between past traumas (have you read my books?) and current bullshit, I find myself struggling to stay afloat on a day to day basis. This last week felt as though it was coated in a fog. I had no motivation, and I wanted more than anything to back out of every plan or scenario where I’d have to interact with another human being. Last night I tossed and turned, worrying, feeling my heart run around in my chest. I’m bouncing all over the place and I hate feeling this way. It’s bad enough that even though I abhor medications and the way they make me feel almost as much as I loathe therapy (proof enough that it works) I would be back on meds and on someone’s couch if we could afford the co-pays and the ensuing medical bills.

But on the plus side, I did just design Ben’s 1st birthday card. We debated long and hard about whether or not to have just grandparents over or have an actual party – after all, December 15 falls right in the middle of cold and flu season – and decided to have a party. Although I do believe the 1st birthday is much more for the parents than the baby, I think we finally realized that we deserve to celebrate. His card is perfect and fits our first year with Ben exactly. 6 more weeks and we have a 1 year old!

Which also adds to the anxiety. I handled Ben’s NICU reunion party okay, it was easier than I thought to go back to the hospital. But his party is on the day I was admitted to the hospital. His birthday is not a happy memory yet, it’s a scary one. It’s a replay loop in my brain and heart of guilt, fear, pain, worry, anger…it’s a NICU mom thing, and it blows.

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Whew. There’s the last 4 weeks at casa de Solmonson. Here’s hoping for calmer skies this month!

Starting Our Christmas Traditions, One Less Gift at a Time

Not even Halloween and already my Facebook and Twitter feeds are seeing many posts about alternative Christmas gift ideas and suggestions for keeping Christmas gifts from piling up in our homes. If you haven’t read any of the posts or pins out there about the desire for a simpler, crap-free holiday, I suggest you take some time to catch up on this trend.

Parents and other gift-givers who jump on this bandwagon are not scrooges, or cruel, or robbing their kids of the fun of the holiday season. These are the kinds of parents I want to have in my “it takes a village” scenario. They walk the balance between giving their kids material possessions that bring them joy, and teaching them to value what they have without being greedy.

I loved Christmas as a kid, and I would never strip presents under the tree from Ben’s life. His birthday is 10 days before Christmas and I am very aware of celebrating both, because kids who have December birthdays are easy to overlook in the holiday craziness.

But if we’re being honest here, Ben’s first birthday is a big deal for us and not so much for him. He won’t remember it save for looking at pictures. His first (second really, but a NICU Christmas a month before your due date is really forgettable don’t you think?) Christmas will be the same story – he won’t remember or notice the presents he does or doesn’t get.

Ben is a lucky, loved little boy. He has grandparents and many adopted family members that I think it’s safe to assume will want to send him some sort of birthday and/or Christmas gift. We would just like to encourage the start of Ben’s gift receiving life to be meaningful and helpful and not something that turns his expectations and our home into this:

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As Ben gets older and can understand charity, one tradition we will involve him with is making care packages for his NICU. We received a stocking last Christmas from a 2012 graduate and it was not only useful but a much needed reminder that we wouldn’t be there forever. That photo above is the opposite of charity, it screams MORE STUFF MORE STUFF I NEED TO HAVE LOTS OF STUFF! That’s not how we want to bring up our son. Period.

So without further adieu, here is a sample of what our almost 1-year-old would like for his birthday and Christmas this year. Feel free to borrow and modify these ideas for your own little ones.

Diapers and wipes. I still go through a lot of diapers, and I really love playing with the big card board box they come in so it’s a win-win on the fun AND functional scale! I’m in size 3 Costco diapers for daytime and size 3 Pampers Extra Protection nighttime diapers for bedtime. I use the bulk Costco wipes too.

Formula. My doctors think I’ll be on bottles for a few months past my first birthday. I eat the Target brand infant formula with iron (it’s the orange container). Just like diapers, I love to play with the empty containers!

Family pass to the MN Zoo. One of my first family outings after months of isolation was to the zoo, and I sure would love to have our membership renewed for 2015. My recent favorite animal were the baby pigs in the farm exhibit. Couldn’t stop giggling at them. If you want to make this a really awesome gift, plan a day where you can come with me to the zoo! Experience with you mean so much more to me than a toy.

Family pass to the Edina Aquatic Center. I spent a lot of time splashing in the zero depth pool with my momma, and I bet it will be even more fun next summer when I can walk! I would love for you to join me for a day at the pool (I really don’t care what you look like in a swim suit).

Tuition. My momma and daddy would love to keep me involved in things like baby swim classes, music classes, ECFE and Parent Morning Out. At these activities I get to engage in sensory play, meet other babies, and break up the monotony of an indoor Minnesota winter.

Books. My parents agree that spoiling me in books is always acceptable. I hear that I’m growing up in a world full of screen time, and my parents know that the more they read to me the more likely I am to choose reading over iPad games or TV. I love used books (15 for $3 at Goodwill!) and, if I can be really greedy here, it would be wonderful if you brought me books and then spent time reading them to me. I love the sound of your voice and the comfort of your lap much more than an iPad or the TV.

Your time! Come over and play with me! You can even send momma and daddy away for a few hours so I can have you all to myself. I missed out on a lot of visitors last year and have a lot of catching up to do.

There’s some things that I really don’t need. I don’t need toys. Maybe when I’m older and I’m really interested in legos or cars I’ll appreciate some toys for my birthday or Christmas, but right now I am happiest playing with you and the buckets of toys I already have. I also don’t need clothes. Between garage sales and hand-me-downs, my parents have a well stocked closet. I know buying baby clothes can be fun because they’re so cute, but my momma has packed away lots of clothes with tags on that I never even got to wear.

Are you trying a minimalist approach to raising your kids? To the holidays? Have you tried the “something to wear, something to read, something you want and something you need” technique?

 

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